I was 21 when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I had never heard of it. I had always thought of arthritis as an old person’s disease. I soon found out that there are a myriad of varieties of arthritis that can affect both the young and the old. 20 plus years and 10 surgeries later, I can’t quite remember who it was that finally broke the news to me… my G.P. or my rheumatologist, but having dragged my swollen foot and painful ankle through Montreal’s bus and subway system for almost a year, I do remember the man who was finally able to figure out what was wrong with me.
Repeated trips to my G.P. and multiple x-rays had turned up nothing, so eventually – in desperation – I signed up for physiotherapy at a private clinic. The young therapist who treated me was very nice, and was also quite certain the pain was due to a torn tendon or ligament, but she suggested I make an appointment with one of the clinic’s doctors in order to get a proper diagnosis. Enter the sports doctor… he was young, brisk and efficient. He grabbed my foot and turned it this way and that, proving to the physiotherapist that it couldn’t possibly be a damaged tendon or ligament because it hurt – like hell – no matter which way he twisted it, and it shouldn’t have. In fact at the end of his examination, he was as baffled as my G.P., until I mentioned offhand that I was also experiencing soreness in both elbows and hands. “That’s very important’, he said, looking at me intensely. “You might have arthritis, which is essentially inflammation of the joints. There’s a blood test you can take,” he said. He wrote something on a small piece of paper and pushed it toward me. “Tell your G.P. to test for the rheumatoid factor”. Well, I took that test, and it came back positive. Within a couple of months, the arthritis had spread to every joint except my back and my hips. I was referred to a rheumatologist and the rest is history.
When I think about how this disease has changed my life, I recognize that the transformation has been profound. So much so that I don’t remember what it was like to have a body that functioned normally, because this has been my normal for so long. I have spent more than half of my life in daily pain. Chronic pain is not only exhausting, when it is severe, it even saps your ability to think. It is through sheer willpower and determination that I drag myself to work most days. Some days I don’t make it.
What have I learned about myself? That I’m stronger than I thought I was. That you can’t keep a good woman down, LOL. That I can still get most of what I want out of this life if I just adapt my method. I certainly haven’t done it without help. I have had tremendous love and support from my mother, and from my boyfriend. My mother is my rock who has moved in and cared for me after every surgery. And my boyfriend is my sweet-hearted superman. He is not only the muscles in this partnership, he lifts my spirits, puts a smile on my face and makes me laugh every day. More importantly, he gives me the courage to try activities that I would normally find physically daunting… like camping. I mean who would’ve thunk it… I CAMP. We’re not out in the wilderness or anything; we stick to provincial/state parks or similar private campgrounds, but it’s still the great outdoors and I find it exhilarating. It’s a lot of work for my boyfriend, who has to do all the heavy physical stuff, and it’s a huge effort for me especially if I’m having a bad day, but with him holding my hand and giving me his support, he makes anything seem possible. And the best part of all: he loves me just as I am. What could be better? 🙂