Wednesday, August 31, 2016

When socks become corsets (and other adventures in rheumatoid arthritis)

On the summit ridge of Rocky Mountain in the Bob Marshall
Wilderness over the past weekend. 

I had the humbling and utterly premature - by at least 50 years - experience of being dressed by another person this morning. Linds had the distinct honor of playing the part of my arms and hands as I clumsily, and quite painfully, ticked off the rudiments of my morning rituals. Left to my own devices, I would have been contented to go about my day in nothing more than boxer briefs. And, in the immortal and wholly sacrosanct words of Kurt Vonnegut, "so it goes."

To be fair, I could have dressed myself. It would be misleading to suggest otherwise. The process simply would have taken five times as long and been rich with more four-letter words than should be uttered before 7:30 on a Wednesday morning.  

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a strange beast. As with many conditions, particularly those whose symptoms are rooted in chronic pain, its manifestations are as wide-ranging as its keeper. Imagine: pain as unique as the innumerable snowflakes that descend from the heavens. Beautiful. Painfully and tragically, beautiful. 

It has been a solid four or more years since I have experienced anything like a major symptom of RA. That all changed in the middle of January when distant, yet distinct, twinges of pain begin returning to my hands and arm joints. Not unlike the topography of the Wind River Range in Wyoming as one moves closer to its central thrust, the peaks of the pain have been steadily rising and the valleys along with it. And so it is with RA, and I imagine, with all chronic pain: the intensity of pain in the valleys grows to match the initial levels of pain first experienced on the peaks. Over time the pain simply exists in the background. Some days it is infuriating and many days it is mild nuisance, like doing dishes. The past eight months have been marked by a movement towards the central thrust of - what I hope to be - the highest peaks of this wholly metaphorical pain experience.

So it was today that I found myself on the verge of helplessness as I readied for the day. It is indeed a strange feeling to find oneself sitting on the edge of one's bed engaged in a stare-down with a pair of socks wondering, "how in the hell do I get those things on?" Confounding. The socks may as well have been a corset, an item of clothing of which my knowledge base begins and ends with its spelling. Utterly foreign.

Here's the thing: in spite of struggles and warranted moments of sincere frustration, I am happy. First off, it could always be worse. Cancer, neurological disorders, diabetes, heart disease, asthma: all these things, all threatening life to varying degrees, scare the hell out of me. And people suffer from them! Bah! Yes, it could be worse. 

Secondly, it could probably be better. Yes, it - life absent of chronic pain - would be better. When deeply mired in the pain, as I am now, this equates to hope. It WILL get better. It always has and always will. I know it will. Empirically I know this to be true and as a hopeless optimist, I highly suspect it will come to pass. 

And back to the first point, about my circumstances being worse, they could most assuredly be! I do feel an infinite level of gratitude for the continued health of my legs. In spite of all of the upper body pain, my legs and hips continue to perform pain-free and gracefully. With my first love being mountain travel, I am incredibly grateful that this is the case. In my early days with RA, my knees would routinely balloon up with fluid and require draining and cortisone shots. 

What's next? Well, I have an old friend, Humira, an injectable RA med, waiting patiently for me in the refrigerator. Tonight, we will be reunited and I will humbly accept the circumstances in which I find myself.

Onward and upward,


P.S. I am nearing the 100th summit mark (2,000 feet of ascent or better) for 2016. Additionally, I am a couple of weeks out from standing on top of Mount Sentinel for the 600th time and on top of ol' Stuart Peak for the 50th. Stay tuned throughout the next couple of months as I reinvigorate this blog with tales from the mountains! In spite of the RA setbacks this summer, it has easily been the richest in terms of mountain travel. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this! - Maggie