Hip Surgery at 43
The pain bloomed like a desert flower after a rainstorm
It started to become unbearable on a drive home from Dusthaven to Mammoth Lakes. For two years I’d been dealing with on and off pain in my right hip. The pain was intermittent and random. I could be balancing on my right leg to pull on my pants or my socks and my hip would give out and I'd tumble against the bed or I’d pivot to the side to reach for something and a searing pain would shoot through my right hip. I tried to ignore it because it wasn’t consistent and because images of my mother and her struggles with hip pain and surgery made me put my head in the sand and ignore it. Not me too, I’d think to myself. And then more confidently I’d assure myself, no, not you too.
On the drive back from Dusthaven though I couldn’t ignore it. The pain bloomed like a desert flower after a rainstorm, bright and pulsing the voice inside my head switched refrains to, oh yes, you too. I walked with a rocking motion, dragging my right leg behind my left. There was a series of meetings with an orthopedic doctor. X Rays. An MRI with contrast. I brought Eric with me to the appointment where the doctor would explain all the results. They thought I had a torn labrum. It could be fixed with arthroscopic surgery. The doctor explained that I’d start to feel like myself again after three months but that it would take 4-6 months to fully recover. These times, I’d later learn, would be estimates.
I didn’t want the surgery. I didn’t want the injury. I wanted none of it at all. This past summer I had big plans. After renovating the girls’ room in the fall of 2021 we planned to renovate our bedroom over the summer months of 2022. There would be old carpet to pull up and new flooring to install. There would be painting, new bookshelves, and furniture to assemble. But no. No, instead the surgery was scheduled for June 1st.
When I woke up from the surgery I remember the doctor’s face and that he was speaking to me. I heard snippets of words like, “orange peel” and “bomb” and “hip” but was too fuzzy from meds to remember what he said to me. I went home the same day as the procedure to recover.
The experience of a first bowel movement after surgery, or maybe it was due to the constipation induced from pain meds - is truly a special kind of hell. There was cold sweats and vomiting until I could finally do the deed. I remember the pain of the passing more than I remember the post surgery pain.
The doctor called while I was deep in a bout of stomach spasms trying to poop. Unable to talk I handed the phone to Eric. This is where I learned my diagnosis. I had a torn labrum, which they repaired. I had hip impingement (the hip bone protruded out, hence causing the torn labrum), and the cartilage in my hip had peeled away like an orange peel. It “looked like a bomb went off” according to what Eric recited from the call with the doc. They replaced the cartilage with cadaver cartilage. I had two metal anchors put in which made me wonder if I’d henceforth beep going through airport security.
Who was the person? Would we have been friends in real life? Would that have mattered?
Cadaver cartilage. It felt a bit violating to be told that they’d used the tissue of another person in my body without some forewarning. I hadn’t been prepped for that as a possibility so I hadn’t had time to wrap my head around it either. Who was the person? Would we have been friends in real life? Would that have mattered? It feels like it might matter a bit in the connection of their tissue to mine.
I hope admitting this doesn’t make me appear ungrateful, because I am indeed grateful to the donor. (I’m signed up as a donor myself!) I also want to be honest and explain how I came to terms with the surprise of waking up from surgery with a part of a different person inside of me. I needed time to sort it out and I have and I’m grateful. If this ever happens to you too, you’re allowed to take some time to accept the new you and how your body works as a result of a gift from another human being. I have conversations now with my right hip, welcoming the new tissue, telling it to feel at home, to move, to stretch to feel at ease. Let’s move forward together, I say to it and what shall we get up to today? I ask of it.
There are no photos of me using two crutches, then one crutch, and then a hiking stick. I didn’t want to focus on those steps, instead I was laser focused on walking unassisted without a limp. It took about three months to not have an obvious circumduction in my gait. Over a period of six months I graduated from going to physical therapy twice a week, to once a week, and then every other week. At six months post-surgery I graduated out of physical therapy and into working out on my own.
It sounds so simple and straightforward to write it out like that. “After six months I was done with physical therapy” but today, at 10.5 months post surgery, my flexibility and strength are nowhere near a full recovery. While I walk now without an obvious limp, I can’t sit in a criss-cross applesauce position without my right knee higher than my left. In barre class I can’t lift my right leg as high as my left, but I’m getting there. It’s one day at a time.
The patience needed for this recovery reminded me of making taffy, just long bouts of pulling and pulling my patience and my focus. I told myself and the extra-person-friend in my hip that I would recover from this - and that’s what I think I’m most afraid of, that instead of recovering from this surgery that I’ll never quite be where I was again. What if I’ve already reached a high water mark of mobility and am never quite as mobile, flexible, or bendable as I once was? But I’m only 43! It can’t be.
So I focused, I did physical therapy exercises in the evenings as the family moved around me in the living room. And I timed myself with my walking increasing from six minutes to seven minutes all the way up to an hour and a half of carefully timed and managed walking. On trail. Off trail. Through aches and pains and twinges and the tight feeling of muscles and tendons trying to recover.
At five months post surgery they cleared me to start a very gradual running program. By running I mean I was allowed to do 15 second sprints interspersed with 15 minutes of light jogging. I could try that twice a week. If it worked without pain, I could go up to three times a week. And if that worked, I could try a couch to 5k program that progressed over 9 weeks.
I’ve completed the couch to 5k. I can cross country ski. I’m starting to lift weights and work out at the gym again. And I’m working on my flexibility. I’m grateful for my doctor, his care team, and the physical therapists I got to work with. I’m grateful to my team at work who were very patient with the many appointments I attended post surgery. And I’m grateful to my friends and family who went on so many truncated walks with me while I recovered.
Maybe I’ll never quite be quite where I was before, but I’m here, I’m mobile, and I’m not in pain! It’s springtime in Mammoth which means soon the snow will melt and we can renovate our bedroom like we had planned to last summer.
I’m moving forward past the hip surgery and on to new adventures. What about you? Have you ever had a surgery you hadn’t anticipated? One that took a long time to recover from? Have you been the recipient of donor tissue or body parts? What was that experience like for you?
#hiparthroscopy #FAI #hipimpingment #hipsurgery #tornlabrum #physicaltherapy