In the pharmacy they ask me the question. Are you expecting three hundred Prednisolone tablets? It sounds huge number. I don’t know. Am I? To be safe I nod and, after checking that I am who I claim to be, they hand me the bag. It’s a huge thing like the sort the old used to get when I was younger. Prednisolone tabs by the packet load. Tubs of Calichew. Boxes of Omeprazole. And my favourite, the one you take weekly, standing up, Alendronic Acid.
I set off up the road. There’s late autumn sun shining on me but I don’t notice. Am I gripped by fear and apprehension? Not yet. The polymyalgia is still riddling my proximate muscle group, wrapping itself round my neck and making everything feel appalling. It feels like it’s time to give up.
There had been arguments at the doctors. I’d visited my local GP who has a surgery a ten minute walk down the road. I was convinced that this was some sort of reaction to statins, just like it says in the statin small print that comes inside the box. May affect some people. Me. All I had to do was give up my Simvastatin, wait a bit for the stuff to clear the system and everything would settle down. Only it had been eight weeks so far and things were now worse than they had been. Hard to get out of bed in the morning. Impossible to sit in a car for longer than ten minutes. Pains when squatting. No, couldn’t squat. Aches now starting in my upper arms. Hell on earth when I tried to sleep.
So it clears once you are up and about? It does. And returns when you sit still for a time? Yes. Getting worse? Certainly. On a scale of 1 to 10 how bad is it? With 10 being dreadful and 1 being clear. 7. Mmm. I think it’s this. She turns her screen to face me and there’s a description of Polymyalgia Rheumatica. I’ve never heard of it. It sounds like something you are born with, a disease of the nerves, something that creeps up out of the genes. A thing others develop. It usually affects older women, especially those over 70, the GP gently tells me. But I think it’s what you’ve got. She looks concerned.
I agree to two blood tests a fortnight apart. If my ESR and CRP rates show elevation then that indicates inflammation of the muscles, a PMR pointer. I see the nurse and take the first one. I don’t look as the blood enters the syringe. I’ve passed out before while casually gazing. Had to be brought round by nurses applying cold compresses. Once while having an ingrowing toenail excised fainted and had to be revived with oxygen. I have learned simply not to stare. Usually does the trick.
When the results come in they show elevation. The first test throws up an ESR of 19 and the second of 40. The CRP shows first 28 and then 30. On my return to the surgery the GP tells me that she’s pretty sure this is Polymyalgia but that luckily there is a treatment. And one that works every time. She doesn’t actually say there’s a miracle cure available but I can hear the words hovering somewhere above her head. I am given a prescription for prednisolone and then warnings about how prednisolone is a steroid and that steroids have side-effects. But remember that the condition, the PMR, is far worse than any possible side-effect and the steroid will see that off, says the GP. She sounds like she means what she says but I am unconvinced.
Can I have some more pain killers to get me through the night, I ask? I’ve been taking everything from Naproxen, a sort of super ibuprofen, to heavy dose Co-codamol. These knock you out, get you through the dark hours but during the day leave you in a permanent fog. You won’t need them, she says, smiling. Hard to believe, that answer. In fact I simply don’t.
So here I am, crossing Newport Road with my drugs bag. And my PMR description print-outs and my instruction leaflets and the notes I took during the consultation. And a load of fear getting in the way of everything. Putting the things down my throat comes next.