Tuesday, January 12, 2010

End of Year 2009 to Family and Friends (Jan 4, 2010)

This past year has been an unusual one filled with a mixture of good and bad news, joy and pain, anticipation and disappointment. I will begin by sharing the positive things first, then the bad things. I feel badly about writing about the pain but it was a big part of my life this past year and can’t be simply passed over and ignored. Hopefully out of the difficulties will come blessings which will touch others and spare them some of what I have been through?

Despite periods of drought and one late freeze the market gardens produced bountifully except for a few of the minor crops.

We successfully grew three good crops in succession in one 690 square foot high tunnel (unheated greenhouse structure). I transplanted a variety of lettuces into the tunnel in mid March and had good quantities of top quality lettuce at the market by mid April. I had seeded carrots between the lettuce rows as they were transplanted and there was a wonderful crop of carrots coming out by mid June. The middle row of carrots on each side was harvested first and that space was immediately filled in with late started tomato plants which yielded most of their crop in October and even a little into November.

Normally the open field tomato crop is finished by late September. Considering that the area covered by the high tunnel was not large, (enough to park four average sized cars bumper to bumper) that translated into a tremendous amount of production per unit of area.

In 2009 I made good on my promise to try grafting of tomato plants and was partially successful. The grafts that took went into the high tunnel between the carrot plants in mid June and granted me bragging rights on good quality heirloom tomatoes at the market in mid October.

We were blessed this year by the presence of a top notch intern (a college friend of our son Hans) who supplied bounteously the energy that I didn’t have for working the farm. He even tackled (and finished) during the fall, the stone veneer job on the basement walls of the house, including putting down the slate on the south end patio. He also gets the credit for procuring a couple of borrowed incubators and hatching a batch of chicks which are now growing in the garage.

Both the blackberry and raspberry crops produced exceedingly well thanks to relatively dry weather during their bearing seasons and functional drip irrigation. Also the muskmelons ripened during the dry weather and, thanks to the walk in refrigerator, were mostly successfully marketed. The ones that over ripened or didn’t quite make the cut were either turned into nice orange yoked eggs or deposited into the neighbor’s mailboxes. Those who thanked me graciously for the first one, got one or two more.

We didn’t flub on winter squash this year and (believe it or not) the cauliflower--which did not look as good coming out of the greenhouse as last year’s crop--and then socked into the rows of a weak stand of edamame soybeans, still came through and produced a decent crop. We started getting rain after the cauliflower plants were in and soybean seed which had not germinated during the previous month of dry weather came up and nearly choked out much of the cauliflower. Fortunately we were able to harvest out enough of the earlier germinated beans in time to keep the cauliflower going. A little later we landed a deal with a newly opening white cloth restaurant in town to buy a regular supply of fall cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, winter squash, Chinese cabbage, Japanese turnips, mizuna, and arugula through December.

Now for the bad news!

After a full year of alternating persistent and acute suffering, beginning with dizzy spells, panic attacks, extreme fatigue, and chest pain--progressing to peripheral nerve pain--and then going on to wide spread muscle pain, weakness, and cramping accompanied by frequent headaches, I was clinically diagnosed with chronic late stage Lyme disease by a Lyme literate doctor in Rockville MD on December 29, 2009.

I now realize that the illness had most likely begun with mild symptoms several years ago and had begun to get more serious by December of last year when I first presented for medical consultation. There followed several trips to the local hospital ER and a three day hospitalization in mid February. All of the heart diagnostics offered by the hospital, several chest X-rays, a CT scan, brain MRI, two brain EEGs, and two pulmonary function tests, along with several urine and blood tests were done throughout the year. In August a hair sample test revealed evidence of heavy metal toxicity and I underwent 12 weeks of EDTA chelation therapy treatments. I saw a string of specialists including an internal medicine specialist, a heart specialist, an allergist, a pulmonary specialist, and two neurologists, all of whom could make no specific diagnosis and tried me on a variety of drugs intended for symptomatic relief. None of them worked with significant effect.

The MRI (done in March) was the only test done which revealed possibly significant abnormalities (scattered bright spots in the brain) and the report included a prompt to evaluate for possible multiple sclerosis or Lyme disease. The first neurologist denied MS and ordered a basic blood test for Lyme. When that test came back negative I believed him and trusted his declaration that Lyme could be ruled out on the basis of the test results. Seven suffering months later I read a magazine article about several persons’ experience struggling with Lyme and learned that standard blood tests for Lyme usually come back negative for persons who have had Lyme for an extended time and do not serve as a reliable diagnostic tool. It was at this point that I suggested to my primary care physician that it might be necessary to revisit the Lyme disease issue. A follow up search in the following weeks on numerous internet sites relating to Lyme disease, plus an opportunity to briefly pick the brain of one doctor outside of a consultation, supported the ideas that there are few if any accurate diagnostic lab tests for Lyme and that there is an apparent scarcity of doctors (including specialists) who are truly knowledgeable about the diagnosis and treatment of this complex disease once it has gone beyond the early stages. My primary care doctor supplied me with a reference to the doctor in Maryland who saw me last week. That doctor has ordered expanded tests not only for Lyme disease but also for several other infective bacteria known to be transmitted by the tick that transmits Lyme, and for various other specific blood chemistries affected by Lyme. In the event that these tests should fail to nail down the diagnosis, he will then fall back on the initial clinical diagnosis based on my symptoms and my response to treatment which has already been initiated. My prognosis at this point is fairly hopeful but the process of recovery will probably involve several years of treatment and will be expensive.

Neither I nor anyone else should ever have to go through the kind of suffering I have endured for the past year because there seems to be no doctors in this area who know about or are even interested in learning about the proper procedure for diagnosing and treating Lyme disease. There is mounting evidence that with deer populations (and the ticks that infect them) increasing in populated areas all over this country and the world, that Lyme disease has the potential of becoming a major pandemic. There needs to be increasing awareness of this problem both within the public and the medical sphere. I feel a strong need to work at channeling my anger at the existing local medical establishment towards connecting with others who may be affected by or who are already struggling with this illness by forming a local Lyme disease support group which can spread public awareness and perhaps work in a more positive way to attract Lyme literate doctors to our area or even to encourage doctors who are already here to learn more about this illness. I hope to be able in the coming months to get my story well enough written to have it published in the local newspaper. I purposely desire to avoid lashing out at the doctors or the system which so grossly underserved me.

I now depart from farther writing about this unsavory subject to share the news that in December Christine and I traveled as far west as central Texas to visit friends and her sister and husband near the city of Waco. On the way we toured an Appalachian folk art museum and visited a dulcimer shop near Ashville, NC. On the return we passed through southern Louisiana to enjoy a boat ride in the bayou swamps and to taste some Cajon food, then on to the Mississippi gulf coast to the areas struck by hurricane Katrina several years ago. About this time we got the exciting news that our neighbors were digging out of more than two feet of snow at home. We returned through Alabama and Georgia to visit a few more of Christine’s relatives before getting home on Christmas Eve. We had talked of going as far as Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon and relatives in that state, but gave it up when things worked out for the doctor appointment in MD on the 29th. I didn’t feel comfortable for much of the trip but I tried to make the best of it.

I cannot honestly say that I had a very merry Christmas as I spent much of that day lying around the house in deep pain. However, that is OK for I am thankful to be alive, that there are family and friends who support me, that it does not appear to be something really serious like cancer, MS, or ALS, and that there is hope for recovery. My journey through illness in 2009 has been like getting lost in the wilderness. After following several trails which lead nowhere, one finally finds what appears to be the right trail. He is still in the woods, and the trail out may be steep, rough, and long, but knowing that this one may eventually get him out, keeps him going.

We look forward to the coming year with anticipation. Our son Hans will be coming home in March from two years of living and working in Paraquay. I’m sure he has grown a lot through this experience and both of us are delighted that he has expressed some interest in helping us to run the farm, at least for awhile. I for one intend to bend over backwards to make room for him to work with us comfortably and to become actively involved in management and decision making. There will most likely be some serious talk about how to go about arranging for a smooth and successful transition of the farm management and ownership from us to him (or another person). This is both exciting and a little scary at the same time.

When one begins to peel away the layers of silliness, superficiality, triteness, overindulgence, and crass materialism surrounding the way so many celebrate Christmas, he eventually gets down to that wonderful story of a not really high class couple who traveled over a long distance into a crowded city to attend civic duty. Mary arrived in Bethlehem very fatigued and in much pain with a baby soon to be born. The prospect of even finding a place to lie down looked bleak. But God was behind that scenario and out of it all came songs of angels and a King who offers us forgiveness and the hope of eternal salvation.

May God take care of all of you in 2010.

PS. I have just learned that there is a Lyme disease support group in our area and I plan to begin attending their monthly meetings this coming Saturday.

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