Thanks for checking back in and continuing this journey with me as I reflect on my life living with rheumatoid arthritis.
High school was over and I enjoyed my summer like everyone else with the senior week trip to MB, cruising Riverside and endless Caswell County style “gatherings” making memories with my friends.
As the summer was coming to an end I was so excited about my new journey-college. I came from a family of six with parents who worked and had limited income and therefore college was an incredible opportunity for us. They worked endlessly and did without so we had every opportunity we could have, that they didn’t. I was going to college, me, college, I couldn’t have been more excited. I had applied to UNC-Greensboro and had been accepted. It wasn’t until later that I decided to go to NC State and in hindsight, I saw that I most likely would not have survived my freshman year without the support of my big brother, Jeff, who had already been at NCSU for a couple of years when I arrived. Divine intervention for sure.
Little things helped me survive college. One of the first was that my papa bought me an electric typewriter, a very nice one, for back then. Writing often hurt my hands so it helped me to be able to type. I was even able to help others out and would type their papers too.
For college, I was labeled as handicapped which was, of course, embarrassing to a teenager, but later realized I would not have been able to make it without the support of the handicap student support program at State. I was assigned to live on the 2nd floor of my high-rise dorm since I was not able to do steps. What a blessing when the elevator didn’t work, but I did have to endure mean looks when I rode the elevator and pushed the 2nd floor. You know the look, the “are you kidding me look.” Sometimes when I was hurting and needed to take the elevator I would look around and if no one was coming I would wait for the elevator. If someone walked up I would act as if I was tired of waiting and would take the steps simply because I hated the “looks.”
Because I was handicapped I could sign up for my classes ahead of time because I could not stand in the long lines they had back then. Now signing up for classes is online. The downfall of getting to sign up for classes early was that I got any of the classes that I wanted, which I thought was cool until I was in a class with all upperclassmen. I even had one of the students ask how I had gotten in as a freshman and I had to be quick on my feet and come up with “I guess someone dropped it in front of me” they didn’t question my response.
I was also able to opt-out of PE 100 which required the participants to run and do other things I could not do to pass. I took a handicap swimming class instead which I loved and made some special friends at the time with other handicapped kids, who were more handicapped than I was, or at least I thought. They may not have seen themselves as handicapped at all and may have been like me “labeled.” I ended up taking a lot of swimming classes which was fun and good for my arthritis as well.
College went well for a while with no one ever knowing I had RA. I did have a handicap parking pass which I did not use unless I was hurting badly. I learned that I had to get where I was going early to park so I could sneak out of my car when no one was coming by, it honestly was easier for me to walk in pain than the stress of someone “seeing me in handicap parking.”
However, with all the walking my hip gave out and I barely made it to the summer of 1986 so I could have my hip replaced. Every step and movement for months was excruciating but I never missed a class, even on cold rainy days. God was my rock and gave me the strength I needed to endure. Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” As soon as classes ended I went home with surgery already scheduled. I had my first of many surgeries in early May with only a few close friends knowing that I had it done. Summer wasn’t a lot of fun that year as I was on a walker for 6 weeks but my goal was to simply get well so I could go back to college on schedule. I returned to college semi-normal by August. Normal may not be the best word to use for me as most would say I have never been normal. With my new hip, I didn’t have a lot of pain but I did have my shoe built up (which again is rather embarrassing for a teenage girl) for a little while, as one leg was longer than the other. You know you have seen them, old folks shoes with a higher heel on one than the other. And yes it was “old people” shoes and now I am that person. Funny how our perspective on age has changed. Anyway, my leg being too long was actually comical as after surgery the doctor even questioned if he had put in the wrong size joint and after x-rays and determining it was muscular he said I had caused him to have to go home and drink that night. He really thought he had “messed up” per him. Eventually, that worked itself out and I was back better than before because I no longer had excruciating pain during walking. For those that know college campuses, it is a lot of walking so this was a blessing.
I did well for the rest of my college years. I met Chip, pronounced “Ccchhiipp”, my husband to be and did well to not let him know anything was wrong with me, physically that is, you can’t hide “not normal” otherwise. Honestly, I don’t even remember telling him that I had RA and if I did I am sure I was nonchalant about it. It wasn’t until we decided to get married that my parents shared with us both that my doctor had expressed concern that my last checkup revealed that my disease was rapidly progressing and at the rate, it was going, I very well may end up in a wheelchair in my 20s. They had not told me this information when the Doctor had told them. Chip was so sweet and supportive and said he didn’t care that he would push me around in a wheelchair. And boy he must have meant it as he has been with me through the good and bad every step of the way. You will hear more about that as we go along. We were married on December 19, 1987, during our Christmas break.
I worked throughout college on campus, first as a receptionist at handicap student services and then later in the Dean’s Office at the College of Veterinary Medicine. I then worked in the Admission Office at the College of Veterinary Medicine until I graduated. There I made some incredible friends and still have the flowers that Carmen, my direct supervisor, made for my wedding. I also learned that I hate to file because you cannot even begin to imagine how much paper there was to file for each person that applied to vet school. It was a huge pile that seemed to grow and never shrinks. To this day I attribute my hate of filing to that part of my vet school experience.
Prednisone, which is a steroid, was my lifeline and helped me function and lead a semi-normal life. I did not know then what I know now about the long term effects of steroid use. We will talk about that ongoing as well. Throughout college, I had to take a lot of prednisone, so instead of the freshman 15 (I don’t remember ever weighing or having scales) but my pictures revealed I must have put on the freshman 30. I blame it on the medicine but I also know that I was trying to be the perfect little housewife and made a lot of homemade biscuits and gravy. We loved our little apartment and the “home” we made for ourselves.
Life was great and things could only get better after graduation, or so I thought. See you next time as we talk about work……..