As a child, I was extremely flexible, and I always impressed my friends with my crazy party tricks, such as doing the splits on command or bending the tip of my fingers. From the ages of 7 to 13 years old, I did competitive karate, and my trainers always loved how effortless high kicks would be for me. During my teenage years, I played competitive badminton and struggled with painful knees, where I would have to wear braces and do several hours of physical and athletic therapy. The first time I experienced true hip pain was in 2011: I was in my twenties, and I had gone out on a 90km bike ride in the mountains.
I consulted my GP, and she started the encounter by saying, “you’re too young for hip problems.” She suggested I decrease all activities, and to check in with her at my next appointment, one year later. During that year, I drastically reduced sports and changed the way I worked. However, the pain did not go away; it kept increasing. Over the following two years, I had to beg my GP for x-rays and an MRI, which eventually confirmed I had a labral tear.
At that point, I was pretty much on my own. I had no idea who to consult for this labral tear. I sent my script to several orthopedic surgeons, and the wait began. In Canada, we are lucky to have a public health system, where everyone has access to care. Unfortunately, this means resources must be equally distributed within the population, which often creates long waitlists for specialists like orthopedic surgeons. It took over 1.5 years to see three different surgeons, all of whom only performed hip replacements.
In 2014, I FINALLY found a hip preservation surgeon. This was my ticket out of my pain. And there, I heard the magical words: “I can perform hip arthroscopy”. Even though there were red flags – he had not examined me, he refused to look at my imaging, and he couldn’t discuss the cause of my tear – I chose to move forward. I was desperate, and his surgery seemed like the best solution for my problem. After surgery, my pain worsened, and it is only then he looked at my x-rays. That is when he diagnosed me with hip dysplasia. He suggested I wait 20 years for a hip replacement, and walked out.
At that point, I knew I had to advocate for myself. I turned to social media and discovered that many surgeons in the US offered free file reviews. One of the top hip arthroscopy surgeons in North America diagnosed me with hip impingement and a labral tear, and suggested surgery could resolve all my issues. When I inquired about my hip dysplasia, he brushed it off and said there was no such thing. Again, I was desperate, and I trusted this well-reputed surgeon. So, I headed to the US, paid for my surgery, and had a labral repair, cam resection and a capsule plication.
Although I was told I did not have hip dysplasia, I could not stop thinking about it. I decided to reach out to hip dysplasia specialist, Dr. Michael Millis. Early in my scope recovery, Dr. Millis called and discussed his findings. He confirmed I had right hip dysplasia, and told me that I needed to be assessed by a dysplasia specialist. This was when he connected me to my current surgeon – Dr. Etienne Belzile – a brilliant hip dysplasia specialist here in Quebec, Canada. Dr. Belzile had done his fellowship under Dr. Millis, and Dr. Millis assured me I could not ask for a better surgeon.
After an 18-month wait, I met Dr. Belzile. It only took a few minutes for me to understand what Dr. Millis meant. At my first appointment, Dr. Belzile spent close to an hour listening to my history and assessing my hip via an extensive physical exam and a new set of x-rays. Almost immediately, I knew I could trust him. In 2017, I underwent a left hip arthroscopy and a right PAO. Then, in 2018, I had a left PAO.
Unfortunately, after my LPAO, my pain worsened. Despite countless hours of physical therapy, the pain did not go away and was interfering with my daily activities. Over several months, my surgeon listened to my concerns and tried to understand why I was struggling. He also sent me to see a pain management doctor, which allowed me to receive opioid medication safely. I am so grateful that my surgeon never left my side, he never gave up on me. Together, we participated in shared-decision making and chose to move forward with exploratory hip arthroscopy. Turns out, my hip was filled with adhesions. I am now four days post-op, and I hope that I can move towards a life with less pain!
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is ALWAYS. TRUST. YOUR. GUT. If you feel that there are red flags, there are probably red flags—advocate for yourself. If you have pain, you have pain. It’s not in your head. Fight until someone listens and takes you seriously. Although my journey has been a bumpy one – filled with failed procedures and pain, I am incredibly lucky to have found Dr. Millis and to now be under the care of my surgeon. I am also extremely thankful to have found the Facebook PAO group, as the members have been an essential part of my journey. I remember feeling overwhelmed with pain during the first few days in the hospital after my RPAO. I was immediately reassured by many hippies who had already been through surgery. The most helpful comment was: yes, what you are going through right now is tough. But things WILL get better. In one week, you will look back at this moment and realize how much you have improved.
If you are reading this and you are pre-op, know that there is a group of wonderful people there for you! I am also a mentor on the Facebook group, so if you need to talk to someone about what you are going through, don’t be shy to reach out!