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A Season of Mustering

By Kim Carr:

Kim Carr

Here in the Midwest, our seasons generally come and go every three months. Some linger a little longer, like winter, while spring and fall seem to fly by. While I live by the coming and going of the four seasons, it seems as if my life has its own gravitational pull and I’ve been in some secret vortex that I can best explain as a “Season of Mustering.”


Kim Carr and "The Season of Mustering"

Unlike winter, spring, summer, or fall, the season of mustering has not had a ninety-day plus or minus limit. Seems as if I’ve been mustering up the strength to get by for a little over two and a half years now, off and on. I certainly have nothing to complain about, nothing for anyone to worry about, I just haven’t been 100 percent for a while. Like most, I imagine, I have my share of good and not-so good days. Guess it would be easy enough to say that life has been a little topsy-turvy since the passing of my mom in October 2021. Not that there is any time frame for grief, because there isn’t, it’s just taken longer than I expected to wrap my head around her not being here.


It didn’t help that seven, eight months after my mom passed, I got sick. I found out I’m diabetic (sure went through the wringer to get it figured out). I spent a whole week in bed, which is unheard of for me. Then many days off and on for some time in bed or the easy chair once I gained enough strength to make it as far as the living room. Dropped nearly forty pounds just from not feeling well. I gained fifteen or so back and am maintaining now.


One day it took me over two hours to muster up the strength to get out of bed and fix Patty Ann her bottle; I knew then that things were not good. I’m grateful for my friends who stepped in and really helped me through this time by taking care of the farm and myself. It didn’t used to be in my nature to ask for help; that has changed—asking for help is now in my DNA. With my mom gone, I’ve come to rely on others much more frequently.


During this time of trying to figure out what exactly was going on with me, I had a special event: a reception for a solo exhibit at the Ethical Society. I spent the day before at Urgent Care. It took all the mustering I could come up with to be at the event, interact with others, give a speech. I felt like cow pies warmed over, if you know what I mean. I made it through and had a wonderful time, but it took everything I had . . . I was zapped for days afterward. 


In all, it probably took five or six months of feeling like crud while trying to figure things out with my blood sugar. Two huge changes resulted: I switched to diet soda, which I never, ever thought I would do. Took forever for me not to think it tasted like . . . I find it very aggravating that the cans and cases are very similar between regular and diet Cherry Coke; I would like to work on that design team, make it easy for folks to distinguish regular from diet. The other big change is I no longer eat potatoes three meals a day. I do miss that. I love potatoes. In fact, I don’t eat them very often anymore—never thought that would happen either.



They were hard adjustments for me, but I think they have helped me in the long run. If my mom were still here, she would be absolutely gob smacked at my dietary changes. I’m still shocked myself. I’m not someone who embraces change very well. The fact that I have managed almost two years without real soda and a regular intake of mashed potatoes is a study on survival. Yes, I am a wimp, especially when it comes to food. I now check my blood sugar daily and take meds to help control it along with my modified diet and supplements. I’m very fortunate to not need insulin injections. I have a couple friends that this is a part of their daily routine. They are an inspiration, as I know how challenging diabetes can be.

 

The whole chapter of discovery could be a book on its own. Life really did change that quickly in Summer 2022.

I’m very fortunate to have amazing friends and family who really came through when I was wondering if I was going to make it another day. Being sick sucks. On a positive note, I had been accepted, finally, into a health-care plan. Only a few times in my life have I ever had health care, and each time it seems like something big comes up in which I really need insurance to get me through. So, I’m very grateful to have had coverage during this season of mustering, the season of diabetes and more. Having insurance has given me the opportunity to heal, health-wise. Don’t know what I would do without it. When I finally got insurance this time around, I was asked when my last doctor visit was: I guesstimated 2008,


So, through all this I’ve still been working, taking care of the farm, and getting on with life just like normal, but not feeling great. More often than I care to admit, I have felt the need to muster all my strength to do my everyday tasks, a weird feeling for me. 



In November of last year, by chance, I was assigned a new nurse practitioner. I really liked the other gal, but my new NP really listened to me about my everyday aches and pains. I never really complain much—who’s got the time—I figured it was just life. 


Aches and pains come with age, and I’m no Benjamin Button.

My new NP listened intently to me and really dug in. She got me scheduled with a podiatrist to figure out the severe foot pain I have had for years. At one point I thought I would need to stop doing art shows because I had so much pain; I was unsure how I would get in or out of the van, unable to put any weight on my foot. I was certain it was an improperly healed foot fracture (not sure why I thought that), but that is what the pain felt like. I had no idea when I would have fractured my foot, but lots of things happen on the farm that I tend to forget about or just shake off and get on with the matter at hand. My foot was almost always in pain; sometimes it’s just worse than others. It caused me to limp pretty bad. So I was excited to see a podiatrist and find out what was going on with my foot. This was a new concept for me, being excited to see a doctor.


I knew years ago that I had arthritis in both ankles, so that news didn’t come as a surprise. What did surprise me was that the main cause of my pain: bone spurs. The doc showed me the x-rays with the little spikes of bone pressing on nerves in my foot. Somehow just knowing my pain was legit made my foot feel better. The doc said all shoe tongues used to be padded, which would help in cases such as mine, but over the years manufacturers took them out to cut costs. She said surgery might not help me and could possibly make my situation worse. With the added padding to my shoe and slowing down, my foot is now feeling much better. Just keeping my fingers and toes crossed that the pain can be managed without future surgery.


My new NP also asked me to take a Cologuard test, said I was past the age for which I should have started doing these on a regular basis. I wasn’t fond of this idea, but an at-home test sure seemed much better than the alternative. Of course, I was less-than thrilled when my test came back positive. I was sure it was a false positive, user error or something silly like that. Now I had to do the whole colonoscopy thing, I figured for nothing. To say I was dreading the procedure would be an understatement. My previous mindset had always been one of “only go to the doctor if I think I’m dying” and had served me well so far. 


Having insurance the past two years or so has most certainly helped shift my mindset to one of maintenance and preventative care instead of operating under a triage mentality. 

That was a big change for me mentally; you can teach an old dog new tricks.


The colonoscopy was scheduled for March. Having now gone through the whole thing, I can honestly say it was much easier than I expected. The worst part was drinking 4,000 gallons of what they call "prep." My biggest fear was self-induced drowning. I understand the reason for having you drink so much in preparation but . . . I still don’t like it.  


I had to do extra prep due to my gut history. So, for two days I had to drink the potion and do a liquid diet the day before the procedure. I was worried how my diabetes would react to a liquid diet and fasting. My blood sugars can drop fast. They run higher than the average person, so if mine get even in normal range, say 90–125, I’m miserable, weak, shaky, and feel like passing out—no fun. I’m sure I was supposed to get excited about broth and Jello, but I’m not six, and I like to eat real food EVERY DAY. The happy surprise was that my blood sugars didn’t go all whacky. To be on the safe side, my friend Jacque, who is a nurse, stayed with me during prep in case I had any issues. Pretty nice to have my own personal nurse when I live almost an hour away from the nearest hospital. She also served as my chauffer since they won’t let you drive after being knocked out.


I found the prep to be much rougher than the procedure itself. I had no idea how much stuff the human body could hold; I have been educated. I am certain that remnants of my first-grade lunches were cut loose from the lining of my gut. When your body creates noises that cause a 130-pound sleeping dog to scramble to his feet, not knowing which way to run to escape the thunder, you know it’s bad.


I had my colonoscopy at one of the Mercy Medical buildings in Washington, MO. Everyone was as nice and professional as could be. I don’t remember anything except they promised me a cookie after the procedure, which they claimed as the best. All I could think about was my cookie—so much for adulting. After I got gowned up and ready, I remember talking about my cows to the nurses . . . and that is all I remember. Next thing I know, I’m back in the recovery room.  


Everything went great as far as I knew. No issues, no pain. Once I got my wits about me, my doc, Dr. M, came in and explained that she had found a polyp and removed it. She placed a couple staples to close the spot where the polyp was removed. I now have a card to carry with me should I go through a metal detector. In addition to the polyp, she also found a large mass in my colon that would need to be surgically removed. She did a biopsy, but it would be a few days for the results. She recommended that I go ahead and meet with a surgeon ASAP to have the mass removed. Dr. M was very chill and never mentioned the dreaded "C word" but encouraged me to get things moving quickly. Jacque remained calm, I remained calm; no need to worry. I was going to do what I was told to do. I asked if she could recommend a female surgeon, and she was happy to do so—I myself am delighted that we now have such choices. As some sort of door prize, Dr. M gave me several pictures she had taken inside my colon. I now have a newfound interest in sending out a Christmas letter this year!


My memory is not the greatest, but it is like an elephant's when it comes to food, so of course I asked for my cookie before leaving; it was every bit as good as they said.

Two days later, I found myself in St. Louis getting a CT scan and bloodwork in preparation for surgery. Come Monday, I was sitting in the surgeon’s office: Dr. D in Washington. She pulled out a pad of paper and a pen and sketched out a map of my colon, explaining the surgery plan to me. I really liked her. She was young and I could tell she was a go-getter. I felt she would personally make it her mission to do her very best by me. She would remove 1/3 of my colon, taking the mass and at least 11 lymph nodes to be tested for "C." Jacque came along, knowing I was not likely to remember much of what the doc told me. 


As a bonus, Dr. D would also remove my appendix since, apparently, it really isn’t needed and is attached to the end of your large intestine (colon). My expected hospital stay was 2–5 days, with recovery 6–12 weeks. Personally, I was shooting for the shorter side, high expectations I reckon. I continue to ease back into things no matter how long it takes to get back to where I need to be. No sense in undoing all the work doc has done.  


Thank goodness the biopsy of the polyp and mass came back negative, but I was told that due to the size (which was blocking 2/3 of my colon), they would need to dig deeper into the mass after its removal to make sure there wasn’t something lurking inside. They would also take and test several lymph nodes for extra precaution.  


During the visit, my surgeon said she would like to get the mass out as soon as possible. In my head, I’m thinking mid-April, early May. Next thing I know, I’m being scheduled for surgery that coming Thursday—three days from the initial visit with surgeon! I live in the country, we take things at a slower pace. Surgery in three days? REALLY? I had no time to fret or worry about anything. It all moved so fast, but I felt good about getting things done. All I knew was that I was about to get this mass out of me that I had only learned about five days prior, but perhaps it was the root of other long-time issues. Maybe this would be like two birds, one stone. 


Jacque helping out on the farm

Joy of joys, I also got to go through another prep!! My tummy grumbles just thinking about it now. In all seriousness, I have become a pro at preps. I have ways to make it easier now and make the taste not as bad. Even though three days was an extremely short time to mentally prepare for a surgery, it did give me enough time to prep the farm and my critters for my absence. I was fortunate that Jacque works seven days on and seven off. She was able to tack on a couple vacation days to watch after the farm as I prepared for my surgery and hospital stay. 


The surgery took longer than expected because of scar tissue from a hysterectomy back in the mid 90s after I "accidentally" discovered I had a bunch of fibroid tumors in my uterus that were causing a lot of trouble. Fast forward thirty-plus years and, according to my surgeon, apparently my body just likes to grow things—gratefully, non-malignant type things. 


I don’t remember a whole lot of my five days in the hospital. I know everyone was super nice and took excellent care of me. I even had one tech come in shadowing another for the day. She looked at me, I looked at her, and simultaneously we both said each other’s name in a surprised voice. I hadn’t seen this young lady since she was perhaps four or five years old, but she still looked the same, only taller and twenty-something years older. It was so nice to see her all grown up and doing well in life. What a small world. I must say, they have a great team of nurses and techs over at Mercy hospital in Washington; even Jacque was impressed, and she’s a tough judge when it comes to things like that after spending a lifetime in health care. 


I did my best to be a good patient. Jacque’s technical terminology for me is that I am a “compliant patient.” Whatever the doctor and my care help asked of me, I was going to do my best to do while not causing much trouble. A little kindness goes a long way. Even if I didn’t always feel my best, I could still be kind. It made my stay much more pleasant for me and for those who took care of me. 



While I didn’t realize it at the time, one of the most significant educational moments of my life was having the opportunity to care for both my mom and grandma at the end of their lives. It really changed my perspective and mindset from fear of doctors to just get it done. If this is going to help, or if this is what needs to be done, just do it. 


My mom and grandma were such troopers with all they went through, so it was my time to put my lineage of tough women to the test. 

Not sure if I get some sort of report card at the end of all this or not, but I know I would get “Much Improved” written on the top with a gold star. In the past if I had to give blood, I wouldn’t/couldn’t look, and I needed to lay down while they did it or I would pass out. Tears may have stung the edges of my eyeballs in years past if I was going to be poked. Not now. Still can’t look, but “Much Improved.” Something has changed, and I credit my mom and grandma for their bravery; it has made me stronger. I can carry a baby cow across a pasture, stand knee deep in mud, work thru bitter cold temps, but the thought of going to a doctor used to make me cringe in fear. Times have changed, thank goodness, or life would have been kinda miserable the last couple years. I guess change is a good thing. Took me a long time to understand this. It appears that regular doctor visits and checkups are a part of being a mature adult . . . well, maybe not so mature.  



Now that I am five weeks post-surgery, I’m feeling better all around. I’m still on a restricted weight-lift limit and using great caution with bending, overextending myself, and just general movement/motion. Most certainly I am getting stronger and feeling better every day. I can’t say my stamina is anywhere near what I want it to be, but overall I have nothing to complain about. Maybe the seasons are changing, and as long as we can muster through, we can make it.


 
Jacque with the treats.

 

A special thank you to Jacque for all her hard work and support. She who took it upon herself to do a little thank you for the staff every day during my stay at the hospital. Along with some help from my aunt and uncle, she made sure all the nurses, techs, doctors, and other personnel knew how much I appreciated the care I was given. I never worried about my treatment, but I’m sure her little gestures each day had a positive ripple throughout the unit that I can’t even imagine. Thank you, Jacque! 






Kim Carr is a photographer and mid-Missouri hobby farmer who has combined her love for the country life with that of natural-light photography. Her work reflects my commitment to sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of all animals. To learn more about Kim, read her interview with Elizabeth Gracen here.


To purchase Kim's photography, visit her website: kimcarrphotography.com 

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