I followed the doctor down a gloomy hall and entered a spacious clean room flooded with bright daylight, despite the dark and daunting clouds lingering outside the window. We had a brief discussion of my symptoms, the swelling and redness that often appeared in my fingers and danced across the knuckles of my hands. He led me to a miniature ultrasound machine perched on top of a rolling cart. I sat on the edge of the bed; the doctor placed a pillow on my lap and told me to rest my hands on top. He picked up a white tube and squeezed a dollop of clear cold gel on my right hand, smearing it across the tops of my fingers and knuckles; my skin shriveled under its damp touch. He picked up a small wand connected to the machine and brushed it over my hand. My skeletal fingers appeared on the screen; I was fascinated by the sight of my naked hands, stripped of skin and tissue, bare bones lingering on the monitor. The doctor pointed out the bones in my hand. I had the strange sensation that I was staring right through the old lady that haunted me. I studied the screen, looking to expose her; except there was nothing to see. There was no evidence of her. No erosions flaunted their nasty presence; no synovitis was uncovered. She was like a phantom, undetectable in the light of the ultrasound, creeping through my body, puffing up my fingers and hands. I was relieved by her absence, and yet, strangely frustrated that I could not confront the presence that changed my life.
I left the office, satisfied that the old lady was not winning her battle inside me, but acutely aware she was still there, and would continue to taunt me with swollen joints, fatigue, and pain. I knew I would have to keep on fighting the war against the damage she is so capable of inflicting – but for this day, I left with a small victory to celebrate, understanding that I was triumphant thus far.
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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.