As a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer who’s main complaints are stiffness, swelling, tenderness, redness and inflammation — I like to consider myself in tune with what my body is going through and aware of when I’m having an arthritis flare.
This past month I spent a few days hospitalized at USC. I was discharged on a Monday, but by Thursday I was exhibiting symptoms of an arthritis flare in my right knee. I went to see my doctor thinking he was going to have to drain my knee but I would go home and be fine after.
That idea couldn’t have been more wrong.
My knee was so swollen that my ankles were losing circulation. My doctor immediately got to work and prepped me for the draining. I took a friend with me so that she could see what I go through on a regular basis. My doctor took 50 cc’s of liquid out and there was still a lot more left in my knee. He sent it for cultures and testing, and refused to give me a cortisone shot because he believed I had an infection.
I love my doctor and he knows my body very well. He knew that this wasn’t a typical arthritis flare. So after much persuasion on his part he admitted me to the USC hospital again — only a week after being discharged.
I thought he was just being cautious, which is totally welcomed. I settled in my room, joked with my friend who came with me, and expected to stay one night for labs and testing. At about 9:00 pm, the nurse walked in and said, “The doctor called and we need to prep you for surgery.”
My jaw dropped, my heart raced and the first person I called was my husband. I asked him to come see me before the surgery. I was scared beyond words. I started prepping my husband and telling him what I want done when I die and asking him to spread my ashes in Hawaii. Just in case my surgery took a turn for the worst.
I didn’t know why it had to be done right away or what they were looking for. All I knew was that I had a possible infection. But the longer we waited for results to come back the worse my knee would be affected. So I signed the consent form, braced myself and went in to the operating room.
I remember waking up and not being able to speak, feeling like there was something stuck in my throat. I remember massive pain in my right leg and not being able to move it. I screamed in terror and the nurses ran to my side. I was given pain medication and a nurse stayed with me until I calmed down. After that I was taken back to my room for recovery.
Later that day doctors came in to tell me they found the infection in my knee and it turned out to be staph. I needed to be on antibiotics right away and all my RA medications had to be discontinued.
Can you imagine what my body would go through by quitting cold turkey?
Luckily, I have been medication free for one week now and have had minimal withdrawal symptoms. I’m on antibiotics for 6 more weeks and will have to stay off my feet for a few weeks.
But I am thankful. The doctors told me if they had not operated when they did I could have lost my leg. Had my doctor not pushed for cultures and tests because he thought something was off, they would have never caught it.
My doctor not only saved my leg when he called it an infection, he saved my life. The infection could have spread to my organs. He knows my body better than I do sometimes and I’m grateful for the close relationship we have. He truly cares about my well being and that’s why I drive so far too see him.
This was a very close call, but now I know I need to listen to my body more often and know when something isn’t right.
Arlene Grau lives in Lakewood, California. She suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, migraine, vasculitis, and Sjogren’s disease.
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.