Being Stalked by the Old Lady – The Diagnosis

It began one balmy day in spring while I was bustling about the office. My right elbow began to swell. I woke that morning and noticed it was tender. I couldn’t think of any recent injury that might have caused the aching pain that pounded around the joint. It was entirely possible, of course, that the men in my dance class had held my arm incorrectly in our two-hour session the previous night. In the end, I concluded that it must be from working on my computer; I spent hours typing and using a mouse, at the office and at home. I thought nothing of it at the time — being slightly ambidextrous, I simply switched my mouse to my left hand for a few days, and eventually, my right elbow returned to normal. A few weeks later, my left elbow puffed up. I switched the mouse back to my right hand, but I wrote with my left hand. I didn’t have the confidence that writing with my right hand would work as well. Left-handed writers are known for a certain scrawl in their handwriting and I was positive that scrawl would become a brand new language if I attempted to handwrite with my right hand. I went to my doctor who told me it was tennis elbow; nothing could really be done except to use a brace and take some painkillers when it flared. And so I did; I bought this awkward brace that constricted my arm movements and no matter how much I adjusted the straps, it always cut off the flow of blood to my hand. The brace was removed for a few hours a day, and eventually, did not make its return to my elbow; which was fine, because just as the right one had done, the left one also returned to normal. I thought no more of tennis elbow for the entire summer.

In the fall, when the weather turned damp and cold, I caught a virus. I fought the sore throat, the runny nose and the cough; but a couple of new symptoms popped up when I was nearing the end of my run; a strange rash appeared across my neck and chest; I woke in the morning with swollen fingers. I shrugged it off as a strange new symptom of the virus. A couple of nights after the rash disappeared, I found myself waking at night feeling like I was on fire. My wrists, elbows, ankles, and knees burned, my skin was hot to the touch and it felt like my blood was boiling as it coursed through my veins. Usually cold in the evenings, I found myself throwing the covers off me hoping to find some relief from the blaze flowing through my body. I continued to wake each morning with swollen fingers and stiff hands. This went on for about six weeks. I was no longer convinced it was just an after effect of the cold virus. I went to my family doctor. He examined my tender elbows and swollen fingers, a frown crawling across his usually pleasant face.
“I think I might send you to a Rheumatologist.” I immediately listed the name of one I knew; at the time I was working in a Rheumatology clinic.

This all took place in one year. The elbows alone did not convince me to seek further medical attention. After all, I worked for Rheumatology and logic dictated that my symptoms were not nearly as bad as the patients I saw every week. I knew young people struggled with this disease. I knew no one was invincible to arthritis. I had all the medical facts. But I didn’t think that I had arthritis. I was a young, healthy, fit woman who exercised on a regular basis. I was the epitome of fitness and energy. I did theatre, biked, walked, jogged and took a variety of dance classes. Imagine my astonishment when the old lady arrived and set up camp in my body. I don’t always notice her; sometimes her presence is cloudy — these are the good days. But I am always aware of her and we have our petty arguments — these are the bad days. I have, however, learned to live with her and now we fight our demons together.

6 thoughts on “Being Stalked by the Old Lady – The Diagnosis

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  1. Sounds really awful especially since it sounds like you really took care of yourself. I know people who haven’t lifted a finger to take care of themselves and the are the epitome of health. I makes me think sometimes if nothing more than how the dice are rolled.

  2. I also had a sudden onset of this disease. I had also had a virus before it and did not shake it off for several weeks. I had been waking each morning with very stiff and painful hands, I just put it down to the damp climate in which we lived (France). This was remedied by soaking in warm water every morning, the rest of the day was ‘normal’. Then one day I woke and could barely move my fingers were stiff, fat, swollen and painful, same as my feet. My doctor sent me the same day to a rheumatologist. After all the blood tests, I was given steroids in high doses, within 2 weeks I was ‘cured’. Then the Rheumatolologist told me to stop taking the steroids …. I digressed very rapidly into a worse state than I had first encountered. At the time I would have had my fingers amputated – they even turned black! Being back on steroids, plus bone and blood injections saved me …. I returned to the UK – treatment here is quite good, a postcode lottery though.
    Things that annoy – why do disabled toilets have a recessed plunger, when I don’t have the strength in my fingers to flush them – at home I use the thin end of a wooden spoon! Also, toilets again – I have often been locked in, the knobs are impossible. People assume because you are younger that you can hold a door open for them, give a seat up on the bus. I have got splints to wear but I don’t always wear them. I am not too deformed, but they are the passport to constantly dropping things, like purses on the check-out counter. Everyone ‘tuts’ but with the splints on I get more respect – yes and the depression due to the drugs suppression the immune system thus stopping the seratonin uptake is another debilitating ‘unseen’ symptom. I don’t like playing the ‘card’ as you so aptly called it but heck sometimes it is a must …..

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope that you are on the road to wellness with proper treatment and that things will begin to improve. It’s always difficult to adjust to a sudden illness, and often RA comes on very quickly, as you well know. I wish you well, hoping your good days outnumber the bad and thanks for stopping by – lovely to hear from you.

  3. Its lovely to see someone youthful out there advocating for inflammatory arthritis. It always used to bother me that many people think only old people have arthritis. I was diagnosed as a young child at the age of 3 and have had my fair share of struggles, yet I never let “the old lady” take over for too long either. I call myself the tinwoman on the rough days, to make light of it. I grew up dancing and it helped me to stay active. As a LPN for 7 years and now in full time school for my nursing degree, I often wonder about the cause of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, since there is so much that we still don’t know.
    You’re a wonderful writer! Keep on keepin’ on =)

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I hope you have more good days than bad. Congratulations for pursuing your nursing degree. I just finished a year with the Writer’s Studio so I know how challenging it can be following our dreams while fighting chronic illness. I’m so glad you don’t let your disease stop you. It’s lovely to meet you.

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