Teaching sign language in her son Milo’s preschool class last year, Camryn Manheim felt a sharp pain in her left hand as she tried to form a word to a favorite tune. “We were singing ‘Old Mac-Donald had a farm/ E-I-E-I—ouch!’ ” she recalls. Manheim, who played attorney Ellenor Frutt in The Practice from 1997 to 2004, went to several doctors to find out what was causing the stiffness and pain in her hands. After eight months of searching, she got a surprising answer: At 44, Manheim had rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that affects about 2 million people—70 percent of them women. Finding relief through twice-weekly injections, Manheim, who lives with 4-year-old Milo in Venice, Calif., is once again swimming and Rollerblading—and hoping to help others receive a faster diagnosis than she did.
About a year and a half ago, I just wasn’t feeling myself. I was feeling aches and pains in my hands, which was upsetting to me because I’m a sign-language interpreter—I use my hands all the time. I could hold a pen or a cup of coffee, but it was difficult. I was starting to feel fatigued too. I had to have somebody run alongside Milo when he was learning to ride his bicycle without training wheels. I had somebody else in the pool with him. I had somebody else doing hula hoop with him. That’s not the kind of mother I wanted to be. I don’t know that he could tell I couldn’t be there for him as much as I would have liked—certainly not in a way that he could express. But it was clear to me and that made me sad. […]
Her doctor then prescribed steroids.
Immediately I felt some relief because they are an anti-inflammatory. But as soon as I would go off them the swelling and the pain would return. […]
Finally, in May, she got a referral to a rheumatologist.
So I get there and he’s like, “Put the gown on.” And I said, “Why do I have to wear a gown? It’s my hands that hurt.” And I’m thinking to myself I didn’t even wear nice underwear that day. He did blood and bone density tests and took X-rays. When he told me it was rheumatoid arthritis I said that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. I’m too young. Well, I learned I was mistaken.