I’ve had this hip problem lately. Actually, the doctor tells me I’ve had this condition my whole life, but it has just started being a real pain in the last few months. It has a name and even an acronym, FAI, which I maintain stands for Frustrating And Inconvenient. The same doctor tells me it actually stands for Femoral Acetabular Impingement. I’m going to stick with my original definition.
Some would say that my Frustrating And Inconvenient hip problem came about as a result of excessive long-distance running this year and the recent completion of a 50K trail run which I may or may not have properly trained for. (Hey, it was on the bucket list.) I maintain it was merely a coincidence because, after all, I’ve had this condition my whole life. The doctor said so. Causation, correlation. Potayto, potahto. Doesn’t really matter because here I am, with this hip problem.
When the pain was at its worst, I summoned the warrior strength of the woman who nearly delivered her baby on the bathroom floor a few years ago, and still could not manage to lift myself out of the car. Nor could I carry groceries up the stairs, pick up my kids, or play a respectable game of hacky sack. I had to stop running completely; I had to start aqua jogging. Yes, aqua jogging.
The doctor told me he could inject my hip socket with magical medicine that would relieve the inflammation and restore my ability to put on my own socks and shoes again. This seemed like more than a reasonable proposition. I took him up on it, even after seeing the length of the needle. A few weeks later, I was able to walk without a detectable limp, climb stairs without gripping the handrail, and even carry my littlest to bed.
A few weeks after that, I tried running again. Slowly. Oh, so slowly. If my pain was a fight-back-the-tears 9 before, it was then more like a don’t-ever-let-them-see-you-sweat 4. Not perfect, but measurably better.
When I went to see the doctor again, he informed me that my hip anatomy was never going to get better on its own. He told me that I was the perfect candidate for surgery to correct my Frustrating And Inconvenient hip. He said things like “contouring the hip socket” and “reattaching the femur” and “six-to-eight-months of difficult recovery” that I found most off-putting and undesirable. But then he went on to say things like “extremely high success rate” and “proven results” and “pain free when it’s all said and done.”
I asked him what he would do if he were me. Like a wise old philosopher, or at least a prophetic country-and-western songwriter, he gave me the following advice: “Only you know how much pain you can bear and still live the life you want.”
I could have sworn he said, “Grasshopper” at the end, but maybe that’s just how I remember it.
Only you know how much pain you can bear and still live the life you want.
I know he was just talking about my hip, I think, but his advice resonated with me in a deeper place that was closer to my heart. Or even my soul.
Pain is a tricky companion. For some, it arrives with the death or sickness of a loved one. For others, it is physical pain that alters plans made in one’s hopeful youth. It can sometimes wear the mask of indecision that accompanies inevitable life-changing determinations that must be made. My sensitive eight-year-old daughter (and 60-something-year-old mother) have emotional pain receptors the size of their generous hearts; they absorb hurt that isn’t even theirs to carry.
Each person has his or her own version of and threshold for pain. And since I am often accused of being a chronic optimist, I am assuming that most people would never choose to live with it. But, and here’s the part that resonated, it is ultimately up to each of us how we choose to deal with our particular suffering.
I am an optimist, but I am equally guilty of being somewhat passive. Some may call it being zen; others may consider it lazy. I would rather navigate ripples than create them. I would rather weather storms than summon them. I would rather rely on my resilience than initiate chaos. It is not that I am weak. Instead, I think it is that I do not presume that I am necessarily better at choosing the proverbial lady or the tiger than if I were to just leave it to chance. Call it fate or predestination or a random collision of twists and turns that have brought each of us to our present. But at some point, it is impossible to avoid pain in one of its many varieties. There comes a time for each of us when we have to decide how to bear it and still live the life we want.
I kind of just wanted the doctor to tell me I needed to have the operation. Or not. But I didn’t get off that easy this time. The decision is mine.
I allowed myself until the end of the year (since all my deductibles are met) to decide how much pain, exactly, I am willing to bear. Do I simply adjust my expectations of what is livable or is it my behavior that needs to be modified? Or, perhaps, I opt for the more aggressive approach that brings pain of its own to the equation in hopes that the long-term results are healing and restorative.
All things considered, I am fully aware that my hip problem, as Frustrating And Inconvenient as it is, is not as painful as the many challenges others are currently contemplating in their own lives. But, like some of the best country-and-western songs I know, there is surely a life lesson in here to ponder. And I am the perfect candidate to do so.