Sunday, August 24, 2014

A hiatus summer

This summer has been cool here, which is a great break from the trend of recent years. I have a regret, though. I couldn't put in a garden or do much work on the grounds for most of the season because I had surgery on my hand in April. Osteoarthritis at the base of my left thumb had gotten seriously disabling. I couldn't play the sax, it hurt to take a paper cup off a shelf or to take money out of my wallet. My cousin-in-law talked me into buying a guitar and I found I couldn't play it. So I finally gave in and went for the Hail Mary.

This surgery is pretty grotesque. They remove the trapezium bone that joins the wrist to the thumb, and stuff the cavity with tissue harvested from a wrist tendon. For the first month or so the pain is incredible. It's taken a good six months for me to get to the point where I'm thinking, okay, I would now trade this for what I had before. I can play my instruments, and the activities of daily living are painless. It's just heavy lifting that's painful and the hand and wrist are weak. But I figure I'll get all the way back in due course.

So I'll be doubly motivated for a great garden next year, but more than that, consider the overall course of my life and health had this not been available to me. I would have become increasingly sedentary, I would have lost some of my greatest pleasures in life, I would have gotten old early. This surgery depends on anesthesia, antibiotics, and techniques honed over decades. It's also expensive. Of all the people who have ever lived and are living, the proportion who have such opportunities is miniscule.

Arthritis is actually a major driver of decline in aging people. That we can replace joints in defiance of nature is a magnificent accomplishment. But just think how inequitably such really priceless blessings are distributed. In my social circles, we take it for granted. I met a guy at a party last night who'd had the same procedure. Now he's back to playing the mandolin. What astonishing good fortune.

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