My RA Toolbox

My RA Toolbox

Last updated: January 2019

My hands were giving me some guff recently (as they do). I was wearing my favorite compression gloves already, I’d applied over-the-counter lidocaine cream, and I’d swallowed a dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol). This was on top of the fistful of other prescription drugs I take, every day, morning, and night, to treat my RD.

But none of them were making a dent in my hand-and-wrist pain.

I have a prescription for an opioid pain reliever, but taking it is always my last choice after everything else I try fails. So, I left that little white pill in its bottle while I considered my other options.

If you’re reading this, you probably cope with the frequent joint pain caused by rheumatoid disease (arthritis), too. And if you’re like me, you go through all kinds of gyrations before finally succumbing to swallowing an opioid.

Starting with the less strong stuff

But on this recent day, I wasn’t ready yet to take the strong stuff. My hands hurt—a lot—but they hadn’t hit pain pill level yet. I wanted to be “good.” I wanted to use “alternative methods.’ After all, our government and our doctors tell us earnestly that these are, by far, much better ways to treat our intractable chronic pain.

I went into the bathroom and ran the sink full of the hottest water I could bear. I submerged my hands, past my wrists, halfway up to my elbows, sighing as the heat suffused my skin and warmed them down to the aching bones. I closed my eyes. Mmmm.

Of course, standing at the sink halfway up to my elbows in hot water gets old within a minute or two. It’s b-o-r-i-n-g, right? And, because I wasn’t moving, the balls of my feet started to ache. Then my ankles joined the chorus, with my Achilles tendons singing soprano. Unbelievable!

Sometimes, distractions help with RA pain

Well, I pulled my hands out of the soothing, hot water, dried them off, and drained the sink. Now what? I paced for a while, gingerly, before flopping into the recliner with my Kindle. Maybe, I thought, I can lose myself in a good book and forget—at least for a while—that my hands hurt.

“Reading is a wonderful distraction from pain! Yes! You know it is, and you can do this! It will work!” my Always Optimistic Cognitive Behavior Therapy Self-said, trying not to be snarky. So, I opened a recent purchase: a new book about Robert Kennedy. He was assassinated in 1968, not long after he started his campaign for President. I was 12. I remember the news on television, the horror and sadness in the journalists’ faces and voices, and the somber hush in our living room. Another great man, gone.

Anyway. Time for a trip down Memory Lane—a perfect foil for pain. And so it was, until it came up on time to make dinner. Now, I love to cook, but the fun goes right out of it when it hurts to prep the meal. Forget chopping. Forget lifting heavy pots. Fuggedaboudit.

But sometimes you need the RA pain meds

I hate to admit it, but I gave up, then. I went back to my room and took a pill. As I did, though, I remembered my old paraffin bath. Now there’s a great, if temporary, way to soothe away joint pain! I’d put it away last year, during the hottest part of the summer, unable to bring myself to immerse my hands in hot wax when the patio plants were frying and the asphalt was melting in the sun. But now it was damp and cool outside, winter’s equivalent around here. That deep, penetrating heat on my hands and wrists would feel heavenly!

But where did I stash my paraffin bath? I looked everywhere I could think of, but I couldn’t find it, not in cupboards, in closets, or under the bed. It was nowhere.

By then, though, the pill was kicking in. I’d like to note here, just in case anyone’s feeling all judgy and calling me an addict: there is no high. Taking an opioid pain reliever makes me feel just the same as taking OTC acetaminophen--except between a half an hour and 45 minutes after taking it my nasty joint pain fades away into the background. Oh, it’s still there. I’m aware of it. But it doesn’t live in the front of my mind anymore, which means I can get on with living my life, minus moment-to-moment pain. I can cook a meal, do chores, do most things.

I found my paraffin bath today. I’d tucked it into the compartment inside a footstool, which seemed like a perfectly good, out-of-the-way place for it at the time. Now it’s back on my desk, the wax is slowly melting, and I’m looking forward to dipping my hands into it later, again and again, until I have thick wax gloves of warmth on them. It will help soothe today’s wrist and knuckle pain.

I also found my old book of Tao sayings, perfect for peaceful meditation as I wait for the paraffin on my hands to cool. Meditation is helpful in coping with pain, too. Doesn’t have to be all woo-woo, just a few minutes of quiet, like temporarily taking a gentle step back, out of the rushing world. I always end a little stronger, a little more hopeful, and a little more optimistic, even if I still hurt.

Which I do, often. I have RD. It’s incurable. That’s just how it is. And this is my RD toolbox. What’s in yours?

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

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