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Getting Old and Getting Worse

Is it age, the rheumatoid arthritis—or both?

More and more these days, I am noticing certain activities that used to be easy are now becoming more and more difficult to perform. I know that I’m getting older and my problems with some of life’s basic functions may be due to my growing age.  In addition my Rheumatoid Arthritis is active right now, and it’s getting to the point where I can’t tell if I’m getting older or my disease is getting worse. Most likely it’s a little of column A, and a little of column B.

Let’s take, for instance, sleeping. You’d think that this most basic of activities would be one of the last things that would be affected by age or R.A., but that’s not the case. To be fair, though, I’ve never slept well. Even during the early years of my disease I was never a “good sleeper” – I’d be up and down all night. Despite this, though, I was always able to find my way clear to get at least three or four hours of rest at a clip.

Now, I wish I were so lucky. Most nights before I even go to bed I have to take a decongestant just to be able to breathe through my nose without sounding like a buzz saw going through the Midtown Tunnel. In addition, I have to take 17 different medications for my heart, my joints, my head, and 12 other body parts. Finally, I cap it all off with a subcutaneous injection to the skin in my belly that, by now, looks like someone wailed on me for a few hours due to the bruises and blemishes caused by years of injections. Once I am past those hurdles and I’ve fought off my cat who enjoys exploring my face with his claws, I finally get to lay down and eventually, fall asleep.

It used to be that getting up every four or five hours to take pain medication was something I considered to be a huge pain. Now, I can’t tell you the last time I was able to get five hours of uninterrupted slumber. Ah, memories.

 Normally, after I do finally get to sleep, I get just forty-five minutes or so before I am off to the bathroom for the first time. After that I head back to bed and am awakened soon after by an ache in my foot – something that has only reared its ugly head recently. Could this be due to the R.A.? Maybe. It could also be a case of plantar fasciitis, who can say for sure? So once I walk around the room once or twice its back to bed again. Maybe this time I’ll be able to get a few hours of sleep, I think. That’s just not in the cards, though, as its time for the second bathroom trip of the night. Nothing like a nice cold toilet seat to greet your behind at 2am. Yes, sometimes I sit down even if I don’t have to – when you go to the bathroom as much as I do at night it’s nice to have a rest. Unfortunately, sitting down leads to me falling asleep against the bathroom wall for fifteen minutes. As you can imagine, sleep you’ve had while sitting on the toilet propped against the bathroom tiles isn’t exactly the most restful slumber. Eventually I go back to bed about a half-an-hour later.

Fortunately, I finally get an hour or two of sleep at once, but I’m eventually interrupted by the alarm clock. It’s time for my pain medicine, and I can’t afford to miss a dose. Believe me, it’s happened before, and it isn’t pleasant. Sleeping through my narcotic dose means that I wake up later in withdrawal, and it feels like there are ants crawling all over me that I just can’t shake. This night, though, my alarm comes through. I make my way over to the bureau to take my pain meds when I see that my glass of water is empty. Yay. That means a trip to the ‘frigerator. Even though the icebox isn’t that far away, it still means a walk, and that will serve to wake me up fully. So, after I get the water out, fill my glass, and take my pain medicine, it’s back to bed, fully conscious.  It takes me another fifteen minutes to fall back asleep because I am starting to get nervous at this point about getting enough rest before I have to wake.

You all know the game – “O.K., I can get six hours of sleep if I fall asleep now.”  “O.K. I can get four-and-a-half hours of sleep if I fall asleep now and use wet napkins to shower.” “O.K. I can get three hours and 47 minutes of sleep if I go to sleep now, use a wet napkin to wipe my armpits instead of a shower, wear a once-piece jumpsuit, and drive 90mph to work and don’t stop for lights.” Well, when you have Rheumatoid Arthritis it works the same, only you know for sure if you don’t get enough sleep you will be out of commission all day.

So, after I get one more hour of sleep or so, it’s time for the third bathroom trip of the night. I used to think it was my diuretic medication making me urinate so much, but I don’t take a diuretic any more. The only thing I can think of is that my prostate is the size of a small planet by now and soon I’ll have to rent a port-o-pody to drag behind me wherever I go. Again, I sit down to pee because of the sheer exhaustion at this point, so, of course, I fall asleep on the can again until my better half comes to see where I am.

“Honey? Are you ok in there?” Allison asks.

“Ahem” I cough. “Yes I’m fine. What’s up?” I ask her, annoyed, because how dare she think it’s not completely normal for a person to be in the bathroom for twenty minutes at 4am making snoring noises. I quickly right myself, open the door, and head back to bed, avoiding eye-contact with Allison so she can’t see the utter humiliation on my face for being caught sleeping on the toilet again. I put my head to the pillow and I am asleep within a few minutes.

I wake up once more an hour or so later because I’m having a phantom pain in my left hip.  This night, it happens to be in my hip, but the transient phantom pains I feel can occur anywhere. Joints, muscles, limbs – the pain doesn’t discriminate and there is no explanation for it – it’s just part of having Rheumatoid Arthritis for many years. So, once I massage the area or simply will the pain away, it’s back to sleep once more.

Sadly, another hour-and-a-half later I am awake again to take a second nightly dose of pain medication. By this time it is light out, and I know that I will need to rise and (dimly) shine soon. I quickly swallow my pain medication and my morning pills for the day and get back to sleep as Allie leaves for school. Two hours later I am awake again, this time for good, as I schlep into the bathroom once more.

So, as you can see, a combination of age and disease has made sleeping something of a nightmare for me. Those of you who are able to sleep for a few hours at a clip – you don’t have any reason to complain. This is just one of the areas of my life where age and arthritis have conspired to make thing difficult – next time maybe I’ll tell you about how I’ve now become the clumsiest person on the face of the Earth. Just like everything else, though, you learn to live, err, sleep with it.

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