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To the Spoon River

Posted on Wednesday, June 7, 2006 at 10:43AM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in | Comments8 Comments

The Galesburg physician went straight for my swollen ankles — saying all the pain I was reporting could be explained by the swelling — and checked my blood pressure.

My blood pressure has been a bit high for some years, though never so high that any doctor has said I needed to do more than watch it. But now this doctor, reading it and looking at my ankles, said the time had come to do more.

I won’t claim to understand all the details, but apparently high blood pressure makes swelling in the feet caused by fluid retention (edema) much worse, and edema makes high blood pressure much worse. There are serious dangers involved, both to the feet and to the heart. And even though my normal (“resting”) blood pressure still isn’t so bad, it gets quite elevated when I’m walking with my backpack, past the point where it feeds into the swelling in my feet — so that now I’m caught in the vicious circle of each one aggravating the other.

The physician said: You’ve got to reduce the swelling to zero before you resume walking. How, said I? By keeping your feet above your heart, he said, until the swelling is completely gone. It can be done in twenty-four hours if you lie on a bed with the foot raised thirty degrees above horizontal, never getting off except to go to the bathroom. If you interrupt it more than that, it’ll take longer. Keeping your feet above your heart for less than two hours without interruption will do you no good at all.

He also gave me my first-ever prescription for medicine to lower my blood pressure — and assigned me a low-sodium diet. He mentioned things like wrapping my feet in bandages. But elevating the feet was Priority One.

I thought about it during the afternoon. Keeping my feet elevated that rigorously didn’t look easy to do on the road, even if I drove myself from place to place and then elevated my feet as best I could all night. I didn’t know, either, how soon or how fully I’d be able to resume my regular walking schedule afterward. If I relapsed many miles from the nearest town — and there are many such places on my route — what would I do? And then there was the fact that my regular doctor, the last time I talked to him, didn’t want me on hypertension medication.

The best thing to do seemed to be to lay up with my feet elevated back at my home — doing it as intensively as possible — and talk to my regular doctor while I was at it. And I had a window of opportunity in which to do this, because I’m not due to meet with another Friends community until Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, this Sunday evening, June 11.

Did I have fall-back options, if I couldn’t go back to my original walking schedule once the swelling was gone? I explored that question in my heart, in prayer, while I drove my little rented car to the bed-and-breakfast in Dahinda where I had my night’s reservation.

I drove the route I’d planned to walk. It followed back roads devoid of any traffic; it wandered the lengths of winding ridgelines, hopping from ridge to ridge across deepening, tree-shaded creek valleys; it carried me into the heart of the Spoon River watershed, which is a very off-the-beaten-path sort of place. Foot-high corn plants spread green leaves in the bottomlands, and sheep and horses pastured on the hillsides. How I wished to have been walking that road instead of driving it! But driving it, I saw it would have been a very taxing day’s walk, even had my feet been in perfect shape — just under 17 miles, and much of it steeply rolling.

barn bb1.jpgAnd where I arrived at the end was a homey place of rest; I sat that evening on a farmhouse porch with my hosts, resting aching ankles and watching fireflies flicker, while they told me of the Flood of ‘93, when first the Mississippi, and then the Illinois, and finally the Spoon River rose up out of its banks and poured across the farmlands, and they and their nine guests couldn’t get out of the house for four days because of the waters covering the only road. They watched their hay bales float away, big waterlogged quarter-ton bales still lighter than the waters sweeping them off; and they played a lot of Scrabble, and learned to make pancakes with almost no eggs; and at the end, they built a raft to go for food and poled it across the floodwaters —

I understood that night: I’m still not released from my leading. God, in that form of Revealer-of-what’s-loving-and-right in which He (She) manifests in my heart, still wants me to do this walk, feeling the distance underfoot, listening to Friends, being vulnerable, being changed. But it is equally clear that God is not asking me to destroy my feet or myself by walking when walking becomes more than my physical body can bear.

I continue to feel that the requirement to do this walk is not rigid — not a matter of, I must physically walk every step from here to there — but rather, a matter of keeping faith with the Inward Guide, completing the journey as best I can given my limitations, in trust that good things will come of it.

And if that is truly the nature of my leading — well, there are always ways to keep faith and do the best we can. There is always some sort of way forward. Love finds ways.

Yesterday I drove home in my little rented car, back across the Mississippi and the rolling hills of Iowa, and my wife was glad to see me when she found me in the house, and I to see her.

I have an appointment with my regular physician this afternoon. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Reader Comments (8)

I’m glad to read this message, that you are getting help and that you are still filled with loving devotion to your leading. I’m praying that your doctor can help you.

Someone left a reply about those of us who sit in comfort reading about the progress of your leading, while you suffer with every step. It was very moving, and articulates what I tried to say yesterday in my phone message so much better than I did. I see it as a sort of metaphor of how we are treating the earth that nurtures us while we sit back, so safely removed from her suffering. The earth manifests her suffering, and we have been too busy living our comfortable capitalist lives (exploiting her resources for the highest profits and the lowest prices) to notice. You suffer to bring us God’s concern for the suffering of the earth. We need to witness the suffering and respond, starting with faithful discernment of God’s call.

-- comment posted by Judy Erickson
June 7th, 2006 at 3:39 p.m.
Sep 2, 2006 at 09:26PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Dear Marshall,
I am sorry to learn that the project to which you were called is leaving you in physical difficulty.

I am sure however that you will be lead to the correct solution for your physical inability to complete your walk without causing damage to yourself or denying your leading.


PS Perhaps this is an opportunity to continue with your book.

-- comment posted by John Seago
June 7th, 2006 at 8:38 p.m.
Sep 2, 2006 at 09:27PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Marshall, I’m waiting to hear what happens with your ankles, and how you are led to proceed. Holding you in the Light, Bill Cahalan
P.S. I’ve typed three previous messages, but don’t think you’ve gotten them. We’ll see if this way of doing it gets it sent.

-- comment posted by Bill Cahalan
June 7th, 2006 at 9:44 p.m.
Sep 2, 2006 at 09:29PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
I just found your June 8 ‘comment’ under the June 2 entry (?). Anyway, I didn’t agree with the Galesburg doctor either, but kept quiet because he had actually met and examined you! Sounds like overuse* inflammation to me; and pain & edema or swelling are cardinal signs of inflammation. That these parts were deconditioned by disuse, as you endlessly pointed out, is important. Disuse + abuse = overuse. I just made that up. I also did not want to add rest, rest, rest to the ice, ice, ice and stretch, stretch, stretch. I think Galesburg was right about elevation; swelling or edema is liquid — which still runneth down hill!
I do regret your foibles. God Speed your recovery. I’m not sure a more general God SPEED as regards your walk is in your best interest, Marshall. Ha!

IF you decide you want to condition before another try, let me know, but time may become a prohibitive enemy.

-- comment posted by Alan Palmer
June 10th, 2006 at 5:06 p.m.
Sep 2, 2006 at 09:30PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
My thanks to all of you for your comments!

Yes, Alan, it does indeed seem to have been something like disuse followed by overuse. Thank heaven I’m healing, though the healing is slow. I do return to the journey today!

And, Alan, *I* regret my foibles, too!

-- comment posted by Marshall
June 12th, 2006 at 11:26 a.m.
Sep 2, 2006 at 09:31PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

Ya mean, Marshall, old pal old bean old dearie, that you had NOT been putting your FEET UP every day? against a tree or a wall? all along? without Fox, St. Michael, and John Newman leading you on?? Good grief! I trust you are well by now... I hope I'm not teasing in the face of a now chronic ailment. But, there are some things Jesus just does not have time to repeat to every kid in the kindergarten down here ten times a day! Must return and read on to see how things went with you. Am enjoying this travelling narrative.

Mar 2, 2009 at 11:28PM | Unregistered CommenterEllen Martin

As it turned out, my problem was not one that elevating my feet would solve. I had bursitis of the ankles, an uncommon condition (which is why the Galesburg physician didn't figure it out), in which the burses (which connect bone to tendon) were inflamed because they were being worn out faster than my body could rebuild them.

It wouldn't have happened when I was younger, but my 56-year-old body just did not stand up to stress as well as I'd expected.

I was not fully healed until six months or so after the walk ended.

Michael and Newman, by the bye, are not in our Quaker pantheon. No disrespect intended, but that's how it is.

Mar 3, 2009 at 07:47AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

Oh, Michael and Newman aren't in mine, either, certainly not Newman, but they furnish good allusions. Anyway, I couldn't risk teasing you at this point, even though I half expected clarification "down the road." I had a little fun, and I hope not too much fun, commenting from time to time As I Read, and not After. I am relieved that your feet and ankles and everything healed at all! We ask so much of them, and think of them so rarely. I think your working compromise with the car was very sound. You saw what you could and kept to fairly slow speeds and frequent stops throughout. And your eye for geology helped you see the land more readily than many of us would be able to.

Mar 4, 2009 at 02:43AM | Unregistered CommenterEllen Martin

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