Five years ago, a few months before my 49th birthday, I went to bed feeling fine but woke up the next morning and couldn’t lift my right arm. It was a feeling I’d never had before. I’m a fit, middle-aged woman. I was exercising, walking, eating right — all the things you’re supposed to be doing to stay healthy.
I’d had spine surgery a few years before and have a titanium plate in my neck, and I thought it must be related. I saw my spine doctor, and he said, “This isn’t your neck. I think you have rheumatoid arthritis [RA].” I’d heard of it, but I had no idea what I was in for.
He ordered blood work, and my numbers were off the charts. My rheumatoid factor was greater than 600 — that’s an antibody present in the blood of many with RA. Normal is less than 15. I was told to see a rheumatologist.
In the meantime, I was in pain. I work full time. I have two grown sons and a very active life and couldn’t do anything with my arm. I couldn’t even hold a coffee cup. The pain progressed into my wrists and knuckles. They took X-rays, and thankfully I didn’t have any joint destruction. My spine doctor put me on a steroid.
After I was officially diagnosed by my rheumatologist, I was put on another drug, which had severe side effects. I started losing my hair, and it made me very sick. My rheumatologist switched me to a different form of the medication and the side effects were better, but it still didn’t give me enough relief. A few months later, my doctor added another drug, a biologic, and it’s that combination that keeps my disease under control. Now most days my pain is a one to two on a scale of one to 10. It becomes something you almost dismiss.
Even though my disease is well-controlled, I still have flare-ups. And if you’ve ever had tendonitis or bursitis in a joint, imagine that in multiple joints then throw a good case of the flu on top it. You feel like you’ve been run over by a truck.
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