Two hands, one is in flare with flame on it holding a lemon. The other is flare-less and holding a cup of lemonade

When Rheumatoid Arthritis Gives You Lemons

About a month ago I had my fifth surgery, all of them needed because of my juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Surgery is a big deal, especially when you live with RA. There are increased risks of infection, increased possibility of cardiac events post-surgery, and the issues with stopping RA medications before the surgery. Not having your medication in your body is important for healing well, but not so helpful functionally, which means that you may need even more help than you think.

My approach for surgery & surgery recovery

Since I’ve done this before, I know the best way for me to approach surgery: plan well for getting the support I need after the surgery, find a surgeon I have complete confidence in, do everything I can to set myself up for a full recovery by following all the guidelines I get from my rheumatologist and my surgeon, and get in a positive headspace going in.

The impact of rheumatoid arthritis on surgery planning

The truth is, it never really happens that way. Inevitably, something gets in the way of my plans. This time, I was told by my rheumatologist that I needed to wait three months after my infusion to have the surgery; so, I planned to have it in late January. But less than two months after the infusion, my hand got much worse and I needed the surgery sooner in order to protect my tendons.

So, I talked it through with my rheumatologist and surgeon, and we decided to go ahead. There went my planning and my positive headspace.

Life events made it hard to have a positive surgery experience

One thing JRA has taught me is how to adapt in the moment. Whether it’s a sleepless night before a trip or a flare-up the day I’m starting a new job, I’ve learned how to figure it out and keep going.

Having surgery was the last thing I needed

Life for me a month ago was not in any way set up for an easy, positive surgery experience. I had to be on a high-risk infection protocol during the holidays when I had planned to be with my family as much as possible. I just bought a townhome, and had planned on doing much of the unpacking and cooking for after the surgery in the month I thought I had. And my brother is dealing with autoimmune issues of his own that have escalated quickly and he needs the support of the family more than I do right now. So much is going on in my life: going through a surgery that leaves me one-handed for six weeks at least is the last thing I need.

I'm healing slower from surgery

But then again, we all know that RA is never convenient: it always makes things more difficult. At times, the difficulty it brings can be overwhelming, and right now I am smack dab in the middle of overwhelmed. As expected, I’m healing slower than I would be if I had waited to have the surgery, I’m sitting in a condo surrounded by boxes, my brother is getting worse, and all I want is to be able to help, instead of needing help.

A more positive outlook for surgery recovery

I do have one thing in my back pocket, however; this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been here before, many times, and I know that my situation will eventually change. I also know that until it does, I really need to figure out a way to stay as healthy and as happy as possible, because if I give into worry or despair, my already hard life will get much harder.

Going back to basics for surgery recovery

So, I’m going back to basics. I’m connecting with my friends who always know how to bolster my spirits, including my fellow Health Union advocates. I’m diligent with my post-surgery hand exercises and therapy. I’m eating and resting as much as possible. I count my blessings every day when I think about the number of family members, and friends that are jumping at the chance to help me in any way I need. I’m not letting myself picture any outcome for me and my brother except for the best-case scenario. And I’m taking my life day-by-day.

Summer’s coming, and when it does, I plan on having a big smile of relief on my face.
 

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