Simple Things

arc_arthritis_month_fbbannerI reached for the pen to sign the visa slip; it frittered out of my hand and launched across the aisle, landing with a tiny clatter at the foot of another table. I muttered an apology to the server as I reached for a glass of water, but my swollen fingers refused to grip its cylindrical shape and it slipped out of my fingers, tipping its contents onto the table and soaking everything in its path…this time I cursed. I reached for my purse, knowing I had some tissue inside, and scrabbled with the clutch as the waitress scampered off to find a towel, a pitiable smile on her face…

In the midst of an arthritis flare, I re-experience the awkward training of my infancy, mishandling small objects that should be easy to control; the pain and swelling that escalates during the old lady’s tirade, inundates my hands with weakness and they lose their reign in my body. When we think of the challenge of living with arthritis, we imagine the more obvious devices, like walkers, canes and wheelchairs, but forget about the simple things. Fumbling with shoelaces, grappling with buttons, gripping pens, signing our name, inserting keys, turning doorknobs, lifting mugs, pulling zippers, picking up change, loosening the clutch of a purse – all these ordinary tasks jumbled in the ineptness of once dextrous fingers.

I eventually discovered the key to successfully manoeuvring the small things was to slow down. It’s always been my habit to move quickly, and in my urgency to get things done I forget my hands do not have the strength and agility they once did. Slowing down and taking my time does not make me incapable – it simply helps me deal with the smaller challenges in a graceful manner…without soaking a tablecloth in a public restaurant.

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  1. Wren on September 30, 2013 at 8:08 am

    You’ve pinpointed the base of the hardest part of having RA, JGC. A bad flare that immobilizes and brings the world to a screeching halt is awful, but it’s only one aspect of the disease. Worse, to me, is the way RA causes the myriad of small frustrations, like the list you offer here. We do simple things like butter toast and open doors without thinking most of the time, but when I flare (and it doesn’t have to be a big one) causes stiff, sore hands and poor dexterity–well, to me that’s almost worse. I share your frustration and, sometimes, embarrassment over the sudden clumsiness RA often causes. I winced for you as I read…

    If there’s a positive side to having RA, it’s this: That we learn to relax, slow down, laugh and take life a little less seriously. Life is too short to worry about spilled glasses of water–even in restaurants! 😉

    I hope your week goes well and that your fingers have regained their quickness!

  2. J.G. Chayko on September 30, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Thanks Wren. I sometimes have to remind myself to move a little slower on the bad days. But you’re right – it does teach us to slow down and take life less seriously.
    Stay well 🙂

  3. Cheryl Wright on October 1, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    I too was diagnosed with RA in my 30s; after having symptoms since my teens. I was an oral surgical tech; but within a month, I went from normal to flat in bed, the pain so intense that I didn’t want to breathe. It took 3 months for the diagnoses to be made because, even tho I told them to check, all but one of the docs believed it was RA. Thank God that one believed me! That was in 1991. Since then I’ve tried a majority of the meds out there, some worked for a short time, some made me worse, damaged my organs, you name it.

    My husband’s been great! All our doorknobs and faucets were changed over to levers. Everything is arranged to my needs. I have a great team of doctors and we coordinate my care. Best of all, if I have the need to call after hours, I get a response in less than an hour! Am I spoiled? Yes. In the best of ways.

    One of the first things I learned when eating out anywhere, always get a glass with a handle! And use 2 hands. Ignore the ones who stare or make comments when they don’t think you have the right to park in the handicap spot. And never be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Most people are quite willing in my experience.

    J.G., I look forward to reading your blogs!

    • J.G. Chayko on October 1, 2013 at 11:36 pm

      Thank you Cheryl. I am so glad you got the correct diagnosis; although it’s a challenge to find the right treatment, it sounds like you are able to find your way back to life again. When diagnosed with a life-changing or chronic disease, we need to find a way to adjust our lives in order for them to continue to be fulfilling. I have learned a lot in my battle with RA. Keep up the fight, stay well.

  4. Sherry Moller on December 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    I did not realize why I was always dropping things etc until I read this blog! I thought OMG that is me, although mine is only osteoarthritis not RA.

    • J.G. Chayko on December 13, 2013 at 3:43 pm

      Any type of arthritis can be challenging; and certainly OA is one of them. Stay well and here’s to trying to keep things in hand in the future 🙂

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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.