Sunday, February 19, 2012

Early warning

My grandmother was a consummate gardener. She was also a woman of strong opinions, given to pithy and somewhat acerbic comments. I remember as a child hearing her say, with some passion, “Getting old ain’t for sissies!” I have come to believe she was right.

Like my grandmother, I am a gardener and I tend a large garden. My husband built it, a lovely series of raised beds and terraces flowing down a hillside. It is a joy and a privilege to have this vast playground in which to experiment, labor and create. I’m afraid my other responsibilities have sometimes been shirked during the season as I would spend 8 hours of the day out there immersed in the beauty and the demands.

Being in the garden can be a spiritual experience. It is hard for me to separate gardening from God; He is everywhere I look. God tells us that His invisible qualities-His eternal power and divine nature-are clearly seen, being understood from what He has created, and so it is. From the intricate beauty of individual flowers, to the power of the windstorms, to the green nubs of perennials that poke up in early spring promising renewal, God’s incredible creativity and His authority over His creation are constantly demonstrated to me.

Late winter is, counter intuitively, a busy time for a gardener here in the Pacific NW. Leftovers from last year which remain for the benefit of the birds or perhaps for winter interest must be trimmed back. The beds must be cleaned and tidied up in preparation for a blanket of mulch. The mulch will moderate temperature fluctuations in the soil as we head into spring and avert the takeover being planned by shot weed lurking in the shadows. We use about 20 yards of good compost to make a 3-6” blanket over all our beds.

I am not someone who enjoys exercise, but I love gardening so much that I use an elliptical in the off season so I’ll be ready for late winter. In January of 2010 I noticed that, despite my resolve to stay fit, I was moving very slowly. I was only able to work a few hours a day and then I’d be exhausted. I presumed that in a month or so I’d have gotten back into shape and up to speed.

Instead, the fatigue continued and I noticed that I was having a lot of joint pain, especially in my hands, wrists and-most annoying-elbows. I coincidentally had a conversation with a friend, a Master Gardener, who had been recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She mentioned that the symptom that drove her to seek a diagnosis was pain in the elbow joints.

I visited my doctor for a physical and explained about the fatigue and joint pain. I have a history of infrequent migraines, but I’d been having some headaches that were different-sort of localized, severe but short lived and recurring. He ordered all the standard lab tests and I asked him to include a rheumatology panel-just to eliminate the possibility that I had RA or some other joint pain disorder. It turned out that my sedimentation rate (ESR)  was elevated-although not dramatically. Zero-20 is considered normal; mine was 50. An elevated sed rate can mean almost anything-inflammation from a cold, overworked muscles-or auto immune disease.

My physician was not concerned about the sed rate but he is very collaborative. My daughter is an MD and she felt that since I was over 50 years old and I was also having unusual headaches that I should take the time to see a rheumatologist and rule out temporal arteritis. So, I obediently made an appointment with the rheumatologist for 3/02/10.

For pictures of my garden see my garden blog:
Scripture reference: Romans 1:19-20

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