Treatment Update

Today (actually last Thursday, it took me a while to write this), I had my follow-up appointment with Dr. Kim to go over the gaggle of blood tests I had done in March. There is a lot that I am adding into my regimen, so I wanted to document it all asap before I forget everything she said.

We’re going to try hyperbaric oxygen therapy! I said it as a joke as we walked past the room with the claustrophobia chamber: “When do I get to dive?” And she thought it was actually a good idea. So, I’m going to start with a very short time (10-15 minutes) and work up to 60 minutes “at depth”, with supplemental oxygen, once a week. This is out-of-pocket, of course, and pricey at $150-$175 per 60-minute session, so I’ll try a few and see how I do.

I am starting a slow treatment for candida with Nystatin, Diflucan and Thorne SF722. Here’s the protocol:
*Nystatin on Mondays and 2 capsules a day of Thorne SF722 Tuesday through Sunday for 3 weeks.
*Then the same thing with Diflucan on Mondays for 3 weeks.
*Then Nysatin Mondays, Diflucan Thursdays and 2 SF722s on the other days for 2 months.
She didn’t mention diet and I didn’t bring it up. Yippee!

I’m increasing oral progesterone to 100mg/day (I’m at 25mg now), staying at 25mg of oral pregnenolone (uh oh, I just realised while adding this link that I’ve been swallowing my pregnenolone whole, not realising it’s sublingual… grreeaaat 😝) and changing from topical DHEA to 25mg oral.

My sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) is high, which she said functionally lowers hormone levels. I’m going to start nettle root capsules (work up to 300mg twice a day) to bring SHBG down (not to be confused with nettle leaf, which I drink in tea every day).

I’m not anemic, but my iron is low. She wants me to add Floridix, but after reviewing the ingredients, I may just do a generic ferrous gluconate supplement for 6 months.

For sleep:
*5HTP, 75-150 mg at night (this was recommended by a friend–thank you, M–and Dr. Kim thought it was worth a shot). She says it may even interact with the 5HT4 receptors in my GI tract and help motility. 30-50 mg P5P (active vitamin B6) should be taken with 5HTP.
*Dr. Yasko recommended I get my lithium tested (she answered a quick question on Facebook, I’m not working with her) and Dr. Kim thought I could try supplementing a 20-40 mg per day without a test and see if it helps.
*Belsomra, a prescription sleep medication given to me by my sleep doctor, is still sitting on my shelf a year later and I intend to take a small nibble one of these days. It doesn’t interact with 5HTP, so I can try all the things.

For constipation, I am going to try MotilPro (work up to 3 capsules morning and noon) and a bit of iodine in the form of potassium iodide (5-20 mg 4 times per week).

She said my vitamin D at 40.4 ng/mL is actually fine and I should continue taking 4,000iu/day (I take Thorne liquid D3+K2). She bases this on my calcitriol (vitamin D 1,25) number, which is good at 48.2pg/mL, right in the middle of the range.

She’s not worried about my high cholesterol or LDL at all, so I’m going to shake off my concern about that and trust her.

She said not to worry about an Igenex lyme test or my positive bartonella test for now. She is going to treat my high mycoplasma pneumoniae eventually and she said that treatment is similar to what she’d do for tick-borne infections. I have to say, I kind of like that a reputable LLND isn’t jumping straight into Lyme testing and treatment. She’s definitely not a one-trick pony.

I’ll start antimicrobials for M. pneumoniae, CMV, HHV6 and EBV later this year when my body is stronger. She thinks it will most likely take at least 2 years to get those blood tests into the normal ranges (to the point where my immune system isn’t mounting a response against reactivated infections).

Other supplements* and prescriptions I currently take, many sporadically:

MitoCore
CoQ10/ubiquinol
Humic Acid
Thorne Trace Minerals
Thorne Riboflavin-5-phosphate
Thorne Niacel
Thorne vitamin D3+K2
Thorne B complex #6
Magnesium malate
Magnesium glycinate
Jigsaw magnesium
Potassium gluconate
Biotin
Thiamin
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
Wormwood
HCL + gentian + pepsin
Enzymedica Digest Basic
Enzymedica Digest Spectrum
Charcoal
Levothyroxine (100mcg/day)
Liothyronine (15mcg twice/day)
Prednisone (3mg), Benadryl (25mg), Zantac (10mg), fluids (sodium chloride 0.9%, 1 liter) and Gamunex-C (5g) during infusions.

*By the way, all the supplement links here are for Pure Formulas (and all brands are gluten-free, soy-free and well-regarded). I am not affiliated with them in any way and I can’t get kick-backs if you buy something from these links like lots of bloggers that make money that way (although, maybe I should look into that!). I’ve just done a lot of research and they are consistently the best for me. If you decide to order from them and you want to be a kind and selfless friend, you can use my referral code: RRKMLW or shop here. Once you complete an order (without using any of your own reward points), I get a $10 credit. 😀 I like Pure Formulas because a) free shipping with no minimum; b) 2-day shipping always if you have ShopRunner, which I do through my AmEx; c) you earn cash credits for your orders; d) you can return products you have problems with, even if opened; and e) I have contacted many supplement manufacturers to ask about recommended online retailers (because I’ve read some scary articles about knock-off supplements on Amazon) and almost all of them have told me Pure Formulas is reputable. Last thought: if you comment below with your Pure Formulas referral code I will use one whenever I order (which is often).

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I can’t even.

I’m in a bad headspace. Feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, like I just need to give up. I know what sparked it. I got a bunch of blood tests done — things I haven’t had tested in 1 to 3 years — and they’re all still a mess. I’m still a mess. I haven’t made any headway in years. I just feel defeated. There are so many things my body is fighting and either I’m not helping or nothing I do helps. But mainly I feel useless and inept because I can’t manage to research something thoroughly, plan an attack and implement it. I can’t commit to anything because I have no faith that anything will work. So many pills. So much money. So much effort. So much information to process. So many competing theories. So much time scrambling in one place, getting nowhere. I do nothing but read how to help myself — hours everyday for years — and I just wind up feeling like I’m drowning more and more because there is too much.

I can’t seem to manage a methylation protocol, or a detox protocol, or brain retraining like everyone else can. Or a liver cleanse or lymph drainage or help my leaky gut or what about parasites? I can’t seem to manage any diet changes: watch out for histamine, salicylates, oxalates, sulphur, tyramine, too much/too little protein, too much/too little fiber, too many carbs, not the right kinds of fat, dairy, sugar, mycotoxins, pesticides, chlorine/lead/chloramine in water, your tupperware is plastic, your pots and pans are killing you… it never bloody ends! And why does everyone do so well with physical therapy, acupuncture, myofacial release, Bowenwork, craniosacral, reiki, feckin Feldenkrais and nothing seems to work for me? I’m thinking about NAET and muscle testing, frequency machines, homeopathy and EMF sensitivity because what if?? But I know they’re all just black holes. Everyone has a magic pill or a serious warning: Don’t sleep on foam! Don’t go in a hot tub! Your milk must be raw! Your dogs are killing you! Don’t stretch if you have EDS, don’t spend too much time lying down if you have dysautonomia, enemas are wiping out your good bacteria, you probably have Lyme–go on antibiotics, the longer you wait, the worse it is! You definitely have mold because you live in Seattle–leave your house and possessions behind and get clear! I’m so over all of it. There’s no point in giving me advice to just tackle one thing at a time because I can’t. It doesn’t work that way. Time is slipping by; I’m getting older just sitting in one spot. Everything is connected and as soon as I decide to do one thing, I read how that can tip another thing out of balance and I freeze… and wind up doing nothing. My brain does not work like it used to. This is most frustrating of all.

Imagine you’re suspended halfway up a cliff face, trying to get to the top. You’ve spent months researching the best path to take and you have some energy, you’re ready. As you start to climb, people abseil past you, screaming, “Don’t go that way! There are perils up ahead!”
Then others beside you say, “Nah, this is definitely the best way, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Then other people all around start chiming in and you listen–while clinging on to the crumbling rock for dear life–because so many have made this climb before you: “If you want to get to the top, go left.” So, you start researching that path.
“No, go right.” Better check out that option.
“It doesn’t matter which way you go if you don’t eat this meal first.” Oh shit, glad I didn’t start climbing yet.
“No, doesn’t matter what you eat or where you climb, you’re fucked if you’re not wearing the right gear.” Energy is draining out of you and the fear is creeping in.
“Don’t be silly, you just need to spend all day every day telling yourself you can get to the top and you will.”
“Nope, actually this mountain is insurmountable when you’re as weak as you are. Just hold on as long as you can and hope that you get stronger before your grip gives out.”
And… I literally can’t even.

Screenshot_2016-03-22-23-30-02-1-1

Anyway, I pretty much want to burn every book I own, cancel all my appointments, throw out all the supplements and extricate myself from every group and forum, go to bed and give up… and, if I’m truthful, it’s all sugar’s fault. I have a grade A, deep-seated, fully-in-denial addiction and my candida blood test came back twice as high as the high result from a year ago that I ignored. Or at least candida IgM did and that’s the antibody that shows active/acute infection, right? I don’t want to go on another elimination diet. I don’t want to deal with something that will apparently keep rearing its fungal head forevermore every time I eat some ice cream. I don’t want to take prescriptions for months and deal with die-off and herxing for weeks. I just don’t. Even my husband is clanging a warning bell about candida, gently encouraging me to just try to quit eating sugar temporarily and I’m like a petulant child. I hardly eat any compared to the old days! I’ve given up so much! And then I ate a bag of kettle corn while pouting. This is waaaaaaayyy harder than booze and cigarettes. Way harder than gluten, dairy, nuts or anything I’ve tried before.

So there’s that. And then there’s these:
Cholesterol and LDL are higher than they were 8 months ago.
CMV IgG, which has been negative 4 times in the past, is now high out of range.
HHV6 IgG is still high out of range.
Mycoplasma Pneumoniae IgG is higher than it was (out of range).
EBV IgG is much higher than it was (out of range).
Sex Horm Binding Glob and Estradiol are high, whatever that means.
Total IgA and one IgG subclass are low.
VItamin D and Vitamin B12 are both low.

I’ll be talking to my doctor about all this in a fortnight, stay tuned.

Doctors, Tests and Direction.

So, the MD that my husband and I have seen since 2007 has left her practice abruptly and I’m quite sad because we had a great relationship and mutual respect. She trusted me and would run tests that I requested if I had good reasons. She also knew me before I was sick and that was very important to me. She knew me when I was bouncing off the walls with energy and happy. She saw me a week before ME hit for a check up and I told her my only problem was sore muscles which I attributed to sitting at a desk after so many years walking the floors of restaurants. She witnessed the abrupt change in my abilities when all the other doctors I’ve seen have nothing to compare my current level of health to.

Now my two doctors are naturopaths: Dr. Erin and Dr. Kim. I had follow-ups with both of them in the last 10 days. Dr. Erin has put me on 25 mg of DHEA and progesterone. They’re topical, compounded only with coconut oil, nothing else. She’s hoping these will feed down both pathways to raise all the other hormones that are low.

image

And by “pathways”, I mean, instead of giving me just Pregnenolone (at the top of the “map”) and letting my body do with it what it wants, the DHEA and progesterone insure that (in theory) I’m feeding all branches of hormone production:

image

My thyroid hormones continue to be low, even though I almost doubled my dose a few months ago, so I’m changing to compounded T3 and T4. Dr. Erin doesn’t want me to try NDT (natural desiccated thyroid from pigs) because I’m so reactive right now, but she’s hoping compounded meds without the crappy gluten- and dairy-derived fillers will help me absorb the hormones better. I’m really nervous about the change because I’ve taken the same generic pills every morning for 6 years — well before I got sick.

My salivary cortisol test showed high levels throughout the whole day, especially at night. However, Dr. Erin said she thought functionally I was still low, her theory being that my body is compensating for something and that cortisol is either being converted to a less active form or receptors are down-regulated, which results in my body needing to produce more to get the same results. She also wants me to start humic acid (for chronic infections) and a homeopathic lotion to rub into my sternum which can supposedly desensitise my body and help reactivity. Not sure how much faith I have in homeopathy, but there’s no harm in it, other than the cost. I’ve also been told to start daily “hydrotherapy” (basically, hot and cold towels to boost immune function) and oiling my body to absorb additional fat (some serious old wives’ shit going on here).

Dr. Kim ran a bunch of blood tests. The good news is my CBC, metabolic panel, folate, iron and vitamin D are all within normal range (the latter two I would like to be higher). The bad news is, total immunoglobulin and all 4 subclasses are even lower than they were when Dr. Chia tested them. I also had high levels of Mycoplasma Pneumoniae IgG, HHV6 IgG (which I already knew) and she said I was “dripping in EBV.” Gross.

The final blow was candida is high. Those who know me, know I have dreaded the day I was tested for candida and purposely didn’t bring it up with the last 30 doctors because I don’t want to face my sugar addiction. Dr. Kim isn’t insisting I go on a strict no-sugar diet, god love her, because I think she recognises my need for the joy it provides and, really, I try to be responsible — a bit of dark chocolate, ice cream, some honey, jam, fruit, dates… It’s not like the good ol’ days where I could eat a Dairy Queen Blizzard or a whole purple Yorkie without thinking twice. She is putting me on a prescription anti-fungal, Nystatin, a pulsed dose — 4 days on, 3 days off.

I am waiting to hear from insurance about sub-cutaneous IgG (because I’m too scared to start with IVIG) and, in the meantime, I am starting to supplement copper, low dose B-complex, additional B6 and B1, increasing Thorne Trace Minerals to twice a day and magnesium glycinate to 4 times a day, as well as homemade electrolyte water all day long.

I’m hoping and praying that I will feel like a different person once my hormones and thyroid are balanced. Then my blood pressure will come up and my brain will work better, headaches will dissipate, my immune system will be able to suppress the infections, sleep will get better, reactions will fade, fatigue will lift and we’ll all live happily ever after!!

May 12: My 20 years with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Tomorrow is International M.E. Awareness Day. Everyone should read this post by Mary Schweitzer on her blog, Slightly Alive. It is informative and moving and should light a fire in everyone’s souls to raise awareness and find justice for so many patients and their family members who suffer from this disease.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

May 12: My 20 years with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

I have had Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or M.E, for 20 years.  The CDC does not recognize this.  They insist that I have a condition called “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” or CFS.  I have M.E.

At the age of 44 I led a charmed life.  I had been married to the love of my life for 20 years, and we had two lovely children.  We were both college professors – a deliberate choice that allowed us to do what we enjoyed – researching and teaching subjects that deeply interested us – while having the income to live comfortably (because we both worked) and plenty of time to spend with the children (because of the nature of academic life).  I had tenure at a good university, although my sights were set higher than that.  I had a working relationship as an associate fellow with a research institute at an Ivy League school, which enabled me the luxury of being around the best and the brightest in my field.  We traveled all around the country going to each other’s conferences, often taking one of the kids along.  We also went to four Olympics, two final fours (NCAA basketball championships) and countless playoff games, several World Series, and, eventually, twenty years of baseball AllStar games.  We skied in the winter and went to the beach in the summer.  It was a charmed life.

On October 24, 1994, I went to my office to grade exams and suffered a blackout.  When I came to, I could not understand one word in the Bluebooks in my lap – they might as well have been written in Cyrillic alphabet.  It took time – and concentration – to be able to stand.  I had fallen down the rabbit hole; my life would never be the same.

Over the next four years I suffered from severe pain in the back of my neck and behind my eyes, 24/7. My muscles ached, and I had migraine-level headaches.  I had ataxia, dyslexia, sensitivity to light and sound (to the point I had to wear sunglasses all the time), tinnitus, partial paralysis, memory loss, disorientation, expressive dysphasia, and massive confusion.  My family took care of me.  Obviously, I could not drive, and by 1996 I was using a wheelchair when I left the house (which someone else had to push).

I was lucky to have a family to take care of me, because I could not take care of myself.  I also soon discovered an Internet discussion list of fellow sufferers, and was referred to a very good specialist in Washington, Marsha Wallace (who unfortunately hasn’t practiced since 2000).  Dr. Wallace taught me to live within my energy envelope and helped with sleep disruption and NMH/POTS, but I continued to deteriorate.

In the fall of 1998, Dr. Wallace introduced me to Dharam Ablashi, a researcher who had just retired from the National Cancer Institute at NIH.  Dr. Ablashi had been the co-discoverer of HHV-6 and it’s two variants, A and B, while working with AIDS.  I had the version the AIDS patients did – Variant A – and my viral load was ten times the amount used to diagnose an active infection.

I would also test positive for active EBV or mono (which I had more than once – most notably in 1990, four years before my collapse, during an outbreak on my college campus), CMV (cytomegalovirus), HHV-7, and three strains of Coxsackie B.

My immune system was severely compromised: My natural killer cell function was less than 3%, I had the defective 37kDa Rnase-L, and I had an abnormal cytokine pattern.  But no one knows how all this happened.  All we know is that this disease can occur in cluster outbreaks, and it can pop up in individuals.  No one in my family got it from me, but I believe the outbreak of EBV in 1990 marked the beginning of my illness – the beginning of the cycle of immune defect-virus-damage that characterizes this disease for many of us.  I had to continue to teach through my infection with EBV, including an hour’s commute and back, and while I recovered from mono at the end of the fall semester, my health began to deteriorate in seemingly disparate ways, until the ultimate collapse in 1994.

Years later I would have a spinal tap that revealed both HHV-6 and Cytomegalovirus were active in my spinal fluid.  No wonder I had the symptoms of encephalitis, and with the stiff neck, meningitis.  Along with the muscle pain, that meant literally that I had Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or M.E., a disease that had been diagnosed in the UK since the mid-1950s.  In the United States, however, all I was given was a diagnosis of “chronic fatigue syndrome,” a name chosen by committee and adopted by CDC in 1988 to replace the name given a number of cluster outbreaks occurring in the USA at the time, Chronic EBV.  They did not mention M.E. – though there were specialists at the meeting who insisted that was the correct diagnosis for these outbreaks.  They did not ask anyone in the disease community what they thought of this name.  They simply adopted it, and having done so, consigned the disease to the backwaters of medicine where neither research nor treatment could be found.

There could not have been a worse choice of a name for this disease if CDC had hired a focus group,  Chronic (as in chronic whiner) Fatigue (as in “yeah, I’ve been feeling tired lately myself”) Syndrome (as in syndrome of the month) – applied to upper middle class white women “trying to have it all” (as the late Bill Reeves of CDC once phrased it) – how inconsequential, silly even.  Twenty-five years later, 85% of patients – over one million Americans – have no idea what is wrong with them, because, according to both CDC and private demographic evidence, only 15% have a diagnosis.  25 years later only 15% have a diagnosis.  That is a mighty admission of failure.

The infectious disease specialists in northern Delaware dismissed my illness as minor.  “You’ll be back to normal in two years,” they assured me. Oh good, I responded – I won’t have to miss more than two seasons before I can go back to skiing.  “Oh no,” was the response.  “You’ll never ski again.”  How was that “normal?” I asked.  They got angry at that.  That’s when I was referred to Dr. Wallace and, thankfully, only had to deal with these people once more, when I was on the antiviral Vistide for my cytomegalovirus infection.  Dan Peterson, my new specialist, had asked them to let me get the infusions at their center, and they had agreed.  But when I showed up at their office, one of the doctors took me aside and said that they could not let me have Vistide because my medical records showed I “only had CFS – nothing serious, like AIDS or cancer.”  They said they could not justify using the drug on someone with a diagnosis of CFS – even though it was an FDA-approved drug for the virus CMV, which was active in both my blood serum and my spinal fluid.

Let me repeat that:  once given the label Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I would meet disrespect from many doctors and people at NIH and CDC. None of my extensive testing mattered.

Although the progressive version of M.E. that I suffered from was unusually severe, I turned out to be lucky.  I was given the opportunity to go on the experimental Phase III drug Ampligen, in what is called a cost-recovery (I pay cash), compassionate care (I am allowed to do this because I was so very sick), open label (I know I am on the drug so FDA ignores me) study.  I have to get Ampligen at the study site by IV infusion twice a week.  And FDA can take the drug away from me whenever they want.

I have been on Ampligen for eleven of the past fifteen years.  Again, I am unusual in that my illness erupts again within a year of going off the drug (which I did once voluntarily, and once because FDA did take the drug away).  FDA has admitted, in writing, that the drug is not toxic.  But they are not “convinced” it is effective.  My experiences do not count because I was not in a placebo trial; I knew I was on the drug.  There is no other drug in the FDA pipeline for either CFS or M.E. (Although there are immune boosters and antivirals available for patients, and an anti-cancer drug called Rituximab is showing some promise).  This is the only one expressly targeted to M.E. or CFS.  Over one million Americans suffer from my disease.  FDA, CDC, NIH – none of them cares – though in fairness, there are individuals within those agencies who do.  It is those who make decisions who do not care.

[Side note about the obsession with placebo trials – If just knowing you are on a drug can make your immune markers return to normal, your active viruses return to a dormant stage, and change tests such as SPECT scans and CPET scores, we should all be cured of anything by happy thoughts.  Does FDA really believe this?]

So here I am today.  I would not have written this were I not on Ampligen.  On Ampligen, I can drive, take care of myself (mostly), read a book, work on my own writing, spend time with my children and grandchildren.  Off Ampligen I am an invalid in bed in severe pain, curled up in the dark because light is too painful, listening to a favorite movie over and over again.

So twice a week I leave my house at 8:15 and commute by train 100 miles north to Dr. Derek Enlander’s office in New York City, the closest site where I can get Ampligen.  I usually get home around 7 pm.  It is grueling, but at least I am getting the drug that keeps me from being a bedridden invalid.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is a serious disease.

CDC betrayed us by giving it a silly-sounding name in 1988 – CFS.  NIH allocates less than $5 per patient per year to study this disease – a pathetic amount.  We came back with private research initiatives, funded by cash-strapped patients and their families, and more good biomedical research is being published than ever before.  The whole concept of what “CFS” is, silly sounding name and all, is undergoing a transformation. And for the first time in my memory, clinicians and researchers have agreed on a definition – the Canadian Consensus Criteria, updated with current research.

So how is our government responding?  Suddenly there are three different initiatives within the U.S. department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to redefine the disease and rename it – done behind closed doors.  At CDC there is the Multi-site clinical assessment – which brought in respected clinics, but is now being polluted with research from a poorly conceived and run study by CDC in Georgia that used a different definition entirely.  HHS has once again turned to the IOM – Institute of Open Medicine – with a committee of whom the majority are not experts in either CFS or M.E.  IOM already weighed in with the opinion that both CFS and Gulf War Syndrome be renamed “Multi-Symptom Disorder,” provoking anger within the larger veteran community.  And NIH as a whole has given the “problem” of the name and definition to their  “pathways to prevention” program, or P2P.  In this case a committee was explicitly created consisting of individuals with NO experience -either medical of personal – with the disease, “like the jury system,” a spokesman explained cheerfully.  “Stakeholders” with different viewpoints testify to the committee, and then this committee of amateurs will recess and vote on the choice of what to do next.  Precisely when did the jury system replace scientific method in determining medical policy?

They are going against the expressed wishes of 60 specialists who signed a letter asking that the U.S. adopt the Canadian Consensus Criteria (CCC), and the public members of the CFS Advisory Committee to HHS asking that the government adopt the CCC, and hold an open workshop of specialists to update it (it is ten years old) with current research results.  Why are those of us within the world of M.E. ignored?  Why is 60 years of biomedical research into M.E. ignored internationally?

Perhaps more important, why don’t people outside our community – people in the media, in government, our doctors, our neighbors, our employers – why don’t they know that there is a growing epidemic of a severe, life-altering and in some cases life-taking disease that CDC and NIH are keeping under wraps?  I have friends who were teenagers when they got sick, and are now in their 40s. They did not get to marry their soulmate like I did.  They did not go to college or have a career.  They did not have children or grandchildren (I have two grandchildren now).  I was lucky compared to them.

They can barely afford to live from day to day.  They cannot afford the testing I have had, and they most certainly cannot afford the treatment I am on.

I have lost friends to this disease; we have lost young people to this disease.  The viruses can get into your heart muscle; they can get into your liver.  Patients die of rare cancers as well.  And then there are the suicides.

There has been a new series of outbreaks in the past five years.  Look at those you love, and if you care for them – whether or not you care about us – do something.  Because they could be the next victims.

Thank you for reading.