Body’s in Trouble and SIBO Test From Hell.

I am going to document this swiftly before the whole horror fades under the sweet joyous glow of sugar and carbohydrates. Besides the first few years of this illness, which has its own special place in the Hell Hall of Fame, the last few days preparing and preforming the SIBO test might have been the worst 50 hours of my life. There are 2 close seconds: the aftermath of a lumbar puncture, which gave me the 10 on my pain scale to which I compare all else, and a particularly harrowing bout of food poisoning, which I suffered alone on my brother’s bathroom floor for a few days, thinking I might die. But this weekend was worse than both. But let me back up.

My symptoms have been bad since coming back from California, particularly the last month. Immediately after our return, I had to contend with my period, which heightens everything a notch, including emotions. My husband went straight back to work 7 days a week to catch up with his landscaping jobs and the renewed isolation, plus being trapped indoors because of the chilly, damp weather began to take their toll very quickly.

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A week after getting back to Seattle, I got the tests done for Dr. Kaufman (the California doctor at the Open Medicine Clinic). I had 39 vials of blood taken in 2 days — the first day, we did 9 vials, but my blood sugar crashed, so the second day we went back downtown and I did the other 29 vials. I completely underestimated the toll it would take. That evening my blood pressure tanked and I didn’t feel good. It took a few days for the effects to wear off. Just in time for family to come over for my birthday brunch, which caused a bad (but short-lived) crash (I already wrote about this last month).
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Two days after that, I started to get a throat thing… one of those feelings that, in my old life, would have made me think I was getting sick. The last time I was sick — normally sick with a cold and bronchitis — was almost exactly 6 years ago. That boggles my mind. It is, of course, because I probably have immune activation, but it is maybe even more about being housebound, wearing my mask when I go to appointments in the winter and not letting sick people come into my house. So for 3 days I felt like I had strep throat, was completely couch-bound, stiff, sore, swollen and had a tight chest just like it used to feel before I got a chest infection. For 2 nights I slept over 8 hours, which should tell you right away I was being beat down by something different because I’m lucky to ever get more than 6 or 7 hours sleep. These symptoms of acute sick on top of chronic sick scared me. I have read so many stories of relapses and crashes caused by a common cold. I haven’t had any lung issues since the first year of this illness and, as a previous asthma/bronchitis/pneumonia sufferer, I am incredibly thankful that I don’t contend with those symptoms. So, I hit it with every tool in my virus tool kit, including IV fluids (so brilliant to be able to hook myself up to fluids; see my first time here) and it didn’t progress to a full-blown cold or flu.

The day I started to feel better, I did an immunoglobulin infusion. From that day on, I’ve had a headache. It has waxed and waned over the last 3 weeks, but yesterday it was in the top 4 worst headaches of my life. More on that in a minute. I’m not finished with the litany. A few days after the infusion, I stopped taking all of my vitamins, supplements and even prescriptions that aren’t essential. I needed to come off my candida treatment for 2 weeks before doing the SIBO test, so I just stopped everything. I thought this would be a good break, but in retrospect, perhaps it contributed to this past Very Bad Fortnight.

One thing I did not intend to discontinue was my hormone therapy but my doctor refused to call in my compounded progesterone prescription because I hadn’t seen her in person in 4 months, so I had to abruptly stop it in the middle of my cycle. Maybe it’s no big deal, but I’ve been taking it for years and it regulates my periods and calms my reactivity, so messing with my body and, more importantly, the difficulty dealing with my doctor caused a lot of stress (I didn’t want to see her until I had the test results back from the 39 vials of blood, so I implored her to extend my Rx, but it took her too long to answer and my period decided to come and then she only called in a few to tide me over until our appointment, but they wanted to charge me $2.50/capsule for such a small order, so I just went to see her (there was no discussion of my hormones and no changes made, so withholding the refill felt like blackmail to get a very sick person to make an appointment). Then it took 3 more days after our appointment for her to call the progesterone into the pharmacy… so I was ultimately off of it for 2 weeks. Sigh).

Speaking of my pain scale, the week before last I had a bowel spasm that was a 9. My first 9 since The Evil Calcium Headache of 2012. I have experienced a lot of bowel issues in my life — just the day before this spasm, I had experienced such vicious heart palpitations during an enema, that I thought I might collapse with vasovagal syncope — but I didn’t know this sort of pain was possible in the bowel. From an internal muscle spasm?? Seems far-fetched even now, having experienced it. It only lasted about 5 minutes, but for that eternity I couldn’t move from the bathroom floor where I had crumpled, I could barely breathe, I was making some weird, uncontrollable, primal, guttural, airless moan. If it had gone on a few minutes longer, I would have called an ambulance and probably would have agreed to morphine, even though I’m allergic to it. As soon as I was able to crawl, I did a castor oil pack and heating pad and the spasm eased up. The aftershocks and inflammation continued for days, however…

Right up until my period came and my chronic headache became a chronic migraine. The old kind that has me wincing at every noise and squinting at every light. The kind of headache that makes it difficult to move my eyes, like the extraocular muscles have swelled taught with inflammation. The kind that infects my neck and spine, so I can’t turn my head, bend over, cough, sneeze or poop without whimpering in pain. The kind that causes nightmares about loved ones getting their skulls bashed in and destroys sleep with constant throbbing wakings. The kind that causes my stomach to flip with every smell and my poor husband: “Please don’t put your foot down so heavily on the floor.” “Please don’t ever use that shaving cream again.” “Please don’t sharpen that knife or stir that pot.” “Please don’t smoke that cigar out on the porch because it sticks to your clothes.” … etc. I became very weak over the next few days, like the life-force was drained out of me. Muscles not working, hard to converse. This is a completely different feeling from my typical exhaustion or heavy muscles. This is how I imagine it feels if someone is on the ground, bleeding out.

And then, just like that, a depression switch was flicked in my brain. I’ve only been really depressed twice before, the worst was the winter of 2013 after I’d gone steadily downhill for 2 years and spent most of my time in my bedroom in pain. This episode wasn’t as bad as that — I am sustained by a bit more hope these days because I’ve had some staccato ups punctuate the continuous downs — but it still sucked. I’ve cried every day and had very black thoughts. The relentlessness of my symptoms have highlighted the improvements in California, making me terrified of what it means for our lives if my environment is keeping me sick. And the interesting/engulfing thing about depression is, it doesn’t matter whether you rationally know that things will be better on a different day or could be better in a different location, you still want to give up and end it all. Nope, can’t do this anymore, I’m too tired. And when that Black Cloud of Despondency starts to dissipate, like it has today (oh, thank god, please stay away), it seems ludicrous and selfish that you had those dark thoughts.

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SIBO prep meal

But let’s get to the crescendo… The last 50 hours… The prep for the SIBO test… If I was ever in doubt that my body doesn’t do well on a low-carb diet, this weekend proved it. It feels miraculous that I’m able to sit up and type right now, honestly. On top of bad physical symptoms, little sleep, no supplements and sadness, I started a 48-hour prep diet for a SIBO test ordered by Dr. Kaufman. SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. I’ve done the SIBO diet and test once before and don’t remember it being very difficult (aside: my post is here and you can see that the National University of Natural Medicine has stolen my food photo for their website here, which I find highly amusing). For the prep diet, you are only allowed to eat meat, eggs, white rice and fats for 12 hours and then 15 hours of fasting, which doesn’t sound too bad except, if you are constipated (or in my case, the most constipated person I’ve ever met), you have to do the diet for 2 days before the fast. I eat all day and night — it steadies my blood sugar and maintains my weight — and, although I eat meat every day, I don’t eat a lot and I only eat about 2 or 3 eggs a week. So, this was hard. Friday night, I stopped eating at 1am. I was hoping I would wake up Tuesday morning without an appetite, which often happens in the mornings, but no luck, I was starving. I ate a scrambled egg with turkey. A little later I ate some rice and butter. Then chicken breasts. By the time my husband made some “meat broth” (no bones, cartilage, herbs or veg allowed), I was very nauseous — which is unusual, I have an iron stomach — but still hungry because I couldn’t physically choke down enough meat to fill me up and too much white rice without sufficient veg and starchy carbs causes my blood sugar to crash because of reactive hypoglycemia. The nausea was exacerbated by pain throughout my body, a pulled muscle in my back and my migraine ratcheting up. If I hadn’t prepared for this test for 2 weeks already, I would have thrown in the towel and taken steroids, acetaminophen and an antihistamine, but I had to shudder through it.

Yesterday was indescribable (but I’ll try). I woke up with my brain swollen, neck stiff and head shattered. It felt like that lumbar puncture headache: I had to be horizontal to function. And, of course, I was starving. The smell of the meat broth almost made me vomit. My arms shook as I force-fed myself an egg and turkey. Later, I ate beef stew meat and rice, but, again, not enough to fill me. I just couldn’t get it down. I spent the whole day in a weak ball on the couch. My husband had to half carry me to the loo because whenever I sat up, my limbs started shaking and I broke out in sweats. This was more than hunger on top of a migraine. I googled meningitis and encephalitis symptoms and actually considered going to the hospital. I’ve managed to stay out of the emergency room for the entirety of my illness, so I don’t consider it lightly. But, really, what could they do? IV fluids, which I can do at home; a spinal tap, which I’ll refuse; a brain CT, but I’ve had way too much radiation exposure in my life; an MRI, but I’ll refuse contrast; a blood test, which will be negative. So I stayed put. And, besides, I checked my blood sugar, blood pressure and temperature and, inexplicably, everything was stable. Actually, this made me a little more scared because I like having a reason for abnormal symptoms — something I can fix. The entire day, I kept saying to myself, “You’ve come this far, just 20 more hours… 15 more hours…” I couldn’t stomach anything after 6pm and I finally got to sleep at midnight, but woke up at 3:30am and 4am and then every hour, feeling sick and in and out of dreams about food. I got up at 7am and my head felt a bit better, but I was so emaciated and weak (I lost 3 pounds in those 2 days and I didn’t have 3 pounds to lose).

For the SIBO test, at least an hour after you wake up, you drink a lactulose solution and then take a sample of your breath every 20 minutes for 3 hours. Only 4 more hours. My kingdom for peanut butter on toast! It was torture. I was breathless and, with every movement, my heart rate skyrocketed. I’m not sure why I have to eat so much, so often, of so many foods in order to feel like my muscles and organs — even my cells — will function. It could be thyroid related: my metabolism is still revving too high. But then the icing on the cake … No, the cherry on top of the icing… The pièce de résistance of the whole month de hell: An hour after drinking the lactulose solution, my body responded how it always does to a shot of sugar without a meal chaser: my blood sugar crashed. No, no, no… We are in the 11th hour, I have been off supplements, I have gotten through the prep diet, please, body, do not fail me before I complete the test. I sat very still, tried not to expend energy, willed my pancreas and liver to do their jobs and release some glucose, but the shakes and my hammering heart… It was too much. I thought I might black out getting the phone to call my husband, my words were halting and stuttered, my vision tunneled as I tested my blood sugar. It was 57 and I was getting worse, I had no choice but to drink some apple juice. After only 3 ounces, I could feel my body stabilise. It was like those starving Naked & Afraid people who feel energy flood back into their bodies after eating a minnow (if you don’t watch that program, what are you waiting for?). I’d last about 3 hours on Naked & Afraid.

An hour and a half after the hypoglycemic crash, I got diarrhea. For someone who hasn’t moved her bowels in over 2 years without an enema, this is a big deal — body’s in trouble. I finished the SIBO test and wrote a note that I had to drink apple juice and all I can do is pray that they can glean something from my samples. As soon as I blew my last breath sample, I drank a huge mug of proper Irish tea with milk and ate a piece of banana bread. I moaned with every sip and bite. Potable, edible life. Then I ate a seed bar, some nuts, some melon. And then half an acorn squash and half a head of steamed cabbage. And an oatmeal raisin cookie. Now I’m sitting at the table for the first time in about 10 days feeling very grateful for no shakes, my normal-level pain, the food in my belly and the energy available to write this. I don’t even care that my churning, bloated, gassy bowel probably means I have SIBO and will have to take antibiotics. All I know is I will never do this test again.

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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.

March Update

I haven’t done an update in forever and it’s a shame because I look back on my updates a lot to see how I was in the past and compare it to how I am now. It looks like I’m at about the same level of functioning as I was at this time last year. A little worse, unfortunately. Last year, I was walking more steps, had been out in the garden more, was driving a bit (I drove to an appointment this week for the first time in forever, so there is some progress).

I’m still trying to regain some ground after the onslaught of nocturnal mast cell/viral/ME/inflammatory bowel reactions that started in September when I tried Cromolyn. Thanksgiving and Christmas were probably the two sickest nights of my life. As soon as I was resurfacing from Christmas, I got hit by another one on January 12th. As soon as I was feeling recovered from that, I had another one on January 28th and then again on the 31st. I stopped everything, including writing. For three weeks, I laid low and tried to reset my body. My constipation had become severe, so I had been taking massive doses of various different kinds of magnesium and I was afraid this was contributing to the episodes because there always seems to be some sort of bowel inflammation component involved (I get aches and what feels like electric pins and needles in my bowels and my flanks when I’m very constipated). When I quit magnesium, the constipation became critical — and a bit comical with the size of my protruding belly. I’m so uncomfortable, I wake up in the night when I roll over onto the poop baby inside of me. Where do the other organs go? I’m not sure how I continue to eat and I’m not sure why I continue to eat. You’d think at some stage I would just give my gut a break and eat liquid food, but I’m always hungry. I tried Triphala, Gentian, Medibulk, digestive enzymes, massage, enemas, prunes, oatmeal, even my old standby Wormwood stopped working. Which led me to the glycerine suppository on Oscar night which caused the (anaphylactic?) collapse on the bathroom floor. So, tonight I’ll be taking the generic polyethylene glycol (Miralax/Movical) that I have been avoiding because, if it’s too harsh, it’ll trigger a vasovagal reaction and I could pass out or, if it’s mild cramping, it’ll keep me up in the night. Not to mention it’s a nasty drug and probably made in China. But enough about that…

My father was visiting when the suppository episode happened and, a few days after he left, my mother came. That’s it from Christmas until now. That is my 2015. One quarter of a year summed up: reaction-recovery-reaction-recovery-reaction-recovery-reaction-recovery-visitor-visitor. Thank god for the visitors because the rest is really depressing. My friend M recently said that he fears not seeing those he loves ever again and, as we get older, that concern becomes more and more pressing. I think this all the time with my parents living so far away. Their visits allowed me to breathe easier. They filled me up with sustenance and gave me a little more mettle to carry on. I am incredibly lucky to have such a supportive and loving family. Recently, Jen Brea asked the ME community to post the most compassionate word or giving act ever received in relation to our illness (a very moving thread) and all I could think was, my family, my siblings, my parents, my best friends… their messages, words of encouragement, interest in learning about ME, physical help, monetary help, emotional help… Where would I be without them?

Both visits were wonderful and were needed more than I realised. My mother helped me with a hundred tasks I haven’t been able to accomplish and I got to hear all about my brothers and nieces and nephews, whom she had just visited. We managed to drive to the beach dog park twice: first, with my father and sister and, again, with my mother. It has been glorious weather in Seattle and getting out of the house is always the highlight of my months.

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Yay! Beach!

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Damn, he’s a fine looking dog. ❤

The one downside was, my husband wasn’t with us the first time, so I was without his deafening whistle and another set of eyes on our smaller dog, Riley, the escape artist. He ran around the rocks at the edge of the park and took off, causing me to expend more energy than I have in many months. I stood calling at the top of my lungs, over and over, “RILEY, COME!” and then started to panic when he didn’t reappear. At the top of my lungs and panic are not things that go well with ME. My voice is not strong, but, man, when my child went missing, nothing was going to stop me yelling for him. This is a dog that is only ours because he ran away from some other home and was found in a house barn, emaciated and unable to stand up. He’s an adventurer and curious about everything, while Bowie sticks to me like glue.

When Riley finally came into view, he was up in the car park and I sprinted up the sand embankment to the fence. Sprinted and up don’t happen in my world, either. Riley looked scared. He couldn’t tell where my voice was coming from and I was worried he’d run in front of a car or disappear, never to be found. He was tearing back and forth outside the park and I was calling over and over. He finally found me and I grabbed the scruff of his neck through the fence and sat down in the sand, waiting for rescue. My 72-year old Dad clambered up the rocks (cutting his shins in the process) and got Riley on a leash. I was half catatonic on the way home, like a rag with all the water twisted out of it. I crawled to bed, but, once again, bounced back quicker than I anticipated. And it was worth it. Mount Rainier on the drive home, through my glazed eyeballs, was spectacular. My Dad said it looked like a painting of Mount Fuji.

So, what else can I tell you about the last 3 or 4 months? I haven’t really taken any supplements this whole year so far. A few here and there, but, after every big episode, I would stop everything and go back to baseline. In the last week, I have been taking trace minerals, Vitamin D, K2 and fish oil again. I’m also still on topical DHEA and progesterone and just added topical pregnenolone and I’m about to add oral progesterone. It makes me nervous using bioidentical hormones, but they don’t seem to cause a reaction and both of my NDs recommend them, so I’m going with it. Apparently, there is evidence that DHEA+pregnenolone can reduce reactivity, so the goal is to take those for a while, then try IV fluids, then try sub-cutaneous IG and maybe even make my way to IVIG one day. I’ve been trying to get there since seeing Dr. Chia 7 months ago, so who knows how long it’ll take. I’m also still on the compounded thyroid hormones. All these compounded meds are costing me a fortune, though, and are not covered by insurance. One of these days, I’ll have to call this experiment quits and go back to my generic, dye-filled, filler-filled drugs. That’s it for what I’m taking. The Equilibrant, Nystatin, Hydroxyzine, Tramadol and Singulair are all languishing in the cupboard, unopened.

I had a few blood tests done in January. The big shock is that my cholesterol is sky high. Total cholesterol is 310, LDL is 194, Apo B is 124 (ideally <109) and LDL-P (particles) is 1755 (ideally <1000). There could be many reasons for this: my continuing low thyroid, my chronic and reactivated infections (coxsackie, HHV6, EBV, varicella, candida, mycoplasma pneumoniae), leaky gut and inflammation, genetics (both of my parents have high cholesterol) or something to do with my insulin/hypoglycemia issues. But, I actually think it is mostly to do with my diet. Over a year ago, I started an elimination diet for autoimmune conditions (AIP), plus cut out most high-histamine foods (fish, shellfish and avocado etc.). I cut out oats (I had already eliminated all other grains except rice), legumes, nuts and seeds, but continued to eat white rice (and rice cakes, rice pasta etc.). After about 4 months, I began eating a lot of ghee, butter and bone broth. I had my cholesterol checked in 2013 and it was fine, as it had been my whole life. In mid-2014, it had started to crawl up and, 9 months later, it’s now a pretty big problem. I’m pretty sure it was my inadvertent reduction in soluble and insoluble fiber (especially the former), plus the changes in the type of fat I was eating that caused the lipid problem.

Other January blood tests of note: low DHEA and testosterone (still), low insulin, high homocysteine (still) and my T3 and T4 are low (STILL). Don’t tell Dr. Erin, but I’m going to increase my liothyronine myself because these teeny incremental changes are just taking too long to fix my levels. Nothing seems to get better and more abnormalities keep emerging.

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I’m averaging about 1,400 steps a day and 6 hours sleep a night. When I do sleep, my sleep has been better. I just put it together now that this might be because of the progesterone supplementation, which is meant to help restful sleep. Wow, I finally made a correlation. I still can’t wear the CPAP without all hell breaking lose and the oral appliance still wrecks my jaw, but I’m managing to get a solid 5 hours most nights, with another 1-3 tossy turny hours. I have my third sleep study tomorrow to see if the OA is helping the apnea at all. My other sleep issues (pain, night terrors, constant movement and muscle spasms, awakenings post-REM sleep) are still unresolved since I haven’t been able to tolerate the drugs offered.

My headaches have also been a bit better, maybe because I backed off the salt ever so slightly. I get doozies a few times a week, but I noticed that I didn’t really have a headache the whole time my father was here. My salt loading wasn’t helping my blood pressure at all, so I might need to be medicated.

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My throat spot hasn’t been itchy in a while and I think the electric shocks in my left leg have been fewer and farther between.

I stopped using the Restasis after 4 months to see if I noticed any difference and I think my eyes have been worse since stopping, but I don’t know if they’re worse enough to justify a Rx.

Sore glands in my neck, crazy tinnitus, swollen sinuses are all continuous low-key issues lately. I started taking 5-6ml of liquid Zyrtec again a few weeks ago on a whim in case anything was seasonal allergy-related. As usual, I can’t really tell anything positive or negative.

My blood sugar seems better. This could be because I’ve diversified my diet (added back many nuts, seeds, oats, goat cheese, milk, potato, corn, chickpeas) and it also helps that my new endocrinologist explained that the danger lies more in how fast my blood sugar is dropping than how low it is. This was great to hear because I have experienced those sugar crashes where it can wind up in the 40s, but I was always nervous, if, when I was going to sleep, it was 73 or something, that it would continue to plummet in the night. She reassured me that, if I don’t feel the tell-tale shakes, it’s probably ok and I don’t need to eat. Having said all that, I got out of bed this morning needing to eat right away because I was shaky and it was 63, so it’s still a delicate dance. [<~ And, after I wrote that, I had a big blood sugar crash on my way out the door to PT because I didn’t eat meat for breakfast. I had to go back inside and cook a mound of lamb and a yuca cake and eat it in the car on the way there. I was 15 minutes late. I guess hypoglycemia isn’t really any better. Gah!]

My buzzy brain and neuro symptoms are definitely still here, always incapacitating when they hit, always signalling that I need to go to bed and power down. And I’m still stiff, inflexible, pulling muscles regularly, in some pain and pretty weak. My lower back has been a major issue recently and my husband bought me a back brace that I have to wear when I’m standing in the kitchen or I’m crippled.

My mood is fine unless I’m really sick or in a lot of pain and then I’m a scared, desperate caged animal, feeling like I can’t go on another minute. When I’m really sick in bed, feeling fluish, poisoned, inflamed and broken, the dark mental cloud descends and obliterates all hope and even the very rational thought that this will ease up. I don’t forget that it has eased up in the past – seemingly, it would be easy to reassure myself that it will again, but I can’t. It’s the knowledge that I couldn’t continue living if it didn’t ease up that causes the black blanket of fear.

But enough about that…

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The last time I was out on the scooter.

The bad news is, my scooter died at the end of December. It was my one lifeline to freedom and, although I only got out on it for about an hour each month, I lived for that hour. So, I have to figure out a way to get another. The best case scenario would be one that I could lift into my car myself. The cemetery is only a few blocks away and, ideally, I’d like to go for little outings without needing my husband and his truck, since he’s not home very much. I’m also thinking about the future when I have a smaller dog and will, I hope, have the strength to walk him on a leash using the scooter. Not sure there are any scooters that disassemble to light enough parts or that I would have the energy to put in the car, drive, take out and assemble, ride around for a bit, take apart and put back in the car, drive home, take out of the car again… Now that I see that in print, it seems a Herculean and impossible task. Plus, we can’t really afford one, anyway, when we spend more than we bring in every month. When we win the lotto, we can buy a scooter and a transport van that it can drive into. Or maybe I’ll just get better.

The good news is, everything is blooming and the smells in the garden are incredible. 🙂

This took me over a week to write, so apologies if it’s disjointed. Until next time… XO

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Thanksgiving Tsunami

The last 10 days have been a bit harrowing. Different symptoms crashing down like waves each day. First let me tell you about our early Thanksgiving dinner with just the two of us.

Everything was made from scratch with the freshest ingredients. The only thing we didn’t do is grind the almond flour ourselves. Here’s what we had:

The turkey was pastured, free-range, organic, fresh (not frozen) from Rain Shadow Meats, our specialty butcher here in Seattle. They had 400 turkeys in a truck parked outside their shop and my husband tells me it was a chaotic scene picking it up. The smallest bird they had was 12 pounds and we didn’t want to store it, waiting for Thursday because of histamines, so we put it in the oven as soon as my husband got home. He roasted it upside down, so it’s a funny looking photo (and these aren’t the greatest photos becasue it was dark in our house):

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I eat roasted root veg and mashed sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts and other green veg all the time, so I decided, for a treat, to have a “stuffing” and cranberry sauce to go with my turkey, while my husband made himself potatoes and corn. The stuffing was based on Mickey Trescott’s recipe, but I left out the mushrooms and cranberries. I added fresh rosemary, parsley and a few cut up dried cherries for a zing every few mouthfuls. I also made a paleo “cornbred” (no corn in it, but it has that grainy quality from the almond flour) and added cubes to the stuffing becasue — stuffing without bread in it? Really?

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The bread itself was delicious and I had a piece slathered in butter, while my husband got to eat those soft, squishy pull-apart rolls that I love so much.

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I also made cranberry sauce from fresh, organic cranberries, fresh ginger, apple juice, orange juice and a touch of honey. I have never made cranberry sauce before and had no idea how easy it was. Why would anyone buy it in a tin?

IMG_20141123_184912 The gravy was made from chicken bone broth, herbs and onions. You blend it with a hand blender and the onions thicken it.

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All in all, it was a lovely meal and would have been even lovlier if we had been surrounded by friends and family and laughter and chatting.

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Then the tsunami hit.

12 hours after I wrote my last happy, chatty post, I awoke from sleep at 3am, the sickest I have ever been in my life. I know there’s a lot of “sickest I have ever been”s in my world, but this truly was. Not once, in 3 years of ME, when all my worst symptoms happen at night, have I woken my husband to help me. Well, Sunday night, I had no choice. I crawled on my hands and knees to the toilet, shaking violently and drenched in cold sweat. Cold sweats are diffferent than the night sweats I experience. They are what happens right before I collapse with vasovagal syncope. So, it scared me. I thought I was going to lose consciousness at any moment and I was so parched I needed water asap. I crawled back to the bedroom and got my phone and woke my husband sleeping downstairs. He got me water, salt, my blood sugar tester, my blood pressure monitor, thermometer, charcoal and Benadryl. I didn’t know what was happening, honestly. How could this be a reaction to the healthist and freshest Thanksgiving dinner I’d ever had? What has happened to my body that I now react to anything random?

All my vitals were low, but not low enough to be causing the sickness. Once again, I felt poisoned, only this time I hadn’t taken Cromolyn or any other new drug or supplement. My gut told me it was the onion gravy. It was a lot of onions and I know I have digestive issues with raw onions. It could have been a reaction to the onions themselves or it could have been a form of sulfur poisoning. The meal was very sulfur-heavy and I know my CBS mutation* causes problems because it’s shown up in my ammonia, taurine and homocysteine blood tests.

Yes, when it comes to histamine, it could have been the small amount of orange juice in the cranberry sauce or the few dried cherries or, if you belive my nutritionist, the caulifower in the stuffing, but I don’t think so. I eat dried fruit every day and I’ve eaten an orange without problems. Besides, it didn’t feel like one of my histamine reactions. It was much, much worse. If it wasn’t onion/sulphur poisoning, I would say it was the almond flour. I have reintroduced almond butter, but not almonds themselves or almond flour.

I never got back to sleep that night and rested carefully the whole of Monday. After saying in my last post that no matter how I’m feeling I make it to see my physical therapist, I had my husband call and cancel our appointment that day. I ate like a shaky, poisonened sick person, trying to choose foods that would have the least impact on my body in every way,  but this started the next symptom wave: blood sugar issues. I had rice, carrots, cucumber and sweet potato for breakfast. My blood sugar was 70 before I ate and 170 an hour after I ate. I had a chicken salad, parsnips, butternut squash drenched in butter, but stayed away from the chips and chocloate and broth I eat every day.

Tuesday, I was 2 pounds lighter — after one day of not eating the high-caloric crap I snack on to maintain my weight. And my blood sugar continued to crash. After years of hypoglycemia, I can usually feel the shakes when my sugar drops into the 70s, but it dropped into the low 60s a few times before I caught it. I increased my protein and starchy veg, I added olive oil, plantain crackers, fresh herbs and lots of pomegranate. I even had to go downstairs to the kitchen at 1am, after I had brushed, flossed and had my mouth guard in to cook up a beef burger and sweet potato. Exhausting.

Wednesday, I felt more stable, but very ME-ish: a bad headache and my spine and muscles felt infected and swollen.

Thursday (Thanksgiving) brought on the next new symptom wave: my blood pressure kept tanking alarmingly. No matter how much salt I ate or electrolytes I drank, with legs up and compression stockings on, it would not come up and stabilise. The best I achieved was 83/55.

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My Riley always knows when his Mama isn't feeling well. <3

My Riley always knows when his Mama isn’t feeling well. ❤

This continued on into Friday and, then, towards the end of that night, my whole body was in pain – joints and muscles – which I haven’t experienced in quite a while. My back and my hands felt arthritic.

Saturday, my blood pressure was better, but then came the sore throat and hoarse voice, making it difficult to talk. That night, I awoke 3 hours after going to bed with night sweats and never went back to sleep.

Sunday came a wave of neurological symptoms: poor cognitive abilities, worsening tinnitus, slurring my words, weak muscles, droopy eyes, my numb “buzzy head” symptoms (which signal I need to basically ctrl+alt+delete my brain immeadiately) and a cracking headache.

Monday, my throat and head pain had ebbed, but now it was my heart’s turn. It was hammering all day and fit to burst whenever I moved.

These last few days have been menstrual hell, which is generally an increase in my typical ME symptoms. I would honestly take all the other (probably more dangerous) reactions over the ME-inflamed, painful, exhausted days that feel like someone has pumped every muscle full of poisonous led…  These are symptoms I can’t fight through. There is no remedy, no relief. They make me feel like I cannot go on living if they are prolonged and they affect my mood horribly. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I get scared and weepy.

But, the good news is, today I’m stiff and crampy, but better, although the insomnia and nightmares have continued all week and I’m in desperate need of a decent sleep. I’ve been eating a very low-sulfur and low-histamine diet since the sickness that kicked this all off and am completely fed up with squash, lettuce, sweet potato and parsnip. My kindom for some kale! Never thought I’d say that. I tested the turkey, turkey bone broth and orange with no reactions. I tried the almond flour bread, but it was inconclusive (this time of the month caused confounding variables), so I might try again next week. I ate a lot of almond butter with no problem and, today, I had cauliflower (my first sulfurous veg in 10 days) with no problem. I still have to try the stuffing and cranberry sauce, but continue to suspect the onion gravy. Such detective work!

The even better news is, we managed to get out to the cemetery for half an hour to watch our pups run in the thin dusting of snow (yes, SNOW!) and, for that, I am truly grateful.

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Onwards and upwards. I hope things will ease up until after Christmas.

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*”Increased CBS enzyme activity would act to convert homocysteine more efficiently to cysteine, thereby lowering homocysteine levels. Ultimately individuals with the CBS C699T upregulation of the CBS enzyme can generate more sulfur breakdown products with potential sulfur toxicity issues, enhanced ammonia production, and a lack of glutathione.” ~ Dr. Amy Yasko’s book, “Genetic Bypass”

DIETS Part III: finding a balance in low-histamine and figuring out how to eat more meat.

Some of you have commented on how exhausting/frustrating/crazy this elimination diet process is and I agree! It is incredibly time-consuming considering the research into studies, the searching for recipes, the phone calls to grocery stores, the time my husband spends shopping, menu discussion, and cooking time…! Since none of my diet changes has made me feel any different, it seems like a futile process, but here is what I always keep in mind:

Some people, such as my brother, eat a paleo diet even though they are completely healthy ~ they just want to continue to feel great. Or feel even greater. Some people are diagnosed with a thyroid condition or an autoimmune illness and immediately change the way they eat, trying to ease symptoms or stop the progression of disease. I never even considered doing these things! I had one odd health issue after another and never changed a smidge about the way I eat. The doctors didn’t mention diet, so I didn’t think about it. I didn’t even research the things I was experiencing. This blows my mind more than anything. My time was fully committed to my job, there was no room for anything else. Plus, they were intermittent episodes (I thought) and I was still feeling fine (I thought), so everything was easy to ignore. I had given up alcohol, which, to me, was the ultimate sacrifice ~ do you think I would give up anything else? No way!

One of the best gifts I was given was my OBGYN off-handedly saying, “You should eat some salt if you feel like you are going to collapse.” Uuuuhhh…? Why didn’t I know that? I’d been limiting my salt for years because I thought it contributed to the swelling. Couldn’t just one of the many nurses that have taken my blood pressure over the years mentioned salt to me? They always comment on how low it is and I always let them know I get dizzy. “Try increasing salt.” Just that simple.

The other thing I always keep in mind is my dog, Bowie. When he was young, he developed bumps on his skin. The vet thought it might be a food allergy, so we changed him to a limited-ingredient diet. Over the next year -maybe two- his skin got worse and worse. We changed his shampoo, we washed him more, we washed him less, we gave him supplements, he was put on Benadryl. His coat is a beautiful, deep, glossy brown; he looks like a stallion. But the bumps got bigger, his skin was like braille, and his skin started to have a distinctive infected smell.

Then, one day in the dog park, there was a hand-written sign tacked to a post: “Natural Balance food is killing dogs!” It had some other info on the sign that I can’t remember, but there was nothing online that we could find. Regardless, we paid attention because that’s the brand our dogs ate. And then a miracle: Literally, a few days after we switched their food, we had two puppies back in our house. We didn’t even realise that their happiness and activity level wasn’t normal for them because that’s all we knew for so long. They were DANCING. They were LAUGHING. They were running around like we had just removed their shackles. And then Bowie’s skin made a total turnaround: The bumps and smell disappeared incredibly quickly. We were very grateful, but my heart was broken over the poison we had been feeding them. If anyone had witnessed the change, they would know the radical difference food can make to health.

Lastly, I never want to look back and regret not trying diet changes. One would think that time ticks by slowly when you are sick and housebound, but, it turns out, the years speed by quicker than ever. I don’t want to be 50 or 60 and wish I had tried this in the beginning of my illness.

So, after 3 weeks of eating sort of low-histamine and a month of eating strictly low-histamine, I was not feeling any better. In fact, November and December were probably the worst months I’ve ever had, but I blamed that mostly on repercussions from the tilt table test and IV fluids reaction. I’m sure the stress around a new way of eating and hypoglycemia didn’t help matters, though, so I allowed in some histamine foods (bananas, berries, lemon, some vinegar, all greens, all meat), but I have continued to avoid the biggies (fish, spinach, tomatoes, eggplant, pickled/fermented foods, dried fruit, leftover animal protein). I needed to increase my protein intake to stabilise my blood sugar and started force-feeding myself meat. It was joyless, like taking medication. I am eating this chicken so my blood sugar does not tank in the night… (picture me sitting in bed, eyes closed, slack-jawed chewing a piece of cold, dry meat, grimacing as I swallow).

Around the same time, I eliminated oats ~ the only grain I had never lived without and had, in fact, been eating every day in the form of granola/porridge and oat crackers ~ and that left me desperate for breakfast options that included protein. Beef breakfast patties became a staple. We started investigating all the butchers in our area and my husband talked to all the grocery stores. We figured out when deliveries come in, whether they are fresh or frozen, how long since the date of slaughter, and we buy grass-fed, pastured beef and lamb, organic chicken and turkey, trying to source the healthiest and freshest meat to continue keeping histamine in check. My husband cooks the day we buy meat and then we freeze portions so I have meals at the ready. He still makes beef bone broth and chicken stock, but we cook it in a shorter amount of time and freeze it in silicone ice cube trays and jars. Beef patties for breakfast. Lamb shepard’s pie, portions wrapped in wax paper. Chicken and turkey breasts that can be thrown in soup or chopped on a salad or served with rice pasta and topped with veg and sauce (see FOOD! page for some recipes). Blood sugar crashes became much rarer.

Frozen broth

Frozen broth

My weird breakfast:
Grass-fed beef patty with parsley (antihistamine) and thyme (anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine);
artichokes (contain quercetin, luteolin and rutin);
sweet potato (anti-inflammatory, contains rutin and quercetin) and butternut squash latke (antihistamine, anti-ulcer, anti-inflammatory and antidepressant action);
pomegranate (mast cell stabiliser, anti-inflammatory).
**Info from thelowhistaminechef.com**

Another weird breakfast:
Grass-fed beef patty with parsley (antihistamine) and thyme (anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine);
sauteed with spiralized zucchini (has anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcerogenic and potentially antihistaminic properties);
cauliflower (contains anti-inflammatory vitamin K) and sweet potato cake (anti-inflammatory, contains rutin and quercetin);
apple sauce.
**Info from thelowhistaminechef.com**

I started to feel a bit better overall in late January, right after my bad pre-syncope episode during my period and right after I quit oats. By “better”, I mean back to where I was around September/October of last year. Able to walk 800-1000 steps a day instead of 500, my daily headache got better. But still not going into the garden, not stretching, not able to talk very much. One amazing change is my heart rate has gotten much lower overall ~ almost too low. In the 70s and 80s when I am standing up, not moving. Mid-50s sitting, watching tv. Low-50s and high-40s sometimes, while lying down in bed.

I refuse to believe that eliminating oats made the change.
A) Because I love oats too much and can’t wait to eat them again. I HATE savoury breakfasts. Hate them. Make me sick and nauseous. I was the one going to the Irish pub for a Sunday fry with my family and ordering porridge or fruit, yogurt and toast. Every morning is a struggle. It has gotten easier, but it’s not enjoyable. I don’t want acorn squash and beef and kale for breakfast and I never, ever will. It’s one of the reasons I have continued to search for “baked goods” recipes and kept rice in my diet (so I can have rice cereal or rice toast, if I like).
B) Because nothing can ever be definitive in such a changeable, cyclical disease. I also stopped taking my B-complex around the same time. That could have been causing my headache everyday!

Banana-Zucchini muffins: click image for recipe

Banana-Zucchini muffins: click image for recipe

In the final diet post, I will discuss AIP (autoimmune paleo diet) and all the other complications and sensitivities one comes across when researching online. It’s enough to send anyone straight to the nearest fully gluten-ized and dairy-fied bakery.

In Other Conditions Doctors Don’t Give A Shit About News…

I have had reactive hypoglycemia for years. Of course, I didn’t have a name for it for a long time, I just knew that I had to graze all day in order to not be shaky. Is it a coincidence that this is one of the conditions that is associated with ME? I don’t know. My new doctor said it has to do with adrenal fatigue and it is absolutely likely that I was stressing my adrenals for a long time.

Hypoglycemia is yet another condition that is completely pooh-poohed by doctors and, in the grand scheme of things, I understand why. It is manageable for the most part and many patients have much worse things going on. But, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored and people shouldn’t be given constructive advice on how to stop their bodies from going through blood sugar roller coasters. That’s where I come in.

Just like (allopathic) doctors don’t discuss adrenal problems unless you have Addison’ s disease or Cushing’s syndrome, they don’t discuss hypoglycemia unless it is in the context of diabetes. Years ago, I talked to a doctor in Ireland about my blood sugar drops and I will never forget his response: “Ah, just eat a biscuit.” So, as usual, I had to do my own research. My fasting blood sugar is fine and, after lunch throughout the evening, it is usually stable around 80 or 90 mg/dL. But, after I eat breakfast, I have to beware. “Reactive” meaning my BS drops after eating a meal. I have a few rules: I know I have to eat a substantial breakfast and I always have to eat “elevensies” and I have to be wary of what I eat, using knowledge of the glycemic index. I’ve avoided almost all of my hypoglycemic episodes by switching from rice milk to almond milk (warning: rice has a very high score on the glycemic index, meaning it’ll cause your BS to soar and then crash).

But, still, there will always be days that I don’t manage it properly, like yesterday. I want to post about this because the physical effects from a BS crash are nothing to be scoffed at ~ especially when you have ME. It stresses your body just as an allergic drug reaction or a long conversation or a walk around the block stresses your body.

Yesterday, I ate oatmeal for breakfast with walnuts, pomegranate seeds, almond milk and flax meal. I thought that was pretty hearty and didn’t eat anything else for a few hours. Big mistake. My primary symptoms are extreme shakiness (worse than any caffeine or any other sort of tremors I have experienced) and blurry eyesight. And by “blurry eyesight” I mean it feels like my eyeballs are shaking as violently as my hands. It took me three tries to unzip my BS tester kit. It took me two tries to put the little testing strip in the reader (the first time I put it in backwards because I couldn’t see properly). While trying to load the wee needle, I stabbed myself deeply in the hand and just used that blood in the tester, which was good because I don’t think I would have managed the fine motor skills needed to load it anyway. My BS was 56 mg/dL. That’s low. I usually start shaking around 70. I poured the OJ all over the counter, trying to get it in the glass. I dropped my cracker with almond butter on the floor (sticky side down) while trying to navigate the distance from plate to mouth (okay, from counter to mouth ~ getting a plate from the cupboard would have taken too much time and put my feet in jeopardy from the likelihood of dropsies). The shakes didn’t subside quickly enough for my liking, so I ate half a Lara Bar and drank more OJ (this time without the glass, resulting in spilling down my shirt. Nope, not joking)… And then you get to deal with the symptoms of a BS spike: immediate headache, heart racing, exhaustion and a kind of extended vibration inside.

I was feeling pretty good yesterday morning and, after this episode, I was wiped out. It felt almost exactly like a hangover. I miss the days of a hangover caused by copious amounts of fun and whiskey, laughing and singing. I miss the days when a hangover was alleviated by a cheeseburger and Paul Newman’s lemonade. And I did this to myself! I KNOW that oatmeal often causes this to happen. I know I need to eat again an hour after breakfast. I knew I was feeling something off and ignored it, thinking, No, that hasn’t happened in ages. And I now know that my sick body doesn’t bounce back from these disruptions like my well body used to.

My advice: get acquainted with the glycemic index. Buy a BS tester kit and figure out whether you have fasting or reactive BS problems. Eat to minimise these episodes ~ even if you aren’t hungry. And do not underestimate how the roller coaster will affect your body. It’s exhausting.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Conditions Doctors Don’t Give A Shit About: Eyelashes That Drive You Crazy!