The COVID-19 Lockdown Takes its Toll on Students Living with Chronic Pain

By Rachel Berning
rachelo.berning@gmail.com

Staff Writer

The COVID-19 lockdown has forced me to postpone my hip dysplasia surgery and prevents me from swimming, which has helped me manage my chronic pain. Holding off on surgery has been the hardest thing I have ever done.

Photo by Rachel Berning/The Guardsman

A few years ago I did a culinary program through Job Corps that brought me to the Bay Area. During the second year, I started to experience pain in my legs while walking and standing. At first I thought I had just pulled a muscle, but one of my chefs told me I should see my doctor. I went the following day. My doctor did an x-ray and he came into the office saying it looked like I had hip dysplasia. I was going to have to get surgery. At first I was scared because I didn’t understand how I got it, but the doctor said I was born with it and the pain does not hit you until adulthood.  

Hip dysplasia is a condition affecting the hip joint where the socket portion does not fully cover the ball portion. It is common in first born females and presents at birth. I never knew I had it because I was athletic when I was a child. 

There are two approaches to the surgery. First, a procedure known as a periacetabular osteotomy where the surgeon makes an incision in the front of the hip to reach the joint, cutting into the pelvic bone to free the hip socket from the pelvis, or another approach called femoral osteotomy, which is used to realign the thigh bone within the socket. During this procedure, the surgeon cuts and changes the angle of the thigh bone. Internal pins and plates may be used to hold in place as they heal but are usually removed after several months.

 After my diagnosis, the doctors wanted to do more tests. They also wanted me to make sure I had someone to take care of me after the surgery. I knew going back home to Ohio was not a good option for me due to my mom raising my other seven siblings in the house. Also, I didn’t have enough money saved up in order to take time off of work to get the procedure. I would have to put everything I was doing on pause, so I held off on the surgery.

I have been working with the pain for about a year and half. Customers walk up to me asking if I am ok and I say I’m fine. Really, I’m in pain but I can’t say that at work otherwise I’d lose my job. And you can’t live out here on your own without a job. So, I push through the pain.

I have tried to deal with the pain in many ways. When I first found out I had the condition, I went to physical therapy for the first few months. The exercises are supposed to make the muscles strong because the tissue between the bones is deteriorating. There were days when I would just lie there with ice on my leg because I was in too much pain to do the exercise. We were not getting anywhere with the physical therapy.

My therapist suggested that I could go get cortisone injections to help relieve pain and inflammation in my hip. I got the shot done within the first two weeks of finding out. The following day I ended up on crutches and was on them for a good three weeks. The injection shot did not work for me. It did the opposite of relieving pain, and it caused me to miss work.

After I started at City College in summer of 2019, I found out the college has a swimming program. I did the course and I had no pain in the pool, which was great. I finally found something that revelived the pain for a while. I would still feel pain when I was out of the pool but it was not as much as before. After taking the novice and advanced classes, Coach Phong Pham  suggested that I join the swim team. At first, I was unsure I could do it because I did not know how much my body could take. I knew that I could do freestyle and backstroke and butterfly, but I could not do breast stroke because my hips are uneven in the water. I learned how much I could handle with practice. Swimming has been my own way of physical therapy, up until recently.

The surgery will allow me to walk better and for longer, as well as sit longer than an hour. It would help me sleep, too. I wouldn’t have to wake up to move my body to a different position when the pain wakes me. I would also be in shape to go back to work. 

I hope the city changes their policies around medical procedures under COVID-19 lockdown so people can get the surgeries they need. People are struggling to pay their rent and bills while struggling with chronic pain. They are not going to have the physical and emotional stamina, let alone money to pay their medical bills, if they are forced to wait through the lockdown.

The Guardsman