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Two hands, one is knotted up and not working properly, the other is seemingly fine.

Another Clumsy Day: Hand Changes and Rheumatoid Arthritis

A few days ago, my Mom and I were having one of our usual phone conversations, regaling each other with stories about our week as we do every few days, when she told me a story that made me laugh out loud, all the while commiserating with her tale.

She has had rheumatoid arthritis for about ten years, and the longer she has lived with it, the more I can relate to her and vice-versa. She told me that she found herself stuck in the floorboard of her car as she was trying to vacuum it out. She said, “I’m getting SO clumsy!” Her shoulder has been bothering her lately a lot after a golfing accident and she was trying to protect it as she was wiggling out of the cramped space. The image is funny, but the reality can be extremely frustrating.

The clumsiness is all to familiar to me

Earlier that day, I had found myself in a similar uncomfortable experience. I was riding my bike around the neighborhood and the chain came off. A simple fix for most, but I realized that with my hands, this easy job was becoming impossible. After a few minutes of thrashing around and getting grease all over my hands, I started thinking I’d be walking the two miles home, glad I hadn’t gotten any further. Luckily, a few minutes later, a kindly man helped to get me back on my bike.

Rheumatoid arthritis has changed my hand function and grip

The past few years, my hand function has gotten worse and, as that has happened, I have hilarious and frustrating experiences daily. How does the pen flip out of my hand and land across the room under the couch? How did I possibly send that carrot flying out of the sink as I attempted to wash it?

Jasper, my dog, is permanently attached to my hip every time I go near the kitchen, and I can guess why! Tightening jars enough so that they don’t leak or fall open has become a victory for me. I have a new nickname, Cholula, because one day I was fixing dinner and shook the bottle of hot sauce, painting the floors and walls. Oops!

Strengthening and attending to my hands

All of this clumsiness may make for funny stories but the reality is that my JRA has worsened my hand function to the point that they will be needing more attention. Since they are getting weaker I’m starting to do theraputty exercises, and paying much more attention to how I use them, making sure that I decrease strain and pain, so that I don’t keep losing the function that I now have. My hands are the squeaky wheel in my body right now and I’m paying attention because I know from experience that if I don’t, my hands, and my life, will suffer.

The body changes that come with rheumatoid arthritis make life more complicated, and in reality, the last thing they are is funny. But sometimes, a good belly laugh works much better than a good cry. So when I can find humor in my new challenges, I feel like I’ve won that round.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • stellasmeaton
    3 weeks ago

    I just came out of a flare in my wrist and hands. I’m left handed and unfortunately it was impossible to use. could not even push button on hairspray! Packed all sprays ( to give away) Thinking situation was permanent. But then did HUGE diet change, eliminating alot of dairy, and upped my PROTEIN, among other things and today I have no PAIN, and have regained a lot of strength I thought was gone for ever. DIET IS MAJOR, and I don’t use ANY DRUGS.

  • catlady51
    1 month ago

    the hand problem is especially troubling to me because i’m a sewist and artist. i had to retire on disability 28 years ago and relied upon sewing and art as my new dreams and avocations. at this point i’m having to think even more about how to maintain enough of the function needed to pursue these interests. art in some form or other has to be part of my life.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    4 weeks ago

    Hi catlady51. I saw what you wrote about art and wanted to let you know that you are not alone in wanting to continue to pursue these endeavors. Our contributor Wren is quite an artist and wrote here about struggling with losing it and finding new ways to pursue it: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/art-and-compromise/. She also wrote here about art as therapy: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/art-therapy-pain/. Hoping you find some way to continue in your pursuits. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    1 month ago

    Catlady:

    I think so many of is have also experienced this. Kt did a wonderful job capturing my experience and I sense yours as well.

  • MrsT
    1 month ago

    You definitely have to have a sense of humor when dealing with RA. 🙂

    My hands are severely disfigured so I have never been able to wear rings, even my wedding ring. But I recently found beautiful adjustable rings on amazon, and so I’m so excited to be wearing rings!

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    1 month ago

    MrsT:

    I also cannot wear my rings. As a male this has led to some interesting issues. It is a fact that females live longer in general than males. This has led to misunderstandings. All humorous.

    Thankfully my wife of 42 years understands when ladies find my number and call to “chat” LOL Maybe they have some adult rings that might work for me.

  • hazel hawkins
    1 month ago

    I can relate to you. I just came home from from having a special finger brace constructed and fitted. My middle right hand finger droops down and my ring finger goes up in air. Hopefully the new brace will help. Best wishes to you!

  • stellasmeaton
    3 weeks ago

    I have a pinky finger that is really crooked, I have forgotten it, but when others notice I try to explain my disease, but it does help to remind me to be VERY AWARE OF WHAT I EAT. The fact my finger is crooked does not compare to the EXCRUCIATING PAIN I endure when having a FLARE UP. And I savor every moment in my days that I have no pain. GLORY TO GOD!!!

  • Richard Faust moderator
    4 weeks ago

    Hi hazel hawkins. My wife, Kelly Mack (a contributor here), also has issues with her fingers pointing in different directions. In fact, she did this video on finding the humor in RA and noted how sometimes it can create issues when she tries to give directions: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/video/video-finding-the-humor-in-ra/. In all seriousness, hoping right there with you that the new brace helps. Please feel free to keep us posted, if you like, on how things go. Best, Richard (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • catseye22
    1 month ago

    I used to work for a veterinarian and as my hands became less and less reliable I found that I had to retire on diability… phones would drop from my hands, I couldn’t hit the right keys on a keyboard with any regularity, and picking up pills to give an animal was a joke. I used to play guitar but my fingers gave it up. I keep exercising them, but I can’t rely on them

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    1 month ago

    Kat-Elton,
    Great story! We do laugh instead of cry. Your story is so familiar. My sons often forget to “tighten just until snug”, and then go off to work and I can’t open the peanut butter to give the dogs their meds! Pens flip out of my hands all the time. I’ve started writing more, because my writing skills were really suffering.
    Gentle hugs,
    Mary Sophia

  • Blade
    1 month ago

    I know the feeling I had to quit my job as a ma because I kept dropping the syringes for vaccines to give to kids really sucks

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    1 month ago

    Blade,
    I’m so sorry you had to quit your MA job! As an RN, I get it. I had to quit clinical nursing 8 years ago. I have found other options. My hope is you may find the same.
    Gentle hugs,
    Mary Sophia

  • KatTang
    1 month ago

    Mary, I am a clinical nurse and have been having enough difficulty with the RA in my hands I’m wanting to look for other work options. How did you go about finding other options?

  • SherryRN
    1 month ago

    That sounds so familiar. Near the end of my work shifts, I do lose a lot of my dexterity. I try to do most of my detailed work near the front end of my shifts, but sometimes things can’t be avoided and I just have to do them a little bit slower.

    I’ve got a little bit of a toolkit for the hands. I like voltaren gel followed by playing with a warmed up rice bag on bad days. If the swelling is really noticeable, there are compression gloves that I can stand for a few minutes, and they do help. My swan neck splints are really good, I’ve become attached to them, since they cut out a lot of stress and pain. I do think they decrease some sideways dexterity though, but right now I don’t mind the tradeoff.

  • MendyVB
    4 weeks ago

    I like the idea of the Voltaren gel and rice bag. Thanks for the idea. I’m an RN also. I had to quit my job in Long Term Care after 11 years because it was getting too hard for my body. I’m now in Home Care for Mental Health. I was worried I’d have to leave the nursing field when I first started this job because I was having carpal tunnel/hand issues. My RA Dr had mentioned Disability to me. I told her I’m not ready for that yet. I’m only 47. Ive still got a lot of things I want to do in life. I’ve had surgery for the carpal tunnel and it has gotten better, but I still have some bad days with my hands. My bosses gave been so good to me at this job and are trying to help, so I can continue to work. They have gotten me a voice to text program on my computer that I’m trying to learn right now.

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    1 month ago

    Great ideas, Sherry! As RNs, we are fortunate that there many options to move to when we can no longer function clinically. I am a faith community/parish nurse at a church.
    Gentle hugs,
    Mary Sophia

  • kat-elton author
    1 month ago

    Hi Sherry, I love the idea of a hand toolkit! I use the same things and they really help. Thanks for all you do as an RN.

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    1 month ago

    You mean like a few years ago while I was riding along in a grocery store motorized cart and I needed to get an item? You know that time I stood up, tipped the cart and the entire thing flipped and all the items went flying all over the aisle?

    Sure you know the one where after it flipped and my stuff was everywhere a kid ran to the office to tell them and feeling so dumb I put stuff back in and drove the thing away.

    Then when the store manager came back he found nothing? Causing the manager to call the police?

    Causing them to commence a search?

    Causing me to check out and get out?

    And then when Sheryl arrived home she asked me what had happened during my day?

    Then I said, oh nothing !!!

    You mean something like that?

    LOL

  • KatTang
    1 month ago

    Humor is a definite positive!

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    1 month ago

    Rick!!! You never cease to amaze me!

    Like the time I danced at my nephew’s wedding, tore my meniscus all the way across the knee and ended up with a knee replacement?

    Thanks,
    Mary Sophia

  • kat-elton author
    1 month ago

    Exactly! That is quite the visual Rick, thanks for the comment!

  • Cynthia Ventura moderator
    1 month ago

    Thanks for writing this article. I too have so many issues with items flipping, flying and just plain jumping out of my hands. “How did that just happen?” I ask no one in particular. Unlike your dog, my cats keep their distance from mama when she’s in the kitchen. One can never tell when I might drop a plateful of food, a jelly roll pan or Corelle platter. I never knew they shattered! Trust me, they do.

    I was once an artist and woodworker, someone with the ability to carve, sculpt, draw and paint quite well. I was known for the intricate detail that was a hallmark of my artwork. Now, I’m lucky if I can hold a sculpting knife, pencil or paintbrush without shaking or losing control of the instrument and my hands. You’re right that these issues are not funny but sometimes it’s all I can do not to cry. I still make the attempt. It saddens me at times that the results are less than I know I was once capable but if Renoir could do it, so can I.

  • mcadwell
    1 month ago

    I am so sorry for your creative losses!!

    It has been the hardest for me as well. To think of all the things I used to be able to make and now I am reduced to only one thing – sewing, and then only about 20 minutes at a time.

    It drives me insane when I get the creative urge but my body won’t allow it to happen. How do you handle it?

  • Cynthia Ventura moderator
    4 weeks ago

    Hi mcadwell,

    Thank you for your kindness. I’m sorry that you too are unable to continue to create your own works of art. It is the hardest of things to lose, our ability to create something out of nothing. The most basic form of drawing is graphite pencil drawing. Even after I advanced through the higher levels of art courses, graphite drawing was still one of my favorite forms of art. It was challenging yet relaxing and I spent many happy hours at it.

    My father, also an artist, often commented about the authenticity of my realistic portraiture. That was the greatest compliment I ever received and I cherish the memory of it. Today I can no longer use graphite pencils nor can I make art prints via varying matrices as the carving similar to that in woodworking demands hand strength and control I no longer have. But I can still paint and sculpt. So I do what I can. Like you I can normally only commit to about 15-20 minutes on before my hands ache and I lose all my strength but it is something. I guess I cope by being thankful that I was blessed with this talent and enjoyed it for so many years. That I still have some of my pieces and paintings to enjoy is also helpful.

    I also take inspiration from one of my favorite painters Auguste Renoir who for the last third of his life suffered from debilitating RA to the point that he would need to tie the paintbrushes to his hand in order to paint. He never let RA prevent him from painting even on the last day of his life. If you are interested, here’s an article about Renoir and the RA he suffered and overcame: https://www.everydayhealth.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/symptoms/renoir-persevered-despite-rheumatoid-arthritis/

    I am no Renoir but I strive to be like him. All my best to you. I pray you continue to be able to sew (something I could never master) and enjoy every moment of it. Gentle hugs, CynthiaV

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    1 month ago

    Cynthia,
    I’m so sorry about the gradual loss of your precious gift. I think gifts are the hardest to lose. Good for you for continuing to use your gift especially when it is not perfect. You are an example of not giving up.
    Your cats are smart! My one dog follows me through the kitchen, but she is fast when I drop a knife. At least my kitchen floor stays clean!
    Gentle hugs,
    Mary Sophia

  • Cynthia Ventura moderator
    4 weeks ago

    Thank you Mary Sophia. You’re dog is smart being on the alert to jump out of the way of that gyrating knife…lol

    Regarding my art, like many of us, I continue because quitting just isn’t in my vocabulary. I also find too much joy in continuing the artwork I am still capable of creating. Stopping some of the things I once did so easily was difficult enough; giving everything up would have been devastating. My less than perfect artwork is distressing at times since I am a perfectionist but I have learned too to lose that way of thinking. Just doing is a victory now. Thanks for your kindness and gentle hugs to you.

  • kat-elton author
    1 month ago

    Well Cynthia, I bet the pieces you made in the past are quite precious to you and your loved ones now! That’s funny about your cats, another example of how smart they are! Thanks for chiming in.

  • Cynthia Ventura moderator
    4 weeks ago

    Hi kat-elton. Yes, we enjoy the pieces I still own. I’ve even had people offer me money for the sculptures but I would never part with them. They and the other artwork I have are a part of the pre-RA me and I don’t want to part with that now plus much love went into creating them and as you say, they are quite precious to me and my family.

    Yes indeed, my cats like most are highly intelligent and take good care of themselves. I wish I could be more like them and nap more often, play when I feel like it, eat only when I’m hungry, drink plenty of water and show myself more self love. We could all learn from cats. Be well and all my best, Cynthia

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