My Milkshake

Just a little update: I was finally diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in May, and my case is fairly advanced. I have growths all along my spine and just got confirmation on Friday that all of the difficulties I’m having with my hands (horrible pain, swelling, tenosynovitis in every tendon, and cysts) is also likely from the AS, as I have grown to suspect. Humira is out for treatment because it accelerated my hidradenitis suppurativa, so I’m going through testing and trying to get approved for a different injectable. I’ve already been denied by my insurance company because the co-pay is $1,523/month so we’ve started the paperwork for a patient assistance program.

I also flew back to Minnesota twice to get two different laser treatments for my hidradenitis suppurativa. The dermatologist who is treating me started experimenting on another patient and mentioned it to me when I was moving away last year. I tried this as a last-ditch effort because absolutely nothing was working. Boy, what a difference! After the first round I got about 60% improvement, but it took about 3 months to see it. I’ve got about 75% improvement now after the second treatment. I know I’ll have to go for a third treatment but I’m hoping to wait until after the snowy season, which means I’ll have to postpone at least until April/May. This is a really, really difficult disease. I couldn’t convince any of the local Phoenix dermatologists to use the same method, so now I have to spend a fortune in travel and hotels (can’t stay with family because I’m allergic to their animals).

During all of this I had to fire my pain doctor for dropping the ball in a major way. I finally got into Barrow again with a new neurologist (I really liked the resident and I hope he doesn’t burn out; the doctor seemed suspicious of me because all of my stuff is so weird, but hey, I think neurologists are pretty much useless, so right back at ya, buddy). The next thing I think I have coming up is my teeth. I’m having a lot of issues with the gums and pain with two teeth, and I noticed a growth that I thought was just some swelling initially. Mast cell activation syndrome really fucks with all of this.

So just in the past week, I had some perverts knocking on my virtual door.

I still have a notice on my FetLife profile that I’m not participating in any activities because of health issues; that includes parties, one-on-ones, texting, role-playing, etc. I will say hello and that is it. In all honesty, I’m sick to death of online stuff anyway. I much prefer real life. But this is what I got in my inbox:

A nice smile nice conversation nice lips nice eyes nice hair nice tits nice pussy nice ass nice personality all boils down to one thing. Can this person make me orgasm and use rope to tie me up and take advantage? After having long stressful days and weeks and unfulfilled sexual satisfaction a person just wants one thing. With me it’s just straight to the point. No need she pretending to be the princess or the dominated woman that you pretend to be and your outside personal business and work life. I didn’t know what what’s going on until I made her come and orgasm over and over again until she blanked out several times. Are you then figure out what was going on, suggest a few commands and before you know it she was coming on command. I’m straight to the point very blunt. I host everything. I get a hotel or motel room here in Tucson You show up in the proper attire and the session begins just that simple. No strings attached just you and I and you getting what you want. All I ask is give it one try. After that if this is something that you don’t want then you cut the string and this is all forgotten about.

[I’m just going to say here that it’s every man’s fantasy that his dick has magic juice. Seriously. Every guy thinks he can make a woman black out or blank out. Hahahahaha! Or this Jedi mind trick shit – cum on command. Fuck you. Fucking lazy shit.]

Me: Kind of a bummer you went through all the trouble of copying and pasting that without reading my profile.

Him: Sweetheart I read your profile, how was I or anyone to know how you are now? Your last entry was 5 months ago. 
Note: [His thought process is that my request to be left alone doesn’t matter. His dick has magic juice. P.S. – I hate being called sweetheart when I’m calling him out on shitty behavior and we don’t know each other.]

Me: That should be a clear indication that nothing has changed. Sweetheart.

Him: Maybe a person got off FetLife because they lost their account information. Maybe the person wanting a break. Maybe a person was in a certain situation but things got better but just never updated.
[Translation: Maybe I have a magic dick and if you get some of my magic dick juice, you’ll be cured. I will then claim that on my profile – and in this copied and pasted paragraph for the next victim. Whatever is going on, though, I’m not listening, I’m not listening, I’m not listening, I’m not listening, I’m not listening, I’m not listening…]

Me: Maybe we’re done talking now.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Crickets after that.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

I accepted a friend request from a friend of a friend on Facebook. It seemed like we had the same political leanings (something I ALWAYS check for now) and he might possibly know my mom and stepdad – he knows one of their friends, at least. I don’t accept a lot of strangers. So he messaged me immediately.

Him: I couldn’t resist your beautiful eyes! And I am working on my hesitancy with beautiful red headed women. Frightens me some….love to look, but never touch.

[Jesus H. So he puts redheads up on a pedestal of weirdness. I wasn’t even going to bother telling him that I’m bald. None of his fucking business. I’m pretty sure he had already printed off a picture of me at work and was taking my picture into the bathroom with him to wank off.]

Me: I appreciate that you want to appreciate certain features, but you should do that on FetLife. Once you fetishize a person, you miss the red flags and seeing them as a whole person.

Him: That’s your first conclusion of me based on one comment? Kind of discriminatory!

[WTF. He immediately opened up with his fetish.]

Me: You don’t understand discrimination. You approached me. Redheads aren’t different beasts.

Him: I did not say you or they are…I only indicated my opinion.

Me:  Look, you obviously have a fetish. It’s okay. Own it. This whole thing about being injured because I recognize it is weird. Go out and explore all of your kink.

Him:  I do. It’s the enjoyment of discovering all kinds of people and their diversity.

Me: Fine. But I’m not on FB for fetish.

Him: Fantastic, me either and I will happily delete contact with you, while at the same time reinforcing my fear of redheads.

Me: Haha! Baby.

[So, he hit me up regarding his fetish, then claimed he didn’t have a fetish, then told me that our only purpose of contact was for his fetish and redheads are back up on the pedestal. Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker.]

I Don’t Recommend It

Disclaimer: This post contains very descriptive accounts of doctor appointments.

I’ve had quite a long break from posting. My right hand is still giving me quite a bit of trouble and likely will for the rest of my life; the diagnosis is CRPS (complex regional pain syndrome). I’m in the 10% of patients who haven’t experienced a trauma or surgery and the disease developed spontaneously. I go to occupational therapy twice a week, which includes such strange things as identifying right hands and left hands in flash cards and hiding my right hand behind a mirror while I perform tasks with my healthy left hand and trick my brain into thinking it’s my right hand doing them. The idea is to try to keep my brain from shutting down the right side of my body. On really bad days, even air hurts when it blows across my hand. It’s a really fucked up disease.

For the past two months I have also been getting treatments for my hidradenitis suppurativa – acronym of HS (otherwise known as horseshit). It is known as the worst (strictly) dermatological disease, and normally it occurs in areas where skin touches skin. However, mine also appears on my face, neck and back of my head. You’re welcome to look up this condition if you aren’t familiar with it, but every patient is different. It’s an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation and tunnels of infection and lots of scarring. My worst area by far is in my groin. I have stage II because it’s in two or more areas of my body and I’m getting some bigger tracts. Every day I have between 20 and 50 infections. The bacteria is generally strep bacteria that forms anaerobically under the skin in tunnels that can be as small as a grain of rice or as big as a grapefruit. Sometimes I can’t walk.

My HS wasn’t too bad until I started on Humira shots, which I was taking for 15 months. I was allergic to those, and it actually accelerated the disease for me, which I am now hearing from a lot of patients, especially stage I and II. From what I can tell, the medication is actually accelerating the disease for about 30% of patients, not helping or hurting about 40%, and helping about 30%, and the majority of those helped are stage III, the worst stage.

So the first treatment was a topical acid I had to wear for 24 hours, and then sit under a blue light. I had a male nurse who asked if I preferred a female nurse, but I told him fuck it, nearly everyone has seen my ass by now. He didn’t know the proper name for stirrups. I got propped up in the stirrups, and then he set an old-fashioned tap bell beside me, saying, “If it gets to be too much, you can ring this and I’ll come and turn this off, but try to get through it.” I also got a dollar store hand fan, I think to make me feel better psychologically. He’s trying to be all nice and polite while my girl parts are all on display and ready to be cooked, and I told him, “Look, I’m going to sing. I have a feeling this is going to hurt. I have to sing.” He said that was fine and stepped out after turning on the timer, automatically 16 minutes.

So, the first minute was fine. No big deal. Dollar store fan? Who needs that? Not me!

By minute two, I felt like everyone had turned on their curling irons and then set them on my girl parts. Jesus god. What to sing?

At minute four, the nurse came back in and asked how I was doing. Somehow Satan had slipped into my vocal cords and I told him I was done. I can tap out, right? He said almost everyone didn’t notice as much when they got past minute seven. FINE. FINE. THREE MORE MINUTES AND IT WON’T BE A BIG DEAL.

He totally lied to me. Fuck, fuckity fuck fuck. Singing, still singing. I can’t remember what.

He came back in at ten minutes. Very cheerful. He must have felt my look of betrayal and mistrust. He told me that I had made it this far, I shouldn’t tap out now.

Still really hot. Fire of a thousand suns. The dollar store fan is just making everything feel like I’m having sparks from welding fall on my delicate bits. How do people do this to their faces? Still singing. Could have been the Star Spangled Banner for all I remember.

Finally the blue light went dead and the very cheerful nurse came back in. Turkey’s done! He got everything put away and let me down off the stirrups, but it was so fucking painful. I told him he gave me fire crotch. He laughed but stayed more than arm’s length away.

This all went faster than was anticipated, so I had to wait a few hours for my transportation (we can’t make changes day of). Sitting was torture. Oh. My. God. I basically had a 2nd degree burn and it felt like I took a brillo pad to it besides. I had to go into the bathroom to pat cold water on it once because oh my god. And I was still 35 miles from home. That was a really uncomfortable ride home. I had an ice pack on my goodies for 3 days. After going through all that, I was told I wouldn’t know if it was helpful until 3-4 weeks after the procedure.

Oh, but we’re not done.

I don’t think the blue light worked. I contacted my dermatologist in St. Paul because she had recommended laser sessions right before I moved, but I never got the chance. I had to fly up to see another doctor, so I scheduled an appointment with her as well to get treated.

Unfortunately, anything in the Lidocaine/Novocaine family doesn’t work on me, or at least, not very well. They had a topical for me that sat for about 20 minutes that was a combination of meds, but unfortunately, it didn’t really do a whole lot.

They didn’t have enough goggles for everyone, so I had stickers over my eyes. The first laser basically acts as an aerator, poking a bunch of holes in my skin. My doc thought it would be the more painful of the two. But no, it was the second one that made me swear. A LOT. The second one was like a light saber. Or some kind of a hot knife. There may have been a patient in the room next to mine who heard way more than they ever wanted to.

The doc and nurse were worried that I would be in pain for a few days after, but honestly I was okay as soon as those damned lasers stopped searing my skin. I didn’t get the same fire crotch that I did with the blue light.

The doctor indicated that if I wanted to try another session, I could book at another office where they had nitrous. Yes, please! I had that for my dental work when I was a kiddo, I know at least that will get some of me numb(er). And I do want another session because after only one week my lesions are smaller and I’m not getting new ones. It’s a motherfucking miracle.

I really, truly resent having to go through this. None of this was a problem before I took the Humira injections. I have had to completely change my wardrobe, buy tons of medical supplies, and halt my sex life. Everything is made even harder because I only have one fully functional hand.

Ushering Out 2018

2018 was a year of personal growth or a very painful year, depending on how I choose to look at it. Really, truly, it was tough. Probably one of the most difficult in all of my years.

It began with me finishing up emptying up my savings account while I waited for my disability hearing, which took me 3 years to get to. Thank goodness it went in my favor. I never would have imagined that I would get to the point where I would be too sick to work. Now my days are consumed by doctor appointments and adding to my list of chronic illnesses.

I moved back to Arizona from Minnesota after trying unsuccessfully to get a complete care team in Minnesota. A major part of the problem was the Mayo banning me in writing, stating I was “too sick to diagnose or treat.” After that, every other area office declined me as a patient, saying that if the Mayo couldn’t handle me, then surely they couldn’t either. I talk about this as much as I can to whomever will listen. I think it’s important to understand. The Mayo is driving a certain model, which is that the insurance companies reimburse according to how successful a doctor or facility is. The Mayo wants to retain their success statistics in turning away me and other patients like me (I’m not the first, and have heard of other – female especially – patients) who have less than simple cases. Now insurance companies are reimbursing regular doctors and hospitals according to their statistics, all because the Mayo was the pilot program.

While in Minnesota, I was able to be home for some big events and to reconnect with my nephews, and for that I’m grateful. I also got to be home for the birth of my niece. I really did get teary-eyed when I got to hold her and all of her hair! She was born with a full noggin of brown hair, definitely from her mama’s side. Now that I’m back in Arizona, I’ll have to pay the big money for plane fares if I have to fly back in a hurry.

The especially painful part was letting go of some friendships that I had had for long periods of time. 

One was with my high school and road tripping buddy, whom I had known since age 16. We had a lot of shared experiences. She always dropped off the face of the earth, for years, it seemed. This last round was four years. She only felt comfortable telling me now. What can anyone say to that?I got a message from her stating that she cut me off because 20 years ago I had promised to bring her food when she was sick with a cold, but I went to Las Vegas with my (first) boyfriend instead. She used to smoke a lot of weed, and when she did, she fought with everyone. She also would only allow me to page her (no cell phones back then), and wouldn’t answer her pager. She has a really warped memory of perfection. But anyway, she and I got sick at exactly the same time 8 years ago. I had wanted to be with her to support her, but I was in really bad shape. I had about 8 months in the whole 8 years where I wasn’t super sick, and I did manage to visit Minnesota in that time, but she didn’t like that I suggested that she visit while I was visiting other family members while I was flying into her city. So according to her, I’m a horrible friend. 20 years ago I didn’t bring her food, and then in that small window of time when I could travel without assistance, I didn’t make enough alone time for her. So long, senorita.

A woman I became friends with through work whom I traveled with to Europe about a decade ago has always had some challenges in personal relationships. My tolerance for bullshit has consistently been pretty low, so I never let her get away with much. (She always likes to tell a story about how she made a cop apologize for pulling her over for speeding.) The beginning of the end was when she had a particularly nasty bout of pneumonia when I was visiting Phoenix last year. I was supposed to stay with her for a few days, but she contacted me a month prior and said she was sick, and specifically said, “Do not call me or text me. I’m sick. I’ll still be sick when you get here.” So I responded and said, “Okay, I’ll make other arrangements. I hope that you’ll be feeling better sooner rather than later and you are being taken care of by a good team of docs.” That was supposed to be it. However, I did hit her up during my visit and offered to wear a mask and visit for a few hours. She flipped the fuck out. She asked why I wasn’t staying with her anymore. I told her she specifically told me not to, and because it’s likely she’s still contagious (because the bacteria are still in her body), I can’t stay with her because I don’t have an immune system. She told me I was a horrible person and she didn’t want to see me at all. Also, I was a terrible friend. She rearranged her schedule for my visit (which I knew wasn’t true because she was at work the whole time, she never leaves work). I told her I could meet her for a few hours in public and wear a mask, but I couldn’t stay at her apartment because she was still contagious. She told me she didn’t want to see me at all.

Then, a few months later, she hit me up and acted like nothing happened. I still have zero tolerance for bullshit. I reminded her she told me that I was a terrible friend and a horrible person. She said she didn’t remember doing that at all, and it doesn’t sound like something she would do. I told her that just because she doesn’t remember it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen (one of her favorite ways to play manipulation). Then I told her to get her shit together and go to counseling.

And wouldn’t you fucking know it – out of all of the airports, and flights, in the entire U.S., she showed up on the one that I was on when I moved from St. Paul to Phoenix in June of this year??? I just about shit my pants. And then I had to pretend I didn’t see her because otherwise she would have come over to me and chatted me up.

Also in Minnesota, my former prom date ran for a Minnesota office, and won. But before that, I received a message from him that his mom died. I felt bad for him, but I couldn’t bring myself to call him back. Mainly it was because the last conversation we had centered around him lecturing me about how my deceased father would be disappointed in me dating men of other races. As if I give a shit. My prom date also ran on a ticket claiming that he was all about “family values,” but he refuses to marry his girlfriend, and they have a daughter together. I also happen to know that he sleeps out in the garage; they don’t even share a bed. Last but not least, he thinks I’m a drag on the system. So fuck him. We’re not friends anymore. I’ve known him since I was 11, but if time is the only common factor, I’m okay with letting this one go.

One of the most hardest hits for me was another friend from my high school years. We fundamentally disagree on guns, how they should be regulated and who should have access. Facebook can be a harsh stage. This friend called me stupid, and then announced he was “taking out the trash” when he unfriended me. I won’t ever change how I feel about guns, and I suppose he won’t either. I’m just grateful we got some unforgettable (at least to me) events in before that. Most of my former classmates don’t know why I was crying at our reunion I planned while I was up on stage. I felt like I was able to give back to so many of the people that supported me when I became sick, because a lot of them were there. This friend was one of them. I’m okay with closing this one with a good party. I don’t think I’ll be able to travel back for more, and even if I could, I don’t think I’ll want to. It’s just too fucking sad.

Last but not least: Well, I don’t know if I can adequately describe this one. Communication? That’s definitely a problem. Assumptions? Those got in the way too. Denial? It’s not just a fucking river in Egypt.

2019 is going to be my first full year of living on my disability income. I am hoping to not have any major upheavals and therefore less expenses than what I shelled out in 2018, except maybe a root canal or two (I can tell #30 and #31 are going to give me hell already). It is a strange existence. One of my biggest challenges is to remind people that I’m not just lounging around, or waiting to go have fun. I also don’t have loads of disposable income. I think the last time I had this salary was 1995. By the way, my mention of my income is not an invitation to tell me all about working from home; I actually used to work from home before I was awarded disability.

No-No List for 2019                                                      Yes List for 2019
Skydiving                                                                       Ferris Wheel
Swing Dancing                                                              Singing
Driving                                                                           Arts Festivals
Arena Concerts                                                            Music in the Park
Golf                                                                                 Board Games

Sugar and Spice and…NO.

Today was dedicated to running around and getting prescriptions and a flu shot. Nothing special about today except the weather was grey and rainy, which is not at all normal for Arizona.

And oh god, a message that started with, “I’m sending you this message because…”

I didn’t read it while I was out in public. It was from someone I used to be close to, who dropped off the face of the earth for the thousandth time. She sent it through Facebook messenger, so I’m not sure if she previously deleted my email addresses.

The gist of her message was, “I don’t expect a reply. I cut off contact with you because 20 years ago you didn’t bring me food when I was sick and you went to Las Vegas with your boyfriend instead and you didn’t call me. And one time when you were visiting you didn’t call me, I had to call you, and you said you were getting really busy, and I could drive up to St. Cloud to meet up with you or go out to eat with you and your sister and brother-in-law and it offended me.”

So let me explain a few things. When we lived in New Mexico at the same time 20 years ago, she had a pager she would never respond to. That was how I was allowed to contact her. Also when we lived in New Mexico, she was a heavy pot smoker, and whenever she smokes weed, she starts fights. All of her other acquaintances would ask me what was wrong, and I told them to keep her away from the weed if they didn’t want to fight. They finally made the connection. And for the last few months that I was there, I couldn’t get ahold of her at all even after driving to her last known location because she cut off all communication. This is a repeating pattern.

Whatever visit she’s referring to where she had to reach out to me, again, I have never been allowed to call her. She doesn’t believe in talking on the phone. Keep in mind that texting has not been a thing for the entire last 27 years that she and I have known each other. She didn’t like to talk on the phone because it made her nervous; the reasons why changed over the years. Email was not always practical because, again, it was not always portable. So there were times our relationship was limited to mailing letters back and forth. When I used to travel, sometimes I would only be back for 3 or 4 days, and I would have to see multiple households because my parents were divorced and remarried, plus my siblings were grown and married. I was fucking trying to make everyone happy. Plus, hey – I was flying into their state. The last time I flew into the area (not as a resident), I DID see her, stayed at her place and saw her boyfriend perform with his band.

I’m not going to keep score on who didn’t fly out to see me. She had her own shit to deal with. But to be told I’m not worthy of friendship because of these things makes it pretty easy for me to close this chapter.

Are You Being Served?

in·ter·sec·tion·al·i·ty
ˌin(t)ərsekSHəˈnalədē/
noun
  1. the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
    “through an awareness of intersectionality, we can better acknowledge and ground the differences among us”

    The state of Arizona doesn’t believe that I exist. I’m a woman with a bachelor’s degree, but I also have some rare diseases that have disabled me to the point that I am unable to work. I really had worked my ass off until I had my last shunt failure and surgery, when my neurosurgeon threw in the towel and gave up on me. The judge that I sat in front of for six minutes in March of this year noted in my paperwork that I had an exceptional work history. So my monthly pay is above the poverty level, because it’s based on the amount of take-home pay for the past 10-15 years (at the judge’s and state’s discrimination and calculation).

    Let me back up a little. I got my official judgement saying I’m disabled. Yay. Then my attorney told me that I might have to wait a number of months to see any money. But on May 24th, I got a call from the federal office saying that my money would be released on May 27th. I asked how it would be paid. They said it would be sent how I asked it to be sent. I asked how that was possible, since I hadn’t specified. They said, oh, it looks like we have info from Arizona. (Instant panic, since I haven’t lived there for 3 years.) I said no, absolutely not, I have all of my info updated for Minnesota, there’s no reason for it to be sent to Arizona. They said too bad, if you want it sent to Minnesota, you have to go to your local Minnesota office.

    So I did, on the morning of Friday, May 25th. I was a little worried because it was right before the holiday weekend. Luckily it wasn’t a long wait. But I found out that the money was already sent to Arizona – they didn’t wait until May 27th. It was sent on May 22nd. My former bank in Arizona reopened my account, accepted this rather large amount of money, and just sat on it. They didn’t tell me, and didn’t send the money back. For days. I was able to work it out so they could send the money to my current bank so it wasn’t lost. Anyway…

    So, while at the Social Security office making sure they didn’t send anything else to Arizona, I mentioned Medicare. The man helping me said, oh, didn’t you know, you’ve had it since January of this year? Another panic. I knew just from reading some info and talking to others that meant that I had a deadline coming up in just a few days. I had to sign up for a supplemental insurance policy and medication policy or I could lose out on tens of thousands of dollars. And Monday was a holiday. That meant that I had Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to make phone calls and sign up.

    This is no small task. I take 19 prescription medications, one of which is a weekly injection. The doctor that prescribes that had actually been working on getting an exception because my condition has been worsening. I reached out to the Minnesota SHIP office to talk about supplemental plans and medication plans. We found a supplemental plan that costs hundreds a month but could possibly transfer if I moved out of state. For the meds, I plugged in all of the names and we found out the injectable is not covered. It costs $37,000. Welcome to the world of rare diseases! So I had to call the manufacturer and talk to them about a patient assistance program, which might also allow me to get on a higher dose.

    So now back to Arizona. When I talked to their local office that helps seniors find supplemental plans for Medicare, they couldn’t believe that a disabled person under 65 had a disability check that was above poverty level. It isn’t a huge amount, mind you, but it doesn’t meet the standards for poverty. So I can’t qualify for medical assistance as my supplement, which is their only option in Arizona. I also can’t qualify for utilities assistance, transportation assistance or food assistance. The woman on the phone had very little experience but offered to find out more info and call me back. When she did, she told me to buy the policy in Minnesota and take it with me, as there was no hope for me in Arizona. 

    So Wednesday afternoon, I purchased the supplemental plan for Medicare and verified it could come with me (in writing) if I moved out of state. It’s possible it’s going to become much more expensive, but not nearly as expensive as having nothing.

    Thursday I finished sifting through all of the medication plans and tried to pick the best one. It was the least restrictive with the medications that I currently take (most of them wanted to restrict my Singulair, for some reason, of which I need double the normal dose). So I managed to get everything signed up before my June 1st deadline.

    However, while all of this is going on, there’s something else that’s been cooking in the month of May.

    Actually, this started in March. I had a crown fall off. A bunch of decay was discovered – first on that tooth with the crown, then the tooth next to it, then two teeth above it, then a bunch of cavities all over my mouth and it’s painful to eat or drink. I actually had to file a complaint against my dentist that I was seeing for about 2.5 years because he was physically abusive. When he was examining or treating me, he would pull my mouth roughly – so much so that the last time he left bloody fingerprints all over my exam napkin, and I had a swollen face for five days after. It was only after my massage therapist asked me who had been abusive with me that I filed the complaint.

    The complaint was supposed to have been anonymous, according to my insurance. However, they revealed all of my info, and the dentist counter-complained (like I was the asshole, because I was the one sitting in the chair with my mouth open). Then my insurance told me to go to two other dentists, which I did, and then they told me to go to my original dentist, and he refused (DUH), all to get this decay and a root canal taken care of. The two new dentists told me that they wanted me to go fully under and to be in an oral surgeon’s office or hospital because of my anaphylaxis history as well as my inability to numb with Novocaine. They referred me either to the U of MN or to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC).

    I called the U of MN for five days straight, and got different answers each day. They would say they didn’t do sedation, or didn’t take care of complicated patients like me, or were too booked. In the end, I got nowhere. So I turned my attention to HCMC, which happens to be a trauma 1 hospital. They told me they weren’t taking new patients (a huge lie). Then they told me to get a note from my doctor specifying which medications I’m taking – but that was only after they refused to answer my messages for 3 weeks. They wanted to see if my medical assistance would run out before they had to do anything.

    Well, ta da! First day of no medical assistance, June 1st! That means I get absolutely no dental coverage. So even though they have been aware of this issue for a few months and I’ve done everything they told me to do, I got zero help. By the way, it’s likely I’m having the trouble with the decay in my mouth because the abusive dentist put metal back in my mouth even though I told him in writing and verbally many times I’m allergic. I found out after the two other dentists examined me that he put metal-based crowns in my mouth after I paid thousands to remove all the metal in my mouth because of my allergies.

    I’ve already talked to my dental office that I used to go to in Chandler, Arizona for 11 years, and they have an in-house plan. For $100 a year I can have my cleanings, checkups and x-rays, and then 20% off of fillings and other stuff. So that’s the route I’m going to have to take. Plus I like them and I know they’re not going to rip me up and make me bleed on purpose.

    If there was ever a time that I have felt the impact of being poor and being female and being ignored completely, this is certainly one of those times. I’m sure I’ll have many more opportunities.

It’s Gonna Be So Great

I’ve got all of $26.01 in my bank account right now. That’s all that’s left from the past three years, including selling my house and car and wiping out all of my savings to survive while going through the process of filing for disability and getting denied multiple times and finally getting approved.

Right now, in my tiny apartment, I’m going through all of my records and shredding duplicates and old unneeded receipts so I don’t haul anything unnecessary across state lines. It’s a daunting task. My belongings are half packed and I’ve only stopped because I’ve run out of room – I still need to be able to walk through my space. But as I’m going through everything, page by page, I’ve come across all of my applications for assistance and housing.

Two years ago I started applying to different locations around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Some were through specific cities; some were through counties. All of my applications were for subsidized housing, meaning I was not applying for free housing at any point, I still expected to pay a portion, so the wait should have been considerably less. When I applied through the City of St. Paul, I was told “three to six months, tops.” That was 14 months ago.

Sometimes I fantasized about what it would be like to be able to have more than $100 for groceries in a month, if I could just get in one of those apartments. I have a small credit card that has gotten a workout.

I contacted local legislators to see if they could lend a hand with housing. After all, I’m disabled, and burning through all of my resources, and not able to live with anyone because of my severe allergies (because everyone has pets). The response I got from my representatives was “Too bad.” I’m small potatoes.

But here’s the deal: About 19 percent of the American population is disabled, with about half of that amount severely disabled (I’m in that half). That really isn’t small potatoes. That statistic doesn’t say that disabled means old, or with cancer, or any other stereotype. So what happens if you ignore 1/5 of the population? And why aren’t we demanding more of our lawmakers when it comes to making and enforcing laws? We can do things like make sure that a certain percentage of new or reclaimed housing is made available to lower income and/or disabled citizens rather than just allowing the most expensive developments to go up. There doesn’t have to be a huge housing bubble; it’s all an illusion, just like the diamond market.

As part of my move to Arizona, where I have a rent-capped apartment waiting for me, I have to write letters to all of these housing authorities to tell them to remove me from their waiting lists. I’m also going to tell one of them not to lie about the wait time, because it certainly doesn’t help with having to plan finances. But I’m also going to write to the Minnesota legislators, including a few who are running for offices different from what they hold now and remind them not to ignore the disabled or the housing crisis. 

Please enjoy this song, “Wedding Day,” from Rosie Thomas. You will be startled by her speaking voice and then startled again by her singing voice – two very different sounds!

Exhaling

April 10, 2015, was the last day I commuted home from a paying job. It was the last day I was on a dreaded conference call with a bunch of frustrated staff members. It was a Friday, and only three weeks into a contracting job after being laid off from a place where I had worked for over twelve years. I was already nervous about surviving because work had been interrupted by so many shunt surgeries prior to that time, but April 10th was the final straw.

I remember driving home during rush hour and having the familiar “lights out” sensation cloud my vision. I was only working about 8 miles from home, but since it was rush hour, it would take at least 45 minutes, and the darkness squeezed in almost right after I got behind the wheel. It took all my energy to focus on my lane and not crash into anyone else. I don’t even remember how I made it to the hospital after that, which was another 7 miles in the opposite direction. But I remember having to call my boss the next day to tell him that I would never be coming back in; they wouldn’t hold a short contract position indefinitely.

I wasn’t even sure my neurosurgeon would do surgery #10 in less than 4 years at that point. He had already said after #9 back in November that if I failed again, he was not willing to operate. But he did – sort of. He only did half of the surgery. And of course it failed. And then he sent me away, telling me I had to figure out what was the source of the problem, because he wasn’t going to continue doing something that was going to keep failing. It was all being put on me.

I did figure it out. It took me from 2010 to 2017 and 65 doctors to put all of the pieces together, not to mention the fact that I am one person, not even an entire lab or radiology department. I got zero support from the NIH’s Undiagnosed Diseases Network. The Minnesota Board of Health decided not to discipline 3 doctors (among many) who falsified information to get out of treating me. The Mayo Clinic banned me so I wouldn’t hurt their success statistics and change their #1 in the nation status in 21+ areas.

I lost everything: my car, my house, my ability to earn a livable wage, my confidence, my sense of security and self-worth, friendships, independence, and every last penny of my financial reserves. Thank goodness I already lost my hair over 15 years ago because if I had to go through that right now I’d absolutely lose my shit.

After filing three years ago, I finally had my disability hearing on Wednesday the 28th of March. I didn’t know what to expect. My attorney pulled me into a small conference room prior to the hearing and prepped me, telling me that if the judge asked me questions, to not take longer than 15-20 seconds to answer, and to speak up because he was older and may be hard of hearing. I was also told it may go as long as an hour.

But five minutes, and we were done. Long enough to read my name, and say that it was obvious I was disabled and not making anything up. The letters I asked Dr. Afrin and my current immunologist write for me were key for my case and noted in the judgment. The judge also specifically said that the way I was treated by the majority of the 65 doctors was appalling.

What’s next? I have to wait for Social Security to process the judge’s ruling, and then enter my info for payment, and like the Kool-Aid man, all you’ll see is my silhouette – I’m busting outta here. I gave Minnesota a fair shake for three years, but the fact that so many doctors lied in my medical records and refused to treat me has made my decision an easy one. I’ve decided to head back to Arizona where I will pick up again with 8 of the doctors I previously had; only a few will be switched out, including getting in with a neurologist who specializes in MCAS and Ehlers-Danlos. (Minnesota is a great place to be employed as a nurse, because they are paid relatively well, but it’s a horrible place to be a patient, and I’m far from being the only person who feels this way.)

I want to be clear about what this disability status means for me: 1) It doesn’t change any day-to-day abilities that I have. I still have to lay down and rest for the majority of my day, about 20 hours every day. 2) The actual status of disability is not permanent; I’ll be reviewed and my medical records will be combed through every few years by Social Security to make sure my health and abilities haven’t changed. 3) I still have to take the short bus everywhere, especially now since I’ll be making “too much” to get medical assistance (which is more than $0.00). 4) I still can’t get a motorized scooter – do you really want a half-blind person driving one of those??

My prediction is that this is all going to go down by the end of May, but I’m at the mercy of Social Security.

The Great Debate

When I was 14, I was visiting my dad’s house for the weekend and sleeping on the couch, which was the normal – I didn’t have a bedroom there. I’m a light sleeper. So it was a surprise that somehow between 12:30 a.m., when I fell asleep, and 7:00 a.m., when my stepmom answered a phone call from a stranger alerting her to the fact that her purse was scattered on the stranger’s front lawn, that the house had been robbed – and the burglar had somehow gotten past me. Three hunting rifles had been taken off of the wall along with a video camera and tripod, and of course, the purse.

The next night my dad took my place on the couch with his handgun in case anyone decided to come back. We used all of my babysitting cash to re-key the locks. But this story demonstrates many points: I grew up around guns (that were never locked up), the hunting rifles made it somewhere into the wide world to be used for who knows what, and that we are a violent society. The cops were surprised I was still alive and unharmed.

Not many years later, when my brother was five and a half, he was given his first gun for Christmas. His first few minutes alone with it and he shot out his bedroom light. I was never given a gun because I was a girl. Mind you, I never felt as if I missed out. But my dad and my brother perpetuated craving violence and guns. Even though I was the one who was on the couch, exposed, they were the ones who wanted to kill, kill, kill. At least, that’s what they projected.

My dad’s own father died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In fact, Dad was the one who found him. Included in the three rifles that were stolen was the one that Grandpa used to do the deed. It had a strange sort of sentimental value that I couldn’t relate to. Who would want to cradle that weapon, and use it over and over, knowing its history?

Fast forward a few decades to when I lived with violent men. One was the guy who grew up in Manhattan in a household whose own siblings stabbed each other. The last day I saw him was the last time I called the cops on him, when he was supposed to be gone at work while I moved my things out of the house we were renting. Instead he was hiding in one of the back rooms and came out when I set down some moving boxes and attacked me. I struggled to get back out to my car in my stocking feet and he was restraining me and pinning my arms, telling me that if I would just do what he told me to do, we would be happy. I finally wrestled free and got in my car and called 911. The responding police officers bought his big-eyed innocent act and told me that if I called them again that I would be arrested.

Then there was the live-in boyfriend who threatened to shoot me – twice. He also talked about taking his guns to work to shoot all of his co-workers constantly. The cops reassured me there was absolutely nothing I could do until he actually followed through and hurt one or all of us. 

Most recently of course was my downstairs neighbor who moved out the last weekend of July, 2017. He used to beat his wife and abuse their cat. Whenever I had visitors I was a nervous wreck, because I had no idea if he would pound down the door while they were here, falsely claiming that we were too loud, or take it out on me later, screaming and raging and dreaming up reasons to call the cops on me. Worse yet he could of course physically pulverize his wife and cat for revenge, just for existing. He was ex-military so I knew it was likely there was a gun or two or seven in his apartment.

So here we are in the U.S. with our easy access to the worst kinds of weapons and ammunition. I am the one who was laying on a couch while a stranger or two crept past me to rob our house; you would think I would fall into the category of wanting a gun for home protection. I grew up around them; you would think I would relax around them. I’ve lived with and around plenty of assholes who have wanted me dead; you would think that I would feel safer armed.

Fuck that.

First of all, we have over 7 billion people on the planet. We are no longer hunting strictly for food supply. Anyone who claims that is an outright liar. And hunting season is so abbreviated that there’s no need to keep guns out for the entire year to make them accessible to every man, woman and child on the planet. Second, home invasions do not happen with the regularity that the NRA has somehow convinced the gun lovers they do. I remember reading from one guy a quote last week that Texas experiences 800,000 home invasions a year. My answer was, “Are you talking about bugs?” I mean, c’mon. If that were true, Texas would be experiencing a mass exodus.

The biggest and hottest debate that has resurfaced is the arming of school staff. I cannot stress this enough, but there are so, SO many reasons why this is a bad idea. Right now I live in the city where Philando Castille was shot. He had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and told the cops, and was shot and killed anyway. If for some reason some idiots decided arming school staff members would be a good idea, the staff members had better be lily white, because we Americans cannot be trusted to be color blind. Even black cops have proven to have prejudice against black suspects without meaning to.

I posted this article on Facebook regarding an armed officer who never engaged in the shootout that was happening in Florida. He simply hung back while all of those kids were getting shot. I pointed out that if an officer did this, why would we expect teachers to uniformly charge without fear or hesitation, and to act correctly? A friend of 27 years, whom I considered a decently good friend, didn’t like that I used this as an example of why we shouldn’t arm teachers and staff. He also didn’t like that I proposed that we have stricter gun laws regarding background checks, wait times, amount of ammunition sold, amount of ammunition guns could fire, types of guns that could be sold on the market, and age of buyers/operators. He resorted to calling me an idiot. Finally, he just outright blocked me. 

But am I an idiot? I’ve just been trying to stay alive. I have all of this violence swirling around me, and all of these men are insisting that they have a right to violate me. I’m saying no. I will continue to say no. I’m good with saying no.

Lastly, here is a comprehensive list from a woman named Karen Nichols in Ottawa Center, Michigan; she had many questions regarding arming teachers and staff, and did a great job of articulating them:

Which teachers get guns?
Where will the guns be stored?
Who decides when guns can be brandished?
What penalties will apply if teachers mishandle a weapon?
Will teachers volunteer for gun duty?
Can teachers refuse it?
Who will audit their adherence to regulations?
Will students know which teachers have weapons?
Who will be liable if the teacher with the gun becomes the shooter?
What will be the consequences when students are accidentally shot by a teacher?
How will armed teachers communicate in a tactical situation?
Will teachers with a history of mental illness be allowed to use weapons?
Will teachers be required to disclose any history of mental illness?
Will teachers be issued a weapon? Reimbursed for purchase? For ammunition?
How will administrators conduct non-weapon-related discipline against a teacher?
Will there be armed assistance available to deter workplace shootings?
Who will shepherd the armed teacher’s classroom while the teacher is attempting to locate the active shooter?
What happens when a teacher misidentifies a student as a threat in good faith?
Will teachers who do not carry lethal weapons be offered non lethal alternatives?
If an armed teacher is shot, can another teacher employ his or her weapon?
How will armed teachers identify themselves to arriving first responders?
Will armed teachers be required to learn how to give first-response medicine?
Will armed teachers be required to attempt an arrest before using lethal force? Under what circumstances?
Will proficiency training on weapons count for teachers’ continuing education and professional development?
How will insurers adjust health and other rates to account for the presence of armed employees?
Will teachers receive additional pay for being armed?
how often will armed teachers be re-evaluated for licensing purposes?
Will armed teachers leading field trips deposit their weapons in a personally owned vehicle or school-owned transport?
Will one teacher per wing of a school building receive weapons? Two? Three?
Exactly which standards will count for proficiency—greater than a big-city police department, State Police, FBI, hobbyist, marksman?
In training scenarios, how will using force against innocents be penalized?
Will racial sensitivity courses be required?
Do parents have a right to refuse to send their kids to schools with guns?
Will students have to sign waivers? Will parents? What if a parent signs a waiver for a minor student who, when that student turns 18, refuses to abide by its provisions?
Will teachers on probation be allowed to carry weapons?
What about teachers with active union grievances? Complaints about sexual harassment? Anger management? Divorce proceedings?
Will armed teachers wear holsters?
Will they be stationed strategically during pep rallies or other gatherings?
Will they participate in lockdown drills as if they were armed or unarmed?
Will funding for the policies outlined above be distributed according to local budgets, statewide formulas, or national formulas?
Will schools in high-risk neighborhoods receive more or less funding? Suburban schools?
What is the right ratio of armed:unarmed teachers by grade level?
What is the procedure for debriefing and assessing armed teachers’ performance during a crisis?
Can an armed teacher who flinches be fired? Can an armed teacher who breaks protocol be rewarded?
Will preschool teachers have guns?
Will teachers in “juvie” (high risk) schools have guns?
Will the teacher or the school be liable if their gun is stolen?
Can administrators carry weapons? Can they do so in disciplinary situations?

Think about this: I quit playing clarinet after 8th grade because my band teacher was an outright asshole. After I quit, he was fired for punching a student. But let’s give him a gun, right?

And Then There Were Three

The holidays – the general term given to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s – are tricky. Part of me wants to put up all of my decorations, but my 360 sq. ft. apartment is tiny compared to my former 2,200 sq. ft. house, and I’m constantly shifting piles because every surface is occupied. I just don’t have the energy to pull lights and ornaments out and make them look decent for 35 days.

And then there’s the whole thing about what to do with me. This year for Thanksgiving, my sister and brother-in-law decided to drive us (including my two little nephews) up to my parents’ house about two hours away, but that meant there wasn’t room in the car for their dogs. We arrived, hurried and ate, then drove back again so the dogs weren’t left alone long. To fit all of us in a vehicle at the same time, they have to rent a van – which they’ve done for funerals. I really hate being a burden.

Right before Christmas I had an appointment with my primary care doctor. I had thought we were good. It seemed like she was supportive and understood that my case was complicated, and she was up to speed on my attempts to get help through neurology and neurosurgery at the U where she works as well as every other healthcare system in Minnesota including the Mayo. She also knew about what happened with the Undiagnosed Diseases Network falsely diagnosing me with myasthenia gravis and telling me to go away. We even commiserated over how hard it is to be a female in the medical field.

So when I approached her at this latest visit to fill out paperwork for my upcoming disability hearing, I was completely floored when she acted surprised and asked, “So, what makes you think you are disabled? When was the last time you worked?” I reminded her that I haven’t worked since the last time my shunt failed, which was April 10, 2015, and that I very obviously had the facial paralysis and severe ptosis. (I even have two videos that my neurosurgeon in Phoenix recorded in April and May of 2015 showing these symptoms, him physically peeling my eyes open, and telling me that he was giving up after the last surgery.) In addition, I have severe vertigo and fatigue and fall constantly.

The doctor asked me why I hadn’t gotten help from neurosurgery. I reminded her again that I had attempted to from every single group in the area that I was allowed to under Medicaid, and had been denied by all, including the Mayo, because my case was too complicated. I also reminded her that the doctors at the U had written in my file that my symptoms were psychosomatic after only seeing me for 20 minutes, despite the fact that the symptoms are always resolved with a new shunt – except we now know I’m allergic to the shunts.

She then looked at my forms that I brought with me and told me they “didn’t look official.” I told her they came from my attorney’s office, not the Social Security office, and quite frankly, I could write them in crayon and they would still have to accept them because they were my testimony. The doctor then said she wasn’t qualified to say anything about my status. I said that wasn’t correct, and she absolutely could speak about my difficulties with daily activities. She told me that only a neurologist could talk about that. I asked her if she knew any neurologists who wouldn’t be jackasses to me; her answer was that it didn’t matter anyway because they wouldn’t be able to assess me prior to the hearing.

So……..

The visit ended with me telling her never mind. And yes, I was crying. I just was not prepared for her to be an ass to me. Now I have to worry about finding another primary care doctor. So that leaves me the allergist/immunologist, pain doctor and GI doctor in charge of my care for all of the crazy stuff I have going on with the mast cell disease. It really should be more like seven.

Because of things going on with immediate family members, I was going to be alone on Christmas. I was totally fine with it. It was shaping up to be a bitterly cold day, so I looked forward to being in bed and watching really bad holiday movies. But I got an invite from cousins, and found out the short bus was traveling there on a limited basis that day, so I planned on being there for a few hours.

Unfortunately, I ended up on my feet the whole time there so my heart condition went haywire and the fluid in my brain never drained, so I was miserable. Then the short bus was supposed to pick me up at 3:30 pm; I waited until 4:06 pm and was told that even though I waited at the pickup spot from 3:20 pm until the time I called, the driver marked me as “no show” and took off. The worst part was that they were no longer doing any more driving in that area for the rest of the day. I had to throw a fit with the dispatcher, who was already horrible, and when someone finally came to get me, they tried to charge me again even though they shouldn’t have. The trip home took 3 hours. 

I didn’t have to go anywhere between December 26th and January 2nd, so I didn’t. I stayed in bed as much as I could.

I’m not a big believer in resolutions for the new year. However, on December 24th, I did go to two services at my very woo-woo spiritual center, and I feel like my burdens are lighter. I don’t know if it’s because at the stroke of midnight I shed 2017 or what, but I’m leaving all of the floatsam and jetsam back there and only taking with me that which will be helpful. I need that to help me through the next part, which is the hardest yet.

Save The Date

Statistically, Minnesota is one of the worst or the worst state in the U.S. when it comes to wait times for disability processing. I didn’t know this when I relocated from Arizona to Minnesota to try to figure out what was going on with my body. This article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune states the average wait time is around 570 days from filing to have a judicial review. I just got confirmation that my hearing is set for March 28th, which will put me at about 770 days of filing the appeal (and almost 3 years to the day of filing the initial claim of disability). The back log just keeps getting worse.

I’m not sure I would have done this any other way. As horrible as it has been with trying to get doctors to take care of me in Minnesota, I did finally get three diagnoses that I have been missing for years in addition to what I already knew. I forget what my count was when I entered the state, but I’ve seen 64 doctors since July of 2010. This has not been an easy process. There is no clear path.

Thankfully my allergist has already agreed to fill out paperwork for my hearing, and my counselor has as well. I will be meeting with my primary care doctor and pain doctor next month to ask the same from them. I’ve been rejected by every neurologist and neurosurgeon in the area as well as banned in writing by the Mayo, and I can’t go out of state because I’m on Medicaid so it’s not allowed, so I’m not quite sure how that is going to be looked upon by the judge. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about that.

One incredible resource I wish I had stumbled upon before I started this process but am eternally grateful for is the blog How To Get On. There are sooooooooo many links/ideas/resources/testimonials that it sometimes boggles my mind, and I really can’t imagine how many man hours it took her to put it together. It’s unfortunate that the author sometimes gets reported and blocked by Facebook for either posting “too much” (seriously??) or for questionable posts (again – say what??), so we have to keep it circulating so as many people as possible benefit from its content.