Barb’s Story

Distress can trigger a flare-up and I must remind myself it is important to break a negative cycle of thinking and feeling.
Barb Chartrand

by Barbara Chartrand

Barbara Chartrand is a long-time member and past Treasurer of AWISH and a ‘Volunteer of the Year’ of the West Island Volunteer Bureau.  She was a dedicated leader of the AWISH Arthritis Self-Management Program.

Mid-June, 1992, I was suddenly so swollen that I thought I would die. I had been living with some aches and pains for a few years and I had felt I was dealing with it OK.  Anyway, I kind of ignored those. I had my hands busy with the death of my mother-in-law and then the care-giving and death of my dear husband.

But this new development was sudden, serious, and very scary, and my regular rheumatologist was away.  I guess I was very “fortunate” that it was the end of school year and patient lists were lighter, because I was able to get pushed in to see another rheumatologist on June 23rd.  I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. She immediately put me on prednisone just to cover the 2 days until my own rheumatologist came back. I luckily got to see him right away. On July 1st, I found myself in the Jewish Rehabilitation Centre for 6 weeks of treatments, intensive physio and occupational therapy.  I was on prednisone until 1999.

The Rehab first introduced me to ice baths.  They placed me, in shorts and T-shirt, on an ice bed with a sheet covering me.  They packed ice on my ankles, knees, hips, neck, elbows and hands.  I lay there for 20 minutes…after it felt soooo good – relief!

Even now, if I really ache, I run a cold water bath and add freezer packs that I always have ready.  I have a hot cup of tea ready waiting for when I get out, and the bed turned down ready for me. I find that even running cold water over the joint, or applying an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) can help immensely. The cold is always followed by warmth.

I left the Rehab on the Friday and was given Connie Jelley’s phone number. She had organized a group called AWISH (Arthritis West Island Self-Help).  I called her Sunday.  The next morning she and her husband came over with coffee and doughnuts. 

Connie told me about their arthritis “pals and buddies” meeting the next week. I went, and the following week I attended another meeting.  In September, I went to an event they organized at the Sarto Desnoyers Centre in Dorval.  In October, I was attending all the regular meetings. At that time, there was an office, but we could not afford staff.  So I covered the office duties and calls for a couple of days every week, sharing the load with other volunteers.

During the winter of 1993, I attended the Arthritis Self Management Program (ASMP) brought to Quebec by Connie.  I was still in pain – trying for anything.  I took the six-week course and followed it for 6 months.  I would leave it for a bit, and revisit it every now and again.  I soon realized that every time I went back to it, I felt better.  This was the tool for me! In 2002 I went into the intensive leader training and started giving courses in 2003.

I had never volunteered before. It helps me physically, mentally and emotionally.  I get out of dwelling on my own woes. I have become more agile, more positive in outlook and confidence.  The pain lessens when I work with others, as it does with other happy events (such as my new love, Rollie). So, good advice is, to search out and focus on positives!

It has been immensely rewarding to help others while improving my own situation – leaders follow their own personal action plans along with the rest of the participants.  The course always brings more ideas for healthier living, time for oneself, exercise, pain management and relaxation.

Of course, all is not rosy, all the time.  People can tell when I am in pain, because I am really miserable to be around. 

Distress can trigger a flare-up and I must remind myself it is important to break a negative cycle of thinking and feeling. I have learned how to say “no” to people, and to let family and friends know what I am going through. Saying “no” means that I am unable, at that time. Things change.

When first diagnosed, I was very afraid. I didn’t know what to expect or believe. I got too many stories from everyone.  I was not able to do simple things like opening jars (my fridge was full of containers that my sister had left open for me with a note on the outside of the fridge to warn others).  I felt that my world was collapsing. I saw only what I could no longer do, and pictured a bleak future.

My advice is that if you start feeling this way, get to a support group.  The sooner you can learn to accept the situation, the sooner you can improve it.  You need to talk and express what you are going through; compare notes, ideas, what works and what doesn’t. Change your pre-conceived expectations; redefine limits and capabilities. Focus on what you can do and work from there

It is not easy to get out to meetings, or talk about your situation, but it does help, even if you only listen to speakers and other people’s responses. You can work up to talking with those with whom you feel rapport. I know that if I hadn’t gone to AWISH and ASMP, I would not be where I am today.

I’ve learned that the longer I sit in front of the boob tube, the worse I feel – so I keep active. I like to enjoy life fully – my new extended family, friends, travel, and exercise. I bowl and golf – and have photos to prove you CAN golf with splints.  I wish you all the joy of learning what you can accomplish.

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Louise Bergeron, Arthritis Advocacy

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