Athritis can limit an individual’s ability to work
By BETH NJOROGE
Imagine if you were to wake up one morning and realise that you are struggling or unable to perform the most basic tasks. Take for instance; getting out of bed, taking a shower, dressing up, brushing your teeth, tying your shoe laces, walking, holding a cup of tea et cetera. Many might be thinking ‘Well, that’s normal.’ Sometimes, you fall sick and are unable to do these things; it’s not a big deal. Besides, its short term, you get back on your feet and life goes back to normal. What if we told you that having to live your daily life, occasionally unable to perform these so-called basic tasks, has become ‘the normal’ for many people, would you believe it? This is a reality that has stricken many people living with Arthritis, not just in Kenya but the world over.
‘Old persons’ disease
Arthritis has been stereotypically labelled as an ‘old persons’ disease that can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender and race. According to Arthritis Foundation USA, there are over 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions with the most common kinds being Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Osteoarthritis (OA). RA is an auto-immune kind of Arthritis. In auto-immune diseases, a person’s immune system that is supposed to protect them attacks the body’s healthy cells. As a result, in RA the immune system attacks the cells at the joints of affected persons. OA is also commonly referred to as Degenerative Joint Disease. Like the name suggests, it is a kind of Arthritis that is characterised by wear and tear of joints due to old age, genes, heredity, obesity or an injury.
Challenges arthritis patients face
Arthritis in its many forms is a Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) due to its non-infectious chronic nature, it lasts for a prolonged period of time and is slow progressive. Given the nature of this condition, patients experience some unique challenges: emotionally, physically and mentally. Physically, affected joints experience pain depending on the degree of progression. Inflammation and joint stiffness may restrict mobility of the joint which may hinder one from activities that require joint output for participation. Fatigue is a common symptom because, having to deal with pain day in day out can wear you out. The body endures stress as it strains to deal with the release of inflammatory proteins in the blood.As a result, fatigue may lead to heightening of pain.
In cases of RA, patients experience some unique challenges. The late Miss Wakini Kuria, an enthusiastic journalist by profession succumbed to RA at a tender age of 28. She had been living with RA for 18 okyears. Over the years, she had developed deformities on her fingers, elbows, and feet. She had had to endure surgical procedures on her fingers and elbow to remove growths. May her soul rest in peace!
Most people suffering from the condition don’t look any different from healthy people. The pain, stiffness and fatigue may wreak havoc in the affected joints but may be unapparent to the people around them who do not understand the depth of the condition. In other unfortunate cases, patients are framed as sickly pretenders leading to conflicted feelings and self-pity as if it’s their fault they are unwell or in pain. Like any other chronic illness, arthritis is emotionally and psychologically draining. It may not be apparent to many that emotions and chronic pain are so intertwined that patients often experience emotional turmoil. It’s not just about the inflammation, stiffness and pain. The symptoms translate to an expression of one’s state of mind. Patients tend to be more anxious, irritable, insomniac, depressed and worried as a result. Fatigue, pain and the physical limits like mobility are aspects that people with arthritis often say limit their ability to work.
Additional factors which can act as barriers to employment include the need to take sick leave, inability to travel to work, a lack of employer support, the need for adaptations to carry out a role, problems with colleagues and a lack of family support. Sometimes they have to give up work, take an early retirement, change the type of work they do, get a part time job or reduce the number of hours they work. Miss Jane Knight, a talented amateur boxer who represented Kenya at the World Women Championship 2010 in Barbados has since resulted to be a coach at Box Girls Kenya rather than participate in matches because of OA.
Arthritis in its many forms and types, is not a condition to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, many are misinformed and do not understand the depth of this disease. Many might be suffering the symptoms but are silent, with most already living with the condition going through stigma and difficulties in many aspects of their lives. For all those living with Arthritis, you are strong, brave, conquerors and warriors. You live every day of your lives in pain but still manage to go on with your lives nonetheless. That’s courage!
Beth Njoroge is the founder at Everyday with Athritis.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org