WHY I WALK IN PARKS
I am going to visit as many city park trails as I can. This idea seems to lend itself to a mini-vacation every weekend on a tiny budget. There is an additional reason I am doing this, money isn’t the main part. It is just the limiting part. I don’t walk well. I have been told for decades that my ability to walk will slowly go away. But, I have always been athletic, and never really took it seriously.
Little by little everything the doctor has told me I would experience – I have been experiencing. Perhaps I am the Queen of Denial to the fact there is a train on the track, and sooner or later it will stop at my station to pick me up. My hip joints lock, grind, and swell to the point that sometimes I have to go up or down a size in my jeans. About four months ago I stopped wearing jeans altogether because the last two times I wore them my right hip joint swelled and locked so badly I was stuck in my office chair for at least forty-five minutes. It really upset everyone at work. They wanted to call an ambulance, but I talked them out of it.
“With the exception of my pride, no one is dying,” I said, frustrated that I could not free myself from my chair. I even went so far as to ‘find’ some data entry to work on until I could finally stand up again. Needless to say – this only fooled me. No one else was fooled, but luckily for me, they would not act on it – yet.
Later I was talking with one of the managers at work about it. Again, I was lucky as I shifted the conversation to focus on her recent trip to Hawaii. She had made a goal to walk on a trail in all fifty states. She had just completed her goal with that trip. Immediately my mind was reeling with making this my mission in life. I knew that my hip wouldn’t be the limiting factor; it would be my pocketbook. The list was down-scaled to include city parks because they are close to home, and usually more handicapped accessible than some of the big trails are.
A Little Background:
Both of my hips have already been reconstructed—another bit of the doctor’s “you’ll need it someday” prophecy that came true too soon. The last surgery was ten years ago. Of and on, I spent about three years recovering to where I could walk somewhat normally. The left hip did fabulously! It was like having the hip of a five-year-old! It was nice to be pain-free! I could work, sleep, and play better. Life was better. The right hip, however, would occasionally ‘bark’ at me. It wasn’t bad at first, but then one night back in 2009 it locked for the first time in the middle of the night. I call this the first time; because it was the first time I could not get it free by myself—not without considerable pain, time, and effort. When I was young I would walk along, it would lock and I would fall over. By the time I hit the ground it was unlocked and I was ‘free to go’. When I was older it would lock and release, but had never locked like this.
That night, I went to roll over, and pain shot into my right hip like someone had snuck into the room and stabbed me. It hurt worse than when I woke up from the initial surgeries—and considering that they sawed my pelvis in half, repositioned it, and screwed it back together, that is saying something. It was a paralyzing pain, unlike anything I have ever felt. I cried out, once my breath came back, but the children would not hear me, they were at their dad’s house for the weekend. I couldn’t move. I was instantly awake and any chance at rest for the night was now gone.
I tried several ways of moving around, each increasing the pain to an unbearable level. It cut my breath off. It felt like being stabbed over and over again. After a couple of hours I finally just laid there and cried. My phone was on the charger just a few feet away, but it may as well have been on Mars because I could get to either place just as easily. At forty years old, the thought I needed Life Alert ran through my head. I tried to lay as still as possible, as long as I didn’t move the stabbing pain was held at bay. Had my phone been within reach I would have called for an ambulance, especially as I felt the muscle in my thigh pulling hard as it tightened around the joint in into my back. It was like someone had a belt around my waist and was pulling the strap by putting their ice climbing boots into my hip as they yanked the strap with all their strength.
Finally, I decided I had to do something. It was Friday night into Saturday morning. I could not lay here until Sunday evening when the children returned. I took in a deep breath, and on the count of three forced myself to roll over. I screamed as I heard a loud crack and the stabbing pain returned. My first thought was “Jesus help me, I have broken my hip!” Doc had told me this would happen. He said, “With your hips, you will break it first, then fall down. This normally happens with patients in their seventies, but with you it will happen sooner.”
Thankfully, I did not break my hip. The noise was just the head of my hip joint becoming ‘unstuck’ from the hip socket, or so the surgeon tells me when I hobbled into his office on Monday morning carrying on about what happened. Then he gave me the grim news; “This is the beginning of the end for that hip.” I was hoping he was wrong, but as it turns out he didn’t get his three specialized degrees out of a Cracker Jack Box. This time, I did not doubt him.
He said to take it easy on the hip for about six weeks, “bones don’t like to touch each other,” he explained in plain terms I could understand. I did as instructed. After the six weeks, I was feeling much better, but I noticed that I couldn’t quite reach my right foot the way I could before.
He was right, it happened again and again. Once about every five or six months. It didn’t ‘spread’ until late August of 2013. During a light workout, I was stretching. The idea was to try to ‘squeeze’ another three to five years out of the hip by losing about twenty-five pounds. I was feeling good, almost pain-free (it never completely goes away since that 2009 incident). I lifted my arms up straight over my head, took in a deep breath, let it out, and with one reach of the right arm across my chest history repeated itself with another ‘first’ for the ongoing bone drama in my life.
There was a loud crack. This time, it was in the middle of my back. Pain radiated into every limb of my body. It was a strange electrical pain. Then the real pain came as I realized that the option to stand up was no longer available. I sank slowly to the floor, glad I had vacuumed up the cat hair before starting the workout. I was able to guide myself down. If the first time was scary it was now considered nothing compared to this. I was terrified! I was stuck on the floor, like a fly on one of those hanging fly traps.
I couldn’t move at all, even breathing hurt. Tears instantly ran down the side of my head into my hair. “I have been cursed!” I wanted to scream, but could not catch my breath to get enough air to do it. Luckily the children were home and they called for help. Thirty-five minutes later, in the E.R., I could breathe again.
What happened? A muscle spasm had caused a rib to be pulled out. Apparently the muscle in my thigh pulled so hard around my hip joint it effected the muscle and tendons connected to my tailbone (sacrum for those of you who are purist) and pulled it hard to the right. The x-ray was strange to look at. It was actually pointing to my right hip joint as if to implicate it as the troublemaker. Once it was pulled to the right, the rest of the muscles tightened up, protesting “Hey! The tailbone is not allowed to move like that!” They continued to tighten all the way up my back, pulling on a rib between my shoulder blades. The rib wimped out of the fight, and just went along peacefully with the muscle with no regard to the fact it was deserting its post.
So, that is why I am visiting city parks instead of hitting the big trails. City parks also have easy access to emergency services so someone like me wouldn’t have to worry about being trapped on a trail. Don’t let a disability keep you in the house when nature is so close to you.
As I write this, it has been a beautiful, sunny 78-degree day. The windows are open with breezes coming through sometimes, but as evening approaches, the temperature is dipping. I don’t want to close the window. I will keep it open as long as I can before it gets too cold, and necessity forces me to close it.