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Chronic Illness and the Constant Fear of Another Shoe Dropping


At my last visit to my rheumatologist, I mentioned I had been having some discomfort in my ears and issues with my hearing and asked him who I should see about it. His answer, “an ENT – it’s probably from the RA,” stirred in me once again the anticipatory fear many with chronic illness feel regularly: What next? Is this the sound of another shoe dropping?

I noticed my tinnitus several years ago, but I didn’t think much of it. My bite has been off for years due to bad dentistry advice years ago, so temporomandibular joint dysfunction has been on my radar for a while as well and could account for some of these problems. However, in the past year, I’ve noticed new and worsening issues, including difficulty hearing and dizziness.

I’ve spent many an evening in the past month using ear wax drops in the hope I had some wax deep inside – to no avail. Does that mean my rheumatoid disease is now affecting my ears? Maybe. Maybe not.

That’s the thing with chronic illnesses like autoimmune diseases. When your immune system decides to attack your own body, you never know if or when another shoe will drop. My immune system has a preference for my joints right now. Will the next shoe be my GI tract? My skin? My lungs? My ears?

No wonder anxiety often accompanies chronic illness. Distinguishing between when to be concerned about a new or worsening symptom and when not to be is difficult. There is a chance the problems I am currently having in my ears could have a simple cause and an easy solution, but until I know for sure, I will be waiting for the sound of another shoe hitting the floor.

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Thinkstock photo by Leszek Czerwonka