May 23, 2018
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Arthritis was an old person’s disease, until it happened to me

Renee Ordway
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

I admit to being one of those who always thought arthritis was an old person’s disease.

Rightfully so in some respects.

Growing up, the only people who I ever heard talk about arthritis were older and the person I saw debilitated by the disease was my great-grandmother. I never saw her walk. She was in a wheelchair by the time I was born.

Then there was a moment when I was 34 years old and a doctor examining the latest X-rays of my aching back said, “Well, you have a moderate level of arthritis throughout your spine.

“Basically the condition of your back is what I’d more likely expect to see in a 60-year-old,” she said.

It wasn’t terribly comforting news, but I was young and fit. She told me not to run anymore, but since I wasn’t much of a runner anyway, I could live with that.

That was 13 years ago. I now have it in both knees and it’s increasingly worsening in my hands.

I’m not looking for sympathy. I am, after all, just one of 50 million people in the United States, 300,000 of them children, who live with arthritis every day.

Anyone ready to complain of their arthritis infliction may want to read about Robin Spencer Laurie of Hampden or Callie Russell of Smyrna, neither of whom really know a life without severe pain and stiff and swollen joints.

Callie will be a youth ambassador honoree for the 10th annual Bangor Arthritis Walk on Saturday. She’s 7 years old and was diagnosed not long after her 1st birthday.

Robin, now 52 years old, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was just 2 years old, had countless painful surgeries and endured hours and hours of physical therapy throughout her life, and she doesn’t complain.

I try to remember that when I’m pouting and icing my swollen knee or rubbing my increasingly crooked fingers.

I try to remember that I’m only 48 years old when I look around the waiting room at my orthopedic surgeon’s office and see the only reading material is editions of Arthritis Today.

Speaking of which, the magazine published a new study last week that found that one-third of people with arthritis suffer from some degree of anxiety and depression, which is hardly surprising.

Living with pain is not easy. Most of us with even minor to moderate pain can attest to that. Those who live with severe and chronic pain must have incredible resolve.

I know Robin Spencer and she does, and I’m betting Callie Russell does as well.

And though arthritis does affect 300,000 children, it still most commonly inflicts us as we age and Maine has an aging populace. And unfortunately our rheumatologists are aging as well.

Bangor’s three rheumatologists have been practicing since the mid-1970s and are in their mid- to late 60s. When my primary care physician and I discussed the possibility of referring me to one, she informed me the wait probably would be about six months.

A couple of years ago, Dr. Sidney Block, who practices with Dr. Geoffrey Gratwick, told the BDN that their practice was concentrating on those people with potentially crippling or deforming disease. Other patients are put on long waiting lists or need to travel to Portland or farther south.

Not much has changed.

It’s a trend nationwide. The Center for Disease Control predicts that by 2030, 67 million people older than the age of 17 will have some form of arthritis; meanwhile, half of the country’s 4,900 rheumatologists are expected to retire by 2025.

Just a few things to think about this weekend as those who live with it, or love and support someone who does, gather at the Bangor waterfront to embark on the annual Arthritis Walk.

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