Some mornings I wake up, which is a good start. And most mornings everything hurts, but, before I move on, let me stress, this is not all negative.
For example, one advantage is that I learn about the bits of me that I never knew I had. And some of those bits are quite interesting and when I know I have them I begin to nurture them and use them appropriately.
The shame is, of course, that I didn’t know I had them earlier and perhaps if I had known, I would have used them wisely and wouldn’t have got arthritis.
But who can tell. Because we are never who are now, or even then, if you follow me. (If you do, please email me because I got lost just after the first paragraph.)
Given I wake up with everything hurting, the very first thing I do is lie there, on my back, still as can be, and hope the hurt will go away. Sometimes it does, usually because I was lying in a particular way, on a particular bit, and when I changed position, removing the discomfort, the bit felt okay and stopped hurting.
However, most of the hurting bits keep right on hurting and sometimes they hurt even more because they don’t like that change I made from foetal to full-length back-lie.
The next thing to do is get the hell out of the bed and move, baby, move.
This is my big secret, movement. I keep telling myself that if I keep moving I will be able to keep moving.
It is probably important at this stage that I mention I am a scrawn. Come from along line of them. My father was a scrawn, as were his father before him and the one before that. Indeed, if you ever visit The Cidery in Bridgetown, ask to be shown the Doust Family photo. It’s on the back wall and shows, very clearly, Great Grandfather Alfred Doust with his scrawny wife and eight of his ten scrawny children.
That’s where it all started and it isn’t finished yet, because I gave birth to a scrawny, lanky lad who is well into his late teens.
But I think I’m missing the point, if there is a point, and the point is, if it exists, that the best way to cope with arthritis is to laugh at it and keep moving. I employ both strategies with gay abandon. And when I say “gay” I mean in the wild and happy sense of the word.
When I was kid in the fifties, hands always got my attention. There was something about the hand. Let’s be honest, after the face, the hand is the next most expressive part of the body.
And the hands that interested me most were the old blokes’ hands, the gnarled, bent, twisted, mangled hands and the hands with those big arthritic lumps on them.
I always reckoned my hands would finish up like that. And they seem to be well on their way.
Right now I have a lump on my left thumb and two lumps on my right thumb knuckle. Then there is the big lump on my shoulders. Well, it’s not really a lump, more of a head with a face on it, but my dad always said to me, usually after I’d messed something up, like poured petrol in the radiator: “Use your lump, son.” And then he’d point to my head, which is why I have always thought of it as a lump.
That hurts too, sometimes, the head, but only because there’s too much stuff in there and the stuff that has lived there for years and years keeps trying to push the new stuff out, or not let it in, and this results in terrible battles and violent headaches.
But I’m getting away from the heart of this piece, which is how to survive with achy bits all over the body. Which brings me back to the thumbs.
One thing I do most days is exercise both thumbs. I also do finger exercises and toe exercises. Indeed, I try to exercise all those little bits that most people seem to forget. It saddens me when I meet people who no longer have any use of their toes, their eyebrows, kneecaps, or lips.
It’s important to keep moving every possible bit. One of the proudest moments of my life was when my father, Stan Doust, turned seventy, and we stood before one hundred and thirty people gathered in celebration and rolled our stomachs. It was a skill he revealed to me when I was a grasshopper and if my son had not considered it a freaky manifestation of a deranged mind, I would have taught him too.
Apart from exercising the stomach, the normal bits, like arms and legs, and the little bits, I freely show them to others. As in the following conversation.
“Jon, gidday. How are you?”
“Fine, apart from this bloody great lump on my thumb.”
“What is it?”
“All right for you to say.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Only if I poke you in the eye with it, so there’s a good chance.”
He laughs. I laugh. And, as everyone knows, when you laugh, you don’t feel any pain. Until it stops. So the trick is to keep laughing as long as you can.
In addition, of course, I swim, well I did, until I got caught in a flood in Bunbury this winter, jumped up on a fence, collapsed with it into the mud and struck a brick letterbox with my shoulder. I felt so stupid I lay there for three minutes laughing my lump off and I didn’t fee the pain until the next morning.
And this, by the way, was the shoulder I broke a few years ago when I took a dive off my skateboard going down a hill at fifty kilometres per hour. At the age of thirty seven, so I was still a young man.
All right, it’s probably clear to you by now that I’ve thrown my body around a bit over the years and set myself up for a healthy slap of arthritis. It’s true and, you know what, I regret nothing, because someone told me once: Life is for living, and if you’re going to live, you might as well throw your body around a bit.
To be honest, I’m not sure anyone said that to me, but from where I’m sitting, I need all the excuses and laughs I can get.