My RA Toolbox

HU My RA Toolbox illoMy hands were giving me some guff recently (as they do). I was wearing my favorite compression gloves already, I’d applied over-the-counter lidocaine cream, and I’d swallowed a dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol). This was on top of the fistful of other prescription drugs I take, every day, morning, and night, to treat my RD.

But none of them were making a dent in my hand-and-wrist pain.

I have a prescription for an opioid pain reliever, but taking it is always my last choice, after everything else I try fails. So, I left that little white pill in its bottle while I considered my other options.

If you’re reading this, you probably cope with the frequent joint pain caused by rheumatoid disease (arthritis), too. And if you’re like me, you go through all kinds of gyrations before finally succumbing to swallowing an opioid.

But on this recent day, I wasn’t ready yet to take the strong stuff. My hands hurt—a lot—but they hadn’t hit pain pill level yet. I wanted to be “good.” I wanted to use “alternative methods.’ After all, our government and our doctors tell us earnestly that these are, by far, much better ways to treat our intractable chronic pain.

I went into the bathroom and ran the sink full of the hottest water I could bear. I submerged my hands, past my wrists, halfway up to my elbows, sighing as the heat suffused my skin and warmed them down to the aching bones. I closed my eyes. Mmmm.

Of course, standing at the sink halfway up to my elbows in hot water gets old within a minute or two. It’s b-o-r-i-n-g, right? And, because I wasn’t moving, the balls of my feet started to ache. Then my ankles joined the chorus, with my Achilles tendons singing soprano. Unbelievable!

MyRAToolboxWell, I pulled my hands out of the soothing, hot water, dried them off, and drained the sink. Now what? I paced for a while, gingerly, before flopping into the recliner with my Kindle. Maybe, I thought, I can lose myself in a good book and forget—at least for a while—that my hands hurt.

“Reading is a wonderful distraction from pain! Yes! You know it is, and you can do this! It will work!” my Always Optimistic Cognitive Behavior Therapy Self said, trying not to be snarky. So, I opened a recent purchase: a new book about Robert Kennedy. He was assassinated in 1968, not long after he started his campaign for President. I was 12. I remember the news on television, the horror and sadness in the journalists’ faces and voices, and the somber hush in our living room. Another great man, gone.

Anyway. Time for a trip down Memory Lane—a perfect foil for pain. And so it was, until it came up on time to make dinner. Now, I love to cook, but the fun goes right out of it when it hurts to prep the meal. Forget chopping. Forget lifting heavy pots. Fuggedaboudit.

I hate to admit it, but I gave up, then. I went back to my room and took a pill. As I did, though, I remembered my old paraffin bath. Now there’s a great, if temporary, way to soothe away joint pain! I’d put it away last year, during the hottest part of the summer, unable to bring myself to immerse my hands in hot wax when the patio plants were frying and the asphalt was melting in the sun. But now it was damp and cool outside, winter’s equivalent around here. That deep, penetrating heat on my hands and wrists would feel heavenly!

But where did I stash my paraffin bath? I looked everywhere I could think of, but I couldn’t find it, not in cupboards, in closets, or under the bed. It was nowhere.

By then, though, the pill was kicking in. I’d like to note here, just in case anyone’s feeling all judgy and calling me an addict: there is no high. Taking an opioid pain reliever makes me feel just the same as taking OTC acetaminophen–except between a half an hour and 45 minutes after taking it my nasty joint pain fades away into the background. Oh, it’s still there. I’m aware of it. But it doesn’t live in the front of my mind anymore, which means I can get on with living my life, minus moment-to-moment pain. I can cook a meal, do chores, do most things.

I found my paraffin bath today. I’d tucked it into the compartment inside a footstool, which seemed like a perfectly good, out-of-the-way place for it at the time. Now it’s back on my desk, the wax is slowly melting, and I’m looking forward to dipping my hands into it later, again and again, until I have thick wax gloves of warmth on them. It will help soothe today’s wrist and knuckle pain.

I also found my old book of Tao sayings, perfect for peaceful meditation as I wait for the paraffin on my hands to cool. Meditation is helpful in coping with pain, too. Doesn’t have to be all woo-woo, just a few minutes of quiet, like temporarily taking a gentle step back, out of the rushing world. I always end a little stronger, a little more hopeful, and a little more optimistic, even if I still hurt.

Which I do, often. I have RD. It’s incurable. That’s just how it is. And this is my RD toolbox. What’s in yours?


10 thoughts on “My RA Toolbox

  1. Written about, but not said directly in your post, is the frustration of waiting to see of those “alternative” methods actually help. You can spend hours in pain waiting for some relief when you could take an appropriate pain medication and be not only in less pain, but PRODUCTIVE. This whole opioid situation is so frustrating when we, or the ones we care about, have valid needs for strong pain relief. I’m glad you are able to find some relief with the alternative methods. This clearly demonstrates your responsible approach to pain management. But sometimes (often) enough is enough. Life doesn’t stop just because you hurt.

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  2. Carla,
    Thank you very much for saying that. Because if anybody judges over taking pain medication then they have other problems. Its always better to stay ahead of the pain rather than trying to catch up.

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  3. The paraffin bath was one of the first things my first rheumatologist “prescribed” for me. I remember reading about it in my nurse’s textbooks back in the late 70’s. It was surreal that I would be presented with one so many years later. I never used it. Something about dipping my hands into hot wax turned me off, though he did have me do it once in his office. It wasn’t that bad, and it wasn’t that good, either. Proper treatment and medication would have been better. I have had many moments where I have thought better not to have hands than to have this pain. Those moments are few and far between now, knock on wood. The nurse in me says, don’t wait, take the pain pill. Quality of life is so very important. Hope you are feeling much better.

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  4. I hear each of you, Carla, Tony, and Irma. And frankly, I’d much rather take that pill as soon as it’s clear the current flare isn’t just a temporary twinge, which also happens frequently. My concern here is that in the current anti-opioid climate, many people who must cope with RD pain no longer have access to opioid pain relievers at all. They need other options for pain relief, even if those options are only temporary. I am deeply angry at the doctors and other experts at the CDC, who allowed their opioid policy to be taken over and dictated by Dr, Andrew Kolodny and his compatriots, who dictated the 2016 opiod prescribing guideline with an eye toward profit for their opioid addiction treatment centers. It’s now clear that deaths attributed to prescription opioid have fallen sharply since at least 2012 while deaths attributed to illicit opioids heroin and fentanyl have risen equally sharply. I’ve been watching the news on this carefully and it seems that some members of the media are finally noticing these facts, along with the fact that chronic pain patients–including those with arthritis caused by RD–are suffering terribly because of this cruel policy.
    There. I’ve had my say. But in the meantime, the ideas and techniques I mentioned in this post can help, at least a little bit.
    Thank you for your comments. I’m delighted to discuss this issue further here in comments.

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  5. We do what we need to get by. Until you have been in pain and understand the frustration, it is a challenge to know what is best. You did good. Lots of love to you Wren and to your hands who create so much magic.

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    • It really is a challenge for all of us, whether we use prescription opioids or not. So many mixed signals from physicians, too! Thank you so much for your sweet words, Cathy. Lots of love backatcha! 😀

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  6. The whole opioid situation in the US stinks, but not as much as losing your paraffin bath when you needed it! Glad you found it and great to see you blogging again! I hope your flare gets done quickly. You keep prodding that dire monster with your sword!

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  7. Thanks, Polly! I’m feeling pretty decent today–knock wood! I’m going to fight this dragon to my very last breath, don’t you worry! Hope this finds you in fighting fit, too! 😀

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  8. A paraffin bath is one of the great joys of life. I had a finger injury a few years ago and the PT had me do my hands in it before and after therapy. I kept going long after I needed too, just so I could use the darn device. I want one but have not found one that is reliable. I guess I better look a little harder.

    There is no harm in taking meds as prescribed. Opioids or not. Hang in dear friend, no chame in caring for yourself at all. Oh and I am on my way over for a dip in your paraffin bath.

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  9. Hi, Rick!
    My first experience with a paraffin bath was about a year after my diagnosis–about 1988–and also in a physical therapy clinic. At the time, my hands were only rarely affected, so I wasn’t particularly impressed when the therapist had me dip them into the warm, liquid wax. It felt nice, but that was it. Many years later, when my RD *did* start attacking my hands with some regularity, I bought a small bath for home, and I’ve used it as necessary ever since. Here are a couple that look promising to me, if you like:

    Wow! Long links! Anyway–I hope you can find one that fits your needs. And hey, if you’re out this way I’ll gladly share mine! Sending hugs and warm wishes, my friend. 🙂

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