When I was younger, I was physically quite active. I was in the marching band, with practice three or four times a week and performances on top of that. In middle school I was on the soccer team. I was constantly busy doing something. Slowly, though, over the past ten or twenty years, I've always had some kind of pain. I didn't let it get in the way of what I wanted to do, and I usually just pushed on through.
But over the past couple of years the RA symptoms increased dramatically -- became much more intense. Fevers, swollen joints that feel like they're on fire, difficulty swallowing, chest discomfort. I try not to complain very often -- I'm an RN and I'm around patients all the time -- but honestly, it's been pretty horrible in recent years. Worse than I could have imagined, in fact, and I'm not someone who is unfamiliar with the symptoms
You see, rheumatoid arthritis has run rampant in my family for years, so I knew deep down that my pains and discomforts were likely the result of RA all along.
Despite how sure I was, even before things got really bad, that I had RA it still came as something of a shock when I got the official diagnosis. And on top of that, I didn't realize how bad it could get. Even as a nurse taking care of people with RA, I was sort of amazed at how excruciating it can be. I guess it's like a lot of things in life: until you experience it yourself, you simply can't know.
I originally wanted to be a veterinarian, but decided I wanted more. I ended up going into nursing, and found that I loved it. People don't often think of nurses as being independent, but at times it's almost like working for yourself. You have to have the skills, if something goes wrong with a patient, to run with it and handle it until you can get enough people there to help you. It's a challenge every day, and that's what I enjoy about it.
Of course, I also enjoy helping others, seeing them go from having sometimes very severe injuries and working hard to get back into living their daily lives. That is always a pleasure to watch, and it brings with it a huge feeling of satisfaction.
And when patients come back, even years later, and they thank you for all that you did for them -- it's just so special. I remember one patient who was in a horrible accident, and I just kept telling him, "Make sure you get better, because your wife is going to need you." Really just trying to pick him up spiritually, as well as physically. And he remembered that. Every year there's a trauma awareness event at the hospital, and he would track me down when I was still working there to thank me again for all I did, because it helped him a lot. That sort of thing means so much to a nurse. It really does.
Quite often, as soon as people find out they have RA, the immediate response is, "Oh, I'm so tired, I've got to stay in bed. I can't do anything!" But the fact of the matter is that they have to really try and fight to stay active. If they don't, it will get worse.
Of course there are days you're going to have to crash. Even I do. There are days where I'll just crash and sleep for 12 hours or more, because my body's got to reboot. I crash, I sleep, then I'm fine and going again the next week. I still do about 60 hours a week as an RN, after all.
When I'm crying, having a bad day, I always think to myself, "Well, I'm not paraplegic. I'm not in a wheelchair. I'm not just stuck in a bed." And that's what helps me to keep going.
Yes, it may be a bad day. Yes, I hurt. Yes, my legs are weak and I'm trying hard not to fall, to stay on my feet. But I can still walk. I can still work. I can still help others. And so I do.