Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My "Foot Problems" (aka Arthritis)

Hello, All,

Since my health has allowed Kevin and I to return to church again, many friends have been asking about the health problems that confined us to the house for so long. We decided the best way to answer your questions was to post an abbreviated version here, on my old blog. (I’m not returning to blogging, but the story is complicated enough that a blog post seemed like the most effective way to spread the news.)

My health issues began in summer 2012 with a nagging bruise in the joint of my left big toe, and escalated when the bruise worsened, apparently turning into a stress fracture. (That’s what the podiatrist guessed, anyway. She couldn’t see the fracture on my x-rays, but the symptoms seemed to fit.) You may remember seeing me in a walking boot in the winter of 2012.

The “fracture” took an unusually long time to heal—too long—so I developed Achilles Tendonitis & Plantar Fasciitis in both of my feet. I started physical therapy in March 2013. Four months of therapy helped, somewhat, until the pain and swelling inexplicably spread to my right foot. Aleve and ice packs couldn’t seem to control the swelling. I also began to have pain in other joints, although we didn’t connect it with my foot pain, at the time. We just thought I was "that weak" from almost a year of inactivity. 

My Lakeport podiatrist finally admitted, after over a year of visits, that she had no idea why my feet were still swelling. So my general practitioner advised us to visit a podiatrist and a rheumatologist in Santa Rosa. The Santa Rosa podiatrist put me on a few weeks of Prednisone during December 2013. When that treatment didn’t knock out the swelling, he told us something that, amazingly, we hadn’t heard before from a doctor: this wasn’t just a foot issue. It was a systemic problem.

He sent us to the rheumatologist, who diagnosed me with a genetic form of arthritis called “spondyloarthritis” in January 2014. This made sense with the other inexplicable pains in my lower back, hips, knees and feet; all the joint pain and swelling, even that original foot pain (probably), was just a symptom of the arthritis. Spondyloarthritis develops around age 19 or during the early 20s. “Spondylo” refers to the spine because the immune response often attacks the lower back. The diagnosis isn’t an entirely sure thing, because spondyloarthritis is tough to confirm. For example, it doesn’t show up on x-rays, like rheumatoid arthritis does. We can only guess based on the symptoms. But that doesn’t change the delightful fact that the treatment plan is working (!!!). This diagnosis may sound like bad news, but honestly, we’ve never thought so. We’re just thrilled to have a diagnosis that makes sense and a treatment plan that has offered relief.

As for said treatment, our rheumatologist (Dr. Todd Hoeffling. A GENIUS.) prescribed an arthritis medication called “sulfasalazine,” which, together with physical therapy, gradually eliminated the pain and swelling in my feet. Ever since January, I’ve been working through all the exercises we learned from Lem Martin’s excellent Quail Run Physical Therapy, and a few back stretches learned from the wonderful Pilates teacher, Tina Woelbling.
Currently, I only have three more steps in my physical therapy exercise plan. (There were quite a few. Think in scores.) After that, I will need to build up my strength to relearn a few other basic living skills without pain or swelling, such as walking barefoot, standing in the hot shower, and driving my clutch car. And, finally, I will need to rebuild my stamina.

However, I’m not sure when I’ll be up to drumming, volunteering or anything else, yet. Strengthening and recovery have taken many months, and Kev and I will need some time to relax and restore, once we’ve met our physical therapy goals. Kev has been right here with me through all the unanswered questions and medical appointments. You may notice that I keep saying “we did this, we went to our doctors,” etc. That’s because it’s been a team-effort all the way. We will let you know when we’re ready to renew some of our commitments; just know they are very important to us, and we will be back.

If you would like to pray for us, here are some of our current requests:

-That driving the clutch car wouldn’t cause any problems. Last time I tried (in July), it set me back four weeks.

-That my back and stomach would heal up quickly. I recently stopped taking NSAIDS because of some stomach problems (I will be asking about ulcers at my next appointment), and my back has been the main nuisance, post-NSAID.

-That we would find the perfect medication to fit my needs, if the sulfasalazine doesn’t turn out to be the ideal choice.

-That we would get to take our vacation to Florida & New Orleans. We’ve been postponing this trip since May 2013, and now we’re aiming for early 2015. It’s going to be a major step toward feeling like “normal,” again. Eyes on the prize.
Thank you so much for reading this post. You’re part of our celebration. We've had inexhaustible support from immediate family—thank you Melodi, Steve, Nancy & Ed, for meals, rides, prayers and loveand friendsBevie, Corryn, Marc & Brenda, and othersand particularly our Bible study group here in the Riv (Dorothy Cundall, for e-church, coffees and breakfasts; Kathy & Pat Chambers, for keeping us connected; Lisa & Chris Nowak, for visiting and being impromptu electricians; Dina and Rob Roumiguere, Carol and Ray Perry, and everyone else in our group, who prayed us through it all). And where would I be without my email buddies? M, C, and Q, I appreciate every one of your sweet, encouraging words.

Christy & Kevin

****Update 10/21/14: After explaining my stomach pain to the dr. last week, he said my stomach lining is probably inflamed from a year of taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Worst case scenario, I might have a few small ulcers. He prescribed a generic form of Prilosec for a couple of weeks and thinks that will take care of the problem. We would appreciate prayer that this would be the case.