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Arthritis: Ready For Its Close-Up?

by J.H. Hacsi

She made millions of us laugh while reaching a larger and more appreciate audience than any comedienne in history. She reigned as the queen of television and fifty-plus years later her sit-com is still syndicated in more than eighty countries around the world, still bringing laughter.

She was of course our beloved Lucille Ball, star of I Love Lucy.

Lucille did not become “Lucy” until she was forty. Long years of struggle preceded her breakthrough TV sit-com and international fame. One of her early struggles was a health breakdown when she still in her teens.

She was born on August 6, 1911 in Jamestown, New York. Determined to become an actress, she quit high school before graduation and, with her mother’s approval and support, moved to New York City to attend a drama school. As Lucille tells it in her book Love, Lucy, “In short order they discovered that I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t dance. I couldn’t control my body or my voice properly.” It would be a waste of her mother’s money, she was told, for her to continue in school.

She couldn’t face going home in defeat – everyone would snicker and sneer – so she decided to become a showgirl. She was picked for three different shows but then was quickly dropped. One director told her she was a nice kid but that she just didn’t have it.

Still unwilling to give up, she decided to try modeling. Tall, slender and attractive, she was hired by a wholesale coat firm, then by a dress-and-suit firm. In time Hattie Carnegie hired her to model in her world famous dress shop.

With this job, as Lucille reported in her book, she “moved into an atmosphere of gilded elegance... (S)oon I was covered with bruises where she (Hattie) kicked me in the shins to remind me to bend my knees properly or pinched me in the ribs to make me raise my chest higher.” She disliked modeling, which made her feel like a well-dressed dummy.

One day while standing on a dais for a fitting at Carnegie’s dress shop, she experienced excruciating pain in both her legs. Hattie sent her to her own doctor, who suggested she might have rheumatoid arthritis and sent her to an orthopedic clinic.

After a three-hour wait Lucille, crying and ready to faint, was finally seen by a doctor. He confirmed the diagnosis of RA and offered her an experimental treatment – injections of horse serum – to which she agreed. For the next few weeks she had additional injections. The treatment drained her bank account but did nothing to stop the pain. Broke, crippled and heartsick, she made arrangements to be driven to the train station and then pushed in a wheelchair to her train so she could return home, her bright dream of stardom blasted into bits.

The disease of arthritis is older than man. Skeletons of dinosaurs have shown evidence of it, as do human skeletons dating back to 4500 B.C. Rheumatoid arthritis, the great crippler, is a disease of chronic, fluctuating inflammation of one or more joints. Women fall victim to it far more frequently than men. Medical practitioners admit it is poorly understood.

One thing, however, they do know without question. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease, characterized by inflammation of a joint or joints.

Inflammation: The state of being inflamed.

The joints are constructed to move in a fluid, frictionless way. Resistance to movement causes friction, which produces heat, a proven fact of the physical world. If we are storing a lot of anger and resentment and feel strongly that we have to do things we don’t want to do, or can’t do things that we do want to do, can this affect our joints?

Resistance = friction = heat = inflammation. Is this what triggers an arthritic attack?

When the teenage Lucille stood on that dais in the back room of the Hattie Carnegie dress shop, what was she feeling? She had left home at a very tender age burning with the need to become an actress only to be told that she had no talent. She’d been forced to go into modeling to support herself and though she now moved in an atmosphere of gilded elegance, she had no claim on it. She “belonged” in it solely as a clotheshorse, a body on which lovely clothes could be shown for others to buy and wear. Famous actresses and other fabulous women were in the audience while in the backroom she had to stand motionless, her body sore with bruises, feeling like a dummy, while the all-important dress was fitted on her.

She had just recovered from a bad cold that had gone into pneumonia and she still felt weak. She’d had to come back because she needed her paycheck. Before she could go home, there would be thirty to forty costume changes. With each new dress, she had to force her feet into matching shoes no matter their size. By the time she made it home, her feet would be swollen and sore.

Was all the pain worth it? Would she ever make her way up into the rarefied atmosphere of all the famous actresses who came to Hattie’s showroom? Would she in time join the ranks of the glittering ones or was she doomed to be hired help for the rest of her life?

As she stood on the dais that day, still weak from fever, was Lucille filled with fear that she’d never escape modeling, never have a chance to become the actress she knew she could be? Was she angry at the city for failing to recognize the talent she knew she had? As she stood there motionless, did something in her send the inflammation to her legs to express her anger and fear?

Fortunately for the world, she fought against her RA, which went into remission. In time she returned to the Big City and two decades later became our beloved Lucy.


Excerpted from Plagues Past and Present, A Mind/Body/Approach by J. H. Hacsi. Paper, $14. Available at Baker and Taylor, www.Amazon.com or on order from any bookstore.


Author Bio.

I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, am a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and earlier in my life wrote short stories (over 200 published) and romance novels (eight published). Throughout my life I have been greatly interested in history and science, also the role of the mind and mysticism. I have read widely in all these fields. I am a widow with five sons and five grandchildren and live in Claremont, CA.

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