Sunday, October 2, 2016

Here We Go Again

     So it turns out that arthritis does not subside purely because I am in college and having fun.

     My asthma has continued to worsen in severity since my arrival, so I made an appointment with a nurse practitioner at our campus student health center to have a spirometry test done. "We don't have spirometry testing here," she explained to me, "but we can do a peak flow." She briefly left the exam room to grab the plastic device and find a nurse who could pull my allergy chart records to see my personal best. As soon as she gently closed the wooden door, I burst into tears. My lungs were hurting, my joints were hurting, and honestly I just wanted to be able to go home. Unfortunately, I was unable to pull it together by the time she returned.

    "What - what happened?" she asked, concerned. With her was a nurse from the allergy clinic, who happens to be my favorite (we had a lengthy conversation about eyeliner and makeup application techniques at my most recent allergy shot appointment). The nurse kindly handed me a box of low-quality tissues and rested her hand on my shoulder.

    "I'm so sorry," I said, forcing myself to laugh. The last thing I wanted was for them to think I was being overdramatic or that I was just homesick, because expressing any sort of emotion in the medical field is effectively asking for your symptoms to be disregarded. "It's just that my asthma and my arthritis are flaring at the same time right now, and it's just really hard." It was not a great answer by any means, but it did the job. I completed my peak flow test through tears. I performed almost as well as my personal best.

     "This looks pretty good," the nurse practitioner explained to me, "but clearly you're having trouble breathing. So I'm increasing your Flovent, and I also want you to be taking Zyrtec every day, just in case the new environment is causing any allergy issues." She handed me my prescription and I did not say much, because once I start crying it is so difficult to stop. "I really hope you feel better. Make a follow up appointment in two weeks so we can check and see how things are going. And come in sooner if you can't breathe. You have to be able to breathe."

    If you have read this blog even in the slightest you know that I have many criticisms of medical professionals. But that nurse practitioner? She was wonderful. She listened to me, she took definitive steps of action, she showed me compassion, and, perhaps most importantly, she believed me (Tulane students, if you're trying to see someone at the student health center, hit me up and I'll send you her name). She respected me and my privacy, even when I was a mess. Even though I left the appointment extremely upset by the sudden and negative changes happening to my body, I was relieved to find someone on-campus who is so competent and kind.

    After I left the building I returned to my dorm room, where I laid on my rug for a while (don't judge, my bed is up off of the ground and my joints just don't have it in them sometimes). This is a recipe for wallowing in one's misery, so I decided that instead I would take a walk in the enormous park located directly in front of our campus. It was an absolutely lovely day outside, and so I scooped myself up and ventured outside.
One of many oak tunnels in Audobon Park
     The loop in the park is 1.7 miles, and I am confident that it is the prettiest 1.7 miles in the entire southern United States. The large oak trees loom over the path, providing shade and mystery, and the fountains really bring it to life. A variety of people whirl by, from rollerskaters to Great Danes to kids on scooters. A ninety year old man runs while a professional athlete walks his dog and a young dad pushes a double stroller. On either side of the paved pathway are people picnicking, playing instruments, and relaxing in hammocks. It is an absolutely wonderful place to be, and I enjoy every second I spend there.

    Foolishly, I walked the loop four times, which comes out to 6.8 miles. My right knee and left hip felt like they were decaying, but I was determined that this was my way of physically overcoming the burden of arthritis. I needed to prove to myself that I was not on the verge of losing all function. At the end of my walk, I was proud of myself and exhausted all at once.

    What I always forget is that the worst of the pain is not immediate. I woke up on Saturday morning feeling atrocious, but I successfully participated in a field trip (climbing the levee was not my friend) and walked to lunch with my roommate. We had a wonderful time, and it was not really until I returned to my dorm room that the pain settled in and I realized I was in for a very long evening. It is a horrible, throbbing pain that shatters my world and is accompanied by a squishy, tender knee. As I am writing this, I am tearing up because I am misspelling so many words and I cannot seem to remember how to spell them correctly. I am a very good speller, so this is abnormal for me, and feeling my body take a toll on my brain is extremely upsetting and discouraging. I have been using NSAIDS, a heating pad, and the power of sleep, but none seem to be sufficient in curbing the pain.

     Today I am feeling even worse, because on top of my joints hurting my throat is extremely sore and my ears keep popping and pinching. I suppose it's back to the student health center for me tomorrow...

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