A woman wearing a wrist brace screaming out in pain while holding her wrist

Wrist-y Business

My right wrist, AKA my "bad RA wrist," has been flaring up for over a month, causing major limitations and disruptions in my life. I'm not dealing very well with this, probably because my wrist hasn't flared up this severely in many, many years. Not since 2004, I think. So why now? As usual, I have no idea, and I just keep hoping and praying that it will get better again soon. I'm also taking a prednisone burst right now, which is helping a little, but it's not completely taking care of it.

How my RA wrist pain began

This lumpy, damaged joint of mine--with little white scars dotted across my hand from a failed surgery--first started giving me problems not that long after I was diagnosed with RA. Maybe about a year later? I was a college student at the time and, as a commuter, I usually had to park my car far from where my classes were held and walk a long way across campus while dragging a heavy backpack crammed full of books.

I was still trying to figure out RA

Being right-handed, and using my right hand and wrist for nearly everything, lugging books and other stuff around with me every day probably wasn't a smart idea back then. Not smart for my RA and joints, that is. But what else could I do? I was a 19-20 year-old college student and I was still figuring out how to cope with suddenly having a painful, chronic, incurable disease. I didn't know what the heck I was doing. With anything.

My wrist pain was getting worse

So I carried on: going to classes, doing homework, taking my RA medications, staying in touch with my rheumatologist, carrying loads of books and a growing load of worries. As the months passed, the pain and swelling in my wrist grew worse and increasingly unbearable. I remember feeling panic and devastation at the thought of this pain never going away.

The flare-up I'm having right now immediately conjures up clear, strong memories of my former wrist troubles--shooting, stabbing, burning, intense, and intractable pain. I remember it was extremely difficult doing almost everything: getting dressed, taking a shower, fixing my hair, brushing my teeth, driving, carrying things, opening bottles and containers, cooking, shopping, opening doors and drawers, writing, typing, lifting, and even doing nothing with my hand or wrist. It hurt, severely, all the time--as it does right now.

Would surgery alleviate my wrist pain?

In the summer of 1999, my rheumatologist finally sent me to an orthopedic doctor who recommended arthroscopic surgery on my wrist--a synovectomy. But by this time, the RA inflammation had permanently ravaged my joint, eating away at the cartilage and bone. The surgery helped a little bit, but the damage was done. Post-surgery, I was left with a destroyed wrist and often excruciating pain, which forced me to wear an uncomfortable and ugly custom-made beige brace day and night. Without the brace, I literally could do nothing with my right hand and wrist.

A pleasant, welcomed surpise

Fast forward to circa 2004, when for some mysterious reason my wrist pain suddenly got better. A lot better. So much better that I was able to take off that disgusting brace and throw away all of my splints and wraps and braces. A MIRACLE! I was so happy and relieved by this development and my wrist remained significantly better from then onward. Over the years I would have a few minor flare-ups here and there, but nothing compared to my pre-surgery days and the 3-4 years of intense pain that followed. Until now. The debilitating, stabbing-shooting pain is back. And so is an ugly wrist brace.

Why is this major flare up happening again?

Of course the questions that keep going through my mind and tormenting me are: Why is this happening again? Why now? Why, why, why? There are no answers, of course. Only guesses. And this is one aspect of RA that's so maddening: you never know what RA will do, when it will strike, and when/if a flare-up will go away.

How long will this last?

Understandably, I'm terrified that my wrist isn't going to calm down and go back to "normal." I keep panicking about this scenario, thinking, What if it doesn't get better? What if it doesn't go away? How can I live like this? I realize that I coped and lived with it last time, so many years ago, however, I was much younger then. But what choice do I have? I can't chop my hand off, no matter how much I want to most days. Now I worry that I'm just too exhausted and worn-down to handle this again.

As I continue to wait for the prednisone to work its magic, and I wear this horrendous brace on my wrist, I'm trying to do other things that might help: taking my medications diligently, rest, ice packs, "clean" eating and sticking to my vegan diet. I don't know what else to do, honestly. I just really, really, REALLY want this wrist to get better so I can get back to living my life.

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