John Crider was a fit, healthy, energetic 57-year-old chemist who was living as if nothing could ever take him down. He was an avid skier, hiker, biker, and loved his daily walks on the beautiful Colorado trails across the street from his house. He generally did anything he wanted, whenever he wanted. He was the guy who never looked or acted his age, and he was fitter than most 40-year-olds. He thought it would always be that way—until one day when he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in his feet, and his life changed literally overnight. Not willing to take it lying down, he did everything necessary to battle back and walk normally again. Now, he’s a strong, fit 60-year-old who is back to doing most everything he likes—except now, he doesn’t take a single step for granted.
I’ve always worked out and enjoyed being able to do whatever I wanted. Several things I enjoyed the most were bike riding, walking or hiking. I walked every day if I was able, and most days I was. To go to bed seemingly perfectly healthy one night and not be able to walk the next morning was a huge shock. From the time I felt the pain to when I couldn’t walk was overnight, but there were signs. I would get these occasional “pings” throughout my torso—my upper and lower quadrants. They were painful, but not so much that they made me jolt, and they were in different areas at different times, which seemed odd. But, I didn’t think much of it. I figured it was just part of getting older.
Looking back, the pings were an obvious a sign that something was going on with my body. I went to bed one night feeling fine, and the next morning, I couldn’t put any weight on my right foot and couldn’t put a shoe on and felt like I was walking on hot knives. My life from that point changed overnight. I didn’t really know what was going on, and since this happened on the weekend, I had to wait until Monday to see my doc. When I got in to see the doc, he diagnosed me with gout (even though he knew I have a family history of RA and autoimmune diseases), which normally lasts 10-14 days and then it’s over. But, mine continued. With my family history of the disease, I was suspicious that it could be what I had, so I started doing all kinds of online research and found everything I could about gout and RA. The more I educated myself, I realized it that it most likely wasn’t gout, and I was even more suspicious of RA. So, I saw a rheumatologist, had a blood test, and he confirmed the diagnosis of RA.
When I was diagnosed, I was pretty stunned. I went from doing anything I wanted to realizing that life is precious. Stuff can happen and your life can change overnight. That’s what happened to me. My biggest concern was whether I was ever going to walk again. I couldn’t even stand in the kitchen to make dinner. I live across the street from open space and trails that I love walking, and to think that I might not ever do that again was really eye opening. I was determined to not let it beat me.
Going through the initial treatments took about three months, and I had very little success with the treatments. It was helping with limited success, but I still couldn’t walk far at all, and every step I took was painful. Most of it was in my right foot, but some in my left foot, too. Once I got on a biologic drug for RA, it brought things under control quickly. It’s an amazing drug, and I’m grateful it worked for me because it doesn’t work for everyone. I felt the difference overnight, and within a week or two, I was able to start walking much farther.
It took about six months before I could start walking the trails again, and nearly a year before I could walk to Stearn’s Lake, which is 3.2 miles. I felt so good the first time I got to the lake and back—that was a big celebration. I took every step for granted before getting diagnosed, and now I was finally able to have it back again. One of the things I could always do with very little pain was ride my bike. I was fortunate that I could still ride without too much pain—and that gave me hope throughout the time I couldn’t walk. I really focused heavily on that—at least I could ride.
To stay fit, I keep an active, healthy lifestyle: I work out, eat right, take vitamin D and eat mostly organic foods. I believe that pesticides and herbicides in our food system get into our bodies and affect us negatively. It’s a cumulative effect, and it may take many years to show the effects, but it will show up eventually. My motto has always been everything in moderation. We only live once, so I figure I’ll eat foods I enjoy as long as they don’t cause harm to me. It’s all part of living every day with gusto. I took out some unhealthy habits that were doing more harm than good, and now I’m much healthier than I was before the diagnosis.
Even though I have to take daily meds, I can still do things that I want to do and not let RA control me. I’ll always have this disease, but it doesn’t define me. I just do the best I can to live my life the way I want. RA brought me down to my knees, temporarily, but I wasn’t going to let it beat me—and it didn’t beat me. While there is no cure for RA, I fought it head on. I will continue to stay physically and mentally fit, and appreciate every walk on the trail.