This week has been really tough.
First, I had to run to the pharmacy to get some meds. I belong to a reduced rate program for disabled people and it’s contracted with a cab company; I just have to let them know I’m in the program when I call. I did that. The phone rep didn’t want to take down my address or the address where I was going. I found out when I got in the cab that the rep also didn’t specify that I was on the program, because the cabbie was expecting cash. He was pissed. He called into the home office and kicked me out of the cab, telling me to call for a different one. I had already waited 45 minutes for him (but I didn’t tell him that). My anxiety went through the roof.
But then he called me back and said the home office fixed it, and he would take me – but he wasn’t happy. I ended up giving him some extra cash on top of my fare, which he appreciated, but I had to fight back tears when all of this went down. I did everything right, yet I was punished for the fuck up.
Two days ago, I had to go to an appointment because of my tunneling infection disease. If any of you have hidradenitis suppurativa, or you feel brave and have a strong stomach and you want to see videos, have at it. There is a guy here in Phoenix who has posted some pretty gnarly videos of his hiney. Mine DOES NOT look like that (yet), but I do have lots of scar tissue and tunneling. The crazy thing about this disease is that if you drain or squeeze any infection out, it actually forces the tunnels back further, like what a gopher does if you try to chop into its tunnels. The infections are incredibly painful because of the acidity of the bacteria. It’s also not the oil glands that clog up, but the sweat glands. My active areas happen to be the places where I sit. Most women have trouble under their arms. Bless you, ladies, for having it anywhere. It’s three times more common in women than it is in men.
Anyway, I had to get one spot tended to (I have over 50 active spots right now) because it was getting so painful that I couldn’t sleep. The doctor was trying to inject me with steroids and Lidocaine, not realizing that Lidocaine doesn’t work on me. So…I don’t get numb. Not one little bit. Before anyone came in to work on me, I had another panic attack and more than a few tears, feeling overwhelmed by everything happening at once.
At some point when I was sleeping last week, I hyper-extended my left knee outwards. When I got out of bed, I could barely put weight on it, and I noticed bruising around the knee cap. My quadriceps above the knee cap also swelled up. At first I put on a couple of knee braces, but then my left hip started hurting from the misalignment as well, so I gave up and went to my pain doctor. The doc and his nurse practitioner were reading up on my conditions and asked me to do the laying down/sitting up trick to move around my CSF. I got a referral for physical therapy for someone who specifically knows how to treat patients with hypermobility, but I had to put it on hold, because my short bus transportation has been a problem.
In August, I received a notice from the company running the accessible transportation in the Phoenix area that I would only be eligible if the temperature was 90 degrees or greater. I sent in a 3-page letter and some highlighted medical records. I was scheduled for a hearing to try to overturn that decision on Tuesday. I received a call today from an extremely cheerful woman (think Sesame Street) who told me that they decided to approve me unconditionally, no hearing needed. I thanked her and told her that it had caused me a lot of stress. I wanted to swear at her but didn’t want my privileges revoked.
So now, tonight. There was a meme going around of Trump and Kanye making out, because let’s face it, that’s what they do. A cousin who is all the way up Trump’s ass decided to comment on my sister’s post and say that he was disappointed in her post, that he loved our dad who passed away young, that I (Chelsea) had unfriended him (the cousin) for his viewpoints and that he still loved us. Well, I’ve got some screen shots – not all – so you can read them. But the conversation that led to me unfriending him in the first place was him telling me that he was tired of paying for me. Basically, he believes I should die rather than get healthcare. This is someone who has been to rehab and probably needs to go again. But he’s telling me to get off my lazy ass; I must be lazy because I’ve had 10 failed brain surgeries.
There was a little more that I typed before I blocked him, but I ended it with this:
Because he really should eat a bag of dicks. He wasn’t around for any of my surgeries, or for the 7 years it took me to figure out what I had with very little help with any of the 60 doctors I saw up to that point. I guess he even threatened me for crossing him, but I jumped off that conversation before seeing it, but other people did. What a great guy, huh?
There’s a documentary that’s been added to the Netflix library that I think everyone should watch called “The Bleeding Edge.” Overall, the topic is supposed to be about medical devices. But talk about intersectionality! Unfortunately, I think that women are going to be drawn to this movie more than men – because we are experimented on and dismissed much more than men and the movie makes it much more evident.
Every once in a while, we get to see a little snippet of a CEO standing on a stage proclaiming the audience of marketers and/or health care professionals “innovators” or “disruptors.” I really struggle with these labels. I see them thrown around often. What do they mean, exactly?
Nothing has really changed drastically here in the U.S. with the delivery of healthcare. We are still beholden to insurance in the traditional sense, and pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and medical device companies drive pricing, which is all over the place; nothing is uniform. Right now, only those with expendable income can stray from the model. Delving a little deeper, not every state is set up for people who are at or slightly above poverty; instead, the state laws are designed to punish them for lack of income and lack of healthcare, while simultaneously penalizing them for not taking better care of their health.
“The Bleeding Edge” covers such medical implants as hip replacement systems and the Essure coils, which are discussed in detail. I can relate to this topic on a few levels. First, all ten of the shunts that I had implanted between July 2011 and May 2015 failed. I went to a hydrocephalus conference in 2016 and was able to attend a panel with all of the major device manufacturers, and got the mic for a question. I detailed issues with scar tissue growing into the programmable part of the shunt which made the dial get stuck wide open, causing excruciating pain (and if any of you reading this have had a leak, imagine the symptoms for a year where you feel like you are being beaten by a tire iron every time you raise your head). The manufacturers insisted this was “impossible.” I told them they couldn’t say that to my face, because I was living proof, and one of their reps was in the exam room with me to witness it.
Any time, and I mean any time a device company says something isn’t possible right out of the gate, you know something is up. As outlined in “The Bleeding Edge,” women who had Essure implanted were only reported on for the first 12 months – and even for those women, their answers were altered so the outcomes were positive. As far as my shunts go, I didn’t know before my first surgery that all shunts have a 40% failure rate within the first year. I still haven’t seen that published anywhere. I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t attended the bi-yearly hydrocephalus conference in 2016 and heard it from one researcher (and only one researcher).
My second connection is that I actually seriously considered the Essure implant. A friend had them implanted in her Fallopian tubes and seemed to suffer few side effects. I wanted to stop taking birth control pills but didn’t want other hormones, and thought maybe the coils would be a viable permanent solution. I actually developed tumors in my uterus and had to have a hysterectomy, otherwise I may have completed that process. I’m breathing a sigh of relief that I didn’t after seeing this film. I didn’t realize the scope and breadth of complications – but more importantly, now that I know I overproduce scar tissue internally because of MCAS, I could have been in terrible trouble (besides what is happening now). I don’t know what I would do if I had to deal with that in addition to the scar tissue I already have growing around my intestines.
Another alarming process pointed out in the film is that devices are grandfathered in simply because they are similar to other devices that have been created. It doesn’t matter if the previous devices were defective. It only matters that the devices existed.
There are many moments in the film that made my blood pressure go up immediately. For instance, some fat ass doctor watching protesters who received the Essure implants say that they made up their complications. He is misogyny personified. And when a rep whose identity is disguised tells a story about a doctor who admits that the rep’s product is superior but he doesn’t get enough financial incentives so he’s going to promote a competitor’s product, I’m tempted to throat punch someone. Or how about when the filmmakers point out the different companies the former heads of FDA went to work for after they were done in the public sector so they could help get the products passed through the FDA for bigger profits with no thought to safety or effectiveness?
What would true innovation or disruption be? Let’s disrupt misogyny. Let’s disrupt hiring from the public sector into the private sector and vice versa so we can eliminate cronyism and sole emphasis on huge profit margins and replace those with successful medical devices and prescriptions. Let’s build a truthful healthcare system and test products before they are put into our bodies. (Don’t say it can’t be done. Other countries already do it.) Let’s build a healthcare system that is not based on employment or lack of employment. Let’s call it something other than “innovation” and “disruption.”
I’m here in Arizona now. This is the most disjointed move I’ve ever done. The movers came to pick up all of my boxes (and very small amount of furniture – two little filing cabinets, two compact bedside tables and my super ugly but very functional hospital bed) on June 27th. I flew out to Phoenix from St. Paul on June 29th on the hottest and most humid day in Minnesota – 100 degrees. I was giving away some drawer units to my parents for their newly-constructed garage, and we had to tear them down completely to fit them in their trunk as well as my suitcases, my parents, my nephews and I for our detour to drop me at the airport. It feels like ages ago.
Thank goodness my old landlord left the little air conditioning unit that I had previously installed that a prior tenant had left behind, or we would have been in big trouble, because that apartment didn’t come with air conditioning. I had a POTS episode from being outside in the heat and humidity and trying to help Dad with loading the car. When I came back in for the final run, I was shaking badly and was nauseated, and couldn’t really answer my mom when she asked if I was okay. I had to get going though because Dad was still waiting outside for us, so I took a few seconds to change shirts and wipe the sweat off of my head and wig and reassemble myself, and away we went.
They dropped me at the curb to check in and get my wheelchair, and my nephews, aged 12 and 9, hugged me twice and cried. Well, we all cried. Then it was time to fight my way through Friday afternoon security. They didn’t give me the option to go through in the wheelchair so I had to walk and get a full pat down because the security scanner doesn’t like spandex. I finally got settled back in my wheelchair and since I was at my gate pretty early, I decided to read through my insurance documents.
Imagine my surprise when a few hours later, I glanced up and recognized the profile of a person who approached the podium to ask if she was at the correct gate. The exchange went something like this:
Her: “Excuse me, am I at the right gate? The flight time says 6:25, but this display says 6:45, so I don’t think I’m at the right gate.”
Employee: “Yes, you’re at the right gate. It’s still the same flight number and city. We’re just delayed by 20 minutes.”
Her: “Oh, okay. I just wasn’t sure because it totally wasn’t the right time.”
Employee: “It’s still the correct flight. You’ll make up some of the delay in the air going to Phoenix.”
Her: “Okay, I just wanted to be sure.”
I recognized her profile before her voice, but those questions were definitely typical. I have wondered over the decade that we have known each other how she has managed to safely leave her house sometimes. What made me instantly freeze and try to hide my half-paralyzed face with my hair was the fact that I had told her to go fuck herself just a few months earlier. Of all of the days I could have traveled and of all of the days she could have traveled, and of all of the cities she could have flown into and out of, and out of all of the airlines to choose from, this was the day and location she picked. Jesus fucking Christ.
When I visited Phoenix last October, I had made plans months in advance to stay with her a few days (because she is one of only a few friends who doesn’t have animals). However, a month before I visited, she became sick and told me not to call or text her. So I made plans NOT to stay with her. While I was there, I offered to visit for a few hours and wear a vogmask so I didn’t catch what she had – which by the way was a very nasty pneumonia that she didn’t immediately kick – and she turned me down. Then she sent me text messages telling me that I was a horrible friend for not staying with her, and “next time” she was going to just keep her personal business to herself. (Usually she saves that last bit for when someone gossips about her. I wasn’t gossiping. I just can’t stay with her because I was born with a compromised immune system, and now I’m on weekly injections that reduce it even further. Something like that could and would kill me.)
In May, she sent me messages saying that she knew I was moving down, and she wanted to know where and when. I hadn’t told her anything. She doesn’t know any of my other friends, save one whom she hasn’t talked to in years. I don’t know where the info came from, but at this point, I don’t care. It’s manipulative and it’s something that she does to feel superior. When I told her that I didn’t want to continue staying in touch because she was so shitty to me, she claimed she didn’t remember saying anything to me. Of course, I have it all in writing, so it’s not my imagination.
That mutual friend asked if I missed being friends with her. My answer? Only when I forget how bat shit crazy she is. I don’t like being manipulated. I told her to fix herself, and I stand by that. (Not that I’m perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I also don’t claim to have never told someone not to call or text me, and then told them they are a horrible friend for not calling or texting me.)
Now that I’m in Phoenix, I’m a little nervous about being disabled and not being able to get away quickly if I do encounter someone I would rather avoid. That one is a good example. Another one is the former friend who tried to force himself on a mutual friend, and told me that I was crying about my sister and my friend dying 10 days apart just for sympathy. And oh, the ex-boyfriends. One in particular is Drummer #2, who was also controlling, manipulative and violent. I’m almost certain he still lives 2 miles down the road from where I am temporarily staying.
I think this is a good year for purging and starting new. I got rid of a lot of old furniture. I’m going to sever relationships that are unhealthy as well, as sad as that is, especially with friends who have been attached for so long.
Now if I could just solve the mystery of when the stuff I am keeping is actually going to arrive on the moving truck…
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.