|Photo taken earlier in the year of our resident Heron|
October 8, 2018
Following an afternoon of rain, a heavy fog settled over the mountain ridges that surround our home. The sun was beginning it’s decent behind the tallest of the ridges and the mist hung below its rays creating a mystical aura. The atmosphere gave me cause to pause and reflect for a moment, my spirit offering up a prayer of thanks for all that is good in a world that frequently feels as if evil might win. These moments of quiet reflection, no matter how brief, strengthen my faith as I hold fast that which is good. As I made my way from the barnyard, a bit weakened by my recent health issues and struggling to carry the awkward, heavy, bucket of milk, movement caught my eye. From out of the mist a great, blue heron rose into the air. I stood mesmerized, as I always do when I see this solitary bird, and I watched as the beautiful creature flew without effort from our meadow where he feeds from the running stream to the meadow across the road owned by the neighbor. I see the Heron from time to time and suspect that it has a nest high in the trees on that side of the road and only visits our property to look for food on occasion. I cannot explain why the presence of this bird brings me both peace and happiness, but every time I witness his presence, a calmness fills my soul and I realize that I am smiling. So often my head is down, my eyes on the ground, my brain busy trying to sort out the day’s tasks. Often, I am focused on trying to find solutions to my own difficulties or I have notions that maybe I can make sense of the universal chaos that plagues this world in which we live as mankind struggles with each other over power, each one believing their cause is justified and divinely sanctioned. Perhaps I identify with this lone bird who thrives in solitude and who looks a little awkward but has the characteristics it needs to not only survive but to thrive. The bird never seems to quite “fit in” and yet resilience, strength, and ingenuity guide this creature to adapt and make a way for itself, living a life of balance, mostly with feet on the ground, but having the ability to rise above when necessary.
This was a week filled with much solitude for me. I learned long ago not to run from these alone times but rather to embrace them. I do not fear times alone, but rather see it as an opportunity for growth. I am convinced that the uncluttering of our minds with all the outside distractions is critical for personal reflection. I am like most everyone else in that I often seek ways to distract myself so that I spend less time thinking about things that trouble me, but the truth is, until we face those things head on, they continue resurface and we never find peace. So many times it is not about sorting out the answers or finding a solution to what troubles us, but rather giving space to those feelings and just allowing them to “be” rather than trying to push them aside. Truth is, I am at a place in my life where I enjoy having Mike almost constantly either by my side or at least within the sound of my voice should I wish to communicate with him. But, these times when we are apart allow me the opportunity to address those things that I am pushing aside because I don’t want to take the time to deal with them.
Mike spent four days in Staunton/Verona trying to get a large field of hay made. We talked a couple times a day on the phone, catching each other up on happenings, and just finding comfort in the sound of each other’s voices. It’s usually difficult to have phone conversations from our house with cell phone service being so poor that most calls are dropped multiple times before a full conversation can be achieved. Most of the time if I need to make a call, I drive a mile and a half down the road to the rural, dollar store that sits in the middle of nowhere but where I can get “one bar” of service. Most of the time I don’t drop calls from there.
I made a long list of things to do while Mike was away, but promised myself that I would not stress over checking off everything on the list. I have had to be really careful not to overextend myself recently, or I end up sick and in the bed. Slow and steady was my motto, giving myself permission to stop and rest when I felt I needed it. I didn’t always follow this plan over the four-day period and one day pushed myself a little too hard. The next day I paid for it, but all in all, the four days of solitude not only provided opportunity for reflection, but also gave me uninterrupted time to check some things of my list. I wrote several letters, cut twenty pounds of cabbage and began the fermentation process for kraut, made freezer slaw, did some baking, made a large batch of bone broth, made cheese and butter, washed and hung clothes on the line, kept the plants watered, paid some bills for my grandma, kept my cow milked, made apple butter, forked manure out of the loafing shed, kept the chickens fed and watered and spent a lot of time trying to figure out where to go next with my health.
At some point, I will write in detail what is going on inside on my body, inside my mind, and what that means as far as living as practically and fully as I possibly can. At this point, I am still trying to wrap my mind around not only what I know, but also what I don’t know. I am usually not one who comes to conclusions without a struggle and processing the information and sorting the facts into something I can analyze has been a process in regards to my health. Having prided myself on making mostly good choices in regard to my health and being blessed with a strong body and the energy to accomplish my goals, this set back has brought on feelings of disbelief, fear, sadness, confusion, denial in some instances and even some guilt. I am working my way through those things while trying to take the best, practical approach to the next step in my health care. What would have been an easy decision for most has stalled me for over three weeks. My natural suspicion about doctors and my feeling that the majority of the medical profession wants to promote prescription drugs as the answer to everything instead of looking at lifestyle and nutritional modifications and treatments has left me scrambling to try to find a way that I can handle this on my own. Instead, all of my research has and the advice from others is that I need more answers before I can decide what course of action is going to be best for me.
I have a history of reoccurring health concerns as well as recent complications that lead the doctor to believe that I have IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) which is an autoimmune illness. Specific blood work that tests markers for this disease also indicated that I am at risk. The specialist I saw feels that it’s not a matter of “if” I have this illness but rather to what extreme. The biggest question at this point is whether it is Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s disease. However, there can be no definitive diagnosis until further testing is completed and that is where I have been dragging my feet. We are blessed to have all our needs met and I am in way complaining, but it has been difficult to watch as the bills from my emergency room visit and then a three-hour visit to the specialist have arrived in the mail box. We have a $7500 deductible health insurance policy because we are self-employed. A higher deductible makes our annual rates less expensive and except for one year when Mike had shoulder surgery and I had my gallbladder removed, we have never met our deductible. We also do not have prescription insurance, and the total cost of the medications that the doctor prescribed for me was over $4600. Needless to say, I didn’t get my meds. All of the financial coupled with a general mistrust of the medical profession has left me really struggling in my mind with what direction to take. I have managed my symptoms through selective eating but I know my body is not healing. I am just getting by. After really coming to grips with some of the hard, cold facts of my research and accepting the fact that the symptoms of IBD and colon cancer are often the same, I know without further testing I can’t come up with a management plan and deal with what is happening inside my body. So, after three weeks, I am finally as comfortable as I am going to be with the idea of having the endoscopy and eventually when my inflammation is less severe, a colonoscopy to determine exactly what is wrong with me. Mike (who has a greater distrust of doctors than I do) is supportive of my decision.
The inflammation manifests itself in ways other than IBD, and I finally have an answer (although not an official diagnosis) as to the sciatic pain and stiffness that I have been experiencing and have been treated by Chiropractors off and on for the last ten years. Sometimes, people with an autoimmune, inflammatory condition associated with IBD will also have arthritic conditions in different parts of their body (as well as inflammation of the eyes). Now that my intestines are somewhat under control with a selective diet (eating the same foods over and over again that I know my body won’t reject), I am dealing with the most intense pain that I have ever dealt with in my hips. I am only able to sleep a few hours at a time and I am constantly moving to try to find a comfortable position whether it is day or night.
I am still able to look at the positive and to be thankful for all the things I am able to do. I am still milking my cow every day and that is important to me. I am still spending many hours in the kitchen and that makes me happy. I am slowing down with fatigue and pain and requiring naps during the day but I have hope that I will get answers and get the inflammation into remission so that I can resume most, if not all, of the activities and lifestyle that I love. I am trying to lay to rest the fears that this might be more than IBD and looking at the tests as a positive next step that will potentially rule out colon cancer and give me a clear-cut diagnosis which will present me with the opportunity to plan my health care towards my specific needs.
Aside from the physical aspects of this illness, there is the issue of mental sluggishness or “brain fog”. There have been times in the last few months when I thought I might be losing my mind and my cognitive abilities. I have had crazy “accidents” because I just can’t pull my thoughts together. This has made it difficult at times to do the things I need to do. I can also see where it has affected my journaling and my writing. I am struggling now to get things down in my journal and were it not so important to me, I would just abandon it for a while. However, I feel the need to push through and write what I can. It’s not exactly how I want it to be, these words that I am writing. They are not coming together to express exactly how I feel or to provide the detail of my day to day existence that I enjoy putting into words. I struggle twice as long to write a descriptive paragraph, sitting for long periods of time just trying to remember a specific word that I want to use. I am not used to that. I am used to writing quickly and with passion. But, I am thankful that I am still writing, still living, still loving, and still enjoying life.
This is a new journey for me but it will hold lots of learning experiences and I will find my way with the help of my husband, my family, my friends, my church, my Creator and my own passion for life. That lone Heron rising out of the mist brings a tear to my eye and fills my heart with just enough hope to believe that whatever happens, it will be all right.