Praying Through the Pain

A double hip replacement? No way! She was too busy being a mom.

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Posted in , Jun 9, 2009

Susan Windrum and her kids

I woke up in pain. Tried to roll over. Couldn’t. You need to get up, I scolded myself. You’ve got things to do.

Dress the kids. Make breakfast. Get everyone ready for one of our family’s favorite fall activities—the Harry Chapin Memorial Run Against Hunger.

The starting line was just a block from our house. My kids, Ryan, five, and Emma, three, loved to jog the short distance alongside my husband, Matthew, and me.

But today the prospect of walking a short race was like asking me to climb Mount Everest. Pain shot from my hips to my toes—a pain I’d been feeling more and more whether I was playing with the kids or walking through the office at my new job.

Somehow, I managed to get dressed. “Mommy’s legs hurt,” Emma said when I limped downstairs. By the time we got to the corner my lower body felt as if it would collapse at any moment. “I think Mommy’s going to sit this one out,” I said.

Matthew and the kids took off down the street. “Go, Ryan! Go, Emma!” I cheered after them. As they disappeared over a hill, I couldn’t help worrying. What if this pain turned out to be something serious?

I couldn’t afford to be out of commission. There were too many things to do. Who would take the kids to and from daycare? My husband couldn’t always do it. Emma had trouble sleeping...only my lullabies seemed to work. And my new job was complex. My coworker couldn’t do it alone.

Still, I couldn’t deny the pain. It got worse every day. I was 47, but some days I felt 97. I just can’t fight past the pain alone anymore, I thought.

A week later, I sat in my doctor’s office nervously awaiting his diagnosis. Multiple sclerosis? Something worse? “Arthritis,” he said.

“Arthritis?” I was taken aback. “Aren’t I too young for that?”

No, I wasn’t the only one to have arthritis at my age, the doctor said. I felt mildly relieved. Then the doctor held up my X rays. “If you weren’t sitting here, I’d think I was looking at the X rays of an 80-year-old,” he said.

“You have severe osteoarthritis. You’ll need surgery—both hips have to be replaced. Then you’ll require several months of rehab.”

Major surgery. Hips replaced. Months of rehab.

The only surgeries I’d ever had were two C-sections when my kids were born, but that was different—I knew what to expect. Now I was facing a cloudy future of rehab centers and artificial parts that could break down. “Can’t I just take something?” I asked.

The doctor shook his head. “You have to deal with this, Susan,” he said.

“How can this be happening?” I asked Matthew that evening. “The kids need me. I have work to do. I can’t spend so much time off my feet.”

Matthew wrapped his arms around me. “You know, you already have spent a lot of time off your feet,” he said.

I thought back to a month earlier. We’d taken a trip with my in-laws to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. We’d rented a cabin near a lake, surrounded by pristine nature trails, perfect for hiking. Just the thing Matthew and I loved to do.

But I was too hobbled by pain to get outside much. I couldn’t even lie comfortably by the lake. “Mommy’s legs,” Emma helpfully explained to anyone who asked.

Matthew was right. I had been out of commission—as much as I tried to pretend everything was fine. A missed vacation, a missed race...it was adding up. And all that time off my feet hadn’t been spent getting better. Maybe it was time that it was. But how? How was I going to manage everything?

I arranged for the time off work. My parents were happy to stay at our house to help with the kids. Still, my nervousness only grew. I’d be under anesthesia for five to six hours.

What if there were complications? What if I didn’t make it? I found myself at my lawyer’s office, drafting a will. And I found myself doing something else I rarely had time for: praying. God, please help me through this. Always that same prayer. I was amazed at how it comforted me.

The day of the surgery arrived. I sat while the surgeon marked my sides with dotted lines—prep for the incisions he’d make. I wanted to walk out.

Instead, I prayed. I thought about that day of the race, how my husband and kids had disappeared over the hill when I should’ve been with them. God, help me through—for my family. You’re in charge now.

Lying on the operating table, I tried to make small talk with the anesthesiologist. “Count down from ten,” he said.

“Ten...nine...eight...” Everything went black.

I woke up dazed. A nurse was checking a monitor next to me. Tubes ran in and out of my arm. I must’ve moaned. “You gave us quite a scare,” she said, coming over to me.

There’d been complications. Too much bleeding. My blood pressure was low. I was in the ICU. I’d probably have to be there a few days. Matthew came in and held my hand. “I was so worried,” he said.

I’m still worried, I thought.

Three days after my surgery I had my first physical therapy session. James, my therapist, wanted me to get right to it. “Are you ready to walk down the hall?” he asked.

Ready? He must be crazy, I thought. God, please help me through this. I got up, expecting to feel pain shooting down my legs. It wasn’t there anymore! I was just a little wobbly.


“No problem,” I said. I got to the end of the hall. There was a short flight of stairs. “Feel strong enough to handle the stairs?” James asked.

“Sure.” I took a few steps up. My head spun. I lost my balance. Whoa! I was on the floor. James helped me up.

Back in my room the doctor checked me out. “You’re fine, but you’ve got to take it easy,” he said. Take it easy. Right. I had a family and job to get back to.

Later that day, I called in to work. I’ll just see if there’s anything I can do over the phone. “Things are fine, Susan,” my coworker said. “The temp sure won’t replace you, but she’s doing a great job.”

“You don’t need anything?” I asked.

“Just get better.”

Three times a day, for an hour a session, I followed James’s orders. Meanwhile, my mom and stepdad did the grocery shopping. My mother-in-law helped take the kids to and from daycare. “How’s Emma sleeping?” I asked her.

“Like a baby,” she said.

After two weeks in the hospital, I finally came home. Sure, the cabinets were rearranged somewhat, but the house hadn’t fallen apart. I thought about that prayer I’d said so many times. I’d forced myself to give up control over everything, and amazingly we’d made it through.

Last October I walked with my kids and husband in the Harry Chapin Memorial Run Against Hunger—without pain. I’m back to work, and sing lullabies to Emma.

I know eventually I’ll have to get the artificial joints replaced, but I’m not worried. My kids need me, and my job does too, but they need me healthy, more than anything. And I have a new strength to lean on, one that will never be replaced.

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