Case studies: Paula's story

Paula Savage

Age: 36
Lives in: Kent

Paula had to give up the secretarial job she loved when she was only 25, because of pain and swelling in her fingers, wrists and shoulders.

Simple tasks that are impossible because of Paula's rheumatic condition:

1.    Typing
2.    Wearing high heels
3.    Wearing rings


Paula’s complex symptoms have made it hard for her condition to be diagnosed and treated. She had to give up her job when she was only 25, and most of the drugs she has tried have had severe side effects. She feels that the general public believes that “only the elderly get arthritis” – most people do not understand how the different types of auto-immune diseases affect people.

Paula’s story

In 2002 Paula was working as a secretary, and loving her job. She did a lot of typing, but pain and swelling in her wrists, fingers and shoulders made her job impossible.

Her GP diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome and referred her to orthopaedics, but the results of the nerve conduction test by her orthopaedic consultant were normal.  Finally she managed to see a rheumatologist, who arranged an x-ray of her hands and a blood test, and diagnosed sero-negative psoriatic arthritics. “After the diagnosis, I became severely depressed,” she says. “I believed that I would end up in a wheelchair in a few months and I would become a burden to my boyfriend and my family.”

In 2006 Paula’s fingers started to become misshapen, and she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The complexity of her symptoms mean they are difficult to treat, and the drugs she has tried have severe side effects, including vomiting, diarrhoea, hair loss, pseudo-dementia and internal pain.

Most daily tasks are nearly impossible

“My flare-ups happen roughly every two years,” says Paula. “At the moment I am still waiting to find out what happens next.  Most daily tasks are nearly impossible, I have lost the use of my right wrist and most of the time I have to use a crutch to walk.  I cannot stand for too long and need help to get in and out of bed. I have had a lot of falls, almost on a monthly basis, so I have to have a family member living with me.

Although her swollen fingers distress her – “my fingers look like fat sausages” – Paula tries hard to look the bright side. “I believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger - I no longer complain when I am in pain. I have overcome my fear of needles and decided it is time that I learnt to drive.”

Paula feels strongly that the general public believes that “only the elderly get arthritis” and has no understanding of how the different types of auto-immune diseases affect people. “My friends couldn’t understand why it would stop me from being able to cook or wear high heels,” she says. “It’s taken time for them to realise that some people suffer with invisible disabilities.”

Window of opportunity

Paula’s symptoms would be devastating to anyone, but she hopes telling her story will make people more aware of the one million people in the UK who are living with inflammatory arthritis. The first weeks and months after symptoms begin are a 'window of opportunity': if patients get appropriate treatment in that time period they can avoid long-term complications.

Paula is sharing her story because she believes that there is a widespread misconception that only the elderly can get arthritis, and how different types of arthritis can people.

Visit the Take action pages to learn about your window of opportunity to help, and what you can do to support the Simple Tasks campaign.