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

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Nothing Like Designer Jeans

I’m listening to Pandora right now, and Whitesnake’s “Is This Love” happens to be playing. What were the hottest jeans from 1988? Maybe they were Guess?, maybe they were Girbaud (with the little loop at the top of the fly). I remember that it was important for guys to have Levi’s, at least in the little town where I was attending school when Tawny Kitaen was straddling two Jaguars.

There’s trends in medicine too. Remember how just over a century ago, no one really had a grasp on how important it was to wash your hands? And remember how 80 years ago, antibiotics were just around the corner, but before they were available to the general public, syphilis could very well be a death sentence? But it’s not so much trends as it is that we become more aware and educated.

Medicine attempted to treat PTSD in soldiers and document it for as long as wars have been fought. Different names have been attached to it; “Soldier’s heart” for the Civil War, “shell shock” for World War I; and “Combat Stress Reaction” for World War II.

After WWII, the American Psychiatric Association worked to put together a label that would apply to all symptoms that would appear as a result of traumatic events, not just war. It has actually been through five revisions to date and includes four different types of symptoms: reliving the traumatic event (also called re-experiencing or intrusion); avoiding situations that are reminders of the event; negative changes in beliefs and feelings; and feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal or over-reactive to situations). Most people experience some of these symptoms after a traumatic event, so PTSD is not diagnosed unless all four types of symptoms last for at least a month and cause significant distress or problems with day-to-day functioning (see PTSD: National Center for PTSD ).

Since I’m part of the Chronic Illness Bloggers network, I’ve been able to read a lot of my fellow bloggers’ unique perspectives, and more than once I’ve seen references come up about PTSD in medical settings. I cannot believe what some of you have had to endure. I worry about putting on my Girbaud jeans and raising my hand and saying “Me too,” but after having many discussions with my counselor, she has confirmed that I indeed have PTSD triggered by my experiences brought on by this mystery disease.

Was there one big bang? I don’t think so, just like there isn’t one big battle in war, but a whole war. There were certain things that were especially traumatic. The time that my neurosurgeon stood in the doorway of my hospital room on the night of my birthday in 2013 after my fourth surgery and told me he would have to send me home nearly blind because he was just in there and it had to be something else, not a shunt failure was especially traumatic (turns out that it was a kink in the shunt that developed that would not have been discovered if I would not have thrown a hysterical fit to have a nuclear shunt study performed).

One story that I told to my counselor in this week’s session happened January 2014. 2013 was my big year of surgeries – six in all. I got to know my symptoms of shunt failure really well, plus I figured out that I was making copious scar tissue and adhering the shunt to my chest and abdominal wall. At various times I also leaked great big pools of CSF out of my spine so that I had a softball-sized vat of fluid sitting on my back, and a more dangerous situation of having a shunt in my brain and another one in my back, making it harder to control pressure.

My last surgery in 2013 was December 21st; that was when my neurosurgeon finally believed me after 2.5 years that I was allergic to the shunt, when he saw for himself that my abdomen was red and inflamed, like a “war zone,” as he put it. I told him that I needed to see an immunologist and a rheumatologist, but he said that I was “taking it too far.”

A month later, my shunt clogged or strangled again and it was adhered to my abdomen by scar tissue. I went to the ER and saw the on-call neurosurgeon, someone I had never seen before but who was with Barrow Neurological like my neurosurgeon and had access to all of the notes from my surgeries and could talk to my neurosurgeon. I demonstrated for him my usual problem when my shunt isn’t working and my symptoms come back: when I’m upright, my face is paralyzed and I can’t open my eyes; when I lay down, my eyes immediately open because the fluid moves away from the brain stem. When I sit back up, the fluid moves back to the brain stem and presses on the nerves again.

The neurosurgeon went away. The regular ER doctor came in and said I had a clear case of a classic migraine headache. I told him it was ridiculous and asked if anyone read my notes from my chart from all of my other admissions and surgeries, and he said he didn’t know, but that was what the on-call neurosurgeon said. Then he handed me a prescription for opioids. I was absolutely floored. I demonstrated for him what happens when I put my head parallel to the floor – my eyes open – and what happens when I’m upright, and asked him if that’s “typical migraine symptoms,” and he said he didn’t know, but that was what he was told, so that was it. I told him it was bullshit (never raising the volume of my voice, by the way). I told him that if they discharged me, I was going to turn around and ask to be admitted again. He told me they would refuse to treat me. I asked him why he prescribed pain medication for me when I wasn’t in pain, my shunt was simply clogged. He said that with patients with clogged shunts, they always get headaches, so if that was really my problem, I should have a headache. Then he left.

I was openly crying and shaking. The nurse came in and her whole demeanor toward me changed. She told me that I had to stop being abusive to them, they were just trying to help me; all the while I couldn’t even speak, I was so stunned. Then she yanked the IV out of my arm without putting pressure on the puncture so that I bled all over and then snidely said, “Oh, look at that, you’re a bleeder!” I just sobbed harder. She left the curtained room and I shut the curtain and cleaned myself up and managed to get changed. She came back with the discharge papers. I asked her if she could walk me out of the maze of the ER back to the lobby. By then it was 4 a.m. and quiet. She told me that she was too busy and that I had to find my own way out. My room was next to the nurse’s station, and many of the night ER staff had congregated there and were observing the exchange. They could also see that I had a cane and paralyzed eyelids that were mostly closed; one offered to help, but my nurse said, “She’s fine.” Another person asked me if that was true, but I couldn’t speak. I just kept walking. You could have heard a pin drop.

I finally made it out to the now-empty ER lobby and managed to call a cab and directed my face to the windows so I could watch for the familiar colors of the cab company. When the pressure gets bad, that’s all I can do – make out shapes and colors.

When I contacted my neurosurgeon’s office after that visit, I discovered that he actually upheld the on-call neurosurgeon’s decision to diagnose me as having a migraine episode, even though my neurosurgeon had been following me for 2.5 years and knew my symptoms just as well as I did at that point and performed all 8 of my surgeries to date. Everything that I have told my neurosurgeon that has been wrong with my body has been completely correct, and for him to suddenly go with something as far-fetched and outlandish as to describe this as a migraine episode immediately caused me to distrust him deeply. Before I would have talked to anyone who would listen about how great he was about thinking outside the box; after that I only hoped to survive.

Because of this horrible ER visit, I went home and started stretching my torso because I could tell that the shunt was adhering again to my abdomen only 3-4 weeks after the previous surgery. It was the only thing I could think to do. In the process, I managed to stretch so vigorously that there was a tug of war internally and I created a break in the shunt, which led to a leak…and because my neurosurgeon finally conceded that my demand to get an immunologist and a rheumatologist involved in my care was actually very practical, he refused to fix my leaking shunt for almost a year, which was EXTREMELY painful.

But that’s another story.

Back to PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder isn’t reserved for those who only experience war, or even a natural disaster. It certainly applies to anyone who has been abused in a relationship.

And it certainly applies to me. And I’m not even done with the war. I’m not even “post” anything yet. 

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The Tiers of Privilege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaslighting

Drummer #2 was the absolute master of gaslighting. I keep a lot of emails – yes, even the really shitty exchanges I’ve had with boyfriends – and recently re-read a couple from Drummer #2. When I read his words, the shame felt nearly as intense as it did when I tried to break up with him for six months running in 2009. He worked hard on me to convince me that I was confused about what I was feeling. He was condescending and repeatedly told me that if I would just do things his way, I wouldn’t struggle so much. He told me that I wasn’t identifying my emotions correctly. It was exhausting. I was an emotional wreck. But just like this author, I finally got away, and I have never looked back and said, “Gee, maybe I should have stayed with him.”

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You know when you have a lightbulb moment, when you read something, spit out your coffee and suddenly go WHAT THE FUCK, WHAT, THIS IS EXACTLY LIKE READING ABOUT MYSELF! Well, I just spat out my cof…

Source: Gaslighting

What I Know, What I Don’t Know

Okay, first of all, a very specific search appeared on my radar yesterday: “Indian sites for compression hose fetish.” Hats off to your freak flag flying proudly, whomever you are. Also, hats off to wanting your objects of desire not to have to suffer from varicose veins. I’m sorry that my mention is probably repeatedly bringing you back to my blog; I wish you luck.

Second, I got a diagnosis.

I’m going to start where I think I should, and that is May of 2009. I was living with the very controlling and very violent Drummer #2 in a beautiful 3 bedroom/2 bath on a man-made lake. My friend who is a CPA and has taken care of my taxes for 16 years as of this year flew down from Cincinnati. Drummer #2 was on the verge of nearly smashing my head with a drinking glass, but I didn’t know it. He made me feel like absolute dirt because my friend was visiting, so much that the friend had to stay at a hotel rather than in the spacious home we occupied.

My friend rented a car so that we could run around the state of Arizona, and most importantly to the Grand Canyon. We hiked down into part of the canyon; it was not easy for me because I had already had fibromyalgia since I reached adulthood, but I did my best to keep up. I was so happy that my friend had made it down to visit, even though the nastiness of Drummer #2 put a damper on things. Drummer #2 didn’t accompany us and that was absolutely fine with me. I wanted to be able to relax. My friend flew home and life went back to walking on eggshells to try to not make Drummer #2 angry – which proved impossible. The week after that trip was when everything went down with the asshole and I moved out in a hurry.

Fast forward to October of 2009: I went to the emergency room because I developed a stiff neck and excruciating pain. Every time I moved my neck I cried. I didn’t sleep for four days and was starting to hallucinate. The ER doctor had no explanation for me because I didn’t have any other symptoms like a sore throat or a fever. He sent me on my way with muscle relaxants. The pain didn’t abate for a full week.

Around the same time, the naturopath I was seeing started documenting new symptoms for me, mainly that I had a constant rocking feeling, and I was always nauseated. We tried different remedies including Dramamine, but nothing even made a dent.

Have you thought up a diagnosis yet? Just wait.

In July 2010, I developed crushing fatigue. I drove over to San Diego mid-month to spend time with a man from Germany who made yearly trips to Comic-Con, the big one. I struggled to walk a few blocks between my hotel and nearby restaurants. He was used to walking up to ten miles a day; I felt a bit ashamed because I felt as if I embodied the lazy American stereotype. I was also plagued by deep bouts of vertigo to the point where I nearly fell down an entire outdoor cement staircase.

During the last week of the semester at school in July, I had to drop out and not take any finals. Fatigue and vertigo ruled my life. My parents were concerned because I spoke like a zombie, no intonation – very unusual considering I was a theater major in school. My speech was slurred, the top portion of my face became paralyzed, and my head began to nod uncontrollably. Because my body was under so much stress, my cortisol levels shot up to ten times the normal amount.

Have you guessed it yet?

In July of 2011, I finally started getting relief from the pressure in my head because a neurosurgeon installed a shunt. However, I had a total of 10 shunt surgeries in 46 months because my body fights them, clogs them, breaks them, strangles them. I have had horrible abdominal pain since July 11, 2011, because that is the first day a drainage catheter began living within my peritoneum and my small and large intestine, and there is a war being waged 24/7.

46 doctors and two states later, a naturopath in Saint Paul suggested I get some blood tests for Lyme disease. I ended up having to pay full price for them up front because they were not covered by insurance/medical assistance. I will admit that I didn’t think I had Lyme but I just wanted to rule it out like I had done with everything else up to that point. Two of the tests had inconclusive results; the third one lit up like a motherfucking Christmas tree.

I have late stage aka chronic Lyme, and have had it for nearly seven years. It wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Why should it be? I didn’t have a bull’s eye rash. I lived in Arizona, a state with a very small tick population compared to other states. The CDC has very strict guidelines about what can be reported for Lyme and I may not fit their parameters; however, I am still going to contact the state health board and let them know I was infected while I was a resident in the state. I think that only 8 cases have been reported to the CDC for Arizona. I don’t even know if they will take my data because I was diagnosed based on antibodies specific to bacterial exposure, and they only want tests showing the bacteria, which may not be detectable because of the time that has passed.

I know that most of the doctor visits and labs are not covered by insurance, so I will truly be destitute in short order. They are not covered because insurance companies and even the government get bucky about late stage/chronic Lyme, sometimes refusing to acknowledge it exists. There are now temporary laws in place in Minnesota that allow physicians to prescribe antibiotics far longer than they have before, for years instead of months, and the law is set to expire in 2019. I feel like my diagnosis is sitting on the cusp of being dismissed and being accepted. I don’t know how they will deny that my facial paralysis ties into the positive results on the blood work, but I’m sure they’ll find a way to tell me I just need counseling. It wouldn’t be the first time I heard that.

I don’t know what will be irreversible with the neurological problems when treatment starts. I think the facial palsy and ptosis may go away. I think the tremors will take years to adios if they stop at all. The left side of my body has lost some sensation. For example, when I am descending stairs, I have no concept of the pressure my foot exerts on the steps (and vice versa) and so must go very slow. I have been doing exercises to counteract the bed rest and try to gain some of the muscle I have lost, but I always feel like my nerves are disconnected on my left side, and I tire much more easily when I work on that side. I’m also having some cognitive difficulty including word recall. As I type, I fight to spell words correctly – I have developed some weird form of dyslexia. If you knew how particular I am about spelling, you would be as alarmed as I am. Sometimes it takes me a dozen tries to write single words correctly that would have been a breeze previously. Ultimately there is a 50/50 chance that treatment will work, and it may take years to get any positive results.

Besides notifying the board of health in Arizona and Minnesota, I have decided to write letters to my team of doctors in Arizona to let them know about the diagnosis. I am not trying not to think in terms of, “Oh, if only someone would have tested for Lyme, I wouldn’t have had to have 10 brain surgeries.” Honestly, the disease has really fucked up my body, and it’s possible I would have needed the surgeries even with the right diagnosis.

If my symptoms do abate, I’m going to have a serious conversation with some neurosurgeons about removing the current shunt. It has adhered to my chest and the abdominal pain is still constant, and I just think I would have an easier time without it. However, that also leaves me more vulnerable to CSF leaks – and I don’t ever, ever want that pain again.

Lastly, I don’t know if this is a “rare” disease. The data is poor. On a survey of health, chronic Lyme rated the worst for quality of life as outlined in this article – worse even than congestive heart failure, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, diabetes and depression. In other words, I truly won the shit cookie.

Chronic Lyme Disease

 

Isn’t That A Co-inky-dink?

This year began on pretty rough ground. First, Quato from Total Recall was growing in my left ass cheek and trying really hard to bust out. Every day for three weeks (including some weekends) someone had to look at my bare ass. Then my body got so stressed out from not being able to stay flat every day that my tremors came back. I have been feeling just exhausted. I wish I had a Keebler elf that I could pull out of my pocket and demand that s/he do all of my dishes and scrub my tub and toilet.

But here’s the thing: I’ve been getting some validations.

The start was getting the image of a lemon cake, the kind like my mom made when I was a kid, in my head. I could picture myself mixing the lemon curd to make the frosting, putting that on the layers, and then cutting myself a slice, still kinda warm. Later on, before I left to go to the meditation class, I caught up with a friend I haven’t talked to in about a decade. She told me that she made herself a lemon cake that afternoon to celebrate her own birthday.

Last night I thought to myself, “Call S. in Scottsdale.” I didn’t know why I thought that, because we talked two weeks ago and I figured that update would have carried us over for a bit. Ten minutes later she called me to tell me she had moved (somewhat abruptly) and her plans changed from what she told me two weeks prior – she decided to stay in Scottsdale rather than pursue a job opportunity elsewhere.

My final ride for the evening yesterday on the short bus involved me being picked up from the grocery store and redeposited at home. It ended up being a really, really long ride – since it’s a ride share, rarely is one rider picked up and then brought to their destination without stopping elsewhere first. The driver and I started chatting while we waited for one rider to finish with her church group. I heard, “Tell her you’re selling your car” in my ear, or brain, or however you’d like to think about it. Anyway, I worked it into the conversation. She became serious and asked me what kind of car it was because she and her husband were looking for a second vehicle. I didn’t really do a hard sell with her because ultimately I didn’t think it would be something she would seriously consider; my car is a hatchback, and she was talking small SUV. Still, it was worth a shot.

I’m not really sure what I have to do to keep connecting with the universe, but I guess I had better get a move on.

 

That Girl Is Poison

Recognize this phrase? I have a station set up on my Pandora titled “New Edition,” and since some of the members of the singing group New Edition split off and formed Bel Biv Devoe, the song “Poison” comes up on my play list. Bel Biv Devoe sang about the dangers of getting tangled up with a woman who was bad news; however, it’s not just romantic relationships that suffer when someone is nasty or devious – friends can be poisonous too.

I am eternally grateful to the friends I have made over the years who tolerate my weirdness and bluntness. Without a doubt, I am humbled by the friends who have mopped and sanitized my house when I have returned from the hospital. I am indebted to the people who have shuttled me around to doctor appointments and grocery store runs, and who have replenished my stock of food and supplies. I have tried to be a good friend in return when I have been able to, which admittedly has been very infrequent for the past 5.5 years because I can’t seem to stay well enough to be out of bed for any length of time.

Unfortunately, because I have the reputation of being a good listener and the voice of reason, my bedridden status has trapped me into being something of a therapist for some. One friend helped me get to a doctor’s appointment about five years ago. This woman and I had become friends back in 2006 when I was working a couple of jobs to pay for my second trip to Europe. That one ride of eight miles nearly cost me my sanity.

Because she found out that I was stuck in bed when I called her to help me get to the appointment, I believe she saw it as an opportunity to unload all that was bothering her – after all, I didn’t have anything better to do, right? This friend was going through a nasty divorce. She would call me at all hours nearly every day, crying and asking me what she should do in certain situations. She would never actually take my advice.

Our interactions became more strained. I finally resorted to telling her, “I don’t know what you should do” every time she called with a new crisis. She switched to texting me instead of calling me. I’m not sure if she thought my answer would somehow be different. Just for the record, it wasn’t.

This woman had a good heart, and I did get a ride from her when I needed it most. I just did not think that I was forever obligated to take on the stress of her failing marriage. For that reason, I cut her off completely. Subtlety wasn’t working, and telling her I was exhausted and stressed from fighting to be heard in doctor visits had absolutely no effect. I feel a twinge of sadness when her birthday shows up on my calendar, but I know that if I pick up the phone and wish her a happy birthday, the cycle starts again.

Another woman I became friends with was introduced by a mutual friend. We became acquainted after we spent a holiday together; I brought a movie that she had watched many times in her native country as a young girl, and she translated the film for us as it did not have any subtitles. I’m going to christen her Ms. Lederhosen.

I met Ms. Lederhosen as she was going through a nasty divorce with her second husband. I had suggested we get together for movies or nights out because it seemed like she needed to do things that would distract her from all of the emotionally draining stuff she was going through. Unfortunately, it was all she would talk about. I’m not exaggerating when I say that. I could say something like, “This tomato soup is good.” Ms. Lederhosen would reply by saying, “Oh, R. (her ex) likes soup too. You know, when we were married, he used to make me take care of his daughters, but they were lazy and did not like me. I would tell them to do something and they would go to their dad and he would tell them they didn’t need to do it.” It’s how every conversation would go. Everything tied back to her ex, no matter what I said, no matter what I tried to talk about.

I remember one time we made plans to see a movie. When we picked our seats out and got settled with our beverages and snacks, she started talking about the ex. The lights dimmed and the movie started; Ms. Lederhosen was not letting that stop her. Other patrons in the theater started saying “Shhhh!” loudly, turning towards us. She wouldn’t shut her trap. I told her that we should wait to chat until the movie was done. She kept talking in a loud voice because she had to finish that story. Well, she finally did…and then throughout the movie, she ran a commentary on what was happening on the screen. At that point I made a mental note to never see another movie in the theater with Ms. Lederhosen.

The ex was dragging out the divorce, filing extensions and demanding spousal support. Ms. Lederhosen was constantly calling and texting to rehash what he had done. At one point she asked me to proofread letters and documents for her because they were going to be used in her case. I would always set aside what I was working on and comb through her submissions because I knew how picky judges could be.

Ms. Lederhosen finally decided to pursue her U.S. citizenship. She didn’t have many friends, so she asked me to prepare a letter of good character for her attorney. Again, I set everything aside and whipped together a professional piece to convince the Court that she was a productive member of society.

She didn’t care for her job or boss, so Ms. Lederhosen sent me her resume so I could send it out to my contacts and enter it in my employer’s database. She wanted to respond directly to her ex’s demands through family court but didn’t want to pay her attorney to do it, so I arranged for a friend who was a paralegal in family law to assist her.

Ms. Lederhosen met a man through a woman who facilitated a social group for foreign-language speakers. I had hoped that meeting someone new would calm her down regarding the ex and encourage her to discuss other items of interest, but no. She even told me that her new man was complaining that she was too focused on the ex.

I was able to meet the new boyfriend when Ms. Lederhosen brought him and her little sister over to my house to visit; it was her sister’s first time in the U.S., so I made an effort to speak slowly – her English was good, but there is always a huge adjustment period when anyone is suddenly immersed in a country where the language is not their native tongue. Often Ms. Lederhosen would interrupt to talk about her ex. At one point, her current boyfriend grabbed her face, squeezed her cheeks and said “Stop talking.” She didn’t, of course. Her sister got completely put off and eventually just fell asleep on my couch while the boor hijacked the conversation.

A few months later, I had reached the point of blinding pain with my shunt – I had developed an uncontrollable leak. Ms. Lederhosen had indicated that she was at her boyfriend’s house but that if I needed a ride to the ER, she was more than willing. I took her up on the offer. They didn’t end up keeping me to bring me into surgery as I had hoped, because at that point they wanted to figure out which parts of the shunt I was allergic to, which would take months. They sent me home with big bad painkillers instead.

Facebook can make or break friendships, and in our case, it broke ours. Actually, for me it was the last straw. I had posted a story about a product that was being given to girls in sub-Saharan Africa to allow them to continue safely attending school during the bleeding days of their menstrual cycles. This charity was distributing silicone cups that could be used to collect the fluid for up to 12 hours and then be emptied and washed in private. Well, Ms. Lederhosen did not like that at all.

She hijacked the post by first saying that she would never want to use a product like that and that she was perfectly happy with her birth control pills. I explained that birth control pills were not an option in this region, and that it was a much safer alternative for the girls instead of their normal methods, which included stuffing their bodies with dirty rags, newspapers or mud. Ms. Lederhosen said she asked her boyfriend’s mom, and she agreed that she wouldn’t use a product like that either, and they were stupid for not using birth control pills. I explained that in this region, pills were not readily available or transported easily, and not everyone could or should be on hormones, and that the girls just really wanted to attend school and the cups were a viable option. Then Ms. Lederhosen posted a huge paragraph about how American women are stupid, fat and lazy, and she was able to lose weight by eating organic foods and exercising (which had nothing to do with what was being discussed).

I blocked her on Facebook. It’s no wonder she has few friends! Unfortunately, my phone at the time was not able to block calls or texts, so for two days she sent me all kinds of nasty messages about how she was prettier, smarter, more successful and thinner than me. Ms. Lederhosen told me how I was jealous of her relationship with her boyfriend, and how my college degree was the equivalent of elementary school in her home country. I sent back one message saying I was not interested in competing with her, and her messages just got nastier. She told me how she was a much better friend than me because she drove me to the ER that one time; of course, she conveniently forgot about all of the ways that I tried to help her when she needed it. Finally she stopped and went radio silent.

Two months later I got a card without a return address. I opened it to discover it was a note from Ms. Lederhosen, telling me she missed me as a friend and that we should be friends again. I didn’t have a return address for her and so couldn’t send anything back, and her info had been deleted from my phone long before that. A week later I got a text message from her saying that she didn’t hate me anymore and that we should be friends. I again told her that I did not want to compete with her, and that she said horrible things that made it difficult for me to want to be friends with her. Well, that just set her off again – 16 messages of vile, nasty words.

Around Thanksgiving of 2015, I received another text from her. Ms. Lederhosen said that she missed me and that I probably still had some bad feelings, but she was there for me if I needed her. The response that I didn’t send but really wanted to? No fucking way.

Pain in the Ask

Every time I watch this clip, I giggle. I hope you will too.

 

Today I had a little procedure in the surgical area of the University of Minnesota. Truly, it was little. But since 1/1/2016, I’ve been in a lot of pain because I developed a boil near my tailbone as a result of laying in bed for 8 months straight. Sure, I get up once in a while, but I’m in bed at least 22 hours of every 24 hours.

We thought it was the trucker’s cyst, but luckily it wasn’t – it would have taken a lot more cutting to pop that meatball out. First I met a PA who turned out to be very, very new (I’m thinking it was his first day or first week because he was asking where everything was for supplies). I didn’t joke with him because I realized how new he was and I didn’t want him to lose his place in asking me questions; a memorized script that one can skip around out of order comes with experience, and he obviously wasn’t at that point yet.

The general surgeon came in, and damn, he was cute. He took a look at my ass, and I made a joke about having to show my ass to everyone. Hey, I worked my way through St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix – may as well start on Minneapolis now. He asked me how I felt about them cutting and draining the problem area. Of course I agreed – I told him to exorcise the demon. Everyone stepped out of the room to enter notes in my chart.

The nurse came in with the PA and she and I chatted while they got all of the supplies ready. Then the PA had the task of shooting me up with Lidocaine. His hands were shaking like the dickens. I honestly don’t know if it was because he was making an effort to spread the juice while the needle was inserted, or if he was just scared shitless of shooting up my left cheek. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt; besides, whenever I get Novocaine in my mouth when I’m getting worked on by a dentist, they do this crazy thing where they flap my mouth around while doing the injection – maybe to avoid getting a big old bubble of juice and instead encouraging it to go into the surrounding area? I got about 8 shots.

They left again, and in about 15 minutes they returned to do the cutting. The doctor talked the PA through doing the incisions. When he said, “You’re going to need to go deeper,” I was just at the point of yelling. They had warned me that the acidity of the bacteria that was pooling in this spot would make the Lidocaine less effective, and they were right. The nurse told me I could swear. I told her that my inner truck driver was coming out and I was getting ready to recite every nasty term I could think of.

They packed the area and then covered it with a large patch. The doctor asked me where I lived and then told me it would be a good idea to return to his office every day and his nurse could repack the wound, at least for the next week. At some point they may even try to get me to pack it myself, but it’s in a spot I can’t exactly see, so that will be a challenge.

In the end, they only got about 5 ccs of fluid out. What??? That tiny bit of junk made me feel as if an ostrich egg had been laid under my skin.

This is going to be a problem for date #3 with Nashville. We were supposed to get together Monday for a day date after he finished his overnight shift, but instead, I have to get my ass packed. By Monday it will have been three weeks since we last saw each other and I don’t want to delay another week, but I don’t think I have a choice. Plus there’s going to be no monkey business while I’m dealing with this wound. I can’t get laid and it makes me want to kick some ask.

Face Forward

I have been listening to Pandora and catching up on correspondence, and this song by Hinder came on:

 

Lemme interrupt and say that the advertisement that ran for me immediately preceding this song was for cat food. If we think about placement algorithms, I personally would draw the conclusion that the advertisers assumed that the people most interested in this song/video would be single spinsters with 20 cats for company.

Here’s my beef with this song: The singer is talking about how he wants to fuck around with his ex. He wishes his current girlfriend was actually the ex he is talking to. His “girl is in the next room.” Some of my acquaintances have never paid attention to the entire song, just hearing the chorus, which goes:

“It’s really good to hear your voice saying my name, it sound so sweet
Coming from the lips of an angel
Hearing those  words, it makes me weak”

Sounds hot, right? I mean, who wouldn’t want to know you’re turning someone on just because you’re speaking to them?

Here’s a quote for you:

“Stop looking for happiness in the same place you lost it.”

I always told all of my friends to never go back. There was a reason for breaking up, and the reason didn’t change. In my 30’s, I did exactly what I was preaching not to do – I went back. I went back to Drummer #2 and ended up having to call the cops on him. I went back to Dumb and Angry and ended up having to call the cops on HIM too. I went back to Ping Pong, many times, and nothing ever changed. I am fully aware that a lot of the problem rests on my feelings of being unattractive and inadequate. My inner voice tells me that if they wanted me, then I must settle, because that’s as good as it gets. I am only worth men who control me, or threaten to kill me, or tell me they never want me to meet their parents or children, and I should just be happy that they want to stick their penises in me.

Of course this isn’t true, but that inner voice can be louder than anything else.

The other topic addressed in this song is cheating. Cheating takes a lot of effort. You have to keep track of your lies. You have to make sure you don’t see someone who knows your official significant other while you are out messing around. You have to constantly worry about being caught.

I went to a concert in Phoenix at the Musical Instrument Museum, and by pure chance, I caught someone cheating. I had been at his house a week or two prior to this concert and I met his very cute, very friendly girlfriend. He did not bring that girlfriend with him to this concert. Instead, he concerned himself with sneaking around ME, trying not to hold his date’s hand while I was turned in his direction. I played dumb. He made out with the other woman in a corner that they thought was hidden from my eyes. I saw everything.

Since I had only met him once, I didn’t feel like I knew enough about him and his personal life to call him out on his obvious side dish.

This song really gets under my skin and makes me see red. I want the singer to stop whining about what he has and wishing for something/someone else. Instead, just commit to something, whether it’s to respect and love his current girl fully, or to go back to his ex and and respect and love her fully. I see this all of the time, the indecision, the whining, the keeping the options open in case someone better comes along.

Here’s a better anthem:

Send Up The Bat Signal

From Thursday morning until today at around noon, I was so excited. I felt this enormous surge of energy, and I wanted to do everything – go to the movies, go on job interviews, retrieve my car from where it’s being stored and drive around, go on real dates, go to Costco and buy 30 rolls of toilet paper. I felt like my old self. For 108 hours, I felt capable. I was sitting and standing and walking just like everyone else. The vertigo was still present but I wasn’t running into furniture or doorways.

The weather has been unseasonably warm, so I went on a few walks around my neighborhood for the first time since moving here. The last one this morning was to walk a few blocks to Redbox to rent a few movies. And just like that, the drooping face appeared again. As I was approaching my door, my steps became slower and slower, and all the while I was chanting to myself in my head, “No, no, please no.” I often have to try to explain the sensations to doctors and nurses who haven’t seen me before, and this is the best I have come up with: It feels like a big slab of raw steak has been laid across my forehead and left eye. The weight of it and the paralysis makes it impossible for my eyelids to stay open, and if you look closely, you’ll see my left eyebrow twitching because the nerves are misfiring or losing their connection completely when I try to move it. Everything becomes very blurry and starts swimming in front of me, kind of like what movie directors do to try to portray fainting from the viewpoint of a character. I lose depth perception and peripheral vision. I also become immediately exhausted.

I had seen my sister before I went on my walk and we were discussing the mystery of the symptoms lifting. After I got back, I had to send her a text saying, “Fuck it. Sell the car. It’s back.”

Today we talked about how this has been a really tough year. We lost our oldest sister, and then just a few days later my friend died, and now our uncle is running out of options to treat his stage IV throat cancer. My sister has health issues herself, and though she has told me numerous times that she is happy to help and that she knows this has been difficult for me too, I am fully aware that I am a burden to her. I don’t want this to be my permanent reality.

Some of my friends have gotten involved with getting in touch with people in the TV industry to see if there are news stations or shows that would be willing to feature my story. (I told one person that if I got on “Ellen,” I don’t want a car or cash, I want a doctor.) An uncle’s girlfriend is a freelance writer and we have been in contact with countless publications; I have been turned down by all of them because they want a happy ending. I am still hoping that I can get some exposure and a fire will be lit under someone qualified and knowledgeable enough to deal with this shit.

Oh, and Mr. Friday Night is done. When he was here, he asked me over and over again if he could return on Saturday for some more nookie. Late Friday afternoon, he texted me things like, “Miss me yet?” and “I’ll be back, I really like you.” I never asked him for another session, so this isn’t me baiting him to push him to say that he wants to see me again. Late Saturday afternoon I texted him asking if he was still planning on coming over, and his response was “:))))).” That was his last communication. So I sent him a text this afternoon telling him that he shouldn’t beg to come over and then act like I died – he needs to be more up front and honest with the next woman (Bye, Felipe!). It’s depressing that he got any of my good hours. Fear not, though – I have been chatting with others on OKCupid and initiating them into my weird and wacky world. One guy is 14 years younger and a great conversationalist but he’s so young. I may use a cane, but I’m not comfortable with being a cougar.

As disappointing as today was, I am happy about one thing: a ghost from the past contacted me through Twitter. I’ll call him Socrates, as he is a deep-thinking man. Socrates found me just by chance when he was searching for a former client’s info, and when I saw that he was following me, I sent him a message. I have actually been trying to look him up for the past few months. Socrates and I met when he was going through an especially difficult time; his business had folded, he was nearly penniless, his family was spiteful and sucking his soul dry, and he didn’t have access to healthcare.

I enjoyed his company despite the turmoil that burdened him and seeped into our time together. Socrates is incredibly intelligent. I could actually hold conversations with him that did not center around sports or the weather. He is much more concerned with the human condition and continuously trying to improve himself and the world around him. But the one thing that broke my heart, as it always does, is hearing that I am fine to have sex with but that person isn’t going to get into a relationship with me. And Socrates gave me that speech. I can’t help but take that personally, no matter if I also realize that it’s not the right time or the right person for me. Some day I’d like for some man to tell me that all of my parts are wonderful, not just the sex parts.

So we entered into a true friends with benefits arrangement. I helped Socrates to pack up his apartment so he could move. I found a sliding fee scale clinic so that he could try to get the healthcare he so desperately needed and wanted, just so he would know that there were options. I also gave him blowjobs he rated as, “Ohmygodthatwasthebesteverthatwasaten.” Socrates was always open and vocal with me, never just saying what he thought I wanted to hear, because he values authenticity over flattery.

Our last contact (and correct me if I’m wrong, because I know you’re reading this, S.) was over email in 2007. Socrates was overwhelmed with every part of his life and not interested in communicating with anyone for the foreseeable future. I was left to wonder if he was okay and how he was surviving because the messages simply stopped.

That brings me to today, and our renewed connection. I am relieved to know that he is in fact okay, and that he has done some serious work on his soul to try to repair some of the damage and to release the parts that are past rescuing. Socrates is also married! He and his wife seem to be true partners and supportive of each other, which is the best anyone can hope for in a loving relationship. Socrates is now in a position to help me with spreading the word about this crazy disease, and I am gratefully accepting.