I survived! And not only did I survive the crazy last few weeks, I actually managed to get my boss and his family out the door in style! It required some crazy hours the last few days before he left (one day I worked from 5:30 in the morning to 9:45 in the evening with no real lunch or break to speak of.)
The bad news: I found out yesterday that my total and utter exhaustion that I’ve been slogging through the past few weeks wasn’t necessarily entirely work-related. After going to the doctors a couple of weeks ago and having Mr Greek God, MD feel my leg up and pronounce my swelling as “bursitis”, I decided to go back for a second opinion. After all, it had now been 5 weeks since the swelling began in earnest, and I wasn’t getting any better. I had to drop out of the Mud Run that’s coming up on the 11th and give my ticket to someone else. I made an appointment with my primary care physician and decided to demand an MRI to see if I had torn my meniscus, or something. They had an cancellation that very morning, so I jumped on the opportunity.
Upon arriving, I discovered that my sweet, tiny, amiable, female primary care physician was gone on a month-long vacation. Figures. I sat down on the doctor’s table, rolled up my pants leg, and surveyed the uncut forest of leg hair that waved gently in the breeze. Needless to say, I wasn’t really surprised when
walked in with a white lab coat and a stethoscope.
Of course the new doctor would look like that. Of course. I bet you didn’t know that about me. I summon handsome men by not shaving my legs. I have magical, handsome-man-summoning leg hair. Jealous, aren’t you?
Anyways, despite my dismay at the change of doctors, it turns out that God was looking out for me. The new doctor just happened to be a Rheumatologist specialist, and I have Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. He took one look at my knee, at the swelling, and the heat, and told me I was having an obvious flare-up.
“But my tests!” I said, waving the paperwork in front of his face in an attempt to distract him from my mayonnaise-white, puffy legs. “I had bloodwork done, and except for an elevated thyroid antibody, I was completely normal. My sed rate was normal, my TSH was normal… how can that be?”
He gave an honest shrug. “I see it a lot. Immune system disorders are a little tricky. You can have tons of bloodwork, and it can all come back negative, but when you’re sitting there staring at the swollen, achey joint, well, it’s obvious something is going on.”
We both stared at my grotesquely swollen knee for a second, then back at each other.
“So what do you propose?”
“Well,” he said, leaning back against the counter. “I know you’ve never needed anything this radical in the past, but I want to aspirate the fluid to release the pressure, and then inject steroids into the knee. It’s kind of a big day for you, because you’ve avoided all this in the past, but I think you’ll feel much better.”
So, that’s what we did. We discussed it for awhile, and we agreed to get an MRI just in case there was structural damage, and then he went to get the materials. The office I visited wasn’t set up for this kind of a treatment, but as it turned out, he had a spare kit in his car.
WEEEEEIRRRRD. I mean, I carry a lot of strange things in my car, but I can honestly say that I’ve never had an emergency joint aspiration kit.
Anyways, I’ll spare you the gory details… Nah. No I won’t.
It really, really hurt. My synovial lining was so thickened from the prolonged inflammation that for a little bit it looked like the needle wasn’t going to get through. For you horse people out there, it was an 18 gauge needle. Those huge, evil javelins that you use to deliver penicillin? Yeah. One of those. He drained about 25 ccs of fluid out of the knee, and would have gotten more, but the needle caught on some tissue inside my knee cap. Freeing it hurt like of a son-of-a-gun.
Up until that point I had been doing my best to be brave and stoic. It’s a point of pride for me to not show pain, although I don’t know why. I mean, it’s not like the doctor was going to go home and say to his wife over dinner, “You know, honey, I aspirated a girl’s knee today and she didn’t even flinch! Isn’t that incredible?” “Oh, wow, sweetie. That’s incredible! What’s her name? Did you get her number? Let’s call her up and offer her a million dollar bonus for not flinching! How about a trophy? Oooh! I know! You get the trophy ready, and I’ll call the Orange County Register and LA Times. This is worthy of a front page story!”
That’ll never happen, but it’s still nice to daydream. Anyways, like I was saying, I was able to maintain my composure up until the tissue was sucked up in the needle, but then I kind of lost it. Maybe it was the stress of the whole ordeal. I thought I was done with this kind of crap. I haven’t had a serious flare-up since I was 13. Now, here I was, with a huge needle in my knee sucking out fluid that had been building up for the last month and a half, eating away at my bone and doing who knows how much permanent damage… When the pain got past the point where I could bear it without reacting, I covered up my face with my hands and started to silently cry.
The doctor seemed unnerved by the pain he was causing (from what I’ve read online, my case was kind of unique. Most people don’t let the inflammation go that long before treating it.), and kept murmuring, “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. Sorry.”
Once the needle was freed, he decided to cut the process a little short and inject the steroids. Hopefully, the steroids will take care of the rest of the inflammation.
I sat up, bending my knee slowly, discreetly wiping away the embarrassing tears with a back of my hand.
“It feels better,” I said, slowly flexing the knee. “It feels better already.”
“That’s the lidocaine I injected,” he warned sternly. “Take it REALLY easy on that knee. The lidocaine will wear off in a couple of hours and it will feel worse than it did before. After about 48 hours the steroids will kick in, and then it will feel better.”
I nodded, promising him that I would be careful, and headed off back to work.
Now, the Good News:
I. Feel. FANTASTIC.
Fan-freaking-tastic! I feel like I could jump, and run, or dance down the street singing. When the lidocaine wore off, I still felt fantastic. I had no idea how much pain I was living with until it was gone. I thought I was depressed, or exhausted… it turns out that I was just living in such a constant state of pain that I had just tuned it out.
You want to know what I did this morning?
I got out of bed.
That may not seem like much to the rest of you, but lately I’ve been having to roll slowly out of bed, hobble like a broken-down racehorse to the shower, and then stand in the scalding water for 20 minutes before I began to feel like myself. It was only this morning, when I sat up and then immediately stood up and walked off did I realize how bad it had become. The stiffness and pain snuck up on me so slowly that I didn’t even realize how bad it was until now that it’s gone. I forgot that life didn’t have to be like that.
So, I know this post may seem a little maudlin, but it’s not. I’m really excited to be feeling this good. It’s my anniversary this weekend (Woot! Do a little daaaance, Make a little loooove… get down tonight! MMM! Get down tonight! MMM!) and I actually feel like celebrating for the first time in weeks… or months, really. One of the things I do appreciate about having had “disease” since childhood is that it has taught me not to take things for granted, and to appreciate the small stuff. Most of us aren’t going to be millionaires, and heck, if we’re honest with ourselves most of us aren’t going to be the kind of people that influence thousands of people’s lives in some kind of life-fulfilling destiny. I may get back in shape one day, but I’m never going to get rid of my stretch marks or my cellulite. I’m always going to have a big butt and pasty white legs.
On the other hand…
The sun is shining today. The wind is blowing lightly, and when I step outside I can smell the rich scent of fertile, spring earth rising up to fill my senses. If I slip off my shoes, I can feel baby-soft spring grass curling between my toes on the patch of lawn in front of my office building. I may have a black car with no air conditioner and be stuck in the traffic, but when I roll down my windows down on the drive home, I can taste the scent of sea salt air.
It’s a good day.