When she was forty, her left hip began to ache quite a bit after standing on a bus or at a bus stop or after walking more than a city block, which she did often because the bus stops she used most often were several blocks from her home and her workplace. At first, because she was always somewhat overweight and because she’d done a little more walking recently while carrying some books, that she might have pulled a muscle in her upper leg. When the ache persisted and got worse on rainy days, a friend advised it could be arthritis. That friend being a Critical Care Nurse, she paid attention.
Now, not wanting to alarm the gentle reader, let’s explain that this as it turned out the accurate diagnosis was for plain old garden variety everyone gets it osteoid-arthritis, not joint chewing, autoimmune, not everyone gets it, really vicious rheumatoid arthritis. So, life went on. And her left hip ached, mostly in a dull way, that she could ignore most of the time. In colder climates or on particularly rainy days, it ached more. But still it did not present any particular problem, and she didn’t really talk about it much while trying a lot of over the counter arthritis meds until she found one that works just about all the time. [not every medicine works for everyone]
As time went on, and she was fifty, she began to notice that her left leg was stiffer than her right. And that’s when arthritis and a definite lack of motivation to do any more exercise than walking around downtown Berkeley, or on Telegraph or Shattuck, began to have more impact, no pun intended. Because arthritis caused a low level of ongoing pain, she moved her legs less, especially her left leg. And as it became stiffer, she began to fall down, often at bus stops because the curb and the steps onto or off the bus couldn’t seem to get close enough … her legs being stiffer, but also as short as ever which is pretty short. She hated falling down, not only because it hurt like blazes to get onto her knees to get back up but because everyone around her would start fussing and making a whole lot more of a scene than was ever needed. So she didn’t talk to people who weren’t around for these occasions about falling down at bus stops and sometimes elsewhere. And she called herself clumsier than she already had been.
Over the next roughly eight or nine years she still did a lot of walking, to bus stops and to workplaces. And she was EXTREMELY careful, so the falling down thing faded into the background. Just on cold days or wet days, her hip hurt, and it got stiffer. Twelve years ago, she started falling down on stairs, on rugs, on wooden floors and mostly indoors, for which part she was grateful. She blamed her balance, her clumsiness, and her garden variety arthritis. At one recent point, a physician suggested the muscle weakness that seemed to be part of the problem had to do with her low thyroid. And frankly having low thyroid was another everyday matter she didn’t talk about much, she took meds to address the lack. She took different doses over time. It was just a part of what she did.
Now she’s sixty-five years, ten months and some days old and she’s not falling down because she walks around her home with a walker supplied by a very good friend, and walks around outdoors with a cane or a walker. And she’s cut way down on walking around outdoors. It took years for her best friend to convince her about the cane. It took a couple more years and some more of that falling down thing to convince her about the walker. Falling down and cracking your head can have that effect on a person. And when it’s rainy or cold her left hip aches and gets stiffer.
She only knows that falling down is not the problem anymore, getting up is, and it hurts like blazes to get onto her knees to try to get up. And some physicians she’s met lately seem to think it’s all about her weight. She doesn’t know. She only knows it’s a lot more of a worry, the idea of falling down and needing a linebacker to help her up again, than the dull ache in her hip.
She thinks maybe this plain old garden variety osteoid arthritis is another invisible illness. She doesn’t know. It’s not entirely invisible of course if you’re walking around with a cane or a walker. But the truth is, she doesn’t walk much outside the house now, being a danged foolish arthritic old lady who gets embarrassed when she falls down. She’s amazed to consider how much walking she was doing just about every day, less than fifteen years ago. Well, at least now she’s ‘talking’ about it.