Category Archives: Reflections

Hip-iversary

Happy anniversary, hip surgery!

Today is one year since I had my hip arthroscopy surgery after tearing my hamstring and hip labrum years before. In that time, this blog went from being about running to being about fitness to just being about injury and recovery. Honestly, it was hard to focus on anything else.

I guess I do post about some hiking too, though I did neglect to write about our Pikes Peak descent. I at least mentioned that when I wrote about the madness of October on my author blog.

So where am I a year later? Did the surgery work? Am I recovered?

Um… kind of? Not much has changed since 6 months after.

My pain is SO MUCH better. Before the surgery, I had an unbearable wave of pain every time I transitioned from sitting to standing or the reverse. I would have to grip onto something and breathe through it before settling into the new position. I could not sleep through the night. I would need to get up several times to reset my hip then search for the perfect angle to fall back asleep to then wake up and repeat. I couldn’t hold my kids or have them sit on my lap because the pressure of their minuscule weight made it unbearable. The pain was so intense and relentless that it was detrimental to my behavior, affected my personality.

All of that is gone. That alone made the surgery worth it, even considering the amount I had to pay out of pocket.

What remains is a lingering, nagging, and inconsistent pain. Some weeks, it will persist and build enough to make me think the rehab did not work or I have re-injured it. Then it just vanishes again. Some days, I think I’m almost healed.

But it is never all the way gone. There is always a twinge, an ache when I’m sitting, a movement that lights up the joint. Any hint triggers panic and depression, but on the average, it is much improved.

Just not cured. Just not completely healed.

After a year, I think this is just life now. I think this is as good as it gets. I wish I could go back to that moment when I slid down into the splits and lifted my hands. I wish I could snatch my muscles around my hip before it rolled out of joint. But there is no going back.

I did get back on the slopes this year. I was advised not to ski last season (an epic snow year) by my physical therapist, and it was heartbreaking. I even sat in the lodge drinking and writing while my children skied for my daughter’s birthday.

I found myself so gun-shy, uncharacteristically nervous on the slopes. I have been on skis since I was three; I am rarely shaken by the top of a run (unless it’s an accidental double black diamond). Every turn and bump had me flinching. Would I catch an edge and yank my leg in the wrong direction? Would I jump or bump and slam my hip into joint (as if it would be any more than running)? Would I fall?

Then, once I calmed down, it was glorious. I skied only a couple hours and gently, but I had missed it. It felt good to be back on the slopes, on skies, in the snow. It felt more normal. And I have proven to myself that I can do it again.

At this point, I’ll take better but not perfect. Now, I just have to keep myself from injuring myself again. Because it’s always me. I always push too hard. I get to a good place and drive for more, grind my body until it snaps. I need this hip experience to be my lessen, to temper my impulsive extremism. Injuries will only get harder to heal as I seem to age faster by the day.

Christina Bergling

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Happy 3rd Anniversary

Happy 3rd anniversary, hip/hamstring injury!

Three years ago this morning, I stepped out of a dance class and began doing an extra stretch sequence. I slid my left leg forward into a front splits and was surprised at how effortless it felt compared to the previous time. I was startled to find myself in full splits, seated all the way on the ground. I smirked in my own pride, finally able to lift my hands from supporting me on the floor. I took a deep, satisfied breath and felt my muscles release a little more.

And my hip half dislocated from its socket.

My leg that was sitting flat on the floor managed to fall lower, in an alarming snapping motion. I was not sure what had happened; I just knew it hurt. The pain seized me. I hovered in some awkward calm over my panic. I just kept thinking to myself, This is really bad. I think this is really bad…

As the past three years have shown, it was really bad.

I would eventually learn that as my hip rolled out from its joint, it tore the labrum along the socket and also 20% of my hamstring in the center. I would go through two orthopedic doctors, multiple medications, multiple steroid and PRP injections, and eventually laparoscopic hip surgery.

And here I am, three years later, eight months after surgery.

I often think back to that moment three years ago, when I lifted my hands and felt my muscles relax. I meditate on how that split second has rippled out, how much that inane decision has affected everything. And how much that is like everything in life.

Every decision is a fork in the road. Every decision is irreversible.

Deciding to stretch gave me years of debilitating pain, pain I have not even completely shaken yet. It is something I would have never expected, but isn’t that like so many decisions that change everything?

So, my injury becomes like all other life-altering decisions for me, intended and unexpected. It fades into my shadow as a formative mark on my timeline. The only thing I can do is accept the reality and the trajectory of the journey.

I do not plan on taking any more measures for this injury. Some pain still lingers, but none of the options for dealing with it are favorable. Instead, I am just experimenting with exercise to decode what aggravates it. I don’t want to do more injections, and I will not have additional surgery (especially the hamstring one), so there is no point in continuing with an orthopedic or getting another MRI. Physical therapy might be beneficial, but I have exhausted my insurance coverage for the year.

That leaves me here, three years later, nodding a cheers to the past and moving the hell on.

Christina Bergling

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Over 5 Months Later

Here we are, over five months since surgery.

Four months is when I was supposed to start running again, but I have been running for a month (doctor approved and physical therapy monitored).

This is when I am supposedly “fully recovered,” though there are still lingering restrictions.

My hip is doing well. I would say the joint itself and the repair therein are fully recovered. The surrounding muscles, however, are still working through their discontentment. I can live with muscular pain; muscular pain can be worked and repaired without surgery.

Traditional physical therapy has been largely worthless on me. I’m too flexible to get any stretching accomplished, and the same disposition might also be why I don’t gain muscle strength (discussed most recently with my orthopedics PA). However, we recently added dry needling to my regime.

I did dry needling way back when the hamstring tear was new and my first asshole doctor treated me like a drama queen with a stubbed toe. Dry needling has apparently changed in that couple year window. Previously, the therapist stabbed me in the muscle with the thin needle then pistoned it until my muscle hypercontracted. Super painful. I bruised a lot. Now, rather, the therapist implants the needle into the belly of the muscle and zaps it with a tens unit, causing the muscle to contract by stimulation. Still unpleasant but far less so.

The dry needling is working surprisingly well this time. I see progress in the tissue after each session. The muscles have less knots. I feel less tension. Things hurt less. As I approach the end of my physical therapy program, I think this is exactly where I could hope to be.

There is still pain. Pretty much every day. But it is so much less than before surgery, and it is less than last month and the month before that. On a long enough timeline, this could just be working.

If I can calm down and step out of my own nature and into patience, I can see the improvement. The surgery definitely knocked me completely off mental balance, as I knew it would. I underestimated what it would be like to go back there, but I feel like I’m flirting with recovery on that front as well. My exercise routine is nearly restored; I just need to commit to it long enough to level things back out.

If I ever had any doubts of the effectiveness of my routine and coping mechanisms, this has confirmed that they work and I need them. I guess it’s just not an instant return to where I was. Mentally or physically.

So, I need to take a deep breath, tell myself to shut up, and stay the course.

 

Christina Bergling

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12 Weeks Later

Honestly, I don’t know what the hell is going on.

My 12 week post-op appointment was last week. At that point, I was feeling great, healed even. I was experiencing little pain, just hamstring aches that were improving, and thought it might be what recovered felt like.

I was supposed to see my surgeon, but instead, his PA greeted me again. This was fine, though she was unable to provide any real wisdom or answers on my hamstring pain. She did not seem too acquainted with my file. I didn’t expect her to remember my mediocre case out of her entire patient load, but it would have been nice if she skimmed the highlights before coming in. She examined me and agreed I was healing exceptionally well.

At the end of the appointment, I asked her if I was cleared to run. Without hesitation, she said yes and gave me a plan on how to ease back into it with 1 minute on/1 minute off intervals. I asked very clearly if I still had any restrictions. She said I could not do extreme sports but I could SLOWLY return to any activity.

Naturally, I got home from the doctor, laced up my running shoes, and put in two rough and slow miles of micro intervals.

It felt GREAT! It was slow and awkward and barely a run, but I was out there. I even celebrated by listening to my own audiobook on the miles. My hip got a little tired and achy, but there was no real pain. It felt like I was finally getting back to myself.

The next morning, I went to physical therapist, and my therapist freaked out. He was very nervous about the idea of my running and interrogated me on why I would do that. He said the recovery plan always included waiting 16 weeks (another full month) before any impact, especially running. He resolved to test me out on their anti-gravity treadmill then allow me to continue to follow the doctor’s orders, provided there was no pain.

I haven’t been able to try running again.

The next day, I tweaked my hip. I got a little overzealous dancing, and it hurt. So I stopped. I went to barre for the first time the next day, and it felt fine. It was still a little achy from the previous day. I made modifications and did less. Certain positions aggravated it, so I skipped those. The pain seemed reasonable for getting back into activity and also seemed to be improving.

Then, as advised by physical therapy and as I had been doing frequently the past couple weeks, I spent some time on the massage ball on my hamstring attachment, my hamstrings, and my IT band. I worked it all a little longer than normal, hoping to compensate for tweaking my hip and the new, added activity. Then I stretched it out, like normal.

This made my hip livid. It hurt as bad as it did after I started walking on it after surgery, as bad as it did before surgery. The pain got me out of bed for the first time in weeks.

Cue my panic. I tried to remain calm and rational, but any reemergence of the pain makes me stupid. So I did nothing. No activity. No massage ball. No stretching. The hip still hurt, a lot, but seemed to be improving.

Tonight, I went to my belly dance class. I did not intend to really dance and did sit out or modify the majority of class. I have been attending class since before I could participate again for the social aspect. Mostly, I just stretched. And my hip became angry again. Worse than when I tweaked it. Worse than when I massaged and stretched it. Worse. It got worse.

So, I have no idea what’s going on. Am I supposed to be running or not? Am I recovering or not? Did I hurt it or not? Is stretching the problem? Why does it hurt? Will it ever stop hurting? Will it ever get better? I have no answers. I have had no answers this entire recovery, but now, I have severe pain again.

I can’t go back to the pain all day every day again. I would have preferred no oasis from it. Even dipping a toe back into that misery destroys me. Two and a half years of suffering and desperation and hopelessness surge back over me instantly. I cannot go back there.

I also cannot continue to be inactive. Again, I would have rather not got to taste it again. Having this tease of being able to run (twice) and being able to really dance and go back to barre just to land back here is excruciating. It was all just a tease. My mind is not balanced without exercise. I am not myself without exercise. I have been waiting three months, and it has been rough. The thought of continuing on so stagnant is terrifying, especially since activity now ended in pain.

Or stretching did. Stretching that was fine every week before this.

I don’t know. All I have is the panic. Panic at the idea that surgery didn’t work. Panic at the idea that I hurt myself again. Panic at the idea that my hip might be like this forever. Panic at the idea that I might never ever get to really return to my activities.

Panic is where I am 12 weeks later.

 

Christina Bergling

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Six Weeks Later

Six weeks later, the first phase of my recovery from hip surgery is done. In some ways, it flew by must faster than I expected; in others, it has been brutally slow.

After surgery, it took a good three days to detox from the anesthesia. I did not move from the couch much. I slept a lot. Though I did not take any pain medication because I did not have any pain. Despite the numerous warnings and promises of how miserable recovery would be, I began mine with six days pain free. I didn’t really feel any discomfort until I started moving around.

I did my two weeks in the brace and on the crutches. These were definitely the longest and most irritating days in my recovery so far. I loathed the brace and struggled to keep it on. I also never mastered the crutches.

When pain started with walking on the crutches, I was confused. In a typical case, the patient would wake from surgery and be utterly miserable for several days; then the pain would reduce to an ache as they started moving around. In my case, I woke pain-free for the first time in over two years; then my pain increased as I started to move again. Did that mean the pain was getting worse? Did that mean I was finally aligning with a normal track? I didn’t know. And my doctors and physical therapists didn’t seem to know either since, as always, I’m atypical.

I didn’t let the pain or the crutches stop me. I continued with life and activities as much as I could. The crutches were endlessly inconvenient. I could not carry anything, which is especially challenging as a mother of young children. I moved very slowly, again rough with little kids. I hobbled on through life and physical therapy.

After two weeks, I was liberated. It was near blissful to be free of the brace and the crutches. Again, my pain increased though. It was only a fraction of what I was experiencing pre-surgery, but the pattern was definitely increasing. Yet I still did not know if that was a bad sign. I resolved to just follow the rules and wait.

I also finally got to remove the tape and see my stitches. Then the nurse promptly cut them out. They are tiny little marks that may even vanish in time. Amazing they could do all the repairs to my hip joint through these two small holes.

While I was liberated of the physical restraining devices, I remained held back by multiple movement restrictions. At this point, my brain decided it was an apt time to remind me that I’m still bipolar as fuck. I have managed my cycles effectively for years using routine, exercise, and infrequent therapy. And it has worked. More than I even thought it had been. Once these systems were impeded, I got to fully experience what I have been suppressing.

I knew this was a risk so much so that I made multiple contingency plan to deal with it. I knew my system is what kept the symptoms managed and that when I would not be able to maintain it, I would see some reemergence. Unfortunately, the depression still managed to descend on me before I could enact them.

The prolonged anesthesia detox really derailed me. I planned to focus on writing and tasks and being productive with sedentary tasks. Instead, I experienced some of the deepest depression I have experienced in years.

I surely did not miss it. I was working, mothering, recovering, and I felt like I was drowning. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to see anyone. Textbook symptoms I know well. It made the holidays a struggle, to feel so weighted and disconnected. I powered through, well I think.

I resigned myself to the suck. I knew I was going to be low. I knew why I was low. I knew I had to ride it out. So I did. I missed out on some festive fun. I ruined some minor moments. Thankfully, it was nothing too traumatic. Mostly because I didn’t resist, and I remained communicative about it.

When I returned to work after the holidays, I was able to snatch at some normalcy. Though I still could not move much, I finally launched into all my productive plans. Working made me feel less worthless. I forced myself back into my new novel (and actually enjoyed the progress I made). I wrote multiple short stories and even some horror poetry. I loaded on the tasks and fixated on them.

And it helped. Even still immobile and devoid of the endorphins I needed, being busy and focused tamed the beast.

The pain also leveled off then began to steadily decrease. My body recovered. I do believe the pain was a large contributor to the depression. Whenever I hurt, the base part of my brain panicked that I was returning to my pre-surgical pain. As that threat dissolved, my control over my mind returned.

As I have reached the six week mark, my movement and activity restrictions have been lifted by degrees.  I can now go for short walks or hikes, belly dance gently, move my hip and stretch however I want, carry moderate weight (read: my four year-old). These minor things make a world of difference. Doing gentle yoga and fully stretching my body was near orgasmic. Dancing , even if it was slow and labored, made me feel like myself.

I am still itching to go for a run or do anything until I hit a sweaty high, but that will come in time.

I am proving challenging for my physical therapists. Atypical, as usual. I hit full mobility effortlessly by my six week check. They cannot seem to provide me stretches that actually stretch me. Especially after they have spent so much time smoothing my hamstring with some bizarre butterknife-like torture device. The exercises also do not challenge me. They don’t hurt; they aren’t hard. Yet I’m not allowed to do more. So we go through the motions with no effort and just wait.

Now, I have six weeks to go. Six weeks until I can run, dance, go back to barre, do whatever the hell I want. If it continues without pain, perhaps it will go even faster than the six weeks I have already pushed through. I’m excited, anxious, but at least waiting is easier with the surge of depression fading behind me.

In the meantime, as a teaser to myself and full activity, Pratique Photography finally edited and released my Pennywise belly dance video. It was nice to see what I was able to do in constant pain so I can plan on what I can do when I’m finally healed. Check it out on YouTube.

 

Christina Bergling

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Pain Makes Me Stupid

I don’t think I realized what a relationship I had with the pain until I was pain free for six days for the first time since 2016. I have had infatuations with emotional pain before, romances with depression, flings with mania. And a former cutter will always have a strange dynamic with physical pain.

After so long, I had just integrated the pain into my daily life. I had just adapted to it. It was unpleasant and I hated it, but it had become the new normal. Steroid shots had given me spotty relief over the years, but those first six days after surgery were the first time I had experienced no hip or hamstring pain since my hip popped out of socket that fateful day. Even if I was immobile and detoxing off anesthesia, it was blissful relief.

It was when I experienced pain again that I was able to see how much it had taken root in my mind, how it had poisoned and deformed the tissue in my brain. Instead of logically thinking that pain is a part of recovery and it is going to pass, I immediately panicked emotionally. My brain descended into a hopeless ramblings about how the surgery did not work, how the pain was back again, how the pain was never going away.

I flinched away from it the way you would recoil from a stove after having been burned.

I know I just had surgery. I know pain to be expected, even if I was spared it initially. I know it is way too early in the recovery process to decide if the surgery was successful or what my body will feel like going forward. I know these things, yet I do not feel them. I feel panic followed by crushing hopeless depression.

I would love to go for a run to clear my mind and bring myself back to sanity, but that might just exacerbate the situation.

Taken from an outside perspective, recovery has been going amazingly well. Once I emerged from the anesthesia haze, I felt great physically. Even now, my pain is less than a tenth of what it was when I checked in for surgery. Last night hurt, but it did not hurt as much and it is passing. If this is improved as I ever get, it would still be improvement.

The brace and the crutches are torture devices. The crutches are supremely inconvenient, mostly in how much they slow me down and how they prevent me from carrying anything. I feel completely useless. But those I could deal with. The brace drives me mad. Sitting in it, sleeping in it. It’s always on me, squeezing me; it’s always constraining and confining me. I want all the things off me. I want to be able to just walk again. But it has already been over a week, so I have less than a week remaining. I can stuff my complaining and make it.

I just hope I remember to appreciate being able to just walk again.

I hope I remember to appreciate every day with my healthy, able body again.

If I can manage to reestablish perspective and deliberately manage my reactions to emotional pain, there is no way I shouldn’t be able to easily translate that to physical pain. It should be easier, but I underestimated the instinctual influence, the way the baser part of my mind takes over when my body hurts.

Onward…

 

Christina Bergling

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Hip Arthroscopy Surgery

Two and a half years after a seemingly innocuous stretch turned into a relentless injury, the corrective surgery is finally done.

It has been a long road. To review, in August of 2016 I was stretching after a dance class. I went easily into the splits; then my hip popped out from its socket. When it did, I would later learn, it tore my hamstring about 20% in the center and also tore my labrum. My hip slipped back into socket that night, but the pain continued.

After a lot of pain and no recovery, I sought the help of a doctor. The pain was so constant and unrelenting that it was affecting my personality, particularly my patience with my children. My doctor referred me to an orthopedic. He was awful. He treated me very condescendingly and dismissively, as if I had stubbed my toe and was being overdramatic. His administration of a plasma injection into my hamstring gave me sexual assault flashbacks.

His treatment did nothing to heal my injury or alleviate my pain, so I moved to a new orthopedic doctor. This doctor I loved. With additional plasma injections, we did finally heal my hamstring, but the pain persisted. A second MRI and steroid injections revealed the remaining issue to be the labral tears in my hip joint. We scheduled surgery about 7 months out based on the best timing for my insane schedule.

Leading up to the surgery was its own rollercoaster. I oscillated between rationalizing to myself that I could live with this level of pain and didn’t need surgery and not thinking I would make it until the surgery. A couple successful steroid injections bridged the months effectively, giving me enough relief to function. However, in the final two weeks prior to the procedure, my pain became horrendously inflamed, back to initial injury levels. It even got worse, driving me from my bed at night for the first time.

By the time I was in the hospital gown tethered to my IV, it was too painful to sit for any length of time. I hadn’t slept in over a week because every position sent spires of pain shooting up from my hip. When the anesthesiologist brought me the consent form, I signed it without even a glance. I was so ready for the situation to change. Surgery might be a painful recovery, but at least it would change the pain from this endless circle to a line that progressed in an actual direction.

From my side, the drugs began to climb into my veins, and the world began to float. When they brought me into the operating room, I saw the large, Y-shaped table on which I would be operated. The anesthesiologist said, “Let’s get hammered.” And I was gone.

I had been prepared for Hell when I woke up. I was warned by a friend, by my doctor, by the nurse, by the anesthesiologist that this was an especially painful procedure, that they would basically pull my hip apart to perform it, that often they struggle to manage the pain afterward. I did not wake up to any of that.

I felt the soreness of my punctured muscles and the tenderness of the sutures, yet that was it. I kept waiting for pain to blossom in my hip joint and flare over my nerves, but compared to all the months before of constant firing, it was alarmingly silent. My exceptionally open hips and extreme flexibility got me into this mess; perhaps it spared me the worst part of the solution. I woke to my customary, post-anesthesia tears yet not even in full sobs like usual, and I could barely keep myself conscious, but that was all.

My husband got me home, and I slept. Even in the restrictive hip brace and the squeezing compression devices, I slept and slept and slept. I made up for not sleeping the previous week. The hip pain never surfaced, but neither did I. The anesthesia stayed threaded through me, holding me down in a choking haze. I rode waves of nausea as pain clenched my head until it felt like it might fracture.

I hated the sensation. I hated the pain, but more I hated the haze in my mind, the way conscious seemed to slip through my fingers like water. So I continued to sleep, lost myself in a blur of twisted dreams and nightmares until I actually surfaced.

All told, a couple days with a blurry mind plus a little headache and nausea and no surgical pain is not a bad surgical recovery at all. Sure, the journey is not over, but this is a decent start.

I went to my surgical follow up. The nurse and doctor were both surprised by my complete lack of pain. The nurse didn’t know what to do with me, and the doctor was pretty pleased. I also went to my first physical therapy appointment. My therapist was equally surprised by my lack of pain and the amount of mobility I have. Instead of working up, it sounds like we will be holding me back to allow it to heal.

At my follow up, the doctor walked me through the procedure and pictures. He considered the surgery very successful. He discovered a surprising amount of inflammation in all parts of the hip joint.

He repaired a larger labral tear than he had anticipated.

I also had bone spurs on both the ball and socket part of my joint, so he shaved and smoothed both of those down.

So, my labral tear has been stitched up and anchored down, and my bone spurs have been removed. From here, everything should be gliding smoothly in there.

My doctor told me it would take 6 weeks to recover from the operation. However, the physical therapist said it is a 12-16 week recovery. I’m glad I didn’t know this beforehand. At this point, the surgery is done, so I will just walk the recovery however long it takes.

I can sit in any position (within the post-surgical guidelines) without pain. I can lay flat without pain. I can stand up in one fluid movement without pain. After over two years, all of that is amazing. I can take that relief and stretch it out into patience for getting back to the rest.

I do hate the brace though. And the crutches. They are so slow and so confining. When I have been fully lucid, I feel trapped and suffocated. But it’s only the first two weeks. I can feel the depression and cabin fever creeping around the edges of my mind. I’m going to curl up on the couch and watch endless horror movies and write blogs and work on my novel. I am going to throw up every sedentary distraction I have against the looming inactivity and boredom. I can do this. I can decide to do this and force my mind into line behind me. I can take control of this from my recovery bed.

So, the surgery happened. I lived, and now, I start my recovery.

 

Christina Bergling

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