There’s a scene in the movie Dumb and Dumber when the villain is bubbling sweat, frothing at the mouth and choking for air because he has an ulcer and has unknowingly just eaten peppers.
“Pills, get me my pills,” he begs. But instead of getting ulcer meds, he’s fed rat poison and dies. I think of this scene often because I too need pills, but sometimes I fear the worst.
I’m 31 years old. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 23. I dread taking meds, but without them, my life would be destroyed.
I played baseball in college and was a pitcher for the University of Hawaii Hilo. I signed a contract to play professionally in Europe after college. Then, one month after my last pitch, my elbow swelled up. My fingers followed, then wrist and knee. My diagnosis was clear.
I was offended by how presumptuously rheumatoid arthritis invaded my life. In the beginning, I tried holistic approaches, forgoing prescription medications. I went gluten free for a while and adopted a vegan diet. I ate foods rich in antioxidants. I ate superfoods and took apple cider vinegar shots. I went to a food allergist hoping to learn that I was allergic to something, but I wasn’t. I went to a Chinese healer who forbade me from eating pretty much everything except broccoli. I read many articles with conflicting information: Tomatoes had anti-inflammatory effects, but aggravated rheumatoid arthritis.
Drinking alcohol was bad for rheumatoid arthritis, but a few glasses of craft beer or spirits, a new study showed, could help to alleviate symptoms. The articles — with their juicy pixilation and optimistic headlines — never ended. I never knew which information to trust. In the end, at least for me, none were true.
The one thing that has worked for me in the last decade has been the medications my doctor prescribed.
I’m lucky because I haven’t had any side effects (at least bad ones). They keep my disease under control so that I can run, lift light weights, chop vegetables, lift carry-on luggage and generally, pass as a normal human being to the untrained eye.
But I hate my meds. I hate that they are made in a lab somewhere. I hate that they sabotage my immune system and I hate that my immune system is so demonic that it needs medication to suppress it. I hate that pharmaceutical companies make billions from meds. And, I hate that the same syringe can cost $10 for someone with health insurance or $2,000 out-of-pocket (re: two prices I have paid at different points in my life for the same medication).
I take the meds as infrequently as my body will tolerate. I currently take methotrexate (eight 2.5 mg per week) and Orencia® (abatacept) (one 125 mg injection per week). Yet, I probably take methotrexate once every five months, and my last supply of Orencia stayed in the fridge for the better part of a year.
I’m sure rheumatologists everywhere would have some words for me. For years my rheumatologist did have words for me when I explained this to her, telling me that this wasn’t a promising strategy and that the meds should be taken as prescribed and without that, the disease would advance. She may be right, but I don’t care. When I don’t take the meds for months, I feel as if I don’t have the disease or that I’ve got it under control.
I imagine that at some point, my rheumatoid arthritis will come back with a vengeance. And, at that point, I’ll have to start taking more meds or different ones. In as much as I want it to be, rheumatoid arthritis is not a food allergy and cannot be healed holistically. It is in me and I hate it, but we must find a way to get along. Until a cure is found, I’ll be taking meds.
As Jim Carrey says in “Dumb and Dumber” when he accidentally feeds his friend poison: “Pills are good. Pills are goooooood.”
Emil DeAndreis is a rheumatoid arthritis patient and author of the memoir, “Hard to Grip: A Memoir of Youth, Baseball, and Chronic Illness.” To learn more about his memoir, you can find him on Twitter @EmilDeAndreis.