The truth is more complicated. The whole idea of another surgery bothers me. Since 2000, I’ve had arthroscopies on each knee and a shoulder repair. I’m just really sick of doctors, medication, X-rays, MRIs, surgery and the long, tedious months of rehab necessary after every operation.

And as a self-employed writer in a recession, not being able to work at full steam – and writing a book while doped up on major painkillers was challenging enough – is a real concern.

My doctor warned me to avoid torquing my hip. A sudden twisting movement could further damage my fragile hip joint, even shatter it, requiring immediate surgery. So, no horseback riding. No softball. No running. Bicycling was allowed, but only 20 minutes at a time, not my usual 30 to 60 minutes. I took powerful steroids for six weeks to reduce the inflammation, but was often crying in pain and sleeping with a pillow between my knees. I still resisted surgery.

“Are you prepared to try anything?” the surgeon asked me in August 2010, when I refused to have the operation right away. The only remaining option to relieve my constant pain – at least for a while – was a demanding challenge: three months on crutches (the short ones that grip the forearms, called “Lofstrands”), to give my weary hip a break.

Even on my “sticks,” as I lovingly called them, I refused to slow down. I still did my pool aerobics class twice a week, crutching warily across slippery tile floors. I flew from New York to keynote a conference in Las Vegas, where I talked to retail execs about my insights into life as a sales associate – gained from my research for Malled – and swung self-consciously down the marbled halls of the Bellagio, past gamblers and newlyweds and tourists.

While on crutches, I also did several months of physical therapy, which hugely improved my mobility, strength and flexibility – much to my dubious surgeon’s surprise. At the end, I asked my PT how soon I could return to my jazz dance classes, which I had to stop when the excruciating pain came on.

“You’re kidding, right?” Helen asked. Of course not!

The music is healing, whether African, folk or pop. I easily place my palms flat on the floor when we stretch, my flexibility intact. “Nice port de bras!” a fellow dancer tells me – nice arm work. I smile, comforted to know that I’ve still got it, at least from the waist up. My damaged hip is not all of me, just one broken part.        

Jazz class roots me, not just to the floor and to my fellow students and my understanding young teachers, but to my younger, stronger, healthier self. I’ve been a dancer since I was 12. Seeing my reflection in the mirror, my arms and feet still strong, graceful and quick, as rhythmic as any of my uninjured classmates, offers a powerful vindication. The doctor sees me as just one more middle-aged female patient, a surgery-in-waiting. Strangers stare and wonder why a healthy and young-looking woman is limping so heavily.