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Posts Tagged ‘arthritis’

Life – Pain = Euphoria!

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, Health, life, Medicine, women on March 23, 2012 at 12:07 am
Example of an American grocery store aisle.

Scary no more!! Image via Wikipedia

So many people are telling me how different I look since I had my hip replaced Feb. 6.

Not only that I can now walk standing upright without lurching scarily from side to side.

But I smile more. I look people in the eye. I’m once more able — after two years — to focus on details beyond howgoddamnfarisittogettowhereIhavetogo?

It could have been the agonizing journey the entire length of a grocery store aisle for a forgotten (cursed) gallon of milk. Or the hotel entrance closed on one Manhattan block forcing me to round the corner, sweating and resentful from the additional exertion.

I feel like a new person, someone back in the world.

For the first few weeks, I felt I was rebounding off a trampoline, so high was I flying — emotional energy, physical stamina, intellectual curiosity restored.

(A doctor friend explained this was a neurochemical high as my endorphins were in overdrive for years.They did eventually subside.)

Chronic pain drains your battery, and leaches color from everyday life in so many ways. When every step hurts, you dread…everything: grocery-shopping, visiting a museum, exploring a new city, buying clothes or shoes or anything in a store.

It also drains you mentally — something I hadn’t considered, so automatic had it become — as you constantly calculate how much is this going to hurt before doing even the simplest things.

I chose the anterior method, a less common procedure, which from the day of surgery has made my life better. Since my three days in the hospital, I’ve needed only one dose of major painkiller and a dozen Tylenol.

I’ve gone from being Eeeyore to Tigger, both Winnie the Pooh characters; “Bouncing is what Tiggers do best!”

I’ve even (yayyyyyy!) started to lose weight. I’ve realized, to my chagrin, that my nightly cocktail had become, essentially, liquid painkiller — I’d been self-medicating in a pretty high-calorie way. Add to that the double whammy of a slowed metabolism due to my age and my body’s growing inability to handle truly vigorous cardio workouts…

I fly to San Francisco next week to report a story, which is so fun — being able to travel without dreading every step; exploring one of my favorites cities again for the first time since 1998; seeing three friends out there; having an editor sufficiently confident to send me.

But more than anything, I now have the energy and enthusiasm for all of it.

My husband is a bit overwhelmed, although thrilled, by the new ebullient me.  “You’re happy!” he said the other day.

Why, yes I am.

Healing is emotional as well

In aging, behavior, Health, life, Medicine, sports, women on February 11, 2012 at 2:19 am
Doctor's office again

Doctor's office again (Photo credit: Sidereal)

One of the most essential elements of healing a body that has been injured, damaged or ill is to soothe and comfort the psyche, the soul of the person whose corporeal armor has, in a significant way, (even in the aid of better health), been pierced.

But it’s the piece that is consistently left out. When you leave hospital after a major surgery, you’re handed a thick sheaf of instructions, some in boldface type, all of which are — of necessity — focused on the physical.

Who addresses the needs of the soul?

Which is why, when I met a fellow hip patient in the hallway, a former dancer, a woman my age, we couldn’t stop talking to one another about how we felt.

Not our bones or muscles, but our hearts and minds.

A sense of shame and failure that years of diligent activity and careful eating and attention to posture…led us into an operating suite. The feeling of isolation, of being cut from the herd of your tribe, the lithe and limber, the fleet of foot. The fragility of suddenly relying very heavily on a husband whose innate nature may, or may not be, to nurture.

And a husband who knows all too well that physical intimacy is almost impossible, sometimes for years, when your loved one is sighing not with desire but in deep pain. When your hips simply can’t move as you wish they would, and once did. It is a private, personal loss with no place to discuss it.

I’m deeply grateful to know a few women like me: feisty, active, super-independent and all recovering, now or a while ago, from hip replacement. Every tribe has a scar, a mark, a tattoo.

Ours is  a vertical six inches.

Time to wear it proudly.

Thanks to blogging and a bum hip, I’m a cover girl!

In beauty, behavior, blogging, Health, journalism, life, women on October 27, 2011 at 12:42 am

Too weird for words, really…

It all started out thanks to my blogging for True/Slant, which is where the editors of this magazine found my writing and liked it enough to ask me to write about my miserable left hip, whose arthritis worsened severely in January 2010, just in time for me to combine writing a memoir with — agonizing pain! Five specialists! Xrays! MRIs! Heavy painkillers!

The corticosteroids I took to reduce the inflammation then destroyed the bone in my hip — necessitating hip replacement (which I am trying to get up the nerve to just get done.)

Joy.

The cover shoot was a hoot. Five (!) strangers converged on our small suburban apartment: an art director and photographer from Atlanta, a make-up and hair artist from Chicago, a photo assistant from Brooklyn and a wardrobe stylist from New York City who brought an entire garment rack filled with possibilities they had chosen for me, based on my many bossy emails of what I refuse to wear and (shriek) my clothing size.

Brave souls, all of us.

It took 4.5 hours to achieve this shot. What you can’t see is the July sweat dripping down my back, nor the photographer sliding up and down my living room wall for support, also drenched from non-stop focus and exertion. Nor the art director, Susan, peering after every shot at her laptop to see how it all looked.

Luckily for me, the photographer, Kevin, and Susan and I had had time the day before to enjoy a long, leisurely lunch and have a chance to get to know one another personally, which made the shoot much less scary than it might have otherwise been. They’re lovely people, warm and down-to-earth, so I never felt intimidated or nervous.

(Thanks to my new book and other projects, I’m fairly used to being photographed for national publication. I even had my pic taken in a bathing suit for some paid web writing I did about my hip.)

The necklace is my own (Ann Taylor), as are the invisible earrings. I’m leaning against our sofa, with lots of artificial light thrown in. The curly hair is natural.

I never thought in a million years this might happen, but it’s already prompted some kind and supportive emails from AT readers.

Here’s a link to the issue…although you can’t access my story (!) online.

What Billie Jean King And I Have In Common

In aging, behavior, Health, Medicine, news, seniors, sports on September 2, 2011 at 12:12 am
The Tin Man. Poster for Fred R. Hamlin's music...

He's a cutie. But you don't want to feel this stiff, ever! Image via Wikipedia

Not what you think, smarties. Not tennis. Not sexual orientation.

OA. That’s osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease that grinds away your cartilage and bone and makes it really painful to walk, dance, lift, carry and just get on with life.

So the Arthritis Foundation is running a new campaign to get the arthritic among us — all 50 million of us! — to keep moving.

It’s a little bizarre, but true, that the more you hurt (and you do!), the more you need to get moving, as often and vigorously as possible, to lessen your pain. After only three or four days of inactivity, I feel like the Tin Man, the pain in my left hip so excruciating I wake up at 3:00 a.m. to gulp down a painkiller.

I recently wrote an essay about my addiction to exercise to stay flexible, fight weight gain and avoid depression from my constant arthritis pain for Arthritis Today. It has not yet appeared; I’ll link to it when it does.

Do you have a physical disability or chronic issue that makes your life tougher?

How do you deal with it?

What Three Months On Crutches Taught Me

In behavior, design, Health, Medicine, men, sports, travel, urban life, women on November 11, 2010 at 7:23 pm
Crutches against orange wall

They rock! Image by net_efekt via Flickr

This has been my first week, literally, on my own two feet since August 8. It is an odd feeling to readjust to ambulation.

I’ve been relying on a pair of amazing short crutches that I bought for $200 on-line that are light, strong, comfortable and made those three months as easy as they could possibly have been.

You can buy them here.

I’ve been fighting arthritis in my left hip, but some dead bone in there is more the issue. Now we’re hoping it won’t suddenly chip off, which will force me into the OR right away for the inevitable hip replacement.

What did I learn?

People are wayyyyy too nosy. I am now so glad that total strangers can’t grill me about what happened and when did I have surgery and why not and tell me all about theirs. Boundaries, people?

People are often incredibly kind. Many times, strangers in grocery stores (as I crutched with one hand, stuck the other crutch in the cart and pushed it, ugh) offered to help me or even do my shopping for me. Many opened doors and held them, men and women. Some even rushed to do it.

Most people have never heard of short crutches. They rock! Light, easy, portable. They don’t hurt your arms or shoulders or hands or armpits. They don’t hurt at all. Yes, you do develop insanely strong triceps and very thick calluses on the heels of your hands.

They see short crutches and assume they are permanent. I received many pitying looks from people who mistakenly may have assumed I must have had polio or suffer from MS.

Life goes on, crutches or no. While on them, I flew out to Las Vegas and spoke to a major conference. I scooched fast, sideways, in movie theaters, up stairs, down super-steep parking garage entrance ramps, up wet, grassy hills.  I even used them to get in and out of the swimming pool. It is damn challenging to move across wet, slippery tile!

Life also moves a lot more slowly. This is not a bad thing, but it becomes necessary. Everything takes longer than normal.

Rainy or snowy days are a drag. With both hands used for crutches, you’ve got no hand left for holding an umbrella. They are also frightening as you pray not to slip or slide into concrete or in the road.

You will develop triceps of steel. Seriously!

It’s only crutches. On my most fed-up days, I was still glad it was nothing more serious. Many people are facing much worse.

My surgeon didn’t believe I’d do it. So he told me. Of course I did!

I can’t say I will miss them, but I am deeply grateful I was able to enjoy three pain-free months of such well-assisted mobility.

Why I Talk To My Pharmacist More Than My Doctor(s)

In behavior, business, Health, Medicine on August 15, 2010 at 12:59 pm
The mortar and pestle, an internationally reco...
Image via Wikipedia

Turns out I’m part of a larger trend. Reports The New York Times:

“We are not just going to dispense your drugs,” said David Pope, a pharmacist at Barney’s. “We are going to partner with you to improve your health as well.”

At independent drugstores and some national chains like Walgreens and the Medicine Shoppe and even supermarkets like Kroger, pharmacists work with doctors and nurses to care for people with long-term illnesses.

They are being enlisted by some health insurers and large employers to address one of the fundamental problems in health care: as many as half of the nation’s patients do not take their medications as prescribed, costing nearly $300 billion a year in emergency room visits, hospital stays and other medical expenditures, by some estimates.

The pharmacists represent the front line of detecting prescription overlap or dangerous interaction between drugs and for recommending cheaper options to expensive medicines. This evolving use of pharmacists also holds promise as a buffer against an anticipated shortage of primary care doctors.

“We’re going to need to get creative,” said Dr. Andrew Halpert, senior medical director for Blue Shield of California, which has just begun a pilot program with pharmacists at Raley’s, a local grocery store chain, to help some diabetic patients in Northern California insured through the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

Like other health plans, Blue Shield views pharmacists as having the education, expertise, free time and plain-spoken approach to talk to patients at length about what medicines they are taking and to keep close tabs on their well-being. The pharmacists “could do as well and better than a physician” for less money, Dr. Halpert said.

I have spent an inordinate amount of time this year at my local pharmacy, run by a veteran named Aqeel, a warm, plain-spoken guy with three daughters. His store is tiny, two aisles wide, and sits two storefronts away from a CVS, an enormous chain of drugstores. But since January, having to take a variety of serious medications for the first time to manage my osteoarthritis — from steroids to Fosamax — I don’t have the time, patience or interest in running back to my doctors every time I have another question about my health.

I first spoke to him a few years ago, when I asked which vitamins to use, and why. He actually sat me down on one of his folding chairs and explained how they work and would affect me. Some people don’t want that much explanation or want to take the time. I loved it. Someone who spoke to me like a fellow adult!

His friendly, open manner, combined with decades of experience, makes me feel safe asking him questions. When I took one drug recently (all of them new to me),  I felt so incredibly lousy — disoriented and highly anxious, this on a weekend — I went back to ask him about it. That side effect was indeed unpleasant, but not unusual, he reassured me.

He’s one of three local merchants in my town I interviewed for my new book about working in retail, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, April 14, 2011.)

Patients live a weird existence. Away from the few, hurried minutes with our busy physicians, some of whom are brusque and intimidating, we wander about in a fog of confusion. Yes, I read the accompanying literature so know what side effects to expect. But I didn’t know that, (hopefully) on the second dose of Fosamax, for example, a drug meant to build bone, I might not feel so dopey and tired.

Do you have a pharmacist you like and trust?

Crutch Life — Disability Chic!

In behavior, design, Health on August 10, 2010 at 3:18 pm
Line art drawing of two forms of crutches.
Image via Wikipedia

It’s stick time!

My glam new crutches arrived last week and are now part of my every movement for the next three months, which will include a train trip to Boston and a flight to Las Vegas.

Of course, because I adore all things French, they turn out to be made in France, of aluminum.

I’m trying to give my arthritic left hip a break while I take Fosamax, so cannot put my full weight on the joint. It’s the first time since January I have been pain-free and am sleeping soundly without painkillers or the old pillow between the knees. So sexy!

The crutches are short, only to the forearm and I paid $100 extra for soft padded leather inserts to protect my arms, spongy, ergonomically shaped handles and wide, reassuringly thick pads on the bottom of the poles.

The challenge is…life! I managed to sweep and mop and vacuum yesterday (stork-like on one leg) and this morning got a lot of ironing done while sitting on the bed.

It’s getting stuff like books, magazines, the phone, the remote, whatever from one room to another hands-free so now I use a big soft bag as a backpack.

I have a meeting today in Manhattan, in 95 degree heat and humidity, so am dreading that. I’ll drive in, in AC, and pray for a parking spot or garage very close to my meeting. But I may arrive drenched in sweat anyway.

I was having a bit of  a pity party yesterday when I spoke to a photographer who needs to come and take my picture for a story I’m working in. He was on crutches, living alone, for two years.

Have you managed with them? Any tricks you can share?

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Jane Fonda A 'Wreck' Laughs NYT Magazine — So Are 19 Million of Us Suffering Arthritis

In Health, Media on April 19, 2010 at 1:09 pm
Legendary Hollywood actress Jane Fonda (C) fla...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

File this one under insensitive lazy journalism.

Nineteen million Americans, (including me), suffer from arthritis, including Jane Fonda’s type, osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease that can lead us to the altar of knee and hip replacement decades before we want it in order to walk across a room pain-free. Due to an osteoarthritis flare-up in my left hip, I’ve been unable to exercise since January (and I am far from Fonda’s age of 72), due to the pain, swelling and lack of mobility from this incurable disease.

Making fun of cripples? Nice work if you can get it!

Deborah Solomon, who clearly thought she was being funny in her New York Times Magazine interview this past weekend:

This interview is for our special Wellness issue, by the way.
I like that word, because, look, I’m fit and healthy. Do I hurt all over? You betcha. I have a new hip; I have a new knee. I had the knee done in June, and I had my hip done three years ago.

You sound like a wreck!
I’m 72. And when you have osteoarthritis, that happens.

Do you think exercise damaged your joints?
Oh, no, absolutely not. I have genetic osteoarthritis. My brother has it; my father had it. It’s genetic. The pain doesn’t define me.

What if we all wind up with titanium joints because we exercised too much?
No, some people can run and do impactful things until they are into their 80s, but I have this problem.

From the CDC website, easily found with a quick click of the mouse, where Solomon might have found…hmmm…a few facts and maybe even ginned up a little empathy:

Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States, limiting the activities of nearly 19 million adults. The CDC Arthritis Program is working to improve the quality of life for people affected by arthritis and other rheumatic conditions by working with states and other partners to increase awareness about appropriate arthritis self management activities and expanding the reach of programs proven to improve the quality of life for people with arthritis.

Our Lady Of Perpetual Orthpedics — Or How I'm Learning to Love My Alphabet Soup: MRIs, Xrays And PT

In Health, Medicine on March 18, 2010 at 11:11 pm
A product technician gives a demonstration ins...

My best friend, the MRI machine...Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Latest headcount: four MDs: orthopedic surgeon (hip specialist); GP (acpuncturist); GP and neurologist. Five, if you include the ER doctor who saw my back spasm at midnight. Three Xrays, one MRI. One walker and a cane.

My most recent MRI — I’ve lost track how many I’ve had over the past decade — was the weirdest I’ve had as the machine focused on my lower back.

If you’ve never had one, they are extremely challenging if you are the slightest bit (and who isn’t?) claustrophobic: you lie on an extremely narrow platform that slides into a round machine  — you’re the center of its donut. The smooth gray plastic interior is no more than six or eight inches from your face and I was in it for only 20 minutes — it can be 40 or more. Our MRI usually gives us headphones to listen to music but I could only use earplugs. (There are such things as open MRIs for those who just can’t do one of these.)

The noise alternated between: jackhammer/a hammer tapping on my butt/a knocking noise, staccato/a low, deep buzzing that — reframe! stay calm! — sounded like being inside a not very interesting Philip Glass or Steve Reich composition.

Meds: Flexeril, Prednisone, Advil, codeine, Tramadol. Only Advil and codeine work well in my system; the others produce nasty side effects and I stopped taking two of them right away. About to start Voltaren and Prevacid.

I’ve been to my orthopods — a group practice (now on specialist number four there) — since 2000, when I had my first knee arthroscopy. I know their phone number off by heart and have been next door to the physical therapists, or PTs, who I wrote about, with gratitude, for The New York Times, since then many, many times.

I am not 80!

But, which is deeply, frustratingly painful and annoying, my left hip, when it acts up, behaves like I’m about 106. I have osteoarthritis there — like 2 million other Americans — which means either painful inflammation (which rest and drugs can help) or thinning cartilage (which they cannot.)

As someone who lives to move athletically: softball, jazz dance, walking, biking, hiking — I am losing cartilage — and trying not to panic because my life’s core identity, my social life, my stress relief — are all through sports, activity and motion.

Jane Brody, longtime New York Times health writer, recently wrote about how essential exercise — and its social joys — are to her and her readers:

So many nonhealth benefits keep me exercising every day that I’m sure my life would be greatly diminished without them.

Shortly after 6 the other morning, a stunning full moon hugging the horizon enhanced our walk around our local park, and I remarked, “Look what the stay-a-beds are missing.” Soon after came a picture-postcard scene of two Siberian huskies trotting through the snow-covered woods. The week before, we were treated to glorious snow-laden trees as we trudged through the falling snow.

Note that I said “we.” Two to five of us walk for an hour every morning. We chat about our days, share our thoughts and problems, seek and offer advice, bolster sagging spirits, provide logistical support, alert one another to coming cultural events, discuss the news, books, articles and what-have-you. No matter how awful I may feel when I get up in the morning, I always feel better after that walk. And so I always do it, come rain, shine or blizzard.

The members of this walking group, which I joined (admittedly reluctantly) about 15 years ago, have become more than dear friends. They are a sounding board for any and all problems, providing both emotional and practical support when needed. They have introduced me to wonderful activities — museum and gallery shows, concerts and operas, movies and books — I might have otherwise missed.

I miss my jazz dance class, my softball buddies and the fellow walkers on our reservoir, all off limits until I am pain-free and stronger.

I clicked around four Manhattan blocks with my cane today. It helped me stay erect — and visually warned self-absorbed, fast-walking New Yorkers to not bump into me!

I am am very grateful for: having something that is treatable and not life-threatening; excellent, compassionate doctors and the insurance that allows me to see them; warm spring sunshine so I can rest, as ordered, on a park bench outdoors.

What's Next — Leeches?

In Health, Medicine on March 12, 2010 at 11:43 am
ER (TV series)

Image via Wikipedia

What a few weeks it’s been.

The good news is that it’s “only” been an insanely painful bout of athritis in my left hip and a lower back spasm that sent me to the ER at midnight. Could be much worse.

And I am very, very grateful to have good health insurance, through my partner’s full-time job, that allows me to get the care I need.

I did something I have never done in my professional life — transposed the address of a crucial interview with a source for my book, so I kept looking in vain for 970 Broadway — when I needed 907. I was 30 minutes late, apologizing like mad, and told him “Pain meds will do that.” So will pain. It’s insanely distracting.

It’s not really my normal life to see the same Xray technician twice in three days and have him recognize me. He is a ggggggorgeous man (sexist, I know, but when everything hurts so much, anything pleasant is especially welcome) and gentle and kind. I tend to joke a lot when I am scared, and was cracking so many jokes during my back Xrays he finally said “You must stop this.”

Yesterday, it hurt so badly to simply lie flat on the table for my hip Xray I started to cry. I hate crying and know it can’t be fun for them to see. The technician was very sweet and said he could clearly see the arthritis on my Xray.

“But you’re so young!” he said, as surprised as I at what appalling condition I’m in; my 80-year-old Dad is exhaustingly, astonishingly healthy and unmedicated.

“You’re a sweetie,” I said. “But I really hope we don’t see one another for a long time.”

In the past two weeks, I’ve been to the ER, my GP, another physician, (with a neurologist’s visit for Tuesday and an MRI likely after that), had a massage, taken four kinds of medication (two of which wreaked total havoc on my system and the latest isn’t much fun either) and now await a needle full of steroids plunged deep into my hip joint next Wednesday.

I live in the New York suburbs and have spent hours driving, sitting, meeting doctors, arranging appointments — so serious, focused work on my book has halted for the moment. I actually had to pay to park at a hospital in one of the county’s wealthiest towns, Bronxville. Paying to park at a hospital?!

Chronic or acute pain, as some of you know, makes you so filthy-tempered. You are forced to be alone (can’t go out, see friends, exercise); in pain; tired. It takes a lot of strength to do stupid and crucial stuff like just go to the post office or bank, where even standing for five painful minutes feels like an eternity. You want to rip people’s heads off, which they likely do not appreciate.

The injection, veterans tell me, will make a huge difference. I may, like the Tin Man, seize up for a few days right after that, but I’ve seen this with cortisone shots to my knee, so I at least know what it’s like.

The challenge will be if a major magazine assignment comes through — which will put me on a plane to rural New Mexico next Friday. Walker, cane, wheelchair, whatever. I once covered an entire political campaign, in the winter’s ice and snow, on crutches — getting on and off of campaign buses.

I currently walk like a drunken sailor because every single step puts painful pressure on my left hip. I’m actually forbidden to walk or climb stairs; so much for my girls’ museum/lunch day tomorrow seeing the Jane Austen show at the Morgan Library I was so looking forward to. I’d go with my walker (!) but the doctor says rest.

As you can tell, that’s a four-letter word in my world.

The good news? Our local indie film theater has three films I am dying to see: Hurt Locker,  A Single Man and Crazy Heart. I can easily shuffle from one cinema seat to the next, eat some popcorn and rest my aching bones — while enjoying a bit of the world.

I am really not 103. I just feel like it.

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