I have to get a filling done for the first time since being sick and extremely reactive to medications. I know this is the beginning of many future dental procedures because I have a lot of aging mercury fillings and I’m sure they will have to be replaced eventually. Also, I haven’t been wearing any sort of oral device when I sleep — be it a night guard or apnea apparatus — so I’ve been clamping down, grinding and cracking my teeth again. Also, my teeth feel more unstable this past year: I have trouble chewing certain foods in certain spots and random pain. I read that this might be a result of immunoglobulin infusions; some people claim it wrecks dental health. I haven’t gone down that research rabbit hole, but it nags at me a bit. So, I need to find out what anesthetics and materials are safe for me and develop a standing protocol for this current cavity and also for future dental work.
I am one of these mast cell people that can eat almost anything, but I have extreme reactions to micro-doses of medications — even medications I’ve taken with no problem in the past — so, I’m scared of being in a dentist’s chair and having an anaphylactic reaction of any sort. I’ve been doing research and, as usual with MCAS, there aren’t great ways to control the outcome of a procedure like this besides taking normal precautions and crossing my fingers. Normal precautions for me are:
- Schedule my appointment for a safe time of the month. My menstrual cycle is bananas at the moment (has been coming every 13 days some months recently and spotting daily), so I only feel confident the first week after my period.
- Premedicate: For the week before, I will not forget to take my Loratadine and Ranitidine twice a day. On the day of, I will take Prednisone (I take a VERY low dose because it wallops me), Benadryl, Zantac and Paracetamol.
- Hydrate to raise blood pressure: In the days before, I will drink 2-3 litres of water. On the day of, I will do IV fluids (maybe).
- Food to stabilize blood sugar: Be well fed before the procedure and have frozen food prepared for afterwards. I also eat a lower histamine diet in the days before and after a new or risky medical procedure.
- Rest: Be well rested before and proactively rest after the procedure.
- Try to do as much of the dental work as possible without anesthetic. Before the dentist starts, bite open a capsule of Benadryl and squirt it on the tooth and gums in question. I learned this trick from an allergist who told me to squirt Benadryl directly on my tongue when it swelled up. Benadryl is a great numbing agent.
- Have the dentist use a local anesthetic without epinephrine. I found this out the hard way long before I was sick or dealing with mast cell issues. I’ve always responded badly to epi.
- I always carry salt packets, glucose tablets, electrolyte water, antihistamines and an EpiPen to help stabilse my vitals, manage any reactions and ward off vasovagal syncope.
Once I’ve gotten this first filling out of the way with no reactions, I’ll undoubtedly ease up on the pre-meds and not consider IV fluids, but, because I don’t know how I’ll react, I’m taking all precautions this time.
Here is some info on choices for dental materials:
- Local anesthetics:
- Allergic reactions to local anesthetics may occur as a result of sensitivity to:
- 1) either the ester or amide component;
- 2) the preservative methylparaben;
- 3) sulfites (sodium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite), which are used as a preservative in local anesthetics that contain epinephrine; or
- 4) the medication, itself.
- Ester-based local anesthetics are typically associated with a higher incidence of allergic reactions due to one of their metabolites, para-amino benzoic acid (PABA). In general, amide-based local anesthetics are less likely to cause allergic responses because they do not undergo metabolism to PABA.
- Ester-based injectable local anesthetics are no longer used in the United States, but are used topically (numbing jellies, such as Benzocaine), so discuss what your dentist will be using.
- Allergic reactions to amide-based local anesthetics can occur because of the preservative, methylparaben, which is structurally similar to PABA. However, methylparaben has been removed from single-use dental local anesthetic cartridges, which are what private dental offices typically use (multi-use vials might still contain methylparaben. These are typically used in hospital settings and physicians’ offices). Double-check what your dentist uses.
- True allergies to amides are exceedingly rare in the general population (but they do exist — for some ideas on how to navigate dental work with an amide allergy, see this article). Because of this, your dentist might (correctly) tell you that allergies to amides (as opposed to the preservatives in the anesthetic) are virtually unheard of or that it is impossible to be “allergic” to epinephrine. I think it’s important not to use the word “allergy” too casually, but, rather, make sure your doctor understands how mast cell degranulation works with MCAS: that you can have anaphylactic (life-threatening) reactions that are not IgE-mediated, but present the same way.
- People with ME, mast cell disease or multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) often have exaggerated reactions to the epinephrine in many local anesthetics. These anesthetics also contain sulfites (added as a preservative for the epinephrine), which can cause allergic reactions. If you are concerned about reactions to epi, sulfites or want to play it safe, I would ask for a local anesthetic without epinephrine. Bear in mind, you will metabolize the anesthetic quicker than if it had epinephrine, so, depending on the procedure, you may need more injections (right before I got sick, I had dental work done that required over 20 injections and I think the gruelling nature of that day probably played a part in my immune system crash).
- Examples of common anesthetics that are typically tolerated, according to The Mastocytosis Society: Lidocaine, Bupivacaine, Prilocaine (brand names Bidanest or Citanest Plain (the latter contains no vasoconstrictor)), Mepivacaine (also called Carbocaine, Scandonest, Polocaine (by Astra)) and Ropivacaine (which is always preservative-free). I believe Mepivacaine is always free of epinephrine (and I’ve been told by a few friends that they had no reactions to it; one very sensitive friend specified that she got 3cc of 1.7% Carbocaine and was fine), but, as always, double-check with your dentist. This page has a handy chart of local anesthetics’ ingredients.
- Some anesthetics don’t use epi, but do use a different vasoconstrictor (for example, Citanest Forte), so make sure you are clear on what your dentist uses.
- Other things to note:
- If you have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which is a connective tissue disease that is a common comorbid condition of ME, MCAS and POTS/dysautonomia, you might need more anesthetic and it might wear off quicker than the average person — especially when using a medication without epinephrine because there’s no vasoconstriction.
- Vasodilators are risky for those of us with hypotension and circulatory problems. Nitrous oxide is a cerebral vasodilator — not to be confused with NITRIC oxide (not used in dentistry, as far as I know), a strong vasodilator often used for respiratory diseases.
- Most topical anesthetics contain gluten, so those individuals with either celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid topical anesthesia.[ii]
- I have been told by multiple people with chronic pain syndromes that going without anesthesia is not a good idea because, in these cases, the body “remembers” the pain and it can set you up for future worsening issues.
- Allergic reactions to local anesthetics may occur as a result of sensitivity to:
- Composite: cheaper, expands better than porcelain, usually better for small fillings.
- Traditional composite examples:
- Filtek Supreme Ultra by 3M
- Holistore unshaded by DenMat is a biocompatible composite that is recommended for bonding and smaller fillings. It contains no metal oxides, but is quite white in color and is significantly less durable than some other composites. Premise Indirect (formally BelleGlass) unshaded by Kerr for in a metal-free composite that can be used for crowns, inlays and bridges.
- Traditional composite examples:
- Porcelain: looks more natural than composite and the consensus is that this is the safest material option, however porcelain contains more metal oxides than composite and is much more expensive ($thousands vs $hundreds). It cannot be used in certain instances (for example, small spaces between teeth). They are pre-fabricated, so take more time and multiple appointments.
- Inlays: fit inside the tooth.
- Onlays: fit over the tooth.
- Crowns and bridges.
- Zirconium: can be used for inlays/onlays or implants.
- Composite: cheaper, expands better than porcelain, usually better for small fillings.
- Dental cements/adhesives/bonding agents: There are various different kinds (for example, my dentist uses Prime & Bond Elect by Dentsply and Relyx is often used for crowns). Some biological dentists recommend Tenure and Tenure S by DenMat for bonding. Other brands used by bio-dentists I’ve contacted: Optibond, Admira Bond, All Bond Universal. Like composite material, there’s not a lot of information on brands that are “safer”, so you might just have to try one out and cross your fingers.
Dr. Douglas Cook, who is known to see many patients with MCS, has written books and has a lot of info on his website about biocompatible dental materials.
Here’s a link to the most typical dental materials that test as “clean” and relatively inert.
For an good in-depth analysis, see this article: Allergic Reactions to Dental Materials-A Systematic Review.
There are options for reactivity testing before you have dental work done. I’m a bit of a skeptic and, more importantly, I like to conserve energy and money, so I probably won’t do any of this testing, but I’ll lay them out:
Testing before dental work (some info here):
- Clifford blood test: You need a doctor to order this test and it’s over $300. It tests for “antibody sensitivity” to 94 chemical groups and “correlates” these sensitivities to 17,204 dental materials. I put those in quotes because, after corresponding with Walter Clifford and researching how these tests are done, I’m not sure I trust his skills or the accuracy/scientific legitimacy of the testing. IMHO. I might be wrong. However… it’s something. It’s a guide. Even if, at a minimum, it makes a patient feel more confident and less fearful of a reaction, that, in itself, can calm mast cells. (Note: If you do immunoglobulin infusions, the accuracy of the Clifford test results will be compromised.)
- Muscle testing dental materials. Biological dentists often have kits that can be sent to your ND. Again, I’m not sure how I feel about muscle testing, but, at the very least, it’s a way to provide direction and give confidence.
- MELISA blood test for metal allergies. You need a doctor’s order and they’re pricey. Here is their test requisition with the costs. Shipping to Germany from where I live is $118 on top of the cost of the test, so bear this in mind.
It turns out, my cavity has grown around an existing mercury filling, which will have to come out. I was planning to go to my regular dentist (who is interested in learning about mast cell diseases and is phenomenal about talking through options), but he doesn’t take any precautions when removing mercury and the last thing I need is my body to be burdened by additional toxins when I am compromised in virtually every detoxification pathway there is (not just things like liver and methylation, but my body doesn’t even manage to do the very basics like bowel movements and sweating). So, I’m planning on finding a local dentist that practices the “SMART” protocol for mercury removal. The downside of this is that I’ll need another full exam with my new dentist even though I just had one with my regular dentist, which means at least two appointments to get the filling done. Plus, this is all out of pocket for me, but my regular doctor gives me a cash discount which these holistic/biological dentists don’t = energy and $$$.
You can search here, but I asked my doctor, my friends and in local online groups and came up with this list of Seattle-area dentists:
- Paul Rubin (North Seattle, possibly retiring soon)
- Richard Stickney (downtown, front office staff is incredibly informative, thorough and kind)
- Jessica Saepoff (Issaquah and Mercer Island)
- Rebecca Taylor
- Gregory Zimmer (Tacoma)
- Mitch Marder (I ruled him out for myself because of a bad experience.)
I think I am going to see Paul Rubin or Richard Stickney, based on location and my conversations with their staff. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Speaking of detox, you might want to consider taking/using these things before and after dental work (I never have, but I’m considering it):
- Charcoal capsules
- Charcoal toothpaste
- One dentist recommended taking this product up to a month before mercury removal.
*I did not write these articles or research the details, so some of the info might not be entirely accurate — it’s up to you to do your own research.
The Mastocytosis Society’s Emergency Room Protocol.
[i] Allergic Reactions Did you know. . . Volume IV, Number 1 | January/February 2001
[ii] “Numbing Jelly” or Dental Topical Anesthesia.
Understanding allergic reactions to local anesthetics.
Allergic Reactions to Dental Materials-A Systematic Review.
Non-IgE mediated mast cell activation.
Novocaine Allergy Part II – Methylparaben and Sulfites.
Every time I have an appointment with my endocrinologist, I hem and haw about whether I should cancel it. It’s on the other side of town, $50 round-trip in an Uber, it only ever lasts about 20 minutes and couldn’t she just look at my thyroid lab results and email me about whether to stick with my current hormone dosages? Well, each time I go, I am so grateful for this doctor (last week I told her nurse I would walk on hot coals for Dr. B) and I vow to come straight home and write an update so I can remember everything she said. I never have managed to do this and the visit summaries hardly mention anything at all, so today I’m going to write a general update of her treatment.
I’ve seen a lot of endocrinologists in the last six years and they have all, without exception, been kind of odd, stoic and monosyllabic. Until Dr. B. She’s vibrant and engaged (after seeing her, I always mourn my lack of brain energy a little more), listens closely, talks about her ideas out loud, thinks outside of the box and is interested in conditions not typically related to the endocrine system. Imagine that: a big hospital allopathic endocrinologist taking the whole body into account!
The first time I saw her a year ago, I told her my basic story (anaphylaxis 2001-2002, vasovagal collapse 2005-2011, thyroid goiters 2009, radioiodine ablation 2010, SICK 2011), assuming she’d check my thyroid and update my prescription as per usual — and she did, but she also ordered pituitary blood tests, a Cortrosyn stimulation test (CST) (otherwise known as an ACTH stimulation test — it measures how well the adrenal glands respond to ACTH), referred me to two neurologists — one that specialises in headaches and one that specialises in dysautonomia — and said we would consider placing a continuous glucose monitoring device to assess the drops in my blood sugar (good news is, my blood sugar crashes got much better, possibly because I am eating all foods again and have put on weight). No other endocrinologist had ever suggested any of these things.
I was dreading the CST because of my reactivity and intravenous injections of anything don’t allow me to start low and slow, but it was fine. I did my research beforehand (yes, they were they only using 1mcg of Cortrosyn; no, I didn’t need to fast; no, it didn’t need to be timed according to the follicular phase of my menstrual cycle; no, I didn’t need to be off bioidentical hormones; and, yes, my husband could be with me), so I felt comfortable about the procedure and the results were normal.
The pituitary testing showed low LH (luteinizing hormone), DHEA and IGF-1. Because of the latter, at our next appointment Dr. B ordered a pituitary MRI to “leave no stone unturned” (LOVE her). The MRI was normal, but she emphasised that it was less reliable because of my unwillingness to use contrast (I didn’t think the risks of a reaction outweighed the benefits of a better MRI — and she was ok with that). She also gave me a prescription for Florinef to see if it would help with my hypotension (blood pressure was 80/60 at this appointment). I trialed it for a month (starting at 0.0125mg (!!), working up to 0.1mg) and thought it might be increasing my headaches (but not my blood pressure, of course), so I stopped, but it’s still on my list to retry.
My thyroid levels have consistently been tanked for the last 6 years and at every appointment Dr. B would tweak my meds. I’ve gone from 50mcg/day of levothyroxine to 100 to 125 and from 5mcg/liothyronine to 10 and — this is exciting — when I told her my naturopath suggested much higher T3 and lower T4, Dr. B said, “I’m totally open to that, let’s try it.” 😮 Typically allopathic endocrinologists and NDs do not see eye to eye on treatment and optimal thyroid levels and often one doctor will be resistant to another doctor’s suggestions, especially when the suggestion comes from someone who isn’t a specialist. Dr. B has no ego getting in the way. So, we increased my T3 to 15mcg twice/day and lowered T4 to 100mcg. I really don’t know if it has helped, but she seems more satisfied with my thyroid levels. She told me to watch out for tremors, heart palpitations and insomnia, but they are all within my normal constellation of symptoms, so who knows (although, as I’m typing this, I realise that my quite-vicious nightly palpitations haven’t happened in a while– maybe weeks). She diagnosed me with “euthyroid sick syndrome” which essentially means your thyroid will stay sick until the underlying chronic illness gets better.
I saw a headache neurologist and a dysautonomia specialist (more on both of those in separate posts), but neither of them were the ones to which Dr. B referred me. And — another reason to love her — she had no problem with that and was still interested in what they had to say. Even better, when I told her the dysautonomia specialist didn’t have much to offer and essentially told me just to make sure I don’t decondition any further, Dr. B raised her eyebrows in surprise and kind of dismissed this, still interested in helping me fix this piece of the puzzle (those of you that haven’t done the doctor rounds might not realise that almost all of them tell you to simply exercise more (or gain/lose weight) (or take antidepressants), so I expected Dr. B to take the specialist’s assessment as bible and agree that I was just deconditioned). She suggested I do a growth hormone challenge (it involves a 17-hour fast, an 8am check-in and a 5-hour test where they give intravenous glucagon and then measure human growth hormone (HGH) response through blood draws) and said the worst side effect she’d seen was vomiting. I wanted to vomit at the thought of getting to a hospital at 8 in the morning. I went home to do some research; that was in July of last year.
When I saw her again at the end of September, I hadn’t done the HGH challenge and she didn’t give me a hard time at all. Three months after that appointment I still hadn’t found the nerve, so I emailed her a long message about my glucagon fears (those of you with mast cell/anaphylaxis/medication sensitivity issues can read my email* below for the reasons it gave me pause) which any other specialist would either not answer or reply that I should come in for an appointment to discuss. Instead, she sent me a very thoughtful, validating reply (not “For fuck sake, stop being such a scaredy-cat and do the bloody test since I’m the one doctor who is investigating all these things!”) and offered an alternative to glucagon — an insulin challenge test — which I agreed to … and then never did. They give you intravenous insulin, drop your blood sugar to 40 and then test HGH. I told her I was more comfortable with the devil I knew (hypoglycemia) then the one I didn’t. But, it turns out I’m not really comfortable with voluntarily meeting any devil. I’ve had my blood sugar drop into the 40s. It was absolutely horrific — one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt. And, although they give you intravenous glucose right afterwards, I still couldn’t bring myself to do this test and subject myself to the crash when I thought they probably wouldn’t find anything.
So, I waited until my appointment this month — 8 months after she first wanted to investigate this avenue — and told her of my fears about the insulin challenge test as well. I expected her to just give up, to say there’s probably nothing wrong there, anyway, but she didn’t. She said there was an additional reason to do the insulin challenge (other than for HGH output) and that was that it can pick up a hypothalamus issue that the glucagon stimulation test can’t. Ok, I can get on board since it’s a two-fer. However, in another display of out-of-the-box-ness and medical generosity, she suggested I just try HGH injections without doing the challenge test. She said she had two other patients with the dyautonomia-mast cell-EDS trifecta (more on my EDS diagnosis at another time) and, even though neither one flunked the stimulation test, they tried HGH and had really good results. A friend of my sister-in-law’s had a lot of success with HGH and it has always been in the back of my head as something to try when I win the lotto. I read it cost thousands of dollars, but Dr. B’s prescription is “only” $138/month, so I’m on board. If/when I get the nerve, I can stop the HGH for a week and do the challenge test and, if I fail, insurance will pay for my prescription. An added bonus is my nurse who comes to my home every week (to give me intravenous fluids with my immunoglobulin infusions) can show me how to subcutaneously inject the HGH and I don’t need to go across town for a tutorial appointment.
Gratitude for good doctors! Wish me luck with the HGH.
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.
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.
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.❤
Last Friday, I had my third sleep study in as many years. This one was to see if my oral appliance was helping my sleep apnea. I’m a pro at these studies by now, but it’s still an awful night’s sleep, no matter what. Check in is at 9pm and they wake you up between 5:45am and 6am the next day. My sleep has been a lot better in recent months, but it’s also gotten later and later. I haven’t gone to sleep before 2am once this year. I haven’t tried to change this because I don’t want to mess with whatever is working about my sleep. For example, last night I slept from 2am to 10am. My sleep is still fraught with problems and awakenings, but actually having my eyes closed for 8 hours is miraculous.
So, I knew I was in for a rough night during the sleep study. This time around, I wore my pajamas to the clinic since I would just be getting straight into bed; I brought melatonin, since I knew I’d be trying to sleep earlier than usual; I brought an electric blanket since it’s always cold (stroke of genius, it turns out, because I have a very hard time sleeping with icy feet); I brought both of my pillows (one for my head, one to support my legs when I sleep on my side); I brought water and snacks (didn’t need the latter); and, most importantly, I brought ear plugs. During my last sleep study, I was woken by the crackling of the speakers, the water in the pipes, the hissing of the air conditioning, the closing of doors in other rooms… Ev.eRy.Thing woke me. I can say, without any shadow of doubt, that finding ear plugs that block all sound and are comfortable enough to sleep in (i.e: NOT the $100 custom-fit hard ones) was the best thing to ever happen in my health life. The key was, my husband had to teach me how to put them in properly. I didn’t realise there is an art to this. Silence is pure bliss, even if it’s filled with various pitches of shrieking tinnitus.
Another trick I had learned from experience was to shower (and not put on any lotion) right before coming to the sleep study, so the sticky pads would stay stuck through all my nocturnal thrashing. In the past, the tech had had to wake me to restick sensors that I’d ripped off. It was also a pleasant surprise that the huge brick that connected all the wires, which used to be strapped to my stomach, has been eliminated.
Once I was all hooked up to the wires and monitors, I read for a bit and then tried to go to sleep at around midnight. I had to call the tech in twice: once to move the massive cord of tethered wires coming from my head and gathered together at the back of my neck like the brain plug-ins in The Matrix — that’s a design flaw when they want you to stay on your back — and another time because of the bright green speaker light reflecting off the ceiling and blaring through my shut eyelids. She got on a chair and threw a washcloth over the speaker light. Can’t believe no one else had ever complained about it.
My night was terrible. It felt like I was awake the whole time and I remember at one stage thinking I just needed to call the tech in and tell her I was going home because I obviously was never going to fall asleep for more than a few minutes at a time. Turns out, I was wrong about that. I did sleep, but spent an inordinate amount of time in stage 2 sleep, during which, my doctor said, you can be slightly aware of your surroundings. Was I ever. I also remembered snippets of about 5 dreams. It felt like I would doze for 10 minutes, have a dream, wake up and lie there thinking about it for an hour, before dozing off and having it happen again, over and over. Dr. M confirmed that I did wake up after every REM cycle, but said this wasn’t that uncommon. We surmised that my problem is, because I’m often having stressful dreams and nightmares, when I wake up it isn’t a slight surfacing and then back under, it is, instead, a fully awake, heart-pounding episode that I have to come down from. He said my “sleep architecture” was terrible (how I progress through sleep) and my brainwaves showed that I spent most of my time in flight or fight mode. I’m hoping this was exacerbated by being hard-wired into a foreign bed. I’ve done so much bloody work over the years trying to calm my nervous system and feel like I’ve made progress. The ear plugs are a good example — I spent years not even considering wearing them because then I wouldn’t be able to hear the intruder/dog whining/crackling of flames or any one of the other million crises that can strike in the night. I’m not on high alert anymore. Usually.
The biggest revelation to me that night was how much pain I am in when I’m sleeping. I thought I was just an extremely active sleeper but, just like my experience during the tilt table test when I was forced to lie on my back and stay in one position, all hell breaks loose in my limbs when I can’t move. Blood pooling, pins and needles, numbness, cramping, sore muscles and, worst of all, skeletal pain — deep aching in my joints and bones. I had to move to alleviate the pain and get my blood flowing, so, as much as I tried to stay on my back (where the apnea is a real problem), I wound up flipping from side to side, just like I do at home. I’d never equated the tilt table test to sleeping — while I was supine, there was no blood in my extremities at all and they went from numb to excruciating. I was almost in tears. I don’t know what to do about this particular problem, though. It’s not a painkiller issue. I think I need stronger muscles to help the bone and joint pain and, for the circulation issues… what? Would Florinef or Midodrine help with this? Can I just hire a gaggle of elves to rub my arms and legs all night long?
Anyway, there is some great news. I managed 3 short cycles of deep sleep during the night, which blows my mind when I didn’t think I’d slept at all. My oxygen saturation was 96-97% (that’s good). And… sound the trumpets… I had ZERO apneas or other breathing events. Picture me kissing my ResMed Narval oral appliance like Jimmy Stewart kissing the newel post knob in It’s a Wonderful Life. Mmuah mmuah mmuah! I love you, my uncomfortable little OA. I’ll never speak ill of you again. Even though you destroy my jaw every night, you are a much better friend than the CPAP mask.
So, with ear plugs and the OA, I’ve tackled 2 of my sleep issues. Now, I just have to work on the hypersensitive nervous system, temperature dysregulation, cervical spine injury, the night terrors, muscle aches, bone pain, joint bursitis, blood pooling, photosensitivity, intermittent drenching night sweats and the awful mast cell poisoning reaction events and I’ll sleep like a baby. Yay!
But, seriously, this is really good news. Sleep is absolutely the key to my healing. Oh, and Dr. M prescribed a newish sleep drug called Belsomra, which works on brain neurotransmitters. I think I might give it a try. 🙂
I haven’t done an update in forever and it’s a shame because I look back on my updates a lot to see how I was in the past and compare it to how I am now. It looks like I’m at about the same level of functioning as I was at this time last year. A little worse, unfortunately. Last year, I was walking more steps, had been out in the garden more, was driving a bit (I drove to an appointment this week for the first time in forever, so there is some progress).
I’m still trying to regain some ground after the onslaught of nocturnal mast cell/viral/ME/inflammatory bowel reactions that started in September when I tried Cromolyn. Thanksgiving and Christmas were probably the two sickest nights of my life. As soon as I was resurfacing from Christmas, I got hit by another one on January 12th. As soon as I was feeling recovered from that, I had another one on January 28th and then again on the 31st. I stopped everything, including writing. For three weeks, I laid low and tried to reset my body. My constipation had become severe, so I had been taking massive doses of various different kinds of magnesium and I was afraid this was contributing to the episodes because there always seems to be some sort of bowel inflammation component involved (I get aches and what feels like electric pins and needles in my bowels and my flanks when I’m very constipated). When I quit magnesium, the constipation became critical — and a bit comical with the size of my protruding belly. I’m so uncomfortable, I wake up in the night when I roll over onto the poop baby inside of me. Where do the other organs go? I’m not sure how I continue to eat and I’m not sure why I continue to eat. You’d think at some stage I would just give my gut a break and eat liquid food, but I’m always hungry. I tried Triphala, Gentian, Medibulk, digestive enzymes, massage, enemas, prunes, oatmeal, even my old standby Wormwood stopped working. Which led me to the glycerine suppository on Oscar night which caused the (anaphylactic?) collapse on the bathroom floor. So, tonight I’ll be taking the generic polyethylene glycol (Miralax/Movical) that I have been avoiding because, if it’s too harsh, it’ll trigger a vasovagal reaction and I could pass out or, if it’s mild cramping, it’ll keep me up in the night. Not to mention it’s a nasty drug and probably made in China. But enough about that…
My father was visiting when the suppository episode happened and, a few days after he left, my mother came. That’s it from Christmas until now. That is my 2015. One quarter of a year summed up: reaction-recovery-reaction-recovery-reaction-recovery-reaction-recovery-visitor-visitor. Thank god for the visitors because the rest is really depressing. My friend M recently said that he fears not seeing those he loves ever again and, as we get older, that concern becomes more and more pressing. I think this all the time with my parents living so far away. Their visits allowed me to breathe easier. They filled me up with sustenance and gave me a little more mettle to carry on. I am incredibly lucky to have such a supportive and loving family. Recently, Jen Brea asked the ME community to post the most compassionate word or giving act ever received in relation to our illness (a very moving thread) and all I could think was, my family, my siblings, my parents, my best friends… their messages, words of encouragement, interest in learning about ME, physical help, monetary help, emotional help… Where would I be without them?
Both visits were wonderful and were needed more than I realised. My mother helped me with a hundred tasks I haven’t been able to accomplish and I got to hear all about my brothers and nieces and nephews, whom she had just visited. We managed to drive to the beach dog park twice: first, with my father and sister and, again, with my mother. It has been glorious weather in Seattle and getting out of the house is always the highlight of my months.
The one downside was, my husband wasn’t with us the first time, so I was without his deafening whistle and another set of eyes on our smaller dog, Riley, the escape artist. He ran around the rocks at the edge of the park and took off, causing me to expend more energy than I have in many months. I stood calling at the top of my lungs, over and over, “RILEY, COME!” and then started to panic when he didn’t reappear. At the top of my lungs and panic are not things that go well with ME. My voice is not strong, but, man, when my child went missing, nothing was going to stop me yelling for him. This is a dog that is only ours because he ran away from some other home and was found in a house barn, emaciated and unable to stand up. He’s an adventurer and curious about everything, while Bowie sticks to me like glue.
When Riley finally came into view, he was up in the car park and I sprinted up the sand embankment to the fence. Sprinted and up don’t happen in my world, either. Riley looked scared. He couldn’t tell where my voice was coming from and I was worried he’d run in front of a car or disappear, never to be found. He was tearing back and forth outside the park and I was calling over and over. He finally found me and I grabbed the scruff of his neck through the fence and sat down in the sand, waiting for rescue. My 72-year old Dad clambered up the rocks (cutting his shins in the process) and got Riley on a leash. I was half catatonic on the way home, like a rag with all the water twisted out of it. I crawled to bed, but, once again, bounced back quicker than I anticipated. And it was worth it. Mount Rainier on the drive home, through my glazed eyeballs, was spectacular. My Dad said it looked like a painting of Mount Fuji.
So, what else can I tell you about the last 3 or 4 months? I haven’t really taken any supplements this whole year so far. A few here and there, but, after every big episode, I would stop everything and go back to baseline. In the last week, I have been taking trace minerals, Vitamin D, K2 and fish oil again. I’m also still on topical DHEA and progesterone and just added topical pregnenolone and I’m about to add oral progesterone. It makes me nervous using bioidentical hormones, but they don’t seem to cause a reaction and both of my NDs recommend them, so I’m going with it. Apparently, there is evidence that DHEA+pregnenolone can reduce reactivity, so the goal is to take those for a while, then try IV fluids, then try sub-cutaneous IG and maybe even make my way to IVIG one day. I’ve been trying to get there since seeing Dr. Chia 7 months ago, so who knows how long it’ll take. I’m also still on the compounded thyroid hormones. All these compounded meds are costing me a fortune, though, and are not covered by insurance. One of these days, I’ll have to call this experiment quits and go back to my generic, dye-filled, filler-filled drugs. That’s it for what I’m taking. The Equilibrant, Nystatin, Hydroxyzine, Tramadol and Singulair are all languishing in the cupboard, unopened.
I had a few blood tests done in January. The big shock is that my cholesterol is sky high. Total cholesterol is 310, LDL is 194, Apo B is 124 (ideally <109) and LDL-P (particles) is 1755 (ideally <1000). There could be many reasons for this: my continuing low thyroid, my chronic and reactivated infections (coxsackie, HHV6, EBV, varicella, candida, mycoplasma pneumoniae), leaky gut and inflammation, genetics (both of my parents have high cholesterol) or something to do with my insulin/hypoglycemia issues. But, I actually think it is mostly to do with my diet. Over a year ago, I started an elimination diet for autoimmune conditions (AIP), plus cut out most high-histamine foods (fish, shellfish and avocado etc.). I cut out oats (I had already eliminated all other grains except rice), legumes, nuts and seeds, but continued to eat white rice (and rice cakes, rice pasta etc.). After about 4 months, I began eating a lot of ghee, butter and bone broth. I had my cholesterol checked in 2013 and it was fine, as it had been my whole life. In mid-2014, it had started to crawl up and, 9 months later, it’s now a pretty big problem. I’m pretty sure it was my inadvertent reduction in soluble and insoluble fiber (especially the former), plus the changes in the type of fat I was eating that caused the lipid problem.
Other January blood tests of note: low DHEA and testosterone (still), low insulin, high homocysteine (still) and my T3 and T4 are low (STILL). Don’t tell Dr. Erin, but I’m going to increase my liothyronine myself because these teeny incremental changes are just taking too long to fix my levels. Nothing seems to get better and more abnormalities keep emerging.
I’m averaging about 1,400 steps a day and 6 hours sleep a night. When I do sleep, my sleep has been better. I just put it together now that this might be because of the progesterone supplementation, which is meant to help restful sleep. Wow, I finally made a correlation. I still can’t wear the CPAP without all hell breaking lose and the oral appliance still wrecks my jaw, but I’m managing to get a solid 5 hours most nights, with another 1-3 tossy turny hours. I have my third sleep study tomorrow to see if the OA is helping the apnea at all. My other sleep issues (pain, night terrors, constant movement and muscle spasms, awakenings post-REM sleep) are still unresolved since I haven’t been able to tolerate the drugs offered.
My headaches have also been a bit better, maybe because I backed off the salt ever so slightly. I get doozies a few times a week, but I noticed that I didn’t really have a headache the whole time my father was here. My salt loading wasn’t helping my blood pressure at all, so I might need to be medicated.
My throat spot hasn’t been itchy in a while and I think the electric shocks in my left leg have been fewer and farther between.
I stopped using the Restasis after 4 months to see if I noticed any difference and I think my eyes have been worse since stopping, but I don’t know if they’re worse enough to justify a Rx.
Sore glands in my neck, crazy tinnitus, swollen sinuses are all continuous low-key issues lately. I started taking 5-6ml of liquid Zyrtec again a few weeks ago on a whim in case anything was seasonal allergy-related. As usual, I can’t really tell anything positive or negative.
My blood sugar seems better. This could be because I’ve diversified my diet (added back many nuts, seeds, oats, goat cheese, milk, potato, corn, chickpeas) and it also helps that my new endocrinologist explained that the danger lies more in how fast my blood sugar is dropping than how low it is. This was great to hear because I have experienced those sugar crashes where it can wind up in the 40s, but I was always nervous, if, when I was going to sleep, it was 73 or something, that it would continue to plummet in the night. She reassured me that, if I don’t feel the tell-tale shakes, it’s probably ok and I don’t need to eat. Having said all that, I got out of bed this morning needing to eat right away because I was shaky and it was 63, so it’s still a delicate dance. [<~ And, after I wrote that, I had a big blood sugar crash on my way out the door to PT because I didn’t eat meat for breakfast. I had to go back inside and cook a mound of lamb and a yuca cake and eat it in the car on the way there. I was 15 minutes late. I guess hypoglycemia isn’t really any better. Gah!]
My buzzy brain and neuro symptoms are definitely still here, always incapacitating when they hit, always signalling that I need to go to bed and power down. And I’m still stiff, inflexible, pulling muscles regularly, in some pain and pretty weak. My lower back has been a major issue recently and my husband bought me a back brace that I have to wear when I’m standing in the kitchen or I’m crippled.
My mood is fine unless I’m really sick or in a lot of pain and then I’m a scared, desperate caged animal, feeling like I can’t go on another minute. When I’m really sick in bed, feeling fluish, poisoned, inflamed and broken, the dark mental cloud descends and obliterates all hope and even the very rational thought that this will ease up. I don’t forget that it has eased up in the past – seemingly, it would be easy to reassure myself that it will again, but I can’t. It’s the knowledge that I couldn’t continue living if it didn’t ease up that causes the black blanket of fear.
But enough about that…
The bad news is, my scooter died at the end of December. It was my one lifeline to freedom and, although I only got out on it for about an hour each month, I lived for that hour. So, I have to figure out a way to get another. The best case scenario would be one that I could lift into my car myself. The cemetery is only a few blocks away and, ideally, I’d like to go for little outings without needing my husband and his truck, since he’s not home very much. I’m also thinking about the future when I have a smaller dog and will, I hope, have the strength to walk him on a leash using the scooter. Not sure there are any scooters that disassemble to light enough parts or that I would have the energy to put in the car, drive, take out and assemble, ride around for a bit, take apart and put back in the car, drive home, take out of the car again… Now that I see that in print, it seems a Herculean and impossible task. Plus, we can’t really afford one, anyway, when we spend more than we bring in every month. When we win the lotto, we can buy a scooter and a transport van that it can drive into. Or maybe I’ll just get better.
The good news is, everything is blooming and the smells in the garden are incredible. 🙂
This took me over a week to write, so apologies if it’s disjointed. Until next time… XO
I can’t remember what was on tv. I was listening casually while I sat writing Christmas cards on the other side of the room. I had five half-boxes left over from the years before and I was determined to have all of them written on time because I’m notoriously late with cards. I decided to start writing them on Halloween night because I could see our gate from the dining table and, when the kids arrived, I could dash outside with the bowl of chocolates before my dogs heard anything and went into cacophonous protection mode. I was hunched over, scribbling and, when I straightened, I felt this ripple go through my body. I’ll never forget that feeling. Like a ghost had walked through me. Like unearthly cold hands had reached inside my body and stroked downwards, from head to toes. A momentary shudder through my brain and nervous system that I never imagined would settle into each muscle and fiber, growing, mutating, eroding. I think of it now and wonder what was happening on a cellular level while I was nonchalantly scribbling notes.
I said, “Oh, I’ve been at this too long” and went to the armchair, curled up fetal, and fell asleep. An hour later, I awoke and knew something wasn’t right. Although it hadn’t really started yet, it felt more serious than a cold or flu. I felt unstable on a systemic level and thought it might turn into one of my syncopal episodes where I would collapse, pale and clammy, with a barely detectable blood pressure and pulse. I said to my husband, “You have to come to bed now. Something might happen and I won’t be able to make it down the stairs to get you.” Those were the days when we used to share a room. Before my illness became my bedfellow.
I spent the next four hours colder than I’ve ever been in my life. I was fully dressed, in bed with a hot water bottle, teeth chattering, shaking so violently, little moans were squeezed from my chest. I vividly remember the eternity it took me to move my hand out from under the duvet in an effort to cover one freezing ear. I thought if my hand left the relative warmth of the blankets, it might freeze solid and shatter into pieces. Oh shit, shit, shit. I’m sick. This is a doozy. I couldn’t ever remember having something like this, but it reminded me of my husband’s horrid battle with chicken pox. He was the sickest person I’d ever seen.
I drifted into sleep, curled in a tiny ball against the headboard, holding my knees, and, when I woke up, I was drenched. I had never experienced even slight night sweats and I couldn’t believe my body contained so much fluid. It was as if someone had poured a bucket of water on me. I could slap my stomach and make little splashes of sweat. And I was so relieved. I had assumed I would battle this virus for days, but the fever had broken after only a few hours and it would be a quick recovery. How could I imagine that I would continue to experience this almost every night for the next two years, losing lifeforce into my bed sheets, becoming weaker and weaker?
I spent the last of the night drifting in and out of fever dreams, waking up intermittently, sweaty and shaky. My husband snoozed peacefully beside me. At one point, my bowels cramped up and I wondered if it was just some atypical food poisoning event. In the morning, I decided I was on the mend, showered, got dressed and went to work. Because that’s what you do… So, that’s what I did. You’d have to be on your death bed to call in sick and, besides, I wanted to save my days off for Christmas.
I’ve thought about that night a lot over the last three years. The moment my immune system shifted permanently. My utter naïveté about what could happen to a body. Although I’d taken many premed classes and had quite a few health problems in my life, it really never occurred to me that I wasn’t unbreakable. Or, at least, if I broke, I assumed I’d be able to be fixed if I put in the work. I had been diagnosed with Graves Disease a few years earlier, told it would kill me without treatment, had radioiodine ablation on my thyroid and had to avoid people for two weeks. And, during all of this, I never took a day off of work. It also never crossed my mind to get a second opinion, talk to others with the same condition or change my eating and sleeping habits. I just popped the radioactive pill and got back to work. The same month, I was told I had reactivated EBV by a naturopath and was advised to cut back my work schedule from 55 hours a week to 20… Ha! I’m sure you can guess how that went. I never saw that doctor again. I was too busy.
I had never been intimately exposed to chronic illness, so I was completely ignorant to the toll it could take on a family. I imagined it would be hard, of course, but you can never understand without experiencing it. Everyone in my family is healthy, even my extended family. We have our demons, but they’re addictions, mental health problems, typical old age conditions. I had my first major bout of angeoedema when I was 23 and went into anaphylaxis for the first time when I was 28. My siblings are all in their 30s and 40s and haven’t had more than the occasional cold. My parents are in their 70s and both still work and are active and social.
I was a sick baby. People would famously stare at the itty bitty girl with the old man’s cough. If I’d understood what could happen to a body, if I’d been less in denial, if I’d been less concerned about proving my bullet-proof toughness, I might have looked back on my childhood and my chest infections, thyroid disease, vasovagal syncope and all the symptoms that turned out to be mast cell activation disorder and tried to make changes to protect myself. If I’d understood what can happen to a body, I might have tried to nurture what was obviously a sensitive system, armour myself against external assaults and preserve what was still working. I could have eaten food that didn’t come from a restaurant kitchen. I could have taken a vitamin once in a while and stopped drinking all of my water out of cheap plastic bottles. I could have made sleep a priority, quit smoking and drinking sooner and not married a job that turned a run-of-the-mill control freak into a spread-too-thin obsessive perfectionist, trying to do all things, everywhere, first and best.
It’s been exactly three years since M.E. shuddered through my body and I wonder if I’ll ever stop thinking about the life that I lost that day. I would take all of my previous health conditions over this one. It was like a death: of my career, of my strong body, of ignorant bliss, and of our future dreams. I think about the months leading up to it — the blatant warnings of a body in crisis that I chose to ignore. There was a nagging voice in my head that pushed me to make a will, living will and power of attorney the year prior, at the age of 36. That same voice made me insist on a quickie marriage in the back garden after my husband and I had been together 13 years. I wanted him to be able to speak for me if I happened to be incapacitated and have legal recourse and rights if I died. I did everything I needed to do for luck: old, new, borrowed, blue, coin in my shoe… We signed the papers on the patio table and, half way back to the kitchen to grab our lunch, I remembered the last thing needed to insure we didn’t jinx our new life: he carried me over our backdoor threshold. We didn’t tell anyone because we thought we’d have a proper ceremony with friends and family in the next year or two — maybe in Ireland or somewhere exotic on a beach. It was exciting to dream up plans for a wedding after so many years together. That was 44 days before my Halloween sickness.
My life feels like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books that I adored as a kid.
Move back to Ireland after college, turn to page 63 or drive across America to Seattle, turn to page 82.
Run into Walgreens on the way home from work and get a flu shot, turn to page 184 or keep on driving and live the rest of your life never having heard of myalgic encephalomyelitis, turn to page Happily Ever After.
I know, I know. You want to say it might have happened anyway. But it wouldn’t have. And you want to say I’ve got to stop ruminating over the what ifs and focus on the present. But it’s the Day of the Dead, a time to remember the dear departed. So, today, three years after the specter came to stay, I will think about the woman I lost that hallowed eve.
I’ll leave you on a happy note. November 1st is not only the anniversary of the first day of my new life with chronic illness, it is also the anniversary of my first born son, Bowie, arriving in our lives. ^^