Arthritis: ‘The power to do something about it’

2018-10-18 06:01
Mary Nkosi recounting her struggles with rheumatoid arthritis from the age of just six. Julie Martin from the Arthritis Foundation of South Africa looks on.                   PHOTO: luvuyo mjekula

Mary Nkosi recounting her struggles with rheumatoid arthritis from the age of just six. Julie Martin from the Arthritis Foundation of South Africa looks on. PHOTO: luvuyo mjekula

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A 60-year-old arthritis patient has recounted how she battled the condition from the age of six, enduring pain and stigma, and torment by her peers.

Mary Nkosi, from Gugulethu, was speaking during a World Arthritis Awareness Day event at Groote Schuur Hospital last week.

The Arthritis Foundation of South Africa organised the informative event recently, which was also attended by health practitioners and arthritis survivors.

At a very young age, Nkosi said she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a long-term autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the joints.

Speaking after a doctor and nurse had given details of the different types of arthritis, Nkosi said: “Mine is the worst. I’ve seen pain all my life, I’m used to it. It is my friend.”

She recalled her early struggles while living in Swaziland with her grandmother and cousins.

“I didn’t know that I was different, I only discovered when I was between eight and 10 years that I had deformed feet,” she told the gathering in the hospital’s Kleinschuur room.

“But there was nothing I couldn’t do. I could swim in a deep river. We always went to the bushes to pick up wild fruits. When it was raining we would hide under a big stone which was built like a house.

“We would make a fire with my cousin and braai fresh maize and dry peanuts. But sometimes I had days when children would tease me, calling me names, and I would cry, asking myself: ‘Why am I like this?’ I had no shoes on my feet and my feet were becoming worse with bones on top of my toes.

“I couldn’t put any shoes on and I was not at school. My granny could not take me to the hospital because it was too far. So my sickness got worse – I developed black and white spots on my hands and feet,” Nkosi told the emotional crowd.

In 1968, she remembered, she and her siblings moved to an area known as Manzini.

“We rode on a bus to town. After that we walked. I still remember the pain I had in my legs and feet without shoes – the stones were sharp like thorns. I couldn’t take it anymore. My granny and I sat down to rest a bit and we started walking again until we reached our destination – the place was called Ngwane Park Township.

At least it was a nice house with three bedrooms.”

In 1976 and 1977 she had operations on her feet. “Then it was much better, I could now put on my shoes but as I grew older, the arthritis became worse and my hands became deformed also but there was nothing I could not do.

“I went to the vocational training college where I learnt handwork, sewing, beading, knitting, crocheting and cooking,” said Nkosi.

She now makes her own clothes and stresses that she lives a normal life.

She gave advice to those diagnosed with the disease: “Please don’t give up. Tell yourself you are not disabled and you are able to think with your head and work with your hands. Have confidence in yourself. Treat yourself as a normal person. God has given you eyes, ears and brains, so there is nothing wrong with you.”

Dr AbdelGaffar Mohammed explained that it is important for patients to religiously take their medication and be informed, also about side effects.

Rheumatology nurse Margie Phillips said she plays the role of counsellor to the patients she sees because providing them with information and listening to their struggles helps them to better deal with the disease.

She also stated that arthritis is “not an old-age disease” but affects people of all ages. Phillips said a lot of young people are becoming patients.

“It is now in your hands. You have the power to do something about it,” said Phillips.

V Contact the Arthritis Foundation of South Africa helpline on 0861 30 30 30 or 021 425 2344 or visit www.arthritis.org.za or on Facebook: ArthritisSouthAfrica

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