• After years of chronic pain, Jessica Orford-Garde is navigating different treatment plans to manage her psoriatic arthritis. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Up to 30 percent of people living with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis, an inflammatory strand of arthritis. Jessica Orford-Garde was 24 when a traffic accident resulted in years of chronic pain and a series of misdiagnoses.
Jessica Orford-Garde, Presented by
Michaela Morgan

10 Jan 2017 - 12:35 PM  UPDATED 12 Jan 2017 - 10:19 AM

In 2010, when I was 24-years-old,I was hit and dragged along the road by a moving taxi.

The impact of my body hitting the ground caused massive trauma to my joints. The night of the accident, I was taken to hospital for treatment. Days later, I then went to my GP and said: ‘My back is killing me, my legs are killing me. Something is not right’.

Everything was swollen. My knees were like balloons of fluid; I couldn’t bend them or walk. I couldn’t stand or sit for a long time, and lying down was painful.

It’s hard to describe the pain I felt, but it was really thick and hot, and there was this intense pressure. I used to say to my fiancé, ‘I just need you to hold my knees and squeeze them’. I’d be wearing pants and you could feel the heat radiating through the fabric.

The whole time, I thought, ‘people think I’m insane, but I know what I’m feeling and I know what’s going on in my body’.

I was socially detached, and I avoided seeing people because I had nothing positive to say –  I was just constantly in pain.

Before the accident, I was always quite an active person. I did ballet, touch football and netball, so I knew my body quite well. And this time, I knew that something wasn’t right.

So my GP sent me to a physiotherapist. The physio kept treating me and stretching my muscles, and telling me it was just trauma related to the accident, and I’d just need to wait a few weeks for it to subside. When it didn’t, I went to see an orthopaedic surgeon to consider knee surgery.

I [continued without a true diagnosis] for nearly two years. Throughout this time, I was completely broken. I was exhausted. I didn’t have a full night’s sleep for a very long time, years. From the second I went to sleep, and then all night, I’d be waking up because of pain.

I was socially detached, and I avoided seeing people because I had nothing positive to say –  I was just constantly in pain.

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I’ve also got patellofemoral pain syndrome, which is like a bad tracking in my knee joint. The physio thought my experience might be related to that, and suggested surgery to relocate my kneecap and shift some things around.

With no real diagnosis, I became anxious. I knew something was wrong, but no one could tell me what the hell was going on.

Eventual diagnosis

I saw three orthopaedic surgeons because I wasn’t happy with what I was being told.

In 2012, my third orthopaedic surgeon referred me to a rheumatologist who said, ‘I think there’s something bigger happening here’.

I was told I had psoriatic arthritis. I learned that trauma can trigger the condition but it can also come from the structure of your body, and having psoriasis itself: just having the skin condition in itself can cause psoriatic arthritis. I mainly got psoriasis in my hair, so it just looked like dandruff around my hairline. Once when I was extremely stressed when I was 18, I had a breakout on my shin and it just looked like eczema, so the skin was red, itchy and inflamed.

Finding out what was wrong with me was such a huge relief. Even before we’d started any treatment, just to know what it was and that we could put a plan in place.

Everything was swollen. My knees were like balloons of fluid; I couldn’t bend them or walk.

My rheumatologist is one of the most beautiful humans around. He really persevered and stuck with me. We’ve tried different medications, injections and approaches to get me well.

During the first few months, when I started to see results, I couldn’t believe it. I went from someone who went in to every doctor’s appointment crying to a person saying, ‘Do you know what? It’s actually feeling a bit better’.

Over the years, my rheumatologist and I have navigated different treatment plans and my condition has just gotten better and better. While following these different plans, I was then able to integrate a little more physical activity into my routine. So I started going for longer walks, more stretching, yoga and Pilates – activities that aren’t too intense for the joints.

“A few years ago I was a shell with nothing. I was blank, broken and destroyed. Now I’m someone who runs her own business.”

I’m still in pain at the end of every day. I go home most days and put ice packs on my knees. But compared to what I was going through, it’s fine; I’ll take it.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future and that scares me a bit, so I have to take it all, step-by-step. My rheumatologist and I are still trying to find the right treatment plan, medication and physical program to suit me.

I don’t think I’ll ever be pain-free or have my joints back to normal. But I hope that I can maintain a level of comfort, a level of pain that I can live with. I would be happy with that.

If you are living with psoriasis or have skin symptoms, always seek medical guidance from a doctor.  To access a symptom screener, visit http://dw.doublewhammy.com.au or click here

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