The future might be the past…

I’m going through a rough(er) patch. My body is scaring me because I can’t find any cause for recent episodes. One of the good things these past few years, is that I can usually pinpoint a reason for reactions and downturns. Even after the last horrific night I suffered with apparently no reason (it was last November, during my Dad’s very short visit and I couldn’t blame it on overdoing it because I didn’t), I started spotting late the next day and–light bulb!–it was my period coming a week early (I can have terrible reactions on the day before or the first day of menstruation).

When my husband called 911 on the first day of my last period (both my MD and ND said that my body had gone into shock), it was the first time I’d had such a bad collapse with vitals bottoming out since 2010 — since before I was sick! Then, 5 days later, I got a tingly tongue and lip during IVIG and then a hive on the base of my throat. I realise it was a tiny reaction compared to what so many mast cell patients go through (a week later, a friend of mine went into full-blown anaphylaxis during her IVIG infusion and then somehow got the guts to try again the next day with the same batch –that put my experience into perspective), but the thing is, except for one small hive when I tried Xanax in 2013, I hadn’t had any hives since being in full-blown anaphylaxis 17 years ago! And that place–a hive in the suprasternal notch– was always the position for a systemic red alert, for something I ingested, as opposed to benign contact dermatitis.

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Then Saturday evening, my tongue swelled up for the first time in 7 months for no reason that I can figure out. I had tongue swelling a few times last year, but I could always explain it (dental work, sauna, vancomycin). Even more concerning, it’s still swollen now, 45 hours later and that’s very unusual. I took Benadryl the last 2 nights, squirting it onto the affected area of my tongue, as I’ve been told to do (this is also unusual for me–I am extremely judicious with Benadryl, only taking it when absolutely necessary) and the swelling still hasn’t resolved. I can’t remember another time it lasted this long — maybe, again, 17 years ago during anaphylaxis.

Then yesterday afternoon, I was hit with vertigo after spending too much time on my feet, preparing food. Vertigo is rare for me and is a big red flag. It’s very different from dizziness and I don’t think it has anything to do with blood pressure. I went to bed for a while, hoping it would resolve, but, when I got up, I was still slamming into walls, as if I were walking the hallway on a lurching boat. The last 2 times I experienced vertigo were 5 months ago during–shocker–my period and a year ago on the morning we were leaving for California, after killing myself the day before to finish packing. I thought it might be something to do with my neck, which always has issues, so I used heat, then my cervical traction device, then an ice pack. I think it helped; the vertigo had mostly abated by the time I went to bed.

But…

A few hours after I went to sleep, I woke up with horrible shakes and chills and drenching sweats. My BP was low (but low-normal for me: 80/50), HR was a little high, temperature was 96 degrees, and O2 was 95%. It was 7 terrible hours that felt viral, like when I first got sick, but was probably mast cells, what with the swollen tongue and all. I finally got up to do that thing that other chronically ill people might understand: put on clothes in case I had to go to the hospital. On a normal day, I might sit around in my dressing gown with unbrushed hair all day, but when there could be a chance I’m going to the hospital, I try to make sure I’m not naked. I also make sure I’m not wearing anything I care about — I’ve lost clothes in the hospital before.

Strangely, I had almost an identical episode on this exact day last year. Here’s a screenshot from my calendar:

Screenshot 2019-03-04 at 12

After the most stable autumn and winter I’ve had since being sick, this downturn–this piling on of relatively rare, red-flag symptoms–scares me. My sleep has gone to hell in the last few weeks, which compounds everything by stealing energy and increasing pain. Plus, I’m exacerbating things by holding tight to my “best winter yet” narrative and by fighting so hard to maintain the level of functioning I’ve had this past year, rather than pulling way back and resting aggressively.

My ND says the naturopathic philosophy is that you will go back through previous stages of health and experience earlier symptoms as you travel the healing journey back to where you once were. I’ve latched onto this theory to anchor myself and dispel some fear. The resurgence of all these old symptoms means there has been a shift in my system — but maybe it’s a positive shift, even though it doesn’t feel that way. I’ve gained weight since starting IVIG, over 8% of my norm, which is not insignificant, especially on someone as small as I am. I’m at my heaviest since being sick and, although I’m not overweight, I’ve lost muscle tone the last 7 years and I don’t have the physical ability to burn fat and build muscle, so I hope this trajectory doesn’t continue. My doctor thought this, also, pointed towards a shift in my body: maybe I’ve started absorbing nutrients better. Acne is coming back a little, too. Maybe my hair will grow back! Or the next thing will be that I’ll catch a cold for the first time in 8 years… (And because I really don’t want this to happen, no matter what it might indicate about a calming immune system: knock on wood, toba, toba, spit over shoulder: patuey.)

But, as I lie here, shaky, with my swollen tongue, chronicling these last few weeks (minus the osteoporosis diagnosis and extremely elevated post-antibiotics SIBO test results, both of which I’ll have to write about at a different time), none of it feels like a positive shift and I worry about what I should eat so as not to add to mast cell reactivity and whether I should stay in bed and lie still, even though longed-for Seattle sun is streaming through the windows and I’d love to make some breakfast and sit at my table watching Riley lounge in the grass, soaking up the rays, and the hummingbirds diving around our feeders.

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.

DIETS Part II: compounded eliminations and low-histamine hell. I mean help. :)

It’s 8am and I’ve already been awake for 3 hours. I’m sick and unemployed, I should be sleeping ten hours a night. I should be sleeping late and luxuriating in the fact that I no longer have an alarm clock going off, a company to oversee, and bosses to answer to (… and bosses to whom to answer). My brain should be able to shut down and heal. It’s February, for fuck’s sake. Time to hibernate. I’ve been missing exciting life and getting absolutely nothing done for 17+ months now ~ why does my brain feel like it has to be on high alert ALL. THE. TIME?

Throughout the day, I’m a dizzy zombie, unable to accomplish anything, but my mind is weakly turning over like the Little Engine that Could trying to get up that hill: What do I need at the store? What could be causing my forehead rash? What will I eat for dinner? Will I try a sleep drug tonight? And then the night rolls around and that little engine reaches the top of the hill and starts to fly down the other side: HOW DO WE NOT END UP DESTITUTE? HOW CAN I MAKE MONEY? I NEED AN M.E. DOCTOR! WE NEED TO MOVE!

So, it feels like ~ and I think it’s the reality ~ I never deeply sleep and I never truly awaken. I am existing in a netherworld, a slightly off-center plane of existence where everything is blurry and too bright, where everything is too loud, but also muffled under ear-ringing… a place where you try to do something month after month, but, during the day, it’s too much energy and, at night, it’s too… sepulchral.

Case in point: I honestly thought it had been about one month since I wrote my diet post, but I see it has been more than three months. That’s a quarter of a year. Three months from now, I will be 41 and it’ll have been a year since I wrote “birthday present thank you cards” on my to-do list (they’re still on the list). Actually, three months from now it will be exactly 5/19 (in American date writing) and those closest to me know that that number means something (what, exactly, I don’t know. One day I’ll write a post about my weirdness with numbers).

raspberry pop tarts

raspberry pop tarts

Today, I woke up starving. It’s now 11:30am and I have already eaten a raspberry “pop tart” (click above image for recipe), some apple, a beef breakfast burger with acorn squash and coconut cream, and a mug of bone broth with sauteed kale, asparagus and parsley.

To continue the saga of how I got to this strange way of eating: When we last discussed food, I had just started a strict low-histamine diet. Before ME, my crazy heath history included idiopathic anaphylaxis, autoimmune urticaria and angioedema, flushing, vasovagal syncope/shock, and a slew of other things that could be caused by histamine intolerance and/or a mast cell disorder, such as medication reactions, dysmenorrhea, osteopenia, headaches, tinnitus etc. I thought if I were very strict with the diet, I’d be able to quickly tell whether or not it would make me feel better. I poured over online histamine lists for weeks. Information is very conflicting because histamine levels fluctuate based on where the food was grown, when it was harvested or slaughtered and how long it has been in storage. Also, if you listened to the interview with Dr. Joneja, you know that histamine is a very important neurotransmitter in your body, but it can build up over a period of time and, if your bucket is overflowing, you will have a reaction. In other words, the salmon with lemon on Monday may not do any harm and neither might the wine and chocolate on Tuesday, but the eggplant on Wednesday might just put you over the edge and you have flushing, a migraine, hives. Or worse, anaphylactic shock. It is a process of trial and error for everyone attempting this diet. You have to figure out what affects your body.

The two best histamine food lists I found were Dr. Joneja’s and this one out of Switzerland, which shows histamine liberators and DAO inhibitors (more on this later) as well as foods that are naturally high in histamines. If you are as insane as I am, you can look at the strictest list possible, which I compiled from the two linked lists as well as about five others. My list is so short because I wanted to know the foods that everyone agrees are probably safe.

I ate strictly low-histamine foods for about month and, let me tell you, it was far more difficult than all the other diet modifications put together. Even a loose attempt at low-histamine is a slice of hell. The dilemma in which I found myself was that I kept adding elimination on top of elimination. So, over the course of 20 months, I had eliminated gluten, tomatoes, eggs, and strawberries; then dairy, legumes, all grains but oats, nightshades, and most processed food; then soy, citrus, pork, red meat, lunch meat, shellfish, condiments, maple syrup, and honey. I added a few things back (rice, red meat, honey), but everything else stayed out. Once you adapt to certain meal staples, it is difficult to change ~ especially when someone else is shopping and cooking for you. And then, on top of these, I went low-histamine. I stopped eating most herbs and spices, spinach, avocados, sweet potato, chard, all vinegar, all fruit except apples and pears, all fermented foods, leftover foods, all fish, chicken… and red meat was out again. It was these last few that set me up for the fall. Having no leftovers in the fridge left me scrambling to find things to eat. I hadn’t figured out how to buy the freshest meat or the process of cooking and freezing to ensure I had meals on hand. I hadn’t figured out how to get enough protein when I wasn’t eating dairy, legumes and most meats. I decided not to give up nuts and seeds, which are avoided on the strictest histamine lists, because they were providing the vast majority of my protein. Still, they weren’t enough and my blood sugar started crashing daily, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes in the 40s and 50s.

If anyone has experienced severe hypoglycemia, you know how scary it can be. Suddenly I didn’t care about any other symptoms, I just needed my sugar to stablise. Mainly veg does not work for my body. And so my husband became the Fresh Meat Scavenger and I became the Great Meat Eater.

To be continued (sooner than three months from now) with honourable mention to ketogenic, alkaline, low-salicylate, migraine, mold, AIP, and low-sulfur/thiol diets…

IV saline experiment… causes angioedema and histamine release.

I had a total meltdown yesterday. As my throat grew more swollen and I grew more alarmed, I finally put it together that I was experiencing an acute angioedema episode. I didn’t recognise what was going on because I usually get a swollen tongue and lips. On Friday, I chalked the edema up to fluid retention from the saline. The spot deep in my throat under my jaw that I mentioned in my last post always itches when I am having an allergic reaction – it’s the canary in the coalmine of my body – but I don’t pay attention to it as closely as I should. This was a slow cooking reaction: laboured breathing and swollen eyes, fingers and sinuses (stuffy nose) on Friday evening, itchy throat spot and heart skipping/arrhythmia started Saturday (both continue today, Tuesday), flushing/extreme overheating on Sunday, and throat closing on Monday, coupled with what felt like body edema – swollen bowel, abdomen, muscles…

Now I know throat closing/laryngeal swelling calls for me to use my Epipen, but, like I said, I didn’t cop on to what was happening until late in the game. Also, I would really have to be on death’s door to voluntarily inject myself with epinephrine. But I was very, very scared. Hence, the meltdown. I actually said to my husband, “Why can’t I just have a peanut allergy – something I can try to avoid?” I actually said, “Why can’t I JUST have M.E.?!” I don’t say those words lightly and, of course, if I could barter away my illnesses, ME would be the first one to go, but it is terrifying to feel like you have no control over anything and living with the threat of a fatal allergic reaction that can’t be identified is the ultimate loss of control.

I’m too tired to explain thoroughly and scientifically, but, basically, angioedema is the same mechanism in the body as urticaria, only in deeper tissues. If it happens in the tongue and throat and lungs, it can kill you. Often, as in my case, there are no identifiable triggers, so you just deal with it when it happens and hope it isn’t serious. It can present with urticaria or without and it can be as severe as anaphylaxis or very mild. If you want to learn more, Medscape has a very comprehensive set of articles (many tabs at the top with many pages per tab- just click on the next page at the bottom and you will go through them all). All of the better information on these types of conditions is relatively new. When I was diagnosed with idiopathic anaphylaxis 12 years ago, blood tests turned up no allergies, so the doctors washed their hands of me. That was it. When I suggested alcohol as a possible culprit, the doctor was disdainful and dismissive. When I mentioned that most times this happened was during my menstrual cycle, I was ignored. Here’s an Epipen, go away. Nobody knew about mast cell activation or histamine intolerance. And, of course, I was right! With my limited knowledge at the time of all things medical, I came up with the common denominators that made sense: booze, period, ibuprofen.

For an excellent article read this:
“The ingestion of histamine-rich food or of alcohol or drugs that release histamine or block DAO may provoke diarrhea, headache, rhinoconjunctival symptoms, asthma, hypotension, arrhythmia, urticaria, pruritus, flushing, and other conditions in patients with histamine intolerance.”

A few years ago, when I was diagnosed with autoimmune urticaria and angioedema and the doctor warned me (2 years too late) that people with this condition are more likely to have autoimmune thyroid disease, I asked him why the doctors years ago hadn’t looked into this autoimmune component. He said it was unknown then. He said it was something that only recently came to light. The only other thing he suggested was prophylactic treatment with Zyrtec, which I half-heartedly tried for a few months. No mention of H2 antihistamines or mast cell stabilizers. No mention of H3 or H4 or diamine oxidase. No discussion of mast cell activation, mastocytosis, histamine intolerance, low-histamine diet or any tests – whether reliable or not. No interest in looking into acquired angioedema, bradykinin-mediated angioedema or estrogen-dependent angioedema, all of which don’t respond to antihistamines. So, all of us – the patients – are scrambling along the edges of science. I feel like a surfer on an excruciatingly slow-moving wave. I come up with theories and do my own research and I see it mirrored in others’ blogs, but no doctors are accessible to help and no tests are robust enough to firmly diagnose.

For an excellent summary from another ME-afflicted blogger with mast cell problems (as well as EDS), read Jak’s blog: Mast Cells & Collagen Behaving Badly.

Which brings me back to my meltdown. For the most part it was a silent, immobile and tearless meltdown. I was simply frozen with fear. Saline probably caused a massive histamine release – right in the middle of my low-histamine diet experiment. I brought this situation on myself by requesting the saline. I had a reaction to an innocuous substance that is used to treat allergic reactions! Just like I had reactions to the antihistamines that are used to treat allergic reactions.

I can’t live with ME and angioedema and histamine/mast cell issues and sleep apnea and thyroid disease and crippling periods and a headache that never goes away and reactions to so many drugs!!

Fear of my throat closing more while I slept, fear of sleeping without my CPAP, fear of being woken up constantly by my CPAP, fear of taking an antihistamine, fear of not taking an antihistamine, fear of eating things that cause inflammation or histamine release, fear of losing more weight, fear of being on the pill, fear of having to weather my periods off the pill, fear of living the rest of my life in pain, fear of being in so much pain I have no choice but to take painkillers. What if I break a bone? What if I’m in a car accident? And then, swiftly on the heals of that thought, the fear that sent me into a tailspin: What if I have to go to the hospital? IV saline… IV painkillers… IV Benadryl… Contrast dye… Anesthesia… Surgery… What do I do when I’m older and I can’t avoid some procedure? When I break an already-osteoarthritic hip? What do I do if my body reacts to everything? I’m dead.

Fear of dying. Fear of living in this fear.

My answer to all of it was to throw caution to the wind and eat a bunch of forbidden histamine foods.

This is a perfect segue into part II of my diet post. I realise you are all on tenterhooks waiting to read it, but not yet, not yet.

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The most recent article describing IA (idiopathic anaphylaxis), written by Karen Hsu Blatman and Leslie C. Grammer, explains the distinction this way:

Patients with IA-A experience urticaria or angioedema with upper airway compromise such as laryngeal edema, severe pharyngeal edema or massive tongue swelling without other signs of systemic anaphylaxis. Patients with IA-G suffer from urticaria or angioedema with bronchospasm, hypotension, syncope, or gastrointestinal symptoms with or without upper airway compromise. Reference.

Cold War

I’m tempting fate talking about this, but it has been exactly two years since I have had bronchitis and/or a cold (they usually went together for me). I would say, in my old life, on average, I used to get a cold about once a year. I never paid much attention, though. As I’ve said before, it was never a big deal to get a cold and most restaurant employees would have to be on death’s door to miss a shift. I would joke that I might faint or go into anaphylactic shock or grow thyroid goiters, but I wouldn’t catch a cold.

Once I got sick with ME/CFS, I went through my medical records with a fine-toothed comb, hoping to find some clue to solve the mystery of my illness ~ that’s why I know the exact dates of my last cold. I had returned from Ireland a few weeks before (I think now, will that be the last time I am there?) and made an appointment with an allergist to ask about my eye and tongue swelling which had been going on during my visit home, plus a bad episode of pre-syncope. He had diagnosed me with autoimmune angioedema and urticaria by injecting my own plasma under my skin and watching a HUGE welt emerge. Great, I love being allergic to my own blood.

I then worked 11 days in a row and, as the weekend arrived, the bronchitis hit. It lasted two weeks and, although I finally went to the doctor, I didn’t take the antibiotics or steroids she gave me and I didn’t take any days off work. My father visited over the weekend that the infection was tapering off ~ we had a lovely time ~ and then I worked a few more weeks before flying to Virginia and getting sick with viral gastroenteritis that landed me in the ER, getting fluids. A few months later, the flu shot triggered this new life. No wonder that vaccination was the straw to break my immune system’s back! This is the message I want to get out: PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BODY! HEED THE WARNINGS!

Anyway, there are very thin, very pale silver linings to my situation and I search for them daily, in an endless quest for gratitude and acceptance. This week I think, Two whole years without a cough or congestion or phlegm or wheezing! I try not to think, Yeah, but who cares when I’ve had endless flu for 21 of those months? I would prefer to be sick with bronchitis every day of the year than live with a disease that does not allow you TO EXPEND ENERGY. But I don’t go there. I know one day I will have to contend with a cold on top of ME and, until that day comes, I am going to be very, very grateful that my lungs and nasal cavities are clear.