Thank heaven for little labels

June 6, 2008 at 7:51 pm | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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I was doing some transcription the other day and a ‘health professional’ made a comment that some patients ‘do like to cling to their little labels’. She was referring to people who say ‘Oh, I’ve got x, so I can’t do y’ without either making the effort or looking for ways around the problem, but it got me to thinking what a relief my ‘little label’ was! Having had months of unexplained pain, a maybe or maybe not blood test result, and no firm conclusions (which is typical of RA because it’s very hard to diagnose with any certainty) I was developing a fear of some doctor turning round and saying, ‘Frankly my dear, it’s all in your head’; not because I thought it was, but because I knew damn well it wasn’t! I was also worried that friends and family would be thinking much the same thing. Now I’ve got my ‘little label’ if I feel so inclined I can turn round to a friend or a colleague or, as today, the vet, and say ‘Sorry I can’t do x, ‘cause I’ve got RA’ and be reasonably certain of a sympathetic reaction … in the latter case a nurse to carry a very heavy cat back to my car for me! ‘Sorry I can’t do x, ‘cause I get this funny unexplained pain in my arm’ is likely to get nothing more than a stony look that says ‘what a bloody hypochondriac’.

Not everyone feels the same. At a local Rheumatoid Arthritis Society meeting recently and was chatting to a very nice lady there who mentioned that she was on a particular treatment for painful muscles, as well as her RA problems. ‘Oh,’ says I, recognising the name of the treatment because a friend of mine has the same stuff for the same condition, ‘is it fibromyalgia?’ ‘Well yes,’ she said, ‘but I don’t like to use that word because then it labels you, doesn’t it?’ I can see her point. Fibromyalgia is the baby of these aches and pains illnesses – a relatively new term, only ‘invented’ in 1976, plenty of doctors still believe ‘it’s all in your head, dear.’ Just because the term wasn’t coined until 1976 doesn’t mean that the illness didn’t exist before then of course. In fact it was probably part of what was known as ‘rheumatism’ as distinct from ‘rheumatoid arthritis’. Or maybe it is a new condition (although the evidence doesn’t seem to point that way). One of the fascinating facts I learnt at the meeting was that apparently rheumatoid arthritis didn’t exist prior to about two hundred years ago.

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