Perhaps one of the scariest things when you are first diagnosed with R.A. is starting on the meds. The fear creeps in about the time you get your first prescription. Or it happens before you get your prescription filled, and you read up on the kinds of medications you must take, and their side effects. All of this is overwhelming enough.
If you don’t respond that well to the pills, next up will be biologics. Now that biologics have been on the market for a while, you heard of the most common ones in television ads. I remember long ago, before someone diagnosed me with R.A., hearing the ads and wondering why I had to hear so many ads for these medications for the aging. Because, guess what? You don’t have to be old to have symptoms of autoimmune diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis. And while some may find the list of side effects daunting, what you may discover is even more daunting is that you have to give yourself injections.
I’ve become adept at getting over some fears. I have been from the beginning. And trust me, I had a long way to come on this one. Having to get blood draws from the outset is daunting. Especially when the first ones are taken, I had 8 vials in order for them to do all the testing they needed to do. I knew friends in my various support groups had to get fill something like 12-20 vials. I honestly don’t understand how they didn’t pass out.
Once you get past that point of fear, then there is this injecting yourself thing. Some of my family members and friends are insulin dependent diabetics, and I was always in awe of how they could do this on a daily basis. Multiple times. And test their blood sugar on their fingers. Totally baffling.
But here’s the thing—if it’s a matter of survival you do the brave thing. The consequences of not taking your biologic? You continue to decline. Your joints become deformed. They confine you to a wheelchair because of your joint pain. At one point, before my rheumatologist and I found out what worked best for me, I would go through flares where I could barely walk to the bathroom. And when I did, I required a walker. Several times I needed a walker just to get out and about. That is the future that lies ahead when you can’t get the inflammation under control.
Maybe you are facing your first injection right now. Perhaps something like Humira or Embrel. Here are some helpful pointers:
- If you have a way to practice, do so. One feature I truly love about Humira, was that they actually had a practice pen. It doesn’t have a needle, but it’s battery operated and it talks you through the whole injection process from where you should inject, to when and how long you should hold the button.
- Go to the website for your medication, read any materials and watch any videos. I have a theory that you can learn to do just about anything on YouTube and that includes doing an injection.
- Take your medication out of the fridge at least 30 minutes ahead of time. Read the directions for sure, and make sure you talk with someone about just how you should treat your medication, but when it comes to Humira, it really burns if you try to inject while it still has a chill on it. I usually lean towards 45 minutes to an hour before injecting as long as the room temperature isn’t above the 77-degree temperature as indicated on the packaging.
- Get comfortable and take a few deep breaths. It can be rough the first time, so if you’re new, just take a few deep breaths to be calm. Think of calming your mind, and remind yourself that thousands upon thousands of people do this every single day successfully. You can too!
- Come up with a cheer/mantra. It sounds super hokey, but I literally think to myself, “You’re awesome. You can do this.” I say this over in my mind several times, sitting on the edge of my bed, ready to inject.
- Push the plunger and wait. Don’t rush to remove the needle no matter how much it stings. You have to make sure that all of the meds go in. Once the pain hits, I discovered I had to fight not to yank my hand away.
- Congratulate yourself! I always need a reward or motivation for having done something extraordinary. I know that there are some who have to have a nurse or someone else give them their injection because no matter what they do they don’t have the confidence or the hand strength when they’re flaring that badly. That’s okay too. But if you did this yourself you definitely deserve a reward. Mine is always fun kid bandages. Since most people will never see my midriff, my secret is usually safe. But I always have to cover my injection site, because 9 times out of 10 I will bleed. And sometimes the medication will bubble a little under the skin, so I don’t want to bump the injection site. So bandage it is. My bandage box is currently populated with Hello Kitty, Star Wars, and Minion bandages. I earn every one.
Honestly, once you master these techniques, it won’t be so bad. And remember, you’ll only be doing this at most once per week. You can handle once a week. Once you’ve mastered the art of injections, let me know in the comments how you psyche yourself up, and how you like to reward yourself for a job well done.