The first week was a blur. I was in the hospital for a few days after the surgery. They were painful and degrading. I still didn’t really know or understand what I was dealing with or how long the recovery would take. I was holding onto hope that we were talking a four to six week timeframe on recovery.
Going home wasn’t easy. I spent the first week on the sofa, timing out my oxycontin and knowing right when it was wearing off. I couldn’t do anything for myself, and since I couldn’t do the stairs very easily, I couldn’t shower. I had to have food brought to me on the sofa. I could barely make it to the bathroom. Friends visited and brought dinners, and my husband mostly worked from home. I had visits from home health care service: a nurse, an OT and PT. It was a surreal existence. I could barely lift my right leg without pain, and getting around consisted of hopping on one leg with a walker for balance. My arms grew sore and my hands grew calluses.
I didn’t leave the house for anything for weeks. I attended my son’s eighth grade graduation in a wheelchair, same for my daughter’s dance recital. I went to doctor appointments and got blood drawn and had my bone density levels scanned. The world, my world, became very small. I watched as my friends and colleagues rushed around finishing up their school years, while I diligently tried to do my sets of PT exercises on the sofa. It was very isolating. Visits from friends dropped off as the weeks wore on and my injury became old news. I became very lonely, and very depressed.
Summer started and the days grew warm, and I watched it all through the big picture window next to my sofa. My surgeon explained that my injury was so severe that I needed a very conservative approach towards recovery. At the eight week mark, I am still using crutches and a walker. I still can’t put my full weight on my right leg, which means I really can’t drive much of any distance (slamming on the brake would mean putting more than 50 % of my weight on that right leg). I am now doing outpatient PT, so that seems to be speeding up the level of strength and range of motion on my hip and leg.
But no one still really knows why this all happened. All of my bloodwork came back mostly normal. My bone density scans showed the same. I’ve heard everything from necrosis on my femur to worn out shoes to being overweight as possible causes for my injury, but none of them are definitive.
The only thing that all of the doctors seem to agree on: that I’ve run my last race.
With no real way of knowing why I broke my hip so significantly, there is no real way to prevent it from happening again. That’s what they say anyway. I agree with the logic, and don’t want to do anything stupid, but I still can’t imagine it. I love running. I love going out for a run early in the morning and just feeling that exhilaration of being outside, clearing your head, getting your heart pumping, and moving. I love having that solid time to myself. I love logging in my training plan runs and comparing the times, the distances. And I really love pinning on a bib and running a race: that feeling of pushing yourself, being with others who push you, and the community that brings you.
One of my proudest accomplishments has been doggedly learning how to be a runner. Despite never being athletic, despite being overweight, I set out to do something I never imagined being able to do, and I did it. Did it over and over and over until it became part of who I am. The day I completed the NYC Half Marathon was one of my favorite moments ever. Competing in two triathlons last year was something I never thought I could ever do. I can’t imagine never doing any of those things again.
The loss of that person, the one who ran and did bootcamp and competed in triathlons, combined with the isolation of my recovery, has left me in a strange new world that I am struggling to navigate. I don’t like being this sad person who is so negative and feels so melancholy all of the time. A better person would use this time to reflect on who I am inside and find a silver lining. Find the resolve to push on and be able to write a new story for myself with a different ending. And maybe I will get there some day, and maybe that day isn’t all that long off.
But I am not there yet. For now, I sit in my chair, looking out my picture window. I watch the world outside; it keeps moving forward while I sit still, waiting. Waiting for my hip to heal. Waiting for the day when I can walk again. Waiting for my life to begin again.
Spoiler alert: the paramedic was right.
I was rushed into the hospital ER, whisked off to X Ray not that long after I explained my totally implausible story (“I hurt myself running a 5K”. “Did you fall?” “No.” “A marathon?” “No, a 5K.”). It was probably less than an hour after I arrived that the attending doctor confirmed the paramedic’s speculation about a broken hip.
Even now, eight weeks later, I can’t even believe it. It made absolutely no sense. Over and over, the nurse, the doctor, the x ray techs: “Did you fall?” “That must have been a nasty fall.” “What did you hit when you fell?” But I didn’t. I just ran. A very normal distance on a very easy course. I lay on the table in disbelief.
More blood, more tests before I was admitted and put on the wait list for surgery the following day. The break, at the very top of my femur where it meets the hip, was clear across the whole top of the bone, and the top piece was “unstable”, meaning it had separated from the rest of the femur. It would need to be surgically put back together with a rod and multiple screws.
I asked if I had injured the bone more by walking on it for three days, ready to beat myself up severely for my irresponsible medical decisions. The doctor told me that while I had definitely displaced the bone and made the injury more significant by doing so, I would have needed surgery regardless, even if I’d gone to the doctor on Sunday. The diagnosis would have been the same as would have the surgery. Just my pain and recovery time were now going to be much greater. Awesome.
It took nearly 24 hours before they found a surgical opening for me, and a surgeon. There was some back and forth with my husband about who to choose from the available options (“I don’t really want a hand surgeon operating on my wife’s hip”). I was given an internal reduction (closing the wide open fracture) and fixation (holding it together with screws until it heals itself back together). Apparently my surgery was “tricky” and “more complicated” than the surgeon realized just from looking at the scans. Again, the disbelief. How did I get such a tricky injury, such a severe fracture, just by running (and then walking on it for three days).
But disbelief had become reality. It was all true, and each moment that the dream didn’t dissolve meant this was real, and it was happening.
I spent four days in the hospital. I was given a walker to use. It was a major challenge just to get out of bed and into the bedside chair. Everything that you take for granted about living your life: walking, showering, dressing, using the bathroom: all of it was taken from me. I needed help with absolutely every single personal care task. I could feed myself but needed the food close enough to me to reach it.
The final day I was in the hospital was the day of the 5K I organize. The previous year, I’d run it triumphantly, savoring every moment out on the course. Watching people enjoy everything I’d helped pull together. This time, I sat in my hospital bed, furiously checking my phone for updates. Everything went off brilliantly. I was proud and overwhelmingly sad. My race has always represented how far I’d come: someone who had never run, never been athletic, never felt like I’d fit in with those types of people had learned how to run, despite its challenges, despite my challenges, and learned to love it. Learned to love it so much that I decided to take on the task of organizing a race. And along the way I’d met wonderful, amazing people who loved running too.
And now here I was, missing it because I couldn’t even walk. Couldn’t even get out of bed without help. I had no idea how long the recovery would take, how painful it would be, how much my life would be altered. I wanted to be one of those people that would see this moment as a wake up call, to take back my health, to claw my way back, to return stronger and braver and healthier than ever. But in that moment, all I could feel was overwhelming loss and sadness.
That was eight weeks ago. Eight weeks that feel like a lifetime and then some.
I sat there, shaking and sweating, in my car, realizing that something was terribly wrong with me. I couldn’t talk myself out of it any longer. I couldn’t will it away or rest it away, I needed help and I needed it now. My mind raced. I needed a plan. I called my husband and told him he’d need to take me to a doctor, or maybe the ER later that day. I called my friends so they could run my bag stuffing party without me. OK. Plan in place. I waited a few more minutes until my kids came out to the car and readied to drive home.
The kids got in the car, and I went to put the car in reverse. I felt a strong pull as I moved my leg first over to the brake. I gasped. Holy shit. I eased my leg up off of the break and screamed in pain. “OK guys, we’re not going to be able to drive.” I pulled back into the parking spot, shaking and sweating again. I was officially scared. I couldn’t even drive. I asked my daughter to call my husband to come get us while I made a few more phone calls to get my obligations taken care of for the evening.
The principal and guidance counselor saw me in the car as they finished getting students on the buses and came over to me. Did I need help? I of course said no, as is my way. I would be fine. I couldn’t drive, but no worries, my husband was coming to get me and the kids. They looked at me like I was crazy and summoned the nurse. But I still was thinking that somehow I had this. I would be OK. I would just get a boot or something on my leg and I’d be fine.
The nurse looked very concerned as I explained that I couldn’t walk, and couldn’t move my foot to operate the car. She opened the door and examined my leg and foot to be sure I was still able to move them and had circulation. I was mortified. These were my coworkers, and I was sitting in my car, with my children, unable to move. I felt weak and stupid. Why hadn’t I gone to the doctor sooner? What was wrong with me? Why was I in so much pain?
My husband arrived with crutches. OK. I would get out, get in the other car, and get on my way. The nurse put the crutches in front of me and the counselor crouched down to help me move my leg. I started to shift in the seat to leave the car and realized that now I couldn’t even move the leg. The counselor offered to help me.
When he moved my leg, I screamed. I had never felt pain like that, not even while giving birth. Tears streamed down my face.
OK they told me, the worst is over. I was standing now on the crutches. All I had to do was hop over to the other car and then I could sit again. I put my hands in place and readied myself. And tried.
Again I screamed. “I can’t do it,” I sobbed. The pain was so agonizing I could not move an inch. “I think I need an ambulance.”
Everyone was very calm. I don’t know who called the ambulance, I think maybe the nurse. The principal came out (my boss, also a friend). Two more coworkers came out. I wavered between crying and being absolutely embarrassed to have such a scene at my expense. They helped keep me calm, they eased me down a bit so I wasn’t resting on just one leg, and after several long minutes, I heard the sirens from far away approaching.
When the paramedics arrived, the school nurse took the lead with them and went through my symptoms, my story and the duration. They did a quick examination while I stood on the crutches before getting me onto the gurney (another scream from me, but at least no expletives). I said good bye to everyone as calmly as I could with tears streaming down my face, in between gulps of air. “I don’t think I’ll be at work tomorrow,” I tried to joke to my boss. My husband said he would take the kids home and meet me at the hospital.
I watched the concerned faces of everyone as the ambulance pulled away, listening carefully as the paramedic called in my vitals and situation to the hospital. He rattled off my respirations, blood pressure, dosage of the pain medication he’d just given me, and then his assessment of my problem.
“Possible fractured hip.” WTF?
Several hours after I got home from my disastrous 5K, where I literally hobbled through the last mile, I felt a bit better. I still couldn’t put a lot of weight on the leg, but with rest it wasn’t painful. It was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, which for our family has always meant our little small town’s Memorial Day Parade. Our daughter is in the band, and she marches in it every year.
I thought about staying home and resting. I thought about maybe going to the local urgent care around the corner. I debated with myself over and over. And in the end, indecision won out. I would go to the parade on my daughter’s crutches to keep weight off my leg. I would rest on the sofa. I would have Monday to rest on the sofa. And by Monday night, I should be much better.
I told myself everything would be fine. If I willed it to be, it would be. I had a big week ahead of me: our town’s 5K was the following weekend and the last week before the race is always insanely busy. We take delivery on donated items, we assemble the race bags (1000 of them!) , we have to prepare everything on the site the day before. It is a huge undertaking. I had no time to be off my feet and resting with that coming up. I was sure I would be fine if I just took it easy for a few days.
By Monday night, I actually was feeling some better. I stopped using the crutches and adopted a modified gait (read: limp) that allowed me to walk mostly normally (or so I told myself). I steeled myself for work Tuesday, popped an ibuprofen and my most comfortable shoes, and went on to work.
I work as a substitute teacher at our local high school. This day I was in several different classrooms, walking all around our one story building. I knew, perhaps, that this wasn’t ideal for me trying to move forward from this injury. My iPhone told me I walked nearly two miles just in the course of the day. By 1pm, I was sore and visited the nurse’s office for some ibuprofen. They were busy enough to not really notice the strange walk I’d adopted. I was relieved.
Tuesday afternoon I knew somehow in my head that my leg was probably going to need attention. I enlisted my kids’ help in getting my race stuff for Sunday organized and out into the garage so that I wouldn’t have to haul it all up the stairs. But I still resisted going to the doctor; I just couldn’t spare the time. I was sure after another night off my feet and another stiff dose of ibuprofen that I would gradually feel less pain over time, and I would be fine.
When I woke up for work Wednesday morning, I was disappointed that I didn’t feel better. I had been so sure that after eight hours off of my feet and some sleep that I would see an improvement. My leg didn’t feel worse, but it didn’t feel better either. I popped my ibuprofen and massaged in a soothing cream that a friend had given me. I wondered how I would get through not only a day of school, but our race bag stuffing party that night. I packed a bottle of ibuprofen in my school bag and the soothing cream. Maybe I would have to double up doses today.
I could tell I was worse by 8:15 am. I had been in a computer lab with students when I rose to stand from a sitting position and felt significant pain just to stand. I tried to walk but my leg felt like it wasn’t in place. I had to sort of hitch it a time or two to get it to work properly. Once I had it in place I felt fine but the getting it there was filled with white hot pain.
Still, I had to get through the day. I had three different teachers to cover, including one of my “regulars”, and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I could not have been more relieved when I saw my last four classes were watching a movie. I wouldn’t have to move around a lot, and it would give me the opportunity to rest.
In retrospect, I should have noticed things going slowly downhill. When I went to heat up my lunch in the library, people asked what was wrong with me. My limp, which I thought was just noticeable to me, was being commented upon right and left. Each time I got up from a sitting position hurt worse and worse. And the hitching I was having to do to get my right leg walking felt more and more like a “putting it in place”…in the back of my head I knew that couldn’t be good. At the end of the day, I was relieved to close my classroom door and be done. I was going to go to the doctor. Enough was enough. I would have to delegate some of my responsibilities and get my leg looked at.
I walked to my car and went to move it to the other side of the building. My younger son was in the other wing of the school that housed middle school kids, and I normally picked him up there at the end of his day, about half an hour after mine ended. I went to walk to the door of the school when suddenly I realized that I couldn’t really walk. I was pulling my right leg with all of my might and it was incredibly painful.
The principal noticed and told me to wait in my car. She would send my son out when the day was done. I sent my older daughter in to fetch him and needed to walk about six steps back to my car. I stood there, paralyzed. I couldn’t move now. Not without incredible pain. I willed myself to get back to my car and shouted expletives as I hauled myself into the driver’s seat.
I realized, then, that everything was falling apart. This was not something I could will away. This was not something I could just go to my primary care doctor for. I was going to have to stop everything and get to the ER. This was serious.
I sat there, with tears streaming down my face, wondering what was happening to me.
So obviously this post is a bit late in coming. Two months to the day, actually. I can’t believe it has been only two months since everything in my world shifted so dramatically. I have wanted to write this post for so long, and it is certainly not for a lack of time. I’ve had nothing but time for the last two months.
This was me the morning of May 29. A sunny, hot morning. I had been doing my best to train for this race, the Barnum Festival 5K, for the previous eight weeks. After running several dismal 5K times, in early April I fired up my Couch to 5K apps and started again from scratch.
Everything was harder this time. I’d gained weight again. I was working so there was less time to run. The weather had grown warm, so running in the afternoons meant running in 75-85 degree heat. But I still doggedly logged in the miles, doing some interval training, doing treadmill runs, adding in yoga and some strength training to help gain back some of the fitness I’ve lost over the last twelve months.
The day before the race, I did a practice run on our shaded trail while my daughter was at dance class. In retrospect it probably wasn’t the best idea. Normally I try to have a rest day before a race, so that I am fresh. But this was just a 5K, and since I hadn’t gotten all of my training runs in on my plan, I really wanted to get in every mile I could before running what I hoped to be my come back race. Last year, I set my PR on this course, so I hoped it meant I could at least better my race times thus far this year by at least a little.
As I drove to the site that morning, I tried to do my ABC goal setting. I read this on a blog somewhere once. Goal A is your most realistic goal. Goal B is a reach but still potentially doable. Goal C would be pie in the sky not likely but technically possible. Race day had dawned hot, so I knew that this would slow me down. I finally settled on Goal A being 40 minutes, Goal B being 38 minutes and Goal C being anything below 38. These felt like crazy slow times, but after the year I had, plus the weight, plus the heat, I figured that was where I was at. I was looking forward to the flat pretty course, seeing a few friends, and finishing on the bases at our local minor league ball park.
I felt a little tightness in my right leg as I walked around the race site waiting for the race to start. I thought about getting in line for the massage guy, but the line was too long. I figured it might be some muscle cramping due to the warmth, so I drank more water than I normally do before a race (who wants to use a porta potty more than necessary?). I stretched here and there and walked around a bit. I wasn’t sure what the tightness was, but I figured it would go away as I warmed up out on the course.
We lined up under the I 95 overpass, near the big American Flag being displayed from the fire truck. I went to the back of the pack, readied my RunKeeper app, and headed out.
The first mile felt good. I was firmly in the back, but feeling strong. I was ahead of my pace necessary to hit Goal A and B so I was excited. It was all coming together. The rough year, the hard training, the loss of fitness…I was finally on the come back trail. Mile 1: 12:28 pace.
The second mile was where things started to go off the rails. We were just entering Seaside Park which borders Long Island sound when the tightness in my leg started to become a bigger issue. It wasn’t going away. In fact, it was actually becoming more painful. I took a walk break to see if it would help ease the soreness. I stopped at the water stop hoping hydration would help. I started back up again, hoping to salvage my time, but the pain continued. I started to alternate running and walking, and for a bit, that seemed to help. It wasn’t getting any better, though. I could see my time goals start to slip through my fingers. I pushed myself to continue with more running than walking. Mile 2: 13:03 pace.
The third mile was when I realized something was very wrong. This wasn’t just a sore muscle or a tightness. What had started out as just a bit of a tweak had turned into out and out pain with every step. As I rounded the final bend in the park, I realized that I just couldn’t run any more. Every time I tried to pick up the pace I was having truly excruciating pain in my right leg. I finally gave up my goals and slowed to a walk, angrily watching all of the people who I’d been keeping pace with (or had passed) amble past me.
But even with walking, the pain got worse. There was a moment when I realized I was in serious trouble. I was having trouble just walking at this point. If anyone had been watching me, they would have seen me grimace and grit my teeth as I struggled just to put one foot in front of the other. I thought about finding someone to tell, talk to, get help from, but everyone was in their own heads trying to get to the finish line. I pushed on, leaving the park and telling myself I was in the homestretch. Mile 3: 17:18 pace.
I finally hit the three mile mark, just outside of the ballpark. There was a race volunteer there. I should have probably asked her to help me but I was so close. I was determined to finish. I had never not finished a race, and I certainly wasn’t going to do it on a flat 5K. I tried to run but couldn’t. I finally pushed into the ballpark. I made myself trot the last fifty feet or so through the finish line at home plate. Last .1 mile: 16:53 pace.
Final time: 45:28. My slowest 5K ever, and I was just grateful to have made it through the finish line.
I walked through the chute and made my way to get water. Hydration had to help. I got the water and then (because I am probably the stupidest person in the world) headed to the beer tent. I earned that damn thing! I got a raspberry pale ale from a local brewery and stood there to savor it. Now that I wasn’t moving, I would be fine, right?
After the beer was done and I went to walk out of the beer tent, I realized I was having trouble walking. I could barely put any weight on my right leg. I chatted up the few friends I knew at the race, trying all the while to hide my limp, and finally excused myself to go home.
As I walked gingerly to my car, I passed the ambulance crew. I thought briefly about flagging them down to ask them to take a look at me, but then decided against it. I would just go home, put my leg up and ice it. I would be fine. I was sure of it.
By the time I got home, I could barely put any weight on the leg. I got out my iPad and started to frantically Google my symptoms. Obvious deformity? No. Blunt trauma? No. Redness or swelling? No. I told myself that the injury couldn’t possibly be that bad because it met none of those criteria. The most obvious one, not being able to put weight on the limb, I was sure would improve over time.
Stay tuned for Part Two. Spoiler alert: it didn’t improve over time.