The gift of mobility

By Caitlin Kelly

Cruitch Island Golf Course, Donegal, Ireland — June 2015

Maybe you just walked to work or enjoyed a bike ride or went dancing last night.

Maybe you’re training for a marathon or triathlon — or happy to race with your dog(s) along a trail.

Today’s the day I celebrate my body’s rebirth to full mobility – on Feb. 6, 2012, I was wheeled into an operating room to have my left hip replaced.

caiti flag

I was young for the surgery, as most people have it in their 60s or beyond; my 86 year old father only had his hip done in May of 2015.

I was very fearful, (I’d already had 3 prior orthopedic surgeries, [both knees, right shoulder] within the decade, all of which had gone well), and had put the operation off for more than two years. I was sick to death of surgeries and rehab and doctors and the whole thing.

And, as someone who’s wholly self-employed with a fluctuating income, I also had to fund a month off and the cost of co-pays for physical therapy rehab.

02 full floor
Another beloved activity — this is Daybreaker — a 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. regular dance party in Manhattan

Those two years of avoidance, though, were crazy.

The arthritis in my left hip had required a course of steroids — whose side effects, (called avascular necrosis), instead destroyed my hip bone.

The resulting pain was 24/7 and exhausting. It made every step I took painful; even crossing a room was tiring.

Buying groceries in the enormous stores here in the suburbs of New York was a misery. Museum visits became marathons and I carried painkillers with me everywhere.

By the fall of 2010, in desperation, I went on crutches for three months just for a brief respite from pain. I bought a pair off the Internet, the short kind typically associated with long-term disability (think of FDR photos). Heaven!

With renewed energy and the ability to move more safely, painlessly and quickly, I went to the movies and theater, (scooching sideways across those narrow aisles), and even flew to Las Vegas to address a conference there.

The Paris Unity March, Jan. 11, 2015. Yet another event my new hip allowed me to experience.

By December of 2011, I was just too worn out from pain and booked the operation.

Three days before it, I was a featured speaker at — of all things — a conference of liquor store retailers in New Orleans, wandering that city’s streets with a limp so pronounced I walked like a drunken sailor. I’d been invited as a result of my book “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” to share my research into low-wage labor.

Sheer luck brought me that gig — and earned me $6,500, enough to take time off to just rest, rehab and recover.

A highly active person — I walk, cycle, dance, play softball, ice skate, ski and do a variety of other sports — I feared that a poor surgical result would mean the end to my athletic life. Or that my doctor would utter the dreaded word “moderate”, as a verb.

Not in my vocabulary!

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua
On assignment in Nicaragua for WaterAid, March 2014

Here’s my cover story from Arthritis Today about that life pre-surgery. I like the photos they took, but you can how heavy I got because it hurt so much to exercise.

Today I take jazz danceΒ  class twice a week, one of them so vigorous I leave sweat puddles on the floor, and enjoy full range of motion. (OK, I don’t do the splits anymore.)

I also live in an apartment building filled with people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, many of whom can now only ambulate safely using a cane or walker.

It’s sobering and instructive to see what aging, (and/or a poorly done surgery), can do to our blessed ability to run, dance, jump and simply enjoy the grace and power of our bodies.

Never take it for granted!

15 thoughts on “The gift of mobility

  1. Thanks for sharing, Caitlin. I know it’s likely I’ll need at least one knee and one hip done at some point. So far I’ve found I can stave off the pain by keeping up with my exercise program, but I cannot hike or walk the long distances I was able to earlier in life, which is disappointing because I can no longer go out hiking with my more mobile friends.

  2. I’ve had both of my hips replaced, also at a young age. My replacements were the result of an accident but I avoided the surgeries for several years, too. One afternoon while I was at work, my left leg went numb, and that was that. While waiting for the first surgery, I started experiencing intense pain, and you’re right, walking across the living room was a feat of endurance. Now I’m glad and grateful. I have my mobility back. Good post. πŸ™‚

  3. Congratulations are in order! Mobility is certainly sweet. I tore the anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee some years ago (6 days after my father’s funeral, playing basketball), and had surgery to put a new one in 2 years and a month ago.

    Didn’t have full range of motion for a long time, and my biggest milestones in these last years have been all of the things that would otherwise be natural: being able to squat, descent stairs without pain, run, walk as I please… heck, just bearing weight on my legs without thought.

    I celebrate this everyday. I’ve never been particularly athletic, but walking is a great joy and essential part of my life. Having it taken away from me was an eye opener in more ways than one.

      1. Guanajuato. Here for a month and a half (it’s glorious). Would have been happy to stay on if the place we rented was available for longer. So currently thinking about where to go next.

  4. Mobility is so important! I’m glad to hear that your hip surgery worked and returned you to full mobility.

    I think I’ve mentioned my knee issue before. A few years ago, I tripped and my right knee took the full impact. It hasn’t been the same since — it aches, especially in the morning, and I can’t run or kneel properly. Because my other leg has been compensating, the muscles in my right leg have grown weak, exacerbating the problem and making my hip ache too.

    I’ve had an MRI scan and a consultation with a surgeon, who doesn’t think that surgery is the right option for me (thankfully!). The only option is to have physiotherapy and work on strengthening my muscles. It’s hard when you sit at a desk all day, though, as I do. Yoga helps, but only provides temporary relief. I want to get back to full mobility soon because my goal this year is to start salsa dancing again. I think it might take a while though…

    1. Ouch!

      Yes, one of the many serious issues with a chronic disability is the overcompensation and altered gait that results.

      My first post-op knee rehab was so lousy — done in January 2000 — that by June of that year (!) I was still walking funny and, worse, had significant girth difference between the operated knee and the opposite calf and thigh. Not good!

      A very good PT can work wonders.

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