Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why I am Old Before My Time

My health during the winter is not a pretty sight. Heres the kicker though, I have an immune system like no other.  I'm not sure if its genetic or diet or what but I am one of the lucky few that has a steel immune system. I rarely get a cold or virus and haven't had the flu since I was in my early teens. T isn't quite so lucky. I tend to assume that part of that is the man in him though. Have you ever met a man that had the sniffles and wasn't convinced he was dying? If so, I hope you married him and had a million babies with him.

Of course there is always the problems I encountered with my heart after D was born. That was a long, drawn out drama for another day though.

My winter health problems run a little more deeply. When I was 17, I started having problems with my knees. They would bend backward a little too far or if I turned to quickly, they would almost give out. Sometimes they did just that. It was a weird, loose feeling. Then I noticed the grinding feeling and sound when I stood for too long or, say, spent the day walking the mall with my friends. In the coldest of winter months that year, it was worse. Not unbearable, but worse. I told everyone it was fine, I had some old injuries that I knew of and it was nothing to worry about. It would heal on its own.

By the time I graduated high school at 18, I was wearing a brace on my right knee a lot of the time. It kept it from hurting as bad and kept it from twisting and leaving me on the floor. I continued to do pretty much what ever I wanted even when my knee would be so painful in the evenings I couldn't sleep. Gradually it started to affect both knees. I still refused to go to the doctor.

In my 20th year of life, the pain had gotten so intense over the winter that I could hardly stand. There was a grinding noise in both of my knees that I could no longer ignore. The pain would get so intense some days that I could feel my femurs. That couldn't be right. My mother finally convinced me to go see a doctor.

The first doctor didn't believe me. He prescribed me some hefty ibuprofen and sent me on my way. The second doctor said that he was fairly sure everything was fine, told me to rest and did what he deemed "mind resting" tests basically to shut me up. He ordered some x-rays, blood work and a couple of movement tests. They drew the blood that day and I got a call that evening that everything was fine.

"See, you are perfectly healthy! Nothing to worry about!" He told me over the phone. He almost had me convinced to skip the x-rays that were going to cost me 200 bucks out of pocket but I decided to keep the appointment after I fell in the grocery store again that evening.

The x-rays were the next day. I went, did the whole paper gown shebang and my legs posed their little hearts out. By the time I got home from the hospital, I had a message from the doctor. He told me he wanted me to cancel the movement tests and to see him again soon. He needed to go over my x-rays and discuss where to go from here.

No, I'm not sure if any of you have ever gotten a message from your doctor like that but my mind of course jumped to the worst. By the time I found the number and called I had worked through all the stages and reached the acceptance stage that I had some sort of weird, unheard of knee cancer that meant I was going to perish before I got to say good bye to those I loved. I may have jump to conclusions.. a little.

Okay, a lot.

Anyway, I called the office and burst into tears when the receptionist answered the phone. I told her about the message and how I was pretty sure I was dying and I wanted the next available appointment. She calmed me down and went to get the doctor to talk to me on the phone. He reassured me that I was, in fact, not dying and apologized for scaring me but he still wanted me to come in so he could show me instead of trying to explain what was up. My appointment was set for the next morning.

As it turns out, I had a lot of damage in my joints. There were spurs on the ends of my legs bones on the (should have been) knee ends. The top leg bones and bottom leg bones were almost touching. He showed me an x-ray of a normal persons leg and how there should actually be space between those bones so they aren't practically rubbing together. He explained that he wanted to have a few more tests, an MRI and a joint fluid analysis, to confirm it but the news was that I have what is called Osteoarthritis.

Basically, the protective cartilage on the ends of my bones in my knees was worn down and almost gone. A classic sign of OA but then there was the fact that I was only 20 years old. Most people would have said (actually did say and still say to this day, 10 years later) that I was too young for an "old people disease". The other tests confirmed it though. Osteoarthritis it was.

Over the years, I learned ways to ease the pain. I have learned the tips and tricks and things to make the bad days of pain go father and farther in between. I learned my limits and have come to terms with things that I may never be able to do. There are a myriad of drugs and homeopathic treatments that make my life a little easier and when the going gets particularly rough, I turn to the heavy meds that mostly just put me to sleep.

The bad news it, Osteoarthritis gradually worsens with time, and no cure exists. Over the last ten years, it has spread through my body to my shoulders, elbows, and hands. Obviously there are day and months where it hardly affects my day to day life at all. I appear to be a healthy (granted overweight) mama to two little wild men.

Then there are the days like the middle of last week when the temperature drops quickly. It went from 65 to 35 in a matter of a day. I spent most of that day in the bed. Anytime the weather changes, I know it before the weather people know it. I can tell you any day when it is going to rain, almost to the hour. I still feel it in my knees first, then my hands. My nerve start to ache and shoot, then they get stiff. Once the pressure evens out though, I am fine.

When that doctor first diagnosed me, he told me to expect to be in a wheelchair by the time I was 25. I have fought with that sentence tooth and nail. I refuse to give in to the old lady disease. So far, I am succeeding. I guess I will see where the future takes me. Hopefully I can be an exception, no? For now, I have a doctor's appointment this week to check up on everything. Wish me luck!

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