That sneaky rheuma

Rheumatoid arthritis pain can be sneaky. You’re familiar, I’m sure. You know, you’re cooking dinner. You grab the handle of a pot and lift it off the burner. The moment you do, it feels like the small bones in your fingers just shifted a quarter-inch sideways inside your skin. Hurts like a – well, I’ll be a lady. But you don’t drop the pot – it has boiling hot liquid in it. What you do is yelp, set the pot back down with a clang and clutch your now-throbbing hand to your chest.

From the living room: “Are you all right, Mom?”

“Yeah. Rheuma.” And under your breath, you cuss your fingers, the pot, the disease, your screwed-up immune system and the handfuls of drugs you take each day that aren’t working.

Or you’re typing. Just breezing along. Yeah, it hurts a bit. The joints aren’t happy, but you can’t just stop doing everything, especially when the pain is low-level and bearable (if not actually ignorable). Suddenly, as you stretch your right index finger that tiny upward and leftward distance to tap the “y,” it sends a vicious jab of eye-popping pain from fingertip to knuckles and back. You flinch, yelp again and stop typing. You wait, hoping that the annoyed digit will calm down.

Or, like this: A few minutes ago I cleaned the ashes out of the wood stove and, with my hands encased in heavy work gloves (but pink ones, because one has to keep up appearances) I carried some heavy stove-lengths of split almondwood inside so I could start a new fire. The previous one burned out in the wee hours this morning, while we were still all tucked into bed, so now it’s about 56 degrees inside. Since the wood stove is our main source of heat during the chilly months, this has to be done unless I want to huddle under the comforter all day. OK. It’s tempting sometimes, but …

Anyway. I got the fire going after two or three tries. I pulled my thick Spiderman* gloves on (I’ve learned to be solicitous of my hands and even apologize to them when I do things like lift weighty chunks of firewood). As polite flames licked up the sides of the logs, I sat down on the sofa. Opened my laptop to start reading the day’s headlines. I cradled my coffee cup between my hands, enjoying the warmth, and had a sip, a reward for dealing with this daily, early morning chore without a hitch.

And as if on cue, my right hip started stabbing me in time with my heartbeat. Buh-STAB-bump. Buh-STAB-bump.

So here I am, back in Rheumaland, where the air smells like eucalyptus and Tiger Balm, joint splints live tucked among the underwear, and pill-bottles rattle in the corners. I’m unable to forget for even a little while that I have this … this … disease.

And that’s how it’s been around here for the last three days or so. Sneaky pain. It always surprises me. You’d think after all these years it couldn’t ambush me like that anymore, that I’d always be ready for it, steely-eyed and armored-up. Well, no. Because when my joints aren’t hurting, I slip with heedless ease into normality, just living and doing, moving like my body was meant to move. And since I’ve slimmed down, moving is so much easier. I’m more graceful. (!) And I enjoy moving again. Who wants to remember the threat of painful joints?

As my re-newed bout with rheumatoid arthritis re-enters this more active stage (and I begin re-learning old lessons), I find myself being a little … tentative … about doing things I’d usually do without thought. But I resent having to slow down and think “how will this hurt me?” before I do things. I worry, too, that the pushing and pulling I’ve been doing with the weight machines at the gym is irritating the joints in my hands. Which means I’ll need to re-think that healthy activity and (sigh) come up with an equally healthy alternative.

Oh well. I guess there’s never a dull moment in Rheumaland.

*Thermoskin gloves, which are black with a sorta of fish-scale, grippy pattern. Spidey-gloves.  They’re made of a thick, soft, flexible, rubber-like material and offer support without inhibiting necessary movement. They also keep the joints very warm – always a good thing. And finally, they’re making them in beige! I just ordered two more pairs here.


10 thoughts on “That sneaky rheuma

  1. I love my Thermoskin gloves as well! Just this past week I’ve been doing a lot of paraffin wax dips, followed by joint lotion, sealed with my gloves. This usually gives me a good hour or two of no pain in my hands.


  2. I have to admit I haven’t been using the paraffin bath as often as I could. Why? Because once I dip my hands, I can’t DO anything but sit there. Perhaps I should try some time-out meditation during those self-enforced downtimes. Yep, that’s what’s I’ll do. I’m going to try it your way, Guy. I could use a couple of pain-free hours.


  3. Oh, I know exactly what you mean.

    I’ve been working on a post on losing my temper but haven’t got it written yet. When that searing, stabbing pain sneaks up on me out of the blue (especially if I’m holding something heavy), I have to admit my personal language censor goes out the window.


  4. Wren,
    I know what you are talking about! I went for a long dual sport ride yesterday. We stopped to take a rest and I literally had to did not know if I could make it back to the truck. My right hand along with my ring and little finger hurt so bad, I just pulled my riding gloves back on and didn’t think about the pain, just rode back to the truck. I was too tired to be frustrated or mad about it.


  5. Helen, you are lucky you *have* a personal language censor! I seem to have been born without that gene….

    I agree, Wren: Pain that appears from out of the blue (or should it be “out of the red” in the case of RA?) is among the most disabling kinds of pain for me. It’s like getting a migraine in your joints. If only it was as easy for me to treat RA and its symptoms as it is for me to medicate my migraines. Sigh.


  6. Wren –

    LOVED this post! Great descriptive writing, and boy – you nailed the sneaky aspect of RA like no one else! You are SO SO on the right track with this one!

    – RA SB


  7. I just found your blog after you stopped by mine – and I’m so glad I did! It’s so nice to hear people describing the same things I feel!
    When my hands flare up, I swear I become a butterball. I’m not necessarily in a lot of pain, but my fingers just lose their strength and dexterity it seems. Needless to say, there’ve been more than a few dropped plates, glasses and other goodies in our house over the past year! Oh well – at least hubby knows it’s his turn to pitch in then (when I’m too proud to ask for help).


  8. Yup yup … I’ve had a few of those sneaky pains over the last few days, not helped by doing dumb things like hoiking a ruddy great suitcase around the UK! I’m sitting hooked up to a TENS machine right now and I’m going to go and rub some gunky stuff in, as you just reminded me how helpful that can be! Sorry you’re suffering, but great post – perfect description of the sneaky side of RA!


    • Nothing like “hoiking” a suitcase to aggravate the joints. Oh, man. Been there, done that. “Hoiking.” I love it.

      I haven’t gotten a TENS machine yet. I meant to ask my doc about it when I saw him last month, and forgot. Naturally. I guess it’s not the sort of thing one needs a prescription for, though, is it? And does it help much?


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