There’s no telling some people (Also ICK!)

November 5, 2011 at 9:27 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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I met up with a friend yesterday who I haven’t seen for ages, in spite of the fact that we work in the same tiny town. It was great to see her but I was somewhat dismayed when she asked me about my arthritis and then told me that her husband seemed to be suffering from what appear to be RA symptoms too.

‘One of his fingers is permanently hooked now,’ she said, ‘and sometimes when he goes to open a jar or something he hand locks around it and I have to force the fingers open one by one. I hate doing that, it’s gross.’

My immediate reaction was something like ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrggghghhhggh!’ This was partly for the grossness and partly because you MUSTN’T do that. ‘Every time you force his hand open you’re damaging the joints more!’ I nearly screamed.

‘Well,’ says she with a shrug, ‘what else can we do?’

‘What treatment is he on for it?’

‘Oh he isn’t on any treatment. He’s not been to the doctor about it.’

Did I mention Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrggghghhhggh?

Well … erm … that might be your answer about what else you can do about it then! Now I know some people don’t want to go on treatment and have some success with alternative therapy or diet, and the very best of luck to them, but he’s not doing that either. He’s just ignoring it and waiting for it to go away. What makes it worse is he has a very active, physical job and he really NEEDS to be able to do this stuff.

On reflection, perhaps that’s why he’s not going to the doctor – he’s terrified of being told that he shouldn’t/can’t carry on working, so he’s just trying to ignore it. I can kind of sympathise with that … but he’s still crazy if you ask me!

The flu jab comes of age!

November 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Posted in Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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I’ve been noticing a few improvements around the whole flu jab situation this year. In the previous few years I have a) struggled to book in for one because the surgery receptionists didn’t know about immunosuppression b) been disgusted at the ‘cattle market’ approach to the flu clinic, which I thought was restricted to our rural Norfolk surgery, but then found, via Helen at Pens and Needles extended to Canada too!

Here’s the way it used to work: You fight to get into the clinic in the first place, get your slot (which if I remember rightly was ‘morning’ or ‘afternoon’) and then turn up to join the queue extending all around the waiting room and out the door. You are told to be ready and waiting with your arm exposed ready for jabbing, even though the surgery is freezing because the door is permanently open due to people standing in the entry waiting for flu jabs. The receptionists ask why you were there if you looked under 70, and are puzzled when you tell them … but let you through anyway.  You have now been singled out in front of hundreds of somewhat elderly people who are now all staring at you and wondering if you’re trying to con the system, so you feel great! You get to the far side of the waiting room eventually and are asked to ‘fill in this form’. The form has nothing to do with the flu jab but asks if you smoke and would like anti-smoking advice. (Apparently doing this meant they could tick a box somewhere and claim extra funding for ‘offering anti-smoking advice!) You get through to a corridor where all the doors of the rooms are open and wander about until someone says ‘in here’. You go in, and with the door still open and other bewildered patients pottering about in the corridor behind you, you’re asked, ‘Why are you having the flu jab?’ You tell them … again. They say, ‘OK’ and jab you, and then follow that up with something like, ‘Oh – hope you aren’t allergic to egg or pregnant – should have asked you first.’ Fortunately I was neither!

Here’s how it is now: You phone up and say you need a flu injection. The receptionist says fine, she’ll book you in. She goes to your record, sees you’re not elderly and says, ‘Why?’ You say, ‘Immunosuppressed.’ She says, ‘That’s fine,’ and books you in. To your astonishment you’re given an actual time, 3:10, not ‘afternoon’. Then later on in the week you find out that some of your friends have already had their jabs at the surgery and they’re doing it like a proper clinic – called up individually, closed doors, proper checking that it’s OK to give you one etc. Wow – you’re impressed!

You go for your regular methotrexate blood test and notice a big poster in the surgery window about, of all things, getting the flu jab if you are immunosuppressed! After a general rheumatology chat, taking bloods and general chitchat the nurse says, ‘Have you had your flu jab yet?’ ‘No,’ you say, ‘ but it’s booked in for next week.’ ‘Would you like it today?’ she says. After picking yourself up off the floor, rubbing your ears and asking her if she could please repeat herself because you thought she’d just offered you the flu jab today, and finding that in fact that is what she said, you say, ‘Yes please.’ After she’s sucked the appropriate amount of blood she goes and gets the flu injection. ‘I don’t know if I can roll this shirt up far enough’ you say. ‘ I wasn’t prepared for this.’ ‘That’s OK,’ says the nurse with a grin, ‘We can do it through the shirt. On second thoughts better not, the needles are so flimsy we’re having trouble just getting them through the skin!’

Aha – you think – I’m back in the land of normality now! Damn, I was enjoying this strange fantasy world where the surgery actually seems to be doing flu jabs in a sensible and logical manner.

But then you find you can roll up your shirt and in fact the needle goes in fine, if somewhat painfully!

‘Right,’ you say, ‘I suppose I’d better go and cancel my appointment for next week at the front desk.’ The nurse smiles and says breezily, ‘Oh no need – with this new database system we’ve got I can do it really easily from here,’ and she does!

Now you might think surely that wasn’t actually that much to ask – you might say, as ‘brother Penguin’ did some time ago, that your surgery has been doing this for years, but when you’ve become conditioned to being in the cattle market scenario for so many years, this just seems incredible, fantastic, too good to be true …but it’s not. It really happened.

Wooohoooooo!

Incredibly the nurse told me that some patients had actually complained ‘We wanted to come to the big flu clinic like last year!’ There’s no pleasing some people!

Acceptance?

October 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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I’ve been thinking a lot lately (although writing very little!) about what ‘acceptance’ of RA means, and also about redefining my idea of ‘normal’. I hadn’t managed, and still haven’t managed in fact, to get my thoughts into words, but I think this afternoon I came as close to ‘acceptance’ as perhaps I ever will.

As I was relaxing in the bath (sorry, probably ‘too much information, especially for those that know me!) and letting my thoughts drift along pretty randomly, I started to think about some of my friends and colleagues: one’s still coping with the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake; one’s recently widowed; one’s, to put it bluntly, losing her marbles; one’s spending this weekend picking up the pieces in her house, since large swathes of the downstairs flooring were dug up on Friday to find a leak.

Good grief, I thought – I’m bloody lucky! I have a loving (and all-round fab) husband, a terrific family (especially the nearest and dearest, including the recent addition of Mrs Mooseface), I have great friends, I enjoy my job, I have time (never enough time of course, but some time) to indulge my passions of messing around with textiles, drawing and pottering about in bits of nature, and although one could always be better off financially, the finances aren’t a complete disaster! The interesting point is that at no point during these thoughts floating over the bubbles did I consider, ‘Yes, but I do have this bloody disease to deal with, so perhaps not so lucky after all.’

It’s not as though things are going great with the RA at the moment either. I wake up every morning in pain, although it often clears for the most part within the hour. I go to sleep most nights in pain. I have pain and stiffness during every day. This is perhaps extra frustrating because for around four months between a flare in March and sometime around August, I felt as though I was pretty much fine, almost symptom free, nearly in remission. And yet, in a way, this on-and-off low-grade (for the most part) pain has just become the norm for me. It’s just another thing to put on one side and live with – and yes, I do appreciate I’m lucky that I can put it on one side at the moment, it’s not so bad that it stops me doing all those things I consider myself lucky for, but what interested me was the fact that it was so far into the normal, everyday that I didn’t even give it a thought when considering other people’s problems and drifting into comparing my life to theirs.

I think I might have once ranted that I will never ‘accept’ this disease, and don’t even mention the word ‘embrace’ in the same breath as rheumatoid arthritis, but perhaps this is acceptance, Penguin-style.

The knee bone’s not connected to the shoulder bone

March 12, 2011 at 9:37 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 5 Comments
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I posted a while ago about how the physios at the hospital ‘in line with the private sector’ were limiting appointments now, and generally becoming officially less flexible and less helpful. Well I had further proof of how in line with the private sector they aren’t on my last visit.

When I previously went for physio I had been referred for my shoulder, but when the knee flared up, knowing it was all RA, she did some work on the knee too. Now, and this is no way the fault of my physio herself I should add, it’s a typical NHS ‘powers that be’ decision, even though I couldn’t bend or straighten my knee fully, had been to the GP, had got oral prednisiolone and had had it confirmed that my knee was flaring, she couldn’t do any ultrasound on my knee at all. Because it was too inflamed? Nope. Because she wasn’t sure it was the right treatment? Nope. Because I had been referred only for my shoulder!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

Fortunately the knee is actually very nicely on the mend by itself, and equally fortunately the ultrasound on the shoulder (actually the acromoclavicular joint, but I can’t keep spelling that!) has helped enormously, so not THAT much to whinge about. Also I have a cunning strategy up my sleeve if the knee doesn’t mend fast enough or gets worse again. I don’t know if it’ll work but my cunning plan is to phone the GP, explain the situation and get them to give me the referral letter, so that I can walk into the physio next time and say, ‘Here’s the letter – can you do my knee now please?’

Otherwise it’ll be the usual ‘five weeks from referral’ and I’ll be going in for six sessions for my shoulder, which will be over before the referral for the knee is officially through. This is not only a problem because if the knee needs doing it needs doing a.s.a.p; it’s also an issue because it’s 50 mins to an hour driving time to and from the hospital IN WORK TIME! So glad the NHS are working towards keeping everyone in work! HAH!

To physio or not to physio

March 4, 2011 at 11:04 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 3 Comments
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Well … half-an-hour’s drive, ten minutes or so waiting, thirty minute consultation … and the answer turned out to be, for the moment anyway, not to physio! Aaaaaaargh! I’ve only waited since January for this appointment. Still, there were perfectly sound reasons not to physio – and at least I had a fun time in the waiting room reading old copies of National Geographic!

There was one small thing I hadn’t accounted for … I’ve just started a (very) short course of oral steroids for a very swollen knee, and the physio that works for me, or has always worked for me in the past, is ultrasound. Obviously the steroids are busy trying to reduce the inflammation, and equally obviously that is intention of most treatments including the ultrasound. Aye, but there’s the rub … (talking or rubs I must rub some of that nice ‘Nature’s Kiss’ ointment into my knee … I keep forgetting about that … but back to the main point), the way that ultrasound works (putting it simply, which is the only way I know!) is that it apparently INCREASES the inflammation quite rapidly in order to trigger the body to go ‘ooh, that’s inflamed’ and kick into place a process for doing something about it.

So … if I had ultrasound, my physio basically thought that I might well be either inadvertently cancelling some of the steroid effects or, at very least, wasting my time because the steroids might counteract the ultrasound without it being able to do anything.

Now the physio wasn’t at all sure about this, and neither am I, but we decided it was better not to risk it so I’ve got to go back again on Tuesday morning!

The more I think about it the more I’m not convinced by this whole argument … but I’m way too tired to work out why now, so I’m off to bed and I’ll give it some thought tomorrow!

Coffee on the knee

March 3, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | Leave a comment
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We’re a nervy (or at least reticent) bunch when it comes to telling friends and colleagues about our RA, and often for very good reason! There’s probably a post born every minute about this. Two good recent ones are from Squirrel and Laurie at ‘Frozen Woman’. I suppose it’s partly that we’ve all had bad reactions from someone, somewhere at some point, and it’s once bitten, twice shy, but also, as Squirrel mentioned in her post, that it’s really hard to get people to understand that you can be fine one minute and flaring the next … and then fine again soon after, if you’re lucky.

What one doesn’t often hear is what a good laugh it can be trying to explain things to folks wot don’t know.

Well today I had to explain to the ‘temp boss’ (‘the boss’, who knows all about the whole RA thing, being on maternity leave) that she was on permanent coffee duty today because I couldn’t get up and down the stairs terribly easily. Now I was probably muttering a bit because this whole RA thing shouldn’t make me feel embarrassed, but it does, and I was feeling guilty (another dumb and pointless emotion that shouldn’t be related to being ill!) about not being able to get my share of coffees, and temp boss’s hearing isn’t as acute as it might be, and she was probably only half listening because her mind was on getting coffees, but anyway, somehow my saying, ‘I won’t be able to get the coffees today because I’ve got a bad knee’ followed by an attempted explanation of flaring etc. got translated in her mind as ‘I can’t drink coffee today because I’ve got a bad knee’ and the pair of us ended up in fits of giggles at her vision of all this coffee pooling somehow in my knee and causing it to swell up.

Well, laughter is definitely therapeutic, so for once telling a colleague about RA turned out to be more therapeutic than painful! I think the pair of us will be referring to any future knee flares as ‘coffee on the knee’ from now on!

Oral Prednisolone

March 3, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 4 Comments
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I’ve read a lot on the net about oral prednisolone and generally I’ve thought, ‘Hmm, glad I don’t need any of that then …’

Me and my big mouth …

Anyway, here’s why. I woke up Tuesday morning and my left knee, which is where I had the major, major, MAJOR problems in 2008 but which has been relatively OK since, was stiff … I mean REALLY stiff, as in couldn’t straighten, couldn’t bend. Oh well … it didn’t last long. It stayed a bit stiff until about lunchtime and then wore off.  It didn’t hurt at all so I decided not to worry about it. ‘One of those things,’ I said to myself, ‘one of those little unpredictable joys of R.A. No doubt that’s the last I’ll hear from that knee for a year or two.’

WRONG! Woke up yesterday morning and the knee was really stiff again, but instead of wearing of by lunchtime it didn’t wear off all day! It still didn’t hurt so I thought, ‘Oh well, maybe it’ll be OK tomorrow.’

You guessed it – this morning it was really stiff again and it hurt (just a bit, but it did hurt). It also felt as though someone had strapped a great big lead weight around it, which says ‘swollen’ to me, although it’s not actually noticeably hot or inflamed.  So I gave in and took the doctor lottery – i.e. ‘same day appointment with a member of the same day team. We can’t tell you who you’ll be seeing and it may be a doctor or a nurse.’

Well it was obviously my lucky day because I saw Dr. Locum Eye-Candy, and apart from being eye-candy he also seemed pretty switched on and sensible and (mostly) listened to what I had to say. OK, so he got slightly confused and when I’d said, ‘This started on Tuesday’ that somehow got translated in his brain to, ‘This is an ongoing problem I’ve had for months’ – but hey, we got that straightened out pretty quickly, so I’ll let him off! (Also perhaps I got a little confused. He was GORGEOUS – made it hard to concentrate on why I was there … Hmm, hubby will proofread this for me later. Perhaps I should take it out … nah … )

So here I am about to experience my first ever oral prednisolone – oh lucky me !

On the bright side, I am taking minimal quantities and assuming it works I will only be on it for three days, so I don’t anticipate any problems. In fact I anticipate a miraculous cure. Let’s hope I’m right. I don’t always hate it when my predictions come true!

Also, on the really, really, really sunny side, IT’S NOT AN INJECTION INTO THE JOINT! (Or indeed an injection into the bum, which is always mildly embarrassing, and would have been ever more so if Dr. Locum Eye-Candy had been giving it to me!)

 

Doctor, doctor …

February 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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I suppose I must try to be more fair to my poor beleaguered doctor. There I was complaining the other day that the doctors don’t think my ‘migraines’ are related to my ‘shoulder pain’, and things were getting worse and worse. My shoulder pain was getting to the point where I was waking up many times a night because of it, and the headaches were getting worse too, so I thought better give it another shot. So I finally got the appointment with my GP – who has referred me for physio for my shoulder, as I’d hoped she would – and I said, ‘You know – I’m convinced these migraines I keep getting are related to my shoulder pain.’ I got the usual quizzical look … and then inspiration struck. ‘The thing is,’ I added, ‘it’s not actually shoulder pain, and … erm … I don’t think they’re actually migraines!’

Well, unsurprisingly that did put a rather different complexion on the matter. What I tend to refer to as ‘shoulder pain’ is actually pain the acromoclavicular joint (try spelling that after a glass of wine) – which is the joint between the collar bone and the front part of the arm, so not really the shoulder at all. And although the headache I mentioned in that last post was definitely a classic migraine, most of the headaches I’ve had recently haven’t been. They have been one-sided, but instead of being behind the eye they very much feel like they’re outside the skull, and if I touch my scalp on the painful side it’s really tender. They’re just as painful and debilitating as migraines but without any visual disturbance or sickness. When I managed to explain all that (and I don’t know really why I hadn’t managed to do so in the past!), she thought it was highly likely that the two were in fact related. Apparently headaches like the one I just described are common with neck pain, and my acromoclavicular joint pain is probably actually closer to neck than shoulder pain.

So a mystery solved, one less medical professional to feel frustrated and irritable with, and a referral to physio. All in all a very positive outcome to a visit to the doctor!

A reliable diagnosis for Lupus on its way?

February 3, 2011 at 9:41 am | Posted in arthrits, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pai, Me, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 2 Comments
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You may think RA is a hard one to diagnose, and I’ve often heard complaints as to how it’s overlooked by medics and the public alike, but Lupus (or Systemic lupus erythematosus to give it its full name) is RA’s poor relation in this respect. Lupus is another autoimmune disease, but this time with the autoimmune system attacking connective tissue – and of course connective tissue occurs in all the internal organs as well as joints, so it can cause inflammation of all sorts of parts of the body, resulting in a bizarre set of symptoms that is often not diagnosed as one problem i.e. Lupus,  for many years.  I suspect that one reason is that GPs etc. would only recognise it from the famous ‘lupus butterfly rash’ that occurs on the cheeks and across the nose, but according to Wikipedia (and I don’t know where they referenced it form!) only 30-50% of Lupus sufferers ever display the rash at all.  Some research has been done now in America to show that Lupus might be caused by a malfunctioning of ‘micro RNAs’, which are things that white blood cells use to control the function of antibodies etc. This is research in mice, something that a lot of people would find uncomfortable but which I’m not going to get into a discussion about here; from a purely biological point of view, however, diseases in mice show a remarkably good correlation to diseases in humans, and the mice show a consistent pattern of ‘dis-regulated’ micro RNAs when they develop Lupus.

What that means is that, probably ten years or so down the line, if it gets that far*, there could be a simple diagnosis ‘kit’ for Lupus, where it can be clearly and easily diagnosed with a blood test or similar, whereas at the moment there is no such test – various tests can hint that it might be Lupus or some other autoimmune disorder, but then again it might not, but there’s nothing conclusive.

Like rheumatoid arthritis 1) it’s quite likely that there are a lot of people out there who are in the early stages and undiagnosed and 2) with Lupus it’s known that many people are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for many years before they are given a diagnosis of Lupus, so a test that is as conclusive as this sounds like it would be would certainly be very good news indeed.

We then have to hope of course that the test itself is not so expensive that no clinicians will actually pay to use it, but that’s another story, and probably one we won’t have to worry about for another ten years or so!

Giving myself a kick up the …

February 1, 2011 at 10:10 am | Posted in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) | 1 Comment
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I’m feeling a lot better at the moment. Exercise obviously is the cure for or ills! (Well perhaps not, but I think it might have helped a bit! Perhaps it’s browsing books that made me feel better!) Anyway, in spite of feeling better physically I woke up yesterday with a major ‘Monday morning feeling’ and a distinct grump on about the fact that we’d had too really gloomy days over the weekend and yet last Friday and this Monday (when I had to work, of course, or in Friday’s case would have been working if I hadn’t been at home with my head under a pillow trying to shift the latest migraine), we had gloriously sunny, spring days.

Then I decided this was not the positive thinking penguin I wanted to be! So I ‘reframed’ and started to think, ‘Hey, at least I can glance out of the window and see blue sky and the promise of spring, even if I do have to work.’  Then at lunchtime I managed to reframe, ‘Oh heck, we’ve gone a bit quiet at work, will we have enough to keep us going?’  to ‘Ooh, goodie, we’re a bit quiet. I’ve got time to go for a nice walk at lunch time and enjoy the sunshine.’ And I did. I only went up and down the high street, popped into a few charity shops and had a browse (got seriously tempted by a knitting machine, but that’s another story)  but mostly just wandered up and down soaking up the sun (in a well wrapped kind of way, given that it’s still February!) but I felt so much better for it, and so much better for seeing the aconites starting to flower, bright yellow splashes of colour that are definitely the heralds of spring round here! (It was the primroses where I used to live, in Devon, but here it’s the snowdrops and the aconites.) Anyway, I’m feeling much better for it – and hoping that today will bring a bit more sunshine and another chance for a walk … although my fears about lack of work were groundless, as a load more has come in! Even so, I shall jolly well make time for a walk at lunch time!

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