Kill or cure?

One summer, when I was about six years old, I was wading barefoot in the spring below the house when I stepped on a shard of glass. It pierced my foot about two inches below my fourth and fifth toes on the right. Because the water was so cold, I didn't notice right away - it felt like I'd stepped on a sharp stone. I kept wading, kept playing, until the ache became persistent. Sitting on the stone steps that led down to the spring, I saw a small cut which had been washed clean by the water. It hurt when I pressed on it, but there was very little blood. I put my shoes back on and went on with my day. I didn't tell anyone. I knew only too well what happened when you told people about things like that. They wanted to probe around in the wound and make sure nothing was left in there. In my short life, I'd already had countless splinters dug out of various appendages, and I was not eager to experience that again. Besides, it was just a little cut.

I kept quiet, but the pain got worse each day. I began walking on the inside of my foot to avoid putting pressure on the wound. I kept my shoes and socks on all the time because I didn't want anyone to see the cut. At night, I peeled my sock away and it was soaked in pus and flecked with blood. I rinsed it in the bathroom sink. No way I was telling anyone about the cut. I knew what would happen - not only would there be digging and probing, but there would be iodine, or Merthiolate. The cure would be worse than the cut, I was sure. So I kept my silence.

Then there came a day when my foot was so swollen that I couldn't bear to put on my shoe. Dark red streaks were running up from my foot, twisting around my leg. The skin was hot to the touch and the tiny cut's edges had peeled back - the wound was weeping yellowish fluid and it smelled bad. I looked at it, and I knew that I would have to tell. Mom would notice the streaks. Besides, when you're raised on a farm, you know what that smell and those streaks mean. I couldn't deny it to myself anymore. I was in a world of trouble.

I hobbled into the kitchen and showed Mom my foot. She immediately got a dish-pan and mixed warm water and Epsom salts. I soaked the foot while she gave me a good dressing down over not having told her about the cut. And then she asked the dreaded question, "Is there anything left in there?"

"No, not a thing," I said. She frowned and went on with her day's work. I soaked my foot off and on all day, and when my dad got home that night, Mom told him all about it. He came into the kitchen and sat down across from me. He reached down to pull my foot into his lap, but I started squirming and crying, begging him not to touch it. I didn't want anyone to touch it - it hurt so much. And I didn't want to see a doctor - they always gave shots and prescribed medicine that either tasted nasty or burned going down.

Daddy just sat there, and he started explaining to me that the cut wouldn't be so infected or painful if there wasn't something still in there. And it could be anything; maybe a nail even. We would have to see what was there because if we didn't, I could get lock-jaw - something every little kid lived in terror of catching. At least, when I was young, they did. And my oldest sister very helpfully piped up and warned me that I could get gangrene too. She was shushed and hustled away pretty quickly, but the damage was done. I imagined walking around on a wooden leg for a few moments. Daddy told me that it would hurt to let him see what was in the cut - he never sugar coated things like that - but that it would be quick and that I would feel better once it was done. He said I would heal up in just a few days with nothing to worry about.

I didn't want to let him touch it. I cried for a while and I begged him not to do it, but he just sat with me and waited me out. Finally, when I was quiet, he said, "Baby-girl, you've got a choice to make. You can either let me work on the foot or you can risk losing it."

I believed him. I always believed everything he said, because he never lied to me. So I put my foot in his lap and bit down on a washcloth while he took his pocket knife, doused it in alcohol, and started probing the wound. I couldn't watch. I was too busy biting the cloth and screaming between clenched teeth. But I remember how the hot pus felt as it flowed down toward my heel, and I remember how gentle his big hands were, even though they were causing me pain. After just a minute, he was able to extract a shard of glass, about a quarter of an inch wide, and maybe half an inch long. I was right - it hurt like bloody hell. And so did the Merthiolate he doused the wound with once he was finished. Mom brought gauze from Daddy's veterinary kit and he put a pad against the cut, then wrapped my foot. He held me close for a few minutes, and then got up and went into the living room. I whimpered around for a bit, then went to bed. For the next couple of days, I soaked the foot in Epsom salts and sat around a lot. But by the end of the week, the red streaks were gone, the wound was closed, and I was back on my feet again.

I had a choice - I could have refused to let my Dad treat the wound. They probably would have taken me to the doctor the next day, but I didn't think about that then. I had to choose - keep the wound and what had caused it, withdraw and run away - or be healed; submit to the cure even though I was afraid.

I learned something in that experience. Several things, actually. One - don't ignore it when you're sick or in pain. Two - tell someone who can help you. Three - sometimes the cure seems scary, but it's almost always guaranteed to be better than the pain. Four - the people who love you most will always tell you the truth, even when it's hard. Even when it hurts. And they will lance your wounds if they have to, disinfect them if they must, and go mining for what's causing the hurt. You may not want them to. You may beg them to stop. But the people who really love you won't stop; they won't give up and let your wounds fester. They won't stop until they know you can heal.

So what does this have to do with my life now? With RA? With my chronic pain? I have been resistant to the medications that my doctor wants to prescribe. I asked not to be put on steroids or Methotrexate. I still don't want to take MTX, but last week, my Rheumatologist put me on a low dose of Prednisone, daily. I agreed to do it because I realized that in a way, I was still that squirming, frightened kid who didn't want her sore foot to be touched. I was putting myself through needless pain and difficulty, and it was impacting everyone around me, too. I had a choice to make - I could keep the pain, or submit to the treatment even though I was afraid, even though the stubborn part of me wanted to hold on, to tough it out. Things weren't getting any better. I was functioning, but functioning isn't living. I could almost see the red, poisonous streaks climbing up my body, twisting around my joints.

Even though I was afraid, I chose the cure. No, it won't rid me of RA. But I do feel better. I still have pain and stiffness, but it is more bearable. More than that, I did not let fear of the unknown defeat me or keep me from seeking help. I think my dad would be proud.


  1. Amy, I can't imagine anyone not being proud of you!! You are one amazing lady.


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