Someone told me recently that rheumatoid arthritis is NOT a serious disease anymore. Her logic? Because people rarely wind up in wheelchairs anymore.

Oh. My. God.

how serious is rheumatoid arthritis?Excellent reasoning. Sorry, I missed that pertinent point – my joints have been hurting far too much for me to really look at it from that angle.

I must also add that this woman is someone I have known for many years. While we don’t spend every weekend together, we have gone on holidays together, and regularly get together for dinner and a glass of red.

And she’s a podiatrist. Yep. She works with people who have RA. She’s a podiatrist who treats people’s deformed, painful feet on a daily basis, and she believes Rheumatoid arthritis is NOT a serious disease.

I was speechless.

It’s clear to me that she is not a stupid person.  But she was being a mean person.  She wanted to upset me.  She felt her personal situation was worse than mine. Some people need to play ‘my pain is worse than your pain.’

So she told me that rheumatoid arthritis is not a serious disease anymore.  To put me in my place.

I told her that I have been in pain every day for the last six years. Some days that pain is unbearable. The pain never, ever goes away. I paste a big smile on my face and get on with things, because there is no other option.

She didn’t flinch. I could almost hear the ‘yeah yeah…’

I take chemotherapy drugs. True, they are in far lower doses than used to treat cancer, but they are still chemotherapy drugs.  They don’t give you chemotherapy for a ‘minor’ disease. Yes, there are mild cases of rheumatoid arthritis. Those cases get treated with an anti-inflammatory (nsaid) or maybe plaquenil. And if there’s no organ involvement, maybe it isn’t as serious a disease.  Maybe.

But many cases of rheumatoid arthritis are VERY serious.  You can tell how serious a disease is by the treatments that a doctor has prescribed. Google methotrexate. Google Imuran. Google prednisolone. Google Humira, Enbrel, Rituxan, Actemra. Read people’s experiences. Look at the potential side effects. Pretty serious stuff.

Without a doubt the medications I take are shortening my life. Without the medications I take, I would HAVE NO LIFE. I would be curled up on the couch, unable to move, unable to do anything but cry. That’s pretty serious, if you ask me.

Rheumatoid arthritis has attacked my kidneys, my heart, my lungs, my eyes. My liver is doing pretty well at the moment, but the medications I take are working on that. My ribs become inflamed and I can’t even take a deep breath.  My jaw flares, and I can’t eat solid food.  Sometimes I have to crush up my pain medications because I can’t open my jaw. The simplest of choices, like what I would like to eat, are taken away from me.  Pretty serious.

And yet, people still feel it’s OK to stay stupid things to me like ‘Rheumatoid Arthritis is not a serious disease’.

Rheumatoid arthritis has taken my career, my marriage, my financial future, many of my dreams and most of my future plans.

I have been declared disabled by the government, and live on disability.  I have been declared disabled by two superannuation funds, and their insurance companies. They all agree that I am too disabled to ever hold a meaningful job again. Yep, that’s pretty serious.

It has also taken many of my friendships. Or rather I have gotten to the point where I no longer wish to continue a friendship with a person who cannot understand that I live in chronic pain. That may not make them a bad person, perhaps just a very self-involved one.  But it sure doesn’t make them someone I want as a friend either!  And because I keep smiling, and work hard to look good on the outside, even people close to me believe that I am not very sick.  And they think it’s OK to tell me so.

Well, it’s not OK.  It’s not even a little OK. It’s incredibly offensive and demeaning.

I no longer see this person. I never wish to. Not because she is a bad, horrible person. She has many good qualities. But she is lacking the one major quality that I need from the people in my life – compassion.  And the understanding that Rheumatoid arthritis IS a serious disease.

Whether you use a wheelchair or not.