Notes from Windward: #68

Reuse--Up Close and Personal

Walt talks about hip surgery

     Reuse is a key strategy that underlies much of our effort to create a working model of a sustainable community. Huge amounts of capital in the form of land, tools, facilities, learned-skills, etc. are required in order to achieve a significant degree of sustainability, and one way we strive to use our cash flow to build that capital base effectively involves acquiring resources that would otherwise be discarded and refurbishing them.

      In many instances it's cheaper for us to take a piece of used equipment and repair it than to buy new. That works in part because we have acquired a diverse selection of tools, but also because tools which were made during the peak of the US manufacturing era are generally stronger and better built than their modern equivalents.

the work truck picks up a ton of pea gravel

     A key example is our 1980 Chevy 3/4 ton, four-wheel-drive work truck. We originally acquired it a auction, and since then have installed a remanufactured engine, solid-state ignition, rebuilt the rear-end, modified it so that it runs on either liquid or gaseous fuels, etc. Windward lies more than 1,200 feet above the Klickitat river, and it takes a serious piece of equipment to dependably haul heavy loads up that grade winter and summer.

     Many of those modifications were done during the winter season when our ground is soft enough that it makes little sense to try and work off-road. Better to work on doing the routine maintenance that's key to keeping our equipment working during the season. There are few things more expensive than lubrication grease not used.

      Modern manufacturing is an interdependent network of sophisticated machines and techniques which may--or may not--be available in the future as the world comes to cope with the end of the era of cheap oil. One way we've been working to undertand what sort of processes could be utilized in the post-Industrial age that lies ahead of us is by studying the technology of the Middle-Ages--the "Golden Age" of sustainable systems when the vast majority of the things that people consumed were created within a few miles of where they lived.

     For the past three years I've been coping with the steady deterioration of my right hip joint, damage caused by the long-term use of a sixty-pound medieval treadle hammer. We have a forge which would allow us to do things like use the leaf spring from a modern car to create a serviceable axe, but to move that volume of metal takes more power than one can apply using arm and hammer. Medevial manufacturers got around that by using a hammer that was drawn down to strike the hot steel when a person transferred their body weight onto a treadle--more than enough to force-weld iron and steel hot from the forge into a working axe blade.

     What wasn't obvious was that this work grinding away the cartilage that separates the top of the femur from the hip socket. By the time the damage made itself evident, it was irreversible--repair would require a total hip replacement.

     The surgeon's recommendation was to delay the surgery as long as reasonable, and over the past three years I've embarked on a physical therapy plan that's enabled me to build up my upper body strength and balance before hand. Post-surgery recovery will involve two months in which I won't be able to put weight on my right leg as the soft tissues heal and the bone bonds to the porous parts of the newly installed ball and socket. That long a recovery period necessarily results in a notable loss of strength and agility, so the plan was to "bank up" strength before the operation through a comprehensive physical therapy program.

     This summer's x-rays showed that surgery could not be put off much longer without risk of damaging the pelvic bone to the point of jeopardizing its ability to bond to the metallic socket, so we started to make plans looking toward surgery the second week in December. This year, instead of the work truck or backhoe being laid up for the winter for repairs, it was my turn.

     Given the Internet, there are lots of resources that a person can use to become better informed regarding a potential surgery or treatment. In my case, there's even a virtual hip replacement video available that details the various steps involved.

      If you're interested in a detailed description of what the surgery entailed, Click Here, and then click on the "Click Here to START!" button to try your hand at doing the surgery.

     The procedure went smoothly, and the eight inch hocky-shaped incision was closed with seventeen staples. When I awoke later that afternoon, my first thought was that now I know what the old-timers meant when they described something as feeling like the kick of a mule.

     The physical therapy team started working with me the next day, and by the fourth day I was released to return home to Windward to convalesce. Almost as soon as I was home and tucked into bed, the snow started to fall in what's being described as the Pacific Northwest's worst snow storm in forty years.

     Performing various surgical procedures are part of raising animals, and it's common enough, for example, to have to stitch up a ewe that gets caught on a fence panel and tears her hide. Since sheep and goats are in effect wearing leather coats, the healing process is greatly aided by closing the tear with some dental floss and an upholstery needle. Having done that often enough, I was doubly interested to find that instead of using external sutures, they had used surgical staples to close the incision.

surgical stapler

     On the tenth day, the visiting nurses made the trip out to Windward to inspect the wound and remove the staples, a process which was notably less painful than the removal of standard stitches. Another two days of healing and I was cleared to take full-body showers.

     With that behind, it's now just a matter of getting around on crutches for the next six weeks as my new joint undergoes the process of bonding with the bone. Given the scope of the current winter storm, I'd say that the timing couldn't have worked out any better.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 68