Here’s how my mornings begin: I move suddenly from restless sleep to restless wakefulness. Instead of being warm and comfortable, wishing I didn’t have to get out of my soft cocoon, I’m warm and uncomfortable, and I want to get up because maybe I’ll feel better than I do right now in bed.
So, I toss off the covers and sit up. Don’t think for a moment that I do this smoothly or with any sort of grace. No. It hurts my tender, achy self. I’m grumpy. I am creakiness personified.
A perfect—if overused—symbol of rheumatoid disease’s stiffened, sore, tender joints is the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. I spent most of a recent evening watching that lovely old movie for at least the 50th time. Being the starry-eyed, airheaded person I am, it delighted and charmed me. Again.
When the movie got to the part where Dorothy, Toto and the Scarecrow find the Tin Man in the grove of trees, discover that he’s rusted to total immovability, and Dorothy discovers the wondrous oil can, I watched with new fascination. Wasn’t Jack Haley perfect in his personification of someone with RD moving for the first time after a night spent in bed? I sure thought so. That’s how I creak my way into my day every single morning.
I sit on the side of the bed for a few moments, gathering my courage. I know that when I put my weight down on my grumbling feet, they’re going to bark and yell at me. But there’s no choice—the bathroom at the other end of the apartment is yelling at me louder. So, I take a deep breath and stand up.
Ow! Ooch! Yowza, that hurts! Well, too bad. I walk—or rather, I gimp—down the hall, wishing that I could somehow master floating, like Glinda, the Good Witch of the East did. I bet she had RD too. I envy her the skill.
I swallow my morning cocktail of pills, all of them either treating my RD directly or supplementing that treatment in some way. I only gaze at the bottle of opioid analgesic, thinking. If I take one now, I’ll feel roughly 50 percent better within an hour. But it’s very early, yet, and the prescription strictly limits the number of tablets I can take in each 24-hour period. I may need that blessed pain relief even more later on, so sighing, I don’t touch the bottle.
Just tough it out, Wren old girl, I tell myself grimly. You’ve done it before. You can do it again.
And I do, of course. “Tough” is my hard-earned middle name.
Getting all those night-frozen joints moving more freely and with less pain takes time, though. I make coffee and feed the cats, ooching and ouching and growling my way through each small task. The highlights: pouring the heavy carafe full of cold water as fast as I dare into the coffeemaker, my teeth clamped together as my hands scream; and opening the cat-food can, first using a spoon to lever up the tight little ring tab, then gritting my teeth against the oh-my-dog pain as I slip a finger into it and peel the lid free of the can. Dang, that hurts! Every single morning that hurts!
And so it goes, as the great Kurt Vonnegut wrote. Ce la vie. That’s life.
I do my best to live one day at a time and not worry about the future. I try not, as the psychologists call it, to catastrophize. But even as I laugh with my Mom about how the two of us are shuffling ‘round the house like little old ladies in the morning (only one of us is an actual “little old lady”), I wonder how I’m going to keep my smile going if my rheumatoid disease continues to disable me this way, day in and day out, year in and year out, until I end.
Then I tell myself that if I’ve managed to muddle along, still smiling, for 29 years with RD, then I can do it for 29 more if I must. And maybe—just maybe—one of these new miracle drugs will finally vanquish my particular dragon. Or maybe one of those endlessly curious medical scientists out there will inadvertently stumble upon a cure that will work for all of us.
In the meantime, I’ll take a hot shower to loosen up my sore, tender, creaky joints, do some gentle stretching, and get on with life. After a while, my creaky smile will loosen up, too.