I have escaped the clutches of this little entity once again. The first time we met was after I ended up in the hospital with a pleural effusion and a pericardial effusion eight years ago. That’s how I was formally introduced to Rheumatoid Arthritis. It did not come calling lightly.
Instead of the chest tube I visualized upon hearing my diagnosis from the ER physician, I was put on a steroid regimen. A drug I’d administered countless times to my patients now became my lifeline. For a while. After several months, I successfully weaned off and stayed off, until this past year.
It started back in February of 2012. My right hand became so painful; I could barely run a brush through my hair. The pain soon had a stranglehold on my hand and on my day.
Forget cooking, forget housework, forget laundry. And worst of all, forget my bike. I couldn’t hold on to the handlebars with just one hand and remain steady as I pedaled. The endorphins my exercise produced were canceled out by the electric fire of pain. Anything that touched my hand sent an exquisite shooting pain up my arm. The joint at the end of my index finger was swollen into a ball and I had to use a brace to keep the finger immobilized.
Eating became a trial. I could barely hang on to a fork, and wielding a knife became an impossibility. It was the same with a pen. I think that hurt me the most, not just physically, but in my soul. Even so, I stubbornly wrote volumes of notes for a friend while I sat in the library. My ace-wrapped hand a blinding nest of pain, I held that pen and I wrote and I wrote. RA was not going to deprive me of even that.
I moved up my regular appointment a few weeks, but I still had to wait too many days before my rheumatologist could see me. I feared a cortisone injection was coming. I was afraid I’d wimp out at the sight of a needle going into my hand, though needles going into my arm every two months doesn’t seem to bother me.
But, he didn’t touch my hand and there was no mention of needle sticks. One glance sufficed. “It’s a wonder,” he said, “how RA can knock you down. Just one affected joint can immobilize you.”
Enter Prednisone. Ambrosia of the gods, it seemed. In short order, it gave me back my hand. Handed me back my life. It became my crutch. I welcomed it and it moved in, lock, stock and barrel.
Oh, I tried to evict it after a while. Several times I started on my journey to displace it from my life. But then my hand would hurt and I’d run back to its protection, its shelter, its sanctuary. I was afraid of the pain, but I was terrified of my immobility.
Pain I could deal with. Loss of independence, I could not. So, I sought my fix. A literal fix, a repair. I turned and returned to the tiny white pill that had restored my life to me.
My attempts to sever that relationship continued, however. I did not like the dependence. I did not like how a bunch of little pills controlled me. The Methotrexate I accepted, the Prednisone galled me.
I began a hit and miss schedule. If I remembered, I took it. And many days I would conveniently remember to forget. Every morning, I’d flex my hand. There would be some tightness, some stiffness, some soreness, sometimes. Most days, my hand felt fine.
My labs have come back normal the last two visits. My CRP, sed rate, all the numbers fall where they should. The Prednisone stays in its bottle. And that stays in the medicine cabinet. I give myself permission to hope that it also stays in the pharmacy.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go knock on wood.