Over the past two months, I have been tending to an inflamed cornea in my left eye, related to my Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), but that was triggered by the smoke from the Napa/Sonoma County fires, north of San Francisco. I have had eye related flare ups two other times in recent years. My first eye incident was in spring of 2013. I was preparing to depart for a long awaited ocean paddle training camp in Hawaii. I had to cancel. I had an infected ulcer on my retina that was serious. Life threw a curve ball. Time to re-group and tune into the healing mindset.
In all cases, I had to see the ophthalmologist multiple times during the first week to assess treatment response. Then, I saw him once a week for the next month. I have a stellar doctor who provides quality care and conservative when it comes to prescribing prednisone. I had to undergo intensive antibiotic treatment. After the initial two weeks, I also had to take Prednisone for 6 weeks. For me, it has taken an average of 2-3 months to heal enough to get the okay to swim in any kind of water. For me, swimming is the measuring stick for recovery. The study of eye care and treatment has been a learning curve and new subject on living with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I read up on eye care and the affects of Prednisone to inform my decisions and choices of activities and diet.
Apparently, this chronic condition, called, “Ulcerative Keratitis”, inflammation of the cornea, is most common in people who have RA. Meaning, that, the eyes are another way inflammation can manifest in the body. And, now, it is one more thing I have to manage and prevent from reoccurring. The infected ulcer was an advanced condition that developed because I waited too long to take action. For a couple weeks, my eyes had been bothering me – dry, irritated and itchy. I didn’t take it serious enough to get it checked out until I could no longer open my eye due to light sensitivity and my eye ached. Stubborn me. Finally, I went to the ophthalmologist.
Every time, these flare ups have had a short term impact on my quality of life in work, social and regular activities such as paddling, reading, watching movies and driving. Suddenly, I was reminded that our eyes are the windows to our world. Though, it was the one eye that was sensitive to computer screens and bright sun, my vision was impaired. I just wanted to close both eyes and rest them. Some days, I was averse to going outside. Anyone who knows me would consider this strange behavior that I wanted to stay indoors. I go for a hike, run or paddle outdoors almost every day. I wanted to be in a protected space. Some days, I have to surrender to what can be most difficult for an active athlete- nesting, nurturing and being still in a world that speeds along counting the minutes. After a week of treatment, I have been fortunate enough to maintain my regular active lifestyle with a focus on healing. To heal my eye has taken a lot of energy, focus and intentional self care.
Self Care has encompassed a routine of steroid and antibiotic eye drops several times per day and also oral doses of both. Prednisone was included in my treatments. Known as an effective drug for inflammation, it is a powerful drug that affects brain function. The treatment begins with a high dose and then you taper down each week. For me, prednisone impacts my ability to focus on anything for more than a few minutes. I now can imagine what it may feel like to live with Attention Deficient Disorder and can empathize more with those challenges. Also, I find that prednisone disrupts my sleep pattern. For the first 3-4 weeks, many nights I could only sleep 4-5 hours when my norm is 7-8 hours. Prednisone can weaken bone density and can also reduce muscle mass. As an “aging athlete”, a risk of osteoporosis and RA, I be sure to stay on my training regime with running, weights and core exercises. Self care has been front and center during this time- staying hydrated, taking vitamins and probiotics to counter the antibiotics, plus eating well. I eat wholesome food and love to cook. We are lucky to have a year round farmers market where I shop for local veggies and am able to find good deals on organic produce. All of these meds are hard on the immune system making it even more important to keep the immune system strong during this flu and cold season.
Part of my routine is paddling between 40-50 miles a week on San Francisco Bay to stay fit for the outrigger canoe racing season. Every time I have had an eye flare up, my ophthalmologist has advised me to stay off the water to minimize any risk for a swim or splash in the eye. I do not attempt to explain to him that it is highly unlikely that I would capsize my outrigger canoe nor that I can wear large wrap around sunglasses for protection. That said, I take heed of his warnings and the seriousness of this eye condition that could lead to blindness. Bottom line, I will make my own decision on risk taking. I have chosen to paddle in flatter conditions with less wind and waves with good eye protection. Salt water heals- in this case, perhaps, from the inside out. Next week, I see my ophthalmologist with an expectation that my eye has totally healed and to get a green light for all activities, including swimming.
I think a few of my strengths in dealing with curve balls and everyday living with RA, is my mindset to heal, learn and take action related to self care. No matter what the chronic condition may be or the curve ball, I envision a healthy and positive outcome. I learn as much as I can without getting bogged down in information. I take action in the areas of what I can control- my food, environment, nutrition, exercise and stress management. Next week, I will paddle a 12 mile single canoe race to put closure to 2017. In spite of the curve balls, this year has been a gift!