A Slap And A Poke

It’s crazy being me. I say this so many times. I had mentioned the rare disease in my regular every other Tuesday get-together (most everyone has heard about it at some point), and a new guy had it in his head that he was going to school me on how he was going to cure me with diet and a holistic doc. He had the usual probiotic and chelation recommendations but also insisted I should eat sauerkraut. He couldn’t believe that said sauerkraut would instantly release histamines and give me hives. He also couldn’t believe that the Mayo would turn me down. I told him that I don’t ask for advice because I am always 1-7 years ahead of anything anyone can ever tell me, and I’ve never met anyone with my particular neurological symptoms with the mast cell disease.

<sigh>

On Monday, I was supposed to get a high volume lumbar puncture. That was the way it was ordered. This meant that the opening pressure was supposed to be read AND fluid was supposed to be taken off. When I was in the fluoroscopy room, I asked the radiologists and staff if they could carefully document everything before and after because my symptoms would change. They then offered to have a physical therapist evaluate me. I said great, yes, no one has ever offered that to me so I didn’t know it was an option. So they called the doctor to see if he would change the order.

However, when they got the doc on the phone, he changed the order and said forget it, only get the pressure reading and don’t take any fluid off at all. I was floored. First he wanted at least four vials (which is a lot), and then he wanted nothing?? I said that even if the opening pressure was normal, if they took some off, they would still see an improvement in my symptoms for a few hours. The doc said no way. Do not take any fluid off.

The radiologist hung up with him. He told me that he couldn’t go against this new directive and I had two choices: go ahead and get the pressure reading only, or stop everything and come back some other time. But here’s the thing: I only got this lumbar puncture because I called this neurosurgeon that I saw two years ago and begged for it, because I haven’t had my pressure checked since then. My current neurologist has been telling me I’m overdraining (even though no one has checked me) and I’ve been saying that the pressure in my head is high when I’m upright, and I felt like getting this check would help settle the fight. But the neurosurgeon wouldn’t agree to see me in the office. This was all I was going to get. So I went ahead.

I don’t metabolize Lidocain properly, so even though the radiologist juiced me up liberally, it wasn’t enough. It was also tough for him to penetrate my dura – possibly because of the sclerosing issue caused by my high histamine levels. After all of that pain my opening pressure came up as a boring normal level. Nothing to see here, folks. Except it completely rules out what my neurologist is saying about my shunt overdraining. My guess about why it’s not giving me a high reading is that the pressure lowers when I’m flat. There’s only been a couple of times when I’ve had high readings and I’ve been flat.

On Monday night, I ate some homemade spaghetti sauce and woke up the next morning to find that my entire mouth had swelled up, and the lining had sloughed off. I also had sores all over the inside. So tomatoes are now a big no-no. That’s a bummer because I make killer chili and lasagna.

Also kind of new in the past few weeks is another diagnosis. I’ve been struggling with this for at least the last 7 years as well. Doctors were telling me that I must be doing something wrong, blah blah blah. It’s super painful. I have hidradenitis suppurativa. I’ve had it come up in two different areas not close to each other and had to have “surgical intervention,” which makes it officially grade II. I’ll be seeing a new doctor Monday to talk about injections; it’s controlled by a medication that is similar to Imuran, which I was on in the past. The crazy thing is, I saw a very extreme case of it a month prior on a British show on Netflix called “Embarrassing Bodies” but had no idea that it was the same as what I had brewing. (Let me tell you, if you are fascinated by all things medical, that’s a good one to watch.)

I Know You Don’t Mean It

After I told the Go Stand In The Corner guy that I didn’t want to be his fantasy chat friend on Fet, he still tried to draw me in with more messages. So in the vein of Lin-Manuel, no means no means no means no means no…….well, anyway.

[Break for making arrangements to get the compounded medication to control my hives. I have to try one week of pills to see if I’m going to be allergic to the vegetable-based capsule they use for the powder. Total for 14 pills: $38. Not covered by Medicaid.]

Then I get another gem in my FetLife inbox, completely out of the blue, from a guy I’ve never had any contact with before in a town that is about an hour and a half south of Minneapolis:

Hey there beautiful. I just thought I would send you a text and tell you that you’re one great looking woman. In my eyes bald women are beautiful as I am bald myself. I know you say that you have health problems right now but I still wish that we could talk and hopefully meet as I will come to you as long as you let me. You seem like the type of woman that knows what she wants and I’m the type of guy that also knows what I want and that is you. I’m a gentleman that works too much but also enjoys beautiful women As You Are. I’m serious about meeting you as I would like to meet you now today tomorrow Sunday soon as possible as I don’t want no one else to steal you away from me. Give me a shout out if you’re interested in talking and we can go from there.

So, this is what my profile says:

I relocated from Phoenix back to my home state to be closer to family so they can take care of me during a serious health crisis. Feel free to message me but be aware that I cannot do any socializing of any variety right now. Respect my boundaries.

Now, is there anything in there that says, “Except you, guy. You know absolutely nothing about me including whether I even drink coffee but you know you’re going to make me happy for the rest of my life because you want to do dirty things to my bald head.”????

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. 

We’re Breaking Up

“There’s plenty of fish in the sea.”

Are there, though? I want someone who really listens to me and understands where I’m coming from, who sees me for who I am and not who they think they would like me to be. I’m sure they wish I would lose a little weight, or dress a little better. Maybe they wish I would talk about something else besides always going back to my rare disease. But I can’t, because it rules my life.

I’m talking about my doctors, of course. They keep breaking up with me – or at least, it feels like it. And this is incredibly difficult as a rare disease patient.

The first one to jump ship was my primary care doctor. To be honest, I was a little relieved. I had had a difficult time landing her in the first place – other doctors writing things in my records such as “Munchausen’s” – but most recently she had told me to stop looking for a solution and to just accept it, and that there probably wasn’t anything really wrong with me. She had seen my MRI and claimed that she didn’t know enough about the brain to make a judgement call about what she was looking at, but JFC, even I could see that if all of the big, cavernous spaces are gone and the corpus callosum looks like Charlie Brown’s hair swirl, there’s a problem. Anyway, hers was the first letter to arrive on the University’s letterhead.

The second was my pain doctor. I knew about his desertion ahead of time because we talked about it during my last visit with him. He worked it out so I can remain his patient at his next office. HOORAY. I don’t have to train in another doctor. I like him. We have mutual respect. But I still got his letter on the University’s letterhead and an official-sounding offer to continue my care there with someone else, if I wanted. (No, thanks.)

The third one was my mast cell disease doctor. This one is actually extremely devastating. I felt quite lucky to have found him and to have gotten my diagnosis, and then to have been under his care for about a year. The problem with this disease is that it was only named about nine years ago, and so not much is known about it. I probably fit into a different subcategory from a lot of people because my CSF and dura have been affected.

The mast cell disease doctor is relocating from Minneapolis to New York. His goal is to further his research; he will make himself available to any doctors who reach out to him with questions. He will also see patients on a cash-only basis: $2,000 each for the first two visits, then $650 for each visit after that. 

I can understand why the mast cell disease doctor would want this type of arrangement. He would not be at the mercy of insurance companies. He could run his office and research with full autonomy and receive complete compensation for his time, rather than having to negotiate contracts. And he’s not a young guy; I’m sure he’d like to reduce his own stress in the gloaming of his years.

Specifically, these are my barriers: 1) I’m on Medicaid, so I’m unable to go outside of the state of Minnesota. I’ve tried many times, and each time, the petitions have been turned down. It doesn’t matter how rare my disease is. 2) I can’t find local doctors willing to take me as a patient. Believe me, I have tried. I’ve sent them info ahead of time (per their request), I’ve gone in without giving them any hint, I’ve brought all of my records with me, I’ve bargained with them, I’ve promised not to be a nuisance, I’ve answered all of their questions…bitch, please. Any way that you can think of to convince someone to become your partner, I’ve done it. 3) I don’t have any way to save up money. My earning power is gone – it’s not like I can go to work and take my bed with me so I can keep the pressure off of my brain. I’m using up every last bit of my savings for living expenses while I wait for my disability hearing, which I believe will be in the next six months, so that’s three years guaranteed without a cent of income.

What happens if I don’t receive care? Well, it’s going to get ugly. My chest, arms and face have been covered in hives for the past month. I was supposed to get another prescription last week, but that was abruptly dropped mid-process. This is a crazy disease. Other patients constantly go into anaphylactic shock. I haven’t gotten to that point, though I sometimes have sudden shortness of breath, or lose my voice because my throat becomes suddenly raw. Unfortunately, for me the allergies continue to get worse and stranger, also a common factor in this disease. I won’t even go into the brain stuff, except to say that I know it’s being strangled too.

I can’t adequately describe what it’s like to have a rare disease to people who don’t have one, especially when it comes to finding medical care. I’ve had a fibromyalgia diagnosis since I was 23, and those of you who have chronic illness may have an inkling, but this is a completely different ballgame. I got a diagnosis last fall but have been sick since birth (and I’m 43 now). I only figured out a month ago myself – MYSELF – why I needed 10 shunt surgeries. There are no other documented cases like mine.

If I can put this in perspective, imagine that your child is one in a dozen in the world who has Progeria – the disease that makes children age prematurely, so that they look elderly as infants and young children (and they come with a plethora of underlying maladies). And imagine that there is only one doctor in the world who is an expert, so every child with that disease is going to that doctor. One day, that doctor is killed in a motor vehicle accident. Then there is no one else to treat those children.

That’s what it feels like right now to have my mast cell disease doctor break up with me. The disease affects more than a dozen people, but to actually find doctors who can and will treat me is impossible. I think it would be easier to ask a man to have a baby naturally. 

Big Help In A Little Package – TechCare Pro24 Ultimate Massager 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.

Back in 2007, I had a beast of a knee operation. My right patella (“knee cap”) was tracking wrong, meaning it was slightly dislocated, so it would cause all kinds of problems as I bent and straightened my leg and my patella slid all over the place – but not exactly where it should have. I also had damage to the underlying cartilage. Before surgery I was required to go through months of physical therapy to strengthen the surrounding muscles, and after surgery of course I had to recover. It took me a year to straighten my leg.

Anyone who has been through orthopedic surgery has had a run-in with a TENS unit. I was issued a big, black carrying case with a handle, multiple square pads and a control box with a dial. The controller had an on/off switch and the dial to change the intensity of the charge, and that’s it – no frills. You got what you got.

I didn’t have any expectations with this TechCare Pro24 Ultimate Massager, deliberately.
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In actuality, I was pleasantly surprised. The controller feels like it’s made of high quality metal, not cheap plastic. It has the capability of running two lead lines at a time, though the user can choose to run one lead at a time. The lead lines themselves are considerably long, which is useful if you need to reach around to the back of your body for any reason (which, if you’re anything like me, you will).
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I’ve been trying to walk outside while the weather has been cooperating, because I’m trying to get stronger. I have a lot of joint pain because of fibromyalgia, plus I’m in bed a lot to keep the pressure off of my brain, but the downside is that the rest of my body pays the price. Since I’m walking outside there’s a lot of variation in the elevation and terrain and my muscles and joints very quickly and loudly rebel. It’s the perfect time to put the TechCare Pro24 Ultimate Massager to the test.

I want to pick the right size of pad according to where on my body I want to attach the pads. This unit comes with three sizes:
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I chose to work on my right hip, which never fails to make its presence known. The big, rectangular pads are the best for that area of my body, so I decided to slap one on my back right flank, and then one on the top of my right femur.

The TechCare Pro24 Ultimate Massager doesn’t run on willpower alone; it needs actual electricity to roll. I’m always in front of my laptop, so I chose the option to hook up the unit to the USB portal for the juice.
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So as I had everything hooked up and charging, the next step was to choose the actual mode that would work best for what I wanted to accomplish, which would be to relax my right hip. I pushed the slide button over on the top so that the unit turned on, and then I could see the different choices for the massages for the most helpful option. Every time a different mode out of the six options are chosen, the strength returns to the lowest intensity so that the user can change it to his or her most tolerable level. I think this is a good thing because some modes felt more stinging than others, depending on the intensity.
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My favorite option that I found for my hip is the one that appears with the number “1” in this picture. As you can see, I didn’t even have to go to half intensity to feel the effects. The timer starts at 15 minutes but can be reprogrammed all the way up to 60 minutes.

At one point a friend called during one of my sessions, and I was so relaxed that he asked me if he had awakened me from a nap.

I did try it on other areas of my body – my neck, my left shoulder, my right quadriceps – and I tried out the other modes. The best thing to do is try the modes and strengths and find the best combination of style and length of time, because there’s no one-size-fits-all like there used to be with the old TENS units.

One extra goody that is included in the package is a chart of the human body and suggestions of where to place the pads to relieve certain pains.

This TechCare Pro24 Ultimate Massager is light years past that unit I had to use ten years ago for my knee rehab, and is much more affordable to boot. You can find it here – check it out!

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/

Is It Time For A Vacation Yet?

I’d like to take some time off from my daily life. I’m not sure if that’s allowed, since I have loads of time off already – my only job is to rest and get ready for the next doctor appointment. But still, I’d like to look at something other than these four walls. In fact, I’d like my old life back and a reason to take a vacation. 

Anyway, yesterday was my birthday, and a couple of friends flew up from Colorado, and we decided to brave the largest art event in the U.S. – the Art-a-Whirl in Northeast Minneapolis. What was happening in one warehouse would have covered what most cities considered an arts festival, but this event takes over miles. We just stayed within the limits of where the complimentary trolley traveled. Even with the trolley my phone tracked 7,000 steps for me yesterday. That’s a personal record (and comes with a cost, because I’ll be in bed for most of the week with the exception of one appointment tomorrow morning and Wednesday morning). My legs were having none of it. They were starting to spasm in the last building we visited.

I did pick up one little piece of art, which reminds me of a line I’ve heard over and over in my dating life:
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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.

MedCline For Heartburn – A Crazy, Functional Pillow System

Do you suffer from heartburn or GERD? I have, for years. I’ve gone through a number of tests to find the cause of it and also to make sure that the valve between my stomach and esophagus isn’t degrading from the acid backing up (it isn’t). It is the absolute worst feeling to wake up because acid comes up all the way from my stomach into my mouth at night. I’ve also tried a combination of medications, but sometimes they don’t do the trick, and it’s not always safe to be on them long-term. Now I know my acid reflux is likely caused by my mast cell activation syndrome. 

So I saw an ad for this pillow system and decided to give it a try. It was especially appealing to me because I had surgeries done on the right side of my body for three years and had to lay on my left, and had torn up my left shoulder terribly – I’m still doing physical therapy, getting injections and dealing with regular pain continuously now. The base inclined pillow looked like it would help me a lot because it actually has space tunneled out for the shoulder and arm:

What you see propped on top of the wedge is the body pillow that is also available with the system. You can buy the wedge by itself, but honestly, I don’t recommend it; I’ve tried to sleep without it, and it’s not at all comfortable to me. Here’s a pic that shows more of the body pillow, which is filled with memory foam bits:
2016-08-25 11.15.10Both pillows have covers that can be unzipped and washed, which I do often. 

To sleep, I first tunnel my arm through the wedge, and then I wrap my body around the body pillow for support. MedCline recommends that it’s best to sleep on your left if you are able because of the shape and functionality of the stomach, but it’s okay if you aren’t.

MedCline recommends that you buy your pillow according to your height and weight. If you meet one requirement but not the other, I would say go with the height and not the weight, because where the wedge inclines makes more of a difference for you than anything else.

The pillow system is shipped for free and they have a 60-day money back guarantee. MedCline wants you to give the pillow system a try because they know it will take some getting used to, but they believe their product is worth the time and effort. I believe it too. I showed my pictures to my gastroenterologist because he had never seen or heard of it before, and he knows countless patients who sleep in recliners or who purchase traditional wedge pillows or try to sleep on stacks of whatever will keep them propped up at night.

I agree with MedCline – it does take time to get used to. When I sleep on it, I don’t have problems with my shoulder or arm hurting or going numb, and I don’t have problems with my acid reflux. That was my ultimate goal when I bought it.

All You Need Is Your (Whole) Health Back (Movie and Book Review)

Half of the adult population around the globe has some sort of chronic condition, varying in severity. Some are lucky enough to barely be bothered by it except as a reminder on their calendars once every few years to get checked by a doctor for any notable changes. Others can’t move an eyelash without being reminded that their body has taken on a long-term burden and there’s no relief in sight. A huge majority fall somewhere in between. Because of this, and social stigmas falling away regarding the discussion of chronic conditions, the market is being flooded with all kinds of materials and “how to” manuals for coping.

Through the Chronic Illness Bloggers group, I was lucky enough to be given these two products as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although these products were a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

The two items that I was given in tandem were a documentary called “The Connection,” and a book called “The Whole Health Life.” I didn’t approach either medium with any expectations, which turned out to be a good thing, because I tend to be very particular and picky – I don’t want my movies or reading materials to be too “preachy,” nor do I want them to assume that I know nothing about my diseases. Most of the time I see manuals out on the market that are written with new patients in mind, not with 20-year war veterans like me.

First, I’d like to cover “The Connection.” I’ll admit, I reached for this first because I didn’t feel like I had the attention span to get me through a book right out of the gate. I was quite pleasantly surprised. It was a good pace, but not overwhelming, while still giving the audience constant reliable information to process. For instance, I learned about “medical hexing” – many patients are told by doctors that we’re not going to get better. Would you believe it if I told you that two weeks ago, my primary care doctor told me that I should just give up and accept that I will never find a neurosurgeon who will be willing to help me with another shunt surgery and who will take my tumor out? Boy, is that ever a hex! But a hex doesn’t have to be that obvious. It can be about giving you a pill rather than looking at your whole lifestyle and looking at what can be improved upon. 

More points from the movie hit home for me, especially since I’m having such a hard time finding doctors who will help me. For instance, if I have zero support – friends, family, doctors – I’m three times more likely to die early. Luckily I have some really great family and friends. Also, belief is part of why we get better, but it takes both the doctor and the patient believing. So far, I don’t have the doctors backing me up. And I also learned from the film that our genes do play a major role in what we do develop as far as diseases go, but our life experiences and our environment also trigger the genes. In other words, you could be perfectly fine but if you go wading knee deep through an oil spill, chances are that MS is going to come leaping out that has been lurking all these years.

So if you haven’t picked up on it, the documentary “The Connection” got my attention. Because of that, I was confident that the book “The Whole Health Life” would be engaging – and it was. And that says a lot, especially coming from someone who has the attention span of a gnat at the moment.

As readers, we can spend more time on the book, relating to what the writer is saying about wading through the soup of pain and foggy brain, trying to get through an able-bodied world and looking normal on the outside. Immediately the author, Shannon Harvey, introduces the core concept: we cannot deal with health by separating “body” health and “mental” health. They are intertwined and inseparable. A pill may address one portion and meditation may address another portion and talk therapy may address yet another potion and engaging in positive social activities may be uplifting, but when consumed in isolation, they hardly make a difference. When combined, they improve a person’s well-being by leaps and bounds. Ms. Harvey breaks it down into 10 topics to easier process and incorporate the practices into daily living.

For me, meditation is difficult. As I mentioned before, my mind is more that of a squirrel than it is a turtle, but she talks about the benefits of calming the mind and recommends a few easy steps that anyone can pick up. Emotions logically follow right after that. What are we doing to process our emotions? What do we allow to play on our inner recording? And then there is the “placebo effect.” Let’s try changing the name of this, the taking of sugar pills and still seeing positive results, as if a patient has taken “real” medicine; what is really at work is the power of belief. The belief that a patient can heal and become well again (or at least have an improved life) that comes with the motion of the taking of the medicine is just as powerful as the drug itself and has been documented for hundreds of years; it’s why people “pray” when it seems all hope for recovery is lost.

Of course, on the physical side, what we put into our bodies and how we move our bodies makes a huge difference. Eating the foods that are the best for us, sleeping the right amount and exercising to the best of our abilities are all important in our recovery and maintenance.

As a “spoonie,” as those of us are known who have chronic conditions that cause fatigue and pain, many of us keep blogs, as I do, as well as participate on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We seek out others who are like us. We appreciate having others who understand our daily (and sometimes hourly, minute-by-minute and second-by-second) struggles. I think that “The Whole Health Life” would be a good book to read and re-read because we tend to get stuck in patterns that reinforce the negative feedback loop – myself included. If someone isn’t feeling up to concentrating on words, then they can sit back and watch “The Connection” for some reinforcement.

Please visit the documentary movie “The Connection” here.

You may purchase the book “The Whole Health Life” by Shannon Harvey through Amazon here.