I remember from my childhood good reasons, real reasons, for my mother’s hands to be red and swollen:
Doing dishes, doing laundry, pickling beets, washing and stewing fresh Manitoba strawberries and rhubarb for pie and spread;
(My mother’s pies are the stuff of legend. And there is no better breakfast in the heat of summer than rye toast, generously buttered, topped with a thick layer of sweet-tart, strawberry rhubarb goodness;)
Doing up skates for my brother and I, in the dead of a -35C Prairie winter, laces stiff and unyielding like frozen garter snakes.
Now, in her mid-seventies, my mother’s hands are red and swollen from a disease that has treatments, but no cure.
It’s rheumatoid arthritis, the crippling and deforming kind. Her immune system has rebelled, attacking her joints as if they were a virus.
I am convinced it is the result of stress. And I know that stress can bring on a host of inflammatory conditions, like RA, or Crohn’s disease, colitis, or MS:
Caring for my father, who had his fourth joint replacement surgery in 20 years last year, but refuses to be active;
Supporting my brother to get back on his feet financially;
(Nearly 40 years old, living with my parents in their apartment, letting my mother drive him to his 4am shift at airport security.)
We caught the signs before extensive damage could set in. It started in her feet with pain and swelling, moving to her knees, then her wrists and hands.
One morning she needed both hands to lift a coffee mug. And then she needed both hands to pour her evening tea.
We know what we’re dealing with. We have a diagnosis and a treatment plan. But oh, it breaks my heart and angers me that my mother has been dealt this blow so far into retirement.
I will be a healthcare advocate for her, I will be a support. I will gently hold my mother’s hands because they have supported so many others for so long.