When I was a little girl, I hated getting shots. Annual vaccinations for school were bad enough but when you were sick and had to go to the doctor, it was even worse. That was because when you got a shot (as opposed to, for example, that great cherry-tasting cough syrup), that meant you were REALLY SICK. That’s what our friends said: “She was REALLY SICK. She had to get a shot and everything.”

The first time I gave myself an injection was in the hospital after my hip replacement surgery. As a precaution against blood clots, knee- and hip-replacement patients are routinely prescribed blood thinners for a period during recovery. The new oral medications hadn’t yet been introduced, so the drug of my surgeon’s choice was Lovenox® which is a daily injection, administered in the abdomen. By this time I was old enough to quit being quite so squeamish getting shots given to me by others, but never in a million years did I ever imagine actually having the courage to stick a hypodermic needle into my own skin. (I swore I’d never become a drug addict because I could never stand to give myself a shot.)

That first self-injection was fairly early after my RA diagnosis. I’ve learned since then that RA presents us with a number of hurdles.

Of course, a major challenge is the emotional hurdle of just getting the diagnosis of a progressive, currently incurable disease. While you’re still reeling from that news, it seems that new challenges come at you at an accelerating rate – significant drugs (and associated medical expenses), frequent lab visits, physical therapy, and perhaps surgeries. Who among us, during our (less-enlightened) younger days did not look upon a disabled person with pity? So the first time we use a cane or other assistive device, while needed, is yet another hurdle we must cross.

The good news is, once you cross the hurdle, it usually becomes easier to handle. The old phrase that familiarity breeds contempt holds some truth in that doctors and needles and canes (oh my!) cease to have the power of fear over us. It’s still not necessarily pleasant, but at least the terror of the unknown recedes.

I think the bad news is that often our medical teams don’t understand that things they deal with on a daily basis present these kinds of challenges for us. Trust me, the word “new” when it is used in the same sentence with something to be applied to or injected in my body is not a good thing for me. The terror of the unknown rears its ugly head all over again. In becoming our own advocates, we need to remind ourselves that it’s okay to tell our doctors that something makes us uncomfortable and ask for some additional reassurance.

While the hurdles may get smaller and easier to navigate, I find that they never quite disappear. I have hurdles every morning just getting showered and dressed for the day. Some days those hurdles are a bit higher, a bit harder to leap over, and it takes me longer than others.

Of all the things that RA does, I can say firmly that it does not make your life easier. But it does have the capacity to make you stronger and better able to face the hurdles.

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