On Pins And Needles

NeedlesFor the past couple of days, Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy has been on pins and needles. No, I am not nervous that something bad might happen.  The reality is, I am actually the most calm that I have been in a long time. (In my RA terms, a long time means a month…)

The pins and needles that I speak of are literal.

Two days ago, I woke up early in the morning to go to the lab. (This was the first time in a long time that I’ve actually had to set my alarm clock.) I arrived right when the doors opened, submitted my doctor’s orders, paid the bill, and then went into the area where the actual blood samples are taken.

After about five minutes my name was called; I entered the room, sat down, and rolled up my sleeve. Luckily, it has never been difficult to find a vein in my arm. A few minutes later I was pressing down on the cotton ball, as the lab technician put the labels on the four test tubes.

Before I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I was one of those persons who could not stand the sight of blood. On the few occasions when I accidentally caught a glance of my blood as it was being drawn, I immediately became dizzy and light headed. Now, with all of the blood work that I have had done since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I am able to look directly at the tube as it fills – without even missing a beat.

This is the first time ever that I have had my blood drawn without a sense of impeding doom. We know the routine…get your blood tested every few months to make sure that the medicines are not causing any liver damage, check for rheumatoid factor levels, and so on. (Although, up until now, I continue to be seronegative. Does this mean that I will always be seronegative?) In the past, I was always a nervous wreck between the time the lab test was performed and I received the results from my rheumatologist. I always expected the worst.

Everything always turned out to be okay, though. The funny thing is, that if there was ever a time to be nervous, now would be the time. You see, I’ve had a strong abdominal pain for about two weeks, and it continues to get worse with each new day. My next appointment with my rheumatologist is Monday afternoon. While I could spend from now until then worrying, I’d much rather adopt a wait-an-see attitude.

The best part of going to the lab was dropping in on a great little hole-in-the-wall breakfast joint that is just around the corner. (When breaking the fast that is required for blood tests, I’m going to do it with style.) At the table next to me was a young girl and her father. Her face was one big smile, as they bought breakfast to her table. Just a few minutes minutes earlier, she had been sitting next to me in the lab with the most worried look on her face, obviously scared at the thought of being poked by a needle. It seems like I’m not the only one who combines a visit to the lab with a visit to this breakfast joint.

Yesterday, I spent two hours late in the afternoon with my acupuncturist. Although I have gone many times in the past, I had not had a visit during the past half year. I had been looking forward to this session all week, and it was great to finally go back.

The person who I see practices electroacupuncture, which is a combination of traditional acupuncture and TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). After my left knee and my right hand were loaded up with needles, the cables were attached and the machine was turned on. Although this may sound like a painful process, for me the results are nothing other than complete bliss. (Can anyone doubt a guy when he uses the word bliss?) Unlike traditional TENS, the electrical massage of electroacupuncture goes directly to the muscles and tendons.

In every session I have had, including yesterday’s, I have fallen asleep immediately. I still don’t know why exactly this happens. The best explanation that I can think of is, that since some of my most chronic pains are temporarily swapped for an absolutely wonderful sensation, my body takes advantage of the opportunity to experience pure, undisturbed sleep. (I don’t think I’m the only who has often woken up more tired than when I went to sleep, after another night where the pain prevented restful sleep.)

I ended up getting a two hour session, instead of just the sixty minutes that I was scheduled for. (The acupuncturist is a close friend of the family.) I often read articles online and discussions in forums where people ask if acupuncture really does help rheumatoid arthritis. All I can say, for a fact, is the for the two hours that I was on the bed, I was in pure heaven. Whether this helps my RA on a “scientific” level, I do not know. What I do know, is that there are few other things that have such an immediate and noticeable positive effect on my mind and body.

As of my current medications are in pill form, the one needle that is not a regular part of my life is the syringe needle. Although I take this back. A month ago today I had my first cortisone injection, and I have two more vials and syringes here in the house that my rheumatologist gave me “in case of an emergency”. (What a great rheumatologist I have, no?) While I was bumped up to methotrexate injections a few years ago, that was called off after it was obvious that is was not relieving my stomach and nausea problems. So while I do not see the syringe on a regular basis, it still is there every now and then.

Having been afraid of needles most of my life, they seem to have become some of my closest friends in my life of rheumatoid arthritis.

Are needles a part of your life?

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

11 Comments
11 comments
  1. Jules says:

    Needles are a regular part of my life with RA. Methotrexate every Sunday, Enbrel every Wednesday, bloodwork every 6 week to check the liver levels and whatnot. Now- before RA- I didn’t have a problem with needles. On our 13th anniversary my hubby and I got our first tattoos. By the time I got diagnosis six years later- I had seven discrete tattoos- 6 of which I fell asleep during. Bloodwork has always been another matter. I still can’t look or I pass right out-lol. You would think that with as much bloodwork as I have these days and as often as I have to give myself shots- I would get over that, but not so far.

    I am very interested in acupuncture. Unfortunately, none of the practitioners around here are on my insurance plan and with my medical bills- it isn’t an extra that we can fit in at the moment.

  2. jodi says:

    bi-weekly humira for me.

    i tried acupuncture awhile ago, but reading this makes me want to check it out again!

  3. kertslittlebird says:

    Methotrexate every week and blood work every three months. I tested seropositive.

  4. Denise says:

    Methotrexate on Sunday by injectin embril in the past but my body rejected it .
    My dh still thinks an aspirin would sufice .
    Oh well

  5. Kali says:

    You would think, with the enormous amount of blood tests that come with having a mystery ailment, I’d get used to the needles. I mean, some of the tests got run as often as 6 times last year! They were very determined to make sure I didn’t have RA, lupus, and diabetes.

    And then there’s also the number of times I’ve ended up in the ER, most of which meant IV fluids. And the MRI and CT scan contrast fluid. And the EMG and the lumbar puncture.

    Nope. I still can’t bear to see the needle stuck in me. I panic. I actually can’t see the needle at all – before, during, or after – without panicking. I border on phobic – my doctors have debated whether or not I am, as I can cope with the idea of the needle, just not seeing it. If I see the needle, odds are I’ll be out of the room and having to re-schedule the test before the medical folks know what’s happening.

    I have another fun complication, too – they still have to use butterfly needles on me whenever possible, because my veins are small and my nerves run very close to them. With the regular collection tube most people get, I’ve got about a 75% chance they’ll bump the nerve and give me a bruise the size of a quarter or bigger. With a butterfly, I regularly have a bruise the size of a dime or smaller, and the chance of hitting the nerves in my elbow drops to perhaps 20%. Yeah, I still get hit now and again, but not as frequently or as badly!

    ~Kali

  6. liz! says:

    Hello! Needles are/were my nemesis. In my line of work, I often do arterial blood drawing, even femoral, and I can do it without blinking. Once I’m on the other end of that syringe, it is a whole different story. I’ve always been terrified – I break down into a shaking, tear-filled eyes, cold sweating 24 year old. Then RA came along and I had to get MTX every week, then the blood tests monthly, etc. I got off the MTX and now only have to face the Humira pen every other week, and I only get my blood work done every 3 months. My rheum gets mad but I say – it’s either late or never for me. Thank you for sharing your story – I love your candid views.

  7. Kim H says:

    Well, I guess I’m a little bit different from everybody else: I have always been attracted to blood and gore.

    And because of this, needles have never bothered me in the classic sense. In fact, until my RA diagnosis, I used to donate platelets. (I have great antecubitals!). And now, I inject Enbrel (Switched from SureClick to pre-filled syringe because it’s easier and less painful to inject into the abdomen) as part of my RA cocktail.

    What bothers me now, occasionally, is just the whole process. I get tired of going to the lab to get my blood drawn. I get tired of taking my meds. I get tired of taking my supplements.

    I guess you could say that I get tired of working really hard to keep myself from getting really sick.

    So, I occasionally feel like being noncompliant. But I always eventually give back in.

  8. RA Guy says:

    Thanks everyone, for sharing your comments. Sometimes it’s easy to gloss over some of the most mundane aspects of life with RA.

    Working hard to keep from getting sick can seem tiring at times, but when the results finally begin to show I feel so energized to keep doing what is working.

    Got my labs back this afternoon; take them to the rheumatologist on Monday. I’ll keep you all posted.

  9. witchlinblue says:

    I’ve done the needle thing for five years in the past but not since then have I had to inject myself. I learned myself to do it so that I wouldn’t have to take a bus across town once a week for someone else to do it. Mind you I would fill the needle, put the lid on and then have a nice straight scotch. A half an hour later I would just ‘do it’!
    RA Guy, I am curious to know how long the good effects are to your acupuncture? Also the sero positive/negative thing, well from what I know, myself included, it can change back and forth, some stay neg forever and still have a active disease and other that are positive can go into remission even though they are positive. I know that mine has switched back and forth over 20 years and it doesn’t seem to reflect in the disease process. The only thing I can tell for sure is when my white blood cell count goes very high I can feel that. Anyways, I am very curious about acupuncture

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