Of the more than 25 years that I have practiced medicine as a Rheumatologist, I have been asked many times “what is a Rheumatologist?”. When I give the explanation that “he/she is a specialist in arthritis and autoimmune diseases”, the question that is often asked is “why did I choose to become a Rheumatologist out of all the specialties in Internal Medicine’?”. I can honestly say that a recent article in the Sun Sentinel on the outcome of a patient of mine with rheumatoid arthritis has answered this question very simply.
The patient, Lucille, was first seen by me when she was in her mid thirties. She was a hairdresser at that time who presented to me with multiple painful swollen joints. She was unable to work either at home or in her occupation without severe pain and discomfort and essentially her life was falling apart.
After performing the appropriate examination and blood tests, the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis was made. Since that time, I have treated her with multiple medications. As we have discovered and made advances in different forms of therapy over the years, we have been able to provide Lucille with progressively more function, less pain and improved quality of life.
Lucille is an artist who went from being unable to grasp a paintbrush, to producing award winning art that is being progressively recognized more and more by the art community as extremely high quality work.
From my perspective, the few paintings that are hanging up in my office that she personally painted for me, are the answer as to why I became a Rheumatologist. It has always been extremely frustrating for me to hear people state that there is no treatment that will help patients with arthritis. There is also nothing worse than seeing a patient brought into my office with crippling disease who has been misinformed and has ultimately waited far too long to seek treatment. By the time I see them, there is very little that can be done for them.
The fact is that while there are over one hundred types of arthritis, some of which can be extremely devastating, in the majority of cases, I know I can effectively help relieve my patients’ pain and symptoms dramatically. This will allow them to have a very productive life with much happiness and pleasure. There is on the one hand, nothing more gratifying than to see someone who is crippled by inflammation of their joints becoming pain-free and more functional and conversely, nothing more frustrating than seeing someone being mistreated, not treated or misinformed.
We have reached a point in the treatment of rheumatic diseases that we truly have made breakthroughs with rheumatoid arthritis and various other forms of arthritis to an extent that I would not have dreamt of when I first started practicing rheumatology.
Obviously, all forms of treatment have risks and side effects and it is my job to balance the pros and the cons and to heal my patients and not to make them worse with my treatment. I can honestly say that the majority of patients, once they have given medications a chance and learn how to adjust their behavior, lifestyle and body habits to work with their medications. usually are very receptive and responsive to treatment.
I also strongly believe that the pleasure that I see in a patient’s family and friends by the smiles that appear as their loved one’s response becomes more and more improved is another very gratifying feeling. Thus, the answer to why I became a Rheumatologist does not need to be explained when this type of reaction is recognized.
My hope is that an example like Lucille is used to make people aware that we can help everyone with arthritis, no matter what type or to what extent it has affected their life. The statement that you “don’t have to live with arthritis,” is absolutely correct and more appropriate now than ever.
I hope to continue to be able to enjoy my chosen specialty, which unfortunately is needed to help patients reduce their pain and disability. It is also something that provides me with tremendous satisfaction in being able to change their pain and disability to situations that are in fact completely different and improved.
Please, if you have any concerns about your arthritis or believe that you have some type of arthritis, seek treatment, look for a Rheumatologist and find out what is available to improve your symptoms and the quality of your life.
Author: Norman B. Gaylis, M.D., F.A.C.P., M.A.C.R.