By LaRissa Nelson
Most of us are able to walk within the first few years of our lives. We grab the edges of coffee tables and dining room chairs and pull ourselves to our feet. We balance on short, wobbly legs. We grin as we take our first steps in front of our euphoric parents. But we don’t remember any of this. We don’t remember what it was like to learn, to struggle through the process of bending our knees in cooperation with one another so that our legs propel our bodies forward. Most of us take that ability for granted for the rest of our lives, this memorized movement that we make without even thinking about it, like swallowing or blinking.
Sat., May 7 marks the date of the Fargo/Moorhead Arthritis Walk, an annual event that spreads awareness throughout the community about all types of arthritis. I will be attending the walk as this year’s honoree, and I will help to raise awareness about arthritis through the act of walking. Walking, however, hasn’t always come so easily for me.
When I was 18 months old, my parents caught me dragging one leg behind me as I tried to walk—a sign of pain. They took me to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy tissue of the joints. With the help of 18 baby aspirin a day, I was able to learn how to walk correctly. For the next 17 years of my life, with the aid of medication, I continued to walk effortlessly and without much pain. I didn’t consider the amount of effort walking actually takes until I lost that ability.
When I woke up in my dorm room one morning during my freshman year of college, something didn’t feel right. One of my knees was full of fluid—puffy, tender and sore. When I got out of bed to walk across the room, I found out that my knee didn’t bend all the way. It was too bloated, and when I tried to bend it a sharp pain shot through the joint as if it had been pierced with a needle. I lived on the seventh floor of my dorm building that year, and the building also happened to be sans elevator—that meant there were a lot of stairs to navigate, and both ascending and descending these stairs proved to be a challenge as it required bending my sore knee. I had never before had to think through the process of walking up and down stairs, but suddenly I was at a loss of how to move from my room to the rest of the world.
In the following days, I visited my rheumatologist to get treatment for what was considered a “flare-up”—a sudden increase in symptoms, something that happens randomly in people who have arthritis. Syringes full of brownish fluid were siphoned from my knee and more syringes full of a cortisone remedy were injected into it. My knee slowly improved until it was back to its usual, deflated self, and I was able to fully bend it, maneuver stairs and walk in general. It wasn’t long before I didn’t have to think about any of these processes—once again, they came naturally to me. They have come naturally to me ever since, as I have gone without a major flare-up for the past few years. But my arthritis is never really gone. Sometimes, when I get out of bed in the morning, or climb the stairs in a campus building as I’m on my way to class, I feel the smallest twinge of discomfort deep in one of my knees, and I remember what it’s like not to be able to bend, flex or walk.
And so it seems fitting that the upcoming Arthritis Walk is just that—a walk. It’s the simplest mode of human transportation, and yet it doesn’t always come so easily for everyone, especially those who live with arthritis. The Walk will celebrate our ability to fight back by raising awareness of arthritis, of its effects on human movement and the actions that are being taken to overcome the limitations it creates. And it will serve as a personal reminder to me of my ability to keep moving—literally and figuratively—past each challenge that arthritis presents.
IF YOU GO:
What: Arthritis Walk
Where: Courts Plus Fitness Center, 3491 University Drive South, Fargo
When: Sat. May 7
For more info or to donate: http://tiny.cc/fmarthritiswalk
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