In one of those crazy things that the planet drops on you so your tiny lizard prain can see magic and say “Ah ha. Meaning!” our yard is alive with multiple generations of Gulf Fritillary butterflies. They feast and live and die and transform on the passionflower plant.
Climbing a fence between our neighbors and us, the flowers have bloomed outside our bedroom since we moved here.
Until this summer, they lived and bloomed relatively unmolested by the insect world apart from an occasional bee.
Pow. Somewhere the word went out to a gadflying Gulf Fritillary, and she told two friends and like a hot night club, our yard was put on the map. They have been partying it up for months. If you give the lifecycle a month or so, we have grandparents, maybe great-grandparents, fathers, mothers, children, cousins and eggs for the next generation.
It’s a cosmic hustle for someone lying back with metal and bone filling in for bone and tissue. I’ve swapped one pain for a new pain, and unremarkably it’s all a mind fuck of trying to decide if I made the right move. Does a caterpillar know when it sticks its bottom feet on a leaf, curls up and swaddles itself in silk to form a crusty brown shell what happens next?
Here’s what I know. Day by day I was ground down by pain that the medical establishment assures me was irreversible and severe osteoarthritis. Through genes or some injury I never knew or remembered or more likely some accident at birth, my left hip wore itself to a wingeing, painful state.
It was gradual enough that for a while I figured I had pulled a muscle or otherwise strained my disobedient body. Then, I figured that I was just an out of shape mess. A little weight loss and a lot of exercise and I’d at least be able to sit, stand or walk without twinging.
And then the pronounced limping started. It didn’t stop.
Exercising was brutally painful. But with the help of a stoic streak forged with the fire of a childhood where crying was weakness and shaking it off was sound medical advice, I perservered. Oh, and of course, over the counter pain and inflammation killers, mostly my favorite vitamin naproxen, flowed in my blood stream second only to natural-born cells.
The long and the short of it — it sucked. Livable, but not optimal. I think the day I just spontaneously tripped on air or a sunbeam and dropped in a heap on the floor of my boss’s office scared me the most.
The future meant only one thing. It would be complaining and lessening my sphere of travel to footsteps. It would be my mother. My whole life she had sore feet and legs and breathed sighs of resignation. The diagnosis, which may have come only through an obstetrician, the only doctor I know that she ever visited, was one word “arthritis.”
My back was X-rayed, and the arthritis word arose again. Degenerative arthritis of two discs in my, I now learned, curved spine.
Resigned I was, too, like my mother. But I exercised more. I lost some weight, I followed exercises outlined by a physical therapist. I played softball only ever making it to first base on an error and then calling in a runner to my place.
If my mother I would become… If my future was to be pain and grimacing with a simple stroll, I’d push it hard and convince myself I could muscle through anything. I had to dig deep and keep on moving.
But I was moving less and less. I managed to walk for distances when I could not allow myself to sit. The funeral parade of my mother-in-law was a slow and deliberate slog in tropical humid heat. My new family arrayed behind us, worrying my every footfall and my pale skin getting beaten down in the midday sun.
Cumulatively, even as I pushed, I could feel my world getting smaller as my achievable distances became shorter.
What had been day-to-day discomfort, became months, then years and growing pain. Doctors told me to keep losing weight and keep exercising.
I began to learn that the language of pain is a foreign tongue. I couldn’t find the right description to impress an array of MDs that there was something more.
Here’s where I’ll toss out a brief tangent on a soapbox — I am certain that the deck is stacked against women when it comes to health. Every doctor’s visit seemed to turn to conversations about snacking and fat and health risks.
Yeah, I get that. Although, I’ve been built like a fireplug for pretty much as long as I can remember. Solid, junk in the trunk, low to the ground and a 36C bra since an incredibly early puberty. Healthy and active and curvaceous.
I never really vary wildly from about the same weight, my cholesterol and sugar are fine and blood pressure normal to low. Apart from the creep of middle age, I couldn’t convince anyone that what was happening — falling more frequently, getting up, sitting down, sleeping, moving, walking with pain — was getting worse and not the least bit normal.
My conviction of pain sucking worse for women is based on not being taken seriously. Every time I described my pain I guess it didn’t sound dire enough.
I wanted to punch the very young nurse practitioner, visited ONLY to take a PAP smear, who went off on hidden calories, bad diets and how obesity makes you uncoordinated. She accused me of drinking sugared soda and eating fast food based on nothing, and certainly not based on the vagina she was hired to swab.
Another doctor, visited when I fell in a hotel shower and weeks later ached in spasm-y pain, talked only about my age and asked about signs of pre-menopause. Pain and advancing age were inextricably linked and both incurable, I gathered.
Statistically, and rather than my linking one place, just Google this fact — Women have more cases of osteoarthritis and ultimately get more hips and knees replaced. But, men, they get their hips and knees replaced YOUNGER. If you’re an 80-year-old women and having trouble tooling around the assisted living complex, boom, you can get a new hip in the time that they recharge your Rascal scooter.
Substitute in a penis and balls, and you’re rocking that new hip or knee in your 50s or 60s. You can become an upright middle-aged man ready to chase a mobile lifestyle again.
Due for a physical, I figured I’d give it another whirl to try to convince a stranger that I wasn’t just another fat, old lady whining.
I read the online bio of a Russian woman that instead of an MD was a DO, a doctor of osteopathic medicine. When I showed up in her exam room, she had me hop off the table and walk around the little room. It was a first.
Other doctors looked at my height, weight, age and asked questions as I sat on the exam table in socks and paper gown. They moved my leg for me, asked more questions, tapping answers into a computer screen.
This doctor walked alongside me and looked from the front, back and sides.
For the first time, someone mentioned my hip. Given my not ancient age, this doctor assumed hip bursitis and after years of complaints I had an order for a new X-ray. After the X-ray, she canceled the follow up appointment that would have happened with bursitis and sent me straight to a surgeon.
I wish I had a before and after set of X-rays or even just the X-rays that the surgeon and I went over together. It was a study of black and gray. My left hip looked cavernous next to my right with space between the bones joining up and no cartilage in sight. An ugly, dark space.
I didn’t deliberate long. The surgeon was so certain that I probably was born with a misshapen structure, he didn’t suggest surgery, he only asked when.
This could turn out to be my chrysalis, my future in another form. For as long as I can remember long walks have meant sore legs and feet in a way that other people tell me doesn’t happen to them.
Maybe I have a new fix. I’m learning how to walk again. I was a late walker in my baby years. I am relearning what I maybe didn’t quite get right at like 2 or 3 years old.
At 50 I might creep into a new phase.