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“Pain is weakness leaving the body.” – Adrianne Gleeson (ironic Facebook status update September 12, 2013)

I had just finished 78th in my first “official” 5k with a time of 29:59.24. I had just taken my last unassisted step for what would be 10 long months. I was sitting on my butt in a parking lot trying to figure out why I couldn’t move my leg. I could wiggle my toes. I could tap my foot up and down.  I couldn’t lift my leg.  Apparently muscles can’t move your bones effectively if said bones somehow become disconnected from the rest of your body.  

As I sat there assessing my situation, I had a difficult time explaining what was wrong with me. I was tired. A mild “runner’s high” was masking my pain. I was trying to interpret all this biofeedback through a filter of fear – not knowing what I was supposed to do if something was seriously wrong with me. My child hadn’t finished the race yet. It was a school night. I needed to get her home and into bed.

A few people had gathered around me. I had another friend on the phone. We were all trying to troubleshoot the mysteriously non-functioning leg. Was it a tendon or a ligament?  Did I tear a muscle?  Did I dislocate my hip?  Nothing made sense.

After much discussion of what-to-do with the people who had gathered around me, I dismissed the idea of going to the ER.  After all, “What are they going to do in the ER anyway?  It’s almost 9pm.  I will be there for HOURS. I have to get my kid home.” Instead, two friends, Tammy and April volunteered to take me home and come back to the school to get my vehicle.  They said they would drop it off for me, “In case I felt better and could drive myself to the Orthopaedic Institute Urgent Care Clinic in the morning.”  

As I stood up, something shifted inside my thigh and I felt real unmistakeable pain for the first time.

When asked if I could walk to the van, I hesitated. Then I had to admit: “No. Sorry, but I can’t make it.”  I saw a flash of doubt in Tammy’s eyes, as if to say, “Are you sure we shouldn’t be taking you to the hospital?” Yeah, I was sure.  I needed to go home. I’d figure out what to do with myself later.

By the time April and Tammy got me home, they had to help me up my front stairs and into my house. With an arm around each of their necks, I had to drag my injured leg behind me up the stairs.  It hurt.  A lot. I started to realize this was going to be very difficult.

They deposited me inside my front door, and said, “Good luck!”

I hobbled to the nearest chair and the weight of everything hit me. My mind was racing. I knew this wasn’t going to be pretty, so I kissed my daughter goodnight, then asked her to bring me her rolling desk chair. It was the only thing in the house with wheels, and I used it as a makeshift wheelchair. I could keep my left leg lifted out of the way, while scooting backwards with my right foot. It was slow going, but it was the only way I could manage on my own. Hey, whatever works, right?

It took me almost an hour to scoot from one end of my house, across the tile in the kitchen into the bathroom, and finally into my bedroom. Rolling over grout lines backwards was a tricky endeavor. The little wheels kept getting stuck, sending the chair spinning in the opposite direction of the wheel base. By then I was pretty sure my bone was broken. Every time the chair would spin, I could feel the edges of fractured bone grinding against each other as I fought to keep control of my injured leg.

I felt disgusting. I wanted to take a shower, but there was no way I could wrap my mind around stepping over the lip of the shower floor. I changed out of my sweaty race clothes and into my bathrobe and got into bed. It was almost 11pm. I prayed I could get some rest.

Without realizing I had fallen asleep, I woke up at 2:30am and HAD to go to the bathroom.  I never wake up in the middle of the night.  Of all nights, why this one?  I sat up, carefully shifted my legs over the edge of the bed and stood up. Something crunched together and pinched, and the pain took my breath. I immediately broke out in a sweat, and my entire body went numb.  Everything went gray.  I woke up with my cheek against something very hard and my hair in my face.  I heard a whooshing sound and slowly came to the realization I had just passed out. I flipped over onto my back, stretched my body out on the floor, shrugged out of my robe, and put my bare back against the cold hard floor.

Lying in the middle of the floor at 2:30am I started to wonder where it all went wrong. How did I end up like this? I wondered if I should call an ambulance. While it was intense, the situation didn’t really seem like an “emergency.” I couldn’t walk and I had just passed out from excruciating pain, but I wasn’t dying. It just didn’t seem ambulance-worthy.

So then the next set of questions: Who would I call at 2:30am to take me to the ER? And what would I do with my daughter who was sleeping peacefully in her bed? She had a ride to school in the morning. Tammy was picking her up from my house.

More than that, what would they do when I got to the ER?  X-rays?  I doubted my injury would be seen by an orthopedic doctor until normal business hours. I just had to make it to 8am when the Orthopaedic Institute opened and I could go to their clinic.

I pulled my robe back up around me and slid across the floor on the terrycloth into the bathroom and back. I have no idea how long it took. But when I got back to the rolling desk chair, I gave myself a pep talk.  I couldn’t let me daughter see me this way. I didn’t want her worrying about me.

I changed into the clothes I wanted to wear to OI, got my phone, and wheeled myself into the living room where I set my alarm for 5:55am when I knew my daughter’s alarm would go off. Then I spent the next couple of hours fitfully attempting to sleep on the couch. Alarms went off, minutes passed, and I talked to my kiddo as she got ready for school. Once she was out the door and on her way, I started planning my next steps.

Luckily, my sister and brother were available that morning and agreed to come get me. Allison and Andrew came bursting through the front door and for a minute I feared they were just going to throw me over a shoulder and pack me out. After explaining the situation and making them promise to be gentle, they carried me out to Allison’s van, where I folded myself into an awkward seated position in her floorboard (there was no way I could get up into the seat) and the rest of the day was one long blur.

A single set of x-rays. A somber message. There it was. Clearly broken. Displaced. My injury was described as severe. I would be going immediately to emergency surgery.  It was approximately 10:30am. I spoke to the PA Frank Burch who would be assisting the surgeon, Dr. Shiraz K. Patel:

Frank: “Do you have any questions?”  

Me: “How is Dr. Patel with hips?”

Frank: “He’s one of the best in the nation.”

Me: “That’s all you had to say. Let’s do this.”  

I spent the next six hours waiting. My world was changing rapidly – not just the things that were happening to my body – but my future. I could sense the trajectory of my life shifting. Dreams vanishing. Paths being erased. New ones opening just out of sight.   

I remember sitting in Admitting in a wheelchair checking myself into the hospital.  Sitting felt weird. Sitting in Admitting telling someone you are having emergency hip surgery felt weirder. When I finally got to a room and in a bed, there was no comfort to be found there either.  There were questions being asked, tests being run, tubes being attached. I chatted with family and co-workers who had heard the crazy story and had stopped by to check on me. It all seemed like it was happening to someone else.

Finally an orderly came to wheel me to the operating room. As I was in the pre-op area, waiting for the surgical suite to be cleared, I met the anesthesiologist, the team of people who were about to work on me, and my surgeon, Dr. Patel. He introduced himself, signed his name to my injured hip, and told me immediately the procedure he was about to perform had a 30% failure rate. There was a significant chance the bone either wouldn’t grow back together or the ball joint would die and collapse from lack of blood flow.  Even after my hip was repaired, he would monitor my progress for two years before he could give me a full release.

Some twenty hours after I broke my femoral neck, I was finally given something for my pain. I slipped into darkness. A second later, I woke up and asked what time it was.  Nearly four hours had passed.  All I could say was, “Woah.”

Dr. Patel greeted my family in the waiting room. First he asked for my daughter and reassured her I was going to be alright. What was to be a 45 minute surgery ended up taking close to four hours. He said it was one of the worst cases he’d seen. They had to put an extra screw in my hip to help stabilize everything, but he felt positive about the repair. I had lost bone. The edges of the two pieces “eggshelled” into fragments of bone debris. My body would eventually absorb those fragments, but for a couple months whenever I sat down, it felt like I had something in my back pocket. I had lost a half-inch of leg length. When I was able to use my leg again, which wouldn’t be for months, I would have to work with an orthotic insert to even out the length differential and be mindful of alignment issues that could affect my hips, back, and neck.

What’s IS the difference between “good pain” and “bad pain”?  I learned in a very difficult way there is no good pain. Pain is your body telling you to stop.  Important things are breaking down too quickly.

Discomfort is acceptable. Discomfort is your body’s way of telling you the challenge you are presenting it with is appropriate for growth.

It took me 38 years and a broken hip to finally figure that out.

My recovery was long and slow. When I was finally released to “normal activity” at my one-year check-up I knew I would be starting from zero.

As it turned out, zero was a good place. I was finally ready to receive meaningful information and use it to start building myself into the person I had always wanted to become. I was finally ready for the lessons.

I found my mentor at Seva Fitness.

To catch this blog series from the beginning, check out previous posts:

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About the Author : Adrianne Gleeson