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.
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!
April 10, 2015, was the last day I commuted home from a paying job. It was the last day I was on a dreaded conference call with a bunch of frustrated staff members. It was a Friday, and only three weeks into a contracting job after being laid off from a place where I had worked for over twelve years. I was already nervous about surviving because work had been interrupted by so many shunt surgeries prior to that time, but April 10th was the final straw.
I remember driving home during rush hour and having the familiar “lights out” sensation cloud my vision. I was only working about 8 miles from home, but since it was rush hour, it would take at least 45 minutes, and the darkness squeezed in almost right after I got behind the wheel. It took all my energy to focus on my lane and not crash into anyone else. I don’t even remember how I made it to the hospital after that, which was another 7 miles in the opposite direction. But I remember having to call my boss the next day to tell him that I would never be coming back in; they wouldn’t hold a short contract position indefinitely.
I wasn’t even sure my neurosurgeon would do surgery #10 in less than 4 years at that point. He had already said after #9 back in November that if I failed again, he was not willing to operate. But he did – sort of. He only did half of the surgery. And of course it failed. And then he sent me away, telling me I had to figure out what was the source of the problem, because he wasn’t going to continue doing something that was going to keep failing. It was all being put on me.
I did figure it out. It took me from 2010 to 2017 and 65 doctors to put all of the pieces together, not to mention the fact that I am one person, not even an entire lab or radiology department. I got zero support from the NIH’s Undiagnosed Diseases Network. The Minnesota Board of Health decided not to discipline 3 doctors (among many) who falsified information to get out of treating me. The Mayo Clinic banned me so I wouldn’t hurt their success statistics and change their #1 in the nation status in 21+ areas.
I lost everything: my car, my house, my ability to earn a livable wage, my confidence, my sense of security and self-worth, friendships, independence, and every last penny of my financial reserves. Thank goodness I already lost my hair over 15 years ago because if I had to go through that right now I’d absolutely lose my shit.
After filing three years ago, I finally had my disability hearing on Wednesday the 28th of March. I didn’t know what to expect. My attorney pulled me into a small conference room prior to the hearing and prepped me, telling me that if the judge asked me questions, to not take longer than 15-20 seconds to answer, and to speak up because he was older and may be hard of hearing. I was also told it may go as long as an hour.
But five minutes, and we were done. Long enough to read my name, and say that it was obvious I was disabled and not making anything up. The letters I asked Dr. Afrin and my current immunologist write for me were key for my case and noted in the judgment. The judge also specifically said that the way I was treated by the majority of the 65 doctors was appalling.
What’s next? I have to wait for Social Security to process the judge’s ruling, and then enter my info for payment, and like the Kool-Aid man, all you’ll see is my silhouette – I’m busting outta here. I gave Minnesota a fair shake for three years, but the fact that so many doctors lied in my medical records and refused to treat me has made my decision an easy one. I’ve decided to head back to Arizona where I will pick up again with 8 of the doctors I previously had; only a few will be switched out, including getting in with a neurologist who specializes in MCAS and Ehlers-Danlos. (Minnesota is a great place to be employed as a nurse, because they are paid relatively well, but it’s a horrible place to be a patient, and I’m far from being the only person who feels this way.)
I want to be clear about what this disability status means for me: 1) It doesn’t change any day-to-day abilities that I have. I still have to lay down and rest for the majority of my day, about 20 hours every day. 2) The actual status of disability is not permanent; I’ll be reviewed and my medical records will be combed through every few years by Social Security to make sure my health and abilities haven’t changed. 3) I still have to take the short bus everywhere, especially now since I’ll be making “too much” to get medical assistance (which is more than $0.00). 4) I still can’t get a motorized scooter – do you really want a half-blind person driving one of those??
My prediction is that this is all going to go down by the end of May, but I’m at the mercy of Social Security.
Written as a MySpace blog post 10.5 years ago, approximately 3 years before I became seriously ill with the disease that took me down and now has me bedridden. I can’t believe it’s been a decade already.
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The Legacy of Hope 6/2/07
When I went to the Chandler library to cruise for movies to check out for the weekend, the selections were pretty slim. The Poirot series that usually appears on PBS didn’t hold any appeal, and “Show Boat” wasn’t looking any better. I picked up a documentary called “Legacy,” about a multi-generational family of single moms trying to escape the inner city projects of Chicago.
The narration is provided by one of the teenage girls who lives with her grandmother, mother, aunt, six cousins and four siblings. Within the first 10 minutes of the film and after the grandmother gives her first interview about living in the projects, one of the nephews – the one that showed the most academic promise and stability, and was looked up to by family and neighbors alike – was shot dead in the street. The filmmaker chose to follow this family for a total of five years after this devastating murder, which included the boy’s mother joining and completing her 5th addiction treatment program, the narrator’s mother getting a stable job after being a welfare recipient since the age of 16, and the grandmother finally qualifying for her own house after a generous donation from an area businessman who saw the news story of the boy being shot. The narrator was the first in her family to complete a high school education and receive her diploma.
This was a difficult story on many levels. It is not dissimilar to watching episodes of “Intervention” on A&E. Nearly every person of my immediate and extended family is or was an addict; I saw and learned things that no child should. Every person in my father’s family with the exception of my uncle died young, including my father. This month will also mark the violent death 12 years ago [as of 2007] of my aunt at the hands of her boyfriend.
Poverty was also a strong factor in my childhood years. My mother nearly died when I was five after she contracted a bacterial infection, and was bedridden for three months. Add that to the strain of my own medical bills, with my terrible asthma attacks, allergies, and numerous bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis….and no health insurance. “Preventative care” was impossible to consider. We stood in line for milk and cheese. We were also issued these awful frozen fish portions, which were breaded fillets of cod with a hunk of cheese wrapped in as well. Luckily an uncle was a manager at General Mills and would give us test samples of various foods that they were developing to mass market. It was a treat when we once got “Bonkers” – if you remember those, they were rolls of peanut butter with rice crispies and chocolate chips on the outside. Mostly, though, we got these horrendous breakfast bars – vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate – that had the taste of chalk and the consistency of a doorstop. We ate them because we had to. [It is no mystery that impoverished people are overweight because the least expensive food is the most fattening and unhealthiest fare you can conjure up.]
One Christmas there was no money for presents. My mom contacted a local charity that gave us $14 each to spend on gifts, took us shopping, and had a wrapping party afterwards. Mom still had a sense of humor about it – somehow she convinced me to tell her what I got her, saying “Oh, I’ll forget, I promise. Just whisper it in my ear.” Of course I told her.
It is also no mystery that being poor is stressful, humiliating and limiting. It is easy to say “Why don’t they just ___________ ?”. Right now, as a nation in general, we have a very them-vs.-us mentality; every man for himself. If you are lucky enough to have grown up in a household that never really had to struggle to survive, it is much more difficult for you to understand how this cycle of poverty continues through generations. But instead of saying “Why don’t they ________?”, why don’t you ___________ to help? Because it’s their problem, not yours. I’m not saying that we have to give $10 to the people with signs at the end of freeway exit ramps. Can’t we lend a hand before it gets to that point? It may not be you or your family right now, but it could be in the future. Medical expenses alone are becoming outrageous, even for those covered under company policies, and one major illness could be financially devastating. Half of all bankruptcies filed are attributed to medical bills. For some reason, we as a society have associated medical bills with outright laziness, when it couldn’t be further from the truth.
There were elements in this film that I could not relate to. My extended family never bonded to get through the hard times. When my aunt was killed, my father had to admit to the detectives that he “never really socialized with her” and didn’t know her boyfriend was violent. Her death was heartbreaking, but instead of offering each other support, fights broke out over stupid things like who would get her dresser and bed.
These women in the documentary also had strong faith in God, which was never a part of my upbringing. Hearing “God will get us through this” and “by the grace of God” was like they were speaking in tongues to me. Faith is not something I practice. Even if we’re talking about people in general, or work, or good health, or anything for that matter, I never sit back and say “I have faith”. Instead, I have hard work and critical thinking skills. If I don’t do for myself, I have no business sitting back and waiting for something, or someone, to take care of everything for me.
Yet, there is still the legacy of hope. We need to be reminded that despite our circumstances, we can rise above with dignity and flourish. You or I may have been in a bad place 10, 20, 25 years ago, but that doesn’t mean we have to be there now. Good deeds should be handed out to strangers, friends and family alike – you may need their help one day.
My mom has recently started worrying that she made too many mistakes and bad decisions when raising my sister and I. It’s quite a time delay, since we are both in our mid-thirties and turned out pretty straight. I don’t hold anything against her. She also taught us love and affection, dignity, and the joy of survival.
In 1993 to 1995, I worked at a regional hospital in the admissions area, and we always knew when it was a full moon. On any given day we would have one or two women during regular business hours coming in (not through the ER unless it was after hours) in full labor. When the full moon hit, the number always jumped up to about nine. If we ever forgot or wondered for a second, we checked the calendar and then it would click: oh yeah, the full moon. Every time. Don’t ever doubt that the moon has a big influence on happenings on Earth, and it’s not just tides and births.
I was at a social gathering this Tuesday the 30th of January. There were only six of us, but I only knew two others and three were strangers. One person came from her workplace and was wearing her work uniform and I was familiar with the clinic where she works – it’s quite large, and I used to have the majority of my doctors there. One of the young women sitting next to me piped up and said, “Oh, I used to work there, in ophthalmology!”
I immediately tensed up. “Do you mean you used to work with Dr. X?”
“Yes! I loved working with him, he was so laid back,” she said.
Now I’m no good when it comes to putting out a poker face. I also didn’t feel like playing Minnesota nice either. I said, “He made my life a living hell. He was the first doctor I saw there, and he said that my condition was psychogenic [meaning it is psychosomatic], and all of the doctors after that saw what he wrote so they wrote the same thing in my chart, and now no one will treat me. I actually have scans showing that my brain has collapsed and I’ve had a clogged shunt for almost three years.”
She nodded and said cheerfully, “Well, yeah, he actually writes that it’s psychosomatic or psychogenic in almost everyone’s file. But he’s nice to work for as a boss, he doesn’t get crabby often.”
When I say she was young, I mean early to mid-20’s. She wasn’t affected at all by me telling her that his notes basically ruined my life and chances for getting treated properly. I also haven’t had any money (including and especially disability) coming in for three years. I also wasn’t successful in filing a complaint with the Minnesota Board of Health – they said I didn’t have sufficient evidence. But now I’m wondering if I’m the only one who has complained about what he put in my chart because it was so obviously wrong, and I backed it up with 100+ pages of medical records.
This Dr. X is Harvard-educated, but you know, even Harvard has to have someone who is the shittiest out of the bunch. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s the one.
This is also why it’s important to stay diligent about your own care. I realize that anger makes people uncomfortable, but in my case, it’s legitimate.
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When I returned home from this gathering, I was taking my nighttime meds and catching up with my emails, and I saw one pop up in my inbox. I dreaded opening it. It was from a researcher I had written to a week ago to give her an update on my situation. I had met her in 2016 at the hydrocephalus conference that just happened to be in Minneapolis. I wasn’t sure that I could handle more disappointment, but after delaying it for a bit, I braced myself and checked her reply.
I had explained that I was diagnosed with mast cell activation syndrome, and that my Phoenix neurosurgeon had noted that my dura was extra tough when he started doing surgeries in my head rather than my back, so my theory was that my CSF couldn’t drain properly and that it was probably because of the mast cell degranulation. I already know the shunt failures are because of the mast cell action.
Her reply was very encouraging. She thought that I was absolutely on the right track, and she wants to work me into her research. A lot of it already revolves around inflammation; I consistently have astronomical platelet counts (that have already been checked via a bone marrow biopsy), but she hasn’t studied mast cells and I would be the perfect candidate since I had problems before the shunts and with the shunts.
I tend to be a pragmatic person, which sometimes leads to awkwardness in emotional situations. But I’m more than happy to sacrifice my body at the altar of science if it means that some knowledge is gained and others are helped. I’ve become a broken record in the online MCAS groups because I’ve talked about the CSF and shunt issues so many times, but every time I do, more people step forward and say that they have had some mysterious problems too, even if they are not exactly like mine. For a long time doctors have said that only fat, middle-aged women have pseudotumor cerebri/ideopathic intracranial hypertension, but I’m beginning to suspect that mast cell activation syndrome might be playing a bigger part than they realize because of how many people in the groups have stepped forward.
So after this low low and this high high, the super blue blood moon arrived in the early morning hours Wednesday. The moon has ruled my Earth. I feel a little bit lighter now.
One of my fellow rare disease/chronic illness warriors/sufferers posted a thread on Twitter tonight. She’s quite well known because her condition is very unusual and obvious, but she doesn’t shy away from the camera or public speaking engagements. Her post tonight detailed an eye doctor visit that was made all the more difficult because 1) The eye doctor googled her condition rather than talking to her directly about it – and she is a much more knowledgeable source than Google; 2) The eye doctor left the light shining in her retina while he took a personal call, after finding out that she is extremely light sensitive because of her condition.
Her post had to do with the appalling way that she was treated. As each of us who have chronic and rare diseases either have done or would like to do, she had some choice words for the doctors following her as pointers on how NOT to treat rare disease patients. At no point did she ever say, “Gosh, I have no idea what to do. I don’t know who to talk to about this or how to go through the proper channels [in Australia] to file a complaint.” There wouldn’t be any reason for her to do that. She’s lived with this condition all of her life and she is actually a very vocal and active advocate.
But of course, there’s some asshole who decided to announce that she should file a complaint.
No. Shit. Since the original poster wrapped up the thread by saying that she confronted the doctor and quite forcefully said that the rare disease patient is the best source, and a light sensitive patient shouldn’t be left in front of the light scope while a personal call is taken, and she would be following up with the office, and she just looked forward to trying to relax after being in a lot of pain, I responded. I said, “It’s okay – she knows how to handle bad appointments. She’s had this condition her whole life. She’s an advocate and speaks out often.” In other words, go fuck yourself.
Also recently, a young woman ended up in respiratory failure and was in a medically induced coma and on a respirator. She lost days of her life. When I say young, I mean young. Her significant other has been updating us and has been an absolute rock, but they are both scared and worried and facing big changes. Wouldn’t you know it, in the middle of the updates, I see something about, “Can you guys not offer advice, please?” She’s also a rare disease patient with some of the same stuff I have, but some is different, and I know some asshole is telling her that she needs to do yoga or chew on bark and vitamins from the Himalayas or something. So to whomever is sending her unsolicited advice, fuck you too.
Why does this get me so worked up? I was always a sick kid who grew up to be a sick adult. I became really sick in 2010 and it has been a mystery that has been mine alone to solve; no one has traveled with me to see 65 doctors, or see me through all 10 surgeries. There have been a few people who have helped to fill in some gaps, but they have been sparse. I know what I’m doing. I am educating doctors and nurses and physical therapists as I go along. I teach people how to maneuver through insurance. I help people search for doctors – even when there’s a few thousand miles between us.
I have never said I don’t know what to do, I don’t know who to call, I don’t know where to look, I don’t know where to go, I don’t know what to eat, I don’t know what to take, I don’t know what I like, I don’t know what’s best for me. And though I am currently well below my natural quota of 8 doctors, I know how to care for myself.
The next person who says, “Oh, it must be the acidity” after I tell them I can’t eat pineapple because I’m allergic to it, I’m going to throat punch them. Fuck them too. And fuck anyone who gives me unsolicited advice. I’m so over it and you have been warned. This video is much nicer about it, of course.
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.
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.
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.
I used to pride myself on being able to find little things – and big things – that seemed like a perfect fit as gifts. I would look or listen for clues. Okay, maybe sometimes I wouldn’t get it quite right, but at least I would try. My shopping would take place over the course of the entire year and during festivals and trips, because you never know when you will stumble on something unique that screams “_____!” (Use your imagination.)
But times are different. It seems like the majority of the people I know are much more careful about how and where they spend their money because of various constraints or social awareness. I have to be careful too; I no longer have an income, so no extra money to spend during the holidays. This list that I’m going to lay out is for someone – like me – who has little or no income, who might not be able to buy much of anything anymore.
1. Time. This is a big one, and it’s free! I simply can’t get out and socialize like I used to, because my body has put a hard stop on that. Sometimes I don’t want to be by myself. I love it when people visit or call, but I don’t always initiate stuff like that because I don’t want to be a burden. There’s nothing worse than a whiny-ass friend constantly saying “Pay attention to me,” right?
2. Gift cards. Conventional manners/wisdom say that giving gift cards is tacky because then people will know how much you spent on them, yadda yadda yadda. Bullshit. I love gift cards. I especially love them when my entire monthly budget has gone to rent/utility/medications and I have nothing left over to buy groceries, and I have a lovely gift card to the rescue.
3. Wheels. Man, I miss driving. I miss those Saturday mornings when I would get up at 8 am and run around until 11 am and go to about 8 different places and get all of my shit done. Now I ride the short bus and I can only go one place, and it takes me 2-3 hours. And it’s a drag. And I never know who’s going to be with me and if it’s going to be a bat out of hell drive. I would love it if I could have a whole morning of driving around for errands, like dropping off my recycled clothing/rags, recycled toner cartridges, disposing of hazardous waste, petting animals at the humane society, recycling old medications, getting 5 favorites from Trader Joe’s and 6 favorites from Hy-Vee and 4 organics from Aldi. As a side note, disabled people like to recycle too. It’s just that we can’t easily get to these locations and facilities. Plus, me getting out to do these things instead of doing them for me means I get to get out. (As a side note, I have discovered that more than a few people have assumed that the short bus is free. It’s not. It’s actually more expensive than the regular bus. Each round trip for me is nearly $10. It’s really, really expensive when you have no money coming in at all.)
4. Independence. My oldest sister made up a list of modified items that would have made her life easier, like rounded chopping knives that were easier to grip. We were puzzled at the time; it didn’t seem like fun, especially for Christmas. She had debilitating MS and was bedridden because she had lost the use of her legs and some of the finer motor skills of her fingers and hands. Looking back, and living what I am now, I understand that ignoring her list and insisting that we only get her “fun” stuff was a huge mistake. It is not only fun but a huge relief to get everything you ask for and need. So if someone asks for a modified chopping knife, get them the chopping knife.
5. Entertainment. I’m a movie/TV snob. I don’t like most sitcoms because there’s a lot of yelling involved. I also don’t watch cartoons. I know what I like, and I’m a binge watcher! I’m a loyal customer of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Plus. Yes, all three. They have some overlap, but there are some things that don’t appear on all three, and Hulu allows me to watch network shows that aired the night before. If you love me or someone like me who is in bed a lot, give the gift of streaming entertainment. I guarantee you it will be used. (Side note: I’ve tried reading. I used to be a voracious reader. Because of brain damage and eye problems, I don’t read much right now. Zero memory and attention span. Squirrel!!)
6. Amazon. This deserves its own category. I have used Amazon for vitamins, durable medical equipment (that was not covered by my insurance), ingredients to make my own deodorant/antiperspirant, and tons of OTC medication like Benadryl and Pepcid, which I take megadoses of. Of course, I use Amazon Prime too, so I get the movies, and it comes automatically with the music service too. Another great thing is that if you purchase through Smile.Amazon.com and designate a charity to receive 0.5% of your total spent, you can automatically make donations. I don’t have money to donate to any causes, so it still makes me feel as if I’m making a contribution, even if I can’t hand anyone cash. So you will never go wrong with an Amazon gift card.
7. Skin. Disabled people like luxury stuff too. Not everyone wants to smell like an Avon or Dove whorehouse or litter box. A little company called Villainess was just purchased by a new owner and sold out within a few days of its new stock because everyone was so excited to dive back into its soaps, lotions and scrubs. I’m telling you, their stuff is sooooooooo yummy. I just got 3 of their jars of lotions. I’m going to wait to open the jars until I feel really poor because it should be used within 2 months of opening (less preservatives = better for your body) and I want to stretch them out. So keep an eye on them, and put in an order and make someone feel extra special.
Another great place with amazing combinations is Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. I’ve had some bottles for 2-3 years because I have enough to rotate them around and not smell the same every day. You can buy samples (“Imps Ears“) instead of full bottles, but if you are sure you are going to like all of the flavors that they list, go ahead and buy a whole bottle. I have very rarely been disappointed. Buying scents for other people is a crap shoot, so be very cautious! I’m deathly allergic to lavender and patchouli. Anybody can be allergic to anything. If you aren’t sure, there are always gift certificates.
The Oska Pulse is a device that is a financial investment, to be sure, but it has a 30-day money back guarantee, and I use mine every day – because there isn’t a part on my body, somewhere, that isn’t hurting. Sometimes I end up using it six or seven times on that part. I’m just grateful to have it because I always end up feeling better. (It is important to note that it shouldn’t be used around any medical devices that are surgically implanted that could be affected by magnets, like shunts, stimulators or pacemakers. My shunt is strictly all silicone because I’m allergic to nickel.)
9. Massage. I go to a massage therapist once a month. There have been a couple of times where I have second-guessed myself and the wisdom of going, especially when I’ve had to shell out extra for medications and money is getting low, but when I’m on the table and getting worked on, I know I need it. First, it’s hard on my body to be in bed so much. Second, I rarely ever have any physical contact with anyone else. The massage is it.
10. Activism. I can’t do all of the work. Literally, I can’t do all of the work. The best gift you can give people that you don’t even know personally is to tell your elected officials that disabled people need housing, healthcare, transportation and good nutrition. I’m still waiting for housing that I was promised 8 months ago; it would mean that I would have things like grab bars, instead of constantly falling in the shower, and affordable rent, instead of paying full price on zero income (still no disability income after nearly 3 years of filing). Do not buy into this idea that everyone who is disabled should be punished.
Check out The Unchargeables for a variety of chronic/invisible/rare diseases for gear – you can even look for items according to the disease! I checked my alphabetized list and they have a few of mine in there. Pretty impressive! And for each disease, there’s a bunch of items, so you’re not limited to just a t-shirt or bracelet.
I don’t know if you knew this, but the old nursery rhyme “Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” is about the black plague.
Or, actually, it isn’t, according to Snopes.
I think about it this time of year, while I maneuver my way through hoards of people who don’t cover their mouths when they cough, or if they do, they immediately touch the door handle I was just reaching for. The Plague. Everyone is just waiting to infect me, I know it.
I’ve been having a hell of a time just getting a flu shot. Until two years ago, I never got one. Then they started making an egg-free version, meaning they didn’t grow them in an egg base as the very cheap food source. Now they also make the shot preservative free. It’s the holy grail for me since I’m allergic to raw eggs AND preservatives. However, my PCP’s office won’t order it for me. They insisted I call my insurance company, but the insurance company told me they couldn’t tell how it would be billed (as in, would there be a special code for an egg-free and preservative-free flu shot?), so I’m supposed to get the code from the doctor’s office. The PCP’s office doesn’t know how to bill for the shot unless the insurance company knows how it should be submitted, otherwise I’ll have to pay out of pocket. So…………
Scratch all that. I just talked to Walgreen’s, and they have an egg-free, preservative-free flu shot on hand, and I just have to show proof of my medical assistance. So guess who’s getting a flu shot from Walgreen’s?
This is the reason why not having preservatives is a big deal.
I’ve been giving myself Humira injections since August 30th to combat hidradenitis suppurativa outbreaks that I’ve been experiencing for about the last 8 years. It’s another autoimmune disease that up to around 2 years ago, not much was known about. I’m not going to spill all here, but trust me when I say that it’s super, SUPER painful. And doctors were cutting infections out of me, but because of mast cell activation syndrome, the lidocaine they were using wasn’t numbing me, so I would feel every slice. Before the HS was diagnosed, all of the doctors didn’t understand why I was getting the infections, and they thought that it was something that I was doing wrong – not bathing properly (HA!), wearing the wrong clothing (HA!), shaving inappropriately (because I don’t grow hair – ???? – HA!).
The treatments for HS include getting monthly injections of steroids in the normally infected areas – which I don’t know anyone who would go for that – or using oral and topical antibiotics, which I’m allergic to. The last resort is Humira.
The bitch of it is that I’m also allergic to the Humira shots. On August 30th I did the first loading dose of 4 shots. I didn’t have a reaction until 10 days after that, so it took me a while to catch on, and the reaction showed up only on my legs and not my stomach.
So I thought, okay, there was no reaction to the two shots in my abdomen. I’ll just get my abdomen with the next two shots. Besides, doing the injections in my legs hurt like a bitch. But then:
(Keep in mind I never show my stomach to anyone. The zipper scar you see running from my belly button is the extra large cut my neurosurgeon had to do on 12/21/13 when he didn’t have anyone assisting him on that surgery, which is the one where he finally saw my abdomen with his own eyes and remarked how it looked like a war zone inside and acknowledged my allergy to the shunt.)
So these two welts showed up the same day as the injection, and hung around until the Monday after – about 5 days. After the itching stops the welts turn into huge bruises.
I called the manufacturers of Humira to report my reaction. I knew immediately what the problem was before I even called. They make the shot shelf-stable for up to 14 days so that if you have to travel or lose power, you can still use it without it needing a refrigerator. Conclusion: preservatives. Specifically, there are 8 of them in the medication. When I talked to the company, they said the FDA approved them ONLY to make the formula with the 8 preservatives. It’s possible they might release a formula with only 2 preservatives in 2018, but they are still waiting for the final approval from the FDA. They cannot allow me to take another form of Humira with less preservatives because it’s only approved for use in the U.S. with the 8 preservatives.
I have to stay on it. If I go off of it, it immediately loses its effectiveness by 20-30% for the rest of my life within the first 2 weeks of discontinuing it.
Humira does lower my immune response. I’m already compromised because of my non-existent IgG3 and IgG4, so I have to be extra cautious. I’ve noticed that I’m much more fatigued than normal while I’m on this juice. The maid doesn’t get a whole lot done these days, know what I’m sayin’?
Usually my stomach doesn’t see the light of day unless it’s the surgeon operating on me (you can see another horizontal scar on the right pic above), but this is the reality of the mast cell disease. If you don’t know me and you see me clawing at my belly in public, now you understand why. I really do want to rip my skin off.
Two days ago I woke up for another appointment and my entire upper half was covered in hives. In this pic you can also see the shunt protruding because of all of the scar tissue that is growing around it. The rate it’s growing is highly unusual; the doctors are seeing in 3 weeks what they would normally see in 20 years. But I have no freaking idea why I woke up with the hives because nothing in my routine has changed as far as I know:
One thing that ended up on my good list is that I discovered that I’m not allergic to potato chips! Some of the other MCAS patients were discussing them in a group and so I took a chance and snuck some at a party – plain, salted – and didn’t develop hives, and didn’t lose the inside lining of my mouth or develop sores. The other crazy upside is that because I have POTS, I’m also encouraged to eat higher quantities of sodium so my blood pressure doesn’t dip too low. So, people, I am rediscovering Ruffles! I haven’t had them for decades! But they have to be strictly plain/salted, no other flavors including vinegar. It’s a nice change from the 8 foods I’ve been stuck with.