I have an orthopedic condition called avascular necrosis – aka, Osteonecrosis: a painful bone disease which essentially results in dry rot of the bone which can lead to collapse. It is due to loss of blood supply to the bone and, in my case, a result of medications given for a misdiagnosed condition of Multiple Sclerosis. "Why?" is another question, but there is no clear answer. I have had 15 ortho surgeries and am currently both recovering from and preparing for another. Goodness knows why, but I keep trying to save my bones and preserve my mobility. Call me crazy. I was coming to terms not going to the Healthcare 2.0 conference in SF due to the competing priorities of my health and/need for timing my ortho surgeries for a host of entangled reasons, when I saw a post by @Regina Holliday about her #walkinggallery event. As I was wallowing in my misery, I asked her to make a jacket for me so I could participate in abstention. Read Regina's blog to learn more about her moving patient advocacy project. She asked if I had a post about all the surgeries I had and I realized I didn't. So...that is the beginning and end of this tale.
In 1994, following a whole lot of life changing events and a sudden kidney infection (sudden in the sense that I did not realize it until I was really sick), I was ultimately diagnosed, by a highly reputable Neurologist in Santa Monica, with MS. I had odd symptoms, like a paralyzed bladder. I was not be able to void even with a bladder filled up to 800 cc. I had to learn how to self catheterize. Ultimately things got worse, I started to lose balance, among other odd things. The Brain and Spinal MRIs were all clean. Dr. Sheldon Jordan, based his diagnosis of my abnormal evoked potentials and my medical history (there had previously been odd neurological events). One of the several spinal tap tests were positive with white blood cells. Long story short: as things deteriorated, Dr. Jordan recommended having a Solumedrol Dose Pack for ten days; that involves daily three-hour drips, administered at my home. This was followed by tapering dosages of prednisone. That was one of the most awful periods in my life: literal hell! I was 34. After getting my career going I had suddenly become unfunctional and was taking drugs that jacked up my body and made my mind crazy. I became highly compulsive, angry, couldn't sleep at night (due to the speedy affect of the steroids) I had my entire apartment rearranged and had my piano brought home so I could relearn how to use my hands. Things got so bad that I couldn't hold a cup without dropping it. I ended up in a wheelchair for quite a while. And, adding insult to injury, I developed the classic side effects from taking steroids, gaining 20-30 lbs. Luckily I was surrounded by a ton of amazing people to carry me through a very dark patch of life. Then life moved on and I regrouped, and was back on my online educational career path. I had minor intermittent episodes of some weird neurological issues, but ultimately all resolved. I did do Beta Interferon for several years – to the tune of $1500 per month. (Thank you Dad)
In 1997, I started having pain in my legs, and thought that they may be MS related. Then we started going around to different neurologists to figure out what was going on. I ultimately saw an Orthopedic surgeon and a Neurologist the same day up at UCSF. The ortho said, "Well, you have this condition in both hips called Osteonecrosis...where the bone dies." The neurologist said, "Well you don't have MS, but now you really have something." So that became the medical issue of the moment...little did I know it would last fovever. Since both hips had this condition, the verdict is that the blast of steroids caused it.
That started the very long curvilinear process that has lead me to Now. And, the long and the short of it is that I have ultimately end up having over 15 orthopedic surgeries over the years, on hips, knees, shoulder, elbow, wrist to save my joints. All the lower limb joints have been directly related to the bone disease. The upper limb ones are unclear. Some joints were worked on several times, others once. Most have been bone preserving.
Most of the surgeries where performed by doctors in Colorado, who I accidentally came across in 2000 because one local Dr. had the guts enough to say to me (when I learned that I had AVN in knees too), that I should not see him or any other local and go to Dr. Steadman in Vail Colorado. And, since then it has become this weird second part of my life. Some people have go to their Mecca. I have the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado. Other surgeries have been done in California. I have gone to the East Coast, up and down the West Coast to find top orthopedics who could deal with my issue. One of the specialists I saw in Baltimore (who has written lots of papers) was more concerned that I had not been referred to him by Doctor Steadman ("doesn't he know who I am?"), and that I had a pre-publication version of his article. He then recommended two surgeries, back to back – just days apart on both my knees. So much for Baltimore. (I don't care how talented you are). I was sent to Dr. Bugbee, in San Diego, because Dr Steadman wanted a second opinion before he and I started our series of knee saving surgeries.
|One Year of EOBs|
|My Medical Records|
|In between and On the way to surgery|
To wrap up this long tale...I am getting ready for another relocation to Colorado for surgery and recovery for 2 months. This is not the life I planned, but it is the life I live and I am doing what I can to keep it interesting and take the best care of myself that I can. Who would have thought being a patient could open up so many different journeys from deep sorrow to moments of epiphanies, triumphs, and connections. In that process I have really enjoyed becoming apart of the larger movement of the Epatient community on Twitter, FB, blogs, wherever. I never was much for support groups other than to data mine. I even joined the Society of Participatory Medicine. I thank so many people, near and far, for getting through this thing call life and for helping me take my story a little further than myself and raise it above the immediate. There times when that is tough, but that is the ultimate goal. And, I thank Regina for prodding me to consolidate my story in one place. Now, when people ask me I can say... Hey: read this long post...