When I was 52, I began to lose the ability to walk. Arthritis in my left hip led me to quit modeling, quit wearing high heels, quit walking for my health. “You won’t need a hip replacement,” my rheumatologist told me, “for at least a year or two.” Determined to beat that projection, I undertook a physical therapy/yoga/stretching regimen. It was slow going, but physical therapy had “cured” arthritis in my shoulder—what had once been frozen now worked perfectly—so I believed.
A year later, I’d gotten to the point where I was convinced I could walk to the end of the block again, when I missed the last step in the garage and fell on the concrete floor. I didn’t see it coming. I did nothing to block my fall. I went down on my right hip. My “good” hip, which was no longer good.
For the next five months, I walked with my right leg stuck out at a diagonal. “Arthritis,” the orthopod pronounced. When I explained I’d had no arthritis in my right hip before I fell, he said, “You ran an old jalopy into a brick wall.” Gradually, with new rounds of physical therapy, I brought the leg back into my body, but I still walked slowly. I perfected the “la-di-da” walk. Oh, yeah, I’m just taking my time, strolling, don’t mind me.
I improved. I could walk around the block. Every once in a while, I could wear a shoe that wasn’t a flat. What I couldn’t do, what I’d been asking every physical therapist for over a year if they could please fix was to retrieve something off the floor.
How simple is that? A dropped pencil, my shoe, whatever—I couldn’t even figure out how I’d once done it. I was given (and faithfully performed) a multitude of strengthening exercises for my quads, hamstrings, etc. I was given (and faithfully did) stretching exercises for the front of my hips, the sides of my hips, everything. But once something fell on the floor, sometimes I could brace one knee on the floor and get it. Other times, there it lay.
Then, last week, after being in New Orleans for three weeks, I began to notice something. I was easily picking up the dog’s toys. Even more miraculously, I could “swoop” and pick something up, not resting the knee on the floor but bending and retrieving in one fluid motion. This was so startling, I kept it to myself for several days, testing it. Finally, I told Tom what was happening, beginning (as is my want) with a lengthy explanation as to what my difficulty had been.
“I know, baby,” he said. “I’ve been there with you through it all.”
“This won’t seem like crap to most people,” I said. “But watch this.”
I bent and swooped up the dog’s chew toy.
It didn’t hurt. No sharp pain in the hips. No loss of balance. Maybe a little wobbling but mostly a successful, remarkable continuous movement.
Here’s what happened: I lived for three weeks on the second floor of an apartment with a dog that needed to be walked about five times a day. Down the stairs, into the grassy space, around the building, through the parking lot, back up the stairs. It was the perfect combination of exercise for my hips. Without my knowing it, the debilitation of the arthritis was being relieved. All the work I did on the hips undoubtedly provided the foundation, but it wasn’t falling into place. Until I got the dog.
Oh, and while I was down in New Orleans in that apartment, when I had occasion to be praying for someone else, I said, “Jesus, you might as well send the light into my body, too: fill me up with your love and heal this arthritis.”
So, the dog healed my arthritis. Or God healed it. Either way, I’m picking up.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .