50 and Finally Free!!

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50 and Finally Free!!

By: Angie J.

Rheumatoid Arthritis…that’s what my diagnosis was and I was only a sophomore in college and had just turned 18.  I felt like my life was over and that I was going to end up in a wheelchair before I hit 25.  There was also talk of Lupus and at that time the prognosis was not very promising.  Everything I read said people died from Lupus.  Nobody in my family had this, so why me?  How did it happen?  Where did it come from?  The consensus was that it was triggered by me having strep throat twice within three months.  I had stopped taking the antibiotics from student health because I felt better.  The second go-round was truly awful.

So, in the middle of my sophomore year, I woke up one morning with both ankles swollen.  They were about the size of grapefruits all the way around.  They were hot to the touch and painful.  My roommate took me home and my parents took me to the hospital on post.  The first doctor I saw said I must have sprained my ankles because I was marching with the rifle team wearing combat boots.  I hadn’t fallen or tripped and it was both ankles.  He took no x-rays and didn’t even touch them.  He was late for a meeting and left me with ACE bandages.  I had no clue how to wrap my ankles.  My father was livid!  He found the doctor in his meeting, and let’s just say that the doctor got quite a shock concerning his career.  In the meantime, a specialist came in and said he was going to probably get in a lot of trouble but he was going to go over his captain’s head.  He knew a rheumatologist upstairs and was going to get me in to see him.  He was the first of three that have treated me over the years.

The summer of my sophomore year brought me home and the RA got worse.  I ran fevers, lost a lot of weight and the pain was unbearable.  By October I had suffered through three major attacks.  That’s what I called them.  I couldn’t move, I fell asleep mid-sentence, had no energy or appetite.  My parents would have to do everything for me.  They fed me, bathed me, took me to the bathroom, even turned me over in bed.  I would get stuck turning over in my sleep.  They would have to move my arms and legs for me while I sat.  If I stayed in one place too long, I would get stiff and of course, it hurt so bad.  I became depressed wondering when I would have another attack.  I had no warning signs; I would just wake up one morning and be stiff and feverish.

I returned to school that fall and managed to get through without having to be put in the hospital.  That’s what the doctor threatened me with after that last attack in October.  He wanted me to take the Ascriptin (aspirin + Maalox for Lupus & RA) he prescribed…eight to 16 pills a day and rest at least two hours a day.  I was 18 and thought he was nuts.  I tried to follow his orders and lied to him so I could stay at school.  When I would have flare-ups, I just did the best I could.  I had learned how to just suffer through because they weren’t like the attacks and I could keep moving once I got going.

Eventually, I ended up at Vanderbilt with the head of Rheumatology as my doctor.  I had become somewhat of a medical mystery and my first doctor was being transferred.  He wanted me to see the best.  I participated in a drug study for several years.  I never knew if I was taking the mystery drug or the placebo. Nothing changed with my RA and to this day, I believe I was taking aspirin because of the ringing in my ears…it was the same as when I took the Ascriptin.

Fast forward to my first marriage.  It ended after seven years and part of it I attribute to my RA.  He wanted children and I’d suffered a miscarriage.  We had gone to a fertility doctor and found that I was allergic to his sperm, so they did an intrauterine insemination.  It worked the first time, but I lost the baby during my first trimester.  He couldn’t handle the uncertainty of the flare-ups and after making it through stage 4-B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma himself, he decided he’d had enough.

During the late 80s up until the present the doctors tried various medicines to ease my RA:  Feldene (pain & swelling due to RA), Cortisone shots, Naprosyn (anti-inflammatory for RA), Plaquenil (for Lupus & RA – which caused vaginal ulcers), Arava (For RA – which caused my hair to fall out), and Methotrexate (for Lupus) to name a few.  In the early 90s, I was diagnosed with asthma and I already knew I had allergies, but they had become severe.  I also suffered frequent sinus infections.  I began taking allergy shots; three injections twice a week.  I was also using prescription allergy pills, two asthma inhalers, a nasal inhaler, and two eye drops.  I was still using all those and taking shots once every six weeks when I started seeing Dr. Dale.

In the early and late 90’s, I added more diseases to my life:  endometriosis, infertility, two more miscarriages with my second husband, and was hospitalized for a week with aseptic meningitis which caused me to miss three months of work.  The meningitis left me with residual headaches and a neurologist to add to my doctor list.  I took Neurontin (for nerve pain) and two other drugs that I can’t remember the names of.  I also missed another six weeks of work because the meningitis came back and the neurologist gave me a new diagnosis:  Mollarette’s Syndrome.

I was diagnosed with depression around 2002 and took Paxil for a little over a year and a half.  I continued to have problems with my periods and had a hysterectomy in 2007.  It was during the 2000s that I added a gastroenterologist to my list of doctors and a new diagnosis…GERD.  The little purple pill, Nexium, became my best friend.  Oh, I tried various other prescriptions and OTC drugs but Nexium was the only one that worked.

Sometime during the 2000s I developed high blood pressure and was put on Maxide for about a year and a half.  I dropped some weight and was able to come off that pill.  My third rheumatologist finally gave me a name for what happens to my hands when I get cold…Reynaud’s Syndrome.  He also told me my blood work had several markers for Lupus. The Lupus is the cause of the skin problems I have when it flares up.  I get the Butterfly Effect across my cheeks and nose and get huge red and painful erythema multiforme (a splotchy, itchy red rash).  Oh, and my most current diagnosis for the RA/Lupus went from Undifferentiated Mixed Connective Disease to Differentiated Mixed Connective Disease!  When he first told me that, I thought that he was joking!!

When I started seeing Dr. Dale, I was as I said taking allergy shots, two eye drops, Advair (for asthma), Albuterol (for asthma), Montelukast (a generic for something for my allergies that I took at night), Nexium, HCTZ (blood pressure went back up), Estradiol (sex hormone to help with reproductive organs), Methotrexate (for Lupus), Phentermine (an appetite suppressant), and Prednisone (steroid) when I had a flare-up with the RA that was unbearable.

Thank God and thanks to Dr. Dale, I have never felt better!!  I have experienced little to no arthritis pain (for the first time ever I was able to tell my rheumatologist that I was at a 0 out of 10 on the pain scale), the Lupus red spots don’t hurt/itch, the tinnitus in my ears is all but gone, I sleep better, my plantar fasciitis pain is all but gone and the burning has stopped when I walk a lot or stand for long periods of time, I walk differently (my left foot used to drag sometimes when I walked), and the best thing of all is I’m currently off all the medicine and life is so good!  I can’t believe that at the age of 50 I finally feel free.

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