Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Once upon a time...

...I walked into a doctor's office expecting "take two asprin and call me in the morning" and walked out needing two surgeries instead.

But I guess this all really begins in high school, when I vaguely remember my hips hurting from time to time and eventually going to our local orthopedist. He told me I had "growth bursitis," but I don't recall what he suggested I do about it. He certainly did not suggest I had defective hip construction.

On and off during the fifteen years since that visit to Dr. Suburbs, my hips continued to hurt, sometimes badly, sometimes not at all. I don't recall it being one hip more than the other. I didn't mention the pain to many people along the way, partly because it was transient and so seemed less chronic in my mind, and partly because it was so chronic that I was used to dealing with it.

The pain is best described as feeling like a blister on the inside front of my hip socket; when my femoral head (the "ball" of the ball-and-socket hip joint) hit the "blister" in a certain way, there was a sharp pain. Sometimes it was enough to make me gasp; sometimes the pain shot down the front of my thigh. Sometimes my hips would ache when I was still, too, and I would feel the shadow ache down my thigh during the worst times.

The pain was exacerbated by certain types of exercise, mainly walking. I walked a lot -- around college campus, around my neighborhood when I lived in Los Angeles, almost everywhere once I moved to New York. If I did too much, the blister was irritated and then I had to stay off it for a while until the blister subsided. So that is how I played it.

I never took anything for the pain; if my hip hurt, I stayed off it until it felt better. In retrospect, I think this may have been wise.

In July 2007 I was seeing an orthopedist who specialized in sports injuries for an tennis-related knee injury, and I had him look at my hips while he was at it. "Mild to moderate trochanteric bursitis," Dr. Sports said, and offered me a cortisone shot. Beyond the fact that sticking an enormous needle into my hip to administer the shot sounded shudderingly awful, the treatment of just numbing the pain seemed short-sighted. There must be a reason my hips hurt, I thought. If I just numb the pain, won't I hurt myself more just pounding painlessly on a subdued injury? So I just carried on as usual.

In July 2008, my mother convinced me to visit Dr. Edwin Su at the Hospital for Special Surgery ("HSS") here in New York City. Dr. Su had done my mother's hip resurfacing earlier in the year and was "the best," she said, so I should really have him take a look. At the time, my hips were not hurting very much and I kind of blew it off. I went to Dr. Su's office to take the x-rays in July but didn't wait around to look at them with him. I figured he wasn't going to tell me anything different from what the other orthopedists had said.

Finally in October 2008, I went to see Dr. Su to view the xrays I'd taken in July. The only reason I was spurred to action was that my firm's New York office was moving downtown and I would no longer be close to HSS, which is on the Upper East Side. I figured I might as well get the follow-up appointment over with while I was still close enough to make it a short trip from the office to the hospital. If not for the office move, who knows how long I would have put off the follow-up visit?

Dr. Su took one look at my xrays and told me I had bilateral hip dysplasia. You may have heard of hip dysplasia in dogs, but it is basically the same thing for people -- hip socket is too shallow, putting strain on the joint and grinding away cartilage at the edge of the hip socket. I won't explain too much more; click the link if you want more details. The link above explains dysplasia as well as the surgery I need to have on both hips.

The surgery is called Periacetabular Osteotomy ("PAO") and essential involes chopping apart my hip and putting it back together in the appropriate postion, securing it with screws, and letting the bone fuse together in the new alignment. Pleasant thought, isn't it? And I have to have the surgery twice; right hip first, then the left within a year after the right, most likely.

In this blog I will detail my path from diagnosis through recovery. In researching this surgery I found several women who wrote blogs about their PAO experiences and I found the information and personal stories helpful in preparing myself mentally for this serious, and surprising, diagnosis and the surgeries it requires. I hope my story can be similarly enlightening, heartening, and informative for others.


  1. I just want to say thank you for writing this and in such great detail. I too have a consult with Dr. Millis and it is nice to hear everything and your experiences. My consult will be just after your surgery. I will be there while you are recovering. Good luck and I look forward to following your journey

  2. First of all thank you so much for your input on the subject. It is priceless...
    So, I am waiting for a call from Dr.Millis 's office for a first ,possible appointment to treat my acetabular dysplasia
    I am 44 female still wanting to do and to give so much. Misdiagnosed couple years ago with hip bursitis and absolutely, totally terrified that I may be to old for PAO, not a good candidate for hip resurfacing and to young for more than one hip replacement..
    And the pain is not going to go away.
    God help me, somebody help me..