Living with RA: Never quit fighting it

My weapons of choice.
My weapons of choice.

What you don’t see in the above photo is the $4.65 prescription of prednisone I had to go fill last week. But that’s jumping ahead in this story. Let me go back to where things went sideways in my no-drugs-but-still-have-RA life.

So I stopped taking methotrexate February 2013. All of that is documented in previous posts. I’ve had great months with absolutely zero pain, and some months with some niggling ache in one joint. Nothing that a borage oil capsule or a cup of ginger tea couldn’t take care of. Really. Living plant-based cleaned out the processed food junk enough in my system that I responded very well to simple over-the-counter supplements, and never even had to resort to ibuprofen.

Flash forward to late May/early June of this year. We went for a hike at Mount Rainier, and my legs hurt more than usual. We hiked just about every weekend last summer and my legs would hurt but then be fine the next day or a few days later. This time, something was different. When we got home, I could barely lift my legs up to walk up our two front porch steps. My legs, frankly, felt paralyzed, but not numb enough to be without pain. It was excruciating that night, and the next night, and the next night. Each day, the pain would ease off, then come back at night, and last longer and take more joints with it.

I was entering a full RA-flare, something I had not experienced since 2008 upon my initial diagnosis. This one felt like an out-of-body experience. I could function during the day, after about 4 hours of unbelievable stiffness that settled into my legs, along with swelling. My legs would eventually ease and relax, only to return to the pain/stiffness at night. By last weekend, it was beginning to involve my shoulders and arms so I could not even turn over in bed. That was it. I called a doctor in Seattle and went to see him, explaining to him I was trying to manage RA without the traditional meds.

He told me I had two choices. I could water fast and the symptoms would most likely vanish in up to 72 hours, or he could give me a prednisone blast with taper. I took the prednisone. 1 pm that day. By 3 pm, stiffness and pain were mostly all gone. I still had some phantom pains in my right leg, but by 9 pm all traces of that were gone. All with one dose of 40 mg of prednisone.

I’m now down to 20 mg and tomorrow begins three days at 10 mg each. My doctor said I needed a reset. He said my way of eating had actually helped protect me from a much harsher flare. He said these things happen and it was probably an accumulation of things that finally tripped something in my immune system. (A quick rundown of potential things in just the past few months: two hard hikes, removal/installation of most of the flooring in our house, plus repainting the interior and all the related toxins, a plane trip, training for new computer system at work … the list goes on). He said it is impossible to know what did it, but lucky for me the prednisone snapped everything back into order and I can begin again.

But this time, I’ve got a new awareness. I cannot ignore pains and think that the food alone will take care of me. Stress management is just as important, as is consistent, DAILY exercise and avoidance of toxins, plus eliminating as many chemicals as possible from our house. I was full on with food management but hadn’t given a second thought to cleaning products and the inhalation of those products each week in our housecleaning.

Also, I’m bad about exercising in spurts and then pushing myself super-hard on the weekends, which is not the thing to do with RA.

And, frankly there may be just times I need to fast to give my system a chance to calm down and reset.

I never resorted to ibuprofen even during the worst of the flare. The bottles you see in the photo at the start of this, plus THAT MUCH GINGER every day or two, juiced, is what I lived on to function. Those supplements kept me ambulatory to go to work, but after a point, I was either going to have to go to bed for a week and fast or do the prednisone.

There is so much I don’t know about this disease, and I’ve always known it’s a shape shifter. I’m going to a naturopath for the first time in the next few days and we’ll see what more I learn about alternative treatments. But for now, I feel as good as when I stopped the methotrexate and started going plant based last year.

In this experience, this was the first time I had a medical doctor recommend water fasting to me for anything. Things are changing in the medical industry, and I think we are all coming to the same conclusion that pills only take you so far, and that natural, conservative methods still have a function. I think if you are struggling with an autoimmune disorder and find that plant-based eating is still not getting you exactly where you want to be with how you feel, you might read up on alternative treatments and get with a doctor who understands there is a world beyond pharma and who will listen to your concerns. Dr. McDougall’s site has a searchable doctor database, and that’s how I found mine.

I believe plant-based food is a great support and will get your body in optimum shape for whatever is needed, and I’m sticking with being plant-based because overall, I’ve felt fantastic and a whole host of other issues have completely vanished without ever coming back — such as chronic fatigue, sinusitis, PMS, and other issues. My cholesterol is low, blood pressure is excellent and this way of eating has given me an amazing amount of benefits. As my doctor said, “The diet didn’t give you this flare.”

Here’s more on water fasting from Dr. McDougall himself, and Dr. Alan Goldhamer, who is one of the founders of TrueNorth Health Center, which offers medically supervised fasting programs.

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