Wednesday 1 February 2017

Chippy's knee

Now yesterday I was making off-hand comments about an occupational condition supposed to be endured by washer-women. These work-related conditions can be both peculiar and brutal: as when Dickensian under-aged chimney sweeps contracted cancer of the scrotum from the carcinogenic soot. Another, less repellent, condition is pre-patella bursitis aka housemaid's knee, carpet-layer's knee or nun's knee. I've spent the last 25 years on-&-off teaching computers, which required getting down to the level of many sitting students as they laboured at the frontiers of science. I never could persuade them to take turns pushing me about in a bath-chair, so I found myself too often kneeling beside them to show and tell. Not only do I know better now but I get all mad-eyed when I see students kneeling on concrete floors and beg them to consider the dangers of applying unforgiving pressure to the slop-filled bursa that help that helps protect the knee joint. "It's all very well when you're 18" I cry  "but you'll be crippled in your 30s if you carry on like that". Housemaids, nuns and carpenters spend a lot of time on their kneel and so many of them inflame the bursa that these professional kneelers have named the condition. As I tell my human physiology students, words ending in -itis usually indicate inflammation.

Well as it happens - things always come in twos - yesterday at 0900hrs I wrapped up the muscular-skeletal system in the HumPhys course. I talked about prepatella bursitis and what a pain it is and exhorted the students all to be careful about the intensity of their prayer regime. Three hours later, as I walked to the second HumPhys class of the day, I saw a genuine carpet-layer sawing away with a holy-stone to reduce some unevenly filled holes in a concrete floor prior to laying fresh carpet. Are you mad? I shrieked what about your knees, aren't they destroyed altogether, don't you wear knee pads. Turns out that he was 63, had been in the business for 50 years, and only had knee-trouble but once. Knee-pads, he said, are €5.99/pr regularly in LIDL, and unwearable because they cut into the back of the knee worse than they protect the front.

I then got rather more information than I had time for between classes . . .
The Wedding-Guest stood still, 
And listens like a three years' child: 
The Mariner hath his will. 
. . . about the trials of the carpet trade. Apparently, the truckers who deliver rolls of carpet have a tendency to squeeze one extra roll into the narrow space at the top of the truck. They will apply a huge pressure to force . . . the . . . carpet . . . in and this so compresses the carpet that it is no longer as long as it was when it left the factory. Carpet-layers can usually cope and, at least in one dimension, they can stretch a carpet by, say, 10cm in 10m. That's only 1%, so seems credible. This one time, however, my new friend had to apply disproportionate effort to get the bloody carpet to meet the far skirting board. Towards the end of his titanic struggle there was an audible >!pop!< and he left work with an L - I - M- P, pronounced limp. Over the next tuthree days, his knee swelled up like a melon and turned black. He went into a local chiropractor, who (after informed consent) stuck a syringe into the mass and drew off a large amount of orange fluid which he replaced with cortisol.  In less than a week, the knee was down to its normal dimensions and its owner was skipping off to the next contract.  I'm guessing that he has a genetic predisposition to having strong knee bursae possibly because of a peculiar repertoire of his collagen genes which contribute widely to the sgtructure and function of cartilage, tendons and joints.

That reminded me of the long conversation I had, sitting in TCD's college park about 10 years ago, with my friend Ailis after she returned from walking the Camino de Santiago [prev]. I told her that my boots started to leak blood out of the lace-holes after three days on The Way [war stories inevitably exaggerate a little]. She, on the contrary, yomped the whole 900 km without a single blister. I reckon that's because her collagens are way more robust than mine.

Finally, we must note without sadness the passing, in Ireland anyway, of weaver's bottom - an inflammation of the buttocks from prolonged sitting at cottage looms.

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