Written by Daniel P. Malito on April 26, 2011
A few days ago I experienced one of the most painful episodes in the entire tenure of my life with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I had to be rushed to the hospital in the back of an ambulance, and then spent six hours in the ER while I was “repaired.” As I was lying on the gurney, I began to think about what life would be like if I could not count on the support structure I have availed myself of for years. Sitting in that hospital, I realized that having people you can rely on when you need help is probably the single most important asset in your R.A. toolbox.Last Friday, I was just finishing up my shower when disaster struck. As I was sitting in the chair I have in my bathroom, I leaned forward to put a Band-Aid on my left foot. As I reached down, I felt something in my hip quite literally roll out of place. I instantly knew that the prosthetic in my left hip had become dislocated. The pain was instant, intense, and epic – my body immediately began to react. My heart began to race, I began to sweat profusely, and I was dangerously close to passing out. Just before I keeled over, my girlfriend, who I had called to as soon as it happened, grabbed me and kept me upright on the chair and made sure I stayed awake. After another minute or so, my body went into shock, and all the symptoms lessened enough for me to regain composure. The pain was excruciating if I moved the leg, but if I kept it still and supported it with my own hands, the discomfort became bearable. As soon as I stabilized, my girlfriend ran to get one of my parents to help with the situation. My father came into the bathroom and asked what was wrong while my mother called 911.When the police and EMTs arrived, I was still stuck in the chair in my bathroom. Every time I had tried to move, the pain prevented me from doing so. Originally, the paramedics wanted me to walk to their chair so I could be wheeled down to the waiting ambulance. When that was proven to be impossible due to the pain the dislocation was causing me, the EMTs lifted me into the chair by supporting both my legs in the air while I was lowered onto the wheeled chair. Of course, all I had on at the time was a robe (take note: emergencies never hit when you are fully dressed). They eventually brought me into the street in front of my house, and transferred me into a waiting stretcher the same way they had transferred me to the chair. In front of on looking neighbors and passing cars, they closed to ambulance doors, and I was off to the hospital.When we got to the emergency room, there was no waiting for a bed. It seems that when you are taken to the ER via ambulance, you get to bypass the waiting room altogether. After a short wait and a set of extremely painful x-rays, the hip dislocation was confirmed. It took the ER staff a few hours to research the type of prosthesis that had been installed in my left hip, and figure out if it could be reduced (re-located) with a simple manipulation of the leg. The answer came, and it was the response we wanted – reduction was possible. I was moved to another room and put under sedation so that the orthopedist staff could put my hip back into place. After another hour or so, I was able to return home.As you can see, it was quite an ordeal. It took a total of seven hours for my hip to be returned to a state in which I could walk. It is sore now, and will be for a week or so, but the pain is not even close to the horrible level of pain that I felt when it first happened. When I got home, though, I realized how much worse it could have been. If they were not able to reduce the hip, or if there had been nerves or ligaments that prevents the hip from being put back into place, I would have had to been immediately rushed into surgery. Whether my hip would have been re-replaced, or the old one simply been fixed, I can’t say. Either way, it would have been a months-long ordeal, and I would certainly not have walked out of the ER that night.The reason that I was able to respond so quickly to the problem was because I still live at home where there is help available at all times, in abundance. If my girlfriend was not present at the time of dislocation, and my parents were not in earshot, I would have been hard pressed to reach a phone to call anyone. Of course, living at home at thirty-four years old is not something I readily admit to strangers – it certainly injures my confidence. Unfortunately, it has been a necessity – until now, that is.My family has been there for me countless times. Whenever I needed them they came through, always putting themselves second to my health. My needs warranted that I had help within arm’s reach at all times. Now, though, as I approach my thirty-fifth year on this planet, I find myself considering my future more and more. Why? Because I have met someone who is compassionate and understanding about my Rheumatoid Arthritis, enough so that I can seriously consider what I am going to do for the next few years of my life. This fact, combined with the incident last week, has really driven home for me the need to have people in your life who are willing to drop everything to help you. If you suffer from autoimmune disease, a group of illnesses that can change from day to day, I will tell you that you need to have support in place before you can even seriously consider living on your own. Sure, there are those of you out there who live with no one, but I’m willing to bet you have at least one person you can call when the chips are down.If you do not have a support structure in place, then I suggest you start to construct one as soon as possible. Even if you have to swallow your pride and befriend someone you usually would not normally think of talking to, it is worth it. Autoimmune disease is a hard burden to bear, and it is near-impossible to bear it alone. You may think you are hard as a rock, I know I did, and that you need no one else. I discovered that if you are sick for long enough you will eventually need someone – even if they just listen to you gripe. So go out, make a friend or two, call an estranged family member, or head to a support group. You won’t regret it, and you may just give yourself a whole new perspective on life.