It isn’t like this is a new idea. I live in the Chicago suburbs. Lately, we (as well as much of the Midwest) have been getting hammered by one severe storm after another. These low pressure cycles sweep through in an aggressive rush rendering old oak trees a little lighter as wind gusts of up to 70 mph free the trees of their spindly bare branches. There are a lot of older trees in the area that have these dead limbs. I park my car under one that threatens to splinter with a strong blast. Thus, I would probably need a new car. The oak trees in my neighborhood range from about three stories to five stories tall. It is impressive. Like a skeletal system, these sturdy and strong wooden bodies endure the tribulations of the four seasons. Like my skeletal system, severe weather, pushes them to suffer more than is the status quo.
I’m sure that these storms have more than arthritis patients aching. I’ve heard that people with broken bones can sense the change in the weather too. Apparently, as a low pressure boundary encroaches, once-broken bones may have an opportunity to expand more. High pressure feels good because it helps to push that somewhat compromised bone together. With RA, high pressure helps to press our swollen, aching, and compromised joints together. Low pressure allows for the aches and pains to fire up. This is how it was explained to me. Looking at the sizes of the ganglion cysts on the top of my right foot seems to be confirming the hypothesis.
It was almost three weeks ago that I started a short-dose of prednisone to combat the bursitis I had developed from a rather innocuous nodule on my left achiles. The bubble on my left heel was simple unsightly. My feet, in general, are unsightly. Nonetheless, I took the damn prednisone. It is amazing how much better EVERYTHING felt. Yes, not medicating with methotrexate and the other cocktail of RA drugs means that I’ve pretty much allowed myself to “tune out” the usual aches and pains of the eveyday. But, what a difference about three days of prednisone made. It was unbelievable! I was running and jumping and chasing my two and a half year old niece around her swingset with ease. Then the course of the prednisone was finished.
Within one week, and in combination with this powerful weather, I’ve felt like garbage. I notice the achiness of my fingers and wrists. I’ve seen the bubble reappear on my left heel and watching the crazy swelling of the larger bubbles on the top of my right foot. RA said, “remember me?” and made its return loud and clear. Yet, I am still holding my meds. I saw my G.P. doc yesterday for a pre-op physical and he was intrigued that I was so much more conscious of the RA pain. We both agreed that it is a case of that adage: “It is sometimes easier to live with the devil you know, than the angel you have never met.” I think that going without meds for more than a year now I was certainly accustomed it. Sure, the weather would turn, and I would ache. This is not something that a perfectly normal and healthy individual might not also feel. This is just how it is.
What I find ironically and strangely symbolic is that as the weather rages, it sends me raging at the conscious acknowledgment that I do in fact have RA. I think, not having popped pills and poked myself with syringes, it was kind of easy to forget that I had it. Sure, those first steps in the morning always felt like I was walking on shards of broken glass, but by 10 a.m. I was doing fine. I also wasn’t logging posts here, so I really didn’t dicuss or think about RA for weeks at a time. I was too busy. It seems like this past spring was one of the most mild ones I can remember in a long time. That helps to the illusion of being RA free. And since I’m not taking meds, I don’t see my rheumatologist – after all, what is the point? She will say, “take this” and I’ll say, “no thank you.”
Anyway, the weather now reminds me that I indeed have this damn disease. The bubbles (those ugly arthritic nodules) reminds me that I have it. The searing joint pain, yes, hot and stinging – more than achy, reminds me too. I had a dream last night where I was running (with great ease) through a beautiful park. I decided that I wanted to see more and more of this park so I just kept on running. The running was so smooth and I was breathing a healthy heavy breathing, not anything like the pre-heart-attack huffing and gasping I’d probably do if I tried this in real life. The dream was so simple and lovely. Then I woke up and had to go to the bathroom. I was immediately frustrated by the pain from my feet. There it was: reality.
I’ve been reading a lot lately. Part of it is school related. I’m trying to get a jump on planning for the fall. I want to be AWESOME this coming school year! In all of my reading, I can so easily “get behind” characters who rise to a challenge, attack it creatively, and achieve a level of success. I see it happening in the pages and then step back to the real world. Things are such a mess, besides my own personal health woes. There is the oil disaster, the bankrupt state budgets (which I fear will negatively impact me next spring), the human rights sturggles that have always been a part of mankind but are thrown much more in our face due to the instant accessibility of our mainstream media, and probably most sad, this ever-more-pronounced sense that I feel in culture’s move away from heart, spirituality, faith. It is a dog eat dog world out there, nature is venting her fury, and when it seems like masses of humans should be reaching out to one another with kind, open hearts – myself included – we tend to get more and more wrapped up in the rat race. Sure there are exceptions, with certain individuals who can embody peace, generosity, and spiritual strength despite the storm…sure, even individuals can shift in and out of that mode too. I consider myself that type. Yet, I can’t help shaking this sense that we are all in the midst of a severe storm. Although it may seem sunny at the moment, the storm is still raging in other ways. It is in the worry I see carved into my dad’s wrinkles when he wonders how Medicare will sustain my mother once my dad retires from his firm three years from now? If Medicare collapses or adjusts its benefits, will my parents have the retirement funds to make it? It is in brother-in-law’s worry-laiden pondering as he fears that the collapse of the state budget will mean deep, deep public education cuts. As a music teacher, he fears for the worst, especially given his Masters + 30 pay scale credentials will mean fewer schools would consider him. God, such sad irony that a budget determines something like the weeding-out process of candidates. My sister, knowing that this is the case, wonders how she can remain a stay-at-home mom and knows that a newer home with the additional bedroom she would need for the next baby they want is no longer in the cards at this time. The storm is too unpredictable to think even that close-range into the future. And, what happens if I get riffed? Will I be able to afford Cobra? How long would it take me to find a job given the sheer numbers of potentially out of work teachers when the projections of next year’s cuts combine with the realities of the cuts from this year? It is terribly messy. I wonder what can be done? Where will the fixes come from? Didn’t I too believe in the Hope that Obama seemed to embody? I’m certainly not against him. I just can’t imagine anyone short of a legit messiah being able to tackle the problems of this country, let alone the world, and being able to make a signigicant change without being able to conjure a few miracles. At times, the suffering, the storms, the destruction and dysfunction seems so much that I can’t help to believe we are in some sort of “end of days.” If the Mayan calendar has it right, I just might not need to worry about paying back some of my credit card debt.
How did I ever get so off topic? Goodness. On the flip side of this storm idea is that there is always “the calm after the storm,” which implies that to know such calm we must know the storm. In order to bring this back to RA, I will suggest that my dream of carefree running suggests the possibility that I can achive it. When my culture, my own family’s struggles, appear to be rather omninous, I can choose to believe in the hope of my own personal health. Maybe the advancement of medicine and technology will mean that my RA is not so debilitating as it has been for my mom. Maybe it means that should I be blessed with my own children, there will someday be a treatment to eliminate this gene from their genetic make-up. Maybe, it is just the simple hope that I will experience that calm after the storm because I can, once again, trick my mind into thinking about something else and I’ll “forget” the pain. Whatever the case, I am not an ostrich hiding my head in the sand because there is a storm raging at this moment. I am aware. I can sense it. And, I can always hope.