I’m sitting in my giant overstuffed leather chair in the living room. It’s the one that makes me feel like a little girl when I sit in it. It’s oddly comforting. If I sit with my tailbone all the way back against the back cushion, my feet don’t quite touch the floor. OK, I’ll admit it. I’m pretty short and getting shorter.
Mr. Wren started the logs burning sluggishly in the wood stove before he came to bed at 1ish this morning, so there’s one thin flame licking up around the new splits I just chunked in on top of the smoldering, partially burned wood that was left over from the night’s fire. It must have been burning pretty well while I was sleeping, though, because it’s about 64 in here, rather than the usual 58 if the fire has burned down. The fan comes on periodically still; soon, because of the flames in there, which will grow, it will start blowing warm air into the room continuously. I asked him to make the fire because I didn’t want to be cold this morning and I’d had trouble when I tried to make it myself a couple of nights ago. The wood simply wouldn’t catch. The weather has been unseasonably warm, in the 50s and low 60s during the day, so I just bundled up instead.
But my hands have been aching, off and on, with arthritis for the last month, and much worse in the last week or so in spite of having gotten Vicodin from Rapid Care last Sunday. And the cold makes them ache harder and with far more intensity, so I’m grateful to Mr. Wren for the relative warmth in the house this morning. Right now my hands only feel like they have mild headaches. I have not lost any mobility in them this go-round. So far. Because of my past struggles with arthritis, when it often immobilized me and made me groan with the most intense and miserable pain, this lesser pain makes me nervous. In the past, flares often started small and grew big and overwhelming.
Distracting myself from the pain is helpful. I used to read all the time. Now I type on the computer and read on the screen, which requires more of my hands. Fortunately, I’ve been stocking up on books the last several years, anticipating the return of the active disease. I always knew I wasn’t over it, only enjoying a long remission. And I was never complacent about it. I appreciated the fact that I was getting up each day without pain in my feet or in any of my joints. I could move freely, live normally. I reminded myself frequently to be mindful, and to remember what the active disease had been like so I could more appreciate its remission. Because, you know, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Now it looks like its shifting back into an active phase in my body. I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m strong and ready to deal with it.
An hour later: I’m comfortable. The wood in the stove is blazing, the fan is blowing. I have my warm, goosedown lap blanket over my legs. The cat is curled into his round cat-bed on the leather love seat caddy-corner to me. He spends his days, when I’m home, either on my lap or snoozing as near to me as he can get while maintaining a high comfort level. Comfort is his reason for living. I’m taking lessons from him.
And later still: I just finished making breakfast. Mr. Wren is going to a Master Gardener class this morning, and then out to listen to “frog calls” with the American River Conservancy. He may be 6’3” and weigh nearly 250 pounds, but I can imagine him doing this, a goofy grin on his face as he leans on his cane and learns the difference between a tree frog’s chirp and a pond frog’s burp. The value of this knowledge, for a retired, disabled postal service employee, is debatable. But it makes him happy, which is good for him and, since the liquid shit of a bad mood always trickles downhill, good for me. He’ll be out all day long without much of a break between events, so I’m feeding him well now. Of course, neither of us would die if we went completely without meals for a week, but Mr. Wren has got himself so trained to feel rotten when his belly is empty that I generally cook for him out of self-defense.
I think the idea in writing this was to hand-write and do it all at once – three pages, handwritten – in a sort of run-on here I am here’s what’s happening sort of style. Well, I don’t like handwriting, particularly when my hands ache. And doing it all at once is easier said than done. So I’ll just do this stream-of-consciousness, I’m-here-now-writing exercise in my own way. Being comfortable.
It’s darkish in here. Shadowy, with nice yellow light from the lamp, which is on the round oak table tucked into the corner made by my chair and the loveseat. I don’t like bright light; it bothers my eyes and makes them tired. I squint a lot in bright light. That could be part of my animosity for summertime. It’s bright for so long each day. The sun is always in my eyes.
I’m facing the slider. Outside is the north patio (that sounds sort of grand, doesn’t it? North Patio?) It’s really just a narrow patio of big, cracked, old, square cement pavers bounded by a cedar retaining wall that’s shot through with wood-bee tunnels. After three-and-a-half decades of weathering rain, snow, summer sun and wood bees while holding back the steep side of the hill, the wall is tipped drunkenly at the top and missing in spots. Moss has grown in places on the cement. Mr. Wren built a big cedar arbor, which is now heavy with wisteria vines, between the patio and the walkway along the north side of the house. There’s an unkempt garden bed on one side of the walk and, above the retaining wall, what I call the “hedgerow” on the other. The hill slopes up sharply above the retaining wall to our neighbor Hal’s property. Many years ago – probably the same 35 years that is the age of our house and the retaining wall – he planted cedar trees along the edge of his driveway. As they grew large, he started lopping the tops off the trees, so they grew out but not up very much. Their long roots now keep the whole hill from tumbling into my kitchen and living room. Thank you, Hal.
To stave off erosion on the hill, the first owners of my house planted flowering vinca, which is a thick growing, insidious and deeply rooted ground cover. It’s beautiful and green in the winter, fades a lot and wilts under the intense summer sun (but survives by tapping the ground water in China) and blooms with small, simple, purple-blue flowers from spring through autumn. Mr. Wren hates it because it takes over everything if it’s left alone. I like it because it’s pretty and it can be left alone. And now, among the lopped cedars and thick vinca, there grow blackberry brambles and grape vines, volunteer cherry trees and a myriad of tough weeds. It looks like a dense tangle, and it is. Within the protection of the spiny blackberry canes and beneath the cool of the cedar branches that form the hedgerow live wrens, towhees and alligator lizards, opossums and nuthatches. Bluebellies sun along the top of the wall in the summer and butterflies weave through the peeping flowers like intoxicated Lotharios among virgins at a dance. There are darker creatures living in the hedgerow, too – black widow spiders, rats and nests of ground-dwelling yellowjackets. But every good thing comes with some bad as a balance. I love the hedgerow in its entirety.
It’s gray today. When I got up, the cement on the patio was dark and wet. Rainpearls hung on the branches, leaves and pine needles of the plants and trees, and glittered with porchlight in the hedgerow. The gutter along the edge of the roof gurgled. It hasn’t actually rained any more since I got up at 6 (it’s a few minutes after 9 now) but it’s still damp and gray out there. I like it; I’m not ready for spring and summer to start yet. Both are such long, long seasons here. I wear sunglasses from mid-March to mid-November.
I have a single dose of Vicodin left from the prescription for pain in my hands the doctor gave me on Sunday, but I don’t want to go back to Rapid Care for another prescription. I fear they’ll mark me down as a pain-pill junkie and start refusing me, even though I’m in pain and my last prescription was seven months back. I understand their caution even as it frustrates me. I wish medical science could come up with a painkiller that really did ease nagging, severe pain without narcotics. I’ll admit to being one of those people who enjoys the gentle high that comes with the cessation of pain, but I’m not an abuser. Oh, well. With luck this current flare in my hands will go any time now. The flares always come on suddenly and go just as suddenly. Each day I wake up hoping … but then, there it is.
I guess I’ll save that last dose of painkiller until later in the day. The pain is always worse then, and I’ll appreciate the partial easing of it more. Vicodin doesn’t have much of an effect on me. Tylenol 3 always worked a lot better, but since I’ve been back in the States, no doctor has ever prescribed that for pain relief. So I’ll take what I can get, which is Vicodin. And for now I’ll take 800 mgs of Ibuprofen three times a day, like the doctor told me to. It won’t touch the pain directly, but it might, over time, reduce the inflammation that causes it. I wish the doctors also could just prescribe the narcotics, which do relieve the pain, in sufficient quantity and without concern about being busted by the government. I have this theory, you see, that when you can relieve the pain for a while, the muscles around the joints can relax, allowing the joints which are tight and sore to rest, too, and that helps to relieve the inflammation that causes the pain of arthritis in the first place. They say painkillers only treat symptoms. I disagree. Pain begets pain in a vicious cycle. But narcotic painkillers are seen as bad in our society. Why is this?
It seems to me that the government prefers its populace to remain in enough constant pain to be gulled into paying for ever-more- expensive, fancy superdrugs (which still do not work particularly well and sometimes cause even bigger medical problems) made by huge pharmaceuticals for a monster profit. They, in grateful reciprocation, keep the government in Scottish golf vacations, cocktail wienies and yachts. I’m just enough of a libertarian to be incensed that the government feels just fine about pushing alcohol on us – with all of its terrible effects on individuals, families and society at large – but won’t allow people with chronic, untreatable pain to get narcotic pain relievers without feeling like criminals. Even marijuana might help, but that’s illegal too.
There’s something wrong with this picture.
Ibuprofen, that old workhorse, has never worked in relieving my arthritis in the past. But I’m trying it again on the strength of hope and the fact that Ibuprofen is cheap and I don’t need a prescription for it. Lacking health insurance, such amenities are precious.
Well, I’ve managed to fill up most of three pages, typewritten instead of handwritten, just talking about where I am in the here and now. Unfortunately, it’s mostly about pain. But I’ve decided to go ahead and post this on Blue Wren, anyway. There’s nothing in Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write that says I have to keep this first writing exercise private if I choose not to – and I choose not to. I hope all three of you, my faithful readers, won’t be too bored.