I was born with hip dysplasia, however it wasn’t until I was attempting to walk that I was diagnosed. The next year became a whirlwind for my family, as I spent a lot of time in hospital. Corrective surgeries, legs in contraction and a heavy plaster cast!
During my childhood, I never held back! Making bmx bike jumps and climbing big trees, running around the neighbourhood with all the kids. I was very active, loved swimming, and I believe having strong and healthy muscles prolonged further surgeries and having my hips pinned, which was always a discussion during my routine X-rays and specialists visits.
It’s funny the memories of ‘pain’ during childhood, but I distinctively remember being put in time-out by a teacher because I spoke during assembly; I had tried to tell her it hurt to cross my legs. From then on, I only half crossed, but found long assembly’s really uncomfortable.
As I reached teen years, I remember doing certain activities and sports and always having some level of pain, but I didn’t question it and expected everyone else was pushing through pain too. I wasn’t brought up having limitations, I was encouraged to keep healthy and fit, but I soon learned that netball and basketball wasn’t for me. I would ask to sit out some activities at school or have a rest, and a physical education teacher said I wasn’t being legitimate (in his words ‘fair dinkam’) and that I’d been mollycoddled my whole life. That’s a statement that has always stuck with me, yet it’s far, far from reality.
My love for the ocean grew and grew! Swimming, surfing and Surf Life Saving became my life and all I could think about while at school was if there’s going to be waves at surf club training tonight? When there was waves, there was no pain…it would sometimes come on after, but it was always worth the discomfort.
I had my son, Taylor (now 13) when I was 20 years old. I remember being really uncomfortable (who isn’t during pregnancy?), but since I’d started working full time I had less time to maintain fitness and put on quite a bit of weight. It was a rather traumatic birth, and knowing what I know now, was very lucky my hips didn’t dislocate during the birth. From this time I always had back issues and the pain in my hips and legs became more prevalent. Countless visits to chiropractors, manipulating my back and pulling on my legs. None of them considered it was coming from my hips.
I decided the extra pains were due to carrying extra weight on my joints. I started walking every evening, which eventually resulted in running. I ignored the niggle in my hip, as I was feeling fitter and healthier than ever!
As I started running longer distances, my knee started to become inflamed. I saw a specialist who said that if I continue running I will need a knee reconstruction. So I stopped running, bought a surf board and took up surfing again. I started seeing a new doctor and complained to him about my knee, that I struggled to ‘pop up’ when surfing, I was having trouble going down stairs, and it was affecting my abilities at work. I was also getting sharp pains shooting down my legs and it was difficult to get out of bed. He examined me, explained it was referred pain and coming from my hips! Without an X-ray, he knew!
After seeing an orthopaedic surgeon, I found out that I had Perthes Disease – avascular necrosis of the femoral head. Meaning the bone was dead and quite deformed.
Fast forwarding 3 years, from that moment, to now, is just unbelievable!!
Losing my job, constant chronic pain, developing depression, spending time in a psychiatric ward…it was the ocean where I spent a lot of time thinking and healing.
It became my ultimate goal to surf again!
My treatment and recovery
Physiotherapy was the absolute key to my recovery. Regular visits before I had surgery, and maintenance of muscles, was just as important then, as after surgery.
Healthy fresh foods, frequent visits to the pool, walking in the shallow waters at the beach and even paddling a board in the waves (not standing up), kept my body as fit and conditioned as possible. It also made it difficult for people to believe I was living in pain and about to have bilateral hip replacements.
Going into theatre, May 2016, was as much a scary moment, as a total relief that I was receiving a new hip. After I woke up, I couldn’t thank my surgeon enough!
The next day a physio came to see me and showed me how to get in and out of bed. She assisted me with a walker and I had a shower, that was such a great feeling! The following day I was on crutches and she had me walking up and down some small steps. It truly is amazing what can be done!
At 3 weeks I was using one crutch, 4 weeks no more crutches, cleared for driving and 6 weeks the wound was perfect and cleared to be submerged. Hooray! Straight to the pool for some hydrotherapy, to rehabilitate the muscles that had been cut and stretched. I had a leg length difference of 3 inches, so my hippy hop was even more prevalent!
5 months later, October 2017, I had hip replacement #2. I can’t say waiting in the surgery preparation room was any less nerving than my first procedure, despite being better prepared and how badly I wanted it to just be over with!
Waking up after surgery this time I was very emotional. It was like everything suddenly hit me, along with relief. It was all over. A lovely nurse calmed me down and washed my face and itching body with a warm cloth as I was waiting to be transported to my room.
Recovery for hip #2 was frustrating, despite it being easier and quicker. Hip #1 was during the onset of winter, happy to stay inside, rest and watch movies. Hip #2 I was in a hurry to move, too stubborn to rest, beautiful sun shining and wanting to get out of the house. Although this was a great lesson on patience, knowing the importance not to push my body, I’d never been so determined to rehabilitate!
After seeing my physio and having some restrictions lifted, at 12 weeks post-op I took my board for a paddle in some small waves. It felt absolutely amazing! At 16 weeks post op I saw my surgeon and gave him a huge hug! I was discharged from the outpatients at the hospital and it felt like a new chapter of life had begun! And it did 🙂
I’d love to stress how important mental health is when you’re living with chronic pain. It is a roller coaster, and just as mentally challenging as physically. It’s okay to not be okay and please have a chat with someone. Don’t ever forget how amazing you are!
Follow her journey on Instagram @bionicmermaid