40.5, RA

Just over six months ago I turned 40. I was temporarily unemployed, buried in coursework and trying to secure an internship but feeling mostly optimistic about life. My parents had surprised me with a long weekend visit and treated us to meals and snacks and great company. I had no major life complaints. I mean, I couldn’t open the resealable Sargento cheese packaging without a struggle and I suddenly needed Steve to open what seemed like every jar or can, but mostly happy and complaint free.

Sometime around Halloween I experienced some aching in my wrist and hands that I attributed to more frequent driving since I had started driving for Lyft shortly before that. I used ice packs, heating pads, super duper extra strength tylenol, advil that’s generally off limits as per weight loss surgery and I got a little crabby about it. The pains and cramps came and went, sometimes I would wake up with them and they’d go away by lunch, sometimes they would linger all day, and invite my elbow or shoulder to join.

In November I clearly remember being bummed about how I felt and trying everything I could think of , including sleeping on my back so I didn’t crush my arms, or sleeping with my arms out straight when I slept on my side. Some nights Steve moved to the couch and so some mornings I felt even worse. I had definitely begun experiencing depression, which is not wholly unfamiliar to me, so one morning I got myself up and dressed and went to a nearby park. I walked about two miles around, up and down steps, listened to music, laid in a pile of leaves and confessed my depression to Instagram and felt like I was gonnna be just fine…. until 2 am when I was in excruciating pain now in my hips, legs, ankles, feet and I was home alone laying in bed crying and asking out loud what the fuck was going on and ice packing, heating padding and adviling myself back to sleep.

Before I knew it, it was December and now my feet hurt frequently, a lot like my hands. Both feet, in the heel and the ball and the arch, I was trying to figure out how to walk without putting pressure on any of those points. Well, I thought, you’re out of shape and maybe those sneakers aren’t a great fit. I tabled exercise and slowly anything that required me to exert much effort. I felt exhausted and sad and heavy and uncomfortable in my body. I started wearing the same pair of flats, to my internship interview, to Christmas with Steve’s family, to the grocery store all hoping nobody would notice how I was walking and that another advil might keep me looking normal. I’m not a hypochondriac, I truly believed whatever was going on was my doing, so I wanted to take all the steps to remedy it before I went to my doctor because there had to be something I was missing.

I put a lot of time into trying to determine what I might have done or what I was doing that was causing my body to ache and rebel in such a frustrating manner. I did a lot of reading, a lot of trying supplements and diet modifications; I gave up keeping protein bars in my bag or buying them at all, I considered going dairy-free, gluten-free, seeing how many things I could hide turmeric root in, I started drinking tart cherry juice, I read about inflammation, bought plantar fasciitis braces from an Internet ad, cried myself to sleep, took stairs one at a time at the pace of a sloth and finally, at the end of January, when I took my flats off and my ankles were swollen, and there were visible deep lines areound my foot from my shoes and my my feet were swollen and misshapen looking I called my doctor the next morning.

The appointment was three days later and I was so hopeful that he would have an answer, because after all my trying and suffering I didn’t. And I didn’t know how to explain what I felt to anyone, it was a burning, aching, sometimes restless, sometimes felt like what I imagine a broken bone felt like pain that produced anxiety in the simplest tasks – getting out of bed, getting into and out of the car, any number of steps with out without a handrail. I didn’t tell anyone really, unless they saw me and I (felt I) had to explain myself. Coworkers at my internship who would end up in the back stairwell I was trying to hide in while doing my  toddler steps up or down – and hold the door for me (so nice!) but also watch me and make me more aware that this wasn’t normal.

The upshot of the whole doctor appointment, if you read the last post was he ordered some blood and xrays and said come back in a week. They did images to check for arthritis and he said everything looked normal and he wanted to move on. I pushed for a referral; a podiatrist, a neurologist, a rheumatologist, anyone who might have a different view or specialized eye. He gave me the name and number of a rheumatologist and had me come back in 2 weeks. I made the appointment that day but they didn’t have an opening for almost 2 months, “ Have your doctor call us and we can connect him to Dr.’s secretary and maybe they can get you in sooner” so I tell my doctor this at our next meeting, and he says “You should be fine” and let me tell you, I wasn’t.

It was such a dark time in my heart and my mind and I couldn’t even talk about it. I started to question how much pain I was in, and others didn’t see it or know it because I still worked and interned and cooked and grocery shopped and wrote papers and did all the things I had to do. As my appointment got closer I started to feel hopeful and then anxious, what if he couldn’t help me, what if this wasn’t something anyone could identify? I got sad, rather than happy thinking about the summer; I can’t walk a mile on a rocky dirt road to go to the car rally we go to, I can’t sit on a plane for 5 hours to fly to Colorado, or a few hours to visit my family. I would think about going to the gym, even for the treadmill when I would feel less pained in the evening, but in the morning when I had to hoist myself out of bed with the help of my dresser and penguin walk to the bathroom, I gave up the dream on Zumba.

This is long and if you’re still reading, let me tell you, I’m okay. The rheumatologist was the right referral; it’s nothing I did or could have prevented, it’s an auto-immune disease. He said it was a great catch by my pcp and juvenile as it may be, I had to take that credit for myself.

Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthrist, what a strange thing to feel relieved by; an incurable, degenerative auto-immune disease –  but after six months, having my pain validated and labeled, and told there was treatment was the first time I felt hopeful in months. I got three prescriptions and he told me in a a few days I would start feeling better, and that a year from now I probably wouldn’t even remember the pain from this time. I asked if he thought I would have be able to Zumba again and he said “Totally” I called bullshit in my head but was grateful, and optimistic that, if he sees Latin-inspired dance routines in my future I can definitely live a normal life.

It’s been five days and I can’t believe the relief I have already started to feel, the way my mood has elevated, the way I just feel like myself again. I didn’t care that I chipped a nail on a can of seltzer, because I opened it myself, or that the first night I experienced a little insomnia because in my awakened stated I walked to the bathroom less like a drunk penguin. Maybe I’ll give that treadmill a try soon after all.

 

 

irony.

A couple of months ago I sat in the very same examination room where I had first met my primary doctor a few years prior. I was here for my yearly physical and I had been having some headaches, which I wasn’t overly concerned about but mentioned, since I had a dizzy spell and fallen the week before.

It was no big deal, and in retrospect, probably my own fault. I was handing out prizes during a Q&A session at the weight and wellness expo I was participating in and did a sort of squat to not be a distraction and ‘walked’ backwards in my chunky heeled shoes in said squat position until my feet went out from under my throwing me down and back into a table where I hit my head and bruised my arm.

Embarrassing, but I survived. So much for not being a distraction.

Anyway, here I am with good old Potter telling him about the previous year and everything looks good and oh what’s this about headaches. He immediately insists on a brain MRI, which makes sense because he is old school and very thorough, and he leaves to let me get dressed. When he returns he says that he noticed a lump in my throat and could he check it out. Oh, what, not just an MRI? An ultrasound of my thyroid now?

COOL.

I remember leaving the office and my eyes were teary, but not because I was scared, but because, THIS is how my luck worked. Fat for years without a single real health concern but some high blood pressure and snoring, and the taunting of the onset of diabetes… lose nearly ninety pounds, have excess skin removed, have consistently normal blood pressure, take all your vitamins, need no medications for anything but oh hey your brain and your thyroid might wanna fuck shit up for ya.

Please hold.

Also, please postpone that arm surgery you have scheduled temporarily, it’s not a priority if, you know, there’s a tumor.

I had the MRI which I hope to never have again because one Ativan was no match for that tube and the headphones they gave me barely covered the noise and I swear I was in there for three hours (it was 30 minutes, maybe). I kept thinking, what if someone comes in and shoots the place up and I’m in this tube and can’t get out and calm down you watch too many movies.

I also had to have the ultrasound of my thyroid, which was no big deal at all, except they kept asking me to stop talking. Story of my life.

The results of the MRI come back with no issues regarding my brain. Looks like I have full sinus cavities, and a partially empty pituitary something or other which means there is an endocrinologist in my future. Okay, sure.

Oh, and that lump he felt? A three centimeter nodule on my thyroid, we’re gonna need to biopsy that. Wait. What? Why?

To determine if it’s cancerous.

“Do you think I have cancer?”

“I have treated patients with thyroid cancer for over thirty years and they’re all still alive, so let’s just get that biopsy scheduled.”

”So, you think I have cancer.”

:deep grandfatherly sigh:

“What I think doesn’t matter without the biopsy”

”And, my arm surgery?”

”let’s just wait on that…”

”..because you think I have cancer…”

”You’re one of my favorite patients, you know that?”

He proceeds to give me his personal cell phone number so I can text him later that day or weekend when I inevitably think of something I need to know or forgot to ask.

I have the strangest moment of my life, as if I’m watching a movie and I wonder if I have cancer. What the fuck. Is that why I have these headaches, is it related? This lump in my throat feels like a soccer ball and no, I don’t have any pain when I swallow, right? I’m hyper aware of this teeny mass and I just cry thinking about how fucking sad it would be if I died.

How morbid, I know.

How ironic though, that I’m finally in a place where I feel good, I feel like my life makes sense, I’m ambitious in a way I never was, I’m doing things, I’m happy …. and maybe I don’t get to be after all.

I’d be a damn liar if I didn’t say I spent the rest of the afternoon laying on my bed weepy and overthinking all the possibilities like always.

I’m extra emotional because we’re going to my parents for Thanksgiving a few days later, I cry about that. I cry about what Steve will eat for dinner when I’m dead, who will know how to make his coffee, will he be too sad to move on, will my parents survive this possible tragedy… what will people say about me when I’m gone, do I need surgery …what will happen … am I overreacting, probably, what if I’m not, what the fuck kinda shit is this anyway.

Then I cry about all the people I’ve known (and not known) who had afternoons like this being scared or feeling sorry for themselves and not living to tell about it. Then I cry for their parents, and their Steve’s and I text my cancer riddled actively dying neighbor who talks me off the ledge and offers me some xanax.

I get it all out of my system and stop feeling sorry for myself for something that’s nothing so far.

I have the biopsy,  which is done by needle, and I hope you never have to have one. They took multiple samples with a long thin needle and I watched it on a screen, neck bent, not allowed to talk (you’re killing me here!) wondering what the different colors and flashing things meant. The same woman who did the ultrasound resting her hand on mine to keep me calm, she knew there was something there before any of us.

I get a phone call the week before Christmas, 2 weeks before my arm surgery and it’s Potter. “Merry Christmas, it’s benign! You don’t have cancer”

I’m driving and I’m so relieverd, I cry. “And I can have my arm surgery?”

”Why would you want to have arm surgery with full sinus cavities? Make an appointment with an ENT first…”

I see an ENT a few days before my brachioplasty … she hardly seemed concerned and I said “Dr. Potter insisted…” she prescribed some Zyrtec and antibiotics “That makes sense, he’s old school.”

Like I said, he’s thorough. And two-for-two on saving my life, I’d say.

 

Zumba!

Right before the start of 2016, down about fifty pounds, I tried my first group exercise class after my weight loss surgery. I had only been to a few others before and they were extremely stressful situations that caused my anxiety to skyrocket on the drive over, my stomach to flip flop on the walk into the room and then again when faced with the large mirror that would leave me on display no matter where in the room I stood. Exercise in general gave me the sweats because I was sure anyone who saw me doing it would think it was laughable, I had also felt like my body was unresponsive no matter what I was putting into it or making it do, so exercise was a chore, with no real reward. Even when I felt a little better afterward, I was still fat, and still miserable.

So the first class I go to is Zumba.

Ballsy, right?

I had seen commercials for years about the kits you could get to try it yourself at home, I had seen thin, attractive women shaking their overpriced legging clad butts to tropical sounding tunes and I had never had the courage to try, but I was intrigued, and for once I let that overpower the fear of the group class.

Man. It was something. Huge room at the gym, brightly lit with mirrored walls on two sides. Of course I took a place in the back of the class but there were only about ten people in it. It was a weekday before 9am, and the room was a melting pot. I wasn’t the oldest, or youngest, not the fattest or thinnest. I was just a person surrounded by other people who just wanted to dance and sweat something out – calories, stress, bad luck – whatever it was, we all just wanted to leave lighter.

It was loud and fast and fun. It was like all the shit I was doing in my own house when nobody was looking, but to better music. This was exercise? No exercise I ever knew was enjoyable. “Peace out treadmill” I thought as I shook and shimmied all over the place. Checking myself out in the mirror, not caring (too much) about my arm fat flapping as I danced my heart out.

It was the best morning I had had in a long time.

Even though I almost died. (dramatic)

In fifty minutes, my Fit Bit reported over 7,000 steps, I had sweat pooling in my eyebrows and I had drained my water bottle. Somewhat labored breathing but I staggered out to my car, and when I got home, announced that I was going to Zumba the next day, too.

For a few months, I had the time in my schedule to go to multiple classes a week, sometimes I went five times. I was dancing in grocery stores, looking up Zumba videos on You Tube to dance along to at night. I went to the same instructor’s class, and so I was getting all her moves and routines down, I was friendly with people in the class who also went a few times a week. I couldn’t believe I was exercising, for fun, before my coffee even!

I felt light, and happy and totally energized.

I bought fancy sports bras and new pants to hold in my gut, I didn’t care that I had to peel my clothes off after every class, or sometimes had to sit down slowly when suffering from what I called ‘zumba thighs’. I befriended the instructor, and when she was no longer teaching there, I became friendly with her replacement; talking about becoming a Zumba instructor myself, I was borderline obsessed and she offered to take me under her wing and show me the ropes and gave me info on where to sign up for different things.

I was totally on board.

Before that went anywhere, my schedule changed and I could really only make it to classes in the evening or on Saturdays, and those weren’t ideal.

Time passed and summer was almost over and I had my panniculectomy and spent eight weeks basically living on my couch. Every few days I would daydream about going back to Zumba, how much different it might feel now that this extra belly fat was gone, how I could finally get moving in the direction of becoming an instructor myself and sharing this exercise I actually enjoyed with other people. When the time came that I was cleared to exercise, it was also when I was cleared to go back to work, so again, not really ideal. I went to a few evening classes but it wasn’t the same as starting my day off with that jolt, there were no familiar faces, so again, it faded.

I don’t even know if I like it anymore. I’m sure I do but, I mean, if I truly did wouldn’t I have made the time for it? I don’t know if I used timing as an excuse or if it actually was a real constraint, but at the moment, it’s neither.

I have the freedom right now, and for possibly the next few weeks to get to some morning Zumba classes, so I”m gonna go. No pressure on myself to love it like I did, no idea that I am going to go and know all the moves ( I most certainly will not!), no concern about having the flabbiest arms flailing around or anyone paying attention to me.

I’m gonna take my free mornings, grab my water bottle and my little towel and I’m gonna go dance my ass off in that back row.

Maybe as soon as tomorrow.