hey say life begins at 40, well my life did, but some may say it stopped because 3 years passed my 40th birthday I was diagnosed with RA. Some would say their life was over, but I was determined not to let it get me down. Oh life was going to change but not end.
How did it all start? It was one Bank Holiday I was out with one of my sons, climbing into the car and my knee swelled up like a balloon. For some time I had had knee trouble, the odd twinge but nothing serious. This day it went mad and blew up, the pain was agony so with some difficulty I drove home and called the doctor out. He came, looked me over and gave me some pills that seemed to do the trick. Then I started to have a pins and needles sensation in my little finger, it travelled up my arm, across the shoulder and down to the other finger. Then my knees and ankles hurt, by this time the doctor had my blood tests back and he said I had RA. Luckily for me I had been made redundant a few years earlier from my print job, shift work, standing for long hours, and had a desk job working for the local newspaper designing adverts.
At first having RA didn’t seem to be any big deal, but slowly I found it hard to drive, walk, bend down and stand for long periods. I had to get rid of the car and travel to work on the bus which meant half mile to the bus stop, then a 45 minute ride and at the other end it was a five minute walk to work and a climb of four flights of stairs. This made my day from a 9am to 6pm to an 8am to 7pm, so by the end of the week I was shattered. It got to the stage that I only went in every other day; I needed the next day to rest and charge my batteries. HR at work looked into my case and got onto the job centre and arranged for me to take advantage of the ‘Access to Work’ scheme run by the government. This involves me paying the bus fare, but I’d have a taxi to and from work; they then reimburse me the money. This put my life back on track. With the medication and the RA unit giving me regular visits life was back to normal, although I couldn’t do any DIY, so my sons had to take over the role. Things were going along very well, then my right shoulder started to crack and was painful to use. Being right handed it became a problem so I was put down for a replacement. I had never been in hospital before, for an operation I mean, I looked on the bright side and laughed at the thought of the metal detectors going off at airports etc. The operation came and went and finally I had 50% use of my arm and went back to work. I remember ringing up to say I was OK to come back to work and thinking - great back to see all my work mates. The boss said “See you Monday, but some bad news we are all being made redundant”. Great I thought, out of work again and how was I going to get back to work with RA?
So there I was on the dole at the age of 54 with RA and a bionic shoulder. I was not going to let it get me down and I went on courses and searched for the next job. I was asked if I wanted to help out at my local county council for 6 weeks, being in print and working with computers. So I went and with the help of the access to work scheme I spent 6 weeks helping with their design work and printing and have been there for the past three years. While there I got a passport and went to Paris for a holiday.
Last year my hips got so bad that I was in a wheelchair. Work was getting difficult so I went onto part-time work and had both my hips replaced now I can walk without sticks. I still have RA and my hands and ankles swell up and I can’t walk for great distances but with the purchase of a three wheeled bike I can get around on my own, to the pub and other places.
The moral of my story is, I know the pain and the way it has changed my life. There are things I can’t do but if you are focused and willing not to give up you can adapt and live a normal life. You can overcome all put before you and carry on. Don’t feel sorry for yourself and don’t let people feel sorry for you and drag you down. Life is for living so live it.
Winter 2009: Brian Pell, NRAS Member