Kathryn’s Story

It’s fall of 2017 and mentally I feel like all of my anxiety from the past 18 years is all piling into one big bruise that keeps getting hit over and over again. I am a freshman softball player in college and going from doctor to therapist throughout the week to see if they can help get my anxiety under control. During this time, my family was going through some trials of their own. It hurt me to not spend every moment with my family.  My coaches and team could see what I was going through. Saying that, with all of their support, I was able to come out of all of this stronger than I had ever been.

            Just as soon as I started to get my mind back on the right track, I dove to catch a ball, let it somehow hit me in the face, and ended up with a concussion for about a month. After spending everyday in a dark room and in and out of the trainers, I was able to pass the IMPACT Test and be cleared. However, as I was recovering from my concussion, I realized that my left hip was popping much more than normal and it started to become painful. I will never forget sitting in my coach’s office crying because I could just feel that something else was wrong that was going to hurt my chances of playing.

After seeing doctor #1, I got started on a physical therapy plan to help with the tightness. Walking out of the doctors that day, I looked at my dad and said, “I know I’m not a doctor, but there’s another problem going on here.” After discussing with my trainers and coaches, we decided that I should get a second opinion. I ended up making an appointment with a doctor that had also seen a lot of my family. I got to see him pretty quick, and after an MRI and x-ray, he found that I had a labral tear and a baseball-sized ovarian cyst in my left hip. At that point, all I heard was “cyst,” and my mind went to all of the places that it probably should not have. Saying that, an ultrasound showed that nothing significant was going on, and I could focus on the labrum. After a few weeks of painful physical therapy, we decided only surgery was going to help, and we scheduled it for December 29, 2017. Needless to say, New Year’s consisted of a brace and crutches, recovery, and physical therapy. I immediately started rehab and, on the path, to being ready for next season.

            A couple months post-op, I still was not feeling any relief. I kept going back to my surgeon and was given things to try to help with the pain but nothing worked. After about a year of physical therapy, the trainers- more like friends at that point- told me I should consider getting another opinion. I was all on board for this, and quickly made an appointment with another orthopedic doctor. At this specific organization, all together I ended up seeing three different specialists. One was basically a general orthopedic doctor that did the initial testing. Next, I saw a doctor that looked at my back and gave me a pretty intense shot in hopes of helping. Finally, after multiple unsuccessful attempts, I ended up seeing the hip specialist that I would see monthly for the next couple years.

            This doctor and his entire team of physicians were always doing everything they could to help get to the bottom of what was causing me pain. To start, just by looking at the x-ray, he could tell that my labrum was torn. This was prior to us telling him that less than a year ago I had another labrum repair. Once he found that out, we did some preliminary testing and scheduled surgery for November 16, 2018. It is interesting to note that when going over my options, a “pelvic tilt,” or what I now know as a periacetabular osteotomy (PAO), was what we called the last resort. I somewhat immediately ruled this one out, as it sounded terrifying. During this arthroscopic surgery though, they removed ‘loose fragments,’ repaired the labrum, shaved down part of my femur, and removed some bone spurs. Immediately after, this surgery already felt different than the previous. I started rehab right after, but everything was moving at a slower and more cautious pace. It included a stronger brace, crutches with no weight, months of physical therapy. This time I felt a little relief, but nothing that made me feel confident I was completely fixed.

We tried steroid packs, multiple injections, pain relievers, topical creams, and even some more testing. Eventually, a little less than a year later, we decided that at this point, they should go in for an investigative surgery to see if they can get a good look around and fix a problem while they are in there. This one was scheduled for October 25, 2019. They were about to stitch me up, but took one more look around and found that there was a tear in the back of my labrum. The recovery pretty much followed the same regime as the previous. It entailed lots of no walking, physical therapy, more injections, and still seeing doc and his team on a pretty steady monthly basis.

Just three days after surgery I, along with the rest of my school, got an email (yes, an email) from the leaders of our university letting us know that we were going to cease operation after the new year. With all of this being said, the rest of 2019 was not the easiest and full of a giant amount of confusion. However, the softball team I was a part of had the most chemistry that a team could possibly have. We took the three months that we had left together and made sure to soak up as much time as we could. Mind you, I was on crutches and still recovering from a very recent surgery. However, I legitimately made the best out of what little time we had left. Looking back, I am unbelievably grateful because little did we know that COVID would soon take over the world.

Up until the coronavirus hit and shut pretty much everything down, I continued physical therapy and then did it at home once the offices closed. I was able to have virtual and eventually in-person appointments where they helped me plan what my next move was going to be. At this point their team began running out of options and thought that a PAO would be the only possible thing left to help relieve some pain.

Within a week, I was recommended to the only surgeon in Cincinnati that does this surgery and was able to get an MRI and other testing done before I left for school two hours away. They pretty much knew that the PAO was going to be my best option, but obviously wanted to do some testing to be positive. A few days later, right before class, they gave me a call confirming that it would be the best idea to do the PAO with an arthroscopy in case of the labrum being torn again. At this point, my mind is blown. In a few months, not only am I about to have my fourth surgery in less than four years, but this one will be way more intense than the past three have been. This was the middle of August and we scheduled the surgery for November 11. That is a long time to research and think about everything this surgery is going to entail. To the credit of our strength and conditioning coaches at school, they helped me get my core and upper body as strong as possible so as to keep me in the best shape going into surgery. Saying that, anyone who goes through chronic hip pain knows that pretty much everything causes pain. However, my teammates and coaches knew that I could do it, and with their help, I was able to push through and maintain a pretty healthy core and upper body over the last few months.

The time finally comes for me to go home and prepare for my surgery. The nerves were racing and I maybe slept an hour the night before. I got up to take a shower with my special antibacterial soap, made sure I had everything ready to go for the hospital, and we were on our way. My mom, dad, and I made it through the COVID screening and before I knew it, I was in a room where they were getting me prepped for surgery with the hospital gown and loads and loads of questions. A couple hours before surgery, for some reason I am always extremely calm. I am so thankful for this, because it allows me to really listen to what the doctors are saying and form a little bit of comfortability with the people that are going to be working with me. After some time, they had me ready to be wheeled into the operating room, and that was when the anxiety began to sink in. I say that, but the entire time, all I wanted to do was wave and smile (with a mask on) at everyone I passed. The last thing I remember is shimmying over to the table and the anesthesiologist telling me to, “…smell the mask because it smells like a beachball… like the beach!”

Everything that I read about the PAO talked about how awful and intense the first few days after surgery are. I’m not here to tell you that they were wrong and it’s going to be easy, because by no means, is it going to be simple. Immediately you feel the pain and the nurses are asking you the same question over and over, just making sure you are okay. The day after surgery the physical therapists came in and had me up with a walker and sitting in a chair. I was able to get up and into the chair fairly easily, but once the nurses walked out, I just started crying. Yes, I was in pain, but mainly I think I was more aggravated because I knew this was only the beginning of what was about to be a grueling journey. Each time I would do anything the nurses would praise how well I was doing and say how much better I was doing than they expected. Even though I did not feel like I was doing any more than everyone else. I cannot even begin to explain how much their confidence in me helped with my recovery.

Everything mentioned above talks about my story and what led me to the position that I am in today. People always say how they are so impressed with my grit and they genuinely do not know how I have pushed through the last four years. However, when I hear these words, I almost immediately feel guilty. Recently I saw a story on the news about an 11-year-old girl that was about to go into her 48th surgery. She was born with Spina Bifida and has been through more than anyone should- especially at that age. Whenever I am struggling with overcoming the pain or something as simple as getting out of bed, I remember what she has been through. I stop and remind myself that what I am suffering is not near as bad things could really be.

However there was something in this news story that I could resonate with. Due to COVID, the normal family and friends that would be there to support her at her bedside, they had to keep their distance and wave to her from a window. This kind of love and support is exactly what I have received since I started this hip recovery journey back in 2017. Whether it is our softball team, friends, family, or the doctors and nurses, the support from all of them is truly what keeps me going. It makes a world of difference to know that you have people in your corner that are with you no matter what.

If you’ve made it this far, I guess the least I could do is give you some advice that I have gained the last few years. One thing I learned is to never be afraid to ask for help. No matter how awesome you are, you will most likely need some help somewhere along the way. I still need to take this advice, as I seem to think that three weeks after surgery, I am able to do everything normal. That leads me into some other important advice. Recovery is about letting yourself and focusing solely on getting yourself better. There will come a time for you to push yourself, but you also need to know your limits. My final piece of advice is to always stay positive. Whether that has to do with your strong will and determination or simply having hope, staying positive makes everything a little bit easier. Knowing that you will eventually succeed makes it a lot easier to get through things and push yourself when you didn’t think you could.