Arthritis is Not Just a Condition your Grandmother Gets
Disease devastates the lives of the young and old, men and women
"One day you can tie your shoes, the next day you can't bend over."
It is probably no surprise to hear those words come from someone with arthritis. What may be unexpected is that they come from Suzanne Redding, a 28-year-old woman who has waged a daily battle with the painful disease since being diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 10.
"Arthritis can strike people of all ages, not just someone's grandmother or great aunt, who in their twilight gets arthritis," says Robert P. Kimberly, M.D., Director, Multipurpose Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Disease Center; and Professor of Medicine, Cornell University Medical College, New York, N.Y. Unfortunately, he says, arthritis is "not viewed as a disease that can strike anyone."
For Redding, arthritis means dependence on other people as well as medication to control the disease and the accompanying pain. "I'm constantly in my drug store, so they know me quite well," says Redding, who takes an assortment of arthritis medications, some to counteract the side effects of others. Unable to hold a regular job, Redding receives public aid and lives with her mother. She helps a neighbor's children with their homework to keep busy.
"I have friends. I want to go out, but a lot of times I cancel because something's bothering me," says Redding, who spends many weekends in hospital emergency rooms. A current trip to the hospital came after a screw shifted in Redding's foot, leaving her "crying in the middle of the street." Redding, who has undergone about 30 operations, says: "I feel like a bag of bones. There is nothing holding me together anymore."
Arthritis dominates every aspect of Redding's life, leaving her worrying about her appearance and getting stuck somewhere when going out. "Everyone tells me I'm very pretty -- I feel very deformed," she says. "If I'm in a public restroom, I test the lock to see if it's too hard to turn before going in."
People should understand that Redding is representative of "the personal and economic devastation" wrought by arthritis, says Dr. Kimberly. "She is not one in 1,000 picked out to make a graphic point." He adds Redding's psychological resilience is the one aspect that sets her apart from many with the disease.
"It's really hard trying to live a normal life. You have to face the fact you can't, but still do the best you can. I'm going to have this disease forever. I might as well get used to it," says Redding.
"People don't understand the seriousness of arthritis, thinking of it only as a natural part of getting old," Dr. Kimberly says. Because of these misconceptions, arthritis does not get the attention or research dollars that other diseases generate. "The national commitment to arthritis research is exceptionally modest relative to the number of people with arthritis," Dr. Kimberly says. "If you conceptualize it only as something your aged family member gets, it doesn't get a high priority."
"There are treatments that can slow the course of the disease, but the point is we are not stopping the disease in enough people." Dr. Kimberly adds that while new therapies are being developed, they could be developed much faster if society and the health care profession made a greater commitment to do so.
Redding, who has given up hope of marriage and children, instead focuses on public education, talking to medical school students and others diagnosed with arthritis. As she puts it, "I got sick to help other people better understand."
"It is always important to offer hope for the future, but I think when people meet Suzanne, they'll recognize she has had the best treatment we have to offer, but we have not been able to reverse the impact of arthritis on her life," says Dr. Kimberly. "There are a lot of things that we can do with people with arthritis, but much more that we still must do."
(Source: American Medical Association, 515 North State Street, Chicago, Illinois 60610, Telephone: 312-464-4443, FAX: 312-464-5839)
For more information on arthritis, go to:
The Arthritis Foundation
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