Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Surgery – Prepping for my biggest speed bump

After hobbling, limping, and shuffling around for three months I finally got to meet with a hip surgeon today.  I didn’t know what to expect, but tried to compile a good list of questions and dragged my mother along in case I got tongue tied.  The biggest questions were: How soon can you fix me, and how soon can I run again?  The orthopedic specialist that originally diagnosed my injury had informed me that this particular surgery isn’t all that common, and is generally reserved for athletes.  My biggest concern was that he was going to take one look at me and write me off as a has-been, not worth the effort of fixing.  I’ve spent the last few days working out some scripts that would make me sound athletic.  Like maybe I should bring up my award-winning performances in some local races, and hope he assumes it was the Boston Marathon.  Maybe I could casually mention my “club” affiliation and hope he assumes it’s the Mammoth Track Club.  I went there today armed for battle.
                I barely had time to sit down in the waiting area before I was escorted into the examination room.  While I waited for the doctor to arrive, I scoped out the pictures on the walls.  There were endless photographs, posters, newspaper articles, and even a surfboard with autographs of accomplished athletes thanking the doctor for making them better.  Three things were clear to me at that point.  1. I was in good hands, 2. No one is immune from injury, and 3. He wasn’t going to mistake me for a Boston Marathon winning member of the Mammoth Track Club.  As I fawned over the pictures the doctor made his entrance.  I wouldn’t say I had made any assumptions about his appearance, but I can say he definitely surprised me.  His charming demeanor and good looks made him look more like a movie star than a surgical star. 
                After quick introductions, and after I untied my tongue, we got to the root of the issue.  He explained to me that in addition to a labral tear, I also have what’s called FAI, or Femoral Acetabular Impingement.  You can click on the link for a detailed and graphic description, or for a brief summary: the bone in the hip has some rough edges that are damaging the cartilage.  This problem results in pain, loss of range of motion, and labral tears.  In my case we know that my labral tear was caused by specific trauma and not necessarily the FAI, but the reality is that both problems need to be fixed.
                Once the diagnosis was clear and we discussed the length of time that has passed since the injury and the current state of my hip, he stated that “at this point you’ve exhausted all non-surgical options without success, and the good news is, no one dies from a labral tear”.  I flatlined for a moment, sure that he was going to say there was nothing that could be done and I would have to live like this forever.  But then he continued, “The only way this can be repaired is through surgery, and there’s a very good chance that this will completely correct the issue”.  Jackpot!  I didn’t need to beg, cry, or tell him how important I was… he was a reasonable man that understood the toll this was taking on my life.
                The conversation quickly turned into a discussion of math: statistics, percentages, and calendar dates.  Here are some key facts:
·         88% of all hip repairs are successful, and that includes all types of hip repairs.  Labrum repairs are a subset of that percentage and have an even higher success rate.
·         After surgery I will be on crutches for 3 weeks, and because this is my right leg, I won’t be able to drive for at least that long.
·         Overall recovery is long.  Although I will be feeling somewhat better after a few weeks, full recovery is a 3-5 month process.  Absolutely no running until 4 months.
·         No riding my horse for a minimum of 8 weeks, and that’s if I can figure out how to get in the saddle.
This was a whole lot of information to process.  My first question, after doing some quick math, was, “How will I be able to run the Boston Marathon?”  His response was, “You won’t.  Not next April.  But you can the following April”.  I have a few memorable quotes from him actually.  His phrases were smooth and well rehearsed, like a movie star, but somehow genuine and comforting.  He said, “I only want to do this surgery once.  I’m not doing it so you can run a race next April.  I’m doing it so you can run races for the rest of your life”.  (I think I developed a little crush on him at this point).  He then said that if I truly wanted to run Boston in April, I would have to load myself up with cortisone and painkillers, hobble through the race, and have my surgery after that and be immobile for all of next summer.  Or, I could have the surgery this fall, be immobile all winter, and start running again in the spring.  I didn’t need more convincing that surgery was the right option, but I liked listening to this guy and let him keep going.  He said, “You’ve rearranged your life for your hip for the last three months.  It’s time to rearrange your hip for the rest of your life”.  (Yep, I’m smitten with this guy). 
        When all my questions were answered, I headed out to the front desk to make my surgical appointment.  I had the option of late October or late November.  I was afraid waiting too late would push me back too far into Spring to start running, and there was a chance I’d be on crutches in the snow, so I opted for the October date.  The secretary gave me all sorts of reading material about the injury and the surgery, but cautioned me not to spend too much time researching because I might end up scaring myself with the gory details. 
        I’m reacting to all of this with mixed emotions.  It is undoubtedly the biggest speed bump I’ve ever had in my active life, and hopefully will ever have.  I’m excited at the prospect of making a full recovery and being good as new next spring.  I know in my heart that I can’t live with this injury forever, and I look forward to the day that my hip doesn’t burn and throb with every step or slight re-positioning of my leg.  There are some real drawbacks too though.  Some of my favorite, must-do-every-year races will get skipped.  These include some fun 5k’s in the fall when PR’s are achieved, the Wrentham New Years 5k (let’s face it, I just go for the breakfast buffet), and my favorite: the Hyannis Half Marathon.  I’ll miss the Newport Bridge run in November, which looks like a total blast.  I’ll miss New Bedford, the half marathon I choked on this year and desperately wanted a do-over.  I’ll miss Boston, the race I watched enviously this year from the sidelines and swore I would run next year.  The great part about these races though, is that they are all annual events.  The pool of races is never dry I’ll be back at it when I’m healed.  Who knows, I might be better than ever!
        I’m already starting to get some advice about how to handle the upcoming surgery and downtime.  The doctor gave me some unexpected advice.  He said, “Go live your life and enjoy your summer.  Run, bike, and ride your horse as much as you can tolerate until the surgery.  Because after that surgery, you won’t be doing anything for 4 months.  You have to get it all in now while you can”.  That is of course great advice in theory, but the reality is my options are quite limited since I am still in a significant amount of pain.  My mother said I should start thinking about what hobby I will pick up during those 4 months.  Maybe a big project I can focus on, like writing a book, or making an afghan.  Something that will be time consuming and give me a sense of accomplishment.  Kerri, who knows the most about what this is like after breaking her hip about 8 years ago, said to start putting some goals and races on the calendar for next year.  Something I can look forward to during the recovery.  I expect to be running again by March, so I’m already thinking that the Boston Tune-Up 15k in April might make a good racing debut next year.  It’s one of my favorite races (I don’t know why, it’s brutal!) so it would be a great carrot to dangle in front of me.
        So, it’s official.  I’m on the disabled list.  That doesn’t mean I’m not going to run as much as I can, or think about running the Harwich half marathon in October (doctor said live it up, right?).  Although I’m bummed out about what this means for the short term, I’m anxious to get this under control and move on with my life.  One thing I promise, is that I will be a good patient.  It won’t be like the time I stress fractured my foot and instead of taking 8 weeks off, I took off 4 ½ so that I could run Hyannis.  This injury is just a speed bump, and I don’t plan on making it grow into a brick wall.

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