When I was eleven years old, I was a pitcher for a girls’ softball team. There is usually more than one pitcher on a team, so that they can tradeoff on different halves of the game.
One spring evening, I was sitting out after pitching the first half of a game when I had, what my eleven-year old brain thought to be, a brilliant idea – if I climbed to the top of some nearby playground equipment, I would have a clear view of my team, without the obstruction of lawn chairs and fences.
I wandered over to the sand-filled playground at the edge of the field and climbed up an apparatus bearing a child-size fireman’s pole. I lingered on the wooden platform watching all the action. As the game neared the seventh inning, and the sun began its descent into twilight, I turned around and unwittingly stepped through the gaping hole surrounding the pole. I hit the ground with a solid thud.
The echo my slight body made was startling, alerting observers and parents to my rather humiliating moment. I was lifted to my feet, and although I didn’t feel any pain I was unable to put any weight on my left leg. They carted me over to a lawn chair to sit for the rest of the game. My father took me to the hospital later that night. Under the penetrating rays of an x-ray machine, a good-humored doctor looked at my bones and cheerfully announced “looks like you broke your hip…”
Years later, it was arthritis that fell from a fire pole landing with a thud in my body. I found myself once again under the rays of a radiology machine, first under the care of my physician who was looking for any sign of damage, and again when I participated in a research project designed to examine the relationship between early RA and bone health.
The study spanned two years and involved the wearing of activity monitors, and high resolution CT scans performed every six months. At the end of the study, I was filed away as another statistic, and left with the meticulous pictures of my forearm and hands.
I had no understanding of the minute details in the images of my bones, but I was captivated by their spongy silence. They didn’t look like my bones; to me, they had the appearance of fossilized stones, and just like the scientists whose job it is to unravel the stories of the past, I wondered what tales would be revealed in the mysterious hollows of my skeleton. I imagine the scars of my disease would be painted in the lines of my bones like Egyptian Hieroglyphics, exhibiting the hours of morning stiffness, the burn of recurrent flares, and the battle against swollen appendages; I imagine the face of my disease would reveal itself in the bumpy nodules and twisted intersections of my joints; carved in the fissures, they might even see that fateful day when I fell from a fire pole.
But there is more to my story than what might be revealed in cold data. Buried in the calcific realm of my bones is the untold chronicle of mastering the ordinary tasks of everyday life – lifting a mug, opening a jar, holding a book, climbing stairs, turning doorknobs, signing my name, tying shoelaces, unclasping buttons, and picking up change. Hidden in the serrated tracks of my life, are delightful triumphs – climbing the formidable staircase of the Great Wall, returning to the stage, finding the determination to follow my passion and uncovering the strength to live life on my own terms. These are the authentic stories simmering in the pathology of my life.
I hope one day, scientists might find a new outline that will help them stop the inscriptions of arthritis. There’s a vague comfort knowing that in the porous density of my bones I can look at my past and perhaps plan for my future. Maybe there will come a day when my bones will tell the story of someone who used to have RA. Wouldn’t that be a chronicle for the ages?