Rheumatoid Arthritis Is a Family Affair

You’ve probably heard the saying, “it takes a village….” It’s usually used in reference to raising children, but it also applies to RA. You see, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic illness, in general, is a family affair and whether your family is the one you were born with, the one you picked, or the one the hospital provided you with, it takes all of them to deal with the chaos that is chronic illness.

Surrounded by support

I’m lucky, some would say. Not only do I have a blood family that steps up when needed, but I also have an amazing group of friends who are just as close as anyone I share actual DNA with and in some cases, even closer. In fact, I wouldn’t mind swapping out a relative or two for some of my brothers from other mothers if you catch my drift. I won’t mention any names. Devin. Yeah, I said it.

The unpredictability of RA

Having rheumatoid arthritis or any chronic illness, as I’ve said many times before, is like living with a rabid raccoon with anger management issues. You never know what’s going to set him off – it could be something real, like tripping over the table and breaking your toe, or it could be something ridiculous, like having to wear the shoes that make your feet hurt because you left the comfortable ones in the car. Whatever the stimuli, when that raccoon rears its ugly, rabid head and bites you, the rheumatoid arthritis flares, and you may need support from your “family.”

Emergency room visits

For me, it’s most evident when I have to go to the emergency room. I’ve been to my local ED so many times that they started a “the 10th trip is on us” punch card system just for me. (One more trip, and I get a free colonoscopy! Really more of a punishment, though) Here’s the interesting thing– I’m convinced my rheumatoid arthritis can tell time and even knows the date. Why? Because nothing ever, and I mean never, happens at 2 pm on a Tuesday. Nope. Things only seem to occur on weekend nights after 11 pm. Or at 2 am on Sunday.

Not only are those the most inconvenient times to get in touch with my doctors, but they are also some of the busiest times in the emergency department. Not many people are out drinking and doing dumb stuff on a Wednesday afternoon, but late Saturday night? Well, that’s prime “I bet I can jump over this barbed-wire fence in one go” alcohol-induced idiocy time, which means hours of waiting at the ER. Throw in the fact that most of the time it isn’t something life-threatening and it’s a 7 hour trip for me. No one wants to do that alone, and that’s where my family comes in.

I don’t know where I’d be without family support

Usually, it’s my mom who comes. I certainly do feel bad dragging her out of bed at those late hours, but she’s the main point of contact, even just with the day-to-day stuff. If I fall and can’t get up, she’s there to help. She picks up the slack if I can’t clean up because I’m not feeling well. If I can’t make that first date because I’m not feeling well, she’s the one who writes me a note. Ha, ha, just kidding. Not that last one, not after that one time. The point is, without her in my life, rheumatoid arthritis would be a lot less tolerable.

While my mom is the main helper when it comes to my RA, the other family members are no slouches. My brothers step up when I’m in the hospital, and one of my siblings, in particular, has become an expert in dealing with the medical establishment and the bureaucracy that comes with it. He still brings up the time he saved my life by stopping someone from adding a drug to my IV feed that my doctor specifically said would damage my heart. So, as you can see, my blood family is my first line of support for my RA.

Lucky to have close friends as my “chosen family”

As great as my family is, I don’t want to sell my chosen family, my friends, short. We all know that no matter how well-intentioned relatives are, they can get, err… how do I say this diplomatically? Family can wear a little thin from time to time, and you just need some space. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them, it’s just a normal part of sharing DNA. That’s when I turn to my friends, many of whom I’ve known for decades.

As I said, I’m lucky that I found people who looked past my RA and its co-morbidities when I was a child, which is not the norm for chronic illness. Those friends turned into friends for life and are always ready to step up if need be, and I would do the same for them.

I’m blessed that way, and it was vital to helping me exist in a semi-normal fashion as someone with RA. They always made accommodations and took the extra step to make me feel like it was “no big deal.” Sometimes that meant making sure I always had a seat, and sometimes that meant helping carry me home on a particularly bad night and treating it like it was a completely mundane thing to assist one of your college friends into his bed (completely sober, that is). They picked up the slack then and still do today, and I’m grateful.

As you can see, it does take a village to exist with chronic illness in this world, and no matter who you consider your “family,” don’t hesitate to rely on them when the need arises. Talk soon.

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