Holding on to hope in a difficult time

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation

by Isla Horvath
Kelly Pattison is one of the most positive people I have spoken to recently. If you ask her, I don’t think she would agree; she would just tell you she is doing all she can to get through right now.

In this time of uncertainty in our world, Kelly is living with the pain of arthritis, the dashed hopes that she could get rid of that pain, and fear for the future.

This bright 55-year-old mother of five – including 2 very busy 16-year-old twin daughters – lives in Stoney Creek, Ontario. She worked as a nurse in the pediatric/neonatal unit of a busy Southwestern Ontario hospital for 26 years, then spent time as a nurse in the OR at a fertility clinic. Now, she works with her partner, running a busy national office, with branches across Canada.

Kelly began having pain in 2016. A fit, flexible person who worked out with weights, rode her bike and walked or hiked 5 – 10 kilometers, 3 – 5 times per week, Kelly was dismayed to experience pain after movement. By the fall of 2017, she had markedly increased pain and decreased range of motion.

After suffering torn ligaments in her left knee, Kelly saw an orthopaedic physician. By the time of her appointment, her knee had healed, but, as she was experiencing severe pain (she was unable to stand for 5 minutes without debilitating bilateral groin pain) the doctor ordered diagnostic imaging of her hips. She was diagnosed with moderate degenerative OA in both hips.

Kelly discussed treatment options and decided, along with her doctor, that because of her relatively young age and moderate disease severity, surgery was not the best option. She continued with pain medications. Still, Kelly wanted to remain active. “I’m tough,” she says. “I just pushed on through the pain. I wanted to stay active. But by the fall of 2018, I was in so much pain. After just a 2 K walk I could barely move. My left hip felt like a wound-up spring – really tight and painful.”

Kelly’s doctor recommended a steroid shot and lubricant to alleviate the pain. “It was FANTASTIC,” she says. “For the first time in months I could sit on the ground, with my legs crossed. This was HUGE progress.”

But the relief didn’t last long, and the following cortisone shots months apart gave lessening relief. The pain was becoming unbearable, restricting Kelly’s daily living activities to a minimum, and sleep was intermittent at best. An x-ray in September 2019 showed severe bilateral degenerative osteoarthritis. It had advanced rapidly in just two years. Kelly started on a regime of pain and sleep medications, including opioids.

In January this year, Kelly saw an orthopaedic surgeon, who recommended hip replacement surgery. “I was excited,” she says. “This was a light at the end of the tunnel, something to aim for despite the decrease in quality of life. I wanted to be in the best form to enter surgery so I reached out to the physiotherapy clinic that would be following me after surgery and started a regime with them once a week, and diligently did my daily home exercises. The plan was to receive a call from Preop in June for an August surgery date to replace the left hip, followed by the right in November.”

In addition, Kelly was enrolled in the COF’s GLA:D™ Canada program, an exercise and education program for those with osteoarthritis, attending physiotherapy three days a week. The program helped with her pain. And to prepare for surgery, Kelly reached out to the COF, through the Ortho Connect program. Here, she connected with COF volunteer Julie-Anne, a young woman, like Kelly, with children and a busy life, facing life-changing orthopaedic surgery.

“Julie-Anne gave me hope,” says Kelly. “She had a similar mindset to me: you can’t stop. She was on the other side of surgery and doing well. This gave me hope for myself.”

And then, COVID-19 hit the world, and elective surgeries were postponed – including Kelly’s. She says, “It was like the light at the end of the tunnel went out.” Kelly feared she would not see the end of her pain.

Like all Canadians, the pandemic upset every part of Kelly’s life. Her partner’s business was changing; colleagues needed to work from home, and Kelly adjusted to life away from colleagues. Business was declining. Her GLA:DTM Canada physiotherapy sessions were cancelled. Her daughters, who could help around the house, were staying with their dad with whom Kelly shares custody, physically distanced from her. Because of her appointments at health care facilities and possible exposure to the virus, it was decided that the girls would be better off away from their mother’s home, while she self-isolated. Like so many Canadians, Kelly felt isolated.

Always a fighter, and always tough, Kelly started reaching out for help. She contacted her orthopaedic surgeon, who advised her to continue to do the exercises that her pre-surgery team had outlined. She continued with her GLA:D® exercises to build her muscles.

The COF has connected with the Arthritis Society to access virtual help for orthopaedic patients during the COVID-19 time through its AREP program, and Kelly has reached out to them for support. At the time of this article, Kelly is scheduled to speak with a trained arthritis physiotherapist, to provide additional information on what she can do to alleviate pain and prepare for surgery – when it becomes available.

Kelly is trying not to despair, but it’s not easy. She says, “I feel trapped within my own body and trapped by COVID-19, isolated and alone; but my mind is free, active and strong … a very challenging time, for isolation from movement as well as from society breeds sadness and anxiety. My mind and spirit need to be exercised just as much as my joints and muscles.”

So, when I say that Kelly Pattison is a positive person, I mean it. She has faced pain and set-backs, but through it all she continues to look for answers and support: help from her orthopaedic team at Hamilton Health Sciences (who she says is absolutely first rate), from a trained COF Ortho Connect volunteer who can share experiences, through the GLA:DTM Canada program to alleviate OA pain, and through the Arthritis virtual program.

Kelly is not a person to give up. She is strong. She will do all she can to get through this unprecedented time in history, and look for her light at the end of the tunnel, doing what she can to alleviate pain while she prepares for orthopaedic surgery. We wish her well.

Many patients living with pain have had their surgeries cancelled or postponed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COF has virtual educational resources available, trained Ortho Connect volunteers, and access to physiotherapists through the Arthritis Society. Contact us for details.