The Gods Are Smirking

The chronic illness gods did not take kindly to my advertising their kindness and flaunting my good sleep luck.

After writing my last post, I had two tossy-turny not-restful nights that left me depleted and suffering brain drag.

THEN, the next night, my husband closed my blinds and curtains, but failed to notice that one window was wide open, so I was woken by planes, trains and automobiles at daylight. Plus, wind punching the closed blind in and out set up a sort of strobe light effect in my room.

THEN, the very next day, my husband untaped one of my curtains (they’re taped to the wall to block out every sliver of light) in order to fix something, but forgot to tape it back up, so I was woken at daybreak again by the bright line of sunlight on the wall.

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THEN, we had some glorious weather and I sat for hours in the sun for the first time in 7 months and the burn on my back made sleep very difficult for two nights in a row. Every time I rolled onto my back or the blanket slid along my skin, I woke up.

THEN my painful spasming bowels and extreme swollen distension from constipation gave me no rest for two nights. Like sleeping with concrete pumped into your gut.

AND it all culminated in a terrible 7-hour drenching-sweats-and-night-terrors sickness last night. I woke up over and over soaked from my forehead to my toes and finally, at 7am, I woke myself sobbing. I’d just held my dying dog in my arms while I begged someone to help. He had two bloody stumps for front legs and half his face was gone and nobody in the crowded room was helping (people’s lack of competence figures prominently in my nightmares. I think my loss of independence has shaken me to the core). My entire system felt as if I had just gone through that. I heard myself wailing before I was even conscious of where I was and I had called my dogs into my bed before I was fully awake, holding them, crying.

Such is this dis-ease.

I stayed in bed until 5pm, feeling wasted and shaky, and only dragged myself up so my husband could wash my bed clothes. I really hoped the poisoned nights were behind me (it’s been 3 months since the last one) and I have a different theory every time. This time I think it must be my body detoxing whatever my bowels can’t. I have that new sleep drug, Belsomra, but I really don’t want to mess with drugs when things have been going so well. So, fingers crossed the gods are a bit thick and this post makes them think, “Oh, you’re going to speak of your bad nights? We’ll put an end to that!”

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Dear Family

September 22

Dear family,

So here’s what’s happening. I had that terrible reaction to Cromolyn, but it continued for a few more nights than I would have expected. I’ve never felt so sick and urgently needed to change everything in case something —  anything — was contributing to this downfall. I was suddenly willing to take no meds or supplements, eat nothing, go bankrupt, leave the dogs, do anything to survive. I don’t know how to explain it. It didn’t feel like typical ME payback. It wasn’t my blood pressure or blood sugar or temperature, it wasn’t pain, it wasn’t my muscles… it was a feeling of system-wide poisoning. I realised it started the day after we got back from the coast (a dream come true, which I will blog about at another time), so I had to get out of my home, too, in case it was the cause. I wasn’t willing to stay one more night and risk being in the midst of whatever was poisoning me. It was that bad. It took me about one minute to make the decision. For two reasons: 1. If the house or the dogs were somehow making me sick, I had to leave immediately. 2. At the very least, I’m allergic to the dogs and getting away from them would help me heal and have one less assault on my immune system. Plus, Husband and I have talked about my staying somewhere else ad nauseum and always thought the first test would be in Seattle somewhere, it was just something that we hadn’t had the gumption to tackle yet.

My friend Erik, who has recovered through extreme mold avoidance, bullied encouraged me to not bring anything from my home — not my clothes, not a toothbrush, credit card, phone — in case mycotoxins were contributing/causing my illness and/or relapse. After arguing why I needed my own pillow, my sleep apnea oral appliance, my special food etc., I realised… No I don’t. My urine mycotoxin tests were high out of range. Eliminate all possible variables. Take nothing. Once I wrapped my head around it, it seemed like an obvious leap. I was leaving anyway, so why not go whole hog?

I found an AirBnB rental nearby that was able to have me check in last night. It’s not cheap, but it’s cheaper than a hotel and incredibly nice. It’s a brand new studio on top of a garage. New enough that I’m risking using their washer and dryer, but not so new that I’m overly concerned with all the Ikea cabinetry and new sofa and bed. It’s only available until Thursday, but it buys me some time to gain some strength and figure out what to do.

Husband, the selfless angel supporter, bought me a super-cheap tablet, so I could have email access, food, a few toiletries and a cheap outfit (leggings, sweatshirt). I stripped on the doorstep of the rental, left my clothes in a bag there and went straight in and showered. I have an emergency kit outside the door: epipens, benadryl, inhaler, blood sugar tester, glucose tabs, my phone and thyroid hormones.

Last night was rough. The sheets here are washed in smelly detergent which makes me sneeze and keeps me up at night (I know normal people don’t believe this, but, yes, the smell wakes me up over and over and makes me feel like I’m choking), so I’m going to wash the sheets and duvet cover today. Their pillows are for giants — prop your head at a 90 degree angle — so, I went pillowless and my neck is killing me today. I couldn’t get to sleep until after 2am and then I woke up constantly, of course  — I have no cpap, no mouth guard for grinding, no ear plugs, no eye shades, no melatonin, no magnesium, no dogs — but it was better than it has been.

I spent the whole morning cooking, but I’m still starving and worried about losing more weight. I have no meat and no broth — my staples. I’m scared to eat chocolate and chips in case they’re contributing to how awful I feel, and it feels like breaking a heroin addiction. It’s a ton of work, washing, chopping, cooking, cleaning for myself, plus showering standing up…

Thank you so much for your generosity and support, family. I’m so grateful to not have had to run to the streets or, worse, had no option to leave and no husband to help. I’m not sure what my next step is. Go from rental to rental until I know whether I can return to the house? Or sell everything and get out? I don’t know. I’m scared to test anything right now. The reactions/symptoms I was having were too deadly.

Love you all so much. Especially you, dear husband. You give so much every day. I am so sorry this is ruining your life and dreams as well as mine. We have had such a rough time, but I will fight for us and our little family with everything I have. Every ounce of energy and every penny.

September 23

I’m not doing well. I spent all of yesterday on my feet and moving, which is crazy, obviously, but I’ve been so much stronger recently and I don’t have my typical payback muscle pain, so I’m not recognising the warning.

Last night was horrific. Drenching sweats, heart palpitations, hard to breathe, shaking, feverish without the fever, terrible head, this is all stuff I haven’t felt since the first year and a half I was sick. I’m worried that it is viruses rearing up, like Dr. Chia describes, and a catastrophic (what if permanent??) crash and I didn’t heed the warnings and stay still because I didn’t have my typical crippling pain and stiffness. I’m worried that I brought this on myself because I got cocky and stopped my preemptive rests. I’m worried that I just made myself much worse with so much activity.

September 24

Dear family,

Yesterday, I had a major breakdown. I’m horrified that I may have made myself much, much worse by not getting in bed and staying there, not moving. But I can’t tell you the level of hardship this puts on Husband — and myself! To shoulder the guilt and to have no sense of control over your life. Preparing my own food and taking care of myself may be making me worse right now, but it helps me feel less like a burden. But I’m very, very scared that this is simply ME and, in trying to help myself, I’m walking right into a much more disabled state.

I’ve been averaging about 3 to 4 hours sleep every night this week. Today I need to figure out where I’m going tomorrow. Now that I’ve started this, I can’t go home yet. I’m far, far too sick to be anywhere that isn’t pristine, pet-less, easy to maneuver around… My system (immune, nervous, lymphatic, methylation) is too precarious to detox any assaults. Husband had to remove the scented garbage bags from the rental yesterday.

Worst of all — honestly, it feels worse than anything — is the sudden removal from my dogs’ lives. I can’t even type that without crying. They are my guardians and have become so sensitised to my every breath, noise and movement. The codependence isn’t too healthy, but they’ve kept me company and kept me sane all these years. At least with human children, you can try explaining. I just keep imagining their confusion, knowing they run into my room every morning to cuddle. We have a routine. They will be neglected because husband and I are tapped out and that, more than anything , breaks my heart.

September 25

Very sick. Some things are better from not being home, reinforcing our choice to do this. Please trust me. Love you all.xo

September 27

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September 28

My current rental didn’t work out (literally have slept an hour or two here and there for the last three nights) because it is so loud. The entire room shakes when vans/lorries/trucks go by and the person next door gets up at 4am and stomps around in what sounds like tap shoes on wooden floors next to the head of my bed. So, Z is coming from Vashon this morning to move me.

September 29

Dear family,

I know I need to rest more than anything. Trying to listen to my body is very difficult recently. The return of acute immune system-shifting symptoms has been terrifying and horrifically hard on my body. You’re all correct — I did too much that first day and made myself worse. But that wasn’t because I was isolated and alone or being heedless — I’ve truly been able to do all those things the past few months. I’ve been strong! So, I just misjudged the sudden drop off in my abilities and, like I said, didn’t have my typical warning signs to stop. It was a bad mistake. And so was working 50-hour weeks for 6.5 months after I got sick. And so was joining an exercise class and taking massive amounts of vitamin B12 all the other ridiculous things I’ve done that have made me worse over the years. It’s very hard to rest if you’re not physically maimed. Really. It goes against everything in my nature and I will always fail at it, it seems.

I think the hard part came when I spiralled further down after that first day and husband had to leave work to help me. And that was a double-blow because it came on the heals of his taking a week off of work for the coast trip. But, I’d never been in such a poor state. I may regret that he had to abandon a few days of work and we’re losing so much money (I already do!), but who cares about jobs and money when you’re writing an “if I die” email? Only hour-to-hour survival has been on my mind this week.

There are no words to describe the gratitude I feel that I have a family who cares, that there are people worrying about me and wanting to help. I never, ever take that for granted for a minute. I lost a lot of people the last few years and many people deal with this illness with nobody on their side, so I know how lucky I am that you care and want to help. So, thank you, THANK YOU for your thoughtful responses, empathy and for wanting to keep me safe. That, more than anything, is my overwhelming emotion: thankfulness that I’m not alone in this fight.

October 1

My current rental has mold in the washing machine, in the evenings the whole place smells like secondhand cigarette smoke from the landlords next door (I literally got wheezy — imagine all those years of working in the smokiest of smokey bars!) and the blankets on the bed smell so bad that I asked if I could get them laundered and the man said he had never had them washed before!! This all made me want to get the hell out, so I felt like I needed to give up and go home … I’m so tired… And Husband actually persuaded me to stay away (here or somewhere else). He wants more time to de-dog-ify the upstairs of our house, move out the furniture, bring the carpet to the cleaners etc. He thinks I should give this experiment a longer trial… I’d like to stay away until my night sickness and sweats totally abate because they are such an indicator of how bad I’m doing and then see how I do at home.

October 3

Dear family,

This new rental is great besides the moldy washing machine (again),  but, interestingly, I have a stuffy nose and the electric shivers in my leg came back the first day here — both for the first time since leaving home 10 days ago. Also, I have a new and different drugged feeling here and joint pain has not eased up. But, I’m still planning to stay a week and the good news is my sweats/shivers/shakes stopped (!!!) after 12 harrowing nights and I got some relief from the complete bowel freeze of the last week. I reintroduced a few things from my house (food, apnea device, supplements) with no adverse effects. Actually, the malarial nights went away 2 days after starting to wear my apnea device again, but they also started while I was wearing it, so there is no correlation.

Yesterday morning, my ND sent out an intern to do a house call to take blood and do a hydrotherapy “constitutional” in my own bed. I don’t care what you think about naturopaths, there are no MDs making free house calls and spending an hour, so I want to win the lotto and pour money into this clinic.

My testosterone, estrogens, DHEA, TSH, free T3 and free T4 are all out of range low. Sometimes I honestly think this whole illness is caused by my thyroid being dead. Grave’s disease is evil and most people who have gone through radioiodine ablation are on MUCH higher doses of hormones.

Fingers crossed this makes me feel a little better. X

October 7

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October 9

Dear family,

Ah, 6th rental is a charm. I kind of want to live here. The only downside is the bed is rock hard. I am so boney, have no muscle and have to deal with the fibromyalgia pain, so I really need plush bedding to not wake up in terrible pain. I’m force feeding myself. I get up, cook, eat, rest, cook, eat, rest, cook, eat, TV, sleep.

The first morning here, I woke up without a headache for the first time in a week, which confirms to me that something in the other rental was affecting me (and it started before I reintroduced Coconut Bliss ice cream and chocolate, so, thankfully, I have no good reason to continue to deprive myself of my sugar addiction ;)). I still have an achy headache, but it feels like it’s from a stiff neck and TMJ issues as opposed to a reaction to something. I increased my thyroid hormone and started a few supplements and low-dose Zyrtec. Feeling more stable.

My Visit to Dr. Chia

Okay, okay, stop begging, I’ll tell you about my appointment with Dr. Chia. I can’t believe this took me so long to write, but I’ve been plugging away a little bit, day by day. I can save you some time and tell you straight away that it was not worth the trip. I don’t really feel like I learned anything new or found access to treatments I couldn’t have tried without him. That doesn’t mean I regret the trip, it just means, if someone else in my position asked my advice, I would say, “Save your money and your energy.” The journey, for me, became the challenge early on. I wanted to know if I could do it. I wanted to test my boundaries, I wanted to see if I could leave these four walls and find out just how bad the payback would be. It was also about testing a different location, spending time with my mother and giving my husband a break. So, I had a lot of different fuels feeding the engine, if you know what I mean and, without even one, I might not have made the trip. In the end, because I left early and Dr. Chia didn’t really give me anything, it was purely the challenge. And I’ve decided that is enough. It bolstered my confidence and reinforced how resilient I am — we are.

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With my mother outside Dr. Chia’s office.

Here’s what I thought about Dr. Chia before seeing him: I knew his son was sick with ME and recovered. I knew that Dr. Chia believes that enteroviruses are the root cause of this illness and that he has conducted studies that supported his theory, but the rest of the ME research community hasn’t taken up that torch and done bigger, better studies to replicate. I thought he would offer Equilibrant, his Chinese herb formula with which many people have had some success, and he might consider antivirals. My main impetus for seeing him was to get the testing that none of the other 40 doctors I’ve seen has done and also to see whether he thought I was a candidate for antivirals. Of course, I forgot to ask him about antivirals because I forget everything when I’m in a doctor’s office.

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My mother holding the massive binder of test results that we carted down to California and then never opened.

My appointment was at 4:15pm on a Friday, so I was worried about rush hour and LA craziness, but Google maps was accurate and it only took us half an hour to get there. His office is in a nondescript brick building in a sort of strip mall in Torrance, CA. I’m a big fan of Stephen King and liked that the office was in an area named after the possessed protagonist of The Shining. 😉 The waiting room was barren. We (my mother and I) waited about 20 minutes and then went in and had the normal nurse stuff done. I noticed she wrote on my file that I was there about “chronic fatigue” and I mentioned that it was actually ME ~ or even write “CFS”. She said, “Well, it doesn’t matter because he only sees patients with your condition.” Sigh.

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We waited probably about another 15 minutes for Dr. Chia and, when he came in, he was off like a rocket. He did not stop talking for an hour and 15 minutes. After about 10 minutes, he said I could record him, thank god, because I didn’t remember to ask and I have no memory of anything he said in those first few minutes. Dr. Chia was kind and pleasant. Not in any way intimidating or arrogant. I guess I would call him dogmatic without the ego. He seems slightly frustrated that nobody else realises enteroviruses are the root cause of so many chronic illnesses and told us many stories of other patients and studies that support his contention.

A few weeks before my appointment, I sent him a letter, a chronology of my health history and a list of my symptoms. He said that was extremely helpful and asked me very little in person about my illness, instead, he just ran down the list and discussed how my immune system had collapsed. I couldn’t help thinking none of this needed to be done in person since I was basically just a set of ears, but I know the law says I had to be there in the flesh. He also did a quick physical exam and neurological work up.

Here were his main points about my history:

  • As an infant, my immune system shifted into Th2 dominance with pneumonia and ear infections and asthma, which is an inflammatory disease. Instead of just fighting off infections with an increase in the Th1 branch of the immune system and then resetting back to equilibrium, mine shifted into Th2 and has been continually off kilter my whole life as it got hit by different viruses (bronchitis, ill while traveling in Central America, viral gastroenteritis from lake in Virginia etc. etc.). He gave an example of people who encounter the polio virus: just like the lake in Virginia, only a few out of hundreds exposed to polio will become crippled and the difference is the amount of gammaglobulin I (and others) have and my compromised immune system. He said enteroviruses are the second most common infection after the common cold and that viruses are often transmitted through water. He gave the example of Joseph Melnick at Baylor University who studied viruses that live in water from sewage contamination and spread to humans through shellfish, showers, colds and swimming. He also said the Russians wrote a paper that concluded the most common risk factors for contracting meningitis are swimming (30%), camping (20%), contact with sick people, and drinking well water.
  • Doctors repeatedly prescribed antibiotics for viruses and worsened my situation. The dark circles under my eyes are typical of this.
  • With Th2 dominance, comes allergies.
  • Night sweats are a classic sign of Th2 dominance ~ along with pain and sore throats, they are my immune system trying to fight off the viruses. But, “viruses are like weeds” and replicate exponentially. He said post-exertional malaise happens because activity causes viruses in the muscles to become metabolically active and replicate, causing pain. “The more activity you do, the more viruses replicate.”
  • Tonsillectomies are very common in ME because the body is fighting off the viruses and causing chronic sore throats (my early teenage years).
  • Vaccinations commonly cause ME and relapses (I took every vaccination I could get my hands on because I thought they were protecting me and didn’t realise they’re not for everyone).
  • He suspects a brain stem issue because of vasovagal syncope history, neck problems and dysautonomia symptoms.
  • He said that he has seen cases of ME caused by invasive dental work alone, so he thinks my history predisposed me, but having acute bronchitis, viral gastroenteritis, lots of dental work and then the flu shot all in the space of 3 months definitively tipped my immune system to ME. He said, “The flu vaccination is what did you in.”
  • My tender abdomen he said was my terminal ilium and that was typical with enteroviruses living in the wall of the small intestine.
    He said I might have contracted new infectious illnesses in the past 3 years, but, whereas healthy people fight off viruses locally (i.e: facial symptoms with a cold), I fight it off systemically and all my ME symptoms flare. My mother and I heard loud and clear that contracting another virus would be incredibly dangerous for my recovery and my future health.
  • He said that there was a sewage leak into the lake at Incline Village in 1984, before the initial ME/CFS outbreak and that everyone got sick in the summer when they jumped in the lake. He said he is the only person in the US working on enterovirus research and he has found the virus in the blood and stomach lining of patients and has also done studies (injecting mice with enteroviruses and those that were initially immune deficient died). He said the CDC will soon be reproducing his work, he hopes.

Blood test results:

  • My T-lymphocytes are okay. CD4 is a little low.
  • Echoviruses, chlamydia pneumoniae, CMV, Creatine Kinase, IgA and CRP are all negative or within range.
  • Coxsackie B 4 and 5 are high. Type 4 is very high.
  • IgG (gammaglobulin) is low. All 4 subclasses. These are the most important antibodies to neutralise enteroviruses and maintain a healthy immune system.
  • HHV 6 IgG antibodies are very high.

Treatments:

  • He mentioned interferon, but said it is a very difficult treatment and short-lived.
  • He mentioned Epivir, an HIV drug that helps about 30% of the time, but didn’t want me to consider it now.
  • He told me to watch out for lakes, rivers, shellfish and not to drink the LA tap water.
  • He said I could try sublingual vitamin B12, coQ10, magnesium and vitamin D (all of which I take except B12).
  • The most important treatment he thought I needed was 5 – 15 grams of intravenous gammaglobulin to replace what I don’t have and modulate my immune system. He kept reiterating how much sicker I would be if I caught another virus, so he thought I should get IVIG twice a year and again whenever I travel anywhere (although, he said I probably shouldn’t travel). He wanted me to see an immunologist to get it, but it’s very expensive and the immunologist would want to inject me with a pneumonia vaccine to determine whether IVIG was necessary by my immune response two weeks later (I find this all very frustrating and wish that Dr. Chia could just give me a requisition form to take to a Seattle hospital so I don’t have to go through the rigmaroll of finding another specialist to determine that I need a treatment that this specialist says I need! It’s also frustrating because I won’t let a vaccine near me for the rest of my life and some random immunologist probably won’t take Dr. Chia’s word for it). If I can’t get IVIG, he said I should get 2 mililiters of intramuscular gammaglobulin, which will last for a few months.
  • He also gave me Equilibrant, his own proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals and herbs, and told us the story of his son’s recovery once he was taking 9 pills a day. He wants me to start on ¼ pill for a month, then move up to ½ for another month. I should expect an increase in my symptoms for 7-10 days. My problem with Equilibrant is that it has a bunch of fillers and crap in it: Dextrose, titanium dioxide, Yellow #5, Blue #2, Carnuba Wax etc. I still think I’ll try it, but I haven’t gotten the nerve up yet.

Honestly, the best thing he said to me during this whole appointment was, “You’ll get there.” He said since I’m so much better now than I was last year, my body is recovering and I just have to try to avoid getting another virus. After hearing Dr. Peterson say that he has never had a patient recover, it was nice to hear Dr. Chia say that I would get there…. I know “there” will not be where I was pre-ME, but I’ll take pretty much any there over here.