Wake Up Reminder

I received shocking news recently that I'm still trying to digest and accept. A family friend--a 61 year-old wife, mother, and grandmother--was found lying dead on her kitchen floor. When her husband discovered her that late afternoon, the TV was still on in the living room, droning away. Cold, uneaten toast sat on the counter, breakfast interrupted. A life interrupted, it seemed. I had known her since I was a kid, and this news of her sudden death seemed unbelievable. However she did suffer from multiple health conditions, so I suppose in some ways this news wasn't a total shock. She was not a physically healthy person in many respects.

"Susan" I'll call her, suffered from diabetes and was morbidly obese (she had been obese ever since I knew her). She probably had other health issues of which I wasn't even aware. Her death was likely the result of a heart attack or stroke, but unfortunately her family decided against doing an autopsy, so we will never know for sure what happened. That decision is a personal choice of the family's, of course, but if it were my mother, I'd want to know. I think not knowing would haunt me and make me anxious for the future health of myself, my sibling, and my future kids.

Did Susan give herself too much insulin and go into diabetic shock? Did she have a heart attack as a result from the diabetes? Was it a random heart attack or stroke? Aneurysm? Overdose of other medication? There are so many questions and it's frightening to think about the possibilities. If it was just a random, out of the blue heart attack, that's one thing. But if Susan's death resulted from a medication overdose, or was due to human error while managing her diabetes, it's kind of terrifying to think about how close to the edge some of us with chronic health illnesses may be living.

Susan's death made me stop and realize the seriousness of my own disease, and of the potency of the several medications I take--that I've been taking for years. After having RA for many years, I know I get complacent about it sometimes. Managing my disease has become a daily part of my life, a tedious routine that I try not to dwell on too much. While I think it's good to not be constantly worrying about having RA and fixating on all of the negative things that come with it, it's also not good to fall into denial, apathy, or complacency. Living with RA is a very serious thing, and not just the disease, but the medications and treatments as well. It's all risky and sometimes I know that I'm not as careful as I should be, regarding taking prescriptions exactly as prescribed, or watching what I ingest into my body (food, drink, over-the-counter medications). I also often get careless about watching my stress levels and giving myself the time and permission to relax, de-stress, and just take better care of myself mentally and emotionally.

However, I'm definitely not in denial about having RA. How can I be when I'm met with pain as soon as I wake up every morning? Managing my RA has become my top priority in life, out of necessity. I diligently stay in touch with my rheumatologist, go to doctor appointments, get my prescriptions filled on time, and seek out additional opinions when needed. It may sound strange or crazy, but despite having this full-time RA "job," I do often forget what a serious disease it is. And that I need to be constantly mindful of what's going on with my body and my health. I don't want to drop dead in my kitchen some morning because of a drug interaction or something else that could be prevented. I also don't want to live my life forgetting that having RA is a serious thing. It's a big deal; I need to remember that and so do the other people in my life.

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