Shiver me paint-stripped timbers

I’ve put my body through a lot slaving over the DIY Mess. I’ve wielded a heat gun while balancing atop an eight-foot ladder. I’ve narrowly escaped puncture wounds, nails lodging into the soles of my shoes and barely missing my toes. I’ve felt the sting of flesh-eating stripper chemicals on my forearms. I’ve found coal dust in my boogers.

And after all that—a full year of living and working and DIY’ing in this obstacle course of doom—I hurt myself while VACUUMING. All summer I’ve been hobbling around like a peg-legged pirate, my knee swollen to grotesque proportions.


It happened back in April while I was getting the house ready for a visit from Dylan’s dad, doing a thorough job of cleaning for once. As I reached to move the glass-top table in the library, I thought I’d better try to spare my back, so I squatted deeply, picked the table up off the ground, then pivoted. Essentially, I centered all the weight of that uber-heavy piece of furniture squarely on my right knee, and then twisted it. Brilliant.

And then, what started as a simple injury (albeit an incredibly stupid one) snowballed into a real-life medical mystery from hell.

First, an orthopedic doc MRI’d me and said he couldn’t find anything that would explain my symptoms. Must not have been the injury after all, he said. Suspecting Lyme disease (I’d had a nasty bug bite a while back), he passed me on to an infectious-disease doc, but that theory didn’t pan out, either. Then came the rheumatologist, who thought I might have a rare form of arthritis that some genetically predisposed people can get after certain kinds of infection—including bugs one might catch from bug bites. But no cigar.

I got so sick of this runaround that part of me was a little disappointed each time they ruled out another scary disease.

I spent the summer WebMD’ing myself into a frenzy, aspirated and exasperated, taking anti-inflammatories that left me weepy, acne-pocked, peeing all night, and craving fried chicken all day. Worst of all, this double whammy—a stiff, fluid-filled knee plus prednisone—took away every stress buster in my repertoire: exercise, DIY’ing, and tequila.


Prednisone is great for bringing down swelling, but it’s not the kind of stuff you want to stay on long-term, if you can avoid it. So the rheumatologist started tapering me off of it three weeks ago. Amazingly, off the meds, the swelling gradually got better, not worse. It still wasn’t 100%, but it seemed it was getting there. Was time to heal all I’d ever really needed??

Yesterday, I saw a new orthopedic doc for a second opinion (er, fourth opinion?). He looked at the MRI and immediately honed in on a spot that Doc #1 had chalked up to age/deterioration. I’m too young for that, my new doc said. An injury in this spot fit both my symptoms and my vacuuming story, he said. Best of all, since I’m doing so well now, he cleared me to start gradually ramping up my activity level again. I could have kissed him.

With all this drama going on, I haven’t gotten far with my big stairwell-stripping project this summer. But oh well. Dylan kicked enough home-improvement ass for both of us. Besides, for my sanity, I need to frame this misadventure as a reason to be grateful, to drink to my health. If you need me, I’ll be on a post-prednisone bender—a knee bender, if you will. Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of tequila.

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