It’s a rainy day here at the Farm. The skies are dark, and it’s cold and damp…and my body aches. I have thought about writing this entry for many months, but whenever I sit and try to put words to paper, my muse fails me and my mind goes blank. Perhaps it’s because this blog I call “Me and the Man..” has always been about just that…me, the Man and this life we have created called The Farm. It’s not about just one of us, only one of our horses or chickens, and even though she may be worthy of her own blog, it’s not just about Miss Sassy, the resident queen donkey. It’s a joint effort that brings us joy, and I like to share that with others who like to take time out of their day to read about our day. For me to sit and talk about me, and the struggles that I face every day, is very difficult. I’ve grown old and wizened enough to know that life isn’t just about me, and I try every day to make sure that others come first in every way. The Man will tell you that I rarely complain about physical pain, but when I do, it’s usually pretty bad, and if I then stop talking about it, it’s probably gotten worse. But I’ve come to learn that keeping quiet isn’t always the best policy, and that sometimes sharing the bad with the good is a better balance for the soul. For my soul.
In February of 2008, The Man and I were in Honduras, participating in what would become our last trip with a group of doctors and nurses providing care to a population in desperate need of medical help and attention. We worked long days providing surgeries for various maladies to the local and very poor mountain village people, and we collapsed with exhaustion each night. In previous trips, we had never had any spare time or days off, but this time we did have a free day, and the Man and I spent it at a local orphanage. We brought food and sweets to pass around, and spent hours with the children that lived there. When we weren’t playing soccer, swinging, telling stories or playing tag, the children were very excited to show us where they lived and what their daily lives were like. We toured their sleeping quarters, with dozens of bunk beds filling the sparsely decorated rooms. We shared a meager meal with them in the large dining hall packed with wobbly picnic tables, and for desert, we all enjoyed the large cakes that we had brought with us. The young boys were eager to show us the large flock of chickens that provided them with eggs and meat. It was an amazing day filled with laughter and piggy back rides, and when the day ended there were lots of hugs, and even a few tears. I had particularly bonded with one young boy, and he held my hand as we walked to the end of the long dirt road where our cab waited. He hugged me tight, and cried in my arms, not understanding why he could not leave with us. My heart was broken for him, and as we drove away, I knew that this day, those children, and this young boy would all have a lasting impact on my life. Little did I know at the time just how lasting that would be.
The next day, completely drained physically and mentally from the past week, we started the long journey back home to the Farm. By the time we arrived, I was sick with what we assumed was some sort of flu, most likely caught from someone on the plane. I became sicker by the day, and for nearly a month, no doctor could figure out was wrong. By the time I was admitted to the hospital, my organs were on the brink of shutting down, and I could feel Death’s cold fingers reaching for me. Finally, Typhoid Fever (a more serious form of salmonella) was determined to be the culprit, and after nearly a week cooped up in a tiny room hooked up to all sorts of machines, I was sent home to finish recovering. The only remaining question was how I had contracted food poisoning in the first place. It was the Man that had the answer. The young boy that had wept in my arms when we left the orphanage had also spent a great deal of time riding my shoulders, with his hands using my face for balance. It was this same boy that with his friends had helped to slaughter the chickens that morning that we had eaten for lunch. And it was pretty safe to assume he hadn’t washed his hands between the beheadings and his ride on my shoulders. Mystery solved! I was on the mend, and life would go on as before. But no…it did not.
A few weeks later, I still did not feel right, and my body still ached, specifically various joints. I was also battling what I thought was a bladder infection, as well as incredible pain in my eyes. The pain in my knees hobbled me to the point of needing a cane to walk, and only the darkest of rooms eased the pain and pressure in my eyes. Severe depression entered my life, and it became increasingly difficult to continue working at the group home I was managing. My physician at the time didn’t seem to believe that all of my symptoms were real, and at one point threatened to admit me to a psychiatric unit for what she thought was the “real” issue. True to form, I gave up trying to explain to anyone what I was going through, and stopped complaining. Only the Man saw me struggle every day, and finally one night, an obscure illness that he had read about in medical school popped into his mind. It was soon determined that the severe food poisoning that had nearly cost me my life had left me with a condition known as Reiter’s Syndrome. Knowing (and proving) that it wasn’t all in my head was, of course, an immense relief, and I was filled with hope that soon my days of physical and mental pain were nearly over.
Having Reiter’s Syndrome means my immune system has been damaged, and if I get something as simple as a splinter in my thumb, my body goes into overdrive to attack it, and will also attack anything in it’s way, specifically all of my joints, my eyes, and my urinary system. The new, politically correct name for it is Reactive Arthritis, since our good Dr. Reiter ended up being a Nazi war criminal. Informally, it’s known as the “Can’t pee, can’t see, can’t climb a tree” syndrome. On any given day, one of the three symptoms keeps me company, but every once in awhile, they all strike at once. When they do, you can pretty much count me out for a week or so, mentally and physically. For the most part, though, the average Joe on the street wouldn’t know. I have a slight limp, but I am very aware of it, and most likely only the Man notices. The strength in my hands are a daily challenge, and some mornings, I cannot lift my coffee cup. I’ve tried a variety of medications to help keep the arthritis at bay, but like most drugs, some work, some don’t, some make me sick, and some have side effects that make me question taking them in the first place. But regardless of whether or not they work, or how strong the pain is, this place we call the Farm does not take care of itself. Horses, donkeys, dogs, and chickens all need tending to, and summer brings more than I can handle with gardens, lawns, fence mending…the list goes on. There is no rest, at least until Winter arrives, which allows me to slow down a little.
Some might wonder why I share this part of my life, and to be honest, I’m not comfortable with it. I share because there are others who live this secret life as well, and understand the struggle, then maybe they won’t feel as alone in their pain. Life can be good despite it all. I have one friend, a young lady, who is one of the bravest people I know. She has been suffering with arthritis her entire young life, but she never gives up, never lets it get her down. She has no way of knowing how much of an inspiration she is to me, but I think of her whenever I am at my lowest. Her story, her struggle, her determination to not give up…it lifts me up and pushes me forward. If my story can help inspire others the way hers does for me, then this is why I share.
There is one other person that I think of whenever my hands have no strength, when I cannot hide the limp or when my eyes hurt so bad that I wear sunglasses indoors. It’s been 8 years since he cried in my arms, and by now he is a young man. I often wonder if he recalls that day, and if he knows the roll that he has played in my life. Some might point out that if we hadn’t visited the orphanage that day, I would not be burdened with this disease, and they would be right. Do I regret sharing the day with him. Absolutely not, and if I could go back and perhaps forgo the shoulder rides in order to have avoided all of this, I wouldn’t. My path is my path, and it matters not how I got here. What matters is that for one day, that young boy, and others like him, felt that they mattered, and that someone cared enough to spend time with them. If I had a thousand lives to live, each one would include a visit to that orphanage, and each would be full of laughter, soccer, shoulder rides, and cake. And chickens…