24: Floating Bones

24: Floating Bones

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Floating Bones

The difficulties, hardships and trials of life … are positive blessings.
They knit the muscles more firmly, and teach self-reliance.

~William Matthews

I have hip dysplasia. I bet I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t that what dogs get?” Yeah, it is. Me and the dogs. Basically, my thigh bones don’t fit well into my hip sockets, so I’ve got pain, cartilage damage, and arthritis. Being human instead of hound, however, I insist to my husband that I don’t need to be put to sleep.

My doctor suggests periacetabular osteotomy surgery on my right hip, the one more damaged. The operation, more complex than hip replacement, will sculpt and reposition my bones, which are then held in place by metal pins. After finding an experienced surgeon and clearing it with insurance, I agree.

I feel okay about it until the big day. I talk to intake nurses, a physician’s assistant, the anesthesiologist, and my surgeon, all of whom have this unsettling habit: they ask me why I’m there. Shouldn’t they know?

“What are we doing today?” the surgeon asks me. I try not to panic. I’ve been told this is a hospital safety measure—if everyone involved in my care asks me why I think I’m there, and I keep giving the same answer, then apparently, that’s what they’re going to do. It doesn’t occur to me until later that I should have answered, “liposuction.”

Still, everything goes well, and the surgery is a success. After a week in the hospital, I am discharged with instructions not to use my right leg at all for six weeks. Back home, getting around is tough. One night, sitting on the sofa, I place my right hand on my walker and my left hand on the armrest. I try to push myself up to a standing position on my good left leg, but I can’t. Struggling and straining, I fall backward onto the couch.

“Clackety clack!” I freeze, petrified. Have I broken myself? I’ve fallen only a couple of feet, back onto a squishy sofa, but the noise was terrifying. I remember the dire warnings of my surgeon: if I’m not careful, I may cause the metal pins holding my bones together to slip, and then the entire ordeal might have to be repeated. I do the only logical thing: cry hysterically, then page the surgeon.

A physician’s assistant calls me back. As I tearfully describe what happened, she assures me it would take a much more serious fall to dislodge the pins.

“What about the clacking noise?” I ask, sniffling and red-nosed. “It sounded awful!”

“Well, you have to understand that the bones aren’t set yet,” she says. “They’re just sort of floating around in there, and they’re going to bump into each other for a while until they heal.”

She assures me I’ll be okay, so I thank her and hang up. Then I think, Um, wait. Floating bones?

When I tell my best friend, Kate, she laughs. “She’s probably making that up,” Kate says, “standing around with the other P.A.’s, snickering and telling them, ‘Yeah, I told her her bones were floating around in her body and she bought it!’ They’re probably all laughing, telling their friends.”

Okay, Kate has a point, but hey, blind faith in my P.A. is better than dwelling on the alternatives.

Side effects plague me after surgery, but the worst one is helplessness. You see, I’m a doer. Someone who gets things accomplished. Okay, actually, I’m just a control freak. The sticky incision that isn’t healing, the blood clots bloating my calf, the blisters under the medical tape—all that is nothing compared to watching my summertime garden get devoured by weeds. The garden, the house, my waistline—it’s all going to pot. I have a supportive husband who brings me homemade food and helps me get around, but tidying and weeding aren’t his thing. Hence, the hours staring out my window plotting the demise of the dandelions I am convinced must be mortifying the neighbors.

I do get out occasionally. I have a wheelchair, and sometimes I get wheeled to the movies or out to dinner. It is in this scenario that I discover the joys of trying to use public restrooms while disabled. It’s a comedy of errors.

My wheelchair is manual, chunky, and corners like a semi. I inadvertently crash into a trash can, knocking refuse across the room. I stare up at paper-towel dispensers I cannot reach, then pull myself up to wobble on one leg to grab what I can, worrying that people will think because I am sort of standing, I must be faking. Even the logistics of applying toilet seat covers seem overwhelming.

Generally, I’m fortunate enough to get others to open the bathroom door while I wheel myself into the room, but then I’m confronted with the challenge of correctly angling myself into the stall. The handicapped stalls that used to seem so spacious now appear akin to telephone booths. Ever tried to spin a wheelchair in a telephone booth?

One evening, I enter a bathroom stall and realize I have to spin. I cannot do this without knocking open the stall door. Straining to reach the latch, I shut the stall door again and survey my surroundings. I am going to have to sit perpendicularly on the toilet seat. This seems ridiculous, but somehow I maneuver myself into position, desperately thankful I have one good leg to help me. I huff and puff and finally get myself off the chair and atop my perch. It is then I watch in horror as the stall door slowly creaks open, the latch broken.

By the time I leave the bathroom, I am red-faced and sweaty, exhausted and embarrassed. I also have a profound respect for the disabled.

Three long months later, I am allowed to walk unassisted. My first attempt, I am told, is adorable. I wobble back and forth, holding my arms out for balance, looking like a toddler taking her first steps. My husband generously resists whipping out the camera to capture the moment.

Over the next weeks, I practice walking, which doesn’t hurt (unless I overdo it) but is still awkward. My center of gravity feels different on my right side than on my left. This weirds me out, but I am so busy taking out the trash, scrubbing the toilets, and driving myself to work that I’m too content to sweat it.

I have come away from this experience realizing that little things can make me happy if I just remember what blessings I have. It’s so gratifying to walk and move without pain. Let me tell you, you’ve never seen a woman so thrilled to be cleaning out her garage. I cherish the now-strong left leg that helped me through this, and I appreciate my new right-side abilities. I’m not yet able to take long walks, hike nature trails, or even comfortably cross my leg, but that’s okay. Even if I’m never fully up to speed again, my three months of helplessness were more than enough to make me infinitely thankful for what I can do—and that includes brandishing the cutest weed-free yard I’ve ever had.

~Alaina Smith

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