Struggling to Walk with Arthirtis

It started off insidiously. I picked up someone at the Burbank Airport and by the time I had walked to the gate and back to the car, I could barely walk. Then, about two weeks later, I picked up my mother at LAX. While walking to her gate, I had to stop occasionally because the pain in my right hip was so bad I couldn’t continue walking. On the way back to the car I had to stop two or three times. I was trying to push myself because I didn’t want to worry my mother, but when we reached the car, I had to lean on the trunk for support.

At this time, I was struggling with the symptoms of bipolar disorder and I wasn’t too concerned with the walking problem but I did mention it to my Doctor. She thought it was probably arthritis but ordered and X-ray. The X-ray showed some arthritis along with a crushed vertebrae, surely the combined cause of my walking problem. My Doctor prescribed Celebrex but it didn’t work so I stopped taking it and figured this was something I would just have to live with.

As time went on, the length I could walk got shorter and shorter. I could no longer shop because I couldn’t even walk from the front of the store to the back. I couldn’t even get from my car to the store. A trip to Hawaii was blighted because I couldn’t walk the half block to the beach, but once I was in the water, it was wonderful because I could use my arms to move around.

About four years passed in this way. I felt resigned to the fact that I was semi crippled and my life was measured in the little hunks I could walk. I got handicapped license plates. I felt like a wuss because I couldn’t walk through the pain, because my legs seemed to stop working. But I thought someone with more fortitude than I had would be able to keep walking.

I had a new Doctor. Again I was prescribed Celebrex. Again it didn’t work. My Doctor sent me to a back specialist. This new Doctor was an exuberant older man with a natty bow tie. He gave me a shot of cortisone into by back. It didn’t work. I went back to him. He had me get up on the examination table and felt around my feet and my knees. Finally, he told me he couldn’t find a pulse in my legs and that I must be dead. He raised his voice and yelled, “Nurse, nurse, this patient has no pulse.” She must have been used to him because she did not come rushing in. He told me to call my primary Doctor as soon as possible.

I saw my Doctor. She said she could feel a slight pulse but she referred me to a vascular surgeon, explaining that there might be some blockage in an artery.

I saw the vascular surgeon and he ordered a test, which confirmed blockage. He ordered an angiogram. This angiogram was done by injecting me with something that produced a wonderful, warm feeling around my hips. Pictures were taken.

My vascular surgeon showed me the pictures. It looked like an alien baby was growing on my aorta just below the area of my belly button. Dozens of tendrils snaked out from a central area. The Doctor explained that the flow of blood to my pelvis and legs was being blocked and I couldn’t walk because all those muscles were starved for oxygen. This was called claudication. He scheduled surgery.

On the day of surgery I felt pretty confident because many people had told me what a great surgeon I had. I was to have the alien being cleaned out and a stent inserted. At the last minute, my surgeon had an emergency and I was assigned a surgeon who looked to be about the age of Doogie Howser. However, I didn’t care because I was very, very mellow due to pre-operation medication. The surgery seemed to go fine. I spent the day in a fog and then they told me there was a blood clot in my leg and my Doctor would have to operate. I was like, “Whatever, groovy.”

The next morning I took my first walk. I walked down the hall; I walked further down the hall. I walked around the corner. I kept walking until I had made a complete circle. I was released that day, ironically wheeled out in a chair when I really wanted to walk.

I went into the hospital barely able to walk and left able to walk anywhere I wanted. I hadn’t been able to walk normally for almost five years. Walking was a miracle; a joy and I just couldn’t get enough of it.

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