Finally Starting IgG Infusions.

After 13 months of buildup, I’m finally scheduled for my first IgG infusion. Dr. Chia recommended I get IVIG (intravenous immunoglobulin) in August, 2014. When I came back to Seattle, I asked my GP about it and she said my total IgG wasn’t low enough (allopathic guidelines say total IgG < 400mg/dL) to warrant therapy. I asked my rheumatologist about it and he said because I have no evidence of persistent infections, I’d have to get an antibody vaccine provocation. I’m sure there’s a name for this, but, essentially, you are given a vaccine and then they look for an appropriate rise in antibody titers to that vaccine. If your body doesn’t mount a response, they can approve IVIG. Well, of course, I’m never getting a vaccination again, so that’s out of the question. I asked my main ND, Dr. W, and she said she didn’t have the ability to order it, but suggested oral IgG, which I never started because… another supplement, ugh. So, I’d given up on it when I went to a new ND, Dr. I, and I didn’t even think to mention it. After reviewing all my labs, the first thing she recommended was IVIG and, just like that, she got it approved. But… not so fast. That was 10 months ago and there was a lot of work to be done.

(As an aside, I do wonder if I’ve had low immunoglobulins my whole life and nobody looked into it. Or maybe it waxed and waned. I had chronic bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma as a child and, as an adult, got a chest infection pretty much once a year–probably more when I was smoking–but never thought this was unusual. Here’s a short article about one girl’s SCIG from infancy. It has some photos of infusions.)

Before trying IVIG, we decided I should try SCIG (sub-cutaneous IgG) because there are fewer side effects for most people. Before SCIG, I needed to test out the medications necessary to stave off anaphylaxis, aseptic meningitis, migraines and a host of other issues that can develop. Before testing the pre-meds, I had to make sure I could handle IV saline infusions since the last one I had caused a leaky anaphylactoid reaction. Before trying IV fluids, she wanted me to be on bioidentical progesterone, pregnenolone and DHEA, not only because my hormones are low, but also because there is evidence that hormone therapy can calm reactivity. And all of this has to be danced around my menstrual cycle because I’m somewhat reactive during ovulation and extremely reactive during my period. We also had to wait for me to get my nerve up because so much of this is dependent on my comfort level and, when anaphylaxis could be involved, I’m never comfortable.

I have friends in mast cell groups who “anaphylax” often, repeatedly, sometimes daily. I can’t imagine this. There are different levels of anaphylaxis, so I suppose these could be lower level reactions, but my episodes of anaphylaxis were full-blown and very scary, mostly because of the difficulty breathing. I really thought I would die and I probably have some PTSD from those experiences. No amount of sickness scares me as much as having a sudden anaphylactic reaction that kills me. I don’t want to get meningitis or be saddled with chronic migraines like my friend Jackie, but those are not at the top of my list of fears.

Having said that, I pay attention to comments like this since I, too, once had a CSF leak from a lumbar puncture and it was the 10 on my pain scale to which I now compare everything else. IVIG can mess you up:

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(FYI, I found this website with tons of allergy information and graphics that might be interesting.)

So, I’ve been on topical, compounded hormones for almost a year and they haven’t raised my serum levels much, but I think they’ve helped with sleep (they also cause greasy skin and hair, like I’m going through puberty, but I’m willing to put up with that). At the beginning of this year, I was reeling from the terrible nocturnal reactions and tongue swelling I had been having, so I wasn’t willing to try anything new. Finally, in May, I got around to testing a tiny bag of IV saline (it went fine, although the whole appointment and clinic visit was a total shitshow which lead me to write two long emails to my doctor. I came very close to not going back, but I really want this treatment). Then in July, I had a full liter infused over 6 hours (a very long time for 2 bags of saline). Everything went fine, no problems (but no boost in blood pressure or energy, either), which meant it was time to schedule SCIG, but, once I started researching in earnest, I realised that there were so many questions I needed answered.

IVIG is often done in a hospital setting if the person is high-risk. I would prefer to have more than just a nurse present if I went into shock (and, by all accounts, nurses’ competency levels are highly variable). My doctor didn’t know how to get this done because the company with which she works does home infusions; she recommended I ask one of my MDs for help. More time ticked by while I emailed my GP (who has only met me once), my endocrinologist and my rheumatologist (both of whom have only met me a few times) for help with this. They all said no. I talked to the infusion company (who have been incredibly helpful thus far) and they offered to do it in their “infusion suite”, but there are no doctors present and their protocol is to call 911 if there is an emergency. Well, I live a few minutes from a fire house and an emergency room, so home seems just as safe as the infusion suite, if not more so since my husband, who is far-too-intimately acquainted with my history, can be there.

Scrolling through Facebook groups, I realise I have to learn how many injection sites I’ll have and whether to use my belly or thighs and the needle size and how many ml you can put in any one area and leakage, hardness, weals etc. etc. My good friend, who is braving his way through gruelling IVIG treatment, has been giving me advice every step of the way, which is invaluable when your doctor doesn’t tell you exactly what the process is or the importance of hydrating or the effects of IgA.

Different brands of IgG have varying amounts of IgA in them. In general, lower IgA equals fewer reactions and, if blood tests show that you have very low IgA or anti-IgA antibodies, you will qualify for the IgA-depleted IgG brands. Isn’t this something my doctor should have mentioned? She wrote the prescription for Gamunex and I asked her if she would consider Gammagard or Hyqvia, both of which have lower IgA. but she said it wasn’t necessary. And she may be right, but wouldn’t you want to use every tool available to keep your highly-reactive patient as safe as possible? My IgA has been slightly low in the past, so, right before I was meant to schedule my first infusion, I asked my doctor, “Can you test me to see if I have anti-IgA antibodies?” and she said yes. Doesn’t this seem like something that should have been done originally without my asking, considering my history?? Maddening.

The IgA test was meant to take a week to come back and I didn’t get the results for 3 weeks, so here we are in September. One of the IgA subclasses was low out of range, but I didn’t have anti-IgA antibodies, so I couldn’t really make a case for changing from Gamunex. And I wanted to do it as soon as possible rather than wait until after my next period, which would put us in October, so I scheduled it for this coming Tuesday.

My doctor wants me to take 2 Tylenol (Paracetamol), 2 Benadryl and 3mg of Prednisone (Prednisolone) before my treatment. I needed to test these premeds because last year when I took Prednisone, I worked up very slowly to 3mg, I only ever take 1 Tylenol at a time and I have been VERY sensitive to Benadryl since having M.E.–plus I’ve never taken the combo. I realised my EpiPens were expired and so were my two boxes of Benadryl and my emergency Prednisone. It took more waiting time for new prescriptions to be called in and finding a good day for my husband to pick them up. When he did, I realised they had given me 10mg pills of Prednisone rather than 1mg (always carefully inspect your pills!) and he had to go back to the pharmacy for a fourth time in a week. Poor guy.

Last week I tried 1 Tylenol, 1 Benadryl and 1.5mg of Prednisone (using my expired stash). About half an hour later, I got a tight chest. Not enough to scare me, but enough to put me off trying more Benadryl. Then I got very shaky and drowsy and had low blood pressure. After I slept for about an hour, I was incredibly thirsty and hungry and then, about 4 hours after taking them, I felt better than I have in a while and was chatty and good-humoured. Success.

Last night I tried again, this time with 2 Tylenol, 1 Benadryl and 3mg of (fresh) Prednisone. I couldn’t bring myself to take 2 Benadryl. The good news is, I didn’t get the tight chest and shakes this time, I just fell asleep for an hour. The bad news is, I didn’t feel good afterwards at all. I had a headache, my eyes and lips felt swollen, I was completely parched and felt really out of it and hungover. But, this is HUGE for me. It is so incredibly exciting to take a bunch of medications and come out unscathed. I’ve been wanting to test this for ages so I have some confidence that, if I’m given IV Benadryl and/or steroids in the event of an emergency, I’ll be okay.

A few final hurdles: I’m scrambling to get two blood draws on Monday before starting SCIG. Dr. W has been trying to get me to do regular “hydrotherapy” for a year and a half. It’s basically hot and cold towels over my torso and back, coupled with electrical stimulation (instructions for doing it at home can be found here). I never wanted to expend the energy until she told me about a patient of hers with hypogammaglobulinemia whose IgG levels came into the normal range after 6 weeks of hydro constitutionals. She was willing to test my total IgG before and after if I did this experiment. I love quantifiable evidence! So I started in August and, even though it’s only been 5 weeks, I want to get my levels tested again before starting SCIG.

The second thing is a babesia test. I’ve been asking my ND about this since June–in person during appointments, in email to her and also to her assistant, who keeps saying she has to get the doctor to sign the form–and can’t seem to get anywhere. They say yes, but it never happens. How hard could it be to sign a requisition form?? Her last message to me said I could get my blood drawn if I make another follow-up appointment. Are you kidding me? That seems downright cruel when we’ve discussed this at my last 3 appointments and she only works two days a week. I talked to the director of Igenex, the lab that does the testing, and he said I should definitely get it done before SCIG, so I finally just ordered the test kit myself and I’m going to bring it to my other doctor, Dr. W, on Monday and beg her to do the blood draw along with the total IgG. I don’t understand why everything has to be such a battle. It’s exhausting and infuriating.

I’m trying to not be annoyed at the difficult communication with my SCIG doctor because, not only is she the only one getting me this treatment, but she was willing to start me at 1 gram the first week (unheard of), building up to 5 grams over 5 weeks. She was also willing to prescribe saline infusions along with the treatment. Only 500ml each time, but every little bit of hydration helps mitigate side effects. I’m deeply grateful to have someone willing to do that when an immunologist wouldn’t even have a conversation about it.

Wish me luck. I’m going to receive all the supplies by courier on Monday and then Tuesday afternoon a nurse will come over, start the drip and show me how to do the sub-cutaneous injections. I believe after that, I’m on my own. Or, maybe because I’m getting IV fluids each week, a nurse will have to come, I don’t know. I will take Zyrtec and hydrate like mad the days before and after… But, friends and family, I am very scared. Even though it’s SCIG and not IVIG and even though I’m starting at a laughably low dose, I’m still scared. I will eat fairly low-histamine in the next few days and do my breathing exercises and meditations before, during and after treatment, but still… I want this to be the beginning not the end. Are my affairs in order? Do you all know how much I love you? Remember: when I first got sick and thought I was dying, I wrote down directives and requests. Husband, remember: the notebook in my bedside table.

Now everyone knock on wood for me and spit over your shoulders. Toba toba.

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What I’m doing now that may or may not be making a difference.

This morning, I had a high resting heart rate of 67 bpm. Yesterday, by comparison, it was 56. Since I’ve been tracking my morning HR, it has been a fairly good predictor of how stable my body will remain throughout the day. I anticipate that today it will be a little more difficult to go up and down stairs, I’ll have to rest a bit more, my blood pressure might be lower and I’ll undoubtedly take fewer steps than my current norm. I can tell by how achy I was this morning. But, last night, while getting ready for bed, I was happy and hopeful. I was feeling like I could really get better enough to live again and I vowed to write a post today about all the things I do that may or may not be helping.

I’m a completely different person than I was over Christmas. I thought I might never talk properly again, walk more than a few shuffling steps again, that I might just die in my room. I’m so happy now, my skin looks good (the dermatologist’s protocol worked!), I haven’t had to check my blood pressure or blood sugar in months because I feel stable. I don’t know what has brought about the difference, but I’ll list everything I do here so that I can reference it in the future and maybe it’ll help someone.

  • I stopped panicking about my sleep. Of course, if I get fewer than 4 hours, I’m upset and worried, but I seem to be able to sleep pretty well from 12am to 5 or 6am, so, I’m going to trust my body and be okay with that. When I’m crippled and hazy from lack of sleep, I remember the eternity I spent in viral, malarial night sweat hell. There is not much these days that is as bad as my nights were from November 2011 to early 2013. I will never be able to adequately describe how sick I was as my body tried to rid itself of whatever evil has invaded. So, I will take constant awakenings and nightmares in a DRY bed any day.
  • I track my resting HR every morning before getting up and before taking my thyroid hormones.
  • I lie in bed for a few hours in the morning, cuddling with my dogs and reading, with the shades open to let light in and set my body clock.
  • I wear my pedometer every day and have been taking 1300-1500 steps a day for the last two months versus 300-600 in December.
  • I usually have my light box on for about 45 minutes while I’m on the computer with my morning tea.
  • I only drink teas that I have researched and I trust the companies (their growing procedures, their tea bag materials– here’s some good help) and, besides my morning decaf black tea, I only drink teas that can supposedly help with one of my symptoms (tulsi, roasted dandelion root, ginger, chamomile, peppermint, licorice, fennel).
  • I drink a vegetable juice every few days in the morning, on an empty stomach (following these tips).
  • I do preemptive rests, as well as recovery rests. I lie down a minimum of 3 hours a day (on top of the 12+ hours I’m in bed at night). Ideally, this would be in 3 separate hour-long meditations, but it often winds up being 2 sessions. When I’m not doing very well, I can usually get out of bed for a few hours in the morning and the evening, but I might spend from 12pm to 7pm in bed, on top of 10pm to 10am. My preemptive rests consist of relaxation and meditation. They work by recharging my body and brain in what feels remarkably like what I imagine an old crappy phone gets when plugged in for an hour (my best friend described my body this way when I was still functioning and not housebound and I didn’t quite get how accurate it was until I spent a year “plugging in” to bed throughout the day). Recovery rests are different. My initial warning signs these days are neurological: my voice gets very weak and I slur badly and can’t find words. My head hurts, vision gets blurry, tinnitus cranks up, coordination is off and I get internal tremors. Everything takes immense concentration. The worst symptom, though, is what I call my “buzzy head.” It’s like internal tremors in my brain. My forehead feels numb and my brain physically feels like it is buzzing and vibrating… like every mitochondrion is rocking back and forth, sputtering and smoking, trying its best to spit out a little more energy– billions of microscopic engines, overheating, gauges in the red, pushed to the max. When this hits, it’s a really bad idea to push through and I go straight to bed and usually fall into a brief in-and-out, trance-like sleep as my brain recharges.
  • I do breathing exercises every day. While resting and during meditation, I do deep breathing techniques that I learned from a video to help with MS pain. They help strengthen my diaphragm and increase oxygen and carbon dioxide. Then, throughout my rests (and any time I think about it throughout the day), I practice abdominal breathing to help settle my nervous system and calm the fight or flight response, which we live with permanently when we have central sensitization issues. Jackie over at lethargicsmiles has a great description of this type of breathing here. I’ve also read that some people benefit from purposely slowing down their breathing to help blood gas absorption.
  • I change up my meditations depending on how bad my symptoms are. Sometimes I need complete silence and I lie very still with ear plugs in. Sometimes I just need white noise and I listen to Kelly Howell’s CDs that use binaural beats to stimulate alpha, delta and theta brain waves. All other times, I alternate through yoga nidra, Buddhist meditations, guided imagery, affirmations, body scans and simple breath meditations. Find some more links at the bottom of this post.
  • I loosened my routine and relaxed my demanding brain: if I need to spend all day in bed, that’s okay. I go outside when I can, I eat junk food when I want, I don’t beat myself up if I can’t bathe for a week or don’t go to bed until midnight.
  • I made peace with my cpap. I try to wear it every night, but, if I take it off after a few hours, it’s okay. And, if I don’t wear it at all, it’s okay. I know I feel worse when I don’t wear it — I keep that in mind and try to be organised about washing it early in the day because, before bed, I often don’t have the energy — but, when I don’t wear it, I don’t panic about the hundred million apnea events that woke up my brain while I “slept”. It’s okay. I’ll be okay.
  • I try to get to physical therapy every month or so, massage every two months (I would like these to be much more often, but can’t justify the money) and I was going to start regular hydrotherapy, but, unfortunately, after the first session, I realised it’s not worth the expense ($83), so I will try to mimic it at home (basically, hot and cold towels and electrostimulation).
  • Food: I’m sticking to my low-histamine + autoimmune protocol diet for the most part (that is: NO gluten, grains except rice, dairy except butter, legumes, nightshades, nuts, seeds, eggs, and no high-histamine foods, such as pork, tomatoes, eggplants, spinach, bananas, vinegar, fermented foods, processed meats, tinned fish/meat etc.). I was strictly low-sulfur for a month and that might have contributed to my feeling better, but I have since stopped that. I don’t beat myself up for my Kerrygold addiction and I don’t worry about my constant snacking and the fact that I go through sweet potato chips and plantain crackers by the bag-load and can’t seem to quit Salted Caramel Chocolate coconut ice cream. Life is too short. We buy organic and I eat a huge variety of veg and herbs. We always have fresh parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, ginger… We buy meat from farms we’ve researched and distributors we trust and make a lot of bone broth, which I drink everyday with a gram of salt in each mug. I recently switched from non-stick pans to stainless steel and cast iron. I drink filtered water. And I keep a detailed food and symptom journal (which, really, has told me nothing). That’s more than I ever did in the first 39 years of my life, so I’ve come a long way.
  • I’ve switched some products: I use Tom’s deodorant and toothpaste. I use supposedly less toxic shampoos, soaps and sunscreens. I use a face wash, moituriser, dish and clothes detergent that don’t make me gag with perfume and are kind to sensitive skin.
  • I use dry eye drops throughout the day and the Rxs from my dermatologist on my face. At night, I put castor oil over my liver and Badger sleep balm on my throat. When my neck is acting up, I use my TENS unit, cervical traction and Tiger Balm neck and shoulder rub. And then there’s vitamins and supplements…
  • Here’s what I take currently:
    • Morning:
      • thyroid hormones (T3 and T4)
      • Probiotic
      • 2.5mg Prednisone
    • Before meals:
      • Thorne Bio-Gest (for gastroparesis)
      • Digestive Enzymes (for gastroparesis)
      • 250mg yucca (for high ammonia/CBS mutation)
    • After breakfast/mid-day meal:
      • 500mg Acetyl L carnitine
      • 100mg CoQ10
      • 36.5mg riboflavin 5’ phosphate
      • 15mg zinc + B6
      • 500-1,000mg vitamin C
      • 100mcg molybdenum (for high ammonia/CBS mutation)
      • Thorne trace Minerals
    • Sporadically:
      • 1 tsp Calm magnesium + calcium
    • After dinner:
      • 2,000mg fish oil (1,000mg EPA, 50mg DHA)
      • 4,000iu Vitamin D3
    • Before bed:
      • 400-600mg magnesium glycinate chelate
      • GABA+theonine
      • 1mg Melatonin
  • I am soon going to add charcoal, Thorne Medibulk, biotin, and a second probiotic with histamine-lowering strains of bacteria.

Something is making a difference. Or maybe it’s just time. Who knows? But I will continue to persevere.

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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