Damn Your Eyes

A note about my eye exam today:

I need to update my blog more often — for myself, more than anyone else. This morning, I had my first eye exam in 7 years and I looked back here to see if I’d said anything about the last time and saw I’d had a reaction to the yellow eye drops. I had no memory of this and it saved me from possibly having another reaction today for a not-really-needed test. So, I’m going to make a note about today’s experience to remind myself in the future not to bother going to an ophthalmologist again!

My vision was 20/15 the last time I had my eyes checked. I never needed glasses at all until July of 2020, when I realised I couldn’t see my vein very well when putting in a peripheral IV catheter to do IVIG. Since then–not even 2 years–I’ve gone up 3 magnification strengths and my right eye has significantly worse vision than the left. My distance vision is a little worse, too, which I realised when my husband (who is 12 years older than I am) could make out signs on the highway that I couldn’t.

July, 2020: The first day of the rest of my farsighted life: I had to borrow my husband’s glasses to put in my IV.

Of course, this is totally normal for people my age, but my brother started to need glasses after spending time on a submarine and had a theory that it was because he didn’t focus on anything more than about 8 feet away for so many months. I think this might hold some truth for those of us who spend so little time outside, looking at horizons and focusing on long distances.

I have a ton of eye symptoms, which bother me much more than the need for readers, but I’ve been told there is no remedy for any of it (except dry eyes). I was told in the past: “When your overall health is poor, your eye health is poor, too.” The ophthalmologist today actually said that my eye health was good, but my symptoms are probably neurological (migraines, dysautonomia etc).

Some of my eye symptoms are: floaters; blurriness; pain in orbital muscles when moving my eyes; itchy eyelashes; dry eye to the point that when I blink in the mornings, my tears feel like acid hitting my eyeballs; right eyelid spasms; light sensitivity; trouble tracking when scrolling on my phone or reading blocks of text; migraines that feel like my right eye is going to explode out of its socket (it’s silly, but I often push my eye back in with the palm of my hand because it really feels like it might pop out). I used to say that my eyes felt like I’d put grit into Vaseline and then smeared it over my eyes.

I have had radioiodine ablation on my thyroid for Graves disease (or some sort of autoimmune presentation of hyperthyroidism–endocrinologists have disagreed on whether it’s actually Graves) and was told to pay attention to eye symptoms, but the doctor today didn’t see any evidence of that being a problem. I am also positive for one of the Sjogren’s markers (carbonic anhydrase VI IgG antibodies), which ophthalmologists treat no differently than dry eye. He rattled off a bunch of things that I’ve tried in the past that have done nothing (eye drops, eye scrubs) and some I haven’t (take omega 3s, humidifier in bedroom).

He said my optic nerves, blood vessels, maculae etc were all normal. During the visual acuity test, none of the letters were sharp, but I could guess most, even though they were blurry. The doctor said my vision was considered 20/20 because I could guess 3 out of 5 of the bottom line, adding he wouldn’t be able to see any of them at all. This is the thing when you’ve had great vision your whole life–you don’t really know what is “normal” or acceptable.” I hate not being able to see the letters clearly, but being able to guess them at all, even though I was straining and it was very blurry, is still considered 20/20.

They said I am doing no damage to my eyes using the cheapo 3-pack of Costco reading glasses. It doesn’t matter what strength I use or whether I use different magnifications (I have various glasses scattered in different rooms) or whether I’m using the lenses that work for one eye, but not the other. Essentially, if you can move the phone/book closer or further away and make it work, then everything’s fine. They said I could get prescription glasses, but, if I’m getting by, there is no need. I don’t want any more energy expenditure on anything, so I’m sticking with what I’m doing. My husband was mildly alarmed by this: But if you can get prescription glasses that correct for the differences in your eyes and it makes your life better, why not? Energy is why not. It all comes down to having nothing extra to give.

For anyone with MCAS, I have had the yellow eye drops 3 times and, the last time, I had a reaction. A friend told me I could ask for a retinal scan in lieu of dilation, which I did and it was easy and only took a few minutes. Once in the past, I was told that one of my eyes had high pressure (intraocular fluid pressure) and this can be a warning for glaucoma and I should keep an eye on it (I just caught that totally unintended pun when I did a reread 🙂 ). The gold standard for checking eye pressure is the use of yellow numbing eye drops, which are used with a slit lamp and blue light. A step down from that is a handheld tonometer, which still needs numbing drops, but they don’t have the yellow dye. Lastly, there is a device called an Icare, which doesn’t need drops at all. The latter would have been my preference since I don’t know what caused the previous reaction (the dye, the numbing medication or the preservatives), but they didn’t have one at the location where I had my appointment today, so I decided to skip the pressure check, thinking/hoping I probably don’t have a problem.

Lastly, I want to note that this was BY FAR the most risky covid exposure I’ve had (or, really, just human germ exposure, in general). The rooms are tiny with no windows or ventilation and the doctor and his assistant both had to get very close to my face. Also, they cancelled my appointment last week because the ophthalmologist was out sick and I wonder — out sick with what? Even a head cold would be a deal-breaker for me. All in all, I regret the appointment because the risk of contracting a virus was very much outweighed by the chances that I have eye problems that can be remedied (I now know). But I didn’t know what was normal or should be treated and I certainly would want to know if intracranial hyper/hypotension was causing any eye damage (as seen on a CINE MRI, I have blocked cerebral spinal fluid flow in my brain because of low-lying cerebellar tonsils, which can cause intracranial pressure issues). I didn’t know if wearing shitty readers could damage my eyesight further (they can’t) and I didn’t know if having worse vision in one eye was a concern (it’s not) and I didn’t know if I could brush off all of my eye symptoms as neurological (I can). Now I know and you do, too. 🙂 Title Credit

Many symptoms. Many tests.

I’m going to start with the last things first:

In the next month, I am having a colonoscopy under anesthesia, a fluoroscopic barium defecography, an anorectal manometry, an ACTH (Cortrosyn) stimulation test, a transvaginal ultrasound, a thoracic MRI, skin prick allergy testing, a teeth cleaning and exam, an eye exam, and two blood draws. As well as trying to do IVIG every week and regular online doctors’ appointments.

What I really want to do is cancel everything, drive to the desert and live in peace.

The one thing I know for sure is that the more I rock this body’s boat, the worse things get, so I usually freeze and do nothing. But, lately, there seems to be a new mini-crisis most days, even though I took a long break from everything during the Omicron spike. It was lovely and peaceful for a while, but my body has been scaring me this month.

One day last week, my legs started to shake and then just buckled with no warning and I couldn’t walk. I had been moving a side table, so I guess I injured something, but I didn’t feel an injury, I just suddenly couldn’t walk and it is always in the back of my mind that I have a tethered spinal cord and leg/gait issues may get worse (many symptoms — like nerve pain — that could be attributed to tethered cord have gotten better, so I’m not convinced that “detethering” surgery is the answer for me).

Over the following days, unusual deep pain traveled from my buttocks to the back of my thighs to my left calf and then disappeared. During that time, I became desperate for a house with no stairs. I bought a bedside commode. I gave up a foster dog with whom I’d already fallen in love. Losing the limited mobility I have is terrifying. My husband would have to manage so much more and my quality of life would quickly plummet considering the energy it takes to keep my intestines working and food moving through. Not to mention losing dog joy, which is almost all joy in my world.

This week has been awful whack-a-crisis every day. Over the weekend, I was hit with terrible vertigo. This is one of the most sickening feelings — like your eyes are tumbling around in their orbits and you have to keep very, very still to stop from groaning outloud. It got mostly better the next day, but I still feel like I’m walking on a ship.

Monday, I had a pelvic spasm or bowel cramp so painful, I thought it was going to trigger a vasovagal collapse because I started to tremble and got weak and breathless.

Tuesday, I spent the day on the dog bed in front of the fireplace in a 76 degree room, shaking, chilled to the bone, with blood pressure all over the place, trying not to black out. I thought I’d left these episodes behind.

Yesterday, I developed an extremely bad right-sided migraine, which woke me out of sleep, panting from the pain and dreaming of IV narcotics — which I’m allergic to, but the pain was bad enough that I thought it wouldn’t matter if I stopped breathing, I’d let them inject anything to take the pain away.

So — it’s like that. In 14 days, I’ve gone on 3 scooter walks with Penny and I’m going out of my mind, desperate to get my slow, predictable days back.

In the midst of all this, I tried to continue weekly IVIG, which is undoubtedly the cause of some of this. I don’t know why it has turned on me and I don’t have words to describe the despair if I lose the one treatment that has helped me so profoundly.

I also saw another pelvic floor surgeon who was so rough while fitting me with a pessary, that I cried out involuntarily in her office. Her exam wasn’t even that bad in the grand scheme of things, but I was mute on the drive home, feeling traumatized by the brusque anal/vaginal invasiveness of it all. I only managed to keep that torture device inside me for 3 days because it made urinating very difficult. $100 down the drain and the only reason I was able to remove it was because I joined a FB pessary support group to get tips. Thank dog for other patients!

My biggest fear at the moment is the looming colonoscopy. I’ve been rescheduling it for 7 years. Before covid, I was cancelling out of fear — feeling the information gleaned from this test was outweighed by the risks. Just in the last 2 years, I’ve cancelled 8 times. They were legitimate reasons — covid spikes and my body being too unstable — but my GI doctor is frustrated and I still don’t feel confident that this is the right decision, even though it’s now 4 days away. My blood pressure is chronically low. I can’t get it to budge above around 85/55 — often lower. I wanted to try Fludrocortisone (a corticosteroid that can boost blood volume by increasing sodium in the body) before doing this procedure, but it takes me an excruciatingly long time to first get the nerve to try new medications, then to find a good day when I feel stable enough and then it takes weeks of eating little slivers to work up to a meaningful dose. It didn’t happen, along with dozens of other meds in my cupboard, waiting to be opened.

I was going to give myself IV fluids at home during the colonoscopy clean-out (I do my own peripheral IVs), but, in the last year, I’ve been having scary episodes and just this week realised they might be from IV saline. My vision starts to darken, like I’m going to black out, I get very cold and shake badly, my blood pressure spikes — this can go on for hours. It’s always the day after IVIG, so I stopped my infusions for 3 months, but then it happened when I did IV fluids without IVIG. I thought it must be the saline coupled with Midodrine, the low blood pressure medication I was on, so I stopped taking Midodrine and for 6 weeks, I was sure that was the answer. Until this week when it happened again.

My blood pressure has been dropping very low during IVIG, so, on top of the liter of IV saline, I’ve been drinking around 3 liters of salt/electrolyte water on infusion days (and eating a ton of salty snacks). It didn’t help boost my BP during the infusion, but I had another one of those episodes the day after. It almost feels like volume overload because my eyes get swollen, my BP spikes and I feel breathless, but my “high” blood pressure is still low by other people’s standards. During this episode the other day it was spiking to 107/74. How do you explain to a doctor that you’re in a “hypertensive” crisis when your BP is still lower than normal?

So, I’m about to start a dehydrating colon cleanout when I’m already weak from chronic hypotension, hemodynamically unstable, battling presyncope, having pelvic floor spasms and bowel pain, prone to hypoglycemia, my heart is tripping all over the place, and my brain feels like it’s going to explode out of my right eye. If I get through the prep without having to call the paramedics, I’m then meant to volunteer to let a stranger inject powerful sedatives and painkillers into my vein and hope that I don’t go into anaphylaxis or have my vitals bottom out. Or catch covid, for that matter, since vaccination is too risky, yet I have a primary immune deficiency, which feels like the worst combination during a pandemic.

Being released from the hospital and coming home almost feels the most reckless because all hell breaks loose in my body AFTER the fact. It’s in the middle of the night or the day after that the adrenaline wears off and the real problems start. I wish they’d admit me afterwards for observation, honestly, but it would be ludicrous to even ask. These are routine procedures that everyone gets done, after all.

But it doesn’t feel worth it. It feels dangerous. Which is part of why I’m writing this, I guess. I got out my advanced directive and durable POA. FFS.

We also found out this week that my healthy rock of a husband has a brain aneurysm and will need surgery. Surprise! That’s a story for a different time. But, really, forget all of my stuff. If anyone out there is going to send good thoughts/juju/prayers this way, please send them directly at my husband’s brain.

In Amber

A DECADE

A decade since I felt well.

A decade since my body and health were not on my mind. 

A decade since my last cold, flu or bronchitis.

A decade since my last vaccination.

A decade since I enjoyed Halloween, my favourite holiday.

A decade since I was in a lake or ocean.

A decade since I was on a train.

A decade since I stood up at a concert.

A decade since I didn’t wear a mask on a plane.

A decade since I went to a wedding.

A decade since I went to a barbecue.

A decade since seeing so many friends.

A decade since I married my longtime boyfriend because “I feel like something is going to happen to me and I want you to be able to legally speak for me, if I can’t speak for myself.”

A decade since I was in Ireland, in my childhood home, walking the streets of my heart.

I thought about this anniversary so many times in the past. For a long time, I thought there was no way it would come–I couldn’t possibly stay sick this long. Every other illness had a beginning and an end, so, surely, one day my body would recover and this spectre would leave, it was just taking a little longer than the usual virus.

Once I realised it was lifelong, I thought the 10-year mark would be a momentous and heavy occasion. It turns out, it’s not. 2 years seemed much harder to accept. Back when isolation was still harrowing and loneliness still suffocated. You get used to both. It helps if you can develop a deep disdain for humans, so you can trick yourself into believing you’re not missing out on anything. And the 5-year mark was hard. I’d felt small, but miraculous changes from IVIG and then had an epic autumn backslide that year. The dowsing of that little flame of hope was devastating and it was inconceivable that I would be physically or mentally resilient enough to continue the maybe-I’m-getting-better!-Oh-no-what-fresh-hell-is-this? cycle for years to come.

But, then, suddenly, 10 years have passed. I could almost believe the rest of the world is trapped in amber, frozen in time, awaiting my return. As soon as I kick this thing, I’ll drive back down to the office–each street scene melting and returning into motion as my car passes by–and get back to work. Thanks for waiting, guys.

INFECTIONS

What’s far more unbelievable to me is that I haven’t had a muggle illness in a decade. [Please don’t let this jinx me.] No head cold, no flu, no stomach bug, no chest/ear/sinus/bladder/any-other-part-of-the-body infection. The more time that went by, the more ominous was the thought of contracting an acute virus. For years, I had relentless flu-y symptoms–headaches, sore throats, muscle pain, weakness, chills (and still do, sporadically)–and I have many high out-of-range infection titers*, so the thought of another malady compounding the daily slog was harrowing.

*HHV6 IgG; HSV IgM; EBV IgG; M Pneumoniae IgG; S. Cerevisiae IgG; Varicella IgG and IgM; Coxsackie A7, A9, A16, A24, B1, B2, B5 and B6; Anti Streptolysin O Titer, and Candida IgM and IgA. Yes, really.

Three years into my illness, Dr. Chia told us unequivocally that a run-of-the-mill cold could make me permanently worse, so we have always taken great precautions to avoid exposure, which have only intensified during this pandemic. I honestly wonder if I’ll ever be indoors and maskless with anyone besides my husband again. Even worse, will my husband ever be indoors and maskless with anyone besides me? It’s one thing to choose this life for myself–I’ve made peace with only having remote communication with friends and family; I have a partner and a dog to keep me sane–but my healthy husband’s life has shriveled to keep me safe and the guilt from that is indescribable. I imagine if he weren’t yoked to someone at such risk for serious complications from viruses, he might be out gallivanting and socialising, as well he should be.

VACCINES

One of the first doctors I saw after falling ill said, “You are very sick. We don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you should never get another vaccination as long as you live.” I was confused because, until that moment, I hadn’t linked whatever this sickness was to the flu shot I’d gotten a week before Halloween. I was also confused because, in my healthy ignorance, I thought vaccines only bolstered your immune system. I really didn’t understand, in certain unique circumstances, that they could break it. I used to get every immunization available in an effort to protect myself.

Before I traveled to Central America, I was vaccinated for polio, live typhoid, hepatitis A and B, tetanus, diphtheria and gammastan–all on the same day. In the years after, I got the live varicella vaccine, the 3-shot hepatitis B series, measles, mumps, and rubella and, of course, the flu shot every year, along with a pandemic flu vaccine (H1N1) when they were offered. I didn’t get majorly sick while traveling, I didn’t get chicken pox when I tended to my horrifically poxy husband and I never got the flu despite working very long hours in restaurants, among infectious people (note to the public: restaurant staff work when they’re sick; you have to be on death’s door to ask someone to cover a shift), so I guess the vaccines helped… until they harmed.

COVID

There’s such polarization these days when it comes to covid vaccines. There’s a lot of hatred directed at those who are trying to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated and wearing masks and there is an equal amount of contempt directed at anti-vaxers. I have yet to see a single news story talk about those of us who want to get vaccinated, but cannot. Or those of us who have to make the agonizing decision to live a life of extreme isolation or risk very serious repercussions from a vaccine–any vaccine. I wish individuals would always take the collective into consideration and try to protect those that are vulnerable, but that’s not human nature, unfortunately. People will refuse vaccinations or not wear masks or not get tested because they don’t want to quarantine. And, all the while, those of us with weakened, damaged or overactive immune systems–be it from chemo or old age or autoimmunity or ME/cfs or steroids or stress or another condition–will have to choose seclusion over risk.

Against one of my doctor’s advice, I will be getting the first covid vaccine next month–but I’m getting a pediatric dose. We will see how I do and then I’ll get a second dose and test antibodies. They will be keeping me for observation in the clinic for an hour because of my history of anaphylaxis, but that’s not what I’m worried about.

I’m worried about being bedbound again. I’m worried about volunteering for an injection that could further damage my autonomic nervous system and intensify dysautonomia and hyperadrenergic symptoms. I’m worried about triggering more vasovagal collapses or making myself more hemodynamically unstable. I’m worried about a cytokine storm and/or a mast cell meltdown that creates a permanent worsening of reactivity when I’m already so limited in medication options and trying so hard to keep on weight. I’m worried about a blood clot causing sudden death because IVIG, oral hormones and inactivity already put me in a high-risk category. I’m worried about losing the limited amount of independence and mobility I have now (but it’s enough for a happy life) and becoming too weak to even wash my hair again. I’m worried about being that burden to my husband again, especially now that it takes so much work to make my GI tract function–it would be a monstrous task for him to take on. Mostly, I’m worried about once again losing the small joys, like taking Penny on our scooter walks, being able to talk on the phone for hours and laughing. I spent years without those gifts and I’m not sure I can claw my way back over another decade. 

It feels good to write out those fears. There are very few people with whom I can have these discussions because not many healthy friends understand the risks involved when dealing with such complex conditions. Everyone in my family has had at least 2 covid vaccinations with no side effects, but, in my support groups, it’s a different story. Even there, though, I am careful–I want everyone to get vaccinated, if they can safely, and I never want to dissuade others by voicing my concerns. And doctors aren’t much help because the vast majority take the practical stance that, statistically, the chances of negative repercussions are low and that the risks outweigh the benefits. That’s absolutely true for the typical bell curve of the typical population. Not true for me.

Let’s just hope it’s all smooth sailing. I’d like the next decade to be different.

Update: My doctor pretty much talked me out of getting the C vaccine. I’m too high-risk for long-term reactions. I’m going to have to get surgery next year, so not being vaccinated in a hospital setting adds another layer of fear, but I won’t be stable enough for surgery if the vaccine caused damage. So I will be remaining in strict isolation and putting my life in other people’s hands.

Title Credit

what is and what should never be

Yesterday, I was in a very dark place. I was (and am) beaten down by relentless bowel symptoms that eclipse all others and continue to monopolize every day.

What food to buy, how to prepare it, when to eat and * whether to eat it, how much to eat and how much to blend it, what digestive aids to use — bitters, ginger, HCl, enzymes, castor oil, Digest Zen, massage — how to move it through, what medications to take and in what combinations, at what times, how to ameliorate the side effects, how to improve my bathroom situation — padded toilet seat, squatty potty, head rest, neck brace, lubricant, pillow — worried that I’ll be an 80-year old trying to get up and down off the floor to give myself enemas, worried that my husband will be giving me enemas, scouring support groups, researching surgeries, praying for someone to cut out my colon and replace it with a bag… Fearing that this will kill me. Or that it won’t and I’m trapped in this body with no easy exit.

Today, I saw this memory and it immediately brought tears to my eyes. At this point, I’d been sick for almost 3 years and mostly bedbound for almost 2. I was so, so sick. I shudder to think of it. Sure, I could still eat solid food and poop, but only if I managed to get up and leave my room. They were the most terrifying years of my life. A privileged “terrifying,” I realised even then — I had family, a home, resources — but gratitude didn’t quash the symptoms, fear and confusion about what was happening to me.

It took Herculean efforts on the part of my mother, husband and friends to get me to California to see Dr. Chia (where I took this photo) and it felt like the effort might kill me. But the emotion from seeing the ocean when I truly thought I never would again (shit, even the feeling of seeing Seattle as we drove to the airport) was completely overwhelming and magical. And, also, very sad because I didn’t know how or if it could happen again.

Anyway, I needed this slap in the face today to remind me of what was and what is no longer my situation. My illness now is structural and neurological. It’s just as scary and uncertain, but I can take my dog for a walk with my mobility scooter and cook some soup and talk on the phone and watch a movie. Without a pandemic and if my gut behaved, I could even have a social outing.

From 2012 through 2015, I white-knuckled-it through every single minute of every single day, concentrating on taking the next breath and making it to the next hour. I still find it exhausting trying to keep my body functioning, but it did get better, just like my Mom told me it could. I’d once had a rare better day with less poisoned pain, fewer flu symptoms, an uptick in energy and she said, “If it happened once, it can happen again. And for longer.” I clung to those words like a drowning person, trying to swim up towards the light.

For everyone in this situation, for people with severe ME, for all the long covid patients, it does get better. Or, at least, things will shift and change. Grab hold. Hang on.

Title Credit

Pandemic MRI Tips

Wednesday night, I spent 3 hours in an MRI tube getting brutal imaging done of my brain and cervical spine. In general, I actually enjoy MRIs — I find them soothing and almost always fall asleep (the keys to making it relaxing are really good earplugs and eye shades that you never take off) — but the majority of the scans I had done the other night were in extreme flexion and extension of my neck, so it was very uncomfortable. I didn’t get home until 10:30pm.

I’ve already seen the radiology reports and they’re not great, unfortunately. I hoped things would be stable, but there are further degenerative changes to my cervical vertebrae with herniations impacting my spinal cord. More concerning to me is the lack of CSF flow in my cerebellum (posterior foramen magnum) is still noted (was first seen in a previous CINE MRI two years ago) and now there also is restricted CSF flow in the cerebral aqueduct. This is probably being caused by low-lying cerebellar tonsils, which is probably being caused by my tethered spinal cord pulling down on my brain stem. It’s overwhelming. But more on all that some other time.

I had some thoughts about managing these sorts of tests, especially with covid concerns. I’m unvaccinated (inching closer and closer every day to taking that gamble, though), so it was especially nerve-wracking as I pictured Delta shedding off the MRI techs in thick clouds (during those 3 hours, they probably spent a total of about 20 minutes standing a foot or less from my face as they had to add and remove bolsters and adjust me in different ways. They were both wearing very flimsy surgical masks, like limp paper towels. No well-fitting N95s here. Shudder).

I should have asked the techs to back up because they really didn’t need to be so close, but… well, it’s complicated. It comes down to the really embarrassing fact that I think I’m trying to be liked. A people pleaser. I expend an enormous amount of energy during appointments because I always wind up chatting and making jokes and acting normally due to adrenaline surges. And, in this case, because I am so bloody complicated, I tried to be easy and low-maintenance when I was in the hospital.

The lead tech went to unbelievable lengths to help get these MRIs approved and executed properly. He talked to my neurologist, he got the appointment moved to the Northwest campus, he emailed me updates, he let me fax the orders and doctor’s notes to him since they were having such a hard time getting my doctor’s clinic to do it. He left his shift at the UW Medical Center and drove across town to do my scans (at night) to make sure they were done properly (which was good because the other tech had never seen anything like them — we did a dynamic motion series, which involved moving my neck/head fractionally from full flexion into full extension, stopping 16 times to hold still for an image to be taken).

The imaging orders took over a month to be written properly and get approved (one of the schedulers was almost in tears talking with me. She said, “I told my supervisor: ‘We need to get this done! Our motto is patients first. Help this woman!’ I was shaking!”), so the upshot is, I didn’t want to cause waves or be a pain in the ass by asking him to step way back. Really hope that decision doesn’t give me covid. But I’d already told him my immune system was compromised and I was unvaccinated, so I guess he must have been pretty confident that he was not asymptomatically infected. I’m feeling weak-willed, though. I advocate for myself at every turn and then I don’t make sure we’re distanced? Ridiculous.

Back to the reason for this post:

Oh, wait! I had the craziest thing happen. The tech stopped the imaging at one point and said, “There’s something metallic in your armpit area. Can you see what it is?” HUH?

I have my eyeshades on, so I can’t see and I’m fishing around in my armpit and I find a little metal stick. “What is this??”

The tech has come into the room and he says, “It’s a bobby pin!”

“But I don’t wear bobby pins, I swear!”

And he says: “Oh, you know what, there’s a chest pocket inside the scrubs we gave you because they’re reversible, I bet it came through the laundry.” WTF?

Sure enough, there’s a little pocket and I guess the bobby pin was sucked out of it and into the armpit of the scrubs by the giant MRI magnet.

And then what do I do? I drop it, thinking it’ll just fall on my stomach. Not sure why I did that, but I hear him say, “OH NO, DON’T” and, in a flash, the bobby pin has bulleted straight into my face. It stuck to my chin by one end, the length of it horizontal to the floor, like a teeny arrow. WTAF?!

It didn’t hurt because I had a mask on, which cushioned it, but I had no idea everything was so magnetized when the machine wasn’t taking images. I couldn’t help thinking: What if my eye shades were off and it had torpedoed into my eyeball?! Jeesh. Luckily, we all got to laugh about it.

Ok: 

Here are my top tips for getting an MRI during a pandemic when you’re unvaccinated and your immune and autonomic nervous systems are haywire:

* You can’t have metal in an MRI machine, which means removing the nose piece from most masks. I didn’t want to wear my Cambridge or Airinum masks because I wanted something disposable (albeit an N95 rather than the equivalent of an N99 in the case of the cloth masks). I taped the mask all around my face with paper tape because, without the nose piece, it didn’t fit well. The paper tape was a bitch to get off and stretched my skin off my face alarmingly, but, hey, better than covid. I had a face shield, but didn’t wind up wearing it since I had to take it off as soon I got in there. I also put a surgical mask over the N95, which was undoubtedly useless, but I felt better “double masking.” These N95s are legit (I called the company, Kimberly-Clark and they gave me the Amazon link) and even though the duck bills look silly, they are much easier to breathe in. After being in the MRI tube for so long, I was really happy not to have one of my heavier reusable masks on. 

* These are the other precaution suggestions I’ve collected over the past year: Some ME doctor (Klimas?) said xylitol nasal sprays can help in a protective sense before possible exposure and saline nasal rinses might help afterwards. I also bought Nasal Guard (a gel that you put around your nostrils and mouth that might catch allergens/germs before they enter your airways) and Nasal Screens (little sticky “filters” that cover your nostrils). You could also use WoodyKnows filters, but I can’t seem to get them to stay in my nose. So, during my MRI, underneath the taped-on paper N95 mask, I used the nasal screens and gel.

* Make sure to bring good earplugs. They have some for patients, but a) who wants to use the hospital ones? and b) they are never good enough. I like these chunky foam ones that expand to totally seal my ear canals. They don’t cost much for a huge box (I wear them to sleep) and I cut the ends off of them, so it’s not sore sleeping on my sides. Make sure you know how to insert earplugs. I literally needed a lesson: roll them in between your fingers until they’re as skinny as possible and then put them into your ear (you can pull down on your earlobes to get them further in) and then gently press the outside to keep them in place as they expand. These changed my sleeping life. After hours, the pressure inside the ear canal can get sore, but your ear toughens up pretty quickly if you stick with it. Anyway, they are a necessity in an MRI because the headphones do sweet FA. Plus, in my case, I couldn’t wear the headphones in any position except neutral. 

* I usually bring my own eye shades, but because of covid, I used theirs, which are in a plastic bag and disposable. They smell new-plasticy/nylony, but, with my mask on, I didn’t notice. Like I said, put them on before you’re moved into the MRI tube and then DON’T TAKE THEM OFF. You don’t want to see how close the antenna (face cage) or the walls of the tube are to your nose. It breaks the “I’m fine” spell and can freak you out. MRI machines these days are pretty roomy and they have cool air blowing, so you really wouldn’t know you’re in a restricted space as long as you don’t look. (Another tip: you can ask them to turn the blowy air up or down.) I had to move the padding under my head and shoulders over and over again for the different positions and my elbows kept hitting the walls of the tube, which is a sure way to break the spell that you’re lying on the beach, just fine. Luckily, I don’t have claustrophobia. For the dynamic scans, the tech asked me to just leave my arms above my head, which was the only time I felt slightly unnerved because it was so cramped (back arched, neck in extension, arms above head, but not too bent because he didn’t want me to touch the tube and create some sort of looped current or some shit. Yikes).

* If you’re getting an MRI, ask for it to be done on a 3T machine, so you have the best quality images and don’t have to redo them.

* If you’re getting a supine cervical MRI ask to add in flexion, extension and rotation, so you (hopefully) don’t have to do an upright MRI (agony), which the tech called “garbage” since they are done with a 0.6 Tesla magnet (most neurosurgeons prefer 1.5T or higher).

* Find out the location of the 3T machine. In my case, I could get them done at a company called CDI, which is right by my house and it’s inside a small imaging clinic versus a hospital (less covid risk). But, it turned out, the 3T machine was in Bellevue (much further away from me) and would involve my husband taking the day off of work and sitting in a lot of traffic etc. I was switched to the University of Washington Medical Center, but the radiology suite is a long walk through a big hospital and would, again, necessitate my husband leaving work (and expose himself to covid risk) because, although I could probably drive there myself and walk to the MRI, I didn’t know how the flexion and extension would hurt my neck or exacerbate my symptoms and there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to walk back to my car and would need a stranger and a strange wheelchair. Or I might not be able to drive myself home and would be forced to get an Uber. Hell no. Ubers were bad before covid.

More importantly, the other location option — UW Northwest — is a few minutes from my house and I already know that the 3T machine is in a quiet building, separated from the hospital and that the MRI room is literally a few steps down from disabled parking, which is always empty. It’s a small suite and it’s always been just me and the tech every time I’ve been there. Last time I had an MRI at the big UW Medical Center, there were dozens of people teeming around and I had to wait for over two hours because of a backlog of scans. 

* Ask for an appointment on a weekend and/or the first appointment of the day and/or the last appointment of the night to avoid humans.

* After you check in, wait outside, if you can. For those in my area, this is really easy at Northwest Hospital. They just pop their head out the door when they’re ready and I’m right there at my car.

* Wear hardly anything. I left everything I possibly could at home. Jewellery, purse etc. I only brought my phone, hand sanitizer and my emergency MCAS stuff that I bring everywhere. I wore nothing but underwear, a long skirt pulled up to be a “sun dress” and shoes.

* If you are getting any imaging done that involves different positions, bring something for support and bolstering of your skull and neck. I brought a big pile of washcloths from my house so I wouldn’t be using the hospital’s foam wedges. I rolled them under my head and neck to help with the flexion and extension images and under the sides of my face to give support when my head was in rotation.

* Ask the MRI tech to let you know in advance how long each sequence will take and whether you can move and adjust yourself. It can get sore staying so still, but every time you move off of the mid-line, they have to recalibrate the machine with a “scouting series.”

* Pretend you’re in a medical pod and the MRI is healing you. I usually drift off to some sci fi place, imagining all the blerp blerp blerp gramma gramma gramma patel patel patel noises are curing my disease. 

* I bagged the washcloths and my clothes when I got home so I could wash them later and took a shower. I also sprayed alcohol on my shoes and backpack. Oh and I used mouthwash for the first time in a decade and just hoped that I didn’t have some weird reaction to the alcohol/flavourings/colourings (I didn’t).

What I did wrong: I didn’t eat and drink enough before leaving. Everything takes longer than you think it will, it seems, and with a taped-on mask, there was no sneaking a lozenge or anything. I was parched and ravenous and wound up eating dinner at 11:30pm.