This (lengthy) post focuses on some health issues I’ve been having, not for sympathy, but perhaps because it may help me to work out my feelings on what is happening and to keep me moving forward toward better health. Maybe, too, some of you may have experiences that will give me insight and new ideas to implement.
Being independent and self-sufficient is such a big part of who I am. And yet, since mid-2018, I have experienced mobility issues off and on, and lately mostly on.
It used to be that if a man my age was watching me walk, it might give me a little spring in my step. This happened at the pool recently with a fellow I’d been talking to… but his comment was, “Oh, you are walking a little better today!” And the young lifeguard running over on another evening carrying a chair for me to sit on was very sweet but really sent the message that I am not hiding the pain very well. I come across as an invalid, and that makes me feel “invalid”.
The pain in my hip (and knees and muscles, to a lesser extent) is really impacting my life at this point. I can’t sleep through the night without waking in pain and I can’t even get into my car without lifting my (driving) leg into the vehicle with my hands! As I limp along, well-meaning people are asking what happened and, not only do I find it embarrassing “making a spectacle of myself” (as my mother might have said), but I haven’t had a good answer to give.
I suddenly realized, recently, that I was one of those people now who “live with chronic pain”! That realization, somehow, goes right to my self-image and I feel like I should really do better! (And I also feel like it can’t really be that bad and I should just stop complaining.) As I stand immobilized, leaning on a shopping cart in the entrance-way of a grocery store, I think that surely if I were just more diligent in my physio exercises that I again could be “a useful engine” (in the immortal words of Sir Topham Hatt to Thomas the Tank Engine).
The Backstory – Or How I Tried and Failed to Get a Diagnosis
In May of 2018, I fell while stepping off a curb onto uneven pavement. I sprained both ankles, the right one worse than the left, and also bashed up my left knee. Being someone who takes care of work and my kids’ needs before my own, I never went to physio until last year, naively trusting in my body’s ability to heal.
Back to 2018… Five months on from that fall, I developed a severe rash on my chest and abdomen that was so itchy, it made me want to rip my skin off. After some topical and oral medication, it was calmed down enough that I could feel normal on an over-the-counter antihistamine — that I am still taking to this day.
Referral waiting time being what it is, I was not able to see an allergist until early 2019. His conclusion: a rash due to an unspecified cause. (Not exactly helpful.) He did, however, note that the ANA levels in my blood were a bit high and referred me to a rheumatologist. Research tells me that ANA = antinuclear antibodies = antibodies that target the nucleus of a person’s own tissues. i.e. they are a potential (but nonconclusive) indicator of an autoimmune disorder (which could also manifest in a rash).
In May of 2019, I was finally able to see the rheumatologist. I had carefully listed all my various symptoms, but he said, “Yeah, none of these really go together as any kind of syndrome.” He also said that my ANA test was so borderline that he wasn’t sure why I was even sent to him and that, while there were other more in-depth tests available, he couldn’t recommend them in my case. At this point, I was limping a lot and particularly having trouble with pain in my right hip. He looked at my range of movement and where I was feeling pain and decided that I had problems with tightness in my IT band (no, not a bunch of computer guys who play instruments, but the iliotibial band formed of the connective tissues on the outer thigh and knee). He recommended that I go to physiotherapy.
Of course, me being me, and being deeply invested in both my job and getting my younger son through school, I couldn’t figure how to fit physio into my life. Finally ready in early 2020, I was stymied by the COVID shut-downs of personal services businesses. But in May of last year, I started seeing a really wonderful physio, who worked with me and gave me exercises (which I should really be more diligent about) to try to strengthen my back and thighs. He felt that I was distorting my gait through pain avoidance, all stemming back to the original fall. However, the last time I saw him, he said, “I know you saw a rheumatologist, but are you sure there isn’t hip joint involvement?”
Testing and a Bit of a Diagnosis
Bringing my story to last week. As you may know, my resolution this year was to stop putting myself last. I asked if my family doctor could order an X-ray of my hip and he also wanted to do my knees. He also ordered some blood tests and I asked if he could repeat the ANA test that I had had two years ago.
Following up after the tests, I fully expected to get the usual somewhat dismissive answer of nothing wrong and just do more physio. Not so!
I was not too surprised, I guess, to have a bit of arthritis in my knees at 60 (although I may also have a meniscus problem in the left one), but what really shocked me was the hips! My left hip is fine, but the right hip has severe arthritis, to the extent that I am eligible for hip replacement surgery! What a shock! (Although that would explain the issues I’ve been experiencing.) And I wonder if this would have been visible but treatable without surgery if the rheumatologist had ordered an X-ray a year and a half ago?
Next shock was that my blood test indicates that I am prediabetic. Time to get my diet and weight under control to try to reverse this. A bit of a wake-up call, telling me that my self-medicating emotional eating is really not doing me any favours. I’ve now started trying to make food choices on the low end of the glycemic index to ward off full-blown diabetes.
The final shock was the ANA test. My family doctor said, “Oh, your ANA is high!” I replied that the rheumatologist told me it was only borderline when I saw him. The family doctor said, “Well it’s not borderline now!” Apparently, normal is 1/80 and mine is 1/640. (Doing some research, I found that this indicates the greatest dilution of the blood at which antinuclear antibodies can still be detected.) A referral to a rheumatologist is in my future — he asked if I wanted to see the same one…. um, no. In the meantime, the family doctor sent me for a more specific test for rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disorder) just in case, as that is a condition best treated as early as possible. Now, of course, that may not be what the ANA test means and there are also false ANA positives, but at least I feel that someone is finally taking all my various concerns seriously. (I should hear that result next week.)
To Be or Not To Be … Bionic
If you have read through all my TMI health post, do you have any thoughts on hip replacement surgery? Do you know anyone who’s had it in recent years (as the technology is constantly improving)? How was the recovery? (I hate the idea of being even more of an invalid during recovery, even if it is for long-term gain.)
I am, frankly, having some trouble reconciling myself to the idea that I need to do this (even though I think I must). Every time I have a good day, I say to my husband, “Maybe my hip will get better if I just work at it more,” but I think that once it gets to this point, logically that doesn’t make sense. But emotionally? Well, that’s a different matter altogether.