At a recent dental appointment, I handed my typed meds list to the hygienist. As she started copying drug names, I suggested that it might be simpler to just tape it into my chart. It’s so fun (and easy) to make people smile!
Then she said it.
“It looks like most of your medications are for arthritis. Aren’t you kinda young for that?“ It felt a little like a very short multiple-choice test. Given the possible responses to that question, which one is the right answer in this situation?
I laughed and said, “That just means you don’t know what it is. There are many different kinds of arthritis.”
“Oh,” she replied, “I know there are different kinds of arthritis, but it’s usually for old people.“
What a perfect opportunity. I had the chance to explain that it is rare for elderly people to be diagnosed with RA, and that I’m exactly the age that is usually affected (but that some people are diagnosed in their 20′s, and even children can get RA). She had no idea.
As we talked (okay, she did most of the talking; as one usually does at the dentist, I lay there in the chair with my mouth open), she was able to come up with a few different types of arthritis aside from OA. Then she recalled a patient she’d known years ago (my hygienist used to work as an x-ray tech). Very nice lady (at this point the hygienist stopped working and bent her hands into claws) whose hands got all deformed and the patient ended up in a wheelchair. That was back in the ’80s, when people with crippling arthritis got gold shots; that patient took methotrexate.
First, I was amazed that the hygienist could remember what meds someone was taking thirty years ago. But since she’d removed her hands from my mouth to illustrate claws (sometimes I think people don’t even realize the body language they’re using), I had the opportunity to say, “that’s rheumatoid arthritis.” I explained that in the past, methotrexate was only prescribed after permanent joint damage had occurred, but that now it’s prescribed as soon as possible in hopes of preventing that type of damage. And that there are some newer medications to try if the milder ones don’t work.
The hygienist has seen television ads for some of the new arthritis meds, so our conversation meandered off to direct-to-consumer advertising (I’m against it; she agreed with me), and so forth.
I usually hate those types of conversations, but that one went really well.
It’s not even Invisible Illness Awareness Week.