Life with Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia From Ears to Toes.
Harriet Burton*, at age 60, has been suffering from fibromyalgia for 29 years, almost half her life. When asked about her symptoms, Harriet says, “I have [fibromyalgia] from ears to toes.”
The long list of Harriet’s symptoms began with joint pain. When she realized the pain wasn’t ebbing with the passage of time, Harriet made an appointment to see her doctor. The doctor thought she might be suffering from fibromyalgia, so he did blood tests and x-rays in an attempt to rule out similar conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. The tests confirmed that Harriet had fibromyalgia.
Harriet finds that the ear pain of fibromyalgia is similar to the pain of infection. “I’ve learned to tell the difference between the fibromyalgia and an infection. It’s the same for me with exercise. I have osteoporosis, so I have to be careful to understand where my pain is coming from, or I could break bones by pushing too hard.”
Harriet has long been under the care of a rheumatologist whose reputation suffers for the fact that appointments never run longer than 10 minutes. “Yes, he’s fast. But he’s thorough. I’m very pleased with his care. He sees the total picture and is quick to make recommendations.”
Sleepless nights are de rigueur for Harriet. “I get pins and needles in my hands, and sometimes I get restless leg syndrome. The truth is I don’t sleep anymore, but at least I don’t suffer from the fatigue that a lot of people with fibromyalgia complain about. I don’t ever need to take to my bed, like some people, either, so I guess I’m lucky.”
When asked how fibromyalgia impacts her life, Harriet says with simple firmness, “It doesn’t. I don’t let it affect me.”
“It’s Not the Pain That’s Limiting, It’s The Way My Hands Lock Up.”
Harriet works part-time in a dress shop whose services include alterations. “It hurts when I pin, but I can’t sew. I can’t hold a needle. I have limitations, but it’s not the pain that’s limiting, it’s the way my hands lock up.”
Harriet also runs a catering business and confesses that some tasks involving fine motor coordination have become difficult and others impossible. “I have to have a certain kind of vegetable peeler and special openers for cans and bottles. These are items I’ve tried that work for me. I just bought a new set of knives and they’re great.” Harriet adds, only half-joking, “If I lose them, I’m finished.”
*Not her real name.