A couple of months ago someone asked me whether I’d quit my landscaping job if I made it big as a writer.
“Oh, hell yes,” I said.
I was wrong.
No, I haven’t been offered a 6-figure deal. Instead, something’s happened that’s made me realize how much I enjoy the work I do. Now I’m not saying I won’t be complaining come fall when it’s cold and raining, and I’m totally burned out of picking up leaves, but in the spring there’s nothing better than feeling the sun on my shoulders on a balmy day, knowing how fortunate I am not to be stuck inside at a desk job.
I’ve been having some problems with my knee for at least seven years, but up until this spring it’s been something I could live with. Then in March it became so painful that I couldn’t work for more than a couple of hours at a time. This wasn’t the sort of pain I could shake off or ignore. It short-circuited my muscles and kept me from making my leg move properly. After about three weeks of doctors’ appointments, MRIs, and waiting (lots of really annoying, infuriating, scary waiting) I found out that I have a torn meniscus and meniscal cyst. Which is what I suspected to begin with, but the first doctor didn’t think that’s what it was once he saw a chunk of bone missing on my X-ray. He thought it was a bone cyst (“they’re usually benign”, he said, which of course makes you immediately think about the times they’re not). Turns out that missing bone is due to the cyst rubbing against the tibia and wearing away at it.
The orthopedist I saw told me I’d need surgery, but advised me to hold off as long as I could and try to get insurance in the mean time (yeah, that’s one of the complications—I have to pay for all this myself). He drained part of the cyst (it’s multilocular, which means it’s made up of several little compartments) and that relieved the pressure enough that I can now work. My current plan is to wait until next winter to have the surgery. I’d put it off longer, but I don’t want to wind up in the position I was in a few weeks ago, wondering how I was going to take care of my customers.
After scrabbling to get the first month’s payment together, I applied to Kaiser. They denied me because of my knee. The obnoxious part about that is they would have accepted me without a screening if I’d gotten my insurance through an employer. There’s a bit of irony here. Henry J. Kaiser, the founder of the company and my personal hero, is one of America’s greatest success stories as far as entrepreneurial spirit is concerned. If he were to apply to his own company today as a self-employed individual, he would very likely be denied if he had any pre-existing conditions.
Due to this knee business, and the weather (oh yeah, did I mention it rained 25 out of 30 days in April here in Oregon, which makes it tough to spray weeds and spread mulch?) the past six weeks have been pretty stressful. At this point the pain is completely unpredictable, so some days I have no problem at all, while others I come home and collapse on the couch wondering if I’ll be able to make it through the season. One of the hardest parts about it is that physical work has always been an escape for me. At the end of winter, when I’m mentally drained from writing and emotionally exhausted from trying to stay current with what’s going on in the kidlit blogging world, it feels so good to go out and work until I drop. No matter how many people have been more successful than me with their writing, no matter how many “experts” give advice that indicates I’m doing it all wrong, the one thing I’ve always been able to count on is my ability to make my body keep going. I feel proud of how hard I can work, how far I can push myself physically. The exhaustion I feel at the end of the day is rewarding, because I know I’ve earned it. And now all that is in question.
I know there are plenty of people out there with problems way worse than this. Really, I have it easy. I can still work (which was something I wasn’t sure about for a few weeks) Kaiser may yet respond to my appeal, it’s not a life-threatening condition (something else that was in question for a while there) and I have plenty of friends who regularly show their concern and offer to help. But this issue has been taking up a lot of my mental energy, so I thought I’d tell all of you about it. And now that I have, you can go check out that link about Henry J. He’s one cool dude.