The week before Christmas 2019, I woke up in the middle of the night with intense pain in my right hand. When I got up, I noticed the knuckles were swollen and sore. They were about double their normal size. I figured I’d been bit by a spider because it came on so quickly. I didn’t really think about arthritis because I already had arthritis and it never felt like this.
Brushing my teeth, cutting my food, or opening a bottle was extremely painful. I waited for the swelling to go down, for the pain to go away, but it didn’t happen.
By mid-January, I couldn’t handle it anymore and I went to the doctor. He put me on steroids and referred me to a rheumatologist even though bloodwork showed I did not test positive for the disease. I only lasted on the steroids for a few days because they made me feel weird.
At first the rheumatologist took a wait-and-see approach. She said that although it looked like RA, that was usually bilateral, and she would have to see if it happened in the other hand. Within a week, I got a swollen pocket in the same spot on my left hand. Although it wasn’t as painful, it was enough for her to diagnose it as RA. She prescribed medication and said it was best to be aggressive in treatment as it was the only way to stop joint damage.
At first, I was happy to know that what I had had a name, thinking it was just a severe form of arthritis. But as I learned more, I knew it was going to change my life.
Like the main character in my cozy mystery, Charlie, I was in law enforcement at the time of my diagnosis. Although, I’m one of the lucky ones, the disease still made it difficult to do my job. My fine motor skills were shot. I worried about being able to handcuff someone should the need arise. I was lucky that COVID hit, and I got to work from home. I feared a situation would arise at work that I couldn’t handle, and I would let my coworkers down. Luckily, I was able to retire and concentrate on writing.
I realize I’ve been fortunate. The disease is different for everyone, and my level of functioning remains pretty high, as it does for the character in my book. Her journey reflects my journey and in no way is meant to negate how debilitating RA can be.