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Living With Arthritis

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I am 72 1/2 years old. Developing these painful symptoms is an unhappy surprise, just when I was feeling pretty good about my health.

Me: The Arthritis Person

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The Fateful Day

Back in July, my husband and I were at our cabin in Arkansas. It sits right next to a very large deer camp. He has been a member of the deer camp since he was nine and is now 74, so a lot of years. Joe, my husband, recruited me to help him with rebuilding a deer stand that had been destroyed in high wind. We rode his four-wheeler to the stand through standing water, then began the task of building the stand. Putting the floor in was not easy. It wasn't attaching the bolts to secure it to the metal stand that was difficult for me. It was lifting the floor over our heads to get it in place that strained every muscle in my arms and neck. After the floor was up, we attached four poles for the roof to be attached to. At that point, I quit. It was 88 degrees and we were in the sun. I had had it.

Quitting My Job

That night, I told Joe he was going to have to get someone else to help him. I just couldn't tolerate the heat and the stress on my pitiful sedentary body. He recruited one of his old friends, also a deer camp member, and they finished the task in one day, even getting the roof up!

Deer Stand

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Home Again, Jiggety-Jig

We left a few days after we completed the stand. Once we got home to New Orleans, I began to notice my arms and neck were stiff and sore. I chalked it up to being 72 1/2 and using muscles I hadn't used in years. I am a very sedentary person. A week later, not only had the pain not gone away, it was worse. Joe and I both try to wait as long as possible to see a doctor in most circumstances, simply because most things just go away if ignored long enough. A week later: not going away. I finally made the call. The first appointment I could get was a week and a half away, but I trust my doctor and didn't want to try someone new, so I settled for a week and a half.

Sunset from the Wretched Stand

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Doctor Visit

By the time of the doctor's visit with my primary care doctor, Dr. O., I was in some serious pain. I could not lift either arm above my head. Dr. O examined me, then told me she wanted to take an X-ray. Soon I had had the X-ray and was in the waiting room fretting about what I might have wrong with me. I had just about decided it was two rotator cuff tears. When they called me back in, Dr. O was looking at the X-ray. She said, "It looks like you have aggravated some arthritis in your arms and neck. I will prescribe something for it." Like almost everyone, I wasn't thinking clearly enough to ask: How long will it last? I left her office with a prescription for 600 milligram ibuprofen and another for Flexeril to take at night.

Medications and Me

I don't like taking medicine. I know, most people don't. I especially didn't like the way Flexeril made me feel: somewhere between nauseated and stoned, if that makes sense. For the first week, I took the meds as directed: 600 milligram ibuprofen every eight hours and Flexeril at night. The ibuprofen made the pain manageable and the Flexeril acted as a sleeping pill at night. Then the side effects began to kick in. This is why I don't like to take medicine. The ibuprofen not only gave me sharp pains in my stomach and exacerbated my acid reflux; it also left me with an extremely dry mouth, to the point I had to keep water within my reach at all times.

Sunset from the Stand

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Finding the Middle

The dry mouth, more than anything, caused me to make changes in taking the meds. It was very unpleasant and made me feel that something not good was happening to my body to cause my mouth to be so dry. Besides, there was the thought, although one I tried to chase away, that if I were going to take these meds "forever," I had to be able to live with them. Along about the same time my mouth started becoming so dry, I got up during the night to use the bathroom. I was so dizzy I could hardly stand. At first I thought "stroke," which is what most 72 1/2-year-old women would think. Then I remembered "Flexeril." I knew something had to give there too.

Taking Control

Having a dry mouth, an aching stomach, and being extremely dizzy caused me to make some changes that needed to be made. I didn't call my doctor. I'm sure she gave me the meds to "handle" my pain and that didn't mean necessarily taking everything as directed. I read a lot about ibuprofen. My understanding is that, unlike other drugs, prescription ibuprofen is "more of the same." In other words, it is just more of what's in regular ibuprofen, no added goodies like the Codiene in Tylenol 3. So basically my prescription is the equivalent of taking three regular 20-milligram ibuprofen tablets, which I have done frequently in the past without having a dry mouth! I have begun cutting the 60 milligram tablets in half. I see absolutely no difference as far as pain relief and there is no dry mouth. I have virtually stopped taking the Flexeril except on nights when my neck is bothering me to the point I cannot sleep, and then I only take half. I have cut all the pills in half with a pill cutter my husband bought, just because I find if it's not cut, I tend to take the whole thing. I hope to stop taking the Flexeril altogether soon. Anything that makes you as dizzy as they do me is doing something to my body that is not good, at least in my opinio

Sunrise from the Stand

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Dealing with Pain

I have used other ways to deal with the pain of arthritis. There are Salonpas. A man who worked for me years ago told me about them. They are akin to a Bandaid and have some ingredient in them that makes the area you put them on very hot. It's soothing and lasts a long time. They are inexpensive and they work.

I also bought a heating pad, which Joe laughs about every time I use it. He says I looking like Mary Queen of Scots. It fits over my shoulders and comes up over the back of my neck. It is very soothing. I still work at from 4 to 8 hours a day and the heating pad makes it bearable.

The thing that has helped me than anything is a mental thing -- of course: Don't focus on the pain. If I am busy with work or some project around the house, I barely notice it. When I dwell on it, it grows.

My latest thing is a message I left for my doctor on the communication site for Ochsner. I tried to explain to her that the pain I'm having doesn't feel like what everyone says arthritis feels like. I had it once years ago in my knee and it was nothing like this. The pain is mostly in my biceps and is sharp as opposed to aching. It feels like something torn in a muscle. I realize she knows more than I do, but I'm wondering if the X-ray showed enough to rule out a torn muscle or tendon. So as I end this article, I'm waiting for her reply. When I get it, I will update the article with what she says. If you experience something close to what I have, I hope you will think long and hard about taking copious amounts of painkillers. Both my sister, who has rheumatoid arthritis and a friend, who has it also, have ended up with major stomach issues from the meds they've taken at different times. I hope this is helpful. I think sharing experiences about health issues is important. Doctors are wonderful. Medicine is a wonderful thing. Sometimes, though, it needs to be scaled down to suit the patient.

View from Above in the Stand As the Fog Comes in.

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Postscript

After insisting that I thought there was more going on than arthritis, I was referred to an orthopedist. The first thing he said when he walked in the examination room was that after looking at the X-rays, the one thing he knew it was not was arthritis. Now I was confused. My primary care doctor had blithely diagnosed it as arthritis and prescribed meds. Now I had to begin another process.

The first step was an MRI. Being totally claustrophobic, that is a story in itself. However, I knew I had to learn something definitive about my shoulder, arm, neck, etc., and made up my mind to follow through. It took a lot of self talk but I did it! Here is the doctor's impression from the MyOchsner site:

Impression

1. Supraspinatus and infraspinatus tendinosis with small low-grade interstitial footprint tears.
2. Degenerative changes of the superior labrum.
3. Biceps tendinosis.
4. AC joint hypertrophy and subacromial spurring.
5. Subacromial/subdeltoid bursitis.
6. Small joint effusion.

In a nutshell, I have two very small tears in the rotator cuff and a bone spur that seems to be exacerbating the whole mess. My doctor told me that he recommended physical therapy which I start next week. If that isn't effective, he said he could do an injection, which I am hoping to avoid. A friend of mine is a great believer in acupuncture. If the PT doesn't work, I will try it before an injection. So that's where I am. I'll update when I see if PT is working or not. It seems it's just not simple!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

Sue Pratt (author) from New Orleans on January 16, 2019:

Thanks for taking time to comment, Pamela and I hope you also do well. It seems to be mind over matter for me. The more I complain and moan and groan, the worse it gets! Good luck to you.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 16, 2019:

I have had arthritis for several years and it is a problem, more sometimes than others. I think it is great that you have quite taking as much medication. Not focusing on the pain helps much of the time. I hope you continue to do well.