When your body gives you undeniable signs that something is wrong, your mind floods with questions. But what happens when daily signs turn into weeks, months, and years? Those signs become your norm.
On January 1, 2004, I had my first flare. I had just returned from a walk when sharp pains began in my neck and shoulders. Nothing helped. The next morning, I could no longer hold up my head. Pulled muscle? Stress? Too much weight during a workout? I was a 20-year-old college student and a water aerobics instructor who was engaged to be married; stress was rampant. I saw my family physician and she prescribed muscle relaxers and physical therapy. Weeks went by in a zombie-like state; spikes of pain continued, but at least I could hold my head up again. I began physical therapy. The pain continued, but the new exercises were at least giving me a svelte back and shoulders for my upcoming wedding. Waves of muscle and soft tissue pain continued for years, as I sought answers from physicians and chiropractors, worked out religiously, and stretched often. And the pain became normal.
Fast forward to May 2014. I awoke with a headache and blurry vision in my right eye. I thought I just needed to swap out an old pair of contact lenses, so I sucked it up and pressed on with a busy day of errand running. At one point, I looked in the rearview mirror and saw a Halloween-inspired bloodshot eye staring back at me. The next day, the pain remained. My optometrist said “extreme dry eyes. Use these drops and wear your glasses for a week. It should clear up.” I used the drops; no improvement. A week later, the pain and pressure in my head were so intense that I went to the ER. Two dozen taps to each pupil, a CT, and a spinal tap—no brain bleed, thank God! After an overnight stay, a doctor from my family medicine practice made morning rounds, took out a small flashlight, and shined it in my eye. “You have iritis and need to see an ophthalmologist today.” They got me hooked up with eye drops. I felt like a Cyclops.
June arrived and with it major fatigue. I couldn’t carry on conversations or walk 15 feet to let our dogs outside without becoming winded and needing to sit. down. now. I followed up with my family physician and she ran blood work.
Finally, an answer arrived in the form of an antigen and gene marker HLA B27. This led me to a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with the autoimmune disease ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that can affect the spine, peripheral joints, soft tissues, bowels, and eyes. It was so freeing to know that all the years of pain weren’t my fault. By August 2014, my eye had healed, I was doing yoga again, wearing contact lenses, and feeling good about my future, and I finally had some answers to a decade worth of questions.
My story doesn’t stop there; in fact it’s where it begins. I’ll be back on HealthComU in April to share more answers in my journey with an autoimmune disease.
With a passion for educating for the purpose of heath empowerment, Katie Bevan has been raising awareness of public health issues for over eight years at the Lorain County General Health District. She specializes in the development and administration of population-based messages to reduce chronic diseases and unintentional traffic-related injuries. She earned a Master of Science in Health Communication from Boston University. Katie is crazy about kale, blueberries, and purple potatoes.