I woke to rain slamming against my rattling windows, the wind shrieking through the parched trees. Branches and shrivelled leaves snapped off their sapped trunks, littering the landscape with the remnants of drought. Our baffled meteorologists had no warning of the blustery weather that whirled in from off of the Pacific Ocean causing power outages for thousands, tearing trees from their roots, stripping them of brittle branches and hurling them at houses, cars and people. In the midst of clean up came the return of calmer weather and a precipitous change… in a mere 24 hours our summer had taken a sudden swing into the unsettled conditions of autumn. Sweaters and jackets emerged from closets, furnaces roared to life, hot tea replaced refreshing lemon water, cozy bedspreads and heating blankets were shaken from hibernation.
I should have seen it coming, but I was lost in the delusion of an eternal summer. I failed to notice the leaves congregating on the waterless ground, their flaxen hue turning to ginger; I brushed aside the chill of shorter days; I rolled along on my overconfident wagon thinking I had reached a solid stability, but I failed to notice the warning signs of the storm brewing in my own body.
I had been doing just fine for most of the summer – on a scale of 1 – 10, whereas 1 is the worst and 10 is the best, I was clinging to a solid 8. And then something changed…just like an unexpected storm, I was whirled out of my wellness and found myself slipping down a landslide, reduced to a mere 5/10. New pain arrived in my feet, my ankles were mired in increased stiffness and my knees bickered amongst themselves. I wallowed in the mud, feeling miserable for a couple of days, trying to clean up the mess, trying my best to function…and that’s where I stayed…like a twig wedged in mud.
RA’s flares can arrive out of the blue. They swoop in with gale force, wreaking havoc and upsetting circumstances. It can be difficult to escape unscathed from an RA flare. I made an appointment with my rheumatologist to see if he could help me climb back up the slope and return me to my solid 8. During his examination, he noticed some fluid in my knees, and some swelling in my right ankle. He had me perform some range of motion exercises to assess my stiffness. He noticed a slight bit of kyphosis, a rounding of the upper back, which surprised me a bit. When I was dancing, I was always working my upper spine to maintain proper posture. I thought that I had carried that habit with me, but it seemed my body had other ideas. He showed me some stretching exercises for my upper back and offered me two options to relieve the flare: increase my current DMARDS, which would take more time for any noticeable improvement or try a new NSAID, which should bring quicker results. I opted for the NSAID in the hope that it would pacify the tempest in my body and return me to more pleasant conditions.
I embarked on my own clean up from the storm of RA. The swollen storm-clouds shifted and separated, allowing patches of blue to peek through their billowy scraps, and the sun was invited back to light the rippling horizon. I’ve learned to pack my sunglasses and my umbrella because even sunny skies are not reliable enough to shelter me from the gale.
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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.