The old lady arrived one crisp October morning when I tried to rise from my bed. My muscles were stiff and sore, and I wondered if I had overdone it in dance class. I could still hear the music playing while I slowly padded around my kitchen making my coffee. I swayed to the sound hoping to loosen up my joints and cast out the stiffness in my hands with the heat emanating from my coffee mug. My legs felt heavy as if weights were attached to my feet. I couldn’t lift my arms and my fingers were swollen. I wanted to lay my head back down on my pillow and drift off to sleep.Behind my reflection in the mirror I saw an old woman hunched over like a vulture, a cane clutched in her gnarly hands.
I went off to work and after a couple of hours began to feel like myself again. The old lady returned the next morning…and the next…and the next…
For six weeks I felt her creeping around me, placing her cold withered hand on my body, infusing my limbs with pain and stiffness. At night, she would place burning hands on my joints and I would wake in feverish discomfort, tossing and turning in my sheets. She stood by my bed, leaning on her cane, watching me. She never spoke, just hovered in the shadows, slowing me down, tiring me out, making me wish I had that old oak cane of hers to lean on.
She followed me to my doctor’s office and sat in the corner while he poked and prodded at my swollen joints. She followed me to the specialist, pulled out knitting needles and knitted in the corner, occasionally dropping her needles. I could hear the clatter of her needles hitting the hard floor, and gritted my teeth while the doctor scribbled requisitions for x-rays, blood work and a prescription for medication. We left the office together with her shuffling behind me. This was only the beginning.
It’s in the beginning where people fail to start treatment. They dismiss the signs, as I did for a while — could be a virus, could be I pushed to hard in my workout. Visit your doctor right away if you experience sudden onset of swelling and stiffness in your joints that lasts more than a couple of days. It could be nothing; but if it’s the beginning of arthritis, the sooner you seek medical advice and begin treatment, the sooner damage to the joints can be slowed and stopped.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.