Woe is Me

Getting older can be a pain. Actually, it’s more likely to be a variety of different pains. Some days my back pains me. Sometimes my neck pains me. Sometimes my sinuses pain me. For the past two months, my elbow has been a major source of significant pain. Then, last Friday night, my right knee started to hurting.

My self-diagnosis for the severe elbow pain, and attendant weakness of the limb, was bursitis. My self-prescription for the ailment was to give it time. My elbow and arm are now almost 100% recovered.

The knee pain was different. I woke up Saturday morning, ready to get a lot of work done here on the homestead but the knee really bothered me. I limped at first. Then it got to the point where I was stepping ahead with my left foot and dragging my straightened right leg along. It hurt too much to bend the knee. Eventually, I ended up lying on the living room carpet with zip-lock bags of ice on my knee, enduring surges of pain. After half an hour of ice, the knee felt pretty good.

So I went back to work. Before long, I was back on the floor with the ice packs. I repeated that cycle throughout the day and wondered what I had done to myself to cause such a situation.

The only thing I could come up with was that Friday afternoon, when I got home from work, I sat in a chair outside and worked on my garlic. I used an old toothbrush to help peel away the dirty outside paper wrappers on each bulb. I did this for a few hours with my elbows resting on my thighs, just above my kneecaps. Perhaps I pinched a nerve, or something like that.

Saturday night I took some Extra Strength Tylenol (something I do not like to do). I had trouble sleeping. I was shifting around in bed, holding the ice bags on different areas of my knee, and keeping Marlene awake. So I went downstairs on the couch. A couple hours later, I decided I needed a blanket. I stumbled around trying to find a blanket but could only find a tablecloth. It, and a hooded sweatshirt, sufficed. I finally got a couple hours of sleep.

Sunday morning the knee seemed a lot better. But the more I walked around, the worse it got. I applied more ice. I skipped church. Marlene told me I should go to the Urgent Care office in Skaneateles. I thought about it. But I told her that I didn’t want to go unless I got some new socks and underwear. And all I had to wear on my feet was my leather work boots. My sneakers were tattered—just right for around the garden, but not for going to the doctor. I’d have to get some new sneakers too.

Marlene laughed at me. She said, “You’re just afraid they’ll give you a prostate exam, aren’t you?” She said that to me while holding her index finger up in the air, and laughed some more. My two youngest sons (who, I’m sure, do not know what a prostate is) laughed too. One of them quipped, “Yea, maybe you’ll have to do the turn-your-head-and-cough-thing,” which brought more howls of laughter. Such a response from my family was particularly disturbing to me. I tried to keep a serious face, but I must admit, I ended up laughing too.

Finally, later in the afternoon, I asked Marlene to call and see if I could get in at the Urgent Care place. She called and found out they closed at 1:00. It was too late.

This morning (Monday), I had to go to work. I didn’t sleep well but when 5:30am rolled around I found that the knee was feeling a whole lot better. I drove to work and took it careful. But my job requires a lot of walking and there are a lot of stairs. All the knee bending was too much. I left work after three hours and drove to Urgent Care.

Believe it or not, when I was a youngster, I wanted to be a medical doctor. My grandfather and my father were doctors. I figured I would do the same. I figured that was my “calling.” But it really wasn’t, and I’m glad I figured that out early. I decided, instead, when I was around 17 years old, that I wanted to be some sort of a farmer. That never happened either.

In any event, I do not go to a doctor unless I have a problem that really, really concerns me. As a result, I don’t go to doctors very much at all. And I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor today except that my job requires it if I am going to miss work for any length of time due to sickness or injury.

My employer doesn’t put much stock in self-diagnosis and self-prescription (i.e., “give it time"). I need a note from a genuine medical doctor saying that I should not go to work until I’m better. So that’s why I went to the doctor.

I have to say that my experience wasn't bad. I got to see the doctor after waiting only 1/2 hour. The people I dealt with were pleasant and professional. The doctor listened to me describe the pain and my theory about how I had injured myself. He moved my leg and knee around and determined that I was probably right. The tendon was somehow irritated. Even still, he wanted me to get x-rays of the knee. He said that sometimes a portion of the tendon attached to the kneecap will detach and take a portion of bone with it. That sounded plausible. Nothing about a prostrate exam was suggested.

There was, however, one new problem to add to my variety of aches and pains. Before the doctor came in, a nurse took my blood pressure and temperature and such. She raised her eyebrows at the blood pressure reading. “You have high blood pressure.” She said. “How bad is it?” I responded. She turned the instrument so I could see. The numbers meant nothing to me. She informed me I’m at risk of having a stroke. She told me I should make an appointment with my doctor, soon.

Then she asked me when I had my last physical exam. I told her it was 31 years ago. She raised her eyebrows again.

Seven short years back, I was an assistant teacher in a public school. About a week before I left that job, the school nurse came around and took blood pressure readings of all the teachers. She smiled and told me mine was perfect. Then I took a job inside a maximum security state prison. It is a stressful job (I’ve written about it here). I attribute my high blood pressure to my job. It is a job that, like so many industrial-world jobs, destroys people’s health with stress. But the industrial world provides “solutions” for the affects of stress. For example, prescription drugs. There is a prescription for just about everything.

My self-prescription would be to get out of the job I’m currently enslaved to. But what would I do? I was a carpenter and home remodeler for 20+ years. I worked very hard at it. I was good at my craft. But, after helping my kids build a small “barn” on our property recently, I realize that I am not physically capable of working like I once did.

I know what I would like to do. I would like to come home, live a slower, simpler, less stressful, more earth-and-home focused lifestyle, while writing more Whizbang Books, and selling project parts. The possibility of doing that full time is not as remote as it was a couple years ago. But it is still, for now, some time in the future.

So I face the dilemma of so many wage-slave men in our culture. They are not financially able to sustain themselves (nor their families) apart from an unnatural and overly stressful industrial job. And they do not feel they are financially capable of even considering the pursuit of other occupational options. Or, as in my case, they are downright afraid to chuck a decent-paying regular job for the unknown because they have been through a season of financial hardship in the past, and they don’t want to go through that again.

God has, after all, blessed me with a good job. Hasn’t He? Some people think so. But I really don’t know.

I am left with the same options I have been pursuing for the past seven years. Continue to pray. Continue to seek God’s guidance in this matter. Continue to work at building a home business. Continue to avoid debt. Continue to try to save some money.

The good news is that the doctor gave me a note to give to my employer saying that I need to take two days off from work. This is a first for me. Two paid days off from work because I got a doctor’s excuse. And that trip to the doctor only cost me $18. I’ve got benefits, don’t you know.

So here I am, at home, sitting back in an upholstered recliner, with a fresh country breeze blowing through my patio screen door. It is quiet and stress-free here. I am relaxing, and writing, and healing, and pondering my future, with just a little angst.


foutfolk said...

My wife and I have spent some time reading your blog. About a year now actually. We are from Los Angeles and as of two month ago live in NC. We too are trying to live a more agrarian life and I have the desire to leave my teaching position once we are able to sustainably farm "for the table." You are an encouragement to me and my wife, and we appreciate your thoughts (and ramblings) about many issues we all face. Please continue to place your trust in God for He IS faithful and will fullfill the desires of your heart. As you know, that does not always look the way we want it to, but it is always what we need.

Marci said...

Oh Herrick, I understand where you are coming from. I am a self diagnoser as well. Right now, I have milk jar elbow on my right arm. =) It is from hefting gallons of milk into and out of the fridge with one arm. I am trying to rest it now, although I forget often.

When I got the bacterial meningitis 2 years ago, after I was awake again. They started pestering me about how long it had been since I had been to the doctor. I told them I couldn't remember. They said what 2 years, 4 years? I said at least 10 years. They were HORRIFIED. =)

Brian G. Heyer said...


Is self-diagnosing worse than going to the doctor over and over without cure?

As I read your description, I thought, it sounds just like my tendonitis. Except I get it in my feet and ankles. When it gets bad it feels like my ankles are splitting apart from the inside and the paid just radiates up my leg. Ugggg.
Finally I went to a podiatrist who fitted some shoe inserts. It also turns out I wasn't taking enough ibuprophen (advil, motrin, etc.). Tylenol (Acetomenophen) takes some of the edge off the pain, but doesn't knock down the swelling to eliminate the source of the pain.

If it acts up again, take 800mg ibuprophen 3x per day to knock down the swelling. Ice and elevation when it gets really bad.


Tabletop Homestead said...

Well Herrick, bless your heart. I can empathize. I bent over to look out the window a couple of weeks ago, almost went to my knees when the pain shot down my right leg, barely made it down the stairs, and spent the next 2 days in bed. I, too, had to break down and go to the doctor and the worst part is my daughter had to drive me. I even took 4 of the 6 days worth of medication he prescribed. I asked him if it would be OK if I took it with Motrin. He said "Fine." I asked him if it would be OK if I took it with Motrin and a glass of wine. He said "That's even better." He's a good old doctor. And I wasn't even doing any real work when I went down. I've often wondered about how I'm going to do the homestead work I love when I'm old. My husband and I have decided we'll work at it until we can't then we'll die.

Hope you get to feeling better.


Herrick Kimball said...

It's nice of you to post here. I sincerely appreciate your encouragement.

Hi Marcy,
It's always nice to hear from you. Meningitus is pretty serious (far more so than a sore knee). I'm glad you got through that! And I hope your milk jar elbow is better soon.

In answer to your question: No, I don't think so. You make a good point.

I never knew a person could have tendonitus of the ankle and feet. Nor have I heard of it in a knee, which is, I suppose what I'e been experiencing.

Thanks very much for the pain relieving drug advice. I will remember it if I ever go through this, or something like it, again.

Sorry to hear of your mishap.I think these little bouts with pain and sickness help to keep us humble, and thankful that it isn't worse.

Yes, I think I'll homestead until I can't and then die too. That's a fine philosophy! :-)

By the way, my knee is still tender, but it has mended remarkably well over the past two days, and I thank God for that.

I'm also thankful for a wife and children who have been helpful blessings to me in my little period of pain and distress.

As I point out in the story above, they laughed at me when I made feeble excuses why I couldn't go to the doctor, and then they all started making fun of me, but I want to make it clear that was a total aberration from their regular behavior (and it was pretty funny).

Indeed, part of the beauty of a properly functioning family is that they can love and assist when others in the family are in need. It's a beautiful thing.