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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?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • mp44sturm
    1 year ago

    My canary? When I can’t handle the thought of standing in the shower in the morning and opt to sit in the bathtub instead.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi Chinesebarbie, sounds like maybe you should consider sitting in the shower. I used a bench myself and find it very convenient for sitting while showering. Take care! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • rockcandi
    1 year ago

    Mine are my ankles and fingers. They all hurt all the time, but way more as an impending flare becomes evident in them. Kelly, I believe it was you and I who’d discussed that when we were kids we hid our pills from our moms. I also noticed that you said that before your canaries were your left knee and right hip. Those were mine too! When I was a kid it was my left knee and as I became an older teen and young adult it was my right hip. Then it was my heels of all things but still my hips, especially right, that put me down, unable to walk. Thank the good Lord that hasn’t happened for a long time (being unable to walk). Now when a flare is coming or I’m flared up (like right now) my ankles are screaming at me and my fingers are aching and I’m constantly dropping things.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hi rockcandi, thanks for sharing! Yes, we have the early joints and the pill hiding in common. I was just joking with my husband about it and promised him that I no longer hide my pills. 😉 Take care of those canaries! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    1 year ago

    Fingers crossed, rockcandi!! I hope the Actemra works on its own!! All the best, Monica

  • rockcandi
    1 year ago

    I’m glad you no longer hide your meds lol. I, however, haven’t grown out of that! I don’t actually hide them but I have to talk myself into taking my Methotrexate pills. And my husband often asks me, Did you take your medicine? I’m just starting infusions though so no more allowing myself to have excuses why I can’t take my methotrexate on certain days. Not taking it anymore for now, and praying Actemra infusions work well enough on it’s own that I don’t have to add MTX back to my regime.

  • Nitrobunny
    1 year ago

    Indeed ignoring the canary comes with a huge price. I think that’s a lesson we all learn the hard way but it’s the truth.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 year ago

    True Nitrobunny! We ignore the canary at our peril! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    1 year ago

    My canary? It is sleeping 12 hours. When I crash for 12 hours I know the world is likely to get rough before it gets better.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 year ago

    That is a really good observation, Rick. I should pay more attention to those times when I crash and sleep a long time too. Could be telling me something! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    1 year ago

    I need to start keeping track of these types of trends too…I am sure I have a canary but I just don’t know where it is right now! It might even help me decrease the intensity of the coming flare!

    Thanks Kelly for such a great article!

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks Monica! Keep on observing your patterns and I’m sure you will find one (or several). Take care! Best, Kelly (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

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