Doctor Love/Hate

A few weeks ago,¬†I had the follow up with the rheumatologist I saw in January. The one who came highly recommended by multiple doctors I’ve seen. The one who spent over an hour and half with me at our initial appointment. The one who wrote the most thorough and accurate notes on my history and even sent them to me. The one who ordered spine x-rays, a DEXA bone scan, blood work for inflammatory bowel disease and who did a quick ultrasound of my shoulders. The one who knew about the pretty much unknown mast cell activation disorders and even knew most of the tests to order. The one who wrote a book called, “You Don’t Look Sick.” … So, you’d think he’d get it.

At one point, he asked, “Why are you in bed so much?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer. This was my second appointment in a row; I’d previously spent a useless hour with my therapist, not having anything to talk about and feeling out of place. Maybe my brain was ticking over even slower than I had realised.
“Because I’m sick…”
I thought he understood my illness because of the thorough chart notes, but I’d have to reread them. Maybe he didn’t understand the key part about ME and post-exertional malaise (second worst description of anything, ever, after chronic fatigue syndrome). Maybe he didn’t quite get that my battery dies very quickly and, if I push through, I’m in a world of hell and the battery never quite fully goes back to where it once was.
He said (and this is a direct quote), “If your hope for the future depends on getting disability, you’re not going to get out of bed.”
And then my brain blew up.

Screenshot_2014-05-21-07-41-55-1

I know many, many people have dealt with this sort of thing before — this blatant skepticism about their illness — but I hadn’t. Nobody had ever questioned me to my face. I didn’t really hear anything else he said after that because I did a white-out with fury. This manifested itself with me bursting into tears, unfortunately. I told him I wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t in bed to try to get disability. He said something along the lines of: “It may not be that you’re a malingerer [I remember that word clearly], but that you subconsciously are staying in bed because you need the money.”
Wow.
I was raging. After waiting two years to apply for disability in the desperate hope that I could go back to work… after going from a happy, high-functioning person to practically an invalid… it was too much to think this might cross somebody’s mind. Why would I want to give up my whole life to get 1/10 of the money I used to make? I cried the whole way home. I kept thinking about it and crying the whole evening. Granted, I was premenstrual, but my anger can’t come out in yelling and stomping anymore, so it just bubbled out in tears. Would he have said that if my husband were with me? Would he have said that if I were bedbound with cancer?

Screenshot_2014-05-21-08-42-46-1

There was slight vindication when he told me I had to try increasing my steps and I told him I have: from 500 in January to 1500 now.
Then he said I had to try “bicycle yoga”, lying down and I said, “I do! I try to do yoga poses and gentle stretches whenever possible.”
Then he said, “You need to come in here with a list of your current symptoms, your meds, your questions and concerns.” I waited for him to finish drawing an example of the page he wanted me to write and then I told him: “I did — it’s on the back of that sheet of paper.”
“Oh, I didn’t look at that,” he said. “A+.”

Amazingly, after this conversation, he told me my clinical diagnosis was mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) and prescribed Cromolyn.

I smoldered for a week and then went to see my therapist who works in the same clinic and has known Dr. O for 37 years. I let loose on him. I railed for a full 45 minutes and was completely supported and validated. He said he’d seen it happen before and that, typically, when Dr. O is called out on his behaviour, he is blind to what he did and remorseful. He read me the notes that Dr. O had written and they were great — he wrote that he wanted to treat me for MCAS and also continue to look at inflammatory conditions, that I wasn’t depressed… There wasn’t a mention of ME in the notes and that’s how I wanted it. I went to him in the first place for his diagnostic talents, to have someone search for other possible answers. So, I’ve decided to give him another chance. My therapy session completely calmed my outraged soul and I’ve let it go. I think I will write Dr. O a letter when I feel up to it, explaining professionally why he was bone-headed and offensive. I’m actually looking forward to seeing him again, so I can be the calm, assertive person I normally am with doctors.

So, about MCAS: I haven’t dealt with scary symptoms (anaphylaxis, tongue swelling) in years and I react terribly to most medications, so I’m hesitant to start treating with mast cell stabilizers, histamine blockers or other anti-inflammatory drugs besides Prednisone. However, I wonder how many of my daily symptoms could be caused by mast cell problems (GI issues, bowel swelling, headaches, fatigue, brain fog, sinuses, pain etc.), so I’m also excited to have this diagnosis and the treatment options available. There’s also a teeny tiny part of me that whispers, What if your only problem is MCAS? What if mast cell problems caused everything from anaphylaxis until now? I don’t believe that — of course it’s multifactorial and involves many different pathways: immune, neurological, endocrine, gastrointestinal, vascular — but, there’s still a seed of excitement that something might make a difference.

Advertisements

My So-Called Life

The following is a glimpse into some of the ways my life has changed since ME became my constant companion.

20131124-114040.jpg
Vitamins, supplements and electrolytes, oh my! The only supplement that passed my lips pre-ME was an Emergen-C every once in a while. Now this. I just started taking B vitamins again after a 3-month pill hiatus. Every once in a while, I just need to get “clean”.

image
My drug stash. I hoard them, but don’t take them. Call it preparedness or call it paranoia, I don’t mind. After winding up in the emergency room a dozen times, I like the security of having meds on hand. What if there’s an earthquake and we need immediate painkillers? Nuff said.

image
This is an example of how I test drugs. That dot in my palm is 1/8 of a Xanax…which had no effect but a hive on my throat…which means I probably won’t try it again.

image

Cramps, spasms, aches, sprains. I never knew you could have muscle pain like this. After bartending three 12-hour shifts in a row or after being on my feet for 15 hours during a restaurant opening, I never came close to the un-ignorable myalgia that exists in this disease.

image

Yes, all these clothes are clean and, yes, they have been in this pile for a month. Folding involves a lot of arm action and I’m not willing to give up, say, loving on my dogs because I used up my arm movement quota to get neat clothes.

image

Thank god we (he) built the walk-in shower when we first moved into this house. It makes it easy to wash 110-pound dogs and it gives a flat surface for a chair for me to sit on. Yes, this is a crappy metal folding chair ~ I ordered the fancy shower stool and it was large, cumbersome and unstable. I toppled off it within two minutes and I’m only wee; I can’t imagine a bigger person having to use one of those things.

image

I took this picture in August. These are my “sun slippers” ~ because, even when it is so hot out that I have to lie in the shade with minimal clothes on, the ice blocks at the end of my legs need to be covered and in the sun.

image

Shocking, isn’t it? Welcome to peaceful sleep. Zeo headband, amber-lensed glasses for blocking the blue light in my phone, cpap nasal mask and tape over my mouth. Haha! No wonder I’m exhausted. ūüėČ

image

Bedroom in the siting room. My husband moved to the basement room last year because he kept waking me up at night, but, this summer our bedroom got too hot for my sensitive system, so we swapped and I went to the basement. But, every teensy squeak of the floor boards above would wake me (and I don’t go back to sleep), so my husband moved to the living room where I couldn’t hear him. Poor guy.

image

BUT, the basement bedroom has no window shades and even the light from the moon wakes me, so, as a temporary measure, we (he) covered the windows with tin foil. My own sensory-deprivation chamber. Luckily, we don’t have many guests. ūüôā

imageimage
My crazy numbers: High heart rate because I dared to carry some stuff upstairs and low blood sugar because I dared to eat breakfast (I have reactive hypoglycemia).

photo (1)
What my hair used to look like a few years ago and what it looks like now ~ lank, brown, going grey, unwashed, and always in a ponytail. I miss feeling pretty!

photo (2)
My crazy skin. This makes me look so gnarly! My only constant skin issue is acne (which has been worse than ever since I came off the birth control pill 11 months ago), but, every once in a while, my autoimmune urticaria, sensitivities and rashes rear their ugly heads.

Image-1 (1)
Blood pooling. *No filters were used in the making of these pictures (although they were taken at different times of day and in different seasons). Thanks to Jackie at LethargicSmiles for the blood pooling photo inspiration.

Jobst Relief, Thigh CT,  Small, Beige
Some of the products I’ve purchased in the last year to try to help my IBS, my ANS, my allergies and my insomnia. I really miss the days when I didn’t read the ingredients of mouthwash!

Thanks for taking the tour! And thanks to Patrick at Quixotic for giving me this idea.

Over to you: What has changed in your life since you became sick?

Title Credit

30 Things About My Invisible Illness You May Not Know

Well, I’m a few days late (and more than a few dollars short). I’ve been working on this post for a week while not feeling well, but I’m determined to finish.¬†Invisible Illness Awareness Week was last week and, in an effort to raise awareness, invisibleillnessweek.com¬†has put together the¬†‚Äú30 Things About My Illness‚ÄĚ questionnaire below. The website¬†offers support to patients and caregivers through articles, podcasts, illness lists and links to associations and resources. You should check it out!

30 THINGS ABOUT MY ILLNESS:

1. The illness I live with is:

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. I have other conditions, such as mast cell activation disorder, thyroid disease, dysautonomia, hypoglycemia, IBS, dysmenorrhea, and chronic intractable migraines but these are speed bumps in relation to the Mount Everest that is ME. Undoubtedly, all these problems are connected in some way.

2. I was diagnosed with it in the year:

I was diagnosed about one year ago.

3. But I had symptoms since:

ME hit me one night like a freight train around 11pm on Halloween night, 2011. One hour I was fine, the next hour I was in the grips of what I thought was a very bad virus. Chills and drenching sweats lasted all night and… the rest is history.

Years before that, I had dealt with thyroid goiters, anaphylaxis and vasovagal syncope, but they were just blips in my otherwise healthy, normal life. ME changed that.

4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is:

I could say losing my career, my social life, traveling, my income, the future I envisioned… But, really, the hardest adjustment has been a life with minimal energy expenditure: the loss of walking, running, talking exuberantly, emoting, gesticulating… I hate this still life.

5. Most people assume:

Most people assume I’m being antisocial. Most people assume that I worked too much, hit a wall and walked away and am just uncommunicative. Only my family and closest few friends know the extent of what happened to me.

6. The hardest part about mornings are:

The distressing, sinking realisation that I’ve woken up too early (and won’t go back to sleep) and had a bad night. Feeling dizzy before I’ve even opened my eyes. Being greeted with a headache and neck pain before I’ve even sat up.

7. My favorite medical TV show is:

House!! And any real life medical show like Trauma: Life in the ER. I’ve loved that stuff my whole life. They used to show real operations, graphic and unedited, on some show in Ireland when I was young and I loved watching. I’m not squeamish; I always thought I’d be working in an ER.

8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is:

My smart phone. It’s my lightweight connection to the rest of the world: news, blogs, emails, texts, photos, videos and calls. Plus, it has all my meditation CDs on it.

9. The hardest part about nights are:

For the first year I was sick, nights were lonely, terrifying, desperate, viral horror shows. There are not adequate words to describe what my nights were like. Now, the hardest part is the fear that I will not sleep well and will wake the next morning feeling worse.

10. Each day I take __ pills & vitamins.

I usually take about 26 supplements a day (double that for the number of actual pills). Currently, I’m on a vitamin and supplement hiatus, so I am only taking probiotics, magnesium, melatonin, Zyrtec, nasal spray, topical antibiotic cream, and a few times a week, when I have a headache or can’t sleep, I take Tylenol, Unisom, and Tizanidine.

11. Regarding alternative treatments I:

I have tried most of it: acupuncture, massage, craniosacral therapy, reiki, energy healers, meditation, breathing exercises, diet, stretches, Chinese herbs, supplements blah blah blagh. I don’t know what constitutes “alternative”, but I would do¬†anything to get better.

12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose:

I have a half-written blog post called “Visible Illness” because I look sick ~ or, at least, I look different than I used to ~ and I have caught myself feeling jealous of the “healthy”-looking ME patients I have seen online. However, my illness is invisible in the sense that nobody can see just how bad it is by looking at me ~ especially during the first year, when I pushed through everything to go to work.

Which would I prefer? Neither. Illness is evil and, ultimately, nobody can ever comprehend a sick person’s suffering, regardless of how bad they look on the outside.

13. Regarding working and career:

I never stop dreaming about my next career. I have a different idea every day. I miss working, I miss having responsibility and helping people, I miss being good at something, I miss having the security of an income.

14. People would be surprised to know:

Those that haven’t seen me in a while would be surprised to see that I have gone from an energetic, talkative, happy, demonstrative, busy person to someone who moves very little and doesn’t leave the house. Those close to me might be surprised to know just how black my blackness was this past year and how often I thought about suicide (it took all my guts to write that word. It’s shameful and scary, but true).

15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been:

That I can’t exert energy. That’s it. It rules all else. I can’t find a new job, I can’t make plans for a different life than the one I had imagined, I can’t socialise or cook food or deal with banks or disability or do anything to adapt and move on. I only feel ok if I am flat on my back, not moving. But I keep trying to make progress and those endeavors always cause me to be in pain. And I’m intolerant to painkillers. So it’s a continual try-to-gain-ground-get-knocked-down cycle.

16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was:

Admit it – admit I was a sick person. Also, there was a time when I wondered if I’d ever laugh again. When the headaches ease up, laughter returns. It’s glorious.

17. The commercials about my illness:

There are none, but there are commercials about fibromyalgia and, of course, they show women able to move freely if they take Lyrica. Imagine the only symptom being achiness! Imagine a pill taking care of it! Sign me up!

18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is:

See this post. Dancing with my dogs on the beach, eating whatever I want, staying up late, talking nonstop, getting excited, getting angry, having a career, dreaming up future plans, driving myself places, traveling, having financial security… See the recurring theme?

19. It was really hard to have to give up:

I want to say everything in #18, but I’ll change it up and say getting dressed and feeling pretty. I miss a great pair of jeans and make-me-feel-tall boots and thinking my eyes look bright and generally feeling attractive.

20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is:

Meditation. I couldn’t live without it now.

21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would:

Only one day? So not enough time to go to Europe? Can I plan this day in advance and get my loved ones to come to me? Ok, I’ll assume that’s a yes. Then I would get everyone I love to Seattle in advance and on The Day we would hike, talk, laugh, play games, eat a lot, get rip-roaring drunk, never have to rest and then sleep soundly, deeply, peacefully ~ without a cpap and with my husband and dogs.

22. My illness has taught me:

How under-equipped society is to help the disabled, sick and elderly. It is astounding and harrowing to realise how difficult and time-consuming it is to drive, park, get to a doctor’s office, get home help, get financial help ~ everything! And, when you’re sick, everything costs more, so what happens when you can’t work? I worry about old age all the time.

23. One thing people say that gets under my skin is:

When people say nothing. When friends don’t want to “burden” me with their own problems or don’t contact me because they don’t want to “impose” or don’t text me because I haven’t responded in days/weeks and they think the ball’s in my court or that they don’t want to keep “bothering” me. It is incredibly comforting when someone asks questions about my illness or vents to me about their hardships or gossips about work or continues to let me know they are thinking about me. Once in a while, I would love my husband (and family) to take a break from being the strong caregiver and wallow in a bit of mutual mourning: “This is so fucking unfair! We had dreams and plans! We had only just stopped living paycheck to paycheck! You were so alive and I am turned inside out to see your life force disappearing…” Maybe it’s selfish, but, someone else screaming at the sky would make me feel a little less alone.

24. But I love it when people:

Remind me that, even in this diminished capacity, I am still vital and worthy of being a friend.

25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is:

“As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Also, my mother once told me she had read that if you have one pain-free day, there is the possibility of being permanently pain-free. I think about this all the time on days like today:¬†Just because I’m having a bad day today, it doesn’t mean I will always have bad days. There will be days again without headaches. There will be days when I can move more freely.

26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them:

You will improve. That was the first line of an email someone wrote to me and I didn’t read any further, I just closed the computer and wept. I needed to know that life could and would be bearable one day.

Also, I caution anyone recently diagnosed to not read all the horror stories about ME. It is good to raise awareness about the severity of this disease,  but, after doing tireless research for months, my fear drowned out what my body was whispering. Stop pushing yourself, rest, listen to your body and believe you will improve. 

27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is:

How many of us there are ~ in every country, of every age, ethnicity and socioeconomic standing. I am amazed and grateful for how many of us are online, sharing advice and giving support to each other. Sometimes, you lot are all that gets me through.

28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was:

Not leave me. My husband, family and a few friends have wrapped themselves around me ~ physically and virtually ~ and given me the security that I have SWAT team back-up in this war.

29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because:

I’m quoting Linds: “I think it‚Äôs a great way to bring much needed awareness to the struggles others endure. The illness is invisible, not the person.”

30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel:

Honoured. Or honored, depending on where you learned to spell. ūüôā

Also check out my other blamily members’ answers to this questionnaire: Jess, Marie, Christine, Luminescence, Trisha… Who have I missed? Let me know if you posted this questionnaire to your blog and I will link it here.

Update: Symptoms and Doctor Appointments

Where to start? I am so behind on chronicling my life. You’d think it would be a one-liner (“Stayed home this month again, felt crappy, tried to keep spirits up.”), but there are so many subtleties to symptoms that I keep meaning to mention and so many tiny tweaks to treatments. There are so many interesting articles and blog posts that I want to comment on here and so many reasons to be hopeful and frustrated at current medical endeavors. I’ve written 100 blogs in my head this year that I thought were important and interesting ~ maybe even entertaining ~ but they never made it to the page and I’ve forgotten much of what I wanted to say. So, today, just an update.

Symptoms

First, the good news: my throat hasn’t been very sore in a while (if I don’t talk too much); my pain (below the neck) is minimal (if I don’t move too much); my dizziness is better (if I don’t stand up too much);¬†my mood is ok (if I don’t think too much); ūüôā ¬†Haha, writing that was actually cracking me up! But, seriously, the underlying perma-symptoms of ME are¬†stable and predictable if I don’t change my life up too much:¬†exhaustion, achiness, tremors, horrid skin, blurry vision, stiffness, and fluishness are all manageable and¬†(my) normal. The reality is, I feel unwell all day every day. Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m okay, I’m going to be fine and sometimes it makes me feel like¬†I don’t want to die, I’m scared, I can’t do this anymore.¬†My most pressing concerns lately have been, of course, the headache, terrible sleep, horrific bloating and constipation, and my free fall into less and less mobility and activity with higher and higher heart rate. Also, my brain torpor frightens me to the point that I can’t talk about it.

Thankfully, my brain pain train morphed from the high-speed TGV** to a kiddy carnival choo-choo. It still comes chugging through my skull in the afternoons and after I stare at a screen for too long, but, for the past 4 days or so, it is not torturing me. I stopped taking my Chinese herbs for a week; I don’t know if that is what caused or helped my headache, but I started them again yesterday (back down to 1/day) and we’ll see what happens.

3 weeks ago, in a place of desperation and panic about my disappearing sleep and unrelenting headache, I rummaged in my “Drugs I Don’t Take Drawer” and found gabapentin. The first night I took about 50mg (half a pill) and¬†immediately¬†my sleep was better. I still woke up a lot and it was unrefreshing as ever, but I slept for 8-9 hours rather than 6. That slice of heaven lasted a little over a week and now I’m back to the same terrible sleep, exacerbated by a very rare Seattle heat wave with no air conditioning. I added melatonin and went up to 150mg of gabapentin, but no relief (unless the gabapentin is the reason my headache is a better). I was prescribed trazodone for sleep, but haven’t gotten the nerve up to take it yet. I had planned to increase my dose of gabapentin first and then add doxylamine succinate and then¬†swap the doxylamine for trazodone, if needed. Maybe I should just swap the gabapentin for trazodone since, just like last year, the gabapentin has caused awful constipation.

Let’s talk about that a bit. Within 48 hours of my first dose, things just stopped moving. It’s reached critical mass. I take a stool softener, I put soluble fiber in my tea, I drink raspberry leaf tea (thanks to a tip from Jess over at My Journey Thru ME, who wrote a great post on IBS), I take 400mg of magnesium before bed and I have been taking Miralax every single night. I’m still in bad shape, very uncomfortable, and worried that this is more dangerous than it would be in a healthy person because¬†of my gut dysbiosis. The Good Doctor said, “You have to keep things moving because your bowels are in bad shape.” I think I’ll actually have to stop gabapentin to get back to normal.

My scariest symptom lately is my inability to do any activity without my heart rate skyrocketing. I’ve been sitting on the bathroom floor, washing my cpap equipment every week for the last 8 months. It’s never been an issue. Yesterday, my heart rate kept revving up to 110+ bpm while I sat in that same position, doing the same slow, careful scrubbing I’ve always done. This keeps happening. Taking pictures in the garden, reaching up to pick berries, talking a little too animatedly, putting sun cream on, adjusting a blanket, petting the dogs… Normally, if I were sitting down, these activities wouldn’t cause problems. Now, even sitting or lying, I feel that telltale sign (which initially registers as breathlessness, not as tachycardia), look at my HR monitor and am surprised every time: Oh, what was I thinking jiggling my foot while talking at the same time? How dare I wash my hands so vigorously. I should know better!

I can’t help thinking it is a direct result of deconditioning. It could be a direct result of illness ~ I know this is common is so many of us ~ but, the less I move, the less I’m able to move and that scares the shit out of me. So, every day I wonder: Should I push myself to “exercise” more so my body maintains some strength and life force? Or is that exactly what got me here and I should do less, less, less? This is one of the many contradictory evils of this disease: The less activity you are able to do, the more you panic and want to try doing more.

Medical professionals

I’ve had a some new appointments in the past few months:

1. An amazingly wonderful physical therapist whom I have been seeing each week. He is not really a PT; I don’t know the name for what he does. I lie on his plinth (I learned this name when I said to him, “That pain made me come off the bed. Sorry ~ ‘table’.” And he said, “Actually, ‘plinth’.”) and he finds the rotten-apple spots in my muscles and then eliminates them by restoring the circulation with magic fingers. I don’t have to move and there is very little energy expenditure (besides our tendency to talk nonstop about music, movies, books, and food. We never talk about my illness except for the initial update on my current problem areas. I probably chat more “normally” to him than anyone else in my life and always leave smiling ~ that, in itself, is worth every penny and drop of ATP). This treatment is the number one first time I have had a very obvious FIX to a problem. He worked on my lower spine pain and coccyx burning and, that evening, IT WAS GONE. And it stayed gone! He’s a magic man.

2. Stupidly, obtusely, naively, I went to see a cardiologist about my BP and HR issues, plus the fact that bowel rumbling triggers a sort of vasovagal heart flutter and lung tightening. I’m sure most of you people with ME know what’s coming. This doctor said, “I see a lot of you girls with low blood pressure and syncope problems and you all have one thing in common: low body weight. You need to gain some weight. Eat more protein and salt. I know everyone is concerned about being thin and looking good, but it’ll help. Start walking more and lifting 5 or 10lb weights and come back in 6 months.”

As carefully and stoically and graciously as I could, I said, “I am 5 foot tall. This is the heaviest I have been since college. [Here he interjected: “Right. And I bet you feel better.”] No, I don’t feel better, you moron. If I gain weight, it’ll just be fat because I can’t move very much.¬†I don’t care what I look like because I’m just trying not to die I don’t ever get dressed or leave the house, you condescending bastard. I can’t imagine using 10lb weights because I wouldn’t be able to leave the bed for weeks can barely lift my arms, but I’ll try increasing my steps. See you never.” He’d be happy to know that I have since gained another 5lbs from the gabapentin and, shockingly, I don’t feel any different except I am even more uncomfortable in my body than I was last month (and, no, Dr. Iseealotofyougirls, I don’t mean uncomfortable with how I look, I mean it is not comfortable to lose most of your muscle tone and gain 12lbs of fat in its place!)

3. The saga of the oral appliance (OA) for sleep apnea. Here’s the wrap up: I saw the orthodontist in April, waited over a month before being told I had to see a sleep specialist again for insurance to approve the OA, and then waited over ANOTHER month before being called in to fit the OA (a 2 hour appointment!). I slept with it in for 5 hours and woke up in extreme pain. Yes, it had the obvious repercussions, such as temporarily changing my bite and making my TMJ sore, but the big problem was pain stabbing into my top and bottom right canines. It felt like they had been drilled into without anesthetic. So, back to the orthodontist for another fitting, which ended in a decision to send the appliance back to the lab for tweaking. Milo’s Law: if it can go wrong, it will go wrong for me. It’ll be another 3 weeks before it comes back from the lab.

4. On a good note, after I saw my GP, she sent me a letter saying she was shocked by my decline and panicked to find something to help me and sorry the medical community is failing me and honored that I allowed her to take this journey with me. I wish I could reprint the letter here because it could restore some faith in medical professionals, but I want to be respectful of her privacy. She is leaving for her annual 2-month break, but is seeing me next week on her last day and is willing to run some new tests (finally!). I’ve researched nonstop for the last month, trying to decide what tests to request, but I’ve ended up more confused than when I started. I need to email her tomorrow with my list. If anyone has any advice, please let me know. I can always talk to her about additional tests at the appointment. Here are my thoughts:

  • Mycoplasma tests
  • Cytokine profile
  • NK cell function test
  • Hormones (ACTH, LH, HGH, testosterone, insulin like growth factor(?))
  • RNase L Panel
  • Immunoglobulin
  • Lactic acid
  • folate
  • DHEA sulphate
  • Heavy metals
  • Amino Acid
  • IgG (?)
  • potassium, copper and …?

For disability (but really don’t want to do):

  • Neuropsychological Testing
  • VO2 Max (although it would be a 1-day stress test done by somebody who doesn’t know about ME)
  • tilt table test

 

Daily gratitude:
I am grateful for the few friends I have.
I am grateful for the few hours I sleep.
I am grateful for the little energy I have.
I am grateful for the still life I lead.

** I’m sure there are faster trains now, but, back in the 90s, I took the TGV all over Europe and its speed made a lasting impression. I still say “tay gjay vay”, pronouncing the letters in French, which is how I learned it.

Tomorrow is International M.E. Awareness Day.

Tomorrow is International M.E. Awareness Day. There are many events happening around the world, both online and in person. You can google your area to see if there is anything going on, but what I ask is something simple:

Please make an effort this month to talk about this disease. Look for opportunities to raise awareness. Don’t worry about being a “downer” or bringing up an awkward, depressing subject. Let people know that there is an illness that stops life in its tracks and has no approved drug treatments and very little funding for research. Explain that this has nothing to do with laziness, depression, tiredness or burn-out. Explain that there are test abnormalities, but doctors aren’t taught about the (possible/probable) etiologies of this disease¬†so most do not recognise it and certainly don’t know what to test for or how to treat it. Make it known that patients languish in their homes ~ or, more likely, a family member’s home ~ are passed from dismissive specialist to thieving¬†charlatan and back again,¬†use up all their resources, and usually reach a point where they are trying to just survive¬†because¬†it is too exhausting to research treatments and search for medical help. Warn people that ME is often accompanied by¬†crippling neurological issues, autonomic dysfunction, new allergies and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), chronic migraines, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fibromyalgia (FM), mast cell problems (MCAD), sleep dysfunction and, of course, the depression and anxiety that would be hard to avoid with a diagnosis like this. These are all debilitating conditions in their own right, so drawing awareness to them is just as valuable.

As with many awareness campaigns, ribbons are worn to show support ‚Äď blue for ME/CFS, purple for FM, and green for MCS. What I like about this is, it might bring up the conversation. Most people recognise the pink ribbon representing breast cancer awareness or the yellow Livestrong wristband which supports cancer survivors, but perhaps you will encounter someone who asks, “What does the blue ribbon stand for?” And then you can launch into your educational lecture. ūüôā

meribbon

A few things going on around the world:

Niagara Falls will be illuminated in blue tomorrow, May 12th, from 9:45-10:00pm EST to raise awareness to M.E. From 10:15-10:30pm EST the falls will be purple for fibromyalgia (FM) and from 11:00-11:15pm EST the falls will be green to draw attention to multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). You can watch it on their live webcam. Or try: http://www.earthcam.com/canada/niagarafalls/

In London, there is the ‚ÄúAll Fall Down for M.E.‚ÄĚ protest outside¬†the Houses of Parliament at the Old Palace Yard.

londonME

In Victoria, Australia at Melbourne University, there is an ME/CFS Educational Fun Run.

forME

Bob Miller is skydiving to promote ME research in Lodi, California.

The Irish ME/CFS Association is hosting four talks by Dr. Ros Vallings from New Zealand next week.

There are  five screenings of Voices from the Shadows across three continents in May.

Read this article by Mark at Phoenix Rising to get all the details about these events and many more.

Finally, consider writing to your local paper to raise awareness. Read this post by the ME/CFS Self-help Guru for inspiration.

Thank you to everyone in my life that has talked about this baffling illness, raising awareness one person at a time. Thanks to my father for talking to his staff about this disease and to my mother for talking to her dog park friends about it and to Z. and E. for explaining my situation to other people I know and to my husband for constantly making excuses for my absence, trying to educate others on what is going on and raging at medical professionals’ and society’s ignorance, allowing me to be angry by proxy since I don’t have the energy for it.

MEawareness

Warning: I’m Talking About Poop

I’m not going to lie, I’m scared. Again. Still. I don’t know my body anymore and I don’t know what’s around any corner. The thing I try not to talk about is: every single time I have collapsed on the first day of my period, it was triggered by a morning bowel movement. Also, I have come close to passing out and had the paramedics called twice from bowel pressure/ cramping without having my period. See why I don’t like writing about this and now you don’t like reading about it?

So, for months I have had these little bouts of tight chest and heart palpitations. They come on very quickly, very strongly ~ making me gasp for breath ~ and then leave just as quickly. I finally figured out they were triggered somehow by my bowels. Within minutes after a breathing/heart episode, I will have “movement” of some sort down below ~ maybe even just a gurgle ~ that wasn’t even perceptible when my lungs tightened and my heart pitter-patted. I assumed it was some sort of vasovagal reaction and have been ignoring it.

Well, this past week, I have had an uptick in IBS issues. I don’t know why; I’ve changed nothing with my diet or supplements. With the increased gut distress, has come much more prolonged chest symptoms. This morning, I spent hours with my heart skipping and racing and, once again, such a tight chest that I was spooked. I ate salt, drank water, lay on the ground with my feet up, did breathing exercises, canceled my sleep doctor appointment and kept the phone close. I knew my chest would release once my bowel calmed down, but it didn’t help my fear of the future. IBS is not one of the related ME/CFS conditions that I worry about. I worry about the fibromyalgia and chemical sensitivity (especially since the codeine reaction). But, if things don’t calm down, it’ll now be my prime focus. I don’t want to be on beta blockers or any other drugs to “manage” arrhythmias or blood pressure drops.

Lastly, for a week or two, I’ve been dizzy. This is a new symptom, too. The rooms spins when I move my head and when I just move my eyes all the way to the right or left. Again, if it gets any worse, it will be the number one most debilitating symptom. All of these (drug reactions, food reactions, IBS, dizziness) could make life much more difficult than it already is. I feel like I’m standing on a precipice on one foot… with my arms tied behind my back… in gale-force winds… eyes blindfolded, so I can’t see what new evil is coming at me or from where…

Not sure what I’m grateful for today. When I find it, I’ll let you know.

February 1st Addendum:

I think things are better today. I ate like a baby yesterday (apple sauce, cooked carrots, squash etc.), avoided supplements and I hope things will resolve themselves. Maybe it was just magnesium. I’ve been taking 500mg of mag oxide wondering why it wasn’t giving me any gastrointestinal issues… Maybe it just caught up with me after a few months. My doctor’s only two suggestions were anti-spasmodics for the bowel (uh, no) and a tilt-table test to address POTS. Let me repeat: I will do EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to avoid taking a test that induces scary symptoms that I try to avoid every day of my life just so a doctor can confirm that I get dizzy and sometimes my blood pressure and pulse bottom out. I already know that; I don’t need a test. Unless I have to do it for disability. But I haven’t got the nerve/energy up to tackle that yet.

Each man’s life touches so many other lives.

I have survived Christmas and I don’t feel terrible ~ as terrible as I could. My sister, her boyfriend and their puppy came over for 3 nights. 4 people, 3 dogs, 3 nights. And it was lovely. I’d tried so hard to rest and save my energy before they came, but I was still hurting every evening.¬†Unfortunately, Christmas Eve was the worst for me. It is our main celebration day and I had gone to bed with a crushing headache on Christmas Eve Eve, which lasted into the morning and all through the night. Typically, I am “okay” until about 5pm. That’s when everything starts to hurt and the headache kicks into high gear. I always go to bed around 9pm. I tried so hard to prolong our Eve, but only made it until 10pm. I have no idea how I looked to everyone on the outside, but, on the inside, I was struggling. The pain in my neck and head was about a 7 out of 10. That’s high. 9 out of 10 and I might be heading to the ER. I couldn’t see: I literally could not focus. Everything and everyone in the room were soft blobs. I couldn’t look at lights: that’s nothing new, but it was heightened. All of our lamps are on dimmers except one which was situated kind of behind my sister’s boyfriend. As we talked, I had to hold up my hands to frame his face with my fingers, blocking out any light around him in order to make out his features. And I kept thinking, Ask him to turn off that lamp, but my brain wouldn’t make that leap. It was easier to block out the light than to try to find the word lamp. This seems to be my version of brain fog. I’m not sure how this symptom affects others, but, at a certain stage, I can’t talk. Well, I can talk, but it is SO difficult. It takes so long to string a sentence together, it simply isn’t worth it. Especially in company because other people aren’t used to waiting while I try to find the words and, if I am talking quietly and get talked over, it’s too much effort to say it again. This isn’t one of the worst symptoms at all, but it might be one of the most frustrating for someone who enjoys quick-witted banter and a good debate and interjecting and laughter… My husband knows by now to not walk away as I’m saying something because it’s difficult for me to turn up the volume. He tries not to talk over me¬†because¬†he knows it’s an effort to say it once, let alone twice. This is much, much worse in the evening. If you want to have a normal conversation with me, have it between 10am and 5pm.

The headaches and accompanying noise sensitivity are by far my most debilitating symptom the last few months. The muscle pain, IBS, stiffness, exhaustion, brain fog, tight chest, flu symptoms and awful sleep ~ I’m used to all of it and it’s all bearable to a certain extent. But, the headaches… there are no words to describe how crippling they are. Every movement makes my brain slam against the inside of my cranium. Touching the base of my skull or the back of my neck feels like it should be bruised black and blue. It is so tender, stretched taut and soft at the same time. Every noise feels like a gun being shot next to my ear and threatens to reduce me to tears or send me to bed: the dogs barking, the opening of cans, my husband putting the foot rest of his recliner down, the bathroom fans, the squeaky dog toys, my phone alerts (which is why it is usually muted and I don’t answer), the kitchen timer going off… But the worst is the TV. We have a TV that supposedly keeps the dialog loud while subduing the action noise. It doesn’t work. If it’s loud enough to hear Harry Bailey say “A toast to my big brother, George, the richest man in town”, it is inevitably too loud as soon as they cheer and start singing Auld Lang Syne. And forget about modern movies. I have been looking forward to watching The Dark Knight Rises since our last failed attempt at going to a cinema (will I EVER be able to again?), but I am so scared of the action, the noise, the bright lights and the length (almost 3 hours). We have to start very early and shoot for a day when my headache isn’t as bad… I miss going to the pictures (as we used to say in the homeland) almost as much as I miss working or going to the dog park. Remember the THX sound at the beginning of movies? I used to turn that up as loud as it could go… surround sound in your own home! It was heaven. Now, I wince just thinking about it.

What I know for sure is sleep dictates how I will feel. Not enough hours or too many times woken up or, god forbid, night sweats and I am not going to be a functioning human being the next day. That’s why I’m scared of starting the Cymbalta. If it makes me sleepless for a few weeks, I could be set back for months. Low-dose naltrexone disrupted my sleep for almost a month and, the day I stopped LDN, was basically the same day I stopped driving, running errands, going for walks etc. That was over 3 months ago. But I will try Cymbalta~ I have to do something for the pain.

St. Stephen’s Day moment of gratitude: I got to celebrate Christmas! I got to have lovely meals and open presents and chat with family and watch movies (with my ears plugged) and enjoy Christmas music and laugh at the dogs playing… It was wonderful. Spending quality time with my sister was priceless and today I’m not in bed, crying in pain: I’m awake, happy, warm, fuzzy and grateful. I love Christmas and it actually happened. I made it! We celebrated!

No man [or woman] is a failure who has friends.