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Monday, December 23, 2013

Avascular Necrosis

About a month ago I noticed that the pain in my tendon was becoming pain in my outer hip and the muscles in my thigh and backside were in spasm almost constantly. I was losing mobility in my joint. When I stepped on my right leg, or shifted my weight from side to side, there was audible popping in my hip. But most importantly, I was sleeping very little at night when the pain would intensify to the point that I could barely tolerate it.

So I made an appointment to see a sports medicine surgeon, thinking that it was time to get that tendon release and just get better--and why not see a doctor who would do the surgery and get me right back into running?

I saw him Friday. There were x-rays and a brief exam and a diagnosis. Then I went to the parking lot and cried for 20 minutes before I went home.

I'm not going to run again. I don't have tendonitis. I have avascular necrosis. Translation: the bones in my hip and upper thigh, and all the surrounding tissue and cartilage, have died.

This is a condition usually contracted by the following:
-Men between the ages of 30 and 60 years old
-People with sickle cell anemia, AIDS/HIV, lupus, diabetes, or Gaucher's disease
-People who drink alcohol excessively
-People who take steroids or osteoporosis drugs
-People who have had dialysis, or organ transplants, or who have undergone radiation therapy for cancer

As you can see from the list, I am not part of the "at risk" group. My doctor kept saying, "This is really, really bad!" and "I've never had a female patient as young as you who has contracted this!" After about the fourth repetition of those statements (with variations), I said, "Stop saying those things--you're making me really stressed!"

Then I learned that:
-There is no cure
-I no longer have any tissue between the ball and socket of my hip (bone on bone)--hence the loud popping sound, loss of movement, and intense pain
-I'm at risk for stress fractures, hip fracture, and eventual bone collapse

So I'll be having an MRI as soon as possible to determine the extent of the bone death and rule out bone cancer, and then a total hip replacement--with at least two more to look forward to in my future, as I am "so young!" Yay.

It's not the worst thing that could happen. And when I have a new hip I can still bike or swim or even play tennis. And the pain will be significantly less. But it's not the answer I wanted. And sometimes when I think about the moments when I would push through that threshold--the one where my breath comes in ragged gasps and I'm feeling like I might die if I run one more step--to the place where rhythm kicks in and I feel stronger with every breath and I'm absolutely certain I can run forever...well, it makes me sad.

Until two years ago I had run nearly every day of my life. I miss it. And sometimes, on warm spring days, the butterflies would circle and keep pace with me, and wildflowers covered the entire prairie, and in the summer I watched baby hawks learn to fly, or antelope running in front of me, or listened as breezes whispered through long prairie grass.

Everything will be fine. I'll get a new hip. I'll be free from pain. I'll still be me. But there won't be anymore running with butterflies, and part of me--right now a very large part of me--can't seem to stop feeling sad about that.


  1. This sounds like a big loss that you will be grieving. I am so sorry.

  2. I'm so sorry. I wish the doctor was wrong. Kinda want to say get a second opinion but if it is what you say then there is no getting around it. I'm here for you. Love ya!

  3. Yeah. The x-ray was pretty clear--no more cartilage between the bones and you can't grow it back. The difference between my right and left hips was sort of scary. However, I'll be seeing more than one doctor/surgeon in the next few weeks. Making a snap decision about this is not something I'm willing to do. And I love you back! :)