Last year I was taking an Uber (taxi service) to an appointment and, thankfully, the car wasn’t smelly with cleaning products or dangling air fresheners, but the driver had the radio on and I’ve found background noise difficult since I got sick. I asked him if he would mind turning it down because I had a migraine, which wasn’t exactly true in that moment, but I do get migraines and that’s usually a good excuse for the taxi conversation about scents and noise and why you have your sunglasses on and the window down when it’s gloomy and raining. Turns out, this man had to leave his 9 to 5 job because of crippling migraines and was really suffering until he saw a local neurologist. He said he was having a hard time with migraine meds and she put him on this mitochondrial supplement and a natural regimen that helped tremendously (my ears perked up at a random stranger talking about mitochondrial deficits causing migraines, so I bought the supplement right away, but haven’t gotten around to taking it in the last eight months). Of course, I wrote the specialist’s info down and, when I saw my therapist, I mentioned this doctor to him (my therapist sees lots of people with complex illnesses like mine and has a network of good doctors that he recommends based on feedback from patients). “Oh yes, I’ve heard great things about Dr. Murinova,” said my therapist, so that sealed the deal, I wanted to see her. “But she stopped taking new patients.” Somehow, though, I managed to slip in and get an appointment and, it was true, when I tried to reschedule it, she had nothing else open for the rest of the year, so I felt fortunate (and kept the appointment).
There are some not-so-glowing online reviews of Dr. M, but most seem to center on her brusque demeanor. She’s Eastern European and has that sort of no nonsense approach, which doesn’t bother me at all. I quite like it, in fact. At one point, I told her it would be really difficult to wake up early enough to see the morning sun and she looked at me hard and said, “Do you want to get better or not?” Gulp. Yes, I want to get better! She said there was no point in eating good food and enough protein if you aren’t getting up in the morning because the blue light signals the pineal gland to convert protein to serotonin and melatonin (see her handout below). Her bluntness was effective. I haven’t managed to change my sleep schedule, but I certainly started taking it more seriously.
She diagnosed me with: “Chronic intractable migraine, with status migrainosus and occipital neuralgia.” She also gave me a physical exam and then diagnosed me with fibromyalgia before we’d even talked about my primary illness. Believe it or not, that was the first proper hands-on work-up I’ve had for fibromyalgia since being sick — even during those early years of excruciating body pain. She said migraines are tied to mitochondrial insufficiency, IBS, fibromyalgia etc. and that low available energy kicks off the trigeminal nerve alarm which causes pain. My genetic predisposition (my father has a long history of cluster headaches) coupled with central sensitization and not enough energy to power the thalamus properly = migraines. I thought she was very thorough and obviously extremely knowledgeable. I especially liked that she had a natural protocol and a medication protocol depending on patients’ needs.
Below is the plan she gave me. I can’t say it is definitely her advice that has helped (I started immunoglobulin infusions right after seeing Dr. M), but my headaches have been much better in the last six months.
- Change my posture (shoulders back and scapula close together). She said it will feel unnatural, but bring the shoulder blades together as much as possible. I’ve been doing this.
- Yoga might help neck issues. Haven’t tried this yet.
- Aerobic exercise and build muscle to feed mitochondria. My goal.
- Good nutrition and enough protein. Try ish.
- Deep breathing, relaxation and other parasympathetic nervous system activities. I do these daily.
- Sleep better, but wake yourself up early for outside light from 7-9am to build serotonin (that time is very important for short wave light that feeds your brain; you need it to cross the retinas, but not through a window. She felt this was non-negotiable). I haven’t managed this, of course.
- No more Tylenol (more than one a week will perpetuate headaches). Now I only take it once a week for my immunoglobulin infusions and on the rare occasion of a bad headache.
- Drink up to 3 cups a day of feverfew tea (she thought this was most important. She has weaned patients off migraine meds with this tea). I drink it daily.
- Consider SAMe (200mg/day), yarrow formula, magnesium, coq10, riboflavin (I already take the last three), other B vitamins (B12 shots are a possibility for a boost).
- A device called Cefaly, which works on the trigeminal nerve to break the feedback loop and is proven to greatly reduce migraines. $300 out of Costco in Canada.
- Instead of Tylenol, consider low-dose Lyrica as bridge drug, not a permanent therapy.
- Book: Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia by Stephen Stahl.
- The study she gave me is great reading. It also suggested acupuncture, oxygen, capsaicin and butterbur, but she didn’t specifically mention those.
- She also gave me the following handout, which you can hopefully enlarge to read:
I’m in a bad headspace. Feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, like I just need to give up. I know what sparked it. I got a bunch of blood tests done — things I haven’t had tested in 1 to 3 years — and they’re all still a mess. I’m still a mess. I haven’t made any headway in years. I just feel defeated. There are so many things my body is fighting and either I’m not helping or nothing I do helps. But mainly I feel useless and inept because I can’t manage to research something thoroughly, plan an attack and implement it. I can’t commit to anything because I have no faith that anything will work. So many pills. So much money. So much effort. So much information to process. So many competing theories. So much time scrambling in one place, getting nowhere. I do nothing but read how to help myself — hours everyday for years — and I just wind up feeling like I’m drowning more and more because there is too much.
I can’t seem to manage a methylation protocol, or a detox protocol, or brain retraining like everyone else can. Or a liver cleanse or lymph drainage or help my leaky gut or what about parasites? I can’t seem to manage any diet changes: watch out for histamine, salicylates, oxalates, sulphur, tyramine, too much/too little protein, too much/too little fiber, too many carbs, not the right kinds of fat, dairy, sugar, mycotoxins, pesticides, chlorine/lead/chloramine in water, your tupperware is plastic, your pots and pans are killing you… it never bloody ends! And why does everyone do so well with physical therapy, acupuncture, myofacial release, Bowenwork, craniosacral, reiki, feckin Feldenkrais and nothing seems to work for me? I’m thinking about NAET and muscle testing, frequency machines, homeopathy and EMF sensitivity because what if?? But I know they’re all just black holes. Everyone has a magic pill or a serious warning: Don’t sleep on foam! Don’t go in a hot tub! Your milk must be raw! Your dogs are killing you! Don’t stretch if you have EDS, don’t spend too much time lying down if you have dysautonomia, enemas are wiping out your good bacteria, you probably have Lyme–go on antibiotics, the longer you wait, the worse it is! You definitely have mold because you live in Seattle–leave your house and possessions behind and get clear! I’m so over all of it. There’s no point in giving me advice to just tackle one thing at a time because I can’t. It doesn’t work that way. Time is slipping by; I’m getting older just sitting in one spot. Everything is connected and as soon as I decide to do one thing, I read how that can tip another thing out of balance and I freeze… and wind up doing nothing. My brain does not work like it used to. This is most frustrating of all.
Imagine you’re suspended halfway up a cliff face, trying to get to the top. You’ve spent months researching the best path to take and you have some energy, you’re ready. As you start to climb, people abseil past you, screaming, “Don’t go that way! There are perils up ahead!”
Then others beside you say, “Nah, this is definitely the best way, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Then other people all around start chiming in and you listen–while clinging on to the crumbling rock for dear life–because so many have made this climb before you: “If you want to get to the top, go left.” So, you start researching that path.
“No, go right.” Better check out that option.
“It doesn’t matter which way you go if you don’t eat this meal first.” Oh shit, glad I didn’t start climbing yet.
“No, doesn’t matter what you eat or where you climb, you’re fucked if you’re not wearing the right gear.” Energy is draining out of you and the fear is creeping in.
“Don’t be silly, you just need to spend all day every day telling yourself you can get to the top and you will.”
“Nope, actually this mountain is insurmountable when you’re as weak as you are. Just hold on as long as you can and hope that you get stronger before your grip gives out.”
And… I literally can’t even.
Anyway, I pretty much want to burn every book I own, cancel all my appointments, throw out all the supplements and extricate myself from every group and forum, go to bed and give up… and, if I’m truthful, it’s all sugar’s fault. I have a grade A, deep-seated, fully-in-denial addiction and my candida blood test came back twice as high as the high result from a year ago that I ignored. Or at least candida IgM did and that’s the antibody that shows active/acute infection, right? I don’t want to go on another elimination diet. I don’t want to deal with something that will apparently keep rearing its fungal head forevermore every time I eat some ice cream. I don’t want to take prescriptions for months and deal with die-off and herxing for weeks. I just don’t. Even my husband is clanging a warning bell about candida, gently encouraging me to just try to quit eating sugar temporarily and I’m like a petulant child. I hardly eat any compared to the old days! I’ve given up so much! And then I ate a bag of kettle corn while pouting. This is waaaaaaayyy harder than booze and cigarettes. Way harder than gluten, dairy, nuts or anything I’ve tried before.
So there’s that. And then there’s these:
Cholesterol and LDL are higher than they were 8 months ago.
CMV IgG, which has been negative 4 times in the past, is now high out of range.
HHV6 IgG is still high out of range.
Mycoplasma Pneumoniae IgG is higher than it was (out of range).
EBV IgG is much higher than it was (out of range).
Sex Horm Binding Glob and Estradiol are high, whatever that means.
Total IgA and one IgG subclass are low.
VItamin D and Vitamin B12 are both low.
I’ll be talking to my doctor about all this in a fortnight, stay tuned.
Where to start? I am so behind on chronicling my life. You’d think it would be a one-liner (“Stayed home this month again, felt crappy, tried to keep spirits up.”), but there are so many subtleties to symptoms that I keep meaning to mention and so many tiny tweaks to treatments. There are so many interesting articles and blog posts that I want to comment on here and so many reasons to be hopeful and frustrated at current medical endeavors. I’ve written 100 blogs in my head this year that I thought were important and interesting ~ maybe even entertaining ~ but they never made it to the page and I’ve forgotten much of what I wanted to say. So, today, just an update.
First, the good news: my throat hasn’t been very sore in a while (if I don’t talk too much); my pain (below the neck) is minimal (if I don’t move too much); my dizziness is better (if I don’t stand up too much); my mood is ok (if I don’t think too much); 🙂 Haha, writing that was actually cracking me up! But, seriously, the underlying perma-symptoms of ME are stable and predictable if I don’t change my life up too much: exhaustion, achiness, tremors, horrid skin, blurry vision, stiffness, and fluishness are all manageable and (my) normal. The reality is, I feel unwell all day every day. Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m okay, I’m going to be fine and sometimes it makes me feel like I don’t want to die, I’m scared, I can’t do this anymore. My most pressing concerns lately have been, of course, the headache, terrible sleep, horrific bloating and constipation, and my free fall into less and less mobility and activity with higher and higher heart rate. Also, my brain torpor frightens me to the point that I can’t talk about it.
Thankfully, my brain pain train morphed from the high-speed TGV** to a kiddy carnival choo-choo. It still comes chugging through my skull in the afternoons and after I stare at a screen for too long, but, for the past 4 days or so, it is not torturing me. I stopped taking my Chinese herbs for a week; I don’t know if that is what caused or helped my headache, but I started them again yesterday (back down to 1/day) and we’ll see what happens.
3 weeks ago, in a place of desperation and panic about my disappearing sleep and unrelenting headache, I rummaged in my “Drugs I Don’t Take Drawer” and found gabapentin. The first night I took about 50mg (half a pill) and immediately my sleep was better. I still woke up a lot and it was unrefreshing as ever, but I slept for 8-9 hours rather than 6. That slice of heaven lasted a little over a week and now I’m back to the same terrible sleep, exacerbated by a very rare Seattle heat wave with no air conditioning. I added melatonin and went up to 150mg of gabapentin, but no relief (unless the gabapentin is the reason my headache is a better). I was prescribed trazodone for sleep, but haven’t gotten the nerve up to take it yet. I had planned to increase my dose of gabapentin first and then add doxylamine succinate and then swap the doxylamine for trazodone, if needed. Maybe I should just swap the gabapentin for trazodone since, just like last year, the gabapentin has caused awful constipation.
Let’s talk about that a bit. Within 48 hours of my first dose, things just stopped moving. It’s reached critical mass. I take a stool softener, I put soluble fiber in my tea, I drink raspberry leaf tea (thanks to a tip from Jess over at My Journey Thru ME, who wrote a great post on IBS), I take 400mg of magnesium before bed and I have been taking Miralax every single night. I’m still in bad shape, very uncomfortable, and worried that this is more dangerous than it would be in a healthy person because of my gut dysbiosis. The Good Doctor said, “You have to keep things moving because your bowels are in bad shape.” I think I’ll actually have to stop gabapentin to get back to normal.
My scariest symptom lately is my inability to do any activity without my heart rate skyrocketing. I’ve been sitting on the bathroom floor, washing my cpap equipment every week for the last 8 months. It’s never been an issue. Yesterday, my heart rate kept revving up to 110+ bpm while I sat in that same position, doing the same slow, careful scrubbing I’ve always done. This keeps happening. Taking pictures in the garden, reaching up to pick berries, talking a little too animatedly, putting sun cream on, adjusting a blanket, petting the dogs… Normally, if I were sitting down, these activities wouldn’t cause problems. Now, even sitting or lying, I feel that telltale sign (which initially registers as breathlessness, not as tachycardia), look at my HR monitor and am surprised every time: Oh, what was I thinking jiggling my foot while talking at the same time? How dare I wash my hands so vigorously. I should know better!
I can’t help thinking it is a direct result of deconditioning. It could be a direct result of illness ~ I know this is common is so many of us ~ but, the less I move, the less I’m able to move and that scares the shit out of me. So, every day I wonder: Should I push myself to “exercise” more so my body maintains some strength and life force? Or is that exactly what got me here and I should do less, less, less? This is one of the many contradictory evils of this disease: The less activity you are able to do, the more you panic and want to try doing more.
I’ve had a some new appointments in the past few months:
1. An amazingly wonderful physical therapist whom I have been seeing each week. He is not really a PT; I don’t know the name for what he does. I lie on his plinth (I learned this name when I said to him, “That pain made me come off the bed. Sorry ~ ‘table’.” And he said, “Actually, ‘plinth’.”) and he finds the rotten-apple spots in my muscles and then eliminates them by restoring the circulation with magic fingers. I don’t have to move and there is very little energy expenditure (besides our tendency to talk nonstop about music, movies, books, and food. We never talk about my illness except for the initial update on my current problem areas. I probably chat more “normally” to him than anyone else in my life and always leave smiling ~ that, in itself, is worth every penny and drop of ATP). This treatment is the number one first time I have had a very obvious FIX to a problem. He worked on my lower spine pain and coccyx burning and, that evening, IT WAS GONE. And it stayed gone! He’s a magic man.
2. Stupidly, obtusely, naively, I went to see a cardiologist about my BP and HR issues, plus the fact that bowel rumbling triggers a sort of vasovagal heart flutter and lung tightening. I’m sure most of you people with ME know what’s coming. This doctor said, “I see a lot of you girls with low blood pressure and syncope problems and you all have one thing in common: low body weight. You need to gain some weight. Eat more protein and salt. I know everyone is concerned about being thin and looking good, but it’ll help. Start walking more and lifting 5 or 10lb weights and come back in 6 months.”
As carefully and stoically and graciously as I could, I said, “I am 5 foot tall. This is the heaviest I have been since college. [Here he interjected: “Right. And I bet you feel better.”] No, I don’t feel better, you moron. If I gain weight, it’ll just be fat because I can’t move very much. I don’t care what I look like because I’m just trying not to die I don’t ever get dressed or leave the house, you condescending bastard. I can’t imagine using 10lb weights because I wouldn’t be able to leave the bed for weeks can barely lift my arms, but I’ll try increasing my steps. See you never.” He’d be happy to know that I have since gained another 5lbs from the gabapentin and, shockingly, I don’t feel any different except I am even more uncomfortable in my body than I was last month (and, no, Dr. Iseealotofyougirls, I don’t mean uncomfortable with how I look, I mean it is not comfortable to lose most of your muscle tone and gain 12lbs of fat in its place!)
3. The saga of the oral appliance (OA) for sleep apnea. Here’s the wrap up: I saw the orthodontist in April, waited over a month before being told I had to see a sleep specialist again for insurance to approve the OA, and then waited over ANOTHER month before being called in to fit the OA (a 2 hour appointment!). I slept with it in for 5 hours and woke up in extreme pain. Yes, it had the obvious repercussions, such as temporarily changing my bite and making my TMJ sore, but the big problem was pain stabbing into my top and bottom right canines. It felt like they had been drilled into without anesthetic. So, back to the orthodontist for another fitting, which ended in a decision to send the appliance back to the lab for tweaking. Milo’s Law: if it can go wrong, it will go wrong for me. It’ll be another 3 weeks before it comes back from the lab.
4. On a good note, after I saw my GP, she sent me a letter saying she was shocked by my decline and panicked to find something to help me and sorry the medical community is failing me and honored that I allowed her to take this journey with me. I wish I could reprint the letter here because it could restore some faith in medical professionals, but I want to be respectful of her privacy. She is leaving for her annual 2-month break, but is seeing me next week on her last day and is willing to run some new tests (finally!). I’ve researched nonstop for the last month, trying to decide what tests to request, but I’ve ended up more confused than when I started. I need to email her tomorrow with my list. If anyone has any advice, please let me know. I can always talk to her about additional tests at the appointment. Here are my thoughts:
- Mycoplasma tests
- Cytokine profile
- NK cell function test
- Hormones (ACTH, LH, HGH, testosterone, insulin like growth factor(?))
- RNase L Panel
- Lactic acid
- DHEA sulphate
- Heavy metals
- Amino Acid
- IgG (?)
- potassium, copper and …?
For disability (but really don’t want to do):
- Neuropsychological Testing
- VO2 Max (although it would be a 1-day stress test done by somebody who doesn’t know about ME)
- tilt table test
I am grateful for the few friends I have.
I am grateful for the few hours I sleep.
I am grateful for the little energy I have.
I am grateful for the still life I lead.
** I’m sure there are faster trains now, but, back in the 90s, I took the TGV all over Europe and its speed made a lasting impression. I still say “tay gjay vay”, pronouncing the letters in French, which is how I learned it.