Opinion: Soldiering on through a lost decade of pain and misdiagnosis


By Don Snizaski

Looking over at the clock it was 3 a.m. again, and I dared not wake my wife, not anymore. What started in 2009 in my hips and feet had spread across my entire body and would take nearly a decade to diagnose.

And although the pain left me on crutches and late-night crawls to the bathroom, there were no visible manifestations of the disorder those first years. There was no cough, no fever and no weight loss. Save my complaints, I was its only witness.  What felt like Inflamed joints and extreme fatigue led me to a variety of medical procedures and surgeries addressing the wrong issues.

I was eventually called a hypochondriac, and even delusional. I was looking for answers beyond the standard medical community and into experimental medicines and holistic physicians. I was desperate for help. I was desperate for my loved ones to know what was happening to me.

It was during these years that I was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease and even a severe form of metal poisoning, due to the amounts of canned fish I consumed as a college wrestler.  Unfortunately, Lyme’s Disease and metal poisoning is the perfect marriage to create a rheumatological nightmare and something called, Reactive Arthritis, a disease that can take years to diagnose because of its subjective and varied symptoms which include severe joint pain, spinal pain, severe fatigue and stiffness.

Although the disease is largely considered a genetic issue, infection can also trigger the illness. Which explains what happened to me.

“Due to the delay in diagnosis, patients continue to suffer from pain resulting from ongoing inflammation,” said Dr. Suhail Kumar, a Rheumatologist at IMA of Greenville.

The pain can lead to mood changes including depression, he said. “There will also be a financial impact due to repeated visits to multiple doctors, specialists and health care facilities in the quest to find answers.”

And this is certainly what happened to me, but don’t take my word for it.

“He quit riding his bike and working out,” my wife, Kathy noted.

“Instead of going to work most days, he’d go see any doctor willing to listen to him,” she’d say. “He stayed in bed and even began missing our kids sporting events, and for a once high-energy goofball, it was clear he was not the man he was before.”

Although prognosis and treatment of the disease is excellent once identified, the vague symptoms of the disorder can leave many in the dark. And if gone untreated, the painful indicators will begin to mount.

“Swelling, stiffness and pain in the spine or peripheral joints and tendons”, Dr. Kumar points out.

The disease can even lead to inflamed skin and eye disorders, he said. “The manifestation of the disease is also highly variable from one person to the next, and testing may not always reveal obvious abnormalities, ensuring a diagnosis rests upon a thorough clinical evaluation including a detailed history and physical exam.”

And while I still suffer with symptoms of the disease, the diagnosis has brought peace and a rejuvenated optimism to my home-life and professional career. For too long, I sat in a sick puddle of illness as my wife and children endured around me.

I’m at work again early every morning, I’m on my bike along a mountain trail every weekend and my boys and wife are just behind me. I’m a goofball again too, and I am an optimist. Even in pain and living with this disease, I will not allow another day to slip by without finding joy in my family, my work and my life.

I’m soldiering on.

Don Snizaski founded Life and Safety Consultants, Inc. in 1997. As a former OSHA Compliance Officer, Don recognized the need that many organizations have a strong need for OSHA compliance assistance. With his experience as a South Carolina OSHA inspector, Don provides firsthand knowledge and experience that helps employers develop a robust and sustainable safety culture, and in turn reduce their workers compensation claims.


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