It began in the spring like so many things do. It was the beginning of a new life – I had just moved into a new apartment, restarted a new session of dance, found a new love with whom I shared my days, and launched my journey into the world of writing. Spring is the season of rebirth and awakenings – and so it was poignantly fitting that four years ago RA planted its blossoming seed in the season of springtide.
It began one ordinary day in the sluggish lull of late afternoon. My right elbow began to ache – an insistent throbbing pain that commanded my attention. It persisted; it lingered; it was sharp and angry, tender and raw. My family doctor diagnosed lateral epicondylitis or “tennis elbow”, a condition commonly brought on by overuse. It was logical. I was bound to my computer, and my right hand was the main operator of my mouse. I purchased a brace to stabilize it, and being slightly ambidextrous, I gave my right arm a rest by switching my mouse to my left hand for a while. It took several weeks, but eventually the pain dwindled and disappeared. I had just barely returned to my usual state when my left elbow puffed up. In the fall, when the cool green leaves began to model their crimson coats, the rest of my joints followed suit, and thus began my story with RA…
And so it came about that flaring elbow returned to haunt me earlier this year, bursting to life alongside the budding cherry blossoms. Its unexpected return was more severe, a hot tender bulge throbbing beneath the skin. The customary pain of RA paled in comparison to this fresh throbbing beast. My rheumatologist recognized it as another case of lateral epicondylitis – I thought my “tennis elbow” days had vanished long ago into the swollen presence of my arthritis, but according to my rheumatologist, those with RA were likely to be more susceptible to the condition. My occupational therapist helped me find a new brace with a bubbly gel pack that soothed my angry elbow.
As a writer and a storyteller it’s logical to me that where there is a beginning there will always be an ending. When I look back to those “tennis elbow” days, I understand that my swollen elbows were the premonition of my beginning with RA. I am presently composing my way through the middle of this story surviving good days, bad days, grey days and vibrant days. I’ve learned how to plot the ever-changing saga of my disease. I have lived through four years of challenges and victory, played musical chairs with different medications, and allowed my body to be molded by physio and occupational therapy.
In the last few weeks my throbbing elbow has begun to fade into the famine of late summer. I don’t know when it will return, but it is always a reminder of far I’ve come. It makes me wonder: if my story began with an elbow, when I reach the conclusion of my struggle in that anticipated state of remission, will it all end with an elbow?
The beginning is the promise of the end. ~Henry Ward Beecher
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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.