My mother is a very healthy and active 67-year-old woman, despite the fact that she has rheumatoid arthritis (RA). She works more than full-time, helps us with the kids, and swims regularly. She takes a few drugs to help with the swelling and pain she experiences, but she doesn’t complain. While the drugs she takes enable her to function well, they do have side effects- including reduced bone density. This means that when my mother falls, even if it’s just a little fall, she is at high risk for fractures. And over the last five years, she’s broken four bones.
Knowing this, I should have reacted differently when my ten-year-old son called and said, “Grandma fell and broke her arm.” Thinking he was trying to play a joke on me I said, “That isn’t funny.” But then I realized there was terror in his voice. I could tell he was holding back tears.
My mother had fallen in the lobby of her building. I rushed over and found my mother on the floor with my two oldest sons beside her. It was clear from the intense pain she was in and the swelling that, as my son had said, something was broken. I took the kids home and we went straight to the ER where we spent most of the evening. X-rays showed my mother’s wrist was broken in two places. She got a cast, came home, and is doing fine. I, however, am a little disturbed. I hate seeing my mother suffer, and I hate the frailty that rheumatoid arthritis is causing her. Unlike diabetes, which doesn’t show on the outside, you can see that RA has disfigured my mother’s joints. And while the two diseases may be very different, they do have something in common – they are both autoimmune disorders.
When I was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes the doctor asked me if I had a family history of diabetes. Maybe the question should have been different – does anyone in your family suffer from an autoimmune disease?
I don’t know what caused my mother’s RA anymore than I know what caused my diabetes. But it may be more than just a coincidence that we both have autoimmune diseases (and both have low vitamin D levels although we spend a good amount of time in the sun).