Quarterly or so, we will feature a story from the anthology, Onward: Navigating through Hip Dysplasia, Periacetabular Osteotomy Surgery and Beyond, Volume 1. Click here to learn more about this anthology.
Featured Story through September 2017
Beth Hall, “Long and Winding: My Path to PAO”
“Dinner’s ready!” My mother-in-law’s voice rang through the house at a family gathering. The smell of baking bread and roast beef drifted through the warm twilight as I made my way to the table, one hand resting maternally on my abdomen, full with life.
Then, sudden, agonizing pain. I grabbed my hip and stumbled, shocked.
It was minutes before I could walk.
I didn’t know then, but this was the beginning.
* * * * *
Her hair smelled as only a newborn’s can, intoxicating and perfect. I nestled her sweet two-week-old body deep into my arms and drank in the view of her precious face.
With my daughter sleeping peacefully in my arms, I descended the stairs, stepping gingerly so as not to wake her. Slow steps on soft carpeted stairs.
My foot slipped, either in exhaustion or distraction, or both. We went down. In the economy of baby versus mother, baby wins. We were no different. My body braced tight and I curved carefully around her, a mother cocoon.
My hips took the impact. Again, the searing pain came.
* * * * *
Three years passed. Now a young mother of four, my pain had spread. Terms like piriformis, sacroiliac, obturator nerve, L4-L5 all became a part of my vernacular. The battle between pain and performance wore on. Days were lived in a grimace, in silent begging for relief. The rattle of acetaminophin—and eventually stronger prescriptions–became commonplace.
A mother smiles through pain. Her children need a good life. They never knew what those days at the park cost, those happy cries for “Swing me, Momma!” My body paid, but I smiled, and kissed their milky skin.
When no one was looking, my body folded and the sobs came.
* * * * *
“We’ll need an MRI of your brain. It’s possible you have Multiple Sclerosis. Your right side is weaker than the left.” (Neurosurgeon).
“It’s ‘mother syndrome’. You’re just exhausted. It’ll get better. I promise.” –(Sports Medicine).
“It’s most likely fibromyalgia.” (Primary Care Physician).
“Have you considered cutting out gluten?” (Nutritionist).
“I can treat you three times a week for six weeks. It’s $300 dollars per session. No, I don’t take insurance.” (Prolotherapist).
“Sciatica.” (E.R. Dr, on a visit when the pain was spasming).
“This won’t hurt.” (Needles. Tears.) (Cortisone Injections).
“You’re subluxated.” (Chiropractor).
“Your aura needs to be realigned.” (Acupuncturist)
“I’m going to try this technique called Bowen. I just lightly press my fingers every minute or so in various spots around your body. That’ll be $135.” (Body Worker)
“Just use a wheelchair?” (Physiatrist).
* * * * *
“You have hip dysplasia.”
His voice was calm and sure as he examined my X-rays, full of the diagnostic power I craved. My ears adjusted to his sureness, like a tuning fork finding the perfect pitch. Everyone else had been guessing, and I knew it. My body knew it.
My heart pounded. My breath seemed to catch in my throat.
I stared at the offending hip joints in the X-ray. Hip dysplasia, I thought. How simple. Could this really be the answer? How could he be the only one of so many to see this seemingly simple problem? The small exam room seemed to spin, unexplainably quickly yet in slow motion. His pen scratched against the X-ray, masterful angles and lines explaining how these uncovered, loose, unprotected hip joints had led to the size and scope of my pain.
There I sat, numb with gratefulness for the expertise of Dr. Mohammad Diab, UCSF Pediatric Surgeon and kind purveyor of the information for which I had longed, had begged for in the small night hours with tears salty and teeth pressed tight.
* * * * *
The surgery was scheduled: periacetabular osteotomy (PAO). My pelvis would be broken in several places and aligned properly, held together by titanium screws. The ensuing spaces would be filled in with donated bone.
It is one of the most aggressive orthopedic surgeries available. Debilitating for weeks and even months post-operation, this surgery creates a common experience for patients to need to receive treatment and build strength, even up to two years post-surgery.
Yet to hip dysplasia sufferers, what price is there on a pain-free life? The PAO is a pathway to just that, paved by precious few surgeons in the US and abroad who perform this highly specialized surgery.
I practically climbed on the surgery table and handed him the scalpels myself.
* * * * *
Almost a year has passed since my PAO. My story is not perfect, nor are my hips. Too much time passed without diagnosis for my hip joints and surrounding labrum to withstand the pressure of dysplasia, and irreversible arthritis set in.
But I am infinitely improved. Days go by without thought of hips, and pain. I exercise daily and happily, enjoying the gym, gentle yoga, and long walks with my children. My son is thrilled that I can get on a bike with him and pedal around with him. Medication is no longer a part of my days. My heating pad, once a constant companion, has been relegated to a dusty corner of my closet.
Life is being lived again.
I am thankful.