A few years back, exactly one week after I turned 29, I developed Rheumatoid Arthritis.
The studies tell you that anyone from 20 to 50 years old can develop this, but the odds that someone as young as me will develop it are minimal.
It came on very quickly, literally over night. I went to sleep feeling fine and normal and woke up with a body full of pain and stiffness. At first I thought I had caught a chill during the night, perhaps the duvet had come off me and it was winter time. So I kept warm all day and had a hot bath that evening. The next morning, I woke up feeling a fraction worse.
After a week of this I went to see the Doctor. My regular GP was on holiday so I saw a Locum. He did some preliminary push / pull tests on me and said, you're too young for Rheumatoid Arthritis, it can't be that, you've probably picked up a virus that's all. Rest and if in 2 weeks you still feel the same, come back and have this blood test done, he handed me a blood test form, and off I went. Feeling a little fobbed off and not convinced by his exam and assessment I slowly walked home, crocked and crouching because it was too painful to stand up straight. But I decided to give his advice a fair chance and follow doctors orders.
Over the next week, I deteriorated even more. I was developing more and more symptoms and my husband was worrying a lot and started googling my symptoms.
I had the blood test done, after a week. But before I could get the results back I went to see my usual GP. I was in so much pain that I just could not wait any longer, and had to see her because the amount of pain I was in was just not normal. I couldn't sleep, could barely dress myself, struggled to shower and squeeze the shampoo bottle, I was struggling to work and started taking the odd day off. Even breathing would hurt my joints, just the slightest movement was painful. I was so stiff it was difficult to put my arms through sleeves.
My Doctor, as usual, was excellent and recognized immediately things weren't right, she repeated my tests, and gave me anti-inflammatory pain killers. Less than a week later, my results were in and it wasn't good, it looked like Rheumatoid but she referred me to a specialist for a full and proper diagnosis.
I got to see the specialist within a couple of weeks. She examined me and ran lots of blood tests, asked a million questions and had two strong theories about my case. She prescribed me some more serious anti-inflammatory pain killers and I saw her the next morning, (yes, they got the blood test results back that quickly). She confirmed, it was Rheumatoid Arthritis. She also suspected I had Sjorgren's syndrome which after a biopsy was ruled out Alhamdolilah.
My treatment started immediately, I was given a specialist nurse to contact with any questions either by phone or email. I was given all the details I needed to contact my specialist as well. I had access to a wealth of support and knowledge and understanding.
The first thing they teach you about this disease and they tell you to explain to your friends and family so they can understand, is that with it, you experience a new level of tiredness and fatigue, like nothing you've ever felt before.
Before I could run for 5 miles and feel good at the end of it, I would have the energy to go home and prepare a feast, cook for hours, clean the house, entertain and would still feel good at the end of the day. But now, I have to take baby steps and pace myself, and even now, I still struggle to find the right balance, and knowing when to stop isn't so easy. With this disease every aspect of your life changes, and things you took for granted before, are now not always possible.
On bad days its debilitating and hideous, you feel utterly useless and even making yourself a cup of tea is a mission. Forget about chores, and if you haven't got something easy prepared for dinner, even cooking for the family is a nightmare. Sleep is constantly disrupted because every toss and turn is painful and you pray to Allah to make your struggle easy to bare and to give you strength. Prostrating in prayer is impossible and on those days I would have to sit on a chair to pray, like the elderly do. Even brushing your teeth is painful and can bring tears to your eyes. (Alhamdolilah I haven't had a day like that in a while now). On good days you can just about manage to do the things you need to do, like work a little bit, run your household, a few chores and cook food for your family, at the end of that day you're exhausted but you know sleep will bring you some respite.
My situation would be miles worse though if I didn't have the support, understanding and advice of the NHS. They have been amazing, efficient, pro-active and so on-the-ball that I can't credit them enough. Often we hear horror stories about the NHS, about the lack of cleanliness and hygiene in hospitals, about when medical professionals have dropped the ball big time, but we never hear about how well they do, and to be honest, the horror stories are the minority and most of the time, they're brilliant.
My GP, Specialist, and Specialist Nurse are all amazing people and may Allah Bless them for their good work and the help they provide for people like me.