Maybe I’ll Go To Stanford After All

Not one but two ladies in my circle (Cara from the podcast In Sickness + In Health  and Kirsten of Chronic Sex) were able to attend the MedX conference at Stanford in September of this year (2016). Kirsten actually presented to attendees and both Cara and Kirsten have chronic conditions that affected their ability to travel and attend comfortably, but they powered through – because they have unique voices as patients to contribute to the perspective of healthcare. MedX operates under the motto of “Everyone Included” and that each person should be valued, while care should be human-centered.

This is a fairly new conference – only five years old – and is technology-based in the broadest sense, because Stanford is doing something that seems so, well, basic. They are inviting patients to the conversation.

I listened to this podcast by Danny Levine, who you may remember interviewed me way back in January regarding my dating life and how being a rare patient played into that. In this podcast he interviews a patient who attended the conference as an “ePatient,” which we find out probably stands for “empowered patient.” After listening to Cara, Kirsten, and now Emma’s stories, I’m motivated more than ever to apply to be included in their audience as an ePatient. I actively blog (and occasionally hop on podcasts and camera), and I’m certainly not too shy to share my story. I’m not sure if they would allow me to present but I would be open to it. I mean, if I can wear t-shirts inviting strangers to ask me about my weird allergies and failed shunt surgeries, I’m pretty sure I can handle the podium. (And this is where my theater training comes in handy!!)

I think something that a lot of us are grateful for (but many don’t know about) is that the conference offers scholarships for both attendance and for travel, both partial and full. For instance, I am not receiving any income this year because my disability case was denied because I didn’t have a diagnosis and the language my doctors are entering on my records isn’t really describing my situation. So now that I’m pulling money from my 401k to live off of – the absolute barest minimum so that I don’t lose it all to penalties and taxes but have enough to pay rent and student loans – I don’t have money for events like MedX, not just for attending the conference but also for flying there and sleeping in a bed. There’s a chance they could take pity on me for seeing 54 doctors and having 10 shunt surgeries and looking like Quasimodo and I could be in Stanford next year, telling a room full of people my story. So I’m gonna try. But my job as an ePatient is that I have to use my medium (blogging) to document my time there – at least three blogs of certain lengths. That’s absolutely no problem. I’m pretty chatty.

I’m a bit worried that like TV programs going for the cute puppy factor, MedX will want someone on stage who already has a happy ending, who won’t seem to be soliciting assistance for an unsolved mystery. Even with my recent MCAS diagnosis I have no idea if I’m there yet.

I’m also worried about traveling that distance by myself. I’ll lose a great deal of my vision from having to be upright for so many hours, plus I’ll be incredibly uncomfortable because I won’t be able to lay down to relieve the pressure and it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll develop tremors, so it would be great if I could have someone with me to act as my eyes and carry items as well as open doors. The national hydrocephalus conference was here in Minneapolis this year, and that was incredibly taxing on me, so I know traveling to California will be much harder. Cara is still suffering because of the nature of her chronic illnesses and unfortunately her body may take months to recover.

Why do we want to do it? Because, as patients, we are involved. Rarely do we enter or leave a doctor’s office without doing a ton of research. This conference is tech-heavy and is attended by doctors and researchers and administrative staff just as much as it is patients, and that is a direct reflection of the world we live in when we seek medical care.

At one point, Kirsten spoke up and suggested that the medical staff speak directly to the patient(s) while a presentation was being streamed to the masses online. A conference does not relieve doctors of certain responsibilities such as treating patients as individuals with valid input.

So I’d love to go and make some connections just as Cara and Kirsten and Emma have, and raise my hand and raise some hell if need be. I can think of a few dozen doctors who really need to attend and gain some perspective.

Advertisements

Pay The Toll To The Troll. The Price? Your Soul.

I don’t have any idea how often this happens, or who determines it, but supposedly, Mercury was in retrograde as of Thursday this week. Why don’t frogs just rain down from the skies and we can all just be done with it? No, the psychic attack is much more stealthy, I think. The back of my neck aches. My gums and mouth burns and everything tastes metallic. I fervently wish that Facebook incorporated a disgusted eye roll emoji in their current six options, up from the original singular thumbs-up option. My inner dialog changes: Get out of my way. Stop kicking my goddamn cane. Your perfume smells like cat piss. I’m not waiting 45 minutes this time before calling in to see if they forgot me again, I’m only waiting 30. I am going to scrub my fucking toilet until it fucking sparkles.

Even before Thursday hit I could feel the earth boiling, and my mood was cooking right along with it. I encountered my first troll on Tuesday night. A friend created a private Facebook group so that (mostly) she and the rest of us could say things that couldn’t be said unfiltered in front of a wider Facebook audience. The creator also uses the page to talk about her new grandchild, so obviously it’s not as restrictive as she originally intended. Anyway, a mutual friend was going through a rough patch with her boyfriend and had already talked about it at a coffee shop reunion the week prior, so when she posted in the group, she was just looking for further confirmation that she wasn’t being too harsh in her judgment; after all, when you are the one in the situation, it’s difficult to be objective. This jackass dude pipes in and starts criticizing her and tells her that she’s probably not communicating correctly or enough with the guy she’s in the relationship with – not at all helpful.

Knowing what I know of my friend, and knowing what I know of the guy she’s dating, I don’t hold back on the troll. First I tell him that she DOES and HAS communicated clearly what her boundaries are and that they have been violated repeatedly. Every point the poster or I bring up, the troll says we’re wrong. Then the troll starts talking about how this always happens to him, that he’s always attacked for having a “different viewpoint from most everyone else.” I told him then that it’s because he’s condescending and he has contradicted everything that the original poster and I have said. He said “No, I haven’t. Tell me where I have. I genuinely want to know.” So instead of turning the post into everything about him, I tell him to go back and read. His reaction is to laugh. Obviously there isn’t anything “genuine” about this jackass. The final straw is when the troll claims that we shouldn’t be “defensive, that he is only being inquisitive.” My response was, “You’re not inquisitive, you’re correcting both ___ and I, so that does not constitute a “different” perspective as if it somehow elevates you, it just makes you repulsive.

But then the owner of the group starts posting paragraphs about how we’re supposed to play nice. Then there’s more posts about how disappointed she is about our behavior and how she wants to shut the group down…but she doesn’t, because other people chime in that despite the fact that I’m a bad apple, the group is a “good idea” and some people claim it’s so great that she should “go global” with it – as if talking behind backs is a new concept. If that’s the case, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell to them. Lots of sand.

Troll #2 happens the next day, when I talk about this conversation. He listens for a few minutes, then bursts in with, “I HATE MEN!” As if I, Chelsea, hate men. I don’t. I do, however, hate men who: Lie, cheat, steal, are alcoholics/addicts, are abusive, are lazy, are filthy, are racist, are bigots, pollute, smoke, chew, are narcissists, and hate animals. I’m sure there’s more to the list, but that covers it for now. By the way, Troll #2 fits into quite a few of these categories. Hey, does someone smell butt hurt?

Troll #3 is on Thursday, the big retrograde day. I am pulled into a discussion about racism and white privilege. The person who tagged me is Native American, and the other person is white (and just happens to be an editor for Bloomberg and fancies himself to be an expert on the world and all experiences, like all white guys). The Native American wanted the privileged white dude to know that every other white person didn’t share his smugness. What it boils down to is that the white guy claims that no matter what, all people suffer, so racism, sexism and bigotry don’t actually exist, and we should just get over it. The examples I gave him – white men kick my cane when I’m in public, but women and just generally people of color don’t kick my cane; or white men shoulder check me – probably doesn’t happen, or if they do, they happen because people are just being shitty to me and it doesn’t have anything to do with privilege. He told me I needed to be friendlier (as in, “You are a woman, so you owe it to me, a privileged white male, to smile at me”), so I told him he needed to stop being a dick.

I’m not sure what the cure is. I don’t know how long this shit storm Mercury started lasts. Mercury is an asshole.

The Tiers of Privilege

Minneapolis and St. Paul feel like very different cities from when I moved away 20 years ago. There was a palpable difference between Minneapolis and Albuquerque; in Minneapolis in 1995, my neighbors were white, black and Hmong (thanks to new policies welcoming large numbers of Hmong refugees from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam seeking a better and safer life), and in Albuquerque, the population was largely white, Hispanic and Native American. I felt as if I had moved to a different continent. The way that people interacted is something I can’t easily describe, except that I learned the “manana” (“tomorrow”) concept from my co-workers the hard way, and was told by employers that I would always be valued because I was a Midwesterner and therefore more “uptight and on time.” The population in Phoenix now closely resembles Albuquerque from 1995 – again, the residents are largely white, Hispanic and Native American. Because the southwest didn’t shift in any obvious way, I didn’t expect the Midwest to either.

When I moved back to the Twin Cities, I was not prepared for the greater diversity in the population, but my traveler’s heart is quite excited by it. A lot of the cab drivers I have had for my medical transportation have immigrated from Somalia, some arriving the same year I left Minnesota, telling me stories about how they excitedly called their relatives back home to tell them that powdered ice was falling from the sky (snow), and their relatives always asked the same question: “For free????” There are also now large Hispanic communities settled especially around the cities where living wages might be available. All of these groups are bringing their wonderful musicianship and dancing and food and willingness to endure countless hardships as strangers in a strange land because they know that turning back is not an option.

Why am I talking about all of this anyway? Well, the U.S. has always been a country of  tiered privilege. The caste system does not only live in India, my friends; it’s alive and well, even here in Minneapolis/St. Paul, where we pride ourselves on this appearance of being so tolerant but then have something so stupid/needless/heartbreaking/violating/sickening as the shooting of Philado Castile happen. But it’s not just race that determines where you land in the land of privilege – there’s a lot of “ands” that are the deciding factors.

Let’s start at the top. Your average white dude is the ultimate king of the food chain, born with the silver spoon in the mouth. Guys, you just are. If shitty things happen to you, the system isn’t against you in “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” You might want to feel sorry for yourselves, you might want to stomp and cry and try to convince us that you are being picked on and we should feel sorry for you, but I can’t. I can’t.

We can take it down a notch and look at white men who are physically handicapped by a chronic illness. Men are believed faster/more often than women when it comes to pain. Why? Medical sexism. On the tiers of privilege, white men who are in some way physically deemed “less valuable” by society are on a lower tier than ordinary white men.

I’m pretty sure my place is on the next tier down from that. I’m a white woman.

But wait: knock me down a few more rungs, because I’m a white woman who is also physically disabled. Since I’m a woman and I’m physically disabled, I have absolutely no value whatsoever, a “non-person,” specifically. My cane and paralyzed face make me invisible to nearly everyone (and if you don’t believe me, you should walk through a store or down a sidewalk with oncoming foot traffic with me).

But yet…where do all of our friends and neighbors of color fit in?

My Filipino ex-boyfriend was educated and articulate (except when it came to actually being in a relationship – but that’s another story); his status as a man was relatively high, but as a man of color he ranked lower. Unfortunately he suffered from bipolar disorder, so that could be seen as a detriment, but then again, he was believed – his gender saved him from medical sexism. He always claimed that strangers looked at us distastefully when we were out in public. I think he is valued much more than I am, even though he would deny it.

My most recent Native American boyfriend had a much harder upbringing. He grew up on the largest reservation in the U.S., the Navajo reservation on the New Mexico side. Poverty, crime and mental illness brought him into adulthood. He left the rez to get an education, but for one reason or another, he has clung to the the things that have only brought pain and destruction to his life. Where does he fit into this world?

And then there are the women of color who earn even less than the men, who are physically and sexually assaulted, are obviously valued less when they are forced to remain silent in the company of men or to walk a few steps behind them. Add an “and” to them – a physical disability – and really, how much lower can one go in terms of value as far as society is concerned? I startled a Somalian woman in a waiting area once; I carry cough drops and I noticed she was having a coughing fit, so I offered her one. Her interpreter arrived a few minutes after that and she was called back for her appointment, but she made it a point to tell her interpreter to thank me in English. I did not consider it an insult that she did not know how to say it herself when she was on her own, but since I know how the public at large acts more often than not, I could just imagine that even that simple interaction added stress to her afternoon. Like me, she walked with a cane. I wondered how she was treated by her peers and family.

I am always disappointed when I see/hear someone say, “Why don’t they just ____”? as if we are simple creatures and there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. There isn’t. (That’s why they should stop just conducting medical studies on middle-aged white men if they want real-world results. I mean, hey, we finally figured out that heart attacks are worlds apart between men and women!) The most important thing to understand is that just because things look a certain way from where you’re sitting doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way. If you can’t see past yourself, then your world is very small indeed.

New Diet, New Rules

I made the tastiest dinner tonight: chicken, carrots, ginger, garlic, brown rice flour and chicken bone broth, simmered and thickened so I could have it over brown rice.

What was missing? The dreaded dairy, gluten, soy and sugar, now possibly permanently banned from my diet. But let’s face it – those things are pretty difficult to avoid when going out to eat. Luckily I have my pocket-sized computer (phone) with internet access because there is a new app on the market that will help take the pain out of trying to socialize over a meal that may or may not be okay for me.

DineSafe is free to both the patrons and the restaurants. To participate, restaurants have to enter their menu items, which might sound labor-intensive, but here’s the great thing: they can put directly on the app which allergenic ingredients are included on each menu choice. I mean, who better would know which ingredients go into their food? This takes all of the guesswork out of the equation for the patrons.

For instance, maybe you are allergic to dairy, shellfish and mushrooms; the first thing you will be prompted to do when you enter the app is plug in all of the items you are allergic to. They have such a great list pre-programmed in, including dairy, peanut, gluten, garlic, soy and eggs, that most of the common allergens are available to choose. There is also a tab for specific diets, including vegetarian, vegan, paleo and organic. The creators did not skimp on categories! They are open to suggestions, so if you think that your allergen or diet are not represented, you can give them the feedback. I didn’t see sugar on the list so I’ll be giving them that suggestion. Sugar can hide out in simple things like salad dressings, and I’d like to make the most informed choice possible when someone else is preparing my meal.

The app can search for nearby locations according to your GPS position, but you can also ask for it to look in specific areas (great for when you’re meeting other people out and you’re trying to find a suitable restaurant). After all, most cultures have socialization built around meals; there’s no reason a person should have to give that up because of some restrictions.

The next step is to visit the restaurant on the app. The landing page has a pull-down menu that is a space where the restaurant has described its theme and atmosphere. You can go to an area that indicates which menu choices you should avoid. If you hop over to the next tab, you can see which items are safe for you to order. Lastly, there is an area to customize your order: if a dish contains mushrooms but everything else is “safe,” you can request no mushrooms on your order. By the time you are at the table and the server is ready to take your order, you’re prepared with a choice rather than having to quiz the server and send him/her back to the kitchen a few times. There is a flashing reminder on the landing page to advise the server of the allergies so they can expect a dish to be returned to the kitchen if something is included by mistake. (This leads me to another thought: Is there something in the point of sale terminal that the servers can enter to call attention to allergies for the kitchen staff, even if something like “Attention: Allergies” pops up in red above the “hold” items?)

I feel like we are overdue for an app like this. Right now I see listings for the Orlando, Florida area. What’s the best way to make sure restaurants are getting on board in your city? Load the app on your phone and talk to restaurant managers about the advantages of making their menu information available online including known allergens and diets, and consumers will feel empowered about choosing their products.

The app will also have an area built in where patrons can enter reviews. Part of my research on where to spend my money is influenced by reviews, as I’m sure the majority of people feel the same way. Now we’ll see things like, “I ordered a dry, unmarinated chicken breast, and I got exactly what I wanted,” or “We had to send the dish back three times because they kept putting peanuts on my pud Thai.”

Lastly, the U.S. is very slow about getting on board with safety – basically it’s up to patrons to be detectives and figure out if something is safe for them to eat. The UK and Europe have already passed laws regarding requirements to disclose allergens in sit-down and take-out establishments. We SHOULD have those laws here, but for now, we have to rely on our pocket computers to guide us. I look forward to using DineSafe when it reaches my area.

****This is a sponsored post for DineSafe.
******I was excited to talk about this app and its features anyway because my life is going to change drastically as a result of having these restrictions placed on my diet.

Spare Some Change?

This morning started out with crazy pain. I’ve had 18 years of fibromyalgia pain, and I have to say, that’s child’s play compared to what I have going on in my abdomen. I had an appointment with a new pain management doctor this morning, so the crazy pain at least had good timing. I had to explain all over again why it’s happening (I’m allergic to the drainage catheter of my shunt, which goes down to and loops around in my abdomen), and endure the doctor poking and prodding my stomach and bending and lifting my legs. Big, fat tears were leaking out of my eyes. I begged for a change in meds.

What I have to do to transition from one medication to another is slowly decrease one med over the course of two weeks, and then begin a new medication and work up to the full dosage over four weeks’ time, so I have to commit six weeks to focusing on getting this right.

Really, it’s not different from anything that’s a change. I need to also change my food intake. No dairy, gluten, soy or sugar means some big adjustments in what I eat and when. I really have to plan and think out the simplest things, because I’m not going to be able to grab a hunk of cheese as a snack and instead I have to have something readily available that falls within the much smaller parameters that I’m stuck with.

Kira’s blog on change is so timely for me. She talks about the process we logically and methodically use to incorporate the change into our lives, and what makes change successful versus a total and utter flop.

I wish someone could diagram for me a plan to successfully avoid chocolate.

http://www.kiralynne.com/#!Change-is-Challenging/caj6/56dc66a90cf22ade6d35e40e

Don’t Ever Think ‘Equality’ Is A Dirty Word

We need women (and MEN) from all walks of life, from all occupations, from all age groups, to get on the bandwagon with the idea that equality is worth it. Already my nephews, aged 10 and 6, have started reciting the ugly words, “Boys are smarter than girls.” They certainly didn’t learn that from me or their parents. Now our work is even harder with trying to turn that thought process around (if it is even a process – because they are more parrots at that age than scholars).

I want all girls and boys to grow up to appreciate differences while embracing each other for their value as human beings first.

I want women to receive equal pay for equal work.

I want men to stop claiming all space as their own, including women’s bodies.

I want women to be supportive, rather than see each other as competition to be beat.

But in addition to that:

I want people who are labeled “disabled” to be out in the work force (if they are able) and have a social life filled with inclusion, and to be portrayed correctly in advertising, TV and movies.

I want “inspiration porn” to end.

I want the freedom to practice – or NOT practice – any and every religion of my choosing.

I want churches to start paying taxes.

I want people of ALL races to be valued, truly, but I want privilege to be acknowledged and then driven to extinction.

I want our actions to match our words.

I want choices, whether it’s the company I keep, the job that pays the bills, the food I put in my body, the chemicals I keep away from my dwelling and the doctors I see. The more we work towards total inclusion, the better our lives will feel, period.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jennifer-lawrence-feminism-equal-pay_us_56d08bfee4b03260bf769e58?