The Wizard of Oz is one my favorite movies. A story of courage and endurance, loss and discovery, it reminds us that the memory of a life we once knew can help ground us in a world flipped upside down. When a cyclone leaves Dorothy stranded in a world beyond the rainbow, she discovers that no matter where the wind may blow her, she always has the power to return home – but when she does we can see her perception of home has been altered in the course of her experience. She has brought a piece of Oz back with her, and now must find a way to incorporate it into her world.
Dealing with chronic illness can bring many changes to our lives. Some changes are subtle, others are more obvious. When the cyclone of RA spun into my life, it swept me into a new medicinal world strewn with doctor appointments, lab work, x-rays, pharmacists, occupational and physiotherapists. My lifestyle, my work life, my attitude and even some of my clothes underwent some modifications. I fully expected that my body would endure changes with the swelling and inflammation of arthritis, but I somehow failed to understand that my environment would follow suit. I spent months slogging through the mire of learning how to manage my disease, and when I finally emerged, I discovered the cyclone of arthritis had not only swept through my body, it had also swept through my home.
I have always been a very meticulous homeowner, creating a living space filled with the evocative images of my creative life. My homes have always been my sanctuary, a comfortable escape from the burdens of the outside world. I was oblivious to the creeping vines of my arthritic life germinating in the various rooms of my apartment. I first noticed an unusual change in my bedroom with the appearance of my grandmother’s vanity table. As I stood before the grand mirror, I was struck by the various sorts of braces, acupressure rings, sleeves, wraps and balms encroaching on my collection of cosmetics, fragrances, and other feminine frills. A reflection of the matching dresser behind me revealed a steady incubation of ring splints, elbow braces and pairs of custom finger cots.
My living room exhibited a similar set of circumstances – nestled amongst picture frames and crocheted throw pillows lurked the storm-tossed remains of hot water bottles, towels, heating blankets and hand weights; my bathroom counter was ensconced in samples of NSAIDS mixed with assorted pain-killers, DMARDS, and anti-inflammatory creams. Overflowing from my kitchen drawers were extra-large utensils and strange rubber creatures whose task it was to bite the heads off bottles and jars. My freezer was filled with a collection of ice packs burying my ice cube container and smothering packages of frozen vegetable and berries like Spanish moss. My tranquil apartment had become a one woman sports medicine shop. My so-called invisible disease was visibly evident. I had emerged from the eye of the storm only to be thrust into the bizarre forest of my new therapeutic life…everywhere I turned, braces, cots and rings…oh my…
I know my environment will always be comprised of the pieces of my journey. I couldn’t remove arthritis from my body, but I wasn’t ready for the cyclone of RA to completely take over the comfort of my home. Clicking my heels together, I set to work gathering up my small rings and cots, securing them into a sealable plastic bags; I scooped up my braces and wraps, safely tucking them into a small drawer in my dresser. I swept through my living room, scooping up towels, hot water bottles, ice packs and blankets. I cleaned my bathroom counters, stowed my medication in cabinets and pill boxes, and organized my soaps and candles. I reorganized my drawers, cupboards and freezer. I had found a place for everything and everything was in its place. The air had cleared. It was like stepping from a jungle into an open meadow.
A couple of hours later, I made myself a cup of tea, and plunked down on the couch, pleased with my efforts to reclaim the space I once knew. I leaned back and felt something poking into my right hip. I reached behind me and rescued a stray wrist brace caught between the cushions…there’s no place like home.