Dare to Ask: Young folks can feel old when suffering
By Phillip J. Milano
Do younger people understand how age-related diseases like arthritis affect
someone’s lifestyle, even if they’re not in a wheelchair? I sometimes feel my
illnesses are not quite accepted or believed.
Martha, 59, Portage, Mich.
Yes. My older sister found out she had arthritis in her wrists when she was
23. She is a drafter and works on a computer every day. Some days she has to
wear a wristband, and others it is almost impossible to work due to the pain.
BeBe, 23, female, Eglin, Fla.
I used to be puzzled at my folks when they talked about arthritis, but I
developed it and was shocked. Try getting a prescription for Celebrex from a
doctor or insurance company at age 17.
Jeff, 25, Richmond, Va.
Hey kids! About 300,000 of you in the United States alone have juvenile
arthritis! Get hip to joint pain by listening to the wisdom of the No. 1 Super
Villain of all time! Or else!
Our first go-round ringing up Darth Vader resulted in hearing only some
breaths on the other end of the phone. Then it went dead. We’re not kidding.
Long-distance calls can be complicated, we know, but we got scared and felt a
death pinch headed our way. We got up the courage to dial again, though.
This time we were glad to hear the voice of former British weight-lifting
champ David Prowse, who was the mountain inside that black cape and helmet for
the first three “Star Wars” films. Few people know he was diagnosed with
rheumatoid arthritis at age 13. He spent more than a year imprisoned in a
hospital room in “leg irons,” as he called them. Years later, in his 60s, he
discovered he had septic arthritis. Among numerous other procedures, the
75-year-old actor has had both hips replaced.
He has since determined that his youthful joint pain episode was merely from
“growing too fast” — he was 6 foot 5 by age 15 — but he now advocates for
arthritis awareness, even bringing up the topic in his recent bio “Straight From
the Force’s Mouth.”
His athleticism and physique shielded him from a lot of ribbing about his
joint problems as a youth, but kids can be cruel toward others if they don’t
understand things, he said.
“They should know the causes, which in kids can sometimes be a question of
bad diet more than anything else,” he said. “Or, you can get it later on, if you
start damaging yourself. You bugger your knees up or get hurt playing football
and then don’t take any notice of it. The aches and pains go away, but then it
catches up with you later.”
If young people realized that it’s inflammation that can’t be seen, they’d be
less unsympathetic toward older people — and less likely to get it themselves,
“They’d exercise more sensibly, not strain themselves and keep their joints
well-lubricated. A little cod liver oil every day really does help.”
(He’s right: Researchers at the U.K.’s Dundee University reported in 2008
that two teaspoons of cod liver oil a day decreased the amount of powerful
painkillers necessary to reduce the pain of arthritis. Plus, new therapeutic
medications are coming online almost every month.)
Still, we sense a disturbance in The Force. Really, was Lord Vader popping
fish pills on the “Star Wars” set between repping the Empire in all those
lightsaber duels with Luke and Obi-Wan?
“Oh I was fine on the set; my arthritis didn’t show up until years later. I
also had a stuntman when they thought the fighting was too complicated or that
I’d fall off the gantry.”
Yeah, but what about your bionic hand that we glimpsed in “Return of the Jedi?”
Too much knuckle-cracking by little Anakin, huh? Right?
“Uh, no, that’s a myth. You don’t get arthritis from cracking your knuckles.”
“And remember, it’s Dave Prowse who has arthritis, not Darth Vader. Just to
be clear about that.”
Oh, yeah. Forgot which galaxy we were in for a moment.
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Phillip Milano, author of "I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee)," moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Keep the cross-cultural dialogue going at his
Jacksonville.com blog or at www.yforum.com. Send general
column comments to yforum (at) yforum.com. You can also hear his