It started a few months before the school year ended: a little twinge in my knuckles, a small pang in my big toes. There was the one time my shoulder freaked out on me, and I couldn't raise my right arm more than a few inches away from my body. Thank goodness I can still use my left arm, I thought, foreshadowing the next morning's discovery that my other shoulder was messed up, too.
There have been days when I have needed help to get dressed, mornings when I let my hair stay curly because it was too hard to hold the straightener, Sundays when Brett had to bring my meds to the sound booth, nights when I couldn't sleep because of an aching foot or a sore hand.
Of course, this wasn't all the time, and school and everything else kept me too busy to dwell on these occurrences. Besides, I've always heard that your body does crazy stuff as you near 50. I should've called a doctor, but I put it off. This summer, my excuses ran out as the pain became more consistent. These days, I never leave the house without Aspercreme or Icy Hot in my purse, and my summer to-do list of home repairs sits untouched because I can't hold a paint brush or climb a ladder most days. I made the call.
At my first clinic visit, the doctor took X-rays and ran a blood test for gout. "You're too young for osteoarthritis and too old for it to be rheumatoid," she told me before sending me on my way with an arthritis med. I was relieved to have something besides naproxen to help with the pain and soreness, but I knew this wasn't an actual remedy. And no, I don't have gout.
At my second visit, the doc ordered another blood test to check for autoimmune issues. As I suspected, it came back positive. "You were right," the doctor said. "It's rheumatoid arthritis."
Sometimes it sucks to be right.
I anticipated this answer, and I KNEW a diagnosis would likely not mean an end to the joint pain. Still, in my mind, I kept thinking this pain was temporary, that soon I'd be back to normal. Certainly I have hope that my symptoms will be manageable, and I'll do whatever I can to slow the joint damage. But the very real possibility is that this pain and weakness will become my new normal, and that scares me to death.
This is where I'm supposed to say that my faith is sustaining me, that even though there are many unknowns, I know Who carries me. Sorry, but I'm not there yet. We have been through so many crises; you would think I could take assurance from my past. But my past is flashing before my eyes. My parents did not have RA but both ended up disabled, and when I think of this chronic condition, I can't help but picture their home, walkers and crutches and braces and Ben-Gay and bottles of pills lining the kitchen counter. It's hard to separate my envisioned future from their lives I saw firsthand.
So, friends, I need your help. I need your prayers, your positive thoughts, your encouragement. I need your success stories of people living with RA, your tips and tricks and meal plans. I need a good rheumatologist! I'm back at work in less than a month, so I need a game plan, a better attitude, and coping mechanisms in place ASAP.
Many of my friends and family members are walking much tougher roads than I am, so I feel guilty for even mentioning my diagnosis. But I am weak (literally!), and I know that with help, I can be strong.