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Beyond the Pain : Anne Meisl, who has lived with arthritis for 39 years, wants others to know they need not accept their condition lying down.

October 01, 1992|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As far as Anne Meisl is concerned, the bumper sticker on an elderly man's car, "Arthritis Is a Pain," tells only half the story. The other half should read: "But You Can Live With It."

Meisl, 62, of Thousand Oaks is one of an estimated 37 million Americans of all ages who suffer from one of the more than 100 types of arthritis and other rheumatic diseases.

But Meisl, president of the Conejo Valley Arthritis Booster Club, doesn't accept her condition lying down. And neither, she said, should anyone else.

There are numerous support groups in the county that help people deal with the pain, limitations and emotional difficulties brought on by inflamed joints.

Unlike many people who develop arthritis later in life, Meisl was told at age 23 that she had crippling rheumatoid arthritis. At the time, she was in nurse's training in her native Scotland. She managed to pursue her career and raise two children.

Meisl said she had never been involved in a support group until she realized she needed to be with others who understood what she was going through. That time came, she said, after she underwent several wrist and ankle surgeries and, four years ago, the replacement of both knees with plastic prostheses.

"I needed someone to talk to," she said. "I think the biggest problem with arthritis is not the pain, it's the frustration. Every silly little thing you try to do takes longer--even combing your hair or tying your shoes."

Being with other people who understand that frustration and pain has helped her keep things in perspective. "There's always somebody with worse pain," she said.

Today, with emotional support from the group and techniques she has learned for coping with everyday difficulties, Meisl is determined to remain active. She is assisted in that goal by her husband, Claus, an engineer.

Because Meisl cannot raise her arms above her head, her husband created an extended hairbrush that allows her to reach the back of her head. She uses a key gripper to turn the key in her car ignition and door locks.

Here are a few of the other support groups and programs, sponsored by the Ventura County chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, that are offered in many senior and community centers around the county:

In addition to several weekly support groups, a six-week self-help course teaches people about pain management techniques, medication, stress reduction, daily living strategies and exercises.

Joint Efforts is a specially designed program throughout the county that teaches people flexibility and stretching exercises that can be performed while seated in a chair.

PACE (People with Arthritis Can Exercise) is a program with classes in senior and community centers for people able to perform somewhat more ambitious movements.

And many residents in Thousand Oaks have discovered the recently formed Hinges and Twinges, an aquatics therapy class at the Conejo Valley YMCA. Twice a week, aquatics instructor Chad Augeson leads about 15 seniors through a routine, including the hokeypokey, to increase their flexibility.

When 70-year-old Charles Hultgren of Westlake Village began the Hinges and Twinges water program in June, he arrived on crutches because of knee replacements. He now can walk with a cane and out-hokeypokey his classmates.

"If I had these things when I was first diagnosed," said Meisl, "it would have been a lot easier."

ARTHRITIS INFORMATION

To receive newsletters and information about local programs for people with arthritis, contact the Ventura County branch of the Arthritis Foundation, 961 E. Main St., Ventura 93001, or call (805) 648-3184. A newsletter and helpful pamphlets including "Travel Tips for People With Arthritis" are available from the Southern California chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, 4311 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90010, (213) 938-6111. A minimum annual membership fee of $20 for the national Arthritis Foundation includes a subscription to Arthritis Today, a bimonthly magazine. To join, call (800) 933-0032 or contact the national office at 1314 Spring St. N.W., Atlanta, GA 30309, or call (404) 872-7100.

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