Friday, May 15, 2015

"You have Rheumatoid Arthritis."

     I literally woke up one day with a chronic, incurable illness.

     On December 16, 2006, I woke up with both hands so swollen I could not make a fist or hold almost anything.  I remember not being able to open my bedroom door.  I remember being in moderate pain, but I was more alarmed that both of my hands were nearly twice their normal size.  I knew something was wrong because I felt the heavy, sickening feeling in my stomach that this wasn't right, and it wasn't going to go away.

     My parents made me see a doctor.  I was never a fan of doctors and was very nervous during the appointment.  I had a full physical exam with particular attention placed on my joints.  I had to answer a lot of questions.  Then my doctor told me to get blood tests, one of which would measure something called the Rheumatoid Factor.  

     "I think you have Rheumatoid Arthritis."

     I didn't understand what that meant until my blood test results came back and I was referred to a rheumatologist.  From that point on everything seemed like a terrifying blur.  Another physical exam, more blood tests, a corticosteroid injection, a bone scan and hand x-rays followed.  I was officially diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in the finger joints of both hands a few days before Christmas.  I was immediately prescribed several medications intended to ease pain and prevent joint damage.  I was given several pamphlets explaining what RA is, how different medications work, how to cope with pain and fatigue and instructions to return for a follow-up visit in one month. 

     Fear and confusion were the most overwhelming emotions for me.  What exactly would RA do to me?  How will all these medications help me?  How will they affect me?  Will I become disabled?  Do I really have to get blood tests and see the rheumatologist every other month?  How will this diagnosis affect my life?  How am I going to handle this?  Are they sure I'm really this sick?  Most of all, I couldn't understand how I could wake up with an incurable illness.  Why did I suddenly get sick?  No warning, no indication that something was not right.  How is that possible?

     That December morning completely changed my life.  One day I was a generally healthy 20 year old, and the next I am a chronically ill RA patient.  I will be dependent on doctors and medication and endure pain and fatigue every day for the rest of my life.  

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