Of the 100 types of arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common.
Impacting more than 31 million Americans, OA causes degeneration of the joint tissues and can result in joint failure. For Linda C. Shaw, the pain and disability of OA is a daily experience.
After giving birth to twins, Shaw began experiencing knee pain so unbearable it made walking difficult. It was impossible for her to navigate stairs. After a rushed examination, her doctor concluded that Shaw, then 36, might have some arthritis in her knee. But the best treatment, he said, would be to keep walking and lose weight.
Shaw tried to follow his instructions, but she continued to struggle. It took four years for a doctor to take her complaints seriously and properly diagnose her with OA. By then, X-rays showed Shaw needed a double knee replacement. But the surgeon insisted she was too young for the procedure.
Unfortunately, Shaw’s condition worsened, and she began experiencing nerve pain throughout her body. She could not find comfort in any position, and nothing she did provided relief. Her ability to walk diminished even further. Basic tasks like hanging clothes in a closet or playing with her grandchildren became impossible. She could no longer work, drive, or attend church.
Upon further examination, the doctors found Shaw had thoracic myelopathy, or compression of the spinal cord, which can cause neuropathy and even paralysis.
She underwent back surgery in 2011. Following recovery, Shaw’s surgeon finally performed the much-needed knee replacements.
Today, Shaw takes medications and attends water aerobics weekly to manage her pain. Chiropractic care has helped considerably; likewise, massage has given Shaw reason to hope for better days. However, like countless patients, she cannot always access the treatment she needs due to cost — even with insurance.
Living with OA has affected Shaw physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, and financially. It is only with her deep-rooted faith, as well as the support of her family and patient organizations, that she has found comfort and purpose despite constant pain.
Shaw also finds hope in creativity. She wrote a poetry book and memoir about coping with pain, and is currently working as a voiceover artist.
“I’m now walking by faith, and I’m rebuilding my life through my creativity,” Shaw said. “And that creative outlet is allowing me to heal myself both mentally and, hopefully one day, physically.”
To read more of Shaw’s story, visit invisibleproject.org/linda-shaw.
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