RA The Life Changer

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
The heartbreak of a disease and hope from a miracle-worker.

Submitted: February 16, 2017

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Submitted: February 16, 2017




Plans were well in hand for Henry and Mags to return to Africa when Henry took crook! It was found that he had a hole in his liver was caused by an amoebic abscess and after about a cupful of gunk had been drained off, expensive imported drugs cleaned him up.

A bit over a year later, another opportunity presented itself and again preparations to leave were well in hand. Mags’ shoulders became sore, and later her wrists, which she presumed were caused by working to tidy the garden and house for the tenant who was to look after the property. Despite Henry’s massaging with liniment, the pain did not pass, so off she went to see a locum doctor who prescribed painkillers. She wasn’t ever keen taking pills, so visited a physio who’s massaging did no better than Henry’s but he suggested she should have a blood test. Both of them had blood tests in preparation for the new assignment so his advice was ignored.

Henry was focused on his new assignment so Mags did not want to put a damper on things but she found that at the airport in Johannesburg she couldn’t lift her suitcase. Adrenalin took over as the pair settled back into Makumira and reacquainting with old friends. There was some sadness too because of those lost during the past two years. But soon it was obvious to Henry that his massaging and the liniment, which was fast running out, was doing no good at all. Not knowing what was wrong and the fact the Mag’s condition was in a steady decline, was spiritually draining and the cause was elusive. Almost daily he wrote. ‘Mags not that good, managed to get her to take Lucozade before her pills!’

Field Rep Fausta, who was a long-time local, suggested going to her doctor who ran a Clinic on the West side of town, so later in the week, Henry took Mags to see him. The doctor was pleasant and helpful and recommended a blood test, saying he wanted to check her ESR because that would tell if she had gout or rheumatoid arthritis. Fortunately the doctor had worked for some time in the UK and had seen the symptoms before. The blood test showed her ESR was very high, so she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. His prescribed treatment was paracetamol ‘whenever there was pain’ and a weekly injection of penicillin. Penicillin powder injected into her bum cheek! They were painful because the powder did not flow and sometimes blocked the needle! Her pain remained constant and the penicillin did no good at all! Later it was shown that this was inappropriate treatment but Henry and Mags went with it as there was little alternative at the time. Mags lost her appetite so had no energy and Henry took over the cooking and household tasks. Mostly she could only manage a bite or two, she lost mobility, humour and was in a sorry state, dominated by pain.

To some extent the African doctors could be forgiven for their lack of knowledge on treatments, because the disease affects people in either Northern or Southern latitudes, so they would come across it rarely, or never. But after a time and no improvement, Henry and Mags decided to try the small hospital up Haile Selassie Road, it was truly upmarket compared to the previous one. The young woman doctor was thorough and prescribed aspirin and steroids, which had an effect on the pain but the steroids caused Mags to balloon, and she didn’t return to her to her old self. The doctors then tried different rates of aspirin, which is anti-inflammatory but not strongly so, and they took her off the steroids. Just about every joint, usually several at once, even rib cartilage, had a turn at swelling and the pain drove Mags to her bed! After one particularly terrible night, Henry carried her down the stairs, because she could not walk! At the hospital a wheel chair took her to the ward where intravenous diclofenic had her walking again after an hour or so but Henry decided it was time to return home. Insurance covered the cost of business class fares on Singapore Airlines, pity they couldn’t enjoy it!

They were unable to go home exactly because their house was rented out, so they stayed with Mags’ sister. Their GP referred her to a rheumatologist in Timaru and that first injection cost $90! After Tanzanian prices the cost seemed high, but the pair were more focused on pain reduction than worrying about the cost! That one injection made a huge difference! A treatment programme based on methotrexate was begun with improvement up and down, but mainly up. Henry was sort of in limbo with not much to do now that Mags was in a safe place and on track. He stayed for two months to be sure of the recovery, then returned to Tanzania. After four months convalescing, her condition had settled enough to be confident to join Henry. Still she needed some cortisone injections and her appetite did not fully return but she was steadily recuperating. The main drug methotrexate, she called, ‘A miracle.’  Her rheumatologist? He was, ‘The miracle-worker!’

Frankly Mags could not wait to return home at the end of Henry’s contract and within the hospital system she was put under the care of her miracle rheumatologist who made refinements to her dosage and attended to her flare-ups. Sometimes RA goes into remission, but not so for Mags, sometime the flare-ups were severe when she needed another injection. But researchers continue to improve or formulate new drugs.  Her miracle-worker was always looking for her best treatment, and he tested he regularly her. With most of her joints still sore, she qualified for the expensive self-injection, Enbrel, which has worked wonders. Still there are ‘tide out’ days and pain with stiffness, probably due to damage caused in the early stages. But overall, she is in good condition!

Thank goodness for the miracle-worker and for modern medicine! In their home district, they knew of a local farmer who had the disease and he was always poorly, in great pain despite gold injections. He tried all sorts of treatments, all worked out to be unsatisfactory. There is no cure, but the drugs can keep the symptoms largely at bay and quality of life is much better.

Contracting rheumatoid arthritis was a game changer but luckily for Mags it is not game over!


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