Best Endocrinologist Ever.

Every time I have an appointment with my endocrinologist, I hem and haw about whether I should cancel it. It’s on the other side of town, $50 round-trip in an Uber, it only ever lasts about 20 minutes and couldn’t she just look at my thyroid lab results and email me about whether to stick with my current hormone dosages? Well, each time I go, I am so grateful for this doctor (last week I told her nurse I would walk on hot coals for Dr. B) and I vow to come straight home and write an update so I can remember everything she said. I never have managed to do this and the visit summaries hardly mention anything at all, so today I’m going to write a general update of her treatment.

I’ve seen a lot of endocrinologists in the last six years and they have all, without exception, been kind of odd, stoic and monosyllabic. Until Dr. B. She’s vibrant and engaged (after seeing her, I always mourn my lack of brain energy a little more), listens closely, talks about her ideas out loud, thinks outside of the box and is interested in conditions not typically related to the endocrine system. Imagine that: a big hospital allopathic endocrinologist taking the whole body into account!

The first time I saw her a year ago, I told her my basic story (anaphylaxis 2001-2002, vasovagal collapse 2005-2011, thyroid goiters 2009, radioiodine ablation 2010, SICK 2011), assuming she’d check my thyroid and update my prescription as per usual — and she did, but she also ordered pituitary blood tests, a Cortrosyn stimulation test (CST) (otherwise known as an ACTH stimulation test — it measures how well the adrenal glands respond to ACTH), referred me to two neurologists — one that specialises in headaches and one that specialises in dysautonomia — and said we would consider placing a continuous glucose monitoring device to assess the drops in my blood sugar (good news is, my blood sugar crashes got much better, possibly because I am eating all foods again and have put on weight). No other endocrinologist had ever suggested any of these things.

I was dreading the CST because of my reactivity and intravenous injections of anything don’t allow me to start low and slow, but it was fine. I did my research beforehand (yes, they were they only using 1mcg of Cortrosyn; no, I didn’t need to fast; no, it didn’t need to be timed according to the follicular phase of my menstrual cycle; no, I didn’t need to be off bioidentical hormones; and, yes, my husband could be with me), so I felt comfortable about the procedure and the results were normal.

The pituitary testing showed low LH (luteinizing hormone), DHEA and IGF-1. Because of the latter, at our next appointment Dr. B ordered a pituitary MRI to “leave no stone unturned” (LOVE her). The MRI was normal, but she emphasised that it was less reliable because of my unwillingness to use contrast (I didn’t think the risks of a reaction outweighed the benefits of a better MRI — and she was ok with that). She also gave me a prescription for Florinef to see if it would help with my hypotension (blood pressure was 80/60 at this appointment). I trialed it for a month (starting at 0.0125mg (!!), working up to 0.1mg) and thought it might be increasing my headaches (but not my blood pressure, of course), so I stopped, but it’s still on my list to retry.

My thyroid levels have consistently been tanked for the last 6 years and at every appointment Dr. B would tweak my meds. I’ve gone from 50mcg/day of levothyroxine to 100 to 125 and from 5mcg/liothyronine to 10 and — this is exciting — when I told her my naturopath suggested much higher T3 and lower T4, Dr. B said, “I’m totally open to that, let’s try it.” 😮 Typically allopathic endocrinologists and NDs do not see eye to eye on treatment and optimal thyroid levels and often one doctor will be resistant to another doctor’s suggestions, especially when the suggestion comes from someone who isn’t a specialist. Dr. B has no ego getting in the way. So, we increased my T3 to 15mcg twice/day and lowered T4 to 100mcg. I really don’t know if it has helped, but she seems more satisfied with my thyroid levels. She told me to watch out for tremors, heart palpitations and insomnia, but they are all within my normal constellation of symptoms, so who knows (although, as I’m typing this, I realise that my quite-vicious nightly palpitations haven’t happened in a while– maybe weeks). She diagnosed me with “euthyroid sick syndrome” which essentially means your thyroid will stay sick until the underlying chronic illness gets better.

I saw a headache neurologist and a dysautonomia specialist (more on both of those in separate posts), but neither of them were the ones to which Dr. B referred me. And — another reason to love her — she had no problem with that and was still interested in what they had to say. Even better, when I told her the dysautonomia specialist didn’t have much to offer and essentially told me just to make sure I don’t decondition any further, Dr. B raised her eyebrows in surprise and kind of dismissed this, still interested in helping me fix this piece of the puzzle (those of you that haven’t done the doctor rounds might not realise that almost all of them tell you to simply exercise more (or gain/lose weight) (or take antidepressants), so I expected Dr. B to take the specialist’s assessment as bible and agree that I was just deconditioned). She suggested I do a growth hormone challenge (it involves a 17-hour fast, an 8am check-in and a 5-hour test where they give intravenous glucagon and then measure human growth hormone (HGH) response through blood draws) and said the worst side effect she’d seen was vomiting. I wanted to vomit at the thought of getting to a hospital at 8 in the morning. I went home to do some research; that was in July of last year.

When I saw her again at the end of September, I hadn’t done the HGH challenge and she didn’t give me a hard time at all. Three months after that appointment I still hadn’t found the nerve, so I emailed her a long message about my glucagon fears (those of you with mast cell/anaphylaxis/medication sensitivity issues can read my email* below for the reasons it gave me pause) which any other specialist would either not answer or reply that I should come in for an appointment to discuss. Instead, she sent me a very thoughtful, validating reply (not “For fuck sake, stop being such a scaredy-cat and do the bloody test since I’m the one doctor who is investigating all these things!”) and offered an alternative to glucagon — an insulin challenge test — which I agreed to … and then never did. They give you intravenous insulin, drop your blood sugar to 40 and then test HGH. I told her I was more comfortable with the devil I knew (hypoglycemia) then the one I didn’t. But, it turns out I’m not really comfortable with voluntarily meeting any devil. I’ve had my blood sugar drop into the 40s. It was absolutely horrific — one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt. And, although they give you intravenous glucose right afterwards, I still couldn’t bring myself to do this test and subject myself to the crash when I thought they probably wouldn’t find anything.

So, I waited until my appointment this month — 8 months after she first wanted to investigate this avenue — and told her of my fears about the insulin challenge test as well. I expected her to just give up, to say there’s probably nothing wrong there, anyway, but she didn’t. She said there was an additional reason to do the insulin challenge (other than for HGH output) and that was that it can pick up a hypothalamus issue that the glucagon stimulation test can’t. Ok, I can get on board since it’s a two-fer. However, in another display of out-of-the-box-ness and medical generosity, she suggested I just try HGH injections without doing the challenge test. She said she had two other patients with the dyautonomia-mast cell-EDS trifecta (more on my EDS diagnosis at another time) and, even though neither one flunked the stimulation test, they tried HGH and had really good results. A friend of my sister-in-law’s had a lot of success with HGH and it has always been in the back of my head as something to try when I win the lotto. I read it cost thousands of dollars, but Dr. B’s prescription is “only” $138/month, so I’m on board. If/when I get the nerve, I can stop the HGH for a week and do the challenge test and, if I fail, insurance will pay for my prescription. An added bonus is my nurse who comes to my home every week (to give me intravenous fluids with my immunoglobulin infusions) can show me how to subcutaneously inject the HGH and I don’t need to go across town for a tutorial appointment.

Gratitude for good doctors! Wish me luck with the HGH.

January 1st, 2014

This day last year, I said 2012 was the worst year of my life. I also stated emphatically that 2013 would look very different. And it did. But not in a good way. In 2012, I was still working for 5 months of the year. I got to spend 11 days with my soul sister, E., when she visited from Dublin. I was able to run errands, go to the dog park, talk on the phone, and see friends for 9 months of 2012. Unfortunately, that all went away. Now, I can safely say 2013 was the worst year of my life.

The details are too difficult and depressing to describe or dwell on, but neither will I paint a silver lining around this dark life. It has been unspeakably difficult, what didn’t kill me did not make me stronger, and I’m not grateful for the lessons I have learned since being sick. I am a sadder, scared-er, weaker, lonelier person and I’d give anything to go back to the ignorance and energy of healthier days.

However, I am much more aware of things I used to take for granted and I am more thankful than I’ve ever been: For every bird, tree, and arc of sunshine. For every single dollar that I saved before the abrupt halt of income. For every time a snort of laughter escapes me; every day that my legs hold me; and every book, film, song that distracts me. For every time someone vents to me about their life or asks for my opinion or feels they can use my muscle-wasted shoulder to cry on. For every time someone braves the thin ice of chronic illness to ask what life is like for us or see how I am feeling or offer to help, knowing full well they risk breaking through to the deep despair beneath.

Most of all, I am thankful for my family. My father, mother, brothers, sister, in-laws, friends, husband and dogs. (Oh, husband and dogs! I am alive today because of you! And I fight for tomorrow because of you.) Each day that they are healthy brings me solace and I experience stark, unfettered joy at every festive Facebook photo of holiday parties, restaurant dinners and energy-filled activities. So, keep singing, fishing, working, exercising and traveling, everyone! And I will live vicariously… Just, please, promise me that you do it with an eyes-wide-open acknowledgement of how short and fragile our journey is on this earth.

Here is my 2013 wrap up:

January: Was sorely disappointed at the Chronic Fatigue Clinic; saw first private doctor, tried cranio-sacral therapy.
February: Not much except stool and saliva tests.
March: Was sorely disappointed at second rheumatologist visit; saw second sleep doctor; had the 4 best days between September, 2012 and now; Zyrtec trial.
April: Got teeth cleaned; started seeing wonderful physical therapist; started the awful process of getting an oral appliance for sleep apnea which still hasn’t happened, almost 9 months later; Seriphos trial; started Chinese herbs.
May: New nephew R. was born; saw dermatologist; phophatidylserine trial; Nasonex trial; tried Tizanidine; turned 40; dear friend E.S. died far too young.
June: My mother and D. visited; saw cardiologist; tried valarian; started Unisom; Gabapentin trial; added rice back to my diet.
July: My father visited; stopped weekly therapy; stopped phone calls for the most part; stopped Chinese herbs.
August: Stopped eating soy, citrus; added lentils, garbanzo beans; tried Trazodone; stopped all vitamins and supplements; J. and Z. gave me a scooter: my ticket to some freedom.
September: My mother and brother, T. visited; abdominal pain started; husband’s family visited; celebrated 15th anniversary.
October: Brother A. visited; saw ENT doctor; saw “environmental” doctor; saw neurologist; had bad reaction to Unisom; tried Xanax; Zetonna trial; had hellish 2-week repercussions to autonomic testing.
November: Tried low-histamine diet for 5 weeks; methylation pathway, mycotoxin and adrenal tests; started vitamins again and Metagenics shakes; tried iv fluids and caused anaphylactoid reaction; another zyrtec trial; saw allergist; steps per day decreased below 700 and haven’t come back up.
December: New nephew G. was born; Christmas with sister; saw ophthalmologist; started juicing; tried Ativan.

Like last year, there were births, deaths, doctors, drugs, symptoms, setbacks and disappointments. And, like last year, what I see when I look at this is how lucky I am to have family that would travel across the city, country or ocean to visit me in my home and offer love and support, without judgement.

Happy new year to you all. 2014, please look different than 2013 ~ only in a good way.

Hubby sweeping in the new year, a family tradition. :)

Hubby sweeping in the new year, a family tradition. 🙂

Remember the little moments,

like this,

that were good.

Cheers.

~James Gandolfini in The Sopranos R.I.P.

Doctor follow-up: symptoms, sleep, diet.

I haven’t taken vitamins or supplements in 19 days (except probiotics in the morning, magnesium at night and fish oil here and there). When I wasn’t sleeping, I decided to wash-out everything and, when I saw the Good Doctor last week, she wanted me to hold off on adding them back until I had challenged some foods. So, in the next month, I will be challenging soy and citrus, which I haven’t eaten in a month, and corn, dairy and eggs, which I haven’t eaten in a year. Honestly, I don’t know how I will identify symptoms ~ for no reason, sleep disappears and headaches hit me like a freight train. A few days ago I woke up with all over muscle pain: thick, heavy, stiff, achy, contracted muscles from tip to toe. I started waking up in the night again in a full-body tense stretch, jaw clamped down painfully, neck and back arched. It is coupled with daytime tiredness that stopped me writing, reading, talking… This wasn’t the bricked feeling of ATP running out in my cells, this was pure tired, like I was convalescing. It’s still with me today, but I want to write, so I force myself to sit at the computer.

I hate when old symptoms return. I thought perhaps spine pain and muscle aches were gone for good, but here I am with a new bottle of Tizanidine. I made a list of what could be causing it: Scooter? Adding back legumes? No supplements? Weather? Period? This week has also felt like awfully bad allergies, which shouldn’t be happening at the end of August. I actually had to take my inhaler and I couldn’t wear my cpap last night because my nose was plugged, even after multiple shots of antihistamine nasal spray. My headaches have mostly dissipated, only rearing up when I tweak my neck (which is about every other day; the nighttime muscle contractions don’t help), but I’m left with leaden cotton wool filling my skull and plugging my orifices. It feels like an orange on a toothpick, my neck too weak to hold the bobble head. I’m chalking it up to the weather. Seattle turned into a tropical rain forest this week. The temperature in my room is 74 degrees and the humidity is 74%. I keep saying, “It’s so close!” The only way to describe it.

Some good news: I’ve actually slept relatively well the last 7 nights ~ with only melatonin ~ which is miraculous. I have had a resurgence of mild night sweats for the first time in a very long time. But, we’re going to ignore that and the lack of deep sleep and concentrate on the positives: My current average hours of sleep, average time awake and average time to fall asleep:

An average of 8.5 hours sleep? First time ever in my life!

An average of 8.5 hours sleep? First time ever in my life!

38 mins awake, on average,  when it used to be 2 hours!

38 mins awake, on average, when it used to be 2 hours!

A glorious average of 9 mins to fall asleep! (this was tipped by the unheard-of ONE MINUTE it took me to fall asleep last night!)

A glorious average of 9 mins to fall asleep! (this was tipped by the unheard-of ONE MINUTE it took me to fall asleep last night!)

Other things I talked about with the Good Doc: She doesn’t feel comfortable with prescribing saline IV infusions, she is thinking about digestive enzymes, she wants to get my vitmain D levels between 50 and 80 (they were 30 last March), and she doesn’t want to do a tryptase test to look for Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD).

If anyone is interested in my elimination diet, she said she thought coconut sugar would be okay (I haven’t quit sugar yet; I’m a junkie) and she wanted me to avoid xanthan gum, guar gum and carageenan. This is virtually impossible using dairy-free products, so I’m not taking it too seriously. My husband spent half an hour in Whole Foods reading the labels of nut and coconut milks: if you want to avoid sugar, cane juice and soy lecithin, you won’t be able to avoid carageenan (if anyone has more info, please tell me!). The best bet seems to be Pacific Almond Milk (which has carageenan and “natural flavor”) and Rice Dream, if you don’t mind the calorie and sugar content (I love the taste, but it’s high-glycemic load causes my blood sugar to crash).

She also wanted me to watch the teas I drink, since this is the only thing I drink besides water. You can get all the info about teas from this FoodBabe blog. Basically, I am trying to stick with Numi, Traditional Medicinals, Rishi (which is even more expensive than the other expensive organic teas) and maybe Choice. I splurged and bought this yesterday: Rishi Turmeric Ginger Loose Leaf Tea ~ how good does that sound for what ails me?! (I reckon, in the good ol’ days, I would have spent about that much on one cocktail, including tip, so I deserve it. I ignored the voice that said, Uh, you have no income.)

Lastly, I saw my endocrinologist for my yearly check-up. He increased my Levothyroxine to 37.5mcg five days a week and 25mcg on the weekends and kept my liothyronine at 10mcg/day. He also thought I should see an immunologist. I didn’t even know they existed. Not that I think they could find anything… except maybe help with my MCAD theory (that’ll be another post).

That’s my update. In a few days, my Mother is coming from Ireland for THREE WEEKS to help us out and take a bit of the burden off my husband. One of my brothers is flying across the country to see me at the end of September and my other brother, the pilot, has a layover here the same week. It’s so exciting! Gratitude today, once again, is for my family. They continually help me, encourage me and remember me.

My beautiful niece sent me this card. :)

My beautiful niece sent me this card. 🙂