My name is Rachel McGee and I have A.S. I had my first major flare a year and a half ago when I was 22. At the time I had no idea what was happening to me. My husband and I had recently moved from a small town in Missouri to Dallas after both graduating college. We were excited about what God had in store for our future, but literally the first day we were in Dallas I started having problems. I remember my Mother-in-law saying how red my eye was and that I must be very tired from the move. I didn’t think much of it because I WAS very tired, and so I just decided it would get better in a few days.
It didn’t. Two weeks later I was now having terrible pain in my eye at any sort of light. It was blood shot and I couldn’t even look at a yellow shirt without wincing in pain. I made an appointment with an optometrist and he told me I had pink eye and gave me vigamox. Three days later it had gotten worse instead of better so I went back. He said I needed to see an ophthalmologist right away because my “pink eye turned into iritis” (which I now know how ridiculous that is). I still didn’t think it was a big deal, I just wanted my eye to feel better, but when I went to the ophthalmologist I realized how serious it was. I remember her looking at my eye and just saying “wow”. She turned to my husband and I and said “It’s very severe, but I think we can still save your vision”. What??? She explained that my iris had been so severely inflamed for so long that it had actually attached itself to the soft lens of my eye. My pupil was unable to dilate and that’s what was causing so much pain. For the next week I saw her every day and I had an entire ziplock bag full of eye drops, many of which I took 12 times a day. I had to keep my eye dilated for a month and a half and my vision was impaired to the point I wasn’t allowed to drive.
During this time, I started to feel a little stiff in my left knee. One day I sat down and looked down and realized there was this giant knot on the side of my knee and it was warm when I touched it. Just so happened that I had an appointment with my ophthalmologist that day, so while we were talking I mentioned my knee randomly was swelling. I showed it to her and she said “Dear, you have arthritis”. But I’m 22… old people get arthritis. Not young, healthy people. Right?
Over the next month while I waited to see a rheumatologist my knee swelled more and more to the point I couldn’t bend it. I could barely get in and out of the car or even step into the shower. I couldn’t bend it to put on pants! My husband was having to help me get dressed… at 22. I also was increasingly stiff in my back. My back had given me problems since I was about 13, but never as badly as it was now. I would be lying on the couch in the evening and crying in pain because it felt like I had been hit in the back with a sledge hammer. What was going on?
Finally the day came for my appointment with the rheumatologist. I had already had some preliminary blood work done with my primary doctor and I took that to my appointment. I told him about my eye, my knee, my back, and handed him my blood work. He flipped the page and said “You have the HLA-B27 gene” He then told me he needed to do an MRI of my back, but he was pretty sure I had Ankylosing Spondylitis. He gave me some brochures about it and told me to email if I had any questions. After the MRI results came back it was confirmed, A.S.
I now realize how incredibly blessed I am to have had such great doctors. Within 3 months of my first major flare I was diagnosed. I started Humira first, but kept getting bronchitis so we switched to Enbrel. My wonderful husband has stood by my side through everything. He has come to almost every doctor’s appointment with me; he even gives me my shots because I chicken out when I try to do them. God has blessed me beyond measure, and my goal is to always remember that despite the pain A.S. can cause.
Texas United States of America