Learning to Accept My Auto-Immune Disorder - Rida Maryam Zafar

This February marks the first time in almost seven years that I have made it through six consecutive months without experiencing a flare-up of my autoimmune disorder. What makes this feat especially extraordinary is the high frequency of flare-ups I had last year - three in a span of five months. Funnily enough, this curious absence of my condition coincides with me reframing the relationship I have with my physical health.


This tumultuous relationship came into conscious existence when I was ten years old. As a fifth grader, I had to take annual exams for the first time and I was devastatingly nervous. I found going to bed difficult because I thought I didn’t deserve a good grade unless I sacrificed at least some sleep for my exams. With the season changing and my childish stress levels rising, I eventually contracted a cold and a fever. My parents weren’t too concerned about my symptoms, partly because as an E.N.T specialist, my dad regularly dealt with symptoms like mine, and partly because these symptoms just weren’t serious enough. But, when my temperature started rising from mild fever to high-grade fever and a few weeks had passed without me getting much better, they realized I had something a little more uncommon than the common cold. Several visits to several doctors ranging from pediatricians to general physicians to infectious disease specialists later, my symptoms, rather insidiously, subsided on their own.


But these symptoms had only cooled to return with more fervor the following year. My intense reaction to an antibiotic I had been given to treat a conjectured attack of typhoid only perplexed my legions of doctors. My blood-tests, X-rays, ultrasounds, and echocardiograms all suggested I should be healthy despite my rashes, raging fever, nausea, and lethargy. One exasperated doctor after another told my parents nothing could be done because they simply did not know what, if anything, was wrong.


Eventually, I was diagnosed preliminarily with Still’s disease, a type of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis that is characterized by high spiking fevers, salmon colored rashes, joint inflammation and as yet no known causes. A bonus discovery of a penicillin allergy accompanied this diagnosis. Since my symptoms were serious, my doctor put me on corticosteroids and I started to get better.