Exactly a year ago today, my health, which was pretty good at the time, took a turn for the worst. I remember being in San Diego attending the ASTD 2008 conference for work and walking towards the San Diego Convention Center, from the Manchester Grand Hyatt, which was only a block away. As I got closer to the convention center, I felt a pain shoot through my knee. I just assumed that it was because I basically wore the same pair of 4 inch heels all day long and my knee was finally telling me to stop wearing them for the day, so I pulled a pair of flip flops out of my bag and changed into them. For the next few days the pain became even more excruciating. It got so bad that I could barely stand for anything longer than 10 minutes. By the time I left San Diego both of my knees were quite swollen.
The first thing I did upon returning from my trip was to contact a former friend of mine who had recently retired from the NFL who owns Body Regeneration Clinic, to see if he could refer me to an orthopaedic doctor. A few days later I had an appointment. The doctor took x-rays and initially told me I suffered from Patella Femoral Syndrome, which is basically a common knee injury among athletes and causes issues with the kneecap area.
After talking to him for a while after the diagnosis, he noticed me stretching out my fingers on my left hand and he told me he noticed me doing it a few times since I was sitting there. I mentioned to him that I was experiencing stiffness in my middle finger for a while and thought it was from when I jammed it playing rough a few months back with my ex. He then asked if there were any people in my family who suffered from Lupus, or arthritis. At first I said no, but then I remembered that aunt on my father’s side, whom I haven’t spoken to in almost 20 years, that suffers from Lupus. It was at that moment he ordered me to see his daughter who’s an internist because he was afraid it was more than a simple finger injury or Patella Femoral Syndrome.
Eventually I saw the internist, she sent me for blood work and 12 vials of blood later, I was told that it would take about a week for her to receive the results. During that time, my health got worst. Not only were my knees swollen, but about every joint in my body was inflamed. My fingers, hands & feet were swollen. I couldn’t fit any of my rings or shoes any more due to the swelling. Everyone in my family were quick in giving me their own diagnosis. I heard everything from Lyme Disease to high blood pressure, or maybe I was just retaining water. Before I could receive the results of my blood test, something told me to go ahead and call an arthritis specialist. I explained to him my symptoms and he requested to see me immediately. Even before hearing the results back from the internist, he got on the phone with the lab to get a few of the initial results. A little after an hour of arriving to his office, he gave me the diagnosis I was praying that I didn’t have to hear.
Last summer will go down as one of the worst periods in my life. At the age of 31, a few weeks before my 32nd birthday, I was told that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis and would have to live with it for the rest of my life. With RA the immune system loses its ability to tell the difference between these foreign invaders and the body’s normal cells. It also begins to attack normal cells. The damage starts when your immune system begins to weaken your joints. Unlike minor injuries that heal over time, the deterioration of bones and cartilage within the joints caused by RA does not go away. Even without serious symptoms, RA could be irreversibly destroying joints in the body. As of right now, even with all of the advancement in science & modern medicine, there isn’t a cure for RA but several medications that can slow down the possible joint deterioration process.
After the first few weeks of my diagnosis, I was put on several medications. None of them seemed to work. From May until June, my body was still inflamed. Even places where I didn’t know joints existed, like my throat, were inflamed. The pain I experienced in my throat definitely aided in my weight loss. So I guess that was a plus. Everytime I swallowed a piece of food, it made me not want to swallow another piece for quite some time, and I would go days without eating anything solid because the pain would literally put me in tears. Eventually my Rheumatologist decided to put me on another treatment (which I will not name, because I’m not being paid by any pharmaceutical companies), which involves taking an IV infusion every 8 weeks. A few days after my first infusion, I could tell that I was starting to feel better. Some of the swelling went down, and my stiffness was getting better.
A year later, I’m still making my visits to my rheumatologist and haven’t had any serious ‘flare-ups’. But of course with any type of medicinal treatment, there’s always the potential of side effects. One of the previous medicines I initially started out with has definitely affected my memory, which is something I discovered it could possibly do after I was prescribed it. It’s gotten to the point that I have to write almost everything down at work, my total recall abilities are definitely not what they used to be. I actually find it ironic how something I always prided myself on, has been severely affected, but I guess it could be worst. What’s also irony is the fact that before I was diagnosed, I was on this whole weight loss kick, but never thought that getting sick was a way that would prove to be a huge weight loss factor in my life.
To say that I’ve been affected emotionally and mentally, along with physically, would definitely be an understatement. I tend to think that my RA started because of the emotional stress I was under last year after I broke up with my ex-fiance. Not only did it take a toll on me emotionally but also physically. I think after that incident I became a shell of my former self. Weeks would go by when I didn’t leave the house, whether it was for work or to socialize. I remember last July, months after my diagnosis, we had a huge cook out at my house, with family and friends. I spent most of my time in my room, not wanting to socialize with anyone. Most of my family members, by that time, knew my health issues, but I doubt all but two (my sisters) knew that I was getting through a pretty bad break-up.
As of now, I have my good days & bad days when it comes to my health. I’ve gotten used to waking up in the morning with joint stiffness, and although for the past month or so, I’ve been slacking on my workout, it definitely helps with RA. I try to stay stress free nowadays, because stress can exasperate RA, but as we all know, it’s easier said than done when it comes to being stress free. Everytime I think I have it down to a science, someone proves me wrong, but that’s ok, as the saying goes, “this too shall pass”. I refuse to let this disease get the best of me.