Tricia McLeod was 23 years old and bartending at a popular cabaret in upstate New York when she was expecting her second child. Well into her third trimester, McLeod was having difficulty finishing her shift because of excruciating pain in her lower back and pelvis, but naturally, she chalked it up to being pregnant and on her feet 10 hours a night. But that’s not all that was going on.
“In November of that year, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl. But the pain didn’t go away like it did after my first child, so I made an appointment to see my doctor, and that’s when all the testing began. As time went on, I began to fall a lot; my left leg would go numb and down I would go. All [of] the imaging tests were normal. Things got a whole lot worse over the course of the next eight years. [After the birth of my third child,] I could no longer walk, so I decided to retire from bartending. I was going to sell real estate in Florida. Turns out, a veteran bartender who is fluent in sarcasm wasn’t very good at selling real estate.
“I reached my breaking point when I went 13 days without being able to move or care for my children. I went back to the doctor and told him, ‘I need you to figure this out, or find someone who can. Because if this is going to be my life, I don’t want it—I would rather die.’ At that time I was taking four painkillers, two muscle relaxers and 12 Advil a day. I had been through four rounds of physical therapy, which only made it worse, and was told I would have to go on a morphine pump. I asked the doctor, ‘What happens when that no longer works? Why can’t we find the problem and fix it rather than just keep pushing pain meds?’ That’s when he sent me to the Mayo Clinic. I didn’t know it at the time, but my appointment was with the director of medicine, so I was sent straight to the top. Within 30 minutes I had a diagnosis.
“When a woman goes through pregnancy, her body releases a hormone called relaxin to help prepare for the main event. After delivery, hormones and joints go back to normal—mine didn’t. When my body released that hormone, it awoke the Ehlers-Danlos syndrome [a disorder of the connective tissue] that was lying dormant within my DNA. My condition is rare and very often misdiagnosed. I had a sacroiliac joint fusion to stabilize my pelvis three months after being diagnosed, and within six months of surgery, had weaned myself off the narcotic pain meds. I often refer to my surgery date as ‘the first day of the rest of my life.’ Today I am back behind the stick, doing what I love and making the most of every single day.”
Following her surgery, McLeod, now 35, attended the Bar Management program at the Crescent School of Gaming & Bartending in Las Vegas. Finding that the Valley’s dry climate aided her recovery, she’s stayed, and regularly returns to Florida to spend time with her children. Today, a couple of Advil and a hot bath are all she needs to recover from her shifts at Topgolf.