You think I’m kidding…but I’m really not. I remember being a kid and loving those little Flintstones multi-vitamins that my Mom would buy. But now that I’m older, there’s no fun (or flavor) in the meds I’m taking. My little mini-medicine cabinet that sits next to my bed is now stocked full of more medications, vitamins, powders, syringes and alcohol swabs than I have ever expected it to be.
Who would have known that the development of the drug methotrexate (originally created for leukemia therapy) would help Rheumatoid Arthritis patients today. How could a chemotherapy medication for cancer help put an auto-immune disease in remission? So I’ve learned in the past few months that it does in fact work…and this is why – methotrexate inhibits the activity of the immune system (which is the enemy in an auto-immune disease like RA, because it causes inflammation around the joints) and also slows down the growth of synovial membrane cells (big words, sorry) that line the joints.
When all is said and done, it works. And as one of my last resorts to help with the pain, I have been taking methotrexate since November. And although I’ve seen a few of the side effects that aren’t very pleasant (such as nausea, dizziness, dry cough and hair loss – don’t worry, I still have plenty), my pain has significantly decreased in the past few months. I finally found a combination of medications that allow me to open a jar of peanut butter without throwing a fit and almost breaking my wrist, or carry my laundry bags down the street to the Laundromat without pain.
I’m not going to lie – it’s still kind of scary taking a form of chemotherapy, especially when my body’s pain seems dependant on the fact that I take it every week on the dot. Sundays are my usual “lay-on-the-couch-in-pajamas-while-catching-up-on-Law-And-Order-and-napping-after-taking-methotrexate” days, preparing me for the week ahead at work. It’s too bad I have to waste a weekend day feeling dizzy and nauseated, but it would be much worse if I was working. This is my plan for now, and as long as my liver stays healthy and I stay single (since methotrexate is also used for medically induced abortions)…okay, not single, just not in need of children as of yet…then methotrexate will be my drug of choice. Guess time will tell.
And then there are my least favorite medications in the form of injections (yes, shots…for those of you who don’t like needles, you may want to stop reading here).
I currently have 4 medications that I take as injections – the methotrexate that I mention above, vitamin B12 to help with the breakdown of the methotrexate, a biologic (synthetic) medication called Cimzia that is also an immunosuppressant and works hand-in-hand with methotrexate, and finally a hormone called Oxytocin (which is actually the hormone you produce when you have physical contact with someone). I supposedly lack this hormone, in addition to my insufficient production of my thyroid hormone, so I take both as supplements.
I’m sure that list didn’t mean much to you, but really I wanted to talk about my progress at giving myself these shots weekly, and some of them twice per week. It started with my extreme fear of needles – when I was little, my sister had to get a flu shot at the doctor’s office and I was standing there with my Mom, watching her screen bloody murder at the site of the needle…and I fainted. It’s actually a funny story because I didn’t even get a shot that day, but I got a sticker and a lollipop! Since then, my fear of needles or blood has quickly dissipated. Over the past 5 years I have had so much blood testing and IVs that I’ve gotten used to the poke and slight dizziness they cause. But I never thought I’d get used to giving myself a shot.
When I first found out I had to start an injectable medication, I was so freaked out I had to have my boyfriend at the time give me the shot every week. But with our schedules getting busier (and then eventually not having him in my life), I had to learn to suck it up and just do it. So now, fairly painlessly, I give myself 4 shots a week and most the time I don’t have to even use a Band-Aid afterward (which means it was a steady poke). Ewww gross…I’m sure you’re thinking. Such is the life of an RA patient…
The remaining list of pills I take consist of vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts that my doctor wants me to take – and they do not come in an over-the-counter Flinstones shape multi-vitamin, unfortunately. That would be fun, but nothing comes easy with this auto-immune disease (as you’ve probably realized).
I am very fortunate to have a rheumatologist who is an MD and at the same time understands the importance of natural medicine and herbal treatments. My family has taught me how important natural medicine is since I was a kid – when we would get a cold or the sniffles, my dad would dump a bunch of herbal drops into a boiling pot of water on the stove and have us “breathe” over the steam. Sounds kind of crazy, but it actually worked wonders with my sinuses.
So natural medicine was the first place I tried to get a diagnosis. First, I called Dr. David Dahlman http://www.drdahlman.com/ , a holistic chiropractor who treats IBS, Crohn’s Disease and Fibromyalgia. His system worked wonders on me – starting with the elimination diet to discover my severe food allergies. Then I moved back to Arizona and found Dr. Theresa Ramsey http://www.drramsey.com/ , a naturopathic doctor who focuses on overall natural healing. She was very important in diagnosing my thyroid condition and boosting my immune system to give me more energy.
And now I am with Dr. Michael J Powell, MD, http://www.fmtlc.com/bio.html a rheumatologist who specializes in Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis. He was key in diagnosing the RA, the hidden muscular TB, and healing my GI tract so that I can now eat most of the foods I had been missing for 5 years. Besides the prescription medications I take for the RA, the rest of Dr. Powell’s regiment includes vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements and natural hormones to help boost my immune system in the process. And this is why I have stuck with natural medicine during this whole process – because it works and it’s not as dangerous (or as expensive) as the pharmaceutical medications.
So my now excessive “multi” vitamin list started with vitamin D (very important for RA patients and my levels were almost nonexistent) and have grown to about 25 vitamins daily – some in the form of capsules, some as powders and some as herbal liquids. Try swallowing that many pills at once (I’m a pro)! I even have my little (actually, it’s pretty big) blue granny pill box to hold them for daily consumption.
A Little Merlot
It might not be a medication, but it definitely helps take away some pain. Don’t worry, my friends, I am not an alcoholic and I don’t turn to wine as a pain medication – I take plenty of those. I just like to end my day with a glass of yummy merlot or some sauvignon blanc to help relieve the stress and inflammation.
But with most of the medications I am on, I have to be careful about alcohol, so I’ve been limiting myself a lot more lately (kind of hard to do at 26 when all of my friends want to go out on the weekends…to bars). I also have to get monthly liver enzyme blood tests to make sure the methotrexate is not breaking down my liver – okay, I guess it’s also to make sure the alcohol isn’t mixing with all the medications to break down my liver either…(oh stop worrying, Mom).
However, being the Wino that I am, I will continue to enjoy little weekend getaways to Napa, girls weekends filled with champagne for all the Bachelorette parties coming up, and a few Happy Hours to ease the stress of the week. Vino is in my blood…I’m Italian!