Determining the craziest and most ridiculous things people have said to me about my rheumatoid arthritis isn’t as easy as you’d think. I could fill a book with the misconceptions that have assaulted my ears over the last 25 years, and I may someday. For now, though, I chose a handful of excerpts from conversations that probably should never have happened. Enjoy.
“So, like, is it contagious?” – I’ve heard this question more than once, believe it or not. While it may not have come from the mouths of the smartest individuals, it is a question that seems to crop up from time to time. Usually I respond with, “Yes, but only to those who have it already.” This reply normally results in a blank stare like a computer attempting to take the square root of -1.
“I like you but I really want someone who will be able to carry stuff for me.” – Oh, this one was a doozy. At first, I wasn’t really that upset, and actually praised her honesty. As time went on, though, I was convinced by friends and family that this was much more of a sleight than I had originally thought.
Besides romantic relationships, there are always others you meet that can shock the heck out of you with some of the things that they say. Sometimes these questions even come from complete strangers! Here are some of the most surprising statements I’ve heard from people who really had no business asking.
“What’s wrong with you?” – Normally, this wouldn’t be such a horrible thing to ask. Yes, it is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, but some people are just born without the gift of tact. The reason this particular question is so stunning, though, is because of the source. As I was in the grocery store, minding my own business, a man of about 60 walked right up to me and stood there, staring at my foot. At the time, I had just gotten my ankle replacement cast removed, so my limp was much more pronounced. After a minute or so, the silence grew too awkward and I asked the man “Can I help you?” That was when he responded with the question “What’s wrong with you?” He put the emphasis on the word “you,” as if to say “Well hey, I see you have a limp, so that must mean you are broken in some way.” Even though the question took my by such surprise that I was unable to immediately respond, I eventually got my bearings and said, “I was attacked by an alligator. It came out of the sewer by my house. Boy, those things can bite.” The man looked at me, paused, and said “Wow.” and then left me to finish my shopping. This incident is probably the weirdest encounter I’ve had because of my disease.
“Oh, arthritis! I could never live with that, forgetting who I was and everything!” – As you have probably guessed, this person was confused, mistaking Alzheimer’s for arthritis. Who knows, maybe they had an early onset case themselves. Either way, it was certainly a shock to hear, but what an opportunity to have some fun! I couldn’t resist, so I immediately said “Yes, it’s horrible. Especially when I forget I have arthritis and then I can’t remember why I can’t remember that I’m sick. Then I do remember why I can’t remember but I still can’t remember what it is I can’t remember so I remain in the dark. The only good days I really have is when I remember why I’m sick and also I remember why I can’t remember, but even then I remember that I’m sick and I’m sad again. So, as you can see, this disease gives me my share of days to remember, or really, days not to remember, or even days to remember why I remember.” At this point, the eyes of the bank teller who made the comment went cross, and then her head exploded.
Finally, there is a special category for doctors and other medical professionals who have made statements to me that would make a first-year resident cry. I mean, these people are paid to know better, so it makes the ignorance that much more inexcusable. Needless to say, these medical people did not make my regular rotation.
“There’s no such thing as a Morphine pill.” – This was stated to me by a physician’s assistant when I visited some doctor for a one-time ailment. I forget exactly what the doctor specialized in, but the P.A. was “correcting” me on the information I provided on the intake form. At that time, I was trying Morphine in pill form to see if it was able to control my pain. As I always do, I had some of the medicine in my pocket, but I wanted to make the P.A. squirm a bit before I revealed my ace in the hole. So I said, “Really? Are you sure? If not then I have no idea what the pharmacy has been giving me! Oh man! What if they are giving me some sort of medicine that I don’t belong on! Oh my God! This must be why that clump of hair came out in the shower today, and why my right pinky toe is turning purple. Oh, no, and I thought my penis shriveling up and turning black was just because of the new soap I was using!” At this point, the P.A. finally realized I was being facetious, and so I took out the pill bottle and showed him. I daresay he will never make that mistake again.
“But you are so young!” – How could I not mention this one? We’ve all heard it, and we’ve all cringed at the sound. What make this instance so special is that this time it was uttered by an actual, credentialed, medical doctor. Yes, that’s right. A full MD really said this to me. I’ll never forget this so long as I live. I’m not sure how someone who went to medical school could be ignorant of the fact that rheumatoid arthritis affected people of all ages. Needless to say, this was my first and only visit to this particular medical professional.
This only represents a small amount of the crazy things I have heard people say about my disease. The misconceptions out there, being spread throughout the media, on medicine commercials and TV shows, only makes it much more likely in the future that you will encounter your own daily amount of ignorance. Try to have fun with it, but always remember that each person you educate is one less person out there spreading the lies about autoimmune disease.
This blog is excerpted from a 2013 post by Dan Malito for CreakyJoints