Rheumatoid Arthritis

I remember spending the 4th of July 2014 on a boat in lake Austin absolutely loving life. We later called that 4th the night of the pontoon of death. We were so overloaded on that pontoon boat and we end up taking a wake over the bow. This sudden breach of water sent some of the ladies on the boat into a state of total panic as my brother Wade tried to keep her steady as she goes. The next day, July 5th, I had my first hang gliding lesson with instructor of over 25 years, Jeff Hunt.

I headed out to Luling, TX. and spent the morning running down “mount Luling” with a Wills Wing Condor 220. I was hooked. Just getting 3 feet off the ground was all I needed. I remember glancing up and seeing a hang glider way up there and thinking. WOW, now that’s where I want to be! Between the 7 or 8 of us hang gliding students, we shared the big kite and ran ourselves off the mound until we were exhausted. The mid-day sun was cooking and the afternoon instability made it too dangerous for us to do beginner lessons anymore.

All I wanted to do was hang out with Jeff and Larry, my instructors, and pick their brains about flying. Jeff asked me, “Do you have the manual?” Without missing a beat, I pulled out my Denis Pagen manual and showed Jeff. “I have this one!” I said, looking for approval in Jeffs hard to read, expressionless face. “Hey you want to have lunch?” Jeff asked. “Yeah! sounds great” I exclaimed. In fact I had worked myself up quite an appetite from running up and down that little hill at the airport.  So I got to ride with Larry to a cool little local restaurant and got a big juicy patty melt burger. Mom and pop restaurants usually make great burgers, and I literally inhaled that burger. I felt so cool hanging out with Jeff and Larry, REAL hang gliding pilots!  I was already scheming in my mind how I was going to be making frequent trips up to Luling to keep on learning hang gliding.  It was only about a 4 hour drive from Corpus Christi, and it would give me a good reason to come up to Austin and hang out with Wade.  Everything was going fine until sometime in the middle of lunch my right wrist started throb in pain. “Did you hurt your wrist?” Jeff asked. “It’s fine, I probably just sprained it somehow.” “Maybe you were holding on to the down tubes too tight”, replied Jeff. “More than likely, Jeff, I did catch myself holding a death grip on the down tubes.  And I have read in the manual that you need to have a light grip…” I said.  Anyways, I strategically stopped and talked to our server on my way to the restroom,”You can put the whole tab on me.” We had a great lunch.  Jeff reminded me that I need to make my return lessons sooner rather than later, in order to stay fresh. I was already planning on it and told Jeff I’d be there next weekend!

So my wife and I loaded back up in our car and headed back home to Corpus Christi.  And before long, I was really starting to notice the pain in my right wrist.  It was throbbing.  I was getting very irritable, and the air-conditioning didn’t seem to be good enough.  The pain was getting stronger, significantly stronger!  So much, that I was starting to complain about every little bump in the road that we hit. It felt like the wrist was broken.  The swelling started and the wrist was soon very tender.  The drive home was agonizing, and as soon as we got home I was in bed dosed on Advil.

This is where it gets difficult. After a couple of days the swollen wrist subsided and I was left kind of wondering what the heck that was all img_0834about.  Then, in the middle of the night, I wake up sweating bullets, running fever, and my left ankle is swollen and red, hot to the touch, and very very tender! The pain was so bad, I thought I was going to throw up, and I struggled to maintain consciousness.

I couldn’t believe what was happening to me.  One day it’s my wrist and the next day my ankle.  I was hurting so bad and the crazy thing was, it was spreading all around my body.  Whatever it was, it was attacking my joints, anything that articulated became inflamed, swollen, tender, and extremely painful.  It spread to my elbows, shoulders, both wrists, knees, ankles, toes, fingers, all the bones in my rib cage where it attaches to my sternum, my jaw…everything!  I could barely move, without excruciating pain.  It took me 15minutes to put on my socks because my hands were in so much pain.  My knuckles hurt and eventually the ligaments were hurting as well.  Not before long, I was starting to break down mentally too.  The year before I had completed a half-ironman triathlon, I could swim a mile 252644_1812413880655_5695769_nin the gulf of Mexico hop out and go on a long bike ride, no problem.  I could go surfing for hours, go running on trails back in the Oso Bay, pull the motor out of my car and replace a transmission by myself.  Now I was barely able to walk, get out of bed, open a door, dress myself, or turn the ignition to start a car.  I was losing weight like crazy too, getting down to 175lbs.

At this point in my life I was transitioning to a new teaching position, I didn’t have any health insurance, and I didn’t have a primary doctor.  So I talked to my friend Steve who I knew was struggling with stomach problems had a great doctor.  He recommended that I go visit his doctor, and I went to his clinic.  This doctor knew right away that what I was suffering from was Rheumatoid Arthritis.  I became apprehensive once I found out that the strength of the drugs I was going to be on were almost as strong as chemotherapy, I didn’t want to believe what this doctor was telling me, so I went for a second opinion.  The problem was, to see a specialized RA doctor there was a 3 month long waiting list.  There were only 2 RA doctors in Corpus Christi, and they wouldn’t even help me until I had insurance.  I finally got my teaching job sorted out, and I was enrolled in the Aransas Pass ISD insurance.  I was just waiting for that insurance card to come in the mail.  The problem was that I never came in the mail.  Somewhere in the ISD system they put in the wrong information for my address and I was delayed even further before I could get my treatment/ insurance card.  So in the meantime, my daily life was a struggle in every sense of the word.  At work as a teacher in middle school, I could barely move, and I had to take a hand full of Advil just to get moving in the mornings, and another handful in the afternoon.
Finally, my insurance debacle was figured out and I got in line to have an appointment with a RA specialist.  After all the blood-work was done, sure enough I had RA, SEVERE RA as the doctor said.  He couldn’t believe that I was doing what I was doing with the amount of pain I was in.  He gave me prescription for the strongest medication for this autoimmune disease I was struggling with.  Humira is the drug you have probably seen the commercials on TV.  I was injecting Humira in my stomach, taking the almost chemo pills, steroids, and Advil all in one big combo.  After a couple of weeks of this concoction, I was finally getting relief.  It only took 9 months.  I kept up with the injections

every week.  Slowly, I started to get some of my old self back.  I forgot to mention how bad my wife was suffering at this point too.  She was having to do everything for me!  When I would get home from work all I could do was lay down on the couch.  We tried every thing you could think of, and I did enough research online that I could have been a PhD.  The problem was, that I was scared of the pharmaceuticals that I was going to be taking….So I tried to do natural remedies…and sure enough online there are people that want to help you heal from RA naturally…once you buy their book for 75 dollars.  So I tried everything, I went vegan, I was on an extreme diet and instead of Advil I would do acupuncture/cupping.  This acupuncture was sometimes effective, but highly painful.  After spending 1000 dollars in acupuncture and Chinese herbs, cleansing products, even the old Chinese lady decided that I needed to get on the pharmaceuticals.

So I lived with chronic pain for 2 years, and I limped on my left ankle and took pain pills.  I ended up moving to Houston and I found out about Cowboy Up Hang Gliding where I continued my instruction with Bart.  I can’t even tell you how many times people asked me about my ankle while I was training at the airport. “Hey what happened to your ankle?  Why are you limping?” people would ask….I sometimes would lie to them, because I didn’t want to go into my life story about how I have been battling chronic pain and RA, and that my autoimmune disease had eaten away all the cartilage in my ankle and now it was basically bone on bone.  It was just easier to say”Oh its just sprained”  People commonly ask “hey how are you doing?”  I would never say, I’m in pain, then I would have to explain myself to someone who just wanted to be courteous.  So I think the courteous thing to do was to just lie, and say that I was doing fine.  Just lip service.

But when it came to hang gliding, I knew I had challenges facing me, the foot landing!   At first I was getting my landing done with about 4 Advil and 1 prednisone(which is steroids)  not the kind of steroids like Arnold used (anabolic) but pain steroids.  Oh my, that concoction of Advil and steroid made me feel like my ankle was new again.  So after a while, the steroids start to give you side effects.  I was losing my hair, and getting sores in my mouth and on my back.  I couldn’t go on with it.  So I weened myself off.  So I was just on Advil, but every time that I landed it hurt.    So I was really trying hard to have good landings, preferably on one foot, my good foot.
I am so happy that I finally got this ankle surgery done.  Hopefully now, when I heal I will be able to run or at least jog out my landings.  I hope that it gets better, and I hope I don’t have another FLARE UP of every joint in my body.
My only real regret here is that I wish I would have trusted the doctors more.  Instead of going back and forth to the internet, I should have just gone with the advise of the first doctor.  You can find any answer you want on the internet if you look for it.
UPDATE:  6/22/17 The surgery has been successful!  I’m able to walk and even run a little bit without any pain!