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.  

Is It Time For A Vacation Yet?

I’d like to take some time off from my daily life. I’m not sure if that’s allowed, since I have loads of time off already – my only job is to rest and get ready for the next doctor appointment. But still, I’d like to look at something other than these four walls. In fact, I’d like my old life back and a reason to take a vacation. 

Anyway, yesterday was my birthday, and a couple of friends flew up from Colorado, and we decided to brave the largest art event in the U.S. – the Art-a-Whirl in Northeast Minneapolis. What was happening in one warehouse would have covered what most cities considered an arts festival, but this event takes over miles. We just stayed within the limits of where the complimentary trolley traveled. Even with the trolley my phone tracked 7,000 steps for me yesterday. That’s a personal record (and comes with a cost, because I’ll be in bed for most of the week with the exception of one appointment tomorrow morning and Wednesday morning). My legs were having none of it. They were starting to spasm in the last building we visited.

I did pick up one little piece of art, which reminds me of a line I’ve heard over and over in my dating life:
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MedCline For Heartburn – A Crazy, Functional Pillow System

Do you suffer from heartburn or GERD? I have, for years. I’ve gone through a number of tests to find the cause of it and also to make sure that the valve between my stomach and esophagus isn’t degrading from the acid backing up (it isn’t). It is the absolute worst feeling to wake up because acid comes up all the way from my stomach into my mouth at night. I’ve also tried a combination of medications, but sometimes they don’t do the trick, and it’s not always safe to be on them long-term. Now I know my acid reflux is likely caused by my mast cell activation syndrome. 

So I saw an ad for this pillow system and decided to give it a try. It was especially appealing to me because I had surgeries done on the right side of my body for three years and had to lay on my left, and had torn up my left shoulder terribly – I’m still doing physical therapy, getting injections and dealing with regular pain continuously now. The base inclined pillow looked like it would help me a lot because it actually has space tunneled out for the shoulder and arm:

What you see propped on top of the wedge is the body pillow that is also available with the system. You can buy the wedge by itself, but honestly, I don’t recommend it; I’ve tried to sleep without it, and it’s not at all comfortable to me. Here’s a pic that shows more of the body pillow, which is filled with memory foam bits:
2016-08-25 11.15.10Both pillows have covers that can be unzipped and washed, which I do often. 

To sleep, I first tunnel my arm through the wedge, and then I wrap my body around the body pillow for support. MedCline recommends that it’s best to sleep on your left if you are able because of the shape and functionality of the stomach, but it’s okay if you aren’t.

MedCline recommends that you buy your pillow according to your height and weight. If you meet one requirement but not the other, I would say go with the height and not the weight, because where the wedge inclines makes more of a difference for you than anything else.

The pillow system is shipped for free and they have a 60-day money back guarantee. MedCline wants you to give the pillow system a try because they know it will take some getting used to, but they believe their product is worth the time and effort. I believe it too. I showed my pictures to my gastroenterologist because he had never seen or heard of it before, and he knows countless patients who sleep in recliners or who purchase traditional wedge pillows or try to sleep on stacks of whatever will keep them propped up at night.

I agree with MedCline – it does take time to get used to. When I sleep on it, I don’t have problems with my shoulder or arm hurting or going numb, and I don’t have problems with my acid reflux. That was my ultimate goal when I bought it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please visit the documentary movie “The Connection” here.

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

Gender Bias: It’s Not Just for Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

immunizeLABS Has You Covered

Whenever I venture out in public, I try not to think about all of the surfaces that other people have touched, and what they have touched before they touched those surfaces. But I have to. My immune system severely lacks IgG3 and IgG4, which means I can’t fight off microbes like normal people can, and I’m blessed (should I say blessed?) with fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome, which make me more vulnerable to illnesses and tougher to recover. The most recent confirmation that I was born with mast cell activation disease doomed me to vulnerability. I know what I have, I just gotta find a way to fight stuff off. Besides being diligent about washing my hands and not touching my face, what are my options?

I was contacted by immunizeLABS to try five products in the thick of flu season. I have been given these products as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the products were a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

First I’ll cover three supplements: Boost, Shield and PainRelief.
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Immediate basic impressions were that I was thrilled that these were room-temperature stable and that I didn’t have to store them in the fridge. I have so much more success with taking things on a regular basis when I have them sitting in front of me than I do when they are tucked away in a fridge. Also, you’ll notice that the contents are sold in dark blue bottles; most companies will do this when the contents are photo-sensitive and the ingredients degrade when exposed to light.

The most important thing about all of these products (including the items that follow after these three) is that they all contain colloidal silver. Colloidal silver is known to be anti-microbial. In fact, I purchased a quick-drying travel towel that is woven with silver threads because it is specifically anti-microbial. If you have done any kind of studying on your conditions (if they overlap with mine), you know that microbes tend to be our enemy and overtake our systems and are hard to get rid of.

immunizeLABS formulated each of their products to have a specific outcome. For instance, each one does contain different values of the colloidal silver, as well as ginger, cinnamon bark oil and medium chain triglycerides, but then the PainRelief contains curcumin, which has been used for centuries as an anti-inflammatory. You wouldn’t want to leave home without Shield, which included in its ingredients is the all-important vitamin C in a super dose, but there’s also other supportive items that you don’t have in your medicine cabinet. Add Boost to your routine, which includes glutathione, which is a supplement that assists with repairing and building tissues, making chemicals and proteins, and generally “boosting” the immune system. (Their complete ingredient lists are available on their website: immunizeLABS)

The products state to start with 1 teaspoon of product in 2-4 ounces of filtered water in the morning at a minimum of 20 minutes before you eat, gradually working up to 2 tablespoons of product in water over a week’s time. Here are pictures of what each look like before they are mixed in water (left to right: Shield, PainRelief, Boost):

The product labels say the flavors are “chocolate.” This is the only problem I had with the products. I know that these contain all kinds of things that are good for me, but I could never get past the flavor. My dad and uncle owned a hair salon for decades and they taste like what they use for hair coloring. I’m sorry. They just do. So what do you do? You mix it fast and you chug it fast.

So in the thick of flu season, I can say that I have successfully avoided getting taken down by any nasty bugs, despite being out often in public. I’m not sure if my inflammation has been systemically reduced, but not getting sick is huge for me. I did feel more clear-headed – brain fog is a real challenge – and my digestive tract acted like it was on an actual schedule rather than all wacky. I could also tell that my pulse was not jumping around after ingesting the cocktails. When it does, it’s an indication to me that my blood sugars are spiking or I’ve had something I’m allergic to. I will consider this an overall win. 

One of their other products may have helped to protect me, and that is their Breathe Easy Nasal Spray:
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I’m not a sufferer of migraines so I can’t give an opinion from that perspective. However, I often suddenly develop congestion – and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m experiencing a mast cell trigger, or if there’s pressure building up in my cranium from the cerebrospinal fluid building up. The Breathe Easy spray is a mixture of the colloidal silver plus sea salt, certain essential oils, as well as horseradish and cayenne pepper (say what??). I’ve been giving it a couple of pumps before I go to bed as well as when I feel stuffy, or when I come in from being out in public, and again, I haven’t gotten sick and the stuffiness goes away. I also consider this to be a “win.” In fact, you can use this one as often as you feel the need, so I think I’m going to do that right now.

I’m saving my favorite for last, and that’s the OralMiracle.
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I have all kinds of challenges with my mast cell activation disease, including my mouth burning and suddenly developing allergies and sensitivities where I didn’t previously have any. Even commercial brands that are on the market that boast to be alcohol-free still make my mouth burn. I also want to have white teeth just as much as the next person – why should I have to sacrifice that just because I react to strong chemicals? Again, this product contains the colloidal silver to control microbes; imagine how much of a boost it gives your mouth to have that anti-microbial assistance when you’re trying to prevent tooth decay.

The recommendation on OralMiracle is to swish 2 teaspoons for 3 minutes; “The longer you swish, the deeper the healing.” The taste is pleasant and most importantly, my mouth doesn’t burn. They strongly recommend that you don’t eat or drink for the rest of the evening so the product isn’t washed away. My budget is really, really limited right now, but this is the one item that I would spend money on again and again.

Please visit immunizeLABS for their entire line of products as well as their ingredients to make sure that they will be safe for you to use.

Bring It On(line) – Trusting PatientBank With Your Medical Records

I have purchased some awfully pretty, recycled 3-ring binders to haul around my most relevant medical records to my doctor appointments. They’re intimidating because they’re large and they’re many. I also have my own laser printer/copier/fax in my tiny studio apartment. It was the single-most best score from when I lost my job – my former employer let me keep it as my consolation prize, of sorts. But for the love of all that is holy, I cannot carry all of that with me to every appointment. But I need it all! One doctor told me that they have 1,200 pages in their system from only the last 6.5 years that is a combination of what they have logged themselves, and what I have given them.

This is where PatientBank comes in. Disclaimer: I have been given access to PatientBank.us 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.

When I received this assignment, I was encouraged to have this company request as many and as much of my medical records as possible. Little did they know that in the last 6.5 years I had seen 57 doctors in 2 different states and who knows how many disciplines (I think 8? Possibly  more). Now, I had just gone through quite a lot of nastiness getting some records because I’ve been trying to get disability as well as go through the process of getting my case looked at by the Undiagnosed Diseases Network through the NIH, so I had had an influx of records shortly before this opportunity.

However, I didn’t have a lot of the records from the past year and a half. The Undiagnosed Diseases Network wanted to go back 10-20 years prior, and my attorney had gotten some records sent directly to him for the more recent stuff, so I figured I could still give PatientBank a pretty good run. I created a login and password at PatientBank and the first logical place to go for new users is to create a new request:

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In this case, I’d like to request a copy of my records from a doctor in Minneapolis, so I can search by his/her name and the state. If his/her name is in the system, I can choose it in the menu. If it isn’t, there is an option to add it.

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After you choose the correct physician, you can specify the date you visited, and whether or not you want “sensitive” info included. If you are not sure what sensitive info means exactly, you can let your mouse hover over the blue text and the black text box pops up and explains what might be included.

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Then you click on “Add to my order.” I got the pop-up screen with a prompt to sign to release my records. Here’s where it’s really, really tricky, folks. I have a touch-screen laptop. You might get pretty good results if you use a smartphone/iPhone. This pop-up window gives you the instruction to “click and hold down to draw.” But if you actually have a mouse in your hand, it’s going to look nothing like your signature, and you’re going to have a really hard time convincing your doctors and hospitals to release your highly sensitive info.

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What happens while you wait? You can see your pending orders under the menu item “Requests.”

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You will also get periodic emails from PatientBank that state in the subject line what’s happening with your request. I really tried to get a good variety of requests going – some hospitals, some large group doctors’ offices, some very small doctor’s offices. The email subject lines would vary from stating that they were still working on my request to the request was successful. There were a couple that had failed. The suggestions regarding why they had failed were that it was possible that I 1) hadn’t been a patient there; 2) it had been too long ago and the records were destroyed; 3) my date of birth was wrong, or 4) my name didn’t match. (I laughed because none of the above applied to me, especially because other doctors referred to my visits to those doctors and they were recent visits.)

At one point I had accidentally requested records from an individual doctor as well as from a large system that took care of his records, so when I received his records as part of the large bundle but still received emails stating his records were pending, I attempted to use a pop-up chat to ask that the individual request be cancelled. Unfortunately, an entire week went by and the chat was not responded to. I resorted to emailing the company and received a response. 

When I started seeing successful results rolling in, I went to check my records. When I clicked on “View” next to the entity that sent records, nothing happened – I just got a blank page with a cloud in the background. I didn’t think this was behaving quite as it should be, but I’m quite click-happy and I got around it for the time being by actually clicking on the button labeled “Download” at the top of the page that is meant for saving the document directly to a drive or computer. I started this process in the month of December, 2016, and now in February, 2017, everything is functioning as it should, so it seems that this is no longer an issue.

I had the opportunity to speak to Kevin Grassi, MD, the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of PatientBank just a few days ago to go over some of the finer points and challenges of the system. The communication issue with the chat has been resolved and shouldn’t be a problem now, though I haven’t had to use it again, so I can’t confirm. Kevin pointed out that the system has the capability of patients uploading documents so that we truly can have everything in one place (!) – because let me tell you, I have about four discs that I’m tired of keeping track of weirdo passwords to. However, a limitation to that right now is that actual films/scans can’t translate on PatientBank. (If you’ve ever played around on patient portals and been lucky enough to look at CT scans or MRIs, or been in an anatomy class where you can virtually strip a cadaver down to the bones, you will understand how much power is needed for imaging – and then, you know, multiply that by millions for patients…)

An option that Kevin posed to me was the possibility of sharing records. The sharing could be anonymous; the option could be to only allow doctors to look at a patient’s records in case they would like to find similarities for other cases, or the other option would be for patients to find each other. I let Kevin know that I would opt out of both of these. I could really dive deep into why I immediately clench up at the thought of either and both, and right now, this is the best explanation I can offer. First, I have a deep distrust of doctors at this point. Two of the records that I got back from my initial requests included such gems as “I suggested Tai Chi but patient was non-compliant” and “patient is bragging about her surgeries and has Munchhausen’s” (after only seeing me for 20 minutes – and now we know that my brain has literally collapsed and I have a tumor). Second, I am not a big fan of getting into support groups with other patients. Sometimes it turns into a situation where we all end up trying to defend ourselves and our symptoms and the way we feel, and sometimes we all end up really depressed.

One of the features that I really like is that I can actually email a link of my documents to my attorney directly from PatientBank. The University of Minnesota bundle, which I think covers something in the neighborhood of about 8-11 doctors (I gave up counting), is about 250 pages. I have the option to fax directly from PatientBank too, but good grief, why would I?! I’m gonna send the link so my attorney doesn’t fire me!

Kevin assured me that other features will be added in the coming year, so I look forward to trying them out. Technology in healthcare is here to stay and PatientBank is doing a great job of navigating the future.

Visit: PatientBank

Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh, and Brain Damage

Happy Holidays! Froeliche Weihnachten! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa!

What is Santa/Kris Kringle/Krampus/Monito-monita, that crazy, overgrown elf/Viking who has nothing to do with a mythical baby born in a stable bringing you this winter solstice/Christmas/yule?

I already got my gift, but nothing like what the three wise men brought across the desert. At the beginning of November I saw a new neurologist who agreed to give me everything that I seemed to be missing: an upright MRI, a neuro psych test, and keep me on as a patient, as confusing as my case is. Three days after our initial meeting the doctor who administers the neuro psych tests had a cancellation so I didn’t have to wait four months. A neuro psych test is a series of tasks to evaluate my real brain functionality – not just the few words a doctor might ask you to remember a few minutes later, like “pencil,” “dog,” and “purple.” I had to take many different kinds of timed tests, including drawing, making linear connections, making word associations, and answering personality questions. That’s the short version.

I didn’t have any problem with drawing pictures from memory. I was shown simple lines and boxes and then given a blank piece of paper a half hour later and could draw them in sequence perfectly. However, when it came to things like giving a list of words that began with a certain letter in the space of 60 seconds, it was like the bottom of my brain fell out. I could only give four words for the letter “A,” and they were very simple words like “an” and “apple.” There were four letters total, and each letter was a challenge. I can only remember the letter “A” at this point.

There was another exercise where the tester gave me a list of words that included pieces of furniture, animals, and modes of transportation. Every time I repeated the list back, I always tried to give it back in order, I never tried to group everything together in like groups. It never occurred to me. However, if I had full functionality, it probably would have. I also could never remember more than a few words, even though I’m guessing the list was repeated more than 20 times.

They wanted to see how I could do with repeating numbers back, so they started with three numbers, then four, then five. As soon as I got to five, I started struggling. At six, I couldn’t repeat any numbers, not even the last two or three of the group. Again, it was like the bottom of my brain dropped out.

There were many other tests, but in the interest of space and to save some face, I’ll stop there. You get the idea.

A few weeks later when I could meet with the doctor who administered the test, she confirmed what I dreaded hearing but suspected: I have brain damage. Since I’ve never had an evaluation done before there’s nothing to compare it to, but she said she could tell that in some areas my knowledge base and functionality was “superior,” or above the level of a college-educated woman. However, the brain damage affected my memory and speed and speech and brought those areas down to true mental impairment.

A few days ago I went into the office for part II of my follow-up to look at the actual scans of my upright MRI. My MRI did not look good.

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Above is a progressive MRI scan of a brain (not mine), moving down from top to bottom. As you move further down, you notice that the part in the middle gets larger and darker; that’s the ventricles. They are the four chambers that are the gold standard for figuring out if there’s a problem with CSF in the brain. This is what normal looks like.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any ventricles left. All of them have collapsed. My brain is pressing on the brain stem and I’m having all kinds of unusual problems, like my legs suddenly jerking if I’m standing and I look down briefly. Of course I have the problems I’ve always had, like the vertigo and the fatigue, and that pesky facial droop and ptosis (pronounced “toe-sis”). My new neurologist insisted that the disappearance of my ventricles must mean that I’m overdraining, but I knew that I must be suffering from Slit Ventricle Syndrome, and it means just the opposite – the pressure is crushing my brain.

UCLA has a pretty good explanation of Slit Ventricle Syndrome. I’m 100% certain that my shunt is “nearly blocked but barely flowing.” I always, always feel like my intracranial pressure is extremely high. It’s exhausting. So for now, it looks like I have Slit Ventricle Syndrome, and I’m not sure if this would have been picked up before this point – at least not two or three years ago, even though the symptoms are the same. I don’t recall that my ventricles have looked this horrific in all of my 20+ prior MRIs.

Also troubling is trouble brewing at the back of my skull. In 2013 I had two cisternoperitoneal shunts placed when my neurosurgeon was trying to find anything, anything, that my body wouldn’t reject. After we removed those and I ended up with a ventriculoperitoneal shunt, he barely got the old one out after a lot of scraping and pulling because of the scar tissue that had built up along the tract. A surgery that should have been an hour and a half turned into five hours and I was left with a huge highway of bruising from my head to my abdomen.

Unfortunately, he thought that it wasn’t detrimental to leave scar tissue in my head, and in fact may help to plug the burr hole where he drilled for surgery so I wouldn’t have any leaks. I knew what it was like to have a CSF leak; 2014 was incredibly painful when I had a leaking shunt for that whole year. The scar tissue has been increasing in diameter and it’s now growing like a tumor. From what I can tell it’s about the size of a quarter, and it’s pressing on the area of the brain that deals with memory and speech. It’s actually a long rope but it’s got a huge bulb, and if I press on the burr hole, it yanks on the area it’s attached to right behind my ear.

In plain English: My brain is being crushed. My shunt isn’t working. I’m growing my own tumor that was started by my scar tissue.

My challenge is that I’m allergic to the shunt materials. Also, now that the scar tissue is turning into a growing tumor, can we take it out without creating a leak, and when we pull it out, will the area it’s damaging have permanent damage or will it heal?

Also, can I fucking qualify for disability now? Everything that I’m reading about Slit Ventricle Syndrome says that it’s a permanent condition – there’s no going back.

Within the next few weeks (because of the holidays messing everything up) I’ll find out when I can get in with the best neurosurgeon in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. He came highly recommended by other hydrocephalus patients when I attended the hydrocephalus conference including the mother of Olivia, the young woman who had 123 surgeries since birth and who is now aged 20.

I am also in the process of finding an occupational therapist for an evaluation that can be included in my records for my attorney and disability case.

I’m going to share the most personal thing I possibly can and have up to this point, because some of you may doubt how much this has affected me because I have created coping mechanisms. It has taken me two full days to write this post and writing even the simplest words is sometimes a struggle. But the hardest thing for me to do to date was to send out holiday cards. At one point I had to stop writing for about a half hour because I broke down in tears. Hand writing words without the benefit of being able to go back and erase them and rewrite them like I do in the computer almost caused me a panic attack because I could no longer remember how to write even single-syllable words. For the people who did get cards, there was a lot more crossing out and scribbling than I would have liked. Maybe you noticed that I started to write an “E” where there should have been an “L” first. Sometimes I couldn’t even remember how to write my own name correctly – I would skip letters.

I don’t have all of the answers. I still – STILL – don’t know what’s causing the imbalance with the CSF in my brain. I don’t know if taking out the scar tissue/tumor is going to alleviate the memory and speed problems. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to tolerate an appliance in my body. I definitely don’t want to hear, “But you look fine!” or “Have you tried _____?”

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New News

First and foremost, my friend Nicole (Nikki) Seefeldt finally got her lungs on December 2nd after a very long listing. Hers was the very first blog that I followed here on WordPress, and she suffers from not one, but two, rare diseases. Her listing for new lungs was much longer than she anticipated but she did not let that deter her from staying on course with her exercising to make sure that her recovery got off to the best start possible. Please, if you have no medical reason that your tissue or organs would be rejected, sign up to be a donor. All of my friends who have been organ recipients are eternally grateful.

Please check out her blog and progress here: As I Live & Breathe

Second, I was considering traveling to Washington D.C. in February to participate in their Rare Disease Week to learn how to effectively communicate with lawmakers. I applied for a travel grant and was participating in a large conference call where we were going over the details of the week and what would be awarded if we got the nod on our travel scholarships when the woman running the call received a notification that the Senate passed the bill for the 21st Century Cures. A week prior the bill had passed through the House. While we were on the call, she had started crying and then had to explain that it had taken two years to get the bill to pass – and with very little resistance from either major political party. The bill passed in the Senate with only five opposed. She then stated that President Obama indicated that if the House and the Senate passed the bill, he would absolutely sign the bill into law, with no hesitation.

Global Genes has published an article and hosted a podcast with me as a guest in the past. They are also the major partner in the rare disease week in February in D.C. that I may or may not attend – I may not be able to handle the grueling travel and having to be upright. But they have been fantastic about getting the word out about this bill and about keeping all of us connected in the rare disease world.

A lot of rare diseases are diagnosed during childhood, as is what happened with Nikki. However, I have rare diseases that haven’t been recognized until adulthood, and even one that we’re still not sure of. Some children don’t survive to adulthood. All of us have a better chance at a quality life if we have medications and treatments that don’t require a decade of testing before they are approved. There is no reason for us to stop advancing science to find answers. We will never run out of discoveries.  

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.