The View from Here: One Year of Scleroderma

It’s been a year since I was first diagnosed with scleroderma. Actually, it has been decided that I have the form of scleroderma called limited systemic sclerosis (the disease formerly known as CREST). Sounds kind of fraught, huh. That’s because it is; no matter what I think I know about my condition this week, by next week things will probably change. It has been quite a journey this year and now that all the dust has settled from the latest rounds of medical tests I wanted to share my thoughts.

There is no question that the first months after my diagnosis were filled with waves of horror and grief. At first I was just stunned to discover that I might lose the use of my hands. Then it dawned on me that my ability to live independently might become problematic; I needed to make plans to activate a support system for myself at some time in the future. Eventually I found out about the fatal complications and the high mortality rate. Well, shoot. During this time I became a driven knitter: endless pairs of fingerless mitts rolled off my needles.

CARD
My sister, who has a somewhat warped sense of humor, sent me this card about the time that I learned about my risk for pulmonary hypertension, an often fatal complication of limited systemic sclerosis.

Yet, it has been a year and I am still here. I sailed through the medical tests and none of the frightening medical complications have manifested themselves. My lungs and heart are fine (huge woohoo!!). My GI tract hasn’t gotten worse. My hands are very swollen and the skin is getting hard (one of the hallmarks of scleroderma is hard skin that forms due to lots of collagen deposition and scarring; my arms and legs are getting hard too), but they work just fine and are actually much better than they should be. My rheumatologist has advised me to knit as much as possible; what a hardship!  Other symptoms have improved and I have transitioned onto a battery of drugs that have good track records for improving the quality of life and increasing survival rates in patients with my condition.

So, what have I learned this year? Here is my reflective collection of observations as I look back from the one-year viewpoint:

  • People are more important then things. Period.
  • ..but they just don’t get chronic conditions and they tend to underestimate the seriousness of conditions that they can’t directly observe. In general people on crutches or using oxygen activate concern, but if you have flaming gastritis, the dizzy wobblies, and your muscles are on strike it’s easy for them to adopt a dismissive attitude. <sigh>
  • Medical personnel can be appallingly insensitive. Last week the technician doing my lung scan mentioned that I had a lot of doctors because my disease was really rare; it was important that the doctors get to learn as much from me as possible. Good lord, I wondered. Maybe she was raised by wolves…
  • As a corollary of the above observation, I have also discovered that I can’t assume that the medical personnel that I come in contact with actually know about my condition. One nurse thought that “systemic sclerosis” was “multiple sclerosis”. A doctor gave me a pep talk about how other conditions were worse because some of those patients actually can die from their disease. (“Did you want to hit him?” asked my rheumatologist…) One thing I can count on, however, is that they will put me into some scary machine to look for a possible blood clot. What is up with all the blood clot hunts?
  • MedAlert ID
    I do have some wonderful doctors! Because of crazy interactions with random medical people I have decided that it is best to be proactive: last month I put this tag onto my keys and the little card in my wallet has the business cards of my internist and rheumatologist stapled to it. 
  • There are few things as empowering as discovering that you won’t live forever. Why sweat the small stuff when you are facing down the long odds? My drugs have a small chance of a fatal brain infection? Whatever. Hand them over, Sparky, I am on board! I never worry about money (bad when I’m in a yarn store) or running out of gas, and I am taking more risks than I was comfortable with before. I mean, what is the worst thing that can happen? This week I figured out how to identify all of the electrical circuits of the house and rewired and installed a new doorbell. I didn’t worry (more than once) about getting knocked on my butt by an electrical mishap. Ha! In my younger days I hated to even change light bulbs…
  • Stay Calm and Carry Yarn
    Elizabeth Zimmerman was right. “Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises.” is a motto that I can live with.
  • No, I won’t be skydiving! I’m not that risk-seeking. 🙂
  • It is so much easier to be happy than sad. Plant flowers. Read books. Knit like the wind! Chase bees. Go to lunch with friends (and get dessert!). Watch meteor showers and be sure to catch the Super Blood Moon. Talk to strangers in bookstores and coffee shops. Be kind whenever you can. Never miss an opportunity to take a picture of a great sunset (or a cat). It is really, really easy to be happy, even when you’re in a crazy machine that is looking for blood clots. 🙂

I finally went to my first scleroderma support group meeting a couple of months ago. I’d never met another person with scleroderma; it was a little extreme but good. Like me, they all suffer from cold hands. Unlike me, most of them also talked about the struggle to manage pain in their hands, and I could see that several of them had limited use of their hands because the skin was so tight. Remember all of those fingerless mitts I knitted during the sad times? I think that I have found a home for them.

 

 

 

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The Golden Hour

It’s here! It’s here! The most wonderful time of the autoimmune disease year. Fall colors, cooler (but not cold) temperatures, sunshine levels that won’t make me sick, pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks, and wood smoke. Pumpkins and autumn squash soup. New yarns at the yarn store and patterns for warm sweaters. Ugg boots!! Without fail I have a surge of joy and energy at this time of year. Just like the golden hour in photography, that time in the evening when everything is softened and has a glow of light to it, this is my golden hour of the year.

Sunset
Look at this sunset! I took the picture while sitting at the stoplight. Doesn’t it make you happy? The golden hour is the hour before this as the sun was just dipping down towards the mountains in the west. Here is Colorado it makes the Rocky Mountains look softer and plush; there are sunbeams and everything looks wonderful.

What’s wrong with the rest of the year you ask? Well, let me tell you: winter is a beautiful time of year, but for a person with systemic sclerosis and Raynaud’s disease, it is a miserable battle to keep extremities warm an opportunity to rock the wool socks, shawls and fingerless mitts. This year I plan to roll out some exceptionally warm longish sweaters; I have the yarn all ready to go. I have patterns for fingerless mitts that will go up to my elbows. I bought fleece Cuddle Duds. I am really going to try to handle the cold better this year; last year I rolled out of winter with more severe symptoms than I had in the fall.

Rose
Look how great this rose looked last spring. It should be a wonderful time of year for me, but…

Spring is a time of gardening, hope and struggle for me as I try to get the garden’s flowers (and roses!!) going while slowly accepting that new debilitating symptoms that I thought were related to the war against cold, but which remained in the balmy days of April and May, were actually real things. Darn! No wool sock or hand warmer will fix my problems… by the time I make appointments or call for help it is already summer.

Ugh! Summer! I was a teacher, and summer was that wonderful time of renewal and rebuilding that kept me going year after year. Now summers are so fraught that they seem to pass in a blur of lawn watering and visits to Kaiser. Really, I am just a mess all summer long. Here’s the highlights of this year:

  • Summer started with me just a few weeks into the drug methotrexate (which I got after making a call for help in early May…) I was losing hair and taking it easy two days a week because of the drug’s side effects. Still, by juggling the drug schedule I was able to work a summer camp teaching kids how to spin and felt fiber. So fun. The camp was only 2.5 hours a day so it was perfect.
  • In July I developed rare bone complications from the drug (well, don’t I feel special!) and ended up at an acute diagnostic facility. That was the end of the methotrexate.
  • Icky symptoms reappeared with a vengeance. I had to wait a few weeks before I could start the new drug. It’s called purgatory drug holiday .
  • UTI strikes. Seriously!! Antibiotics, barfing and yogurt happened.
  • Rheumatology appointment: he starts me on CellCept with some reservations about whether my gut (which basically hates me…) can handle it.
  • I start the pills.  Woohoo! No problems except after two days…
  • …UTI strikes again. Oops! I stopped the CellCept, gobbled antibiotics and yogurt, and skipped the barfing. Take that you ill-behaved gut!!
  • Started CellCept again the next week. Hello heartburn, my old friend.  Middle of the night vomiting and belly pain?  Nope, nope, nope. My gut has definitely vetoed this drug! I didn’t even make it a week before I emailed my rheumatologist to ask for something else from the land of pharmacological wonders.
  • Well, what do you know. There is another version of the CellCept that is a time release version that I should be able to stomach (see what I did there?). My rheumatologist and I had an email chat and he ordered it up for me.
  • …and the insurance declined to approve it. What?!! I wanted to send my gut on over to have a chat with them. Two visits to the pharmacy, two phone calls and an invocation of the gastroenterologist did the trick. I scored the pills on the last Friday in September. Yep. That was the end of summer and it is now time for the golden hour.

I started the time-released version of CellCept 10 days ago. You know, I think that I feel better already. My knees have stopped hurting! I seem to have more energy. I think that there is less edema in my arms. I have started cleaning out cupboards and stuff. I am happy.

Maple leaves
Look at these leaves! This is the maple tree in my back yard.

This is my year of systemic sclerosis (scleroderma): cold, pain, hope, struggle, persistence, and wonder. And this, my friends, is the best part of the whole dang year. I am full of joy with every red leaf and pumpkin that I see. I know that the snow is coming, but what the heck.

Today, today I am in the golden hour.

Starlight, a Joker and OMG: Empathy Cards!!

Wow. It has been really, really rainy here. I had three inches of rain in the back yard bucket (my very-low tech rain gauge) before there was a downpour with hail this afternoon. Needless to say I have been making good progress on my knitting this week. Here’s what has been going on.

I got the Sidere Shawl by Hilary Smith Callis finally done and blocked. (Yep. There was another battle with the cats during blocking. This time they totally outdid themselves. One of them THREW UP on the shawl and then tried to bury the mess by raking damp shawl parts over the evidence. I love my cats. I really, really do…) I think that it turned out nice.

Info about the stitch
The shawl used a new stitch to me called Starlight Stitch (Sidere is Latin for starlight) that really made it have strips of interesting texture.
Shawl in Tree
Here is the finished shawl hanging displayed by my ever helpful ash tree. The rows of Starlight stitch open to one side of the asymmetrical shawl. Here are the project notes on Ravelry.

As I was finishing up the shawl I realized that it was now May. Time for another sock!! (As one of my New Year’s resolutions this year I have been knitting a new sock each month using a pattern from one of my many, many sock books and some yarn from the stash. So far I have been good and only used yarn from the stash. Notice I haven’t mentioned whether the stash is growing or getting smaller at this point…) Monday I dug through the sock yarn and here is what I settled on for the May 2015 sock:

This sock is Milfoil by Rachel Coopey from hr book CoopKnits Socks. The yarn is Madelinetosh Sock in the colorway Grenadine.
This sock is Milfoil by Rachel Coopey from her book CoopKnits Socks. The yarn is Madelinetosh Sock Yarn in the colorway Grenadine. Since the sock is divided into two distinct halves with different patterns I decided to knit it using two small cable needles instead of  my usual (and beloved) square double pointed needles.

Now that the Sidere Shawl is done I jumped right into knitting the first Joker and the Thief shawl by Melanie Berg. Woohoo!! This one is a keeper for sure, and is lots of fun to knit. Here’s where I am on it right now. The shawl and the sock are knitting up fast, which is a good thing as I have an awful lot of knitting going on.

Joker and the Thief Shawl
The navy yarn is the “Thief”, and the color gradient yarn is the “Joker”. This shawl is fun, fun, fun to knit. The sections of garter stitch are separated by stripes of criss-cross stitches. It is going to be really nice and squishy to wear. Here are the notes on Ravelry if you want the yarn details…

This week has been one of reflection for me as I knitted along in the gloomy rainy days. Tuesday was the anniversary of my mom’s death from ovarian cancer. What a difficult time that was for all of us in the family. Now I am exactly as old as my mom was at that time, and I also am struggling with a serious condition. I’m noticing again some of the things that we dealt with during my mom’s illness: friends and family saying hurtful things, distancing themselves, and trying to make the illness seem trivial. If anything is said at all, it is so superficial or cliche that it reveals a total disengagement. What is up with that? It’s almost as if they are lacking in… empathy.

OMG!! Guess what hit the market this week? Empathy cards! The exact cards that call to the heart of every person struggling with a serious illness, and the life preserver for every person who just doesn’t quite know what to do or say. I can relate to these cards totally! These cards are created by Emily McDowell to fill that huge gap that too many of us are aware of where people of good heart and intentions struggle to acknowledge unhappy truths (some of us will never be old…) as they try to express their concern and support. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Empathy Card
I would love it if someone gave me this card. I would love it even more if that person really would punch someone for me! 

See what I’m talking about? One visitor told my mother that her terminal illness was a “remarkable opportunity” as it gave her the chance to plan the end of her life. I never allowed that person to come visit her again. People who say everything happens for a reason are smugly assuming that somehow your illness was something that you deserved (and they didn’t), or that it will somehow make you a better person. That is just wrong, folks.

Lemon Card
This happened to me! Not nice! 

I bet you want some of these cards too. Here’s Emily McDowell’s blog about these cards and her store where you can buy your own. Emily is a cancer survivor and definitely understands the problem and the need for these simple vehicles to scaffold caring and meaningful communication of support for others dealing with a hard time. I know that people do care. We all need help sometimes to know how to show others how we feel.

So what other empathy cards should there be? I personally am tired of people telling me that they are glad that I’m so much better. (Say what??! I look better right now because I’m between naps and between crisis…) or that they will pray for me (Thanks! I appreciate that! What I really need, however, is someone who is willing to do some grocery shopping for me or even take me to my next major medical testing appointment of the gastroenterology torture chamber variety…) What about the times when people tell you that at least you don’t have __________ (some other disease that sounds worse to them), or ask if you have your will made? There has to be a great card using these comments!

Lots to think about while knitting on a rainy day.

 

 

Wednesday Update: Shawl, Sock, and a Rant

What a beautiful morning! My backyard filled with birdsong early and the cats began clamoring to be let out, so I got up, made a latte, and joined everyone in the early sunshine. It’s too soon for flowers (except dandelions which are now in full bloom!), but the promise of summer is there for the taking. My trees are blooming and there are little buds where the leaves are getting ready to burst out. It’s hard to not get a little excited.

I took advantage of the light to get knitting pictures. I finished a shawl over the weekend. Here it is:

Shawl.
I made a simple garter stitch and eyelet shawl from a skein of wildly painted yarn. You can visit my Ravelry project page for more info on the shawl here.
Close up of shawl.
Here’s a close-up of the tip. There was a lot of color in the yarn!
Shawl on denim.
Here’s the shawl on denim. The colors look great combined with several things in my wardrobe. Yeah!!
Amazing yarn.
The original skein of yarn. It was a little intimidating with that “becoming art” label, but I’m happy with the product.

Now that I have one of the two shawls that I am working on finished I felt that it was OK to cast on the April 2015 sock. Here she is!

Sock
I am so happy with the way the grey is calming down the extreme wildness of the hot pink painted yarn. The pattern is great for television knitting, too, so I made a lot of progress last night.

It was a really great week for me knitting-wise. I even coated myself with the best sunscreen on the market (SPF 60!!) and went out and planted my new roses. There were a lot of positives for the week except for… my scleroderma decided to kick my butt. My leg muscles now hurt, my knees have become swollen, red and warm to the touch, and I’m dizzy in the mornings. I have edema in my arms and legs. What is up with that!! My rheumatologist gave me some drug information to read (I get to pick which drug I prefer of two possibilities. This sounds pretty good, but during the week I realized that these are chemo drugs that I will be taking at a lower dose than cancer patients get. Bummer!) Still, I was having a happy week and being positive until one of my neighbors stopped by to talk to me while I was planting the roses, and he mentioned that if I would get out more often to exercise and get sunshine I would “get well”.

He meant to be encouraging. He’s really not all that bright; he doesn’t get “chronic”. I was polite, but once I got back into the house I was ready to rant. Don’t tell chronically ill people that they can “get well” if they just change their diet, get more exercise, meditate, get off gluten, take vitamins, or whatever else occurs to you. It’s almost like suggesting that it is their fault that they are sick. I know that while it is human nature to want people to “get well”; it is insensitive to suggest that this is within the power of the person who is dealing with a disabling, progressive and incurable disease.

On the other hand, I need to pick a drug. Once I calmed down I e-mailed the doctor to let him know that CellCept sounded pretty good. Some scleroderma patients in forums are claiming to be in remission. That sounds pretty good to me. The downside? No more sunshine for me until I’m off again.

Midnight gardening? I can do it!!

 

In Pursuit of Joy: Out of Control (Part 2)

Control is a thing that is highly over-rated. I was a classroom teacher and learned to just get over it. The art is to savor the chaos and to keep steering things along in the right direction while understanding that learning, successes and growth come at their own rate. Knitting, scleroderma, life: lay your best plans, hope for the best, but know that dropped stitches, hail storms, and bad lab reports are a fact of life. Surrender to joy when you find it, and don’t sweat the other stuff.

It’s been 6 months since my diagnosis for limited systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), and for the most part it hasn’t been all that rocky. I got through the first round of medical testing with only three hospital bracelets, my doctors were nice and mostly informative, and some of my symptoms have subsided thanks to the immunosuppressents  that I am on. New symptoms have appeared, however, and some surprising results showed up in routine blood work drawn two weeks ago. (OK, I was surprised. Now that I think about it, this is why there was so much medical testing 6 months ago. My rheumatologist was probably expecting this…) Even through I was warned to stay off the internet (really, they thought that would work?), I pursued the possible causes for the test results and went to PubMed to find out if there was a correlation with my symptoms, the test results and the auto-antibody profile that I have.

Well, crap!

OK, now I have a list of specific questions to ask the rheumatologist when I go see him next week. The internet can be a scary place, and sometimes ignorance is bliss, but I think that it is best to tackle these things head on so that I can make informed decisions. Still, I was a sad puppy at the start of the week which was one of the reasons I cast on new projects that facilitated smooth knitting and a zen like calm. Three projects at once? Sure. It’ll be fun!

Yesterday I decided that it was time to fight back; I packed up my purse, my knitting, and headed out to find some joy. Where can these things be found? At the local nursery and my favorite yarn store, of course!!

Plant
This kalanchoe is moving into the bedroom to keep me company in the mornings while I drink my latte and read in bed. (Oh, I am so retired!)

Look at the plant that I found! Happy, happy colors. I bought this and a cute little cyclamen in a hot pink.

Then I headed off to Colorful Yarns in nearby Centennial, Colorado where I knew ladies gathered to knit together on Wednesday afternoons. Oh my goodness, what a good idea that was. I had a great time knitting, was inspired by the yarns and projects of the other ladies and was even was treated to a decadent snack. (Rice crispy treats made with Nutella and drizzled with chocolate! Hello… if you are hunting joy, chocolate is always a hot ticket!!  This recipe looks like what she made. Yumm!!) I made some friends and will definitely be going back next week.  And the best thing? I was in a yarn store!!

No one should ever go into a yarn store while facing down mortality-related issues linked to their health status! Ever!! You can predict what happened here…

There was a whole section with newly-arrived cashmere blend yarns. Oh dear.
There was a whole section with newly-arrived cashmere blend yarns. Some with sparkle. Oh dear.
Yarn
Gradient dyed yarn! I have to make a lace crescent shaped shawl (with beads) out of this yarn. There was a striped hat set in matching colors that will let me make a hat and mitts in the same colors. How can I walk away from something like that? Black winter coat, you never had it so good!!
Green Yarn
I had never heard of this yarn label before. Hello, beautiful. This yarn is to dye for!! It is cashmere/silk/merino, and if ever there was a yarn that wanted to become art, this is it.
Blue yarn
Same label, but all merino. Won’t this make a happy pair of socks? It’s hard to see in the picture, but the colors just glow.
Cofetti Yarn
It is not possible to walk out of this store without some Zen Yarn Garden. This is 20% cashmere, and the colors are happiness guaranteed. This colorway is called confetti. 🙂
Yarn Haul
Here is the entire yarn haul hanging out with me while I eat lunch outside with my cat MacKenzie. How much fun (and out of control) is this? You are looking at JOY, people!

Time to cast on even more projects!! It is time for me to knit, knit like the wind.

This is me spitting in the eye of scleroderma.

February 28: Rare Disease Day

rare disease day
Logo courtesy of Rare Disease Day. To find out more information about this event visit http://www.rarediseaseday.org/

I got a newsletter in my email box yesterday that let me know that this special day was upon us. Wow. A day just for me and the other people who have to explain their medical status to friends, family, and medical providers such as the dentist. Wait, it isn’t for me? It’s for my disease? Since systemic sclerosis is an orphan disease that no one has heard about this day is set aside to introduce it to everyone. Isn’t that special! Ta-da! Everyone, please meet scleroderma!

What is a rare disease you ask? Well, that is a good question, isn’t it? Off to the internet I went to find the answer.

In a nutshell a rare disease is one that affects very few people. Most of these are genetic, or at least have a genetic component, but there are some others such as the autoimmune disease that I have that also fall into the category. According to the Rare Diseases Act of 2002 a rare disease is defined as one that affects less than 200,000 people in the United States. Since the Scleroderma Foundation estimates that 100,000 people in the US have systemic sclerosis it meets that criteria. Oh, I guess that’s why they sent me that information in the email.

I’ve been kind of thinking about what this means in practical terms. If I tell someone that I have scleroderma (thinking that I have a better chance that they might know something about it since the systemic sclerosis that I have is a subtype of scleroderma), they get a blank look on their face and say that they’ve never heard of it. The next thing that happens is understandable, and very human, but also unfortunate: they immediately assume that the illness isn’t very important since they never heard of it. The conversation moves right on to something more understandable.

My hairdresser told me a story last month that haunted me for days. Her step-daughter had a number of autoimmune conditions that included fibromyalgia, IBD, and something that affected her joints. She had extreme fatigue. She kept trying to talk to her father about what was happening to her, and how fearful she was, but he discouraged conversation as he thought she was “milking the situation for attention.” She died at Thanksgiving, and he is being eaten with remorse. What a mess. Her condition was mostly invisible to an outside viewer, and since he didn’t know anyone else with it, he incorrectly disregarded the impact it was having on her.

Depression and a feeling of isolation is a big issue with rare diseases. Most of them are chronic, they can be progressive, and there is no cure. Once the diagnosis is made the patient begins living an unpredictable life with an uncertain future. Without a strong support system it is hard to deal with this stuff on a day-to-day basis.

There are a lot of rare diseases, (this site has a database if you are interested), so no one can be expected to know a great deal about any one of them in particular. If you should encounter someone who has one, however, it would be nice to ask them some questions and then to really, really listen to their responses. What is it? How are they coping? And if this is a good friend or a family member, what can I do to help?

To all my peeps with chronic conditions (hey, lupus girls, I am talking to you!!), knitting friends and those of you afflicted happily with bibliophilia, I have one thing to say:

Happy Rare Disease Day everyone!

2015 Books #7 & #8: Christmas Books

Last week wasn’t very good for me health-wise. I have systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) and out of the blue I suddenly developed breathing issues, noticed that I had edema in my arms and legs, and struggled with the cold weather more than normal. Seriously, my skin hurt and my fingers kept turning blue!! That’s how I ended up spending most of the week bundled up reading and knitting. (OK, there was a trip to the doctor and a visit to radiology, but who wants to go into that!) Luckily for me my sister and cousin sent me Barnes & Noble gift cards this Christmas, and I had some really good books waiting for me on my Nook. What could have been a sad little week turned into some awesome knitting and an immersive journey to Kentucky and the Arctic through the medium of two fantastic books. Here they are.

Secret WisdomThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

I’m always haunting Goodreads for a good book, and this one came up on my radar a couple of weeks ago. As soon as it was released I bought it for the Nook. What a good decision that was! I began the book Saturday of last week and read steadily over the next couple of days. Wow!  What a great story! What the heck was I going to say about this book? I was too stunned to even decide what I thought.

You see, this is a book of layers. It is about so many different things, and yet the threads of the story are so well intertwined you hardly notice it as the many themes and story lines are happening at once. So, in as few sentences as I can, here is what the book is about.

Following the death of his little brother in a horrific accident, 14 year-old Kevin and his mom go to live with his grandfather in the Appalachian coal mining community of Medgar, Kentucky. Kevin bonds with a local boy named Buzzy who is wise in the ways of the woods, and Kevin’s grandfather employs him as an assistant in his large animal vet practice. Just when it seems that the book will be a standard coming-of-age novel other themes emerge in rapid succession. This book is about environmental issues, the relationships between sons and fathers, economic greed, poverty, struggles for power, and the destructive force of homophobia. It is a murder mystery and a heroic wilderness survival story. It is a story about friendship, values, healing, and redemption. I was captured by the story, entranced by the beautiful narrative, and stunned by the turns in the plot. Wow! It was a fantastic read!

 

Jeanette

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
I was still spinning from the experience of The Secret Wisdom of the Earth when I decided to read a non-fiction book. Once again, I had checked this book out at Goodreads before I bought it, and several of the readers mentioned in their reviews that it was engrossing and read like an adventure novel. Take a chance, I told myself: buy it!

Yep. Another good decision. This book is the story of the voyage of exploration undertaken by the USS Jeanette in 1879. Her mission was to break through the ice belt in the north, reach the open polar waters and finally make it to the North Pole. Yep. In those days it was a commonly held belief that the North Pole was located in a warm open sea filled with teaming life. It was entirely possible, many argued, that there was a lost tribe of humans there. The Arctic was the great unknown, and there was huge public and national interest in the exploration of this region. It was the equivalent of the race to be the first on the moon. The USS Jeanette was the United States’ moonshot, and the cost of the expedition was funded by the most powerful newspaper of the time, the New York Herald.

The book is the story of the people involved in this grand adventure and a factual account of the events before, during, and after the USS Jeanette’s Arctic journey. It is based on many sources including current accounts in the news, personal journals, and the ship’s logs. It is rich, fascinating, and reads like a novel. It is a window into another time, and yet the motivations and emotions of those people echo our own times. It is a love story, an adventure story, a tale of survival in the face of horrific conditions, and even better, it is a story of science. (Hello, old biology teacher here…) The officers and crew of the USS Jeanette went to heroic lengths to collect and preserve maps and data that changed the world’s understanding of the Arctic. After the voyage of the USS Jeanette, it was never again assumed that the North Pole was located in an open sea, and all other efforts to reach it involved trips over sea ice. Just as the trips to the moon changed our view of the Earth, so did the voyage of the USS Jeanette.

A week has gone by since my first sad days of unhappy symptoms, and I am better. (Except my ankle, which has decided to hurt. What’s up with that?!) I dyed some wool, started a new knitting project, and am on the hunt for another book to read. I think it’s time for some science fiction.