Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.

This is a hard one to talk about. It’ll be more of a rant. And I’d like to preface it with all of the obvious about how grateful I am that we were in the economic position we were in when this illness started, how grateful I am that I had a few years of good earnings and decent savings, how grateful I am that my family is healthy and has never been bankrupted by health woes. I am, I truly am, and I think about–probably too much–what must happen to others with a severe chronic illness (that has no knowledgeable doctors and no decent treatment) who are in worse financial shape than we are, without our resources, who are in countries steeped in poverty, refugees fleeing wars… on and on… I do know how lucky I am. But, I’m scared. Mostly because I don’t know what treatment to spend money on and what to reject.

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Recently, after 6 months of immunoglobulin infusions, I got a slew of bills that I didn’t anticipate. It turns out that for my itsy bitsy dose of 5 grams each week, I pay $164 after insurance. Out-of-pocket. That’s $655 per month. If I had known this before starting, would I have done it? I don’t know. But now that this is the only treatment that has helped me, how can I stop? And I’m in this tricky spot. I have private health insurance because I was too scared Medicare wouldn’t cover these treatments (also because Medicare won’t cover acupuncture, nutritionists or physical/myofascial/craniosacral/massage therapy — some of the only things that have made a difference in my pain levels). After being told IVIG was not an option by so many doctors, knowing that I didn’t have a history of bacterial infections and a vaccine challenge is usually required for approval, and having Coram (the infusion service) tell me that Medicare hardly ever covers treatment, I was just too scared to give up the private health insurance that had already approved my treatment for the whole year. Of course, I have since heard from others that Medicare covers their IVIG or SCIG at 100%, but … how could I risk changing coverage now when my IgG levels have come up and that alone might disqualify me from continued treatment? I’ll have to revisit this next January when I’m eligible for Medicare enrollment again, but, if I’m still improving with my infusions, I don’t know how I’d take that leap of faith.

An aside for those in other countries or for those that don’t know this fucked up aspect of our healthcare system here in the U.S.: Medicare (government health coverage) isn’t free. You pay each month just as you do with private health insurance. It’s usually cheaper, but not always. It can range from $105-$771 a month, depending on your situation (the higher end is reserved for people who have not worked enough in their lifetimes to qualify. So, if you are struck down with a chronic illness as a young adult and you haven’t worked the requisite 30 quarters in a tax-paying job, you’re not married and you undoubtedly have little savings, then you get to pay the highest premium for our national health coverage– oh, but only if you’re lucky enough to be granted full disability, which very few ME/CFS/Lyme sufferers are). And don’t think that Medicare actually covers your healthcare in full, though. You will still have a deductible each year and co-insurance (the patient pays 20%, typically), you’re prescription medications aren’t paid for unless you get extra coverage and hospital stays can still leave you in horrendous debt. You can stay in a hospital for a few months for the low, low price of $1,260 (although skilled nursing facilities will be more because that price doesn’t cover people to care for you), but let’s take a pretty terrible example: 150 days in the hospital. In 2015, that would have cost you $47,565 out-of-pocket. If you had to stay any longer, all additional costs are your problem. The government washes its hands of you. But wait, there’s more! If you choose not to enroll in Medicare when you become eligible, your monthly payment when you do enroll will be higher–forever–usually 10% higher for each year you could have signed up but didn’t. In my case, if I’m covered by Medicare next year, I will be paying an extra $300/year because I didn’t enroll when I first became eligible. If I wait until 2018, I’ll pay a penalty of at least $440 that year, plus more each year as the premiums continue to rise over my lifetime. Lovely.

SO… Last month I finished up weeks of financial slog for our 2015 taxes and was happy to see our (and by our, I mean my because my husband’s medical expenses are only about a quarter of our total and that is solely health insurance premiums because he never needs a doctor, knock on wood, toba toba) out-of-pocket medical costs had come down slightly.

2012: $14,480
2013: $19,032
2014: $19,564
2015: $17,912

That doesn’t allay the fear, however. After utilities (sewer, water, garbage, recycling, gas, electricity) and mortgage payments, we’re left with about $20K a year to live on and medical expenses have been almost $20K a year since I got sick. That means most everything else–food, clothes, toiletries, dogs, phone, internet, gas for cars– comes out of our savings. I’m trying to be healthier, place fewer burdens on my system and subdue my chemical sensitivities by eating organic food, pastured meat and buying less toxic products. All of these things are more expensive. For the last year and a half, I’ve been paying $200/month for compounded medications instead of the cheap, generic, filler-filled ones. It hardly costs anything to get sick, but the system is rigged to bankrupt those that are.

I feel very fortunate that we had saved money before this happened, but it will run out eventually and I don’t want to make all the wrong decisions now because I’m frozen in fear of the future. Our day-to-day living is all-encompassing, so time slips by in survival mode and the big decisions never get discussed. I’m happy that we didn’t sell the house when I first got sick because we’re finally not under water and it might actually be worth what we owe again. But when do we sell? And do I switch back to generic meds? Do I stop supplements (around $100/month)? Do I stop seeing my doctor who doesn’t take health insurance? Do I not try human growth hormone or hyperbaric oxygen or nutritional IVs? Do I stop my immunoglobulin infusions?? Last year, I thought a time would come when we just moved somewhere very small and affordable, maybe a foreign country, and I stopped all medical visits and we tried to exist on pittance and make our money last as long as possible… But now that I’ve found a treatment that helps my functioning, I have renewed hope. Maybe I’ll be able to earn a living again if I keep making progress. How can I give up on that? Or should I accept the fact that this is as good as it’s going to get, income-wise? My husband will get older, he’ll be able to work his manual-labour job less and less and I won’t ever recover to the point of being able to hold a job… I think that’s the reality. I know a lot of people with this illness and many have made improvements, but I’m not sure if I know any that have gone back to full-time work.

So, we beat on, boats against the current, cut costs where we can, shop the deals online, grow some veggies, sell some stuff, and pray that in ten years time, the tides have changed for the better.

Title Credit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Title Credit

Sweet Smell of Success (So far)

I am so proud of myself for sticking to my guns and waiting to do the immunoglobulin infusion when it felt right for me, at the lowest dose possible, with a bag of saline and a showered, no-scent nurse. I feel fine. I’m stiff, sore and tired, a bit more than normal, but no big deal. The infusion site on my abdomen is sore if it touches something, but no big deal. I didn’t need to ice my belly and I hardly felt the needle going in. I think next time, though, I’ll try my thighs because I do daily abdominal massage and castor oil packs for my constipation, which I can’t do now.

My vertigo from yesterday is gone (maybe it was a neck issue in my sleep) and today, inside, I am vibrating with excitement. Hell yes!! Success! I’m usually either so impatient to try something, I take too much (Cromolyn) or I don’t want to face the adjustment period/eventual withdrawals/possible reactions, so I postpone forever (Equilibrant, antidepressants, B12). But I did this the right way. I waited, I tested everything I needed to test, I didn’t jump the gun and start where my doctor wanted me to start (3mg), I started low and it was no problem.

My biggest excitement, honestly, is having a positive experience with the premedications and it gives me hope that my reactivity has calmed down. I didn’t even fall into a drugged stupour like I did when I tested the premeds. I have no horrible antihistamine-poisoning-hangover feeling, no headache, my blood pressure has stayed stable at around 85/55 (I know, too low, but stable low). Since all these sensitivities cropped up, I’ve been lucky that my disabling dysmennorhea has abated and I’ve not had any anaphylaxis, collapses, accidents etc. (toba, toba, knock on wood), but I was worried about what I would do in the event that I’d have to have surgery or some emergency procedure. This feels great! I have an arsenal now. I might have done the MRI contrast if I’d had the confidence at the time to pop some Prednisone, Benadryl and Zantac. I’ve still never taken my EpiPen, but, if ever I have to (toba, toba, KOW), maybe I won’t be as sensitive as I was in the past (when an endodontist accidentally put epinephrine in my numbing injection, it felt like I was having a heart attack). I can’t tell you how good this feels. I might finally try daily H1 and H2 blockers to see if they make a difference in how I feel overall. I might sit down with a bottle of wine, salami, aged cheese and kimchi.

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I set this all up in our spare room upstairs to keep away from the dogs and so I could sleep if I needed to, but really I could do this anywhere. The saline bag has a carry pouch with a shoulder strap and is infused by a battery-operated pump. Once the needles are in and covered with tape, I could conceivably be on the couch with my dogs, watching TV. The tricky part is navigating the bathroom with one straight arm while carrying the saline pouch and holding the SCIG pump and managing not to rip out any of the needles.

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Honestly, the most daunting part of the whole experience is the amount of water I have to force down my gullet. On Thursday, I drank four liters. Yesterday, I drank over five liters and I’m going to try to do the same again today. Having to do this three days a week, every week makes me want to vom. It also wasn’t fun to have a chatty stranger in my house, albeit a very nice, low-maintenance one (I kept worrying that she didn’t have water or snacks and that her back would get sore in the upright chair). She was only here fewer than four hours, but as my dose increases, I assume the time will increase (most of that was infusing 500ml of saline, the IgG itself only took an hour). Next time I’ll just let her know that I want to rest and meditate through the whole thing and I’m hoping after the next few infusions she’ll just be able to hook up my IV and leave and I can place the subcutaneous needle myself and remove the IV at the end.

So, the plan is to double my dose next Friday to two grams, then increase by one gram each week until I’m at five and hold there for a few months. Perhaps even graduate to IVIG eventually. I’m happy this started at the beginning of flu season, too, because that’s what Dr. Chia recommended. He thought I should get a little boost in September and January and also if I traveled anywhere so I would be less in jeopardy of succumbing to a virus that would take me down. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll make me feel better over all. A lady can dream.

Thanks to everyone who sent positive thoughts my way. You carried me through.❤

Finally getting the first immunoglobulin infusion…

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The IgG infusion didn’t happen. They called me and said they were missing some small tube or something that was needed for my pediatric dose. It’s a little frustrating since they had literally months notice, but they have been excellent through this entire process–communicative, understanding, informative–so, I’m not annoyed. They asked if I’d like to do last Thursday instead, but I didn’t want to risk any reaction with my period, which came early last month. All I know for sure about anaphylaxis and angioedema is that they happen during a perfect storm of triggers (food, mood, hormones, hydration, pain) that is very hard to predict or control, but almost always involves my menstrual cycle and that is the one thing I can avoid. In the end, my period did come early, so I’m glad I made the choice to wait on the SCIG.

Today is the day. The nurse gets here in a few hours. I’m not out of bed yet. I’m in a lot of pain today and I was awake in the night with terrible vertigo. Every time I turned my head and changed position, the room lurched and woke me. I think it’s probably from the full dose of Zyrtec and Zantac I took yesterday, which I’ve never done before, but it could very well be payback from the 4+ hour journey to the dysautonomia specialist two days ago (more on that anon).

Anyway, the ball is rolling, the die has been cast, the airplane doors are closed (that’s what I used to tell myself when I was nervous about flying–once the doors are closed, it’s out of your hands, so no point in fretting anymore), so it’s happening and I am focusing all my attention on how incredible it will be to have a treatment that might help me feel better. Honestly, I’m dreading the premedications (Benadryl, Prednisone, Zantac, Tylenol) more than the IgG. I already know they do a number on my sensitive, unable-to-detox body.

Please wish me luck and send good juju this way. It makes a difference, I know it does. Thank you for holding me up. As Clarence said, “Remember, no [wo]man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings.” ❤

Addendum: it just occurred to me that I didn’t specifically tell the infusion company to tell the nurse not to wear perfume, so I called her and she said, “Oh, I do wear body spray because I hit menopause and I can smell myself.” OMG. Body spray? She kindly said she would stop by her house and take a quick shower.
“I buy whatever shampoo is on sale, so I hope it’s not too smelly,” she said.
Gulp.
“No, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
She then said, “I understand about sensitive patients. Remind me to tell you about the lady who was severely allergic to cats.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
“I’m very allergic to cats,” I told her.
“Oh, I have cats, so I’ll change my clothes, too.”
This is a nightmare.
She ended with (I kid you not): “I’ll tell you some horror stories when I get there.”

I’m vacillating between guilt at putting someone out (she was SO nice and sweet), frustration at my ridiculous body and total disbelief that a home-care nurse would wear body spray to visit patients and that the office didn’t explain my sensitives to her (they also didn’t tell her about my history of idiopathic anaphylaxis or that I have two big dogs. She said she just got a name and address). Please please please let this go okay.

Second addendum: the nurse is incredibly nice and lives very close to me, so the shower wasn’t a big deal and she doesn’t have a heavy smell at all. We’re half way through the IgG and the saline fluids. All good so far. 💪

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That's my abdomen--just one site for such a small dose.

Finally Starting IgG Infusions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctors, Tests and Direction.

So, the MD that my husband and I have seen since 2007 has left her practice abruptly and I’m quite sad because we had a great relationship and mutual respect. She trusted me and would run tests that I requested if I had good reasons. She also knew me before I was sick and that was very important to me. She knew me when I was bouncing off the walls with energy and happy. She saw me a week before ME hit for a check up and I told her my only problem was sore muscles which I attributed to sitting at a desk after so many years walking the floors of restaurants. She witnessed the abrupt change in my abilities when all the other doctors I’ve seen have nothing to compare my current level of health to.

Now my two doctors are naturopaths: Dr. Erin and Dr. Kim. I had follow-ups with both of them in the last 10 days. Dr. Erin has put me on 25 mg of DHEA and progesterone. They’re topical, compounded only with coconut oil, nothing else. She’s hoping these will feed down both pathways to raise all the other hormones that are low.

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And by “pathways”, I mean, instead of giving me just Pregnenolone (at the top of the “map”) and letting my body do with it what it wants, the DHEA and progesterone insure that (in theory) I’m feeding all branches of hormone production:

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My thyroid hormones continue to be low, even though I almost doubled my dose a few months ago, so I’m changing to compounded T3 and T4. Dr. Erin doesn’t want me to try NDT (natural desiccated thyroid from pigs) because I’m so reactive right now, but she’s hoping compounded meds without the crappy gluten- and dairy-derived fillers will help me absorb the hormones better. I’m really nervous about the change because I’ve taken the same generic pills every morning for 6 years — well before I got sick.

My salivary cortisol test showed high levels throughout the whole day, especially at night. However, Dr. Erin said she thought functionally I was still low, her theory being that my body is compensating for something and that cortisol is either being converted to a less active form or receptors are down-regulated, which results in my body needing to produce more to get the same results. She also wants me to start humic acid (for chronic infections) and a homeopathic lotion to rub into my sternum which can supposedly desensitise my body and help reactivity. Not sure how much faith I have in homeopathy, but there’s no harm in it, other than the cost. I’ve also been told to start daily “hydrotherapy” (basically, hot and cold towels to boost immune function) and oiling my body to absorb additional fat (some serious old wives’ shit going on here).

Dr. Kim ran a bunch of blood tests. The good news is my CBC, metabolic panel, folate, iron and vitamin D are all within normal range (the latter two I would like to be higher). The bad news is, total immunoglobulin and all 4 subclasses are even lower than they were when Dr. Chia tested them. I also had high levels of Mycoplasma Pneumoniae IgG, HHV6 IgG (which I already knew) and she said I was “dripping in EBV.” Gross.

The final blow was candida is high. Those who know me, know I have dreaded the day I was tested for candida and purposely didn’t bring it up with the last 30 doctors because I don’t want to face my sugar addiction. Dr. Kim isn’t insisting I go on a strict no-sugar diet, god love her, because I think she recognises my need for the joy it provides and, really, I try to be responsible — a bit of dark chocolate, ice cream, some honey, jam, fruit, dates… It’s not like the good ol’ days where I could eat a Dairy Queen Blizzard or a whole purple Yorkie without thinking twice. She is putting me on a prescription anti-fungal, Nystatin, a pulsed dose — 4 days on, 3 days off.

I am waiting to hear from insurance about sub-cutaneous IgG (because I’m too scared to start with IVIG) and, in the meantime, I am starting to supplement copper, low dose B-complex, additional B6 and B1, increasing Thorne Trace Minerals to twice a day and magnesium glycinate to 4 times a day, as well as homemade electrolyte water all day long.

I’m hoping and praying that I will feel like a different person once my hormones and thyroid are balanced. Then my blood pressure will come up and my brain will work better, headaches will dissipate, my immune system will be able to suppress the infections, sleep will get better, reactions will fade, fatigue will lift and we’ll all live happily ever after!!

November Update

[Written Sunday morning:] Every morning I get up and vow to write some of the things crawling around my head and gnawing at my brain and then every day disappears into other things: cooking, feeling like crap, interacting with friends in my facebook group, reading, researching, tv… Today, I’m sequestered in one room while the cleaning lady tackles the rest of the house and I want to do a wee catch up.

Two months after the horrific Cromolyn-induced crash, I’m feeling much better. Not as good as I was beforehand, but so much better than I anticipated I would. If it takes 3 or 4 months to get back to where I was, that will be great–much better than the years I thought it would take (or the never I feared might happen). When I got home from the AirBnB rentals, my husband had cleaned out my bedroom: no furniture besides the bed and bedside table, no more clothes or books, everything hoovered and wiped down with ammonia. He put a vapor barrier up at the top of the stairs–one of those plastic doorways used in construction sites or the house in the film E.T.–and the upstairs is strictly a dog-free zone. Oh, it breaks my heart not to be able to snuggle with my kids and it crushes me when they hear me moving around and whine at the gate we have across the stairs. Another downside is, I’m doing far fewer preemptive rests and meditations because I don’t want to leave them and go upstairs. It used to be our routine to head upstairs a few times a day and lie down. My Little Guy had the times programmed in his brain and would bark to come in from outside and look at me like, “Let’s go, Mama! You need to meditate.” That doesn’t happen anymore and my brain and body are feeling the effects. However, I will begrudgingly admit that it is really reassuring to know that I am spending 12 to 15 hours a day in minimal dander and dog hair. I wake up feeling cleaner internally. That has got to help my poor struggling body, so I’m very grateful for all the hard work my husband put into dedogifying the upstairs.

What it used to be like:

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What I see now from the top of the stairs:

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I haven’t been sleeping very well. Much better than when I was horribly sick, of course, but not as well as I was in the last two rentals. My sleep in that last rental was amazing– I would close my eyes at 11pm and open them at 7am. A few nights that I was there, I woke up after 8am! Never, ever, ever have I slept straight through for over 8 hours without waking up from crazy dreams or painful bones and muscles. It was glorious… besides the fact that I felt poisoned by the new Ikea wardrobes. I wonder if the off-gassing from the new furniture was somehow drugging me into a stupour? Also part of the problem is my apnea devices. I continue to avoid the CPAP because it wakes me up constantly, but the new oral appliance has its own issues. I got the Narval by Resmed, made by a 3D printer.

The white one is the bendy, light Narval. The pink one is the heavy, rigid nightmare I was trying to use before.

The white one is the bendy, light Narval. The pink one is the heavy, rigid nightmare I was trying to use before.

It is incredibly thin and light and bendy, which is everything I wanted and I’m able to fall asleep while wearing it… BUT. … I have worse TMJ issues than I realised and it causes so much pain. Every day, my jaw hurts, my temples ache, my head hurts and then, about once a week, I have a really rough, tense grinding night and I wake up feeling like my jaw is dislocated. It is painful to move and chew and clicks alarmingly. This can’t be good. So, I keep sleeping with no oral appliance or CPAP and I can definitely feel the difference in how I feel in the morning–less rested, more pain, but my jaw in tact. So, what am I to do?

I’ve started seeing my “physical therapist” again. Aka Magic Fingers. He is so wonderful for me. After a 3-month hiatus, the day I returned happened to be the day after he finished a course on strain-counterstrain for the nervous system. The teacher of whatever magic he does flew out to Seattle from the East Coast and trained a group of 30 practitioners. He said, “I’m one of only 30 in the world that have been trained to do this and you are the number one person I want to work on because your nervous system is a mess.” I keep my appointments with him no matter what. I even went last week when he was getting over a cold.

Speaking of colds, it has been 3 years and 19 weeks since I last had a cold. I’m amazed by that. I still live in fear of the day I catch a cold, especially since Dr. Chia said one virus could wipe me out and set back my recovery significantly, if not permanently. You may remember that he recommended I get IVIG to bolster my immune system and protect myself from all you sickies out there. Well, my MD referred me to University of Washington Immunology and they turned me down because my total IgG wasn’t low enough. So, I talked to my ND, Dr. W, and their clinic isn’t licensed to do it. On a whim, I went to see another ND, Dr. I, at a different clinic–mainly because they take insurance and I wanted to have a back-up doctor if I had to stop seeing Dr. W (who does not take insurance and, even with discounts for being unemployed, costs me too much money). The first thing Dr. I said when I came in was, “I think you need IgG.” Oh, bless her. There is hope for this treatment! But let me back up…

So, this new clinic requested all my test results in advance, they photocopied the entire binder and the doctor had reviewed it before I got there. They asked me to run my 23andMe results through MTHFRsupport.com and send them the results (so far, I’ve had 3 doctors tell me they know about methylation and nutrigenomics, but not a single one actually has addressed it. See some of my MTHFRsupport.com Genetic Variance Report here). The clinic has an IV infusion room, looking all dim and cozy, with plush recliners and blankets. They have a hyperbaric oxygen chamber! Something I have been curious about trying for over a year since I read Dr. Deckoff-Jones’s blog. And the clinic is 4 minutes from my house. Score. Dr. I ordered a load more tests and is willing to consider sub-cutaneous immunoglobulin first since I’m a scardy-cat about jumping right into IVIG (assuming we can get either of them approved by insurance, that is). A few days after our appointment, I went to the lab for a blood draw because she wanted to get updated tests and I see her again next week.

It'd be nice if they left some blood in my body.

It’d be nice if they left some blood in my body.

Speaking of test results (which can all be found here), I never mentioned the hormone panel and blood test results ordered by Dr. W in the last few months [bold type is for my benefit, so I can access this info easily when I look back). My varicella zoster IgG, IgM and HSV IgM were all positive. All coxsackie A viruses were high and all coxsackie B except for 3 and 4 (although 4 was high in Dr. Chia’s tests). EBV IgG was high indicating a reactivated infection. My total IgG was even lower than when Dr. Chia tested and, as I mentioned before, my thyroid was tanked: TSH, T3 and T4 all low. But the hormone panel was slightly alarming: almost everything was low: DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, estrone, aldosterone, androsterone, pregnanediol, tetrahydrocortisol and on and on. Not sure how concerned I should be, but Dr. W put me on topical DHEA (about 5mg rubbed into my abdomen in the mornings) and supposedly that should help something. It’s been a month now and the only difference that I’ve noticed is my period was 3 weeks late after I started it. My period has pretty much been every 28-29 days for 25 years. I just descovered today that it has MSM in it, which I’m not meant to have because of my sulfur issue. I’ll ask her about it when I see her on Wednesday.

So here’s what I’m taking currently:
Topical DHEA
Probiotics
Riboflavin-5-phosphate
Trace Minerals
Vitamin C
Vitamin D3
Vitamin K2
Fish oil
1/3 of a capsule of B complex #6
Magnesium
Biotin sporadically
Zinc sporadically
Charcoal sporadically
Quercetin sporadically
Gentian/Wormwood sporadically

I also started oil pulling a few times a week (when I remember) against my better judgement, but my nutritionist thought I should give it a try, so, why not?

I try to use my dry skin brush about once a week.

I am in my third month of Restasis and my eyes are worse than ever. They are never not bothering me. Swollen, itchy, tingly, burning, blurry, gritty. Always.

I have a new pillow, which is a god-send for my bursitits in my shoulders, but I had to let it off-gas outside for over a month. It still slightly concerns me, so I emailed Dr. Bob and here’s what he said: “We do not use flame retardants or any other harmful chemicals. On the Amazon site you can see our product obtained the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Certification. This is a difficult certification to receive and shows this testing lab certifies the pillow is free of harmful chemicals. Oeko is the best know lab and certification for products to be free of harmful chemicals.” Hmmm… well, this thing stinks and I hope it isn’t off-gassing into my brain.

I love love LOVE having short hair. Can’t believe I didn’t do it sooner. Hair is such a nightmare when you’re sick and the cut disguises all the hair loss in the front.

Grainy photo, but you get the gist.

Grainy photo, but you get the gist.

What else?

I’m still on a modified AIP (autoimmune paleo) plus low-histamine-ish diet. I am not strict on AIP or low-histamine becasue I’m always trying to reintroduce foods back into my diet so I can have as many nutrients as possible and don’t develop even more sesntivities. I constantly warn everyone on my Facebook group not to take an elimination diet lightly and add back as many foods as possible as quickly as possible. It becomes a trap. Eating fewer foods causes a host of new issues (in my case, gastroparesis, worsening constipation and odd reactions that I never had before embarking on AIP). Also, the longer you don’t eat them, the harder they are to get back — both physically and mentally. Hence the reason I never eliminated ice cream, chocolate and packaged chips. God forbid I lose my unhealthy addictions. I need the soul food (although, I do really think one of these days I have to see if I feel better without sugar in my life. It’s just that it was easier to quit gluten, dairy, drinking alcohol and smoking than it seems to be to even contemplate eliminating sugar for a few weeks). One of these days I’ll write a post on what I eat on this diet, but, in the meantime, you can see photos on my Instagram account, if you’re interested (minus all the crap I eat–I’m trying to inspire people, after all, not cause them inflammation).

We ordered a free-range, organic, recently-harvested, fresh (not frozen) turkey for pick up today for Thanksgiving, but, to keep histamines low, we have to roast it right away (and then my husband freezes the leftover meat for me and makes bone broth from the carcass), so we are celebrating Thanksgiving today. We were going to have a get-together with our friends, Z and J, and my sister and her boyfriend (hence the cleaning lady), but it fell through, so the two of us are going to sit down to a 12-pound turkey alone. It’s ok. I’m thankful that I was feeling almost well enough to have some people over for the first time in 2.5 years. I’m thankful that I still have some people in my life to invite over. I’m thankful that I will have a yummy dinner and I don’t even mind that almost every meal I eat looks like Thanksgiving dinner and there really won’t be any different fun stuff. At least I’ll have turkey instead of chicken. And maybe the tryptophan will help me sleep!

Speaking of food, I’m starving and the cleaning lady is in the kitchen. I don’t want to get in her way or have to chat, so I’m trying to think of what else I can tell you all.

I made it to the freezing cold cemetery on the scooter for about 40 minutes a few weeks ago, wearing about 5 layers and carrying a hot water bottle. It was literally my first time spending some time outside in a month. The winter is hard that way. It really feels unhealthy to be trapped inside 24 hours a day. I have to make an effort to put on my coat and hat and go out into the garden. Please remind me!

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We bought a proper comfy dog bed for the kids seeing as they are arthritic and bony (it was on sale, has no fire retardants and is returnable at any time, even if used). It’s the size of a small country. 110-pound Bowie is thrilled when he can actually lie in it and Little Guy doesn’t relegate him to the crappy small bed.

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I found ants in my room one morning. They were running in droves all over the floor. It took days and days to kill them and there are still carcasses strewn about. It was pretty gross.

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I’m still going to therapy. It’s been great recently. He’s very interested in cultural history as a jumping-off point and that is helpful for someone who mourns the loss of Ireland and regularly starts blubbering over how powerfully I miss it.
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I have a lot of issues to work out there– An American by birth who never questioned that I was Irish, but wound up back in America and then felt rejected by the country I love… Marrying a man with an identical upbringing and thinking, “how perfect! We can relocate back home,” but it’s not home to him anymore… staying in America by default, year after year, but always wishing I was in Ireland and planning the eventual return… and then getting a disease that stops me from returning, so I have no choice, anyway. My therapist asked me if I’d be able to manage my illness better if I were living in Dublin and I said yes because my mother, aunt and best friend live there. And so does my heart. But it’s a difficult place to live and we’d have no money, so that’s not the answer.

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Ok, I can’t avoid it any longer, I have to eat. And that was really dredging the bottle of the barrel for stuff to tell you about.

I’m thankful for all of you, too, dear readers. You have no idea. Love and thanks and nom nom nom gobble gobble to everyone this week. X