A Real Bummer

About thirty years ago I fell and smashed my right knee while I was ice skating with my nieces and nephews at Christmastime. I decided not to see a doctor then because it would be expensive, and I was still able to walk and resume my active lifestyle. I reasoned that there isn’t much that can be done with an injured knee anyway.

Now fast-forward to several months ago when I went for a three-mile walk on a balmy spring evening. A few days later my knee was swollen and painful, and I was unable to do many of the work and recreational activities that are a big part of my life. I nursed my bum knee on my own, thinking that it would settle down if I took good care of it. That had worked before, but this time the pain wouldn’t let up much. After a couple of months I finally made the decision to go to the clinic and have it checked out. An MRI indicated that my symptoms were due to arthritis and the doctor recommended a cortisone shot. I waited for it to take effect so I could resume my normal activities.

A week after the shot my symptoms suddenly became worse. Sometimes the pain was so terrible that I had to use a cane, but then a few days later I could get around fine. I sometimes left the cane at home or in the car, mostly because of pride and unwillingness to accept that I’m getting older. I was too self-conscious to allow myself to be seen using it. After another visit to the clinic the doctor recommended arthroscopy to clean up the knee joint and hopefully give me some relief. I decided that as long as I was having surgery I may as well have a chronic trigger finger problem on my right hand taken care of at the same time.

The first two days after surgery went better than I expected. I faithfully began exercises to help reduce the stiffness and soreness in the joints. Three days after surgery I was getting around pretty well and looking forward to getting some small tasks done around the house. When I got up off the couch that had been my little nest during recovery, my back went out. Big time. I was in more pain than the day after my surgery. I didn’t know if I should  sit, lie down, or keep moving. Nothing seemed to help, not even the pills that were prescribed to help ease the post-surgical pain. This just seemed like insult added to injury. I couldn’t kneel because of the knee, but bending over was impossible. If stayed sitting or standing I was fine, but moving from sitting to standing was excruciating.

Callie and Flash

My husband, Jim, thought that it would be good for me to move around, have a change of scenery, and get some fresh air, so he suggested that we go outside and see how the cats are doing. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to be clear that my husband doesn’t like cats. He much prefers dogs because he understands them. So it was a bit surprising to me last fall when he started to talk about how a couple of cats would help with rodent control in his shop.

Friends of ours had been feeding two strays and were worried how they would survive the winter, so we took them in.  They are a mother and daughter pair and were completely wild when we adopted them. Our friends had dubbed the mother “Callie” because she’s a calico. We named her daughter “Flash” because all we saw was a flash of orange when we let her out of the carrier the first day she arrived.

We didn’t see hide nor hair of either one for several weeks after their traumatic move. Eventually they got used to Jim banging around in the shop, and came out to watch him when he was preoccupied working on his pickup engine, or whatever the current project was. If he paid any attention to them, though, they would take off and hide again. They had made a nice little nest for themselves in a couple of old upholstered car seats that are stored on a high shelf below the shop ceiling.

I talked to them in a reassuring tone when I fed them at night after I walked the dog, and was careful not to startle them by making sudden moves. They gradually became friendlier, especially after we started to give them treats when we visited. For someone who claims to “hate cats,” Jim has been very solicitous. He feeds them, cleans up after them, and has been taking the lead on taming them. They were a little leery of us after we took them to a vet and had them spayed, but seemed to forget that ordeal after a few days. On this visit Jim pulled up a chair for me and we gave Callie and Flash treats. Jim was actually able to pet Callie, and she took the treats right out of his hand. That’s a huge step for adult cats that were wild only six months ago. I was even able to stroke both of them before we left.

While I walked on the gravel driveway with Jim on the way back to the house, I remembered how he had done something similar a long time ago by encouraging me to go outside after we’d had our first baby. I was recovering from a C-section and had started to experience postpartum blues. I felt overwhelmed at times with the responsibility that I had taken on by becoming a parent. Jim’s mother had gone home after spending two weeks helping us get settled in, and I was frightened and intimidated by the  prospect of being on my own with a new baby when Jim went back to work. Jim came inside one day and said, “how about we go outside and take a tour of the kingdom?”

It was early May, so we put the baby in a carrier and walked around to look at the fruit trees that we had planted on our small acreage. Jim is quite handy at grafting, so some of the trees had hardy crab apple roots with different varieties of eating apples grafted onto them. We dubbed one of the apple tree varieties “Prairie Pearl” because it was from a tree that grew in Jim’s mother’s garden where she threw out her compost. We had no idea what its parent variety was, but the tree was hardy and the yellow apples it yielded had good flavor. We also had planted several pear trees, some of which were grafted onto hardy root stock and others that we had purchased from a nursery. The walk outdoors and fresh air were just the medicine I needed to help me feel better about the future and start to adjust to the major change in the family that the birth of a baby brings.

These days I’m also experiencing some major transitions in my life. My children are grown and have families of their own, and I’m learning how to build relationships with them as adults. I’m enjoying the wonderful perks of being a grandmother, which can’t be overstated! However, there are some downsides to growing older, as we’re all aware, and health issues are now requiring me to make some adjustments in my lifestyle. I love to be outdoors: walking, gardening, hiking, or simply enjoying the beautiful night sky. I hope to continue those activities, but I’ll have to remember that if I overdo I probably won’t recover as quickly as I used to. Instead of long walks, I plan to do more biking. Putting in the garden this spring was tough on my knees, so I bought a little nonmotorized garden tractor with a swivel seat that I should be able to use for planting, weeding, and harvesting. I think it’s going to be fun and useful. I can’t wait to give it a try!

Jim and I have been married for just over 37 years now, and have known each other four years longer than that. One thing that I have been able to rely on throughout our life together is a partner who has been steadfast through all of those changes. Since he retired he’s been cooking most of the meals and working on the myriad projects that went unfinished during his busy years in the Extension Service. He likes to tell people that his main job now is to figure out what to have for supper, prepare it, and meet me at the door with a glass of wine when I get home at the end of the day. That works for me! I am very blessed by his love and care. Happy Fathers’ Day Hon!

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