When I was first diagnosed with Reactive Arthritis, I did what most doctors hate and went straight to the internet for answers. I wasn’t looking for medical opinions, however – I was looking for personal experiences so I knew what to expect.
So, what is Reactive Arthritis and how did I get it?
Reactive Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints and you get it after having an infection in the bowel or genital tract. The day before my inflammation had started, it was confirmed that I had salmonella – a type of food poisoning. To read more about Reactive Arthritis, take a look at this brochure from Arthritis NZ and to read more about salmonella, take a look at this brochure from the Ministry of Health NZ.
How did it all start?
Some could say the timing was a blessing, others not so much. I caught the salmonella at the start of December and it lasted around two weeks. The original day I came home early from work due to feeling sick, was also the day that my dog passed away. It was sudden and heartbreaking – with putting her down as the only humane option at the end of the night. I will never forget those moments when she closed her eyes and you could finally see her at peace, no longer panting in pain or confusion. My heart, it still aches.
Due to this traumatic event, I wasn’t taking too much notice of my poor health. Nevertheless, once I had been tested and it was confirmed that I had salmonella, I was told to just keep on keeping on and that I wouldn’t be getting any medication to help. At that point, I didn’t mind, as I could feel that it was finally coming to an end. Little did I know, that Reactive Arthritis was coming my way!
How did it ‘reign over’ my Summer Holidays?
I write this post four and a half weeks since I first experienced symptoms and I still have a long way to go in terms of healing – just so you get an understanding of how long this process has been.
I originally woke up one Saturday morning with a sore jaw and a sore ankle. Thinking that these two things could not be related and not being in too much pain, I went about my day. It was an early Christmas for my family as I was to fly out to France the following Friday 22nd December for my summer holidays (although, it would be winter in France). Over the course of the day, I battled with the dregs of my salmonella and the beginnings of inflammation in my left jaw and right ankle. Over the course of the next 24 hours, the pain got worse and my ankle was starting to be noticeably swollen. A friend had come over and she took me straight to A&E. The diagnosis was not straightforward, unfortunately, and I was sent home with the suspicion of Reactive Arthritis and a prescription for low dose painkillers and low dose steroids.
I am unable to take anti-inflammatories, which is something quite important to note (as it changes the whole course of action in terms of healing when it comes to things like Reactive Arthritis).
Hours after my initial visit to A&E, my mother had to take me back, as the inflammation was getting worse and I was becoming less able to put pressure on my foot, making it hard to walk. They sent us to the hospital for more testing and I was thankfully able to grab a wheelchair while we were moving around for different tests. After some bloods, an X-ray and after they took some fluid out of my right ankle (unpleasant experience, but necessary), they confirmed that it was Reactive Arthritis and I was told to continue the treatment that was prescribed to me at A&E. Within 48 hours I was back in the hospital, via an ambulance, due to how much pain I was in. I was thankfully prescribed better painkillers and was given a few extra days of steroids. They told me to visit my doctor before the end of the week as a checkup. At this point, it seemed like they assumed I would still be making it over to France at the end of the week – boy, were they wrong.
Friday came along and I had to cancel my plane tickets. It was a hard decision but I wasn’t improving and knew that it was the smart idea to cancel rather than reschedule at this point (thankfully I did, seeing as I am still in the healing process a month later). It was time to visit my doctor. He saw me walking along on my crutches, unable to put any pressure on my right leg and instantly knew that the dosage of steroids I had been given were not high enough. He increased the dosage and warned me about the dangers of being on the higher dosage – your body becomes dependant on them and it can be super dangerous to suddenly stop taking them. There are also way higher chances of getting an infection, as well. Within a day, I already felt better. However, over the next 48 hours, I then began to feel worse. It had spread to my knee and it was excruciating to bend my leg.
Having done our online research, we could see that it wasn’t unusual for the inflammation to spread. A few days later, however, I was in too much discomfort to ignore that things seemed like they were getting worse. We went back to my doctors (not my usual one, as he was on annual leave) and the doctor sympathised with my pain and gave me longer lasting painkillers, but said there was nothing else he could really do to help. We went for a blood test as a precaution and by the next morning, I was back in the hospital. Apparently, the blood test I did post my doctor visit didn’t look too great, so he called me up and sent me to the hospital ASAP, thinking I could have an infection. We did more blood tests at the hospital and thankfully I didn’t have an infection. They mentioned that they thought I would have been successful in my healing at this point, but my knee and ankle were still quite swollen. Luckily, my left jaw had gone from painful enough that I could only eat liquids or extremely soft foods to being able to eat relatively normal and only have sporadic belts of pain.
Seeing as my knee had the most inflammation, the doctors decided to drain some fluid out of it – like they had done the previous week with my ankle. They warned me that it increases my chances of infection, but can also be really helpful. Around half a cup later, my knee was not as full. They did some more tests and decided to also inject a steroid directly into my knee. This was extremely painful and I wasn’t expecting the doctor to take the needle and in and out a few times to “make sure she was getting it in the right spot”. Despite the pain, I appreciated both attempts to help my knee, as these actions seemed to help show progress in my healing. My father has rheumatoid arthritis and seeing as I was taking much longer to heal than they thought, we had to double check that they had not misdiagnosed me. I had X-rays of my jaw, pelvis, both hands, both knees and both feet. Thankfully, the results came back clear.
I spent the next three days in the hospital, getting out just in time for New Year’s Eve – not that that meant much to me at the time. It has been two weeks since my stay in the hospital and I am still in pain, which changes on a daily basis. I am getting more sleep than I was a month ago, although I cannot wait until I can sleep through the night. I went for a check-up at the doctors last week and he has suggested that I continue on my current treatment plan of steroids until I visit the rheumatologist in mid-February, so they can make an official analysis. I am seeing a very slow positive progression of the swelling but the pain is still quite prevalent.
So, how did Reactive Arthritis take reign over my holidays? Well, I had to take the last week of work off in December, I spent two weeks unable to walk and two weeks still on crutches and bed rest, I’ve had to take the first week off work in January and I’m still in the process of healing. I essentially had no holidays. I am, however, extremely grateful to my mother who has taken care of me this whole time and to all my friends and family who have visited me in the hospital or at home. It’s amazing how times like these show you people’s true colours and makes you appreicate all of those around you.
I hope to update you all on my progress over the next month. Please don’t hesitate to get in contact if you have any questions!