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Inversion Table

Here I am trying my new inversion table.  For those who don’t know, the apparatus holds your body by the ankles while you hang upside down.  This is meant to stretch the spine.  The model I have is the latest base model Teeter HangUps, although I do not endorse any particular product.  I found the barely used table locally for half the new price.

For years I’ve suffered with body pain.  My upper back was injured in a car accident, tearing a rotator cuff in a place so deep it cannot be reached for a repair operation.  The injury has caused me constant pain for twenty years.  My lower back was fine until pregnancy.  Something was moved out of place and has never been the same.  The lower back sometimes goes out, making it difficult to straighten.  There is a lot of pain.  My hip was injured in a winter fall.  I slipped on ice and my body landed with the front side of my hip hitting a concrete block.  Since then that side of my pelvis aches after moderate walking, climbing, etc.

I take NSAID pain relievers only when I have an acute issue such as a muscle spasm.  Otherwise I deal with the pain mostly by ignoring it.  A Theracane and self-administered trigger point therapy is helpful in reducing muscles spasms and alleviating pain.  For several years I visited a chiropractor, but found the continual trips for short visits didn’t address the issues for long.  I had to return every few weeks for another adjustment.  It almost felt like a racket.  I have also used four massage therapists and an occupational therapist over the years with minimal results.

Often I wondered if stretching my spine by hanging upside down might provide some relief.  The idea was:  straighten the spine and stretch the space between the vertebral discs with gentle traction provided by my body weight and it might put things back where they belonged.

Finally, after several years of thinking about it, I took the big step of splurging $150 on an inversion table.  The ankles are firmly clamped, then you use your body weight to control the degree of inversion.  The table will allow a body to hang completely upside down, 90 degrees.  So far I’ve gone to around 85 degrees.  I try to use the table at least every day, sometimes two or three times in a day.  The instructions recommend repeated daily use.  It only takes a couple minutes each time.

What a difference already!  I’ve been using the table about one and a-half months.  Immediately I felt my pelvis stretch and almost pop.  It seemed that something was evened out in the bones.  Since then there has been no pain with exercise.  I can hike all I want and the pelvis doesn’t hurt.  The lower and upper back also have improved.  I have less sore days and decreased intensity of pain.  With continued use, I hope to see even more improvement.

An added benefit I’ve found is that the table is helping to strengthen my core.  It allows a type of sit up to be performed that doesn’t put any pressure on the spine.  Using the stomach muscles to pull up against gravity is an excellent workout.

The biggest advantage is that the time spent on the table is minimal.  Just a few minutes per use.  As you can see by my face in the photo, the blood all goes to the head.  Not a terribly comfortable position for extended periods.  Because one of my legs seems to be slightly shorter than the other, there is more strain on one ankle.  Also, the stress on both ankles cannot be overlooked.  Since I’ve been going to nearly 90 degrees, I’ve been wearing pants and socks to pad my ankles.  This does help significantly.  Luckily, benefits are achieved through sessions of short duration so the discomforts I’ve mentioned are not unbearable.

Overall, I give an inversion table designed like mine two thumbs up.  It has really helped me!

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The Scent of a Human

Foster kittens six weeks old

Many animals are sensitive to airborne chemicals in the environment.  It is a matter of safety to be able to quickly and accurately detect particles that are the product of fire, for instance, or to sense the presence of a predator or the reek of decay.  Smell is used to distinguish edibles and identify friends.  Humans, along with most mammals, have a strong sense of smell.

Some humans abuse that sense through smoking or are unfortunate enough to lose sensitivity due to allergies chronically clogging the nasal passages.  I recently read of a study that determined humans have very sensitive olfactory abilities, nearing those of dogs, that should not be dismissed.  Our reactions to aromatic compounds often occur at a visceral level, escaping our conscious notice.

For our closest domestic companions, dogs and cats, scent is an important means of communication.  We know this because both species have anal glands.  Sniffing under the tail is a social behavior for cats and dogs.  Observe a pet cat or dog as it encounters another member of the household menagerie.  A quick sniff of the nether regions leads to a visible body relaxation for both animals if the newcomer is a known friend.  There is almost a language of the bottom, as it were.

This sensitivity to aromatic organic compounds in cats was markedly demonstrated to me just yesterday.  I am currently fostering two kittens who are living in our home with their very feral mother, Moon.  The kittens are not feral, they adore humans.  Both have a natural affinity for me since I was the first human to become a permanent fixture in their short young lives.  One kitten is a black and white ball of adventure.  I suspect it’s a boy, although it is so dark under the tail I’m still not totally sure.  The other baby cat is a more sedate, pensive little yellow tiger female.  She has always been very snuggly with me.  She was the first to cuddle against my neck with a rattling purr.

This kitten is especially drawn to my lap.  She will run to me when she is frightened or unsure and press for comfort against my inner thighs if I’m seated crossed-legged on the floor.  That is her favorite place on my body.  If I’m standing, she will settle on my foot.  She sleeps contentedly in my lap.  I find this sweet and heartbreakingly endearing since she will soon enough have to leave my foster home for a permanent place and people of her own.  Imagine my despair when yesterday she suddenly wanted nothing to do with me!

It became quickly apparent that little girl kitten did not wish to be near me that morning.  I could think of no reason for the altered behavior.  She would not come close to me on the floor.  If I tried to hold her, she struggled and squirmed mightily to escape my clutches.  The kitten refused my every advance.  Her little “brother,” meanwhile, behaved as usual:  boisterous, reckless and full of antics.  Little sister just sat morosely off to the side with her tail curled around her feet, staring at me.  If I reached tentatively toward her, she fled in horror.  This behavior lasted all day.  By evening I was convinced the sweet lover kitten now hated me.

The look of a morose, disgruntled kitten

Late that night, as I was bathing, I was struck with sudden inspiration when I noticed the scent of my new perfume.  It was the first day I had worn Lancome Hypnose.  Since the kittens arrived, four weeks ago, I’ve only used one scent, a lily-of-the-valley sort of fragrance, JMC, Jessica McClintock.  Could it be the kitten’s response was triggered by the change in fragrance?  This morning I applied JMC again.  The main pulse point I use is the area of the inner thigh that corresponds to the underarm.

Favorite area on human

The change in the kitten’s response was amazing!  From her first whiff of me, everything was alright again.  She cozied up and even rubbed her tiny nose on mine.  When we sat on the floor, she claimed my lap immediately.  Her relief at the return to normal was obvious.  The good human was back.  Not the evil, strange smelling imitation that assaulted her the day before with demands for affection.

Ahhh, the right smell, the good human is back!

This lesson on the sensitivity of the six-week-old kitten nose is not lost on me.  In the future I will swap perfumes slowly, blending the fragrances for a couple days, so the little feline can still recognize me.  I will also vary the scents I use to teach the kittens that the same human may have a different smell and still be safe.  We do not have anal glands (thank goodness!!) but we each do have a particular aroma that is memorized by our furry housemates.  I suspect that our scent, more than any other feature, is what our cat and dog pets rely upon to distinguish their humans.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

This is being written for the consideration of anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation and is contemplating carpal tunnel surgery.  I wish I had been provided this information when I was deciding to get the work done.  Please do not think I’m complaining or looking for sympathy.  I’m not.  Merely trying to inform people about my experiences.

I first noticed the problem about seven years ago when my hands fell asleep every time I sat and tried to use them for things like crafts or writing.  It got so bad that they felt numb and tingly nearly all the time.  The doctor diagnosed me with carpal tunnel syndrome and recommended surgery.  She said if I didn’t get the issue corrected my hands would become damaged over time since the nerves were being impinged.  To relieve the pressure, the tendon that supports the wrist bones must be cut.  That is the surgical procedure.  It is done under general anesthesia.

What the doctor explained about the narrowing of the carpal tunnel in the wrist and the squeezing of the nerve that must pass through the tunnel to reach the hand made sense.  I believed her and didn’t put any effort into second opinions.  The surgery was scheduled with a specialist.  I had both wrists done at the same time, bi-lateral surgery.  The procedure was conducted as a day surgery and I went home that evening with both wrists bandaged.

The pain was fairly intense for a few days.  For anyone getting bi-lateral surgery for the sake of convenience, consider that you will find it nearly impossible to use your hands with any force for several days following surgery.  The problem becomes apparent when you enter the restroom.  I struggled until I adopted through trial and error a technique for hygiene that placed little strain on the hands.  The healing was rapid and I only needed to use a couple Tylenol 3 during recovery.  The tiny incision scars quickly disappeared.

When it no longer hurt to use the hands, I began physical therapy to return the strength of my grip.  The therapist tested my grip and prescribed various exercises which I followed religiously.  I was motivated to regain the use of my hands.  By the end of the sessions the therapist was impressed that I had a grip strength that surpassed most women.  She was pleased with my progress and ended the sessions.  What I didn’t tell her was my grip was actually reduced from the power I had before surgery.  I continued the exercises and hoped for the best.

Things went along fairly smoothly.  My sense of how hard I gripped things had changed.  I thought my hands were holding tightly enough, but actually, at times, they were not.  I dropped stuff…a lot.  It was frustrating.  Hoping for the best, I figured over time I’d improve.  Then one day I was just lifting an empty five gallon bucket by the handle and something popped in my wrist.  It was quite painful.  A swelling developed in the area below the base of my thumb.  The place of the swelling can be seen in my two photos, although the swelling from an active injury is much more pronounced.  These photos are of the usual condition of my wrists now.  The little lump below the thumb should not be there.

The doctor said I had sprained my wrist.  I wore a splint to protect the area and tried not to overuse the other hand while the sprain healed.  Unfortunately, sprains in both wrists have become a part of my life.  When I do heavy manual labor I must wear restrictive splints with metal supports or I risk sprains.  Just everyday living can result in injury.  A movement as simple as wiping a dish, opening a drawer or lifting a cup can result in a strain or a sprain.  The reduced sense of grip has remained and I continue to drop items if I don’t remember to pay attention to how tightly I am holding them.  I described these difficulties to my doctor and she had nothing to say, she just glossed over my concerns.  I changed doctors.

The problem is the cutting of the tendon that supports the wrist.  Without that band of tissue to keep the bones in place under strain, ligaments are stressed until micro tears occur, pulling the ligament away from the bone (a sprain.)  This is the dirty little secret the doctors and surgeons don’t mention when they push for carpal tunnel surgery.  You are left to discover on your own that your hands will never be the same.  Sure, the pins and needles and numbness are gone, but the pain of wrist sprains is there to stay.  Because I live on a farm and use my hands for everything I do, the chronic pain has settled into the area of the base of my thumbs on both hands.

The only relief for this pain is massage, which I perform on my hands frequently.  Since the time of my surgery, I have been a patient of two different massage therapists who both informed me that prior to surgery I should have tried massage therapy.  They both explained that the pressure in my wrists leading to my hands falling asleep could very likely have been relived with trigger point therapy.  The tightening of muscles in the neck, shoulder and arms can lead to the symptoms of carpal tunnel impingement.  They told me many people have found a cure for the problem from massage therapy alone.  If only one of the medical doctors had informed me of this!  Or if only I had not been so trusting of their authority and opinions.

Now, whenever anyone mentions to me they are considering the surgery, I describe my experiences for them in the hope they can make a better informed decision than I.

Crystal Glaze

The ice storm two days ago left everything on the farm glazed in a layer of shimmering crystal.  Every twig and blade gleams in the sun, a fantastic winter landscape.  The slightest breeze sets the branches swaying against one another in myriad musical chimes.

The day after the storm was warm and some of the ice melted.  An ice coating about 1/4″ thick remains, bending limbs and boughs dangerously toward the snapping point.  Every so often, an overloaded branch breaks with a resounding crack.  The supple birch trees bow to the ground with the weight.  Most will never stand straight again.  We will probably have to cut this birch as it leans right over the driveway now.

We lost power for over two and a half hours during the storm.  Some still have not gotten their electrical supply restored.  Dinner the night of the storm was ham and cheese sandwiches by candlelight instead of the turkey stroganoff I had planned.

The day after the storm I drove to town.  In one place, a downed, dead electric line snaked across most of my travel lane.  The stressed-out utility workers merely cut the line and left it to collect later.  Large trees were uprooted and hung dangerously over the road in other areas.  Our neighbor lost several major branches from his pine that fell close to the road.

Although the ice can be dangerous and a serious inconvenience, for a brief time it turns even the most mundane landscape into a glittering wonderland before the temperatures rise and the glaze drips away into memories.

From the Deep Freeze

There has not been much to report these last few weeks.  The most popular topic of conversation is the bitter cold of mid-winter in Maine.  We have just suffered through at least three weeks with daily highs barely clearing 0F.  The coldest nights reached -20F here at the farm.  The chickens, horses and rabbits do fine in this sort of weather with proper shelter from the wind and wet.  Hens drop off laying when it’s very cold, so we only got one or two frozen eggs per day from 19 layers.

The chill is hard on wild animals, especially the song birds.  The feeders are emptied quickly.  The resident cardinal pair made sallies to eat the red holly berries from my outdoor holiday arrangement by the front door.  Cary and Kai, our year-old cats, sat for hours in the window waiting for the cardinals to show up.  All the feeding birds provide plenty of entertainment for the cats.

We’ve enjoyed several winter storms including a blizzard with 18 inches of snow four days ago.  There is now about 3.5 feet of snow on the ground.  Running the farm tractor to clear the driveway has kept me occupied.  I was also busy a week ago with a frozen washing machine drain that caused an entire load worth of soapy laundry water to dump across the bathroom floor.  The hot water supply line to the washer froze as well.  I was worried the leak was from a rupture to the pipe in the wall and was so grateful it was only waste water I had to mop up that I didn’t even mind the mess!

The great news is that the January thaw is here.  Today we hit 19F!  Tomorrow is forecast to be above freezing.  And the two days following that, the weather people say, will be in the 40s with rain.  Maybe it will warm up enough to allow the heavy snow load to slide off the roofs so we can stop the back breaking labor of roof raking.  Once the January thaw arrives, the back of winter is broken.  We will still get some chilly days and maybe even a few more Nor’easters, but the endless days of sub-zero weather are behind us.

Joyful Yule!

Joyful Yule to all!  This shortest day of the year finds the farm tucked into an 8″ blanket of snow.  The temperatures struggle to the 20sF during the day and dip toward zero at night.  This morning the sun favors us with a watery, weak glow, halfway to its zenith at 8:30 am.  The light has a yellowish cast due to the angle.

We modern humans understand how the tilt of the Earth determines the seasons, unlike our poor ancestors who huddled in fear through the dark and cold.  What if the sun just kept fading and didn’t return?  No wonder sacrificial rites were performed during the depths of night and celebration ensued when the daylight lengthened.  Today we know spring will return and our fear is more of how warm the world is becoming.

The last couple weeks haven’t felt too warm!  Chickens snuggle on the roosts, sharing body heat, and don’t lay eggs when it is so chilly.  The horses are wrapped in thick winter coats.  They stand in patient reverie awaiting the next feeding as icicles form on their long whiskers.  Angora rabbits are made for cold weather.  Six inches of angora fiber is just the thing to keep a bunny toasty.  The dogs delight in snow.  They would spend hours romping in it if we let them.  The cats pine for their outdoor cage, which must come down in the winter or be destroyed by snow.  They content themselves sitting in the windows and chattering at the multitude of wild birds flocking to the feeders.

The feral pheasant may still be around.  Last week he came into the barn twice to eat scratch grain I left out for him.  Then we got a brutal storm with snow, wind and cruel freezing rain overnight.  The pheasant has not been seen since.  The scratch grain was still disappearing so I figured the bird was coming in to eat.  Then I surprised four bold mourning doves who flew right into the barn to take the offerings.  I moved the scratch into the lower barn where I know the pheasant will look, but the doves won’t dare to venture.  Yesterday the pile of grain was depleted and I thought there were some larger bird footprints in the dust.  So, perhaps the pheasant still holds his own.  I’m rooting for him.

Now there is little for us to do but turn our heads from the wind as we trudge through winter chores, sit by the woodstove and let the heat work into the bones, finally read that book we’ve wanted to get to, catch up on inside work, nap.  And wait for spring.

Winter Has Arrived

Overnight we received the first measurable snow of the winter.  I’d guess it’s about 7″.  The stuff really came down for a few hours.  I especially like the way the heavy snowfall dampens the sound of traffic on the road running past the farm.  After a while, the highway empties and the road noise of any stray slow moving vehicle is muffled.  I can almost imagine we live in the country and not beside what has become, in my lifetime, a major thoroughfare.

This may look chilly, and the ground beneath is frozen, but the air temperature is nearing 32F.  With a ten-day high of 38F forecast for today, it looks like the snow may be here to stay.  Next week the weather prognosticators call for more snow.  Several days of snow.  Yesterday my husband and I worked from mid-morning till near dark to finish all the little chores that must be done before snow arrives.  We sat, smugly content, and watched the white pile up.  Now I look forward to a long winter’s rest disturbed only by a few barn chores, some snow plowing and the occasional jaunt outside for cold weather exercise.