Two arthritic patients talk to CATHERINE SIOW about living with their painful conditions.
Bedridden for six monthsRitu, 33, homemaker, diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis four years ago
THE early symptoms I experienced were shooting pains all over my body, especially in my shoulder and elbow joints. Because the pain was so severe, I could not do my daily housework or look after my then four-year-old son.
Due to the severity of the painful attacks, I sought treatment quite early although it took several more months before a definite diagnosis for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) was given.
I first went to several general practitioners for my aches and pains but the medication did not help. I then went to visit my family in India and sought homeopathic treatment. After about three months, my condition became worse. I sought medical treatment as well. The diagnosis was not definitive as the RA factor did not show up in my blood tests. The doctor advised me to see a rheumatologist.
When I came back to Malaysia, I went to see a rheumatologist. The RA factor was still negative but by then my condition had deteriorated so much that the rheumatologist diagnosed me with RA based on other classic signs and symptoms of the disease which I had.
The first year after diagnosis was very traumatic for me. The pain was so severe that I was bedridden for six months. I had to call my mother from India to fly here and help care for me and my family here. I was on painkillers, steroids and DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) for nine months before my condition got better and I was weaned off the steroids.
My greatest struggle was accepting the disease. I was in denial and crying most of the time for the greater part of that first year. It was very frustrating and depressing for me to have to depend on my mother and my husband to do even the simplest of routine tasks. I could not brush my teeth, bathe or turn the door knob. When the attacks were unbearable, I would be filled with very negative thoughts and I went into a vicious cycle of thinking about life as a cripple and how I was not doing my duties as a wife and mother.
It took a while for the medication to take effect and as I became more able to do things for myself, I came out of my depressive state. When I was able to walk again – though it started with only 10 steps at a time – I was greatly encouraged and sought alternative therapy to manage the disease.
My husband and I joined the patients support group of Arthritis Foundation Malaysia. We attended the weekly meetings and got to know others with a similar plight. Through the support group, I learnt about PACE (People with Arthritis Can Exercise) exercises which were very useful in helping to open up my stiff joints. There was much relief and I felt relaxed as my joint movements became more flexible.
I later took up yoga and meditation which I found were very helpful.
I also tried swimming, which was recommended because the buoyancy of the water was good support for the body, but I found it too uncomfortable and stopped after trying a couple of times.
For the past three years, my condition has been in remission and I am grateful that I do not have any joint deformities. It was fortunate that I sought medical help early and got the proper diagnosis and treatment. Although the pain is always present, it is mild and not unduly troublesome. I am told there is no cure for the disease but I know that by following a strict management regimen, I am able to keep the illness under control. I am also thankful that I have the loving support of my husband and son to help me cope with this life-long disease.
Currently, I’m leading a normal life again and am able to drive and send my son to school. I’m still on DMARDs and painkillers but at half dosage. I go for my medical follow-up once every two months and I do meditation and yoga every day and light walking or jogging exercises twice a week. I am vigilant of the slightest discomfort in any part of my body and pace myself accordingly.
Missing the outdoorsSally, 35, marketing executive, afflicted by osteoarthritis
I WAS diagnosed with early osteoarthritis two years ago by a chiropractor after a lengthy search for treatment for the discomfort I felt in my knees. My symptoms surfaced some three years before this diagnosis. I first experienced tightness around the knees and I could not squat. This went on for a few months before I went to see an orthopaedic surgeon who gave me some pills for inflammation and told me to do stretching exercises, but there was no definitive diagnosis.
I took the medication and did the stretching exercises but my knees were no better. I went back to this orthopaedic surgeon two or three times and then gave up when the condition of my knees didn’t improve.
A year later, I went to another orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in sports injuries. From the X-ray taken, he told me that my knee cartilage was inflammed but the meniscus and kneecaps were fine. He also gave me medication for inflammation and advised me to do stretching exercises. Again, both didn’t help and there was no conclusive diagnosis for osteoarthritis.
After many months, I went to see an acupuncture specialist. The treatment offered some relief but for a while only. After about two years, I went to see the chiropractor who said I had early stage osteoarthritis. By then, each time I walked up or down the stairs, my knees became weak and wobbly and there was a little pain.
After the chiropractor’s treatment, my knees felt strengthened and I didn’t get that wobbly feeling anymore when I use the stairs. After the spinal alignment that the chiropractor did to alleviate the discomfort in my knees, my backache, which I thought was normal, went away too.
At the same time, I also went to see a foot doctor for treatment. I was given an orthotic (special insole) to wear but it gave me a lot of pain in my knees, the joints near the groin and my buttocks. The orthortic was changed a couple of times because the pain I felt was unbearable but, still, it didn’t stop my knees from deteriorating further.
After a year of these two treatments, I could feel that the condition of my knees, although no longer weak, was deteriorating. After standing for half an hour, I would feel uncomfortable.
Currently, I am undergoing acupressure treatment. The acupressure specialist told me that the meniscus in my knees is torn. When I told him that this did not show up in the X-ray and that the doctors ruled out the cause, he said X-rays may not be able to show everything.
For exercise, I go swimming. I used to be active in sports and was involved in high impact activities such as playing squash, running and hiking, which I enjoyed a lot. For the past several years, I have not been able to do any of them. I really miss the outdoors.