Superstition Ain’t The Way

Agh, I can’t stand it, I can’t just leave you sitting with that bad. I tried in earnest to let my last post hang out here in the e-niverse, sullying the e-tmosphere, because that’s my reality and it is uncomfortable and why shouldn’t it fester there on my blog’s home page for all a few to see? But it’s like a little lead weight in the back of my brain, so superstition be damned: I want to shout about what a good week I had. I can’t believe such a baby dose of immunoglobulins is making a difference, but it seems to be. This is so exciting. Here’s my week:

Last Thursday I was in rough shape. My period was due and I hadn’t slept as per usej, but I drove to my myofacial therapy appointment, which is 4+ miles away. That is twice as far as anywhere I have driven in the last 3.5 years. I credit my friend Jak for this because I was thinking about how she has to drive everywhere where she lives and it gave me a little push. I also have been doing our finances for tax season and saw that I spent $650 on Ubers (taxi service) in 2015–solely to get to/from healthcare appointments–so that gave me another incentive to drive myself (truthfully, I probably shouldn’t have driven. I wasn’t all there–not quite present enough–and doubt my reaction times were optimal, plus I got a bit lost, but I’m proud of myself for pushing my envelope). Oh, and I stopped by a grocery store on the way home! Very briefly–to buy chocolate Easter eggs–but still!

I had three complicated things I needed to mail, so, Friday, I drove to the post office for the first time in almost 4 years and spent quite a bit of time standing at the counter, talking to the postal woman, boxing, taping, addressing etc.

Family love at the cemetery.

Family love at the cemetery.

Saturday, even though my period had just started, I was still able to go to the cemetery on my scooter with the boys and husband. I want to take a moment here to remember the first few times I went to the cemetery on a mobility scooter in 2013, a year after being housebound. I wept looking at the trees and feeling that freedom, then I almost passed out from the exertion of a 2-sentence conversation with some people we ran into and then I went home and paid for the jostling of my bones with days of pain. On this very day in 2014, I was struggling through the aftershocks of a cemetery trip that were worse than anything I deal with now: 

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Easter Sunday I wasn’t doing too well, but I still managed to put together a treasure hunt for my husband (with the aforementioned chocolate eggs), which involved walking all around the house and up and down stairs, planting clues. I did a “Find It” treasure hunt for the dogs, too. Easter isn’t just for kids.

Monday, I did laundry (no folding or putting away, but still…), talked to my friend for 1.5 hours (he did most of the talking, which is good because, although I’m not drained as much by prolonged conversations, it still definitely hits me hard) and then I drove to the dog park with the boys… by myself… and actually walked a little bit… *Pause for gasps of shock and awe.* I’m going to take another minute to remember the first time I made it to the dog park after those long horrible months, years: My husband drove, of course, and I walked excruciatingly slowly to the gate, feeling winded, heart rate through the roof. I made it inside and then sat on the ground just inside the gate. When somebody I knew tried to talk to me, I nodded and smiled feebly and then looked at my husband imploringly until he deflected the conversation away from me. The memory of that effort–and the fear of the repercussions–brings tears to my eyes.

Tuesday, I had my infusion and, Wednesday, I drove to an appointment (close by)–on the day after my infusion, mind you.

Getting fluids in the garden.

Getting fluids in the garden.

We’ve had gorgeous weather this week and, although it certainly helps because I’ve been sitting in the garden for hours every day, I don’t think I can say it is the cause of my good week because the uptick started days before the sun shone. Thursday, we took advantage of the weather and went to the biggest, bestest dog park in Seattle, which is a ways away on the East side. I haven’t been there since my birthday last year in May and it was such a treat to see Riley swim (while Bowie stood in the shade, panting and looking miserably hot, as if he wasn’t a short-haired breed that came from Africa). We spent an hour and a half there (I had my scooter, so didn’t walk) and, when we got home, I started cooking lunch. I didn’t even feel the need to rest. I better add these: !!!!

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“Ducks, ducks, ducks, gotta get the ducks.”

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“Don’t make me go out in that sun, Mama.”

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“Seriously? Another photo? Hurry up, there’s hardly any shade here.”

I’ve been dragging again the last few days: headache for the first time in a while, very stiff neck, muscles feeling heavy and painful, slightly sore throat, sensitive to sound etc. Probably because Friday I started to write this post about having a good week and the gods’ ears perked up. BUT, I’m dressed, I’m sitting outside, I’ll cook something in a bit, I’m cheerful. I’m not in bed, sick, poisoned, despairing. I’m functioning. I’m even writing.

So, there. KNOCK ON WOOD, TOBA TOBA, BAD HARVEST, PATUEEY OVER THE SHOULDERJust let this be. My bowels are a nightmare, my sleep is horrific, my brain packs it in on a regular basis and my stamina, energy and strength are still about 1/4 of what they used to be. But 1/4 is better than 1/10. I’ll take it, gratefully.

Title Credit <— click on it, go on, it’ll make your day better. 😊

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Mount Rainier (taken from the car window while speeding down the highway).

P.S: Dear friends, please forgive my ridiculous shiteness at answering your comments here on my blog. I appreciate each and every one of them and I’m humbled that you read my rantings at all, let alone take the time to comment. It really means a lot and I’ll try to do better. Thank you! X

Oh, I’ll be free… (immunoglobulin infusion success)

The first time I ever passed out was in a blood plasma donation clinic in Madison, Wisconsin. My brother, who had attended the University of Wisconsin before I did, tipped me off that they paid quite well for plasma, so every so often I would go spend a few hours in a big comfy chair with my vein tapped. On this particular day, I suddenly got very dizzy, nauseous and clammy and the next thing I knew I was coming to with ice packs under my neck and the chair tipped all the way back so my feet were in the air. I was sweaty and shaky, but I stayed until the plasmapheresis was over and got my cash. I didn’t think twice about it and continued to donate plasma until one day, during the prescreening tests, I came up positive for heroin. It turns out it was because of the poppy seed muffin I had for breakfast, but it didn’t matter, I was not allowed to give plasma again. One abnormal test and you were no longer a candidate. I never asked what plasma was used for and it certainly never crossed my mind that I, myself, may need a medication made from thousands of people’s plasma donations.

I’ve been getting weekly immunoglobulin infusions for 4 months now and it’s become routine (prior posts about this treatment can be found here and here). Not only routine, but to keep the success going, my superstition causes me to keep everything identical each time. I drink 4 liters of water the day before, the day of and the day after my infusions. Every Monday, I tidy up, run the Roomba and take a shower. I drink electrolytes, make my chicken and vegetable soup and don’t take any supplements. I take 3mg Prednisone, remove the saline bag and Gamunex from the fridge and wrap the fluids in my heating pad. When my nurse arrives, I get into bed and she hooks up the IV and sets the pump. Half an hour later, I take 650mg Tylenol, 25mg Benadryl and 10mg Zantac and then, before the Benadryl kicks in, I prep the Gamunex (I have to suck it from the vial into a fat syringe, which is surprisingly hard to do and painful on the hands). After the saline has been running for an hour, I insert 4 subcutaneous needles into my thighs. I could use wider tubing (for a faster infusion rate) or fewer needles, but, again, I’m sticking with what works, even if it’s not the norm for other patients. For the first few months, I did change where I inserted the needles, trying different areas on my belly and legs, but now I stick with the inner thighs which proved the least painful for me. I then fall into an antihistamine-stupour sleep and my (wonderful) nurse leaves once my husband gets home. In theory, she could leave as soon as she has inserted the IV catheter, which would be a half hour max, but because of my history of reactions and anaphylaxis, she’s extra cautious. By 8pm, I can disconnect the IV, remove the infusion needles and go downstairs to make dinner (this treatment makes me ravenous).

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When I first started infusions, I would have to take more Tylenol and Benadryl at around 9pm, my sleep would be horrid for a few nights from the steroids and I’d be dragging and headachy for at least a day afterwards. Recently, besides sleep, which will be my nightly nemesis forevermore, it seems, I haven’t had any problems. No need for extra meds, no dragging, no headache (except later in the week, which could be because I drastically drop off my hydration). In fact, it almost feels like my body is eagerly drinking up the infusions each week. In fact… the last 5 or 6 weeks have been… so nervous to say it (cover your ears, gods!)… good. Some of the best weeks I can remember. I feel freer — less restricted by pain, less confined by finite energy reserves, able to push boundaries without fear. My headaches have been more infrequent, my skin is better, my debilitating neuro symptoms have been more intermittent. I’ve been driving to nearby appointments again and I’ve been able to talk to the point of being hoarse, but without a weak voice. This last thing is very exciting to me.

My pilot brother was here on a layover and I was able to talk and laugh with him for almost 6 hours. My voice was tired, as if it were an unused-muscle, but it wasn’t weak in that way it’s been for years where I could barely contract the muscles to get the air past my vocal cords (or something). I was most definitely dizzy and deflated from the energy expenditure (my brother is a bottomless well of entertainment and conversation), but I didn’t have payback. Before he came, my brother texted me and said, “I’d love to see you, if only for an hour” and I realised how much worse I’d been the last time he visited in 2014: I remember wilting weakly an hour into our animated discussion. What glorious freedom to ignore the lightheadedness and tightening muscles, ignore the raised heart rate and blurring vision (because I’m still very far from normal), and not be terrified of repercussions. To have the option to push through! In the past, I’ve crawled to my room mid-visit — not out of cautiousness, but because there was no other choice and I always feared becoming permanently worse if I strained too much against the restraints.

This uptick could be because of a liter of IV fluids each week — it would explain why I’ve been having bad days later in the week — but I don’t think so. I usually feel kind of puffy and swollen afterwards and my blood pressure hasn’t increased at all; it stays steadily around 85/45. We’re considering experimentally doing some infusions without fluids and see how I get on, but I’m hesitant because, like I said, I like to keep everything consistent. Also, in the past I’ve asked so many doctors to help me with a trial of weekly IV fluids to see if it would help dysautonomia symptoms, now that I have them, I don’t want to give them up.

I want to mention one small thing that I’m incredibly excited about, which will sound so insignificant to most people. About a year into this illness, a few things happened to my body seemingly overnight and they always make me quite sad. The whites of my eyes changed colour, vertical ridges appeared on my once-smooth nails and I became allergic to my platinum engagement ring, which had been my grandmother’s and I’d worn 24 hours a day for years. Every so often over the past 3 years, I would put my ring on and, after a few days, I’d develop big itchy, sore bumps and discoloured skin and have to take it off again. I tried again just after Christmas and, 4 weeks later, I’m still wearing it with no problems. I want to add loads of exclamation points to this!!!!!! For me, that is so much more encouraging than IgG blood tests in the normal range or being able to walk more steps each day. My body has stopped rejecting something — a precious thing — that swiftly angered it over and over for so long. Rejoice. 🙂

Feeling emboldened, I asked my doctor if we could increase the dose or the frequency of my infusions or if I could add in a new treatment (antifungals, antivirals etc.). She said no — and I quote: “You are exactly where I want you to be.” That is so great to hear and such a reversal from my usual position of moving much more slowly than my doctors would like. She wants to continue my treatment indefinitely, raise my IgG levels as much as possible and then retest for infections in about 6 months to get a new baseline.

Insurance coverage always scares me; I’ve heard such horror stories of the battles to get treatment approved and, even after approval, actually paid for. My infusion bills were $943 for the first 3 months and I feel very fortunate that it’s so low. SCIG is the only thing that I can definitely say has helped in 4.5 years of being sick and, after 6 doctors refused to help me get the treatment, I feel immeasurably grateful to Dr. I for not only suggesting IVIG herself (I didn’t bother to ask because I’d given up at that stage), but allowing me to start on such a low dosage and increase slowly. No immunologist would have agreed to this. Yesterday I got this letter and almost wept (with joy). Thank you to the good doctors and nurses, to everyone that donates plasma (especially the broke college students) and even (in this case) to the all-powerful insurance companies who help perpetuate this dysfunctional healthcare system.

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I wrote this post on Thursday, the day after I’d driven to the dog park by myself, feeling victorious, and delighted my Bowie by walking further around the path than I have since being sick. I was still doing okay the next day and wanted to finally update everyone on my exciting progress.

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I’m not saying the chronic illness gods read my blog post draft and decided to tip the scales in the other direction because that’s just crazy nonsense, everyone knows that. But I did wake up not very good yesterday and I’m even worse today, with a bad migraine. Don’t get me wrong, I constantly remind myself that my husband used to have to wash my hair, but it’s still difficult to let yourself get a little bit excited (and in reality, “get a little bit excited” in my world means I’m thinking, “I’M GETTING BETTER! THIS IS THE YEAR! I’M GOING TO LEAVE THIS DISEASE BEHIND! I’LL BE FREE!”) and then have such a harsh reminder. Maybe the difference now is… I’m not scared.

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I Found My Worst Nightmare

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On this day four years ago, Facebook reminds me, we were shopping for a recliner. I’d been sick one month. I’d seen my endocrinologist, assuming that the low-grade fevers, violent chills and drenching, shaking, sleep-murdering night sweats were something to do with my post-ablative hypothyroidism. I didn’t go to my GP for another few weeks, only after every Google search of my symptoms came up with malaria and I started to wonder, what if?

I’ll never forget the feeling I had that day. It was a Saturday and I’d gotten up early and gone to a “Pure Barre” exercise class — my knee-jerk response to not feeling well was to exercise more (ignorant and hopeful during that first year, I booked three yoga and exercises courses and was never able to go once). I remember leaving that class and calling my husband in tears. My body responded in such a violent way, I could barely walk. I sat in my car for half an hour before I could push in the clutch.

I was in a daze when we were looking for a recliner later on the same day, shuffling around the stores, feeling weak and fearful of whatever the hell was happening to me. I remember acting like a caustic recluse when the salespeople wanted to engage me in their spiels, giving my husband that look that said “get this person away from me.” I joked about my outfit in this photo, but in reality I couldn’t shower or change before we went shopping — it was too much energy — and that was such an alien thing for me that I had an overwhelming feeling of doom. In truth, as much as I hoped it was my thyroid, I knew as soon as this illness started that it was something bigger.

Today I feel worse than I did that day. There was no pain then, no sore throat, no daily headaches, no brain problems, no muscle wasting. I still had a job and friends, I still drove, and ran around in the dog park and laughed every day. Sometimes I can’t believe it. Every day for over four years? Isn’t it meant to plateau? Am I not meant to acclimate and get used to this? Find a quality life somehow? I don’t hope to feel good again… not even average… I just hope to eventually get to a place where the good outweighs the bad and makes me feel like it’s worth continuing this fight.

P.S. To all my friends who have been doing this longer than I have, you inspire me to continue the fight. ❤

Message to the doubters (warning: strong language).

Throw back Thursday. 3 years ago I was having an okay, if emotional, day. I met with my bosses to let them know I couldn’t go back to work, browsed a few shops next door for cards and then went to the dog park with my boys. I remember what I was wearing that day and the last photo I took that last time I went to the park: I was backlit by the sun, my shadow on the pebbles in the water as my dogs splashed around. I was listening to Radiohead and was so grateful for the warmth that day, so grateful for the energy to do these things. Since that day I have been housebound. It crippled me. It knocked me down so far, I never quite got up again. I haven’t met friends again, browsed shops or gone to the dog park alone again…

Rereading this blog post below makes me so sad. I really couldn’t believe that something this life-altering could happen to a person without any explanation or good medical advice. I couldn’t fathom living one more day, let alone a lifetime, with the pain and sickness. I wanted to die and, even though I disguised it with anger in this post, I got a lot of concerned messages from my family and back-peddled quickly, so they wouldn’t worry: “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m a fighter…”

But the truth is, as much as I wanted to live, I didn’t want to live like that. Every day over the next 16 months of relentless symptoms I thought I couldn’t go on and I’d rather die. The only thing that got me through was my mother and a few friends who were able to hear my desperation. Many people couldn’t hear it, it was too painful for them. But a few listened and didn’t say, “No, that’s not an option. Stop talking that way.” A few understood and reassured me that it was a totally rational response to my situation. And *for me* that made all the difference: To talk about it, to know I wouldn’t be alone with those thoughts or, if the time came, alone with that end game. “It’s an option, but not an option right now,” my friend Z. said. “Put it in your back pocket and keep it there. You need to try everything before you take it out and look at it again.” She saved me that day.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Reach out. Whether you are suffering or you suspect someone is, please reach out.

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Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

I’m happy to be alive today. I’m happy to not be in a hospital today. I’m happy to have the will to pull myself upright after about 24 hours of being horizontal and get this off my chest.

To anyone who thinks myalgic encephalomyelitis doesn’t exist because the TESTS don’t show anything wrong or some asshole somewhere couldn’t figure out what to call the thing that was happening to histrionic overworked ladies who couldn’t handle the pressures of modern society and decided it should be coined chronic fatigue syndrome, which would for evermore stigmatize the patients…. Fuck you.

Until you have what I have and until you go through what I go through, how dare you pass judgement or think you know better. What I have is killing me. It is ruining all quality of life and taking my family down with it. I’m not tired, I’m not in pain, I’m not…

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On the edge of nobody’s empire. 

As I came into consciousness this morning and rolled over, before I’d opened my eyes, I felt the room tip sideways and then slosh back again. I tried to look at my phone to see the time and my eyes wouldn’t track properly. Like marbles rolling uncontrolled, I couldn’t make my vision focus on one point. And, in an instant, the fear collapses in on me, crushing my lungs, sucking all the air and hope out of the room. I wonder if the vertigo is caused by the way I slept – something physical tweaked in my neck – or my new thyroid medication that I started yesterday, or did I do too much decorating the tree? Was it the drop of milk in my tea? I wonder how long it will last and does it signal another relapse. Having the borders of my world change from the downstairs sitting room to the four walls of my bedroom seems immeasurably cruel. Facebook is a lifeline normally, but torturous today. Christmas cheer, family fun, laughing faces, out and about doing things, going places, making new memories. One friend is going to a play in NYC, others are going ice skating in Glasgow, and a photo of a pumpkin spice latte sends me over the edge.

Every day, every hour, that my headache isn’t too bad or my brain isn’t too muddied and labouring, I focus on a future where I may be able to leave the house, interact with friends, have time elapse without a constant focus on my malfunctioning body and precarious health. But, as soon as there is a shift – my sleep disappears, my muscles are poisoned, this vertigo tilts the horizon away from me with the slightest movement and the room spins sickeningly even while still – despair eclipses everything. I feel like I’m buried alive, dragging my fingernails along the wooden coffin, screaming at the top of my lungs, while people deafly live and laugh six feet above.

This is where I was this morning when Jen Brea posted this song by Belle & Sebastian. I didn’t know the singer, Stuart Murdoch, had severe M.E. I needed this today.

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As I was about to publish this post, my two dogs just got past the gate to the upstairs and both bounded onto my carefully kept-clean bed with muddy boots from tearing around the garden, barking at the passers-by. It is the first time that they’ve been on my bed in three months and it felt like how it must be to have excited children, brimming with life-force, jump into your bed on Christmas morning, holding fistfuls of treats that crumble all over the sheets and wearing smiles of oblivious delight. Yes, their visit caused my world to teeter-totter even more violently, but it also lifted the heartache a little. This too shall pass.