Going to California

After two years of being housebound, only leaving my house for doctors’ appointments, never going to a friend’s house, coffee shop, grocery store or cinema, never taking a drive to look at the ocean or waterfalls or mountains, my longest excursion being a 45-minute journey to a doctor out of town, I’m going to California to see Dr. Chia.

I made the appointment months ago after rereading No Poster Girl’s advice for the newly diagnosed. I’ve seen 40 healthcare providers in Washington and really, truly feel that the only substantial help they have been is ruling out brain tumours and cancer. Countless visits, horrendous amounts of money and unimaginable energy expenditure… all wasted, unfortunately. Although, my physical therapist has helped my pain but, alas, I must stop seeing him after Monday because my private health insurance coverage ends.

I based my decision to see Dr. Chia mostly on geographical proximity, assuming that we would have to drive wherever we went. His practice is in L.A. I also considered Dr. Peterson (Reno), Dr. Kogelnik (San Francisco) and Dr. Bateman (Salt Lake City). The latter would probably be my first choice, but it seems she really isn’t taking new patients. I battled between Dr. Kogelnik and Dr. Chia, but decided on Dr. Chia mainly because I knew more about him. I have followed my friend Patrick’s experience with Dr. Chia closely, have read Christine McLaughlan’s articles on Health Rising, and have watched all of the ME/CFS Alert video interviews with him.

In a nutshell, Dr. Chia is an infectious disease specialist who believes enteroviruses are at the heart (or gut) of ME/CFS. I will never forget reading Patrick’s account of his ME onset. He said he had surfed at a dirty beach, became ill a few days later, recovered and then got the Tdap immunization and, 5 days later, crashed with ME and never recovered. I swam in a lake in Virginia, came down with a GI illness a day or two later, recovered and then got the flu vaccination and, 11 days later, had acute-onset ME. We had such similar etiologies, although, I believe Patrick was otherwise healthy and, in my case, these came on top of a plethora of other issues such as working too much, never resting, lots of dental work, lots of traveling, bronchitis, vasovagal syncope, angioedema, anaphylaxis, unknown detox issues, IBS-C blah blah blah. But I knew the diarrheal hell was the penultimate cause and the flu vaccination was the shot that broke my immune system’s back. So to speak.

I was in such bad shape last December, I didn’t think there was any chance of my being able to keep this appointment. Five months flew by and my husband and I hadn’t discussed the logistics of the trip or renting an RV or whatever (I don’t even think he knew I had made an appointment), but, before I called to cancel (because, seriously, who goes to California to see a doctor for an hour?), I asked the good people of Phoenix Rising whether they thought I should do it. They were incredibly supportive and answered with an overwhelming YES! Uh oh. Really? But, at this stage, I’d have to fly. I assumed I’d never fly again. I don’t know what a flight would do to my symptoms, let alone the whole trip. So, I asked my family what they thought and they answered with an overwhelming yes and, not only that, but they all offered to help in so many ways: come with me on the trip, stay in my home to watch the dogs, research rentals, help with money, accompany me to the appointment, donate miles for a plane ticket etc. I was flooded with love and encouragement and, suddenly, for no other reason than I wanted to ride the wave of excitement, I decided to go. If not for Dr. Chia, for me. To know that I could leave this house. To create new memories — even hard-won ones — that aren’t these four walls, this bed, this garden. The truth is, I’m terrified and I know enough about Dr. Chia’s treatments to know that it may be a one-off visit and it will probably be a dead-end. But, I’m still going to do it. And I’m going to close my eyes everyday until my departure date and envision safe travels with stable blood pressure, steady legs, no vertigo, no headaches, comfortable body temperature, no chemical or food reactions, no collapsing or swelling or bowel issues, and good sleep. I’ll write more details in my next post.

Ninja Warrior

Watch this video.

There was a time, before muscle loss, that I was 5 feet tall and 100 pounds. I may not have been a ninja warrior or even an athlete, but I felt like I was. I believed I could do anything and had complete faith in my body. I look at this video and think, “I could totally do that.”

This, more than anything — more than working, more than going places, more than seeing family and friends — this might be what I miss the most. The knowledge that my body is strong and capable. That despite my height and build, I can do what you do. And maybe do it better. I can lift, hold, climb, squeeze, balance, press or carry any thing, any weight, for any length of time. I was a ninja warrior in my head and that sense memory is still there. I watch this video and my whole body trembles with eagerness to try navigating that course.

The same is true for my brain. I had utter faith that I could master any complicated material or ace exams or do all things at once — and do them well. I miss that, too — that appetite for digesting information and feeling unfazed by the complexity or subject matter. Not only unfazed, but excited to learn, to break it down, to absorb it and retain it. But, still… I miss my strong body more.

Maybe because my cognitive function is so low that, cognitively, I am not cognizant of how slowly my clogged cognitive cogs are turning. Or maybe I just had more room for error. My brain at 50% is still passable on paper. I have the internet, lists, spell-check. However, my body at 20% means almost total dependence. I have my husband. And the few thin muscles that are keeping me moving on and moving up. I relish each time they do their job: You go, peristalsis muscles, I’m proud of you! Yes, bicep and tricep, you lift that kettle! Oh, extraocular muscles, you’re not sore today, good job!

I may never be as strong as I was, but, like I said almost a year and a half ago, I am grateful for every moment that I feel like the fierce warrior I thought I was… That I think I am… That I will be again.

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Another Day In The Life

This illness takes away every bit of independence and control. My day today was ludicrous and stressful. In my mind, it is filmed in high-speed to the Benny Hill Show music.

I made three back-to-back appointments (ophthalmologist, therapy and blood draw), which is obviously foolhardy, but, if my husband is going to come home to ferry me around, I want to maximise the time. However, I didn’t want the day to be longer than it needed to be because it takes such a toll on me, so I tried to schedule the appointments as close together as possible. The ophthalmologist’s office assured me 3 separate times (because I rescheduled 3 times and asked each time) that a 2:20pm appointment would have me out by 3pm because the doctor is exceedingly timely and expeditious. I google mapped the distances between clinics and called LabCorp to ask about parking and the name of the building and what floor they were on so I was completely prepared and wouldn’t be wasting time wandering.

But, first on the schedule this morning, our cleaning lady (a luxury we obviously can’t afford, but we decided we needed once in a while to alleviate the burden on my husband) was meant to arrive at 9am. That’s very early for me, so I had scheduled the day yesterday to do nothing but organise the house in short bursts (because you actually have to tidy the house for the cleaning lady): putting away clothes and paperwork, moving blankets, yoga mats and dog beds etc. with rests in between. It takes an extraordinary amount of energy for me to do this, mainly because it involves walking things from one room to the next and up and down stairs.

Our cleaning lady is scared of the dogs, so I locked them in my bedroom with me this morning and listened to them whine to get out for an hour and a half before I texted her. I got no answer until noon, when she said she would be here at 1:30pm. She wasn’t. And my husband wasn’t home by 2 to take me to my appointments, so I stood by the door, having eaten, showered, dressed and meditated, holding my handbag, unsure of what to do. He arrived shortly after, not too late, just late enough that I was anxious. We got the dogs’ leashes on (because we had to take them with us because we couldn’t leave them home with the cleaning lady) and I hid the key for her so she could get in while we were gone.

We drove like a bat out of hell, but traffic was worse than normal. Not terrible, just bad enough to make me anxious. I got there on time, but I was still sitting in the waiting room 35 minutes later, so I had to reschedule. They said I could come back after therapy at 4pm, but the blood draw was at 4:15, so I had to reschedule that, too– to 5pm, their latest slot.

On the short drive to the therapist’s office, I was starving, as usual, so I quickly ate an apple and a bunch of plantain chips. Then I had to stand in line at reception for a full 10 minutes (exhausting) and then sat in the waiting room for another 10 minutes, wishing I had taken my time eating rather than inhaling without chewing. By the time my therapist came to get me, it was 3:15pm — not too late, just late enough to make me anxious about the appointment going over time and thus causing me to be late for my rescheduled ophthalmology visit.

I was close to tears from watching the time tick by, the stress of the day, rushing around, not being able to drive myself, being let down by cleaning lady, husband, receptionist, late doctor #1 and #2, having to schedule these appointments in the first place, having to schedule them close together because I can’t handle long outings, having to reschedule 2 out of 3 of them, trusting the ophthalmologist clinic that said 40 minutes would be enough time when I know better… so, I spent 3/4 of my therapy session ranting about the day and how frustrating it is to have no independence… and then ranting about how the day’s events were impinging on my precious therapy time! I have shrinking to do, dammit.

Of course, therapy ran late, so we drove like a bat out of hell again to the ophthalmologist, got there at 4:10 aaannnd… at 4:50pm, I was still waiting in the waiting room. Of course. So I had to call the lab and completely cancel the blood draw. What a farce!

The good news is, the different pressures in my eyes seem to have resolved, so I’m no longer considered a glaucoma suspect. The doctor wants me to try Restasis for the next 6+ months, plus steroid eye drops to address the ongoing dry eye/blepharitis/lid muscle spasms/styes/grittiness/goopiness/floaters/blury vision. Yay, more prescriptions and protocols!

Through all of this, my long-suffering husband and dogs waited in the car, but, the other good news is, he took them to the park while I was in therapy and we got to come home to a beautiful, clean home.

And then I got to do this:

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Aaaahhhhh…. take me away…. :-)

Detox

Today my therapist suggested I do something indulgent since I’m such a hardass on myself and an obsessive weirdo about reading every article/blog/Facebook post in the world that might have ANYTHING to do with getting me better. This sucks up the majority of my time and energy every day, causes my phone to be continually on the edge of dead, my eyesight to be blurry, my hands to lose all blood (holding my phone up because my circulation is shite) and a WiFi source to be permanently sitting next to my heart, which just can’t be good.

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79 open tabs on my phone. I want to read *ALL* the things!

I said, when I was a workaholic, I always wanted to indulge in a day of sitting around, reading a good book. Never once in almost two years of being housebound, have I just relaxed with a good book. I actually can’t believe that. I’ve never once sat on the couch and watched a Star Wars marathon (or Alien/Bourne/Godfather/Terminator or other fun movie marathon). I’m regimented about my schedule and have a scary addiction to the internet and research.

So, baby steps: for the next week, I am going to check Facebook once a day. I will still read my articles and texts and emails, but Facebook only once a day. If I’m really brave, I’ll try to relax on the articles, too. And then maybe try going a whole day without Facebook. I might even pick up a good book. DUH duh duuuuhhhh ….

Wish me luck.
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The Locations Effect*

Here’s the thing. I don’t think it’s coincidence that it has been so humid in Seattle this month and I have gone downhill. I have been using the dehumidifier every day and I didn’t have to turn it on once in the last six months. This is something I am so reluctant to write about because it causes me such terror and grief. More for my husband than myself. If this climate, this city, this house is making me sick, I would move. I could make that decision today. When you lose your career and your social life, become housebound and fear death, there is nothing that seems too drastic or impossible. I’ve been too sick to go anywhere, see people, call family, read books, so what do I care if I have to leave the place I have called home for 19 years? Well, I do care, of course. I have been too immobilized by fear all this time to even consider it, let alone talk about it, let alone do it!

But, the most difficult part for me is that the hardship falls on my husband. He is the one that would have to sell things, pack things, clean things. He is the one with hard-won seasonal landscaping clients. He is the one that has poured his heart and soul into this home, tearing down walls and building bathrooms, replacing piping and electrical, building porches, patios, vegetable beds and fences, tearing out the furnace and installing under-floor heating, slugging through the crawlspace and sweating around the attic, replacing every shred of insulation that was infested by rats when we first moved in.

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He is the one that has spent 8 long years growing this garden oasis. Every single day that he doesn’t work — summer or winter — he has been in the garden doing whatever it is that people who love landscaping and plants do. The trees he has planted are glorious and you all know the fireworks show of flowers that I have documented here.

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He has done work-trade for plants and materials, used reclaimed stones and bricks to build paths and retaining walls… he has mulched and pruned and dug and mowed every day for 8 years and, until recently, I could never see the art that he knew would reveal itself. While I was confused by his choices, he could see the future colourful landscape and, one day, there it was… Ooohhh, that’s why you cut back that hedge so aggressively! Ooohh, all that green actually blooms eventually! That’s why you put that tree there! There was a reason for every brush stroke, only it took years to see the full painting. And we thought we’d have forever to enjoy it. My heart aches for him more than anything — that he might have to walk away from his slowly-created and lovingly-tended artwork.

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I know how lucky I am. I know I’m lucky to have a husband who takes care of me. I know I’m lucky to have had this home and to have had some savings. I know I’m lucky to have possessions in the first place to be able to sell. I could have started off from a much less stable position, without family support. But it doesn’t make it any easier. I don’t want to leave this house. My husband and I said our vows in the back garden. But, it is an inevitability because of loss of income. Leaving Seattle entirely is a different matter.

I have never taken Seattle for granted. Every year I am grateful that I don’t live with crushing heat and air conditioning… we don’t have freezing storms, frozen pipes, snow drifts, hurricanes or tornadoes…. don’t have to worry about mosquitoes, biting bugs, fire ants, huge spiders… I love all our doors and windows open 5 months a year and never having to think about insect repellent or ticks or West Nile virus…. I love the mountains and Puget Sound, the abundance of good food, farmers’ markets, clean water… I love the laidbackness and the passion of the people here… the music, art and theatre here… the politics, universities, the companies that make their homes here… I don’t want to live anywhere else in America…. But… what if?

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Recently, Jen Brea, who is making the film Canary in a Coalmine, had some remission of her symptoms in Utah. I looked up today’s temperature and humidity in Salt Lake City and it is 88 degrees and 24% humidity. Here in Seattle, it is 61 degrees and 63%. Dublin, Ireland is about the same. My whole life I have lived in this climate and I need to test something different. I want to not only test a different house, but different air. If I could, I would travel to the Carribean or Europe, but the reality is, if I can be healthier in, say, Winnemucca Nevada, shouldn’t I go there? Can I separate living from all the things I thought equaled living? If I have no friends, no dogs, no home, no job, no possessions, but I’m not (as) sick, is it worth it? If I’m healthier, but I have no access to community because I’m living so remotely, can I be happy?

I can’t even begin to describe the lives of extreme mold avoiders. I have delved into that world for about six months now — watching videos, reading blogs and articles, listening to discussions in Facebook groups — it is harrowing and heartbreaking. No one can comprehend the pared-down, nomadic lives that people lead, leaving everything and everyone behind to travel the country looking for a safe place to sleep, their few possessions in garbage bags. Putting down shallow roots until something goes wrong — water intrusion, insecticide spraying, air quality changes — and then having to move on again to the next motel, campsite or friend’s driveway. I don’t know how they find the strength. But, my first step has to be getting out of here and testing how I do somewhere else. Part of me is hopeful and excited that it might make a difference and part of me thinks our little family will never survive such upheaval and I’ll somehow have to go it alone. As it stands now, I have to figure out where to go, when to go and who will take care of me until I can take care of myself. Gratitude pours from every fiber of my being for those of you that have offered to travel with me and help this quest: friends, siblings, parents and dear husband, I wouldn’t have a chance without you.

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*The Locations Effect is the name of an online forum and Facebook group started by Lisa Petrison to report “on places where people have experienced improvement in chronic neuroimmune health conditions.” She is also executive director of Paradigm Change, a “not-for-profit organization with a primary goal of encouraging the exploration of the hypothesis that certain diseases involving the neurological and immune systems may be ones of toxicity.”