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Health & Fitness

The first doctor was wrong: It is rheumatoid arthritis

HealthDiseases and IllnessesMedicineArthritis

This isn't an easy subject for me, but it's one many will relate to. I have rheumatoid arthritis. Thanks to the wonders of medical science and a doctor who worked with me for five years to get my "Molotov cocktail" just right, I am, for the most part, in remission.

I'm hoping by sharing the beginning and middle of my journey (I won't say end, because this disease is not curable) I will provide others with some encouragement.

Before RA, I was being treated for chronic sciatic nerve and joint pain -- I was given more than 45 cortisone injections and physical therapy. When I questioned the use of so many steroids and asked if I might have RA, the doctor told me my blood tests were negative, my hands looked "fine" and I would have to learn to live with my limitations.

Thankfully, our daughter pushed us into the world of the Internet. There I found out that not everyone who has RA will test positive for it with a blood test. . At about this same time, I began having pain and loss of use of my jaw, fatigue, low-grade temperatures and heat spots in the middle of my hands and bottom of my feet.

My orthodontist insisted on an X-ray. There it was: The arthritis had hit my jaw. At this point, I was only able to open my mouth the width of one finger. My daily salads and raw vegetables had been replaced with soup and applesauce. My power-walking had been reduced to a hobble. Moving most of my body was excruciating. I told my doctor that I wanted to see a rheumatologist.

Within three weeks, I met with my new medical miracle worker. He took one look at me and knew I had RA. What a relief! Finally, I knew that the last five years weren't just exhaustion from working 60-plus hours a week.

But because most of the beginning drugs for RA can take three months to reach full power, change did not come quickly. Common medications for RA are Plaquenil and methotrexate. I was started on the Plaquenil, and when there was only a minute difference in my pain, the methotrexate was added. Still not much improvement. However, thanks to some new drugs a positive change finally came.

I started on Enbrel injections. Within two weeks I began to feel better. Within two months, I was power-walking three miles a day (I am now walking five), doing strengthening exercises 20 minutes a day and working full-time.

The real miracle: For the first time in eight years, no one could detect that I had something as serious as RA. It's been seven years now, and this continues to be the case. I've had bad days, but relatively few.

I am sharing this story to hopefully give others the courage to stand up for themselves. Don't take one doctor's word. Definitely do not assume that whatever you are feeling is nothing more than stress. Look for answers. With the Internet, you might not even have to leave home!

Nadel, a grandmother of two, works full-time as a freelance journalist. She lives in Laguna Hills with her husband of 28 years, their son and his fiancé, a 13-year-old lab mix, a 5-year-old gray tabby and a 1-year-old Maine Coon.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience or air an opinion related to health or fitness. Submissions are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times.

Read other My Turn columns at latimes.com/myturn.

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