The hip was deteriorating fast. As the bone on bone grinding intensified, I lost mobility. The hip was gradually drawing up into a frozen position, with the right knee pointing to about 1 o’clock. Other types of motion were going away. The muscles were literally atrophying before my eyes. The physical shape I was in from years of training as a kick-butt athlete melted away, seemingly forever. By 1998, I was frozen. I had assumed the characteristic twisted walking gait of one with OA: Unable to bend the hip more than a few degrees, I could only move by lifting the whole side of my body in a lurching movement.
The pain was agonizing. Let me explain that a bit more. I do a martial art called jujutsu. A hallmark of the system is the ability to immobilize joints using what are called joint locks. Most joint locks are very painful, to the point that even the burliest of assailants will do a nosedive for the floor to escape them. Police use them to great effect at times. No joint lock I’ve ever experienced – and I’ve had some of the best of the best work with me – came even remotely close. The doctors put me on a variety of drugs. Mostly anti-inflammatories and pain killers. I used glucosamine and chondroitin supplements and even a few oddball ones. These helped a bit. The pain killers made me loopy, but that’s all. Nothing really helped except aspirin, and I was up to the maximum safe dosage of 5 grams a day (a pair of them has about 700 – 750 milligrams). That would only work if I took it and didn’t move at all for a couple of hours.
Sleeping was awful. Any movement hurt terribly, and I would wake up. That meant I would just sleep immobile and when that would get too painful, I would wake up (every 2 – 3 hours) and then I could pick up and move the leg with my hands. I went years without a good night’s sleep. I had to have pillows to prop up my leg since I could not get my knees together and just the weight of the leg was excruciating. Sleep deprivation is yet another part of this condition that grinds you down.
All of this progressed over the course of a few years, going from bad to worse. My doctors warned me that OA has its own logic and that is might hit a steady state that could last for years or just deteriorate within a few months. The only option of a total hip replacement meant that I would probably end up in very sorry shape if I got one before I was 65, but there might not be much choice in the matter.
I have a picture taken by my wife of me in the woods walking with my then young son on my shoulders. Unable to run and barely able to walk at that point, I wanted to go up to the mountains once more and have some documented proof to him that I was actually able to walk once. I suffered for several days after that. It was also clear that the boys just knew that Dad was different. They didn’t ask me to play or do other things that boys and their fathers do. That was awful, since most all of their memories at that point were of me as a physical wreck. That hurt.
By this time, my degree was over and I was looking to return to the US. A freshly minted doctor. Here we had a collision with reality. The usual lifecycle of post-docs is to get a job teaching service courses (like Calculus) at a major university while they crank out research papers. After moving from school to school for about 5 years, they then have a nice list of publications and with any luck can get a tenure track position. I was going to need surgery soon. For something like this, I would not ever be out from under the infamous “pre-existing condition” clause. (If you do not live in the US, this means that the insurance company is not obligated to pay any claims if the condition was known to exist beforehand. This is usually timed for something like a year, in serious cases. A usual appointment for an academic year is 9 months, so I knew I’d never get treatment that way.)
Since I had a wife and a couple of little kids to support, plugging into this system, would have meant moving every year or so. The sleazebags who run the hiring at universities refer to us as “wandering scholars” so we don’t sound the migrant workers we are. This was just not viable. Seriously, I was now officially handicapped and walking unaided more than 100 ft. was pretty close to my definition of a nightmare. I opted to find a job in the private sector. I did, but got a much better offer from my present employer, a univeristy. Weirdly, being classified as on staff (like the secretaries) gave me better benefits and long-term employment. I waited my year almost to the day and got fixed. So now I work as a full time researcher. That played out a lot better than I expected. I’m still extremely sore at the US university system’s obtuseness when it comes to employment and treatment of its post-doctorates, but, since I’ve realized that graduate science programs are really not for Americans (who all want doctorates in Philosophy or Human Conflict Resolution Management) I’m sure nothing is going to get done. A lot of the technical outsourcing to Asia just reflects the fact that once trained, the foreigners find it more appealing to head home. Oops, pardon my mini-rant….