My Introduction to Chronic Pain and Symptomatic Osteoarthritis

In August 1998, my seven years of teaching high school Social Studies and Spanish came to a decisive end when I accepted a Teaching Assistant position at a major university to pay for my doctoral degree coursework in Modern American History that I had begun taking a year earlier. I had been married for ten years, and my husband and I were the blessed and proud parents of two beautiful, blonde haired little girls, ages 9 and 7. I  should also add here that I was a “Minister’s Wife,” which is a life’s work unto itself, and I was one of the main caretakers of my precious 81 year old grandmother, who I adored and admired.

I jumped headfirst with excitement and little forethought into this new phase in my life. I was 33 years old, madly in love with my handsome, supportive husband, involved in every aspect of my children’s’ lives, and I was emotionally and physically healthy (or so I believed).

It was difficult (to say the least) to prepare my syllabus, lecture notes, discussion questions, and exams, along with grading  80 tests every six weeks for the two classes I taught each semester. While I taught 6 hrs three days each week, I also attended three-a total of 9 hours-of graduate level seminars 1 to 3 days each week, which required taking notes, studying for tests, reading, researching and writing book reviews and 40 page papers, and making no less than a B on each course’s final semester grade. As you might guess, I am not a “B” student. I expected and received only “A’s” as final grades in all of my classes at the end of each semester. Type A personality. . .You think so? I did not!

By my second semester of teaching and doctoral work, carrying out my duties as a wife, mother and young minister’s wife, and taking care of my gandmother, my stress levels were at an all time high. As my petite 110 pound frame dwindled to 95 pounds, I began having major headaches and swallowed 4 OTC ibuprofen every 5 hours, every day. The obvious result: secondary stomach pain and horrible headaches!! Yet, let me say that my second semester classes and students were my favorite of any during the 5 years that I taught.

My favorite, yes–but, first allow me to ignore the morning that I passed out in front of 45 students as my 8 am class began, woke up laying on a table surrounded by said students, was hurriedly placed on a gurney helped by half of the EMTs and Firefighters in my college community, took an ambulance ride to the local hospital, gave blood in the ER for umpteen unknown tests, and had bags of IV fluid pumped into my body, only to discover that my pulse and blood pressure had bottomed out because I had taken some prescription sinus medicine that has since been taken off the market. That was definitely a FUND day!?

That same semester, in October 1998, my father-in-law passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack. My strong 32 year old husband needed me to lean on. To this day, I still do not know how either of us made it through this time in our life. We had little time to grieve because we had to get back to our “normal” routines. By worldly standards, most people would have crashed and burned about now. But we knew that our faith and trust in God would sustain us through this time. Please do not think that God allowed either of us to recover quickly from such a tragic loss or the far too fast-paced life we were living. When we did not stop to allow ourselves to heal emotionally and physically,  God decided to let the “crashing” truly begin.

When I returned to my university to finish my second semester, I began noticing a new pain in my worn out body. This time the pain radiated in my bladder and kidney areas. I knew the norm. I was tested and retested for UTI’s and Kidney infections. All the tests came back negative.  When I tell you that I was a 30 on the 1-10 pain scale–that’s an understatement. Much of my “spare” time was spent in the ER (I knew the night ER staff well) because my bladder literally would not function. Can you say Foley Catheter?

Since neither my Family Doctor, nor my OB/GYN could diagnose the reason for my indescribably, painful bladder pain, off to not 1, not 2, but 3 Urologists I went. After too many painful tests, none that need to be described in detail here, other than saying that sterile water was used to stretch my bladder twice, and for a year I continued to teach classes and take classes, while my husband drove me 2 hrs one way every 2 months to have my bladder rinsed out with a caustic, burning, chemical solution that was supposed to heal the lining of my bladder. What? I have Interstitial Cystitis (IC)?? What exactly is that?? I had never heard the words. But, believe me, during the next 2 years, I learned more than I cared to know about IC and the horrors that come along with this disease.

In late 1999, my beloved grandmother, my Granny, passed away in her sleep from congestive heart failure and after her year long battle with breast cancer. Grieve her loss?. . .I didn’t have the ability to because my IC physical pain had taken over my world. At this time, my History Department Chair, sat me down in his office and gently suggested that I take a medical leave from my teaching and doctoral classes. I politely declined.

My pain continued, but Tramadol or Lortab eased it enough for me to teach Spring 1999, and schedule a hysterectomy in May 1999 as soon as classes were over, because by then I had found a Urologist, determined to fix my IC pain. He had asked me to have a ct-scan of my abdominal to hip region. Those results: I had an enlarged uterus. Ah Ha! -The possible cause of all my bladder issues and pain.

Summer 1999 was spent in a 3 month slow recovery from a hysterectomy that led to the discovery that I had been living with adenomyosis. (Look it up in the dictionary, if you don’t know what that is). No enlarged uterus equals no adenomyosis equals no more IC or bladder pain. And, I did feel so much better towards the end of that summer. I’m cured!!–So I thought.

When I walked out into the hall the after I dismissed my first class of the Fall 1999 semester, my bladder pain returned full force. I called my OB/GYN, but, he told me that he had done all he could do for me. His suggestion was to see my Urologist. Again?? No!!!!!!

I knew enough about Interstitial Cystitis by this time, and had met enough people in specialists’ offices, who truly lived with the horrors of this Invisible Illness, pain that was a million times worse than my own. I decided at that moment that I did not have IC. As my own patient advocate, I realized that the Urologists who had used my body as a guinea pig, had handed me the diagnosis of Interstitial Cystitis as a “dump word” meaning “I have no idea why you are having this bladder issue and pain.” And by 2001, my bladder pain had actually subsided.

Today, 15 years later, I still have minor issues with my bladder; but, none of it, in my case, stems from having IC. It is a symptom of my lumbar spinal osteoarthritis, combined with the after affects of L5S1 Lumbar-Herniated Disc Surgery. Bladder pain occurs in very few people who live with most forms of arthritis. I happen to be one of the lucky Arthritis Warriors, who have residual bladder pain among their long list of other symptoms or side effects of Arthritis. And if you haven’t guessed by now, that stress headache that I began having in 1998, is actually a result of cervical spondylosis (arthritis and degenerative discs in my neck vertebrae). The pain radiates from the bone spurs in both of my shoulder into my arthritic neck, up the back of my head, and radiates in a circular pattern around my head. I call these headaches my “Arthritis Headaches.” Trauma Induced Spinal Osteoarthritis Headache is a mouthful to say!!!!

••Please note that this is my story and I am not a trained medical practitioner. If you have any of the Chronic Pain issues discussed here, see a medical professional. Don’t use Google to self-diagnose. You might really scare yourself or even believe your diagnosis, without having medical truth.

••Also, I will be blogging about my issues getting a diagnosis of spinal osteoarthritis, living with it for most of my life, and all the good and bad that comes with my arthritis diagnosis in my weekly and monthly blogs as we in the Arthritis and Autoimmune Disease Community, find ways to live with the chronic pain of our invisible illnesses, and to support each other, each time we “Enter-the-BoneJoint!”

-Jeremiah 29:11

Angie Russell Irvin; Mrs. Gulf States International 2017


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