We don’t mean to complain here, for who wants to hear someone else’s complaining, and as many of you know, pain is a frequent side effect of Not Dying. But the last several months have had a lot to do with pain. Not the normal and expected pain – the corn on my foot, the sore muscles after strenuous landscaping, the injured finger. No, Kim’s pain is different. It’s chronic, and it’s pervasive – involving virtually every joint in her body, plus some non-joint areas such as her shins. Pain pills don’t touch it, though they do, sometimes, help her sleep. We suspect that the pain is a side effect of the Zometa she takes to prevent her bones from losing calcium, a side effect of her cancer medication.
Those of you who know Kim, either in person or through these writings, know her fighting spirit. She does not complain. She does not like to talk about her pain, and I’m sure she does not want me to write about it here. Kim works through the pain, daily, to get the job done. The job is often her taking care of me and our home – cooking, cleaning, gardening, and more. That work, plus her handling her camera and her ongoing artwork making cards, nests, frames, all involve her hands. All of this work has added another source of pain - De Quervain's tenosynovitis, which some of you may know “as a painful condition affecting the tendons on the thumb side of your wrist. If you have de Quervain's, it will probably hurt when you turn your wrist, grasp anything or make a fist.” Kim has surgery scheduled for her left hand and wrist next week. Her right hand, a little less painful, will be dealt with in the near future. The pain in her knees and feet bother her, with the prospect of compromised mobility, but it’s her struggles with her hands that are most upsetting.
All of which brings me to an appreciation of Kim’s hands. The poem below is written about a grandfather, and I’m not yet able to write a similar one about Kim, and perhaps I never will be ready, but the appreciation is the same.
by Jack Ridl
My grandfather grew up holding rags,
pounding his fist into the pocket
of a ball glove, gripping a plumb line
for his father who built what anyone
needed. At sixteen, wanting to work on
his own, he lied about his age
and for forty-nine years carried his lunch
to the assembly line where he stood
tightening bolts on air brake after
air brake along the monotonous belt.
I once asked him how he did that all
those years. He looked at me, said,
"I don't understand. It was only
eight hours a day," then closed
his fists. Every night after dinner
and a pilsner, he worked some more.
In the summer, he'd turn the clay,
grow tomatoes, turnips, peas,
and potatoes behind borders
of bluebells and English daisies,
and marigolds to keep away the rabbits.
When the weather turned to frost,
he went to the basement where,
until the seeds came in March,
he made perfect picture frames, each
glistening with layers of sweet shellac.
His hands were never bored. Even
in his last years, arthritis locking every
knuckle, he sat in the kitchen carving
wooden houses you could set on a shelf,
one after another, each one different.
Kim has amazing hands – and not just when she touches me. I watch her work the dough when she is making scones, or when she is loosening the roots of a plant before we place it into the soil, or when she is weaving twigs, grasses and lichen into a nest, or when she works a Q-tip to clean the mold out of a sink drain, or when she deftly works the dials and buttons on her camera – sometimes a struggle, but still . . .. And now she may cry out when rearranging her pillow on the couch, or lifting a pan out of the dishwater, or opening a drawer. Sometimes I hear her pain from another room, and this creates an echoing pain in me.