this past fall i started noticing a tightness in my right foot when i got out of bed in the morning, something i was aware of and then would forget about until the next day. over christmas, i went to tampa to visit family and found relief by putting my foot in front of the jet in their hot tub but the next morning my foot was so tight i was limping on it. 

i made an appointment with a new foot doctor and he did x-rays but didn’t see anything out of the norm (i was expecting stress fracture from yoga or something). he did suggest i probably had a morton’s neuroma in between my 3rd and 4th bones but that i should go on my upcoming yoga teacher training in mexico as i wouldn’t do any damage to it and we’d take care of it when i returned.

in the following months, i started noticing tightness in my right pointer finger knuckle. this is the finger i used to mouse with heavily (graphic designer) until switching to a wacom pen last year. but it hurt! not always, but enough that i was noticing. 

by the time i left for mexico for my yoga trip in march, my foot was visibly swollen on top, often somewhat bruised looking, and it hurt to walk on it much of the day. when i got to mexico, within 24 hours both my foot and finger stopped hurting. no symptoms all week. i knew that arthritis was often aggravated or relieved by climate but i didn’t put too much thought into it. as soon as i was home again, the symptoms flared. so i went and got an mri of my right foot.

the doctor called to say there wasn’t an neuroma in my foot after all, but an unexplained mass that he wanted to remove. i remember him calling me and saying, “it’s not one of the three things i would typically diagnose but i remember you mentioning a stiffness in your hands. sometimes masses develop in rheumatoid arthritis patients.” i shrugged it off and ended up scheduling my surgery for what would have been this upcoming thursday.

this is when i noticed that there were new symptoms each morning in my feet. it wasn’t just my right foot anymore, but now my left. and the pain was different. less of a throbbing on the top and more of a tingling sensation in the balls of my feet. i brought this to the attention of my doctor’s resident who told me i was likely overcompensating for my right foot with my left. uh, no. i started to realize that having surgery on my foot wasn’t going to help me if i was feeling symptoms in both feet.

so i decided to take matters into my own hands and went to three acupuncture sessions that focused on my feet and hands. the acupuncturist wanted to look at me holistically and that was really appealing to me. i loved the sessions and felt intense heat and motion in my fingers while i was laying on the table. but within the three weeks of doing acupuncture, my symptoms went crazy. my knuckles on six of fingers grew so large that i couldn’t wear the rings i’d worn for years. when i woke up in the morning, not only could i barely bend my fingers for the first few minutes but now both feet were hurting so badly i could barely walk — sometimes not for ten minutes; sometimes not for a few hours. 

one morning i woke up to take a friend to the airport hours before i’d normally be awake and the pain was so horrible i couldn’t walk down the porch steps without holding the railing. this was the breaking point where i knew i needed to do something more. i found a rheumatologist online and scheduled an appointment for the following day. 

the first thing the rheumatologist asked me was who had referred me to which i said, “myself. hope that’s ok.” i was clearly a lot younger than many of his patients. he looked at my feet and thought i should get a second opinion on the mass before getting cut open. he took one look at my shoes and thought i had plantar fasciitis from wearing such poor footwear on hardwood floors all the time (i went home and bought 5 new pairs of shoes, of course). he took a look at my hands and said he didn’t think anything too serious was wrong but that he’d do blood work and x-rays to be sure. 

three days later he called to tell me i had significant but low rheumatoid factors in my blood and that he wanted to treat me for rheumatoid arthritis. what i appreciate about my doctor was that he told me he was a bit puzzled because the inflammatory markers — almost always monitored and elevated in r.a. patients — were perfectly normal. he prescribed me a month of tapering prednisone, the miracle drug that would mask my symptoms until we could talk through a longer term solution. he even personally called my foot doctor so they could co-treat me. we decided together that my mass was now likely explained by r.a. and that getting this new disease controlled was more important than opening me up. surgery cancelled.

that was the swirl leading up the diagnosis and even though the first few days were a bit of a shock, i felt better in general just knowing what i had. the out of control feeling of not knowing what was going on with me subsided. now i felt like i could do research and manage what was going on. in a way, knowing i had r.a. made me feel a whole lot better than i had for the three months prior.