Friday, April 15, 2016

This is What Chronic Looks Like

[Author’s note—I try to work ahead because I never know when I’ll feel lousy. This week is one of those times. Luckily I wrote the article, knit the pieces, and photographed them in advance. Today, after a two hour morning nap, I am trying to write the pattern and put everything together.]


This is What Chronic Looks Like
(but only to me and only right now.)

I don’t have, or need, a handicapped parking permit. In fact, I park far from the gym and the supermarket. Our local hospital painted some spots say, “Park here to walk farther and be healthier.” I do; plus I swim for 45 minutes a day, four days a week. I’ve lost about fifty pounds. I eat my veggies, avoid empty calories, take my vitamins, drink a lot of water.

This current, 6-month health push has helped. I smile instead of scowl when passing my reflection in the window. I can tie my shoes without sitting down first. I can sit on the floor knowing I’ll be able to get up again. And during those three or four times a day when the pain is overwhelming and I want to curl into fetal position until it passes, my body will actually bend into fetal position. 

If I take my pain pills every four hours, I can fake normal life and do everything I want to—for one day. Then I have to rest for at least two afterwards, feeling like I went on a long hike, instead of to a family party or on a long, scenic drive.

I still can’t sit through a movie or a church service without paying a price in pain. I can’t concentrate well enough to copy information from one page to another. I can recite a dozen different poems, but I won’t remember your name, not on the first try, even if I’ve known you a long time. I put my shoes on the wrong feet and try to click my front door open with my car keys.

Despite the best efforts of myself and three doctors, despite the thousands of dollars my insurance pays for the fist full of drugs I take every day, I will always have rheumatoid arthritis. My capabilities go up and down, but most things stay the same. A poem I wrote a decade ago illustrates the repetitive nature of this illness. Things haven’t changed very much.

I lie on the sofa. It’s my birthday.
Murders on cable fail to distract
from angry blood that pulses at each joint,
drives heat and pain that keep me from my work.

Murders on cable fail to distract,
neither chocolate, love, nor children can relieve
heat and pain that keep me from my work.
I live on ice packs, hot baths, Tylenol.

Neither chocolate, love, nor children can relieve
the tedium of premature old age.
I live on ice packs, hot baths, Tylenol,
sleeping pills as lovely weekend treats.

The tedium of premature old age,
fifty more years of arthritis,
sleeping pills as lovely weekend treats--
sole refuge from my body.

Fifty more years of arthritis,
of angry blood that pulses at each joint.
For refuge from my body,
I lie on the sofa. It’s my birthday.

On a less whiny note— Every year I teach my students the difference between denotation and connotation. The kid-friendly denotation of chronic is: going on and on. The connotation is always negative. If I described someone as chronically cheerful or chronically kind, you could imply that I had a problem with that person. Infinite has a similar denotation, but it’s connotation is much grander. The universe is infinite, so is God’s love. For kids (and adults) infinity is the coolest concept you ever learn in math. (Imaginary numbers come in a close second.) So, although I could be described as a chronic knitter, I chose to base my pattern on infinity. 


The pattern I have developed is an infinity scarf made from infinity symbols. This was much harder to make than I expected. Anything that can be knit can be written out on graph paper, so I drew it up and knit. However, my final result looked more like a cool diamond texture than anything anyone would recognize as infinity symbols. 

This “rough draft” was made of very nice, very pricy yarn. It is “Mountain Down Sport” from my favorite woolen mill, (They are located in Buffalo Wyoming and give free tours!) The yarn is 25% American Bison, which explains the price. Bison are wild animals. The fiber is pulled off of shedding animals that have been herded into chutes. Their is a Dirty Jobs episode about it. Since I liked the result and didn’t want to unravel it, I just put it up for sale in my shop.

For my next try, I used my own home-spun Shetland in a natural oatmeal color. This one met the goal much better. It is also for sale as is the pattern, at I am really happy with both the infinity symbols and how the yarn bloomed once it was cleaned and blocked. It is fuzzy and slightly felted. I may have to make one for myself.

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