A few weeks ago, Mom went to a new orthopedist and came home with an appointment for hip replacement surgery in May. She’d been experiencing spasms in her left leg and numbness in that foot for a long time, and while she was in physical therapy for that she noticed pain in her right leg as well. But before she could look into the new pain, she had to get carpal tunnel surgery on her left wrist (to match the surgery on her right wrist from last year), and then she needed a few weeks to recover, and then she got distracted. But in the past month or so she’d started to have trouble walking and was experiencing even more pain than usual, so she made an appointment with an orthopedist.
I barely noticed the appointment on the calendar in the living room, because the calendar was filled with so many other doctor visits, board meetings, quilting groups, and outings with friends, but then Mom became nauseous and so exhausted that she couldn’t get to all of her various appointments for a few days. We assumed it was a reaction to her second Covid booster shot (Pfizer this time), but it went on and on, so she called her Cardiologist’s office to see if it might be something more serious than a reaction to the booster. They gave her an appointment on the same day as her orthopedic appointment, so she decided to go to the orthopedist after all, since she had a few hours to kill before going to the Cardiologist.
I woke up after she’d left for the Orthopedist, though not long after, because as soon as she closed the front door the dogs climbed up on my bed and Cricket decided to stand on my chest and stare at me until I got up. After breakfast, and a long argument with the dogs about whether or not they needed a second breakfast, Mom sent me a text to say that she was sitting in the waiting room at the new doctor’s office and she was bored. I tried to entertain her, unsuccessfully, and then took the dogs out for their second morning walk (I wasn’t up to another argument with them), and then I stared at the computer for way too long.
I got another text from Mom a while later, saying that the nurse at the doctor’s office had had a similar reaction to the Pfizer booster, and it eventually passed (after three weeks!), but at least it was reassuring to know that this really was a reaction to the shot and not something more serious, so she could cancel the appointment with the Cardiologist, at least for now, which she really didn’t have the energy for after all of the sitting and waiting.
I wrote back asking if the nurse had had any suggestions for how to manage the symptoms and Mom said she’d forgotten to ask, and then I didn’t hear from her and I assumed she was finally getting to see the doctor. I tried to get some work done (probably Duolingo), and read a few chapters about Disability Inclusion in the classroom, and The History of the State of Israel, and Intuitive Eating (three different books), and then I got another text.
On my way home. Will need a new hip.
There was no answer to my text because she was already driving home, but twenty minutes later I met her at the front door to our building and said, again, What?!!!
Mom was in her own state of shock, so I had to wait until we were sitting on the couch in the living room and Cricket was ensconced on her Grandma’s lap – as God intended – before Mom could tell me more. The doctor had done x-rays, which, for some reason, hadn’t been done in a long time, and it turned out that Mom’s right hip had no cartilage left and was just bone on bone, and the left hip wasn’t much better. If the right hip went well, they would schedule surgery on the left one a few months later. When Mom asked them how this much damage could have come on so suddenly, the Physician’s Assistant said that people experience pain differently, and it’s possible that her body just didn’t register the pain until it was severe. Mom has always had (very) high pain tolerance, but even for her this seemed extreme. She ate some crackers (still nauseous) and drank some water (mixed with grape juice because that’s how she rolls) and then she convinced the dogs that it was time for a room change and an afternoon nap, but I just sat there on the couch, overwhelmed and struggling to take it all in.
I was angry at the doctors for not seeing this sooner, and for being so invalidating in their doctorliness over the years; and I was jealous that Mom had an actual solution to one of her health issues; and I was worried about the surgery and the anesthesia and any possible unintended consequences; and I was hopeful that this surgery could make a difference in Mom’s health overall, because maybe the more generalized pain she’s been experiencing is actually related to this hip situation and once that’s better she might feel better; and I was annoyed that she would be out of commission just when I needed her help (which I always do); and I was scared overall about her aging and her not being Supermommy forever, and, and, and.
There was a lot going on in my mind, but within days it became clear that that her doctor – or his office, and the hospital in the city where the surgery would be performed – had it all planned out, with pre-op testing and webinars to explain everything and lists of aftercare devises and plans for a visiting nurse and a visiting physical therapist. All of those preset frameworks were reassuring, to both of us, and made it possible to believe that Mom might just be okay.
But, all of this reminded me of when I was twenty-two and she (finally) had back surgery for her scoliosis. She was supposed to have it when my brother and I were away at camp one summer years earlier, but she’d had to cancel the whole thing because my father refused to be her support system, and the doctors didn’t have the same kinds of plans in place for outside supports back then. Instead, she waited to have the surgery until I was old enough to take care of her. I’d finished college a few months earlier and looked, from the outside, like a reasonable adult, but we were still living in my childhood home, with my abusive father, and I was still in a deep depression, and I was terrified that Mom would go to the hospital in the city and never come back.
There were two surgeries, a week apart. After the first surgery, I sat up with her overnight, ready to drive her to the emergency room if necessary, trying to distract her, going out to get her medication, making toast and eggs, and then going to the library for recipe books so I could make her more food-like food when she was ready to eat it. She needed help washing her hair, and getting from one room to another, and I had to set my alarm for every three hours so I could remind her to take her medication overnight before the worst of the pain could kick in.
My father drove me in to the city to see her after the second surgery, and being alone in a car with him felt like a hostage situation, wherein he pretended he was the best father in the world, but it was the only way for me to see Mom.
My brother (who was finishing medical school) drove her home from the second surgery, and then we went through all of the same stages of recovery, with the alarm clocks and the toast and the hair-washing, until she could think straight and start to believe that the pain might eventually recede. The rest of the time, I sat alone in my room, shaking.
But even before she’d fully recovered, Mom was so much stronger and she was ready to ask for the divorce she’d wanted for years. And, despite all of the fear and pain, those surgeries were a turning point, in both of our lives.
I have been promised that this hip surgery, and the next one, will be nothing like those back surgeries: nowhere near the degree of danger, or pain, because they are so much better at this now, and so much better at the pre and post-operative care. And we have family and friends offering more help than we can even use, and I am so much stronger than I was back then.
But, it’s hard not to be thrown back in time. And yet, I want to believe that Mom will feel stronger and more energetic and more secure on her feet once both hips are replaced. I want to picture her sitting on her birthday bench while she recovers, with Ellie by her side and Cricket sniffing every blade of grass in the yard, and the birds singing over their heads ignoring them completely. And I want to believe that this will be another good turning point, for both of us, despite the fear we’re feeling in the moment.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?