Adjusting to Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Cathee McKeown Health Guide
  • When I was first diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I really had no expectations. For me, it was more of a medical term that the doctors used to describe my symptoms rather than a crippling disease that would completely change my life.

    It was 6 months after my initial diagnosis that RA radically took over my body, mind and life. I started out with all of the “normal” symptoms of RA: pain, stiffness, severe swelling in my fingers and joints. No longer was I able to wake in the morning and just start my day. My hands were so severe that I had to run them under hot water for 10-15 minutes just to get going. All of the little things that I had taken for granted before RA now became a daily challenge. By the time that I had taken a shower and dressed, I was totally exhausted. Now my days would consist of doctors’ appointments, pills, pain and fatigue. The fatigue is what troubled me the most. I really had no idea how tired I would be while my body was in this constant battle with itself. I was very fortunate to be diagnosed quickly although the journey of medications had only just begun.
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    I began with prednisone (which I like to refer to as the enemy that you can’t live without). I also began gold shots. I was a little unsure about having gold injections but my doctor assured me that this worked for many people so I gave it a shot. Literally! During this time, I seemed to be getting worse not better. My doctor then prescribed a higher dose of prednisone and plaquenil. I continued to worsen as time went on and eventually had to go on permanent disability. I continued to try pretty much every medication that was available with little or no results. I was on a very high dose of prednisone and the side effects were killing me. Moon face, weight gain and mood swings. Not to mention thinning of the skin which left me with cuts and bruises that I had no idea how I even got them. This was in 1997 and it was just the beginning of the new drugs (Enbrel & Humira) being tested for RA. My doctors kept telling me to hold on and soon I would be able to try some of these new “miracle” medications. In the meantime, I decided to read everything I could about RA and possibly try some alternative treatments.

    I was having such a difficult time with side effects that I was desperate to try anything. I went to see a Homeopathic doctor in Santa Cruz, Ca and he took one look at me and said I had to get off of the prednisone. He did extensive blood work looking for food allergies, metal toxins and anything else that might be contributing to my inflammation. I went to see him twice a week for about a year receiving infusions of Vitamin C, B-12 shots and dietary changes but eventually the RA won out. I was in so much pain and could hardly move that my doctors convinced me to go back on prednisone and begin Enbrel. The thought of giving my self a shot twice a week was a little daunting but living in horrible pain was even worse. The Enbrel did work quite well in the beginning. I had more energy, less pain and stiffness. But as I have found with almost all of the medications that I have tried, they only work for so long.

  • What I have come to realize is that RA is very aggressive and will not be eliminated easily. I continue to educate my self everyday and really listen to my body. I know that the right combination of traditional medicine and alternative therapies is out there for me. No one thing is going to “cure” me but I hope to find the right balance so I can get back to being the person I was before RA.
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Published On: September 20, 2006