As many of you know, my introduction to arthritis came in 2003 when I fell about 15 feet rock-climbing (http://www.paintalks.com/why-i-hurt-and-dont-mind-part-1/). It is now 10 years later and I’ve had 7 surgeries, countless injections, many, many MRI’s, and spent $100k plus on medical bills. I’m currently battling chronic gout in my lower back and hands/wrists along with osteoarthritis in most of my other joints. Every day I get more recommendations from other patients that I get blood work done for seronegative RA or seronegative AS because the pain in my back and neck seem to be getting worse and not better as time goes on. Despite all of this though, I realized recently while trying to run my first complete mile in 10 years (I was almost successful) that I don’t regret that fall despite all the pain and suffering it has cost me.
Leading up to my rock-climbing fall I was heading nowhere in life. I had a Political Science degree but no job prospects outside of physical labor jobs. My income consisted of delivering for a local greenhouse and teaching skiing in the winter. With student loan payments and credit card debt hanging over my head I was heading for financial disaster. Of course, being in my 20s and indestructible I had no health insurance either. Short story, I needed to make a serious change in my.
That change came around 7pm the night I fell. Looking back at it now it seems almost like a TV show or movie. One second the lead character is enjoying life with no health problems and the next second they are laid up in the hospital waiting for the surgeon to put them back together. With me it was about 30 seconds between falling and realizing surgeons would be putting back together for many years to come. Humpty Dumpty had definitely fallen off the wall!!!
As anyone with any kind of arthritis will tell you, pain makes you adjust everything you do in life from the simplest problem like eating to complex social interactions with other people. My first experience of adjusting to pain came the first morning after I had got home from the 3-day hospital stay my fall had caused. I wanted Eggo’s for breakfast that morning but quickly realized that since my toaster was on the bottom shelf near the floor. There was no way I would be able to get it out my normal, conventional way. After taking a few moments I was able to devise a plan to get the toaster onto a rug then pull the rug over to a chair that I could sit in which would allow me to pick up the toaster. Success was mine, which meant that I still had some independence to eat what I wanted too that morning. It also meant that I was developing the necessary skills to approach an everyday problem with new fresh eyes which was something that I was lacking before I fell.
As anyone who consumes Eggo’s for breakfast will tell you, brushing ones teeth after eating them is a must. Once again though, my fall made it so something as simple as brushing ones teeth was now a difficult and painful task. I would not be able to retrieve my toothbrush and toothpaste out of the bathroom cabinet like I normally would (If you want a challenge, try brushing your teeth or shampooing your hair with one arm only. It’s harder than it sounds!) This doesn’t even take in to account how I was going to get the toothpaste onto my toothbrush. Once again pain was demanding that I look at the world differently, something I was not doing before the fall.
One of the prouder moments of my life came about 5 months after my fall. I had been in physical therapy for my broken wrist 3 times a week since the accident. After hours and hours of work, frustration, and sweat I was finally able to touch my thumb to my little finger. The pain, swelling, and severity of the fall had prevented me from accomplishing this simple task that others take for granted before that point. This was the first time that I realized the importance of taking a moment to enjoy even a little victory in life. Before I fell I was only interested in skiing the steepest run or climbing the tallest rock. I had forgot to enjoy all of life, not just the most extreme aspects of it.
Enjoying all of life is extremely difficult when one is pretty much always in pain. Despite this though, I have enjoyed earning a second degree in Accounting, buying my first home, and meeting new and stimulating people fighting arthritis themselves. I’ve testified before a joint session of the Health and Welfare Committee of the Idaho Legislature about Arthritis Awareness, talked to patients going through similar experiences, got a full-time job in Accounting, and have made complete strangers smile and laugh with my blog. I’m even within 20 yards of being able to run a full mile without walking which is something I haven’t done in 10 years! Each day I’m adjusting more to the pain which means I’m asking, “O.K., what is next?” instead of “I hurt to bad to do that”. All of this can be either directly or indirectly related to falling that night which is why I don’t regret my accident.
What is next for me? My next challenge is attending Medicine X at Stanford University. Yes, this broken rock-climber won a scholarship to attend this weekend long conference in September at the Stanford University School of Medicine. I’m now a Stanford MedX ePatient Scholar, definitely a phrase that I would have never uttered before my fall. The goal of the conference is to “be a catalyst for new ideas about the future of medicine and health care. The Medicine X initiative is designed to explore the potential of social media and information technology to advance the practice of medicine, improve health, and empower patients to be active participants in their own care. The “X” is meant to evoke a move beyond numbers and trends—it represents the infinite possibilities for current and future information technologies to improve health.” So far I’m both proud of being chosen to receive a scholarship but also scared because these people are incredibly intelligent in this field.
Now, it is easy to regret anything in life that causes pain. This can lead to a “victim” mentality that can cause a person to miss out on life. Now, I know I play the “victim” card from time to time. With pain its hard not too. The trick is to realize that pain will make it harder to enjoy life but it makes even the simplest of victories easier to enjoy! That is the main point of this post. I don’t regret falling and the pain it has caused. Even if some might consider this bragging, I needed to put to paper everything I’ve accomplished in the last 10 years as a reminder of my potential for the next 10 years. As Gary Allen sings, “Life ain’t always beautiful but it’s a beautiful ride.”
P.S. Be sure to check out www.curearthritis.org! They are great people raising $$$ and awareness for arthritis in order to race for a cure.