How I Survived


I decided to listen to my body and I decided to trust what it was telling me.

You know, our bodies speak, and not only from our mouths. Our bodies talk in our sleep, in our aches and pains, in our digestion, and in our mood.

I listened when my hands hurt at work and I couldn’t open medicine bottles for patients. I listened when halfway into a twelve-hour shift, my ankles ached and I couldn’t help but limp. I listened when I woke up in the middle of the night, both feet throbbing until I soaked them in the tub. I listened when after a glass of wine, everything got worse: fatigue, pain, anxiety. My body was responding differently to the same stimuli. With my progressing symptoms, it wasn’t hard to listen.

I made an appointment at my doctor’s office, but a Physician Assistant was covering. That’s fine, I don’t mind. When I explained my symptoms to the PA - joint pain, both sides of the body, small joints like hands, feet, ankles, wrists. Severe fatigue, difficulty sleeping from the pain and new difficulty doing the tasks of my job. Oh, and I’m a young woman in my 20s so osteoarthritis very unlikely. I had never met the PA before. She knew I was a nurse. Maybe she didn’t like that I could describe my symptoms with accurate medical terminology. Or maybe she didn’t like that I was actually well-versed on my symptoms and what my body was feeling. But she rolled her eyes and said:

Well you might have arthritis, but you’ll live.

My. Jaw. Dropped.

A) I am making it pretty easy for you by spelling out my symptoms

B) It is NOT normal for a 24-year-old to have this sort of inflammation

C) You are SO rude.

I wish I had spoken up then, but I let her leave the room while I sat on the exam table, not any better off after seeing her. Two hours later, after mulling and stewing, I finally decided that something WAS wrong. I called their office and explained my view: A young woman should not have trouble working and sleeping every day of the week because of joint pain and fatigue. Give me a rheumatology referral N-O-W (Rheumatology is a medical speciality focused on treating systemic/whole-body inflammation related to autoimmune conditions. Rheumatologists specialize in diseases such as fibromyalgia, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis). 

I was so angry that day but looking back I’m grateful for the experience. I finally listened to my gut, listened to my body, and took the hard step of advocating for myself. And it paid off. In less than a week I was in with a rheumatologist - steroid treatment worked miracles on my body and the doctor identified my symptoms as consistent with rheumatoid arthritis. DUH.

Now that I was actually listening and advocating on my body’s behalf, I went from hopeless to surviving. The lightbulb went on and I’ve never gone back.