Last Thursday night, as I tucked Peanut into bed, I heard a faint crack.
The noise put me on notice, because the sound had come from my left hip joint. At the time, my left leg was dangled over the side of Peanut’s bed—my right leg was tucked underneath me.
Normally a little joint noise would be NBD. I’m 37 years old, after all. Sometimes I sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies, all snap-crackle-pop when I get out of bed in the morning.
But this particular hip and I have a long history. It goes back to 1995, when I was a 15-year-old, starry-eyed teen with a big crush on a boy three years older than me.
July 7, 1995
Six teens—me, The Boy, and my older sister included—were driving around my tiny hometown (pop. 525) after a softball/baseball game. Being young, we were shooting pop-bottle rockets out the back window at passing cars. General dumb-assery, I know. At some point, three of us climbed into the back of the truck. In true idiot-teen fashion, we had seen the town cop cruising around and were worried we’d get a seatbelt ticket.
Shortly after 9:00pm, we stopped at a pond just outside of town, on a gravel road. Someone mentioned going swimming, but the pond was covered in green moss. As we clambered back into the truck to head back to town, The Boy stood up.
I stood up, too. (Heaven forbid I leave my crush to stand all by his lonesome.) We hung on to the back of the cab as the truck accelerated through first and second gear. There was a small metal lip I could hang onto, though it was more the illusion of security than actual safety.
The Boy stepped up even higher, onto the bed rail. The truck shifted into third.
Like an ignorant lovesick girl, I followed him.
Almost immediately, I got scared. I stepped back down into the truck bed. I heard the truck hit fourth gear.
Up ahead on the right shoulder was a depression in the gravel road; it was filled with murky brown water from a recent storm. The driver, unfazed by (or ignorant of) our legs in the rearview mirror, decided to drive through the puddle.
He swerved right, and just like that, The Boy and I went airborne, flying into the darkness.
A progression of bad decisions
Looking back, everyone made what they thought was the best decision at the time.
When someone realized we’d fallen out, the driver slammed on his brakes. They all scrambled out of the truck. The Boy was already up walking around, but I sat in the middle of the road, stunned.
The teens with me were terrified at the prospect of getting in trouble. I had no visible injuries, aside from my back, which had taken a beating. After I hit the ground hard on my left side, I slid through the gravel. My back was bloodied and dust-covered. When the rest of the kids in the truck rushed back to help me and The Boy, they saw a giant crater in his arm from where he hit the ground. But me? I looked fine, aside from my back.
“Get up,” my sister said.
I shook my head. “I can’t,” I said simply.
The driver of the truck, who was hanging around the fringes of the group, started pacing and swearing. “Oh, fuck. Shit, shit, shit.”
My sister wasn’t giving up. She tried to pull me up to stand, but couldn’t. The Boy stepped in and did it instead. When I tried to stand, I fell forward onto The Boy’s chest.
“I can’t,” I sobbed, crying into his shirt.
My sister was having none of it. “Come on, Lydia, you’ve got to walk.”
She grabbed me round my waist with her left arm, throwing my right arm over her shoulders. With much help from her, we began moving forward, slowly.
As we walked, I held my left hip. The whole area was tingling, numb. Together, we walked two laps around the truck, and then my sister and the driver helped me climb up into the cab. It was a tall order—the truck had a lift kit, and was jacked up higher than normal.
I remember climbing into the truck, and everything before it. Then my memory goes black, and I’ve got only snapshots of the next hour or so.
The teens drove back to the school parking lot, trying to figure out what to do—or more accurately, what bullshit story to tell my mother. I had no visible serious injuries, so the teens thought a little delay was okay. But pretty quickly, things went south.
The next time someone checked on me, I was curled up in the fetal position in the front seat of the truck, sucking my thumb, unable to speak.
At this point, they realized I was seriously injured. Someone—an older “cool” adult that the teens trusted—finally had the good sense to demand I be taken home.
Nobody called an ambulance. It just didn’t occur to anyone. Such is life in a rural part of the country. Ambulances are staffed by your friends and family. They don’t feel like the kind of people you should call when you’re having an emergency.
My mother throws a mean left hook
When I arrived home, still fully in shock and not speaking, someone woke my mother to tell her what had happened.
I think about that moment now, as a parent, and shudder.
A few people had joined the group at the school parking lot, including a family friend who had worked for my father’s business a few summers. He was older—maybe 20?—and knew my mother better than anyone else in the group. I’m guessing my sister’s fear of getting in trouble kept her from delivering the news. But the family friend was the chosen one, so he went upstairs in the dark and stood at my mom’s bedside, gently shaking her until she woke.
“Hey. Hey…. wake up. Lydia fell out of a truck. You need to get up.”
I don’t know what I would do, but probably something similar to what my mother did. She started hitting him, screaming, fists flying.
Panicked, he clarified. “She’s not dead! She’s hurt, but she’s okay. She’s downstairs and she needs you.”
My mother sat up in bed, switched on the lamp, and climbed out of bed. She hurried downstairs.
With me not speaking, I couldn’t tell anyone how badly I was hurt. At that time, my brain was totally focused on blocking out the pain of my broken bones. My mother saw only my shredded back, legs covered in gravel dust, and decided to clean me up. Brandon and another teen helped her carry me to the tub.
She gently cleaned my back and legs, and set about calling my father, who was at a tractor pull in the next county.
But then I started talking. Well, not so much talking as moaning and crying. I was coming out of shock, and all I could say was: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry… I’m so sorry.”
Getting out of the tub was excruciating. I screamed with every movement, until finally my mother got enough clothes on me that she could call Brandon and the guys for help lifting me out of the tub. They carried me out the front door of our walkout ranch and laid me across the backseat of my mom’s car, as gently as they could. More screaming.
My mom covered me with a blanket and gave me a book to read. Off we went.
Dad goes ballistic at the ER
My father met us 25 minutes later, at the local hospital near his tractor pull. In the parking lot he decided we would continue on to the regional hospital, 30 minutes farther. He called ahead (on his cellphone that was the size of a toaster, I shit you not) to let them know we were coming.
We pulled up at 11:30pm to a quiet emergency room entrance. No one was around. My father stuck his head into the hallway and called out a tentative, “Hello?”
No one came.
He opened the back door of Mom’s car and slid his hands under my armpits to help me sit up. I was stiff and afraid to move. He lifted and gently tugged. Something cracked.
I felt searing pain, unlike any I had felt before. I screamed for him to let go of me, which he did, pulling back like I was a hot coal.
He turned away from the car and charged into the emergency room. From the car I could hear him shout, “Somebody needs to GET THE FUCK OUT HERE! We need HELP!”
That got them moving. Nurses and doctors came running. It took a while but they finally extricated me from the car, taking care not to move my left leg. They actually piled seven pillows high and placed my leg on top; I wouldn’t let them move it from the angle it had been in the car. I was hysterical.
Soon after, they placed a catheter and started an IV. Someone pushed a giant dose of Valium.
My pelvis was broken in three places—two fractures on the left side and one on the lower right. My left hip was in bad shape. I had a serious break that spanned both the ball and the socket. In the ball portion of the joint, the break split into two.
The regional hospital loaded me into an ambulance and drove me to the mother of all hospitals, the best one in Iowa. My break was too severe for the regional hospital to handle, and I had to go where they could treat me.
I had tests for five hours, including an MRI and a rectal exam (still one of the most humiliating moments of my life… for a teenager, it was horrific). They found a small tear on my liver, but no internal damage to my organs. My head was miraculously unscathed.
The doctors were befuddled. Most “falling out of the back of a moving truck” victims arrived DOA from head injury. But my head didn’t have a scratch on it. Best we could guess, my head must have landed on The Boy, somehow. I guess we’ll never know.
The doctors were even more astonished when I told them I had walked after the accident. Not just a little bit, either. Adrenaline can help people pick up cars, right? It can also help you walk on a joint that’s completely blown to shit. Who knew?
In 1995, they were just starting to get good at surgically repairing hip fractures. They gave us two options for treatment: surgery, and I’d limp for a year but I’d have a picture-perfect joint…one that would require a hip replacement by age 30 or so. Option 2: Traction for 1-2 months, after which I could expect to limp for 6 months, and I would need a hip replacement by age 30.
The conclusion was going to be the same no matter what, so as a 15-year-old athlete, I wanted whatever got me back to normal the quickest.
They drilled a Steinman pin through my left leg, just above the knee, and attached the ends of the pin to ropes and weights. The goal was to take the pressure off the joint while it healed.
It seems barbaric now. These days they’d never dream of giving a 15-year-old girl traction for a severely broken hip.
I lay in that goddamn bed, unable to so much as roll over or bathe properly, from July 8 until August 5. It was miserable, and I was miserable to be around. My mother never left my bedside, yet I was snotty and ungrateful. I was so angry about the fact that my friends back home were doing things without me. I had a major case of FOMO and it wasn’t pretty. I cringe to think of how I behaved.
So. Much. Pee.
My hospital stay was hard, especially early on. My family was scrambling to cope despite the chaos, and I was doing a shit job of advocating for myself with the doctors and nurses.
One evening during rounds, the doctors decided that my catheter could come out the next morning. In preparation, they told me to drink a lot of fluids. I did as I was told, drinking lots of water and a soda (maybe two). Despite my intake, nothing was coming out in the catheter bag. The nurses kept coming in and admonishing me for not drinking enough fluids. I insisted I was. The nurses said the catheter bag was indisputable proof that I was not.
By 10:00pm, I was uncomfortable. My bladder felt like it might burst. I desperately needed to pee. But that made no sense—I had a catheter draining my urine. I tried to sleep, but instead spent the entire night in pain, holding my crotch (as if it would help), whimpering, and waiting for morning so they could take the goddamned catheter out.
When the docs arrived for morning rounds, I was wide awake (not typical for me), holding my crotch, and begging them to remove the catheter. The docs gave the order and the nurses quickly removed it.
As soon as it was out, I demanded a bedpan. I needed to pee, I insisted. The nurses told me it was a side effect of removing the catheter, and I didn’t really need to go. Instead, since I was awake so early, they delivered a pile of washcloths and a tub of hot water to my bedside.
“Since you’re up, you can take your rag bath early today!” the nurse sang.
As soon as the door closed behind her, I took one of the washcloths and held it to my crotch. I peed until it was soaked, wrung it out in the tub of water, and kept going. I peed and peed and peed. It was difficult to empty my bladder, thanks to irritation from the catheter, but I didn’t stop until I was done. I am pretty sure I peed for close to 15 minutes, not even kidding. I was so ashamed, but I didn’t know what else to do.
The nurse came back eventually to get the rag bath supplies. She looked at the tub of water, which was clearly now a tub of mostly-pee. She looked disgusted and angry.
“I told you I needed a bedpan,” I said, equal parts humiliated and upset that no one had listened to me.
The nurse stayed angry as she and another nurse emptied the pee tub and changed my sheets and mattress (which were soaked). As a parting shot, the angry nurse insisted on a plastic liner for my mattress. You know, in case the 15-year-old wet the bed again.
(37-year-old me wants to go back in time and punch that bitch nurse. How cruel can you be, seriously?)
Turns out catheters can become blocked. A sure sign of blockage is when urine stops draining.
Just skimming the surface
There are many more stories about my hospital stay. The roommates I had over the course of the month, from the scoliosis patient to the newly diagnosed cancer sufferer who confessed to a social worker in hushed tones that her stepfather had been molesting her. The nurses who would sneak into my room asking for candy from my stash, lovingly provided by friends and family. The shoeboxes full of cards that came in the mail, including one from Fort Leavenworth Federal Prison (“Hope you get out soon. Being locked up is bullshit,” it read). The three-hour-long phone conversations I had every night with The Boy, which kept me going through the entire month.
When I was released, my parents asked The Boy not to contact me anymore.
“She needs to focus on getting better,” they told him.
But nobody told me.
I spent the next few months trying to learn to walk again and simultaneously dealing with a massive rejection from someone I cared about, and who I thought cared about me. When I called—something I only attempted once—he was cold, rude, and made it clear he was not happy to hear from me. I didn’t understand any of it.
My parents were trying to be helpful, but they unknowingly served up the most painful part of the entire ordeal. It was just a harmless teen romance, one that probably would’ve amounted to nothing. I have trouble believing that their intervention was necessary.
And then, 22 years later…
When my hip popped that night on Peanut’s bed, I winced. Because it hurt, yes, but also because I was scared. I’d never heard it make that sound before. And I’ve been waiting for that joint to rear its ugly head.
By the next morning, I was taking double doses of ibuprofen for the pain. By noon, I had a pronounced limp. It only got worse from there. I was terrified.
I spent the next two days in more pain than my hip had caused in 20+ years. Maybe it was finally happening. Maybe the hip was throwing in the towel.
Luckily, by Monday at noon, the pain started to disappear. By Tuesday, it was stiff but pain-free. Wednesday morning it was right as rain and completely back to normal. Thank goodness.
I’m 37 years old. The doctors predicted a hip replacement by age 30. They weren’t even close. My hip doesn’t cause me problems so long as I stay physically active. Exercise is like the grease that keeps the wheel (my hip) squeak-free.
That hip of mine will be around a while longer. Hopefully a long, long while.
Stupid, stupid, stupid
I was an incredibly stupid and reckless teenager. I simply had no concept of my own mortality, of how seriously injuring myself would hurt those around me.
I definitely didn’t think, “Hmm… if I stand up in the back of this truck, I might fall out, and I could end up injured for life, and when I’m a mom, I might not be able to tie my kids’ shoes, or exercise how I want to, because I’ll be f***ed up from this one stupid decision.”
But rarely do we think about consequences when we’re idiot teenagers, do we?
Now, excuse me while I scare my toddlers with the story of Mommy’s Broken Hip, in the hopes of protecting them from being as stupid as their mother was.