I have long loved IKEA. Years before a store came to Atlanta, I used to love leafing through the catalog of perfectly constructed rooms, with their clever touches and modern style. I know plenty of people who don’t like the company for reasons ranging from pressed wood to assembly headaches to the difficulty in finding staff assistance, but I’ve been happy to deal with the inconveniences in order to get those unbeatable furniture prices. Anytime I go to a traditional furniture store I experience an acute case of sticker shock, so my husband and I have continued to shop at IKEA for purchases of new furniture. It has worked out well for us, but the key has been that in the past my husband has always helped me shop for and assemble the furniture. This summer, I tried doing it solo, and I quickly regretted it.

As an employee of a public school system, I have summers off. My husband owns a tree care company, and summer is his busiest time of year. So I decided that my kids and I would venture to IKEA together. There was an armoire I had had my eye on for months that only cost $200, so even when factoring in the 70-mile drive and the time spent on assembly, it was a steal of a deal. What I didn’t factor in was the pain.

I was feeling pretty good on the day of the shopping trip. However, after a couple of hours on my feet in the store (my son wanted to touch every single thing in the kids section), my knees and hips were achy. By the time I made it to the warehouse and started lugging the three heavy boxes containing the pieces of my armoire onto the flatbed cart, my wrists and fingers contributed their voices to the chorus of cries coming from my joints. Pushing the cart to checkout was painful, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been so grateful to hear the words, “Can I help you with that?” as I was when an IKEA employee offered to assist me in getting my flatbed to the loading dock. He asked me to pull my van around, and he loaded all the boxes into the back single-handedly. In the past my husband has always done this part, so I was so thankful that I didn’t have to do it (and the $5 tip I gave him felt like the best five dollars I’ve ever spent).

On the drive home, I wondered what I had been thinking. After all, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 15 years ago, so I chastised myself for not being better aware of my limits. Yet, it seems that no matter how long I have this disease, I still forget that I have additional challenges to contend with, and that the low-low price tag comes at a higher price for me. I would reflect on that for the next several days during part two of this saga: assembly.

You see, having the boxes selected, paid for, loaded into my van, and driven the 70 miles to my home was only the beginning. I still had to assemble the armoire. I have put together myriad pieces of furniture in my lifetime, and I’m pretty handy at it. However, this is a large armoire, and required far more steps than I’m accustomed to. When I got home I was in too much pain to attempt it, so I waited until the next day. After the first couple of screws, I called my husband to ask where he’d put the drill, as my wrists were aching after two minutes with a screwdriver. Even with the drill, removing the wrist-twisting action from the assembly, it was still a very physical job, and I had to stop after an hour. I ended up putting it together over a series of four sessions. The scenario of having a large, partially assembled piece of furniture on the floor with two small kids in the house is far from ideal. During one session, my three-year old son woke up from his nap, and before I had a chance to pick up all the hardware he grabbed a handful of screws and threw them into the silo of a plastic toy barn that features a spiraling slide. I had to send several balls through the silo before I could account for all the missing pieces. These are the minor irritations that can come up when RA prevents me from completing a job in one sitting.

Eventually, the armoire was finally put together, and it’s beautiful. Without taking a close look, I don’t think anyone would know it only cost $200. It has increased my clothing storage and looks lovely in our bedroom. Yet, I can’t look at it without thinking of the physical pain that went into buying and assembling it. This is life with rheumatoid arthritis; it factors into everyday activities in all sorts of unexpected ways. People without this disease have only to think about the color, style and price of the furniture they want. Those of us with RA have to decide if a savings in dollars is worth an expense in pain and inflammation. After my first session working on assembling that armoire, I regretted my decision, but by that point it was too late to turn back. Instead, I had to shift what should have been a one-session job into a project that required days to complete. So often this is the shape that my life with RA takes, where I feel like others are on an express train while my engine is plodding along stopping at every station. I eventually get to my final destination, but my RA makes it take so much longer to get there.

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