Earlier this week, I went to visit my hand specialist. He’s an orthopedist with a specialty in hands and shoulders. I haven’t seen Dr. Erickson in several years, since he removed the ulna head from my right hand.
I had a fall the day after Thanksgiving and broke a small bone in my hand and another small bone in my ankle. The PA at urgent care told me to schedule an appointment with Dr. Erickson to follow up.
Even before the fall, I’ve had a lot of pain in my hands. That’s where my psoriatic arthritis started, after all. My right wrist dislocated many years ago and then fused into that dislocated position. That surgery to remove my ulna head (the little protruding bone that is on the side of the wrist) allowed me to use my right hand again. My fingers are permanently disfigured from the sausage-like swelling that happens from psoriatic arthritis.
I’m not sure what I expected that Dr. Erickson would say when I saw him. Maybe he would tell me that he could perform a surgical procedure that would alleviate my hand pain. That did not happen.
As he examined my hands, I closed my eyes and appreciated that the warmth of his hands was soothing to mine. He would occasionally push or prod something that caused me to jump or take notice of the pain.
Finally, Dr. Erickson showed me my hand x-ray and I could see hurt on his face. It was so obvious that he had something difficult to tell me. “There’s nothing I can do.” He said that we could do a wrist fusion, but it would, once again, limit my ability to move my wrist. It might help my wrist pain but would not help my hand and finger pain. It was then that he used a phrase that I can’t stop hearing. He said that I have end-stage arthritis.
After all these years with psoriatic arthritis, I have never heard the words end-stage applied to
arthritis. I thought end-stage only applied to cancer and other diseases that are much scarier than arthritis. When I returned home, I googled these words. I learned that most of my joints are likely considered to be end-stage. It’s when there is no longer inflammation, but the joints are bone on bone.
Every time I think of this conversation, I find myself crying. I feel broken. It feels like my oldest and most loyal friend, psoriatic arthritis, is getting tired, right inside my body. It can’t even try hard enough to continue to produce inflammation. It’s giving up and living on only as pain.
I’m not sure why I cry. It feels like grief. It feels like I can’t even count on the one thing that’s always been a constant in my life to keep at it. Instead, my psoriatic arthritis has just given up and leaves behind a body of painful joints.
I don’t have any words of advice for anyone today. Only the story of my life with this disease.