A Tale About Decisions
READING TIME: 3 MINUTES
There’s a few subjects within this post which at first, seem totally unconnected. You might have to bear with me.
A Dicky Elbow
I suffer from a rare medical condition to my right elbow called Synovial Chondromatosis. I won’t give you the full medical description but here’s the summary.
The synovium membrane surrounds most joints in the body and happily does its job of lubricating them. With my condition, parts of this membrane calcify over time and either drop off to float around the joint, or stick to the existing bone. The net result is my elbow becomes swollen, stiff and the movement restricted.
There’s no cure and the doctors have no idea why it happens. All I can do to alleviate things is have my elbow cut open every five years or so, and the calcium growth removed. Or, as the surgeon put it:
“It kind of looks like popcorn growing over your elbow Keith. We cut it open, and then I go in with a hammer and chisel.”
I’ve learnt to deal with it. As well as the elbow, it can affect the knees, hips or wrists as well, although it rarely happens in more than one location per individual. On the positive side, I’m just grateful I didn’t get it in my knee. I doubt I’d be much of a hiker if that had happened.
I was a decorator by trade for twelve years. Just stumbled into it after returning from my hike on El Camino de Santiago. I’d quit my job before hiking and didn’t want to return to an office environment, so I began looking for other options.
Down town one afternoon a cry floated over from the scaffolding.
It was Steve, who lived opposite since we were kids. He put down his chainsaw, we got talking, went for a pint, and before I knew it I was labouring on-site carrying bricks up ladders. I got very fit, very quickly.
After a few months of this, I noticed whenever a decorating job came up, they asked me to do it. When I enquired why, the boss said I was good at it.
A year later, as I struck out on my self-employment decorating journey, his words still rang in my ears.
Chasing Dreams – Or Rather a Kick up the Arse
So, here’s the thing. Life is full of decisions. Some easy, some difficult. We’re blasé with some of them, whilst others scare the crap out of us. Some take a few seconds (espresso or an Americano), others can take weeks or months.
Mine took two years.
I decorated for twelve years, and hated the last ten of those. The last two of those ten I spent trying to reach a decision. I hated my decorating job. Loathed it in fact. I woke up in a bad mood, go to work, get covered in dust and paint, put my back out a couple of times a year and damage my elbow even further. I came so close to quitting and pursuing my writing more times than I care to imagine. This is strange for me because I make most of my decisions based on my heart, not my head. If it feels right, despite my logical side kicking in, then I usually throw caution to the wind and do it.
My escape is the outdoors, and writing about my adventures, which since 2010 is working out great. I never thought I had 2,500-mile hikes in me, and I never thought I had the skill to write about them. However, things have progressed well and the future looks promising. I have more adventures planned, and books. I write for some great magazines, and this blog does pretty good.
Last week I woke up in the recovery room after the third operation to my dicky elbow, full of general anaesthetic and glanced up bleary eyed at the nurse.
“Does it hurt?” She asked, peering down at me.
“It hurts at the top of my forearm,” I replied, looking up her nostrils.
“Don’t worry, I’m going to give you morphine to sort that out. What scale is the pain now?”
“About seven out of ten.”
She emptied a little clear fluid into my drip.
“Let me know when it gets to a five.”
Now I love morphine. So, naturally I took perhaps a little longer to register my score of five, and I got my fair share.
“One more thing,” she said, wheeling me down to the ward. “The surgeon was amazed you manage to do any decorating at all with your elbow. And, he asked me to tell you that you should seriously consider giving it up.”
About five, deliciously stuffed morphine-laden hours later, I finally stopped snoozing and came to my senses.
The decision was made. No more decorating, chase your dreams Fozzie, go get hiking and writing.
I like Kate Humble, she presents stuff on the television that I like watching.
Last week the Daily Mail published an article about Kate, (I should point out that I don’t buy the Daily Mail, it was my parent’s copy).
Being True to Yourself is the Key to Happiness.
That was the title. It went on.
‘My parents were very disappointed because they’d put all this money into getting me a private education.
They insisted that I do a three-month typing course in Oxford. I think they hoped I’d fall in love with an undergraduate there, but that didn’t happen.
My non-conformist streak has fuelled my life since then. I simply don’t mind being different. I’ve found rebelling against tradition and forging my own path to be the route to happiness. Materialism is drummed into us these days, but it doesn’t drive me. I enjoy going against the norm, whether it’s choosing to drive an old banger, living in a muddy cottage in the sticks, or deciding to not have children – something my husband, Ludo, and I agreed to from the very start.’
I rolled her words over and over.
Now, I’m not lucky enough to live in a cottage in the sticks (yet). I don’t plan on having kids and I’ve had my fair share of old bangers. I should point out though that I don’t have a husband.
As well as making decisions with the heart, and having the guts to follow them through, I also believe in coincidence, sparked by reading a book called The Celesdine Prophecy many years ago. Coincidences mean something, however bizarre and unconnected they may seem.
When I read Kate’s article a couple of days after coming out of hospital, I smiled. I knew the meaning was clear; I’d made the right choice. I also know that my decision will work out for me.
* * *
I wrote this in my Pacific Crest Trail memoir, The Last Englishman:
The hardest part of the PCT, and indeed any long-distance path, is actually making the decision to attempt it in the first place. The second hardest is the waiting. Once you’ve made both commitments it becomes surprisingly obvious that you should have done it a long time ago. The apprehension you felt at making such a big decision suddenly becomes insignificant and your goal becomes clear and lucid. Make the choice and everything starts to fall into place.
I don’t decorate anymore. I’m chuffed to say I’m a full time writer and bloody hell, it feels fantastic to say it.
I hope you make your decision, and start chasing your dreams to.
Kate Humble exert re-produced from the Daily Mail, with thanks.