My bones ache. No, it is not muscles. It feels like bones. I first noticed the condition in August. I awoke mid-August and felt an unusual symptom: the bones (tibia and fibula) ached in the lower part of my right leg. I couldn’t classify it as pain. Instead, it was ‘moan.’ Maybe it was ‘moaning.’ Sure, I have sleep disturbances from back pain and sometimes radiculopathy (pinched nerve in the spine), but this was a ‘moan.’

I never experienced a ‘moan.’ Not sure why this particular symptom decided to introduce itself during the third week of August is unclear. But in the subsequent days, other ‘moaning’ friends, including the right arm bones (radius and ulna) and fingers of both hands, were invited to the party. As a host, these unwanted guests presented a host of issues. “Gee, what do I serve such unwanted guests? Should I offer hors d’oeuvres, a few drinks, and send them on their way? Or do I drug them out of existence, put up with them like New York apartment dweller who names cockroaches as though they’re pets?”

I opted for drugs. Most of the time, medication dulls any such annoyances and allows me to dart off into the day. And when I get moving, just moving seems to help with the pain. Either that or I get so involved in other projects I forget about the pain. Sure there are off and on moments that the partygoers let their presence be known. “Damn it. We’re out of hors d’oeuvres. And bring more drink.” Seriously, whose house do they believe this is? This is not a hostile takeover. “You’re not allowed to squat?” I’d mumble. I mean, I was the principal resident before they arrived. Most houseguests respect boundaries, but these appear to be like that one friend who decides that hanging on your couch is cool. You know the one. It’s that person who eats your food, plays their music endlessly, burns through your Internet, complains there isn’t enough hot water for their hour-long shower, and scratches your car, but later claims it was always there.

The average person might believe the ‘moan’ is symptomatic of bone cancer. And while I had a neck tumor removed, bone cancer symptoms in three locations within two weeks seem remote. So yeah, I can’t rule it out, but since I don’t have (for the moment) other cancer symptoms, I rule it out. I do have osteoarthritis, though. And more than likely, these fine substandard party guests are likely to be from the osteoarthritis family.

While the ankle cartilage holds up reasonably well, it is uniformly thin. All of this means that a bunch of bone spurs and cartilage deterioration might be taking up residence, making it extremely difficult to move without pain (or ‘moaning’). In April 2019, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) blood sampling and MRI ruled out RA. However, there was mild ‘diffuse disk bulge,’ bilateral facet osteoarthritis, uncovertebral joint osteoarthritis (a common location for degeneration and bone spur growth), lumbar retrolisthesis (where bones in the spine slip backward), some degenerative disk disease. Facet joint osteoarthritis is a bitch, as the symptoms unduly pressure nerves that run into the shoulders and upper back. Shooting pain in the neck and across the shoulders are signals facet joint arthritis. In addition, an X-ray of the right knee revealed significant arthritis.

My first meeting with an expert Rheumatologist is in mid-October. I already know that there’s not much the expert can provide outside of some fairly heavy invasive surgery, physical therapy, and over-the-counter medications. With my type of problem, it’s either go big or go home. In that sense, I’ve gotten used to receiving bad news. My primary physician is probably correct: outside of knee replacement and losing weight, over-the-counter pain medication was my best option. Yet, I feel drawn to have a second opinion.

I’ve focused mainly on living and not dying before actually being dead. Heck, had I listen to doctors two years ago, I’d be dead already. Then again, had I heeded my clinicians’ advice, I’d be sitting in a motorhome, traveling, and seeing the United States. Instead, I am supporting our hospital’s COVID support efforts and trying to maintain a way to live longer. I will admit, helping the unvaccinated survive COVID is not living, at least to me. It seems like a waste of precious, limited time, and interferes with living. But I do what I can. I do not work at not living to get any meager amount of bonus points before dying and entering the hereafter. I do work in hopes that maybe some poor soul requiring life-saving medical attention receives it. Maybe in some way, that is living.

Last night, a sudden burst of love (or electricity, whether it came from God or some form of universal love) taught me that I must continue to try and learn during the final phase of my life. This ‘learning’ is an integral part of living. I’m learning to COVID patients, learning to help my mother whose helped me, and learning to help myself. Learning makes the ‘ache’ worthwhile.