Psoriatic Arthritis: Don't Stop Until You Find the Right Care
After I gave birth to my daughter in December of 2012, my joints were painful and swollen, and I was exhausted, but I assumed it was just a result of having a baby. I figured giving birth does wonky things to your body, and it was all part of being a new mom.
That summer, though, my ankles still looked and felt like I was nine months pregnant, and I noticed a cut on the back of my foot that wouldn’t heal. I went to a podiatrist, one of the few specialists in my small Louisiana town, and he said I probably just stepped on something sharp. He gave me some topical medication and sent me on my way. But then, I noticed dry, flaky skin around the area, and told the doctor; he said it could be athlete’s foot. I took all kinds of medications and creams and nothing helped. And then, it started to spread to my other foot. My heels got so painful and dry that I had to walk around on my tiptoes. I knew something was wrong, but I figured that the doctor knew best.
Then, in January, the same thing started happening to my hands. At that point, I knew this wasn’t just athlete’s foot or some other mild problem. I went to my primary care physician, and he diagnosed me with atopic dermatitis. He gave me a steroid cream, which cleared up my hands a little but didn’t affect my feet. I tried to get a dermatologist appointment, but the only dermatologist in town was booked for eight months. I started to feel desperate, until my friend said I should go to her aesthetic dermatologist. Even though she usually focused on cosmetic fillers and skin rejuvenation, she was still a dermatologist, so I went in to see her.
The second I walked in the door, the dermatologist said, “Oh my goodness, your psoriasis is so bad!” I told her my doctor had said it was a fungal infection. But she looked at me and said, “Honey, no. This is psoriasis.” She sent me to see her husband, a nearby dermatologist who could confirm her diagnosis. He told me the same thing, and got me started on a biologic medication.
I was so happy to have a diagnosis, but unfortunately, the first biologic didn’t work for me. My psoriasis actually spread to my shins and elbows, and my feet were in such bad shape that if I tried to walk, I would leave trails of blood behind me. I ended up having to quit my job because I just couldn’t walk or stand.
I went back to the dermatologist, and he asked me if I’d been having any joint pain. I told him my joints had hurt for a long time and I was really stiff, especially in the morning. Again, I just figured it was because I had a new baby. But he said, “I think you have psoriatic arthritis.” I had no idea what it was. He had me see a rheumatologist, who dismissed the diagnosis, telling me that a dermatologist can’t diagnose psoriatic arthritis. I decided that enough was enough—I’d run around to too many doctors and I needed answers. I had it out with her. I told her I needed her help, but she was just ignoring my problem. I walked out of her office and found another rheumatologist.
At our first appointment, I was just in tears. The new rheumatologist took one look at me and said, “we’re going to get you fixed up, I promise.”
After he confirmed it was psoriatic arthritis, I had a whirlwind of emotions. I was so happy that I finally knew what was wrong, but I didn’t know what my diagnosis meant. At that first appointment, nobody told me that my disease is incurable, and I’m going to have it for the rest of my life. No one said that my body could be 90% covered in scales and it could even land me in the hospital if it isn’t treated properly. I only found out how serious both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are after I got home and did my own research. I spent a lot of time on the National Psoriasis Foundation’s online message boards—they saved my life, in a way. My husband was wonderful and listened to me when I needed him to, but to read the story of someone else who knew exactly what I was going through was so powerful.
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