Celebrating A Decade-Versary Of Hip Junk: A Mini Memoir About An Injury That Changed My Life

Today I feel like chunky blender soup. I feel like a damp potato, but grumpier. Like I’ve been wading through bad pudding for no reason.

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

Today has been a consistently low intensity day. I progressed, but not much. I had such bigger plans in store for today, September 22nd.

I had planned to go run up the nearest mountain at daybreak today. I had planned a long, heartfelt Facebook post to commemorate a huge event in my life, to tell everyone how #strong and #grateful and #blessed I am now, but instead I slept in and drove to a quiet day of work.

You see, ten years ago (a whole flippin’ decade!) I broke my femoral neck during a cross country race.

I always say that I “fractured my hip” but that’s not exactly right. I’ve been reminiscing a lot lately and, while I did have muscular hip injuries in high school, I didn’t actually break my pelvis as that description might imply.

You know how you have a ball that goes into your hip socket? And that ball is connected to your big ol’ leg bone? Yeah, I broke that little neck that keeps the ball and your leg connected on my right side. Makes me sick just thinking about it.

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

It had been a week unlike many others: I started off on Monday by slipping and falling at Sonic Drive-In, where I worked as a skating carhop. I wasn’t on skates though, so it’s less cool. They were cleaning the floors and I rounded a corner too quickly and landing square on my bum.

I’ve never been sure if that truly did anything, because of my long issues with hip injuries before this incident, but I feel like it’s an important thing to mention.

I also lost a shoe in a race and ran the last mile of it wearing only my left shoe just a week before this incident as well. Man, the writing was on the mothereffing wall, wasn't it?

Tuesday rolled around and we did a speed workout during cross country practice - on the track. I hate track running, and my body hated it that week especially. I went home and took my first ever ice bath because my hip was throbbing. 

I spent practice on Thursday running on the elliptical inside. I hated that too, so on Friday I re-joined the rest of my team for our easy pre-race day run (most likely past the Fred Meyers Piano Store - oh how we loved that route).

The day of the race, I felt something was off. I remember standing with my dearest friend at the starting line, talking through the pros and cons of dropping out five minutes before the race and letting someone else run in my varsity spot.

I imagined myself as a tough guy, so I decided to soldier on through.

That first mile was my fastest one of the season - something like six and a half minutes. I was FLYING, and I’m sure the adrenaline was helping to mask the pain that started kicking in right after that first mile mark.

I slowed down and slowly watched as all six of my varsity team mates passed me. People were cheering me on, my teammates were trying to get me to keep pace with them.

I remember the final stretch - my limping half-jog, my mom viciously yelling at people trying to make me sprint, Miss Roberts’s raspy scream of you can do it honey, we’ll get you help! And nothing else but the knowledge that something was deeply, tragically wrong.

I crossed the finish line and collapsed - it was the last unaided step I would take for three months.

The trainer at the finish line had me lay down and stretch my hip. My fucking broken hip.

“You need to stretch it out, trust me.” HOW ABOUT NO.

My dad carried me to the team tent, where my friend massaged my traumatized hip and butt, where some team parents let me use their camp chair, where I sat, covered in other people’s blankets, being brought food by all the cute cross country boys. It was kind of a happy moment.

I swore up and down to my team that I’d be back in time for the Summit Athletic Conference - I had big plans to place in the top 15 again that year, and I was so ready.

But then when it was time to pack up and go home, I tried to walk myself to the car that my parents had pulled up near the tent. I didn’t make it a single step.

It's Not Me, It's You: The Break

Since the medical details are hazy to me, I’ll spare you my conjecture. Over the next several days, I discovered that it was a partial fracture, and that I had undiagnosed osteopenia was the likely cause.

I went on birth control alongside a calcium regimen so I’d absorb it all properly (ugh, I just remembered that I’ve forgotten to take my calcium supplement...for like eight years. Sorry future Emily).

Fast forward six weeks, and I still wasn’t healed. I got an MRI and they discovered a worse break than they initially thought. Oops! Sorry! It was a full break. Let’s put a pin in it. Or two.

I needed surgery, and it sucked.

The Funny(Bone) Parts

There were a few hilarious moments throughout all of this that I look back on fondly:

  1. Trying out a wheelchair, but being taken early to lunch by people who didn’t even know me that well just so they could go to lunch early too. I was like a living hall pass.

  2. Telling my school that I needed to wear sweatpants instead of my usual dress code khakis. A person on crutches can still wear normal pants.

  3. Learning how to strap my saxophone case to my back so I could carry that and my backpack into school for early jazz band practice.

  4. Mastering (sometimes not so gracefully) snow, rain, and ice on crutches. Oh, and heels for some reason. I wore heels a couple times.

  5. Also mastering the up-and-down stairs technique, where I put both crutches in one arm and used the handrail like it was my only hope in the world. Because it was.

  6. Seeing my surgeon less than a week after my surgery, while I was practicing the aforementioned stair technique on the bleachers at a high school football game. His shocked and disappointed face will forever be ingrained in my mind.

  7. Oh, and the time I told everyone I couldn’t shave my legs because of my injury, but then having to have the nurse ask aforementioned surgeon (the father of our class valedictorian) if it was okay if I “kept my fur for the winter” or if she needed to shave it before the surgery. Jesus.

Some good freaking stories came from those three months. Plus, I’m a mean crutcher now, so I’ll always have that skill. Like riding a bike, I hear.

The Sad Parts That I Don't Like To Write Or Think About, But I'm Doing It Today Because It's Important

Here’s the part that I don’t talk about that often. During that time, I put on a brave face and told everyone that “I can either be happy, or I can be bitter, but either way I’ll still be injured so I choose to be happy”

It’s sweet, really. And I don’t think that mindset is wrong.

But the truth is that I was really, really, devastated. Suddenly, one of the biggest defining things about me had been taken away from me. I was no longer a functioning part of my team.

I no longer could do the thing that made me feel important, that made me feel like a valuable person in the world.

(A year later, when I went off to college and stopped playing my saxophone, I felt it in another way - my two defining characteristics, up to that point in my life, no longer applied to me.)

I ran cross country from 2000 - 2007. I put in thousands of miles, relied on my CC community for friendship, support, and emotional and mental wellbeing. Running made me feel special, running made me feel like a winner.

Running was the only tool I had to help me deal with my depression, and it was taken away.

And Now

I’ve recently realized that I have some alignment issues in my other hip and I can’t honestly remember if it’s an old issue or a new one. Either way, it’s a good yoga class when I give myself a little hug around my knees and it all pops back into place. Yeah, I know, I’ll get it looked at when money isn’t such an abstract idea.

But paying such close attention to my hips brings up a lot of sadness for me - I remember feeling so sad, having to put on a brave face because people loved a happy Emily, acting like it wasn’t a big deal. Feeling excluded from my friends because I didn’t get to run with them every day.

I literally feel that old ache sometimes, when I stretch my hips in a yoga class - the tears start to well up and I crumble down into child’s pose with my face to the mat so it’ll just look like I’m tired. Hot yoga is really nice because you can cry, and it’ll just look like sweat.

I have now been out of running regularly for ten years. And for all of those years, I’ve felt somewhat lost, wandering, and that I don't knowing who I really am. And I often attach that vagrant confusion to that September day a decade ago, where it all changed for me.

But the sugary sweet silver lining of it all is that I don’t think I ever really knew who I was to begin with. I don’t think that running was my ultimate calling, or really the answer for any of my ailments at this moment in my life. I do know that I’m actively pursuing that self knowledge nowadays through yoga and writing, and I have great hope for future exploration.

It will all work itself out in the end.

Is there something that your body has been holding on to? What helps you work it out?