For most of my life I remember being one temperature – cold. Living in the dampness of a coastal rain forest, the chill of our fall and winter would seep under my skin, haunting my bones with its lingering chill. I would hunker down in my bedroom draped in blankets to ward off the rawness. In the spring and summer I would bask in the warmth of the sun relishing the delightful shiver of the cold dissipating beneath balmy skies.
When RA arrived, so did unexpected temperature changes. I would wake burning under the veil of a suffocating warmth. My joints simmered in fire and I surrendered to the heat of apathy. I would soon learn to recognize this blushing fever as an arthritis flare. My better half acquainted himself with my flares from the heat emanating from my hands. I became a thermometer for the burn of RA. My mercury rose, coloring my joints in crimson like a rich wine simmering in the glass. My rising temperature coincided with the creeping escalation of my CRP, the measure of inflammation in my body. Its connection to my disease activity helps me understand my days of wallowing in a state of malaise. It seems so strange how much that little value can affect us and how often it can vary. I recently had an MRI that showed no new damage to my hands letting me know that my disease, for the most part, was under control – however my growing CRP indicates that my symptoms are not. My flares are wild, like the mustangs sprinting along the beaches of North Carolina. I never know when they will arrive or how long they’ll run.
Everyone has their own telltale signs that their disease is flaring. When the fire seethes beneath my skin, and burns the cool touch of my partner’s hand, that’s when the ice packs come out. I crush them between my hands, listening to the sharp crack of ice under the blaze like miniature fragments of glaciers crashing into the ocean.
I used to bemoan the cold but now I bear the cool misty evenings wrapped in a sweater, sipping wine beneath the slate sky of twilight. The ocean mist permeates the air and I shiver against its dank chill. My skin is cool to the touch, the only heat emanating from the crimson well of my glass. I never thought I’d appreciate the delicate distinction between fire and ice but now I recognize those chilly days as my reprieve from the burn of RA.
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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.