RA bloggers often describe their joint pain as “burning,” as if the affected joint is on fire.
I’ve had RA for a little over half my lifetime, but my joint pain has never felt that way. Aching, throbbing, and/or stabbing, yes. Burning, no. It has been hard for me to imagine. Just like my pain is hard for someone—a friend, a family member, a concerned stranger—to imagine. She’s sympathetic, but has never felt it herself.
As I write this, however, my left palm, knuckles and fingers feel as if a fire is smoldering inside them. While this pain, on the ubiquitous zero-to-10 pain scale, is just a “five” and only halfway to “the worst pain I can imagine,” it’s very unpleasant. I have no experience of this sort of pain beyond times when I’ve actually burnt myself on a hot iron or while cooking.
My personal “worst,” my “10” on the scale, is the pain in my left hip that hospitalized me for three days way back in 1989, just two years after I was diagnosed. This pain came on suddenly, like most of my flares. Within an hour I could barely walk. I couldn’t sit or lie down, and even standing was indescribably painful. Narcotic painkiller tablets were, for the first time ever, ineffective. I waited 24 hours for the flare to go away. When it didn’t, I crashed my doctor’s office without an appointment and begged the nurse to ask him to see me. I promised I wouldn’t take up much of his time.
Kind and concerned, he saw me a half-hour later. It turned out that he couldn’t prescribe me any stronger painkillers that I could safely take at home. So, alarmed at the intensity of the pain I was in, he admitted me to hospital and ordered intravenous morphine.
I remember very little about those three days other than several separate, floating moments of agony that dissolved into a pleasant mist as a nurse emptied a syringe into my IV tubing. I slept almost continuously. I must have eaten meals and used the bathroom and had visitors, but I don’t remember any of that. Finally, in the early evening of the third day the pain disappeared. Poof, it was gone. I went home the following morning with nothing but the sharp memory of an extended nightmare to show for my three lost days.
Today, I can fully empathize with my fellow RA bloggers who describe their joint pain as “burning.” And I hope that the sensation doesn’t—now or ever—approach my personal “10.”
NOTE: For an excellent explanatory, animated slideshow on what rheumatoid arthritis is and how it affects the joints, click here.