For the first several years I had arthritis, I asked friends to drive me where I needed to go (always contributing gas money) or took public transportation. That solved the problem -- I didn't drive! Eventually, my doctors found a combination of medicines that worked on my arthritis without producing debilitating side effects. Hurrah! I went back to work! The only job I could find was in a town over an hour away, where they didn't allow public transportation. I had to buy a car and drive to work - usually 1.5 to 2 hours at rush hour, 2 to 3 hours if it was raining.

Driving was especially challenging for me. Arthritis caused problems with starting the car engine, gripping the steering wheel securely over a period of time, getting in and out of the garage, getting in and out of the car, and opening and closing the car doors. I could only think of one solution that would take care of all of these problems, working from home. Getting that accomodation was a long-term struggle. In the meantime, I divided the driving experience into its troublesome components and tackled each one.

Let Someone Else Drive

I tried to get a ride with one of several other people who lived near me and worked in the same location. None of them wanted to carpool, so that idea didn't work out. However, when I am going places other than work, public transportation or riding with a friend is still a good option. I always offer gas money because that can add up quickly. But I still had to get to work . . .

Key Fob

To start the ignition, my hand had to be twisted at a painful angle and I had to use my fingers to turn the key. There were many days when I couldn't do it and I had to find someone to start the car for me and/or turn it off when I arrived at my destination. Then I remembered a key fob that my occupational therapist had given me. That key fob allowed me to turn the ignition on and off without pain. The key fob I have looks a bit like a switchblade, as you can see in the video. There are a variety of key fobs available for people who have arthritis and not all of them look exactly like this. Utilizing that key fob reduced the extreme pain caused by starting the car and turning it off.

Work Hour Adjustment

The second most painful thing about the drive to work was that my hands gripped the steering wheel for such a long time. Obviously, I couldn't let go! Rush hour traffic was "stop and go" and I was gripping the steering wheel out of stress in addition to trying to control the car. To relieve the stress, I asked if I could move my work hours up by 30 minutes. Just 30 minutes difference got me out of rush hour traffic. Then I started wearing an old pair of fingerless weight-lifting gloves to help me grip the steering wheel with less pressure on my hands. They worked much better.

Driving Gloves

One day I was thinking how much better my hands felt since I started wearing the leather gloves, but I wished I could wear my arthritic gloves all day. I remembered my doctor telling me that if I couldn't find lycra arthritic gloves, I could get Isotoner lycra gloves instead. Suddenly it occurred to me that I might be able to have the benefits of both the arthritis gloves and the leather gloves. I knew my arthritic gloves really helped relieve the morning pain and stiffness in my hands, but they should never be worn when driving because the fabric is really slick. Unlike the arthritic gloves, Isotoner driving gloves have leather strips which would help my grip and allow me to drive. So I bought a pair of Isotoner ISO driving gloves. They are great! The stretchy, clingy fabric provides support and warmth for my hands, and the leather strips help control the steering wheel without requiring a death grip. I was finally able to arrive at work ready to work instead of ready to cry.

IMPORTANT: Do NOT drive while wearing lycra arthritic gloves.

Park on Level Ground

There was one area for parking which was on a slope. The passenger side of the car was lower than the driver side. I couldn't open the car door because my arthritis was too painful for me to work the latch and push the heavy weight of the door. Now I always park on level ground unless there is absolutely no open space available on level ground. When I have to park on a slope, I swivel around in my seat, i.e., move my knees from pointing toward the front of the car to where they are pointing toward the driver door, and push the door open with my feet. That way, my leg muscles can handle the weight of the door while my hands just work the handle.

Automatic Garage Door Opener

My choices are to not use the garage or to have an automatic garage door opener. Period. Garage doors are just too heavy to be an option.

Work From Home

My ultimate goal to reduce driving pain was to eliminate driving altogether and work from home. When I first got the job, I asked about working from home. They said it was against policy for temporary workers to work from home, but that if I was hired on permanently it might be an option. Even though it was against policy, I found some exceptions to this rule within the company. I walked a thin line between being obnoxious about it and keeping the issue alive, but I brought the question up on a regular basis. My boss always said No.

Eighteen months later, they made me a permanent employee. I asked if I could work from home. Same boss, same answer -- No. I tried to push the request, but she said that it was against policy for hourly employees to work from home; it was only allowed for salaried employees. I found lots of exceptions to this rule within the company. My boss said, "Let me make this perfectly clear: IT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. NOT NOW. NOT EVER."

So I set out to become a salaried employee, and find another boss. I did a great job, was as nice as I could be to a lot of people, asked for some recommendations, and a year later was offered a salaried position. Management said they could not offer me a raise with my new position due to the negative effect of the general economy. I told them that if I could work from home, and they put that in my contract, I would take the position without a raise. My new boss agreed.

So now I work from home. In addition to not driving, I also do not have to get dressed if my hands are having an arthritic moment. I am at home where everything has been "adjusted" to accomodate my disability (for details, see the rest of my blog entries). I have more time in my day because there is no commute so I can take life a little slower. After about 6 months of working from home, I was able to reduce the amount of pain medication I was taking. My hands rarely have flare-ups anymore because I am not stressing them to the pain point every day.

This is a critical aspect of my plan: figure out what causes flare-ups and pain and stop doing those things. Working from home has created amazing improvements in my health and outlook.

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