Take A Left At The Last Resort

There is a young woman who lives in my current city who has had over 140 shunt-related surgeries since birth, and she’s 20 years old now. She doesn’t have the same condition as me – no one does. But I was lucky enough to meet her and her mom at the hydrocephalus conference last year and I’ve been following her progress. Within the last week she took a turn for the worse according to the updates her mom posts for everyone; this patient is allergic to nearly all antibiotics that have been created, and she’s developed an infection.

It’s especially dangerous because our shunts provide a direct path for bacteria to travel to our brains. Our shared challenge is that neither of us can get a shunt that is coated in antibiotics because we’re so allergic to a wide spectrum of them that it could kill us.

Doctors in this city had suggested that the patient could get a treatment that would somehow desensitize her to this wide spectrum of antibiotics in a city that is about an hour and a half from where we live. Her mom made the appointment and asked lots of questions, and she was told that it would take about six hours in the clinic, and her daughter would be cured. She started to have some nagging doubts despite being referred with confidence by her daughter’s trusted neurosurgeon. Doctors across the country were too scared to do this in a hospital ICU, but this doctor in a city of 65,000 could do it in 6 hours in a clinic? Her mom consulted with doctors in Boston as well as Johns Hopkins and cancelled the appointment. Everyone was of the opinion that her daughter would simply die at the clinic. She already can’t get another surgery unless she’s near death and unresponsive because her scalp is the consistency of tissue paper from all of the surgeries she’s had.

But now what? Cancelling the appointment may have saved her life, but no one really has a good idea for the next step.

I get that question all of the time: What’s next? If. I. Only. Fucking. Knew.

First: Everyone asks me what I have. I’m pretty sure I figured it out, and the doctors that I have most recently presented the theory to have agreed that it’s a solid theory, but there’s no real way to confirm it (though my Phoenix neurosurgeon suggested exploratory brain surgery in 2013 when he discovered my toughened membranes in my brain – no joke). So I still have to say that the doctors don’t really know (but I’m never wrong).

Second: After I say that the doctors can’t be sure, the response I get is, “Yeah, but what is it called?” So………………I don’t know is called “I don’t know.”

Third: The next question is always, “Is this going to kill you?” Now, I’m going to be Captain Obvious here. If no one has ever seen this before, and we don’t know what it’s called, then how could I possibly know if it’s going to kill me? My educated guess is that if my scar tissue continues to grow and take over my brain, I’m fucked. The tissue around the shunt and scar tissue that is turning gelatinous isn’t going to reverse; it will always stay that way.

What would you do if you were the 20-year-old patient and allergic to all but one of the antibiotics available in the U.S., and you had a systemic infection, and you knew that if you took another round, you could lose your ability to take any antibiotics for the rest of your life? And if the infection reached your shunt, you knew it could go straight to your brain and kill you?

What would you do if you had a mystery disease that paralyzed your face, made you walk and talk funny, and stumped over 60 doctors and it took away your life and livelihood? And what would you do if you had almost all of the doctors refuse to take you on as a patient because they don’t understand what is happening or they see no point in trying to help?

 

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The Tender Trap Of The Gender Gap

I received three letters in three separate envelopes from the state medical board. I tore the first one open; a single page with the name of the respondent at the top and an official signature at the bottom. “Dear Miss: We are writing to inform you that your claim will not proceed because there is not sufficient evidence…

What the board was telling me is that my claim against three doctors is being denied. They saw my facial droop, my staggering walk, my shaking legs, heard my stilted speech, and then saw it go away when I tilted my head to manipulate the CSF in my cranium, and they wrote in my medical records that I was making it all up. It took me close to a year to get the correct testing after that. When I had everything together, I bundled it and sent it to the state including the disc with my complete MRI showing my brain had collapsed. I sent documentation from my previous surgeries. I outlined how their notes directly affected my life – both by delaying my care, and because I was denied by the Undiagnosed Diseases Network based on their notes.

The only conclusion that I can possibly come up with is that I’m a woman. Who could believe me? Why not attach a hinge to my cranium so I can flip my lid open for everyone to see, and then maybe, maybe, they will consider the notion that I’m telling the truth?

The irony is that this very place where these doctors work tweeted an article today about how there’s such a big gap in women being tested in healthcare trials, and how there’s still a huge gender bias against women when it comes to our symptoms being recognized and validated. THIS EVEN HAPPENS IN LAB RATS. So they are willing to admit it happens,

but

not willing to admit it happens with them.

Here’s another article that speaks directly to the phenomenon of being a woman in the healthcare system. Women are “emotional” and therefore shouldn’t be believed. By the way, female doctors can be just as unforgiving as male doctors.

I’m going to take a little time out to compare and contrast. I have a male family member who had rotator cuff surgery when he was a teenager, at least 13 years ago. He just had to have an EMG of his arms and possibly legs. I was explaining to him what to expect since his doctor’s office didn’t do a very good job. Let me emphasize that there’s a 13-year span between those two medical events. Yes, recovery from rotator cuff surgery isn’t pleasant, and an EMG isn’t pleasant.

In comparison, I’ve had 10 brain surgeries, 12 abdominal surgeries, 4 infections cut out, 7 crowns, 10 spinal taps, 2 EMGs (including my face), a year-long CSF leak, and a spinal blood patch in a 7-year period. For a lot of these I couldn’t have Lidocain because my body doesn’t metabolize it, and it’s the same for morphine. So every time I was poked or sliced or stitched, I felt it. I also tore the capsule and the tendon in three places in my left shoulder (but couldn’t get surgery because of all of the scar tissue I make). I’m also horribly allergic to my shunt that is still implanted and runs from my brain to my abdomen, so I constantly feel like I am being stabbed in my lower abdomen.

This male relative’s doctors immediately jumped at the first sign of his trouble. The help he has received is in stark contrast to how I have been treated, which is to be called a liar and to be treated as a hysterical woman. He was also considerably nervous about the EMG. I tried to reassure him that if he could get through rotator cuff surgery, the EMG would be much easier. Seriously, I would trade that CSF leak with just about anything. An EMG is a walk in the park.

So, what exactly do women have to do to “prove that they are in as much pain as men”? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Moving Past PTSD triggers

PTSD is a many-layered…affliction? phenomenon? illness? hurdle? I’m not even quite sure which adjective I want to insert here. I understand that it’s not a single event. It’s been rolling around and building up like some terrible snowman, and getting the diagnosis was simply the carrot nose and coal smile for me. The healing process has been nearly impossible to initiate because I’m having such a difficult time with finding doctors who will treat me in Minnesota (without writing such things as “Munchausen’s” in my charts); plus from November until the end of July I was dealing with a violent male neighbor who screamed and beat his wife and their cat on a daily basis. After numerous calls to the police department and fighting with the apartment managers – who were trying to force me to move, and were claiming that I was making everything up about the neighbor – the guy suddenly vacated his apartment. My stress level immediately reduced considerably. I’m happy to report that just a few days ago I managed to land a new doctor who is happy to help and cheerful to boot, and he’ll be essential when it comes to trying to control my mast cell activation syndrome issues (except for the brain/neurological problems – I still desperately need a neurologist and neurosurgeon). This does not mean that all of my PTSD symptoms are magically resolved. I wish!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

ADD . . . and-so-much-more

Do we ever really heal from trauma?
What does “healing” really mean?

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
adding to the Habits, Memory, EF, and PTSD Series

Responding to a comment

Right after I published the second part of one of my PTSD Awareness articles, author and blogger Chuck Jackson posted a comment that asked a question I couldn’t  answer at length in the comment format.

Do you ever recover fully from PTSD?

Chuck went on to add some context to his question:

Looking at your list of symptoms (mental and physical), if I was honest with myself, I would still mark yes to over fifty percent.

The majority of the time, I live a happy and enjoyable life. It is only during periods of anxiety or prolonged depression, do these symptoms raise their dirty head.

They are not debilitating, just very annoying.

So, for…

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