I believe my R.A. symptoms began over three years ago.  I was working out a lot.  I was a full time tennis pro and thus had the ability to schedule my days to include three hour visits to the gym.  I was in the best shape of my life.  I weighed less than I had weighed in a long, long time…I was 31.  Even so, my feet and my hands would ache.  I pawned it off on the amount of weight I was lifting…deadlifts, chin-ups, dumbbells, squats…of course, I should hurt.  There would be times where the pain would wake me up at night.  I admit, I used to take Excedrin P.M. to ensure a good night’s sleep.  In the summer of 2007 I was teaching a lot of tennis and feeling extremely sore at the end of a long day.  I went to see my doctor about the soreness and, after reviewing some bloodwork, I was given Synthroid for a low thyroid.  Supposedly, the soreness could be attributed to that.  Not entirely because of the thyroid, and in a large part based on my mental woes, I had ballooned up in weight that year too.  The weight gain and lack of daily fitness combined to create a worse situation.  Add on to that the stress of not having a job-job (that was the summer I transitioned out of full-time tennis with the hopes of teaching in the fall) – I had yet to land a job.

The fall of 2007 was crazy.  I still taught indoor tennis in order to maintain my health care plan, and then also coached a Varsity high school girls team.  I was subbing every day and working on the online job applications required as a pre-requisite for any teaching position these days.  I continued to stress eat and continued to pack on the pounds.  I spent New Year’s Eve ringing in a 2008 with my sister, her husband, and my niece promising myself it would be better.

In February 2008 I went to see a new doctor.  He was starting a practice that involved a more holistic approach to treatment.  I explained I was on Synthroid plus a whole bunch of other medications for depression, bipolar II, and anxiety.  That day, he stepped me down off of the mental meds, provided I kept up with my talk therapy sessions.  That has been pretty good so far, and I am very aware of shifts in my energy, focus, and mood.  I was also experiencing chest pain.  I could only describe it as pain on my breast bone that was hit or miss.  I had told him that I didn’t want to say anything other than I distinctly remember going in for a LEEP procedure in 2005 and having the anesthesiologist say that I had some irregular heart rhythm.  He ordered a series of tests.  I met with a cardiologist and had a Nuclear scan and adenisine stress test.

I couldn’t believe that I was 33 and a cardiac patient.  The nuclear stress test didn’t provide a clear read because too much of the radioactive isotope had settled into my liver, which then glowed too brightly to provide a clear read.  The adenisine test was negative…which is good.  I did feel like I was having a heart attack.  My blood pressure dropped and I could not breathe fast or deep enough to feel any relief.  As it turned out I had a LBBB.  In other words, the electronic impulses that signal the left side of my heart to work decided to take “the back roads” to deliver that signal rather then using “Main Street” or the bundle branch.  The cardiologist could not rule out 100% that this was only something congenital that I could live with, but, since I seemed most likely I agreed to stop testing.  The next step would have been an angiogram and then a potential pace maker if damage was detected.

The heart piece of the puzzle didn’t address my fatigue and soreness.  My GP doc wanted to address the inflammation.  My C-Reactive Protein levels were very high with each blood test.  I attempted to schedule an appointment with a well-known Rheumatologist who is also my mom’s doctor.  I figured it would be good for a mother and daughter to work with the same doctor.  There was a two month wait.  By now it was May.

I opted to see a different specialist.  My Rhuematologist is new to the U.S.  She is wonderful.  I met with her at the end of May.  She is part of an Orthopedic institute, so I was able to do the x-rays that day.  I did my blood tests that same day too.  Later that week she personally called me to say that I should come on in to discuss some treatment plans.  I was in that same week – the beginning of June 2008.

I had taught some tennis that morning and was driving through a sudden thunder storm to get to the office.  When I got there, her nurse took me back right away.  I have never had to wait to this day.  I was sitting in her office when she came in and greeted me warmly saying, “well it looks like I’ll be seeing you a lot more.”  She cracked open her laptop and reviewed the bloodwork with me.  She then showed me the x-rays and explained that my joints still looked pretty good and that she wants to keep them that way.  She wrote prescriptions for methotrexate tablets, plaquenil, folic acid, omeprezole, and salsalate.  She told me that we would wait to see if things improved and within thrity minutes I was scheduling my next appointment as an official Rheumatoid Arthritic.

I slopped out to my car and just sat in it for a few minutes listing to the rain pounding.  I cried.  I cried because I was so afraid that I was indeed becoming my mother (see the previous post if you are wondering why that thought is so upsetting).  I thought, “how in the hell am I going to be able to take care of myself?  My mom couldn’t do it and she was married and had a chain-smoking Swedish nanny doing housework?”  I was sad to think I’ve probably seen the best ever of my tennis in my past now.  I was mad that I hadn’t just kept in shape from a year and a half ago so that maybe I wouldn’t have kicked this off.  I was scared that I would feel pain and never get a guy to want to marry me since I would be so gimpy.  After a few sobs, I dailed up my Dad.  All I could say was, “well I have R.A. too, Dad.”  Then I cried.  He kept it together, like always, and said, “I’m so sorry.”  He reassured me that everything would be okay.  Then he had to go.

I went back home and just vegged out.  Rain in the summer means no work.  I read up on the medications and picked up my copy of The Kite Runner.  I like to delve into novels like that whenever I begin to feel sorry for myself.  Within no time, I was fine.  I would be fine.

I began taking the meds and felt like CRAP!  My rheumatologist cut out the Salsalate and my stomach was better.  Then, at the beginning of my new-job school year my rheumatologist changed me to injectibles since the methotrexate was making me feel like I had a stomach flu for the days following my weekly dose.  I’ve been giving myself shots since September…..sometimes.

I must admit that I often deny that I am in treatment for anything.  I hate the meds.  I really, really do.  I sometimes think that I’d rather tolerate the pain than deal with all the side effects.  So I do.  I wear metal magnetic wrist bracelets.  I don’t know if they are really doing anything, but I believe that they are.  I still wake up at night with pain.  I scorn the ThermaCare people because their hand wraps are awesome – AWESOME – but way, way, way too expensive for me.  If you are rich, go ahead and buy them.  Otherwise, I just make do with warm washcloths wrapped around my hands.  When it gets really bad I will dip into a supply of Tylonol 3 left over from my LEEP procedure.  I have only ever done this maybe five times since last summer.  Mostly, I just endure the pain.  I know that I can’t continue with my half-assed treatment for too long.  I do not want permanent joint damage and disfiguration.

So that is the story of the diagnosis.  I was watching Comedy Central and they had a comic on who has R.A.  I wish I could remember his name.  His hands are all twisted up.  He still tears it up.  That is motivational since he can do all that he does, and he is probably in a lot more pain than I am.

Tomorrow is Sunday.  I’ll be heading to the club to teach tennis for five hours.  Monday morning begins my 6:30 a.m. conditioning sessions with my high school boys team.  I’ll be making my next post in a week to say how the lifting is going.  Although I would normally do a shot tonight, I am not…I have felt like I have a flu and I don’t want to weaken my immune system right now.  So, it will be the heating pads tonight.

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