My Aching Back/Arm/Knee/Foot/You Name It

What are the two most common symptoms of chronic illnesses that we hear over and over, without fail? Fatigue and pain. This post is all about pain. That is why I was excited to receive this product to review, because in all of my adult years (24+ now), pain has been my constant companion. Just to be clear, I have been given this product through the Chronic Illness Bloggers Network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company Mo-Haganys’ Dream Cream Products.

One friend, Nikki over at As I Live & Breathe (https://ilivebreathe.com/about-me/), got her products before I did, and excitedly told me, “Chels, just wait! Just wait! I did not have to take my painkillers tonight!” Now that is a huge endorsement, because like me, Nikki has some major stuff going down in her body that is the stuff of horror films (I will let her tell it).

What is this stuff anyway? Well, it’s some crazy concoction that seems so simple that it should be obvious and available everywhere and after you read this, you should be wanting to bathe in it. Unfortunately, your cynical side might still win out and you will proceed with caution. You will wait a few more weeks to buy a bottle with a homemade label because, hey, what does this woman know that big pharmaceutical companies don’t? But if you’re smart, you’ll give this serious consideration, because I’ve been a doubter myself many times too, and I treat Consumer Reports as a shopper’s bible, and when you find gems, you buy them up like they’re going out of style.

The woman who owns this company, Keri, formulated these products after contracting bacterial meningitis and developing debilitating pain and being placed on, in her words, “ridiculous” pain meds with horrible side effects (something that I myself know well). She began researching apothecary and Chinese herbology, and discovered a way to ferment cayenne pepper to make a capsaicin paste that does not “burn” the skin. She then worked on using different ingredients for blending and aromatherapy to compliment the paste’s action to “deaden” or “muffle” the nerve action. It depends on the person and the severity, but the pain relief can last 6-12 hours.

I was looking forward to this particular product challenge because my body is really giving me hell right now. Besides the ever-present abdominal pain from the rejection of the shunt materials, I am pretty sure the tendons at my left shoulder are frayed. I’ve been in physical therapy for three months and though my strength has improved, the pain has actually become worse; my doctor has ordered six more weeks of PT and an MRI at the end, but is reluctant to perform surgery because of my proclivity to immediately build up copious scar tissue and possibly undo everything the surgeon would do for benefit. This month was also the Hydrocephalus Association conference and so I was in incredible pain from sitting, walking and standing for four days, my feet and hips taking the brunt of the beating.
2016-06-28 16.09.06

Immediately after receiving this package, I tore it open and slathered the lotion, Mo’s Dream Cream, on my shoulder. I could not wait. The lotion has a thin consistency and I would caution everyone to use common sense like they would around light-colored fabrics and tomato food products: make sure it is well-absorbed before contact is made, or there might be color transfer that is irreversible. Also, another caution mentioned more than a few times: do not apply to broken skin. Here’s a small sample so you can see for yourself:2016-06-28 16.09.32.jpg
These products have a very specific scent, though I struggle a bit to describe it. You will recognize the spiciness of the capsaicin, because it’s the stuff that flavors our Mexican/Thai/Vietnamese/Korean food and haunts us later. But the essential oils include orange, tangerine, clove and wintergreen, so you will have hints of hot chocolate and sledding parties wrapped up in your burrito dreams.

The left shoulder pain is preventing me from sleeping comfortably. I also cannot get dressed easily, pick up items at waist level, overhead or floor level, or reach over to rub my boyfriend’s shoulder in a display of affection. Even doing simple things like buckling my seat belt as a passenger are turning into ordeals, and I have cracked three teeth on my left side because of the pain. So for me, because there’s structural damage, it’s not an easy fix; the pain can spike up to a good old fashioned 10. However, the lotion can bring it down to about a 5 in a matter of minutes, and keep it there for about 4-5 hours.

My abdominal pain is a little trickier. I’m allergic to the parts of the shunt that are housed in my abdomen and the pain is at exactly the place between the front of my abdomen and the middle of my back, so it’s in the middle of my middle. Again, the pain can spike up to a 10, and applying the lotion can get it to calm down to about a 7, but it’s just in a tough spot. Until I can figure out how to get a dose to middle earth, I am not convinced it’s going to get better than that.

After the first day of the conference, the pinched nerves in my hips were severely limiting my gait. My feet felt as if I had walked over hot coals. I could barely move, and I nearly cried at the thought of having to get up and do it all over again for three more days in a row, early to boot. I decided to wash my feet and then try to the stick form of the pain relief:
2016-06-28 16.10.13
Even though the capsaicin paste is the same, the scent and emollients are slightly different. 2016-06-28 16.53.09 The next morning, when I had to go back for day two of the conference, I felt as if day one had been erased by the pain stick. That is HUGE.

Overall, I felt like the lotion did a quick job of penetrating to the pain and providing the relief, but I certainly appreciated the convenience of the “No Mo Pain Stick” too – so much easier to carry that in a purse than the bottle of lotion, which now has a permanent spot on my nightstand.

Now I’m mentally debating making an appointment to see my pain doctor just to push these goodies on him. He’s a younger guy and I know he has chronic back pain. I want him to try it. I mean, what could he lose? He could just put some on a spot on his back and then slap a pad over the top of it if he’s trying to maintain a scent-free office because of sensitivities…

The skeptic in me also wanted to make sure I wasn’t under undue influence of the placebo effect, so I sent this with my sister for a few days, because she has RA. She was afraid that her boys would be put off by the scent but her co-worker dug into it, and she felt as if it helped her with pain (though I didn’t get to discuss it at length before I grabbed it back because my shoulder was singing like the hounds of Hell).

Here is a snapshot of the information that Keri sent with her products that you may find useful:

2016-06-28 16.10.42

Since I can’t transport a bottle directly through my screen to you, you still have to go and get a bottle the old-fashioned way through the internet, but I’m thinking you won’t be disappointed. And hey – Keri is even offering everyone a discount who has enjoyed my review by using the code CHELSEA4U (which I was not expecting, but thought extra helpful if you are on a budget): https://squareup.com/store/modreamcream.

Advertisements

Happy Anniversary

Exactly one year ago today I got on a plane and moved from Phoenix to St. Paul. According to the dust on my shelves, that’s the last time I dusted as well.

The first six months were difficult. I was going from doctor to doctor, trying to find any that wouldn’t turn me away. I couldn’t drive because I lose about 80% of my vision while I’m upright for a long time, so I spent about $500 a month just on cab fare alone; when I wasn’t going to doctor appointments, I simply stayed in my apartment.

It took me a lot to where I am right now: I have at least a primary care doctor, I have had 3 months of physical therapy for the pinched nerves in my shoulder and hips, I have a disability attorney (but probably no hearing until July or later 2017), and I now use the short bus and a cab company that is contracted through medical assistance to get me to appointments. I also have an incredibly supportive boyfriend.

There are still some black holes of missing pieces. One: I still don’t have a diagnosis. Two: I don’t know what in the hell I’m going to do about my shunt.

June 16-19 was the National Hydrocephalus Association conference, and I never would have been able to attend if it wasn’t right here in my back yard. I had decided that I was not going to be shy. I had also decided that although it was nice to meet other patients and commiserate, I really, really wanted to pick the brains of the researchers and doctors and manufacturers of the shunts.

At the very first speaking presentation, a researcher spoke about the work she has been performing regarding shunt occlusions (blockages). I raised my hand and first asked if the study began when the shunt was still in the patient (so they could figure out if the drainage tip was stuck somewhere, like a drinking straw that’s clogged by a large piece of fruit or an extra thick shake) or if the shunts were studied after they were removed, because I tend to immediately make 20 years worth of scar tissue in 2-3 weeks and clog my shunts very quickly. She indicated that she tests the shunts only after they are sent to her post-surgery, and that she was definitely interested in my shunt(s). I got her business card and told her about imaging that has been developed in Scotland that piggybacks off of current MRI and CT scans but is supposed to be much more accurate, and it just so happens that she is supposed to travel to Scotland in two weeks. In another talk she gave much later in the conference, she mentioned autoimmune diseases, and I’ll be seeing a doctor that specializes in mast cell disorders next week; I’m going to speak to him specifically about my issues with the shunts and about contacting her and speaking with her regarding shunt rejection. Not a bad start for networking!

But with the good comes the not so good. Another talk I attended was facilitated by a neurologist and a neurosurgeon who were experts in normal pressure hydrocephalus. That is one of my placeholder diagnoses and they kept talking about enlarged ventricles on MRI and CT scans. I asked if it was possible to get that diagnosis without the enlarged ventricles, and they said no. I talked to them afterwards and quickly covered my symptoms and demonstrated my unusual ability to move the fluid around in my brain. They actually became very condescending and a little pissy, asking if I had considered the Mayo. I thanked them and left the room.

At another session, there was a representative from the Social Security office talking about the process of filing for disability. He opened the session by saying that he actually never handled disability cases where health was involved – I mean, when it’s a health conference, why send someone who is knowledgeable? I raised my hand during this one too and asked two questions: 1) Is it correct that since my request for a hearing was filed in early February of 2016, it’s pretty backed up and I shouldn’t expect a hearing to be set until July or August of 2017? and 2) I was told that even though I can’t see well, that my arms and hands still work, so I should be able to get a job. What criteria is used to determine whether I should be employed when my records indicate I should be laying down for 20-22 hours a day? He said, 1) It’s not unreasonable that the hearing would take that long to be set (and I answered that maybe it’s not unreasonable to him, but it’s unreasonable to me), and 2) It’s not just my inability to see or be upright that’s considered, but also my education and my age, so yes, no matter how impaired I am, I may be “too young” to be disabled. That absolutely floored me – no wonder I have to fend off assholes telling me that every day, because that’s the idiocy that the social security office perpetuates every single day.

One session was put on by the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living right here in Minnesota and a particularly energetic and passionate woman dedicated to helping people find the best and most resources available. Of course I raised my hand and said something to the effect of, “Dude from the SSA yesterday said that even though I am impaired when I’m upright, I can still use my hands and arms and I’m only 42, so of course I’m going to be denied. Does this seem correct to you, and would you deem needing to lay down flat 20-22 hours a day a ‘reasonable accommodation’ to request of a workplace?” (In other words, can I lay on a hospital gurney while I’m ringing people out as a cashier at Target?) She rolled her eyes and said that she was told a while ago that when dealing with the SSA, never to apply logic, because what they do defies common sense. She also said that one guy was told by the SSA that he should be able to find a livable wage somewhere “folding napkins” because that was all he was capable of. I asked if there was ever any communication between the SSA and her office for them to base their findings off of, and she said absolutely not.
While we were waiting to be picked up by the short bus at the hotel in downtown Minneapolis where the conference was taking place, there were plenty of people partying and women wearing the most ridiculous heels and short skirts because the Twins were playing the Yankees at a home game. One drunk hanging with his two very drunk buddies began to loudly read my shirt, and so rather than roll my eyes and be pissed, I invited him to read the other side of my shirt. His immediate demeanor took on the tone that he was going to make fun of me, but after I gave him a brief history, all he could say was that he was sorry, and he doffed his hat to me.

Through all of this, The Saint Paul weathered some really dry presentations, and probably learned more than he ever wanted to. However, when I met his dad and stepmom for the first time on Sunday night and they began to ask me questions about my health, he answered them exactly as I would have. The Saint Paul really takes all of this to heart in addition to reminding me that we are a team and that I no longer have to do everything on my own. I mean, man, he got me paper towels because he noticed I was running low on his own – he didn’t even have to ask, and I didn’t have to tell him! Forget “don’t sweat the small stuff” because it’s the small stuff that counts!

One of the sessions I wanted him to attend (while I was in listening to a much heavier topic) was about caring for the caregiver. All of the men in my immediate family have had to put their own health and happiness on hold because my mom and sisters have had chronic and severe diseases. The Saint Paul believes he can handle whatever happens to me, but I warned him that things can change suddenly and completely and permanently for either he or I, and even with the best of intentions, it’s absolutely possible that he can be so deeply affected by this unnamed change that he’s going to lose his shit. It’s a lot to ask of one person.

So, back to this anniversary: this is also the day a year ago that my sister and her husband brought home their second rescue dog from Secondhand Hounds and renamed her June. Just recently, June has started to mimic her dog brother and put herself on the floor and position herself for belly rubs, something she never would have been relaxed enough to do a year ago. It’s amazing what thousands of dog treats and a loving family will do.
2016-04-12 21.37.08

Can You Describe It To Me?

This week I’m getting ready to attend the 14th National Conference on Hydrocephalus (http://www.hydrocephalusconference.org/conference-information/conference-fees/) that is happening right here in Minneapolis. I’ve got my t-shirts ready. I’ve got my binder of medical history ready. I’ve got my boyfriend ready. I’ve got my transportation ready. I’ve got the hashtag for Twitter ready (#HACON2016). I’m getting mentally prepared to be upright for 9 or 10 hours for three days in a row (only about three hours for the fourth day because everyone is flying home Sunday). It’s going to be really, really tough, physically and emotionally. I just don’t know what to expect but I’m trying to prepare for every variable.

I’m starting the conference by meeting my attorney for the first time because he’s about five blocks away. He doesn’t know that if I detect laziness from him, or a “can’t do” attitude, I will kick him to the curb. At this point, I cannot be the only person fighting for me. I don’t know if actually seeing me and my physical challenges will change his attitude, but he has not been impressive over the phone so far. I keep getting flashes of Boss Hogg a la “Dukes of Hazzard,” all oily, fat fingers and labored breathing. (I realize I’m being very harsh and am one step closer to Hell. Maybe I’ll see you there?)

Then I’ve got to figure out how to be succinct. My t-shirts do half the battle for me. The weather we are having is both a blessing and a curse for me, because if anyone sees me outside, they will witness me at my worst – my face will be almost completely paralyzed, so that means my eyelids will be mostly closed. However, air conditioning helps with temperature, pressure and humidity, so it will take longer for the pressure to build when I’m inside. When it’s bad, I want to die. It’s not an exaggeration. I have trouble explaining it. It’s not a headache. I associate headaches with dull or shooting or throbbing pain; this is more like my brain is being suffocated and crushed by an elephant sitting on it while my head is submerged underwater. But how can I explain that without it sounding like an outrageous exaggeration? It’s not like I keep elephants in my back pockets to demonstrate to others on the spot what is happening with my body for times like these.

I’m also dealing with my left shoulder and right hip giving me loads of trouble. I babysat my nephews Sunday night while my sister and her husband attended a concert, and I had to block a body shot from my 7-year-old nephew, which made me nearly weep with the pain it stirred up in my shoulder. It hasn’t stopped since. I knew my physical therapist would ask for a number to rate it today. I struggle with the pain scale, because as I pointed out to a fellow blogger, my “7” is someone else’s “21.” My PCP thought I was dealing with an inflamed tendon, but since therapy has not been a steady upward improvement, I may in fact be dealing with tears in the tendons and/or ligaments in my shoulder for laying on it for the first three years of shunt surgeries being done on the center and right side of my body. I’ve got an appointment with an orthopedic doc who only specializes in shoulders a week from today.

But even my crying “10” isn’t my real “10.” I would say that my worst pain has been when the CSF has been overdraining – both after my very first surgery, and then for almost all of 2014 when I had a leak in my shunt but my doctor wouldn’t operate because he wanted to find out which parts I was allergic to. Almost every time I got up, I cried. It really did feel like I was being beaten. I know it’s because my brain was coming to rest on my cranial bones. What would be worse? Read my fellow blogger’s description of her “10.” http://www.thehurtblogger.com/post/15492551756/evaluating-the-1-10-pain-scale
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to try to track down a reduced-rate or free dental clinic that will do three crowns for me. I can’t chew on the left side of my face because I’ve been in so much pain that I’ve been clamping down with my jaw in my sleep and I cracked three teeth on my left side.

Yes, All Women

The thing that gets me is that we women tend to carry these emotional burdens as our own secret parcels until someone else recognizes them. This young woman experiences the rarer form of bodily violation: the stranger rape. Through her letter to her attacker and thanks to the outrage that most of us feel over the stupidly light sentence he received, we have all been made aware of what happened to her that night and at the trial. It was especially difficult for me to read that one of the Swedish men who came upon the attack was so upset that he broke down in tears while giving his statement to the police. It gives me hope that not every man is being raised to be an asshole like the rapist obviously is.

In the bigger picture, nearly every single woman I know has experienced sexual violence. In my late teens, one young woman was raped by my friend; I cut off all communication with him despite his pleas. She chose not to press charges (because who would believe her?). My own first sexual encounter was violent – the guy didn’t believe that I was a virgin because “virgins don’t move like that” and he left me cut and bruised everywhere including my mouth. Over the years, various men have told me what I liked rather than listened to me if I told them they were being too rough or actually scraping or cutting my lady bits, and they would actually press or bite harder. I found out an ex-friend tried to force himself on one of my best friends within the last year and was outright pissed because she threw him out of her house. After all, he has a penis and therefore a right to her body is his line of thinking. How dare she tell him no?

That’s the stuff that’s even more difficult to prove. If that young woman can’t even make a convincing case for why it’s not okay for this asshole to drag her behind a dumpster and violate and mutilate her while she’s unconscious, what can the rest of us do with the men that are in our social circles who violate us?

https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra?utm_term=.eaY45kj6yz#.qrwMXWGNbn

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough: Loving Each Other Better

FROM: AS I LIVE & BREATHE – Nikki Seefeldt, co-host of Sickadilly Chat

I’ve shared some of Megan Devine’s work before here in my blog in the past & I absolutely love her approach to dealing with pain & grief in life. I follow her on Twitter & w…

Source: FOOD FOR THOUGHT:When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough: Loving Each Other Better

The Boyfriend Invasion

The Saint Paul and I have been dating for two and a half months now. Our first date was many hours long, so many that we approximated it to be the equivalent of four dates. We’ve had many dates since then where we’ve had up to fourteen hours together until I’m physically holding my eyelids up with my fingers and he’s stumbling into his shoes to go home. We’ve also fallen into the habit of not going more than three days without seeing each other. But we’ve never had a full-on sleep-over; he’s always gone home.

I live in a historic area of St. Paul, Minnesota, and every year on the first Sunday of June there is a celebration called Grand Old Days that includes music, food vendors, a parade, artists and sports/health vendors. Attendance has been anywhere between 170,000 and 270,000, and attendees can even print a bus pass for certain routes to park and ride to this area for free. It has gotten so large that this year they have expanded the festival to the whole weekend instead of just Sunday. My flat just happens to be right next to one of the sound stages – and I’ve checked the lineup, doesn’t look promising.

Healthy me would have been absolutely thrilled. This is the stuff I used to live for, and it’s right at my front door. But the new me has to come to terms with the fact that I can’t walk a couple of miles or stand for hours to listen to live music or spend money on food and pottery. The thought of trying to navigate throngs of people while my brain is being squeezed and my eyes are drooping gives me extra anxiety. If I’m being completely honest I can whine and say that it’s not fair, but then who in the world can I blame that on?

The Saint Paul has opted to come over Friday night so he can score a parking spot and not have to stress about it after that. We might run out to get a few groceries, which will require us planning out meals for two whole days together, and then he’ll head home Sunday night. He’s going to try to borrow a camp chair for the parade, since I have my own already – we have to stake out a place on the sidewalk along the parade route pretty early in the morning Sunday, because it’s going to get gnarly. We’re fully expecting drunks to be trying to get into my building or to be peeing in our planters or every barfing in every doorway. I’ve heard stories. Non-food businesses are now in the habit of shutting down completely for this festival.

Other things take planning too. I’ve suggested that he bring over his favorite pillow to help him sleep better (because we all know that makes a huge difference when sleeping in unfamiliar territory). Sometimes I wake up coughing because of acid reflux, so I kind of have to be ready to move to my couch (five steps from my bed) if I think I can’t get back to sleep right away. And to hear The Saint Paul tell it, he flops around like a fish when he sleeps, which does not bode well for me, the ultimate light sleeper.

Most importantly, 48 hours together guarantees that there is going to be poo involved. Knowing my GI tract means there’s going to be multiple incidents each day. I have a brand new bottle coming that should be arriving just in time for Friday that is ruby red grapefruit-scented that may prolong my relationship with The Saint Paul. I am telling you, every house should have PooPourri because everyone poops, and no one wants to die by Lysol or any other chemical stuff that you spray in the air that makes it smell like you shit out a pine tree. I cannot say enough good things about this product. Buy it. You spritz it in the toilet bowl before you unload your load, and all is right in the world.

Lastly, most of my lounging and sleeping when I am solo in my flat is done sans hair. My wigs are just not at all comfortable, and wearing them in bed actually wrecks the fibers. So The Saint Paul is going to get a full dose of me au natural, and I have warned him that once I have taken them off in his presence, I will probably lose all motivation to wear them all of the time. I like how I look in them, but they are so damned scratchy and uncomfortable, plus wearing them less will also help me to be able to keep them longer since I have no money coming in. So for your viewing pleasure, here is (a very dirty) Mr. Clean taking your day to a whole different level:

Geneology and Truth

American history isn’t just something we learn about in school—it’s also something we carry in our genes. That’s one insight offered by a new study in PLOS Genetics on how slavery and African-American immigration patterns have shaped the contemporary demographics of the US. The study, which examined the genomes of 3,726 African-Americans, found differences in…

via African-American genes show how slavery and the Great Migration shaped the US — Quartz