Exhaling

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.

Advertisements

It’s Not Easy Being Green

I thought I had a diagnosis. In fact, I thought I had THE diagnosis: Lyme, picked up seven years ago on a hike down into the Grand Canyon, yadda, yadda, yadda. Don’t get me wrong, I still have it.

However, after seeing a physical therapist, a pain management specialist and the neurologist who specializes in movement disorders at the U of MN, they are throwing me back in the rare pool. They have never seen anything like my symptoms even with the confirmation of the antibodies particular to the Lyme bacteria. The PT and the pain management doc both marveled at my party trick, which is to lay flat or tilt my head so it’s perpendicular to the floor, which moves the fluid off of the area where it’s pooling when I’m upright and I can move my face again. The neurologist refused to evaluate me and instead scheduled me for an EMG of my face and head. Good thing I am a baldie, because it will be easier for the doctor who performs the EMG to easily find landmarks and previous poke marks. They want to rule out myasthenia gravis (again).
I’m now getting a little overzealous on recording my symptoms again. I know of a couple of people who developed POTS at the same time as their Lyme infections, and so now that’s on my radar too. But the issue with the CSF is really puzzling.

I signed up for a “scholarship” through the Hydrocephalus Association so that I can attend the hydrocephalus conference at little or no cost, which just happens to be going on about 10 miles from me (as opposed to another city/state) in June. I had to provide information as to why I was asking for the scholarship. I refrained from saying “Because I’m a freak of nature” but I did indicate that I would like to know if there are any new shunts out there that I wouldn’t be allergic to, or discuss possible advances in surgery and technology that would allow me to get an operation to fix the issue instead of having to implant a shunt at all. I’m hoping that some of the doctors attending will be interested in my demonstration about shifting the CSF away from where it’s pressing.

Oh, and I deactivated my OKCupid profile. I’m getting to know the man who considers himself a feminist – you know, right up my alley. So far no red flags, and he actually follows through on being a decent human being. Small children like him. He volunteers at an animal shelter. First and foremost, he’s nice to me.

I Can’t Feel My Face!

I had two live-in boyfriends during my time in Cincinnati. The second one was Drummer #1, introduced by the guy who was in charge of our servers at the law firm. Apparently Drummer #1 had a weakness for women from Minnesota, with our light-colored hair and blue eyes (except mine are green). In theory he seemed like a good match for me too because of his musical leanings – besides drums he also played guitar – and he was a tech guy, which was my new field at that time.

I still remember our first date vividly. Drummer #1 was very tall (6’3″) with a big, toothy grin, deep-set blue eyes, short brown hair and a flannel shirt. He was very, very nervous about meeting me. We went on a double date with my friends, and we started off sitting across from each other at a crappy table with bad vinyl chairs while a band set up. An hour later the band was in full force and Drummer #1 managed to down four shots of Jaegermeister and two Jack & Cokes. He got up to go to the bathroom and when he returned, he sat down next to me instead of across from me, started rubbing my back and then poked his cheeks and said, “I can’t feel my face! I can’t feel my face!” Before the night was done he had four more Jack & Cokes.

I agreed to go out with him again, even though the drinking wasn’t ideal for a first date. I knew it was his nerves. Plus he kept telling me how cute I was.

It was another one of those things that turned into us spending loads of time together immediately. After the third date when he found out where I lived, he would throw pebbles and sometimes even dimes and pennies at my apartment window to surprise me and let him in. He was living with his parents at the time. After about eight months, Drummer #1 and I moved in together.

I didn’t have the easiest time with meeting his parents. I never went over to his house, he just met me out or came and picked me up. One time during the summer we were at a blues festival and Drummer #1 knew his parents were there as well, and they wanted to meet me, so we set off through the crowd looking for them. We walked back and forth and back and forth in mobs of people but weren’t able to find them, and I had no idea who to look for anyway. However, his parents saw us and didn’t call out to us every time we passed – because, as it turned out, his mother thought I was too fat and ugly for him. (Disclaimer: I was around size 8-10, pretty darned okay by today’s standards.) When they invited me to join them for Christmas that year, I absolutely did not want to go, but I did anyway. His parents ended up loving me.

Anyway, up to that point, Drummer #1 had been an irresponsible bill payer and so I had to have all of the utilities put into my name when we moved in together to avoid having to pay large deposits. For the first year that we were together he was one of the sole tech guys for a small manufacturing company. At this point my hair was falling out with a vengeance. He always wore a blue fleece pullover to work and every day he managed to pick up thousands of my blonde hairs on it like he was wearing velcro. At one point the guys he worked with asked if there was something wrong with me based solely on the volume of my hair that would show up on his clothes.

After the first year Drummer #1 switched to a job at the University of Cincinnati. For some of his time there he happened to work with a doctor who was researching cures for alopecia universalis. He would come home and tell me about seeing others like me who were examined under a magnifying glass so they could be determined to be the most extreme hairless cases for the studies. I still would never qualify because no matter what falls out I manage to retain a few sprouts of hair on my big toes. And for some of the time, Drummer #1 said that he was being sent down to the “hole” – some underground network where he would have to suit up in a big yellow suit for 2-3 days while he ran programs. He also claimed to work with some cops and even some FBI agents.

Drummer #1 made the mistake once of claiming that I was not doing enough to keep my hair. You know that old tired tune of “Why don’t you just _____?” like everyone else is the expert on your body? I made him go with me once for a session where the dermatologist injected each patch with a combination of Lidocaine to numb my head after the shots were done and prednisone to inhibit the white blood cells from taking over my hair follicles. Every session would be about 75 injections; that time, Drummer #1 said, with big eyes, that he could see the doctor flicking the needle up slightly after each injection so it looked as if he was tearing my skin a bit every time. After that, Drummer #1 never told me I wasn’t doing enough.

I finally started wearing wigs when I knew trying to keep my hair or grow new stuff was completely hopeless. At one point I purchased a styrofoam head with a super long neck so the longer wigs wouldn’t rest on the counter tops when I took them off. I would perch the head form and hair on the back of the toilet at night. Every morning for a week, Drummer #1 was so out of it that he would scream when he got out of the shower because he thought someone had sneaked into the bathroom while he was bathing. I would lay in bed nearly pissing myself laughing.

After a few months of living together, things started to slip with the bill paying for Drummer #1. We began receiving calls that our electricity and water were going to be shut off for non-payment and every time I’d have to hurry and pay them, with him promising to investigate why his payments hadn’t been processed. He claimed to be clueless as to why there always seemed to be lost payments.

Then one day in June we were supposed to be flying back to Minnesota for my 10th high school reunion. The flight was out of Columbus, a good hour and a half away, and at night, so I told Drummer #1 what time he had to be home from work in order for us to catch the plane on time. When the time rolled around, he was nowhere to be found. This was prior to the time of cell phones, so I had to call his office. When I got no answer, I called campus security and asked them to cruise around to see if his car was there. After striking out again, I opened up his top dresser drawer where I knew he put all of his receipts and mail. I was stunned to find six months worth of bills in there, all unopened, including all of the utility bills he had told me he had paid. I was incredibly angry and still panicked about not being able to make our flight in time.

The kicker, though, was when I went to get the mail before trying his work phone again, I received my credit card bill with another nasty surprise. When I had been sick the month before with strep throat and stuck in bed on my birthday, he had taken my credit card and charged up hundreds of dollars. I was LIVID.

Drummer #1 showed up an hour late at home and not ready for the trip at all. He hurriedly threw things into a bag. The entire drive up to Columbus I only had my demon voice to use on him. I told him that if he touched the mail in any way including just taking it out of the mailbox, I would get a post office box and he would have to wait for me to give him his mail. No more hiding and lying.  I hated him.

Five months later Drummer #1 made arrangements to buy a car through a program with the University; the payments would come out of his check directly so he wouldn’t have to worry about making timely payments. However, “something” happened where payments were still missed and his car ended up being impounded. Drummer #1 promised to pay me back but it required about $1200 to get his car back.

I had vowed to return to the southwestern U.S. about two years into our relationship. I didn’t feel any real connection with the city and the winters were depressing. I told Drummer #1 that I was moving with or without him. He seemed enthusiastic about a major change and we even took a trip out to Arizona to check it out. When we were driving back from the Grand Canyon towards Phoenix, we were stunned by a quadruple rainbow that glowed across the sky. I know now that it’s an extremely rare phenomenon, and believe me when I say that even truckers pulled over on the highway so they could snap pictures of these four perfect arcs filling the sky. I took it as a sign that I was making the right move.

When we returned from the trip, I went into working and saving mode. I put in about 70-80 hours between two workplaces to make sure I’d have money for the big move. Drummer #1, however, was still not being responsible for his bills and wasn’t making any effort to pay me back.

In January of 2003 I received a strange phone call from a girl who addressed me by name and informed me that she had been fucking Drummer #1 for at least a year. I kept calm and asked him about it when he returned from work. He said that the girl was calling all of his friends and trying to make their girlfriends freak out. I had no way to verify this because I didn’t know any of the girlfriends.

In July 2003, Drummer #1 missed more car payments. I was at the end of my rope. I told him he was on his own with figuring it out because I had to save money to move. Then in September, I received a call from the landlord who told me that he knew I was leaving, but Drummer #1 asked if he could stay on. Drummer #1 never had any intention of moving.

I bagged up all of his belongings in garbage bags and threw it all to the bottom entryway stairs. I went over to his parents’ house and told them he would need a new place to live. They revealed to me that he had borrowed $1600 from them, telling them it was to pay me back. None of the money made it to me, though. His parents told me that he had been a pathological liar his whole life and they hoped that living with me would have cured him of that. I wish that they would not have remained so loyal to their son and instead warned me.

My friend’s dad, an attorney, wrote a letter of intention to file suit if he didn’t pay me back all of the money by October 29th. On October 29th he appeared at my workplace with a cashier’s check for the entire amount he owed me, nearly $5,000.

I used that money to pay for the moving van and my new apartment in Phoenix.