Depression Marathon Blog

My photo
Diagnosed with depression 19 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Post-op ER

After sitting together for more than 10 hours, my friend Wendy finally felt okay to depart. On her way out the door she wryly smiled and said, "This could only happen to you." I laughed and said, "I know." After 10 hours we could find some humor in my situation. It wasn't so funny earlier. Thirteen hours after I checked in to the ER Friday afternoon, I got home. It was 5:20 AM Saturday morning.

My right hip surgery went "perfectly," according to my surgeon. He did a lot of bony work, constructed a new labrum out of a cadaver tendon, and sewed it neatly into its new home in my hip. I was discharged from the surgery center before noon and arrived home around 1:15 PM Friday.

My brother helped me set up a few things prior to leaving for his home. I sat in my recliner to ice my hip and rest. A few hours later I made the 15 foot walk from recliner to kitchen, got a bit to eat, opened my computer and sat down in the very spot in which I am currently planted. It was 4:15 PM. All was well.

Well...maybe not well. Within a few minutes of sitting down my right leg began to feel odd. My right groin, where much of my surgical pain was located, felt tight and full. I tried to adjust my right leg and shockingly discovered I couldn't lift my right foot off the floor! With panic setting in I tried again and again to move my foot. Nothing. I had lost all ability to dorsiflex (pull my foot up toward the ceiling, as you do when walking on your heels) my right foot. As a PT I knew this could be a medical emergency. I could be having a stroke!

Numbness began setting in to portions of my right leg as I made my way to the bathroom to check my face. I looked for telltale signs of a stroke but fortunately found none. I did a quick scan of the rest of my body. Again, fortunately, my symptoms seemed to be confined to my right leg.

Foot drop is typically caused by neurological impairment--stroke and nerve impingement most commonly. But I didn't appear to be having a stroke. I also had no pain so a lumbar disc protrusion was most unlikely. I know what a disc exploding feels like. In fact, I still have a bit of foot drop on my left side as a result of my disc extrusion in 2017. This was not that. Nothing hurt.

I called the surgical service, left a message, and then called a friend to take me to the emergency room. The surgeon's PA phoned as I was en route to the ER. His comment, which I will never forget, was, "In over 6000 hip procedures, we've never had anything like this happen. Keep going to the ER."

I could write a whole book on my frustration with Mayo Clinic's emergency room, but I don't think I have the energy to relive it even 4 days later, so here are the low-lights.

*When I arrived the entire waiting room was full and there were 3-4 people at the check-in desk complaining about how they had been waiting for 6+ hours.
*Despite my protestations that this could be a serious emergency, that my nerve could die if compressed too long, the staff could only apologize and send me back to the waiting room.
*I waited with my friend Wendy for 7 hours, as my symptoms worsened, before I got called back to a treatment room.
*It took 8 hours to actually see an MD.
*The MD was good and did put in a neurological consult.
*The ER was too full, they said, so they moved me from my treatment room to an "observation area" in the bowels of the ER. I agreed to the move, but later discovered this dark corner of the ER where there was one nurse sitting at a computer, where I wasn't checked on unless I initiated the contact, and where I had no access to a call light is exactly where they place "behavioral health" patients to live, sometimes for days, when there are no psychiatric beds available. Coincidence? I'll never know.
*The neurologist, who remarked he had "never treated anyone back here before," was excellent. He listened to me, performed a complete and thorough neurological exam (where we discovered I could now move my foot a bit), talked to me like a professional, discussed several possible causes of this weird set of symptoms, and ordered an MRI. It was just before 2:00 AM.
*I laid alone in that room in silence for another hour before I dragged myself out of the bed to inquire. The nurse knew nothing about an MRI, and in the next breath informed me they don't perform MRIs overnight in the ER. She said I'd have to stay there overnight in order to have an MRI "ordered" in the morning.
*After I protested, a CT scan with contrast dye was ordered. I got a CT at 3:00 AM. By the time of the CT I had been lying flat on my back for approximately 4 hours and my symptoms were thankfully, though still inexplicably, resolving.
*The neurologist returned at 4:00 AM to tell me the CT didn't show anything but the most likely cause was, as we had discussed earlier, a bleed or blood clot compressing my femoral and/or common peroneal nerves in the groin area based on the distribution of numbness and weakness. He recommended a neurology follow-up for MRI and EMG studies. I thanked him. He was so good.
*I was discharged around 4:30 AM, exhausted and in pain, 12 hours and 15 minutes after I had arrived.

When I left the ER, thankfully my symptoms had pretty much resolved. I could dorsiflex my right ankle and the numbness from my buttocks to my toes was almost gone. I waited 30 minutes for a cab prior to the 10 minute drive home. I got home at 5:20 AM.

Interestingly, during that 10 minute drive my right leg symptoms began to return. Sitting, it appeared, was not a doable position. The explanation of something compressing the nerves in my groin made even more sense in light of this new evidence.

Things have gradually been improving. This is the first day I've been able to sit here at my computer without my leg getting numb. Mayo has not called yet to set up the neurology follow-up (shocking!), but I'm hopeful I won't need the appointment after all. My groin area still feels full. My leg still feels different if I sit for a long period (like right now), but overall I'm doing well. I know things could have turned out much, much worse. I'm so grateful they didn't.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Pre-op Jitters

Part of me just wants it to be over. It will be so much easier when it's done, I think. I hope. The waiting is nearly done, and although I'm anxious, I'm also relieved.

I have to arrive at the surgery center at 6:45 AM tomorrow morning. My hip surgery is set for 8:15. I hope to be home by mid-afternoon. My brother is arriving tonight in order to drive me, in the predawn darkness, the 90 minutes it will take to get to the center. It's going to be a long day for him. I'm grateful for his willingness to take the day off and escort me.

It seems like I've been preparing for this day everyday for the past month. I had a long list of things to get done prior to spending the next 4 weeks on crutches, non-weightbearing on my right leg. I woke up at 4 o'clock this morning and laid there fretting about all the details, some done and some not done, up to this point.

Fortunately I finished a lot of what I wanted to prior to surgery. I worked hard to finish the basement remodel and upstairs painting, which included multiple visits to Home Depot and hours upon hours of hands on work in my house. It wasn't easy, but the end is in sight. I rehung all of my artwork on my freshly painted walls today. Painting a couple of bookcases, that's all I have left, and I'm hopeful I can do that on one leg over the next few weeks.

This blog post is the final item on my long to-do list today. It's 9 PM and this is the first chance I've had to sit here and write. Besides rehanging all of my pictures, I cleaned the entire house (even dusted, yuck!), washed everything in sight (and I mean everything, including rugs, dog beds, sheets, blankets, towels, clothing, and anything else I didn't want to have to deal with for a month), went grocery shopping, spent too much money at Costco, picked up paperwork from my doctor, shoveled and snow-blew the sidewalks and driveway, filled my gas tank, went to a meeting, and did a 4 minute, 30 second plank (more on that in the coming days). 

I guess I do have one thing left to do. I have to shower with an anti-bacterial soap tonight before bed and again tomorrow morning. I'm worried about getting up early, not eating after midnight, the likelihood of a caffeine headache tomorrow morning, and of course the outcome of the surgery. I have to have faith I will be okay. Worrying I won't does no good whatsoever. That being said, I'll take any thoughts or prayers you'd like to offer.

Off to shower. I'll let you know how everything turns out.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Internalized Stigma

Stigma: A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.

I made an unhappy discovery this morning. I'm holding onto stigma. The very thing I preach against in others reared its ugly head this morning, and I was all alone. I was working at the very same computer I'm using to compose this blog post right now, and suddenly it was there, stigma.

I'm a bit ashamed about this self-discovery. I thought I was way past internalized stigma, but I guess not. Here's what happened. In preparation for my upcoming hip surgery I was asked to fill out an online "pre-op survey" by my surgeon's team. It was all the basic information any surgical team would want to know prior to operating.

The survey consisted of a bunch of yes or no questions. So instead of asking me to list my medical history, it asked if I had this illness or that illness. High blood pressure, breathing difficulties, and cardiac conditions were all covered, of course. Before they put me to sleep I guess they'd like to know if I'm going to wake up. Like I said it was pretty standard stuff.

It felt like pretty standard stuff, that is, until they asked if I had been hospitalized in the past year. Of course if I answered yes, as was twice the case, I was expected to fill out the next little box, a box which asked, "What for?" Damn it! It took me less than two seconds to rationalize that my two stints in the hospital for inpatient mental health treatment were not pertinent to disclose, so I answered no and moved on.

Despite moving on, I felt a pang of shame and guilt almost immediately. I'm not a fan of lying, and I had just lied. The rationalizations quickly followed: how will it help the anesthesiologist to know I was hospitalized for depression? It won't! They don't mean mental health hospitalizations anyway. They're just looking for any recent significant medical issues...You get the idea.

I was doing well with the rationalizations until I was thwarted by the dreaded medication list. UGH! I knew this one would be way more difficult to rationalize my way out of. There was no way around it, I would have to list my laundry list of medications. I hate the medication list!

I reluctantly filled out the med list, but that didn't stop me from attempting to build up an indignant rage all the while. In the end I couldn't even do that. The medication list is necessary. I could lie, but that might put me at significant risk. The anesthesiologist needs to know what medications I'm taking in order to prevent any dangerous interactions with the meds he'll use during my surgery. So I filled it out, but I hated to do it.

And why do I hate it? Because it reveals I have more than a melancholy mood once in awhile. I take a cocktail of mental-health-related medications. Severe depression will be quite obvious to any MD observer. But here's the thing, why did I care??? Why did I feel so uncomfortable with revealing my medications?

My shame and discomfort surprised me. Aren't I the one who has preached about depression being an illness like any other, an illness which can and is successfully treated with hospitalizations and medications? Isn't that the crux of what I've been writing about for the last 11 years? Treat me and my depression as you would treat anyone else with any other chronic illness. I'm sure I've said or written that at least 1000 times since I began this blog.

Unfortunately, I'm also the one who began this blog partly because of the misinformed, inequitable and downright discriminatory treatment I experienced while seeking help for depression. But is that just another excuse? (I'm protecting myself by lying about my hospitalizations, right? I'll be treated differently after they see my list of medications, right?) The bottom line is I was afraid to fill out the pre-op survey honestly, and I feel shame about that. Whether my fears were rational or not, I still feel guilty. I feel like I, of all people, should be above such concerns. But clearly, I'm not.


Sunday, January 12, 2020

One thing leads to another, and another, and another

Last Spring I finally decided to finish my basement remodel project, which I began over 10 years ago. I had one finished room and a half bath in my basement when I bought this house 15 years ago. After the basement flooded in 2007, however, I spent months tearing everything out; the finished room, the bathroom and the unfinished storage space. I'm allergic to mold so tearing everything out was a necessity. I received some flood assistance to remodel, but that money ran out before the project was finished. Last Spring I decided I had the time, energy and funds to tackle the project once again.

Ten years ago the plumbing, electrical, walls and ceilings were finished. I needed flooring, trim, doors, and bathroom fixtures. Fortunately, I met a handyman I trusted through work. Unfortunately, that handyman, whom I hired in the Spring, quit before he ever started. That was in July. It took until September to find another semi-retired, competent professional. I hired him and a flooring guy to finish the work.

They were both busy until November, so the work didn't start until after Thanksgiving. It took through December and into January for them to finish, not because there was a ton to do, but because they were simultaneously busy with other projects. Now it's done. Two days ago my basement was finished. It's so cool!

Well, you know how one thing leads to another? With the new tile on the basement floor the wooden stairs leading to the basement looked awful. So I hired the flooring guy to also tile the stairs, and since the stairs descend from the kitchen, with it's well worn linoleum, I had to ask him to do the kitchen floor, too. That work will begin tomorrow.

Once I decided to tile the kitchen I could no longer ignore my walls, which I painted 15 years ago. So I decided to paint the kitchen. But since I was painting the kitchen a lighter color, I had to paint the trim, too! I mean it was brown. I like white. Besides, my kitchen is tiny. How hard could it be?

It turned out painting the trim was a very time consuming, back-breaking little project! I had to sand it, but even with sanding the paint just wouldn't stick. My trim took 3, and in some places 4 coats of paint! Painting the ceiling, walls and trim, a project I thought would take a few days, turned into a project which stretched into 2 weeks!

At least one full day of that two weeks was spent changing outlets and covers. With the new white trim and lighter colored walls the damn almond-colored switches and outlets looked like hell, so I had to change those, too. My hands ached after removing each outlet and switch and rewiring each in order to change them from almond to white. I had to ice my hands that night, but they look a lot better now.

Unfortunately, despite all of that work not every part of my kitchen looks better, so my kitchen actually isn't done. I discovered way too late the new wall color almost matches the counter top, backsplash, and cabinet color. I need some contrast. I did some research. The least costly and labor intensive solution seems to be changing the backsplash. I picked out the product, but that project will have to wait until well after my hip surgery.

I'm trying to get everything else done before my hip surgery on the 24th. After painting my kitchen the plan was to repaint my living room, hallways, bedroom and all of the trim. When I made that plan in late November, I had no concern about getting it all done before January 24th, but after my kitchen experience I'm ashamed to say I threw in the towel. I decided to hire someone to do the rest.

The painting will begin Tuesday or Wednesday so I spent my weekend removing everything from my walls, emptying shelves, storing knickknacks, moving furniture away from the walls, and cleaning everywhere. Phew! I'm tired. This is the first time I sat down today.

By the time the flooring and painting is finished I think I'll have just enough time to replace the furniture, hang the pictures, unpack and replace my stuff prior to surgery. Now I understand why I let this basement project sit for 10 years! It will be nice, however, to have everything done when I'm sitting in my house for 4 weeks doing little to nothing; nothing that is except enjoying my new floors, walls, outlets and trim.

Thursday, January 9, 2020


My plagiarism checker found an interesting little tidbit the other day. It turns out, in what was not a case of plagiarism, I was cited in a scientific journal article. I always thought I might publish a scientific research project someday, especially when I was master's level student, but I never thought I'd be a source for scholarly material in a study authored by someone else. Kind of cool.

In a 2016 edition of The Journal of Qualitative Health Research, a few snippets from a few of my early blog posts were cited in a research study titled, Depression Narratives in Blogs: A Collaborative Quest for Coherence. I was unable to access the full research article online so I emailed the author. He very kindly sent me a copy of his study. It's interesting. I enjoyed reading it.

Blogs like mine are so personal. It's weird to think of them in a scientific light. In this study the author, Don M. Kotlier, takes a very academic look at depression blogs written specifically by women. I'm honored he found material of use in my blog, especially since he chose only 5 blogs to use in his analysis. Out of all the depression blogs written by women in 2009-2010, mine was one of the five chosen. Nice.

If you'd like to read the study I think you're out of luck, unless you want to pay for it. I found the study interesting, and I'm humbled he used some of my work in his research. My only complaint is I wish he'd have done it a few years later. I've grown up a lot since 2008. My posts have improved a lot since 2008, too. Selfish reasons for sure, but also a reminder of how much I've changed and matured since I began this blog 11 years ago.

Eleven years. I never expected this little idea to continue so long. And I've no idea how much longer it will continue. But hey, getting cited in a scientific journal is, as I've already stated, pretty damn cool.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

New year, New surgery

I believe it was last January. I landed a broad jump in an exercise class and knew immediately I shouldn't have done that. It was a tiny twinge. So slight, most people wouldn't have even noticed, but I quickly put it together. The landing position followed by the tiny twinge certainly meant I had just re-torn my right hip labrum. I hung my head and prayed desperately, "no, no, no, no, no!"

Unfortunately, my prayers went unanswered. An MRI confirmed it. My thrice-repaired right hip labrum was torn...again. I put a call in to the skilled surgeon who had cared for my hip for the last 20 years. I was devastated to learn he had retired. You're probably thinking, "What's the big deal? Go to another surgeon." Well, that's what I did, but it wasn't that simple.

Good surgeons who do labral repairs are few and far between. It's an arthroscopic procedure which is apparently quite technical. I've been told the learning curve for this surgery is quite long, therefore not many US docs take the time to learn it. In fact, when I originally sought out a diagnosis in 1997 Mayo Clinic orthopedic doctors were so clueless they suggested I seek out a psychiatrist! And this was before I had depression!

Fortunately, I'm a physical therapist. My first continuing education class as a new professional was on the hip. I was even more fortunate the class was instructed by a brilliant therapist from Belgium, where they had been diagnosing and repairing labral tears for years. Halfway through the first day the instructor began describing my symptoms to a tee! After four years of unexplained pain I finally knew what was wrong. It took the instructor about two seconds to confirm my diagnosis with a simple special test.

The instructor told me he usually referred US citizens to Belgium for surgery, but I was lucky. There were, at that time, two surgeons in the United States who performed arthroscopic labral repairs; one in Texas and the other in Minnesota. Dr. Palmer in Stillwater, Minnesota, repaired my torn labrum three times, most recently in 2014.

Now five years later, and after some nifty maneuvering by my local orthopedic doctor, I now have a new surgeon in Minneapolis. I'm lucky once again. He just happens to be a hip expert and one of the most sought after hip surgeons in the United States. Since this is my fourth tear (the labrum is a fragile little piece of cartilage, especially once it's been torn) my new surgeon, Dr. Larson, told me it was no longer repairable. What???

Thankfully, he interrupted my rising panic by telling me he'd just replace it. What??? Yup, I'm going to get a new right hip labrum, a cadaver labrum, transplanted on January 24th. It's an arthroscopic procedure, but it will require an extended healing time. That's why I put off the surgery, with Dr. Larson's blessing, as running doesn't cause or worsen a labral tear, until after my planned marathon in October.

As you all know I missed my marathon due to that nasty respiratory illness. And I couldn't run for an extended period of time due to that damn respiratory illness so I began lifting weights. That apparently caused more damage. I've been battling pain since mid-October.

I'm glad I'm getting it done because even my running is being affected now. I'm hopeful this will resolve my hip issue once and for all, but I'm concerned about the recovery time. I will be non-weight bearing for at least 4 weeks, and I will not be allowed to return to running for 3 to 4 months. I'm going in with eyes open knowing there will be risks to my mood (financial stress and no exercise). I'm going to do my best to get through it, but I have a feeling you'll be hearing more from me during that time.