Last Wednesday, I attended my first public yoga class since my surgery (6 weeks to the day) and my first class at my studio in months. While I waited for class to begin, I thought about how this studio has mostly felt like my home, but sometimes it has felt like the very opposite. I didn’t want to talk to anyone but my teachers. I felt so removed from everyone else. While I waited, I decided to do a couple of my hip strengthening exercises that I am supposed to be doing for physical therapy. My teacher didn’t see me when he first walked into the room, or even as he was taking a body count to determine whether he needed to open the sliding doors to expand the size of the room. But when he did, he gasped, and I stood up to give him a hug. It was an odd collision of timing. While I was just returning to yoga, he had just received the results of his MRI that day, learning that the pain he has been experiencing for the past several months is due to a large tear in the labrum of his hip, which will require surgery. There is a stress fracture and fluid buildup in his other hip. He had just posted this news on Facebook and I saw it just before class. I worried that he would not be teaching tonight but then calmed down and realized he has been teaching while in pain for awhile now, and that I did the same thing when I was in great pain!
“I’m still not fixed!” I told him. “I can’t do any hip openers!”.
“That’s awesome!” he replied. (Funny thing to say…).
He told me that he needed surgery, too.
“I know! I just read the news! We’re in the same boat!”.
He told me that he was going to have to bring an easy chair to the front of the room and teach while sitting down. “That’s what I felt like!” I said. When I was in the most pain, I felt like I couldn’t even sit down on my mat! I’ve never had an interest in teaching chair yoga, or a desire to do that myself, but when I was unable to move at all, I realized why that type of yoga exists! His cute little dog came running over to me and stood up on my leg. My mouth dropped open and I looked down at her. This was the first time she had done that to me! I couldn’t have felt happier than in that moment! I have seen her do that to others who David is close to, but for me, she only lies down and gets very calm while I pet her. I think when she saw David’s reaction to me, she wanted to duplicate it! (If my Dad is so happy to see you, I am, too!). She stayed with me while David prepared for the start of class. And then she did something even more amazing! She started licking my injured knee through my yoga pants! Animals really do know where humans are wounded! I was astounded! “Look! She’s licking my wound!”.
I was very fortunate that the class consisted of poses that were good for my body. (Some classes are just the opposite!) With the exception of child’s pose, I did the whole class, and not only did I do it all, but I was also one of the strongest people in class! I felt almost like my pre-tear self! Everyone was dropping like flies during the forearm plank series, but I stayed with it! We did 2 arm balances that I can presently do- side crow and astavakrasana (fun!), fallen triangle into wide straddle (my favorite), tree pose into extending our leg outward and upward (also my favorite), and lots of other poses. I felt like it had taken all the work I had done on my own at home over the last few weeks to prepare me for this class! And it became very clear why I used to be in such good shape! Those classes are a serious workout!
During our final rest, David said that he had never seen a time where so many societal and personal problems were occurring at once, but reminded us that not every moment in the day is like this. We can find pockets of good moments within the problems if we look for them. He told us what it felt like to receive the news that he will need hip surgery, but then thought about how he could sit on the alter and teach with glitter sprinkled over himself (“no one needs to see me doing the poses, they need to feel them in their own bodies”) and how he was excited to be a zombie on crutches for Halloween. I was amazed at his positive attitude and his ability to think this way so quickly after hearing such devastating news. There is nothing like taking a live yoga class from an impassioned person who was clearly born for this role. I felt so elated after class. I never feel this “yoga high” from a home practice.
I stayed to take David’s self massage, ball rolling class afterwards. At one point, I was looking at him, imagining him in his hospital gown in his pre-op bed. I thought about what a good mood he would be in and how he would be joking with everyone around him. He must have been reading my mind because he looked back at me and said, “We should have our operations at the same time!”.
I nodded. I thought it would be fun to talk to each other across the curtain. “We could be study buddies!” he said.
When I went home, I read all of the differing advice that people were giving him about his hip. “Don’t have surgery!”. “Don’t have the cortisone shot!”. “Do physical therapy! I know someone good!”. “Try acupuncture!”. “Sit quietly and ask yourself why you have manifested this injury now. The answer will come.” “Come to me for some intuitive structural work!”. It was all boggling my mind! I was a bit glad that I didn’t receive so many differing opinions when I was diagnosed. How can anyone make a decision with such strong and opposite pieces of advice? Listening to yourself and your own body is really the only thing you can do.
I still don’t feel comfortable going back to the teacher in whose class I tore my meniscus and I still haven’t been able to resolve the sharp pain in my inner knee, so I decided to go for a little walk and do some yoga at home on Monday.
Yesterday, I went back to see the surgeon, who I have seen only once after the surgery. The hospital was unveiling a new computer system and all of the administrative assistants were ready to pull their hair out. Each check-in was taking over 10 minutes! I was seen first by the physician assistant. She quickly noticed that my knee was still swollen and that my left quad was noticeably more weak than my right. “I think he wants to give you a cortisone shot today. That’s what it says in the notes if the swelling hasn’t gone down.”
“What?! Cortisone shot?!”.
“That’s what it says.”
Normally, I have a very good memory, but I had no recollection of possibly receiving a cortisone shot today! Maybe it was because my appointment with him 5 weeks ago lasted about 30 seconds, or maybe I was confident that the swelling would be gone by now.”
I felt very upset. I knew there were side effects of cortisone shots, but I had no time to look them up now. She asked me if I liked going to physical therapy and was not pleased when I said they were having me do hip strengthening exercises and not quad strengtheners. “That’s crazy! You really need to be strengthening your quad muscle. Let me get you a print out that you can use at home and that you can help guide your physical therapist with. Hopefully that will help them get you on the right track”. She brought the instructions in (I already have them at home) while she tried to point each exercise out to me. “Uh, huh, okay”, I said. My mind could only think about the cortisone shot. Why were people telling David not to have it?
She could see that I was upset. “Do you want to see what the surgeon thinks first before you decide?”.
She asked me if I was icing my knee, elevating it, and taking ibruprofen.
“Not recently.” It’s been seven weeks now! I mean, come on. They want me to take ibruprofen for months?! I didn’t even think it had been swollen recently. (Neither did the physical therapist). But I did know that trying to take even one jogging step resulted in severe pain, meaning I don’t have a functional leg. It always hurts when I stand up and give my talks, and often hurts when I am just sitting on my couch or driving. She said I could either take a regular regiment of ibruprofen and keep icing it or get the cortisone shot.
I was really looking forward to taking yoga on Wednesday again, and I wanted to get some walking in before the weather turned rainy and cold. Suddenly, my plans were all becoming impossible.
Outside the door, I heard her tell the surgeon about my swelling and weakness and that she gave me the printouts of the exercises to do. He took a half a second to agree that the knee was swollen, that he could feel the fluid, and that my quad was very, very weak. “This is your hiking muscle. You need to get this strong.” He went through the pictures of my surgery and said the pain I am feeling is not abnormal. It’s where most of the surgery took place.” He said many people have to get the cortisone shot. I asked when the next possible chance to get the shot was. “Well, the computer system is difficult… so probably a month.” I laughed at the absurdity of his answer. The new computer system problems mean I have to wait a long time?
“What are the side effects?”
“They are low.” (Why can’t anyone tell me what the risks ARE?).
“Can I do yoga after I get the shot?”
“You can do normal activities for the next several days. I wouldn’t go to the gym or anything.” Not only did I plan on taking class the next day, I also had to teach a class.
“Okay. It’s time to decide. Do you want it or not?”.
“I’m serious. Hurry up and decide. I have things to do!”.
“Fine. I’ll do it.”
“Okay, I’ll go get the shot.”
His assistant swabbed alcohol on my knee and I let out a few tears. “I’m just so sick of being in pain.”
He gave me the shot and told me that I needed to work my quad. “You need to push through the pain.”
“Not the sharp pain!”, I said.
“Yes. You need to push through the pain to get your quad strong again.”
Two minutes earlier, he was upset that I had planned on walking 8 miles over the course of the next few days. (“You can’t go from zero to 10!” he said. He thought I meant wanting to walk eight miles at once). It’s really tough to be given no guidance and no answers, and then told almost simultaneously that I’m attempting too much too soon, but also not doing enough work and not pushing through the pain, which is keeping me in pain! The surgeon has not seen me and has no idea what I’ve been doing over these past few weeks. The last time that I saw him, he said the swelling shuts down the muscle. Therefore, no matter how hard I work, it won’t get strong. The physical therapist says I am working hard and doing much better in many ways than most people. (It’s the sharp pain he hasn’t ever seen). I clearly know the difference between the sensation of working a muscle (something I am obviously not afraid of) and the feeling of sharp pain that is telling you to back off or you risk hurting yourself further. The pain I still feel is incredibly similar to the feeling of the cartilage tear, itself.
I woke up with a much more swollen knee today. It was only after I returned home yesterday that I remembered hearing David tell someone else a couple of years ago that getting a cortisone shot is like having a localized nuclear blast in your body. It completely obliterates the tissues in the area. When I looked up the side effects online, the first thing I read was “death of the area bone.”
I did my duty and taught my class and was then smart and went home and rested instead of going to David’s class. I am so anxious to be able to move again. I really want my strong yoga body back. Prior to my tear, I was probably in the best shape of my life. Now, I am all soft. Not being able to move makes me feel very down. It looks like I still have a long road to recovery ahead of me.