22 April 2010

Panic in Hipville

I can't concentrate on much of anything except my left hip. The upper left thigh started hurting last week and the pain's gotten steadily worse. I'm try hard to relax mind and body—a non sequitur if ever there was one—during Qigong practice every morning, but to no avail. The hip flexor now pulls when I walk; the left abductor hurts when I lie on that side. When I stand up after sitting too long at the computer, the left gluteal muscles ache.

How do I know these terms? After undergoing four hip replacement surgeries in three years, I'm a walking Gray's Anatomy when it comes to naming the muscles around hip joints.

My hip saga began in February 1991 outside the northern Thai town of Chiang Saen on the afternoon of the first day I'd ever driven a motorbike. Coming into a turn I accidentally accelerated instead of braking, hit a small concrete road barrier and catapulted into a narrow roadside ditch filled with water. Miraculously I only dislocated my right hip and not my non-helmeted head. The month I spent immobilized in traction in the orthopedic ward of the Chiang Rai government hospital catalyzed my love affair with Thailand. The accident itself catalyzed a decade-long process of hip degeneration resulting in arthritis.

Starting around 2002 I developed persistent lower back pain and a reduced range of motion in the left hip. By 2004 Thai doctors counseled hip replacement surgery. A highly recommended Thai surgeon performed a partial replacement on the left hip in May 2005. The standard total hip replacement was unnecessary, he said, since the hip socket was fine. Thanks to a rigorous physical therapy program taught me by Mr. Jun, an incredibly talented young physical therapist, the right hip started feeling more or less normal two months post-op.

In October 2006 the same surgeon performed a similar partial replacement on the ailing right hip. I followed the identical physical therapy regimen but this hip wouldn't heal. When I limped into the doctor's office five months later demanding to know what was wrong, he mumbled how I'd probably be better in a year and practically threw me out. Around the same time the left hip started seizing up.

I ended up spending three months with old friends in the Belgian countryside during the summer of 2007 while a surgeon at a university hospital in Ghent successfully fixed both botched Thai replacements in two separate operations. This hip specialist couldn't believe the Thai doctor hadn't performed total hip replacements because the both joints were completely arthritic. Alas he couldn't repair the torn right abductor muscle— that large muscle along the outer thigh—which the Thai doctor inadvertently slashed using his outdated operating techniques.

Once again I relied on Mr. Jun's exercises to get myself up and walking. By the end of 2007, apart from a slight weakness on the right leg from the torn abductor, my body felt pretty great compared to the previous five years. Instead of being grateful, I believed all those medical travails gave me carte blanche to worry and whinge about the tiniest skeletal-related ache or pain.

Beginning with our first session in March 2009, Sifu H discounted my every complaint about hips or other body parts. "The pain's in your mind," he asserted back then and still reiterates with mantra-like regularity whenever I present him with a new symptom. I used to burst into tears whenever he said that and sobbingly insist he couldn't possibly understand my fear that both hips might fail again. "See the reality," he dispassionately counseled.

At the end of each session with Sifu H I actually do see the reality. Until now, however, I've simply refused to acknowledge it. The reality is that four month-long sessions of learning Qigong and a daily home practice have diminished or eliminated all the physical ailments I presented with in March 2009. Ditto for the other minor aches and pains I created for myself back home by forcing instead of relaxing my body during certain moves.

Sifu H constantly reminds me that power doesn't arise from brute force. Learning how to relax using the breath and how to move from the dan tian lets me perform powerful movements without yanking or thrusting. Instead of relying on medication, massage or acupuncture, my own energy has gradually healed one bunion, two achy shoulders, and a swollen and clicking thumb joint. Not to mention how it's cleared years' worth of stress stuck in those multi-operated hips.

It's taken almost a week to write this post. I began by attempting to justify whinging about the latest hip-related symptom and conclude by admitting that none of the evidence supports my panicky doom and gloom hypothesis. I've also officially outed a dirty little secret to myself and anyone else who reads this post. To whit: I've been health-obsessed—a polite euphemism for a hypochondriac—for decades. Never loving myself enough, I try to elicit caring and sympathy from others by complaining.

Another important reality is that while four hip operations aren't pleasant, many people suffer far more serious and life-threatening conditions with humor, strength and equanimity instead of constant moaning. My biggest problem is not an aching hip but a hyper-active mind that delights in concocting scenarios filled with dire outcomes. Mental maladies don't heal as quickly as  physical ones, but acknowledging them is half the battle.

Being grateful promotes health and happiness. Whinging creates stress which in turn weakens the immune system. So herewith some hippy gratitudes:

•  For years I hated the Thai surgeon for being an incompetent blowhard  and a liar. Now I'm grateful to him for screwing up. Even if he'd performed total hip replacements on both hips, I know his antiquated operating techniques wouldn't have compared to the Belgian specialist's.

•  I railed against the Thai hospital for plying me with antibiotics during and after both surgeries. When I developed horrible sinusitis after both operations, they prescribed even more. Now I'm grateful to those months of antibiotics which wiped out my immune system and resulted in systemic candida. Without being so ill I'd never have radically changed my diet nor discovered Sifu H.

Oh, and that pesky left hip still aches, but less so than before. Or perhaps it aches as much as before but I've stopped worrying about it.

1 comment:

DJsmiles said...

Thank you! I just found this blog via surfing for info on qi gong and hips. You have helped me gain a little more insight of my own personal worries and neurosis!