Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Blessing of an Arthritic Hip

Much like Ben Stiller's Josh in the movie While We're Young, I greeted the news that I had the beginnings of arthritis with disbelief verging on denial.

I was in the office of Dr. Liu, my acupuncturist, wearing running shorts, a towel covering my chest and belly. He bent my right leg this way and that.

"OWWWW!" I shouted. "Why does that hurt so much?!!!!"

"You misled me," scolded Dr. Liu who had told me just last week that I had bursitis. After four treatments failed to heal the inflamed hip, he investigated further, pelting me with questions about the specific nature and location of the pain and expertly prodding me in my hip, my thigh, my lower back as I yelped in affirmation of painful spots he hit.

"Arthritis!" he pronounced as I immediately envisioned myself in a motorized wheelchair, wizened, determined, steely-haired, careening down Broadway, zipping in and out of traffic.

Me? The party animal? The hiker? The dancer? The singer after hours? The gym rat? The traveler? The drinker of tequila?

But the diagnosis of arthritis -- arthritis arthritis! -- did make sense. For the past month, my right hip hurt as I ran up stairs and now, late in the day, the pain had started to radiate down my thigh to my knee.

I searched frantically for reasons to blame myself for this affliction. If I had caused it, perhaps I could remove it!

"Should I change my diet?? I semi-wailed as Dr. Liu progressed to inserting needles into the soft skin just to the side of my hip bone. A vibrating electrical current went through my leg and something else deep and horrible.

"Yow!!!" I howled.

Though I have been know to vocalize at Dr. Liu's office -- where regularly moans emanate from behind closed doors -- I had never made a sound like this, which was akin to a female Moose in labor.

He instantly looked concerned and patted my shoulder, withdrawing the needle.

"Don't worry," he said kindly. "We will fix."


What the...!!!!!!!

"Seriously...what should I do differently?" I asked Dr. Liu. I had a jumpstart on the nutritional no-no's of arthritis, as I obsessively read health manuals. "Can I still exercise? Should I cut out the inflammation-causing foods-- dairy, nightshades, wheat, meat, sugar..." I paused and gulped. "Alcohol?"

"Alcohol," he said, gravely. "It causes necrosis."

Though I wasn't sure what necrosis was, exactly, it scared me. It started with "nec," which I'm pretty sure has to do with death. Could there be something dead or dying inside my hip joint? And could I have caused it with my late-in-life love of...well, getting drunk?

As I limped out of Dr. Liu's office, I was fueled by a coked-up optimism: I would grab the arthritis bull by the horns, continue acupuncture, eliminate inflammation-causing foods, take supplements and vitamins, seek physical therapy, read everything I could find and modify my exercise, which he told me I could still do, just not at crazy intensity.

I had been using the elliptical at a rather challenging setting lately. Could that have caused this? I fretted.

Heading to a Vitamin Shoppe to stock up on anti-inflammation goods in their Joints aisle, I found the wind knocked out of my sails by a singular thought. I ate fairly well and was active. My weight was good. I was mostly gluten-free.

But I would be kidding myself if I denied that in the past few years -- and especially recently -- drinking had become a fun, new habit. What started as once every month became weekly and then several times a week.

Yes, I was a cheap drunk, getting wasted on two glasses of wine or two shots of tequila. I would note everyone else guzzling so much more than me but Dr. Liu sounded unambiguous.

No alcohol.

Digesting the news of my diagnosis of arthritis, I wondered: could I have brought harm to my body through this indulgence?

And what would it be like to no longer have my reliable party friends -- Pinot Grigio and silver tequila -- in my life?  What will I discover without the hazy embrace of that altered consciousness that I so crave at the end of a long day, the recklessness that it invites, the conversations that it enables, the inconvenient, uncomfortable truths that it blurs until the next day?

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