Rheumatoid Arthritis – There Is Still Hope

Back in February 2009, I came down with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I had no idea what was happening. I just woke up one morning and my feet and knees were stinging and burning. They just hurt, more than they had ever hurt before. I tried to put my feet on the floor, but the sharp staining pain became intense as they touched the floor. As I looked at my feet and knees they were red, swollen and quite warm to the touch, and just touching them was quite painful.

I called my work to let them know I would not be in that day. I then called my doctor and made an appointment for that afternoon. As the day went on, the pain became worse. By that afternoon I was forced to use crutches to get myself to the car. By the time I had reached the car, I was in tears, from the sharp stabbing pain each time my feet touched the ground.

My wife drve me to the doctor's and thought out a wheelchair for me. Again I had to stand to get into the wheelchair. I could not remember ever having such intense sharp staining pains. As my doctor evaluated my swollen feet and knees he ordered x-rays and sonograms and set up an appointment with a podiatric specialist within a few days. In the meantime, he gave me a prescription for pain medication, Hydrocodone.

Again, a few days later, I made my way to the car in tears and to the Podiatrist's Office. She went over my x-rays and scans and examined my feet and knees and told me that I should see a Rheumatologist. She suggested one about an hour away, saying he was one of the best in the area. After returning home and regaining my composition, I called to make an appointment with the Rheumatologist. The soonest they could get me in was six weeks. I could not believe they could not work me in sooner, but they insist that was the soonest available date. They did say they would put me on their cancellation list and if there were any cancellation they would get me in sooner, but there were already eight others on that list ahead of me.

For the next six weeks, I worked out the least painful routines, as far as bathing, going to the bathroom, pillow positions so I could sleep, and keeping anything from touching my feet. My feet were swollen so tight I could not even wiggle my ankles, more less my toes. My knees were so tender that any side pressure was extremely painful. So just trying to roll over in bed was a major painful ordeal. Those six weeks would have been totally unbearable if it was not for the TV and my laptop. The TV was a great distraction from the pain and the laptop kept me in touch with what was happening at work, in town or any where else. This was a lot better than just popping pain pills. In fact, I was able to stop taking the pain pills except when I was trying to get to sleep. I would take two about an hour before turning out the lights and I would sleep fairly well.

When I finally got in to see the Rheumatologist, he knew what was going on within a few minutes of examination. He took a few blood tests to confirm his assessment and check for any other problems. Then he wrote me a couple of prescriptions for Gabapentin and Plaquenil. The Gabapentin is used for nerve or neuralgia pain relief and Plaquenil which is a Hydroxychloroquine, is used for aggressive treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis, but it has serious side effects such as: It can cause blurred vision and light flashes; Can cause neurological problems, headaches, weakness in muscles, dizziness; May change your blood chemistry, white blood cell count, low platelets, anemia …; Hearing problems, even possible hearing loss; And even Liver and Kidney damage. He wanted me on Plaquenil because of the severity of my Rheumatoid Arthritis and wanted me back in 4 weeks to run more blood tests to check for any possible side effects. He also told me even with this aggressive medication, it would take 10 – 12 weeks before I would notice any changes or improvements. Now that was down right discouraging, and yes, it did take a full 12 weeks before I started noticeing an easing of pain and reduction in swelling. One morning I woke up and I could roll my ankles a bit and wiggle my toes ever so lightly, and I was excited. It was more than I could have done in the past several months.

For the next three months I was able to get back to work in a wheelchair. I kept my feet propped up on a box under my desk to help to keep the swilling down. It was still very painful to stand just long enough to move from the car to the wheelchair or when going to the bathroom, especially that first month back at work.

As time went on, I was able to drive myself to work and get the wheelchair out of the back seat by myself. I had to practice this several times before I was able to do it without falling over. Have you ever seen a turtle on his back, well, that was me. Luckily I had the wheelchair out of the car when I lost my balance and went over. I was able to open the wheelchair and use it to pull myself up.

Each time I was able to do something new and / or better, it gave me a feeling of accomplishing something worth while. I kept trying to do new things, to do things better, and as I kept seeing improvements, it encouraged me to do more.

After three months in the wheelchair, I started getting around at home with a cane. My legs were getting stronger and I was becoming more stable as I regained strength back to my legs and ankles. I finally started using my cane at work and leaving the wheelchair home.

After about six months on Gabapentin and Plaquenil, the doctor took me off the Plaquenil and put me on Sulfasalazine, with the Gabapentin. The Sulfasalazine is used for milder cases of Rheumatoid Arthritis and has very few side effects. Now that my Rheumatoid Arthritis was under control, he felt the Sulfasalazine would be sufficient to control my joint infection and also it has fewer side effects; Temporary nausea and upset stomach. I only have one kidney, so I am very protective of it and I expressed that concern to my doctor on our second visit.

It has been a couple of years now and I am doing quite well. I have not been able to run laps, and my joints are a bit stiff in the morning, or after sitting for a while, but other than that, I'm happy to be able to just get around again.

Life is good when you are mobile. I hope this information is of some benefit to you and provides the encouragement you are in need of.

Thank you