Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Christmas Without Knitting

I have been knitting for 30 years.

I have been knitting Christmas gifts for 29 years.

Or, rather, I have knit Christmas gifts for the past 28 years. This year, for the first time in over a quarter-century, I am not knitting a single gift.

If you are a knitter, or if you know me, you know this is A Big Deal. Christmas knitting is as much a ritual of the season as trimming the tree and leaving cookies out for Santa. The planning, the dreaming, the anticipation of the recipient's delight. Thinking of that special person as I knit miles of ribbing. The clever hiding places that I stashed that knitting if someone walked unexpectedly through the door as I was working on their gift. Casting on one last pair of mittens on December 22, because they would look great with the hat I had made. The tense race to have that last project cast off by Christmas Eve. These have been a huge chunk of my festive season for most of my life.

I love my Christmas knitting. It allows me to be generous with those I love without feeling that I've given in to commercialism. It gives me a sense of connection with my gift and with the season. I have always considered it one of the best parts of Christmas.

But not this year.

Now, this was not originally the plan. I spent much of September perusing Ravelry and Knitty and the hundreds of magazines accumulated over the past 30 years for inspiration. October was spent considering yarn, rifling through my stash or ordering the perfect yarn. Early November saw the rolling of balls of yarn, the casting on, and long, lazy evenings of knitting. I knit a couple of scarfs for
a puppet show. I was rolling nicely along on the gifts, with more in the planning stages. Then my
thumbs stopped working.

Stopped working. Not "got stiff". Not "started to hurt". Stopped. Working. Did not move. Locked. Both of them.

Okay, I had been pushing through a bit of a flare, but I wore my compression gloves and my wrist splints to protect the joints. Sure, there was some stiffness in my hands as I worked, but the gentle rhythm of knitting tends to work the kinks out and get those stiff fingers moving. But this was different. My thumbs were painful, swollen and frozen at a strange angle. I decided that I needed to take a day or two to rest. I called all the various assorted doctors and physiotherapists, making appointments for the earliest dates they had (between a week and a month into the future). I looked into different knitting styles, hoping that I would find one that was more ergonomically friendly to stiff thumbs. I discovered just how much everything in human life depends upon having opposable

Eventually, the pain eased. My left thumb started to move, then my right-though that one still won't bend at the top joint. Everyone, from the orthopaedic surgeon who fixed my broken wrist years ago to my current rehab team, has told me that knitting is good for stiff joints, so I picked up my knitting again. There was a mild sense of panic in the back of my mind about the fast approach of mailing deadlines, but I knit on.

For about half an hour. And my right thumb stopped again. Just stopped.

I finally got in to see my primary care physician this week, and he was full of bad news.
Anemia, bursitis in one hip, advanced osteoarthritis in the other, deterioration in my lumbar vertebrae, and something with the charming name osteitis pubis. And that was before he looked at my hands.

It didn't take him long to determine that something is wrong. The prime suspect is de Quervain's tenosynovitis, but also in the pool are bursitis and osteoarthritis. There will be x-rays and MRIs and a visit to the rehab team before the culprit is revealed, and that will take time, especially at this time of year.

So, long story short, there will be no knitting for a while.

I feel like I just got a stocking full of coal. I am struggling with the idea of not Christmas knitting. Not because the gift bit is important, but because it has been such a part of my celebrations at this time of year for so long. Because knitting has been so much of my life for so long.

I will rest, and I will take the anti-inflammatories, and I will find other ways to celebrate the
season. I know I will continue to feel as if something is missing, as if Christmas is not quite right. But I also know that, if I rest and recoup this Christmas, I can knit next Christmas. So, I will bake and buy my gifts and spend time with those I love

And start planning next year's Christmas knitting.