Somewhere, sometime, some place, maybe in the 1960s or 1970s, my mother was told she had arthritis. That is all I know.
She never had the balled up knuckles of rheumatoid arthritis, and she mostly complained that walking hurt. I think there may have been an X-ray, or maybe just a Marcus Welby-style MD probing her knees and hips and thighs and ankles and declaring that her joints were wearing down to nubs of bone against bone without the juicy lubrication of cartilage.
In other words, she probably had something similar to what today’s modern medicine has declared for me. The doctor’s email called it “severe osteoarthritis of the left hip.” I walk funny, and it hurts as I limp and lurch across the floor.
One could note that it absolutely a cosmic joke that I now have the mobility issues and pain with which Pat soldiered on for many years. She stubbornly got no medical help, popping NSAIDs sporadically and occasionally and begrudgingly using a cane she dug up from some closet and hacked at herself with a saw to whittle it to the right height.
In her final years, I accompanied her grocery shopping, where she maintained a death grip for stability on the handle of a grocery cart. Each year getting in and out of my car was an affront and an admonition to buy a better, more suitable model. Although, the yellow VW Beetle seemed to work OK.
We argued that she should see a doctor. They, the doctors, she said, told her there was no point, there was nothing they could do. A dubious claim, but maybe true in the 1960s. We argued over at least taking over the counter painkillers. For a while I convinced her to stay on a routine of taking Ibuprofen rather than waiting for the pain to get too bad for it to help. But, then, she would forget to eat while taking the pills and the upset stomach would outweigh the pain in her legs, and she would stop taking anything.
She did confide on a regular visit that she was afraid to drive, because the pain in her legs was weakening her ability to control them. I went along with the face-saving story that the car was itself not working correctly.
I was a nag, a scold, a worrier. I tried to help with solutions, like suggesting a walker, a horrifying prop that would scream to the world that she had become an old lady. I would bring over different brands of drugs and did constant reading up on what doses would be the most effective and how to take them. In the end, I would (mostly) allow her to complain of the pain without my comments and try to get her outside in the world to keep her muscles moving. I always let her steer the grocery cart.
So here I am. I am now admonishing myself, when I stubbornly decide to ignore the pain. Because of the years I trailed her grocery cart cum walker, I still use a basket or let M. steer the cart. I don’t like admitting that my walking has gotten pretty bad, rarely without at least a limp.
In turns I hide the pain or I complain, just as my mother before me.
But the medical establishment has shown me the picture of my hip, and it truly is not a healthy looking joint. My right hip shows up on film cheerily with a nice round femoral head curving into the acetabulum of my pelvis surrounded by desirable puffy white clouds of cartilage. The picture of my left hips is dull shades of gray and black shadows without spaces of white and with an uncomfortable looking angle. The surgeon tells me I may have been born this way — slightly off balance and prone to have the cartilage wear away in a grating gate.
Bad genes or congenital deformity or the gods laughing at those moments of impatience when I rushed my own mother along or had her out walking longer than was comfortable.
My future is plastic and titanium. The plan is a total hip arthroplasty, as the medical people say, or a total hip replacement in my world. They will saw off the bone at the top of my leg, and jam in a modern machine. It scares the shit out of me, at the same time I am intrigued by the cyborg dimension of it all and the prospect of walking pain free. The recovery sounds like a bitch, and I will not buy the fanny pack the medical guide suggestions for those dark days when I walk with a walker.
When I become better, stronger, faster, more metallic and unable to travel through airport security, I will not be my mother. Pat was not a robot.