Save The Date

Statistically, Minnesota is one of the worst or the worst state in the U.S. when it comes to wait times for disability processing. I didn’t know this when I relocated from Arizona to Minnesota to try to figure out what was going on with my body. This article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune states the average wait time is around 570 days from filing to have a judicial review. I just got confirmation that my hearing is set for March 28th, which will put me at about 770 days of filing the appeal (and almost 3 years to the day of filing the initial claim of disability). The back log just keeps getting worse.

I’m not sure I would have done this any other way. As horrible as it has been with trying to get doctors to take care of me in Minnesota, I did finally get three diagnoses that I have been missing for years in addition to what I already knew. I forget what my count was when I entered the state, but I’ve seen 64 doctors since July of 2010. This has not been an easy process. There is no clear path.

Thankfully my allergist has already agreed to fill out paperwork for my hearing, and my counselor has as well. I will be meeting with my primary care doctor and pain doctor next month to ask the same from them. I’ve been rejected by every neurologist and neurosurgeon in the area as well as banned in writing by the Mayo, and I can’t go out of state because I’m on Medicaid so it’s not allowed, so I’m not quite sure how that is going to be looked upon by the judge. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about that.

One incredible resource I wish I had stumbled upon before I started this process but am eternally grateful for is the blog How To Get On. There are sooooooooo many links/ideas/resources/testimonials that it sometimes boggles my mind, and I really can’t imagine how many man hours it took her to put it together. It’s unfortunate that the author sometimes gets reported and blocked by Facebook for either posting “too much” (seriously??) or for questionable posts (again – say what??), so we have to keep it circulating so as many people as possible benefit from its content.

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Oska Pulse Holiday Sale

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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.

I was watching a recent Family Feud episode, and I remember one of the questions was, “Name five items you frequently find on your bedside table or night stand.” I looked over at mine to compare my list to what was popping up on the screen, and a few things checked off: water? Yes. Unscented lotion for winter-chapped hands? Yes. Prescription medications? Yes.

But one thing was missing. This is something I use daily, and I can’t imagine going without it: my Oska Pulse. The Oska Pulse is a battery-operated, rechargeable device that gives off a pulsed, electromagnetic field to treat pain and edema. It’s completely pain-free; in fact, I sometimes have to look at it to make sure it’s still “going” because I don’t feel any sensation while it’s working. But it’s working, and it works! That’s why I keep it next to my bed along with my other staples.

I use it most often on my shoulders. I have had to stay in bed for the majority of seven and a half years now, with some breaks, but damage has been done to those joints because of having to lay in certain positions for long periods of time as a result of repeat surgeries. I have torn tendons and capsules that can’t be surgically repaired. My body’s proclivity to overproduce scar tissue internally after surgery only adds to the problem.

The Oska Pulse to the rescue! While I’m laying down, I just prop the Oska Pulse on a shoulder, press the button, and let it go to work while I watch some shows (or type up some thoughts for my blog). The Oska Pulse emits a blue light at a slow, flickering pace, but that is the only indication that I have that it’s chipping away at the inflammation in my shoulder and arm – it doesn’t vibrate or heat up at all. After 30 minutes the unit will chirp 3 times and then shut itself off automatically. When I remove it, even after one session I will test my arm and immediately have greater range of motion than when I started.
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Just as an experiment, I let my sister borrow my Oska Pulse too. She chose to only use it for her neck, and she noticed that she had a much better range of motion and less pain. After a week, though, I begged to get it back from her – I really couldn’t stand to have it gone much longer than that. And now that I have been using it for about 10 months at this point I really can’t imagine having to go without it.

The manufacturers of the Oska Pulse recommend using it at least 4-6 times daily in each trouble spot for the first week, and then tapering down as needed in order to get the best benefits. They do offer a 30-day money back guarantee. I strongly suggest using the Oska Pulse as much as possible before you decide to send it back within those 30 days, because I think that you will find that you feel the benefits as much as I (and my sister!) did and do.

Here’s the really great part: Between Friday, December 15 and Sunday, December 31, 2017, the manufacturer has reduced the price to $299! This is a discount of over $100 off the regular price, just in time for the holidays.

If you are a chronic pain patient and your support circle is wondering what to get you for the holidays, the Oska Pulse would be the perfect thing to bump to the top of your list!
Oska Pulse

That Time I Went Back To Arizona

About five months ago, I decided fuck it, I’m going back to Arizona to visit. I miss everyone and everything. A few weeks after that, I figured out what started this whole thing with my brain. (Yes, I mean figured it out, not the doctors.) I knew I’d have a place to stay with friends, and eating out was out of the question, so I’d just have to come up with a plane ticket. Done. It might be my last opportunity to travel depending on how much worse the scar tissue and the brain damage gets – literally no one fucking knows.

I have about 35-40 people that I would have liked to have seen, but I was only there for about 8 full days, so it was impossible. One night a bunch of people came over and we had a little potluck and hung out. The rest of the time everyone was gracious enough to drive to me, or I took the short bus to see them.

It was my first time traveling without being able to drive, either at home or my destination. First of all, nothing can happen on a whim. It took me about 2.5 weeks to assemble all of my medications and a vog mask, and that included negotiating with the insurance company to get an override on 8 of my medications that would have needed refills while I was gone but couldn’t get in Arizona – they can only be done in Minnesota, because I’m on medical assistance. I also had to make a trip to a compounding pharmacy.

Then the day before I left, a medication I had been trying to get for about 7 weeks was finally approved, so I had to go and get that – but it was such a high volume that there was no way I was going to be able to fit it in my luggage, so I decided to start it after my return. Every time I have to go somewhere, I have to request a ride from Metro Mobility – but I’m only allowed to call one to four days ahead of time. I can’t call on the same day. So I was on a dead run (or as much as I could have been for someone who is half blind) up to the day I left.

It was so worth it, though. Arizona was all blue skies. As I’m writing this, we’re getting rain in Minnesota.

Hopefully my friends know I love them, but I forgot to take pictures of them. Apparently I shoved them aside and made a beeline straight for their animals, which I am deathly allergic to. I did a little planning for that too. One of my doctor visits beforehand was to get my regular and steroid inhalers refilled so I could start on those prior to my visit. I also packed extra diphenhydramine and Claritin (above the 12x daily dose I already take) in anticipation of the fur balls, and every time I came home from a house with pets I changed clothes and put the contaminated clothes into a plastic bag and did a big scrub down.

First were the rescued baby kittens, all black except for a few white spots on some bellies. My friend was just grabbing and distributing them around the bunch of us, and I just happened to get my soul mate – a little one who has neurological problems. It just wanted to get as close to me as possible so it curled up tight against my neck and slept. Once in a while I felt it have tremors and twitches that were not at all normal. I was laying back so the fluid wasn’t trapped in my cranium, and I swear, it was heaven. I wanted to stay there forever. At one point the kitten woke up and started putting its little paws right on my mouth. (I’m in the blue.) I did get hives, but they may not have been as bad as they could have been because apparently the night before the kittens pooped all over each other and so they had to have an impromptu bath, which they loudly protested.

Back at my host family’s house, a large lizard showed up on their property wall. Usually they do not get this big!
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I was lucky enough to be able to spend two afternoons with my friend and his wife. He was instrumental in getting me to be active on Twitter after reading my blogs, which has led to guest spots on other blogs, podcasts, and our Blab series (now deceased because they couldn’t figure out how to make money off of the platform). These two are quite funny; the male, bright orange, is loud and LOVES women. The female, green, is a lot more quiet but likes to ring her bell ball to communicate. The male will say both of their names together and then swivel his body from side to side when he is showing off or pleased.
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Next were my good friends including a couple and their live-in mom. They were usually the first ones I would call when I needed a kitty fix while I lived in Arizona – they had three kitties I knew well. Within the past year and a half they ended up adding another cat and dog under pretty terrible circumstances. Their friends relocated from another state; my friends didn’t realize there was drug addiction and abuse happening. The kids have since been placed in foster care, and the animals were traumatized. Actually, the really big, long, grey kitty seems mostly okay, but the dog has suffered terribly.

When I came to visit, I was told to expect him to pace and whimper. I was also told that I shouldn’t expect him to eat, or approach me, because anyone else who has visited hasn’t had any success even though they were animal lovers too. So this poor, beautiful dog did start pacing. I made sure that I moved slowly, and told him that he was a good boy whenever he paused to look at me. Then I put two treats on the back of the sofa and turned away from them, and eventually he worked up the nerve to get close enough to take the treats. Then he paced close enough to smell my hands while I wasn’t looking, and then quickly paced away again. While this was going on, he was carefully watching how I was interacting with each cat, making sure I wasn’t mean. A couple of times I closed my eyes. I suspect my friends thought I was tired, but I was actually sending him messages of love.

We sat down to dinner, and I couldn’t eat part of mine because of an allergy, so I put it down on a plate for the dog. Another win! And he came over multiple times to sniff my fingers. I made sure again to not be aggressive. I told him over and over he was good.

I stayed long enough to go on his last walk of the evening, which he loves. He wasn’t even confused about there being a strange lady with him on the walk until one point where he crossed over to me and then suddenly was like, “Holy shit, who is this???” and then quickly walked on the other side of the sidewalk.

At the end of the night I was saying goodnight to everyone (read: handing out the last pets to the pets), and the dog was near when I was petting the pretty calico. He was again watching very intently to see if I was being mean. So I carefully got down on all fours and made myself small, put a treat in my hand, and put my head down, and HE ATE OUT OF MY HAND. Everyone was stunned and thrilled.

My friends ran me back to where I was staying, and let me know that when they returned home, all of their animals were lined up at the door, as if they were waiting for me to return. They had never seen that happen before.

The last evening before I flew home, I was able to visit with a former co-worker whom I had the longest work history with – something like 8 years together on our team. I also remember when she had her kiddos – vividly! Our conversation went something like:
Her: “I feel like something isn’t right.”
Me: “You’re in labor. Go have your baby.”
Her: “I’m not really sure. I’m going to wait a little longer.”
Me: “I don’t think you should wait. I think you should go.”
45 minutes later: Baby.

They have two cats and a dog. I failed to catch a photo of the dog, but she was a sweetie. The white cat, Gracie, is quite elderly now, and doesn’t put up with anyone’s shit, including the dog’s. The kissy photo was taken right before Gracie got pissy about the dog bothering her. Seamus is a year-old instigator of trouble and very handsome.

Obviously the mast cell disease is preventing me from being a crazy cat/dog/bird lady, so I suppose I should be thankful.

Anyway, it was really difficult to come back to Minnesota. The night I flew home, my friend’s little boy called me and told me to come back. Sheesh, kid – right in the feels.

Oh Ye Of Little Patience

Well-meaning people direct me to online support groups all of the time. Why don’t they work for me? Because I’m a snob.

A couple of days ago, I was summoned across the street to my sister’s place of business, because one of her co-workers knew an artist’s husband very recently had had brain surgery, and thought it might be beneficial for us to visit. As luck would have it, I had just finished showering and slapping on some makeup, so it wasn’t a big deal to finish getting my clothes and wig on to hobble across the street. When I walked in the door, I immediately recognized the woman. We had briefly visited during a previous show at the gallery. She and her husband were very pleased with the surgeon and her husband’s recovery, so I got the name of that doctor and another from her.

However, she looked over the top of her glasses at me and started with, Have you gone to a chiropractor? Yes, I explained, many times, and they did absolutely nothing for me. She wanted to know if I had gone to an herbalist. Yes, again, I sighed wearily, I had, and I’m taking supplements out the wazoo, because I need to, because my diet is very restricted. But they don’t make me better. My issue is mechanical and I need surgery. Then she wanted to know if I had tried the Chinese herbalists next door. I held up my hand and said that I’m very good at researching and am 1 to 7 years ahead of everyone else’s suggestions, so there’s no need to make suggestions. Then she moved to food. Was I juicingI really needed to juice everything! I said no. She started listing everything I should be eating, so I started cutting her off, telling her that each item caused a release of histamines, so it was actually dangerous for me. (Plus, with the few things I can still eat, why would I juice??? I get so little fiber now, and juicing removes most of the fiber.) Did I try an accupuncturistAgain, yes, and they did nothing for me. I know, I know, hard to believe.

God, I hate getting advice, especially when I don’t say, “Give me advice, I have no idea what to do or where to look.” She did write down the name of her otolaryngologist surgeon, whose specialty is cancer tumors of the head and neck. I’m still going to contact him. My tumor is not cancerous and he may not want to deal with it because it will probably grow back, but it’s worth asking him. However, I may be blacklisted because of my negative encounters with three other doctors within the same university system who said my problems were psychosomatic.

So, back to support groups: I hate them. I also can’t keep my mouth shut. One week, someone posted something about how she wished our rare disease doctor would team up with another doctor who researches the same disease. Unfortunately, the other doctor doesn’t have a license, so he can’t see other patients. I pointed this out. She said fine, then everyone needs to take care of themselves and stop smoking so they’re not on oxygen. That really pissed me off because the majority of us in the group can barely eat any foods safely because we’re always dealing with hives, have a really hard time finding medicines that don’t cause hives/asthma/anaphylaxis, and don’t smoke. I’m fucking allergic to smoke. I told her she was lecturing the wrong group. Other people got pissed off too. But then another person singled me out and told me to tone it down, and then it just went downhill from there. I was told that I should have just kept scrolling if I didn’t like what I saw. Then the original poster said she didn’t know that doctors needed licenses and not everyone knows that. I got so angry that I said that the leading doctor in this field most likely already considered the option of teaming up with other leaders, but they were in situations he was trying to get away from, so it was a moot point, and we should use common sense.

I admit it, I’m a snob. (For some reason, the woman who was trolling me told me that I was going off on a tangent because of that last remark. I told her that there was nothing that I was saying that was off topic, and I was responding to everything she and the OP were saying. I don’t think she understood what “tangent” meant.)

I’ve talked about this with my counselor. She agrees with me that a group setting isn’t what suits me best. I tend to steamroll people. Just today, someone in a group asked, “How many of you have NOT had _______?” and a bunch of people said “I didn’t,” but then a bunch of other people said, “Oh, I did, and it was like this and this and that.” So I wrote a message saying, “So, I thought this was about people who didn’t?” I got a reply that basically said that people wanted to share no matter what the question was.

Why don’t those fuckers write their own blogs if they’ve got so much to share?

Give Me Liberty (In A Dropper)! – Product 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.

Unfortunately, one theme that is constant and recurring in the chronic illness community is pain and fatigue. No matter the ailment or diagnosis, these are our constant companions. In my family alone we are a soup of autoimmune diseases – where there is one, there are many. I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, alopecia universalis, hidradenitis suppurativa and mast cell activation syndrome. Other immediate family members have lupus and RA, and branching out we have polymyalgia rheumatica and MS. The only one on my personal list that doesn’t cause me pain and fatigue is the alopecia, and that’s because I no longer get 75 shots in my scalp every three weeks.

I was really excited to have the opportunity to try the Liberty Lixir Ultra High CBD Tincture.
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Now, I don’t know how much you, dear reader, know about CBDs. I also don’t know how much you know about hemp vs. marijuana. I can give you a quick and dirty explanation since I was on the medical marijuana program through the State of Arizona for some months because I’m allergic to the shunts that have been implanted in my brain and it’s incredibly painful. Hemp = legal, made into all kinds of products including paper, clothing, balms; can be cooked to extract chemicals at certain temperatures called CBDs, which are natural painkillers. Has less than 0.3 percent THC on a dry-weight basis, therefore making it nearly impossible for you to get high off of hemp. Weed = much less legal across the board relatively speaking, beloved for its much higher THC content and therefore “trippy” effect, also can be cooked at a certain temperature to extract CBDs.

This particular product is made from hemp. Because it still has that trace amount of THC, you have to be cautious about consuming this if you are going to be subjected to any testing. It’s a bummer, I know, because it’s not like you’re doing something you shouldn’t be – you’re just going for some pain control.

And this little bottle does a stellar job. Liberty Lixir packs a good wallop with the 1,000 mg of CBDs. It’s a very simple formula too. The hemp oil is mixed with coconut oil and vitamin E, and as noted on the bottle, you don’t have to worry about GMOs or anything unnatural. As you can see, the solution is completely clear:
20170804_200759-1 The instructions are simple. 10 drops under the tongue, hold them there for 60 seconds (so they can absorb sublingually). It’s the fastest and best way to deliver meds to your system instead of trying to absorb them through your acidic stomach.

I’ve been walking lately and working on my physical therapy exercises to make myself stronger and improve my balance, because I have a lot of little falls during the day. But this also makes me incredibly sore and tired. I just can’t win! Sore from being up, sore from being in bed all day. As soon as this arrived, I started with the doses.

In about two days’ time, I started feeling a marked difference. Now, I feel like I should be a skeptic and say that CBD oil seems like it’s too good to be true. Maybe it’s a placebo effect. But I am going to be very specific and say that I’ve been on the medical marijuana program and used the edibles and those still got me very loopy – unfortunately. I didn’t like them. I want to be in full control AND feel better. And I feel like I achieved that with Liberty Lixir. [If you want even better results, you can eliminate foods that cause inflammation and allergies, which I had to do out of necessity because my lips swelled up and I lost the entire lining of my mouth.] But I feel like my joint pain is down to about 30-40% of what it was before.

There were only two small things I had to get used to with this product: 1) The oil base. I’m not used to having straight-up oil in my mouth. 2) There is a hint of “green” taste that is particular to hemp/marijuana products that I always notice and others may not be bothered by – I’m just a super taster.

Liberty Lixir is something that I (and you) will want to continue using once it’s started. I can’t imagine not having it as part of my daily regimen now because I feel so much better. If you haven’t tried CBD oil for pain control before, this is a good hemp product to give it a whirl. This bottle lasted me approximately one month.

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.”

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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.
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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.

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