Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.

This is a hard one to talk about. It’ll be more of a rant. And I’d like to preface it with all of the obvious about how grateful I am that we were in the economic position we were in when this illness started, how grateful I am that I had a few years of good earnings and decent savings, how grateful I am that my family is healthy and has never been bankrupted by health woes. I am, I truly am, and I think about–probably too much–what must happen to others with a severe chronic illness (that has no knowledgeable doctors and no decent treatment) who are in worse financial shape than we are, without our resources, who are in countries steeped in poverty, refugees fleeing wars… on and on… I do know how lucky I am. But, I’m scared. Mostly because I don’t know what treatment to spend money on and what to reject.

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Recently, after 6 months of immunoglobulin infusions, I got a slew of bills that I didn’t anticipate. It turns out that for my itsy bitsy dose of 5 grams each week, I pay $164 after insurance. Out-of-pocket. That’s $655 per month. If I had known this before starting, would I have done it? I don’t know. But now that this is the only treatment that has helped me, how can I stop? And I’m in this tricky spot. I have private health insurance because I was too scared Medicare wouldn’t cover these treatments (also because Medicare won’t cover acupuncture, nutritionists or physical/myofascial/craniosacral/massage therapy — some of the only things that have made a difference in my pain levels). After being told IVIG was not an option by so many doctors, knowing that I didn’t have a history of bacterial infections and a vaccine challenge is usually required for approval, and having Coram (the infusion service) tell me that Medicare hardly ever covers treatment, I was just too scared to give up the private health insurance that had already approved my treatment for the whole year. Of course, I have since heard from others that Medicare covers their IVIG or SCIG at 100%, but … how could I risk changing coverage now when my IgG levels have come up and that alone might disqualify me from continued treatment? I’ll have to revisit this next January when I’m eligible for Medicare enrollment again, but, if I’m still improving with my infusions, I don’t know how I’d take that leap of faith.

An aside for those in other countries or for those that don’t know this fucked up aspect of our healthcare system here in the U.S.: Medicare (government health coverage) isn’t free. You pay each month just as you do with private health insurance. It’s usually cheaper, but not always. It can range from $105-$771 a month, depending on your situation (the higher end is reserved for people who have not worked enough in their lifetimes to qualify. So, if you are struck down with a chronic illness as a young adult and you haven’t worked the requisite 30 quarters in a tax-paying job, you’re not married and you undoubtedly have little savings, then you get to pay the highest premium for our national health coverage– oh, but only if you’re lucky enough to be granted full disability, which very few ME/CFS/Lyme sufferers are). And don’t think that Medicare actually covers your healthcare in full, though. You will still have a deductible each year and co-insurance (the patient pays 20%, typically), you’re prescription medications aren’t paid for unless you get extra coverage and hospital stays can still leave you in horrendous debt. You can stay in a hospital for a few months for the low, low price of $1,260 (although skilled nursing facilities will be more because that price doesn’t cover people to care for you), but let’s take a pretty terrible example: 150 days in the hospital. In 2015, that would have cost you $47,565 out-of-pocket. If you had to stay any longer, all additional costs are your problem. The government washes its hands of you. But wait, there’s more! If you choose not to enroll in Medicare when you become eligible, your monthly payment when you do enroll will be higher–forever–usually 10% higher for each year you could have signed up but didn’t. In my case, if I’m covered by Medicare next year, I will be paying an extra $300/year because I didn’t enroll when I first became eligible. If I wait until 2018, I’ll pay a penalty of at least $440 that year, plus more each year as the premiums continue to rise over my lifetime. Lovely.

SO… Last month I finished up weeks of financial slog for our 2015 taxes and was happy to see our (and by our, I mean my because my husband’s medical expenses are only about a quarter of our total and that is solely health insurance premiums because he never needs a doctor, knock on wood, toba toba) out-of-pocket medical costs had come down slightly.

2012: $14,480
2013: $19,032
2014: $19,564
2015: $17,912

That doesn’t allay the fear, however. After utilities (sewer, water, garbage, recycling, gas, electricity) and mortgage payments, we’re left with about $20K a year to live on and medical expenses have been almost $20K a year since I got sick. That means most everything else–food, clothes, toiletries, dogs, phone, internet, gas for cars– comes out of our savings. I’m trying to be healthier, place fewer burdens on my system and subdue my chemical sensitivities by eating organic food, pastured meat and buying less toxic products. All of these things are more expensive. For the last year and a half, I’ve been paying $200/month for compounded medications instead of the cheap, generic, filler-filled ones. It hardly costs anything to get sick, but the system is rigged to bankrupt those that are.

I feel very fortunate that we had saved money before this happened, but it will run out eventually and I don’t want to make all the wrong decisions now because I’m frozen in fear of the future. Our day-to-day living is all-encompassing, so time slips by in survival mode and the big decisions never get discussed. I’m happy that we didn’t sell the house when I first got sick because we’re finally not under water and it might actually be worth what we owe again. But when do we sell? And do I switch back to generic meds? Do I stop supplements (around $100/month)? Do I stop seeing my doctor who doesn’t take health insurance? Do I not try human growth hormone or hyperbaric oxygen or nutritional IVs? Do I stop my immunoglobulin infusions?? Last year, I thought a time would come when we just moved somewhere very small and affordable, maybe a foreign country, and I stopped all medical visits and we tried to exist on pittance and make our money last as long as possible… But now that I’ve found a treatment that helps my functioning, I have renewed hope. Maybe I’ll be able to earn a living again if I keep making progress. How can I give up on that? Or should I accept the fact that this is as good as it’s going to get, income-wise? My husband will get older, he’ll be able to work his manual-labour job less and less and I won’t ever recover to the point of being able to hold a job… I think that’s the reality. I know a lot of people with this illness and many have made improvements, but I’m not sure if I know any that have gone back to full-time work.

So, we beat on, boats against the current, cut costs where we can, shop the deals online, grow some veggies, sell some stuff, and pray that in ten years time, the tides have changed for the better.

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Migraine Help From Headache Neurologist

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.
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imageShe 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:
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Treatment Update

Today (actually last Thursday, it took me a while to write this), I had my follow-up appointment with Dr. Kim to go over the gaggle of blood tests I had done in March. There is a lot that I am adding into my regimen, so I wanted to document it all asap before I forget everything she said.

We’re going to try hyperbaric oxygen therapy! I said it as a joke as we walked past the room with the claustrophobia chamber: “When do I get to dive?” And she thought it was actually a good idea. So, I’m going to start with a very short time (10-15 minutes) and work up to 60 minutes “at depth”, with supplemental oxygen, once a week. This is out-of-pocket, of course, and pricey at $150-$175 per 60-minute session, so I’ll try a few and see how I do.

I am starting a slow treatment for candida with Nystatin, Diflucan and Thorne SF722. Here’s the protocol:
*Nystatin on Mondays and 2 capsules a day of Thorne SF722 Tuesday through Sunday for 3 weeks.
*Then the same thing with Diflucan on Mondays for 3 weeks.
*Then Nysatin Mondays, Diflucan Thursdays and 2 SF722s on the other days for 2 months.
She didn’t mention diet and I didn’t bring it up. Yippee!

I’m increasing oral progesterone to 100mg/day (I’m at 25mg now), staying at 25mg of oral pregnenolone (uh oh, I just realised while adding this link that I’ve been swallowing my pregnenolone whole, not realising it’s sublingual… grreeaaat 😝) and changing from topical DHEA to 25mg oral.

My sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) is high, which she said functionally lowers hormone levels. I’m going to start nettle root capsules (work up to 300mg twice a day) to bring SHBG down (not to be confused with nettle leaf, which I drink in tea every day).

I’m not anemic, but my iron is low. She wants me to add Floridix, but after reviewing the ingredients, I may just do a generic ferrous gluconate supplement for 6 months.

For sleep:
*5HTP, 75-150 mg at night (this was recommended by a friend–thank you, M–and Dr. Kim thought it was worth a shot). She says it may even interact with the 5HT4 receptors in my GI tract and help motility. 30-50 mg P5P (active vitamin B6) should be taken with 5HTP.
*Dr. Yasko recommended I get my lithium tested (she answered a quick question on Facebook, I’m not working with her) and Dr. Kim thought I could try supplementing a 20-40 mg per day without a test and see if it helps.
*Belsomra, a prescription sleep medication given to me by my sleep doctor, is still sitting on my shelf a year later and I intend to take a small nibble one of these days. It doesn’t interact with 5HTP, so I can try all the things.

For constipation, I am going to try MotilPro (work up to 3 capsules morning and noon) and a bit of iodine in the form of potassium iodide (5-20 mg 4 times per week).

She said my vitamin D at 40.4 ng/mL is actually fine and I should continue taking 4,000iu/day (I take Thorne liquid D3+K2). She bases this on my calcitriol (vitamin D 1,25) number, which is good at 48.2pg/mL, right in the middle of the range.

She’s not worried about my high cholesterol or LDL at all, so I’m going to shake off my concern about that and trust her.

She said not to worry about an Igenex lyme test or my positive bartonella test for now. She is going to treat my high mycoplasma pneumoniae eventually and she said that treatment is similar to what she’d do for tick-borne infections. I have to say, I kind of like that a reputable LLND isn’t jumping straight into Lyme testing and treatment. She’s definitely not a one-trick pony.

I’ll start antimicrobials for M. pneumoniae, CMV, HHV6 and EBV later this year when my body is stronger. She thinks it will most likely take at least 2 years to get those blood tests into the normal ranges (to the point where my immune system isn’t mounting a response against reactivated infections).

Other supplements* and prescriptions I currently take, many sporadically:

MitoCore
CoQ10/ubiquinol
Humic Acid
Thorne Trace Minerals
Thorne Riboflavin-5-phosphate
Thorne Niacel
Thorne vitamin D3+K2
Thorne B complex #6
Magnesium malate
Magnesium glycinate
Jigsaw magnesium
Potassium gluconate
Biotin
Thiamin
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
Wormwood
HCL + gentian + pepsin
Enzymedica Digest Basic
Enzymedica Digest Spectrum
Charcoal
Levothyroxine (100mcg/day)
Liothyronine (15mcg twice/day)
Prednisone (3mg), Benadryl (25mg), Zantac (10mg), fluids (sodium chloride 0.9%, 1 liter) and Gamunex-C (5g) during infusions.

*By the way, all the supplement links here are for Pure Formulas (and all brands are gluten-free, soy-free and well-regarded). I am not affiliated with them in any way and I can’t get kick-backs if you buy something from these links like lots of bloggers that make money that way (although, maybe I should look into that!). I’ve just done a lot of research and they are consistently the best for me. If you decide to order from them and you want to be a kind and selfless friend, you can use my referral code: RRKMLW or shop here. Once you complete an order (without using any of your own reward points), I get a $10 credit. 😀 I like Pure Formulas because a) free shipping with no minimum; b) 2-day shipping always if you have ShopRunner, which I do through my AmEx; c) you earn cash credits for your orders; d) you can return products you have problems with, even if opened; and e) I have contacted many supplement manufacturers to ask about recommended online retailers (because I’ve read some scary articles about knock-off supplements on Amazon) and almost all of them have told me Pure Formulas is reputable. Last thought: if you comment below with your Pure Formulas referral code I will use one whenever I order (which is often).

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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March Update

I haven’t done an update in forever and it’s a shame because I look back on my updates a lot to see how I was in the past and compare it to how I am now. It looks like I’m at about the same level of functioning as I was at this time last year. A little worse, unfortunately. Last year, I was walking more steps, had been out in the garden more, was driving a bit (I drove to an appointment this week for the first time in forever, so there is some progress).

I’m still trying to regain some ground after the onslaught of nocturnal mast cell/viral/ME/inflammatory bowel reactions that started in September when I tried Cromolyn. Thanksgiving and Christmas were probably the two sickest nights of my life. As soon as I was resurfacing from Christmas, I got hit by another one on January 12th. As soon as I was feeling recovered from that, I had another one on January 28th and then again on the 31st. I stopped everything, including writing. For three weeks, I laid low and tried to reset my body. My constipation had become severe, so I had been taking massive doses of various different kinds of magnesium and I was afraid this was contributing to the episodes because there always seems to be some sort of bowel inflammation component involved (I get aches and what feels like electric pins and needles in my bowels and my flanks when I’m very constipated). When I quit magnesium, the constipation became critical — and a bit comical with the size of my protruding belly. I’m so uncomfortable, I wake up in the night when I roll over onto the poop baby inside of me. Where do the other organs go? I’m not sure how I continue to eat and I’m not sure why I continue to eat. You’d think at some stage I would just give my gut a break and eat liquid food, but I’m always hungry. I tried Triphala, Gentian, Medibulk, digestive enzymes, massage, enemas, prunes, oatmeal, even my old standby Wormwood stopped working. Which led me to the glycerine suppository on Oscar night which caused the (anaphylactic?) collapse on the bathroom floor. So, tonight I’ll be taking the generic polyethylene glycol (Miralax/Movical) that I have been avoiding because, if it’s too harsh, it’ll trigger a vasovagal reaction and I could pass out or, if it’s mild cramping, it’ll keep me up in the night. Not to mention it’s a nasty drug and probably made in China. But enough about that…

My father was visiting when the suppository episode happened and, a few days after he left, my mother came. That’s it from Christmas until now. That is my 2015. One quarter of a year summed up: reaction-recovery-reaction-recovery-reaction-recovery-reaction-recovery-visitor-visitor. Thank god for the visitors because the rest is really depressing. My friend M recently said that he fears not seeing those he loves ever again and, as we get older, that concern becomes more and more pressing. I think this all the time with my parents living so far away. Their visits allowed me to breathe easier. They filled me up with sustenance and gave me a little more mettle to carry on. I am incredibly lucky to have such a supportive and loving family. Recently, Jen Brea asked the ME community to post the most compassionate word or giving act ever received in relation to our illness (a very moving thread) and all I could think was, my family, my siblings, my parents, my best friends… their messages, words of encouragement, interest in learning about ME, physical help, monetary help, emotional help… Where would I be without them?

Both visits were wonderful and were needed more than I realised. My mother helped me with a hundred tasks I haven’t been able to accomplish and I got to hear all about my brothers and nieces and nephews, whom she had just visited. We managed to drive to the beach dog park twice: first, with my father and sister and, again, with my mother. It has been glorious weather in Seattle and getting out of the house is always the highlight of my months.

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Yay! Beach!

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Damn, he’s a fine looking dog. ❤

The one downside was, my husband wasn’t with us the first time, so I was without his deafening whistle and another set of eyes on our smaller dog, Riley, the escape artist. He ran around the rocks at the edge of the park and took off, causing me to expend more energy than I have in many months. I stood calling at the top of my lungs, over and over, “RILEY, COME!” and then started to panic when he didn’t reappear. At the top of my lungs and panic are not things that go well with ME. My voice is not strong, but, man, when my child went missing, nothing was going to stop me yelling for him. This is a dog that is only ours because he ran away from some other home and was found in a house barn, emaciated and unable to stand up. He’s an adventurer and curious about everything, while Bowie sticks to me like glue.

When Riley finally came into view, he was up in the car park and I sprinted up the sand embankment to the fence. Sprinted and up don’t happen in my world, either. Riley looked scared. He couldn’t tell where my voice was coming from and I was worried he’d run in front of a car or disappear, never to be found. He was tearing back and forth outside the park and I was calling over and over. He finally found me and I grabbed the scruff of his neck through the fence and sat down in the sand, waiting for rescue. My 72-year old Dad clambered up the rocks (cutting his shins in the process) and got Riley on a leash. I was half catatonic on the way home, like a rag with all the water twisted out of it. I crawled to bed, but, once again, bounced back quicker than I anticipated. And it was worth it. Mount Rainier on the drive home, through my glazed eyeballs, was spectacular. My Dad said it looked like a painting of Mount Fuji.

So, what else can I tell you about the last 3 or 4 months? I haven’t really taken any supplements this whole year so far. A few here and there, but, after every big episode, I would stop everything and go back to baseline. In the last week, I have been taking trace minerals, Vitamin D, K2 and fish oil again. I’m also still on topical DHEA and progesterone and just added topical pregnenolone and I’m about to add oral progesterone. It makes me nervous using bioidentical hormones, but they don’t seem to cause a reaction and both of my NDs recommend them, so I’m going with it. Apparently, there is evidence that DHEA+pregnenolone can reduce reactivity, so the goal is to take those for a while, then try IV fluids, then try sub-cutaneous IG and maybe even make my way to IVIG one day. I’ve been trying to get there since seeing Dr. Chia 7 months ago, so who knows how long it’ll take. I’m also still on the compounded thyroid hormones. All these compounded meds are costing me a fortune, though, and are not covered by insurance. One of these days, I’ll have to call this experiment quits and go back to my generic, dye-filled, filler-filled drugs. That’s it for what I’m taking. The Equilibrant, Nystatin, Hydroxyzine, Tramadol and Singulair are all languishing in the cupboard, unopened.

I had a few blood tests done in January. The big shock is that my cholesterol is sky high. Total cholesterol is 310, LDL is 194, Apo B is 124 (ideally <109) and LDL-P (particles) is 1755 (ideally <1000). There could be many reasons for this: my continuing low thyroid, my chronic and reactivated infections (coxsackie, HHV6, EBV, varicella, candida, mycoplasma pneumoniae), leaky gut and inflammation, genetics (both of my parents have high cholesterol) or something to do with my insulin/hypoglycemia issues. But, I actually think it is mostly to do with my diet. Over a year ago, I started an elimination diet for autoimmune conditions (AIP), plus cut out most high-histamine foods (fish, shellfish and avocado etc.). I cut out oats (I had already eliminated all other grains except rice), legumes, nuts and seeds, but continued to eat white rice (and rice cakes, rice pasta etc.). After about 4 months, I began eating a lot of ghee, butter and bone broth. I had my cholesterol checked in 2013 and it was fine, as it had been my whole life. In mid-2014, it had started to crawl up and, 9 months later, it’s now a pretty big problem. I’m pretty sure it was my inadvertent reduction in soluble and insoluble fiber (especially the former), plus the changes in the type of fat I was eating that caused the lipid problem.

Other January blood tests of note: low DHEA and testosterone (still), low insulin, high homocysteine (still) and my T3 and T4 are low (STILL). Don’t tell Dr. Erin, but I’m going to increase my liothyronine myself because these teeny incremental changes are just taking too long to fix my levels. Nothing seems to get better and more abnormalities keep emerging.

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I’m averaging about 1,400 steps a day and 6 hours sleep a night. When I do sleep, my sleep has been better. I just put it together now that this might be because of the progesterone supplementation, which is meant to help restful sleep. Wow, I finally made a correlation. I still can’t wear the CPAP without all hell breaking lose and the oral appliance still wrecks my jaw, but I’m managing to get a solid 5 hours most nights, with another 1-3 tossy turny hours. I have my third sleep study tomorrow to see if the OA is helping the apnea at all. My other sleep issues (pain, night terrors, constant movement and muscle spasms, awakenings post-REM sleep) are still unresolved since I haven’t been able to tolerate the drugs offered.

My headaches have also been a bit better, maybe because I backed off the salt ever so slightly. I get doozies a few times a week, but I noticed that I didn’t really have a headache the whole time my father was here. My salt loading wasn’t helping my blood pressure at all, so I might need to be medicated.

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My throat spot hasn’t been itchy in a while and I think the electric shocks in my left leg have been fewer and farther between.

I stopped using the Restasis after 4 months to see if I noticed any difference and I think my eyes have been worse since stopping, but I don’t know if they’re worse enough to justify a Rx.

Sore glands in my neck, crazy tinnitus, swollen sinuses are all continuous low-key issues lately. I started taking 5-6ml of liquid Zyrtec again a few weeks ago on a whim in case anything was seasonal allergy-related. As usual, I can’t really tell anything positive or negative.

My blood sugar seems better. This could be because I’ve diversified my diet (added back many nuts, seeds, oats, goat cheese, milk, potato, corn, chickpeas) and it also helps that my new endocrinologist explained that the danger lies more in how fast my blood sugar is dropping than how low it is. This was great to hear because I have experienced those sugar crashes where it can wind up in the 40s, but I was always nervous, if, when I was going to sleep, it was 73 or something, that it would continue to plummet in the night. She reassured me that, if I don’t feel the tell-tale shakes, it’s probably ok and I don’t need to eat. Having said all that, I got out of bed this morning needing to eat right away because I was shaky and it was 63, so it’s still a delicate dance. [<~ And, after I wrote that, I had a big blood sugar crash on my way out the door to PT because I didn’t eat meat for breakfast. I had to go back inside and cook a mound of lamb and a yuca cake and eat it in the car on the way there. I was 15 minutes late. I guess hypoglycemia isn’t really any better. Gah!]

My buzzy brain and neuro symptoms are definitely still here, always incapacitating when they hit, always signalling that I need to go to bed and power down. And I’m still stiff, inflexible, pulling muscles regularly, in some pain and pretty weak. My lower back has been a major issue recently and my husband bought me a back brace that I have to wear when I’m standing in the kitchen or I’m crippled.

My mood is fine unless I’m really sick or in a lot of pain and then I’m a scared, desperate caged animal, feeling like I can’t go on another minute. When I’m really sick in bed, feeling fluish, poisoned, inflamed and broken, the dark mental cloud descends and obliterates all hope and even the very rational thought that this will ease up. I don’t forget that it has eased up in the past – seemingly, it would be easy to reassure myself that it will again, but I can’t. It’s the knowledge that I couldn’t continue living if it didn’t ease up that causes the black blanket of fear.

But enough about that…

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The last time I was out on the scooter.

The bad news is, my scooter died at the end of December. It was my one lifeline to freedom and, although I only got out on it for about an hour each month, I lived for that hour. So, I have to figure out a way to get another. The best case scenario would be one that I could lift into my car myself. The cemetery is only a few blocks away and, ideally, I’d like to go for little outings without needing my husband and his truck, since he’s not home very much. I’m also thinking about the future when I have a smaller dog and will, I hope, have the strength to walk him on a leash using the scooter. Not sure there are any scooters that disassemble to light enough parts or that I would have the energy to put in the car, drive, take out and assemble, ride around for a bit, take apart and put back in the car, drive home, take out of the car again… Now that I see that in print, it seems a Herculean and impossible task. Plus, we can’t really afford one, anyway, when we spend more than we bring in every month. When we win the lotto, we can buy a scooter and a transport van that it can drive into. Or maybe I’ll just get better.

The good news is, everything is blooming and the smells in the garden are incredible. 🙂

This took me over a week to write, so apologies if it’s disjointed. Until next time… XO

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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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The Reaction Chronicles

I’ve been adding a supplement or trying a drug or testing a food every few days for a while, holding off before and during my period and if I am reactionary. I have recently had some of the most violent side effects to some of the most innocuous substances and I still find it incomprehensible. In my old life — that old Elizabeth who started 10 supplements at full dose on the same day — I never would have believed that such a small amount of something “harmless” could cause such an extreme reaction. Most notably, ElectroMix electrolytes paradoxically causing extreme blood pressure crashes, D-ribose causing extreme blood sugar crashes and Dr. Yasko’s All In One vitamin causing such terrible bone and muscle pain and cramping from the waste down that I didn’t sleep for three days and was considering going to the hospital and begging for an epidural.

I wanted to chronicle these trials so I remember. Here are my notes from the last four months. No note means no discernible reaction.

  • 4/26/14: Started CoQ10 100mg
  • 4/23/14: Started Thorn Bio-gest
  • 4/20/14: Started Now Foods Yucca
  • 4/15/14: Started Prednisone (bad sleep, swollen hands and feet, grumpy, facial hair, very bad tachycarrdia)
  • 4/13/14: Started Thorne Riboflavin 5 phosphate
  • 4/12/14: Started 2 Fish oil capsules
  • 4/10/14: Started Calm magnesium + calcium
  • 4/3/14: Changed Zyrtec brand
  • 4/1/14: Started Dr. Yasko’s All In One vitamin (unimaginable pain from waste down in bones and muscles; spine muscles jumping; worst reaction ever)
  • 3/26/14: Started D-ribose (terrible BS crashes)
  • 3/25/14: Started Desonide cream and tried Valium (horrific headache, stuffy nose, SOB)
  • 3/24/14: Started Dr. Yasko’s digestive enzymes
  • 3/22/14: Tried Baclofen (bit of a headache)
  • 3/21/14: Started Molybdenum and Vivite face wash
  • 3/19/14: Started Finacea, Cereve face wash and clindamycin lotion.
  • 3/11/14: Tried Electromix (terrible BP crashes)
  • 3/8/14: Tried L-glutamine (sickest day in months)
  • 3/6/14: Started Jarrow Formulas Acetyl-l-carnitine
  • 3/5/14: Started Zyrtec
  • 2/27/14: Tried egg (very bad next day)
  • 2/26/14: Tried fish
  • 2/24/14: Tried avocado
  • 2/21/14: Started Zantac (terrible stomach pain and nausea)
  • 2/15/14: Tried gelatin again (helped sleep)
  • 2/14/14: Tried Valium (headache, stuffy nose)
  • 2/12/14: Tried Cannabis pill again
  • 2/5/14: Tried Thorn Medibulk
  • 2/4/14: Tried Benadryl for sleep and gelatin (hungover next day)
  • 2/2/14: Tried Tizanidine
  • 2/1/14: Tried egg, avocado and cannabis oil (very bad next day)
  • 1/26/14: Tried egg (itchy throat spot, very bad next day)
  • 1/20/14: Tried citrus
  • 1/5/14: Tried soy (bad headache)
  • 1/31/13: Tried Ativan (dopey, headache, bad the next day)
  • 12/24/13: Tried Trazodone again
  • 12/19/13: Tried Trazodone again
  • 12/16/13: Tried Trazodone
  • 12/12/13: Started PS
  • 12/6/13: Tried corn (next day bad bowel and headache)
  • 12/3/13: Started probiotics

Other reactions of notable mention: