Coming to Terms with a Life of Arthritis: Physical and Emotional Reaction
In the 14 years since I was "officially diagnosed" with osteoarthritis, I guess I've been quite lucky. Yes, I have nine artificial joints from the waist down, and I'm certainly NOT going to say the surgeries were my idea of fun - neither were all of the follow-up hours of physical-therapy - but yes, I've been lucky. I have only had minimal bouts of horrible pain pre-op and the fun of struggling to get a new joint working correctly, but the reality is, I was fairly ok.
A few short months ago, I suddenly seemed to be falling once in awhile for no obvious reason. This was rather strange for someone who had climbed part of Mt. Kilimanjaro for the SECOND time in January, as well as climbing in the mountains of Madagascar. I was there in February 2011 to photograph endangered animals - and I did so without EVER falling.
The pain in my left hip (yes, it's artificial) suddenly became excruciating with accompanying pain down my entire left leg. The pain in my entire back was beyond anything I've ever gone through. Much of the time I became totally unable to walk without such pain that I thought I was going to pass out! My doctors immediately started back through a regimen of different pain pills and patches to help me survive the incredible pain, but, again, nothing has seemed to help.
So, yes, I'm back to my doctors - my internist, neurologist, orthopedist, orthopedic surgeon, ad infinitum. I had hoped that maybe it was a need for just another "simple" surgery (on whatever), more PT, and I'd be on my merry way back to my work in Africa.
Not this time! First recommendation was for an MRI, which I obviously can't have due to my metallic body with all of the joint replacements. So then we went to a CAT scan.
The results were somewhat devastating for me, emotionally. I found that I have advanced disk disease with my low back crumbling. I also have advanced arthritis of the entire spine. I was told that I probably need to consider selling my house (too many stairs) and buy one without any stairs, but also with wide enough doorways to eventually be accessible for my wheelchair!
I'll admit that I simply fell apart for about a week; I didn't know how to deal with all of this - the pain, the unknown, wheelchairs, handicapped stickers on my car, being declared "permanently disabled" to the state I live in, even the injections I will begin in my spine this week and the new PT program. I was scared!
But suddenly, my support team started pulling together - those that really cared enough to listen to my challenges, those who offered to drive me to my injections when I'm not allowed. In spite of the pain, I began receiving many more orders for my custom baking company for hors d'oeuvres, entrees, etc., and I've found that I can be productive for a few hours each morning before the pain becomes unbearable. This also helps "my head" - I CAN keep going; I'm not just a "cripple." I've even had friends in the medical business offer me alternative help in other states (spine specialists) as well as a place to stay!
My final coup, I suppose, is that, as a wildlife photographer, I decided that I needed a cane that made a statement. It looks as if I'm needing to return to a cane permanently, so found one online that tells people about me. The shaft is beautifully enameled with the print of a cheetah coat, a favorite photographic subject of mine.
So I'll admit, I've gone through a tough patch, but things will get better - I just have to remember...
I have a disease, but it doesn't have me!
As I begin to get better from this latest hurdle, I need to keep wearing my hat that has my watchword on it: WATCH ME