It all started with the birds and the bees…

**Warning: This is long, get a coffee or tea or martini – whatever pleases. I have included photos to break it up a bit but it’s long and I don’t want to short change you on details.**

So let’s talk about how it all started. I was born a premmie with no major complications other than bad eyesight. I grew up, with slightly bowed legs which straightened up nicely as I was approaching 9 years old. Then life got interesting. For some reason I developed Bone Dysplasia which in my opinion is a term used when doctors have no idea what’s caused something and the bone is growing abnormally. Or for the technical version “Dysplasia is the abnormal development of an organ that causes deformations or defects of one or more bones of the body. Many types of dysplasia can affect the bones at different locations” (health.ccm.net/faq/3557-bone-dysplasia-definition).

This happened in my left knee-joint where it started growing out to the side, which resulted in obviously a funny looking walk and the shortening of my left leg – 2 things that had to be dealt with.

Both legs
My legs. The left leg goes inwards and is quite a bit shorter, I’m standing on my toes to stand up straight.

As the doctors weren’t sure of how severe it would get, I think the consensus was to just watch and wait until it slowed down and could be repaired without the bones’ growth being affected too much. As you can imagine I looked funny and school being the social situation that it is and kids being uneducated on social etiquette, I got teased, a lot! I learned some of my best come backs during these years. This change in the lower half of my body also caused my spine to develop a curvature which added to the teasing, as I was only allowed to sit in chairs, as was recommended by my chiropractor. So while everyone else would sit on the floor during class story time I had to sit in a chair. During these difficult social teachings I had a true gem of a best friend that never made me feel different. She would stick up for me when the other kids would say things and even now I’m sure she would punch anyone that said a bad word to me. She would go out of her way to make sure I could feel ‘normal’ when there were so many times I didn’t, having to drag my crutches around and trying to get in and out of places either banging my crutches around or hopping on one leg. Now I’m jumping ahead, let’s take it back.

 

Anyway the doctors sat on my condition until I was 12 and then I had my first operation, the day I was meant to start high school. As my leg was going out to the side away from my body the decision was made to straighten my leg up just above my knee on the inner part of my leg. So the doctors took a bone scraping from my left hip, cut a wedge out of my femur (bone above my knee) and brought my left leg in towards my right leg, stuck a bit of wire in and put that bit of bone they took from my hip there to make more grow.  12 weeks in plaster and on crutches wearing garbage bags in the shower and I had a straight leg but a shorter one by about 7cm. Damn. 6 months later that was going to be rectified as the shoe lifts were limiting. Sneakers don’t work with all outfits it seems.

1st-leg-straightening-wires.jpg
Wedge of bone on the right near my knee (taken from my left hip) encouraging new bone growth. And wires holding it all in place.

August that year I was having my second major surgery to have an external fixator put on and I was going to lengthen my leg 1mm a day doing a quarter turn 4 times a day with a wacky looking Allen key. I spent the next two and a half months lengthening my leg and cleaning my 5 pins every night to make sure I didn’t get an infection. I did however and therefore spent a good chunk of my time on antibiotics, disgusting ‘can still remember the horrible taste’ antibiotics. Needless to say this was a lot to take in as a 12 year old trying to figure out who she was in the world.

Leg lengthening from top
During the lengthening, new bone is already forming.
Leg lengthening
New bone growing and hardening.

Once I stopped lengthening I had to wait for the bone to grow, this took about 5 months. I was an expert on crutches by the end, having been on them for 7 months at this point. And my arms were the size of Sly Stallone, well not quite. But they were big for a 13 year old girl. Now it was time to learn how to walk on both legs again. It was easier than I thought it would be but still a challenge working out all the muscles that had become weak.

Two years later my leg had started to go out to the side again, crap. Surgery again. This one was different to the first one, the surgeon wanted to cut my leg just below my knee or tibia if you want to be technical and insert a rod down the centre of it and then re-attach my leg a little bit over towards my right leg to straighten it up overall.  This was very successful and I got to keep the rod in for about two years.

2nd Leg straightening - rod from top
Tibia moved across and a rod holding it in place.

2nd-leg-straightening-rod.jpgBy this point it was clearly evident that all of my time spent on crutches was having a negative impact on my right hip. If I over used it by walking too much it would get sore and require rest. So living this way I managed to keep it going until I was about 24 and then I killed it. We were done, it was over, it had to go.

Stuffed hip close up
You are dead to me! My right hip before surgery. You can see the surgeon’s scribbles on the x-ray.
Normal hip close up
My left hip, keeping its distance from the other bones like a good hip.

I had my right total hip replacement done in February after being unable to walk without crutches since July the year before. August of that year my body started to develop withdrawal from all of the pain meds I was on, gee that was a ride I don’t want to go on again. More on that another time though.

The hip replacement was fantastic! And all of the umming and aahing I did while researching how do 24 year olds cope with a total hip replacement (bugger all info out there kiddies) was completely thrown out the window the minute I woke up from surgery and the pain I was in was less than when I went into theatre. I’m sure the morphine helped but it was definitely way better. The only time I doubted that was the first time I stood up non-weight bearing and my leg didn’t feel like it was my own-scared the hell out of me. But it came good. I was on the road to recovery. Complete restrictions in place as I had an un-cemented titanium ceramic hip that needed to grow into its new home of me. Now let me tell you, being as independent as I can be to have to go back to relying on everyone to do everything for me drove me bonkers, but I had to focus on the bigger picture of recovering and building up the strength I had lost.

Prosthetic hip
My shiny new hip!

I made good progress with my recovery and had drastically reduced my pain medication intake and eventually stopped taking any. By 6 months I was a different person and was able to stand for hours if I wanted. I couldn’t remember the last time I had done that. There were many wonderful years there where I had almost no pain and could actually do stuff. I would go shopping with friends and be tired but didn’t need to medicate myself and shut down for the rest of the day. Now that the hip was right it was time to go back to my left knee which again was going out to the side. Arthritis was developing in it and my surgeon wanted to prolong its life as much as possible before a knee replacement was a must. This surgery involved another wedge being taken out of my thigh/femur and an L-shaped plate put in to secure it.

3rd Leg straightening - plate

Again my leg looked fantastic at how straight it was. It’s depressing to think about how happy I was to have a ‘normal’ looking leg again despite all of the scars. For most of my life I was made to feel like I should be covering up, to not show the ugliness that was my leg. It’s sad that society makes us conform to a standard model, we’re not allowed to be too fat, too skinny, too short or even too tall, can’t have our teeth stick out or be bald. We are such a judgemental society and yes I’ve done it, still do and should know better. What we seem to struggle to do is accept. Accept people for who they are and who they want to be. Why can’t we be happy to be different. Difference is the key to our survival and so important for us to learn that. So anyway life was good, my body was working again and pain-free, I got about 5 years of that before I went and wrecked my left ankle.

Now having a job that required me to walk a lot, fast and on hard floors along with a lot of standing and in shoes that were not the greatest (because I have the tiniest of feet and wear children’s shoes) I should have known better and A) Got better shoes and B) quit the job, but I didn’t do either and somewhere along the line I injured my ankle but didn’t take much notice and thought some rest, pain and anti-inflammatory meds would ease it and everything would be fine again. It sort of was, it did get better but never quite completely went away. If I overdid it there would be the old routine of meds and rest, the amount of meds slowly increased in quantity and frequency and so did the rest periods. I started to say “No I’m busy” to my friends because I knew I couldn’t cope with the amount of activity required of me and I slowly isolated myself because my ankle was so unpredictable in pain and functionality, I also had a lot of pain just standing on it or more so when I moved off it-my ankle would SCREAM at me! And this is where I’ll leave it for now, more on my screaming ankle to come.

 

Have a good one!

K xo

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