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The 'Little Soldiers' That Attack My Body During an RSD Flare

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This week I got hurt. I hit my knee fairly impressively (between facial expressions and sound effects, one might have assumed I was auditioning for the next production of “Les Miserables”), left a bruise and created a nice reflex sympathetic dystrophy flare for myself (and a good Ehlers-Danlos one too), in the very spot the whole shebang started a little over five years ago.


In light of this injury (and my consequent moping), I’ve been thinking quite a bit about something I was told years ago, by way of a kind of explanation for how this condition (and my others) worked.

I am lucky enough to have a lovely mother who is there for me whenever a hardship appears, and I am also fortunate enough for that mother to have a truly impeccable way of creating visual representations of what I’m feeling, what she’s feeling and everything in between.

Perhaps my mother told me this because she thought it would brighten me up when I was struggling as a 13-year-old child, but I find that when things amp up and I’m feeling sore and sorry for myself in the midst of a flare, I often turn back to her visualization, and because it’s a unique way of thinking of things, because it is funny enough to diminish some of the negative powers of the conditions, I am (probably against my mother’s better judgement) going to share it.

We’ve all heard “your body is a temple.” Mine isn’t. It’s a fortress. I imagine there are lots of winding staircases (some with the stone chipping away, they’ve been busy corridors for quite some time now), very few windows, and candles in brackets along the walls (that might just be a Harry Potter thing, I would like to believe that if I was a castle, I would be Hogwarts).

This body is a battleground. Hundreds and thousands of tiny little soldiers are running to and fro, wielding big pointy sticks and swords and pokers. (I imagine that doctors and medical professionals have fancier names for these soldiers, like cells, nerves, neurons and other elaborate terms.)

I hit my knee this week. My knee is a particularly vulnerable position. Of course, you might assume this is because of past injuries, but it’s not. It’s because I have extra soldiers living there; it’s a headquarters (the fancy medical professionals say something about a homunculus, whereby there’s more sensory space devoted to that area, but I like my version better).

When I have a flare, the little soldiers are running up and down the corridors, sticking their swords into me, attacking me with whips, and probably shouting battle cries (they’re enthusiastic little guys).

Now, this is all well and good, isn’t it? “You can try and make it sound as silly as you like,” you tell me, “but it still hurts, and I don’t think you’re funny.” But here’s the thing: these little soldiers can be fought. They wage some mighty battles, but I’m bigger than them, tougher than them and generally win the war.

For RSD, the most effective methods of treatment for me are exercise, physiotherapy and movement, so when I have a flare, I get up, I stretch and I move it (of course, I should also be practicing pacing, but we all have things we’re no good at, and much to every professional’s dismay, this is a skill I have never mastered). And the soldiers run too. I control them, they are frightened of me (because of my winning track record against them, of course) and I send them dashing for cover.

“She’s got us!” they shout (you’d think, anyway, wouldn’t you?). And they hurry back up the stairs and race around my body. A few hang around in the knee, still poking and prodding it, but the majority move on out, and they stop cranking the A/C (so I stop having temperature and color changes every five minutes).

But of course, my soldiers need somewhere to go, and they’re not lazy soldiers – they’re ready for action. I’m sure I’ve really knocked the wind out of their sails by moving them along and out of the knee, so they keep their weapons wielded, and they go on the run, shoving and banging, and poking me as they go, now in the shoulder, the wrist, the hip, the elbow and wherever else they’ve gotten to.

So I keep moving, and eventually I shift most of them back out of those areas too, and they break up and redistribute a little more evenly throughout all of my body, instead of everyone packing into the one place.

This battle has been tiring for the little soldiers (and for me, I might add!), so a lot of them go off to sleep, or rest and recover for a while. They leave the battles alone for the time being, and prepare for next time. Of course a couple of them stay up to keep watch, but they’re a bit worn out, and their pokes and prods are more feeble than before. I’ve won, and their weak attempts at pretending I haven’t are able to bother me a lot less.

We’ll have more battles, me and these little soldiers (I could minimize the frequency if I learned to watch where I was going and stop falling over all the time), and sometimes they’ll merrily rip up bits of collagen, and band together to push my joints out of location, and stab me with newly sharpened weaponry. It’s OK. Because I’m fighting too, and we’ve had lots of these fights so far, some more trying than others, but I have won them all.

Me and my little soldiers – it’s got a nice ring to it, right? You’d think they’d learn and get better at fighting, but I have instead. So long for now to this body fortress’ army, and I do hope they rest up, because I’m consolidating my forces. Get your score boards ready, because I’m on hundreds of points, and they haven’t earned themselves any.

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Thinkstock photo via sodapix sodapix.

Originally published: August 16, 2017
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