The pain I was experiencing in High School was hard to explain. It seemed like it wasn’t only my hip. My hip hurt me, my knee, my back, and my wrist – all on the right side. For the most part, I kept quiet about my pain in gym. I just pushed my body as far as it could go.
The best way that I was able to describe the way it hurt at the time, was as follows: I would be running or doing an exercise and all of a sudden it felt like my leg locked with my hip. That’s not the part that hurt though. The only way to “unlock” my leg was to move it, but no matter how slow or how carefully I moved, it would make a CLICK and it felt like thunder hit me right in the groin.
My wrist only hurt if I put pressure on it, for example if I were to put my palms together and push, it was unbearable.
For a lack of better understanding, that’s how I described my pains to my parents and the doctors. My mom figured that my pain may be returning from when I was little and got hurt at the park, so she told me to start swimming more again (I chose to stop going to swimming lessons because it wasn’t catching my interest anymore, and because I didn’t have friends there). The doctors weren’t any help. I didn’t think much of it the first time, but the more I went in, the more they made me feel crazy. They didn’t believe me.
The lady at the front desk asked me why I was coming in. I told her it was for pain in my joints. She laughed and said something along the lines of “Little girl, at your age? Pain in your joints? Don’t be silly!” My heart sunk, but I was sure of my pain. The doctor took my blood. The next week she called and said I have Chicken Pox in my system and a minor case of Fifth disease. This can show up in the form of a rash, fever, and can lead to some swelling, and therefore, pain, in the joints. This explained my pain for the moment because I started getting pain in my fingers and elbows at that time, but I told her I was experiencing the hip and wrist pain for a long time. She chalked it up to the current problem and ignored my concerns. The doctor I saw the previous time said I was just trying to get out of gym class. I told her I liked the gym and I went on my own time, but that didn’t change her mind.
During my senior year in gym class, I usually stayed close to the front of the gym because the first line got to lead exercises. I had built up a lot of strength by then and I loved exercising. One day I was somewhere near the front, but I don’t recall leading that day. We were doing exercises as usual. I specifically remember we were doing Star Jumps. We only had 20 to do, but this exercise was the hardest on my hip. We were just about to finish and someone started to make sounds of complaint.
I know what you must be thinking at this point – if you’re a reader who did not go to my high school. You may be confused in a few moments when I start saying what went through my mind, but keep in mind that my gym class was like a bootcamp. More importantly, both our gym teachers were in the army/military. Discipline was big in our gym class and disrespect was rare. When someone disrespected our teachers, the whole class had to pay for it, and then that student was hated by everyone for their “crime”.
One teacher asked who it was interrupting the class. When no one answered, I started to feel hot. I looked around the room. No one answered. I felt my face get flushed from anger. I barely made it through the first 20 Start Jumps and I knew what was coming next.
The teacher didn’t like the lack of reply. She ordered us to do more Star Jumps. Someone sucked their teeth in defiance – probably the same person who got us in this mess in the first place- now our teacher gives us double to amount. Anxiety creeps in. I discretely massage my leg before crouching into the start pose for our exercise as I glare around the room trying to find my new enemy. I’m sweating even more now from the heat of my anger.
ONE! we shout. TWO! THREE!… We do a few more and as I get down, click. My leg locks and I can’t move, I can’t jump. One of the teachers passes by me in what seems like slow motion. The room is spinning, but in the blur, I reach out my hand and I catch her leg. She looks down at me with wolf eyes, but then I shake my head – as if saying “no”, as if surrendering. She turns around to me. She tells me to get up, to follow her, but I can’t. I can’t.
I crawl out after my teacher. The whole class is looking at me. My teacher slowly helps me up. Click my leg unlocks, at this point pain is becoming dull and ’m starting to come to myself again. I finally break down my walls and tell her that I’ve been in pain for a long time. It was never that bad until that day. She tells me to see a doctor. I tell her I have, but they didn’t believe me enough to send me for tests (well, other than a blood test). My gym teacher told me to check for arthritis because I was too young to be experiencing pain in so many joints.
So, I set out to the doctor again. I had been going to pediatricians until then, but at this point I was 17 years old, and I was able to see my mom’s doctor alone if I got consent from my parents. I went in and again I had told the doctor what was hurting me, what my gym teacher said, what tests I had done, what came out of them and that I was still in pain. The doctor started talking to me and asking me random questions. At first, it made me feel more comfortable, but then she started asking me about my relationship and she said with judgement that she would never let her daughter date at my age. I tried to shrug it off. In my head, I was thinking that her daughter has probably already done a lot more than kissing, if she wasn’t allowed to date at the age of 17, but that was none of my business.
Something to note is that I was extremely shy around authority. I was raised at a time where authority figures were never seen as friends. There was always clear boundaries and things you were not allowed to say or do around adults – specifically in the Polish culture (the doctor was also polish). This made it even harder to open up to an adult, especially a doctor.
The doctor kept asking questions that I didn’t feel comfortable answering and I started to get more and more anxious as I sat in the room. She then said something like “Ugh, Angelika. Are you always going to be like this?” I asked her to clarify her question. She asked if I am always so anxious. Before giving me a chance to respond, or even collect my thoughts, she stated that if I had arthritis, it was probably induced by stress, but she insinuated that there was nothing wrong with me at all and that, again, I was making it up. She gave me a recommendation for a psychologist or psychiatrist and an arthritis specialist “just in case” and abruptly dismissed me from her office.
I left the office fuming. I walked into the house and told my mom that, apparently, I’m crazy. I laughed it off with my mom and my friends, but under the surface, I was angry and confused.
I didn’t talk to my gym teacher about it apart from that one time. I threw away the referrals for both the mental health and the arthritis specialist. I spent the next few years avoiding doctors at all costs. Whenever the pain would get worse, the doctor’s words rang in my head and I believed them. It’s stress-induced. It’s not real. I’m making it up. I’m making it up. I’m making it up.
To Be Continued…