The Truth About that Day Job


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.

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11 Responses to The Truth About that Day Job

  1. Roxie says:

    You are one tough momma! That’s a mongo huge cyst and how did you keep going? With bone damage no less. Holy crow, Lisa! And Kaiser denied you? That sucks rocks! Can you re-apply after the health bill gets under way? Could repeated drainings keep you going till then? Will Kitzhaber win the gubernatorial race? Are there any other unanswerable questions I can ask? Oh yeah, what can I do to help?

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  2. Katy Skinner says:

    Wow, that’s some news! What was it like when they drained the cyst? I can’t believe draining actually gave you some relief. Was it immediate relief? Look at that picture with the bone worn away! Amazing. I’m surprised you could walk at all. I identified with the “work outside ’till you drop part,” except I haven’t done that much lately. Because my medication kinda keeps me from having “manic” (used in the non-clinical, layperson’s way) episodes where I can dig and dig. One time at our old house I dug a whole “french drain” for our house, and my counselor said, “Um, don’t over-do it.” Then he said “over-doing it” is a form of self- “mood stabilization.” Don’t even get me started on the stuff I did and lifted when I was 9 mos. pregnant with both kids. My OBGYN said, “Knock it off; it’s making your cervix open too early.” I’m full of quotations marks right now it seems. But I digress, and am talking too much about myself. I hope your knee is something that can get better and not get worse. I’ve had an MRI on my neck and sinuses. The pictures are neato! My neck thing was ’cause I kept getting a pinched nerve and they said my neck vertebrae had “mild degenerative disease,” which they said *everyone* that is aging has. Whoops, talking about myself again. You’re not a big complainer so I don’t think I really remember you complaining much about your knee. Keep us posted!

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  3. Wow, Lisa, and all this time I thought you were lolling on a couch eating bon-bons! (Just kidding! What are bon-bons, anyway?) Actually I figured you were knee-deep (pun totally intended) in landscaping and revisions. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been laid up and going the torturous go-round with doctors and insurance companies. That sucks huge.

    Fingers crossed Kaiser reconsiders. And that your knee holds out. You’re a tough, tough cookie!

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  4. Alice Lynn says:

    Still can’t get over those MRI pictures! You must be one of the bravest and most determined people I’ve ever met! And in the “real world”, who would think that getting an agent might be easier than getting insurance! My fingers are crossed for Kaiser to come through.

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  5. Lisa, I’m glad to hear you got to an orthopedist. That sucks about Kaiser. I was denied by quite a few insurance companies for a preexisting condition a couple years back and it was a really frustrating time. Hope you’re able to get coverage soon.

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  6. Rose Lefebvre says:

    I know the feeling…I went three years with bone-on-bone, no cartelege, in my right knee until it got so difficult to walk I ended up having a knee replacement. For awhile they gave me shots of something called Synvisc and it was amazing! Filled in and the pain was gone!!

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  7. Wow, I have to say I’m intrigued by the pics. I hope you get everything sorted out and that there’s not too much pain in the meantime. 🙂

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  8. Oh Lisa, I’m so sorry about what you’re going through right now. I’ll keep you in my thoughts and hope everything works out. It’s so hard when pain (or insurance…blah!) interferes with your job (or life in general!). I herniated my disc a few years ago and was out of work for almost four weeks. It was hard going, and there were times when I wanted to do so much more than I physically could. What I learned from it, though, is that you come first no matter what and to make sure you don’t push yourself too much. Aww…I wish I could help!

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  9. Lisa, I’m sorry you’re having this problem with your knee. Ugh. It sounds painful. And the insurance stuff sucks. 😦 I hope you don’t have to wait too long to get help. I am a total medical geek, and love the knee pics. I was pre-med for a while, and took two a few semesters of A&P…with cadavers. 😀 I LOVED studying the knee. Found it completely fascinating. The bones and ligaments are pearly-smooth.

    Hey, I gave you a web award today. 😀 Cuz you rock and stuff. http://bit.ly/cVYwR6

    Take care.

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  10. im so sorry 😦 my hubby had back pain for years and had to have artificial discs put in and I had strange vertigo for 9 months. Its hard when a medical problem comes into play that you have little control over. hang in there…

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  11. Lisa Nowak says:

    Hey everyone, thanks for your well-wishes and support, though I think you’re all making me out to be braver and tougher than I am. 🙂 And to those of you who’ve had your own medical or insurance experience, thanks for sharing your stories.

    Amy, I really appreciate the award. That totally rocks!

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