I recorded a 20-minute interview with Daniel (“Danny”) Levine about this blog and this crazy life. I’ve only been here for six months and already the Minnesota accent is creeping back in. There were a couple of times where the sound dropped, but you get the general idea.
Today was pretty rotten. I feel like I am writing the same thing over and over again too – that yet another doctor thinks I’m more trouble than I’m worth. This time it was my PCP (primary care physician, for those of you lucky enough to only need one every five years). We had traded emails at the beginning of this month about what I needed at the next appointment – today – so I came prepared with my list and a sizable stack of records in case they were needed.
We quickly covered maintenance meds and labs. After that, I asked her first if she would be able to send a quick note to the company managing my medical assistance to see if the state would consider negotiating prices directly with Johns Hopkins so I could be seen there. Immediately she got pissy and told me that she doesn’t write letters for anything, then asked me repeatedly what I hoped to accomplish with a letter. I explained again that the state would consider my case (since I’ve already been turned down by a dozen doctors at all of the big institutions as well as various offices in MN), and that the financial adviser from Johns Hopkins indicated that other people from states other than Maryland have had success under the same circumstances. She then asked me what I meant by “turned down;” when I told her that the Mayo wouldn’t even see me, she snapped at me that she knew that, but what did I hope to accomplish? Jesus H., I was really having a hard time dealing with her nastiness.
Then I brought up submitting my case to the NIH, and she said no way, get one of your specialists to do it. I said, “Get one of the specialists who refused to take me as a patient and told me not to come back?” Then she said she couldn’t do it because there was no way they were going to accept the recommendation of a PCP. I pointed out to her in the directions that they wanted the submission to come from the PCP. Then she said she didn’t know me well enough, to which I replied that she could ask me anything, and I brought records to back me up. She told me there was no way she was going to read my records. I gave her a summary I wrote, and she proceeded to mock everything I noted – quoting what I entered and then said, “What is this??? You can’t write this!” when I said things like, “The neurosurgeon opened up my abdomen and noticed it was red and swollen, probably from a reaction to the catheter.” I told her I had a lot of abdominal pain, and she said, “From what???? Do you think your catheter is coming out of your abdomen or something?!” I told her no, but the horrible pain started the very first day the original shunt was placed in 2011 and it has never gotten better, and the neurosurgeon didn’t notice until two years later that he could actually see the physical reaction with his own eyes when he didn’t have a general surgeon assisting him. Finally she said that I needed to make another appointment with her, rewrite everything, and if she liked what she saw, she would sign it. She also said I wasn’t allowed to talk about anything else at the next visit.
Yeah, I get it – doctors have a lot of pressure on them – but she had me in tears. I didn’t understand why she was so shitty about the stuff I asked her for, especially since we traded emails on it.
After I got home and had some chocolate (yes, I ate my feelings), I started the search for my next PCP. I found someone at the U of MN who supposedly likes complex medical cases, so I’m just waiting to get a call back to see if she will add me to her patient roster. As luck would have it, she used to work for the NIH; it would be nice if she stayed friendly with some of those contacts.
At this point, my team of doctors is pretty sparse. I have a GI doc who is going to do a biopsy next week of my esophagus; I have an OB/GYN for my lady parts; I have a dermatologist who is going to track any skin changes since my family has a solid background in melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma; and I have an immunologist who prescribes me Epi-pens and inhalers. The problem is that none of these doctors can actually help with what has been forcing me to stay in bed for these years.
This is just one of those days where it feels really fucking lonely to be me. The Carousel of Crap rides again.
The Quiz Master (previously referred to in “What’s Going On With Your Face?” post) messaged me today and wished me a happy Thanksgiving. It was not his first message to me since he signed off with a “goodbye and good day” after I told him to stop contacting me. Oh, no. I knew he couldn’t be counted on to leave me alone, considering how obsessive he is. The Quiz Master also texted me on November 15th and said, “Hey, how are you?” as if I hadn’t cut him off. As if I would come to my senses and say, “Oh, you’re the best Quiz Master ever, I don’t know what I was thinking in telling you to go away.” He, of course, told me that I was pushing him away just because I am stubborn – not because I actually want him to leave me alone. “No” doesn’t actually mean “no” and all that bullshit, according to him.
I also got a cutesy cartoon from the church guy who went radio silent in “Showing Up is Half the Battle.” This was after he sent me messages saying “happy turkey eve beautiful” yesterday, and before that a message saying his aces were up while playing poker and that he wished I was by his side as he was winning.
Don’t worry, I didn’t reply to either of these jackasses. And in perfect harmony with this post, “A Little Respect” by Erasure played on my Pandora while I was typing.
On a different note, I traded emails with one of my mom’s sisters and updated her on what was happening with my situation. She said she had contacted my cousin, who is a doctor of osteopathy (DO), and he said that the doctors are turning me down not because I’m giving them too much or too little info, but because they can’t “win” with me – there is no way they can diagnose me. As it stands right now, there are approximately 7,000 diseases out there in the world that have no name or etiology, and the majority of them are similar to mine only in that the symptoms are neuorological in nature. I have been in contact with some groups that I think should be able to put me in touch with the proper researchers, and there are rare disease groups that focus on finding resources for patients. However, I’m feeling a bit like I’m drowning again. A lot of these groups talk specifically about patients that are children. I know it’s especially troubling when children are stricken with major illnesses; after all, I was sick for most of my childhood. However, now that I’ve managed to become a middle-aged adult while this particular disease popped up, does that mean that my life is worth less? I had my chance to reach adulthood so am I therefore not worthy of assistance?
Every person I talk to tells me not to give up. I am not sure I can anyway. I mean, I had to give up my house, my car and working – what else am I going to do with my time? But at some point I need doctors and researchers to fill in the blanks. I can’t imagine going another 10 years like this and waiting for technology to catch up.
Today was the first time in about 23 years that my sister, my mom and stepdad and I were actually in the same state for a holiday, so we pigged out at my sister’s place. Yesterday and today were pretty difficult for me and I think it has to do with the temperature, air pressure and humidity; we got snowfall that actually accumulated and stayed today. I had to spend most of the time in bed because of fibromyalgia pain, but also my CSF was accumulating like the snow. I was hoping I’d be able to hang out for a few hours before my brain started being crushed, but instead I began drooping noticeably as soon as my stepdad picked me up, and I had only been upright for about 45 minutes at that point.
Wherever you are in the world, I hope that you can find things to be thankful for every day. I’m working on my list.
Trying to find a doctor is a lot like dating. I’ve gone on a hell of a lot blind dates, and I’ve gone to a hell of a lot of doctors. I no longer get butterflies for either. I no longer have a feeling before I meet them of, “Maybe this will be the one.” Nearly all of them have broken my heart.
This week started off with a trip to a new rheumatologist. He was recommended to me by a friend whose mom had seen him, and he managed to treat her for much longer that she would have survived in the hands of another doctor before she succumbed to scleroderma. I read up on him and checked out reviews, and it seemed like he would be interested in solving mysteries. He was a tall, older gentleman with silver hair and a stern face, all business. After we began talking and I produced document after document for him, he began to get quieter, except for repeatedly shaking his head and sighing. I answered all of his questions from memory including lab results. Then he started stuttering. “What – what – what about your MRIs?” I told him the problem was that I had to lay down for them, and the fluid drains off almost immediately, so I don’t feel that they are getting a true picture of what’s happening when I’m upright. Then he started the, “Gosh, I Don’t Know” song.
He finally dropped his pen, turned to me and put his hands on his knees and said, “Has anyone seen anything like this before?” I told him no, and that I had seen a lot of doctors. (My count is 40 to date, including all of the ER doctors that have examined me.) He said it was obvious. Then he asked if I had tried the Mayo. I told him I had been turned down five times including the most recent try on October 2nd. He said, “What in the hell is wrong with them? They’re supposed to be number one in the nation for rare stuff like this.” I told him that I was going to try other avenues, including Johns Hopkins and going to the media to try to get my story out there with the hope that someone would be willing to take my case.
We went through the obligatory motions of the rest of the exam, where I put on a gown and he prodded my joints. I laid down for part of it and he watched my eyes open, and when I sat back up he saw the effects of the CSF pooling and forcing my eyes to droop shut again. I asked him if I could continue coming to his office, even if I saw another doctor, so that I could at least get care for my fibromyalgia because I didn’t especially care for the rheumatologist I had originally seen. He didn’t say anything.
When I got dressed again, he came back in and said, “I don’t have any answers for you. Try Johns Hopkins and see if they will take you on as a charity case since you have no income and medical assistance will only cover the state of Minnesota. I can’t help you.” He wasn’t unkind and I have heard that response many, many times. As I shuffled nearly blind down the hallway, I kept thinking, “This was just another waste of time. Waste of time. Waste. Waste. Waste.” I have gotten better about not crying after every unsuccessful attempt.
So, what’s next? Well, I’ve got to find a rheumatologist who will at least treat the fibromyalgia and not be a jerk. And I have to try to get my stories on local news stations and national talk shows. Everyone keeps saying, “Ellen! Try Ellen! She’s the best!” And I agree that that’s true and her show gives me lots of laughs and smiles, but I’m not sure she is even interested in taking me on, because I don’t have a happy ending. I have sent in a few submissions already. Thanks to the help of my former flame, I’m learning to navigate Twitter and have been trying to get the attention of neurosurgeons and neurologists around the U.S. I have also been tagging the Mayo in tweets about how they determined I’m “too rare” to examine and would anyone else like to take a shot? I’ve started following neurosurgeons and TV stations. I’ve tweeted Johns Hopkins repeatedly. They have a remote referral option that I have to pay for out of pocket, but honestly, I want them to be interested in my case, not just look at me as another number and dismiss me.
I’ve also started following groups that support rare diseases, either with research, treatment or resources. I managed to catch the attention of two of them and they will be publishing my submissions within the next few weeks.
After the unsuccessful visit with the rhuematologist, I sent a message to the neurosurgeon in St. Paul who told me, “Don’t give up. I know it’s been a long time and someone will be able to help you,” asking him if he could refer me to the University of Minnesota to see if I could be studied there. I was told that my case would be sent to the complex specialty care unit; yesterday I received a call and they stated that they wanted to get me in on Monday. I was surprised because I’ve never been able to get in with a specialist without having to wait 2-3 months, but of course I said yes. So I have another “date” Monday.
I also had to talk to my case worker for my disability appeal. I told her that she wasn’t going to see anything new from the rheumatologist, and that I was trying to get into the U of MN in the neurology/neurosurgery unit so I could be studied. She has been super nice to me, but it’s still her job to turn me down for disability. I know I’m going to get another call from Maryland telling me that my case is being rejected again because I don’t have a diagnosis – but it sure as hell isn’t for lack of trying. I’m trying! Seriously, slip into my body for a few weeks, or even a few hours, and you’d cry for your mommy and then tell me to take all my disability pay plus a little extra for having such a hard-ass time.
Finally, I’d like to say in closing: Screw you, Mayo Clinic. I realize that I’m not a wealthy billionaire and I’m not the Dali Lama, but you should take my case and figure out what in the hell is going on. As far as I’m concerned, you reputation for being the best for neurology/neurosurgery is completely undeserved. You just made my life 1,000 times harder. You were my worst no-show.
Today I made a trip out to a new neurologist with my mom’s friend as the getaway driver. He was recommended to me by my sister’s employee because he was a great help to her family member, who was also suffering from some mysterious neurological issues (but after only 10 minutes he figured it all out). I went in with my usual folder of about 100 pages of documentation. After chatting with him for about 45 minutes and getting a brief neuro evaluation, he determined I should go to the Mayo to be seen by numerous doctors so they could try to get to the bottom of it. Those were the magic words I was waiting for. I already have my hotel picked out down there! I found out after I booked the appointment that this particular neurologist was trained at the Mayo and he still has an “in,” so they can’t turn down his referral. So I stumped another doctor but it was not a pointless visit – I am finally getting my foot in the door.
I am relieved that this particular fight to be seen by some of the world’s leading experts on issues with CSF is finally over, but I’m already looking ahead – and I know that this is the last stop for me. If they can’t figure it out, there’s no where else for me to go. Also, maybe this time someone will write me up in JAMA and put their name on this condition. I’m tired of having to explain why I have placeholders for the disease names.