Rheumatoid Arthritis and The Power to Adapt

By Holly D. The ability the body has to adapt is rather incredible. Most of us have two of everything – 2 arms, 2 legs, 2 feet, etc…so when one is injured and out of commission, the other one steps up to take on the brunt of the work.

But what happens if you never get full use of both limbs or joints back?

What happens if that range of motion never fully returns?

Well guess what, your body is such an amazing tool that it learns what to do.



My Story

As kids, we always thought arthritis was just for “old people”, but when I was six (I am 27 now), I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. It has been a long journey of medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and surgery; however, my right elbow has never quite recovered.

When I was 14 years old, the joint became fused. Yup that’s right, not one little bit of movement. The RA destroyed the tissue, and I was left with was a mess of bones all joined together. So my poor left elbow, ready or not, was given the task of doing it all.



The Battle

I had to go from from being a righty to a lefty, and let me tell you how awkward that can feel. Holding a fork in my opposite hand felt ever so strange…try it! Alas, here I am 13 years later rather ambidextrous. Sure I had some help along the way, but with little thought my body stepped right in and compensated for what I had lost.

What do I wish I could do to the fullest? I can’t even lie about this...I love doing my hair. Let me tell you, it has become quite a skill of mine to curl, straighten, and style my long hair. Putting my hair in a ponytail one handed was one of my proudest moments as a teenage girl. I mean don’t get me wrong, when it takes me 10 minutes to pull my hair up I do get the urge to throw the hair tie at the wall, but I get the job done!

The Victory

So back to my point here...The body’s ability to adapt is pretty incredible. Not only can your body physically adapt, but your mind can as well. All these years later, I do almost everything just as I would if I had full range of motion in my right elbow. Of course there are limitations, but nothing I can’t overcome, or accept the challenge of figuring out a way around it.

Perhaps someday I will get an elbow replacement (I promised Dr. Mayes I would let him be the one to get my elbow back in action if I ever do!), but for now my left arm works double time, with some help from my right arm. They may not be an Olympic winning team, but they work well together to allow me to live my life and adapt to anything that comes my way.

Note about the author: Holly was one of our most memorable patients. She was honored as our patient of the monthand constantly inspired us with her determination, positive attitude and humor in the face of chronic pain and limitations. She's nothing short of amazing!

If you have questions for Holly, feel free to post them here!