In 2013, I was twenty-five years old and five years into my career as a hairstylist. One spring day, I was cutting a client’s hair when out of the blue, my left hip went mushy. That’s the only way I can describe it. It was like someone replaced my joint with a wet sponge.
That was weird, I thought, hoping it was a glitch. But the next day, the pain set in fiercely and never went away. Daily, I argued with myself about whether it was really that bad. There I was, limping around, nauseous from the pain and questioning whether or not it was “all in my head.”
Two months later, I took my scantily-insured hip to see a doctor. When the results of my X-ray and blood work came back she casually said, “I’m going to refer you to a rheumatologist.”
The rheumatologist ordered more blood work before declaring, “You don’t have RA [rheumatoid arthritis]. You’re young and healthy, whatever is going on will likely correct itself,” which was exactly what my 25-year-old self wanted to hear. With that, my “granny hip” and I went about our life.
For the next five years, the pain ebbed and flowed from mild to severe. I used momentum to keep me going. My new normal became ice packs, epsom salt baths, gritted teeth, and a whole lot of denial.
In December of 2017, I sold my salon and bought a one-way ticket to Italy. I hadn’t found any doctors to take me seriously and resolved that the pain would be my forever and constant companion. I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d be able to walk, so I decided seeing the world was the best way to spend my time.
Through divine intervention, my travels brought me to Split, Croatia and into the home of a woman named Heidi, who happened to be in medical school. One night, as we sat talking over glasses of rosé, my “granny hip” came up in conversation. Heidi made it her mission to crack the case. With the help of a neighbor, an appointment was made with a local orthopedic doctor, and off I went. He examined my hip, called for some X-rays, and sent me on my way.
A week later, I sat across from the doctor as he examined my films. Nerve-wracking silence stretched between us before he finally removed his glasses, turned to me and in his thick, Croatian accent said, “Well, Veronica, I don’t have good news.” I raised my eyebrows.
He went on to tell me the damage in my left hip was severe. There was little to no cartilage left. It had to be replaced. “When are you going home?” he asked. “I was planning on traveling for another few months…” I trailed off as he looked at me sternly and said, “I’d suggest you go home and take care of this now. I don’t know how you’re still walking.”
I finally had an answer and a couple of weeks later I required crutches to walk, but part of me still thought it might all be a big mistake. The denial ran deep.
Four months after that, I met with my surgeon back in the States for the first time.
He sat me down, his laptop open in front of us, and showed me the X-rays. I sat there stoically as I found out that not only did my left hip need to be replaced, but my right one did too. It was deteriorating just as the left one had.
I spent the next few weeks stunned as I prepared for my first surgery. How had I let this happen? Why hadn’t I fought harder for answers? Why hadn’t I trusted my pain and forced the doctors to take me seriously? Instead, I let half my 20s pass in a blur of pain, while trying desperately to lead a normal life. I didn’t take my pain seriously. Couple that with having terrible health insurance and being brushed off by several doctors and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
In August of 2018, I had my left hip replaced. Ten weeks later, my right. This experience has changed me not only physically (hello, I’m part robot now), but it has lit a fire in me about advocating for my own health.
For now, I have my new hips, and my ability to walk, but I don’t have answers as to how this happened. As you’re reading this, I’m still seeking answers. No one knows why my hips deteriorated, or how it’s related to a slew of other chronic symptoms I have. I want to give up on seeking answers all the time, but I won’t because I owe it to myself to keep going. I owe it to that 25-year-old who spent six years of her life in excruciating pain.
We need to stop delegitimizing our pain. We know our bodies. We know when something isn’t right. If there’s one thing my hip replacements have taught me, it’s that we have to be relentless advocates for ourselves and each other. When one doctor brushes us off, we must find another and another. It’s exhausting and time-consuming, but our quality of life is worth it. We are worth it. Don’t let anyone talk you out of your lived experience. You know your body and it’s not only okay to trust yourself, it’s a necessity.