Joy to the world, for it is the season of glove-wearing! This means less questioning stares from others as I go about my life with hands swathed in gloves, no matter the temperature, a bright shining sun or a gloomy gray sky. I can feel their stares on those Summer days…”why is she wearing gloves? It’s hot out! Is she nuts? She must be nuts…or just weird.” Then I hear them giggle, feel the stares, giggle, more stares. Their judgment is obvious, unfortunate, and rude. Though I can claim a certain degree of standoffish introverted weirdness, I do not wear gloves due to some unknown level of insanity nor out of some desire to remain socially weird forevermore.
I was not born into the world with gloves upon my then perfect hands. In fact, it was not until my hands collapsed upon themselves by way of debilitating pain and inflammation did the warm and soothing comfort of gloves enter my daily life.
I had suffered since the Fall season of 1994 with symptoms that refused to abate as the days passed, instead worsening steadily to a point of disability. I first noticed that my body did not feel *right* after gym class. I did not bend as easily as I had, post-class. I felt stiffness in motion, resistance within my bones. I shrugged it off as nothing and continued on. By the time I was diagnosed in June of 1995, I felt crippled from the inside out, all over. My body constantly ached, hips, knees, fingers, and any joint in between. My fingers no longer could bend as designed. I could not make a fist. My knuckles and finger joints were distended, inflamed, shining bright and red. My hips and knees locked into formation whenever I sat down. Standing up and attempting to walk left me feeling like some rusted door hinge, refusing to budge open into the light of day. Bit by bit, I became a cripple. I felt doomed. What could have gone wrong with me?
Diagnosis is a double edged sword that will slice right through your heart. On one deformed hand, you finally know what has gone wrong. Relief! But such relief is inherently fleeting. For on the other crippled hand, once you learn about the disease behind the diagnosis, you realize that it’s not going anywhere. It’s real and it’s incurable. It does not care if you are young nor old. It does not care if you have things to do nor figure out about yourself and life. It only cares to destroy your body from the inside out.
At age 16, I was diagnosed with a form of Rheumatoid Arthritis (Polyarticular JIA). RA is an “invisible” auto-immune disease that seeks out any and all joints and soft tissues for destruction through the crippling wonder of inflammation. It holds no consideration for race, age, nor creed. At the time of my diagnosis, I should have been excited; I was signed up to learn how to drive. Crippled by a painful disease and sweating with nerves, my hands were pathetic. Wracked from the constant pain and the anxieties that arise simply in learning to drive, my inflamed and unbending fingers could not grip the wheel. I sat in the driver’s seat, stalled at a simple rite of passage, undermined by my disease.
Ever to the rescue, my Mom dug up an old brown and gold pair of Isotoner driving gloves and passed them onto me. Warmth spread through my fingers, the effort of movement eased just enough to allow me to grasp despite the pain. I gripped the steering wheel already knowing that life had headed off into a daunting direction. At least now, I could take the wheel.
When you see me, a glove-wearing and bespectacled redhead wandering round the area of Southwest Ohio, you can point and laugh at my gloves, mocking me as you do. Just know that beneath the surface of those peculiar gloves are the hands of a survivor who refused to be crippled by an incurable and disabling disease. Would you be as fortunate?