Sunday, November 25, 2007

Who I am, really (part one)

So I guess I should talk a little bit about myself, since I visit a lot of blogs, and I feel like I know those people pretty well, and there's really nothing on my blog yet to let people know who I am.

Several years ago, my husband and I were both working for a fairly well known suburban Chicago newspaper. I am not allowed to tell you which newspaper. I worked on the web site and my husband worked on customer service for the web site. We sat in adjacent cubicles and would pass love notes and toss paper airplanes back and forth.

The newspaper was eventually sold, as often happened back then. For a time we thought our jobs were safe, but we were wrong. We came back from lunch on a Friday and we were told to clean out our desks.

I was seven months pregnant at the time.

We were devastated. I tried to get another job at the newspaper. They told me there were no positions available. I tried going on job interviews at eight, nine months pregnant. That didn't go well.

I had my son, and when I had been out of work for about six months, I knew I had to get a job, and trying to get one in my field was not working. I finally secured a part time job in retail at a clothing store, which led to a full time job at a shoe store.

I worked my way up as fast as I could, and I became a keyholder at a $3 million store in five months, which is extremely fast in retail. After almost a year, the severence pay was running out, as was the unemployment money. I told them I needed a management job.

They agreed to transfer me. I went from a great district into a terrible district. I worked six days a week, 10 hours per day, for the next year.

Since I was finally full time, I thought I'd see a doctor about the curious swelling of the joints in my hand. They weren't painful, but they were enlarged, on the middle finger of each hand. I thought that maybe it was just from the physical nature of my retail job; I was unloading shipment trucks weekly, after all.

The doctor I saw diagnosed me with rheumatoid arthritis and sent me to a specialist. The appointment was three months away, and by the time I made it to that appointment, I was in agony.

I went downhill rapidly. My doctor kept upping my dosages at every appointment. Nothing really seemed to help. I was on steroids and pain medication daily. There were times when I was in so much pain, picking up a can of soda would cause me to cry out in pain. I would call the doctor's office in tears when I just couldn't make it to my next appointment.

I was finally able to get a new retail job. I entered a training program for store management. I was at my worst when I was starting this job, and the store manager I was training under thought I was slow and maybe kind of stupid. I could barely think, let alone remember things. Everything was just a haze.

Frustrated by everything, I started doing my own research. My first job out of college was a year as a medical copy editor, and I learned to read study abstracts on Pub Med. I found a few, small scale studies that tied food intolerances to rheumatoid arthritis. I also came across a web site that described a very strict elimination diet to test for food intolerances.

I had no medical support, but I thought I had nothing to lose. At the time I was considering disability, but I knew how hard it was to get disability, so I thought I would try this. It was only a week or so before Thanksgiving, but I was desperate.

The protocol said to eat nothing but sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, peaches, pears, and cod fish for a week. Then you could start adding foods back in and see if there was a reaction.

On the fourth day, the swelling went down in my hands, dramatically. I felt like I was coming out of a coma, like I was seeing my husband and son for the first time in a year.

It was then that I finally understood what a flare was. My doctors talked about times when my arthritis would be more active, and painful, and that would be a flare. I couldn't imagine anything worse than the pain I had been in, and now I understood.

I had been in a constant flare since my first appointment with my rheumatologist. Over all of that time, all of the medications I had been taking had barely made a dent in my condition.

You know that saying, that when you're standing on a tack it takes a lot of aspirin to make it stop hurting? Yeah. I found the tack and took it out.

I told my rheumatologist. She said, "There have been some good studies on that," and that was the end of it. I felt like screaming. How could they not tell me that this might help me?

A month later, I had a weak moment and ate a piece of pizza. The next morning, I was swelled up, foggy, and miserable. It took me nearly two weeks to recover.

That was the end of gluten for me.

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