Tag Archives: RA

A Bubbling Mess

I walk onto my 45-bed med/surg unit. The day-shift R.N. meets me at the nurse’s station with her typical greeting: “It’s a mess.”

No matter what is going on, in her world it is always a mess. Sometimes, though, she is right. She’d been trying all day, she says, to get an IV in. The IV nurse will be on her way shortly.

The IV nurse would have been the one to deal with the “mess,” but she’d seen her chance to go on to better things when I hired on. I couldn’t blame her. It was a big unit, and it took lots and lots of steps to cover it during an 8-hour shift.

After report, I gather my supplies and make my way to the lady who needed the IV. In spite of her bulk, she seems to disappear into her bed. She peers at me over the covers and her eyes get big and round when she sees what I carry.

“I promise,” I say, halting by the door, “I won’t try unless I think I can get it.”

I sit on the edge of her bed and gently massage her arm while I look for a vein that hasn’t been assaulted yet. She visually relaxes as I run my fingers lightly up and down her inner forearm. It is my favorite spot on “hard-to-get” patients. It offers a straight, and normally untouched, avenue, plus the site allows the patient both elbow and wrist mobility.

My heart goes out to her. I can sense her fear and her dread. I see the faint bluish line of the vein tracking up her arm. This is it. My one and only chance.

Her eyes never leave my face and I must betray my relief at the sight of flashback into the IV catheter hub for the strain leaves her face and she smiles.

“Where have you been all day?” she cries, as I secure the line and restart her fluids.

I can see this lady clearly today because for five days last week, I was that lady. Knowing needles were coming, knowing that they were vitally necessary, but dreading them just the same. It seems ironic that shortly before this I’d written about my dislike of needles.

It started with a tickle in my throat. I thought, great, another cold, right when I’m having the house painted and Thanksgiving around the corner. By next afternoon, I knew it was no regular cold. I had chills, fever, body aches. But when body aches can be a constant in your life, it’s hard to give them much credence as a barometer of your overall health.

That evening, I made a trip to the urgent care, Influenza A. Fantastic. It’d been at least 20 years without a flu, so I sucked it up. Deal with it.

That was the plan, but 48 hours later I was in the emergency room. The urgent care had sent me there. My main complaint upon returning was chest pain, so they went into defensive mode: EKG, baby aspirin, and 911 to ER. They mentioned the possibility of pneumonia, but offered me an ambulance ride for good measure.

I said no; we’d drive the ten minutes. Once there they checked me out, started an IV, drew lab work and ordered a chest x-ray, and then booted me out to the waiting room for what seemed like hours. (It was. Definite way of knowing you’re not having a heart attack.)

I seriously doubted cardiac involvement, but I was quite worried about my respiratory status. I was weak and unsteady on my feet. I felt on fire and my chest felt as if the flames lit up higher every time I coughed. Worse was what I was producing when I did cough, and the amount increased steadily. I was bubbling over.

I worsened as I waited for an ER bed. Once there the nurse took my temp, 103. “Huh,” she said as she looked at the reading. She took it again. “Yep,” she said.

Yep, I was bad off.

 

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A Terminal Case of Butterfingers

No, I don’t mean the candy bar. Though I haven’t had one in about a thousand years (Ok, I exaggerate), I can still savor the crumbly, peanut-buttery taste that slowly dissolves in your mouth. Unless you crunch down and chew it away quickly. And who wants that?

I refer to actual fingers. Mine, to be exact. And I suppose those of many others who deal with some form of arthritis. In my case, both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

OA comes from wear and tear. And after thirty years of mostly bedside nursing, raising children, and keeping house my hands are worn and torn. Not visually, mind you. Visually, they’ve held up pretty well.

But inside, oh, inside they hide the impact of their hard work.

Now RA comes uninvited. Unbidden, as I referred to it in one of my poems. I’m not sure when mine came knocking, but it was formally introduced to me in 2004. Ten years this relationship has lasted. Ten official years of living together.

The first thing I noticed, the first physical thing, other than a generalized malaise and lethargy, was the declining agility and flexibility of my hands. They seemed to be stuffed with cotton. Or stuffed in several layers of mittens. Mittens, not gloves.

Suddenly, the people behind me at the grocery check-out line had to wait patiently while my clumsy fingers dug out small coins from my wallet. Even the bills seemed to be stuck together in a way they’d never been before. I’d always paid cash with the correct change for my groceries. Something my father taught me, I suppose.

No one said anything, but I could feel the eyes on me as they waited. And waited. I began to feel self-conscious about it and that made the going even slower. My heart beat at a higher rate as my turn approached to lay my things on the conveyor belt.

It’s silly, isn’t it? To worry about being able to dig money out of your wallet fast enough. But that wasn’t the only thing my seemingly thickened, somewhat petrified fingers affected.

The sewing needle seemed to have disappeared. It’s girth reduced to nothingness. I could see it, but picking it up and holding it was another matter. It was a minute, slippery, slithery snake that I could barely control.

Along came steroids (Prednisone), and with that a new day dawned. Or maybe an old day, when I had full control of my fingers, when they were dexterous once again. And, painless.

I have had many years on steroids, and many years off steroids. Off is better. Better for your overall health. On is better for your fluidity of movement. Though it is an artificial suppleness.

Currently, I’m off. And plan to stay that way. At least, 90% of the time. With RA you learn there is a lot of give and take. And if you don’t give, it will take.

I have come to accept that I will henceforth live with a terminal case of butterfingers. At this point, a slight degree of painless butterfingers. One that does not stop me from doing anything I want to do. From writing to typing, from cooking to hand sewing, from housecleaning to holding an actual book in my hands. From caressing the lovely little faces of my granddaughters to whipping out the credit card to buy them things.

And speaking of the art of buying, we’re going shopping today. I think I will pick me up a bit of that crumbly, peanut-buttery escape.

Writing To You From Flare City

This is not a place I recommend you visit or aspire to be, but to drive that point home, perhaps I should take you on a virtual tour of its many destinations.

First there is Feverville. It’s a warm and cloying place where you can immerse yourself in the experience of a low grade temp.  A rise in temperature just high enough to make sure you are not left bereft of the accompanying chills. For what is a fever without those earth-rattling chills? Which reminds me, if you plan on coming here anyway, don’t forget to pack a sweater.

Immediately adjacent is Fatigue Island. This is not a location where you want to hang out indefinitely, believe me. You want to get out, the sooner the better, but there is no one else around to vote you off. And even if there was, time apparently moves at such a glacial pace that if you could muster up the energy to pack your bags, you would be doing so in such slow motion that it would be undetectable. Face it, once here, you are stuck for the duration.

Not too far away is Body Ache Development. It is called Development because no matter how many times you come by, there is always something new, something different going on. It’s an area that is filled with nooks and crannies where pain can take a hold. Rest assured, there is a special something here for every body, and for every part of that same body. Beginning at the narrow neck, it proceeds to a broader expanse called The Back. This is a wide area that can host lots of pain. And it does.

Then there are the byways, four of them, long corridors that can nurture little pockets of pain here and there. These are really dead ends for there is no jumping-off point. You can traverse them looking for a way out, but at the far and painful end you must needs make a U-turn. A U-turn that will take you back to a main component of this Complex:

Stomach Central. Here you can indulge in forbidden foods. Fried shrimp, French Fries, Coke, ice cream shakes and other sugary substances. They taste good and make you forget where you are for the moment that it takes to chew and swallow. They are classified as comfort foods only for that space of time, for once ingested they rebel, leaving you with remorse and regret as souvenirs.

None of these foodie temptations will get you home. There is no pain-free ticket to ride. No red shoes to smack together on hurting feet, no magic phrase to utter. There is only an intangible capsule called Time, and you must wait, desperately but patiently, to be ferried out and carried home.

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