Monday, October 28, 2013

Fall Clean Up

Whether I care to admit it or not, summer has been gone for a long time already.  I can't believe there are only a few days left in October.  With the extremely late arrival of spring this year coupled with my being out of commission for a few weeks, I really don't know where the summer went.  About the best we can do now is yank everything out that needs yanking and wait for the snow to fly.   And plant daffodils.

I'm not sure how many daffodil bulbs fit in a bushel basket, anybody care to guess?   I suppose we could have a guessing contest, but then I'd have to count them and well, that's too much work.  Suffice it to say there are a LOT of bulbs still needing holes to be dug.  Too bad I couldn't put the chickens on the job, they love to dig holes.   (And fling mulch out of the beds, and bury plants that don't need burying.  Ok, they do lay eggs and eat bugs.) 

 I went to town tonight with Carl to buy gasoline and saw many piles of leaves waiting out on the curb for pick up.  It wouldn't do me any good to rake leaves yet (not that I do very often, ok, rarely, ok, Never....) because Willie the Willow hasn't even thought about dropping a leaf and won't until the snow flies.  Most of the time we end up running his leaves through the snow blower.  Willows are messy trees, but they are the first to green up in the spring and the very last to shed their leaves in the fall.

Willie and his Leaves
Last night I was researching more stuff online about thyroid disease and simultaneously listening to the wind blow outside.  Shortly after one big gust shook the house,  I heard a tree fall in the woods across the road.  (If a tree falls in the forest and no one sees it, wait......that's not the way that saying goes, is it?)    I didn't see it fall, but I sure heard it hit the ground with a mighty crash.   At first  I wondered if maybe Willie decided it was time to leave, but in the morning he was still there, waving in the breeze with every leaf intact.
Birch in the Woodland Walk
The pictures in this post were taken a week ago; things don't look so great anymore, everything has finally frozen.  But that makes it easier to clean up, too.  I hate pulling flowering plants out of the ground, it just seems wrong.
Driveway entrance
Time to put the statuary away or knit her a coat.
Formal Garden
Right up until last week the melampodium 'Melanie' plants flowered nonstop.
And so did the wax begonias...hard to believe they can take so much cold weather.

My only gripe about fall is it doesn't last long enough.  The leaf colors are stunning, but so short-lived.
A job I dread: cutting back the waterlilies before the ice freezes.  
 Carl and I focused our attention on the Pachyberm this weekend.  It's amazing how many trailer loads of plant material we hauled to the compost pile. 
It's all just rocks now.  But that's ok.  Rocks are good.

Do you remember the planter Carl made me for Valentine's Day?
Carl and the planter, February 14, 2013

October 20, 2013
I stuck a pot of Bubblegum petunias in the top of the planter and planted various climbing vines on the ribs.  By the time I realized the location I had placed the planter in was too shady, the vines had already rooted and twined up the planter, so I left it in place.  Next season, I'm going to move the planter to a sunnier spot.  (It did turn out prettier than this earlier in the summer, but I forgot to take a better picture.)

Poor ol' Castle Aaargh.  One more year without a roof.  Or walls. Or windows.

We have two major garden walks coming next year, that is, IF I'm up to it, and Aaargh was supposed to be done by then.  Oh, well.  Best laid plans of mice and men.  The work will be there in the spring.

There's always next year. 
With a little luck and a lot of ambition (something I'm chronically short on lately) I'll be able to get more clean up work done.  We have to trek the 70 miles to the doctor this week, too.  I hope it rains that day. 

I'd hate to waste a beautiful fall day sitting in a doctor's office, right?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Things Are Looking Up

One of our favorite places since dating days, Keller Lake Park, Waupaca County WI
Last week Friday Carl and I went for a new patient consultation with Dr. Z, my latest in a long line of medical professionals.  We had to drive seventy miles to visit his practice and though the day was overcast, the scenery was beautiful.  We arrived in his office an hour and twenty minutes later and he greeted us at the door with a firm handshake.   I was given a questionnaire to fill out and when I was finished we were ushered into his office.
More scenery from our trip

I handed him my lab tests from January to September and as he paged through them he asked me questions.

"Why are you seeing me now if you're a patient of Well Woman?" he asked.

"I have nothing against the clinic," I said, "but when the NP saw the low TSH numbers on my lab results, she more or less panicked.  She felt with a TSH so low, I must be overmedicated and didn't feel comfortable treating me.  She felt she should refer me to someone else, but she didn't have an idea of who to refer me to.  She did reluctantly raise my dose last week, but she wasn't sure it was the right thing to do.  I'm not feeling very well, so I thought I'd better seek out another doctor."

 Dr. Z asked,  "How did you hear about me?"

I told him I'd spare him the long convoluted tale of 'a friend of a friend of a friend' and he smiled. 

And then he said something completely amazing.

 "Tell your NP you don't care if your TSH is suppressed."

I blinked, did I hear right?  ( Does he know how many doctors I have longed to say that to?) 

"The only numbers we need to concentrate on are your Free T3 and T4, and you have plenty of room to raise in medication, in fact, you're just barely in range.  I see no problem with increasing your meds," he said.  "TSH is a pituitary marker, not a good indicator of thyroid levels.  I prefer to treat patients by their symptoms, not by numbers on a lab report."

Wow.  Could it be I've finally found my Dr. Santa Claus? 

I said, "I've asked doctors for years about taking Armour or another T3/T4 med, but was never successful until July.  Now I'm wondering if I made a big mistake since I have to admit the last few months have been awful.  Maybe Armour just isn't for me?"

"You didn't make a mistake, I believe Armour or Naturethroid are superior drugs to synthetic T4.  It appears you haven't reached an optimal dose yet.  There are other things that we can check into also such as your adrenal function, other hormones, diet.  I see you've only recently started hormone replacement therapy and there are some things I would do differently if I were your physician.  You are on some good vitamin supplements, though.  Would you want to see me for your thyroid only, then?"

"If you are willing, I'd rather see you for all of the above and then some," I said. 

Dr. Z has seventeen years of experience as an emergency physician, along with ten years of treating people like me at his private clinic.  Though I'm obviously no expert on thyroid, everything I've read on online forums and the endless medical studies I've researched matches up with his philosophy so far.  He said his passion lies in treating thyroid disease, hormone imbalances and other metabolic mishaps.  Hallelujah. 

He ordered more lab tests for me through my local friendly lab technician which saved us a lot of money.  I am scheduled for my first official appointment with him early next week when, hopefully, the lab results will be back in.  Dr. Z told us he is willing to have phone consultations with me in the future, too, instead of driving so far; he said he didn't want us to drive seventy miles when the roads are bad in the winter.  I thought that was remarkably kind of him.  So, it's a done deal.  He sent us on our way back home with another hearty handshake and told us to drive safely.  

After we left his office, we climbed into our car and simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief.  It's nerve-wracking seeing one doctor after another and as you all know by now if you've read my dismal past medical history, most of the time their attitudes are not fantastic, at least not when I'm involved.  (Can I ever forget the Polar Bear?  Shudder.)   It's true I don't know how this will turn out, but at least Dr. Z is the most enlightened doctor on thyroid issues I've seen to date.  

Carl and I took the long way home that day and ended up at one of our favorite haunts, Keller Lake Park.  We discovered this park the third year we were married when we went on a 'County Park' tour thirty-two years ago.  (How time flies.) This is our favorite time of year to go to parks since they are usually devoid of people now that summer is over.  We arrived there around 4PM and walked hand in hand along the winding road which goes around the lake.  As we walked we discussed the doctor visit.  We're both a little afraid to become too optimistic because past experiences have taught us a thing or three, but we'll see how this goes.

The 19 acre lake is formed by a small dam on the Pigeon River

I don't know if Dr. Z has already worked magic on me or what, but since last week Friday, I've been feeling a lot better.  The incessant chest pressure and pain has almost completely subsided--for awhile I felt as if I had a fence post lodged in my sternum, oh it heart has stopped banging around (it's still beating, thank goodness, just not as Loud) and my joint pain has decreased.  My fatigue has also lessened to the point where I was able to get some yard work done over the weekend and if the weather would cooperate, I think I could see myself getting more accomplished.  I imagine the change has come about because the new dose of thyroid meds Mandy prescribed are finally taking effect two weeks later.  Thyroid disease is very slow to respond to medication, there's no instant relief from symptoms, unfortunately.

The road goes over the small dam which holds back the Pigeon River to form Keller Lake.  Love the cut granite stonework, probably done by the Civilian Conservation Corp years ago.  

The other side of the bridge, Pigeon River flowing free.
There are large granite outcroppings in the park which inspired us to use rock in our garden. 
Ferns and moss clinging to the stone.
Another beautiful outcropping, Mother Nature has us beat on rock placement every time.

I'm sure there will be all sorts of things I'll have to work on with Dr. Z.  He confirmed Mandy's diagnosis of Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease, and unfortunately, probably not limited just to thyroid destruction.  He said that flareups will happen over time and when they do occur, more of my thyroid will be destroyed which will then necessitate a raise in thyroid medication until the gland is finally finished off and then I will be completely dependent on meds to survive.

 He does feel there are steps I can take to improve my health and cut down on the flareups.  Let me admit right now, that though I want to be as healthy as possible not all of the changes are going to make me jump for joy.  He'd like to have me try a 90 day elimination diet to see if any of my symptoms lessen with the removal of certain foods.  Mandy had also recommended that route, too, in her seminars.  I have a few friends and people on the thyroid forums who have removed all gluten, sugar, dairy and meat from their diets with varying degrees of success, though none of them 'cured' their thyroid disease.  In some cases, they've felt better, in some cases, worse, but I guess it can't hurt to try.  (Much.) 

 Interestingly, when I told him my worst bouts have always been in the late summer and early fall, he said it is quite common.  There has been some research into whether the changing temperatures in our crazy part of the world have anything to do with it since in Wisconsin we can go from 90+ degrees to -25 in a few months time, not to mention the lack of sunlight, too.  Some studies cite the wide fluctuation in temperatures can cause a strain on the metabolism which can worsen thyroid conditions.  I can vouch for that.

 The problem with autoimmune diseases are the misery they cause throughout the body, incurring amongst other things, joint pain and arthritis which of course, led to the 'fibromyalgia' diagnosis the Polar Bear snottily threatened to label me with.  Don't get me wrong, I believe fibromyalgia is a very real problem, but as it relates to thyroid disease, I think it's mostly a case of under-treated thyroid function.  The ol' Polar Bear made me feel as though I were in need of a psychiatrist and not a doctor. 

The general consensus I have gleaned from countless hours of reading whatever I could find on thyroid disease is that there are a multitude of undiagnosed thyroid patients out there.  And most of those who have been diagnosed have been mismanaged by (hopefully) well-meaning, overworked doctors who were sadly taught to see thyroid disease as an 'easy to fix' problem.  

How many times haven't I heard, "You can't blame your thyroid for (fill in the blank).  You're medicated.  It's not your thyroid."

Really?  Pull the other one.

Let us reflect........
  This post is going far too long again, but upon reflection, things come to mind.   I'm certain my thyroid disease has been under-treated for many years, and after comparing notes with people near and far,  I know I'm not alone.  And that's a real tragedy.  There are more and more patient advocate groups forming with hopes of changing the status quo on thyroid treatment, and I have high hopes our voices will be heard.  The current medical school teachings and more importantly, attitudes, have to change. 

And finally,  I can't blame it all on doctors..... I admit I have to take an active part in improving my own health through diet and exercise.  No one can force me to eat more nutritiously or exercise more, and much of my health status does come down to the decisions I make every day.  Since New Year's Day 2012, I've stuck to my guns with the ol' diet and exercise routine faithfully.

 But I have read that excessive exercise isn't good for thyroid patients either, for if it becomes too intense (think of the Biggest Loser and those poor contestants passing out and throwing up) cortisol levels can be raised which defeats the purpose of exercising like a crazy person.  To this day, I've never watched a full episode of the show.  It makes me very uncomfortable to see people go through such torture. Can you imagine what they must feel like after their first day on the 'dreadmill'?    This isn't a sustainable lifestyle change for anyone, at least in my opinion.   But I know it's what passes for entertainment and the more drama, the more 'entertaining', though for the life of me, I really, really, Really don't enjoy watching people toss their lunch.

 And I wonder how many of those contestants have undiagnosed/undertreated thyroid problems?  Just sayin......

With a little luck, maybe this time things will keep improving. 

It certainly has been a long road to recovery.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

So What Else is New?

It is high time to talk about the garden and other mayhem going on around here for a change.  Enough with this woe is me fest.  While I've been spending hours and hours online researching one thing after another about thyroid disease, the garden has been left to do what it pleases ever since August 10.  That's right, I haven't weeded or worked in the garden since then.  This is a record for me, and not one I'm proud of.

It's true the mice play while the cat's away, and now I'm here to tell you that the weeds grow quick when the gardener's sick.

Carl on our Inspection Tour.  The Bubblegum Petunias are still going strong.  Amazing plant.
Carl and I took a walk around the garden on Monday night just before sunset and took stock of the work we have yet to do before the snow flies.  Wow, would you look at the weeds!   The mulch works wonders, but the weeds are not to be defeated that easily.  Since the end is near for the gardening season, I'm not too upset; I'll just weed while I whack stuff down for the winter.  But I have to get at it and soon; I have at least a bushel of daffodil bulbs to plant that I dug up earlier this summer when we remodeled the front garden.  I tripped over them in the garage the other day.  And then I saw some species tulips and crocus and fancy daffodils for sale at a big box store about a month ago and of course I bought 'em, so let's hope the ground doesn't freeze solid before I get around to planting.

Looking back over this summer, the only new remodeling we did in the garden was the Front Bed out by the road where it went from this in June:
June 2013 (The 'Degroot Spire' cedars are doing well out in the Back Eight.  They'll be back somewhere else eventually.)

July 2013

October 2013
Thank goodness for the Supertunia Vista Bubblegum petunias again this year; they more or less took care of themselves after August.
Profusion Cherry Zinnias are still holding their own, too.

There are some regular 'Wave' petunias planted in with the Bubblegums and some 'Scarlet Runner Beans', too.
That's it for the new additions/remodeling this year.  This one was successful because every time I go and get the mail I can't help but stroll across the rock wall.  And as we all know, nothing makes my heart happier than rocks and flowers.  (And tractors.)

Monday's nice weather gave way to dreary and wet since Tuesday which gives me a good excuse not to work in the garden yet again.  Over the weekend we picked tomatoes at Ann's sister's house and brought home four laundry baskets lined two deep with orange/red goodness waiting to be canned for juice.  On Monday and Tuesday I worked on washing and cutting them up and running them through the juicer.  I hate to admit it, but standing for any length of time has been tiring during this med change, so what would have normally taken me a day to complete, stretched out to two.  Carl is as helpful in the kitchen as he is in the garden, and for some reason loves to can, so I took him up on his offer to help me when he got home from work.  I feel guilty about being such a pansy lately, but he just tells me to hush up when I whine.

Man At Work
When he got home from work last night the rain had stopped for a bit,  so I took a break to photograph the wet garden while the juice was bubbling on the stove.

The leaves in the woods across the road are dropping fast, and they are glorious when the sun shines, but even in the rain there is beauty.  This is our 'borrowed view' whenever we look out the front window.  I have loved this woods all my life.  Though we don't own it, we are grateful it has been left to stand in all its glory.

 Back on our side of the road, here are a bunch of random shots of mid-October:
My hyacinth beans didn't grow as lavishly as other years, in fact these are the first flowers of the season, but they were worth waiting for.
Gotta love those bean pods (I took this photo Monday night in the sun)

I wandered around the yard, trying to avoid drips, here we are back behind the chicken coop:

More random wandering around:
Lots of wet foliage, glad I'm not cleaning beds out today. 

 Yessirree, there's a lot of work to do around here in a few short weeks.

I let the Girls out to forage for grasshoppers and other bugs now, they might as well free-range until spring.   They'll scratch out the mulch and dig holes and generally make a nuisance of themselves (look out for poo-bombs) but I know they eliminate many garden pests with their diligent work ethic.  They are molting now which mystifies me, I sure hope their new feathers come back in before the snow flies.

The drizzle started up again, so I made my way back to the house, and my hard-working husband.
Looks like I was gone a little too long!  We ended up with 36 quarts of juice.

The sun is supposed to shine later on today and also on Thursday, but then we're back to a rainy pattern again.  I'm thinking of washing clothes today and hope my Solar Dryer will cooperate.  Even if I leave the laundry out overnight, it might dry Thursday.  Or not.  This time of year is tricky when it comes to laundry on the line.

I have another doctor's appointment coming up with the new MD very soon.  I don't know what will happen; I'm trying not to be overly optimistic or unduly pessimistic.   His office is 70 miles away but he comes highly recommended by my new thyroid patient friend.  The initial 15 minute consultation is 'free', that is if you don't count the drive there and back, but at this point, I don't have too many options.  I guess it can't hurt to see what he thinks, right?  I'll keep you posted on what happens.....sigh.

There is more work to do around here than I can shake a stick at, that is if I was up to shaking sticks at things, ha.  I've been neglecting housework (but that's not new) and also my 93 year old mother who is in better shape than me.

And we all need more problems like we need a hole in our heads, but wait, there are more problems:

Rocks with Holes in Their Heads
 I forgot to mention that last week Thursday I went up to visit my Mom with the dogs. Imagine my surprise when I walked in her driveway and saw a huge puddle of water.  I was perplexed and so was Mom.  As we stood there staring at the puddle, every now and then a small geyser of water would rise up to the surface, oh no........that can't be a good thing.  It turns out the water line seven feet underground to the house had sprung a leak.  The well was running continually and the water had finally made it's way up to the surface.  I cut the power to the well and called Carl and texted Joel at their respective jobs; both of them told me to wait until they got home.

Joel came home and dug as far as he could by hand and with the tractor, but he couldn't get ahead of the water.  We had to admit defeat.

We ended up calling a well company and on the following day while Carl and Joel were at work, they dug up Mom's yard, found the hole in the line and repaired it.  I hung around while the two well guys worked and assisted where I could by going down in the basement and turning the well on and off for them. The resulting hole was literally big and deep enough to bury my mother's Buick with room to spare.

 When they had the water line fixed one of them asked me, "What do you want us to do about the hole in the driveway?  The clay we dug out is too wet to backfill with.  You're gonna have a spongy sinkhole if we use it."

Since I've been feeling like dirt warmed over myself, I don't think very quickly on my feet lately, so I said, "What do you suggest?"

He lit a cigarette and stood there surveying the cavernous crater and the oozing six foot tall pile of wet clay.  The other guy shrugged too.  We were a sad threesome.  But time's a wastin' boys, the meter's running, let's think of something.

After another drag on his cigarette, he said, "If I were you, I'd get a load of gravel in here and backfill the hole with that.  That clay will take a year or two to dry out if you bury it and the driveway will be a mess.  The gravel would be more solid."

I could see the logic in that.  But then I looked at the big pile of disgustingly wet clay.  Someone will have to haul it away.  While we stood there water was continually oozing out of the pile of glop and the sides of the hole were slowly caving in, plopping into the standing water still in the hole.

My poor old thyroid brain was doing it's best to come up with a fast decision.  Getting gravel brought in is no problem since our good friend and excavator, Charlie, can usually help me out there, but what about the wet clay pile?  And do I have these guys wait around while I get gravel delivered?  And then we'd have to hire a dump truck to haul the clay away.  At how much an hour?  Ummm, no. The well guy was already lighting another cigarette.  C'mon Karen, THINK!

I made a decision, a unilateral, not checked out with or approved of by my menfolk decision. 

"We'll take care of the hole."

The well guys seemed pleased to hear that news.  "Ok, sounds good."  They picked up their tools, loaded their nice little backhoe on the trailer and were gone.

They did leave me with a big roll of 'Caution' tape though, which amused Mom no end.

"Why did they leave this behind?" she asked.

"We're supposed to put that up around the hole," I answered.


"So people don't fall or drive into the hole."

"You're kidding me!  Who would drive into that hole?  If they saw the pile of dirt, they sure wouldn't be stupid enough to fall in a hole, would they?"

"Well, Mom, they might just be so fascinated by the big pile of dirt that they'd miss seeing the hole and drive right on in by accident.  Better safe than sorry."

I reminded her of the time a few winters ago when an elderly friend of hers came for a visit after a big snowstorm.  I'd just finished plowing Mom's driveway.  Her friend apparently didn't think I'd gone far enough and drove her car right smack dab into a 4' tall snowbank down by the machine shed when she tried to turn around.  She didn't just get stuck, she buried that sucker.  It took me an hour to dig in the snow far enough with a shovel to hook a chain up to her car.  Finally with the tractor, I was able to extricate her Cadillac from it's snowy prison. 

Mom agreed with me then; yes, Caution Tape was definitely in order.  We don't want to lose any little old ladies.

Long story short (and yes, do I ever write anything short?) we fixed the hole ourselves.  Charlie took the time to run me out a load of gravel and Carl and I worked all Friday afternoon right up until 10:30 that night hauling clay away to the Back Eight and grading and leveling Mom's driveway with the new gravel.  The hole is still settling, but at least there's no danger of trapping unsuspecting Cadillacs in it.

I didn't feel very good while we were working on this job since my health is goofy, but I did truly enjoy the time spent on the tractors hauling dirt back and forth.  This farm has always been a source of comfort for me even with all of the good and the bad memories.  Just like I've never seen a rock I don't like, the same goes for tractors.  Most people think that driving back and forth at a snail's pace must be the most boring job in the world, but nothing could be further from the truth for me.

 I find my peace on a tractor.

Me and my tractor, 1974