Dear Reader: For the remainder of 2021, to continue celebrating the release of my first book Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts, I will be posting a monthly bonus chapter. While these stories didn’t make the final cut, they were still important moments in my life and in my black belt journey.
Enjoy the final chapter in this series!
[Note: This would have occurred after the Epilogue]
In early 2016, I had a follow-up appointment with my orthopedic doctor to check on my hip and hamstring. As I waited in the brightly lit and comfortable waiting room I grew more and more excited to tell him about how well I was doing in therapy. By that point, unless I pushed extra hard in taekwondo or had an unusually long commute, my aching right hamstring stayed fairly quiet. My physical therapist added more advanced exercises like stepping up on a box to jump with one leg or squats on an upended Bosu ball, so I’d gotten a lot stronger over the past month. My hip and sometimes the back part at the top of the hamstring still popped and clicked, but there’s something oddly satisfying about that feeling.
Finally, I was ushered to a patient room at the back of the clinic. I had about a twenty minute wait for the doctor, so I entertained myself by reading a poster about “The Amazing Shoulder” and marveling at the fact that sitting on that not-so-comfortable exam table didn’t irritate my hamstring and backside like it did the last time I was in the clinic. Things were looking up!
Doctor Boland finally entered the exam room, accompanied by a silent resident who had a big grin and spiky black hair. The first time I met the orthopedic doctor, a tall man with hazel eyes and a soft-spoken voice, I was impressed by his gentle nature and thoughtfulness around my care. Hopefully he would treat me just as well during my second visit.
“How are you doing?” the doctor asked.
“Great!” I exclaimed. “I’m a lot stronger and have much less pain!”
“Okay, let’s see about that,” he replied. He had me do some squats with both legs and then with only the infamous right leg. No pain. Good. Then I slid onto the table, and he tried a few tests: pressing down on my ankle while I tried to push my leg back up, twisting it across my body, bending my leg at the knee. The only problem areas I had were the pinching at the front of the hip when my right leg was bent, and when I was on my stomach, there was tension on the back of the leg when I tried to raise my foot against his hand. (To which he responded by jamming his finger into my tush and asking, “Right there?” Why, yes, right there.)
“Well, now I know there are definitely two problems,” Doctor Boland said. “Hip impingement and proximal hamstring tendonosis or maybe a tear.” He crossed his arms and leaned against a desk with an oversized computer monitor. “I wasn’t sure about the impingement before, but now I know it’s there. The proximal hamstring might take six months to a year to heal. You can keep going to therapy since it sounds like it’s working for you. We can get you scheduled for an MR arthrogram to see if there’s a labral tear.” The labrum is the squishy stuff between the femur and the hip socket. If it’s torn, or if there are some bony malformations around the joint, it can cause problems like hip impingement.
“Uh, well,” I started, trying to buy time. “I don’t have much money left in my flex spending account. I’d want to see how much it would set me back with my insurance so I could budget for it.”
Suddenly his mood shifted, perhaps by my lack of agreeing right away to the procedure or by the fact that I was dashing his doubts about therapy. He sighed, rolled his eyes at the ceiling, and kept one arm folded across his chest while he waved the other in the air.
“Well, I mean it’s up to you; you do whatever you want. If the therapy weren’t working then I’d say…” he trailed off, his tone becoming more caustic. He sighed again and looked up at the ceiling.
“You said I’d have an arthro….what did you say?” I asked, playing dumb to see how well he would explain it to me.
“MR Arthrogram. It’s like an MRI, but we’d inject dye into your hip so we can see the soft tissue. If you’re still having problems I can inject lidocaine directly into your hip,” he answered.
Say what, now? Who’s shoving needles into my hip? I’d have to make sure I was wearing my good underwear if I went through with that.
“Okaaaay, I mean, the pain’s not constant. I don’t know if I really need that,” I replied, still stalling.
“You do what you want; it’s up to you,” the doctor repeated, frowning and slumping against the desk as if I couldn’t decide on where we should eat lunch. “Would you want the MRI of the hip or of the hamstring?”
Wait, WTF, you’re asking me? Which one of us went to med school?
“Uh, the hip I guess?” I replied, raising my eyebrows in a puzzled expression.
“Okay, I’ll have the scheduler give you a call,” he said huffily.
“Should I schedule a follow-up appointment with you?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure, fine,” he sighed once more, shaking my hand and stomping out of the room. The grinning resident hastily shook my hand and scurried out after the doctor, leaving me to sit on the table, slightly deflated and wondering what the hell this guy’s problem was.
After my appointment I raced downstairs to the physical therapy clinic and breathlessly told my therapist Cody what had happened.
“He was so cranky!” I exclaimed. “He just kept saying, ‘Well, whatever, you do what you want,’ as if it were my fault.”
“Hmm, that doesn’t sound like him,” Cody said with a frown. “I wonder if his favorite football team lost over the weekend.” (Turns out that was true.)
“I’m too scared to get an MRI, and besides, it’s unnecessary!” I said, practically shouting by this time. “Yeah, of course it hurts when someone is jamming my knee into my chest, but it’s not like I’m walking around like that all day. And besides, I don’t need a temporary numbing agent shot into my hip. I want my leg to heal on its own. And what would happen after an expensive MRI? All I’d hear is, ‘Nope, you don’t need surgery. It’ll heal on its own.’”
I started going down the rabbit hole and feeling sorry for myself when I thought about what surgery would entail: I’d be on crutches for at least six weeks and might not be able to drive for several weeks after the surgery. I live on a second-floor condo that has the worst stairs in the world—I mean, they might as well be a rickety ladder. I’d become so independent that I’d run out of people to care for me. I’d be homebound, and I’m so modest that I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone helping me dress or bathe. Paying a stranger who was a healthcare professional to do it is one thing, but I wouldn’t dream of asking my mom or anyone else close to me to help. Once you see a family member naked you can’t unsee that.
“Well, let’s keep doing therapy,” Cody advised. “You’re doing much better than other patients with your injury. What your leg likes is time and consistency. If we keep doing that, then you’ll see improvement.” He gave me what I had been needing all along: validation and acknowledgement for my hard work. Then he made me do one-legged squats for fifteen minutes. Being sympathetic never stopped him from being sadistic.
I put the incident out of my mind until two days later when the orthopedic doctor’s office left me a voicemail instructing me to call back to schedule an MRI.
Wait, what? Oh no. No no no no no. Just the thought of being crammed into that tanning bed-matchbox-iron lung monstrosity sent me into a panic. I started shaking, breathing rapidly, and felt my heart pounding in my chest. I threw my phone into my desk drawer and started shuffling papers around on my desk. Look, I wouldn’t consider myself claustrophobic or anything, but I was not too keen on being shoved into some big metal casket where I couldn’t move and only had an inch or two of breathing space. You know that part in “Kill Bill” where Uma Thurman’s character is in the pine box coffin? I have to fast forward that part every time I watch the movie.
You know what? Call me a baby; I don’t care. Can’t do it. NOPE. Can’t do it. If I was suspected of having something life-threatening like cancer, then yeah, stuff me into the tube and cut me open, whatever. But with just a tiny bit of hip irritation that only bothers me periodically? NOOOOOOPE. [By the way, 2021 Me with two knee surgeries and two MRIs under my belt is cackling hysterically.]
If the doctor had ordered an X-Ray I would have been all over it. I LOVE getting X-Rays: that dark room, the way they rock you back and forth like a baby on that big hovering table. I know this is weird, but getting an X-Ray is one of the most relaxing sensations I’ve ever felt. To hell with frying my ovaries; I could be X-Rayed all day. Unfortunately my current problem was soft tissue damage, which can only be seen with an MRI and a bunch of crap injected into my hip.
An hour after I received the voicemail I was still trembling, so I had to raid my boss’s candy bowl and stress-eat some chocolate. At the end of the workday I was still rattled by the thought of being smashed into that overgrown metal toilet paper roll, so I had to sit in my car and cry for a few minutes before I drove home. Obviously having an MRI was going to be a problem. I was strongly leaning toward turning down the doctor’s offer.
On the other hand, I was curious about what was going on inside my little dinosaur legs. There are different types of hip impingement, and knowing which might have directed my future treatment and care. We’d know whether I had tendonosis in my hamstring or a full on tear. Seeing digitized slices of my insides seemed pretty interesting, plus it would give me a topic to write about in a new blog post. To top it off, I did know how to get my hands on some good anti-anxiety medication, so if I did have to go through being stuffed into a tin can I would make sure I was zonked out.
But still…NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE.
The next day I left the doctor’s office a voicemail. I told them I would not be doing an MRI…unless it was one of those open ones where you can watch TV. Then maybe and only if my insurance covered a big chunk of it.