Guitar Strings and Joint Pain:
Musician Chris Kirby Changes His Style

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Photo of Chris Kirby by Matt Reynolds

Photo of Chris Kirby by Matt Reynolds

I became aware of Chris Kirby a few months ago while browsing iTunes by searching “arthritis.” Low and behold, I stumbled across Chris’ “Arthritis Song” from his album “Chris Kirby on Rum & Religion.” I was immediately captivated after only sampling the 30 second preview. I promptly purchased the song and chills ran through my spine the first time I listened to the entire piece. Chris so eloquently and poetically expressed things I have felt about my arthritis, especially when I was first diagnosed 11 years ago.

Feeling like I had discovered something really special that I couldn’t wait to share with my arthritis friends, I immediately googled Chris and sent him a note, inquiring if he struggled with arthritis and if he would do an interview for my blog. Lucky for us, he said yes! The internet is an amazing thing!

It took me a ridiculously long time to write up this post. It was extremely important to me that I do musician Chris Kirby justice. He is a talented man, who shared details of his struggle with arthritis via his tune “Arthritis Song” and also with me via email. Today, I am grateful to be able to share his thoughts and introduce you to his music.

To read the lyrics of “Arthritis Song,” click here. A link to listen to the song appears at the end of the post. Following is my Q&A with Chris Kirby.

Q: What symptoms were you having that led you to see a doctor?
A: One night at a gig, I blew out my hands playing guitar. I was trying out heavier strings. My hands just got very stiff all of a sudden and for a while afterwards I found it difficult to play. Then the tension seemed to spread to my wrists. I found my fingers going cold and numb often. I figured after a while of resting it would go away, but it didn’t, so I went to the doctor with this “chronic tension” mystery.

Q: When you were initially diagnosed with arthritis, what were some of the thoughts/fears/questions that ran through your mind?
A: When my “Rheumatic Factor” came up positive, I thought – “Arthritis??? Will I be able to keep playing music? Is this as far as I get to go?” It was a lot to digest. I immediately started adapting my playing style to a more relaxed method. I had to get the “virtuoso” idea out of my head and focus on accompanying/complimenting my voice instead.

Q: Where do you seek/find support for what you are going through, esp. around the time you were seeing doctors for your symptoms? Continue reading

Chronic Pain Is Highlighted On TV’s “House”

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Episode Title: Painless (Season 5, Episode 512)
Writers: Thomas Moran & Eli Attie
Original Air Date: 1-19-09
Summary from the FOX.com website: House (Hugh Laurie) and the team take on the case of a man living with such severe chronic pain that he tries to kill himself.

While the story of this episode begins fairly bleak, I know some people will find the content to be very realistic, which is exactly why I’m blogging about it. Personally, I am thankful that a television show has given chronic pain some cred. Chronic pain is certainly not your typical TV “disease of the week,” yet it deserves to receive some attention because it is largely misunderstood.

I’m not a regular viewer of House, but I do know that House himself suffers from chronic pain, which is part of what drives him to look at every possible angle in order to properly diagnose the chronic pain patient. Like a lot of us arthritis warriors, our disease can sometimes be difficult to identify. I know people who have been in pain for years, yet have gone that entire time without a true diagnosis.

We all know, all to well, that time spent in pain (diagnosed or not) is emotionally and physically taxing, as it is shown in this episode. Two quotes from “Painless” that perfectly illustrate that point: Patient: “I pray for strength more than hope.” (Wow, I can relate to that quote on a lot of levels.) House: “He’s [the patient] not in pain because he’s depressed. He’s depressed because he’s in pain.”

Another quote that really struck me from the episode is this one:

“You’re alone, that’s why you can handle your pain,” the patient explains to House. “No need to put up a front to be what anyone else wants you to be.”

This line makes me think that one of the writers responsible for this episode had some personal experience with chronic pain because it is dead on. On days that I don’t feel so great, but have to go to work, I’m definitely putting up that front. It’s become so automatic that I don’t realize it until I come home exhausted. Sometimes putting up that front is a necessary part of coping, I would get tired of hearing myself complain if I grumbled each time that I was experiencing pain. Plus, I think complaining on a regular basis would make my pain more difficult to manage. Anyone else agree with me?

I recommend giving this episode a look, so I embedded it in the post. Watch it with a friend or loved one and use it as a jumping off point for a discussion about your chronic pain. You can also check it out on Fox.com or Hulu.com.

If you have seen other shows deal with this subject, or arthritis, please let us know in the comments. I’d love to check them out, too.

I’ll leave you with this quote:
“Gotta let the phone ring more than four times when you are calling a cripple.” -House

Fibromyalgia Patient Finds A Path To Better Health Via Dancing

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Juliana Sadock Savino used to be a professional musician, but was forced into early retirement after a hand injury. Around the same time she was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.

Juliana’s story is a beautiful illustration of how to cope with pizazz. She found a regular activity that lifts her mood, while also giving her a bit of a musical fix that has been missing since she had to basically give up playing the double bass. That is inspiring to me.

“There is the fun that comes with feeling free to make a complete fool of myself, one of the consolation prizes of middle-age,” she told me. “I dance for myself and for the fun of being in class. My doc says I am the only tap-dancing fibromyalgia patient he knows of. Do my feet hurt? Sometimes. But as Sammy Davis says in ‘Tap,’ I want to die with my taps on. Actually I’m living with them on.”

Watch the short video that tells Juliana’s story of coping with chronic pain by tap dancing — even while in line at the grocery store!

I also highly recommend checking out Matt Harding’s YouTube video, titled "Dancing" (which is mentioned in the NY Times blog post) if you have not already seen it. It’s simple, beautiful and powerful.

Being the variety junkie that I am, I have a few different activities that help me cope with my rheumatoid arthritis: physical activities (biking, swimming), blogging here, playing my clarinet on occasion. Next year, I am hoping to take up outrigger canoeing … if my body can handle it. Really anything that I can get excited about helps me cope, from watching "The Office" to listing to a great new song on the radio.

Do you have a regular activity that helps you cope with pain? Tell me about it in the comments.