Pat, I’d Like To Solve The Puzzle

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This week I’ve been taking care of stuff; taking care of me by walking to make myself stronger, taking care of medical records, taking care of clogs in my sinks and taking care of throwing out excess trash. It’s the medical records that sent into emotional pits, though. I was angry after reviewing a bunch of misinformation and it was rolling around in my head. But then I had an epiphany.

Back when I started having operations on my cranium, when my shunts were relocated from my back to my brain, my neurosurgeon remarked that my meninges were incredibly tough to break through. I don’t believe he’s ever noted that on my medical records, though. But his memory is like a steel trap so if I went back to him, he will probably be able to recall it with certainty. It certainly stuck with me. He said he had only seen it once before in his lifetime.

And then there was this published paper by Jonathan Kipnis where he explains that he and his team discovered lymphatic drainage vessels in the cranium. They weren’t known about before because when autopsies and dissections were performed, the lymphatic vessels were torn and destroyed because of their fragility. This paper was published in July of 2015; I traded emails with Jonathan in November of 2015. He explained that he doesn’t actually work with humans in clinical trials so he couldn’t help me, but after I connected the dots this week, I emailed him. I’m not sure I’ll hear from him.

Lastly, I have this mast cell activation disease diagnosis from Dr. Afrin. When I saw him in January, he told me that my outrageously high histamine level is probably what is making everything change and grow into scar tissue, including the tumor, as well as the tract along the shunt.

So here’s what I think is happening: Back in 2010 when I first started having the really bad symptoms, the meninges had already turned tough because of my high histamine levels, and the fluid can’t drain properly into the lymphatic drainage vessels like it normally would. That’s why I need shunts. The shitty part is that I’m allergic to the shunts. Just as an aside, this whole time I thought that the underlying cause was an autoimmune disease, but of course I had no idea what it would be.

So what now? That’s the question my mom asked. The tissue that has changed cannot be changed back. There is nothing on the market that I’m not allergic to. I’m at a high risk for aneurysm or stroke. This is going to kill me, there’s just no telling when. I mean really, who else do you know that is going through this? None of my doctors would be able to begin to guess.

Of course, I have to check with my doctors…but again, I’m the one leading them, not the other way around, which is almost always the way it is with rare disease. First I’ll see the neurologist and explain all of this to her, and hand her Dr. Afrin’s notes and Dr. Kipnis’ notes. I’ll see Dr. Afrin in August. After that, I’ll contact my neurosurgeon in Phoenix and roll this past him. I hope that he remembers that I was right about everything that I told him, even though some things took as much as 2.5 years to admit.

So for now I’m still waiting for my disability hearing. I talked to my attorney’s office and they called the person who sets the dates for the hearings, and they were told that hearings were being set for 18-22 months past the appeal filing. My last appeal was filed in February of 2016 (the initial filing was April 2015), so by the time I’m in front of a judge, I’ll have been waiting for nearly 3 years. Every state is different. I can’t get a rush unless I’m homeless, stage IV cancer, a danger to myself, or I have no access to care.

So I wait.  

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT:When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough: Loving Each Other Better

FROM: AS I LIVE & BREATHE – Nikki Seefeldt, co-host of Sickadilly Chat

I’ve shared some of Megan Devine’s work before here in my blog in the past & I absolutely love her approach to dealing with pain & grief in life. I follow her on Twitter & w…

Source: FOOD FOR THOUGHT:When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough: Loving Each Other Better

Would You Like Some Abject Poverty With That?

I left a message yesterday with my apartment manager regarding my lease, which is ending on May 31st. I had signed a notice and turned it in on March 17th indicating that I wished to stay another year when my lease expired, but I haven’t heard anything since then, and we don’t have many days left until the end of this month. I have a certain amount of money in my bank account from the sale of my car that I have been using for living expenses but I figured that if I was going to sign another lease, the apartment manager wanted to see proof of income or a certain amount of reserves in the bank, so I decided to call the administrators of my 401k to pull all of the funds and close it out.

The simple act of getting on the phone causes me anxiety. In all of the jobs I’ve held over the years, I used to field anywhere between 50-100 calls a day, so just know that that’s highly unusual for me to dread picking up the phone and try to figure out what to say without fumbling.

It’s also unusual for me to not have one or two or three jobs simultaneously. The 401k is my last lifeline and the only thing standing between me and homelessness. Right now I have to operate under the assumption that I will never have any money coming in ever again because I have no idea what the outcome of my disability hearing will be in 2017.

The call to the 401k plan administrators only took a few minutes. The first representative couldn’t confirm or deny which penalties I would be subject to, even though my CPA said that I could probably avoid a 25% and 10% early withdrawal penalties because of my indefinite disability status. A second rep – presumably the guy who did the calculations and released the funds – advised me that he had to take out a minimum of 20% for taxes and that I should set aside an additional 10% for penalties, all in a blaring and bored voice, as if he heard this stuff all the time, as if it wasn’t a big deal for me to have no other choice.
I have a few big purchases coming up. First, I have to take care of a crown and root canal completely out of pocket because medical assistance won’t pay for any of it. Second, I need a new bed; this one started to sag about five months after I purchased it last year because I spent so much time in it, but the store wouldn’t cover it under warranty because I moved out of state and the manufacturer would only cover a small percentage (this time around I’m going for the bargain Sleep Number C2 – no inner springs and it costs the same as a traditional inner spring bed). Third, I want to buy a different a/c window unit because the one that was provided with the apartment is gross and inefficient.

After those purchases, I will have to live off of the same amount of money slightly more than what workers make at minimum wage in the U.S. I don’t know how people do it. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. It’s not like I can go out and get more jobs, or a better job.

This is the song of our people. Poverty. Desperation as our bodies shut down, especially in my case (and others out there) when I don’t have a name to attach to it or a prognosis to go by. My counselor has told me not to think a year ahead and allow myself to be swallowed up by the fear of what comes after the money runs out, but how can I not think about that? My life is already so different than it was even just a year ago; I can’t even whisper the words, “How much more can I lose?” That’s like setting up a new dare to the universe.

Hanging up with the Merrill Lynch rep, he wrapped up the call with the requisite, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” The old, working me would have awarded him 10 points for asking the question. The new, disabled me wanted to tell him to suck my ass.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I’ve been laying low for a few weeks. Actually, that isn’t quite right – I’ve had to put on makeup nearly every day and wear a bra and be polite and make sure my pants aren’t falling off of my ass every time my name is called and I stand up because of non-stop appointments and activities. Most of the time it’s exhausting because my brain is being smushed like people have sent over a few of their puppy-monkey-babies to sit on my head and bounce around a little. At the end of each day I’ve had very little energy to do much else than watch my TV boyfriends Jimmy Fallon, Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore on Hulu.

My uncle’s memorial service was Monday. There was quite a large turnout – something in the neighborhood of 300 people, I think. It was lovely and sad, and especially tough to see pictures of my aunt and my dad on the slideshow that was run during the service, who preceded my uncle in death by 20 years. Every single one of us cousins on that side lost a parent at a very young age. Thankfully there were a few funny stories and pictures to break up the sadness.

About a month ago I went to a session at a health crisis center where a musician brought his guitar and we had a little singalong activity. It was nice to sing – it’s one of my favorite things to do – and I have a decent voice, and I met a woman who seemed to be fairly friendly. The thing about the crisis center is that people attend whether they have physical illnesses, mental illnesses, or both; this woman happens to have mental illnesses, though I didn’t know it when she started talking to me. She gave me her number and said she would be interested in getting together because she wanted to expand her friendship circle.

Well, I didn’t know it at the time, but “expand” really meant that she wanted to make A friend. One. Me.

I had new orders put in for nerve impingements in both my left shoulder and right hip, so I’m going to PT twice a week now. Besides that I have other appointments for counseling or additional doctor appointments at least once a week, including an EMG for my head and face tomorrow morning. I’ve still got the tremors going on in my legs from being upright so much.

I didn’t realize that the lady didn’t fully expect me to actually call her, or that I was the only one polite enough to give her the time of day. However, slowly as she cornered me on the phone day after day for a few hours at a time, she revealed she had some issues with obsession and stalking, including the fact that a man who attends her church has a restraining order out on her. At one point she told me that she thought that he was trying to be friends again; what did I think? I told her that he might have been polite, but she should keep her distance. I finally told her that I can’t talk on the phone every day. Now she texts me every day and asks if we can go and do stuff like shopping. I tell her every day that I have appointments and it’s really difficult for me to be running around all of the time. Now I’m at the point where I’m going to have to be firm and tell her that I just don’t have the energy or health to be her one and only friend. I’ll let y’all know if I come home to some rabbit stew and her standing in my bathtub with a knife.

I have been working on making the changes to my diet to make it anti-inflammatory, and that includes experimenting with ingredients. Today I made crispy chicken, which was breaded with garbanzo and fava bean flour (okay) and coconut flour brownies (eh), and I’ve determined that coconut flour and my esophagus do not mix. I’ve tried three different recipes that are coconut flour-based and they burn going down every time. I don’t think it’s a true allergy because I don’t get hives or asthma, but it’s still unpleasant enough to stop trying to make it work.

Four doctors now at the University of Minnesota have told me that they don’t think I have late stage Lyme, and they’re not quite sure what I have. No one can figure out why the hell I can lay down and make the CSF move away from wherever it’s pressing on my brain and I can open my eyes again. I talked to my PCP today about the possibility of getting my shunt removed completely since it’s not draining properly anyway and it’s just causing me pain now. It will probably be another six months before I will be able to go under the knife for that one since I first have to jump through the hoops for the pain doctor. I finally got the letter for the NIH Rare Diseases unit from my PCP and started that process tonight. Now I’m back on the rare disease boat.

Last, and most exciting:

I am no longer on OKCupid. I mean, yeah, sure, I was getting some really nutty stories to pass along (and I certainly haven’t told them all yet), but it’s because The Saint Paul really is worth it. The Saint Paul is close to my age, never married, no children, heart of gold, helpful, accommodating, matching sense of humor, curious, well-read and liberal. He supports my feminist stances and most importantly does not view my body as “his” space, as so many men still do with women. We had the best first through fifth dates, the last one involving him taking me to his favorite animal shelter so I could pet kitties. (I brought a shirt in a plastic baggie that I could change into so I wouldn’t contaminate my jacket on the way home.)

Stay tuned for further developments on the love front.

A Prayer Before Dating

Today, a good friend posted a surprising quote from her Christmas Eve church service: “Lord, touch us where we need to be touched.”

Amen to that!!! I mean, that’s almost exactly, word-for-word, the prayer I say before each date. Well, okay, mine is a little more elaborate: “Lord, please let him have clean teeth, pleasant breath, an unsloppy kiss, magic hands, a great personality and recently bathed bits.”

This holiday is a bit rough. First, I’m no longer in Arizona and gathering with friends to feed ourselves silly and play games like Cards Against Humanity. They are all my “other” family. I have hosted as few as one and as many as ten friends at my house, depending on if they had already been extended an invitation or they had family in the area. I have always made sure they had presents under the tree. I try not to think about this or any aspect of my former life, because it inevitably causes tears.

There is also a gap with our sister passing in July. Her absence also brings tears. This is the first time in about 23 years that I, my other sister and our half-brother are in the same city around Christmastime, and it would have been perfect to have our oldest sister here too. We are still scattering a bit – our brother is heading back to Wisconsin to be with his girlfriend and her family for the holiday. I wonder if we will all ever be in sync; none of us has experience in how to act like siblings as adults living in the same area, and I watch friends who have mastered this skill with envy.

And of course, there is no soul mate under the tree. Santa baby, what the hell???? It’s too soon for me to be able to tell if the person I recently met is a match; we have a few strikes, including my inability to drive, our distance (50 minutes on a good day) and his recent purchase of a puppy (since I’m deathly allergic). He has a good heart, though. Right now we are enjoying each others’ company.

This is a difficult holiday for a lot of my friends who are struggling with illness, loneliness, isolation or job loss. I don’t have any words of wisdom to pass along. All we can do is get through the next week. Maybe what we have wished for this Christmas – a job paying a living wage, gatherings with friends, a loving partner – will show up, but just a little late.

Below is a picture from my house in Phoenix when I had two living rooms and decorated two Christmas trees. Again, tears. God, I loved that house and the life I made in Phoenix. But happy holidays to you, wherever you may be.

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On Love and Loss

“The Anatomy Bequest Program at the University of Minnesota is is a whole body donation program.” As my family found out on Tuesday night, it is also the largest in the world of its kind. http://www.med.umn.edu/research/anatomy-bequest-program

I have always grappled with organ donation – but only because I’m not able to, ever. I want to. But thanks to all of this autoimmune stuff swimming around in me, and my eyes being damaged from the pressure being placed on my brain from this mystery disease, there isn’t any part of me that is safe to transplant into another person. This anatomy bequest program seems like the next best option. I envision baffling some of the medical students with my weird disease – or maybe they open me up and immediately figure out what the problem was, and it was nothing that could have been detected with scans. My brain will be sliced and sectioned and labeled for its “A-ha” moment, and I’m perfectly fine with that.

I sat with my sister and her little family, and we knew our brother-in-law and another family member were somewhere in the audience. We were in an auditorium on the U of MN campus to watch a show put on by students and staff as a thank you to the family members of the people who had passed and donated their bodies at death. I knew it was going to be a tough night. I could feel the sadness rolling off of the people around me and I immediately started choking up. I had tears during the first performance, a pianist playing a Debussy piece. A little of the tension was relieved when it was announced that a trio was going to perform a Lynyrd Skynyrd song and an old hippie in the section next to me let out a gruff and enthusiastic “All right!”

The performers took a break and a slide show began. Each donor was being shown in pictures chosen by their spouses or families, with Joni Mitchell’s version of “Both Sides Now” playing. I knew our sister was going to be there on the screen very early on alphabetically and the tears came again. After her time in front of the crowd, I just closed my eyes for a while. People around me were sobbing quietly. I have no idea how recent their loss was, but it really doesn’t matter, because we were all there for the same reason. We loved our people.

The performances continued after the slides made it through the L’s; one poetry reader encouraged us to hold hands with the people next to us while she read her poem about hands. I could feel my older sister and I freeze at the same time, uncomfortable with the suggestion. I leaned over to my sister and whispered, “I’m good.” We weren’t the hand-holding types.

After more performances, the slides continued with the rest of the donors. I’m not sure when it started, but as each picture was displayed, these little groups of people would clap when their person was shown. Some whooped a little; one woman yelled out, “We love you, mom!” There was more sniffling and sobbing, more tears. My sister and I were surprised to see a former classmate’s picture at one point – she had died only about 2.5 months prior from breast cancer. I imagined that her parents were somewhere in the mass of people, also proud and incredibly sad.

It turns out that our brother-in-law was just in the next section and so after the auditorium started emptying, he came over to us. He has always been a jokester, so it was especially heartbreaking to see him openly crying. He apologized when he hugged me, which is what we all do when we think we have to hide our pain. He is the one I worry about the most. He is now alone in his big house, a home that has so much of our sister still in it. She had MS and was confined to a wheelchair for most of their marriage, and the house was modified to accommodate a wheelchair and scooter. He cared for her, turned her, carried her when she needed help getting to the bathroom. They were each others’ best friends. He couldn’t even take much time off from work to mourn her because he had used up all of his allotted time to make sure she was comfortable in her last two months while cancer took over.

I know our brother-in-law mourns deeply. I am having a hard time finishing this post because the grief keeps crashing into me in waves, and I have no doubt that he feels it more than any of us. My singular wish for him is that he will be able to find someone to love again when the time is right. I don’t like the idea of him holding onto the memory of our sister for the rest of his life and turning away from another great love, and I don’t think that is what she would want for him either.

I am grateful to the U of MN for having this program that allowed us to come together and celebrate the giving and joyful heart of our oldest sister.