I woke up the morning of my latest rheumatology appointment with tender, achy hands and feet. Out of sorts and frustrated, I gimped to the bathroom to take my morning meds, including a Tramadol. As I swallowed it, not expecting much in terms of relief but resigned to trying—I have to do something, I thought—it occurred to me that once again, my pain was new.
New. You’d think after all these years I’d be used to my achy, tender fingers and feet. I’ve experienced them—literally—thousands, maybe even millions of times. But pain, somehow, always comes back brand new and reborn.
So does my reaction to it.
Initially, it’s a sort of “whaaa?” feeling, like I can’t quite believe it. Then comes aggravation, then resignation coupled with a low sense of aggrieved anger. Again?! I think as I lift my coffee mug, wincing. Really? Again??
I run through what I did the day before, looking for reasons. I need something to blame for this pain.
So let’s see: I got up. I pulled on my slipper-socks. I filled the coffee pot with water and, because it hurt my hands, I used both of them to pour it into the coffeemaker. I drank my coffee while reading and tapping out emails. Had a shower—toweling off had me wincing, too, as the small joints in my hands don’t like all that pushing and tugging. At lunchtime, I yelped when I cut my sandwich in half. You know, the pressure on the knife…
The rest of the day went pretty much along those lines. I did some writing, which requires typing on my laptop’s keyboard, but that’s gentle exercise, really. I only rarely hurt enough that I can’t stand to press down on the keys, and I’ve often wondered how bad my hands might be without it. Use it or lose it, they say.
I also worked on some artwork, which is pretty hand-intensive. I stopped and rested my hands frequently as I went, waiting for the pain to subside before picking up my pencil again. OK, that could have been why my hands were so bad the next morning, but I sort of doubted it. They weren’t really any worse than they were on days when I didn’t do my art.
As for my feet … well, I walked around the house. I walked to the mailbox. Mom and I walked to a nearby café for dinner the night before, but that was only a couple of blocks. I hadn’t done anything, really, that might explain feet that felt like I’d been standing on them all night long.
In the end—as always—I had to admit I could only blame my rheumatoid disease itself for my painful hands and tootsies. It was acting exactly as it was supposed to: attacking the synovial tissues in those small, incredibly tough and resilient joints. And given that I’d managed to get on with things in spite of it for close to three decades already, I figured that I’d just suck it up and keep on keeping on, like always.
And then, I felt grateful, too. I know so many people whose rheumatoid disease is so much worse than mine. I know people who’re in awful pain almost all the time. Lots of people end up with disabilities, forced to stop working. Many have to stop doing the things they love most. Yet almost all of them still face each day with incredible courage and amazing lightheartedness. They all—like me and my grumpy hands and feet—just get on with their lives. Their bravery humbles me, but at the same time, it gives me hope. When I look at all the things I can do, the things I can’t, don’t seem quite as overwhelming.
My hands have gotten a little worse since that morning. I still get cranky when it hurts to open my Tramadol bottle or tear a wad of toilet paper off the roll first thing in the morning (and yes, throughout the day). But you know what?
It could always be worse. I’m grateful for that.