The Miracle of a Well-Timed Good Day

The unpredictable nature of rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease (RA/RD) is an incredibly frustrating aspect of living with this disease. While I’d rather have intense pain intermittently than relentlessly, it is difficult to make plans and commitments when I can’t have a modicum of confidence that I’ll be feeling okay on any given day.

Never knowing when a flare might strike, I am all too familiar with the disappointment of missing out on something important because I was in too much pain. Among the most prominent in my memory are last-minute cancellations of a trip to Asia and a cross-country trip to attend my beloved cousin’s wedding.  I still have small pangs of disappointment when I see video footage of the countries I would have visited or photos of my cousin’s wedding day.

Then there are the countless times I’ve had to stay home in bed instead of attending gatherings with family or friends, seeing out-of-town visitors, or going to events I’d purchased tickets to. Those of us who live with RA/RD know that disappointment is a symptom of this disease.

Experiencing a good day with RA

The silver lining of the horrendous storm cloud that is RA/RD is that when I get a “good day,” I do not take it for granted. Often, this is just a routine day where I am able to go to work without too much pain, get some exercise at some point in the day, and be in a good mood and able to cuddle with my kids in the evening. That is a beautiful thing, and when I have such days I breathe them in like oxygen after being in a room full of smoke.

When a good day falls on a day I have something special planned, it’s even better, rising to the level of a minor miracle.

Timing is everything

I recently had one of those miraculous well-timed good days. Every year my community hosts an MLK Day of Service on the January holiday. My family of four always participates, although some years I am able to be more hands-on than others. Married to an arborist, I often find myself participating in projects involving trees. Last year putting seedlings into holes dug by my children was the most I could muster, and I was grateful to be able to do it.

This year, for whatever amazing alignment of good circumstances that made it possible, I was able to really work. I tackled a giant mulch pile, shoveling it into wheelbarrows, carting loads to newly planted trees, and raking it smooth. While I did this I met other volunteers and loved the camaraderie of a shared goal. I reveled in my body’s temporary ability to perform manual labor, allowing me to connect with the earth, the sunshine,  and with other humans. My children said with surprise, “Mommy, you’re sweaty!” They are used to seeing their father in action while their mother sits on the sideline, so I was thrilled to have my perspiration commented on.

I felt fully alive, vital and healthy.

Of course, RA/RD can occasionally get knocked down, but it doesn’t stay in its corner for long. My body started protesting, letting me know enough was enough. After a couple of hours, I was keenly aware of how I was rolling the dice in using my body so intensely. I made a wish that a severe flare wasn’t in the wings. When I got home I took the maximum amount of ibuprofen my doctor advises. By late afternoon, my hips and knees started locking up, and achiness soaked through my shoulders, elbows, and wrists. I steeped my body in a hot bath, and that night took a muscle relaxer and cranked up my heated mattress pad. In spite of my activity hangover already ramping up, I felt so happy to know that my body is still capable of truly working, at least once in a while.

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