Ring Around The Rosie

I don’t know if you knew this, but the old nursery rhyme “Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” is about the black plague.

Or, actually, it isn’t, according to Snopes.

I think about it this time of year, while I maneuver my way through hoards of people who don’t cover their mouths when they cough, or if they do, they immediately touch the door handle I was just reaching for. The Plague. Everyone is just waiting to infect me, I know it.

I’ve been having a hell of a time just getting a flu shot. Until two years ago, I never got one. Then they started making an egg-free version, meaning they didn’t grow them in an egg base as the very cheap food source. Now they also make the shot preservative free. It’s the holy grail for me since I’m allergic to raw eggs AND preservatives. However, my PCP’s office won’t order it for me. They insisted I call my insurance company, but the insurance company told me they couldn’t tell how it would be billed (as in, would there be a special code for an egg-free and preservative-free flu shot?), so I’m supposed to get the code from the doctor’s office. The PCP’s office doesn’t know how to bill for the shot unless the insurance company knows how it should be submitted, otherwise I’ll have to pay out of pocket. So…………

Scratch all that. I just talked to Walgreen’s, and they have an egg-free, preservative-free flu shot on hand, and I just have to show proof of my medical assistance. So guess who’s getting a flu shot from Walgreen’s?

This is the reason why not having preservatives is a big deal.

I’ve been giving myself Humira injections since August 30th to combat hidradenitis suppurativa outbreaks that I’ve been experiencing for about the last 8 years. It’s another autoimmune disease that up to around 2 years ago, not much was known about. I’m not going to spill all here, but trust me when I say that it’s super, SUPER painful. And doctors were cutting infections out of me, but because of mast cell activation syndrome, the lidocaine they were using wasn’t numbing me, so I would feel every slice. Before the HS was diagnosed, all of the doctors didn’t understand why I was getting the infections, and they thought that it was something that I was doing wrong – not bathing properly (HA!), wearing the wrong clothing (HA!), shaving inappropriately (because I don’t grow hair – ???? – HA!).

The treatments for HS include getting monthly injections of steroids in the normally infected areas – which I don’t know anyone who would go for that – or using oral and topical antibiotics, which I’m allergic to. The last resort is Humira.

The bitch of it is that I’m also allergic to the Humira shots. On August 30th I did the first loading dose of 4 shots. I didn’t have a reaction until 10 days after that, so it took me a while to catch on, and the reaction showed up only on my legs and not my stomach.

So I thought, okay, there was no reaction to the two shots in my abdomen. I’ll just get my abdomen with the next two shots. Besides, doing the injections in my legs hurt like a bitch. But then:
20170915_190958(Keep in mind I never show my stomach to anyone. The zipper scar you see running from my belly button is the extra large cut my neurosurgeon had to do on 12/21/13 when he didn’t have anyone assisting him on that surgery, which is the one where he finally saw my abdomen with his own eyes and remarked how it looked like a war zone inside and acknowledged my allergy to the shunt.)

So these two welts showed up the same day as the injection, and hung around until the Monday after – about 5 days. After the itching stops the welts turn into huge bruises.

I called the manufacturers of Humira to report my reaction. I knew immediately what the problem was before I even called. They make the shot shelf-stable for up to 14 days so that if you have to travel or lose power, you can still use it without it needing a refrigerator. Conclusion: preservatives. Specifically, there are 8 of them in the medication. When I talked to the company, they said the FDA approved them ONLY to make the formula with the 8 preservatives. It’s possible they might release a formula with only 2 preservatives in 2018, but they are still waiting for the final approval from the FDA. They cannot allow me to take another form of Humira with less preservatives because it’s only approved for use in the U.S. with the 8 preservatives.

I have to stay on it. If I go off of it, it immediately loses its effectiveness by 20-30% for the rest of my life within the first 2 weeks of discontinuing it.

Humira does lower my immune response. I’m already compromised because of my non-existent IgG3 and IgG4, so I have to be extra cautious. I’ve noticed that I’m much more fatigued than normal while I’m on this juice. The maid doesn’t get a whole lot done these days, know what I’m sayin’?

Usually my stomach doesn’t see the light of day unless it’s the surgeon operating on me (you can see another horizontal scar on the right pic above), but this is the reality of the mast cell disease. If you don’t know me and you see me clawing at my belly in public, now you understand why. I really do want to rip my skin off.

Two days ago I woke up for another appointment and my entire upper half was covered in hives. In this pic you can also see the shunt protruding because of all of the scar tissue that is growing around it. The rate it’s growing is highly unusual; the doctors are seeing in 3 weeks what they would normally see in 20 years. But I have no freaking idea why I woke up with the hives because nothing in my routine has changed as far as I know:
IMG_20171101_111839_548
One thing that ended up on my good list is that I discovered that I’m not allergic to potato chips! Some of the other MCAS patients were discussing them in a group and so I took a chance and snuck some at a party – plain, salted – and didn’t develop hives, and didn’t lose the inside lining of my mouth or develop sores. The other crazy upside is that because I have POTS, I’m also encouraged to eat higher quantities of sodium so my blood pressure doesn’t dip too low. So, people, I am rediscovering Ruffles! I haven’t had them for decades! But they have to be strictly plain/salted, no other flavors including vinegar. It’s a nice change from the 8 foods I’ve been stuck with.

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This is a Test

Another chronic illness blogger has been kind enough to let a bunch of us tell our stories on her site, and late last week my most up-to-date info was included. She has indicated that she may discontinue the series if she no longer has parties interested in being part of the project, but there are so many of us out there that I would be surprised if the well ever dried up.

From This Point. Forward.

Today was a really big day in my little alien world. I finally got the upright MRI that I’ve been asking for for 6.5 years. In all of the 56 doctors that I’ve seen, it has only been the most recent neurologist who hasn’t fought me on my request and put the order in.

So I got strapped into a chair and a cage was lowered over my head and screwed into place like I was Hannibal Lector. Like I was ready for some football and to call out some huts! I was sandwiched and squished between two huge, white panels, a bar propped between the panels for my hands and then one lower for feet to rest on to make my very own roller coaster ride more comfortable.

A couple of times the tech buzzed in and said, “I’m picking up movement. Try to keep very still.” I had explained to her that I sometimes have trouble with tremors in my neck when we were going over the questionnaire, but maybe she’s heard that line before and doesn’t think it’s important to remember. I breathe with my diaphragm, so at a break between segments, I moved my arms as far away from my torso as far as the sandwich bread slices would allow me – that way there was less of a chance that my smushed arms would move my head when I breathed.

The tech had given me the option of tilting the chair back at 30-45 degrees, but I explained that it would compromise what we are trying to catch on imaging, so I had to stay completely upright. The MRI takes about 40-45 minutes, and to make sure the pressure in my skull was really high, I exercised my arms for about five minutes both before the cab picked me up, and then again when I changed my clothes. All I have to do is mimic the bicycle motion with my arms like what I do in PT and I nearly go completely blind from the pressure in my skull. This is why I can’t exercise. I would probably give myself seizures.

At the end of it when I was extricated from the face trap/sandwich boards, I got up to walk and ended up stumbling around like a cat coming off of anesthesia. I had to have a lot of assistance to walk back to the room where my cane was waiting for me. I might have said, “No, I don’t need a fucking walker.” This scan had better not let me down.

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.

You Know, Like The Nasal Spray

Tonight was supposed to be a date night with the boyfriend. Unfortunately, I’ve been nursing a headache all day that has been getting progressively worse, so we’re postponing until tomorrow night and I have vowed to not make myself ready for public consumption tonight even a tiny bit. Instead I’m listening to Enigma and thinking about how to put all of this week’s news together.

When I was little, I had a lot of problems with asthma and allergies. There was one time I had gone hog wild with the Cracker Jack tattoos and then went into anaphylactic shock shortly after from who knows what and was rushed to some kind of urgent care (though back in the 1970’s it wasn’t called that), and my mom and I remember that the doctors and nurses were momentarily amused to discover how enthusiastically I had stamped them onto my arms and legs when they hurriedly stripped me down to shoot me up with multiple adrenaline shots. I always had allergic reactions that seemed to come out of nowhere. I would have hives show up on my little cheeks that couldn’t be explained. We tried so many things, including eliminating dryer sheets and perfumed laundry soap. I could only bathe with certain soaps – I remember being disappointed that my friends had fun soaps with glitter, while mine tended to have real oatmeal and vaguely resembled excrement.

Often my allergies would turn into full-blown infections. My little body was so worn out from the allergic reactions that the microbes had an easy time of taking over, every time. I know now that specifically I am even more vulnerable because I have both IgG3 and IgG4 immunodeficiencies, so I cannot fight off infections like other people can, and my infections will always last longer.

One of the many things I always struggled with is cigarette smoke. I knew from a very young age that I was allergic to it; it wasn’t just that I didn’t care for the smell, but that it made my throat close up, like I was having an allergic reaction to it, much like what people experience when they are very allergic to cats (a more common allergy than dogs), or when they have a peanut or egg allergy. After being exposed for a few hours to cigarette smoke, it’s inevitable that I will develop an infection. Three of my four parents were smokers and so I always had sinus infections, bronchitis, ear infections and pneumonia growing up. Nowadays I’m thankful that most places in the U.S. have adopted laws banning smoking in indoor public places.

Animals are tough too. We had a cat that I loved very much but we ended up having to re-home her with our aunt after it was confirmed just how allergic I was to her; our dogs were outside dogs at my mom and step-dad’s house, but my dad and step-mom had an indoor dog. It seemed like I always had a sinus infection and/or bronchitis and/or an ear infection.
There are other allergies that I have noticed over the years that are not the usual suspects for most people. For instance, I get hives all along the entire surface of my body that has been in contact with brand new furniture. I’m not sure if it is the dye in the fabric or the chemicals in the padding that I’m allergic to, but it’s miserable. Also, commercial perfumes that the general public wears and Lysol are incredibly toxic to me. (When I used to work in the cubicle farm at Bank of America in Phoenix, I used to stand up and yell “Stop spraying!” if a co-worker started spraying Lysol in his or her cube because my throat would immediately start closing up. Everyone thought I was nuts.)

Lately I’ve been having some trouble with my pulse being about twice the normal rate and with my blood pressure being elevated. I also have burning and a metallic taste in my mouth, constant heartburn that no one to date has been able to pinpoint the source of, and of course the constant problems with my CSF, memory, word recall and crushing fatigue.

Back in October of 2015 at the urging of a friend, I made an appointment with Dr. Lawrence Afrin, who is fairly new to the University of Minnesota staff; he used to live in South Carolina and transitioned to Minnesota starting in 2013. When I moved here a year ago, I was trudging back and forth between appointments with doctors and labs and scans, and didn’t think much about what he had to offer me, quite honestly – I mean, I thought that what I had going on was better addressed in the areas I had already been concentrating on: neurosurgery, neurology, immunology, rheumatology. I couldn’t even find a regular primary care doctor who could handle me. I made the appointment anyway, but Dr. Afrin is in high demand, and they booked me for ten months later. I didn’t give him a second thought.

A month ago I received a call from his office with the offer to move my appointment to the end of June. I accepted. In the meantime, the same friend who urged me to make the appointment also bought me his book and sent it to me, so I quickly started reading it because of the pending appointment – “Never Bet Against Occam.” Within the first 20 pages I realized that I was reading about my own puzzling history. I started to assemble my list of questions and completed my 3-ring binder for the appointment.

Dr. Afrin is considered the national expert on a newly identified disease called Mast Cell Activation Disease (or Syndrome) or MCAD (or MCAS). It has only begun to be identified in the past 8 years, and he has been at the forefront of the movement to get it nailed down and classified. Everyone has mast cells. Everyone with this condition has a “normal” amount of cells, but they act in a very abnormal way. For some people, maybe it’s normal for them to have an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite. However, if they go into anaphylactic shock from the mosquito bite, then that might be considered MCAD if the actual number of mast cells didn’t increase.

Dr. Afrin first read through my records. Occasionally he quietly chuckled to himself as he read. At one point I asked him what was funny; he said that the signs I had MCAD were quite obvious. I told him to wait until he got to the part where I demanded to get azathioprine to try to stop rejecting the shunt, because I came up with that on my own, no one suggested it to me (I found out from his book that he prescribes chemo drugs such as azathioprine to MCAD patients in an attempt to try to find the right treatment).

In another section, he stopped and said, “Oh, Dr. T. here said that you have a mast cell disorder.” I said, “He read that I was coming to see you in the future. Let’s just ignore everything he said because he misdiagnosed me, shall we?” He laughed, but then later said I shouldn’t be so hard on my doctors in general because their main goal is quantity, not quality. I didn’t tell Dr. Afrin that he was my 53rd doctor at that point. I also didn’t want to go into an impassioned speech about how difficult it has been to lose my ability to work, to lose my house and car, my independence, and my sense of self-worth, all because doctors thought my case was too difficult and they just wanted easy cases.

Dr. Afrin thanked me for putting together such a complete medical history of the last six years. We talked about my life from birth to present and what were probably the signs of MCAD from the very beginning.

Here’s the plan: He’s going to request the biopsy samples from my upper GI (that I insisted on getting done on my own because I’ve been trying to figure out where this horrible acid reflux is coming from) so that they can be stained with the special stains that can show the concentrations of the mast cells. I’m going to have a bunch of blood work done next week. I’m also going to be sent home with a collection container that is going to live in my fridge for 24 hours. Can you guess what it’s for? Not Kool-Aid! Urine that I have to collect for 24 hours worth of peeing. That’s right. Then I have to transport that back to the lab, but first I have to pack it in a zip lock bag, pack it in ice, and then put it in a cooler. The urine has to stay cold or the components that have to be tested begin to degrade and become useless.

My sister and I had some good laughs over the whole refrigerated urine thing. First of all, I’m a bit of a germaphobe – partly because of the time I spent in nursing school and specifically in microbiology and all of that in-depth studying of bacteria, and partly because I know my immune system is weak. Second, I’m going to have to carry the cooler in my left hand because I have to walk with my cane in my right hand. Right now my left shoulder is in really bad shape because the tendons are likely frayed. What if I drop the cooler of urine? Am I destined for YouTube infamy when the bucket-o-urine splashes me in the face?

I’m thankful for this person steering me to Dr. Afrin. I’m trying not to get too excited because even though he’s 99% certain that I have MCAD, I’ve been down the 99% certain road before a few times, and it’s very emotionally draining to get misdiagnosed.

Happy Anniversary

Exactly one year ago today I got on a plane and moved from Phoenix to St. Paul. According to the dust on my shelves, that’s the last time I dusted as well.

The first six months were difficult. I was going from doctor to doctor, trying to find any that wouldn’t turn me away. I couldn’t drive because I lose about 80% of my vision while I’m upright for a long time, so I spent about $500 a month just on cab fare alone; when I wasn’t going to doctor appointments, I simply stayed in my apartment.

It took me a lot to where I am right now: I have at least a primary care doctor, I have had 3 months of physical therapy for the pinched nerves in my shoulder and hips, I have a disability attorney (but probably no hearing until July or later 2017), and I now use the short bus and a cab company that is contracted through medical assistance to get me to appointments. I also have an incredibly supportive boyfriend.

There are still some black holes of missing pieces. One: I still don’t have a diagnosis. Two: I don’t know what in the hell I’m going to do about my shunt.

June 16-19 was the National Hydrocephalus Association conference, and I never would have been able to attend if it wasn’t right here in my back yard. I had decided that I was not going to be shy. I had also decided that although it was nice to meet other patients and commiserate, I really, really wanted to pick the brains of the researchers and doctors and manufacturers of the shunts.

At the very first speaking presentation, a researcher spoke about the work she has been performing regarding shunt occlusions (blockages). I raised my hand and first asked if the study began when the shunt was still in the patient (so they could figure out if the drainage tip was stuck somewhere, like a drinking straw that’s clogged by a large piece of fruit or an extra thick shake) or if the shunts were studied after they were removed, because I tend to immediately make 20 years worth of scar tissue in 2-3 weeks and clog my shunts very quickly. She indicated that she tests the shunts only after they are sent to her post-surgery, and that she was definitely interested in my shunt(s). I got her business card and told her about imaging that has been developed in Scotland that piggybacks off of current MRI and CT scans but is supposed to be much more accurate, and it just so happens that she is supposed to travel to Scotland in two weeks. In another talk she gave much later in the conference, she mentioned autoimmune diseases, and I’ll be seeing a doctor that specializes in mast cell disorders next week; I’m going to speak to him specifically about my issues with the shunts and about contacting her and speaking with her regarding shunt rejection. Not a bad start for networking!

But with the good comes the not so good. Another talk I attended was facilitated by a neurologist and a neurosurgeon who were experts in normal pressure hydrocephalus. That is one of my placeholder diagnoses and they kept talking about enlarged ventricles on MRI and CT scans. I asked if it was possible to get that diagnosis without the enlarged ventricles, and they said no. I talked to them afterwards and quickly covered my symptoms and demonstrated my unusual ability to move the fluid around in my brain. They actually became very condescending and a little pissy, asking if I had considered the Mayo. I thanked them and left the room.

At another session, there was a representative from the Social Security office talking about the process of filing for disability. He opened the session by saying that he actually never handled disability cases where health was involved – I mean, when it’s a health conference, why send someone who is knowledgeable? I raised my hand during this one too and asked two questions: 1) Is it correct that since my request for a hearing was filed in early February of 2016, it’s pretty backed up and I shouldn’t expect a hearing to be set until July or August of 2017? and 2) I was told that even though I can’t see well, that my arms and hands still work, so I should be able to get a job. What criteria is used to determine whether I should be employed when my records indicate I should be laying down for 20-22 hours a day? He said, 1) It’s not unreasonable that the hearing would take that long to be set (and I answered that maybe it’s not unreasonable to him, but it’s unreasonable to me), and 2) It’s not just my inability to see or be upright that’s considered, but also my education and my age, so yes, no matter how impaired I am, I may be “too young” to be disabled. That absolutely floored me – no wonder I have to fend off assholes telling me that every day, because that’s the idiocy that the social security office perpetuates every single day.

One session was put on by the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living right here in Minnesota and a particularly energetic and passionate woman dedicated to helping people find the best and most resources available. Of course I raised my hand and said something to the effect of, “Dude from the SSA yesterday said that even though I am impaired when I’m upright, I can still use my hands and arms and I’m only 42, so of course I’m going to be denied. Does this seem correct to you, and would you deem needing to lay down flat 20-22 hours a day a ‘reasonable accommodation’ to request of a workplace?” (In other words, can I lay on a hospital gurney while I’m ringing people out as a cashier at Target?) She rolled her eyes and said that she was told a while ago that when dealing with the SSA, never to apply logic, because what they do defies common sense. She also said that one guy was told by the SSA that he should be able to find a livable wage somewhere “folding napkins” because that was all he was capable of. I asked if there was ever any communication between the SSA and her office for them to base their findings off of, and she said absolutely not.
While we were waiting to be picked up by the short bus at the hotel in downtown Minneapolis where the conference was taking place, there were plenty of people partying and women wearing the most ridiculous heels and short skirts because the Twins were playing the Yankees at a home game. One drunk hanging with his two very drunk buddies began to loudly read my shirt, and so rather than roll my eyes and be pissed, I invited him to read the other side of my shirt. His immediate demeanor took on the tone that he was going to make fun of me, but after I gave him a brief history, all he could say was that he was sorry, and he doffed his hat to me.

Through all of this, The Saint Paul weathered some really dry presentations, and probably learned more than he ever wanted to. However, when I met his dad and stepmom for the first time on Sunday night and they began to ask me questions about my health, he answered them exactly as I would have. The Saint Paul really takes all of this to heart in addition to reminding me that we are a team and that I no longer have to do everything on my own. I mean, man, he got me paper towels because he noticed I was running low on his own – he didn’t even have to ask, and I didn’t have to tell him! Forget “don’t sweat the small stuff” because it’s the small stuff that counts!

One of the sessions I wanted him to attend (while I was in listening to a much heavier topic) was about caring for the caregiver. All of the men in my immediate family have had to put their own health and happiness on hold because my mom and sisters have had chronic and severe diseases. The Saint Paul believes he can handle whatever happens to me, but I warned him that things can change suddenly and completely and permanently for either he or I, and even with the best of intentions, it’s absolutely possible that he can be so deeply affected by this unnamed change that he’s going to lose his shit. It’s a lot to ask of one person.

So, back to this anniversary: this is also the day a year ago that my sister and her husband brought home their second rescue dog from Secondhand Hounds and renamed her June. Just recently, June has started to mimic her dog brother and put herself on the floor and position herself for belly rubs, something she never would have been relaxed enough to do a year ago. It’s amazing what thousands of dog treats and a loving family will do.
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The Boyfriend Invasion

The Saint Paul and I have been dating for two and a half months now. Our first date was many hours long, so many that we approximated it to be the equivalent of four dates. We’ve had many dates since then where we’ve had up to fourteen hours together until I’m physically holding my eyelids up with my fingers and he’s stumbling into his shoes to go home. We’ve also fallen into the habit of not going more than three days without seeing each other. But we’ve never had a full-on sleep-over; he’s always gone home.

I live in a historic area of St. Paul, Minnesota, and every year on the first Sunday of June there is a celebration called Grand Old Days that includes music, food vendors, a parade, artists and sports/health vendors. Attendance has been anywhere between 170,000 and 270,000, and attendees can even print a bus pass for certain routes to park and ride to this area for free. It has gotten so large that this year they have expanded the festival to the whole weekend instead of just Sunday. My flat just happens to be right next to one of the sound stages – and I’ve checked the lineup, doesn’t look promising.

Healthy me would have been absolutely thrilled. This is the stuff I used to live for, and it’s right at my front door. But the new me has to come to terms with the fact that I can’t walk a couple of miles or stand for hours to listen to live music or spend money on food and pottery. The thought of trying to navigate throngs of people while my brain is being squeezed and my eyes are drooping gives me extra anxiety. If I’m being completely honest I can whine and say that it’s not fair, but then who in the world can I blame that on?

The Saint Paul has opted to come over Friday night so he can score a parking spot and not have to stress about it after that. We might run out to get a few groceries, which will require us planning out meals for two whole days together, and then he’ll head home Sunday night. He’s going to try to borrow a camp chair for the parade, since I have my own already – we have to stake out a place on the sidewalk along the parade route pretty early in the morning Sunday, because it’s going to get gnarly. We’re fully expecting drunks to be trying to get into my building or to be peeing in our planters or every barfing in every doorway. I’ve heard stories. Non-food businesses are now in the habit of shutting down completely for this festival.

Other things take planning too. I’ve suggested that he bring over his favorite pillow to help him sleep better (because we all know that makes a huge difference when sleeping in unfamiliar territory). Sometimes I wake up coughing because of acid reflux, so I kind of have to be ready to move to my couch (five steps from my bed) if I think I can’t get back to sleep right away. And to hear The Saint Paul tell it, he flops around like a fish when he sleeps, which does not bode well for me, the ultimate light sleeper.

Most importantly, 48 hours together guarantees that there is going to be poo involved. Knowing my GI tract means there’s going to be multiple incidents each day. I have a brand new bottle coming that should be arriving just in time for Friday that is ruby red grapefruit-scented that may prolong my relationship with The Saint Paul. I am telling you, every house should have PooPourri because everyone poops, and no one wants to die by Lysol or any other chemical stuff that you spray in the air that makes it smell like you shit out a pine tree. I cannot say enough good things about this product. Buy it. You spritz it in the toilet bowl before you unload your load, and all is right in the world.

Lastly, most of my lounging and sleeping when I am solo in my flat is done sans hair. My wigs are just not at all comfortable, and wearing them in bed actually wrecks the fibers. So The Saint Paul is going to get a full dose of me au natural, and I have warned him that once I have taken them off in his presence, I will probably lose all motivation to wear them all of the time. I like how I look in them, but they are so damned scratchy and uncomfortable, plus wearing them less will also help me to be able to keep them longer since I have no money coming in. So for your viewing pleasure, here is (a very dirty) Mr. Clean taking your day to a whole different level:

Just The Tip

For the life of me, I cannot remember who worked this joke into their standup (though I could have sworn it was Eddie Murphy or someone else who was quite popular in the mid-80’s). The premise is something along the lines about said comic complaining about how when it came time for him to get a blow job, his dates were less than enthusiastic. They grabbed his penis like a microphone, gave the tip a lick or two like a lollipop, and then looked at him with expectation and asked, “You good now? That okay?” That counted as oral sex in their minds. Their mouths came in close contact with the comic’s junk, so good enough. I mean, there’s nothing more intimate than having your face in someone else’s parts and getting a close-up inspection, is there? He should have just been thankful that he got a couple of licks because that’s all he was gonna get.

I bring this up because this routine is always what goes through my mind whenever I interact with a friend or family member who checks on my status:

Friend: How are you?
Me: I’m still having health problems.
Friend: So you’re better now?
Me: No, I’m actually worse now.
Friend: Oh, but you’re better now, right?
Me: Not at all.
Friend: Okay, we good now? Stay positive!

So, are we good? Well, no, actually. Especially since I have this conversation multiple times a day with people who don’t have any connection to each other, and I am at a loss as to why this keeps repeating. When I try to get to the bottom of how they could have possibly come to that conclusion that I’m okay, I realize that it has to do with lip service every time. They want to brag that they went down on me without actually having done it.

Since I’ve vowed to live an authentic life and not fake my orgasms, I am being truthful when people are asking me about my current status. It’s making them uncomfortable but I’ve decided not to apologize for it. As we enter the summer months and the air pressure, humidity and temperature jump around hourly and the pressure in my head goes haywire, I will struggle more. No amount of wishing for rainbows and puppy dogs will change it.

Rare + Rare = Still Rare

Yesterday was generally a non-productive doctoring day for me. I went to see a neurologist in a different medical system outside of the ones that I have tried just to see if I could at least get an acknowledgment that what I’m dealing with is not that idiotic label “facial weakness” that the U of MN doctor put in my file. Besides trying to work towards a diagnosis, I’m also trying to build my case for disability, and I keep hearing my attorney’s voice in the back of my head saying, “If you don’t get a diagnosis by the time you are sitting in front of the judge, you’re screwed.”

The neurologist was very friendly and open, and definitely had the approach of working with me as part of a collaboration rather than dictating to me. However, we still had a breakdown in communication. She could not wrap her brain around the concept about why I have a shunt in the first place (and indeed is the same barrier for 99% of the doctors I talk to even though I explain to them that the shunts were placed because my symptoms improved temporarily after receiving lumbar punctures 12 hours apart). Almost all doctors incorrectly jump to the conclusion that my face is drooping because I’m overdraining – as if the fluid is pulling my face down with it, like I am living out a Salvador Dali painting. It’s easier for me to explain the shunts and the failures and the symptoms to people who have absolutely no experience with this world because they have no expectations and no preconceived notions (except for the asshole armchair “experts” who don’t know shit but think that watching a few episodes of “House” have made them suddenly intellectually superior).

Because this doctor had wonderful bedside manner, I made sure I took the time to assure her that her inability to give me a diagnosis or a direction was not her fault or a failure on her part as a physician. As a matter of fact, she was doctor #50 in six years, and I told her that too. The combined look of horror and chagrin was a bit comical. I gladly accepted her recommendations for a pediatric neurosurgeon (because sometimes they take the most complicated adults) as well as a rheumatologist she thought would have the best bedside manner, so all was not wasted on that visit. I also explained to her that I would be attending the national hydrocephalus conference June 16-19 being held here in Minneapolis and that I had t-shirts printed:

This week another one of our relatives passed away. His niece happened to contact me through 23 & Me, where I have an account set up after getting my genes tested last July; I wanted the cheapest way possible to get them set up in a database while I tried to figure out what is going on with my body and just how rare it really is. It turns out that this relative of mine has a daughter who is also super rare, truly one in seven billion! It’s so rare that they actually had to formally name it: Hemolytic Anemia Medicine Lake. The “Medicine Lake” portion of the name refers to the area that I and a large portion of my extended family grew up and lived in in the western Minneapolis area. Unfortunately it’s not in any way similar to what my problem is so I can’t go to the NIH and tell them to link our cases, but we definitely hit the rare disease lottery in this family.

By the way, universe, I’d like to win the LOTTERY lottery.

And I won’t be going back to this neurologist, as nice as she was, because she described herself as a “neighborhood neurologist.” She said that she was a step or two down from the facilities where I had been trying my luck, and this was way over her head.

I’m Just The Patient

Today was my big appointment with the movement disorder neurologist at the U of Minnesota, and it was decidedly anti-climactic. My first impression was that he was a young version of Derek Jacobi, pictured here:
Derek Jacobi
All of the doctors seemed to be excited that I was scheduled to see this particular one and told me repeatedly how thorough he was. In fact, I was supposed to see him over a month ago, but he looked over my file a few days before I was due in and instead insisted I get my face tased (with an EMG) before seeing me, which pushed my appointment back so that he could rule out myasthenia gravis (a second time). I knew I didn’t have it as of 2010 and I still don’t.

This doctor was short on bedside manner, so I immediately shortened my answers and didn’t elaborate on anything. We went over my family’s extensive history of autoimmune diseases. He made me walk and do things with my eyes closed to deliberately make me fall (which made me sweat and because I was under so much stress, the tremors started up almost immediately). He shook my shoulders, sending white hot pain through my left shoulder that I’ve been going through PT for but am going to get an MRI for after next Friday because I’m not healing – I spent three years laying on that shoulder because all of my surgeries were done on the right side for that length of time, and the pressure really messed up the tendons and ligaments.

After all of that, the doctor told me that his nurse gave me the website in December that I should have checked out on movement disorders. He must have seen my eyes glaze over and the stubborn set in my chin because he left the room and returned with screenshots of the website. I politely folded them into squares and stuffed them into a pocket in my purse. He said that a doctor from July of 2015 believed that I have a facial movement disorder. I told him it was news to me, since the only thing that was said to my face was that I wasn’t a good candidate to have surgery to relieve the pressure on my optic nerves. This doctor said that the other doctor may have chosen not to tell me that I have a movement disorder because there’s “nothing that can be done about it anyway.”

This entire conversation is deeply flawed. First, I don’t have a facial movement disorder. I have a problem with CSF pooling in my cranium while I’m upright and it presses on some of the nerves leading to my face as well as my cerebellum; as soon as I lay flat, the fluid moves away from the area and I get full functionality back. Second, I have plenty of issues in which “nothing can be done” for them – including alopecia universalis, though he was quick to point out that someone was doing a study. I told him that it was low on my list of priorities. Third, I’m the motherfucking patient. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if this is one or more of the thought process of the doctors that it should be discussed with me?

When it was time to go home, the cab driver that got the dispatch to take me home pretended to come and pick me up but then acted like I didn’t show up – even though I was outside sitting on a bench in between approaching every cab that rolled up asking if they were there to pick me up, so it took me an extra hour to get home after I had to call dispatch to bitch.

I really could have just stayed home.

In fact, I would have benefited from a day in bed. I predicted that I would be laid out for a good week after last Saturday, but I think that it was an accurate call. Now that I have an honest to goodness boyfriend, we’ve been trying to do activities that I can actually handle for a few hours. There was a flea market/antiques expo at the state fairgrounds and I thought we could just take the bus because it stops right outside my building and seemed to spit us out right at the fairgrounds gate. I was not a good planner for this trip and we ended up doing a lot more walking than we thought – and it wasn’t like we had a choice, no one could do the walking for us. My phone tracks my walking automatically and I wasn’t surprised when I saw 2.5 miles for the day rather than my usual high of 0.5 miles. By the time I climbed the steps to my building, I was visibly shaking and was fighting fatigue tears.

But damn, this boyfriend rocks. The Saint Paul is loving and affectionate, and goes on food runs and lets me stay behind so I don’t have to get out of bed. I have begun meeting his family and friends, and he is in the process of meeting my people.

Most importantly, we have said the “L” word, and meant it, and will continue to say it. When someone great comes along, you absolutely can’t take for granted that they just automatically know how much they mean to you or how much you appreciate them. I’m infinitely grateful to the universe for nudging me in his direction.

And then there were two.

Did I Or Didn’t I?

Please note: 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.

The Saint Paul remarked upon the sheer volume of medicine that he could see displayed in my bedside drawers, something that started with “Wow.” I told him that the one drawer that was open as well as the bottles on the surface were only the half of it and that the other two drawers were filled as well. Of course, I don’t take them all every day; some I keep because I know they might come in handy later. Truly, though, I go through about 45 pills per day thanks to my prescriptions and supplements.

The makers of PillSuite (http://pillsuite.com) were kind enough to send me their product to give it a whirl. I received a sorter, two rolls of sealable baggies and a sealer. 2016-03-27 11.40.02I chose to load up my midday pills, which are only about seven in number but are the largest in volume. When I looked at the sorter, it seemed like the compartments could only handle these seven, and I was right.

The baggies are biodegradable and can be written on with any sort of note you choose to write; I recommend a fine-tip permanent marker.
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After you snap the lid onto the sorter, you flip it over so the funnel lines up into the open end of the next plastic baggie to load up the dosage.
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There was just enough room to get these horse pills into this baggie, just like there was just enough room in the compartment.

Next, the open edge of the baggie is pushed to the back of the sealer and the big button is depressed for 3-5 seconds, which seals the baggie shut with a fine line. The red indicator light shows that the sealer is working its magic and closing off the baggie.
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After that is done, both ends are completely sealed, and your meds and supplements are ready for transportation.

When you are ready to consume them, there is a perforated end that can be easily torn open.
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Here are some advantages to using this product:
1. You bet I like the fact that the baggies are biodegradable! I’m always worried about how much I consume and add to the demise of our resources because it’s not easy for me to do things that able-bodied people take for granted. Check out this episode of In Sickness + In Health podcast (http://www.insicknesspod.com/blog/2016/3/8/23-when-sus).
2. I can write anything I want to on the baggies. I can indicate the medication names and dosages, or I can indicate the time of day the pills should be taken, or I can remind myself to take the contents on an empty stomach an hour before eating, etc.
3. This is a great product for traveling. Sometimes I have appointments that require a lot of time for me to be away from home, and it would be a lot easier to slip one of these baggies in my purse than it would be to take a pill sorter or an actual bottle (or seven) with me. This would be pretty handy for a short trip as well. The only time it wouldn’t work is traveling outside the country; TSA requires medications to be in their original prescription bottles when traveling outside the U.S.
4. This takes the mystery out of whether you have missed dosages or not, especially if you have scripts or supplements that are taken 3-4 times a day or you have to stagger everything according to a full versus an empty stomach. I have yet to see a pill sorter that has enough compartments for all of my dosages.

One disadvantage for me? My evening dose of meds and supplements actually adds up to about 25-30 pills and capsules – the seven that you see here, plus a bunch more, depending on how I am feeling. I would actually have to fill two compartments in the sorter and therefore two baggies for the nighttime dosages.

Ordering additional “suites” as the baggies are called is impressively inexpensive from http://store.pillsuite.com/.