Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh, and Brain Damage

Happy Holidays! Froeliche Weihnachten! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa!

What is Santa/Kris Kringle/Krampus/Monito-monita, that crazy, overgrown elf/Viking who has nothing to do with a mythical baby born in a stable bringing you this winter solstice/Christmas/yule?

I already got my gift, but nothing like what the three wise men brought across the desert. At the beginning of November I saw a new neurologist who agreed to give me everything that I seemed to be missing: an upright MRI, a neuro psych test, and keep me on as a patient, as confusing as my case is. Three days after our initial meeting the doctor who administers the neuro psych tests had a cancellation so I didn’t have to wait four months. A neuro psych test is a series of tasks to evaluate my real brain functionality – not just the few words a doctor might ask you to remember a few minutes later, like “pencil,” “dog,” and “purple.” I had to take many different kinds of timed tests, including drawing, making linear connections, making word associations, and answering personality questions. That’s the short version.

I didn’t have any problem with drawing pictures from memory. I was shown simple lines and boxes and then given a blank piece of paper a half hour later and could draw them in sequence perfectly. However, when it came to things like giving a list of words that began with a certain letter in the space of 60 seconds, it was like the bottom of my brain fell out. I could only give four words for the letter “A,” and they were very simple words like “an” and “apple.” There were four letters total, and each letter was a challenge. I can only remember the letter “A” at this point.

There was another exercise where the tester gave me a list of words that included pieces of furniture, animals, and modes of transportation. Every time I repeated the list back, I always tried to give it back in order, I never tried to group everything together in like groups. It never occurred to me. However, if I had full functionality, it probably would have. I also could never remember more than a few words, even though I’m guessing the list was repeated more than 20 times.

They wanted to see how I could do with repeating numbers back, so they started with three numbers, then four, then five. As soon as I got to five, I started struggling. At six, I couldn’t repeat any numbers, not even the last two or three of the group. Again, it was like the bottom of my brain dropped out.

There were many other tests, but in the interest of space and to save some face, I’ll stop there. You get the idea.

A few weeks later when I could meet with the doctor who administered the test, she confirmed what I dreaded hearing but suspected: I have brain damage. Since I’ve never had an evaluation done before there’s nothing to compare it to, but she said she could tell that in some areas my knowledge base and functionality was “superior,” or above the level of a college-educated woman. However, the brain damage affected my memory and speed and speech and brought those areas down to true mental impairment.

A few days ago I went into the office for part II of my follow-up to look at the actual scans of my upright MRI. My MRI did not look good.

normalventricles

Above is a progressive MRI scan of a brain (not mine), moving down from top to bottom. As you move further down, you notice that the part in the middle gets larger and darker; that’s the ventricles. They are the four chambers that are the gold standard for figuring out if there’s a problem with CSF in the brain. This is what normal looks like.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any ventricles left. All of them have collapsed. My brain is pressing on the brain stem and I’m having all kinds of unusual problems, like my legs suddenly jerking if I’m standing and I look down briefly. Of course I have the problems I’ve always had, like the vertigo and the fatigue, and that pesky facial droop and ptosis (pronounced “toe-sis”). My new neurologist insisted that the disappearance of my ventricles must mean that I’m overdraining, but I knew that I must be suffering from Slit Ventricle Syndrome, and it means just the opposite – the pressure is crushing my brain.

UCLA has a pretty good explanation of Slit Ventricle Syndrome. I’m 100% certain that my shunt is “nearly blocked but barely flowing.” I always, always feel like my intracranial pressure is extremely high. It’s exhausting. So for now, it looks like I have Slit Ventricle Syndrome, and I’m not sure if this would have been picked up before this point – at least not two or three years ago, even though the symptoms are the same. I don’t recall that my ventricles have looked this horrific in all of my 20+ prior MRIs.

Also troubling is trouble brewing at the back of my skull. In 2013 I had two cisternoperitoneal shunts placed when my neurosurgeon was trying to find anything, anything, that my body wouldn’t reject. After we removed those and I ended up with a ventriculoperitoneal shunt, he barely got the old one out after a lot of scraping and pulling because of the scar tissue that had built up along the tract. A surgery that should have been an hour and a half turned into five hours and I was left with a huge highway of bruising from my head to my abdomen.

Unfortunately, he thought that it wasn’t detrimental to leave scar tissue in my head, and in fact may help to plug the burr hole where he drilled for surgery so I wouldn’t have any leaks. I knew what it was like to have a CSF leak; 2014 was incredibly painful when I had a leaking shunt for that whole year. The scar tissue has been increasing in diameter and it’s now growing like a tumor. From what I can tell it’s about the size of a quarter, and it’s pressing on the area of the brain that deals with memory and speech. It’s actually a long rope but it’s got a huge bulb, and if I press on the burr hole, it yanks on the area it’s attached to right behind my ear.

In plain English: My brain is being crushed. My shunt isn’t working. I’m growing my own tumor that was started by my scar tissue.

My challenge is that I’m allergic to the shunt materials. Also, now that the scar tissue is turning into a growing tumor, can we take it out without creating a leak, and when we pull it out, will the area it’s damaging have permanent damage or will it heal?

Also, can I fucking qualify for disability now? Everything that I’m reading about Slit Ventricle Syndrome says that it’s a permanent condition – there’s no going back.

Within the next few weeks (because of the holidays messing everything up) I’ll find out when I can get in with the best neurosurgeon in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. He came highly recommended by other hydrocephalus patients when I attended the hydrocephalus conference including the mother of Olivia, the young woman who had 123 surgeries since birth and who is now aged 20.

I am also in the process of finding an occupational therapist for an evaluation that can be included in my records for my attorney and disability case.

I’m going to share the most personal thing I possibly can and have up to this point, because some of you may doubt how much this has affected me because I have created coping mechanisms. It has taken me two full days to write this post and writing even the simplest words is sometimes a struggle. But the hardest thing for me to do to date was to send out holiday cards. At one point I had to stop writing for about a half hour because I broke down in tears. Hand writing words without the benefit of being able to go back and erase them and rewrite them like I do in the computer almost caused me a panic attack because I could no longer remember how to write even single-syllable words. For the people who did get cards, there was a lot more crossing out and scribbling than I would have liked. Maybe you noticed that I started to write an “E” where there should have been an “L” first. Sometimes I couldn’t even remember how to write my own name correctly – I would skip letters.

I don’t have all of the answers. I still – STILL – don’t know what’s causing the imbalance with the CSF in my brain. I don’t know if taking out the scar tissue/tumor is going to alleviate the memory and speed problems. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to tolerate an appliance in my body. I definitely don’t want to hear, “But you look fine!” or “Have you tried _____?”

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New News

First and foremost, my friend Nicole (Nikki) Seefeldt finally got her lungs on December 2nd after a very long listing. Hers was the very first blog that I followed here on WordPress, and she suffers from not one, but two, rare diseases. Her listing for new lungs was much longer than she anticipated but she did not let that deter her from staying on course with her exercising to make sure that her recovery got off to the best start possible. Please, if you have no medical reason that your tissue or organs would be rejected, sign up to be a donor. All of my friends who have been organ recipients are eternally grateful.

Please check out her blog and progress here: As I Live & Breathe

Second, I was considering traveling to Washington D.C. in February to participate in their Rare Disease Week to learn how to effectively communicate with lawmakers. I applied for a travel grant and was participating in a large conference call where we were going over the details of the week and what would be awarded if we got the nod on our travel scholarships when the woman running the call received a notification that the Senate passed the bill for the 21st Century Cures. A week prior the bill had passed through the House. While we were on the call, she had started crying and then had to explain that it had taken two years to get the bill to pass – and with very little resistance from either major political party. The bill passed in the Senate with only five opposed. She then stated that President Obama indicated that if the House and the Senate passed the bill, he would absolutely sign the bill into law, with no hesitation.

Global Genes has published an article and hosted a podcast with me as a guest in the past. They are also the major partner in the rare disease week in February in D.C. that I may or may not attend – I may not be able to handle the grueling travel and having to be upright. But they have been fantastic about getting the word out about this bill and about keeping all of us connected in the rare disease world.

A lot of rare diseases are diagnosed during childhood, as is what happened with Nikki. However, I have rare diseases that haven’t been recognized until adulthood, and even one that we’re still not sure of. Some children don’t survive to adulthood. All of us have a better chance at a quality life if we have medications and treatments that don’t require a decade of testing before they are approved. There is no reason for us to stop advancing science to find answers. We will never run out of discoveries.  

No. Oh, Wait…Oh, That’s a Definite No.

Of course it’s been a while since I’ve logged on to OKCupid, but there are some guys who don’t pay attention to that and just like my pictures or check out my profile without looking at the last time I’ve logged in. I will admit that even I’ve been excited about a profile and then noticed too late that it’s been a month or three since the guy has logged in, signaling either 1) He found someone, or 2) He gave up, or 3) He’s in jail. I got a little notification in my email with a note from the guy saying, “I do have a German shepherd and a Siamese – otherwise I’m clean- list-wise”

I’ve heard this before. I logged in. We were a whopping 43% of a match. I looked over his profile, and the very first thing I saw is that he’s Christian, and it’s somewhat important. What did I specify in my profile? I won’t date someone who participates in organized religion. Why not? Because I’m not waiting to be saved or led or subjugated. I can lead a morally upright life without religion. I can lead a spiritually aware life without religion.

Some other tidbits from his profile: He admits he drinks regularly (at least 4-5 nights a week), he really, really wants to fuck anything that moves, and he’s a Dom. A little more from his questions: He doesn’t want women to have “too high self-esteem; he wants to date a slut; he would prefer to date only in his race; jealousy is healthy; he could be in an open relationship; he’s just looking for sex for the next few months.”

I started with the easiest one, and replied that we wouldn’t be a match because he has listed himself as a Christian and that it’s important to him.

His response: Really? I’m a barely attending Lutheran with doubts. And what is with intolerant people on all sides of the spectrum- Good luck with your godless utopia
Me: Since your profile says that you’re Christian and you’re getting pissy that I pointed it out, I’d say it’s pretty important to you. And since you’re offended that I don’t believe in organized religion, I’d say we’re not a match.

I didn’t even have to take it any further than that because he blocked me and so I blocked him (sometimes these jackwads come back later when they are drunk and looking for spank bank material). But really, he’s “questioning” his faith because he really, really wants to fuck around and he doesn’t want to feel guilty about it. It was such a weak insult to throw at me – “godless utopia”??? That’s only a horror to someone who believes it’s the worst kind of hell a soul can suffer. If he wasn’t strong in his faith, he wouldn’t have written it. I guarantee you he’s still trying to work out how to give himself blow jobs.

This is a Test

Another chronic illness blogger has been kind enough to let a bunch of us tell our stories on her site, and late last week my most up-to-date info was included. She has indicated that she may discontinue the series if she no longer has parties interested in being part of the project, but there are so many of us out there that I would be surprised if the well ever dried up.

From This Point. Forward.

Today was a really big day in my little alien world. I finally got the upright MRI that I’ve been asking for for 6.5 years. In all of the 56 doctors that I’ve seen, it has only been the most recent neurologist who hasn’t fought me on my request and put the order in.

So I got strapped into a chair and a cage was lowered over my head and screwed into place like I was Hannibal Lector. Like I was ready for some football and to call out some huts! I was sandwiched and squished between two huge, white panels, a bar propped between the panels for my hands and then one lower for feet to rest on to make my very own roller coaster ride more comfortable.

A couple of times the tech buzzed in and said, “I’m picking up movement. Try to keep very still.” I had explained to her that I sometimes have trouble with tremors in my neck when we were going over the questionnaire, but maybe she’s heard that line before and doesn’t think it’s important to remember. I breathe with my diaphragm, so at a break between segments, I moved my arms as far away from my torso as far as the sandwich bread slices would allow me – that way there was less of a chance that my smushed arms would move my head when I breathed.

The tech had given me the option of tilting the chair back at 30-45 degrees, but I explained that it would compromise what we are trying to catch on imaging, so I had to stay completely upright. The MRI takes about 40-45 minutes, and to make sure the pressure in my skull was really high, I exercised my arms for about five minutes both before the cab picked me up, and then again when I changed my clothes. All I have to do is mimic the bicycle motion with my arms like what I do in PT and I nearly go completely blind from the pressure in my skull. This is why I can’t exercise. I would probably give myself seizures.

At the end of it when I was extricated from the face trap/sandwich boards, I got up to walk and ended up stumbling around like a cat coming off of anesthesia. I had to have a lot of assistance to walk back to the room where my cane was waiting for me. I might have said, “No, I don’t need a fucking walker.” This scan had better not let me down.

My 2016 Birthday Prayer

I encourage you to read this.

I encourage you to watch the documentary “The 13th” on Netflix.

I encourage you to think about how little training the police have to deal with such things as a mental health crisis, or domestic violence, or race relations. I encourage you to think about how much our prison systems are set up in the U.S. only for profit as a rule and not as the exception. I encourage you to expect accountability from police, from doctors, from mental health facilities who are tasked with caring for patients with a variety of diagnoses. I encourage you to think about how every person is different and there is no textbook, across-the-board answer.

I encourage you to think of every person as having value.
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

ADD . . . and-so-much-more

Today is my birthday
but, awakening from a nightmare,
I’m not feeling very happy right now

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

First, my birthday prayer:

The personal story behind both the prayer and my recurring nightmares follows below.

PLEASE God, we seriously need to upgrade the health-care system in this country. We need a clean sweep of the Mammon-worshipping insurance industry, God, clearing out everyone who is getting rich off the health challenges of the citizens of this country.

Please make everyone aware that, most importantly, we desperately need to FIX America’s woefully inadequate mental health care system, as we vastly improve mental health awareness in the entire country – including empathy for the poor, the homeless and every single one of our veterans.

Lay it on the heart of every single American with breath enough to speak, God. Let them know it like *I* know it…

View original post 1,978 more words

The Ballad of the Broken Neighbors

“FUCK. FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK! SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP! FUCK YOU!”

It first came on Sunday night, a man’s voice, from the direction of my windows to my right. I had my ear buds in and had been laying in bed, watching movies, as usual. My first thought was that a guy was watching a sporting event and was just generally being a dick and being really passionate about a goal that was scored.

But then I heard a much softer female tone answer. I could tell she was in tears but I couldn’t make out what she said. Then he again exploded: “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Then he punched something, hard, multiple times. It may have been the wall, or it may have been a piece of furniture, but I don’t think it was her. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I got out of bed. This building is old, built somewhere around 1910, and the floors are the original wood. They creak with every step I take no matter how quiet I try to be.

I went to the kitchen, and it seemed to be slightly louder. I could hear them both. I have a very tiny apartment, only 360 square feet, and much of the wall space is covered with art, so it was really difficult for me to find any blank wall to put my ear to. By the time I did, they had stopped. I hovered for a while but everything stayed quiet. I slowly walked back to bed, wondering if they were truly done.

At around 12:30 a.m., there was another outburst. “FUCK! FUCK YOU! STOP IT! JUST STOP IT! JUST SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP! FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!” More crying from her, and words, but I still couldn’t hear what she was saying. I got up and they stopped. I got into bed again and wondered when they moved in, because I hadn’t heard anything like it before from that space below me.

At around 9:00 the next morning, the yelling started again. I got out of bed and laid down on my floor so I could put my ear to the floor boards. I could hear them walking around, I could hear the air moving between their bodies and their ceiling/my floor, I could even hear them making holes somewhere close to me – maybe to hang electronics, or pictures? I felt like I was in a movie, where the cinematographer shows how close one character is to the other, and all that is separating them is one flimsy piece of board. I wondered if they could hear me breathing. I tried to hold my breath.

I heard him say, “Why do you always fucking do this?!” and I know that she answered because I heard her voice, but it was still too quiet and tearful to make out the words. Then it was silent except for their bodies moving, and the periodic pounding into the plaster. After about 15 minutes I got up from my place on the floor because it was becoming far too painful to maintain, and I started getting ready for my caseworker to visit. As soon as I did, the yelling started again.

When my caseworker arrived at around 1:30 p.m., I warned her that the couple in the apartment below mine had been fighting, and she would likely hear it. About three minutes later, we heard the guy again, just as loudly as all of his other rants. He never seemed to tire. I imagined that the woman was exhausted.

His rage continued for a total of 15 hours on Monday. He hit something again too. I still don’t think it was her, but it set me on edge. The last screaming rant was around 12:30 a.m. again; I had my ear buds in watching my final movie of the night trying to get tired enough to sleep and his screaming penetrated the ear buds.

For the next two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, he had screaming fits again, but not for the 15 hours that he did on Monday. On Wednesday I typed up a text to forward to the property manager but at the last second deleted it. Then an hour later, a notice was slipped under my door saying that we were getting completely new apartment managers (our 7th and 8th in a year and a half), and to be patient during the transition. That’s why my instincts wouldn’t allow me to text the now-fired old manager!

Today at lunch I took a chance and stopped by the office, which is located directly across from the new tenants’ apartment. I pulled the door shut, introduced myself, and told the new managers that I heard abusive behavior from the male tenant of the two. The new managers said that maybe the guy was just watching a game or playing XBox. I said that was bullshit, and that the woman had been crying. Then one of the managers said that yes, she had seen the woman crying. Then they said they didn’t see any marks on the woman’s face. I told them that didn’t mean anything, and by the way, women don’t cry over scores that men get while playing XBox. They said that I could always call the cops if I needed to. I am fine with that – and I will, do not doubt that – but here’s my problem: I have to actually do things to get ready to get to the front door to let the cops in that people who are able-bodied don’t think twice about. We have a secured front door without an intercom. Plus I am the only apartment within close proximity of the asshole, they don’t touch walls with anyone else (even though my next door neighbor heard him shout once), so when I report him, he’s going to come after me.

The new managers assured me they would talk to the new tenants. I went back to my apartment and laid down, and then someone started banging on my door and buzzing the ancient doorbell. I had to say “Just a minute!” more than a few times to get them to stop. After putting my wig back on, I opened the door to discover one of the managers there; she apologized and said she should have called instead of knocked, but then said that the woman said the man was playing with his XBox. I told the manager that that was absolute bullshit. The manager said that if I felt like the new neighbor was disturbing the peace, I was certainly welcome to call the cops, but she had to accept what the woman told her. I asked her if the woman came up with the XBox explanation on her own, or if the manager gave her that option as a possible “out,” and she couldn’t tell me.

So at this point, it’s me against the neighbors. Why do women stay? They just want the abuse to stop. They want their men to value them and to see how much they love them. They want their love to be enough to fix them. They don’t want to get their men in trouble. They need their men for financial support. I run the risk of both of them turning against me when I pick up the phone.

You had better believe I’m going to call it in.