I love a Belfast Fry - or I did until I went back to being a vegetarian. Somehow, a plate of eggs, beans and hash browns with a dried-up soya sausage and a heap of brown lumps formerly-known-as-mushrooms isn't quite the same.
But enough of my yelping, what's Belfast got to do with Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Simple; it was in a cafe in Belfast on a writing research trip I first realised - like Apollo 11 - I had a problem.
"Er," I nervously approached my husband as another piece of fat, juicy sausage (locally sourced) flew off my plate, narrowly avoiding the American couple to my left (again). "Do us a favour?"
I indicated my stiff and swollen thumbs and index fingers. "I can't hold my cutlery. I think this arthritis has moved into my fingers."
Oh, how I yearn for thos halcyon days when I, like most people including medical experts, thought I had a 'touch' of arthritis. I knew from experience that with a simple change of diet I'd soon fix it and go back to my party animal self. If I knew then what I know now I'd have drowned myself in the long-suffering Lagan. Like the passengers on the Titanic I was to ever more view Belfast with regret and anger.
Ten years previously I'd moved into my first shared home with my fiancee, now my husband. It was a third floor flat in a block with no lift and fter a couple of weeks I developed red and swollen knees. After a couple of months I was seriously regretting the move. Sick of my moaning my company sent me to a private consultant.
"Bit sore are they?" he asked.
"Ever had ground glass in *your* knees?" I replied, peeling a couple of fried eggs from mine.
After an embarrassing incident involving me removing *all* my clothes instead of my outer clothes I was declared a victim of a 'generic' arthritis and waved out the door.
"Take some cod liver oil - we're conducting trials," he called cheerfully after me as he dictated the invoice.
"I'm a vegetarian," I shouted back as I hobbled down the road in tears.
And there, dear friends, endeth Lesson One: don't assume private consultants know more than NHS ones because:-
1) they're one and the same; and
2) they get paid more if you keep going back.
So I got myself a book on curing arthritis the drug-free way and within weeks I was running around like a hyperactive child with a belly full of Red Bull again. I was cured! Or so I thought. Little did I know that the disease festering inside me like the embroyonic alien in ... er ... Alien, was just biding its time and that it can and will come and go like the seasons.
The following ten years were a smorgarsbord of 'disclocated toes', plantar fasciitis, Meniere's Disease (another story in itself), knee problems, 'RSI', 'carpal tunnel syndrome', hot flushes, shoulder impingements and a host of other random and bizarre ailments I can neither spell nor pronounce.
And then in 2008, during the peak of that hormonal insanity called perimenopause, it all finally came to a head.
In the space of eight months I had recurring 'toe dislocations' and suspected gout, recurrence of my plantar fasciitis, recurrence of the pain in my left knee, I lost nearly a stone in weight, suffered a shoulder impingement and both hands were suddenly and severely affected by stiff, hot and painful joints. The pain was excruciating. This, I told my husband, was very different to the pain I'd suffered previously.
"I am a surgeon," the incapable locum replacing my very capable GP advised me when I enquired whether I could possibly have Rheumatoid Arthritis. "You definitely, without a doubt, do not have Rheumatoid Arthritis. You have no symptoms. Your joints are fine."
I held up the worst affected finger which now closely resembled the fat, juicy sausage (locally sourced) I'd struggled with in Belfast some months previously (I wasn't a veggie then).
"That," he pronounced confidently, "is an infection."
Two days later my GP returned and referred me immediately to the local rheumatology team. Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis was the diagnosis four months after that.
I hope, one fine day, to meet that locum and shake him warmly and firmly by the neck. I'd also like to show the same heartfelt gratitude to the ENT consultant who told me in 2005 I was nothing but a time-wasting hypochondriac with anxiety issues. Three months before I got the RA diagnosis Meniere's Disease was diagnosed, an inner ear disease that can be caused by - you guessed it.
So here endeth Lesson Two : just because a medical expert tells you you're not ill it doesn't mean you're not.
That little research trip to Belfast was just under two years ago. A lot has happened since - too much to tell here - but I did learn a lot which will form the third and final Lesson of this evening:-
If you want to get ahead with this rotten disease be like Mulder and Scully - trust no-one.