At the age of 16, Shantana Hazel began to experience symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). “In the morning, I would wake up with what I called ‘old lady hands.’ They were achy and stiff and hard to move. It took me a moment before I was able to get out of bed, and even then I’d continue to feel fatigued throughout the day,” she shares. The mild symptoms didn’t alarm her at first because she often had issues with sleep. Instead, she chalked it up to needing more rest. After fighting the urge to take what doctors were telling her at face value, Hazel shared her story with CreakyJoints to help Blacks living with rheumatoid arthritis navigate health disparities.
Although she wasn’t initially alarmed by her mild symptoms, Hazel decided to schedule a doctor’s appointment because the symptoms were recurring.
“It set off an alarm in my head and made me pay attention. I went to my doctor and showed him where I was hurting and described my other issues,” she says.
For most, this would have been a straightforward path to getting a diagnosis, but for Hazel it was a “terrible experience.”
After seeing a rheumatologist, it was determined that she had fibromyalgia. She was placed on medications that did not solve her problems. In fact, her symptoms got worse.
“The pain went from one joint to two, then three, and then they also became tender to the touch. I started losing weight. I started having trouble doing certain things. I’d be holding a cup and all of a sudden my hands would cramp up,” Hazel adds.
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The importance of trusting yourself
Hazel’s frustrations began to show as she wasn’t getting the help she needed and her doctor was solely focused on her fibromyalgia. “When your doctor tells you you’re complaining, overreacting, or that what you’re feeling is all in your head, over time you start to believe those things,” she says.
After a while, she began to mistrust herself believing that the doctor knew best. “I didn’t research, I didn’t ask questions. I honestly didn’t know it was okay to question my doctor. After all, they’re the professionals. Who am I to question them?,” she adds.
Eventually, her frustrations led her to find a new rheumatologist. Although her previous doctor left her resistant, she immediately noticed a difference in the level of care she was getting.
“From the very beginning, my new doctor invited me to be a part of my care plan. I felt heard. She put me through a series of tests and went over the results with me. As she was ordering each test, she would tell me what the test was for. She gave me literature and information so I could understand more of what was happening,” Hazel shares.
Hazel says her doctor also became her teacher by showing her what questions to ask and how to