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Stories of Hope: My Life’s Journey With RSD By Louise Plaster

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louise_jimFebruary 17, 1992 started out like any other day. I got up and got ready for work, got my daughter ready for school and then drove my 30 mile trip to work. When I got there I prepared the machines that I operated for the day’s run. The assembly area where I worked was totally automatic and had robots. The assembly line was in a horseshoe shape and products, which were fuel pumps for cars, were sent through the line by a conveyor belt. My line came off of the main assembly line and produced the caps of the fuel pump. This particular morning I had some small parts that were sticking in the track and I had to go to the back of the machine to fix it. After a few times of this running around to the back of the machine I went underneath the conveyorbelt section that connected two of my sets of machines. As I was coming up to astanding position I struck my left knee on a metal bracket that was located on a support leg of the conveyor belt. When I struck it I at first saw black for a few seconds. As I gotmyself together from that I took a step and the pain was so great that it felt like I was going to be sick of my stomach. And so began my journey with RSD.

I was fortunate that I didn’t have to go to very many doctors before I was diagnosed by Dr. Robert G. Schwartz in Greenville, S.C. I was diagnosed on Jan. 23, 1993. It wasn’t long after that Dr. Schwartz suggested that I attend the RSD Support Group. I was afraid to go at first. I wondered what I would see when I went there because I was a little afraid of what was happening to my body.

I had always considered myself an active person. I was never into sports, but I enjoyed working out and taking walks as exercise. I also had a good job making good money. The company that I was working for at the time sent me to Japan to train. In Japan women didn’t do the work that I did so that was an experience. On return I worked with Japanese trainers to get the line started up and into production. Then I was to train others for the job. But on that day, February 17th things started changing.

Before I went to work there I had worked for another manufacturing company for 15 years. In that job I had worked my way up the ladder from an operator to a coordinator (assistant supervisor). I grew up in this company and I learned a lot. My skills grew and expanded. I went back to school and took some classes that would help me do my job better especially when I moved into management. In my job as a technician/coordinator I had a lot of responsibilities and dealt with many types of people. It was my job to motivate them to get the job done. I also did a lot of writing in this job. I wrote evaluations of employees, training manuals and operating instructions. This training also was used at the other job where I was working when I got hurt. I wrote gauge instruction manuals there. As I look back now to that time in my life I can see I was in a type of training for my future “job.”

I did decide to go to the support group and it turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made. It was good to be around others who knew where I was coming from.

It seems like from the beginning my RSD was a magnet for others whohad RSD. I started meeting people just about everywhere I went whohad RSD. I remember standing in a restaurant hearing an employee telling her manager that she had RSD. Also there was a time that I won a prize on the radio and when I went to pick up my prize, the receptionist had RSD. I would invite the people that I met to the meetings. During this time, my time working was coming to an end. It was very devastating to me when I was taken out of work. I felt hurt and useless. I had always worked and had an income. Plus I valued my work. It is my belief that how I am as a person shows through my work. So my world as I knew it was changing again.

Dr. Schwartz suggested that I use my skills in the support group. He wanted me to get more involved. He said that the group needed help to move on. I thought at the time that he must be crazy. To me, my world was crashing down. I was wondering how could I organize a group when I wasn’t doing so well with my own life.

Thankfully, Dr. Schwartz could see that getting involved in the group would be what I needed even if at the time I couldn’t see it. So in November 1993 I became the new director of the Greenville RSD Support Group. It was just what I needed to do to work on living with RSD. I did find that my skills were needed. They just needed to be re-adjusted to do what I needed them for now. I needed to use these skills to bring me back out of the black hole that I had fallen into. I was viewing RSD as ruining my life because I couldn’t do the things that I use to before RSD. I would do things because I had the mind set that if I didn’t do things like I always would have done them, then I was giving into the RSD. When I did things on a fairly good day I would over do it and pay for it for weeks on end. It finally dawned on me that this was what my RSD liked. My RSD liked that mind set and seemed to escalate with it. It also liked it when I was down. This discovery was an important part of acceptance for me. It taught me that it’s ok to make changes if it allows me to do what I want to in my life. I started looking at my RSD in a different way.

My RSD has taught me some important lessons and changed the way I do things. It taught me how to set priorities in my life. I started making a list on what I wanted to do in a day. I put what I wanted to accomplish the most on top. If I could only do one thing that day it was what was at the top of my list. I also started changing around how I did things. I realized that it wasn’t how I accomplished my goal that matter, but it was the importance of accomplishing it that did matter.

RSD also brought out my fighting spirit. It occurred to me very early on that more education was needed about RSD. Everyone I met would say, “I never heard of that.” I wanted that to change and decided to put some of my focus on changing that even if it was educating one person at a time. This is when it was decided that we needed to form the S.C. RSD Association or SCRSDA. Some were hesitate at first but some believed that we could do it. We made our mission to help educate everyone about RSD. Our first conference was held in September 1994 and so far we have continued to have it annually.

I also discovered that there are some very dedicated people who do their job well. I’ve worked with many different physical therapists since having RSD. Each one helped me to move forward in my journey. Along the way I have become a teacher. Each person who has worked with me learned about RSD. They saw it on good days and bad. They helped teach me how to deal with it one day at a time. I appreciate all their dedication and I feel that I am where I am today with my RSD partly because of them and their willingness to work with me. To keep an open mind and learn in the process. I vowed to them that when they got me moving that I would keep it up and I have. I make sure that I keep moving and do my physical therapy routine at home every day. For me, having RSD and taking care of myself is like having a full time job!

My RSD has also been used to teach others in the healthcare profession. The spreading of my RSD was even used as a learning tool. I am grateful for my RSD to be used in this way because if one person is helped by my RSD being a teaching tool than it is worth it to me.

I know that my training in my past jobs has helped me to perform my “job” with the support group. I have always enjoyed working with people. It’s something that comes natural to me. My journey with RSD has allowed me to be able to help people grasp an understanding of their RSD and what it takes to deal with it. Many tell me that I was able to help them and for that I am truly grateful. RSD has taught me that I end up helping myself by helping others. Running the support group and SCRSDA has been therapy for me. It allowed me to regain in my life what I thought that I had lost. Using this as therapy has allowed me to grow and to re-build my self-esteem and confidence that was so shaken at the beginning. I still have work to do on myself and I will continue to work on myself till the day I die.

Many people ask me “Don’t you want your old life back?” To that I have to answer “No I’m to busy living my life now and I kind of like it.” I understand now that some of my old life didn’t fade away, it was just stalled for a while. As I have improved and continue to improve I am getting back a lot of my old life. It’s just different now. I’m back to working out again, just in a different way. I take my walks on the padded indoor track at the gym. I’m doing what I enjoy when I meet and/ or talk with people who have RSD. It makes me happy to be able to help people feel better and to understand what is happening to them. It makes me feel good to see a person who was scared to have a new sound of hope in their voice or see it in their faces. So my skills from before RSD are used now but in a more profound way. My writing skills have come in handy too. I have some chapters written in Dr. Schwartz’s just released book “Resolving Complex Pain.” I’ve been able to travel some to speak at conferences and other group meetings. I’ve been able to work on RSD awareness by going to Washington DC with other RSDers. We have been able, over the years, to get stories on RSD in the newspaper and on TV. I have connected with other leaders to work together in any way possible to bring more awareness to RSD.

By managing my “good ” days I’m able to get more of them. I’m able to do more with my husband Jack, family and friends. I enjoy my 2-year old grandson, Ethan very much. I also enjoy meeting people with RSD at Dr. Schwartz’s office. I have a strong support system of folks that helps keep me going. I will never give up working on myself or my RSD.

So that is why I say, “I have RSD, but it Doesn’t Have Me”.

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