Diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus at age 50
Michael Taffe was a successful business executive when he was diagnosed with a combination of two rheumatic diseases – rheumatoid arthritis and lupus – as well as diabetes. On top of pain and inflammation, the diseases presented in other unique symptoms such as central tinnitus, and left Michael with no choice but to retire early from his career. Armed with an unbroken positive attitude and a persistent sense of humor, Michael has adapted to his rheumatic diseases but won’t be beaten by them.
Michael’s Story: The Double Whammy
Michael was the successful vice president of a software company when his symptoms first started in 1998. However, having been an elite-level gymnast through college, he assumed that all aches and pains he was experiencing as an adult were simply throwbacks to his younger days. About three years later, after one of his regular blood donations, Michael received a call saying that blood tests had shown something was very wrong.
The test results showed Michael not only had rheumatoid arthritis, but also lupus and diabetes. He immediately started on various courses of treatment and sought out a rheumatologist. In learning more about the practice of rheumatology, as he searched for the right physician for him, Michael developed a tremendous respect for their work. “Rheumatologists are like detectives,” he says. “Digging deep to find solutions when something is very difficult to diagnose.”
Living with a Rheumatic Disease: Common Disease; Uncommon Symptoms
Michael continued to work for five more years, but doing so became increasingly difficult. About two years after he was diagnosed, Michael woke up one Saturday morning with a terrible ringing in his ears – a ringing that has not stopped since. Initially, doctors believed that Michael may have developed multiple sclerosis, but later determined the cause to be central tinnitus – an “engineered” tone emitted in the brain, which sounds to the patient like a loud noise constantly blaring in the ears. As well as experiencing a great deal of pain, Michael found it harder and harder to concentrate. During meetings, he would make excuses for why he had to walk around the room, and found various ways to hide the severity of his condition. “I was faking it,” he recalls.
Eventually, Michael had to curtail his professional career and concentrate on developing the skills necessary to successfully manage life while dealing with a chronic illness. “It’s comical to see myself trying to walk to the bathroom in the morning.” He sometimes finds himself embarrassed by the simple tasks that are no longer so simple – opening the tops of jars or the child-proof seals on medications. He needs two hands to hold his coffee mug, and using stairs are always a challenge – “I’m really more of a ramp kind of guy,” he says with a laugh. Michael’s condition has also robbed him of his ability to write longhand, and he is barely able to sign his own name anymore.
Michael’s Window of Opportunity: Better Access Equals Better Care
Michael became involved in the American College of Rheumatology’s Simple Tasks campaign because he believes in the window of opportunity – “Get tested,” he says. “Though there’s no cure, there are treatments available to help you manage the disease.”
He also advocates strongly for building a support system of care so patients are able to rely not only on their rheumatologists, but also fellow patients with similar experiences. When speaking of the care he himself receives, Michael says, “That practice has been a Godsend to me; a support system is so important with rheumatoid arthritis.”
Michael’s uncommon symptoms would be devastating to anyone, but the right attitude and the guidance of a rheumatologist can help manage rheumatic diseases like his. The window of opportunity is key in finding the right treatment for millions of people with rheumatic diseases.