Rheumatoid arthritis – Carol Masters’ story

It’s just a short few years ago that 67-year-old Welwyn resident, Carol Masters, experienced some of the most difficult times of her life. She was experiencing pain in various parts of her body, especially her joints, which more or less kept her trapped in her own home for three months. Then in 2013 she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and its subsequent treatment at the hands of the Trust’s specialist rheumatology team transformed her life.

As Carol says:

“I have always been a very active person, from ballroom dancing through to walks. Indeed one of my greatest pleasures has been visiting places of interest, including walking through the grounds of famous houses and cities with my partner, Terry. But back in 2010, that all began to change.

“I had begun to have joint pain, especially in my knees, hands and wrists. At first I felt it was just one of those things we all experience as we get older, but as time went on I began to feel much worse. I went to my GP and they did blood tests for a number of things, including rheumatoid arthritis – but it all came back negative.”

Towards the end of 2012, Carol virtually became housebound for three months. She could no longer drive, walking had become incredibly painful and trips out were a thing of the past for Carol and Terry. Even climbing the stairs became a major issue for her.

Carol explains:

“Looking back, things had become really bad. They were dark times as it just felt my life as I had known it was over. But things changed with a visit to my GP, when my friend had to help just to turn the handle on the surgery door. I was referred to see a consultant rheumatologist at the old QEII hospital.

“I had my consultation in early 2013; just one look at my swollen knees made my consultant suspect strongly that I had rheumatoid arthritis, but this confused me because the blood tests had come back negative. It was then that I discovered that the test is not fool proof and for some people it can be what’s called seronegative – i.e. blood tests return a negative result.

“I was started on a drug called methotrexate, which has worked very well for me. I am still on it today, although the dose has been adjusted up and down during the intervening years. Over time, my symptoms got back under control and we were able to resume a more normal life again. I still need to be careful of things like coming down stairs because of the pressure this places on my knees, but I just take my time.

“I love visiting places and we’re able to do that again. Last year we visited Rome, walking everywhere. Of course, I had to have rest stops but it was nothing like a previous trip to Lindos in Greece a few years earlier, where even walking just short distances left me in tears because of the pain.

“I now have the confidence to self-manage my condition. I see my consultant every 12 months, but also each year I have an annual review with a clinical nurse specialist. Not only does this mean that I am in touch with the team every six months, I can also use their dedicated helpline for raising queries and concerns – they always come back to me quickly, so it helps me to stay on top of my symptoms. It’s my back-up, which saves time and my health!”

When asked what message she wanted to give to others, Carol was clear:

“If you start to feel bad joint pain that is affecting different parts of the body and deteriorates relatively quickly, it could be more than just the usual aches and pains of getting old. Speak with your GP and be persistent if you need to in being referred to a specialist. Taking early action could help transform your life.”