by Melissa Theberge

Step One: Keep laughing. 

Step Two: When you’re done feeling sorry for yourself—and I do recommend a temporary visit to self-pitydom—return to Step One. 

Is there really ever a good time to get a surgical procedure done on your right hip? I think not. But after a year of generally homebound life thanks to Covid, I’d say the season when things reopen and family and friends are suddenly on the move may be the scientifically proven *worst* time to have hip surgery. 

An unhappy hip doesn’t care about a pandemic or a #motherrunner’s plans. Despite my best efforts to will the ache and pain away this past year, it would not relent. This hip and I go way back. I have pampered her with physical therapy, cortisone shots, and attention to specific strength work. In return she rewarded me with a very successful 2019 NYC marathon for which I am immensely grateful. At the end of 26.2, I was laughing to the point of crying at what the achievement represented to my then 49-year-old body.

I felt rather unstoppable. 

Imagine my dismay then when the pain steadily worsened through 2020. It caused difficulty with running and dreadful achy pain when sitting, especially when driving.

And so, after several years of inconclusive MRIs, ambiguous X-rays, and confusing presentations of symptoms, I found a surgeon willing to take care of things once and for all. I loved the finality of it—but the lack of a finish line was tougher to stomach. He told me we wouldn’t know the outcome or recovery timeline until he could view the damage in surgery. 

I wondered aloud if surgery would reveal irreparable damage or a diagnosis of “Sorry, you really shouldn’t continue running.” Of course, the doctor could make no promises. I laughed as I told him this might be a problem as I have drawers full of running shirts, I work for Another Mother RUNNER, and I like to travel to see my online running friends for races and events.

What is it I identify with if it’s not running? This is where the laughter makes way for tears.

My hip arthroscopy went down on June 2, and I awoke from surgery to hear the doctor abuzz with excitement. “You got the full deal! We did everything!” he said, “You have healthy bones and excellent cartilage, and I have great photos to show you when you can remember what I am saying!”

Surgery included removal of debris that doesn’t belong in a healthy joint, repair and reattachment of a significant labral tear, and shaving down of the femoral neck which was causing painful impingement. The trifecta of hip excitement! 

Becoming an expert in rest and recovery.

My recovery began on June 3. There are few things more humbling than being unable to get oneself up from the toilet alone. And I assure you if you are laughing from the absurdity while your daughter is trying to pull you up, followed by assisting with your pants, it’s a harder task. Ah dignity, where art thou?

So how does a runner keep her spirits up with an unknown running future and a social media feed chock full of (finally!) live races, photos, stories, and achievements? Humor. When all else fails, I look to laughter to cure what ails my heart. 10/10 would recommend. 

Most of my laughter comes from moments of being physically awkward: being stuck in my husband’s car with the bucket seat; getting up from anywhere low (I’m looking at you, Hampton Beach sea wall!); donning thigh-high compression tights (the teenage dancer is a pro helper); coaxing my right leg on the first days to literally move already (“Come on, Leg!”); or swinging through the yard on my crutches, elated and singing in my garden for a few minutes—followed by a text from my neighbor checking on me!

Humor has shortcomings though. It does not hide the fact that the world is fast-forward right now and I am standing still. Humor will not shorten the number of weeks I’m on crutches. Laughter will not refill my coffee cup when nobody is around to help. Jokes will not mask the pain of the passive movement exercises inflicted at physical therapy. And humor will not let me know if I will be able to run again. 

The road to unstoppable starts here.

But humor does help me keep perspective, because I know I won’t be sitting still forever, even if the movement feels like baby steps. I cherish the Snapchat my youngest sent to the family last week when she couldn’t find me in the usual chair with my ice machine, and then eventually found me in the basement doing my PT exercises. She laughed hard at the mystery of my relocation (hubby helped me down the stairs before he logged in to work!). I just adore her sincere efforts to make sure I was ok and how she shared the moment in our group chat. 

Regardless of what my athletic future looks like, I know I’m on track for a good, pain-free outcome. I love the soothing anticipation of hope. I know my first day of true sweat will have me laughing — and possibly crying. 

I can’t wait to feel unstoppable again.