Hand with dactylitis

Sausage Fingers and the Validation I Never Knew I Needed

We live in a social media world. Many of our life-defining moments are posted online for anyone and everyone to see. One of the things I’m most self-conscious about is my fingers. Some women post about having or wishing they could have a "skinny day," while I’m over here writing about how I yearn for skinny finger days.

Living with psoriatic arthritis in my hands for so long, I’m used to seeing the puffs of swollen tissue surrounding my fingers. But that doesn’t mean I’ve grown comfortable with it. Quite the contrary, I’m about as self-conscious about the shape of my fingers now as I ever was.

My journey with dactylitis

I sometimes flashback to memories as a teen when someone would obnoxiously remark “sausage fingers” in regard to my hands. My fingers would swell back then, but I chalked it up to playing softball and my general unhealthiness.

My mom started taking me for manicures around the age of 14 in an attempt to stop me from picking at my nails. I was a nail picker. It’s a nervous tendency I’ve had since I arrived on this planet. I guess I was born anxious?

Anyway, getting acrylic nails was exciting. In those early teenage years, I was dealing with more than just anxiety. I was in the midst of what I know now were manifestations of Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, and psoriatic arthritis.

The impact of sausage fingers

Sure, most teens are self-conscious about almost everything, but my fingers were an extreme point of contention. I remember staring down while washing my hands on bad days musing if liposuction was possible for fingers.

Even at the age of fourteen, I recognized those thoughts were not normal, but I didn’t care. I welcomed the distraction of getting fake nails to make my fingers look nicer. After all, it had to be less painful than liposuction.

I was the sick kid all through middle and high school. By the time I started college, I was hoping to move past that. But all it really takes is for one (insert adjective here) person to mess with your head and pull you back down.

A story about sausage fingers and psoriatic arthritis

In this story, it was the friend of someone I was dating. They invited me to meet up with them at a restaurant. I never met this friend before, but I knew about him. No amount of warning could prepare me for what happened next.

The restaurant was loud and something had caught my attention. I didn’t hear the friend talking at me. But I heard him loud and clear when he shouted, “Yo, sausage fingers!”

I’d love to say I got up and walked out, but I was young and dumb. That situation doesn’t necessarily haunt me, but it has most certainly ingrained itself in my memory bank amongst other similar situations.

The pain that comes with sausage fingers

As the great psoriatic arthritis flare of 2012 hit, my fingers were more swollen than ever before. I could barely make a closed fist. Bending individual fingers was near impossible. Writing in a full-time capacity was robbed from me. The ability to walk more than a few feet or stand for more than 10 minutes pain-free felt like it would never return.

During a consultation for my first biologic, the doctor who ran the infusion center commented on “sausage fingers.” The 19-year-old girl from the story above screamed from the very depths of my soul. What I didn’t know at the time was that this doctor was making a clinical note.

Hiding my hands

Getting engaged was one of those moments that should make any cares or worries fly out the door. For me, though, I was concerned about people asking to see the ring. I was coming out of a flare-up for Crohn’s and arthritis. Everything hurt and nothing was okay.

Emotionally, I was psyched getting engaged to the best human ever! However, I was also terrified of requests for a picture of the ring on my hand. I got creative in those days. I took artsy pics of the ring on objects that were not my fingers. And I used fancy angles to showcase it while hiding my fingers.

A few months later, I was at my new IBD specialist’s office doing the getting to know you bit. As she did her once over from head to toe there were those magic words again, “sausage fingers.”

I gasped, “What?!”

“Sausage fingers,” she replied. You have psoriatic arthritis, no?

My sausage fingers validated my psoriatic arthritis

I’ve asked my rheumatologist, for a few years, about the type of arthritis afflicting me. I finally got an answer after telling her about the IBD appointment and why “sausage fingers” bothered me so much: psoriatic arthritis! This opened up a new dialogue for us. Yes, I have psoriatic arthritis. No there isn’t an antibody test and it’s a process of elimination diagnosis.

Unfortunately, no matter how well my Crohn’s is controlled, my psoriatic arthritis may not improve further. Although it's not the greatest news, I felt a weight lifted.

Who knew “sausage fingers” was the validation I never knew I needed? Not me. Has dactylitis or sausage fingers impacted your life? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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