What’s Your Canary?

What’s Your Canary?

Poor canary. Back before there were noxious gas detectors miners would carry a canary down into the shaft. The canary was the early warning system that deadly gases had been released during mining. For whatever reason, the tiny canary was more sensitive and when the bird keeled over the miners would be warned to run swiftly for the exit. Pretty gruesome.
But the early warning system is so apt for living with rheumatoid arthritis. I have a canary. It’s my right ankle.

The first sign of a flare

When I am about to have a bad day or a flare is beginning, my right ankle will begin to throb. It’s also the joint that screams at me when I have done too much walking and must sit down. It’s the canary that keeps coming back to haunt me, no matter what I do or what treatment I am taking.

Over the years I think I have had different warning symptoms. The first was my left knee. Then later my right hip. I suppose that since both my knees and hips were replaced when I was a teenager, that is why they do not serve in this capacity anymore. It makes me wonder, if I had an ankle replacement would it stop being my canary? If so, what other joints would take up the cause?

A new sign

In the last year, I’ve developed another canary. When I have RA fatigue, my wrists and forearms ache and throb. It’s a feeling of tiredness and pain deep in the bone. Sometimes I know this fatigue is partially my fault—like when I don’t get enough sleep I can easily predict that it will happen the next day. But most of the time it is just a sign of the unending hunger my RA has for rest.

I have learned that I need to pay attention to the RA canary. It cannot be ignored without consequences. If I don’t pay attention to what is happening, I will pay for it.

When my ankle starts its alert I usually take some extra prednisone right away. If it continues for more than a day or so, I may be entering flare territory and need to call my doctor to activate my RA flare plan. Sometimes my response means a lot of extra rest—as in staying in bed for the day or weekend. I can’t cure my RA, but I can baby it and hope that coddling my joints will help to alleviate the symptoms.

Lately, I have had some improvement in my RA and know that my ankle is helping to let me know that I am doing OK. When I’m going through my day I will take a pause and move my attention through my joints and down to my ankle. I may give it a little wriggle just to confirm that it is feeling OK. When the canary is quiet, I am happy and a little more at ease.

Do you have joints or symptoms that warn you of a tough RA day or flare? What’s your canary and how do you do your best to keep it happy and quiet?

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