Send Up The Flares

It has been a really long time since I’ve logged into my FetLife profile. I didn’t realize it, but I had three messages waiting for me – one from about two months ago, another from four months ago, and the third from a full year prior. The one from a year ago I let slide. I mean, I did put in my profile that I don’t log on and that I’m going through a health crisis, and I can’t “play” in any way, shape or form. I did make a small adjustment to my profile, which alerted my friends and RELEASED THE KRACKEN.

One former spank party friend wished me well and told me that he had heard I moved to California. I replied that that wasn’t the case, I’m actually in Minnesota, taking care of some serious stuff. Then the guy who sent me a message four months ago hit me up again, this time with his instant message name and phone number. I replied that I was not looking to do ANYTHING, but that didn’t deter him; he said he would be willing to “give me a massage if I needed it.” Um, right, do bedridden women usually fall for that?

Then another guy whom I’ve played with at spank parties in Arizona hit me up to let me know he was actually currently in my city for work, and was I interested in getting together for a session? I groaned. This guy…he’s very, very, VERY focused on his kink. I like to have fun. It’s not the be-all, end-all thing for me. He carries a backpack with all of his tools. He actually has two pictures of me (not showing my face, only my red ass) on his profile. He’s totally into role playing, having me stand in the corner, punishment, the whole bit.

So I turned him down, because there is no fucking way I can do anything, including hang upside down, or put my stomach over his knees. The thought makes me cringe. I would be walking like a cat just getting out of anesthesia. And it would be painful, and not in a good way. So he asked me if I could be his chat buddy while he’s traveling for work: talk to him about discipline, spanking, corner time, paddling, etc. I’m rolling this around in my head, and first of all, this requires research. And time. And creativity. Probably some motherfucking Skype. A hairbrush (because wouldn’t you know it, I’m bald). It’s all I can do to peel myself out of bed to make food for dinner every day, and this guy wants me to put a lot of effort into keeping him happy and satisfied.

It takes a lot of effort to turn him down and I know I’m going to have to repeat myself. It’s not my first time. And there it is: “I’m traveling a lot and I don’t get the opportunity to do what I need to do.” So I have to drive it home for him: I’ve got serious stuff going on, I’ve got scar tissue in my brain and I have to lay flat 20-22 hours every day, I’m in pain, I can’t get another operation right now. His reply: “Okay, just know that you’re missed.” BTW, he has a wife and two little children at home. She knows about his kink and his attendance at the spank parties; I don’t know what else she knows because the travel job is news to me – but then again, we were never close.

This is also not the first time I’ve had to turn him down since I started having shunt failures. His kink always comes first. It’s fucking exhausting, man. But if y’all are interested in a pen pal, hit me up.

In other news, for about three weeks I’ve been dealing with persistent hives on a daily basis. I wasn’t quite sure what to do because of losing my rare disease doctor. However, I received a message from him this morning indicating that he put a script through to the compounding pharmacy for me that will (hopefully) help with my hives as a sort of last hurrah while I try to find another doctor. I also got the names of two doctors in the area who would be willing to communicate with him. The problem is that one is old as dirt and so probably won’t be practicing much longer, and the other one isn’t much younger and has a bad reputation for being a raging bitch. I need to sacrifice a chicken and do a dance around a fire or something.

Also today, I received a call back from the neurosurgeon’s office whom I originally saw two years ago when I relocated here from Phoenix. I called him as a last-ditch effort to try to be seen by him or someone else in the practice and get away from my current neurologist. She has been telling me that I don’t understand my symptoms – kind of along the same lines of telling me that even though I stubbed my toe, it’s really my nose that is hurting, ridiculous like that. So this neurosurgeon was kind enough to order a repeat lumbar puncture, which I’ve been begging for since December 2016. The lumbar puncture he ordered is “high volume,” meaning they will take at least four vials of cerebrospinal fluid. They will measure the opening pressure (like you would when you check the pressure on your vehicle’s tires) and then they will send the vials of fluid for testing of the proteins and check for bacteria. Getting this done will also relieve my symptoms for a few hours. He also agreed with me on my choice of neurologists within his group. 

My current neurologist’s justification for not ordering a current LP is this: Usually slit ventricles means that you are overdraining. I pointed out to her that my shunt failed 17 days after surgery in 2015 so I’ve got high pressure, and she witnessed my shunt opening up for about 30 seconds during my last appointment, and my paralysis went away, then came back. Then we read scientific journal articles together about adults with slit ventricles and shunt failures and symptoms. Then she said it only happened to some adults. I asked her why I couldn’t be included in that “some.” She told me it didn’t count because I wasn’t throwing up, I was only nauseated.

Fuck that. Spinal tap, here I come. 

Back To Life, Back To Reality

I had the pleasure of planning my arts high school’s 25th reunion for my classmates. It’s difficult to explain, but our school was unlike any other that most people have attended. It’s a public school and we came from all over the state of Minnesota, we had to audition or submit portfolios as well as letters of recommendation, we lived on campus like a college, and we created life-long friendships (most of us). I’m not saying it was without flaws. But going to college was a complete let-down because we already did it all, and our skills were senior level when we went to our respective schools post-high school.

19453172_10154458922161260_4730874156490643839_o

The reunion officially lasted nine hours. We started with performances, some dancing, I handed out random door prizes (which included ramen, Pop Tarts or macaroni and cheese plus sticks of margarine but NOT milk – because we never had milk; also Nerf guns, and cassette tapes such as Crash Test Dummies, The Sundays, REM, M.C. Hammer, Bullet Boys, anything that would have been released by 1992). Then we headed over to a pub that served microbrews and sausages where whomever couldn’t make it to the portion at school hung out with us there. We were officially done at 10 pm, but some people wanted to keep partying, so they went back to one couple’s hotel room and kept it going until 4 am. I didn’t – I was toast.

(By the way, the picture with the classmates trying to pull open the doors is something I didn’t find out about until later. They were giving themselves a tour, not realizing that they locked themselves in an area and they would have to wait for someone to randomly walk by and let them out.)

Our turnout was excellent. My classmates are literally scattered around the U.S. and the globe. I haven’t lived in Minnesota for 20 years and would have been counted as an out-of-towner if I hadn’t been forced to move back because of my circumstances. I know that I have classmates in Sweden, South Africa, the UK and France for sure, but I’m also sure that I’m missing some places. So to have this many show up is considered a small victory. And everyone was helpful, mostly sober and didn’t want to leave.

When I was attending school here, my major was theater (located directly to the right of the dancing space where everyone is slapping hands and their shoes are off). I discovered there that I had a natural affinity for organization and detail. So that was the reason that I gave everyone for wanting to organize the 25th reunion.

But I had an ulterior motive.  Two years ago, and even continuing through to today, a lot of the classmates that traveled back for the reunion (either by driving or flying) have helped me. When I relocated from Phoenix to St. Paul, they contributed to a fund. Sometimes they organize and send me gifts. A lot of them have their own hardships to worry about, so I appreciate their contributions even more for that reason. So the fact that I could work out every damn detail for them and all they had to do is show up was great – and even better that they all had a really great time and didn’t want to leave. 

Unfortunately, I did have to ask for some work from a few of them, but being the wonderful people that they are, they stepped up and said of course, and blew the rest of us away. The school was under great scrutiny and was nearly closed, and I had gone to all of the state senators and representatives, asking them to come to about an hour and a half of our reunion to meet us to see what had become of one of the first graduating classes from this school. One of the representatives, Mike Freiberg, happened to be a classically trained pianist and agreed to accompany our opera singer – and wow! It was fantastic! In all, we had two writers, a violinist, an opera singer, and a dance instructor.

Pictured below is an example of many of the lockers – students are allowed to paint them however they choose. Also, the woman in the phone booth is one of the readers from the performances. The phone booth is an infamous one; it was down the road from us and is from before the advent of cell phones, and we all used to walk down the road to use it when we wanted privacy. 


So for the week after the reunion, I stayed in bed. It was totally worth it. I love these people. Some of them I’m lucky enough to see frequently, and some I suppose I’ll have to wait another 25 years to see, but we know we had a unique experience and kinda feel sorry for people who had to drag through regular schools. We had a completely amazing experience for our junior and senior years.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Today, I had a doctor’s appointment for an outpatient surgical procedure. I’m not going to go into detail for what it was. I was just dreading it. So I got the usual notification from the cab company that the driver was on his way, and then I got a notification that he was outside. So I went out. He wasn’t out there. Sometimes it happens that the notification comes about 60 seconds before the cab. I wasn’t alarmed.

However, after waiting for about 12 minutes, the cab still didn’t show. Today the temp was 91 degrees Farenheit, and Minnesota is humid this time of year. Also a problem: My high-rent building’s front door was vandalized, so I can’t actually get in with my key. If I want to enter the building, I have to walk around to the back, which is the equivalent of walking the length of a city block because the spaces between the buildings are fenced and locked off. I also had no idea when this cab was going to show. So I called the cab company.

They claimed he was five minutes away. I have a GPS tracking map and he hadn’t moved. I explained that the heat makes my condition worse. I also can’t go back inside because I can’t go in the front. They told me to just wait. This is what happens to me because the cerebrospinal fluid builds up in my cranium because my shunt hasn’t worked for two years:

20170706_152454
Many times my facial droop has been mistaken for myasthenia gravis. I can assure you that I do not have that. I can actually slosh my CSF around, and when I tilt my head parallel to the floor, the paralysis goes away within seconds. Also, my face is not swollen. The muscles on the left have relaxed because they are paralyzed.

I was actually stuck out in the heat for a total of 35 minutes. When the driver finally got there, he first tried to force me to cross the road to him. I can’t see very well like this – this is as far as my eyes will open. When he finally came to my side of the road, he parked up the street so I had to walk to him, even though there were spots open in front of me. When I got in the car, I asked him to turn on the air conditioning. He told me I had to wait until he “got going.”

20170706_152912
When he finally did turn on the a/c, it was at the lowest setting to spite me. I had to tip over in the back seat to take the pressure off of my head, which at that point was absolutely unbearable.

When I got to my appointment, they took me back to the exam room and got me on the table. However, I wasn’t doing so well. The nurse and the PA both said I looked grey and the PA reclined the table while the nurse ran to get me some sugary drink. I whipped off my wig and they slapped wet cloths on my neck and head. I could tell my pulse was all over the place, but I knew this wasn’t a blood sugar problem – those feel completely different to me. [I am getting checked for POTS next month.] When I got up from the table, I saw that I had completely soaked through the paper with my sweat, which was disgusting, but they said it was an obvious sign that I was in distress. We made sure everything had returned to normal and we got on with it.

I absolutely wrote up a complaint to the cab company, with details and times. They have a contract with my insurance company, and if this driver can’t handle medical rides, he shouldn’t get them. Period. 

Retrain My Brain – Gupta Amygdala Retraining Programme Review

People often ask me just what it is that I do with all of my time now that I’m stuck in bed. I love writing and I count myself lucky to have been included in the Chronic Illness Bloggers network, and given many opportunities to try products I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I have been given this product as part of a product review 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.

This particular series, The Gupta Amygdala Retraining Programme, is being offered by a doctor who was laid low by chronic fatigue syndrome (which I will shorten to the commonly known acronym CFS), which is also referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (the acronym ME for short). The Centers for Disease Control states: “CFS is a debilitating and complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity. Symptoms affect several body systems and may include weakness, muscle pain, impaired memory and/or mental concentration, and insomnia, which can result in reduced participation in daily activities.” (https://www.cdc.gov/cfs/) The CDC also indicates on their site that despite trying their best to figure out what triggers CFS, they haven’t pinpointed the cause. It could be a number of infections, it could be autoimmune related, it could be something in the central nervous system; they’re just not certain.

I was given this program because I have fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia shares some of the CFS/ME qualities – mainly crushing fatigue and pain that does not go away with a good night’s sleep. Dealing with constant pain and fatigue also changes your brain and your outlook, affecting the way that you interact with the people around you, as well as your ability to handle your own sickness, or wellness, as it were.

The very first thing I noticed when I opened up my packet was this map from Dr. Gupta.
20170522_092902If you can’t tell, this piece is quite large and almost covers my entire area rug. As we found out, it is an interactive practice piece that you actually stand on and use to help retrain your brain to stop negative thinking.

The other items included in the package were a workbook and a set of audio and video DVDs.
20170522_093415
I was signed up for weekly interactive web meetings as well. In our first meeting, we were introduced to Dr. Gupta, and informed that the web meetings were actually the most important part of the program, and that the DVDs, workbook and practice poster were supporting materials.

The web meetings were 12 weeks long total, so it is quite a commitment if you decide to join the program. And there is a lot of material to cover. However, if you think about it, some of us have been sick for years. I’ve been sick for two decades. 12 weeks is really a drop in the bucket. It’s just a matter of adjusting your schedule and making room, just as you would for a physical workout program. You want to lose the weight? You do an hour at the gym. You want to lose the disease? You do a few hours a week at the Gupta program. 

So what is amygdala retraining? Basically, it’s to stop the negative feedback loop so you can start healing. Your body feels bad, so your mind gets stuck thinking, “I’m not good enough, I don’t don’t deserve friends if I’m going to bring them down, I don’t deserve love, I’m a terrible person, I’m a loser, I can’t do anything right, I hate my body, I’m going to stay sick forever,” etc. If you can get rid of that negative feedback, you can also retrain your brain to start a positive flow of thoughts, including, “I will allow my body to relax, I will feel comfort, I will smile, I’m choosing health and happiness, I trust myself.”

And back to that interactive poster that’s on the ground: That’s the “Stop! Stop! Stop!” technique that Dr. Gupta often refers to as part of the retraining. He encouraged us through the course of the initial training to actually follow the steps on the poster: think the negative thoughts, then hold out our hands and think or say, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” Then we would breathe and smile, return to our loving self, then choose to take the loving path and be kinder to ourselves in our thinking, then visualize health and happiness. We would repeat these steps over and over again – at first slowly, then faster, as if picking up anything that feels clunky at first but then suddenly becomes second nature.

Throughout his sessions he often took breaks for us to breathe, or meditate. We also had time to ask questions or interact. Dr. Gupta warned us that there would be times when emotions would bubble up and sometimes get the best of us. I tend to be pretty stoic except when it comes to dealing with my neurologist and neurosurgeons, so I was surprised when even I had a web session that affected me emotionally. The point is to not hold everything back so that our ego doesn’t get in the way of getting better.

The DVDs and audio CDs are helpful because there are some meditations included, and meditation is one area where I always need improvement and assistance.

Dr. Gupta does advise for anyone going through this program that the changes will be gradual, and to not expect anything earth-shattering immediately; after all, anything shocking would set us back, not make us better. Six months would be a good goal for feeling a significant improvement if you do the work with sincerity. 

I’m grateful to have these materials at hand for the long haul so I can refer back to them as often as I need to – because there’s so much to learn, and I’ll definitely need a refresher from time to time. And Dr. Gupta records all of his sessions so that we may go back and rewatch (or if you couldn’t make it to the session in real time, you can watch at your convenience). I did personally notice a certain calmness and lightness after each session, and I do feel like my attitude has shifted towards all of my diseases; I’m choosing right now to be loved and to be worthy of love, and maybe that will shift again in the near future to another positive focus as I journey on.

Dr. Gupta’s Website:  http://www.guptaprogramme.com/

Give Me A Break

On Thursday afternoon, I saw my 59th doctor, a neurosurgeon. At least, I think he was #59. I don’t feel like going back in my previous posts to make sure. I could be like that person who doesn’t want to admit that their birthdays keep happening so they claim to be 29 & holding.

The ride out was long. The conversation with the cabbie was lively. His name was Isaac. I found out he has a wife and five children who still live in Uganda. He goes back every 6-8 months to spend time with them when he has saved up enough money. I can’t imagine having to live like that, my loves living half a world away. He told me about the worst job he ever had (digging pits that were 20 feet deep, 16×16 wide/long with a pick ax and then having to haul away the dirt himself because there was no machinery). The pits were for storing water. We talked about what shocked him the most when he moved to Minnesota the first time, which was snow (before global warming kicked in, the state used to get dumped on so that sometimes the snow would be thigh high) and teenage pregnancy (in his culture, girls would live with their parents until they were married and they never spent time with boys until the marriage happened). We talked about how violent men are towards women in the States, and how women are so accommodating and undemanding of the men, as in, “It’s okay if you don’t work. Here, lemme make you a sandwich and buy you a house.” See? Lots of sharing.

In my appointment, I first talked the physician’s assistant through everything and demonstrated how my symptoms disappear when I tilt my head parallel to the floor. He asked if I had seen the one doctor I had asked to see, and I said I hadn’t. He asked why, and I said, “Because he said there wasn’t anything wrong with me.” The PA couldn’t hide his bafflement. He said it was obvious that my ventricles were completely gone. He did a few of the standard neurological tests like having me squeeze my eyes shut, follow his finger with my eyes, push and pull his arms, etc. Then he went to get the neurosurgeon.

The neurosurgeon came in and after our introductions, he said he had talked to my neurologist. He mentioned that they thought I was overdraining, and I shot that down immediately. I told him that my lumbar puncture came out with a high opening pressure and I hadn’t had anything surgically done since then. I also told him that I had a leak for an entire year so I know the difference between overdraining and underdraining and they are completely different sensations. For me, the underdraining always brings vertigo, fatigue and the facial droop. Overdraining will never bring paralysis for me; instead, I get the tire-iron-beating-me-in-the-skull pain. 

We talked about the fact that there hasn’t been new shunt materials in ages. We talked about the near-impossible task of finding materials that I won’t be allergic to since I’ve had so many already and I’ve reacted to them.

We also talked about the mass that’s growing on my right side. I asked him if it was at least possible to take that out. I’ve been having pain on the right side that radiates down my neck, and if it’s killing brain tissue and turning it to jelly (which it is according to the MRI), then I’d like to get rid of it. However, because of where it is – in my cerebellum – it’s in a bad spot for a craniotomy. As of November it had grown to about the size of a quarter (not sure what size it is now). 

The neurosurgeon doesn’t want to operate on me at this point. He wants to repeat the upright MRI in about six months to check the size of the mass. He expects it to interfere with my coordination; it might be what’s causing my legs to jerk uncontrollably right now.

So, that’s the plan. Follow up in six months. No surgery right now. Wait for the mass/tumor to get bigger and my symptoms to get worse.

Luckily the same cab driver drove me back – he stayed nearby so it wouldn’t be a long wait for me, thank goodness. The office was really way out in the middle of nowhere by city standards. But the ride back was completely different. Isaac was trying to get me to talk, but I couldn’t. I was overwhelmed and upset, and trying (but failing) not to cry in front of this total stranger. It was just a few sniffles, not an ugly cry, thank goodness. 

That evening I got home and received a notice that my primary care doctor is leaving the practice (and maybe even the state). During our last visit in March she had tried to talk to me about palliative care, but said she would wait for me to decide.

Just so I don’t lose my mind, I have to stop pursuing another opinion on the neurosurgery side for the time being. I’m getting a lot of well-meaning advice about how I should just “stay strong” and “keep going” and “don’t give up.” Honestly, though, I’ve been going at this for nearly seven years. This isn’t fibromyalgia, which I’ve had for 20 years – and I’m not knocking anyone who has it, it’s a beast; and this isn’t Hashimoto’s, which I’ve had for 12 years and again I’m not trying to put anyone down, but this is a whole new level of sick. I was able to work through that shit, even if I had to sleep after work and sleep through weekends. My brain is literally being crushed and I have a mass that’s growing in my cerebellum. There aren’t good days and bad days. I need a break from having to be my own advocate for this really rare orphan disease as I drag my sick ass around from neurosurgeon to neurosurgeon to try to convince them that what they are seeing is real (because it’s right there on the MRI).  

In the meantime, I have plenty of other things to keep me busy and other doctors to visit. We just won’t be tapping into my skull right now.

Protected: The Flame

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

V-Day

I ran into my next-door neighbor yesterday as I was coming back from the pharmacy up the street and she was heading out to her car. We usually only exchange a “hey” and weak smiles. Instead, I said, “Did you hear the downstairs couple screaming for eight and a half hours Saturday???”

She said, “Oh, I guess he has PTSD, so that’s why he’s violent.”

I said, “That’s NO excuse. None.”

She walked away from me quickly and snidely said over her shoulder, “Well, stuff happens in relationships.” 

Yeah, it does. I can tell you all about the relationship downstairs. There’s a lot of crying. The guy rages and screams and says that he CAN’T EXPRESS HIMSELF LIKE SHE CAN and SHE’S GOT IT EASY and EVERYONE LETS HER TALK BUT NO ONE LETS HIM TALK and I can’t hear her response clearly because he’s raging and screaming and telling her to shut the fuck up. Sometimes he tells her she’s stupid for touching his stuff. Sometimes he tells her she’s stupid for cleaning a certain way and that no one else cleans that way in the entire world. THE ENTIRE WORLD DOES IT BETTER THAN SHE DOES. If she would just LISTEN TO HIM THEN THINGS WOULD BE BETTER, but NO, SHE’S GOT TO BE FUCKING SELFISH, and WHY DOES SHE MAKE IT SO HARD ON HIM? She’s so self-centered!

This went on for eight and a half hours Saturday night. The only break was when they had visitors at around 7 pm to sing one of them – I think the husband – happy birthday. Just a half hour beforehand there was sobbing, so someone had to get cleaned up before the friends came over. Then when the visitors left, there was a huge, audible sigh, and the fighting resumed. 

Is this what my next-door neighbor really believes is the norm? Is this really what is healthy in her eyes?

It doesn’t feel good to me. It makes my skin crawl. Specifically, it affects me because I have been in it before. The worst was Drummer #2, the guy who would write me hate letters in dry erase marker on the kitchen tile counter overnight and cover the entire counter and I would wake up to chaos. Our fights would last hours and days, and the scripts were the same: he couldn’t talk about his feelings (while screaming at me), if I would only do things his way then he wouldn’t get pissed off at me (but the rules were always changing), and by the way, why was I so selfish?

But I didn’t learn my lesson with him. The most recent live-in boyfriend that I had turned violent after we moved in together. He became very unhappy after realizing that I wouldn’t be able to wait on him hand and foot because I’d be recovering from one of my many surgeries, and it really pissed him off that I made twice as much money as him. He shoved me three weeks after one of my surgeries. I broke up with him five months after we moved in together, but I still kick myself for even letting it go that long.

Eve Ensler, the creator of “The Vagina Monologues,” came up with a brilliant movement: V-Day. On Valentine’s Day, it’s important to remember that it’s not always roses and chocolates – sometimes it’s booze and bruises, or worse.

http://www.vday.org/homepage.html

And of course a block down the road from us in St. Paul is the oldest women’s shelter in the U.S.

But even though we have these wonderful resources, and we have the women’s march in D.C. and around the globe, and we can say “pussy” and “vagina” without raising an eyebrow, there is still such a huge disconnect.

Why is my neighbor so flip about “stuff” happening in relationships? Is she just so fucking grateful that it’s all about pleasing the guy? And is her assumption that I’ve never been in a relationship so I don’t have a clue? Oh, honey, let me direct you to my blog…

But I feel like it is such a never-ending battle, for me, and for all women, to be considered equal and to not be slut shamed or used as punching bags, and to make sure we are not buying into some patriarchal and misogynistic vomit.

How Much Do I Owe The Swear Jar This Time?

A couple of weeks ago I got the last of my fillings repaired as part of the bigger, year-long, multiple visits to the dentist that were caused by me clamping my jaw in my sleep because of the pain in my shoulder and abdomen. I also had to make sure that they marked in my chart that I had slit ventricle syndrome and the tumor because they love to tip me waaaaaaaaay back in the chair and it really messes with the pressure in my head.

There was a mixup with my appointment and they got me back much later than my start time, which caused me to have to call my transportation to pick me up later; unfortunately, transportation had to leave me until 2 hours after I was done, which caused the fluid to build up a lot, which means I was hella uncomfortable and my vision was cut down quite a bit. But before that, I had a weird/comical/maddening exchange with the staff in the back.

I require four times the amount of numbing medication because my sodium channels don’t process pain meds correctly. Both of the teeth we worked on were in my upper jaw, so I ended up being numb up to my forehead. When they sat me up after I was patched up, they told me I could walk to Walmart down the road (as if! No way am I giving them my money!). I said no. They said I could then walk somewhere else. I again said no. They asked me why. In the best way I could with a very numb tongue/lips, I said, “I can’t theecuz oth wuth wrong with ny vrane.” The assistant, who was none too bright, said, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOUR VEINS??” I said, “No. Ny vrane. Vrane.” And I pointed at my head. The assistant dentist asked what was wrong, and I said, “I can’t do anyfing vat vill nake ny vlood mressure go umph. I cood have a stroke and nigh.” The assistant dentist asked what the doctors were doing to help. I said, “I can’t fine anyvun who vill take ny case. I’n lergic to da shuns. I need to fine stuff I wone vee lergic to.”

Then the dental assistant piped up and said, “Well, I don’t blame the doctors. I’m sure they don’t want to feel bad if it doesn’t work out for you.”

I shot her a look and said, “I cood die wifout helf. Da pressoo keefs goin’ uf in ny head and if I can’t get sunfing in to work, it vill kill nee.”

Without hesitating, she said cheerfully, “Well, I can see both sides.” Like we’re debating whether to have fish or chicken, instead of whether or not it’s better to kick the bucket to spare doctors’ feelings. She stuck with her “too bad for you” attitude.

At the end of December, my case was referred to the top neurosurgeon in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area after it was discovered that my brain had literally collapsed under the pressure, as well as started growing a tumor from the scar tissue that was left in from a previous shunt that is now about the size of a quarter. I know he got the radiology report that listed all of my symptoms. I know he got the impressions from the neurologist because he seemed to answer her question about whether I’m overdraining.

His reply was that my brain was fine and the tumor was no big deal. He also said the shunt isn’t overdraining. Now I’m not allowed to see him either. 

Here’s the deal: I know I’m not overdraining. If I were, I wouldn’t have high opening pressures every time they do a lumbar puncture. The overdraining assumption is strictly my new neurologist’s misunderstanding of slit ventricle syndrome – she’s trying to make my symptoms fit, instead of paying attention to what’s going on. Second, the brain tissue around the shunt and the tumor is turning to jelly. This isn’t normal and it’s a big deal. Third, the tumor is causing measurable cognitive damage. Fourth, and I’ll show you pictures, but my ventricles disappeared, and my brain has literally collapsed.

mymriscreenshots

I have new insurance that started on February 1st that comes with an advocate and a care coordinator, so I’m waiting for them to contact me, which is the norm. I smell a lot of research in my future for trying to figure out what I can try for the next shunt system, and I’m not looking forward to it, but I also know no one else will do it but me.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It Out Of There Alive

A few minutes ago I was standing in the middle of my kitchen, trying to figure out if the married couple downstairs was fighting again, and whether I should reach for my phone. Last Saturday the husband, whom I have nicknamed The Leprechaun because he’s shorter than my 5’6″ height and sports a red beard, had a 3-hour meltdown. One of many, I’d like to point out. He rages. He hits the wall. He hits furniture. He may even hit his wife. I hear her crying all the time.

I notified the apartment managers the week they moved in, and they told me to call the cops. On Saturday, I did. I got tired of the screaming and my walls shaking. The cops came and went, and The Leprechaun took it upon himself to immediately knock on my door afterwards and demand that I talk to him about why it’s acceptable for him to be abusive. You see, he has a traumatic brain injury. You see, he can’t drive. You see, it’s none of my business if he makes his wife cry. I didn’t open my door. I simply put my headphones back in and eventually he went away.

I drafted a letter to the apartment managers. In it, I recapped what happened in the past, including The Leprechaun knocking on my door right before New Year’s because I had dropped a bottle of lotion on the floor, because it had “caused a huge ruckus” (like that’s the same as 15 hours of his screaming rage) – and by the way, I hadn’t opened my door to him that time either. I also indicated that he had knocked on my door and demanded we talk after the cops had left on Saturday. I was told that the managers were going to have a meeting with him as well as talk to their attorneys to find out how to handle him because he had a disability (traumatic brain injury from serving in the Navy) and they have to “accommodate” him – though I’m not sure why his TBI overrides my disabilities. Also, let’s face it: no one has ever called the cops on me for being violent and threatening, because I’m not.

I got a text from one of the managers Wednesday night that they were setting up a meeting with him Thursday morning. Fifteen minutes later, The Leprechaun knocked on my door again and demanded that I open the door and talk to him. I told him through the door that I wasn’t dressed to open the door (which was the truth – I was resting in bed), and he said very forcefully, “I’LL WAIT.” Then I said that I was also on the phone (which was true – I was talking to someone out of state, and that friend could hear the entire exchange). Eventually The Leprechaun went away again, but I had to text the manager and tell him what happened, and he told me to call the cops if The Leprechaun came back.

I know the meeting happened on Thursday morning. I heard The Leprechaun return back to the apartment because he slammed the door as hard as he could. I didn’t hear him start packing boxes though, so I have no idea what the verdict was. Looks like I’ll have to pursue that answer Monday.

But it seems silly that I had to point out to the apartment managers in my letter to them that I don’t condone spousal abuse, I am not okay with him retaliating against me, I’m not his wife, he doesn’t pay my rent, and it doesn’t say anywhere in my lease that I’m required to accept abuse from the tenant who lives in the basement apartment. So now I’m on alert and ready to call the cops. C’mon, Leprechaun, your box of Lucky Charms is gonna run out sooner or later.

This ties into another subject that I was discussing with a friend about why women fake orgasms. Specifically, why do women who are having a one-night stand fake orgasms. Mainly because there’s so many douchebags like The Leprechaun running around. The worst are the ones who like to proclaim that they’re nice. No really, they’re nice! But then get any of your bits naked around them and they’ll make your nipples bleed or tell you that you like anal sex, you just don’t know it, and they’re going to show you how right they are.

I actually had the privilege of talking this process of faking it through with a man who was willing to listen rather than becoming defensive or angry. Think about it; when you talk about having one night stands as a single woman, you get the pious lecture about how you don’t deserve anything nice because you gave a man your body for only one night, you dirty whore. No lecture for the other party, though. He did nothing worse than stick his dick in another hole. But I digress.

We talked about the various reasons why women fake orgasms. But there’s a specific reason that isn’t talked about much that comes up from time to time on first dates/first-time or only-time sexual encounters, and that is personal safety. Sometimes you don’t know that things are going to go badly until you are both naked and the fucker has stopped listening, and it dawns on you that he simply wants a porno show. His script is running and you had better perform. The light bulb goes on over your head.

Of course, some men love the whole resistance and crying thing. That’s not what I’m talking about. The guys who can’t tell if a woman is faking are the ones who rely solely on porn for the cues of orgasm: “Oh” sounds, clenched hands, clamped jaw (or maybe even gaping open, whatever your preference). They want to dig a hole to China through your clit. If you complain that the pressure hurts, they push your hands away, tell you that you should stop being shy or that you really like it, and wrench your legs back open after they have closed to protect your most tender flesh. Same for anything that they want to do to you rather than do with you.

The light goes on. You give him his show, make all the right noises, tell him he is king, and get the fuck out of there before he rips your skin any more or gives you additional bruises and you have excruciating pain every time you pee because the urine is passing over open wounds.

I’m just saying, it’s okay to fake it sometimes. There’s a lot of Leprechauns out there.

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 _____?”

.

 

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.