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The first step is the most important
SNAKES AND OTHER WILDLIFE featured prominently in Jane’s major quarantine coping strategy - walking with her dogs and her camera. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse when pain began to prohibit her from her favorite pasttime.

WEST FORK KICKAPOO - Not many people would celebrate the discovery of a large tumor along the posterior margin of their left hip. But I did—all the way home from the hospital, where I’d picked up the radiologist’s report from my recent pelvic MRI.

The pain had started sometime after I took a hard fall on ice the morning of Valentine’s Day. Which was some months after my left hip had dislocated and had been reset. Which was almost seven years after I’d had that particular hip replaced with an artificial one. So how do you pinpoint the cause when something like this happens? 

I’ve always been a staunch advocate for getting outside daily, preferably in the woods for a good robust hike. But even just walking a road, along the city sidewalks, through your neighborhood; it doesn’t matter where you do it. Walkingdoes matter though—a lot.

I didn’t know why my ability to pursue this passion for daily movement had begun to erode, in a series of subtle changes at first, and then a big noticeable one.

By March, people who could were staying at home due to the virus, and my work, like that of many others, had come to a halt. Trying to stay positive, I used that time to take the dogs out earlier on their jaunts through the woods, bringing along my camera to record the cranes, swans, red-tailed hawks and eagles.

In April I soldiered on, leading groups of women on pandemic-safe hikes, showing them bloodroots and spring beauties, catching and releasing toads, and pointing out different snakes. I did okay; I was slow—I always am—but I finished limping and hurting.

In May my fitness classes started up again, outdoors, and I had a hard time keeping up. The pain had become harder to ignore. I constantly lurched from one side to the other, and always had my left hand on the back of my hip, pressing my sore spot.

In June, I was demonstrating an exercise on top of a yoga mat, which was on top of a picnic table, when I screeched. After peeling myself off the table. I drove to the Vernon Memorial Healthcare Emergency Room and asked for a hip x-ray. I was certain my newish hip had chipped, cracked, broken, or gotten displaced. 

Nope, my hip was intact, and I was informed that I’d been holding my lower backmore than my hip. I began referring to my sore spot as my gremlin.

A gremlin is said to be the cause of an unexplained problem—an imaginary mischievous sprite responsible for what’s going wrong. Surely a gremlin was wreaking havoc on my routine of taking the pups to the KVR daily after work and for extra-long hikes on the weekends. 

Knowing the pups needed to run, but also knowing any hiking would turn tearful fast, I readjusted our routes. Although it reduced the pain, I became more sullen, downright crabby. 

It took over three more months to start getting help. I was stuck in a medical hamster wheel. After dealing with multiple barriers—like the useless medical insurance I’d chosen because its monthly premium was lower than what I’d been paying—I finally ended up at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison talking to a neurosurgeon about an MRI of my lower back.

My back is messy: Vertebrae L3, L4, and L5 are bulging /herniated, and I have severe spinal stenosis plus a nasty case of scoliosis with a rotation of my spine. But my back had felt fine, great in fact, ever since I had an X-STOP put in years ago to relieve pressure on some nerves.

The doctor said, “L5 couldbe causing you this discomfort, but I’m not convinced because your symptoms don’t all add up. Let’s get a pelvic MRI.”

So I did. And so the Lake Superior–sized ‘pseudotumor’ was discovered, the reason for my recent celebration. And the cause of the tumor is metal debris from the artificial hip.

Anyone reading this who has gone through a rough patch or lives with chronic pain, day in and day out, knows that having a name, a clear diagnosis of what ails you, is the first step to recovery.

My wish is that anyone experiencing pain would get this type of relief, because not knowing the cause is mentally devastating, and certainly crabby-making (just ask Dane!)—and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

The gremlin’s days are limited. Soon it will be removed, taking away its power to press on my nerves and constrict my blood vessels. That day can’t come soon enough. Bon voyage, you mischievous sprite.