A person laces up hockey skates as a large crack forms in the ice below.

My Non-Radiographic Diagnosis Journey

Beep.

Run, turn, repeat.

I hate the beep test, and it was a fitness test gone awry that spurred my path to diagnosis.

I was determined to prove myself

I was one of about 40 up-and-coming hockey referees in British Columbia at the upgrade seminar in September 2018. The previous day I had set the fastest time of our on-ice testing, and I was determined to prove myself in the off-ice testing too.

I was about three-quarters of the way to our expected result on the beep test when I noticed something wasn’t right. My fingers started tingling. It started in my fingertips, but true to hockey culture I tried to push through it.

The tingling extended into my hands and up my arms, I continued to push through it. Then my hands went numb, so did my arms. The sensation went up my arms and concentrated between my shoulder blades.

I knew I had to see a doctor

Dejected in my failed test result, I stepped to the side of the gym. I was greeted by concerned faces, like they were staring at a ghost. Apparently, my entire complexion had turned completely pale. I knew I had to go visit the doctor.

I have a family history of ankylosing spondylitis; both my mother and aunt have been diagnosed and they’d been encouraging me to get tested. Their message was simple: get ahead of this disease. My mother was diagnosed in her 50s and she wanted me to avoid many life complications she had faced with early diagnosis and treatment.

I thought I just needed to stretch more

Like a typical young man in my early 20s, I refused. I was fine, or so I thought. I only had some minor back pain and tightness in my hips. I just needed to stretch more and hit the gym.

Still, after the failed beep test, I went to see the doctor, explained my circumstance and began the testing process for AS. It started with a blood test and a few weeks later I returned to the doctor’s office.

"Normal? Are you sure?"

“Your blood work results came back normal, but you are HLA-B27 positive so I’m going to refer you to the rheumatologist,” was what I was told.

I remember being surprised: Normal? Are you sure?

So, the waiting process continued and 10 months later I went to see the rheumatologist. More blood tests, normal. An x-ray, normal. Next was an MRI.

It had been so long

By the time of the MRI it had been nearly 18 months since my first visit, and I didn’t feel any closer to getting results. I remember my thoughts at the time were so concentrated on one thing: what if the MRI doesn’t reveal anything either?

Fast-forward to January 2020, I revisited my rheumatologist. The MRI results were in. I sat down and the meeting began the same way, here are your test results. “The MRI results came back normal.”

I was stunned.

The diagnosis: non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis

My specialist continued with what felt like an interrogation. She told me I was being diagnosed with non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis and to start a new prescription.

I went home completely confused, but with a little research, I realized nr-AxSpA was consistent with everything I was experiencing.

I was lucky. My diagnosis only took 18 months, albeit 18 very confusing and frustrating months. The combination of family history and a good rheumatologist expedited a process that took others in my family decades to get an answer.

Today it’s still confusing, uncertain and often frustrating. Yet, I find solace in having a diagnosis and that better days lie ahead.

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