“Bad harvest, bad harvest!”

I’ve been hijacked by head pain. I’ve lost 10 days. I really would like to believe that superstition is meaningless, but it is quite astounding how every time I take a chance on sharing good news, I get walloped. I waited 5 weeks to write my last post — until I was sure this small uptick was lasting — and I was so excited to share a positive update with my family and readers for a change…. And don’t tell me it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because it’s not. I didn’t fear jinxing myself so much that I manifested this pain. Once I wrote the post, I got on with my life with renewed hope.

Friday the 29th, I was dragging and it felt like I was coming down with something. Saturday the migraine hit in earnest and I’ve been crippled ever since besides a random afternoon of respite this past Saturday when my friend Z and her daughter were visiting (and Z commented on how much more I was able to engage since the last time she visited (there I go broadcasting improvement again)).

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Bowie loves baby A (who isn’t really a baby anymore).

I heedlessly declared “It’s gone! It’s gone!” and, that night at 4 in the morning, I started to get a migraine aura — those jagged, moving silver lines that blot out your vision in certain spots. It was like the migraine slept, regained some energy and came back with renewed determination. Yesterday and today, I’ve been in tears.

I’ve tried all my tricks (caffeine, feverfew tea, cervical spine stretcher, ice, heat, acupressure, extreme hydration, fresh air etc.), but this isn’t one of my normal chronic headaches. I feel it moving around in the morning, when I bend over the pain explodes, my neck hurts, I’m sleeping more, but it’s not helping and I have horrific nightmares every night. I thought it was hormonal, but my period came and went and the head pain got worse, if anything. I thought it was because I increased my probiotic or was eating a lot of cottage cheese, but I’ve stopped both for days. I finally risked buying a mattress topper: it’s natural Dunlop latex and had hardly any smell at all, but it seems the most obvious culprit. I took it out of my bedroom a week ago, though.

I’m starting my Monday immunoglobulin infusion in about an hour. I have this hope that the Prednisone, Benadryl and Tylenol will kick the pain away, but I have this fear that the Gamunex will make the headache worse. After all, that is the most common side effect and I suppose this could be some reaction to the IG that I’m about to double-down on by infusing again.

Anyway, a few days after my last post where I told the gods to cover their ears (which they obviously didn’t do), we were watching Downton Abbey and Anna says to Mr. Bates, “Bad harvest, bad harvest!” and explains that this is what the farmers would yell so the gods wouldn’t be jealous of their bountiful crops and take them away. A timely reminder that my superstitions have been shared by our ancestors for hundreds of years and it’s okay that I’ll be yelling bad harvest! at the sky like a crazy person, spitting over my shoulder, pulling on my earlobes and knocking on wood the next time I dare to tell you something good. Feel free to join in.

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This is what I miss on all that days I don’t go outside for fresh air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So this is Christmas…

It’s Christmas Day. I was looking back at my blog archives and saw that in December, 2012 I wrote 13 entries. December, 2013 there are 3 and December, 2014 there are 6. This is actually indicative of how I was doing these years.

In 2012, I had recently become housebound, every evening at around 5pm, my whole body started to hurt in earnest and my headaches were blinding, but I still had (most of) my mental faculties and no neuro symptoms anything like what I experience now.

In December 2013, I was so sick… I was in so much pain, isolated on the floor of my bedroom, hour after hour, and feeling suicidal.

Last year, I was in a reactionary whirlwind. Christmas eve, my tongue swelled up and that night was truly one of the worst I’ve experienced.

This year, though… so far… things are better (she says tentatively, knocking on wood). This is only my third post this month, but it’s more to do with my brain not working very well than with being bedbound with sickness. I feel so much more stable this year. I haven’t had one of my bad nocturnal reactions in eight months, I think. I’m handling my immunoglobulin infusions well. I can eat virtually anything. I crash regularly and feel horrific, but bounce back quicker.

Tuesday, Wednesday and yesterday were good days. God, I love being able to say that. I had three good days. My sister, her boyfriend and their dog arrived yesterday and, because I’m such a nightowl these days, I was able to function from 2pm until 2am, retiring to my bedroom a few times to rest. I had no headache! Let me say that again: I HAD NO HEADACHE! Lights and noise weren’t bothering me. I was tired, but no cognitive symptoms. It was a Christmas miracle. This morning I feel hungover, my head aches, my eyes are sore and I’m very tired and dragging. But it’s still early (1pm 😉) and I have faith that this evening I will be okay. I had one wish for this Christmas: no pain and no fear –and I think, besides dull aches and low-level silent pleading, that wish is coming true.

Gratitude is shooting out of my fingers and toes and the ends of my hair like I swallowed George Bailey’s moon.

Update: I forgot to publish this yesterday. It’s now almost midnight on the night of the 26th. This week came down on me like a pile of bricks today. I had a hypoglycemic episode, hit a wall, felt very nauseous, was having trouble talking, went to bed weak, trembling, shaking with chills. BUT– here I am six hours later and, besides being drained, I’m doing okay, able to finish watching It’s a Wonderful Life with my husband, crying at the end like we do every year.

All in all, this Christmas was a success. Great company, great food, great gifts, great-full. In fact, without a doubt, this Christmas was the best I’ve had health-wise since 2010.

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I Found My Worst Nightmare

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On this day four years ago, Facebook reminds me, we were shopping for a recliner. I’d been sick one month. I’d seen my endocrinologist, assuming that the low-grade fevers, violent chills and drenching, shaking, sleep-murdering night sweats were something to do with my post-ablative hypothyroidism. I didn’t go to my GP for another few weeks, only after every Google search of my symptoms came up with malaria and I started to wonder, what if?

I’ll never forget the feeling I had that day. It was a Saturday and I’d gotten up early and gone to a “Pure Barre” exercise class — my knee-jerk response to not feeling well was to exercise more (ignorant and hopeful during that first year, I booked three yoga and exercises courses and was never able to go once). I remember leaving that class and calling my husband in tears. My body responded in such a violent way, I could barely walk. I sat in my car for half an hour before I could push in the clutch.

I was in a daze when we were looking for a recliner later on the same day, shuffling around the stores, feeling weak and fearful of whatever the hell was happening to me. I remember acting like a caustic recluse when the salespeople wanted to engage me in their spiels, giving my husband that look that said “get this person away from me.” I joked about my outfit in this photo, but in reality I couldn’t shower or change before we went shopping — it was too much energy — and that was such an alien thing for me that I had an overwhelming feeling of doom. In truth, as much as I hoped it was my thyroid, I knew as soon as this illness started that it was something bigger.

Today I feel worse than I did that day. There was no pain then, no sore throat, no daily headaches, no brain problems, no muscle wasting. I still had a job and friends, I still drove, and ran around in the dog park and laughed every day. Sometimes I can’t believe it. Every day for over four years? Isn’t it meant to plateau? Am I not meant to acclimate and get used to this? Find a quality life somehow? I don’t hope to feel good again… not even average… I just hope to eventually get to a place where the good outweighs the bad and makes me feel like it’s worth continuing this fight.

P.S. To all my friends who have been doing this longer than I have, you inspire me to continue the fight. ❤

Update… Aborted. Again.

I’ve been trying to write an update for so long. It’s been 5 months since my last one. There’s been so much that I wanted to document, that it started to feel like a Herculean task to catch up and my symptoms have been such a rollercoaster, that I never seem to find an opportunity. When I have some respite, I cook, bathe, deal with insurance and appointments, tackle laundry, play with my dogs, sort through finances etc. Aaannd… I just hit a wall. Just like that. As I typed, I could feel my brain clogging up. I picture all the little ATP molecules grimacing, gasping and dragging their feet like the characters at the end of Stephen King’s story, The Long Walk, dragging themselves along until collapse is inevitable. It’s a shocking feeling. Mentally, I was really clear for about an hour this morning. Felt like I could write. Dreamed up grand plans for my day (make granola! call a family member! blog post!). I answered a few emails, talked to my husband a bit and then wrote this… And it’s gone.

My neurological symptoms are horrific. “Brain fog” is the best of it. I’d take lack of concentration, not being able to find words, memory problems any day over what I’ve been experiencing this year. It feels like physically–physiologically–my brain grinds to a halt. My eyelids get heavy, my vision gets blurry, my ears roar, I start slurring. As I’m writing this, it’s getting worse and there’s no pushing through. My body feels okay, my stiffness, weakness and pain levels are manageable this morning, but I can’t push through this neuro stuff. Even if my body feels capable of going to the park, my brain insists on being in bed with ear plugs and eye shades. I can’t even watch dull tv or listen to a meditation. It’s incredibly frustrating and quite alarming. And, in a clinical way, I am fascinated by the trajectory of my symptoms over the past four years.

Year 1 was horrific viral, malarial, drenching sweat, nighttime hell and constant chills. That ended for the most part in Year 2 and became predominately “nightly flu” and pain, pain and more pain. Year 3 was the best of times and the worst of times: a bedbound, suicidal winter (when I finally got the permanent ME/CFS sore throat) turned into a much more stable spring and summer after my pain eased up. Year 4 started in a deep, reactive crash and became the year of crippling neurological symptoms. Year 5 (which started at the beginning of this month) so far is all over the place. My main focus is to work on the symptoms that have been with me throughout all of these years: sleep dysfunction, headaches, hypotension and infections. Plus, social contact would be good.

I have to power down now. The long-awaited update will come soon, I hope. I have so much to say.

Sweet Smell of Success (So far)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Message to the doubters (warning: strong language).

Throw back Thursday. 3 years ago I was having an okay, if emotional, day. I met with my bosses to let them know I couldn’t go back to work, browsed a few shops next door for cards and then went to the dog park with my boys. I remember what I was wearing that day and the last photo I took that last time I went to the park: I was backlit by the sun, my shadow on the pebbles in the water as my dogs splashed around. I was listening to Radiohead and was so grateful for the warmth that day, so grateful for the energy to do these things. Since that day I have been housebound. It crippled me. It knocked me down so far, I never quite got up again. I haven’t met friends again, browsed shops or gone to the dog park alone again…

Rereading this blog post below makes me so sad. I really couldn’t believe that something this life-altering could happen to a person without any explanation or good medical advice. I couldn’t fathom living one more day, let alone a lifetime, with the pain and sickness. I wanted to die and, even though I disguised it with anger in this post, I got a lot of concerned messages from my family and back-peddled quickly, so they wouldn’t worry: “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m a fighter…”

But the truth is, as much as I wanted to live, I didn’t want to live like that. Every day over the next 16 months of relentless symptoms I thought I couldn’t go on and I’d rather die. The only thing that got me through was my mother and a few friends who were able to hear my desperation. Many people couldn’t hear it, it was too painful for them. But a few listened and didn’t say, “No, that’s not an option. Stop talking that way.” A few understood and reassured me that it was a totally rational response to my situation. And *for me* that made all the difference: To talk about it, to know I wouldn’t be alone with those thoughts or, if the time came, alone with that end game. “It’s an option, but not an option right now,” my friend Z. said. “Put it in your back pocket and keep it there. You need to try everything before you take it out and look at it again.” She saved me that day.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Reach out. Whether you are suffering or you suspect someone is, please reach out.

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Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

I’m happy to be alive today. I’m happy to not be in a hospital today. I’m happy to have the will to pull myself upright after about 24 hours of being horizontal and get this off my chest.

To anyone who thinks myalgic encephalomyelitis doesn’t exist because the TESTS don’t show anything wrong or some asshole somewhere couldn’t figure out what to call the thing that was happening to histrionic overworked ladies who couldn’t handle the pressures of modern society and decided it should be coined chronic fatigue syndrome, which would for evermore stigmatize the patients…. Fuck you.

Until you have what I have and until you go through what I go through, how dare you pass judgement or think you know better. What I have is killing me. It is ruining all quality of life and taking my family down with it. I’m not tired, I’m not in pain, I’m not…

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