Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hips, Surgery, Cists

I am sharing this story with all of you. Inspired by my reading of the book by Jerry White, the co-founder of Survivor Corps (previously known as Landmine Survivor Network). I haven’t written about this before. I don’t even think I will re-read what I have written before sharing it. It is intense. There is so much blacked out, so much I don’t remember. I am not sharing this for sympathy, I am sharing it because I have not shared it before.

When I was 6 years old my mom took me to see a doctor because I had been limping, and complaining of pain in my left hip. She thought at first that it was nothing, just a regular, hyper-active boy that had probably bruised his leg playing with friends.

I don’t remember the date of this visit but I do remember the moment when, while I was sitting on the floor at the doctors office tying my shoelaces after the x-ray, the doctor turned to me and told me not to move that they would get me a wheel chair immediately. That they were going to have to operate on my leg the very next day. I remember the shock, I remember being wheeled out of the doctors office into the ward.

They had found a large cist in my hip joint. Right in the ball and socket joint. The cist had eaten, yep pretty much consumed, the bone in my hip joint to the point that the hip had actually fractured because it was so weak. The doctor was worried that if he didn’t operate on it that the amount of blood getting to the rest of the bone in the leg would not be sufficient. That, essentially, gangrene would set in and I would loose the whole leg.

I remember many agonizing hours of lying in cat-scan machines, these things sucked – if you moved, even slightly the whole process would have to start again. For hours, it felt – especially for a hyper-active 6 year old – I would lie in this tube while they studied my hip.

That very next day I went into surgery – I think the surgery lasted around 8 hours. My poor mother was pacing around in the hospital corridor waiting, no news just waiting. My father didn’t even live in the country at the time. My mom was a single mother with a 3 year-old, my sister Sasha, and her 6 year-old son in surgery.

They had to cut into the hip, scraped the cist out and chipped chunks of bone from one part of the hip and put them in the part where they cist had eaten – they call this a bone graft. All in the hope that the bone would take and re-grow.

I remember waking up from the surgery the next day – in a plaster cast from my chest down. I was essentially immobile. There was a tube coming out the side of my body running into a jar that was draining my blood.

The pain, my God, the pain was like nothing I can explain. The hip throbbed, it felt like it wanted to explode, that it would explode. It felt like it was thumping against the side of the plaster cast that it was going to break out and explode.

There I lay, in the hospital, unable to move, having to shit and pee into a tray. No privacy, no sense of self-control and so alone.

I was young, I think that was the best thing I had going for me at the time. I was resilient. I don’t remember thinking too much about it. I was just in live mode. I lay in that hospital for several weeks. My mom would come visit me daily, spend time with me. The nurses were awesome. I got a remote control car that I would drive around the ward, much to the annoyance of the nurse.

I remember the other kids in the ward. There was a young child who had been burned terribly when a candle fell into his cot. My mom would go over an comfort this boy, his mom was poor and worked and couldn’t come and visit him all the time. He cried all the time. Even at that age I understood the importance of not feeling sorry for ones self. That others had it tougher. That I had my leg, that I had my mom by my side and that I would be fine.

I remember going home, still in my plaster cast, having to in a bed, day in and day out. I was a kid, and surged back quickly. I found ways to push myself around on a piece of wood that my mother put four wheels on. I could motor around the house like a maniac, much to the horror of my mother. I would be wheeled up to my local primary school in an old stroller. Legs sticking out and a blanket over the part of the plaster cast that was cut out – so that I could pee – for privacy. I would go to school to get my reading books and stay in touch.

I think it was several months before the cast was removed. I remember the day. Going into the hospital – having the cast cut-off. It was scary, what was even scarier was seeing the leg. It was emaciated. Thin, real thing. No muscle. It was essentially useless. I remember trying to move it and nothing would happen. I remember freaking out thinking it was actually dead, that it wouldn’t work again. The nurses assured me it would be fine. After a couple months on crutches I would be walking soon enough.

This wasn’t the truth. After many more hours in cat-scans and x-rays they found that the cist had grown back. That they would have to operate a second time. I remember crying, telling the doctor that he couldn’t. That they were wrong, it was fine. No please not the cast again!!!
I made the doctor promise that he wouldn’t put me in the cast again. Please!! He said he would try his best.

Back into the operating room, back under those lights. Passing out to fading voices. Waking up in pain. Throbbing, throbbing!! But no cast…I was sooo happy. I knew that I could at least move around. That I wouldn’t have to lie in bed all day and call for help every time I needed to pee or shit. What a relief.

The next 6 to 9 months I walked on crutches. Leg in a sling!!! Everywhere. Hey, man I was good on those crutches. I could move fast and furious.

But it was long and slow. It was tough. I remember when I stopped having my leg in a sling. It was almost 18 months since I had stood on my left leg, had walked. It was intense. They didn’t do much therapy. It was kind of get your shit sorted and move.

I don’t remember much about learning to walk again. About rebuilding my leg. I do know that I threw myself into running, swimming, playing rugby and playing in general. Gosh, how good it felt to run 800 meters – like the best meditation in the world. To swim 1 km in the morning before schools started. I was blessed, I had a working leg.

Crazy when I think back on it now. I have never written openly about this time in my life. I still have two big fat scars on my hip. Sometimes my hip hurts, the muscle structure is vastly different between the left and right hip. But, it works. I walk, I swim, I jump, I run. I have two legs. What a marvel.

I read Jerry’s book and I think how lucky I am. How blessed I am to have both, to walk on the feet I was born with. Thank the Lord!! Truly.

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