Are You Being Served?

in·ter·sec·tion·al·i·ty
ˌin(t)ərsekSHəˈnalədē/
noun
  1. the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
    “through an awareness of intersectionality, we can better acknowledge and ground the differences among us”

    The state of Arizona doesn’t believe that I exist. I’m a woman with a bachelor’s degree, but I also have some rare diseases that have disabled me to the point that I am unable to work. I really had worked my ass off until I had my last shunt failure and surgery, when my neurosurgeon threw in the towel and gave up on me. The judge that I sat in front of for six minutes in March of this year noted in my paperwork that I had an exceptional work history. So my monthly pay is above the poverty level, because it’s based on the amount of take-home pay for the past 10-15 years (at the judge’s and state’s discrimination and calculation).

    Let me back up a little. I got my official judgement saying I’m disabled. Yay. Then my attorney told me that I might have to wait a number of months to see any money. But on May 24th, I got a call from the federal office saying that my money would be released on May 27th. I asked how it would be paid. They said it would be sent how I asked it to be sent. I asked how that was possible, since I hadn’t specified. They said, oh, it looks like we have info from Arizona. (Instant panic, since I haven’t lived there for 3 years.) I said no, absolutely not, I have all of my info updated for Minnesota, there’s no reason for it to be sent to Arizona. They said too bad, if you want it sent to Minnesota, you have to go to your local Minnesota office.

    So I did, on the morning of Friday, May 25th. I was a little worried because it was right before the holiday weekend. Luckily it wasn’t a long wait. But I found out that the money was already sent to Arizona – they didn’t wait until May 27th. It was sent on May 22nd. My former bank in Arizona reopened my account, accepted this rather large amount of money, and just sat on it. They didn’t tell me, and didn’t send the money back. For days. I was able to work it out so they could send the money to my current bank so it wasn’t lost. Anyway…

    So, while at the Social Security office making sure they didn’t send anything else to Arizona, I mentioned Medicare. The man helping me said, oh, didn’t you know, you’ve had it since January of this year? Another panic. I knew just from reading some info and talking to others that meant that I had a deadline coming up in just a few days. I had to sign up for a supplemental insurance policy and medication policy or I could lose out on tens of thousands of dollars. And Monday was a holiday. That meant that I had Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to make phone calls and sign up.

    This is no small task. I take 19 prescription medications, one of which is a weekly injection. The doctor that prescribes that had actually been working on getting an exception because my condition has been worsening. I reached out to the Minnesota SHIP office to talk about supplemental plans and medication plans. We found a supplemental plan that costs hundreds a month but could possibly transfer if I moved out of state. For the meds, I plugged in all of the names and we found out the injectable is not covered. It costs $37,000. Welcome to the world of rare diseases! So I had to call the manufacturer and talk to them about a patient assistance program, which might also allow me to get on a higher dose.

    So now back to Arizona. When I talked to their local office that helps seniors find supplemental plans for Medicare, they couldn’t believe that a disabled person under 65 had a disability check that was above poverty level. It isn’t a huge amount, mind you, but it doesn’t meet the standards for poverty. So I can’t qualify for medical assistance as my supplement, which is their only option in Arizona. I also can’t qualify for utilities assistance, transportation assistance or food assistance. The woman on the phone had very little experience but offered to find out more info and call me back. When she did, she told me to buy the policy in Minnesota and take it with me, as there was no hope for me in Arizona. 

    So Wednesday afternoon, I purchased the supplemental plan for Medicare and verified it could come with me (in writing) if I moved out of state. It’s possible it’s going to become much more expensive, but not nearly as expensive as having nothing.

    Thursday I finished sifting through all of the medication plans and tried to pick the best one. It was the least restrictive with the medications that I currently take (most of them wanted to restrict my Singulair, for some reason, of which I need double the normal dose). So I managed to get everything signed up before my June 1st deadline.

    However, while all of this is going on, there’s something else that’s been cooking in the month of May.

    Actually, this started in March. I had a crown fall off. A bunch of decay was discovered – first on that tooth with the crown, then the tooth next to it, then two teeth above it, then a bunch of cavities all over my mouth and it’s painful to eat or drink. I actually had to file a complaint against my dentist that I was seeing for about 2.5 years because he was physically abusive. When he was examining or treating me, he would pull my mouth roughly – so much so that the last time he left bloody fingerprints all over my exam napkin, and I had a swollen face for five days after. It was only after my massage therapist asked me who had been abusive with me that I filed the complaint.

    The complaint was supposed to have been anonymous, according to my insurance. However, they revealed all of my info, and the dentist counter-complained (like I was the asshole, because I was the one sitting in the chair with my mouth open). Then my insurance told me to go to two other dentists, which I did, and then they told me to go to my original dentist, and he refused (DUH), all to get this decay and a root canal taken care of. The two new dentists told me that they wanted me to go fully under and to be in an oral surgeon’s office or hospital because of my anaphylaxis history as well as my inability to numb with Novocaine. They referred me either to the U of MN or to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC).

    I called the U of MN for five days straight, and got different answers each day. They would say they didn’t do sedation, or didn’t take care of complicated patients like me, or were too booked. In the end, I got nowhere. So I turned my attention to HCMC, which happens to be a trauma 1 hospital. They told me they weren’t taking new patients (a huge lie). Then they told me to get a note from my doctor specifying which medications I’m taking – but that was only after they refused to answer my messages for 3 weeks. They wanted to see if my medical assistance would run out before they had to do anything.

    Well, ta da! First day of no medical assistance, June 1st! That means I get absolutely no dental coverage. So even though they have been aware of this issue for a few months and I’ve done everything they told me to do, I got zero help. By the way, it’s likely I’m having the trouble with the decay in my mouth because the abusive dentist put metal back in my mouth even though I told him in writing and verbally many times I’m allergic. I found out after the two other dentists examined me that he put metal-based crowns in my mouth after I paid thousands to remove all the metal in my mouth because of my allergies.

    I’ve already talked to my dental office that I used to go to in Chandler, Arizona for 11 years, and they have an in-house plan. For $100 a year I can have my cleanings, checkups and x-rays, and then 20% off of fillings and other stuff. So that’s the route I’m going to have to take. Plus I like them and I know they’re not going to rip me up and make me bleed on purpose.

    If there was ever a time that I have felt the impact of being poor and being female and being ignored completely, this is certainly one of those times. I’m sure I’ll have many more opportunities.

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It’s Gonna Be So Great

I’ve got all of $26.01 in my bank account right now. That’s all that’s left from the past three years, including selling my house and car and wiping out all of my savings to survive while going through the process of filing for disability and getting denied multiple times and finally getting approved.

Right now, in my tiny apartment, I’m going through all of my records and shredding duplicates and old unneeded receipts so I don’t haul anything unnecessary across state lines. It’s a daunting task. My belongings are half packed and I’ve only stopped because I’ve run out of room – I still need to be able to walk through my space. But as I’m going through everything, page by page, I’ve come across all of my applications for assistance and housing.

Two years ago I started applying to different locations around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Some were through specific cities; some were through counties. All of my applications were for subsidized housing, meaning I was not applying for free housing at any point, I still expected to pay a portion, so the wait should have been considerably less. When I applied through the City of St. Paul, I was told “three to six months, tops.” That was 14 months ago.

Sometimes I fantasized about what it would be like to be able to have more than $100 for groceries in a month, if I could just get in one of those apartments. I have a small credit card that has gotten a workout.

I contacted local legislators to see if they could lend a hand with housing. After all, I’m disabled, and burning through all of my resources, and not able to live with anyone because of my severe allergies (because everyone has pets). The response I got from my representatives was “Too bad.” I’m small potatoes.

But here’s the deal: About 19 percent of the American population is disabled, with about half of that amount severely disabled (I’m in that half). That really isn’t small potatoes. That statistic doesn’t say that disabled means old, or with cancer, or any other stereotype. So what happens if you ignore 1/5 of the population? And why aren’t we demanding more of our lawmakers when it comes to making and enforcing laws? We can do things like make sure that a certain percentage of new or reclaimed housing is made available to lower income and/or disabled citizens rather than just allowing the most expensive developments to go up. There doesn’t have to be a huge housing bubble; it’s all an illusion, just like the diamond market.

As part of my move to Arizona, where I have a rent-capped apartment waiting for me, I have to write letters to all of these housing authorities to tell them to remove me from their waiting lists. I’m also going to tell one of them not to lie about the wait time, because it certainly doesn’t help with having to plan finances. But I’m also going to write to the Minnesota legislators, including a few who are running for offices different from what they hold now and remind them not to ignore the disabled or the housing crisis. 

Please enjoy this song, “Wedding Day,” from Rosie Thomas. You will be startled by her speaking voice and then startled again by her singing voice – two very different sounds!

And Then There Were Three

The holidays – the general term given to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s – are tricky. Part of me wants to put up all of my decorations, but my 360 sq. ft. apartment is tiny compared to my former 2,200 sq. ft. house, and I’m constantly shifting piles because every surface is occupied. I just don’t have the energy to pull lights and ornaments out and make them look decent for 35 days.

And then there’s the whole thing about what to do with me. This year for Thanksgiving, my sister and brother-in-law decided to drive us (including my two little nephews) up to my parents’ house about two hours away, but that meant there wasn’t room in the car for their dogs. We arrived, hurried and ate, then drove back again so the dogs weren’t left alone long. To fit all of us in a vehicle at the same time, they have to rent a van – which they’ve done for funerals. I really hate being a burden.

Right before Christmas I had an appointment with my primary care doctor. I had thought we were good. It seemed like she was supportive and understood that my case was complicated, and she was up to speed on my attempts to get help through neurology and neurosurgery at the U where she works as well as every other healthcare system in Minnesota including the Mayo. She also knew about what happened with the Undiagnosed Diseases Network falsely diagnosing me with myasthenia gravis and telling me to go away. We even commiserated over how hard it is to be a female in the medical field.

So when I approached her at this latest visit to fill out paperwork for my upcoming disability hearing, I was completely floored when she acted surprised and asked, “So, what makes you think you are disabled? When was the last time you worked?” I reminded her that I haven’t worked since the last time my shunt failed, which was April 10, 2015, and that I very obviously had the facial paralysis and severe ptosis. (I even have two videos that my neurosurgeon in Phoenix recorded in April and May of 2015 showing these symptoms, him physically peeling my eyes open, and telling me that he was giving up after the last surgery.) In addition, I have severe vertigo and fatigue and fall constantly.

The doctor asked me why I hadn’t gotten help from neurosurgery. I reminded her again that I had attempted to from every single group in the area that I was allowed to under Medicaid, and had been denied by all, including the Mayo, because my case was too complicated. I also reminded her that the doctors at the U had written in my file that my symptoms were psychosomatic after only seeing me for 20 minutes, despite the fact that the symptoms are always resolved with a new shunt – except we now know I’m allergic to the shunts.

She then looked at my forms that I brought with me and told me they “didn’t look official.” I told her they came from my attorney’s office, not the Social Security office, and quite frankly, I could write them in crayon and they would still have to accept them because they were my testimony. The doctor then said she wasn’t qualified to say anything about my status. I said that wasn’t correct, and she absolutely could speak about my difficulties with daily activities. She told me that only a neurologist could talk about that. I asked her if she knew any neurologists who wouldn’t be jackasses to me; her answer was that it didn’t matter anyway because they wouldn’t be able to assess me prior to the hearing.

So……..

The visit ended with me telling her never mind. And yes, I was crying. I just was not prepared for her to be an ass to me. Now I have to worry about finding another primary care doctor. So that leaves me the allergist/immunologist, pain doctor and GI doctor in charge of my care for all of the crazy stuff I have going on with the mast cell disease. It really should be more like seven.

Because of things going on with immediate family members, I was going to be alone on Christmas. I was totally fine with it. It was shaping up to be a bitterly cold day, so I looked forward to being in bed and watching really bad holiday movies. But I got an invite from cousins, and found out the short bus was traveling there on a limited basis that day, so I planned on being there for a few hours.

Unfortunately, I ended up on my feet the whole time there so my heart condition went haywire and the fluid in my brain never drained, so I was miserable. Then the short bus was supposed to pick me up at 3:30 pm; I waited until 4:06 pm and was told that even though I waited at the pickup spot from 3:20 pm until the time I called, the driver marked me as “no show” and took off. The worst part was that they were no longer doing any more driving in that area for the rest of the day. I had to throw a fit with the dispatcher, who was already horrible, and when someone finally came to get me, they tried to charge me again even though they shouldn’t have. The trip home took 3 hours. 

I didn’t have to go anywhere between December 26th and January 2nd, so I didn’t. I stayed in bed as much as I could.

I’m not a big believer in resolutions for the new year. However, on December 24th, I did go to two services at my very woo-woo spiritual center, and I feel like my burdens are lighter. I don’t know if it’s because at the stroke of midnight I shed 2017 or what, but I’m leaving all of the floatsam and jetsam back there and only taking with me that which will be helpful. I need that to help me through the next part, which is the hardest yet.

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.

Amateur Hour: How Vanderbilt/NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Network Failed Me

Earlier this year, I worked for four hours sorting and copying approximately 350 pages of medical records to send to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee when the coordinator for the NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Network notified me that my case was being sent there for review. I divided everything by year and specialty. I inserted notes and highlighted everything that should be of special interest.

I took it as a bad sign when I received an email that was poorly written, and rightly so:
I need you help with some missing records the UDN has requested on you. We are missing the records from the Movement Disorder Neurologist and  also labs associated with Thyroiditis Workup are not complete. Please request these records be faxed directly to us at *********** or **********. We cannot move forward with reviewing your case until we have these records. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.” They weren’t actually missing the records from the movement disorders neurologist; the EMG results were included in what I forwarded to them. (Special note: capitalizing random words is an elementary mistake in and of itself and certainly doesn’t belong in official correspondence.) I wrote back and asked what needed to be obtained for the thyroid workup because I was going in for an appointment in the near future and could have tests ordered. However, I didn’t hear a response for weeks. Their suggestion to contact them with questions was not sincere because they didn’t respond to repeated calls or emails for three weeks total. I went to my appointment and guessed what they would want ordered, then forwarded them the results.

It didn’t matter, though. Last Thursday July 14th I received a letter in the mail from the head of the team saying that after a “stringent” review of my case, they were turning me down. They decided that because I have a strong history of autoimmune diseases that I must consider myasthenia gravis.

Here’s the problem, though: I considered myasthenia gravis already back in 2010, and again this year, and it has been ruled out by tests including the painful tasing of my face in April. All of those notes and tests were included in my paperwork. The 53 doctors who have seen me so far have positively said that I don’t have that. I also say I don’t have that. I have not found any documented cases where patients have received a working brain shunt to move CSF to relieve the symptoms of MG. I have hundreds of pages documenting my numerous symptoms and surgeries, and instead the Vanderbilt team chose to tell me to go back to the U of MN doctors (who, by the way, told me to go away and not come back) to get treatment for MG because “they would know how to treat me.” I am not allowed to appeal this decision or have any other team look at my file. The UDN door is forever closed to me now.

The next two paragraphs I’d like to address to that team directly:

Fuck you, Vanderbilt, you backwoods amateur cocksuckers.

This is what I don’t have: myasthenia gravis, lupus, MS, normal pressure hydrocephalus, communicating hydrocephalus, Creutzfeld-Jakob, IgG4 proliferation, scleroderma, pseudotumor cerebri, diabetes, secondary tremors, tumor, chiari malformation, or rheumatoid arthritis, among other things. After seeing so many doctors and going through hell and having to research A LOT on my own, Vanderbilt, your suggestion makes me think that my file landed in the hands of a beginner’s group. I’m way ahead of you, by years, and I didn’t even finish my medical degree. Every single one of you needs to go back to studying onion skin cells under your 10x microscopes because you obviously can’t handle the hard stuff.

As I feared, Vanderbilt chose to give much weight to the three doctors in the circle jerk at the U of MN claiming I had some sort of “facial weakness” that would imply MG and completely ignores the issue with the cerebral spinal fluid, which in turn ignores the vertigo, fatigue, slurred speech, numbness, and cognitive problems. It would also imply that I implanted a shunt for the fun of it – because I want something that I’m allergic to that causes a shit ton of pain in my body. It also means that they completely ignored the notes that indicated that my symptoms subsided when I had working shunts. Now I am back to the starting point, meaning no one knows what I have or how to help me. (Please note: I am still going through testing for the mast cell activation syndrome and I am watching the results slowly trickle in; my guess is that I’m going to have to repeat everything because nothing is extraordinary in the outcomes at this point.)

I also still don’t have disability money coming in. My hearing won’t be set until about a year from now, but my chances are only about 10% in my favor at the moment because I still can’t get a diagnosis or the NIH to work with me. I’m not being dramatic, I’m being realistic. My attorney would tell everyone the same thing.

If you have read this post in its entirety, thank you. I’m not asking for advice; that’s not how I operate. This is just one of those times where the Carousel of Crap feels extra shitty.

Can You Describe It To Me?

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, Peter Pan, I’m Going Home Now

An article was posted in a local paper about a woman, an attorney for a meat packaging plant, who was trying to adopt a teenage girl out of the foster system and provide her with a stable home and a brighter future. She had never met the girl but rather read about her, and something in her was motivated to change her life completely to give this girl something she had never had before. The woman went through parenting classes for a year in order to learn how best to help this girl who had suffered neglect and abuse. The article bemoaned the fact that though this woman had jumped through all of these hoops, the state was dragging its feet on placing the teenager with her simply because of bureaucracy and red tape.

I shouldn’t read the comments section of ANYTHING published ANYWHERE, I know. But I did, and it was just as frustrating as I expected. Instead of the commenters being outraged about this teenaged girl’s case not being accelerated to be adopted by this woman who obviously wanted to give her stability, structure and love, the majority of the commenters left nasty statements about this woman’s hair and weight. This woman, an attorney, had a bright turquoise streak of hair at the front of her otherwise “normal” brown hair, and she was overweight. I did not receive any intelligent replies to questions that I asked that were to the tune of, “What does her appearance have to do with her being able to provide a loving home to this child?” Some people told me that I was stupid if I couldn’t see it, others said she obviously lacked self control. One young woman remarked that the turquoise in her hair shouldn’t be allowed in someone her age. I have to say that that really got to me.

The first and obvious problem I have with all of these trolls is that this woman is clearly intelligent – her company is obviously not bothered to be represented by legal counsel who happens to have an unusual color in her hair – and financially stable, and strongly committed to giving this girl the best possible start to her young adult life after being mistreated and neglected for so many years. Second, why is she “too old” for something fun like putting a turquoise streak in her hair?

Over and over I’ve seen advice columns about what not to wear over ages 30/40/50. (One of the funniest items was advice not to wear “suntan” pantyhose, because no one is going to believe you have a suntan after 40.) There are some things I agree with, like it’s weird to see an middle-aged woman trounce around in sweatpants with “PINK” written on the ass. Then there’s the whole class of women who think their only value in this life is to compete with their daughters (and even their granddaughters) for the attention of men, so they dress in tank tops and short shorts that would normally show up on a 14-year-old. But a turquoise streak? Maybe it’s because my father was a hair stylist, or maybe it’s because I have always been a little rebellious, but I think the day I swear off experimenting with color in my life is the day I die. I haven’t worked up the balls to get a blue wig, but I’m getting there. And I’m 41.

So this leads me to the next question:  At what age or event did you feel as if you were truly a grownup? I posed the same question on my Facebook page and received interesting answers. Of course there were a bunch of men who declared that they still hadn’t grown up, all over the age of 40. One man said it was the day his eldest daughter was born. One woman said that her wedding day made her feel like an adult; another said it was when she gleefully anticipated canning, making bread from scratch and putting out a big spread for the holidays. One woman said, “34, maybe?” Obviously this is a small sampling, and is by no means scientific, but I think it enforces the concept that you are only as old as you feel mentally. And this attorney with the brightly colored streak in her hair obviously was not giving in to old age and mediocrity just yet.

For me, I felt like an adult at 16, because it was my first year living away from home. From that point on, I threw myself head first into the world, paying bills (on time!) and finding new places to live around the country without seeing them in person first. Creating a circle of truly close friends is a totally different playing field when you aren’t in school anymore.

Lastly, I am pondering this because I think it demonstrates the challenges of dating. I, as a 41-year-old woman who hasn’t lived at home since I was 16, have felt like an adult for that amount of time. I might want blue hair, but I think that’s a shout-out to my artistic tendencies, not my level of maturity. None of the women claimed that they still hadn’t “grown up” and the majority of the men said they were never going to “grow up.” So whose job is it to change in order to make a relationship work and endure?

(Title by Patty Griffin, first line to her song “Peter Pan”)

Not Sick Enough?

September often signals everyone buckling down to business again in Minnesota because summer vacations have wrapped up and everyone is back to school. My mailbox has been stuffed every day with paperwork too – mostly having to do with filing for medical assistance and getting all of my records sent to me by various facilities. I’m not even trying to get housing or food assistance. I braced myself for a challenging week.

It started out nice enough. My uncle helped me to connect with a stylist who has a lot of experience cutting wigs (both synthetic and human hair), so I finally got some really pretty pieces to go incognito when I feel up to it. Monday night to Tuesday afternoon a friend visited from another state, so you know I had to scrub my toilet for that. Today I was supposed to be wheeled around the state fair, but that outing was canceled due to rain. It’s probably good that I stayed home anyway.

My first call of the morning was from the Maryland office for Social Security benefits, notifying me that my request for disability was rejected. I know, I know, 80% of cases are rejected the first time, and I’ve been telling friends the same thing when they have asked about filing. I still wasn’t prepared to hear it about my case. I used to never cry, but now that I get anxiety because my brain is being crushed, I cry over everything – the Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials, the dogs greeting their vets coming home from war, the fact that I have to get another new mattress after only 4 months because I’ve worn this one out already…well, you get the idea. The lady who called me was not unsympathetic and probably gets upset people on the phone all of the time, but I’m guessing it’s not how she wanted to start her day either. She told me to file the request for reconsideration within 60 days of the date of the letter being sent to me and that the next person might view my 300+ pages of documentation differently. I was so choked up that I could hardly speak. You know when you hang up and you think of all of the things you could have articulated or asked? Yeah, that.

After I pulled myself together again, I called legal aid for my county and the attorney I spoke to confirmed that I should file the request for reconsideration. After that if I had to request a hearing, I would have to secure my own attorney – and no one wants these cases because the attorney doesn’t get paid if I don’t win my case. It’s discouraging to hear things like this because I’m having a hard enough time trying to be my own advocate with the health care professionals who are supposed to be helping me to find out what it is that’s going on. I envy the people who live in countries that don’t demonize their citizens for becoming sick and needing assistance.

I’ll see my new neurosurgeon tomorrow to talk about the possibility of another surgery now that I have jumped through all of his hoops, and I’ll meet a new neurologist on the 15th of September. Who needs a job when you have to coordinate everything for your very own Carousel of Crap?