Everyone said you feel better as soon as the surgery’s over. They were right. I woke in an SUV of a hospital bed, IV plugged into my back, numb from the waist down, and I felt like a million bucks. I was also ravenous.
They suggested saltines, because anesthesia can make you queasy. Instead I ordered a large slab of cheese, an apple, and a red velvet cupcake, salmon with two sides, an entrée-size chef salad, three pudding cups, a BLT and a bowl of tomato soup, a bowl of beef and vegetable soup and two bowls of ice cream. I was still hungry when the night nurse left but too embarrassed to order anything else.
They’d rebuilt my hip, removing two chunks of loose bone, stitching up my labrum, the gasket of tissue that adheres to the rim of the hip socket and keeps the joint’s fluid in place, and reshaping the bones themselves into fluid, graceful, feminine shapes. Or at least that’s how it looked to me as I watched the whole thing on closed-circuit television, my lower limbs lost in the inky feelinglessness of a spinal tap and epidural.
Both my femur and hip socket had developed excess bone – a condition that’s partly congenital and partly caused by childhood participation in certain sports (I played lacrosse from fourth grade through college.) The pincer effect of thickened femur smashing into lengthened hip socket, a situation called Femoroacetabular Impingement, slowly tore the joint apart.
The problem started in 1998 or so. Back then there was no diagnosis of impingement. There was no recognition of the fundamentally structural nature of the problem. Just talk about something called “sports hernia,” a soft tissue issue that had no real solution. I did yoga, curtailed activity and lived with a lot of pain. Over many years it subsided into a dull ache in my back and groin that never really went away, but didn’t prevent me from doing most of what I loved.
Last year it suddenly got worse. I felt like an old man – my lower back sore with any bending, the hip itself pinching occasionally and a new pain at the top of my hamstring making it impossible to touch my toes comfortably. I’d stopped running. I’d stopped skiing. I couldn’t even put my socks on comfortably. It was too painful to bring my knee toward my chest.
When I went to the doctor this time he looked at the x-rays, did a little manipulation of my left leg, and said in French-accented English, “we can feex thees for you.” He did. The morning after surgery the pain in my back, groin and hamstring were gone. The hip itself felt pretty worked over, but my body felt younger. I realized how much of my aging had nothing to do with age at all. It made me wonder what else is like that, and what “old” really is.