A chewer of pinesap

Last week for no known reason, the pain in my shoulders went away for the first time in four years, and the fire in my shinbones eased up too. How sweet it was to sleep without being continually awakened by pain. “Oh, boy,” I exulted, “I can finally get caught up with my work.”

To that end, I built a 24-foot (7.3 meter) ladder out of 2x4s, and got three people to help me raise it to the first limb of my Ponderosa Pine. I then spent part of two days in the top of the Ponderosa removing limbs that overhung the house. I would first tie them to the trunk, and, after they were severed, move down the trunk cutting them into small sections that I then dropped to the ground. I went to bed each night happier than I’ve been in years as I anticipated continuing my work the next day despite that fact that my muscles are so atropied that the job was far harder than when I last did it.

I wasn’t through with my work on the third day, but Peggy wanted to wash the outside of the house—another long neglected job—with rags and brushes, and I felt obligated to help. This job occupied part of three days, and we finished it yesterday. Last night, the fire returned to my shinbones, and my shoulders hurt so much that sleep was impossible even with ice and narcotics. We still have a fence and a storage shed to wash, plus I left my ropes and tools high in the tree so I wouldn’t have to hoist them up again. I’m hoping the pain will ease up enough that I can at least retrieve them before it rains on Sunday.

You might point out that I took on too much too fast, and I won’t argue with that, but I’m as hungry for work as a man who hasn’t eaten in weeks is hungry for food. Work gave me purpose, and enabled me to feel that I earned the food I put in my mouth. During my years in pain, I could still attend to business and was eventually able to do light housework. More recently, I’ve even been able to do yard work, but hard and challenging labor was what I most loved and craved, and it is also what Peggy is the least able to do. She often urged me to hire various jobs done so that they would at least have gotten done, but that would have represented so great a failure that I would have been hard pressed to bear it.

While I was in the tree, I chewed pinesap, and its sweetness and the joy I took in my work are still fresh in my memory. I can but hope that I’m able to return to them soon.

Baxter's not the only one with problems

Peggy had an ovarian cancer scare last month after her yearly physical, but blood tests, two ultrasounds, and a visit to a surgical gynecologist made it seem unlikely. The only way to rule cancer out completely would be an ovariectomy, but her surgeon recommended against it. Peggy had initially said, “Get this thing out of me!” but she trusted her doctor enough to leave it in.

Yesterday, I went to my orthopedist, Mark (see photo), because my own pain has been through the roof lately. Of the many narcotics I’ve tried, I still have a good supply of Vicodin, Norco, Percocet, and Demerol, but none of them help much, and they sometimes make me very ill. I also have the sleeping pills Ambien, Lunesta, Restoril, and Dalmane, all of which work better than the narcotics.

When I go to a doctor, I usually give him a written overview of why I am there, and what I want done. Mark usually does everything I ask. Yesterday, he gave me a steroid shot in my left shoulder, a prescription for Tramadol (a painkiller), and a humongous prescription for the sleeping pill Dalmane (Dalmane is so good that I call it "The Great God Dalmane.") He also agreed to hyaluronate injections (a joint lubricant).

I love Mark. If there were only one thing that I could counsel you to do if you should need surgery, it would be to find a surgeon whom you trust technically and as a caring human being. I’ve had the uncaring kind twice, and I promise you, if you don’t like your surgeon before surgery (no matter how good everyone says he is), you will want to murder him after surgery when you are overwhelmed with pain and despair, and he doesn’t give a rip. I can’t overemphasize the importance of having a good rapport with your doctor. The following is what I wrote for Mark yesterday.

“Pain in my left shoulder still awakens me many times each night and requires ice. Pain in my right shoulder also continues to be a problem. At times, it bothers me almost as much as the left. Bilateral shoulder pain in combination with bilateral knee pain has made both hiking and handyman projects disagreeable if not impossible.

“I saw a pain specialist in April due to shoulder pain and to sunburn-like pain in both shins. My internist said I had Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome, but the pain specialist suspected syringomyelia, and prescribed Neurontin and Tofranil. They helped the shin pain but did nothing for the shoulder or knee pain.

“I am here to get your thoughts about the continued left shoulder pain in particular, and a recent and severe increase in pain in both knees and both shoulders.

“I would also like to discuss alternatives for pain relief. The narcotics I’ve tried don’t help much, and they make me itch too much to sleep. Sleeping pills continue to be my best option—especially Dalmane—but the pain still awakens me ten times or more times each night.

“I read that Tramadol is sometimes used for moderate to severe arthritic pain, and would like to try it. Ultrasound is another option, but I haven’t found anyone who uses it, and my PT said the home units are a waste of money. I would also like to talk about hyaluronate injections—read the enclosed info at your convenience.

“I’m wondering if steroid shots might also help, although I’ve had mixed results from them in the past. I’m especially concerned about any harm they might do to joints.

“I’m now more open to the possibility of partial shoulder replacements, although I had rather pursue any reasonable option before agreeing to a joint replacement.

“In the last nine days, I’ve intentionally lost four pounds to make things easier on my knees, and I’m experimenting with a gluten-free diet. Other ideas would be appreciated.”

I need to stop answering comments for now

I need to stop responding to comments regarding my last post because, after what I wrote to KJ, I realized that my heart is closed. A closed heart doesn’t necessarily preclude honesty, but it sure as hell precludes compassion and respect.

We took Baxter to the vet yesterday—on his eleventh birthday—about a persistent cough. X-rays showed that the cause is most likely lung cancer. Our choices suck. We can do our best to make his remaining time comfortable, or we can put him through a lot of suffering, ourselves through a lot of anguish, and spend untold thousands of dollars and probably lose him anyway.

I’ve never been much good at compartmentalizing my emotions. Yesterday at the vet’s, Peggy had tears in her eyes, yet she was able to listen closely and ask intelligent questions. Yesterday at the vet’s, I stood to one side with a blank expression on my face. After the word cancer, I was too consumed by fear and grief to listen.

Say what you will, much of life is lose/lose. Much of life is about making the best of the worst.

I wrote the second half of my blog entry yesterday after the vet visit. Maybe I should have written it at another time, not because I don’t believe every word of it, but because I lack tact when I’m hurting.

I had rather see entire nations perish than to lose one of my dogs. That’s not an admirable thing to say, maybe, but it too is true.

Sic semper tyrannis

Doyd was 92. Whenever I phoned, his wife would answer and tell him it was me. “Hello, my friend,” he would say as my heart leaped for joy. Well, that’s over. Never again.

I would hate funerals anyway, but I hate them a lot more when they’re religious funerals, and Doyd’s was about as religious as they get. Did the pastor actually believe that all of Doyd’s friends were conservative Christians, or did he just not care? Was that why he opened the service by saying, “We are gathered to proclaim Christ crucified…” [Silly me, I thought we were “gathered” to bury Doyd.] And is that why everyone was instructed to recite the Lord’s prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed, and to make other Christian professions of belief? It’s one thing for someone like myself to have to remain silent through an occasional avowal of faith, but I had to remain silent through the entire service because there was literally nothing that I could repeat in good conscience.

I think that being an atheist is like being deaf in that people don’t make a point of excluding you, but you are excluded just the same. In America, I am excluded every time the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, or “God Bless America” is sung, or prayers are said at otherwise secular events, or my fellow jurors take an oath with one hand upon a Bible, or I am taxed to support religious groups, or I am forced to use currency that contains a statement of religious belief. At every turn, I am expected to either participate in religious ritual, or to remain respectfully silent during religious ritual.

To better understand how this feels, imagine that all of this worship was directed at Allah. How would YOU (I’m assuming that I have no Moslem readers) feel about saying “One Nation Under Allah,” as part of the Pledge of Allegiance, or watching your president take the oath of office on a Koran? How would you feel if your money contained the words “In Allah We Trust,” or your tax dollars went to Moslem clergymen and Moslem charities? When you attended a city council meeting and was instructed to kneel toward Mecca, would you be okay with that, and would you instruct those who complained that they should “live and let live,” which is how some of you have instructed me?

There is no cow more sacred in this culture than a respect for religion, yet there is no corresponding obligation on the part of the religious to respect those of us who hold opposing views. And, to tell you the truth, I think this whole thing about respecting one another’s religion is just so much politically correct hypocrisy anyway because each of them thinks that they’re at least a shade closer to god than the rest, and even this is only true for the ones who don’t think the rest are going to hell in a hand-basket.

This situation in Florida where a preacher is planning to burn Korans on September 11. No matter what you think about whether that’s a good idea, tell me this. Do you respect Islam? Government officials are forever assuring us that Islam is a “religion of peace,” yet every time I turn around, Moslems all over the world are doing the same thing that Christians all over the world used to do (and will probably do again someday), which is to say that they resort to intimidation and murder when they don’t get their way. Truly, there is no complaint too trivial to inspire them to violence, and I don’t just mean one or two nutcases—I mean millions of nutcases.

Indeed, it is precisely because Islam is anything but a religion of peace that the U.S. government is putting so much pressure on that preacher to call off his book burning. For my part, I hope he goes through with it. Let’s put the cards on the table. Let’s show everyone who is naïve enough to maintain any illusion about the peacefulness of Islam exactly what happens when a citizen of the United States exercises his Constitutional right to burn any book he pleases. I would just like to see him throw in a few Bibles and top the pile off with an American flag and assorted other symbols of tyranny. If god doesn’t like it, then how about letting god stand up for himself for a change? He has been allowing his representatives on earth to murder one another to no avail for thousands of years, so how about we all step aside and give him a chance to get off his duff, and, well, if he can’t get off his duff, then, just maybe, he has no duff. Just maybe, he’s not even real.