I woke up early to meditate. Then, shower and wipe-down with antiseptic cloths. No water, no food, no lotion, no face creams or lip balm, no hair products.
I’m the first case of the day so we have to be there at 6:30 am and the surgery begins at 8:30 am. It should take 2-3 hours. What a miracle that I can have a new hip in that short amount of time.
I’ve asked friends to picture me wrapped in a pink blanket of love between 8:00 and 8:30. If you’d like to join in, I’d love to have the support!
Here are the three songs I’m taking in with me. My favorite songs for getting into state.
See you on the other side!
They started yesterday, the thoughts. Will this be the last time I take the wheel with these hips? Will we have sex before Friday or have we already had the last sex these hips will ever have? I’ve already taken the last airplane I will ever take with these hips. I watched these new thoughts roll around my brain, feeling for the tone. Nostalgia. Regret. Relief.
This week I’ve had to slow . . . way . . . down. I usually would organize everything in our new house prior to heading in for surgery in order to feel settled in when I get back, but my body said no and my partner can only do so much. In the past I’ve driven myself into the ground to complete cycles but that’s too energetically expensive now. It’s time to preserve my batteries for surgery and recovery, not further drain them by stressing out about a messy house.
Today I let go. I’m lying down with boxes partially opened around me, the bookshelf a mess of books mixed with office supplies, the kitchen counter covered with stuff I haven’t found a place for yet. I’ll have to settle into this new house with things as they are. Not unlike the lesson my hips have been teaching me for years: how to settle into my body as it is.
As my hips have gotten exponentially more restricted and painful in the last few months, we’ve had sex less often. My mind wants to spin a story about it being because I’m unattractive with my limp and frequent requests for help, but I know that’s not it. The reduction in frequency isn’t coming from him.
One thing I’ve learned in the last year of living together is what an almost pitch-perfect responder my partner is. There have been a few instances of excessive hunger, emotional shut-down, or fatigue when the funkiness has come from him. But most of the time he responds to something in me that I haven’t always seen yet. Before I assume he doesn’t want me because I’m a limping old lady whose body is turning to flab, I now know to check in with myself.
The truth is that pain is self-absorbing and consuming. It takes a lot to get through a day with severe pain, especially if sleep is interrupted repeatedly by having to shift positions. I feel my body turn inward to marshal its resources just to get to the toilet. In the hierarchy of needs, as much as sex feeds our connection and is a major bond in our relationship, when the sex is painful and awkward it drops down the list. It’s hard to want sex when the act itself reminds me of all the ways I can no longer move because of pain.
We’re down to one possible position: spooning with my top leg over and behind his legs. This morning, as our bodies found each other and spooned, I felt his skin against mine and decided to go for it, wanting to feel our sex one more time before we’re restricted for 3-4 weeks by surgical recovery. What a relief to feel sensation under my skin other than pain, to feel more connected again, to see him bounce out of bed and hear him break down empty boxes clogging the kitchen floor. I stay in bed a while longer and give thanks for my body as it is and for the fact that it will all change tomorrow.
I’m a meditation snob. I’ve been meditating for over 25 years, so when the Muse headband first hit the market I thought it was a cool gadget for new meditators but not something I’d ever want to use. Plus I thought it looked dumb.
At the Bulletproof Conference this fall in Pasadena, CA, I had the opportunity to try one. Sold! When my mind got calm as I focused on my breath, the weather quieted and I heard the sound of waves. Real-sounding birds tweeted when I held focus for two seconds in a row. The first time I heard birds I got so excited that my mind screamed, Birds! I got birds!, which knocked me out of focus and shut up the birds until I was able to calm down again. I’ve gotten over that and now can hear the birds without losing it!
I use Muse almost every day in addition to other meditation sessions I do without it. Here’s why:
1) Having real-time feedback on the state of your mind is cool. It just is.
2) By having direct feedback on when you’re focused and when you’re not, it helps you train yourself to relax and focus even when you’re not wearing it because you know what that state feels like. Sometimes you can be focused even when your thoughts wander. I think it’s fascinating to learn which thoughts take me out and which don’t.
3) In a short session with Muse you can come out calmer and clearer than you might with regular sitting meditation because of the auditory reminder to bring yourself back to focus in real time. You end up sitting with more attention. This benefit extends to when you meditate without it because you become more adept at catching yourself when you’ve wandered because you’ve internalized what focused feels like in your body and mind.
4) It’s fun to compare notes with other users and several users can share one Muse headband, which I think is cool. You download the Muse app to your phone, so each person has her/his own account linked to the headband. Your data accumulates on your phone only and nothing gets stored in the headband.
5) Bird sounds!
6) It has a variety of meditation techniques and sounds in the database. Try them and find the ones you like best.
7) It’s fun to use it at different times of day, before and after sleep, caffeine, food, exercise. Get to know your mind and how it fluctuates according to what you do!
I have not been asked to write a review of Muse and don’t any compensation for doing so. I’m just sharing about it because it’s cool. And, yeah, I look like a dork. But it’s worth it to learn more about my mind!
On Friday I woke up in New York in debilitating pain. I had to change medications before next Friday’s surgery because one of the ones I’ve been on thins the blood. This new medication isn’t cutting it. I have to take it every six hours and because I slept through the night on Thursday night, by Friday morning I was in agony.
I adjusted, used Lyft and taxis instead of the subway, walked as little as possible. I noticed after signing my new will at the lawyer’s office near 57th St. that I felt super exposed: braless, in a t-shirt, advancing at a crawl as I hugged the edge of the building to get to the avenue and hail a cab, as coiffed and tailored people raced around me.
I’m a native New Yorker. I’m used to a fast pace, especially as I walk. It’s part of how I tune out the excess sensory information that bombards my system. I put my head down and just go. Walking slowly and looking unkempt was the perfect setup for my self-denigrating voices to start up. But they didn’t. I just walked slowly. As exposed as I felt, I just focused on each step, focused on making it to the curb and the approaching cab.
I emailed my doctor about the pain. He suggested getting a cane or a walker because he couldn’t legally call in a script to my pharmacy here, so Patrick picked one up for me at CVS. In the past I would have been mortified to be seen with a cane, afraid it would make me look old. Now I’m thrilled to have one, relieved to have it help me get around for dinner and a Broadway show with my mother, a belated birthday celebration.
With a cane, I feel more confident. With a cane I feel protected. With a cane I feel legitimized, as if my limp and slow pace now make sense to the casual observer. I no longer fear someone will yell at me for walking too slowly. If anyone bumps into me I can whack them back. Not really, but it’s fun to imagine.
So when the young man opened the back door of the Uber I’d called for my mother after the show, I yelled, Get away from my car!, and hobbled toward him as fast as I could. Like I said, I’m a native New Yorker. Beating someone out for a cab, and protecting my cab from poachers, runs deep in my bones. It doesn’t matter that the Uber driver had my name and there was no way that guy was me. This wasn’t logical, it was involuntary.
He backed away, offended and protesting. I ignored him and focused on putting my mother in the car. An older woman who saw what happened said, You a gangsta, granny! I said, Gangsta Granny, I love that!, and said goodbye to my mother. The guy grumbled, It wasn’t a compliment. I said, It was to me, suddenly liberated from my fear of looking old by being called the very thing I feared but with a badass twist. I turned away to end the conversation and waited with Patrick for our Uber home to Brooklyn.
On Wednesday I had an appointment with my surgeon’s P.A. We went over my questions and I signed some forms. It turns out I can’t keep my femur head after all because they send it to pathology (I asked about the femur head in this post). But they can take a photo of it for me! He swabbed my nose to test for MRSA, took my blood pressure and temperature, and gave me a package of sanitizing wipes to use all over my body after my shower on the morning of surgery.
Then I went to the anesthesiologists’ office to go over everything with them. The receptionist was the kind of young woman so radiant I want the harsh world to stay away from her kind shine. I had a good conversation with the anesthesiologist, who may or may not be the one assigned to my surgery on Friday. I told him about the healing statements I want people to say at specific times during the surgery (see this post about the book I’m working with to prepare for surgery). He said his team is open to it, that people have asked them to say things before. That felt good.
As I checked out, I answered the receptionist’s questions and paused at Do you have a religion? I said I didn’t really but am spiritual. She had a category for that! As we chatted I told her I found out that morning that friends from my spiritual community will keep the high watch and pray the day of my surgery. Telling her that made me cry with gratitude. She came around the desk and offered me a hug, saying, Tears are joy, they’re good, let it flow. We said goodbye and she sent me off with, Stay prayed up this week. Some people are meant to work the field they’re in.
From there to the DMV to get my temporary handicap placard! I’ve changed so much through the course of this pain journey, from wanting to hide any sign of pain or disability to gratitude for any small thing that can make my day easier. I’m so grateful to get a placard that I heard a voice in my head say, It’s about f-ing time!
Patrick and I have discovered that if we get to the DMV in the last 15 minutes of the day there’s barely anyone there. I rolled in and only had 10 people ahead of me. When I got up to the window, I was met by this vision in orange in the picture below. Wearing my favorite color with the logo of one of my favorite movies, he made me smile. We both hummed along with the song on the radio, he wished me well with my surgery, and before too long I was out of there with my new placard.
Patrick and I moved yesterday to a cute Santa Monica cottage built in 1908. It has a small yard and a deck on top of the garage. It’s cozy, sweet, and needs a lot of work. A couple of weeks ago when we walked around with builders to discuss the remodel, I picked a couple of figs and ate them on the spot without washing them. When Phoenix arrived today after being boarded during the move, she jumped and raced around the yard in glee. It feels so good.
We decided to move in now because it will be an easier place to stay while I recover. It’s a single-story home and I can walk outside to sit on a lounge chair to get fresh air instead of having to climb up to the roof of the three-story townhome where we lived before.
We’re planning a major renovation, including pouring a new foundation since it’s sagging on the original red brick, so will move back into our old place in 5-6 months once designs are complete and permits come through. At least we were able to leave half our furniture there since it doesn’t fit here.
It seems crazy to move, or at least it did last night when the counters were piled with stuff I couldn’t remember why I had to bring, my hip and leg were on fire from being on my feet too much, I couldn’t find my toothbrush nor the duvet cover, and an outdoor light we still haven’t found the switch for shone a stripe near my face as I was trying to fall asleep. But I’ve learned to listen to my desire, so in the world I live in it’s not crazy at all. My desire was to recover on one level and have a small yard for our dog. Something in me knows this move will be good so I’m willing to uproot our lives the week before surgery, and two days before we leave for NY for four days, in order to have it.
I’ve gotten better at rolling with things as they come. We didn’t decide our move date until about 6 days ago, which left little time for packing since we were out of town for 3 of them.
I’ve also gotten better at asking for help. We hired two men to help us pack, move, and unpack most of the boxes onto counters and floor. My favorite magical moment was happening to drive by the parking enforcement guy on our street and stopping him to ask if the movers could park the U-Haul in front of our place even though it was street cleaning day. He said the cleaning truck was a block away and we could park after it went by. I went inside and told the movers and they were able to get a prime spot in front of our building for the loud-out.
It feels like no accident that as I prepare for a new foundation in my body, we move into a house that will soon get a new foundation. It also feels like no accident that Patrick and I are doing this together, that for the first time I’m going to design and create a home from the ground up with my partner. For the first time I have a dog and a yard. For the first time I’m having major surgery and I’m still listening to my desire despite the temptation to give in to stress or anxiety. I’m grateful for all of it, and especially for my toothbrush and duvet cover that finally turned up.
Today I want to tell you about the TheraGun. I found it at the Bulletproof Conference and it has become my favorite method for quick pain relief. It looks and sounds like a power tool and was developed by a sports chiropractor, Dr. Jason S. Wersland, DC, to reduce pain, break up adhesions, increase blood flow, and help recovery. Athletes use them before, during, and after events and people like me use them at home. I have not been asked to write about this device and receive no compensation for writing about it.
When I tried it out on my right hip at the booth I was amazed. Painful knots lessened their grip in a count between 5 and 10. When I sat to treat my left calf, tight from taking the brunt of the limp on my right side, it was so intense I squeezed the chiropractor’s hand and people laughed at the faces I made. Afterwards my legs felt lighter and I was able to walk normally for several hours.
It has a jackhammer-like vertical action, as opposed to the side-to-side vibrational action of many other devices. I learned that the brain quickly tunes out the side-to-side sensation unless the device is moved to a new location. Here’s some information from the website for the science nerds (like me) in the house as to why it’s so effective:
Studies on chronic pain have showed that deep brain stimulation at frequencies of approximately 50 Hz can produce analgesic effects. The TheraGun’s reciprocating motion runs at a higher frequency (60-65 Hz) than chronic pain (5-50Hz) with an amplitude of ½ inch. The nervous system’s hierarchy is programmed to pay attention to the higher frequency stimulus over the pain stimulus. This is important because the TheraGun’s vibration and amplitude on the body send signals to the brain faster than pain signals can travel. This high frequency vibration actually overrides pain signals. Therefore, for a period of time, pain is significantly decreased.
I have used it every day since the conference to be able to get around better. The muscles around my right hip tighten up again fairly quickly depending on what I’m doing, since I’m still walking on degenerated hips, but the relief I get is worth having to use it several times a day. I use it for 5-7 minutes at a time. If I have more time, I cover other areas besides the most essential ones.
Sometimes Patrick helps, which gives us both a laugh!
A friend whose wife was having surgery introduced me to a book I’m working with prior to mine: Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster, by Peggy Huddleston. It comes with a relaxation CD to use once or twice a day for two weeks before surgery. I highly recommend it.
In the book, which builds on double-blind studies performed at Harvard Medical School and other research, Huddleston lays out five steps to prepare for surgery plus healing statements for the surgical team to say. Patients who follow this protocol tend to need less pain medication and go home sooner than those who don’t.
Right away I got nailed in Step 2 when she told a story about a patient who had unexpressed grief and rage in her uterus. She released it prior to surgery to remove an ovarian cyst. She went home a day earlier than expected. I stopped reading and thought about my hips.
I carry rage in my hips. Mine, not mine. Grief, too. I know few women who don’t carry residue in their hips and pelvis from living a world more catered to a masculine way of being than a feminine one. I carry ancient memories of sexual assault in these hips as well as sexual shame handed down through generations. I’ve done a lot of emotional and energetic work to clear it, and Orgasmic Meditation (OM) has been a big part of that work.
Reading that book reminded me how, for the last 7 years as my hips deteriorated, I often got stuck in self-pity and blame, shouting at my hips in my head and berating myself for not being able to do what I used to do. I pushed through pain to continue HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) because I’ve always lived by the motto no pain, no gain, until I couldn’t push anymore. In my view, we were at war and my hips won. I felt betrayed. I couldn’t even do yoga. I would try it and hobble out of the class feeling worse.
It didn’t occur to me to see a doctor. I did exercise therapy, got bodywork, chiropractic, spiritual counseling, acupuncture, and Gyrotonic. Nothing worked to free how locked up my hips had become. Finally a friend suggested I get x-rays and I was tired enough of the pain to hear him. I found out I was born with a slight dysplasia, which explains why they wore out so early, and that both femur heads were bone on bone with bone spurs sticking out of them (due to impact), the right worse than the left.
It turned out that I’ve been active on misaligned hips my whole life. Instead of being my enemy, my hips have been heroic. My hips weren’t against me nor out to ruin my life. What feels closer to the truth is that my hips tried to communicate with me but I was too driven to listen.
Now my rage is largely gone. Ever since the surgery got moved up to Oct. 14th, I’ve been surprised by the tenderness I feel toward these hard-working joints that have carried me through dance, yoga, HIIT, hiking, scuba diving, and more. I remember how I love their curves. I give thanks for my sex-loving, salsa-dancing, round-assed hips.
Patrick and I walk through Kaiser to the basement classroom. Around us, people shuffle and limp. Some use canes or walkers. For once I feel at home and on pace instead of struggling to keep up. In our class there are knee people and hip people. I look around at my tribe. A peppy and kind male nurse takes us through what to do to prepare for surgery, what to expect the day of, and during recovery.
One black woman there with her daughter, the patient, tells a horror story about a friend who broke her new hip in a fall and then the doctors broke her femur when replacing the hip with a new one. We all groan. Why would she tell us that? The daughter wants to know if she’ll get her swing back in her hips (I do, too!). There’s the 85 year-old black woman replacing both knees next to her dapper husband wearing hoop earrings, a hat, and sunglasses. There’s the older white woman beside us who reassures me that I can listen to a relaxing meditation in the holding room before surgery after I ask a question about mind-body stuff. The room is filled with patients and caregivers, all with their own desires and fears for this next phase. One caregiver takes careful, copious notes in the pamphlet. I write notes on my phone and spill my water bottle. We all handle nerves in our own way.
Maybe I’m the youngest patient in the room but I’m probably the weirdest. I ask the nurse if I can see my femur head after they take it out, maybe take it home. He says, It’s yours, God gave it to you so why not? Ask your surgeon. I have a desire to see it, this worn-down, bone-spur covered ball, this teacher and bane. I might place it on my altar.
After today’s class it hits me what a big deal this is. I didn’t get it before. I’m not allowed to sit normally, cross my legs, or rotate them in or out for three months. I already haven’t been able to cross my legs for four years so that one’s not a big deal, but having to be that careful getting in and out of the car, or out of bed, or when I start to exercise again for that long is more than I expected.
I’ll use an elevated toilet seat with handles, like my grandmother did. MY GRANDMOTHER. I will sit on pillows to keep my hips elevated higher than my knees and carry a pillow everywhere I go. When the nurse shows us how to stand up from the toilet to wipe ourselves (so we don’t twist and dislocate the new joint), all I see is pee trickling down my leg and not being allowed to bend over to wipe it.
Wide-eyed, I turn to Patrick and whisper, We’re going to get very intimate. I’m suddenly terrified. It’s too soon in our relationship for this. We’re only a year in and he’s going to clean out a bedside commode with my waste in it? Watch me use a walker? How’s he going to find me sexy, whenever we’re allowed to have sex again, if he’s been wiping pee off the calf that I can’t reach?
As I limp out, a black woman wearing a bright fuchsia top and radiating kindness says, You walk so well!, folded walker by her side. I thank her and we smile. I laugh to myself on the way to the elevator. I’ve tried so hard for so long to hide my pain, wanting desperately to appear normal, but here, among my tribe of deteriorated-joint-bearers, I walk so well.
It’s not even 8:00 yet this morning and I’m crying. My best friend, super busy with world-transforming projects, offered to come help out in November after my surgery. She told me something had been trying to fill that small window, but she knew she had to keep it open without knowing why. I said yes through my tears. Between not wanting to impose and being an only child used to doing things on my own, it’s not easy for me to receive help. I much prefer to offer it. My friend knows this about me so she offered and a tight spot in my heart cracked open.
Part of it has to do with being wealthy, like I don’t have the right to ask for any of my busy friends’ help because I can pay someone. I know it’s dumb, but I find it hard to value my physical pain in the face of police shootings, poverty, and injustice. I end up blocking true connection because my inability to receive creates a wall. My heart breaks for all the times I’ve turned down people’s offers of help because I felt undeserving or that it would be an imposition. I believed my needs didn’t matter as much as others’ needs. But what I’ve held as unworthiness is actually a form of arrogance in thinking that being a giver is enough.
Yesterday, when I decided to write this blog, which will include info about cool technology and supplements to improve the body’s ability to heal, fear came up that I would be criticized for being able to buy these things. I want to live in a world where we all have access to these unconventional healing options, where the technology is available at medical centers covered by the Affordable Care Act but that’s not the world we live in now. I hope that raising awareness about what’s available through blogging about it could, in some small way, move the needle in that direction.
Last Tuesday, I went to the grocery store for the first time in weeks because it’s been too painful to get around it. I eased out of the car, lifting my right leg out through the door with my hand, and took the elevator to store level. For years I’ve tried to walk normally, or stay seated, so people wouldn’t notice my pain, pity me, or see me as old. Now that the surgery is imminent, I no longer care who sees me. At the store I limped, used the shopping cart as a walker, and moved slowly behind the person directing me to the aisle where I could find culinary coconut milk without apologizing for my pace.
As I wrote this, Patrick came home with a surprise: my favorite special breakfast, avocado toast with salmon from the Bulletproof Café here in Santa Monica. He made me decaf bulletproof coffee. We ate. I told him our friend is coming in November and cried again. I gave thanks for the people who love me enough to knock the wall down.