Monday, July 21, 2014

Update on everything!

Yikes! July is already more than half done! My knee has finally improved enough that I am able to do about 80% of what I normally can do, which is really great news for me and everyone else here.

My baby daughter has flown the coop big time! Even though she had been at the University of Illinois for the past two years, that was less than two hours away. On Friday she moved all the way to Ft. Collins to begin work on her Ph.D. at Colorado State.

And here are a few pictures of things happening around the farm....

We have been teaching Tinker the yearling lady llama to lead, and she is doing splendidly! I never dreamed I would ever have a llama as friendly as her. Most are quite aloof, but Tinker is a true sweetheart, loving attention ...

We just moved the youngest batch of chickens out of the barn and into their bottomless pen (a.k.a. chicken tractor) ...

And the ducklings that hatched a month ago are growing so fast ...

Hope to get another update out before another month passes!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Updates around the farm

Life moves on around here at lightening speed this time of year, regardless of whether anyone is injured or sick or if something gets broken.

I am happy to say that Charlotte is doing very well. She came home the day I slipped and fell in the bathroom, so I have not been able to spend any time with her as it was rather challenging for me to walk more than a few steps after falling and landing on my knee. Mike and the girls took Charlotte's boys out to see her after she got back, but no one seemed to recognize anyone. The kids were only a day and a half old when Charlotte was taken to the University, and she stayed there for a week, so I knew it would be asking for a little miracle for them to recognize each other, but I wanted to at least try. So, the boys are drinking goat milk from a bottle.

Speaking of my knee, I went to the ortho doc a week after falling again, and he talked me into a cortisone injection. After the injection, he said that he would expect it to flare up and get worse for a couple of days. It did flare up, but unfortunately, it lasted for more than two or three days. It is improving a little now, a full week after the injection, but I am still unable to do anything without it swelling up even worse. Physical therapy is supposed to start next Wednesday, but I am not terribly hopeful unless the swelling goes down.

Silver fir tree tomato plant at sundown

We are still planting in the garden, and we are not being helped by a rabbit or two (or five) that is eating bedding plants or newly sprouted seeds. Something ate almost all of our lemon squash plants, as well as a few pepper plants and eggplant plants. Mike chased a rabbit out of the garden yesterday and sealed up the hole in the fence that it came through, but I'm not terribly sure that there are not more of them hiding in the garden area. There are a few places with very tall weeds where they could be living.


Yesterday, 52 baby cockerels arrived from Cackle Hatchery. They are being raised for meat. We were not able to hatch enough chicks this year, so I finally got tired of waiting and ordered some males.

Buff Orpingtons at six weeks of age

We sold the eight Delaware chickens that we hatched, and we have some buff Orpingtons that are now about six weeks old, and we have moved them into a chicken tractor. Once the pullets are big enough, we will integrate them into the laying flock, and the few males that are in there will be used for meat.

Six-week old heritage turkeys, mostly Royal Palm

We moved our turkey poults into a moveable pen also. As they get larger, we will split the group and move half of them into another pen so they are not crowded.


And last but not least, the ducks are doing a good job of reproducing this year. We only have four females, but two have hatched ducklings already! All males will become dinner while the females will be kept to lay eggs next next, as well as to make more ducklings. Yes, the mama is white while the babies are black. We have a black Cayuga drake so we're assuming these are all his babies.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Llama spa day

The following post was actually written on Sunday, June 8, and I only needed to add photos and video, but on Tuesday morning, June 10, I slipped and fell on the tile floor in our bathroom, on my already injured knee, of course. So I lost whatever progress I'd made over the last few weeks and am back to doing nothing outside. Let's just end this part of the post by saying that my orthopedic surgeon is getting to know me really well.

Sitara and Tinker after shearing.
Sunday, June 8 did not start out very well. At 9:00 Mike walked in and said that Katy (the person not the llama) just told him that the llama shearer was coming today. Oops! Yeah, I had forgotten to tell him, but I said not to worry because he wasn't supposed to be here until 10:00. And then I looked out the window and saw a pickup truck and trailer driving very slowly in front of our house. "I hope that's not him," I said, half joking. Guess what! It was him!

Luckily, Oscar the yearling llama is close to the house and very easy to catch, so Mike grabbed him while the shearer was setting up. Before the shearer was done with him, Mike brought up Merlin the llama that guards the sheep. And then things got complicated.

Catching the last three was not easy, so the shearer volunteered to help. Mike, Katy, Kat, the shearer, and his assistant went into the pasture. (I didn't help because I'd had gall bladder surgery 12 days earlier and was not supposed to be lifting anything heavier than ten pounds.) When Tinker the yearling female got fairly close to Mike, he lunged and wrapped his arms around her neck. He was not expecting her mother Sitara to go into full-on llama attack guard mode! Everyone watching says that Mike sustained a few good mama llama kicks before he had his other arm wrapped around her neck, and then the shearer ran up and got the halter and lead rope on mama Sitara. Mike wound up with llama spit on him from mama, but he doesn't have any real injuries from the ordeal.

Sitara sounded the alarm the moment that Mike grabbed her baby, and she never stopped until the two of them were in a stall together. That means she screamed the entire time she was being sheared, even though we were holding her daughter right there next to her. And she continued screaming while we were shearing her daughter. She quieted down once we put the two of them in a stall, but a few minutes later, Kat walked past, and Sitara let out a good scream. And because words simply cannot do justice when describing a llama scream, I took a few seconds of video for you ...

video

Catching Dolce was pretty easy because he hates Merlin, so Mike's brilliant idea was to take Merlin into the pasture neighboring Dolce's, and Dolce immediately came running up to the gate. Kat was leading Merlin and started to back away because she could hear Merlin regurgitating and getting read to start spitting at Dolce.

Katy, who has only been on the farm for a couple of weeks, said that the llamas were "really scary." Yep, that's why we have them! They are here to guard the sheep and goats from coyotes, and they are extremely good at their jobs.

After shearing Merlin was returned to the sheep pasture, Oscar was returned to the side yard, and Dolce was returned to the back 20. Sitara was put in the pasture with Dolce for breeding, and her daughter was kept in the barn so that we can work with her, training her to lead.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Abby kidded!


Abby is one of our second-generation mini lamanchas. Yes, I know she does not have lamancha ears, but that can happen when you get into the second generation of crosses. I did not intentionally breed her, but in mid-January we discovered all of the bucks loose. Normally the bucks don't bother busting through a fence unless there is a doe in heat, so we marked the calendar, and two weeks ago when my daughter Kat was trimming hooves on our dry does, she noticed an udder forming on Abby. We checked the calendar and realized she would be due in a couple of weeks, which brings us to today.

Katy the intern noticed that Abby was much more talkative than normal this morning, and she became more talkative as the day went on. So, this afternoon, Kat, Katy, and I planted ourselves in the barn to keep an eye on her. Then I realized I needed to come into the house to put medicine on my knee, and eventually Kat came inside, and finally Katy also gave up on her. We had the baby monitor on, but it's in my bedroom. We could hear it from all over the house and assumed that we would know when someone needed to check on her again.

I sat in the living room checking Facebook with my phone, and when the battery was down to 1%, I asked Kat to take it upstairs and plug it in for me. A few seconds after she walked into my bedroom, she screamed, "There's a baby! It's a baby!" and came running downstairs. Kat and Katy ran to the barn and I hobbled along after them.


Even though she is a first freshener, Abby did a fine job of giving birth to two little doelings and getting them mostly clean.


Kat and Katy each took a towel and helped her out a little. The belted doeling started nursing in no time, and her little sister was not far behind.



We are already very impressed with Abby's udder and orifices. Her udder was very large and tight before she kidded, so Kat milked her out after kidding (after her kids' tummies were quite full) and was really impressed with her whole mammary system.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Charlotte update

The last 24 hours has been such a whirlwind of challenges and decisions, I had to go back and read yesterday's blog post before writing this one because I didn't remember where I had left off. Charlotte is still at U of I and still alive for now, but they don't know what is wrong with her. They are giving her drugs that are supposed to help her blood clot -- both modern medicine and Chinese medicine.

After I posted yesterday's message, they completed two transfusions. The first one brought her PCV (packed cell volume) from 15 to 22, and the second transfusion brought it from 22 to 33. They thought that she would be in good shape at least until morning, but I got a phone call shortly before 10 p.m. with the news that her PCV had already dropped back down to 25! They felt that she must be hemorrhaging badly and said that if her PCV continued to drop that fast, she would be dead very soon. They asked for permission to do surgery immediately. I asked for a few minutes to discuss it with my family before deciding.

I called Katherine my daughter who had raised Charlotte and who had spent the whole day with her at the clinic. When I asked if we should go forward with the surgery, she simply replied, "It's Charlotte."

"Yeah, that says a lot, doesn't it," I replied.

And then Katherine offered to help pay the vet bills, which had already climbed to more than $750 and would completely eclipse $1000 with surgery. How could I say "no" at that point? I called the vet back and said to do the surgery. It seemed likely that Charlotte would need more blood, so in the dark of night, we went out into the pasture to find our two largest goats who would be the donors. Mike and Jonathan were lifting goats, and when Jonathan offered me one, I was about to take it until Mike yelled, reminding me that because of my gall bladder surgery I'm not supposed to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for two weeks. Jonathan headed down to the clinic with Cowboy and Etta in a dog crate on the back of the pickup, arriving shortly after midnight.

Katherine headed back to the vet hospital from her home in Urbana and sat in the waiting room until past 1 a.m. when they finished the surgery.

The verdict: nothing. They looked everywhere and could find nothing bleeding internally. The vet explained there are only three reasons for such a low PCV:
   1) blood is being lost
   2) red blood cells are being destroyed by the body, which can occur during an infection
   3) the body is not making red blood cells

Since they found nothing bleeding, #2 sounds like a viable option because Charlotte does have a raging infection that required IV antibiotics to treat. However, because her PCV was falling so rapidly, if her body was destroying red blood cells, the vet said that he would also expect her to be terribly jaundiced, which she is not.

Having just endured abdominal surgery myself, I was feeling really guilty for having put Charlotte through that for absolutely no good reason. Of course, I had to remind myself that had we not agreed to surgery and she died, I would have felt even more guilty. I feel like I am in a no-win situation right now. And I am in good company because the vets have no idea what is happening either. They can simply watch her symptoms and keep treating them as they occur.

The really strange thing is that her PCV actually stabilized after the surgery and sat at 24 from last night until this afternoon when it started to drop again. It is now down to 20. If it gets down to 17, they will do another transfusion using the blood from one of our goats.

Someone on Facebook suggested that this might be caused by something as simple as intestinal worms, but they did a fecal and said that there is no way that her worm load could possible explain the dramatic drop in PCV she has been experiencing.

I should have been taking notes when the vet called because she was sharing so much information. She went over all of the different blood work, basically saying, "if x, then y" such as the number of immature white blood cells is decreasing and the mature number is increasing, which means she is losing less blood than yesterday. They might think that she had a bleeding ulcer except that they would expect her appetite to be non-existent, and she does eat fairly well, although not as much as normal. Still, they are treating her with an ulcer drug (a gastro protectant), just in case. They ruled out so many possible causes, it was mind boggling.

Katherine will be heading back to the clinic first thing in the morning. The staff and students said that Charlotte's demeanor obviously brightens when she is there. And Katherine said that Charlotte seems to be the students' favorite patient at the moment. Everyone talks about how sweet she is. While Katherine is there, she milks her and she reads to her just as she did seven years ago when Charlotte was a baby living in Katherine's bedroom. When she reads to her, Katherine said that Charlotte lays her head on her lap and falls asleep. What does one read to a goat? Maureen Johnson's novel, The Madness Underneath: Book 2 on Kindle.

So, we just continue to wait ...

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Charlotte's kidding


As I begin this blog post, I have no idea whether Charlotte will be alive or dead by the time I finish. The last couple days have been so long and blurry, I wasn't sure what day it was today.

Monday

Charlotte was having wimpy contractions starting around noon on Monday. She'd make a little, "meh, meh," every few minutes. Kat, Katy, and I sat out there with her eating our lunch, assuming she would kid fairly soon. She is a Sherri daughter, and these does always have short, easy labors. My biggest complaint about them is that it is impossible to get to the barn before a kid is born once you've heard one of these does let out a real scream. That is really a problem in the dead of winter when the risk of frostbite is a threat. Shortly before 2:00 I decided to head back inside and take a nap because I am still recovering from gall bladder surgery. To my surprise, I slept more than three hours. Then everyone was busy with evening chores and dinner.

At 9:00 I told Kat I wanted her to check Charlotte internally because I was worried that the wimpy contractions meant that there was a kid that was simply not properly engaged in the cervix. Maybe a kid was trying to come out sideways? When Kat checked her, she said that her cervix was closed like a Cheerio, which seemed impossible. It was obvious that Charlotte was getting tired. Wimpy contractions can be a sign of hypocalcemia, so I gave her an oral calcium drench, and she had a few strong contractions. Half an hour later, her cervix was open a couple centimeters, and Kat felt a spine and ribs. Obviously the kid could not be born ribs first, but there was nothing we could do to change the situation because the cervix was barely open. So, we waited.

Half an hour later, Kat checked again, and there had been no change in the cervix. If Charlotte had not looked so exhausted, it would have been easy for me to say that we should just wait patiently a little longer. But that was no the case. I told Kat how to manually dilate the cervix, which she tried for about 20 minutes to no avail. Still no change. I called the University of Illinois vet clinic at that point and told them we would be bringing her in. A c-section seemed the only answer.

Tuesday

We arrived at U of I shortly after midnight. Although it did not look like Charlotte was having contractions on the drive, she was fully dilated! She was not even pushing though. She was so tired, she had simply given up. The vet pulled out four bucklings -- three very healthy ones and one that needed a lot of help, but he eventually came around.


Once the three healthy kids had nursed and the other one had been tube fed some of Charlotte's colostrum, the vet said we could go, although I was skeptical. Charlotte's demeanor reminded me too much of Coco last year before she died. The vet was familiar with Coco's story, and she said that she really felt that Charlotte was just tired from such a long labor.

We drove home and arrived just as the sky was starting to lighten shortly before 5 a.m. Charlotte had never stood up on the two-hour drive, so we knew the kids needed more to eat because they can only nurse when mama stands up. Charlotte was ignoring her kids most of the time, so we decided to bring them into the house and put her in the barn and milk her out. After so much work, we didn't want to risk losing the kids to something as simple and avoidable as starvation. We fed the kids with syringes, dripping the colostrum into their mouths, making sure to get at least one ounce into each kid.

A few hours later, after everyone had a few hours of sleep, they took the kids out to be with Charlotte. We had given her another dose of oral calcium in the afternoon because I was still concerned about the possibility of hypocalcemia. Very high-producing does tend to be more prone to that, and it was the only reason I could imagine that she did not have strong contractions during her labor. However, it seemed as if everything was going to be fine.


Wednesday

Mike and Katy weighed the kids first thing in the morning, and they had each gained about three ounces, except for the one that had had difficulty at birth, and he gained only an ounce. Charlotte, however, was very lethargic. Everyone noticed that she was spending very little time standing, and she was not eating more than a few bites of grain before ignoring it, which is definitely not typical goat behavior. I had explained to Katy that if a goat ever refuses grain, it means something is wrong, so she let me know right away.

Because I am still recovering from gall bladder surgery and I still have a swollen knee, I asked Kat and Katy to check Charlotte's temperature. It was 101, which is too low for a goat and a symptom of hypocalcemia, so I told them to give her another dose of calcium and that I wanted to check her temperature again in a couple of hours. Two hours later, there had been no change. I remembered three years ago when Viola had classic symptoms of hypocalcemia but did not respond to treatment and then died from an infection. I had been kicking myself for not realizing sooner that the problem was bigger than a calcium deficiency, so I called U of I. The vet suggested that we bring her in.

Feeling that my middle-of-the-night trip to U of I had probably already set back my surgery recovery, I asked Kat to take her down there, which she did. One of the great things about U of I is the availability of diagnostic equipment and a lab that can help you get a diagnosis very quickly. Within a couple of hours they had determined that Charlotte had a raging infection, in addition to the hypocalcemia, so they started her on IV antibiotics and calcium.

We brought her baby bucks into the house and started bottlefeeding them. I went to bed Wednesday night thinking that everything was going to be fine.


Thursday

Shortly before noon today I received a phone call from the vet at U of I. She said that Charlotte's hematocrit was falling dangerously fast. Without a blood transfusion, and if the bleeding continued, Charlotte would be dead in about seven hours. She asked for permission to do a blood transfusion and then surgery, if necessary. I could feel a lump forming in my throat, and I struggled to continue speaking normally. Yes, do the transfusion. Yes, do the surgery.

Kat just graduated from U of I, so she still has a house down there and is with Charlotte as I type. She is giving me updates regularly, which is helpful. At this moment, they are working on getting blood from two donor goats, as they don't have goat blood sitting in storage.

In the past few days, and especially in the past few hours, my brain and emotions have run the gamut from denial -- "Stop being so dramatic, she's not going to die!" -- to fatalistic -- "This is just how life is now."

I don't know what the next few hours will bring. Maybe everything won't be fine with Charlotte. Maybe she will recover. Life is just so painful right now, both emotionally and physically. After so many deaths last year and so much illness this year, I keep saying that it all has to end soon; right? But then I look at how many times I've said that and how everything just keeps getting heaped on me, and I know that there is no three strikes rule or five strikes rule or any such thing in real life. You just have to keep playing the hand that you are dealt, regardless of how unfair it seems at the time.

Monday, May 26, 2014

My gall bladder and other news

Tomorrow I'll be having gall bladder surgery. Believe it or not, I'm actually feeling rather numb about the whole thing. I had a gall bladder attack last Monday when coming home from Bloomington. I suppose I was rather lucky to have the attack while my son was driving, and we were only a few miles from the hospital. Had it happened at home, I never would have gone to the hospital. The pain was excruciating, but thankfully it only lasted about 30 or 40 minutes, which is why I never would have gone to the hospital had I been at home. Because the pain was radiating into my chest and jaw, the first thing they did was to determine that I was not having a heart attack. So, the good news is that I have a very strong and healthy heart.

I did a ton of reading and opted for the surgery because my gall bladder has too many small stones to count, and I have at least one stone that is too large to pass. A few friends suggested doing a cleanse, but doing a gall bladder cleanse would be a very bad idea in my case because it would likely end with me having a very bad attack when the bile duct got blocked by a big stone.

People with Hashimoto's have a higher incidence of gall bladder problems, so I am really unhappy with my thyroid right now. To add insult to injury, my TPO antibodies have gone up. I had made dietary changes and started on a supplement program to reduce my anti-thyroid antibodies caused by the Hashimoto's disease, and I got blood work done last week also. I was really disappointed that my antibodies had gone up from 120 to 139. Anything more than 30 means you have Hashimoto's. It had been three months since my last blood test, so I was really hoping to see a reduction. There was a study done in the Netherlands that showed antibodies going down every three months for a year (the length of the study) when people took 200 mg of selenium every day, which I have been doing.

My knee is still terribly swollen, and I'm still limping around like a 70-year-old cowboy that was thrown off his horse one too many times. I also saw the ortho doc last week, and he said that at this point I'm basically having an arthritis flare-up in my knee. He wanted to give me a cortisone shot, but I wasn't sure that was a good idea just before having gall bladder surgery. I'm hoping that being laid up with surgery, my knee will get enough of a break to make some progress.

In other news ... Things on the farm are way behind. We only have about 25 percent of the garden planted, and the weeds keep getting ahead of us. Mike has been working diligently to get fencing fixed in the east pasture so that we can move the sheep over there. My youngest daughter Katherine is home after graduating from the University of Illinois, and in the fall she's heading to Colorado State to get her Ph.D. in chemistry.

I've heard from a lot of friends living happily without their gall bladders, who say that their surgery was pretty uneventful, which I am hoping will be the case for me.

Monday, May 12, 2014

20 things that make me happy

Inspired by Caitlin Kelly's blog post of almost the same name ... and typed out in less than 10 minutes!


1. baby goats


2. lambs

3. goat cheese

4. homemade goat milk soap


5. writing

6. helping people with their goats

7. eggs from my backyard hens

8. talking about goats

9. blooming daffodils in my yard


10. the feel of the sun on my face!

11. getting an email from someone who found one of my books helpful


12. thinking about writing another book

13. seeing my children succeed in their chosen path

14. homegrown, homemade ice cream with our eggs, our goat milk, and our maple syrup -- and nothing else


15. homemade pudding made with our homegrown ingredients


16. blue jeans

17. working with young people who want to become farmers

18. taking pictures of my farm

19. a good glass of wine with dinner

20. anything chocolate

Monday, April 7, 2014

Livi's triplet does


The goats have been very considerate of my handicap lately and have all broken the Doe Code of Honor, which states that goats will always give birth at the worst possible time. The last four goats to give birth have all done so when Katherine was here on the weekend.

This morning Mike came into the house and said that Livi's udder was quite impressive and that her tail ligaments were nowhere to be found, so Abby moved her to a kidding pen. By the afternoon when Livi started to sound serious about giving birth, Katherine and I were the only two people home. Katherine kept saying that she needed to get back to Urbana, but the longer Livi was in labor, the more I worried and told Katherine that she really needed to stay here until Livi had given birth.

"Do I look like I could help a goat give birth in my condition?" I asked.

Katherine chuckled and agreed to stay until Livi's kids were born. At 2:15 when Katherine went to the barn to check on Livi, she decided to do an internal check because Livi had been pushing for more than an hour with no visible progress. She felt a hock, which is part of a goat's hind leg. It is not an ideal birthing position. She came back into the house, and we chatted about the situation. We agreed there was no way she could do anything to assist in getting the kids out by herself, and I would not be able to help. Mike was supposed to be home shortly after 3:00, so we decided to go out to the barn to wait, in case Livi got things sorted out on her own and actually gave birth.

About 2:45 Katherine went out to the barn, and I followed, although it took me about five times as long to get there. It was the first time I've been outside by myself in two weeks. I am quite sure that I have never walked so slowly across our yard ever before. When I finally reached the kidding barn, I sat on the milk stand right outside of Livi's pen. Livi seemed to be getting quite serious about pushing, but she also worried us because her back legs did not seem to be working quite right. She would get up, take a couple of steps, and her back end seemed to collapse.

It looked like one of the kids was pressing on a nerve, which was causing her back legs to not work quite right. Katherine had said the kid's hock felt quite small, which did not make much sense to me. It is usually extra large kids that cause problems by pressing on the nerves like that. As we discussed the situation, a bubble began to emerge. A few more pushes, and there was a hoof, then a nose. And then, the first kid was born!

Katherine couldn't believe the kid was born hoof and nose first because she was absolutely certain she had felt a hock. "I could wrap my finger around it," she said. My theory is that there had been two kids trying to come out at once, and she simply didn't feel the nose of the second kid. Luckily the head-first kid beat out the hock-first kid and was born first. That would also explain why Livi seemed to be having trouble with her back end collapsing. The kid was actually quite small. Even though Livi is a mini mancha, the kid was the size of a Nigerian, which is a smaller breed. But two of those kids squashed together trying to squeeze out together could have caused enough pressure on the nerves in her hips to cause her walking problems.


A few minutes later, a second kid was born, nose and hoof first. And about half an hour later -- after Mike arrived home -- a third kid was born. After the first two kids had blazed the trail, Livi didn't seem to be concerned at all about another being born. She was standing up, and as Katherine reached over to catch the kid, Livi started walking! So, in this next picture, Katherine had been holding the kid, but when Livi started walking, her hand slipped off the head and body, and at the moment I snapped this picture, everything had slipped out of her hand except the leg.


And in the next picture, you can see that Katherine had lunged forward and managed to get her hands on the baby before it fell to the ground.


Although I'm sure many goat babies throughout history have fallen to the ground safely as their mothers gave birth standing up, it just isn't something that we humans can watch without trying to help soften the kid's entrance in this world. When you see a baby falling, you just have to catch it.


Yes, all three kids had been born head first. Someone had done a flip in the last hour, probably the third kid since it took so long to be born after the second one.

Even though Livi is a mini mancha, all three of these doelings were born with Nigerian dwarf ears. The thing I love about la manchas is the tiny little ears, but of the six 1/4 la mancha, 3/4 ND kids we have had born so far this spring, five of them have had ND ears, even though the odds are 50/50 when an erect-eared goat is crossed with an elf-eared goat. What is truly amazing, though, is that six of the six crossbred goats have been does!


Katherine also made sure all of the doelings nursed before she left. Unfortunately, she won't be home again until Easter, and we have two more goats due to kid before then -- including Windy, the mini mancha that had meningeal worm last November. Between the disease and all of the drugs she was given, I am amazed that she is actually pregnant. Life could get interesting in the next couple of weeks.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Falling apart -- and lessons from a goat from years past

The first three months of 2014 have flown past, and I don't mean that they have flown past in the usual way. It seems that all of us constantly talk about how time flies, but the last three months have been a blur of one doctor's office after another, one test after another, and an emotional roller coaster. I've been diagnosed with five different conditions and told that I might have cancer (twice now), and I flip flop back and forth between wanting to throw in the towel and move to the burbs and then gathering up the strength to keep pushing myself forward -- because seriously, what would I do in a condo in the burbs?

I can't believe it's been almost a month since my last post. We have a lot of catching up to do! Two Sundays ago I was in San Francisco at a publishing conference and I had a few hours before my plane would be leaving, so I decided to take a walk around Fisherman's Wharf. After a delicious breakfast at an organic cafe, I was two blocks into my walk, and for some crazy reason I decided to run across the street, didn't look down, and tripped over the curb. I hit my head and shoulder on a brick wall, skinned the palm of my right hand and my right forearm, sprained the thumb on my left hand, and really smashed my knee. Having far too many problems with my knees in my life, I knew I needed to head back to the hotel and spend the next two hours with ice, which I did. I also bandaged up the skinned areas. Twelve days later (ER, primary care doc, ortho doc + x-ray, ultrasound, and MRI), my knee is still swollen and painful, but I only have a massive hematoma in the bursa. The bad news is that I also have grade four arthritis in the knee. Who knew they grade arthritis? And four is the worst grade. (I've never received the worst grade on anything in my life!) A quick online search tells you that grade four is when they start talking about knee replacement.

The latest cancer scare came when they x-rayed my knee. The morning after I was in the ER, I got a phone call from the hospital, and the woman said that a radiologist had looked at my x-rays, and although he did not see any breaks, he did see a "lesion" on my tibia. He said that I needed to have an MRI to rule out bone cancer. I had a good cry after I hung up the phone. Seriously, how many people are told they might have cancer twice in two months. The thyroid biopsy came back benign in February, and thankfully the knee MRI did not reveal a cancerous lesion. They concluded that it was either a benign fibroma or an old injury. And after the ortho doctor saw me, he said that it was caused by the knee surgery I had as a teen.

But wait, that's not all! The day before I left for San Francisco, I visited my primary care doc, because the gastroenterologist said he didn't think my swollen throat, cough, and hoarseness were caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), although he was willing to do an endoscopy to rule it out. Rather than wanting to wait for those results, I took my little self right back to my primary care doc's office the next day.

While I was there, I had a coughing fit, which she said sounded like a bronchospasm. She had me blow into a peak flow meter, and 300 was the best I could do, which is low for someone of my age and height. So, I did a breathing treatment with a nebulizer and my peak flow went up to 350, which is still low but improved, so she said I probably have asthma. She gave me a prescription for an inhaler, as well as another prescription for an oral asthma med. I quickly discovered that the pain in my chest was from my bronchial tubes getting inflamed and that using the inhaler helped tremendously. Initially I was using it about four times a day, but now that I've been taking the oral meds, I've only had that tightening in my chest about every other day. I've also purchased an air purifier for our bedroom. It stinks to know that I have asthma, but it is far less severe than some of the stories I've heard, so I'm grateful for that and for knowing what causes the pain in my chest.

So, between January and today, I've been diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, GERD, asthma, a mold allergy, and grade four arthritis in my knee. In addition to my primary care doc, I've also seen an endocrinologist, a general surgeon, an orthopedic surgeon, a gastroenterologist, and I've been referred to an ENT and an allergist but have not seen them yet. I've had a thyroid biopsy, a leg ultrasound, x-rays, an MRI, and more blood tests than I can remember. I have an endoscopy scheduled for the end of April but may skip it if this swollen feeling in my throat goes away.

So! What next?

As you might imagine, I have had a lot going through my head in the last three months and especially in the past twelve days as I've been laid up in bed! I've had way too much time to think, and I've had tons of time to research these various ailments, as well as hang out on Facebook. I saw someone complaining on a goat group about buying goats from an older man who was selling off his herd because he could no longer care for them, and the person who posted was not very charitable in her assessment of the living condition of the goats. All I could think was that I never want to be the crazy old goat lady who held on to her goats longer than they could be properly cared for, but I seriously expected that time would come when I was 70-something, not 51!

In January, we incorporated the farm as Antiquity Oaks LLC because I wanted to focus on our goal of creating a learning farm for future homesteaders and farmers. I was going to formalize and expand our classes and internship program. We had so many plans -- more than I want to share at this point -- because it has all come to a screeching halt for the past three months. My goals and enthusiasm waver from day to day and sometimes moment to moment, depending upon what is happening. Sometimes I feel like this is the end! I'm washed up and done and should just move to a condo in south Texas. Other days I'm positive I can still make my dreams come true -- helping to educate people about growing, preparing, and eating good food. I am still as passionate as ever when it comes to my desire to help people live better lives. Besides that, I was just about ready to lose my mind after a few days in bed!

It was much easier, however, to talk about healthy living when I had not had a cold in five years. It has been hard for me to accept myself now that I'm not the perfect picture of health. I can't help but feel like I have failed in some way, even though none of my ailments are specifically related to food or diet. Having been adopted, I don't know my complete family medical history, so the cards could really be stacked against me genetically. One reason I have tried to maintain such a healthy lifestyle is because I could not look at my ancestors and see that they lived long, happy lives.

Even though I have had some days when I thought about calling it quits, I do still find myself thinking about this year's doelings growing up and becoming productive milkers. I consider including meat and eggs in our new CSA instead of only providing vegetables to members. I ponder the effectiveness of adding ducks to our garden for insect and weed control and then selling their eggs. I search online for pond plants that might help to naturally control algae. I think about building a cabin where interns can live. Whenever I think about the future, I am here. Antiquity Oaks seems to have become a part of my identity and my very being. Although I might be able to leave for a short vacation, I don't think I could really give up this lifestyle.

Years ago we had a doe named Rosewood that was suddenly paralyzed from a spinal cord injury. For the first half hour or so, she was furious. She was screaming and struggling wildly to stand. And then she calmed down and accepted her new reality. I knew she had taught me a priceless lesson. I could not imagine any human being so quickly accepting such a fate. Rosewood eventually learned to walk on her front legs alone, balancing her body and her limp hind legs in the air. I have been thinking of her lately and am thankful that I do not have anything nearly as devastating to deal with. If she could learn to walk on her front legs, then surely I can deal with the challenges that have come my way.
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