Retirement agrees with you, even if your leg doesn’t know it. The pain in your right hip makes you limp, which puts the burden of work on the left leg. The imbalance brings on bursitis in both hips, relieved only by cortisone injections. You ignore the pain and the limp as much as possible, take a lot of naproxen and create a lot of artwork. The art fair you coordinate takes up much of the spring and since you are also an exhibiting artist with both your digital work and jewelry, you spend a lot of time making new work. The only real drawback to retirement is the lack of money. Trying to live on your little pension proves difficult, especially with all your medical issues. Your retirement plans include income from your freelance work, but the economy here stubbornly resists recovery and very little work comes your way. You need to sell a lot of art and jewelry just to catch up with the medical bills.
In July, you head out for your eldest brother’s home to spend the July 4th holiday. You’ve made this trip each summer for a good few years. You and your sister-in-law have become like sisters and you’ve finally gotten to know your brother, 11 years your senior. This is also the only time you have to visit with your great-niece, a darling, bright, little girl, who loves spending the holiday with grandma and grandpa. Your visit involves lots of talking and catching up, cooking, eating, reading, time in the pool, and just relaxing blissfully doing nothing at all. You can’t do much walking, but with everything else to enjoy, who worries about that? Your sister-in-law’s mother, Granny Ginny, often visits, as does her brother and his girlfriend. He brings his specialty, “bombs”, also known as deviled eggs, and he makes prize-winning, boozy concoctions that keep everyone happy.
A highlight of your trip is the neighborhood fourth of July celebration, a huge gathering where neighbors all bring dishes to pass and the host, a retired judge, provides hot dogs and “funny orange juice.” Patriotic music, a stirring speech, visiting with friends and sampling all the many food offerings fill the morning. One year, your brother even gave a speech. It’s just a good, old-fashioned get-together and you wish your neighborhood had the same sense of camaraderie and good will. In the evening, you watch the fireworks display, impressive for a small community. The time you spend with the family is precious to you.
On your trip home, you stop for a visit with your middle brother and his family. They live on a farm in the midst of an Amish community and he knows just about everyone. His wife is a rural mail carrier; anyone he doesn’t know, she does. It’s a teeny-tiny town, with a bare bones grocery, gas station, Dairy Queen, Chinese restaurant, a bank and two Amish stores. You love going to the Amish stores for goodies you can’t find at home. They carry all manner of kitchen gadgets you’ve never seen before, bulk spices and cooking staples. You buy handmade soaps, real sorghum, locally made wildflower honey, and yes, always some sort of new gadget you cannot resist.
Your brothers’ homes contain important pieces of your past. At your elder brother’s, the cherry coffee table and the handmade bookshelves, laden with hundreds of books from your mother’s library, a small woodcarving of a man with a still that your dad made during WWII while serving in the South Pacific, all bring back many childhood memories. Your middle brother has one of a pair of antique rocking chairs that were your parents’ pride and joy, and many of your mom’s cooking tools, utensils, pots and pans. He loves to bake all sorts of delicious breads, rolls and cookies, and is an incredible cook, as well.
Upon your return home, you immerse yourself in preparations for the art guild’s big fall art fair. As show director, you manage this two-day outdoor show, which is either awesome or awful, depending on the whim of fall weather. You also participate in the show, which requires that you prepare your own booth, in addition to all your other duties. You have an excellent corps of volunteers, but the bulk of the responsibility falls on your shoulders. The best part of these art fairs is the delightful assortment of artists you meet. You look forward to seeing your friends each year and at other shows you attend. Unfortunately, the guild is now losing money on this event, not because of anything you have or have not done, but because of some very unwise decisions made a few years earlier. You do the best you can, and when it’s over, you move on to other projects.
In the late fall, you fly out to visit your old friend in Colorado. While you’re there, your best friend comes down to visit with you overnight. The two of you go exploring in the old city, but the pain in your leg limits how much you can walk. You enjoy a Thai lunch and attempt a trip to the mall, but you end up sitting on a bench waiting for her to run her errands. The pain has become severe. Fortunately, you always take your laptop with you when you travel. It gives you something to do while your host is otherwise occupied and allows you to rest and get off your feet. You do a little work, read, take a few pictures and spend time just being with your friend. You love gazing out at the mountains during the day, watching them as the colors and shadows change from moment to moment. You are peaceful.
Winter comes, and with it, ice and snow. You’re anxious about leaving the house, worried about slipping and falling on your already damaged hip. You’re always busy, though, and you have the luxury of doing what you do at home in your Saturday clothes. Between your work for FDA, art guild duties, working as an advocate for patients with long-term LASIK complications through your non-profit, volunteering with a downtown redevelopment group, and being an artist, you always have a project or two. Finally, just as spring arrives, you see your rheumatologist again. He sends your for an MRI, which shows a labral tear and a cyst. When you slipped a year ago on the ice, you tore cartilage in your hip. No wonder it hasn’t gotten any better.
Your doctor refers you to a specialist in the city. He’s a big-name-famous-important sports doctor with a major “House” complex. He opens the door to the exam room and enters, surrounded by a cloud of visiting European doctors. “You don’t mind if they watch.” He does a cursory exam, never looks at the MRI, doesn’t ask where it hurts or when it started or if something precipitated it. He diagnoses bursitis. You’ve had bursitis in that hip before and this is not that. You drove two hours to spend five minutes with this clown. You go home completely disgusted, not only because you know he’s wrong, but because you wasted a day and a lot of money seeing this arrogant fool. Completely exhausted by two years of limping around in pain, you refuse to let it hamper you from coordinating your annual art fair and taking your trip to your brother’s for July 4th.
You see your rheumatologist again about two months later to ask for a referral to another specialist. The soonest he can see you is in about three months. Hell, you’ve waited this long, what’s another three months? When you finally go for your exam, you take your other mother with you. An extra set of ears is always a good idea. The doctor is an orthopedic surgeon, also a sports medicine guy, but he’s kind, he listens and he agrees you do not have bursitis, otherwise all the cortisone injections you’ve had would have helped. Mom likes him. He sends you for another MRI, this time with contrast dye. Yep, you have torn cartilage and a cyst. He recommends a minimally invasive arthroscopic procedure to treat the problem. He can do it next week. You cannot.
On Halloween, you undergo surgery at the hospital, even though it’s an outpatient operation. Everything seems to go according to plan, and by afternoon, you are on your way to a friend’s home, where you will recuperate overnight. You’ve been hooked up to IVs for hours, and though the trip is only 45 minutes, you have to pee so hard you want to cry. You get out of the car in her garage, walking with crutches. In such a hurry to go, you forget how to use them, step up to the first step with your numb, operated leg, and crumple to the ground. You don’t even care that you’ve fallen, you just need to get to the bathroom! You sit yourself up the other two steps, and when you get inside, hoist yourself up onto a rolling office desk chair and scoot your way to relief. You’re about 10 seconds too late.
Despite instructions in the OR not to use adhesives due to allergies, they have placed a huge, sticky bandage over the incisions. The burning sensation causes you to rip the bandage off, cut away the adhesive parts and paper tape it back on, but not before your skin turns red and blistered. You sleep the rest of the afternoon in the recliner. Once you get the hang of the crutches, you’re able to get up and about to take yourself to the bathroom during the night. For the first few days, you’re supposed to hook yourself up to a fancy little tank-like apparatus that circulates ice-water all around the affected areas to minimize swelling. In the morning, you’re actually feeling pretty good and by late afternoon, you are home, ensconced in your comfy chair with your legs up, plugged into your icepack. Now you can finally relax. You use self-hypnosis for pain relief, since you cannot take any kind of narcotic pain reliever. It doesn’t work all that well, but you tell yourself that once this one is over, you will be fine. You can get through this. You will be fine.
(to be continued)