A few months ago, I had the opportunity to go from the night shift position I had been working – that my body seems to prefer – to a 12 hour day shift I thought would be manageable.
At the time, I was feeling okay – as okay as RA gets – and I felt like I could manage three twelves a week with four days off to recover. So I agreed.
The first few weeks were rough but I was making it.
Then it all hit me like a train.
All of the sudden, not only did my usual problem areas just explode, but also I developed new problems I haven’t had before.
My hands, my spine, my hips, my knees. Those are the usual suspects. And did they ever go out.
BUT this excruciating pain in my feet came along as well and – though I’m used to RA fatigue – a level of breathtaking exhaustion that I haven’t experienced before.
I would find myself at work, standing (often on a 12 hour day shift, I find myself standing for 3/4 of it) on throbbing feet, wondering how I was going to find the strength to walk back down the hall to the nurse’s station, but also not wanting to be a whiner at work.
So what do we, the autoimmune fighters, do in this situation?
The only thing we can – force ourselves through the shift and cry in the car on the way home.
Needless to say, my health situation worsened quickly, with trips to the ER – including one during which the doctor wanted to send me home with a cane – and barefoot Target pharmacy field trips because my feet were hurting too badly to wear shoes:
Now I find myself on high dose Prednisone taper (today’s dose was 50mg), eating the entire house, preparing to return to night shift, having assured my rheumatologist that I will NEVER try days or twelves again.
And this fiasco does have me thinking.
In a (relatively) young-ish person like me, there is a great deal of guilt about what I can’t do as well as the lingering feeling that maybe if I just pushed a little harder I could do more (like kicking through a tough run back in my marathoning days). I know others who deal with autoimmune disease express similar feelings.
We tend to have a few good days and suddenly decide we should do everything everyone else can or we feel like truly terrible people when we HAVE to sleep for 12 to 14 hours sometimes or HAVE to cancel plans or HAVE to work night shift to be able to work at all.
This day shift debacle hasn’t suddenly taken all of that away but it has surely given me a new respect for my illness and how quickly it can get away from me. It has reminded me to be careful with myself and to be truly thankful that I am well enough to work my night shifts – and to leave well enough alone.
I think I had forgotten just how quickly I could go from work and yoga and concerts and thrifting to assistive devices and immobility if I don’t prioritize my health.
Oh, but never again.
I’ve learned to respect the beast.