One highlight of living with rheumatoid arthritis is watching a syringe puncture my flesh to extract blood or inject medication. No, I’m not a masochist, but those thrilling moments have increased my threshold for physical pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to treat the body’s own joint cells as foreign organisms; white blood cells attack them, damaging the joints and causing intense pain.
I was diagnosed with junior rheumatoid arthritis around 10 years ago when I was 18. My parents noticed that my right knee had swelled beyond normal size, so they consulted a physician who suggested that we see an orthopedic specialist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
When my junior rheumatoid arthritis vanished after a year without medical explanation, the doctor working on my case requested my permission for a series of blood samples to see if my body had a natural way of combating this immune system anomaly.
I was sick of being jabbed by needles, so I refused. Later, as a teenager, I felt guilty for refusing to endure a few more painful moments to help others suffering from the same condition.
I remained athletic after the swelling disappeared. I played roller hockey, baseball, football and co-ed softball with friends and joined my high school’s swim team. I was in the best physical shape of my life at age 24.
But in early 2006, I started to feel my hip joints increasingly ache, and my knees continuously swelled as I walked across the Purple People Bridge to my job in Newport. In late April, both my knees swelled to about the size of a volleyball.
Despite the pain, I refused to see a doctor — not to project a fa