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How to Ignore Pain and Hurt Your Body More: A Lesson in How to not Live with RA

If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis the chances are pretty good that you live with a certain amount of pain. My doctor is always asking what it is on a scale of 1 to 10 and I’m pretty content at a 1 or a 2. I’ve learned to live with it and enjoy my life. Maybe I’ll get into remission one day but it’s entirely possible that I won’t and my life will still be filled with mostly great days.

After the initial diagnosis I got immediate relief from various medicines. Some of them worked like miracles for me and others didn’t work so well. I take a few pills each day and most of the time I forget that I have RA. I have little aches and pains that acupuncture does a good job of lessening. Every 25 days I have to give myself an injection. Every 25 days I feel like a patient. Twice a year that injection isn’t covered by insurance (it’s only FDA approved for use every 30 days) so twice a year I beg every physician I’ve ever met for a sample since it’s a $2,500 injection. Twice a year I get really bitter.

In any event I’ve had a good year or so and I’d upped my tennis to about four days a week. I was playing well and loving it until my elbow started hurting a bit so I slowed down. When I slowed down to twice a week my elbow hurt less but it still hurt so I went ahead and booked the acupuncturist twice a week and added another tennis match to the schedule.

I suspect you’re seeing the problem here?

Well I went ahead and bought a tennis elbow strap. I’m always seeing people in them and my FSA covered it so I thought I’d give it a go. It worked miracles so I added another day a week.

Now I’m back to four days a week of tennis plus an elbow strap and two days a week of acupuncture. I’m uncomfortable, after a match my pain is at a 3 or a 4 but I have Celebrex so I can knock it down to a 2-3 and add a little ice. I enjoy tennis. I love to compete and I’m going to just ignore this elbow and live my life.

I had a terrible plan.

About a month ago I was playing a match and my racket fell out of my hand. My stomach dropped, that’s exactly what happened when I was first diagnosed with RA. I picked up my racket and finished the match. The next day I played again and every time I hit the ball it was like the ball was hitting my elbow and I was fighting back tears.

I finished the match. This is a sign of weakness not strength. I was too embarrassed to tell my opponent that I was in a lot of pain and needed to stop. I hate having part of my body not work and my refusal to acknowledge it makes everything worse.

I went home, iced my elbow, took my first Tramadol in nearly a year and called the doctor. An appointment confirmed it is, in fact, tennis elbow and it’s an injury that typically develops over the course of several years and may take up to a year to heal.

So then I left and got into my car and cried.

I’ve begun OT, I’m resting and icing and taking fists full of anti inflammatories but I’m upset with myself that I keep repeating the same pattern and seem to never learn. Three months ago this might have been a much smaller injury. I’ve just put a three month hold on my tennis club membership. I’m guessing I’ll need more months off than that.

The problem is that I listen to my body and then I basically talk back to it. The conversation sounds something like this:

Hey, I’m your elbow and this is hurting me you should probably ask the doctor why. 

Oh, I’d love to treat you well but right now I need some endorphines so can you shut up and play tennis please? 

Sure, but I’m going to hurt again all afternoon so be sure to listen to me then. Okay? 

Okay. I promise I will. 

And then, you know… I’ve lied to myself, ignored it all and I’m left with this mess.