A man with rheumatoid arthritis marries a woman with rheumatoid arthritis. At times, it's double the trouble but always twice the sharing and caring.
Personal story and photos below
The personal arthritis story of Richard "Rick" Eustice.
Arthur and I first became friends just before my 27th birthday. At the time, I was the father of two young boys and at the top of my career as a restaurant manager, real estate investor, and part-time tax accountant during the peak tax season. When I first received the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I immediately thought, as most do, "Arthritis? Isn't that an old person's disease?". Thus, early on, I learned the value of educating myself about my new disease and of a good support network to deal with the new realities that Arthur would soon throw at me. I quickly learned that Arthur would drastically change the direction of my life.
As the RA progressed so did the problems. My first marriage began to fail, not solely from the disease, but Arthur only served to magnify the exisiting problems. I was forced to end my management career, phase myself out of real estate investing, and focus more on my accounting background. At the same time, I also focused more on helping myself through helping others with arthritis. I co-founded a local support group for young people with arthritis. I volunteered for many years as a camp counselor at a summer camp for kids with arthritis. I also did other volunteer work for the Arthritis Foundation. By late 1994, my first marriage had failed and I was then a single father of adolescent boys. In the summer of 1995, I went online for the first time.
In 1995, Carol started and was host of the first arthritis chat on America Online. It was at these weekly chats that I first met Carol. Over the next few months I built many online friendships and eventually became the co-host of the weekly chats. Carol and I started developing an online chemistry but we knew someday that we would have to meet face to face to see if it would translate to real life. In May 1996, we met in person. I lived in Southern California. Carol lived in Cleveland, Ohio. Carol was as beautiful and caring in real life as she was in cyberland. Carol relocated to Southern California. Our relationship grew and we truly turned out to be soulmates. In May 1997, we married and became Mr. and Mrs. "RA" Eustice.
Many wondered if a marriage with so much Arthur in it could thrive. What we found was that we have complete understanding of the challenges of arthritis and share unique insights known by few. Despite the double trouble of a two-disease household, we also have twice the level of sharing and caring. Throughout the summer of 1997, Arthur lead us to many more changes in our lives. Carol started the About.com Arthritis website. We moved to a smaller home. The progression of the disease ended my accounting career and I was forced onto Social Security Disability (SSDI). (In 1993, Carol ended her career as a hospital lab tech and went on SSDI).
In May 1998, Carol had her 9th arthritis-related surgery, a left ankle fusion. (Carol previously had both hips replaced and revised, both knees replaced, and a right ankle fusion). A few months after the left ankle fusion, Arthur gave us our first real scare. The ankle became severely infected and Carol developed sepsis. She required an ankle debridement, a hospital stay, and several weeks of I.V.- antibiotics at home through a PIC line to lead her to full recovery.
In mid-2000, I had my right foot fused to repair damage done by arthritis. A few weeks after surgery, this same foot developed a local Staph infection, requiring debridement, another hospital stay, and many months of antibiotics and wound care. By early 2001, I fully recovered, we sold our home in Southern California and relocated to Southern Nevada. Living with Arthur can prove to be bittersweet, often seemingly more bitter than sweet. We thought we were through the thick of things, having both successfully battled our infections, but Arthur followed us to Nevada! We began yet again taking turns battling back at him........
Shortly after our move, Carol's right hip replacement began to fail. She needed surgical revision once again in July 2001. The surgery went well, but the recovery was complicated by an infection. On the heels of her recovery, my health began to seriously fail. In August 2001, I began experiencing severe swelling and edema in my feet and legs. I developed back and spine problems and a critical general weakness took over. I began to lose my ability to walk and entered the hospital to search for the cause. It was discovered I had pericarditis (fluid and inflammation around the heart), a rare complication of rheumatoid arthritis. I was rushed into surgery for a cardiac tamponade and to remove the fluid from my chest. After a few weeks, I made it back home.
Our enthusiasm of having our lives back on track was shortlived. Within a few days, it became apparent something was still seriously wrong with me. My strength and condition did not improve as expected, in fact, I got weaker and declined. Drainage was coming from my still-healing chest wound. I was again admitted to the hospital and it was discovered I had developed MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staph Aureus). This necessitated the re-opening of the chest wound for debridement, leaving a tennis ball sized hole in the middle of my chest which ran to the depth of my breast-bone. What was to follow?.....months of being in the hospital.....an array of medications and I.V.- antibiotics...... nurses and needles.... pain and procedures......testing, treatments and therapy.....victories and setbacks. The toll on me was immeasurable......but also on Carol, our sons, family, and friends.
By all means, my medical care was top notch. But at my very worst, I was unable to keep down food or water, my weight dropped to 185 lbs. (a few months prior, my edema problem caused my weight to top out at about 275 lbs.) I laid on an air-bed, frail, weak, and mostly unresponsive. At times I would hallucinate and drift in and out of a fog. My chest wound was barely healing even though it was packed and dressed twice a day. Not only was I unable to sit, stand, or walk, my movement was so restricted I could not reach or use the buttons/controls on the side of the hospital bed. My arms were black and blue and my veins were a wreck from months of the I.V.- antibiotics. At times, I hesitate to admit, I laid there alone at night in my diaper wondering just how long it could last and how bad it would get.
Slowly and steadily, it all began to get better. By April 2002, I made it home for good. My wounds gradually healed, and I began extensive physical and occupational therapy to regain my function and mobility. I had cataract surgery to repair damage done by the high-dose steroids required during my long hospital stay. A successful wrist surgery followed too (synovectomy and tendon transfer). By late 2003, I took my first steps with a cane and some steps unassisted --- a breakthrough from the platform walker I had been using. I have come a long way, but have a long way to go.
Arthur can seem insidious. Arthur can be the great destroyer. He can spoil your dreams, destroy and deform your body, ruin your career, and deplete your bank account. I fight Arthur the best I can with strength, spirit, support, and serenity. As we entered 2004, Carol and I have 45 years experience between us of living and dealing with Arthur. We strive to be survivors of Arthur's many challenges and the striving never stops. We are marked by scars, literally and figuratively. We wear and share the scars from our experiences so that we can continue to help ourselves by helping others.
Richard "Rick" Eustice
Note from Carol: After another serious bout of illness, Rick passed away September 22, 2010. No one fought rheumatoid arthritis and the complications that came his way with more strength and spirit. Rest in peace my dear husband.
Rick and Carol Eustice - Wedding Day - May 1997
Our miniature dachshund, Haley.
Name should really be "Barkley" :) Haley went on to doggy heaven in October 2009.