Monday, August 15, 2011

No, I don't want a little cheese...

Can you believe the summer is almost over?Me, neither.

Part of it is because it's been crazy busy. And another is because it arrived late, so it only seems like we've had an actual month or so of summer.It's been strange, too, in that although I don't get the sense that my company is all that busy in terms of actual work coming through the door (we're still taking really small crappy jobs we would have passed on, for one thing) but I've been working crazy hours. Out at five, back at nine, that sort of thing. Lots of dirt-nannying, which pays great but can be absolutely insane. Let me give you an example.

We have a job in downtown Portland doing a four-story building (so the foundation loads are fairly respectable) and the site is a typical inner-urban Portland city block, meaning that it's been built and re-built over the past 100 years and most of the crap that came from the buildings that were demolished earlier was just hucked into whatever convenient hole the laborers could find. So there's anywhere from two to about seven or eight feet of really nasty fill on the top. Brick, concrete, glass, dimension lumber, fly ash, charcoal...you name it, it's in there. Plus the stuff has a nasty habit of hiding open voids underneath a veneer of soil, a perfect footing-trap designed to produce ugly post-construction settlement.We found all this junk when we did the soil investigation and my engineer, not surprisingly, recommended that the contractor hog it all out and build on the native.

The contractor, also not surprisingly, is being pushed by the owner to minimize the overexcavation, so his superintendent is trying to cut back on the amount of this jumky fill we take out.

Completely unsurprisingly this leads to a certain tension between the general contractor and me, even though we both supposedly work for the owner.So the other day the excavator dug out one of the foundation footings and there in the bottom of the hole, sticking out of what otherwise would be native-soil-looking yellow silt, is a head-sized chunk of asphalt. Unmistakeable, just-pried-out-of-your-driveway asphalt.

The super sort of looks sideways at it and says in as confident a tone as he can manage;

"That looks like native soil to me."

I actually think I goggled at him; I know I must have had en exceptionally odd look on my face.

"Well, in that case." I replied, "we're going to have to completely revise our estimate on when early humans started using asphalt paving..." He had the decency to look ashamed.

We dug it out. And the other three feet of assorted brick, lumber, fly ash, china plates, glass bottles and assorted shit that somebody had pushed into a hole back in 1946.

Honestly! I may have been born at night, but I wasn't born LAST night. I wasn't sure who to be more embarassed for, him for trying me on or me for looking foolish enough to make him think he could try that on me.What else?

We had a nice visit from the in-laws in July, who got their fill of their grandkiddos and, I suspect, perhaps a little more than their fill. Our house is barely large enough for us four, so when the grands turn up they usually find a hotel or motel, but this was a month and the cost would have been ridiculous. So Mojo found them a rental place up near Kenton. And the sad truth is that it is nicer than our home. The kids loved the hot tub; I liked having the hot tub to entice the kids to stay with the grandparents.

We did get to stay over there a few nights. Any more and I'd have been too tempted to ask the landlord for a straight-up swap.There's been a little bleakness, as there always is in any sort of life. Mojo's employment is getting precarious, and we're looking at various ideas for post-gas-company paycheck days. And something's going wrong with my hip.

I don't want to sound dramatic about this. I've spent a lifetime abusing my legs. I was born with something called patellar subluxation, in which your kneecaps are canted outwards rather than sit straight on the front of your legs.

The old orthopod I went to see ten years ago when they finally began to hurt enough to slow me below the minimum time for the APFT run told me that as a draft board physician in the Sixties he wouldn't have let me within a rifle's length of the infantry for the very reason I was seeing him that day. Plus I played ten years of soccer and twenty years of squash on them, not a very healthy idea for malformed kneecaps.

So over the past five years or so my run has degenerated a sort of an angry, jerky shuffle, and when I kicked the soccer ball about with my little guy it was with the painful knowledge that I would regret the playtime later.

The ortho had a very sensible attitude about my knees.

"The two options for you are a replacement or a repositioning surgery that has a high incidence of subsequent failure. The replacement will work, but if you have it today (and I was in my forties at the time) you'll need another in twenty years, and rehabilitating a bilateral knee replacement at sixty won't be much fun. If you wait until you're fifty or sixty the technology will have improved enough that they'll last long enough for you to take them with you to the grave."

So I've put off the knee replacements and, shy a few days where too much exercise ballooned them up and required an icebag and an acewrap, have never regretted it.

But this past autumn my right hip started binding up on me. At first that's all it was; just the loss of range of motion. I had a hard time trimming my toenails, or getting my foot into my skiboots. And I noticed a dragging sort of weakness when I wore my work boots; it was like my right leg had about half the strength of my left.

I assumed that it had something to do with my knee problems, and I would knock down some Motrin when it got bad, and in a day or so of light work it would go away.

But at some point this winter it stopped leaving.

Now it hurts, in some form or another, all the time. It varies from a dull ache to a biting little stab when I turn my leg the wrong way. I have developed a visible limp, and whatever's wrong with the hip joint causes me to walk in some off-kilter way that puts strain on the right knee, which has noticeably worsened, and on the muscles of my right upper leg and butt. By the time I come home from work they're hard as an iron bar and ache like a sunofabitch.

I really hate talking about this. It doesn't do any good, for one thing, and it sounds like I'm whining and asking for sympathy, for the other. And I'm not, really; this is just a thing. It's not leukemia, it's not COPD, it's not a brain injury. It's just pain, and people live with pain all the time. It's not crippling, and I go to see another orthopedist in a week that will tell me that I need to either get opened up so that they can remove the arthritic calcium or whatever is marring the hip joint can be scraped off, or I will need a hip replacement.And that's fine. I don't like either the surgery or the rehabilitation afterwards, but if it means that I can walk again without pain? That's a good thing.

I just thought I should mention it, being as that it is sort of hard to escape. Chronic pain, like a hanging, concentrates the mind wonderfully - but only on the pain. And I have a fairly high threshold of pain; I can't imagine what this is like for people who cringe at papercuts.

So...am I whining? Maybe so.

But it's a fine whine, and I like to think I served it up in an pretty glass.

13 comments:

Pluto said...

I've had similar problems with my knees and wrists my entire life, Chief. So far I've been able to avoid surgery by avoiding some physical activities (I didn't have much of a career as a downhill skier anyway), plenty of Physical Therapy, and going back to the doc as needed.

It sounds to me like you need to go back to the doc and probably the PT people about your hip.

At least in my case, I can't emphasize how important PT has been for me. It TRULY is the no-pain-no-gain theory of life but at least you do have a gain, usually a big one in my case.

Your story about the contractor was pretty funny from a safe distance, sometime I'll tell you about when one of our drill rigs struck oil in downtown Minneapolis.

P.S. - I also have some hip problems but know the exact cause, I got sideswiped by a van while directing traffic at a grand opening of a new store about 20-25 years ago. That's what happens when you and the driver are inattentive for just a moment in a crowded parking lot.

P.P.S. - I had my kneecap repositioned when I was 15 by a doctor who'd just finished working for the Atlanta Falcons. His comment in a slow Southern drawl on seeing my X-Rays for the first time, "Son, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were coming off a mighty fine line-backing career."

NOT what you want to hear at that age.

Lisa said...

Dear Chief,

I am very sorry to hear of your knee and hip woes. I will wish you good luck at the ortho.

Do you have sciatic pain? I wonder that it might involve your iliopsoas muscle? Maybe IT band, or Piriformis Syndrome?

rangeragainstwar said...

Chief,
Have you considered trying to get service connected disability for this medical problem.
There's a presumption of service connection for these types of things for guys who have been on jump staus.
I don't know all the facts, but if i were u i'd check it out.
VA disability is better than sweeping floors.
jim

FDChief said...

Hey, guys (and Lisa)...

This one is bad, I'm afraid, and it has something to do with degeneration of the hip joint, the condyle of the femur, or both. I don't know if PT will help; I'm afraid I will need some sort of repairs, first, then PT/OT...

No sciatic pain, Lisa; it's localized in the hip socket, with concurrent decrease in range-of-motion.

I wish, jim - sadly, the hip is on me - I think it relates to playing soccer goalkeeper and landing heavily on my right side. The knees, however, ARE an Army problem, and when I go to get them fixed I'm going to ring in my pals at the VA...

basilbeast said...

You should be thankful you're not doing this work in Rome or Athens or some other world-famous archeological site.

This trash you dig up would stop everything for months then.

OTOH, possibly a change of career into Archeology?

As for the rest, I could only offer my best, prayers are out, I assume?

bb

FDChief said...

basil: The thing I live most in fear of on a job is digging up some actual object of archaeological note. Stop work faster than a building inspector...

We had an interesting job in Salem, Oregon some years ago. The site was going to be a mini-mart of all things, and it had been undeveloped since the homestead days. The old house had indoor plumbing when it was demoed, but back in the day it had an outhouse, long since destroyed and covered over. But we found the old shithole digging out the site of the future underground gas tanks.

The actual nasty used food had long since composted, but it was the other stuff that was cool. Apparently the one-holer was also the trash bin back in the day. We found broken plates, metal bits, buttons, spoons...the funnest was the whiskey bottles; beautiful 19th Century things with the distiller's label actually cast into the outside in glass. Very cool.

And we found DOZENS of the things. Ol' Sparky must have used the crapper as his tippling spot and just hucked the empties down the hole. People.

Prayer is fine. I actually had soem sort of street preacher guy notice me limping and prayed over me the other day. Didn't have a noticeable effect on the leg, but it was a nice gesture. I'm afraid that unless the Big Guy is willing to pick up a bone-shaving knife I'm gonna have to depend on another mortal to fix this...

Lisa said...

Oh -- sorry to hear that.

However, my dad had knee and hip surgery done a long time ago by a dr. who had cut his teeth in VN, and had developed some great new knee-fix technique. (Dad was a semi-pro hockey goalie, so had some damage prior to his injury, to be sure.) Anyway, he's 75 and walks miles each day.

I wish the same excellent results for you should you need to go under the knife.

rangeragainstwar said...

Chief,
Outhouses are great arch. sites. They all are like the one that you experienced.
As for service connection- you can legit claim enhancement of a pre-existing condition.Jumping, or more appropriately LANDING didn't exactly help your joints.
Also Ranger says-LOSE WEIGHT.
jim

FDChief said...

jim: Check and roj on the weight loss. I know I'm 30 pounds too heavy, and that's not helping.

I just need every donut on Earth to spontaneously combust.

rangeragainstwar said...

Chief,
All Americans as a general rule should lose weight to remove stress from knees and hips.
I weigh 30 lbs more than i should.
jim

FDChief said...

Doc's verdict is in.

Total right hip replacement.

In the x-ray both the condyle of the right femur and acetabulum of the right hip look like a relief map of the coast of Norway; totally eaten up with arthritic degeneration. It's a fucking mess. The orthopod said that it was as bad or worse than those he'd seen on eighty-year-olds.

The real downside, tho, was the information I got on the replacement parts. It sounds like they are quite fragile. I was told that anything outside gentle exertion risked dislocation of the replacement joint, and that in all likelihood I would be back in surgery between 10 and 20 years from now replacing the replacement. Grrr.

I'm not ready for that yet. I think I'm going to get some good painkillers to help me sleep through the night and live with this mess I've made of my leg until it gets just too unbearable to move with. Hopefully I can make it to 60...

Fuck.

Lisa said...

FYI: Jim's former 1st Sgt. just had the hip replacement you speak of, and it has been a resounding success. (It was performed @ the Hughston Clinic in Columbus, GA).

He'd put it off for years suffering pain and debility. When he could no longer manage, he relented. Now he wonders why he ever out it off. Some medical procedures seem folly, but it seems as though they have come close to perfecting this one.

Jim says wait for Tricare to pay it(?)

Lisa said...

p.s. -- I'm quite sure the fellow I know (in his early 80's) who had the successful hip replacement would be happy to talk w/ you about it, if you wished.

(CSM Jergens is a tough cuss, in Jim's eyes, but I see his gentle side, the one that loves working with abandoned cats.)