Caitlin Kelly

I was standing in baggage claim at the Vancouver airport in July 2010 when my orthopaedic surgeon called with bad news. I had, he told me, arrived at an unwanted destination: AVN.

That stands for “avascular necrosis,” also known as “osteonecrosis” – fancy talk for dead bone. It happens as a result of poor blood supply to the bone, and often is associated with long-term corticosteroid use, alcoholism and lupus. But none of those apply to me. Exactly why AVN struck my left hip, which was already in pretty bad shape, is something of a mystery.

I started feeling pain in that hip in March 2007 and noticed it was newly difficult to sling my leg over my bicycle seat. When it really started to hurt – sometimes I could barely lift my left leg into the car after my regular four-mile walk – I saw a doctor, who diagnosed me with hip osteoarthritis, or OA.

Despite the pain, I kept up with most of my active hobbies – skiing, softball, cycling, hiking, ice skating, tennis, dance. Until I couldn’t.

In January 2010, my hip, for no reason I could determine, suddenly plunged me into months of excruciating pain. X-rays and MRIs revealed the OA was severely degenerative. Coupled with the AVN, this means every step I take hurts, making me, on my worst days, waddle like a drunken sailor.

It also, the doctor insisted more than a year ago, means hip replacement.

I’m only 54. Although I know some patients choose to have the procedure done in their 40s or even younger, it’s a major operation many of us try to postpone as long as possible. One good friend, at 69, was swallowing 12 painkillers a day before he finally gave in.

I was in shock at the idea of surgery. Even after years of progressively worse left hip OA, I move as often and as fast and for as long as my body lets me.

Major surgery?

The doctor said it, as he says everything, with imperial authority, waiting, it seemed, for me to immediately and obediently schedule the operation. Instead, I told him I’d get back to him in a year or so, after I finished writing and promoting my second nonfiction book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.