When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in the early 90’s I was also diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The rheumatologist was not too worried about it, said it might even be sort of intermittent. He prescribed for both the fibromyalgia (FMS) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) but mainly focused our discussions on the FMS. When he retired a year later, my family doctor took over managing my fibromyalgia and arthritis, and did so for many years.
I was recently reading a book on fibromyalgia and discovered I am on the very most antiquated treatment. Two of the medications I am taking have weight gain as the primary side effect, which certainly applied in my case. Plus I just felt bad all the time. The book, From Fatigued to Fantastic, planted a seed of “Maybe I can feel better.” in me. So I sought out a rheumatologist.
Enter Dr. S. Two weeks ago she examined me for the first time and told me that I have sustained considerable damage to my feet and hands, because I haven’t been properly medicated for my rheumatoid arthritis. She goes on to explain to me that RA is most likely the culprit in terms of my chronic exhaustion. Debilitating exhaustion has been my PRIMARY complaint for years. Have I complained to my M.D.? Yes. Have I asked him what’s wrong with my feet? Yes. Does the funny little chart he carries around and flips open every time he sees me include RA in the diagnosis? Yes. Does he prescribe Plaquenil for my RA? Yes. Why hasn’t he taken some sort of action?
That I couldn’t answer. How could I point the finger at my doctor when I haven’t pursued the matter myself. Besides, I go to a teaching hospital and have never seen the same doctor twice, so I wouldn’t know who to be upset with. To be honest, in my ignorance, I blamed it on the fibromyalgia. I blame every twinge and bump on the fibromyalgia. It creates such a wide array of symptoms that it’s easy to do that. Ideally my doctor would not have taken that stance, but quite honestly I feel most health care professionals see fibromyalgia patients with a big fat “HYPOCHONDRIAC” stamp on their foreheads.
So now, I am on an additional drug for the RA. It”s kicking my behind (nausea, fever, chills, and a funny metallic taste in my mouth-ugh!), but I like having use of my hands and feet, thank you very much. So I believe I’ll stick it out. It’s funny how things creep up on you. Have you ever started a diet and had someone tell you that you are losing weight in your face when you are wondering why you can’t get the same comment about your caboose? After the first shot of this stuff, my husband tells me that I am “losing weight’ in my feet. I had gotten used to my feet looking like balloons all the time, and had long ago made peace with not being able to wear girlie shoes. Now the tootsies don’t seem to be swollen all the time. I wake up in the morning and can wiggle my toes. I have shed five pounds (a mere grain of sand off the beach, but a start). I’m not always begging for a foot massage and amazingly I can ride the escalator at the mall. I can’t really explain how I had rationalized to myself that I couldn’t step on and off of an escalator anymore. I thought I had just gotten stiff and clumsy.
After going to the mall and riding up and down the escalator just for fun, I began to get very grateful. I also began to abandon my natural propensity to engage in unwarranted bouts of self-pity. Good thing I saw that book. Good thing I took myself back to a rheumatologist. She tells me that a few more months of treatment I will most likely be able to take walks again. I can see the pounds melting away already. My dog will be so happy. Life is good. But in the midst of goodness I feel a little grief. I guess I never really dealt with the RA diagnosis. I focused mostly on the fibromyalgia and blamed everything on that. Between escalator rides, I’ve been kind of curled up in a ball moaning and groaning. But I refuse to stay there. I am catching up on my blog. I am spring cleaning and making a path in my art studio. I am flirting with my husband. I am catching up on phone calls and emails. I am listening to friends tell me what’s going on in their lives. All of the little things that make me feel connected, that make me feel joy. So I see myself well on the road toward acceptance. The gratitude tells me that I am. The coping mechanisms are coming back out of the toolbox and I’m remembering a few things. Chief among them is that any loss must be grieved. Then it must be embraced and accepted. When I have done that in the past, it always opens my eyes to the enormity of what I have to be grateful for. Gratitude breeds faith, and then I become just a little bit more whole. I change and grow. This has been my experience with the ironic nature of loss or hardship. And every day, no matter what, there is always some bright shiny package waiting to be opened.