The “Why?” Answered

Do you ever wonder “Why me?”  Whether that be with a loss of job, a breakup, or in my case, being diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia and the need for two PAO surgeries, its easy to ask that question.  Often we have to trust in not knowing the answer to the why and move forward the best we can.

Throughout my life when faced with adversity (and I have had my share), my mind has gone to the dark side, and I wondered what my purpose in life was or would anyone notice or care if I was no longer on this planet.  Certainly last year recovering from my two PAO surgeries I struggled to stay positive.  I am stubborn as hell and fiercely competitive, which I think were the catalysts for my healing.  However, I often felt lonely and depressed, laying in bed for an average of 20 hours a day with a broken pelvis, eagerly waiting for a visitor friend to bring me a meal, which was the highlight of my day.

And then, sometimes, the Universe can deliver an answer to why:

What if that answer is: “You are a better, stronger person now?”

Or, “You will never take walking, showering,  or doing anything pain free for granted again?”

Or, “You can help and inspire others with your story?”

Or, “You have fixed hips which enabled you to save a person’s life?”

Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Next Friday is my 9 month post op appointment (right PAO 12/16/15) with Dr. Bellino at Stanford, and I am eager to tell him the story (short version) of the ultimate gift: that thanks to him, I have fixed hips, which enabled me to run and maneuver and squat to assist in a medical emergency (name and gender withheld for privacy):

Evergreen is a small town nestled in the Rocky Mountains just west of Denver but at an elevation of 8000 feet. Last weekend was the Evergreen Fine Arts Festival, an art show  ranked as one of the top 50 art shows in the country.  Needless to say I was thrilled  to be upgraded from the wait list to being a vendor.

Sunday morning was crisp and clear, with a hint of fall in the air.  I saw 2 deer and an elk as I drove up the canyon from Morrison to Evergreen.  Once I parked my car in the artist lot, which was about 1/2 mile away from the venue, I took a deep breath of the cool air and looked at a fellow artist, who was getting on a bike to ride from the artist parking lot to the venue, which was 1/2 mile away.  I decided to walk and not take the shuttle; with a walk I could enjoy the morning and get a little exercise before “parking it” at my booth for the next 8 hours.  As I was walking up, I noticed the bike was on the ground and a person who was not the cyclist was on the phone. I immediately went into rescue mode (I have been trained in First Aid and CPR for over 20 years) and sprinted across the street (of course I looked for oncoming cars!).  The person was on the ground unconscious, and as I gathered what little info I could from the person who was on the phone with 911, I proceeded to scuttle down the ditch and assess the situation.  Once I determined there was a pulse, I determined the person was not visibly breathing (“look, listen, and feel”).  I opened the mouth with my hand by opening the jaw, keeping the person still and a big gasp of air occurred.  I kept the mouth open and with the help of two other Good Samaritans, whom I instructed to keep the person still until the paramedics arrived.

The story has a happy ending, this person is alive and doing OK.  I had a very heartfelt conversation with the person’s spouse, and the one time that I got choked up with tears on the phone was when I explained that if it wasn’t for me having fixed hips and being able to sprint and then go into a deep squat and hold that position for minutes, I may not have been as capable to help.  At that moment, I understood the “WHY”.   This is why: we are all connected.  There are no accidents.  I feel so blessed to have had an amazing surgeon and his staff, as well as my Physical Therapist, to empower me to be a new, better version of me; a pain-free version of me who can give back!   Before my PAO’s I couldn’t walk without intense pain, let alone even run or even think about scuttling on uneven ground. And forget about squatting.

So if you find yourself wondering “WHY ME?” know that the answer may be waiting for you…

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Between the Wolf and the Dog

Last night I was driving my sister to the airport; she came to visit for a long weekend: a respite for her; for me, a chance to put my fixed hips to the test of physical limits as well as to show her a true Colorado adventure.  In three days, we went white water rafting in the biggest water flow Colorado has seen for some time, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking and a 12-mile bike ride on mountain bikes.  I am pleased my hips were fine, just a nary complaint from my muscles.

As I was driving her to DIA, the rain drizzled, then poured.  We encountered flooding roads, glare and the worst light conditions I have driven in for quite some time.  “The light is terrible, I can hardly see anything!”  I sighed in frustration.  The sun played peek-a-boo with the clouds and emerging storm, all the while the sun tried to retire behind the mountains.

My sister replied, “Entre le loup et le chien.  Between the Wolf and the Dog.  There is a saying in French that at the point at which the light changes at dusk where one cannot easily distinguish between what may be a wolf or a dog.”

I pondered that sentiment, thinking that perfectly explained what I was able, or not able to see.

This evening, I reflect back on what she said.  I feel like my life is in between the Wolf and the Dog.  I am letting go of a business that was my “baby” for many years, I am finding a new normal being pain free with the capability of pushing my body to new limits, I am starting a new project (thepaoproject.com), and I just found out today it is possible to venture into homeownership after suffering the reprocussions of a foreclosure in 2011.  In this state of transition, I find the PAO surgeries put me on this path of newfound discovery and into a new period of ease.  May I move past this period between the wolf and the dog and into clarity.

Reset: 1 Year Post Op

A year ago on this Tuesday, I was had my left PAO surgery and labrum repair, though my actual 1 year anniversary is tomorrow, April 8.  A few months later, I wrote this poem. I never shared it with anyone until now.   I am pleased to say I am pain-free and moving on with my life like I have never done before:

Reset

Burning medicine from the epidural

Weakness, nausea, confusion

Alarms sounding

Am I dying?

Suddenly I feel better

But cannot hold

On to consciousness.

Guided to my back

Arms stretched out to my side

Strapped down;

A crucifixion?

Please,

Crucify my old self

Put me out of my misery.

BLACKNESS.

I awake

A man speaking tender words:

“Your operation went well.”

“You will be comfortable.”

I feel different.

Bone sawing business

Deep in my core,

My Pelvis.

Sawing out toxicity

From generations past.

Toxicity

That hooked itself

Deep in my core.

I lost my sense of being

My self-worth

My self-love

For many years.

My only choice was this surgery.

Chakra reset

Cutting cords

DNA unraveled and realigned

Release what does not serve

My highest good.

Bone sawing business

Deep in my core,

My Pelvis.

The reset button has been pressed.

I have come home to myself.

 

 

Ready, Set….Wait?

I am 14.5 weeks post op RPAO.  So far, my recovery had been about 3 weeks ahead of schedule from my LPAO on April 8, 2014.  That said, logic would say 3 weeks ahead of schedule. So what do I decide to do?  Go for a walk! Hell, even try to run!  The weather was damn near perfect today, high 60’s/low 70’s. I decided to carve a little bit of time from my buried pile of work to go outside, get some Vitamin D and exercise.

I felt good for the first 10 minutes into my walk, so I wanted to push it, just a little…”What harm would a 60 second trot (or plod, if you are a runner in Boulder) do?”   First bit felt ok!  Well, OK then!  I walked for 3 minutes and tried my second 60 second trot.  This one hurt a bit more, but my athlete’s mind reassured me, “Just run through the pain, you’re just stiff from not doing anything in the past 8 months.”   So I walk and stretch for the next 3 minutes.  By the 3rd round, I was in pain.  I stopped 30 seconds short.   Heartbroken, and a little worried, I had to make it back the 1 mile (2 miles total) to my car.

Immediately icing, I got up from the couch and I could barely move! Excruciating pain! “What the…?” I thought. Great. I really did a number on myself.  How pathetic. 2 mile walk and only 150 seconds of running.  There are people healed from this stupid surgery at this point!  Obviously I am NOT fully healed and PAIN was screaming at me, telling me I am NOT 100%.

I am generally very hard on myself.  I was upset the rest of the afternoon, picking apart my poor choices.  Then I got pissed.  I have been in survival mode for so long, years in fact, that I am finally done with just surviving. I want to THRIVE, not survive!  I want some normalcy, like, being able to get on and off the floor EASILY.  Like have a decent earning wage to where I don’t have to stress about paying my bills.  Like having a normal day off to chill and do fun stuff (hike, bike) rather than being in bed icing, looking at Facebook at all the good times that my friends are having.    I want to grab life by the balls and feel well enough to experience life’s adventures, big and small.  Is that too much to ask?

While my mind says yes, my body says no.  I guess I will have to wait. And definitely cut back on Facebook.

Stoked: 12 Weeks Post Op

How time flies (well, time flies once cleared to bear weight on the operated leg and being able to drive again)!  I am currently in the Bay Area for my 12 week post-op appointment for my right side and my 1 year follow-up on my left side.  I met with Dr. Bellino yesterday, my amazing surgeon at Stanford. Below are pictures from 3 weeks post op (top) and 12.5 weeks post op (bottom):

xray rpao
3 weeks post op RPAO
12.5 weeks post op RPAO
12.5 weeks post op RPAO

Good news!  He said my bone growth (see the cloudy/fuzzy spots around the cuts?  That is bone growth) looks “really good” and he was impressed how well I am walking unassisted.  I am cleared to ease back into all activities as long as I let pain be my guide (basically, if there is pain, don’t do it).  I know I won’t be busting out a 30 mile bike ride or 3 mile run anytime soon, but I know I can start working up to that level.  Also, things are going so well, he doesn’t want to see me in 3 months, but in 6 months!

So his good news has me stoked on life.  It has been months, even years that I have been this happy.  To be pain free, walking normally, knowing that I never have to have another PAO surgery again.  Its cliche, but I really have learned not to take anything for granted. I love walking without pain, I love sitting on a toilet seat with ease, I love sleeping on my side, I love being able to put on my socks by myself, I love to drive, I love to bend over to pick up my cat, and I love being able to start working again.

I am forever grateful for the invention of PAO surgery and to Dr. Bellino for giving me my life back.  I am also grateful for the team at Stanford Hospital and all my support crew who took care of me with these past two surgeries.  The decision to undergo this brutal, bone sawing elective surgery to preserve my hips was the best decision I ever made.

Nothing is Sacred in the PAO Life

My diagnosis of bilateral hip dysplasia in 2013 at the age of 39 was a shock.  Almost 2 years later, I can say without a doubt, that it was certainly life changing.  Two periacetabular osteotomy (PAO) surgeries within 9 months has also been life altering.  Looking back, I never would have predicted I would have had 6 screws in my pelvis, live with my sister in California for a total of 2 months, spend 7 of the past 11 months on a walker and/or crutches, not drive for a total of 5 months, own not one, but TWO sets of surgery recovery equipment fit for a nursing home, and learn how to be a patient person.  I have grown in ways that is hard to explain, so I will just say I am not the same person I was when I got diagnosed; I am a better person for it.

The other day I was thinking about my first surgery recovery and what is different (do not equate “different” with “easier”) this go around, and this story came to mind. I  was horrified when it happened, but now I can look back and laugh.  Nothing is sacred in the PAO life:

I was 7 days post-op PAO #1 (April 2014) and I was staying at my sister’s house for awhile post-op before I flew home to Colorado. I had to pee BAD (like the kind that you wait forever in bed holding it until you absolutely have to get out of bed because, on a walker, it takes forever and a day to make it to the bathroom.) The non-master bathroom was my bathroom and I had my raised toilet seat.  The raised toilet seat fits over a regular commode but is 6 inches higher, making it so much easier to passively flex at the hip to sit.

It was at night and I walkered gingerly to the bathroom, and sat on my trustworthy raised toilet seat and I started peeing something fierce. Relief! Then I felt that my bare foot was wet, I was perplexed, thinking, “WTF? Is the toilet leaking?”  So I look down. Much to my dismay, I realize I was peeing on myself and all over the floor because the toilet lid was DOWN!!! Prior to my little bathroom excursion, my 7 year old nephew went to the bathroom, put the lid down and then he was trying to be helpful so he put the raised toilet seat over the closed lid. I screamed in horror and my sister rushed in and I had a total freaking meltdown; bawling my head off, saying I was sorry. Being a mother of a 3 yr old and 7 year old, she didn’t care, she was just mopping it up with anything handy saying “At least it isn’t explosive diarrhea!” I just could not let it go, I was melting down like a toddler, bawling saying “I’mmmmm sooooorrrrrrryyyyyy….I caaaaaaaan’t doooooo thiiiiiiiis! Its only been a weeeeeeek”.   At the time, I really thought I could not survive.  Of course, we laugh about it now and that did not happen again!

Purpose

I think its human nature that we are quick to label circumstances as “good” or “bad.”  My earlier posts about being diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia at the age of 39 and navigating my way to treatment showed that it certainly rocked my world, and shook me to the depths of my core.  At that time, my diagnosis was BAD and the inevitable surgeries were BAD!  For the past two years, hip dysplasia and PAO surgeries forced me to ponder the “why?”, the “how?” and the “when?”  of all aspects of my life.

Two days ago I had my second  Physical Therapy appointment,  my first real workout since surgery (the first PT session was mainly an evaluation).  I came home and my right glute  was on fire (in a good way; look out “bun of steel!”).  Tired and bored, I decided it was a fine time for an afternoon nap.  I awoke suddenly to realize the sun was setting.  I was perplexed that I slept that long: two hours!  I managed to get myself out of the groggy slumber and once I did, my phone rang.  I glanced at the caller ID, and it showed “Stanford Ortho.”  I scrambled to reach the phone and I quickly answered with a cautious “Hello?”

“Hi Jen! This is Rachael at Dr. Bellino’s office,” Rachael greeted cheerfully.

“You are not calling to reschedule my post op appointment, are you?” I questioned. (This is kinda a joke between us as I am a long distance patient and once my travel plans are set, they are set in stone.)

With a laugh, she replied “Oh, no.  Dr. Bellino and I were talking about you today and we were wondering if you wouldn’t mind being a reference for a patient.” [Long story short, this poor woman got the news about hip dysplasia and PAO surgery and is terrified.]

“Of course.  I’d be happy to be talk to her.  Yes, the news about PAO surgery IS terrifying!”  I replied.

We chatted for a bit and when I hung up, I smiled.  I was touched that they thought of me to be a reference.

The next day, (yesterday) my PAO buddy that Jessica and I visited in the hospital, Jenni, had her follow-up with Dr. Bellino.  I messaged to ask how it went, and she responded that it went well. She then proceeded to share that she mentioned Jessica and me to Dr. Bellino, and mentioned that he responded  “how rare it is that a patient would extend herself in that way” [to visit a fellow PAO patient in the hospital].   I was blown away.  First of all, its my nature to go beyond the expected, especially if it means helping someone who is have a tough time.  I don’t think anything of it….then I started thinking more about PAO surgery and recovery (what I call the “PAO life”), and I had an epiphany:

I felt the threads in connectivity come alive.  The crazy journey of getting diagnosed in Colorado, researching adult hip dysplasia on the internet and found Kelly Ariagno’s website (a PT in SF who had her PAO with Dr. Diab) which led me to fly out and meet Kelly for a session, who encouraged me to consult with Dr. Diab and Dr. Bellino, which led to another trip out to CA to consult with said surgeons, to researching “Diab Bellino PAO” on the Internet and finding Jessica’s blog, which led us to becoming pen pals and fast friends, to her recommending the PAO Facebook support group, to the cancellation of surgery with Dr. Diab and reschedule with Dr. Bellino….well, I can go on and on, but I realize it was all for  a reason.  In addition to learning some life lessons that PAO surgery and recovery has taught me (patience, process),  I sit here in bed and feel so incredibly blessed to have a whole new circle of friends through the PAO Facebook support group, most of which I have never met.  We cheer each other on and share our experiences as needed.

Helping and empowering people to see the light in their darkest of times, that is my purpose.  Having my surgeon recognize that just reinforces my purpose.  I am such a better person after going through such a brutal elective surgery on both hips, it truly has transformed my body, mind and spirit.  In the end, the hip dysplasia diagnosis and PAO surgery recoveries have been GOOD, not bad!  Its probably been one of the best things to happen to me.  I have Dr. Bellino, the team at Stanford Hospital and Clinics, my Physical Therapist, my PT Aide, my support team at home and my fellow group of PAO warriors to thank for enabling me to have a purpose to Shine.  And as I type this, I realized my blog theme is “Shine On.”  Yes, Shine On…everything comes around full circle.

 

 

Hope

I woke up this morning with a heavy heart with tears welling in my eyes.  I quickly (well, as fast as one can move with a “dead” leg and walker) got up as I felt a blog post brewing.

Hope. What is hope?  Why do we rely so much on hope?

Hope is what keeps us going.  It gives us the motivation to get through our days. It allows us to dream and create a better life.  If there is no hope, there is no life, heart or dream.

When I decided to move forward with both PAO surgeries, it was to give me hope for a pain-free, functional active life.  I still have hope that once I recover from this most recent surgery, I hope I am pain-free and thus, my chronic pain will not consume most of my thoughts and precious time.

So why, you may wonder, did I wake up this morning with a heavy heart?  I was given, or should I say – I gave myself – false hope.  This has nothing to do with surgery, but what I have found is that the emotional toll PAO surgery recovery can make the patient raw with her emotions.  So when hope is given and then taken away, it goes straight to the core:

About two weeks post op, (shortly after Christmas) I had some conversations with my mom on the phone. I was starting to feel the hope brewing that she was drug free (she was at the time) and wanting to make a change (she is addicted to pain killers and God knows what else).  Her living conditions are awful, she lives in a non-licensed “board and care” home, with little care and people transitioning in and out of the home for shorter periods of time.  She confessed these people often bring in drugs into the home (I didn’t ask what those drugs were) and that she was not behaving.  She said that she cannot perform some of the activities of daily living and wanted to move into a licensed skilled care facility (there would be no drugs there!).  Of course, I offered my help; I spoke with my wonderful sister and she offered her assistance as well.  “Maybe this is it!” I thought.  “Maybe this is her chance for a better life and we can have a normal drug free mom!”   We researched medical, assisted living, etc.  We were on it!

Yesterday afternoon I got a text from my sister: “Mom doesn’t want to move.”  My heart sank.  For the past few days I have been struggling with my own surgery recovery-related personal demons and depression.  And just when I was feeling better… “This is shitty timing,” I thought.  I called my sister and we talked briefly.  The bottom line is mom doesn’t want to move.  As much as I forced myself to think “OK, whatever. We tried,” my heart sank.

I am sick and tired of false hope.  I am tired of people, my mom especially, dangling the carrot of hope – almost within my reach – only to snatch it away. I don’t appreciate being teased with hope.  Right now I cannot even think about talking to my mother.  If she was anyone else I would have nothing to do with her.

What is my lesson in all this?  That I can only rely on the hope that only involves me.  I only have the power to change my own life, I cannot make people change.  It’s also important for me to recognize “false” hope: more often than not it’s when someone other than myself is involved.  From today going forward, I am going to just focus on me: MY self-care, MY surgery recovery.  The rest will unfold as it should.

Warrior on.

On My Way….

Time is a flyin’!  I am well on my way on this road to recovery.  Yesterday was my 5 week post-op anniversary.  In 2 weeks I start Physical Therapy, 3 weeks get cleared to weight bear as tolerated, and hopefully 4 weeks until I can drive again (fingers crossed on that one!)  but who’s counting? THIS GIRL is counting!  It motivates me to have time goals so I have something to look forward to.

Overall, I am doing well.  Mentally and emotionally, this go-around is easier for me.  Physically, however, I have had some pretty intense groin pain and I discovered that I was accidentally putting too much weight on my op leg, straining the pubic cut area.  Below is my X-ray taken at 3 weeks post op and you can see that gnarly gap in my pubic bone:

xray rpao
Bionic Woman! 3 Weeks Post Op, Stanford, CA

I am behaving now: being more mindful of truly practicing “toe touch” weight bearing.   Now that the groin pain is gone, my hip flexor on my “good” leg is ON FIRE!  So I guess I need to rest more.  I have learned when your body nags at you via physical pain, its trying to tell you something. I only have one go-around to rehab correctly so I am listening!

In the meantime, I am reading the latest book of the “Fever” series (total guilty pleasure), starting to work a bit at my desk, and look forward to my friends’ visits via my Meal Train.  Each day I get stronger, and I cannot wait to have this all behind me!

 

On the other side, again: 2.5 weeks post-op

Leading up to my second PAO surgery, everyone told me that this go around would be easier than PAO #1.  They were wrong and they were right…its never black and white.  Let me explain:

day 1 post op
Doing “the pose”

I had my RPAO on December 16.  It was 5 hours and deemed a success, as Dr. Bellino said I was “rock solid.” The MRI showed the possibility of labral ligament damage needing repair, but once he got in there, the labrum was intact and so he left it alone. Instead, he reshaped my femoral head (femoral osteochondroplasty) so that it had better tracking within the newly aligned hip socket.  The PAO corrected a center edge angle of 19 to about 37 (educated guess, I will get this confirmed at my post-op appointment on Monday).

The hospital stay was more difficult this time, as I had a pretty bad pain episode day 2 post-op (they did not have my dosages right on my non-narcotic pain meds and my body went into shock as I tried to sit in a chair for my P.T. session). Also, throughout my hospital stay,  I suffered from severe light headedness, and while I lost a fair amount of blood during surgery, I was not a candidate for a blood transfusion.  The silver lining, however, was my PAO buddy who had her surgery the same time as me, ended up being my roommate.  We laughed and groaned together, and cheered each other on when we needed it.  Dr. Bellino visited me almost every day and I sensed he truly cared about my well-being.

Discharged
Discharged! Walker hug with my PAO roomie, Jolene

Since I have been discharged, I have been recovering at my sister’s house in sunny California until I get cleared to fly home (this can vary per patient, but I decided to stay longer though the holidays and see my surgeon once he was back in the office).   My recovery so far at “home” has been easier this time. I feel more confident using the walker, as well as using the leg lift assist device to get my leg in and out of bed (I cannot actively raise my operated leg for 8 weeks).  I know how to better position myself in bed so that I am comfortable sitting and sleeping.  I know what the mental challenges surgery recovery entails, and I am better prepared with tools to keep myself from dying of boredom (or depression).  My laptop has been a life saver, and I spend most of my time working on my Etsy store,  Netflix streaming (Californication is currently my guilty pleasure), Facebook-ing (especially the PAO support group), and I also signed up for my next gemology class online.   Its been fun to have my 5 year old niece and 8 year old nephew at home over winter break; they are very eager to help their “Tatie Jen” (Tatie is French for “auntie”).  The ease and comfort of my recovery would not have been possible without my sister and brother in law.

at the beach
Half Moon Bay, 1.5 weeks post op

Another big difference is that I do feel like I have more stamina.  My friend Jessica took me to see the ocean at Half Moon Bay last Sunday.  What a treat! I was pretty sore after the outing, but it was so worth it!

Today is New Year’s Day and while 2014 was very challenging, I am happy to have these two major surgeries behind me. I am dedicated to spending the first part of 2015 fully recovering from my surgery.  I want to get my fitness level back, and also grow my jewelry business to its fullest potential.  I want to travel more, and be as active as possible. I want to see what my newly aligned hips are capable of!

2015 is my year to go with the flow and embrace opportunity.   Onward!