Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Arthritis was not a new term for me! It’s something we often hear especially from the older people! I knew it was a very common joint problem. But, when the doctor told me I suffered from Rheumatoid arthritis, the first thing I asked was how different it was from the regular arthritis. The doctor told me arthritis is any bone disease that can cause inflammation or damage to the joints and rheumatoid arthritis is one of its common types. In the next section I'll explain you how I've started living with Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and what I've learned since I was diagnosed.
Waking up in the morning
My day begins with stretching my body and moving my fingers, toes, and knees a bit before getting out of the bed. But, don’t think of this as a sign of laziness or reluctance to get up. My joints become very stiff in the morning. I have to move them a bit to relieve it. It takes at least one or two minutes for me to be able to move my fingers and knees with better ease. But, in winter, it takes a much longer time.
I suffer from severe stiffness of joints in the winter, which is, sometimes, not relieved even after trying to move them. I have to bear with the pain or take a higher dose of a painkiller after getting up to get rid of the symptoms.
Starting the day
I apply an ointment on my knees and fingers and massage my joints every day in the morning. My doctor told I could even use coconut oil for the massage to diminish the sympthoms of RA. It seems to be very nourishing for the joints. The massaging action increases the blood circulation in my joints and helps me move them easily. However, even after taking a painkiller and doing massage, the pain doesn’t go away completely.
It just reduces slightly making every step of mine an ordeal. Sometimes, the pain is so severe that I have to take help from a family member to support me while performing activities. I also fear losing my balance while walking as my knee joints have become weak over the last few years. So, I use a walking stick to avoid falling.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Luckily, rheumatoid arthritis has not caused much of restrictions as far as my diet is concerned. However, the doctor has advised me to avoid junk foods and stick to a nutritious diet so stay healthy, and avoid its sympthoms. I also drink a glass of milk twice a day, after breakfast and dinner, so that my bones get enough of calcium.
Going to work and taking medications
My life changed a lot since I started living with RA. I can no longer drive to my office. My knees pain a lot. Sometimes, I don’t feel the pain while driving. But, in the evening, I have to face a tough time! The pain and stiffness become very severe if I drive to my office or any other place.
Though my office is on the first floor, I have to wait for the lift as I cannot climb the stairs. I even avoid going to the cafeteria for lunch. I carry my lunchbox and have it at my desk. Just the thought of walking all over to the cafeteria makes me feel painful.
Well… it isn’t too far; just a 5-minutes’ walk! But, for me, this short distance also feels like a mile, because the sympthoms of this disorder are very strong! Though the medications I am prescribed have somewhat helped me manage my day at home and office with ease, I know that these measures are not a permanent solution to my problem. I am using painkillers and steroidal drugs.
These medicines only relieve the pain till the time their action lasts, which is for about 8 to 10 hours. The pain comes up again once their effect is reduced. So, I am practically living on these painkillers. I know they cause a lot of side effects including gastritis. But, I hardly have any other option to get on with my routine activities without taking them.
Prevention of complications
Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis does not limit itself to just the joints. It is basically an immunological disease. In short, I am suffering from it not because of something wrong with my joints, but with my immune system. And the immune system has an effect on almost all organs of the body, causing multiple problems.
The doctor has told me this disease may also affect my skin and cause nodules or my eyes and damage my vision. Since there is no cure for this disease, the all I can do to prevent these complications is to take steroids so that the immune system reacts in a controlled manner and does not cause much damage to my joints and other healthy tissues.
What are the daily limitations and what are the fears?
The pain in my knees forces me to avoid walking and the pain in my fingers doesn’t allow me to do any activity peacefully even while sitting at one place. So, this rules out me doing most of my daily activities myself. I cannot even exercise or go for running or swimming. I cannot chop vegetables or write a mail without feeling the pain caused by RA.
The pain is so severe that it has become a sort of habit to try and avoid doing most tasks. I either take help from someone in my family or delegate it to my colleagues or juniors. I am dependent on those around me for small things like getting a cup of tea. It does make me feel helpless. I even reprimand myself for being so dependent on others. I do try to do the tasks; but when the pain becomes unbearable, I am left with no other option.
What would be my life with rheumatoid arthritis in the future?
I fear things might just get worse with each passing year since I've started living with rheumatoid arthritis. It is a slowly progressing disorder. It might get more difficult for me to even walk to the lift in my older age. This thought is very scary. I consulted my doctor to know if there was a way I could stop the joint pain from getting worse.
Though he told me that my newly adopted healthy habits would slow down the progress of rheumatoid arthritis; I know in my heart that he was just trying to cheer me up. From what I have learned, this disease can persist for life-long and cause progressive deterioration of multiple joints. I might have to live with a declined mobility and range of motion as this disease may become worse causing more pain and stiffness. My life may just get more dependent on others than it is today.
What are the risk factors?
My mother suffered from a similar illness. In fact, the doctor asked me if anyone from my family had a joint disorder. Family history is a common risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis. So, I might have inherited it from my mom. Luckily, I don’t smoke and I am not forced to change the way I live. I am told this condition tends to be worse in the smokers.
The evolution of rheumatoid arthritis
Over a period of time, rheumatoid arthritis may start affecting my eyes, heart, skin, and other healthy tissues and develop more complications. Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is difficult: my life is already restricted. I cannot enjoy outdoor activities. I cannot play any sport or go for a refreshing walk with my family. But, I will not complain even if the life continues the same way. I have accepted that the things cannot get any better; but only pray it doesn’t get worse!
What are the psychological effects when you have Rheumatoid Arthritis?
I know what the future holds for me. I might have to bear more pain, more stiffness, and more dependency. However, what saddens me is my kids may also have to bear with the same pain as they grow older. Will they also inherit this disease from me the way I have inherited it from my mom? I cannot describe how disturbing the thought is to be leaving behind pain and stiffness for my kids!