Every story is supposed to have a beginning right? So where do you
begin when you are not really sure when the beginning was? Such is the
story of my Rheumatoid Arthritis. Hello, my name is Ken Akers, also known
as KenA, and I am 56 years old. Some of you may know me from the chat room,
as I have been hanging around there for about two and one half years.
Being the sneakey devil that it is, Rheumatoid Arthritis crept up on
me a little bit at a time starting about four years ago. I began noticing
that my hands and especially my fingers would become sore and stiff after
using them in my work and occasionally my fingers would "lock" up while
holding a pencil. I would actually have to pry my fingers open. "Writers
cramp" my co-workers said. Maybe, I thought, but then why is my other hand
and fingers sore? Never being one to run off to the doctor for every
"little" ache and pain I did nothing. The symptoms suddenly went away for
about six to eight months as I recall and I forgot all about it. Then about
three years ago, it was back, but much worse.
"Dupuytren's Contracture" the Doctor said, "it's a hand disorder in
which the fingers bend toward the palm and cannot be straightened", he
remarked. The little and ring fingers are most commonly affected but all
the fingers can be involved. Dupuytren's contracture progresses slowly and
is usually painless, but not always. In patients with this condition, the
tissues under the skin on the palm of the hand thicken and shorten enough
that the tendons connected to the fingers cannot move freely. The affected
fingers start to bend more and more and cannot be straightened, and
sometimes the toes are affected in the same way as the fingers. Well, I
bought the story, and lived with it for another year, while all the time
the pain was getting worse, and my hands, fingers, wrists, feet and toes
would swell up. Then one morning, I could not get out of bed. Nearly every
joint on my body was swollen and painful.
"Rheumatoid Arthritis" the same doctor said, "you have it bad", your
RF factor is off the charts, get thee to a Rheumatologist pronto!" I had
been misdiagnosed for a year. It was good thing for him that my hands were
sore and swollen! I have not been back to that doctor since.
"Why did you wait so long to come and see me" the Rheumatologist asked
me on my first visit. Well, the RD got me feeling better in a relatively
short period of time, he put me on Relafen, Sulfasalizine and Prednisone
right away but any damage already done could not be reversed. The disease
is still progressing slowly.
In mid October of 1999, my boss called me into his office and said I
had to go. "I was not putting out my share of work and I was becoming lazy
and undependable", he said. He was well aware that I had RA, and knew very
well what it can do to a person because he told me his mother had it for
over thirty years. But I still had to go. People just do not understand
what this disease is all about.
Family life has changed for me too over the past four years. I have
always been a very active person. I built much of the house I have been
living in since 1976, and enjoyed keeping it in good condition and I have
always made any repairs myself. For thirty seven years I worked in the
steel fabrication and erection business as a detailer and designer and
always looked forward to going to the job site and actually climbing the
"high steel" as it is called to check the progress of the work and resolve
any problems. I truly miss all these things. Now if repairs are needed on
the house, I have to get someone to do it for me. But above all, the thing
I dislike the most is seeing my wife go off to work in the morning. I have
always been the "bread winner."
So that's the story up to this point. I am still unemployed, (I call
it "semi-retirement.) I am now just beginning a new career working at home
designing and publishing web pages and it keeps me fairly busy, but the
work is not always steady, and it is not the regular paycheck I got used to.