Thursday, November 7, 2013

The view from my window

It's about time I do another blog post to update everyone on my hand status and my location in the world. At this moment I am in a little speck on the map town called Lester Iowa which I have adopted as my second home. Lester Iowa is about 3 miles from the tri state marker showing where the boarders of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota come together. I have attached a picture of what I can see from my kitchen table as I write this. We have already had two snow falls this year and it is only early November!

Since my last blog post my life has been a bit of a roller coaster. I have worked through 2 months of pretty intensive physical therapy and I am now able to make half a fist. My pinkie and ring finger still do not bend enough to be useful to me but I have enough hand strength that I am able to shear again and that is the important thing:)

I started shearing again in the middle of September, staring with small jobs. I was able to knock out just a few at a time and slowly begin to get a feel to what my limitations are. Since my left hand was the one that was hurt and I am right handed I found that I did not have too many issues with shearing even without being able to bend all my fingers. I found the hardest part has been shearing goats. Goats require more manipulation of the skin and a firm hold when shearing around the head. I had some rough days fighting with goats because of my weakness but I did get them all done (with a little help from my sweetie:)

People have been incredibly understanding this year since I have has to move around shearing dates and refer out jobs that I couldn't handle. This fall had to cater to my healing and the availability of my help so I want to take a second to thank everyone for their understanding and encouragement as I continue to get back up to speed. I found this fall also was nice because I was able to group my work into chunks instead of having it spread out over 3 months. It was nice to get everyone done and then be able to go visit friends and have time for all my physical therapy and doctors appointments! I feel like I am going to continue with this schedule in the future as it really made life simpler.

I am currently out in Iowa where I have been able to push myself to my limits and really work my arm to try to regain my strength. We shear about three days a week out here and for the most part they have been long days so I have been able to see how my hand responds to stress (answer: not so well). I have woken up a few times the next day and was unable to move my hand at all. But with stretching and soaking in hot water and rest days it comes round again. I am now aware of the phenomenon of weather changes and how it effects compromised body parts. When people complain that their bad knee hurts when a storm is coming, they are not kidding! My hand aches when the weather is changing and there is nothing that helps completely to numb the pain. But I hope that the more time I put between this incident I will think about it less and less. 

So for now I am achy but working so I am happy. It is nice to be working with a team of supportive shearers. Nice to have lots of lambs to shear. Really nice to be healthy. 

As for my future plans, right now I have one more surgery scheduled right before thanksgiving. This is a quick outpatient deal where they will open up my hand and remove the scar tissue connections that are preventing my fingers from fully closing. I will have about a week to recover (just to let the stitches heal) then I am ok to shear again. From here on out I am supposed to move my hand as much as possible so that scar tissue doesn't re-adhere the tendons. I really hope I can make a full fist after this. But even if it only gives me back a fraction of my flexibility I think I will still be happy. I know what it feels like to not be able to move those fingers at all and I am functioning well enough with my current limits. I am so grateful for what this year has taught me and I'm looking forward to finally putting it all behind me and focus on next year and the opportunities I will have. 

I'm already thinking about spring and can't wait to see everyone again:)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Living with intention

It's amazing how its so easy to take health for granted.  I have spent many hours since my accident looking at my good right hand, flexing it, watching the muscles and tendons moving easily underneath the skin. Appreciating all the wonders of a healthy hand. My full time job lately has been getting better. After meeting with my physical therapist, I'm doing a set stretching regime followed by massage and skin manipulation for ten minutes every hour. It was almost horrifying to see how little I was able to bend my fingers when I started and to see how much my skin had fused to the tissues underneath due to scar tissue. Every time I move my fingers all the skin moves with it! But I've been working through the yuck factor and being diligent. I am already seeing improvement. 
It's been tough avoiding using my left hand. It is mind blowing how many things you can't do with just one hand. You... can't... twist... anything... bottle tops, medicine caps, salt and pepper grinders, or even door knobs. How often does anyone pass through a door without carrying at least one thing? So that uses up your one hand allotment. That has been the most frustrating part, never being able to open doors! It takes twice as long to go to the bathroom since its harder to button or zip pants. You can't cut up food. Poor Kevin has to cut up steak for all of us lately! 
But being one handed forces you to think through every step of every action you intend. Making a bowl of cereal? Figure out the maximum number of trips you will have to make back and forth between the table and refrigerator to get the bowl, spoon, cereal, milk etc...multiply that number by 4 and plan on that number being the necessary number of trips needed to make that one bowl of cereal. I can't complain since walking back and forth is the only real exercise I get these days! But it has done wonders at slowing me down, making me think through my actions, living life with intent. I have to think about what I am doing to not only prevent myself from inadvertently trying to use my left hand but also to keep me sane as I try to help out around the house as much as I'm able.
This period of my life will definitely be remembered as a time of inconvenience and discomfort, but I'm  hoping the life lessons I've learned from this will stay with me when I'm back and running. I hope I can continue to live life with intent and appreciate my health and I hope everyone who reads this can take a moment to be thankful for their health and to think about slowing down, even for a moment, to appreciate everything they are able to do. We are all very blessed.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wool warehouses and mills of North America:)

This is mostly a photo blog, but over the last 7 months I've had the chance to visit several wool warehouses/mills. For the most part they all look the same, a nondescript building in a shady area of town. Neatly stacked bales of wool lining the walls, usually a pile of loose wool in one corner. It's funny to think that large portions of the USA wool clip passes through these buildings on their way to being processed (mostly in china). But a small portion is lucky enough to stay in the country. 

The first warehouse was Roswell wool in New Mexico...fabulous folks.

Neatly stacked square bales, most of these weigh around 400 pounds. Notice the farm name initials on the front of each bale along with info on the wool that's inside.

These are New Mexico sheep...

Next up was Center of the Nation Wool in South Dakota. 

(Yeah, that's all I got on them!)

Last year I was able to visit Chargeurs in South Carolina as part of an ASI tour. That was eye opening!

Wool being washed

Wool roving going into super wash

Wool roving is carded numerous times...

Final tests to determine quality of roving (ie no black fibers, poly twine, hair)

Another warehouse I got to visit was Groenewold Fur and Wool.

There was wool everywhere, most of these bales weighed around 1000 pounds.

The wool sorting machine...

Setting the wires to make a bale. 

Up close look at a bale.

Big pile of sorted wool.

Sold the last of my spring wool here!

We also got to go see MacAuslands wool mill in Prince Edward Island Canada.

Unloading wool for processing.

Wool waiting to be washed...

The washing (scouring) equipment...

Inside the mill, this is all the equipment. Hard to believe so many blankets get made here every year.

Inside their store...we bought 2 blankets:)

Being able to visit all these wool buyers and processors really was a wonderful experience. I'm hoping to continue to visit other mills and buyers in the course of my travels and report back about all the great people that are involved in making every wool product. I always like to brag that sheep are the greatest job producers out there since they seem immune to automation. Even while visiting the mills it is people doing hands on work every step of the way. Wool is amazing:)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Long hard road...

On July 2, 2013 Kevin and I were shearing out west of Frederick Maryland on a farm with about 160 big Charolais/Southdown cross ewes. We got a good start on them but we knew right away it was going to be a tough flock. On my 19th sheep I was moving into the long blows (ie. the sheep was laying on its side) when the sheep kicked and got its foot in behind my handpiece which drove it into the back of my left hand. 

Kevin took me right away to Frederick memorial hospital where we sat for 6 hours before a doctor saw me. I had a large gash in the back of my hand and could not lift my middle and ring fingers. When I finally saw a doctor they cleaned it out and referred me to another doctor who said he wanted me to come see him the next day to clean it out again and possibly sew it up.

The next day I called this doctor to verify my appointment time and learned that I could not see him because he did not accept my insurance. I was told that I would have to pay "possibly several thousand dollars" to see him and they told me to look elsewhere for care.

What followed were several stressful hours on the phone calling doctors and my insurance carrier trying to find someone to fix my hand, which at this point was still an open wound and two dangling fingers. Even my insurance company couldn't help me find an appropriate doctor. My own family doctor declined to see me because they knew they couldn't fix the tendons. I did finally end up getting an appointment with a doctor in Frederick for A WEEK LATER. I kept up with the calls and finally spoke with a sympathetic nurse who told me I had three options, call my insurance for doctor recommendations (did that), wait for the appointment I already had (no freakin way), or go back to the emergency room. So that's what I did.

24 hours after that conversation, one hospital transfer, and several OxyContins later I was in surgery (on July 4th, God bless America) getting my tendons sewn back together. I was discharged later that day in a soft cast with orders to keep it dry and follow up in 2 weeks. 

This worked out to my advantage as I was still able to go on a planned road trip to Canada. The week of sitting in a car helped keep my hand still and clean and I didn't go crazy with boredom. 

Upon returning I went to see my doctor for follow up and the drama continues as the doctor whom I was scheduled to see in my follow up was not the one who did my surgery. Somehow because of it being a holiday the doctor who was on call when I was admitted was not there on the 4th and so my paperwork was mixed up and I ended up seeing the wrong doctor. He did check me out though and prescribed a full finger brace and no physical therapy.

When I went to the in house PT she was very concerned about the unnecessary use of a full finger brace and highly recommended follow up physical therapy. They eventually decided on a half finger brace but still no doctor ordered PT.

The next day I searched online for possible physical therapy references in Sioux Falls SD (where I will be the next few weeks) and ran into more problems since I didn't have a doctors notice and then ran into another problem that now my surgeon wanted to see me himself. Well that does me no good when I'm halfway to Missouri. 

To say that this injury has been a constant struggle would be an understatement!

But in spite of it all my prognosis looks good. I'm going to continue to push for physical therapy and hopefully I'll be able to shear by the end of September. 

Which brings me to the important info for anyone who was planning to have me shear this fall. Because of the uncertainty of my hand strength and because there are only 30 or so jobs that I already had counted on for this fall, I've come up with an acceptable (for me) option for helping get everything done safely and efficiently. Kevin has agreed to come out for 2 weeks (around sept 22-oct 5 roughly)to help me. This will allow me to shear only as much as my hand will allow and Kevin can help get the work done. There is too much work going on out west for him to stay much longer but we will do what we can on a first come first serve basis. I know this option isn't ideal for some of you as you may have planned on earlier or later shearing dates but I cannot commit to shear anything on my own until I know how much my hand can handle. I am happy to refer you to other shearers if you would feel more comfortable with that option or if you decide to stick with dates when Kevin will not be here.

I want to thank everyone who has been so supportive through this whole ordeal. I don't see this impacting my spring 2014 run at all. But I'm going to have to take one day at a time for a while until I'm back to cruising speed:)
Photo curtesy of Pieter DeMooy 



Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hey it's good to be back home again:)

Lydia, Hedgehog and I have finally returned to Maryland from our round the country winter trip! 2 months, 20 states, 2,330 sheep/goats shorn, so many wonderful memories. And while it is great to be back home with my family I already miss all my new and old friends I got to know out on the road. It is always touching when complete strangers open their homes and lives to Lydia and I. In this day and age it is hard to open up but time and time again I am blown away by the generosity and kindness of people. This job really gives me a glimpse into people's lives and I am constantly overwhelmed with not only the responsibility and trust people have in me but also how quickly people can become some of my dearest friends. I really had such an amazing two months. Starting in Virginia, out to Iowa, down to New Mexico, up to South Dakota, back down to Missouri and the long way back home through Ohio, Michigan and New York. I will be so relieved to finally clean out the van and reorganize. I find it to be a miracle that we had no major spills until today when some smoothie got dumped on the floor. Other then two new tires and a new battery my trust van made the journey pretty much unscathed:) such wonderful memories. To everyone who I have had the pleasure and privilege of seeing already, thank you again and I am already looking forward to seeing you all again. And to my local crew, I am ready to knuckle down and get to work here. I am really thinking this is gonna be a good season. If I have already touched base then I am looking forward to seeing you and if we haven't spoken yet then don't worry. I'll be tracking everyone down soon enough:) Happy Shearing!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Going Pro:)

If I had to describe last weekend in one word, it would have to be pivotal. As many of you know I competed at the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City South Dakota on Sunday. This was a very important competition for me as it is the American machine shearing national championship. This competition (which used to be held in Denver) draws a huge entry pool and is always very competitive. This year there were over 50 shearers competing in 3 divisions. I was able to compete in the Intermediate division. The divisions are usually decided based on experience and previous contest results. I could have gone into the professional division but having never won this contest I was given one last go at this level. Thankfully I was able to capitalize on the opportunity and finally am able to say that I won the intermediate level at the national contest. The last time I was there I made it into the final only to place fourth which was a good placing but I have coveted winning this competition for many years and really wanted one last try. The consequence of my winning this division is that I now have officially "gone pro". This means that I am now forced to compete with "the boys" from here on out. While I think I have them running a bit scared, I have seen Alex slam out a sheep before I even get to the undermine (the blow right under the tail, right before you step up to shear the neck. Basically I'm not even halfway) and they look pretty good. I have watched Mark and Nolan cruise through a day of shearing and never break a sweat. These guys continually put sheep around me and I can't figure out what happened. I can usually keep pace with Kevin but he is better at making them look good. I'm still working on making nice even blows when I'm moving fast. Thinking about this helps pass the time when working long days in the sheds. Like this last week which has been bone chilling cold. We are back in Iowa temporarily till we head south again. Shearing a lot of ewes. It's all good practice and its money in the bank, but I can't help but feel like I have turned a corner in my shearing career. I'm excited about this upcoming year. Im shearing with some of the top guys in America and its time to really step up. I'm happy with how I shear. I know I can shear clean. I have been getting faster. It's just a matter of putting the two together so I can bring my "A" game to the next competition. I'm gonna be ready:)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I remember when...I lost my mind:)

Hello from New Mexico! This has definitely been a different experience for me. Not only is this my first official time working as a rousie (which means I pick up the wool) but it is also the first time I have been this far west and the whole look of the land is quite beautiful in its own way. Kevin told me repeatedly on the way down here that I must prepare myself. He was sure I wouldn't like it here but on the contrary I find that the openness of the land is quite refreshing. Yes it's brown, yes it's dry, but so far the weather has been nearly perfect, there hasn't been much dust and being able to see some gorgeous sunrises has really made this place grow on me. 
Now to the actual working part of this trip...first off I would like to point out that Kevin runs a pretty awesome crew. All the guys (yup that's you too Leann) have been wonderful. There are no whiners on this crew! Kevin keeps  things pretty organized and its a smooth running machine...except for me. This is my first experience at being a wool handler and while there are a few positives ("wow my back doesn't hurt!") there are a few negatives ("wow I don't think I have used my leg muscles since high school"). I would like to point out to everyone reading this that being a rousie is all the work of shearing but none of the glory. My legs were so sore the second day I could barely walk down a flight of stairs. I guess in my usual day to day activities I am not using my quad muscles as much as I had hoped. But I have high hopes that doing this for a few more days might even out my fitness regimen and all my shearing pants will fit me this spring:) that's what I'm hoping! But back to the work, I am still getting the hang of the broom,which is actually a plastic paddle that we use to "sweep" the board. I have hit Kevin in the head twice and my first day I about took Paul's toe off. But shearer injures aside I think I'm getting quicker and more graceful. I'll just keep working on it. Although It was brought to my attention last night at I make a lot of noise with my broom, that I wield it like a hockey stick and I am always slapping it on the board. Well duh! I am a product of my environment, hockey is in my blood! I am beginning to see that you can never make shearers happy, if your not fast enough your too loud, go figure:) 
But all in all things are pretty great, I have been able to shear a few and they shear really nice. I have really enjoyed being able to take this chance to watch the guys shear and really see what their doing. Each one has a particularly good part of the sheep and a spot that gives them trouble. Being able to watch what they are doing will help me pick up tricks to make myself faster, cleaner and more well rounded. I am embracing this time at the broom to learn not only about the wool, how to keep it clean and properly skirted, watching experienced shearers shear and getting my legs in shape. I can't believe that a whole month has all but flown by. It won't be long till I'm on my way back home to begin my own shearing run. But until then Ill keep working on my broom skills and that freckled pinkish color I call a tan and Ill keep my fingers crossed that the good weather holds.