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This curse hides under the skin

Published August 13, 2006

My mother called it the curse of the Aylwards. She always said we looked fine when we were sick.

So, I suppose it only follows that at this time of my life, I would develop rheumatoid arthritis, because most days I don't look like there's anything wrong with me.

My knuckles are not swollen and red. I can get in and out of the car, albeit very slowly. I don't limp much, and if I tell anybody my problem, they usually just look at me blankly. So I've got arthritis. So what?

I try to impress upon them that it's not osteo. It's rheumatoid! Get it? But they don't seem to understand that one can look perfectly fine taking daily pills and weekly pills and weekly injections.

Every two months I see my specialist, and I mostly tell him I feel fine until I get home and something begins to hurt. But as my mother said, I look wonderful. I tell that to my right hip joint as I back into my car seat, and then, with both hands, lift each leg up over the threshold and into the vehicle.

Those, of course, are the bad days.

I'm not alone. Rheumatoid arthritis, chronic inflammation of the joints, affects more than 2-million people in the United States. It is more common in women than in men and usually strikes after age 40, but before age 60. The Arthritis Foundation reports that all types of arthritis cause 39-million physician visits and more than 500,000 hospitalizations each year.

There are times with rheumatoid arthritis when you can't get up without help. You can't get down without help. It becomes very trying if you live in a house with bedrooms upstairs. With a flareup, you can't lift things. A jug of milk can pull the ligaments in your wrist. Reaching to the floor to pick up something is a test.

But I have a full head of hair, my teeth are not in a glass at night and I take a good photograph. My mother was right.

My smile is still there. And if I stand up straight and throw my shoulders back, I look like I can tote that barge and lift that bale.

But I won't.

I remember my grandmother had "rheumatism." They don't use that word anymore. At the time, the help seemed to be Sloane's Liniment, and Anacin "for the relief of headache, neuritis and neuralgia."

No one talks about neuritis or neuralgia anymore either. Today the stuff we use to control the painful aspects of RA, as they call it now, are prednisone, methotrexate and injectables. An injectable can cost as much as $1,300 a shot.

When my grandmother did her rock garden weeding, she did it from a lawn chair reaching over carefully. Today, her grandson does the same. As my neighbor says to me, "Jimmie, you're sitting down on the job!" Yes, but like my grandmother, I get it done.

I whine a lot now, but my appetite is good. I can still tap dance if I want to, but I don't want to anymore, and, amazingly, I still look healthy and fit.

It's definitely the curse of the Aylwards.

Jim Aylward, an author, former radio personality, recording artist and producer, lives in Pasco County.

[Last modified August 11, 2006, 09:19:39]

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