Working with Rheumatoid Arthritis
I have been thinking more and more about retirement. I am a couple of years away retirement. I read recently where one out of every three employees with Rheumatoid Arthritis leaves the workforce early. That percentage seemed high to me. With the increase in medicines that are helping us to manage our symptoms better, more and more of us are finding it easier to stay longer in the workforce. But, it is not always easy for me to manage my symptoms even with medication. One of my biggest problems, besides my teeth right now, is fatigue. Pain is another symptom that impacts my ability to work at times.
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In a recent study that I read said that people with RA, over a three-month period, took off an average of two to three weeks from work. I am currently authorized to take off up to two days a month using my family medical leave. This is what my doctor and I agreed would be reasonable. I am only taking off time when I have lab work done or for my doctor’s appointments. I have not just “called in sick” because I am too tired to work or in too much pain. I go to work and struggle through the day. However, as I get older, I am finding myself less willing to struggle through the day so that retirement is looking better and better. My problem is that I am not financially where I would like to be and would like to have a couple more years to build up my retirement. My other problem is that I am not yet ready to retire.
So, as always, I did some research on things that might make my workday better. There is no magical suggestion here, just common sense stuff.
- Don’t let your RA get you down. I have a tendency to get angry or lack patience. These are not familiar or common reactions so I know it is related to my RA. I have to remind myself that things are alright and I try to maintain a positive attitude. It is hard to do when I am tired or in pain but I try.
- I have a desk/field job. When I am at my desk, it is not uncommon for me to sit in one spot for hours at a time. When I get up, my lower back is stiff and my hip joints hurt. I have to remember to stretch, walk around the office, or simply shift positions. When I am in the field, I try not to schedule visits when I am in pain. When my knees are hurting, I avoid (whenever possible) going to places where there are stairs. I try to adjust my schedule to accommodate whatever part of my body is hurting at that minute. Sometimes that is hard to do when everything hurts.
- I have had to let go of my goals or readjust my goals. I hold myself to a high standard and set hard goals for myself. I have had to lower or change my standards so that I don’t overwork my body and my mind.
- This is a really hard one for me. I have to ask for help at times. I have always been physically strong. My husband always teases me about being able to chop a cord of wood. Lifting up the water bottle to put it in the cooler at work is sometimes too much for me and I have to ask for help. I hate it but it is something that I am gradually learning to do.
- Taking a break from work is critical and something that I don’t do well. I often eat lunch at my desk and work through my lunch hour. I have been trying to turn off my computer at lunch, put my feet up and read a book. I also have a yoga mat in my office and I sometimes shut my door and use the mat to stretch. My problem is that if I lay down on the mat, I want to go to sleep. The RA fatigue gets me every time.
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I also got to thinking about different accommodations that can help me through the day. According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Job Accommodation Network, the following is a list of recommendations for employers of people with arthritis and arthritis-related conditions.
- adjusting desk height if an employee uses a wheelchair or scooter
- allowing a flexible work schedule or allowing the employee to work from home
- implementing an ergonomic workstation design
- installing automatic door openers
- providing a page turner, book holder, or note taker, if necessary
- providing arm supports and writing and grip aids
- providing parking close to the workplace
- providing sensitivity training to co-workers
- reducing or eliminating physical exertion
- replacing small switches with cushioned knobs that can be turned with less force
- scheduling periodic breaks away from the workstation
- I have concluded that instead of saying that I am going to retire at age 62, I am shifting my thought process to I am going to retire when I feel it is time to retire. I don’t know when that will be. It could be 6 months from now or at age 65 if I am feeling good and still enjoy working. That crystal ball is murky right now so time will tell what happens. If you are struggling at work, I truly sympathize with you and hope that you can find ways to make your work day more manageable and enjoyable.
- *******The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them. George Bernard Shaw******