Ah . . . Life!

It has been a long time, even by my standards. The (very) occasional blogger reappears. If you pick this up expecting a chronicle of northern canoe adventure from the tundra of Nunavut, you’re about to be disappointed. To give away the punch line, we didn’t end up going. Here’s why.

It is a testimony to how life gets in the way of our best laid plans. In our case, life inserted itself around mid-February, when, one morning, Marypat and I were sitting in the living room with our cups of coffee, contemplating the gray dawn. Out of the quiet, Marypat said, “Something’s wrong with me.” I resisted the obvious snarky come back, and instead, felt the chill of dread sparked by a statement like that, at our age. Dread because we know so many people who have fallen prey to mishap, illness, circumstance in ways that have fundamentally changed their lives, altered their abilities, thwarted their ambitions. Debilitating migraines, strokes, falls, cancer, car wrecks, amputations, heart attacks, surgeries gone very wrong. In some cases, friends and acquaintances have succumbed, tragically and too early. These days, we go to a lot more memorial services than weddings . . .

So yes, dread. Also, some impulse to discount that sort of statement. Things come and go, especially at our age. You have a bad month. Inexplicable issues come up and then fade. Maybe it’s a passing thing.

Sometime mid-winter, Marypat started feeling an alarming, full-body ache. Her shoulders, her hips, her neck, her hands. She could barely turn over in bed. She couldn’t open a jar, pick up a box, sit in a car, lift the end of a canoe. When she got out of bed and tried to walk, it was like watching an 80-year old getting her bearings, trusting her legs, taking the first shaky step. Going for a ski that she would normally knock off without any effect would leave her exhausted for days. No more yoga, no more gym workouts, no more all-day outings. It was all she could do to get through a work day teaching art at the elementary school.

This from a woman who is nothing if not physically fierce. Marypat’s identity is inextricably knotted up with the joys and challenges of physical activity. To lose that . . . well, it’s not a thing I like to contemplate.

We tried acupuncture, dietary changes, massage. She had blood work and doctor consults. Everyone had their theory, their diagnosis, their treatment plan. Nothing had any effect. She might have a good day with anti-inflammatory drugs, but relapse, in tears, the next. As spring came on she couldn’t bike ride. We went for a short paddle on a local stream, just a couple of hours on the water, and she couldn’t open her hands for the next two days.

Through all this we were continuing to dry food and gear up for a 40-day expedition to the Far North. I had joked that it was an opportunity to see if we still had it in us. Suddenly, it wasn’t such a joke.

We finally were able to get in with a local rheumatologist. At this point our departure was only a month off. The doc looked at MP’s blood work, asked good questions, ordered more tests. She came up with a diagnosis of Polymyalgia Rheumatica (sp?) that she was pretty confident of. It’s one of those baffling auto-immune disorders so many people seem afflicted by, and that also seem so little understood. She prescribed a tapering dose of Prednisone that might continue for a period of years, along with a bone-building drug to counteract one of the side-effects of the Prednisone regimen. By the time we were in full treatment, the clock was down to two weeks. Still, we held off, we kept drying food, piling up gear.

Over Memorial Day, we continued a very fun group tradition of paddling three rivers in three days. That Monday morning, two rivers down, Marypat was standing with me and Ruby at the camp table, waiting for coffee. “I’ve made my decision,” she said. “I can’t do the trip this year.” Silence. It was one of those turning-point moments. Honestly, it wasn’t a huge surprise. We had all been watching her, wondering how this could possibly work, coming to that same conclusion. But it was her call, and for her to give up on a trip like that, to admit she couldn’t pull it off, to assess her physical ability and realize it wasn’t up to the challenge. That was a huge thing. Also, admittedly, a bit of a relief to have a decision, even a decision that wasn’t preferred. It meant that we could move on, make alternative plans, get to the next thing.

In typical style, Marypat followed her announcement with a pledge. “I’m not giving up on the trip,” she went on. “I’m just putting it off. I’m in for next year when we get this stuff figured out. Are you guys?”

Stay tuned for the next installment, in which our Plan B is revealed – how we spent our expedition time as vagabonds.

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