Short on Elbow Grease

Short on Elbow Grease

Two years ago we moved into a house that was, for the most part, in really good shape. However, the soffits and shutters on our brick ranch did need some attention, but there was always a more pressing project. That is, until we noticed spreading spots of mildew on the wood. It was finally time to shell out the cash and do the needed repairs. Several weeks and even more thousands of dollars later, the wood was replaced, the house was repainted in an entirely different color scheme, and the project was finally over. After having men, sawhorses and buckets, and other equipment on my lawn every day, I was thrilled to once again have a clean yard. Now that everything was cleared away, and the house looked better than we’ve ever seen it, I was bothered by the untended bushes. Ordinarily my husband does the lion’s share of the yard work, but with all the commotion that had taken place on our lawn in the weeks prior he had put off some of these chores. I’m a perfectionist, and the fact that our lot was finally so close to looking perfect, save for those unkempt bushes, got to me. I went in search of the hedge clippers, and that was the beginning of the end.

Standing on a ladder snipping unruly foliage, I was pleased with the progress I was making. However, after about five minutes, my elbows began to ache. I thought my arms were just sore from holding them at an unusual angle, so I proceeded to clip the bushes. However, a few more minutes and the ache became deep and penetrating. I should have stopped then, but I was so anxious to have the yard looking great after the weeks we’d spent with it being a work site that I persisted against my better judgment. After about 45 minutes there was a dramatic effect: the hedges looked perfect, and my elbows hurt so much I could barely move them.

RA pain is a fickle thing. Sometimes when brought on by overexertion it doesn’t come full force until the next day. Other times it hurts immediately but abates after several hours. I was hoping for the latter, yet my elbows ended up hurting for the next three days. It turns out that protecting swollen elbows is a tricky business. They seem to be involved in just about every activity, and it’s so hard to keep them still as they hang at my sides. I put on elbow supports to try to reduce some of the inadvertent movement that would catch me off guard with shocks of pain. However, the supports only helped a little, and I kept feeling the hurt of brushing my teeth, folding laundry, trying to put dishes away (one at a time, as even two stacked plates were more than I could handle), or even holding my smart phone. I even found it hard to rest my elbows, because in spite of how many pillow configurations I attempted, I couldn’t find a position that seemed to take all the pressure off of them.

After the pain finally diminished three days later, I couldn’t look at my hedges with a sense of satisfaction. I love the paint job, and can look at it with contentment, but when I look at the hedges I just see my discomfort and stubbornness. It seems like after all these years with RA I should know my limits. Yet I still find myself in situations like this where the desire to do something I feel like I should be able to do overpowers my understanding of my limits and my precursors. Unfortunately, like an electric fence my body quickly reminds me when I do go beyond my boundaries. I wish there was a reminder to be kind and easy on myself that wasn’t quite so painful.

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