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Health Advocacy Corner: Looking Back, #1


by Lu Sobredo

I have published reflections, memories and thoughts on my health journey for the past four years. HEALTH ADVOCACY CORNER is the latest iteration of a series I published on the topic of autoimmune disease. I mostly wrote about my experience with this crippling disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). The series of articles went under the heading of "My Life with RA." Wanting to advocate for more than my own journey, and for more than RA after undergoing diagnoses and surgeries for other ailments, the title evolved into an expansive advocacy for health in general and for celebrating the journey of living with functionality despite a chronic medical condition. I am happy to introduce the newest series in my blog-- HEALTH ADVOCACY CORNER.

LOOKING BACK SEVEN YEARS AGO I joined my hubby between February to March 2013 in the Philippines, my first time in over forty years since I visited there with my folks now long gone. Hubby, a university professor then before a recent retirement, had already been there for over a month doing academic research and visiting with my family. I felt pain in my right knee. I chalked it up as pain from all the walking; going up and down staircases in my family's homes in the city in Luzon, in town and village in the province of the Visayas; and switching multiple times to and fro in all forms of uncomfortable transportation that left a lot to be desired. Even our family car driven by my cousin, my hubby or a driver did not give comfort because of traffic and pollution (There was no pollution at our beachfront ancestral home in the village but it had staircases).

After I returned to my home in the U.S. while hubby stayed to continue his hike around the globe for research, adventure and pleasure, I sought medical help. Five months of physical therapy, acupuncture, herbal treatment, turning vegetarian and three doctors later, I was wheelchair bound. My hubby returned home after his research in Southeast Asia, all the adventures and another trek through the Camino de Santiago through Spain and another through Portugal.

He offered to come home while I sought for answers to my symptoms. Internal medical doctor, orthopedic doctor, two physical therapists and one acupuncturist later in my hometown, there was no verdict yet. I said "no" and encouraged him to follow his bliss.

By August 3rd, my darling hubby and then-college age son were home with me. They accompanied me on that August 5, 2013 appointment with an RA specialist who confirmed the diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis five years in progress...That RA Specialist's approach to patient care did not appeal to me. (See more in this essay: Travel Abroad with my Son and a Disability). I stayed with non-toxic alternative treatment until I found my new RA specialist three months after confirmation of the diagnosis that August. By November of that year my RA Specialist re-confirmed the diagnosis and proceeded to run tests, x-rays (over a hundred poses of body in excruciating pain and stiffness), physical exams, results from all showed RA markers that went through the roof. My RA doctor/my miracle worker told me I was not unlike other women who had this uncanny power to withstand enormous levels of pain and considered it part of aging. Until pain manifested with a vengeance. By then, I was near immobile and lived in immeasurable pain that tested my resolve, my relationships, quality of my life and my will to live.

The featured photo was from the first Thanksgiving when I couldn't cut turkey meat on my own plate. Darling hubby had to cut up my food into bite size morsels because my hands were severely affected by this disease called RA. This day was two months before my newly found RA doctor prescribed medications but only after more tests established the baseline severity of my autoimmune disease. It took three to four months thereafter to feel relief from pain.

My body was at war with itself. My body's autoimmune system response was so out of wack, infection fighting proteins attacking healthy proteins unable to distinguish them from invaders. My own body attacking itself equaled pain, stiffness and degeneration of joints and bones. The struggle for three years before I could ease away from a wheelchair were the longest of my life. I will always live with varying levels of pain. See other essays on strategies for achieving functionality while living with the disease, this link being one of them: Life with RA: Exercise Strategy thatWorks.

Barring flare ups, my cane and I do just fine. Numbing pain in my hands, wrists and fingers come and go, allowing me the pleasure of writing poetry and my first novel. So far, no amount of pain has halted my desire to write. Writing is my respite from the distractions and discomfort bent to alter my new normal with my chronic illness. I would have none of that. Pain in my joints, reduced clarity in my eyesight (all part of the body's slow degeneration from RA and side effects of medications), neither one could deter me from the love of writing. This novel in progress will get done and be enjoyed by many. It must.

Essay ©Lu Sobredo 2020
Photo ©James Sobredo 2013
Life as an Aspiring Novelist and RA sufferer advocating for health and functionality.
Lu Sobredo is the publisher of LuTravelsAbroad, a blog dedicated to those afflicted with illnesses that limit mobility. A Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferer determined to function in her new normal, she traveled often before the pandemic. During the pandemic her love of writing has resurfaced. She now travels through her mind's eye; her journey reflected in several of her new poems and her first attempt as an aspiring novelist. Watch for her first fictional novel in 2021.


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