Monday, January 26, 2015

Taking My Leave

Arthritis? Like, seriously, arthritis. The thing that happens to old people...? 

As I glanced listlessly around the waiting room in my third week of sick leave, watching my fellow patients shuffle in and out, it occurred to me that, except for Amanda, I was the youngest person there by a good wide margin.

That wasn't so weird in and of itself, I've had mostly older friends for most of my adult life. But we're talking a few years here, not decades. Yet there I sat, suddenly having something deeply in common with all these people who look like they're getting ready for retirement.

So what, right? I mean, illnesses and injuries know no age. Except, some of them kinda do, I thought.

My doctor started to explain his diagnosis-- that the condition that had kept me laid up, stiff, and in pain for the past month was, in fact, a form of arthritis. The knowledge that my 30th birthday was rapidly approaching seemed like some cosmic joke, I had never felt older than I did in that moment. I mean, wasn't arthritis something that...OLD people got? You don't see any guys my age in those commercials for Aleve and Humira and stuff.

At the same time, I was glad to finally have at least a good idea of what was wrong with me. Ever since I woke up the day before Thanksgiving barely able to bend my knee or put weight on one leg, I'd run (figuratively) through a month-long series of doctor visits, X-rays, MRIs, blood tests, insurance co-pays, more visits, and more tests. I also got to hobble around the United Nations on crutches, but that's another story.

But the worst thing was giving constant, rambling explanations to friends and family members:

"Well, I might have gout, so no I shouldn't have that beer..."

"Maybe I've got Lyme disease..."

"Yeah, that's true, I could have a repetitive motion injury from riding my bike that somehow damaged multiple joints, good suggestion..."

While standing outside the pharmacy waiting on a prescription, I had totally ignored a friend who passed by me without recognizing who I was. Hadn't showered in three days, hadn't shaved in twice as long, looking like some crippled unabomber under my hat and sunglasses, and I didn't feel at all up to social interaction OR another attempt to explain why I was leaning on crutches.

So at least I knew now, and could explain my situation to others. My situation felt less desperate, and I resumed showering daily. The thing about a diagnosis, though, is that it's the beginning, not the end. The beginning of an extended period of recovery punctuated by shots and pills, one that would keep me out of work, off my feet, and off my bike for at least a few more weeks. At least it would happen during the crummiest time of the year, weather-wise.

Another month, some holidays, bouts of mild depression a lot of reading, and a few video games later, I'm walking again (albeit with a cane,) and looking at finally getting back to work and back to my life within the next week or so. I've burned through all my sick and vacation time, and have quite a few people to thank for donating their own leave time to help me out.

We don't know yet whether this is something I'll deal with for the rest of my life, only every so often, or never again. Probably one of the first two. Having your first major medical diagnosis at age 30 is strange, but I'll count myself lucky since I managed to avoid any real issues for that long. So here's to recovery, here's to having a job with good health insurance, and here's to the people around me who I can count on to help me get through the hard stuff.


Something keeps a river from sinking to the ground.