Rheumatoid arthritis, that is.
Fellow Traveler has it. Once upon a time, when she suffered from ulcerative colitis (the two disorders are interrelated), she was so debilitated from RA that she had to use a walker. She was shot up, and puffed up, on steroids to try and manage the pain. It took an ileostomy, and several joint replacements, to halt the progress of the disease and help her regain her mobility. She's more agile than I am these days.
But RA still lurks in her system. It will lay low for weeks at a time, then surface with a vengeance -- one day it may be in her fingers; a couple of weeks later it will hit her shoulder; a month later and she'll wake up with RA in her foot.
For the past few days FT has been in intense pain from RA in her jaw, which is so inflamed that it's swollen and hard; she looks like someone with the mumps, and describes the pain as something akin to a migraine crossed with a toothache. It's bad enough to keep her from talking, or eating solid food. It hurts enough to be fatiguing, to send her into sleep as a kind of natural anesthetic; as I type she's taking an afternoon nap with a microwaveable beanbag next to her aching head. (I'm trying to avoid the irony that this pain really began to flare up after our church's healing liturgy.)
It's a very helpless feeling to watch someone you love try to navigate with this type of affliction, and to wake up every morning wondering if it will be better, or worse, or migrate to some other joint.
FT's doctor has told her that surgery is an option, but a dangerous one because of the proximity of the jaw to the brain; and the operation obviously requires a very long recuperation. It also doesn't have a very encouraging success rate over the long term.
So we are trying to assemble the best toolkit we can of alternative options. FT has gotten out of the habit of wearing her mouthguard, which was molded by her dentist with her particular problem in mind and which she is supposed to use most of the day, not just at nighttime. So she has resolved to bite the bullet -- or the plastic -- and start wearing it again, day and night. I have also been doing some reading up on alt.med ways of managing RA, and she is open to some of the therapies that have so far passed the quack test in mainstream medical research; stuff like aromatherapeutic hot compresses, more omega-3 fish oils in our diet, more green tea and blackcurrant oil as a dietary supplement.
We are also going to work our way around medically credible diet recommendations that pose a problem for FT because of her ostomy, like the emphasis on fruits and vegetables in RA diets...fruit and vegetable juices, for instance, rather than the fruits and vegetables themselves. (I had previously found "anti-inflammatory" diet plans rather limiting, especially for someone who already has diet restrictions for other reasons, and was cheered to see that a lot of these diets are bunkum -- there is, for instance, no evidence of a connection between nightshade-family plants and increased RA symptomatology.)
One more speed bump on our road of life. But we are not going to give up on lifestyle-change solutions to this problem. We hate you, RA, and we are going to mess with you until you crawl back into dormancy.