Monday, April 9, 2007
“You have rheumatoid arthritis,” the doctor said.
I looked at him. He waited for me to speak. I looked down at the table, at the long silver tray where the hypodermic needles lay waiting, loaded with hydrocortisone. The doctor was a hand specialist, and I had come to be treated for what I thought was tendonitis in my left thumb and right index finger. My mind reached back to the mother of an old boyfriend – she had rheumatoid arthritis. What did I know about her? She didn’t seem to have much wrong with her. I remembered that she had a massage therapist come to her house every week, and that she told me that she needed to avoid stress because it made her condition worse. From this, I had developed an impression of rheumatoid arthritis as something mild and possibly psychosomatic.
Then I looked over at the nurse. She looked stricken, as if the doctor had just told me something terrible. Why?
The doctor explained, slowly and gently, that while he could still give me the hydrocortisone shots, they would only help things temporarily, and that the problems would almost certainly come back in another joint. He showed me my blood test results. Something called the “rheumatoid factor,” which was supposed to be below 14, was listed as 468. He used words like “severe” and “aggressive” and “damage,” and told me that I needed to get in to see a rheumatologist as soon as I could. I just stared at him, trying to put what he was saying together with the impression of my old boyfriend’s mom.
I declined the shots, took the phone numbers he gave me, thanked him, and left the office. I went to my car, sat down inside, and called my husband. “He says I have rheumatoid arthritis,” I said. There was a lump in my throat and I didn’t know why.
The ironic part is that I turned down the shots because I was afraid of needles. I had no idea what was coming.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
My husband and I sat in the rheumatologist’s office. I liked it – it was messy, a trait that for some weird reason, I had always associated with creativity and intelligence. Under his white lab coat, the doctor was wearing a loud plaid shirt with a clashing tie. For some reason, I liked this too.
He fired information at us quickly, so quickly I could barely take it in. Words like “rheumatoid factor” and “sed rate,” “DMARDS” and “biologics” and “prednisone” flew through the air. Again, like the other doctor, he mentioned “severe” and “aggressive.” He kept saying, “We need to get this shut down.” I had done a little research by then, and what I had read scared me to death. The things he was saying didn’t make me any less scared, although he seemed pretty calm.
Then he said, “And, of course, you can’t get pregnant while you’re on these drugs. Were you planning to get pregnant?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I’d like to see you wait about two years. That should give us enough time to get this under control, and we can go from there.”
Two years? I was 36 years old, almost 37.
In an examining room, a nurse gave me two shots, one called Toradol and the other called Depo-Medrol. So much for avoiding the needles. She sent me home with a lab slip ordering more bloodwork (again, more needles?) and four prescriptions.
I called my mother and cried on the phone. “Two years! I can’t wait two years to have a baby.”
“If these drugs are really that dangerous, you should really take a pregnancy test before you start them,” she said.
“I don’t think I’m pregnant.”
“Just do it for me.”
Friday, April 13, 2007
Early morning. I left my husband sleeping in our bed and went into the bathroom. I took a pregnancy test out from under the sink. It was a cheap one; one of my friends had bought them in bulk when she was trying to conceive. I peed on the stick and left it lying on the counter, then went into another room and tried not to think about it. I hadn’t even missed a period; it was due in about four days.
A few minutes later, I realized that I had forgotten to set the timer. “Crap!” A lot more than three minutes had gone by, and I knew that the results were no longer considered valid if you waited too long. I looked at the stick anyway. It looked like there was a faint line in the test window, but it was too hard to tell.
I took out the expensive Clearblue Easy test I’d been saving. It was going to be two years of waiting – might as well use it now, right? This time I set the timer.
There it was, in words clear as day – “Pregnant.”
My heart was pounding. I went into the bedroom, woke my husband, and said, “I think I’m pregnant!”
“Really?” he said. He looked excited and happy.
“I don’t know,” I said. Then I started to cry. I cried because I was happy, because I was mixed up, because this wasn’t the way I had wanted this moment to happen. I cried because my husband’s birthday was in six days, and the timing would have been perfect – I would have just missed my period, and this could have been a wonderful birthday surprise. I cried because I had gotten two shots the day before and had no idea what they might do to the baby. Most of all, I cried because I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. Would I be okay without the medications for nine months? Would I be able to take care of the baby once he or she came?
We were only four months into our marriage, and everything had changed.