Rolling The Dice

Rheumatoid arthritis is an unpredictable disease. It’s impossible to accurately foresee when it will flare, what part of the body will be affected, how intense the pain will be, and how long it will last. Due to the capricious nature of this condition, it’s incredibly difficult to predict what tasks I can accomplish without exacerbating my symptoms. Sometimes I participate in physically demanding (or at least physically demanding for me) activities dreading the potential recourse, yet find that I got a “get out of flare free card.” Other times I do a repetitive motion that doesn’t seem at all strenuous while I’m doing it, yet a few hours later I start to flare. While I frequently experience what I call an “activity hangover,” a moderate increases in pain and fatigue that isn’t as severe as a flare, I have a hard time predicting how intense my symptoms will be after any given activity. Therefore, living with this disease often leaves me feeling like a gambler, although instead of a big pot of cash, I’m hoping to win some pain-free productivity.

I have two small kids, and I recently bought them a trampoline that our neighbor was looking to unload at a yard sale. Rheumatoid arthritis has made trampolines far less appealing to me, as the shock absorption required by all the jumping makes me achy just thinking about it. However, we have a large back yard, I want my kids to get plenty of exercise, and the price was super cheap. So on a whim, I bought this trampoline, which was in good shape other than needing a replacement mat. I ordered the part, and figured the hardest part would be figuring out how to remove all the springs and hook them through the new mat without missing any holes. Wrong! It turns out there’s quite a bit of tension on those 96 springs, which anyone with a more scientific mind than mine would have immediately understood, and a lot of tugging was required to loosen them from the old mat, reattach them to the new mat, and pull them into place in the trampoline frame.

I am a determined individual, which has its benefits, but can also be a fault. Even before I realized how physically demanding it was to loosen and reattach the springs, I asked my husband to help me with this project. However, when the stars aligned with both kids taking a nap and finally having a sunny break in the weeks of rainy weather we’d been having, and I wanted to capitalize on this ideal time to replace the trampoline mat, my husband was wrapping up another project. I was determined to have the new mat in place before my kids woke up, as their curiosity would tempt them to be right in the center of the action. So, against my better judgment, I started working on the springs solo. Removing them wasn’t easy, but I was shocked at how hard I had to pull to stretch the metal coils to reattach them to their slots in the frame. In spite of having a tool designed for this purpose, so much force was required to pull the springs that my fingers started swelling after attaching the first three. With 93 to go, I knew I was rolling the dice by continuing.

If I had a crystal ball that could tell me the exact price I would pay for the exertion of completing a project, it would be so much easier to decide whether to continue. However, the odds are never clear. It’s possible I could stop after the third spring and still be hurting the next day, but it’s also possible that I could get through all the springs and only contend with a few hours of achiness and swelling. My body responds to a variety of elements that all contribute to my overall disease activity level. Some of these variables include how much rest I’ve had, how stressed out I am, whether the barometric pressure is stable, and how humid the air is, but there’s always a surprise element due to factors beyond my understanding. My confused immune system can seem like a stumbling drunk person, making it impossible to predict which direction it will sway next. Therefore, I can never tell what the odds are.

I ended up attaching about half of the springs, at which point pain began shooting through my wrists and fingers, and I realized it was time to cash my chips in. I hunted down my husband and told him his other project would have to wait, and he obliged and attached the remaining springs while I did the less strenuous work of lacing the safety net through the frame. The kids woke up shortly after we finished the job, and I watched them jump from the repose of a lounge chair, hoping that rest and ibuprofen would reduce the swelling enough to head off a flare, yet having no certainty whether the odds were in my favor.

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