It’s Hard Out Here For A Crip

[This isn’t a plea for more help. I try to spread my requests out, because everyone has their own lives. I have actually had certain friends get mad at me because I asked for help more than once in a year. So in the spirit of friendship no, I don’t need anyone to get my groceries or prescriptions.]

Facebook is great until it’s not. Just hang with me as I explain this.

I’ve got so many medical conditions, allergies, prescriptions, over-the-counter medications and supplements that I have everything alphabetized on a sheet that I keep updating and printing every time I go to appointments. I can’t remember everything. I’ve got two injections that I give myself every week in my stomach and thighs, and it’s possible I’ll be getting a third. One of them really hurts and it takes a long time to push the syringe down; my hands cramp up and a few times I didn’t go long enough and have shot the solution all over myself when I pulled the needle out. (I hate wasting that precious medication.)

Nothing is simple with my healthcare. I just got done coordinating a treatment for hidradenitis suppurativa, which means I have to fly to Minnesota for two different lasers and get Pronox gas since Lidocaine doesn’t work on me topically. One of the issues we had to figure out was what to do about me breathing back OUT into the air – what if I was breathing out contaminated microbes and spreading COVID-19? So the office had to track down a device to add to the machine. It took me a week and a half to put everything together and find flights/hotel that I could afford that would also work with the office’s schedule.

At the same time, I was also scheduling surgery for some scarred areas with the hidradenitis suppurativa. Again, since I don’t get numb from Lidocaine, I have to be put under completely to get the spots removed. They are not going to be closed up but rather left open because of the nature of the condition; it’s better not to make a tunnel, that would just encourage the disease to start again in those spots. So now I have to also reschedule other doctor appointments because I will be uncomfortable for a couple of weeks, especially since I can’t take pain medications because of mast cell activation syndrome.

I met with a new cardiologist because I’ve been having major problems with pitting edema, despite being on a very high dose of spironolactone. He put me through a very thorough ECG and ultrasound of my heart and carotid artery, and wants me to have a tilt table test performed. I have a resting heart rate of 110+ now but a very normal blood pressure which sometimes dips low and have had the diagnosis of POTS since 2017 (but symptoms since 2000), but he wants to be sure that that is what I’m still dealing with. When it gets into the summer months here in Phoenix, it gets a lot harder for me to deal with the heat, and I get closer to blacking out frequently, even in my apartment with air conditioning.

I saw my OB/GYN because I still have cysts in my breasts. I get checked every six months. So far they haven’t changed in size, so I might be able to go once a year.

I was being lectured by my primary care doctor and rheumatologist about being on steroids long term for ankylosing spondylitis. I told them that going off for even a day is very impactful, but of course, they didn’t believe me, so I had to demonstrate it. I went off for 7 days and then went in to my rheumatologist’s nurse practitioner. She saw my hands twisted, red and inflamed to three times the size of what is normal, and also observed the spasms in my back that also severely affected my breathing. I’m allergic to all NSAIDs including ibuprofin and naproxen sodium because of mast cell activation syndrome, so I’m not able to take anything besides Tylenol at this point, which is absolutely unhelpful. After seeing for herself, she agreed to continue the steroids. (Side note: the cardiologist told me that I obviously gained weight on the steroids because I was eating more. Wrong. I eat about 1,000-1,2000 calories a day. Doctors love to shame women. One of my fellow patients was told to lose weight when she only weighed 95 pounds at 5’4″.)

I went back in to Barrow to follow up on an EEG. I had reacted to the strobe light even though it hadn’t been noted on the report and the tech saw it happening and kept asking if I was okay. I also have been having issues with my tongue and mouth going numb, and my left arm has been having spasms. I know that my brain has had changes that are different from the last two MRIs. This appointment was set up with a nurse practitioner because the neurologist I previously had left Barrow (yes!!! he was horrible), so we had never met. It seemed like she understood what I was explaining about my history. She left the room, came back, and said, “We’re really specific here, and no one knows what to do with you. Can you just go to a neighborhood neurologist? Maybe they will know what to do with you.” Seriously. When I go to a neurologist who is outside of a big organization like Barrow, they throw up their hands and say, “But I’m just a neighborhood neurologist!! What do you want from me?” The NP gave me two names as a suggestion, but since I saw a different doctor in the same office already, I can’t see anyone else.

My thyroid stopped working at optimal, which explains why I was feeling extra tired and achy, and looking even more like a defensive tackle. Whenever that happens my cholesterol also goes through the roof. So I had to adjust all those meds again.

I’m being monitored for clotting by an oncologist/hematologist, so I had to go in for more tests. Right now it looks like my factor IV and fibrinogen are high. The fibrinogen makes sense because of what has happened to all of my shunts.

I need to have a laser treatment on my gums and one of my molars pulled but that has to be put off indefinitely because of the current situation. These are complications in my mouth because of mast cell activation syndrome. I can’t ever get dental implants, also because of mast cell activation syndrome – I’m allergic to metal, cement and glue/bonding.

Throughout all of this, I’m also trying to coordinate all of my meds. Some are traditional meds that I can get through a place like Walgreen’s. However, I’ve encountered some shortages. So it’s been left up to me to follow up to try to figure out how to get them. One of my meds I couldn’t get for FOUR months. Some of my medications have to be compounded because they aren’t available in the form I need to take them on the regular market. For instance, one is available as an eye drop, but I need to be able to take it as a pill. But the prescribing doctor is in Minnesota, and I’m overdue to see him, and he can’t do a televisit because I’m not physically in MN. None of my other doctors will write the script. See how this shit gets complicated? Besides that, I also had to go through the approval process multiple times for the shots because I failed out of multiple medications. I talked, I faxed, I talked some more, I faxed some more, I scanned, I talked, I waited on hold, I faxed, I scanned, I faxed…you get the idea. Oh, and they also ran credit checks on me. That’s something new all of them are doing. They are saying it’s because they want to make sure I’m getting all the benefits I can get, but obviously that’s a big fat lie. I’m wondering who they are withholding medication from. Drug manufacturers have a lot of power.

That sums up everything I have been dealing with for the past couple of months.

I’m on Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), which means I worked before I became disabled. In fact, the judge that decided my case said I truly worked as much as I possibly could before I really couldn’t work anymore. I now fall into the category of having a very low income, but it’s not low enough to receive any additional help. I don’t get any assistance with housing/rent, food, utilities or transportation. Some people get discounts but I don’t. The last time I had this income was 1993.

With this income, I have to pay for my monthly medical premiums. The premiums alone add up to $438.20. One of the plans I have isn’t from the state I live in. The state of Arizona doesn’t believe that someone could exist who is below the age of 65 and receives income above poverty level, who is also disabled. That’s me. They don’t have any policies for anyone under 65 who isn’t poverty. The craziest thing happened, though. I was actually living in another state when my case was decided, and the state had one – only ONE – policy that I could buy that could travel to any of the other 49 states no matter where I lived. I just can’t miss a payment for the next 22 years, ever. If I do it could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars of extra costs for me because of all of my crazy health stuff. This dollar amount does not include the money I spend on prescriptions, OTC meds or supplements. The supplements are absolutely necessary because they help to treat mast cell activation syndrome.

I spend something in the neighborhood of $100-150 on transportation a month because of having to go to doctor appointments, labs, scans and to the pharmacy. For about a month and a half Medicare was allowing our medications to be delivered, but they stopped allowing that, so I have to go and get my meds now. We can’t do mailing here in AZ because the heat degrades medications. (There have been a few times when the ice packs have been barely cold on my shots that have been delivered to me.)

I am signed up on two different transportation programs for disability, and I’m supposed to wait outside and be visible to the drivers. This is fucking hell in AZ in the summer. My heart condition makes it so much harder for me to be up and out in the heat.

So let’s talk masks, and COVID-19.

I have 8 masks now, with vents. My very first mask a few years ago was a Vogmask. I started wearing it on flights because I wanted to avoid breathing in the shit everyone was passing around in the cabin, because I was sure to catch whatever they were dishing out. So far it’s worked. And let me tell you, those vents make all the difference. Right now I’m on a list for the backordered masks from England for the fanciest of fancy vented Cambridge masks; I’m in for 2.

I’m up on COVID-19. I’m comfortable with the science, been correcting misinformation. One of my drivers tried to tell me the 19 stood for it being the 19th version of the virus. Ha. Ha. Nope. I think the people who walk around saying their freedom is being taken away are complete assholes and deserve what they get. I think the people who say they will make themselves sick with bronchitis or other lung infections by wearing a mask are assholes.

So when I’m going around to all of these appointments, seeing my doctors, getting labs and scans done, I have my mask on. There have been a few times where there blackness has been closing in on me because transportation has insisted I be outside in 100+ heat, my wig is dripping hot, I’m gasping for air, and I have to pull the mask off because I can tell my pulse is through the roof and my BP is dropping.  It will happen at the grocery store too. I’ll be walking around and suddenly my body will just crash. I have to take the mask off for a few so I don’t end up on the floor. I do my best to stay masked up unless my body rebels. When the episode is done, the mask goes back on.

Last night, a friend posted on Facebook that if someone didn’t mask up, he was going to cut that person or people off (with an exception for some medical situations). I saw some people posting, including comments about how there was no way there should even be exceptions for medical. So I raised my hand and said hey wait a second, there has to be exceptions, and we still need to go out. And one guy lectured me about how I needed to have my groceries and prescriptions delivered and my doctor visits should be telemed. I told him to fuck off.

I don’t know this guy. He doesn’t know my shit. But groceries cost me at least $30 extra delivered because of the delivery fee and tip, and they NEVER get what I need and they never do substitutions when I ask for them, which would result in another run to the grocery store. Do I have tons of extra money to spend? Do I have $30, or $60, or $120 a month to throw away on delivery fees? Prescriptions were only allowed to be delivered by Medicare for a short amount of time. Now I have to go and get them again. As far as the doctor visits go, my shit is so complicated that I am required to go in. The docs don’t give me a choice.

This guy’s response was that he thought I would want to not spread the virus and be responsible, and if I didn’t wear a mask, I should just at least pull my shirt up over my mouth and nose. So I told him that I’m not a bottomless pit of wealth, and he’s telling someone who uses a cane and two arm braces and whose face is also partially paralyzed to walk and pull her shirt up. He then offered to “get my groceries” and I told him to stop talking. His response was “Damn.” A particularly dumb broad piped in about how rude I was to refuse his help by telling him to fuck off.

Being a disabled, middle-aged, single, adult female is a fucking challenge. There was that time when a complete stranger grabbed me by the arm and dragged me into an elevator because I was waiting for someone to turn around their power scooter and he assumed I couldn’t handle the elevator on my own. So here’s this guy on Facebook telling me that I have to pay for delivery and get only half of what I need, get my prescriptions delivered (even though Medicare doesn’t allow it) and just see my doctors on video (even though they won’t allow it). Yes, I’m going to tell him to fuck off. He offered to get my groceries AFTER I told him to fuck off. He wanted to feel better about being an asshole and making HUGE assumptions. I would never, ever, ever let someone near my groceries, my medications or my living space who would try to ridicule me like that and then try to strap on the hero cape. “No, really, I’m a good guy.” Don’t ever trust a guy who tells you he’s a good guy right after he does something shitty. And I’m still masking up.

 

 

My Milkshake

Just a little update: I was finally diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in May, and my case is fairly advanced. I have growths all along my spine and just got confirmation on Friday that all of the difficulties I’m having with my hands (horrible pain, swelling, tenosynovitis in every tendon, and cysts) is also likely from the AS, as I have grown to suspect. Humira is out for treatment because it accelerated my hidradenitis suppurativa, so I’m going through testing and trying to get approved for a different injectable. I’ve already been denied by my insurance company because the co-pay is $1,523/month so we’ve started the paperwork for a patient assistance program.

I also flew back to Minnesota twice to get two different laser treatments for my hidradenitis suppurativa. The dermatologist who is treating me started experimenting on another patient and mentioned it to me when I was moving away last year. I tried this as a last-ditch effort because absolutely nothing was working. Boy, what a difference! After the first round I got about 60% improvement, but it took about 3 months to see it. I’ve got about 75% improvement now after the second treatment. I know I’ll have to go for a third treatment but I’m hoping to wait until after the snowy season, which means I’ll have to postpone at least until April/May. This is a really, really difficult disease. I couldn’t convince any of the local Phoenix dermatologists to use the same method, so now I have to spend a fortune in travel and hotels (can’t stay with family because I’m allergic to their animals).

During all of this I had to fire my pain doctor for dropping the ball in a major way. I finally got into Barrow again with a new neurologist (I really liked the resident and I hope he doesn’t burn out; the doctor seemed suspicious of me because all of my stuff is so weird, but hey, I think neurologists are pretty much useless, so right back at ya, buddy). The next thing I think I have coming up is my teeth. I’m having a lot of issues with the gums and pain with two teeth, and I noticed a growth that I thought was just some swelling initially. Mast cell activation syndrome really fucks with all of this.

So just in the past week, I had some perverts knocking on my virtual door.

I still have a notice on my FetLife profile that I’m not participating in any activities because of health issues; that includes parties, one-on-ones, texting, role-playing, etc. I will say hello and that is it. In all honesty, I’m sick to death of online stuff anyway. I much prefer real life. But this is what I got in my inbox:

A nice smile nice conversation nice lips nice eyes nice hair nice tits nice pussy nice ass nice personality all boils down to one thing. Can this person make me orgasm and use rope to tie me up and take advantage? After having long stressful days and weeks and unfulfilled sexual satisfaction a person just wants one thing. With me it’s just straight to the point. No need she pretending to be the princess or the dominated woman that you pretend to be and your outside personal business and work life. I didn’t know what what’s going on until I made her come and orgasm over and over again until she blanked out several times. Are you then figure out what was going on, suggest a few commands and before you know it she was coming on command. I’m straight to the point very blunt. I host everything. I get a hotel or motel room here in Tucson You show up in the proper attire and the session begins just that simple. No strings attached just you and I and you getting what you want. All I ask is give it one try. After that if this is something that you don’t want then you cut the string and this is all forgotten about.

[I’m just going to say here that it’s every man’s fantasy that his dick has magic juice. Seriously. Every guy thinks he can make a woman black out or blank out. Hahahahaha! Or this Jedi mind trick shit – cum on command. Fuck you. Fucking lazy shit.]

Me: Kind of a bummer you went through all the trouble of copying and pasting that without reading my profile.

Him: Sweetheart I read your profile, how was I or anyone to know how you are now? Your last entry was 5 months ago. 
Note: [His thought process is that my request to be left alone doesn’t matter. His dick has magic juice. P.S. – I hate being called sweetheart when I’m calling him out on shitty behavior and we don’t know each other.]

Me: That should be a clear indication that nothing has changed. Sweetheart.

Him: Maybe a person got off FetLife because they lost their account information. Maybe the person wanting a break. Maybe a person was in a certain situation but things got better but just never updated.
[Translation: Maybe I have a magic dick and if you get some of my magic dick juice, you’ll be cured. I will then claim that on my profile – and in this copied and pasted paragraph for the next victim. Whatever is going on, though, I’m not listening, I’m not listening, I’m not listening, I’m not listening, I’m not listening, I’m not listening…]

Me: Maybe we’re done talking now.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Crickets after that.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

I accepted a friend request from a friend of a friend on Facebook. It seemed like we had the same political leanings (something I ALWAYS check for now) and he might possibly know my mom and stepdad – he knows one of their friends, at least. I don’t accept a lot of strangers. So he messaged me immediately.

Him: I couldn’t resist your beautiful eyes! And I am working on my hesitancy with beautiful red headed women. Frightens me some….love to look, but never touch.

[Jesus H. So he puts redheads up on a pedestal of weirdness. I wasn’t even going to bother telling him that I’m bald. None of his fucking business. I’m pretty sure he had already printed off a picture of me at work and was taking my picture into the bathroom with him to wank off.]

Me: I appreciate that you want to appreciate certain features, but you should do that on FetLife. Once you fetishize a person, you miss the red flags and seeing them as a whole person.

Him: That’s your first conclusion of me based on one comment? Kind of discriminatory!

[WTF. He immediately opened up with his fetish.]

Me: You don’t understand discrimination. You approached me. Redheads aren’t different beasts.

Him: I did not say you or they are…I only indicated my opinion.

Me:  Look, you obviously have a fetish. It’s okay. Own it. This whole thing about being injured because I recognize it is weird. Go out and explore all of your kink.

Him:  I do. It’s the enjoyment of discovering all kinds of people and their diversity.

Me: Fine. But I’m not on FB for fetish.

Him: Fantastic, me either and I will happily delete contact with you, while at the same time reinforcing my fear of redheads.

Me: Haha! Baby.

[So, he hit me up regarding his fetish, then claimed he didn’t have a fetish, then told me that our only purpose of contact was for his fetish and redheads are back up on the pedestal. Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker.]

Sugar and Spice and…NO.

Today was dedicated to running around and getting prescriptions and a flu shot. Nothing special about today except the weather was grey and rainy, which is not at all normal for Arizona.

And oh god, a message that started with, “I’m sending you this message because…”

I didn’t read it while I was out in public. It was from someone I used to be close to, who dropped off the face of the earth for the thousandth time. She sent it through Facebook messenger, so I’m not sure if she previously deleted my email addresses.

The gist of her message was, “I don’t expect a reply. I cut off contact with you because 20 years ago you didn’t bring me food when I was sick and you went to Las Vegas with your boyfriend instead and you didn’t call me. And one time when you were visiting you didn’t call me, I had to call you, and you said you were getting really busy, and I could drive up to St. Cloud to meet up with you or go out to eat with you and your sister and brother-in-law and it offended me.”

So let me explain a few things. When we lived in New Mexico at the same time 20 years ago, she had a pager she would never respond to. That was how I was allowed to contact her. Also when we lived in New Mexico, she was a heavy pot smoker, and whenever she smokes weed, she starts fights. All of her other acquaintances would ask me what was wrong, and I told them to keep her away from the weed if they didn’t want to fight. They finally made the connection. And for the last few months that I was there, I couldn’t get ahold of her at all even after driving to her last known location because she cut off all communication. This is a repeating pattern.

Whatever visit she’s referring to where she had to reach out to me, again, I have never been allowed to call her. She doesn’t believe in talking on the phone. Keep in mind that texting has not been a thing for the entire last 27 years that she and I have known each other. She didn’t like to talk on the phone because it made her nervous; the reasons why changed over the years. Email was not always practical because, again, it was not always portable. So there were times our relationship was limited to mailing letters back and forth. When I used to travel, sometimes I would only be back for 3 or 4 days, and I would have to see multiple households because my parents were divorced and remarried, plus my siblings were grown and married. I was fucking trying to make everyone happy. Plus, hey – I was flying into their state. The last time I flew into the area (not as a resident), I DID see her, stayed at her place and saw her boyfriend perform with his band.

I’m not going to keep score on who didn’t fly out to see me. She had her own shit to deal with. But to be told I’m not worthy of friendship because of these things makes it pretty easy for me to close this chapter.

We’re Not Friends

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…

Are You Being Served?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retrain My Brain – Gupta Amygdala Retraining Programme Review

People often ask me just what it is that I do with all of my time now that I’m stuck in bed. I love writing and I count myself lucky to have been included in the Chronic Illness Bloggers network, and given many opportunities to try products I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

This particular series, The Gupta Amygdala Retraining Programme, is being offered by a doctor who was laid low by chronic fatigue syndrome (which I will shorten to the commonly known acronym CFS), which is also referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (the acronym ME for short). The Centers for Disease Control states: “CFS is a debilitating and complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity. Symptoms affect several body systems and may include weakness, muscle pain, impaired memory and/or mental concentration, and insomnia, which can result in reduced participation in daily activities.” (https://www.cdc.gov/cfs/) The CDC also indicates on their site that despite trying their best to figure out what triggers CFS, they haven’t pinpointed the cause. It could be a number of infections, it could be autoimmune related, it could be something in the central nervous system; they’re just not certain.

I was given this program because I have fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia shares some of the CFS/ME qualities – mainly crushing fatigue and pain that does not go away with a good night’s sleep. Dealing with constant pain and fatigue also changes your brain and your outlook, affecting the way that you interact with the people around you, as well as your ability to handle your own sickness, or wellness, as it were.

The very first thing I noticed when I opened up my packet was this map from Dr. Gupta.
20170522_092902If you can’t tell, this piece is quite large and almost covers my entire area rug. As we found out, it is an interactive practice piece that you actually stand on and use to help retrain your brain to stop negative thinking.

The other items included in the package were a workbook and a set of audio and video DVDs.
20170522_093415
I was signed up for weekly interactive web meetings as well. In our first meeting, we were introduced to Dr. Gupta, and informed that the web meetings were actually the most important part of the program, and that the DVDs, workbook and practice poster were supporting materials.

The web meetings were 12 weeks long total, so it is quite a commitment if you decide to join the program. And there is a lot of material to cover. However, if you think about it, some of us have been sick for years. I’ve been sick for two decades. 12 weeks is really a drop in the bucket. It’s just a matter of adjusting your schedule and making room, just as you would for a physical workout program. You want to lose the weight? You do an hour at the gym. You want to lose the disease? You do a few hours a week at the Gupta program. 

So what is amygdala retraining? Basically, it’s to stop the negative feedback loop so you can start healing. Your body feels bad, so your mind gets stuck thinking, “I’m not good enough, I don’t don’t deserve friends if I’m going to bring them down, I don’t deserve love, I’m a terrible person, I’m a loser, I can’t do anything right, I hate my body, I’m going to stay sick forever,” etc. If you can get rid of that negative feedback, you can also retrain your brain to start a positive flow of thoughts, including, “I will allow my body to relax, I will feel comfort, I will smile, I’m choosing health and happiness, I trust myself.”

And back to that interactive poster that’s on the ground: That’s the “Stop! Stop! Stop!” technique that Dr. Gupta often refers to as part of the retraining. He encouraged us through the course of the initial training to actually follow the steps on the poster: think the negative thoughts, then hold out our hands and think or say, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” Then we would breathe and smile, return to our loving self, then choose to take the loving path and be kinder to ourselves in our thinking, then visualize health and happiness. We would repeat these steps over and over again – at first slowly, then faster, as if picking up anything that feels clunky at first but then suddenly becomes second nature.

Throughout his sessions he often took breaks for us to breathe, or meditate. We also had time to ask questions or interact. Dr. Gupta warned us that there would be times when emotions would bubble up and sometimes get the best of us. I tend to be pretty stoic except when it comes to dealing with my neurologist and neurosurgeons, so I was surprised when even I had a web session that affected me emotionally. The point is to not hold everything back so that our ego doesn’t get in the way of getting better.

The DVDs and audio CDs are helpful because there are some meditations included, and meditation is one area where I always need improvement and assistance.

Dr. Gupta does advise for anyone going through this program that the changes will be gradual, and to not expect anything earth-shattering immediately; after all, anything shocking would set us back, not make us better. Six months would be a good goal for feeling a significant improvement if you do the work with sincerity. 

I’m grateful to have these materials at hand for the long haul so I can refer back to them as often as I need to – because there’s so much to learn, and I’ll definitely need a refresher from time to time. And Dr. Gupta records all of his sessions so that we may go back and rewatch (or if you couldn’t make it to the session in real time, you can watch at your convenience). I did personally notice a certain calmness and lightness after each session, and I do feel like my attitude has shifted towards all of my diseases; I’m choosing right now to be loved and to be worthy of love, and maybe that will shift again in the near future to another positive focus as I journey on.

Dr. Gupta’s Website:  http://www.guptaprogramme.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please visit the documentary movie “The Connection” here.

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

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Gender Bias: It’s Not Just for Work

Everyone is going crazy for this article that was published about a man and his subordinate who swapped names as an experiment to show gender bias in the workplace. Really, it’s not so much an article as it is a series of tweets, but you get the full picture. And REALLY really, if you’re a woman and you’ve worked outside of the home or if you’re a woman and you’ve been outside of your front door, you know how this went.

We Swapped Names and I Was So Surprised (Said Every Male)

But if you know anything about my blog or about me, I write about my experiences as a woman in the American healthcare system. Now I’m a really concerned woman as I watch a very out-of-touch bunch of Republican-led lawmakers work on dismantling the social safety nets that will help keep me housed and fed as a disabled adult with no chance of working (at least, not now, for as long as I’m allergic to the shunts they keep putting in me).

A huge barrier to my care is the fact that I’ve seen 57 doctors in 6.5 years, and a good number of them have told me to go away and not come back. My disease and symptoms scare them. They can’t diagnose me. I can tell them exactly what’s happening with my body, but they don’t believe me – they tell me it’s not possible, even when I demonstrate it and they see it with their own eyes.

I was told by someone close to me – a man – that I probably wasn’t doing something right. I wasn’t advocating enough. I wasn’t demanding enough. I wasn’t yelling enough. I wasn’t stoic enough. I was probably too emotional, or not enough, or not the right combo. I was just the wrong kind of patient and it was hurting my case.

By the time you get to 57 doctors in 6.5 years, you learn a lot of tactics: cajoling, crying, stoicism, joking, demanding, taking binders of info (so they can’t claim that they don’t have enough of your info at hand to continue).

My conclusion is that I just don’t have a penis. I wouldn’t be doubted. I wouldn’t be treated as if I’m being over-dramatic or like I can’t handle four-syllable words.

I always invite someone who has told me that I’m not doing enough to come with me. Of course that person suddenly becomes too busy to join me…but not too busy to dispense advice from his armchair.

To Put Into Words

Six days post-election here in the U.S., and it feels like every day is different.

The night of the election I stayed awake until about 11 pm until it was clear that Trump was going to win the electoral votes. I refused to watch TV; I couldn’t bear to listen to voices yelling in disbelief, but rather I listened to my own favorite music and instead refreshed Google and saw everything roll in real time.

On Wednesday morning I woke up with my alarm clock – or rather, I woke up with alarm, saying to myself, “Fuck, Trump is president.” I went through the motions of getting ready for an appointment; as luck would have it, my regularly scheduled counseling appointment just happened to be that morning. Above and beyond my normal anxiety and depression and PTSD, I cried for all of the kids that morning who my friend as a teacher said were scared in her classroom about being targeted by racism and ignorance because of their immigrant status and religious beliefs.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was shocked by a call I received out of the blue. Back in August I wrote a letter to the POTUS regarding the sluggish process of applying for disability and antiquated means of qualifying, when people like me are clearly disabled but can’t qualify because science hasn’t caught up to our diseases. This woman was a staff member of the Obama administration and she had the unfortunate task to call me the day after the shitty election to talk to me about my letter to make sure my immediate needs were being met. I assured her that my hospital bed finally came through (it should be here in a few hours this morning) after trying to get it since January. Then we talked about how my current governor chose to expand medical assistance (“Medicaid”) to everyone at or under a certain income level (which comes out to be around 120% of the poverty level, or $1313/month for a single person without children in my case). In two years when my governor’s term is up and he has indicated that he will not be seeking another term, our new governor has the option of continuing this, or only allowing people with children and/or only allowing people who are federally recognized as disabled (which I cannot get) to continue receiving medical assistance.

So to be clear, I could lose my last line of access to healthcare. I confirmed that with her because I just needed to say it. We both cried on the phone together.

She gave me her phone number and told me to call her in case I had any follow-up questions for her. I will call her this week to see if she has any connections at the NIH to see if I can get anyone to reconsider my case, but I think that’s all that I can ask of her.

There are so many things rolling around about Trump already. I’m not sure I can remember all of them and they change hourly, so please excuse my imperfect recall. First, there are rumors flying about his desire to only spend part of his time in the White House in D.C., and part of his time in his place in Manhattan. It can be argued that not all presidents lived at the White House 100% of the time, but that was probably before there was electricity and running water and the Secret Service and, you know, technology. It’s not like his Manhattan penthouse has a bunker in case he starts a nuclear war by being a complete asshole – and let’s get real, it’s not such a far-fetched expectation.

I’m not sure what to think about him actually making it to the swearing in ceremony. Is he truly going to trial for rape and false imprisonment of girls under the age of 18? Are those cases going to suddenly disappear just because some judge is going to feel sorry for a guy who has been elected, just like judges feel sorry for star athletes?

And Jesus H., why isn’t anyone bothered by how many times he has filed bankruptcy? When I worked for Bank of America, we had to pass strict financial checks, and I just worked in the tech area. We couldn’t be hired on if we had bad credit including bankruptcies or foreclosures or judgments. Also, during my years as an escrow assistant, I was especially skeeved out when I had to work with mortgage brokers who had no scruples about giving financial advice to customers when I knew that the brokers themselves were on their own fourth or fifth bankruptcy filing (they told me how they played the Ch. 13 system before the laws were made more strict).

After his first visit with Obama, he walked out telling everyone that he wasn’t going to reverse everything about the Affordable Care Act, specifically the bits about the pre-existing conditions. That means that he has already reversed one thing he promised the ignorant, writhing masses who were convinced that “Obamacare” was responsible for their rising premiums – not the greed of the insurance companies trying to make a profit off of our bodies at the widest margins possible.

So if Trump doesn’t get sworn in, does that mean we’re stuck with Pence? I’m screwed with him too, since I no longer have my uterus, and he thinks that’s all that I’m good for – bearing babies and overpopulating the earth. That’s all he’s concerned about. Read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood for reference.

On Thursday I had my very first psych evaluation test, ordered by a neurologist I met on Monday. It took about six hours to go through everything and I was mentally exhausted. It’s one thing to explain to doctors that I lose my words when I’m speaking and writing (you can’t see it, but sometimes it takes me 7-8 tries to write words that used to come easily to me), so this test was supposed to help pinpoint my deficiencies. From what I could tell I had pretty good picture and spatial cognition, but when it came to actual word gymnastics, I had a really hard time. One really painful portion of the testing was coming up with words that began with a particular letter. I think we did four or five letters total, but I only remember two letters – “A” and “S”. With the letter “S” I came up with about 10-12 words in 60 seconds that had multiple syllables, and with the letter “A” I came up with about 5 words and they were 1 to 2 syllables at most. It felt like the bottom of my mind had dropped out. This is actually what happens now on a regular basis and is one of the reasons that before every phone call I make I get a fair amount of anxiety, even if it’s just to make an appointment.

So after I went through all of that (I won’t get results for at least a few weeks), I got my usual cab ride/medical transport. I’ve been taking pictures of the cabbies and asking them questions and posting everything on Instagram. I asked this particular driver what he thought about the election because he was an immigrant and had only been living here in the U.S. for five years. He said he supported Trump because “Obama hadn’t done everything he promised to since he was elected.” I was absolutely floored. This guy was everything Trump (and all of Trump’s supporters) hated. I feel like his safety is at risk and I don’t want him to find out the hard way. I feel like all of us are at risk.

All of us, that is, unless you are a white guy between the age of 18-70 and you’re telling everyone else that they have to adapt to Trump/Pence and that you’ll be “fine” having your rights and/or access to basics taken away from you. Because, you know, ‘Murica.