Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Day Rheumatoid Arthritis Went on a Field Trip...

This past Thursday, we took our 105 5th grade students on an outdoor educational field trip.  They've been looking forward to this for months, while I have been secretly dreading it for months.  The students were split up into 4 groups to rotate through 4 stations:  Archery, GPS, Team Challenge Course, and a Giant Swing (which is literally a giant swing for 3 kids and loads of fun).  Each station was located at different areas of the beautiful Lake Geneva Youth Camp, which required a lot of walking and standing on my part.  The GPS station sent us on a scavenger hunt, which had us hiking all over the the place. 

Now, as a precautionary measure, my husband, also a teacher in our school district, took a personal day to chaperone.  He came to act as/for me in the event that I wouldn't be able to keep up due to my RA.  Let me tell you...I couldn't keep up!  By the end of the day, the pain had gone from throbbing to stabbing, and I had gone from tired to physically and mentally exhausted. 

Upon arriving home, I couldn't even keep my eyes open during story time with my son and fell into a deep sleep-right through dinner.  Almost 2 hours later, the pain in my legs woke me up.  My family was about the house getting on with their evening as I limped around heating up dinner and eating alone in tears from the pain I was in.  I took a Meloxicam (my prescribed NSAID and second dose for the day, despite the once a day prescription) and Tylenol Arthritis. 

Tylenol Arthritis is to my pain what a Band-Aid is to a severed limb...pointless.   But, out of desperation, I took it anyway.  I stayed up for about 2 more hours with my family and went right back to sleep on the couch once again, until my husband woke me up to send me to bed.  This is what quality time with my family has become.  Like a stranger watching from the outside looking in, I am watching my family pass me by. 

Begrudgingly, I got up for work on Friday, taking another Meloxicam (ignoring any thoughts about my liver), taking more Tylenol Arthritis, and a stimulant to fight off the exhaustion so I can mentally function at work.  What some people might not realize, nor appreciate (in particular, my doctor), is that teachers do need to have a high degree of mental alertness when at work, to do the job we do:  to teach;  to deal with not just one behavior issue, but multiple and sometimes at the same time;  to multi-task;  to deal with the stress of the job, the paper work, the noise, the interruptions;  to be on our feet all day;  to deal with 29 different kids at once all day long.  There is no room for mental fog.  There is no room for exhaustion-not this type of exhaustion, or else chaos can erupt.  So, I have started taking a stimulant prescribed by my neurologist, just so I can maintain mental clarity and function at work.  Some days it is kind of helpful.  On Friday, it was like taking a sugar pill.

By the end of the day, I spent all of the energy I had and completely shut down to the point where I couldn't even talk to my family with more than 1 or two word responses.  We drove to our seasonal campground site with mommy silent and eventually fast asleep.  Even upon arrival, I pulled together as much energy as I could to put the food in the cabinet and refrigerator, and then I crashed.  For the first time, I literally crashed physically, mentally and emotionally as I watched the kids running in and out of the camper, playing and laughing.  I watched the dog chasing them all around.  I watched my husband being a busy bee, setting things up, getting firewood, raking leaves.  And there I sat, spent, silently in pain with nothing left to enjoy, to give them, to participate with. 

For the first time, I thought a very depressing thought, "so, this is what life looks like without me in it."  I mustered enough energy to drag myself to bed, fully clothed, no bedtime meds, and wondered, how can RA be doing this to me?  How am I going to continue doing this-to myself, to my family?

So many questions all of the time, and yet, so many will go unanswered.  I did the only thing I knew what to do to cope.  I went to bed and prayed that the Lord will help me fall asleep quickly and soundly.  12+ hours later, it's a new day filled with new hope, new uncertainties, and new questions.  Thankfully, it's also a day I am NOT working, because having to take my meds I missed last night, has now put me into a medication fog and I would not be functioning well at work today at all.  Thankfully, today is Saturday and I can spend more time with MY children and give THEM what energy I have.  Thankfully, there are no more field trips this year!!  (Oh, but a full day of Field Day is scheduled for the 20th--ugh)  Thankfully, summer vacation is coming soon, but not soon enough. 

What I wonder is, how can RA and my job work together?  How will RA learn to live in harmony with the expectations of my profession, since the expectations of my profession aren't changing, only becoming more challenging?  So many questions, that may go unanswered...

May you find all the answers to the questions that RA has brought into your life...Many blessings!


  1. I'll feel your pain! I teach in an urban district 7th grade Science. I get to see approximately 125 kids in my classroom a day. This does not include the 8th graders (former students) who find me throughout the day for 1 reason or another! I am also the union rep for the building, head of my department, on the leadership team & a state trained mentor. Needless to say, I am mentally & physically tired by the end of my day, as well. More often then not, I come home & take a nap before I even begin to think about dinner, unless I'm at a meeting of some kind. Thankfully, at least for now, I have no kids of my own (subject to change, we shall see what the future holds). I can say that I have finally come to the conclusion that I have to give up something, so mentoring is going out the door starting next school year. It's time to focus on ME & my husband!! Thankfully, I have no major field trips to attend. We have FUN DAY coming up, but there is enough staff to pick up the slack. I can honestly say, I can't wait til JUNE 3 (last day of school)!!! Good Luck finishing out the school year!! Pain free hugs!

  2. Donna LaForgia wrote, I continue to pray that God give you strength and answers! This post was so raw and I am sorry.

  3. I understand so much. I was diagnosed in 2008 (working full-time) and went downhill fast. By 2009 I was on reduced hours (I too am a teacher) and 2010 I could no longer manage working as a teacher at all. My fingers no longer hold a pen properly and and my knees and hips give me constant pain. I was very sad to stop teaching, but I have to say it did make me realise that life is NOT all about work and I found I had a bit more energy to spend with my daughters and hubby. I still feel left out on days when I can't go to the park/soccer/mall/sport events with my family and stay at home in the warmth, but they are also learning that our times together are changing and that I appreciate those times more now I know how important they are. I am on embrel and really thought it would be the "magical" medicine that would fix me and I could go back to teaching. It has not been magical at all. I am grateful everyday though for what the pain meds, steroids and other meds do for me.

  4. This was so well-written, and hard-hitting...I felt your pain. I had to stop working (first one job, then the other)and go on disability 2 years ago. I don't have the family life you fact I really have no family life at all anymore. I lost the man I thought I would grow old with, and my daughter is 19 now and has her own life. I have my cats. I don't know if I made the right choices since my diagnosis and subsequent spiral, but when I think about it, they actually chose me. My life has become quiet, calm and, lonely. I pray that you are able to get through the rest of the year, and take a look at things this summer. If there is one thing RA has taught me, it's that I need to just stop. I miss my job(s), I miss my hectic life, I miss my dog that I also had to leave behind and in the darkest, loneliest hours of the night, I miss 'him', too. I don't know what my future this exact moment, not much. So I pray you are able to take stock, and realize that what you saw as life going on without you was not the correct picture. Your children would not have been playing, your husband would not have been busy and your family would not have been happy. They are doing what they do because of you, NOT in spite of you. God bless...and hold on to those happy shrieks and your puttering hubby. You are their core.

  5. Thank you so much! YOU made ME cry!!