‘Tis The Season

caneI’ll let you in on a little secret…I just found *the perfect* excuse for any extra pounds I might put on during the holiday season. This afternoon, I started a prednisone push. It’ll be my first (and obviously my last) prednisone push of 2010. Seriously though, I’m not too concerned about gaining weight, since my eating habits really don’t change much over Christmas and New Years Day…and even though I haven’t been to the gym in the last month, I have managed to not undergo any major weight fluctuation. Plus, I have my own little proven method of dealing with the insatiable hunger pangs that appear when I’m on prednisone: jello…lots and lots of jello! (Okay, and maybe some Pringles here and there…)

This evening, I attended a concert at the local symphony hall. There’s always something very pleasant about listening to a live piano duo, or a violin playing along with a cello…even if I’m squirming around my seat in pain. As luck would have it, there was no seat immediately in front of me, which gave me all the room I needed to stretch and move my legs…if I were on an airplane, I would have definitely been charged some additional fee for such a ‘privilege’. Lesson that I continue to learn: if I’m going to be in pain, I might as well be doing something that I enjoy.

I have four more work days, which will be followed by a five-week break. (If you hear someone shouting in happiness on the afternoon of Tuesday the 21st, yes that would be me!) The finish line for this semester, strangely enough, is simultaneously getting so close yet so far away. I’ve never worked full-time during a flare of this magnitude…the grip hold that fatigue has on my body continues to tighten. Case in point: I basically slept straight through the end of yesterday’s classes and the beginning of today’s classes. When I pulled out my folder in class this afternoon so that I could return my students’ exams, only then did I realize that I had not even graded them. I told my students as much, and promised that I would return them tomorrow.

My rheumatoid arthritis is no longer an unknown to my students…everything is on full display for them to see. Yesterday, I wasn’t even able to take my backpack off my shoulders. Without a moment’s hesitation, I asked one of my students to please help me remove my backpack. I really appreciate the words of support that they continue to offer me. Some of them express their feelings and wishes for my improved health in an eloquent manner, while others are a little more…let’s just say…clumsy. Their intentions, no matter how the words ultimately come out, are always good…and that I like.

During this busy last month of the year, when it’s all too easy to take on too much and stress ourselves out, I find some solace in the fact that I’m forced on a daily basis to prioritize all of the items on my to-do list. Low priority? Scratch it off immediately. Medium priority? Must it be done today? No, scratch it off and reschedule it. Yes? Keep it on my list…but if push comes to shove, cross it off as well. High priority? Okay, I’ve cut my list down to one third…I should be able to manage at least these items. And if not, there’s always tomorrow.

So even though my body is doing quite a number on me at the moment, my spirits remain high. I have gotten through this before, and I have no doubt that I will get through this again.

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

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12 Days Of RA Christmas (Encore)

12days

On the twelfth day of Christmas arthritis gave to me

Twelve days in bed

Eleven tubes of joint rub

Ten predinsone pounds

Nine days off work

Eight heat and ice packs

Seven methotrexate

Six days of nausea

FIVE FLAMING JOINTS!!!

Four bumpy nodules

Three swollen fingers

Two wrist guards

And a cortisone shot in my knee!

Some of you may remember the fun we had last year with the 12 Days of RA Christmas!

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All Smiles

smileyfacesI’m in the middle of what is probably one of my worst flares of the past year, but I’m all smiles.

A few months ago, regular lab tests showed that my liver enzymes were highly elevated…so much so, that they were beyond the “concern” level and nearing the “critical” level. My rheumatologist immediately cut my medicine intake in half, and a couple of months later cut them in half again.

We had a three-step plan. First, we would taper down my meds – not completely, but to about 25% of their regular level. Second,  I would repeat my lab tests in early December and the results would (hopefully) be positive (i.e. normal enzyme levels). Third, we would then return my medicines to their normal level.

In the back of my mind over the past few weeks, as my rheumatoid arthritis once again started to flare, has been my personal knowledge that my medicine intake was the lowest it has been in more than a year. (Actually when we started this plan a few months ago, I sort of foresaw where I am at the moment.) I continued to remind myself that I was going through the final stage of allowing my liver to recover from its over-toxicity.

Over the past few days, as it was time to put the second stage of the plan into effect, I started to get really scared. “What if my tests continue to indicate elevated liver enzymes?” These lab tests, which I had been looking forward to for quite a while, were slowly transforming into something that I was dreading.

Yesterday morning I decided there was no sense in delaying any longer. I went in and had my blood drawn. I went about my day. I told myself not to worry, everything was going to be okay.

When I came home from work last night, I got the good news:

All of my liver enzymes were back within normal range!

So yes, I continue to be in the middle of a severe flare, and I know it will take a while for the re-introduction of my medicines to take full effect. But right now I’m all smiles…and I feel stronger than ever.

Everything is going to be okay.

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

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Asking For Help Does Not Mean Giving In

askforhelpLate this morning, I had a moment of panic. It had just taken me an hour to get out of bed, take a bath, groom myself, and get dressed, when I thought ahead to the rest of my day: physical therapy followed by hours of teaching . It all seemed too much to deal with.

I just felt like giving in…jumping back into bed, and pulling the blankets over my head.

As soon as that thought of giving in crossed my head, it felt like an electrical shock waking me up.

First, I can’t give in, I told myself. I have to stay on top of this illness, no matter how bad the pain and disability gets.

But then I asked myself, what did I mean by “giving in”? I certainly wasn’t entertaining any thoughts of giving up my job or stopping the activities that bring joy to my life. The reality of the situation, though, was that I couldn’t necessarily continue to move forward in the same manner in which I’ve done only days or weeks ago.

I needed to start asking for help…not only here at home, but also in my workplace. In a way, this did feel a little like I was giving in, but then I asked myself: what’s wrong with trying to make things a little bit easier, especially when I’m in the middle of a particularly severe flare? I then immediately answered myself: there’s nothing wrong with this. Come to think of it, why would I not do so? Pride? Ego? Probably.

Something that I myself have written many times here on this blog crossed my mind.

“Sometimes, the biggest show of strength is asking for help.”

As soon as I arrived on campus, I asked for and received a room change. Instead of trudging up three flights of stairs, I was now on the ground floor. Yes! To make things even better, both of my classes were now going to be in the same classroom. Instead of trudging down the stairs and going to another classroom between classes, I could now use those few minutes to sit and rest. Double yes!

I spoke with administration, and let them know that I was no longer going to be walking to another completely separate building (plus two flights of stairs) to sign the attendance book. There are plenty of ways to verify my attendance in class, but I can no longer implement the one that requires a considerable amount of physical effort on my behalf. I was told that this was not a problem.

Lastly, I sat down and had “the talk” with my department head. You know, the talk that brings up some of the nitty-gritty aspects of life with rheumatoid arthritis (as if it wasn’t already visible on display for most people around me). Sure, I dropped a sentence on the topic here and there over the past year, but I had never talked about it much more than that. Today, everything changed.

Our conversation finished with her stating that I had her full support for anything that I needed, and that I should not hesitate to call in sick when necessary. She also shared that a close family member of hers lives with rheumatoid arthritis, and that she is familiar with some of the challenges that it can bring into a person’s life.

During class, I asked a student to go make photocopies. During break, I asked another student to please bring me back a bottle of water from the cafeteria. All of these little activities were things that I continued to push myself to do up until only yesterday. Today, I told myself that my biggest priority was to sit in front of the classroom and lead both of my class lectures. By asking for all of these different accommodations and extra help, I was able to do so.

So yes, I’m having to ask for more help than I am accustomed to. But the best part? I’m not giving in. And in the end, this is really what matters the most.

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

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How Do You Do It?

Do+itEarlier today, Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy woke up to a nice email message from a person who has been reading this blog for several months. This reader commented on how, despite the chronic pain and constant challenges that I encounter on a regular basis as a result of living with RA, my blog posts always seems to exhibit a positive outlook on life.

Is there anything you can tell me that would inspire me to feel how you feel? It’s like nothing stops you; you get knocked down and you get right back up. How?

It’s funny, the timing of this question.

Just yesterday, between my morning physical therapy session (my physical therapist has been kind enough to come to my house each morning for the past two week) and a six-hour workday that started at noon (30 minute commute, 2-1/2 hour class, 10 minute break, another 2-1/2 hour class, and a return 20 minute commute), I was taking a taxi to the local shopping mall (pharmacy and a quick bite for lunch). The pain was absolutely everywhere, and my crutches were propped up against the seat next to me.

Monday: crutches.
Tuesday: crutches.
Wednesday: nothing.
Thursday: cane.
Friday: crutches.

I diverge. Back to the pain, when I was in the back of the taxi.

I thought to myself: “Some days, I have no idea how I keep on moving.”

But the weird thing, is that I just keep on moving.

Why do I keep on moving, when something it seems like the easiest thing is to just sit in one spot or stay in bed? I do it because in the past, I would just sit in one spot or stay in bed…and experience has shown me that the results are not always pleasant. My muscles atrophy. Depression sets in. And even though it seems like it can’t get any worse, it actually does.

Continuing to move forward, to pick myself back up, shows me that there is life beyond my pain and illness. Come to think of it, there is even life within my pain and illness. There is the humor that comes from the pharmacist, who every time she sees me, tries to guess what my medicines are before I tell her. There is my physical therapist who has also become my friend. During Thanksgiving Dinner last week (there were about twenty people here at our house, most of them American) when a back spasm left me almost completely immobile, she gave me an emergency 30-minute session in the privacy of my bedroom. There are my students who, when I showed up to class this week with a black walking cane, Nike shoes, slightly-loose blue jeans and square-cut button-up shirt (untucked), called me Dr. House. (I actually thought this was funny.)

Accepting this illness into my life, and all the good and bad that it brings, in a strange way is one of the things that allows me to continue to be optimistic. It’s the calm reaction during a really bad flare, when I remind myself that I have been through this and can get through it again. It’s the tears that flow freely and my shouts of agony during this moment when it actually seems like I won’t get through one of these episodes…but eventually, the absolute worse does pass.

It’s not only knowing the friends and family that I can turn to for support during a rough time…but actually turning to them for support during a rough time. It’s knowing that my illness affects not only myself but those around me, and that with determination together we can get through it together.

But a lot of times, to be honest, it’s sometimes having absolutely no clue of how I do it…

But knowing that if I do it, I will be okay.

And I just keep moving forward, as best I can.

How do you do it?

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

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