What the Stomach Flu Taught Me About Autoimmune Diseases

In an unfortunate twist of fate, I succumbed to the stomach flu this past Sunday, the night before I was supposed to go back to work after spring break. I’ll spare you the grotesque details of my illness, but let’s just say that it’s the worst I’ve felt in a long time. Thursday was the first time I was able to eat more than 6 saltine crackers and a banana in a day, but even now I can’t manage my average food intake.

I’m not someone who can take a day off. I’ve gone into work with head colds, laryngitis, accident injuries, and terrible RA flares. A workaholic, if you will. But this time, I couldn’t manage much more than to lay on the couch all day and sleep for 16 hours at a time, despite how much I desperately wanted to get up and answer my work emails. I didn’t have the energy to open a laptop or read a book. For the first time in a very long time, I went two whole days doing absolutely nothing. I couldn’t even pull that off back in February after my accident.

Sometimes I think I need these kinds of things to remind myself how I need to slow down and become more aware. I feel great now in terms of my RA. But the 4 days spent in bed were driving me absolutely insane. If a stomach virus was slowly killing my soul, then clearly I’m out of touch with the reality of having an autoimmune disease. If anything, this is one more reminder to appreciate how much I’m capable of doing at this point in my life. I’m not confined to just merely existing like so many others battling health issues, and while vomit is one of my worst fears ever, I’ll count this experience as a humbling moment.

 


Yoga and My Injury

yoga-241614_1280I mentioned a few posts ago that I was in a car accident and was worried that my RA would jump out of remission. Since, then I’ve been working hard at physical therapy to try and feel “normal”again, or at least get back to the point I was prior to the accident.Up until last week or so the pain in my neck and lower back was still bad enough to ruin my mood regularly.

I’ve been commiserating with a friend over our various aches and pains: she broke her back years ago and has  foot problems, and I’m a health mess in general from my RA and now from my accident injuries. She convinced me to start taking yoga with her. There’s a new studio a 15 minute walk from my house and they were offering a new student special. She brought me the class schedule. “We’re doing this. We need to,” she said.

Given my track record with yoga, I didn’t think this plan was going to go very smoothly. Doing yoga in front of my TV was always torture enough. Was I really going to attempt Downward Dog with my old lady joints in front of other human beings? Could I keep up with the pace of the class in general?

We signed up for our first class, Yoga Basics, this past Saturday. Quite honestly, if my friend hadn’t pushed me to go and she hadn’t been sitting on the mat next to me, I probably would have never done it. But I’m glad I went.

I walked out of that first hour long session feeling euphoric. I considered the possibility that I was only feeling a placebo effect, but I’ve gone back three times since and I’m still floating on a cloud after every session. No one there is judging my old lady joints. I’m stretching out muscles I forgot I had. And even though it’s only been a few days, I’m already beginning to feel stronger. I managed to do a plank for 30 seconds Monday night without falling!

I’ve experienced other benefits from my short time as a yoga student, but that’s for another day. What matters most is that I’m able to function normally again. No stabbing pain in my neck as I lean over a child’s desk. No back pain when I need to stoop to pick something off of the floor. I’m feeling stronger than I have since I was 18 years old. Best of all is that my creaky joints aren’t bothering me much anymore, except on rainy days. I’m still not letting the RA win.

 


Autoimmune Awareness Month

aarda.org

aarda.org

Rheumatoid Awareness day is in February, but the entire month of March is dedicated to all autoimmune diseases. RA sufferers are not alone- 50 million Americans are suffering from one (or two or three) of the hundreds of known autoimmune diseases out there. Compared to other diseases, there aren’t many dollars going into autoimmune research. So let’s keep all of those people in mind this month and try to educate anyone willing to listen. That’s how change happens.


RA After Bodily Trauma

To sum up a long and complicated story, I was in a car accident at 3am on Monday. My airbags deployed. My car was totaled. A trip to urgent care on Tuesday ruled out spinal damage, but I did get a diagnosis for bad whiplash. I’m taking muscle relaxers that make me feel groggy and bleh (which is the most accurate description I can muster at this point) so I don’t feel like writing much this week.

Since the accident, I’ve noticed two things. One being that I could potentially have Raynaud’s disease. It was -12 degrees with the wind chill factor the night of my accident. By the time the car was towed away and I was done talking to the cops, my feet were in so much pain that I couldn’t walk. The defrosting period was even more painful. It felt like someone was stabbing my feet repeatedly with a knife, and no amount of moving or sitting or rubbing my feet helped.

My second observation is that after Monday morning, my joints started feeling hot and swollen. I’m pretty sure I’ll be having a full blown flare soon. I’m wondering if the crash pulled me out of remission, since people often say that they were diagnosed with RA after a traumatic injury.

I made an appointment with my rheumy, so we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’ll be parking myself on the couch for the weekend.


Having a Conversation

I love my rheumatologist. I trust his advice and the decisions he makes regarding my treatment and often don’t question his reasoning behind those decisions.

But before finding him, I was subjected to the ignorance and stupidity of many doctors. I went through 5 general practitioners before I took it upon myself to do Internet research and make a first appointment with my rheumy. DrugFacts-MedicationProbThe scary common theme among those doctors was that they were willing to write out prescriptions for just about any reason. There were prescription fish oil tabs, NSAIDs, aspirin/codeine concoctions, antidepressants, and a slew of other drugs that, in hindsight, make my liver do flips just thinking about them. But ya know what? I never questioned them. I blindly trusted the “MD” after their names to mean that they were automatically right and that I shouldn’t ask questions.

January 26-February 1 is National Drug Fact Week, and I’m taking a moment to remind you that you should start a conversation with your doctor about your medications. Here are a few statistics:

  • 700,000 ER visits each year are from incorrect medication usage (Source: AmericanHealthCare.com). I don’t know the specifics of this fact and whether or not this includes people who take shared prescriptions, but it’s worth mentioning that you should never take any drug that hasn’t been prescribed to you. Shared prescriptions don’t take into account your weight, age, level of health, and drug interactions. Assuming that you’re taking your own prescription, ask your doctor questions. Ask him to repeat instructions (Do I take this daily? Twice daily? On an empty stomach? Should I not take it with orange juice? What are possible side effects?). Don’t rely on the label on the bottle to tell you what to do, and don’t feel ashamed or worried that you’re wasting your doc’s time.
  • 2/3 of all doctors’ visits end with a prescription being written (Source: TalkAboutRx.org). Clearly, I’m not telling you to develop a distrust for your doctor or that you should refuse to take your medication. But this is why a conversation is needed. Make sure the prescription that you’re being given is truly needed and not just his way of dismissing you from his office.
  • On average, at least one drug is recalled in the US each month (Source: Reuters.com). My mother was on an RA drug DrugFacts-Recalls2called Bextra for years before it was taken off the market in 2005. She claims it was the only drug that ever worked for her and controlled her pain, so of course she didn’t care about the possible side effects it could have. However, it doesn’t hurt to occasionally do some research on your medications, just to see if they’ve been under scrutiny lately. American Recall Center has a wealth of information about drug safety and current pharmaceutical lawsuits.

I’m not condemning all doctors or prescription drugs. I’m thankful for the quality of life that my doctor and medication have given back to me since my diagnosis. But I make sure to read up on every prescription I take, and I urge you to do the same.

 


Blogging and RA Remission

After a series of never-ending anxiety attacks a few weeks ago, I realized I needed to put on my big girl pants and get my life together. But that’s not the moral of this story. I took to the Internet in the midst of my anxiety attacks to search for a way to manage my anxiety without having to resort to medication. I already take more pills than I’d like to, thanks to my immune system.

If you type “Natural ways to cope with anxiety” into Google, one of the most common suggestions is to keep a journal of your feelings. That’s such a no-brainer that I felt stupid for not thinking of that on my own. And it’s not like I don’t have 21,484,o86,102 blank journals lying around. I get at least one for every birthday or gift-giving holiday (writer problems, except not really).

So, here’s the interesting thing. I found this article by Maud Purcell on PsychCentral.com which says the following:

There is increasing evidence to support the notion that journaling has a positive impact on physical well-being. University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

Did this blog lead me to remission? I always thought of it as a place to rant about how much my life sucks sometimes. I never considered the idea that it might be a form of physical therapy. Would I still be almost bedridden if I never took the time to write here? Food for thought.

So, I guess I’ll have an anxiety journal and an RA blog. If it helps, then it’s worth the extra effort, no?

Leave a comment below if you journal for your health.

 


2014 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,600 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


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