Why Major Jake P Baker stays ‘faithful in adversity’

Major Jake P Baker discusses a life in the army, his diagnosis of RA and how his healthcare team, family and NRAS have helped him through his journey with RA. 

I retired from the Army on 30th April 2013 after nearly 42 years’ service – man and boy. I enlisted 6 days after my 15th birthday, taking the Queen’s Shilling on 26th August 1971 at the Army Careers Information Office in Salisbury, Wiltshire. I was brought up as a foster child and, though I did not appreciate it at the time, was extremely fortunate to have remained with that family from the age of only a few weeks old. 

My father was from Nigeria and my mother is English; in those days it was looked down upon for white English women to be seen to be having a relationship with a black man, and so my mother was compelled to have me fostered. My father read Law at Exeter University, was called to the Bar (Lincoln’s Inn) and rose to very high office in Nigeria and was also the 10th Ezennia of Ndikelionwu – the king of the tribe!  One could say I am of royal stock and so should be perfect in many ways! Well, not so, indeed when many of us are young, we believe we are infallible and can do anything. Rather immaturely, I believed that for many years and eventually, like most, grew out of it. 

I have had a fulfilling life and extremely enjoyable Army career, starting from bed-bathing Field Marshal Montgomery in the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot, to exercising in the Falkland Islands 29 years after the conflict! I served and travelled in many parts of the world, in Northern Ireland many times and Cyprus twice – once with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force for a period of two years. Sport was in abundance wherever one served and I have raced to a good standard in cross-country running, middle distance and long distance athletics, run over a dozen marathons and half a dozen ultra-marathons raising money for various charities, played tennis and squash, trained as a Class 3 Football Referee and learned to water-ski with difficulty! As a result of Army service, I became an accountant, a Regimental Administrative Officer, intermediate level German speaker and basic level speaker in Greek too. 

I remember when I was a child I hated the cold and used to get chilblains. I believe serving in Germany and being on exercise in the extreme cold, mixed with being exposed to extremely hot conditions in Cyprus led to the onset of my Rheumatoid Arthritis in later years. 

In May 2010, having played a cracking game of squash with my son the day before, I woke up to find my fingers had swollen, were quite stiff and my wrists ached. Were it just my right ones, I would not have been too concerned and merely put it down to playing too much squash, but it was both and I suspected something like a glandular malfunction at worst. Always the sort to see the doctor as soon as something was not right, I reported sick to the Regimental Medical Officer, who quickly suspected RA.  So, I had blood tests, and a week later it was confirmed. Despite initial training in the Army as a medical assistant, I rather ignorantly thought only women suffered from this condition and that it is usually genetically linked or down to one’s lifestyle.  I now understand this is not the case, but personally I’m not convinced. I was most fortunate to be swiftly referred to a rheumatology consultant at Headley Court, near Epsom in Surrey, where the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre is located primarily responsible for looking after our very brave service personnel who have become casualties following operational tours, especially those who have become amputees during their service in Afghanistan. Whilst RA is not easy to live with in the Army, I managed to cope with it because my condition was relatively mild, had a desk job and, because I was an officer, I had a degree of leeway in terms of what I did and when. Fatigue was the only problem and initially, for at least six months, I was staying overnight in my office on training nights and other days, especially if I had to have a very early start the next day driving somewhere as far as Bristol from Luton. I have since learned to manage my fatigue and 3 or 4 flare ups a year much better, and have a changed my diet too, eating much more healthily these days so as to maximise my energy levels. I find walking up to an hour a day, at least five days a week, helps to energise me and keep my weight down, because for about 18 months I suffered from sleep apnoea too! I know I am most fortunate to have been seen swiftly and so brilliantly managed by the whole of the military rheumatology team from day one until my last day in the Army. I consider myself lucky too to have to take the maximum dosage of 3000mg of sulfasalazine, which for me is a most effective DMARD. My wife, family and friends have been most supportive and understanding – to most, I live as normal a life as anybody else, so I really do count my blessings because since joining NRAS I have learned so much more and unfortunately have met people in a far worse situation than myself. I even joined the NRAS Lottery and make monthly contributions to support a great charity that helps RA sufferers in need; it truly is a great cause and one I am happy to help. 

Since leaving the Army, I have been transferred to the care of my local NHS consultant rheumatologist and whilst I had my concerns initially, I am actually in great care, get my blood taken and monitored regularly and whilst I am only scheduled to be seen by the consultant and his nurse annually, I am confident that should I have any concerns or issues, I can make an appointment to see them anytime I wish. I think if truth be known, I had gold star treatment whilst serving in our great armed forces, so I can’t complain. Life goes on as normal, despite the few flare ups I get, manageable problem of aching wrists and fingers from time to time and then what feels at times, never ending fatigue.  

As the motto says in the Royal Army Medical Corps “In Arduis Fidelis” – Faithful in Adversity. 

 Spring 2014, Jake P BakerJP