May Update

Let’s see, what’s been going on in my life? Well, April was the best month I have had in about six months. I have been walking 1000 to 1500 steps a day instead of the 500 average in December. I have been out of bed for about 9 hours a day instead of the 5 that it was for so long. I’m still housebound, but I’ve been in the garden and tried driving myself to nearby appointments. Best of all, I’ve been upbeat. Just like that… I get some space from the crippling symptoms and my mood brightens and the future seems oh so hopeful.

I’ve been on Prednisone for three weeks now (my feeling better started about two or three weeks before, so I can’t credit Prednisone). As much as I don’t want to be on it, every doctor I see has encouraged me to give it a try for diagnostic purposes. It’s only 5mg, but it was still rough in the beginning. I wasn’t sleeping well and I was grouchy and hungry. Those side effects seem to have abated, but I have others that continue: more facial hair growth (which would be great if it were my eyebrows and eyelashes) (but it’s not), swollen, hot hands and feet and constipation. The latter is the biggest problem. I feel like my bowel is inflamed, swollen and stagnant, which is the opposite of what I would think steroids would do. On the plus side, my skin is much, much better (although I was warned about the Prednisone-withdrawal acne flares by my dermatologist) and my joints seem to be bothering me less in the night (specifically, my shoulders and hips. They still crack and pop constantly, but they’re not as sore).

I saw my first naturopath. Some of you, I’m sure, will roll your eyes and some of you will wonder WTF took me so long! I am in the best place possible to visit excellent NDs because Bastyr University is right up the road, but I’ve held out because my faith has always sat solidly with allopathic doctors and western medicine. But, now, I’ve lost all faith. I told her that, too. I told her I am conflicted: On the one hand, I applied, got in and intended to attend Bastyr. I have researched it and I know the training they give and the scope of treatments NDs employ… And, on the other hand, for reasons I cannot quite understand, I want some big machine to find the problem inside me and some specialist to prescribe a drug that will make it all better and I can go on living. I know better! I know that what happened to me was the perfect storm of genetics, upbringing, lifestyle choices, viral exposure, toxin burden, detox pathway blockage, immune system malfunction, nervous system blitz etc. I know that I need full-body, whole-life help, so I’m not sure why it took me 40 healthcare practitioners to finally see an ND.

Well, let me tell you, I left in tears of gratitude. I needed someone to replace the Good Doctor and now I have the Better Doctor. She spent 3 hours with me. What?! Who does that? She took my history from womb to present. She addressed everything. She had ideas to support my system from all angles: endocrine, digestion, liver, adrenals, nutrients, lymph, circulation and on and on. She said, “Email me any time and, if you are scared or freaking out about a symptom or side effect, call me.” Who does that? She said she wanted to come with me to my endocrinology follow-up to hear what the doctor had to say from the horse’s mouth. No cost. Who does THAT?!

She wants me to try some things that I would normally scoff at, such as castor oil over my liver and high-dose vitamin C, but, what I keep reminding myself is: a multi-vitamin gave you the worst side effects you’ve ever experienced . Your weird pressure-point-restore-circulation physical therapy is the only thing that has helped. So, I’m open to anything. She wants me to come in every week for hydrotherapy. I’m not sure what this involves yet. I’ll let you know.

The clinic gave me a huge discount on the visit and supplements because I have no income and it’s located about 5 minutes from my house, which means I can drive myself on good days. All in all, I’m excited. But, I have a history of being excited by first appointments and disappointed in the long run, so it’s a cautious optimism.

I finally managed to apply for disability. My “rehab counselor” (aka shrink) gave me the name of a lawyer and that’s all I needed because I couldn’t manage to get going on my own. I never spoke to the lawyer, only her assistant who told me what info they needed. I spent a few weeks creating a spreadsheet of all the doctors I have seen, clinic addresses, tests ordered, drugs prescribed and, when the phone appointment happened, she didn’t need anything else (thank god because talking is still so difficult). The hardest part was I got a letter from the lawyer saying they will submit the info, it will take 6 to 8 months for a decision. It will probably be denied and they will file an appeal and if I don’t hear from them for a year or two, don’t be alarmed. I knew this was the case, but it was demoralizing to see it in print. If I had managed to apply or find a lawyer when I left work two years ago (how the hell has it been two years?!? LIFE IS SLIPPING BY!), I’d already be at the appeal court date by now.

That’s about it for now. I’m very busy this month: a teeth cleaning, a new dentist for a new oral appliance for sleep apnea (and it all starts over from the beginning) and follow-ups with my GP, rheumatologist, nutritionist and dermatologist, plus the hydrotherapy and mental therapy appointments… Exhausting.

It’s chilly again here and one of my dogs broke his toe chasing squirrels, so we’re all stuck back in the house being lumps on logs. I did manage to make it to the cemetery on my mobility scooter on that last hot day (thank you, husband, for making that happen). It was glorious.

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Move over, Good Doctor, there’s a new team in town.

After a year and a half of regular visits, I have broken up with the Good Doctor. She was a lifeline when I first started seeing her ~ somebody who was willing to stick with me and give me diet and supplement help when every other doctor had only offered painkillers and antidepressants and sent me on my way. However, I have lost faith in her and, worse, now that I know more, I think she probably contributed to my fast decline. I started an incredible number of supplements at full dose, all at once when I had never even taken regular vitamins before and, within two weeks, I was housebound. I eliminated grains, dairy, legumes etc. at the same time. Never did it occur to me that I should start one thing at a time at a low dose and work up. Never did it occur to me that I could have a genetic mutation that prevented me from breaking down certain drugs and substances. Never did it occur to me that you could have “detox” symptoms when you radically change your diet. I had blind faith.

Most recently, I have had some abnormal test results and the Good Doctor has given me little to no guidance on what they mean and what treatments are available, She hasn’t even answered my emails in the last 5 weeks asking her to clarify what supplements she wants me to try (she was very hazy during the appointment). So, we’re done and I have a new set of practitioners to try out (you didn’t think I was going to relax the search, did you?).

There is a clinic very close to my house where I am now seeing a rheumatologist, a medical nutritionist and a therapist. I like them all so far… kind of. There’s never a perfect fit.

Dr. O, the rheumatologist is the most energetic person I have ever met. I thought I used to bounce off the walls and multitask, but he puts me to shame. It was quite impressive, but extraordinarily exhausting. When I got home, I sobbed from the overwhelmingness of the appointment. I was in the clinic for four hours. He listened to my entire history (and, subsequently, wrote an incredibly thorough and accurate 4-page summary, which he sent to me); he thumbed through my entire binder of test results; he did a brief physical exam (during which I was hit with extreme vertigo after he did a Vulcan-type maneuver on my neck and proclaimed that it was because of sensitivity of the Brachial Plexus Nerve Bundle); he did quick x-rays of my spine (nothing significant, which I find baffling); a Dexa bone scan (osteopenia is worse, but I’m not sure if it is technically osteoporosis yet); ultrasounds of my shoulders (bursitis and fluid in both shoulders which he wanted to inject with cortisone right there and then ~ I declined because, as I told him, it’s like treating a stubbed toe while I’m fighting for my life); and, finally, a blood draw and instructions for a urine collection for mast cell tests (n-methylhistamine, PG D2, PG F2 Alpha).

I’ve put all my test results on this page. All of the MCAD urine tests were normal, which I expected, but was still frustrating. I am happy to have baseline numbers, though, in case I ever experience anaphylaxis again (knock on wood, toba toba) or a severe reaction. I will ask him to put in a standing order for another urine collection so I can retest, if needed. His directions to me were to try Zyrtec/Zantac (the latter gave me terrible nausea and stomach pain, but I’m going to try it again in case it was an anomaly), take fish oil and try Prednisone. He said he “wouldn’t blink an eye” if I were on low-dose Prednisone (Prednisolone) for the next year. I’ve had that Rx in hand now for -shocker- 10 weeks and haven’t taken it yet. But I’m going to. This is the fourth doctor to recommend trying Prednisone and, although I refuse to be on steroids long-term (because they put adrenals to sleep, cause sleeplessness, increase glaucoma risk when I am already a glaucoma suspect, increase osteoporosis risk when I’m already almost there, shut down the immune system/increase infection risk, can cause weight gain/edema and blood sugar issues, AND must be carefully tapered off over months), I think I will trial them as a diagnostic tool and, also, to know what my body’s reaction will be in case I really need them at some stage in the future.

The blood tests (ANA, CRP, ACE, PTH, ANCA, magnesium, calcium, celiac) were all normal except for high Saccharomyces cerevisiae IgG antibodies, which are found in 60-70% of Crohn disease patients. I’m not sure what this means for me. A quick google of symptoms shows that I have all of them except diarrhea, which is the main indicator of inflammatory bowel disease, so I’m hoping it’s nothing serious. I really don’t want to have a colonoscopy.

I went back a few weeks later to see the medical nutrition therapist. Dr. O had quite proudly proclaimed that she was the only Bastyr-trained medical nutritionist in the country (which I find hard to believe, but maybe I just didn’t understand her exact qualifications). Reading her bio was emotional for me ~ she attended the same Master’s program at Bastyr University that I got into but didn’t attend. I worked my ass off to do all the science pre-reqs, paying for night classes with my tips, got in and accepted the place, but deferred a year to save money and, during that year, wound up climbing the restaurant corporation ladder. I never went to Bastyr and I can’t help doing the Choose Your Own Adventure replay in my head ~ what would have happened if I went down that path? Where would my life be if I had gotten my Master’s and wound up doing something like my nutritionist is doing? Helping people, not being chronically stressed-out and sleep deprived, working normal hours, doing something I’m passionate about: food for health…. Would I be sick? I don’t think I would be. I kind of know I wouldn’t be. Anyway, she tested for SIBO and it was negative, which, of course, I was kind of disappointed about, but I’m happy I don’t have to go on the threatened liquid diet.

Lastly, I started seeing a psychotherapist, whom I like so far. He actually calls himself a “rehab counselor”, which is more accurate because he is helping me with doctor, disability lawyer and health insurance broker referrals and trying to make sure I have a supportive team that I like. He has dealt with chronic illness patients a lot, and ME/CFS patients in particular, so he gets it and I feel comfortable being my blunt, cursing, cynical self.

I have a lot of new doctor visits on my calendar, so there will be more posts like this. I know many of you think I should stop wasting my energy, but, until I stop getting leads that I think I need to follow or can’t leave the house at all anymore, I will continue my search for answers.

I was about to write, “…until I lose my healthcare or run out of money…”,  but, it turns out, the Affordable Care Act actually has worked in my case. I can’t be refused because I have these prior issues and Washington’s Apple plan is literally $0 if you have no income (but, I’m going to keep fighting to have an income, obviously). So, that it is some weight off my shoulders. Thank you, Obama. 🙂

I won’t suffer for this day.

I wake up and get straight out of bed without spending two hours “gathering my strength”. I lift my shower chair into position, lower the shower head and wash, condition and rinse my hair. This is something I manage to do about once a week on a day with no other obligations, but today I got a last minute appointment with my nutritionist. I don’t rest after my shower as I normally do- I towel off, pull on my compression stockings, put on jeans, boots and a sweater. I wash my face, brush my teeth and sit on the toilet to dry my hair, resting my elbows on my knees and hanging my head low. My husband usually helps me with this, but he is at work. I clip on my pedometer, strap on my heart rate monitor, drink a glass of salt water and make tea in a to-go cup. I move deliberately, like a sloth, conserving energy in every moment. I lock the back door, make sure I have my blood sugar tester and glucose tablets, scoop up my binder of test results and go out the front door, pulling it and locking it behind me, while juggling the folder, my bag and tea. I make a point not to say goodbye to my dogs, which I normally do. I am tallying every exertion — stiff door, weighty purse — since I don’t have my husband’s help and don’t want to needlessly lean, reach or speak.

I walk slowly to my car, get carefully in and raise the seat at a snail’s pace with the manual pump handle that always cranks up my pulse. And I drive to the clinic — the first time I have driven in about 6 months. I breathe rhythmically, hold the steering wheel lightly, casually turn the corners as if this is no big deal.

I remember myself as I used to be, hopping in and out of my car all the time, driving with confidence and speed all over the city. Multitasking, running errands, getting things done without a thought. Being housebound does strange things to your brain. The first thing I thought when I got into my car was, Will I be living in here one day? Could we trade it for something bigger? I turn off the radio so no extra energy goes to processing auditory signals than is absolutely necessary. The world going by is foreign and in stark relief. I notice everything; things that meant nothing now mean something. That fence is beautiful. Those people can afford a boat. I used to run with Bowie down that path. That person is strong enough to lift their kid. Their smiles are radiant.

I drive past the cemetery and first wonder if that’s where I’ll be buried and then see the cherry blossoms and want to pull over to drink them in a little longer. I drive past the hospital and make a mental note about how long it took to get there and feel confident that I could drive myself, if needed. I look at the people in the cars beside me and can’t believe that they are probably not thinking about how miraculous it is to have freedom and independence. Everything seems to represent our precarious position in this glorious life: nothing is important, but, also, nothing can be taken for granted.

I get to the clinic early so I can wait for the closest disabled parking spot to vacate. The last spot, six cars down, is open but I can’t fathom walking that far. I think about my rushed morning, my shower, the drive… I think about my appointment, the drive home, having to get undressed… six car lengths is a million miles. I wait for the first one to open up.

There are five stairs up to the clinic and I have to go through two sets of doors. Neither of them automatically open with a disabled button. They’re heavy doors. I hold the first one open for a man with a cane, he zooms by me quicker than I could ever move. Inside, I put all my things down on a chair before checking in at the reception desk — standing while holding that weight is not an option. My nutritionist’s office is in the furthest northwest corner of the building; we stroll slowly, she asks me if she can carry anything and I answer, “it would be more energy for me to raise my arm and hand you my purse or binder than to just keep them down at my side.”

We talk for over an hour. At one stage, I get very dizzy and my vision blurs out, I think I’ll have to abort our meeting, lie on her floor, call my husband … but adrenalin kicks in and I push through it. The shuffle back to the exit doesn’t feel as long — I’m not winded from stairs this time. As I walk by the front desk, the receptionist asks if I need to make another appointment and I wish she hadn’t noticed me so I don’t have to speak again. I stop and say, “I’ll call from home so I can look at my…” I can’t find the word for calendar. As I stand there, scouring my mind, an elderly woman with a 3-wheeled walking frame motors by me and flings open the door, thrusting out a hip to keep it open while she exits. I get distracted thinking about how I would give anything to trade this illness for another. Hobble me, but give me the ability to throw open a door. I want to barter my body: I’ll give you an arm if you’ll give me energy. I’ll give an arm, both legs and my hearing, in return I just want my body to be able to recharge. Take half my remaining years away, just give me ATP while I’m still here.

I give up trying to find the word for calendar, shrug, smile and leave. Back in my car, I leave the disabled spot and pull around the bend and park. I recline my seat all the way back and do a mini-meditation, tell myself that the world is not spinning, my throat is not sore, my ears aren’t ringing, my head doesn’t hurt, and I can do this. I breathe and talk to my cells, encouraging them to rebuild, refuel, recover. When I get home, I’ll have to find the energy to cook myself food before I get into bed. We have some frozen broth and frozen turkey, it’ll be easy. I’ll need to write down everything that my nutritionist said so I don’t forget; I want to share it with my low-histamine Facebook group. I envision exactly what I’ll do, watch myself standing in the kitchen with a low heart rate, eyes focused and clear head. You are strong, you won’t suffer for this day. The universe will carry you through and there won’t be retribution. You deserve a victory.

I sit up, push in the tough clutch and drive home.

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“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience. ” — Woodrow Wilson.

A Day In The Life

My yesterday:

I had an appointment with the orthodontist at the sleep clinic to be fitted for the sleep apnea dental appliance. I already postponed this appointment a week since I’d been feeling so awful and, even though I’m still feeling awful, I didn’t want to cancel again. I’ve actually started to think that maybe part of the reason I’ve taken such a prolonged downturn is because I haven’t worn the cpap in two or three weeks, so I need to get this fix-apnea show on the road. [Quick aside: last week, when I called to reschedule, I told them I had an appointment with the orthodontist, but couldn’t remember her name. “Dr. P—–? She’s actually a dentist,” the receptionist corrected me and it’s been bugging me all week. I just googled Dr. P.: Nope, the doctor is an orthodontist and completed her residency at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and was on the orthodontic faculty at the University of Tennessee, College of Dentistry. Maybe this bothers me because my father is an endodontist and there is a significant amount of additional education and expertise that goes into a dental specialty. (I was on my way to becoming a Registered Dietitian once upon a time ~ a 2-year full-time graduate program that was going to cost me $50,000 ~ before I could even apply, I spent a year taking prerequisites that I didn’t have from my Bachelor’s degree: anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry etc. Virtually every time I talked to someone about my future career, they would confuse what I was doing with being a “nutritionist”. The distinction was important to me. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist! Beware, those of you in the US: a “nutritionist” can be an 18-year old that read a lot of cooking magazines in her bedroom and decided to hang a shingle outside her door. There are no legal or professional regulations!) But mostly I think the mistake bothers me because I was incorrectly corrected… And you should know the staff… Rant over.]

The orthodontist, Dr. P., was really nice and very sympathetic to my situation. She said my teeth and jaw bone looked wonderful and my movement (of the jaw back and forth, side to side) was great and I was perfect candidate. She warned me that my teeth might shift from the appliance (like having braces) and my bite might change slightly and my jaw might hurt in the beginning and that they will give me exercises every morning to help stop the “muscle memory” in my face/jaw/head that will have a tendency to keep my jaw in the forward position it’s used to from 10 hours in bed wearing the device. She took the impression of my teeth and then told me to make an appointment for 5 weeks from now for the fitting. No. Way. Everything takes so long! It’s going to be another 2 months before I can even try out this device. Boo.

Unbelievably, this appointment was 1.5 hours (how could I have predicted that?!). The orthodontist was very thorough and explained everything in great detail, which I appreciate, but her office was windowless with horrid lights in the ceiling and at the 45 minute mark I was already losing focus and slumping in my chair. I had driven myself to the sleep clinic because it is very close to my house, but I had an acupuncture appointment afterwards downtown for which I need a chauffeur. I planned to meet my husband at home, but the appointment went so long, I asked him to come to the clinic to get me. Dr. P. gave me the option of coming back another day to have the impression done, but that would have postponed the whole process ANOTHER week. I called to warn the Good Master acupuncturist, my husband left his work truck in the sleep clinic lot and, before we got to the highway, I realised I had to eat something. Acupuncture on an empty stomach is no good and, if I didn’t eat something until 5pm when we got home, I would collapse. Because my diet is such a nightmare, the easiest thing to do was go home and quickly microwave some of the amazing leek and turnip soup my husband had made the night before… Of course, now it would have been much better if I had just driven home myself and met my husband there, rather than abandoning his truck at the clinic.

My acupuncturist only inserts needles in the ears, forearms, calves and feet. I may feel and look like crap, but I still have a modicum of vanity and, on the drive downtown, I was clipping my toenails and moisturizing my legs while eating my soup and reviewing my symptom calendar so I could accurately recount how I have been feeling since my last appointment. All this while sitting as far to the left of my seat as possible ~ practically on the center console ~ to avoid the blaring sun on our west side, threatening internal combustion and making my headache even worse. Once I got there (only ten minutes late!), he said he didn’t want to aggravate anything with acupuncture today… Wow, I had even shaved my legs. Instead, we talked about the Chinese herbs. Finally, after all these months, I was ready to buy a bottle. I’ve been waffling about this treatment for so long! He was quite excited. During our very first appointment last September, not even knowing that I would be one of the 1 in a 1,000 patients that had negative reactions to acupuncture, he had said, “Chinese herbs will be the most important thing for you.” He has always maintained that I have Gu Syndrome and these herbs are the key to my recovery. What finally made me come around was: 1) Dr. Chia’s video (if I had journeyed all the way to California to see him and he had put me on Chinese herbs after the Good Master spent 7 months steadfastly and confidently urging me to take his pills, I would have been mortified. They use different herb blends, but I trust my acupuncturist completely). 2) I started to feel worse. If I had stayed on that uphill trajectory, I wouldn’t have wanted to rock the boat by introducing anything new. So, maybe this crash will be a blessing in disguise.

The best part of this visit was he persuaded me to take my first pill while we were sitting there talking. He knew full well I might go home and not open that bottle for months ~ if ever. I’m such a chicken. Eat something with a lengthy ingredients list of things I can’t pronounce? Swallow something containing herbs my body has never encountered before? No, thank you. Not this delicate flower. But, the thing is, even though I know I have a sensitive system, I really still believe in the resilience of my body. She’s been a trooper all these years. So, I took the pill while he watched and I took another a few minutes ago and I feel fortified ~ emotionally, if not physically. Yet.

My appointment was so short that my husband was still about 15 minutes away when I finished. I was a mess. I was a shuffling pile of jello, slurring my words, bumping into walls. I literally did not manage to exit the elevator into the foyer before the doors started to close again ~ that’s slow! PWME (people with M.E.), you will appreciate this: I didn’t want to wait on the loud, busy, beepy, dusty street corner, so I wondered into the mattress store in the bottom of the acupuncture building and mumbled something to the socially-awkward salesman about needing a new bed. He looked at me uncertainly because I’m sure I sounded drunk and I was having a hard time walking. I told him I had an injury and didn’t want to walk around the store, but I would lie on this TempurPedic in front of me to see how I like it. Writing this, I’m laughing out loud because it really can be tragically hilarious the things we do to catch a rest break. (By the way, I wasn’t totally lying: I have a new plan to put a twin mattress in my meditation room, so my husband can have our bedroom back.)

The end of the story is that I was virtually comatose on the drive home, other than being able to feel every divot in the road grind my vertebrae together and batter my brain against the walls of my skull (note to self: win the lotto and buy the smoothest, quietest, comfiest car on the market). I tried to muster up the energy to drive home from the sleep clinic parking lot so my husband could drive his truck, but I was unsteady on my feet and I was really having a hard time opening my eyes and speaking clearly. It was just like the time I got pain killer and muscle relaxer injections in my butt for a sprained neck. I was all floppy and out of it. So, we went home instead and I don’t even remember stumbling to bed where I stayed for two+ hours. My husband took a taxi back to his truck.

It wasn’t until after 7pm that I read the news about the bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There are no words to describe how I feel about this tragedy, but I am once again filled with gratitude for those people that don’t turn away from suffering. From the first responders and the medical personnel that make helping their careers, to the bystanders and strangers that jump in to help without hesitation, to the friends and family that provide ongoing support to those that hurt… holding hands, holding vigil, holding hope… Thank you.

Title Credit.