‘Tis The Season: Managing Pain & Enjoying The Holidays

Vanessa Collins Health Guide
  • The Holiday Season is upon us.  How on earth are we going to get everything done and still enjoy the festivities?


    I have learned some things over the last few years that have helped me better navigate the physical and emotional demands that inevitably pop up this time of year.      


    My first Christmas after my RA diagnosis was not a pleasant one. I had not yet come to terms with the limitations imposed on me by my RA. 


    I tried to do things the way I had done them in the past. I’m sure you know what I mean.  I was trying to keep pace with everyone else.


    I still remember going Christmas shopping and pushing that cart.  It is a memory etched into my RA brain.

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    The other shoppers were moving so FAST.  That was the first thing I noticed.  I felt as though I was a little old lady making my way slowly, very slowly, through the manic crowd.


    The second thing I remember was my difficulty maneuvering that darn shopping cart.  I inevitably end up with a cart that is difficult to push, let alone turn.  One of the wheels is always going off on its own …not in concert with the other three wheels!


    I tried to turn that cart into an aisle filled with all kinds of Christmas decorations and shiny “stuff.” I like shiny “stuff.” Unfortunately, pivoting on my left leg proved to be an eye-opening experience.


    A jolting, intense pain shot through my hip.  I grabbed the cart to stop my fall.  I looked around to see if anyone noticed my screwed up facial expression or my limp.  Nope!  They were all intent on their own shopping.  Whew!


    Needless to say, I learned this type of shopping was NOT for me. I am now a cyber shopper, and I love it!


    I have never been to a Black Friday Sale.  I have been on the internet buying lots of things at discount prices on Cyber Monday.  Shopping online is a wonderful thing for those of us who are not able to fight the crowds in department and discount stores.


    My body loves cyber shopping, and there are no heavy carts with screwed up wheels to push.  There are no long checkout lines.  There are no rude people trying to push by me to get the latest and greatest gizmo…whatever that may be in any given year.


    In addition to shopping, there is that “little” thing of cleaning and decorating our homes.  This is a tough one for me.


    My doctors restrict me to lifting no more than 10 lbs.  My lower body is not in good shape, so my balance is always questionable!  This can be a problem when one is trying to deck the halls with boughs of holly.


    What to do, you ask?  Well, let me give you a little glimpse into my “decorating life”.


    The first thing I did was buy an artificial Christmas tree that was already lighted.  That keeps me from having to string lights every year. The tree is light and manageable, and looks quite real.


    The second thing I did was make angels out of red ribbon to take the place of traditional Christmas ornaments.


    I found a video on YouTube that showed me how to make the angels, and I really enjoyed the entire process.  I took my time and rested my hands often.


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    I made big angels that are probably five to six inches long.  Making the larger angels was easier on my RA hands.


    The best thing about my sparkling angel ornaments is that I can hang them on my tree without using those pesky little ornament hangers.  My angels have a loop at the top, so they fit nicely over the end of the branches.  So simple, and so pretty!


    The other thing I did to make my life easier, was to buy a pair of electric scissors.  I knew they would be helpful, but I had no idea what a blessing they would be.  I use them all the time for all kinds of projects.


    My electric scissors are lightweight, and they work so well. They enable me to wrap Christmas presents without the pain of using conventional scissors, and they dramatically cut down the time I spend wrapping.


    I don’t make bows anymore.  Those days are gone.  I buy bows in big bags at Wal-Mart or some other discount store.  They are pretty and easy to use.  They are a concession I have made to simplify my life.


    The accommodations I made to get around my RA have changed my life for the better, but these accommodations would not be enough if I did not have a way to control my pain.


    Controlling pain is essential to enjoying any season.  Many rheumatologists shy away from prescribing pain medication.  I don’t really understand this, but it is so.


    Many patients are referred to Pain Management Specialists.  I have heard good stories and horror stories about pain specialists.  The one constant in this scenario is that they are expensive.


    I have been lucky enough to find a Primary Care Physician who is willing and eager to help me control my pain.  It took me a while to find her, but I am feeling blessed that I have her on my medical team.


    I see my PCP every six weeks.  She helps me sort things out and orders blood tests when required.  She is an angel in my book.


    Dr Denise, as her patients call her, is intelligent and actually knows something about RA.  When she realized my meds were not controlling my pain, she suggested the Butrans patch. 


    The Butrans patch is worn for a week at a time. Since the pain medication is continually released, I don’t wake up feeling as though I have been wrapped up like a mummy all night.  This has made a tremendous, positive difference in my life. 


    If your pain is not adequately controlled, please keep searching for a doctor who will help you.  Pain relief is essential to living a fulfilling life.


    What ideas do you have for enjoying the holidays?  Do you have any tips that could help our RA community?

Published On: December 10, 2013