Sunday, October 26, 2008

Who I am

I know that there are many, many people in much worse pain than I.

I know that many of them also have challenging home situations: small children to care for and sick spouses to care for or ones who are not supportive.

What I write below is not a comparison. It's not meant to say I am better or worse than anyone else. I'm just stating who I am.

And I'm not sure how I got this way. But I suspect it is from over 35 years of hard work on western ranches. During that time, I not only "broke colts" and trained horses, but I bucked hay bales in from the field, stacking them into barns; I fixed fence and dug post holes; I worked at squeeze chutes and head catches doctoring cattle; I "calved out" cows, helping those in need with the process. I walked through the dark with a flashlight checking for cows in trouble during calving season. I drove truck and hauled horses. I drove draft teams. I rode lawn mowers and tractors. I cleaned the boss' house. I led out trail rides and I taught kids and dudes to ride.

I cleaned stalls and hauled feed. I did not ask a man to do what I needed done, unless it was welding or fixing a truck. I doctored spooky, wild horses when they wanted to kill me. I worked with calves to suck on new mamas who wanted to murder both the calf and me. I rode high mountain trails to find cattle and busted through brush far past where the trail ended.

Through it all, I learned instinctively to push past pain, cold, hot, tired, sick. To push past hard and sometimes to push past impossible. If a rattlesnake was in the way, I killed it. If a big rock was in the way, I moved it. My back was strong, my arms sinewy.

If it was 112 degrees outside, if the job had to be done, I still kept on.

If the temperature was 20 below or lower, with the wind blowing, it did not matter. I just put on more layers.

If I cut myself and was bleeding, I did not head to the emergency room. I kept working. One time, my husband was cutting down trees to build fence and I was pushing one as he cut it down, to make it fall a certain direction. His chainsaw bucked out of the cut and cut across my right knee. I have a 4 inch scar to prove it.

He looked up at me after seeing the tattered state of my jeans at the knee and blood starting to flow. I looked back at him, still pushing on the tree, and told him to finish the job. I never went to the ER for that. I never sewed it up. It healed on its own wonderfully.

I was no different than most ranch folks. This is how they work and live. Environment, equipment, animals, weather all pose challenges every day. If you only worked when conditions were perfect, you would never work. It was always either too dry, too hot, too wet, too cold.

And quite honestly, if I felt I had the flu or a bad cold, getting out on a horse would usually stir up enough endorphins that I felt better. I wrote a poem about this, called "Lure of the Leather." The last verse says,

"So you ask, why do I go when there is bad weather,
When I'm tired and weak and not feeling well.
But it's the lure of the lone woods, the draw of the leather,
And those places I've seen of which I cannot tell."

Now, there is today. Today, I can do virtually none of these things.

But still, I am that person. So, in my small way, I see how I operate. Today got me to thinking about it. I'm folding clothes from the dryer and I take stock of how I am feeling. My legs are throbbing and painful and weak. My feet are hurting. My arms are the worst, they are burning and tingling from the repetitive action of folding clothes. All over and throughout my body, I feel like the flu in a way, painfully weak (sorry to keep repeating this, it is the best to describe it all), burning, tingling itchy arms from spinal cord impingement in my neck, thighs that hurt as if I am having the worst day of period (though I am long past that), burning and often stabbing pain at the back of my head. What am I doing, having just made a peach cobbler, made beds, put the dishes into the dishwasher and wiped the counters, gotten dressed, and now folding clothes?

I have to think if I were, as I should be, somewhat normal, I'd surely be in bed. If I were not in chronic spinal cord pain and this sort of feeling suddenly came on, I'd be down to the ER in a split second. But there is no need to go, since this is how I feel every second of the day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

If I were only going to get things done when everything was perfect, I would not exist.

I know this speaks to so many who are reading this. I hope one of the things I can still do is to put words to what you feel and deal with. Because I certainly did not understand chronic pain until I began to go through it.

And anyway, just like that ride on a damn good horse up over the far ridge, maybe folding the clothes is stirring up a few endorphins.

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