May Update

Let’s see, what’s been going on in my life? Well, April was the best month I have had in about six months. I have been walking 1000 to 1500 steps a day instead of the 500 average in December. I have been out of bed for about 9 hours a day instead of the 5 that it was for so long. I’m still housebound, but I’ve been in the garden and tried driving myself to nearby appointments. Best of all, I’ve been upbeat. Just like that… I get some space from the crippling symptoms and my mood brightens and the future seems oh so hopeful.

I’ve been on Prednisone for three weeks now (my feeling better started about two or three weeks before, so I can’t credit Prednisone). As much as I don’t want to be on it, every doctor I see has encouraged me to give it a try for diagnostic purposes. It’s only 5mg, but it was still rough in the beginning. I wasn’t sleeping well and I was grouchy and hungry. Those side effects seem to have abated, but I have others that continue: more facial hair growth (which would be great if it were my eyebrows and eyelashes) (but it’s not), swollen, hot hands and feet and constipation. The latter is the biggest problem. I feel like my bowel is inflamed, swollen and stagnant, which is the opposite of what I would think steroids would do. On the plus side, my skin is much, much better (although I was warned about the Prednisone-withdrawal acne flares by my dermatologist) and my joints seem to be bothering me less in the night (specifically, my shoulders and hips. They still crack and pop constantly, but they’re not as sore).

I saw my first naturopath. Some of you, I’m sure, will roll your eyes and some of you will wonder WTF took me so long! I am in the best place possible to visit excellent NDs because Bastyr University is right up the road, but I’ve held out because my faith has always sat solidly with allopathic doctors and western medicine. But, now, I’ve lost all faith. I told her that, too. I told her I am conflicted: On the one hand, I applied, got in and intended to attend Bastyr. I have researched it and I know the training they give and the scope of treatments NDs employ… And, on the other hand, for reasons I cannot quite understand, I want some big machine to find the problem inside me and some specialist to prescribe a drug that will make it all better and I can go on living. I know better! I know that what happened to me was the perfect storm of genetics, upbringing, lifestyle choices, viral exposure, toxin burden, detox pathway blockage, immune system malfunction, nervous system blitz etc. I know that I need full-body, whole-life help, so I’m not sure why it took me 40 healthcare practitioners to finally see an ND.

Well, let me tell you, I left in tears of gratitude. I needed someone to replace the Good Doctor and now I have the Better Doctor. She spent 3 hours with me. What?! Who does that? She took my history from womb to present. She addressed everything. She had ideas to support my system from all angles: endocrine, digestion, liver, adrenals, nutrients, lymph, circulation and on and on. She said, “Email me any time and, if you are scared or freaking out about a symptom or side effect, call me.” Who does that? She said she wanted to come with me to my endocrinology follow-up to hear what the doctor had to say from the horse’s mouth. No cost. Who does THAT?!

She wants me to try some things that I would normally scoff at, such as castor oil over my liver and high-dose vitamin C, but, what I keep reminding myself is: a multi-vitamin gave you the worst side effects you’ve ever experienced . Your weird pressure-point-restore-circulation physical therapy is the only thing that has helped. So, I’m open to anything. She wants me to come in every week for hydrotherapy. I’m not sure what this involves yet. I’ll let you know.

The clinic gave me a huge discount on the visit and supplements because I have no income and it’s located about 5 minutes from my house, which means I can drive myself on good days. All in all, I’m excited. But, I have a history of being excited by first appointments and disappointed in the long run, so it’s a cautious optimism.

I finally managed to apply for disability. My “rehab counselor” (aka shrink) gave me the name of a lawyer and that’s all I needed because I couldn’t manage to get going on my own. I never spoke to the lawyer, only her assistant who told me what info they needed. I spent a few weeks creating a spreadsheet of all the doctors I have seen, clinic addresses, tests ordered, drugs prescribed and, when the phone appointment happened, she didn’t need anything else (thank god because talking is still so difficult). The hardest part was I got a letter from the lawyer saying they will submit the info, it will take 6 to 8 months for a decision. It will probably be denied and they will file an appeal and if I don’t hear from them for a year or two, don’t be alarmed. I knew this was the case, but it was demoralizing to see it in print. If I had managed to apply or find a lawyer when I left work two years ago (how the hell has it been two years?!? LIFE IS SLIPPING BY!), I’d already be at the appeal court date by now.

That’s about it for now. I’m very busy this month: a teeth cleaning, a new dentist for a new oral appliance for sleep apnea (and it all starts over from the beginning) and follow-ups with my GP, rheumatologist, nutritionist and dermatologist, plus the hydrotherapy and mental therapy appointments… Exhausting.

It’s chilly again here and one of my dogs broke his toe chasing squirrels, so we’re all stuck back in the house being lumps on logs. I did manage to make it to the cemetery on my mobility scooter on that last hot day (thank you, husband, for making that happen). It was glorious.

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April Memorial

Here’s what I want to memorialize today: My head is heavy and cloudy, but I don’t have a headache. My neck is stiff, but not sore. My muscles are weak, but they don’t hurt. My throat – this throat that has felt as if I have strep every day for a year, maybe two – is not sore and has not bothered me in a while. My mood is miraculously light. I may grimace, I may be grumpy and curse this wretched illness, but I haven’t felt sad or despairing in a long time. My period this month came as a quiet, rolly-polly visitor. It shifted and moved around some, as if trying to get comfortable, but didn’t bother me too much.

I worked on the computer today for a few hours, gathering info on doctors, clinics and tests, readying myself for the eventual disability application. I then stood in the kitchen for a while, washing and chopping vegetables and preparing some food. I was dizzy and slurry and weak, but, after lying down to meditate for a while, I was able to go the cemetery on my mobility scooter with the dogs and hubby.

Don’t get me wrong, my vision is still blurry, tinnitus is deafening, hair is falling out, voice is weak, energy is preternaturally low, and nighttimes are torturous battles with my ever-present sleep spectre… But. I’m getting stronger.

I waited a week to post this to see if I jinxed myself and the chronic illness gods would strike me down… I have taken a downturn in the last few days, but I still feel like a different person than I was over Christmas, so I’m posting it. Publicly proclaiming to all and sundry: there might, after all, be life after lifelessness. Universe, please don’t let this slip away.

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Emboldened and Emblazoned

Emboldened by my moderately successful drive to the nutritionist, I decided I could drive myself to the sleep doctor’s office on Monday, which is only a little bit farther away. I was there for the hundredth time to fit my oral appliance for sleep apnea. It has now been a year-long debacle and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to find a completely different brand and a completely different dentist and start over. That also means it will cost me $850+ instead of the $0 that the current device was going to be because the clinic wrote off the cost to me after the first three mess-ups.

I brought a thank you card and some fancy chocolate to the orthodontist because, the last time she saw me, I was literally being carried out of the office by my husband, unable to speak and having a total body meltdown, after being there 2.5 hours. It was mortifying, and she’s always been considerate of my illness and empathetic, so I wanted to thank her for following through. She burst into tears. And I mean burst. She didn’t just tear up, she started crying so hard, she couldn’t speak. That made me wish I’d given her a far nicer gift. She said (when she regained composure) that it meant so much and she knew how hard it had been on me and I’d stayed nice throughout the process… It’s true, I did stay nice because I love my sleep doctor and, really, it’s a bad product, not a bad clinic, but they wrote off the cost because I made it clear to the clinic manager that that was the appropriate thing to do. I also made it clear, in writing, that the problem was not with me and had nothing to do with my illness or my anatomy. And I’ve started the conversation about getting help with the preauthorisation for some different type of device from a different clinic. I don’t think it’ll work, but I’m politely yet firmly letting them know that this was their problem and I shouldn’t have to pay full price for another mold to be made. But let the orthodontist think I am all peaches and cream. 🙂

Anyway, on Monday I was going back for a final fitting and it was 1.5 hours again of putting the thing in my mouth, grinding down the pressure points, spraying awful green chemical crap in the mouth piece, putting it in, clenching my jaw, pointing out where it’s hitting my teeth… on and on, over and over… That process takes so much out of me and hurts my neck and my jaw and rips up my lips. Plus, I had a horrible hypoglycemic episode and had to eat red dye #2 glucose tablets. Ugh.

When we were done, I couldn’t drive home – the world was spinning and my ears were screaming and my vision was blurry. I called my husband for rescue. He and his friend that he works with came to collect me and the car, god love them. I lay down on the concrete slab outside the clinic to rest while I waited. A 40-year old kicked back on the concrete in front of a sleep clinic in a sort of urban strip mall didn’t seem quite as acceptable as a similar sight when I was 20, lying on the concrete steps of a university building, writing poetry, feeling beatnik. But, oh well. I’ve laid down on restaurant floors and airplane aisles; I have no more qualms.

The sunny silver lining was: it was summer that day. One day of crazy heat. I took off my big duffle coat and then my sweatshirt and then my scarf and then my long-sleeved shirt and, by the time my husband arrived, I was in a tank top, baking myself, in deep meditation.

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The other great things from this week:
A long visit with Z. and sweet baby Aja (who is not such a baby anymore!).

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Baby Aja hanging with the Little Guy. 🙂

And I made it to the cemetery on my mobility scooter for a 40-minute “walk”, with beautiful spring coming to life everywhere I looked.

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I won’t suffer for this day.

I wake up and get straight out of bed without spending two hours “gathering my strength”. I lift my shower chair into position, lower the shower head and wash, condition and rinse my hair. This is something I manage to do about once a week on a day with no other obligations, but today I got a last minute appointment with my nutritionist. I don’t rest after my shower as I normally do- I towel off, pull on my compression stockings, put on jeans, boots and a sweater. I wash my face, brush my teeth and sit on the toilet to dry my hair, resting my elbows on my knees and hanging my head low. My husband usually helps me with this, but he is at work. I clip on my pedometer, strap on my heart rate monitor, drink a glass of salt water and make tea in a to-go cup. I move deliberately, like a sloth, conserving energy in every moment. I lock the back door, make sure I have my blood sugar tester and glucose tablets, scoop up my binder of test results and go out the front door, pulling it and locking it behind me, while juggling the folder, my bag and tea. I make a point not to say goodbye to my dogs, which I normally do. I am tallying every exertion — stiff door, weighty purse — since I don’t have my husband’s help and don’t want to needlessly lean, reach or speak.

I walk slowly to my car, get carefully in and raise the seat at a snail’s pace with the manual pump handle that always cranks up my pulse. And I drive to the clinic — the first time I have driven in about 6 months. I breathe rhythmically, hold the steering wheel lightly, casually turn the corners as if this is no big deal.

I remember myself as I used to be, hopping in and out of my car all the time, driving with confidence and speed all over the city. Multitasking, running errands, getting things done without a thought. Being housebound does strange things to your brain. The first thing I thought when I got into my car was, Will I be living in here one day? Could we trade it for something bigger? I turn off the radio so no extra energy goes to processing auditory signals than is absolutely necessary. The world going by is foreign and in stark relief. I notice everything; things that meant nothing now mean something. That fence is beautiful. Those people can afford a boat. I used to run with Bowie down that path. That person is strong enough to lift their kid. Their smiles are radiant.

I drive past the cemetery and first wonder if that’s where I’ll be buried and then see the cherry blossoms and want to pull over to drink them in a little longer. I drive past the hospital and make a mental note about how long it took to get there and feel confident that I could drive myself, if needed. I look at the people in the cars beside me and can’t believe that they are probably not thinking about how miraculous it is to have freedom and independence. Everything seems to represent our precarious position in this glorious life: nothing is important, but, also, nothing can be taken for granted.

I get to the clinic early so I can wait for the closest disabled parking spot to vacate. The last spot, six cars down, is open but I can’t fathom walking that far. I think about my rushed morning, my shower, the drive… I think about my appointment, the drive home, having to get undressed… six car lengths is a million miles. I wait for the first one to open up.

There are five stairs up to the clinic and I have to go through two sets of doors. Neither of them automatically open with a disabled button. They’re heavy doors. I hold the first one open for a man with a cane, he zooms by me quicker than I could ever move. Inside, I put all my things down on a chair before checking in at the reception desk — standing while holding that weight is not an option. My nutritionist’s office is in the furthest northwest corner of the building; we stroll slowly, she asks me if she can carry anything and I answer, “it would be more energy for me to raise my arm and hand you my purse or binder than to just keep them down at my side.”

We talk for over an hour. At one stage, I get very dizzy and my vision blurs out, I think I’ll have to abort our meeting, lie on her floor, call my husband … but adrenalin kicks in and I push through it. The shuffle back to the exit doesn’t feel as long — I’m not winded from stairs this time. As I walk by the front desk, the receptionist asks if I need to make another appointment and I wish she hadn’t noticed me so I don’t have to speak again. I stop and say, “I’ll call from home so I can look at my…” I can’t find the word for calendar. As I stand there, scouring my mind, an elderly woman with a 3-wheeled walking frame motors by me and flings open the door, thrusting out a hip to keep it open while she exits. I get distracted thinking about how I would give anything to trade this illness for another. Hobble me, but give me the ability to throw open a door. I want to barter my body: I’ll give you an arm if you’ll give me energy. I’ll give an arm, both legs and my hearing, in return I just want my body to be able to recharge. Take half my remaining years away, just give me ATP while I’m still here.

I give up trying to find the word for calendar, shrug, smile and leave. Back in my car, I leave the disabled spot and pull around the bend and park. I recline my seat all the way back and do a mini-meditation, tell myself that the world is not spinning, my throat is not sore, my ears aren’t ringing, my head doesn’t hurt, and I can do this. I breathe and talk to my cells, encouraging them to rebuild, refuel, recover. When I get home, I’ll have to find the energy to cook myself food before I get into bed. We have some frozen broth and frozen turkey, it’ll be easy. I’ll need to write down everything that my nutritionist said so I don’t forget; I want to share it with my low-histamine Facebook group. I envision exactly what I’ll do, watch myself standing in the kitchen with a low heart rate, eyes focused and clear head. You are strong, you won’t suffer for this day. The universe will carry you through and there won’t be retribution. You deserve a victory.

I sit up, push in the tough clutch and drive home.

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“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience. ” — Woodrow Wilson.

Photo update because I don’t have the energy to write a word update and I’ve been snapping random pictures for the last month and thought I would share. :)

I’m still having a hard time finding the energy to write a post. I’m doing okay- it’s mostly because I am feverishly researching all the things my doctors want me to add to my arsenal (methylfolate, methylB12, carnitine, Zyrtec, Zantac, Cromolyn, Baclofen, Valium, Prednisone, Medibulk), as well as what I want to add (CoQ10, D-ribose, bread, cheese, Toblerones :-)).

So, my precious few computer hours are used up on research, emails, doctors, insurance, bills, and more research.

But, if you would so indulge me, I can post some photos of the things going on in my life (of course, with my fun anonymizing effects).

Visitors!

A visit from Baby A. and her Mama….

… my friend, Z.! (and that’s my “little” dog)
This photo was a BIG DEAL: I put on jeans and boots (my first flat pair of boots EVER) for the first time in 17 months. Literally. I have only worn leggings/yoga pants and Uggs/runners every day for 17 months.
Of course, as soon as Z. left, I went back to my PJs, but it’s the effort that counts!

A visit from my mother AND brother!

A visit from my mother AND brother!
Yes, I am standing up and smiling and tolerating photos! Amazing.

Winter Wonderland!

A rare few inches of snow.

A rare few inches of snow.

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FOOD!

Egg challenge. It didn't go so well.

Egg challenge. It didn’t go so well.

Plantain crackers: click image for recipe.

Plantain crackers: click image for recipe.

Grass-fed organic lamb shepherd's pie with cauliflower-sweet potato mash: click image for recipe.

Grass-fed organic lamb shepherd’s pie with cauliflower-sweet potato mash: click image for recipe.

Spice blends from Practical Paleo: click image for link to book.

Spice blends from Practical Paleo: click image for link to book.

An incredible batch of granola for Z. that I couldn't taste because I'm not eating oats at the moment.

An incredible batch of granola for Z. that I couldn’t taste because I’m not eating oats at the moment.

My husband makes me meals and freezes them, like this beef stew. <3

My husband makes me meals and freezes them, like this beef stew. ❤

Breakfast: butternut squash, asparagus and grass-fed beef hash, with a side of apple sauce.

Breakfast: butternut squash, asparagus and grass-fed beef hash, with a side of apple sauce.

A bit of craic, sure.

A bit of craic, sure

Animals? 🙂

Anna's hummingbird outside my window.

Anna’s hummingbird outside my window.

Bowie in the cemetery last month (I haven't been able to leave the house in the last 5 weeks, but I hope to get a February cemetery visit in a few weeks)

Bowie in the cemetery last month (I haven’t been able to leave the house in the last 5 weeks, but I hope to get a February cemetery visit in a few weeks)

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The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl! But Bowie was not a fan of the celebratory fireworks and backed himself into my lap in fear. 😦

Morning spooning.

Morning spooning.