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.

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Missed Opportunities Brought To You By Creeptastic

This is another post from my MySpace days.

The Sick and the Dating:  The Weirdo in Mesa  4/17/07

Back in high school, I had a friend named Rachel who was a plus-sized girl that liked to wear trashy clothes.  She had bleach-fried hair, and wore those day-glo green colored contacts because she wanted her eyes to stand out.  One day we went down to a store on Hennepin Ave. (where all the hookers hang out, if you’re not familiar with Minneapolis) to visit a trashy outfit store, and a guy held the door open.  He said “There you go, Green Eyes” and she said “Oh, they’re not real” and he looked her up and down like she was his next meal and said “I bet the rest of you is”.  Thankfully, I didn’t get his attention – I certainly wasn’t going to pipe up that MY eyes were green naturally.  Sleazeball who hits on teenagers, get thee gone!

I’m telling you this story because I found these postings in the “Missed Opportunities” section of the free alternative paper, Phoenix New Times, and it reminded me of THAT GUY.  You know, the weirdo that you laugh with while he says something really disgusting and overt, and you’re planning your escape.  This is the same guy posting these ads.  They are all in Mesa, and he keeps imagining these hot encounters with random women.  Notice how his age changes.

Friday, March 9th – Circkle K main and greenfield mesa – 43 (Mesa)

you are a gorgeous gal driving a station wagon with 3 ribbons on the back! you buy Marlboro reds 100’s between 730 and 745 weekdays!! in am. You have gorgoeus auburn longer hair!! and great body!! I drive a white Ford ranger and parked next to you on this past thursday!! I get smokes too! could I get some fries to go with that SHAKE? hope you read this!! its an older wagon you drive! and you wear tight jeans!! hope you are there monday am! hit me back if you think your it

Location: Mesa
Poster’s age: 43

 

Thursday, March 22nd – circle K on lindsay and baseline Mon. 7 pm – 41 (Mesa)

you were driving a white blazer was at the pumps! you bought an 18 pak of Bud! and asked for a pack of THESES? I bought keystone lite! you have longer auburn hair and tight LEVIS!! that looked so goo around your hips!! no ring seen on your finger!! WOW!!!!

Location: Mesa
Poster’s age: 41

 

Thursday, April 5th – circle K at main and val-vista wed at 4;45 pm mesa – 38 (Mesa)

you were a gorgeous blonde coming in the store as I was leaving!! you held the door and I said thanks! you said anytime!! think u drive a red grand am! wow!! long legs and beautiful hair!!

Location: Mesa
Poster’s age: 38

 

Monday, April 9th – circle K on lindsay and baseline Mon. 7 pm – 38 (Mesa)

thanks for gettin back to me!! but your e-mail address does not work!! or the phone number!! please get bak to me

Location: Mesa
Poster’s age: 38

 

Monday, April 9th – circle k on main and val-vista last week 445 pm – 38 (Mesa)

hey get back to me!! you e-mailed me but yuor e-mila wont go thru!! nor the number you gave me! gorgoues blonde!! jengirl??

Location: Mesa
Poster’s age: 38

 

Sunday, April 15th – hot brunette at Macayos on fri nite in parkin lot – 38 (Mesa)

I was walkin out out with another couple and you were outside with a nother gal havin a smoke!! you said Where do I know you from!! you have a smokin body and great smile!! wished I would have stopped!

Location: Mesa
Poster’s age: 38

 

Okay, buddy, none of these chicks are writing back to you – at least not with legitimate phone numbers or e-mails – because they can smell a lunatic a mile away.  Are you stalking all of the Circle Ks in Mesa?  I knew there was a reason I didn’t like that city. Everything bad happens at Circle K. I remember that from my court reporting days.

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?

Super Blood Moon Drawing Blood

In 1993 to 1995, I worked at a regional hospital in the admissions area, and we always knew when it was a full moon. On any given day we would have one or two women during regular business hours coming in (not through the ER unless it was after hours) in full labor. When the full moon hit, the number always jumped up to about nine. If we ever forgot or wondered for a second, we checked the calendar and then it would click: oh yeah, the full moon. Every time. Don’t ever doubt that the moon has a big influence on happenings on Earth, and it’s not just tides and births.

I was at a social gathering this Tuesday the 30th of January. There were only six of us, but I only knew two others and three were strangers. One person came from her workplace and was wearing her work uniform and I was familiar with the clinic where she works – it’s quite large, and I used to have the majority of my doctors there. One of the young women sitting next to me piped up and said, “Oh, I used to work there, in ophthalmology!”

I immediately tensed up. “Do you mean you used to work with Dr. X?”

“Yes! I loved working with him, he was so laid back,” she said.

Now I’m no good when it comes to putting out a poker face. I also didn’t feel like playing Minnesota nice either. I said, “He made my life a living hell. He was the first doctor I saw there, and he said that my condition was psychogenic [meaning it is psychosomatic], and all of the doctors after that saw what he wrote so they wrote the same thing in my chart, and now no one will treat me. I actually have scans showing that my brain has collapsed and I’ve had a clogged shunt for almost three years.”

She nodded and said cheerfully, “Well, yeah, he actually writes that it’s psychosomatic or psychogenic in almost everyone’s file. But he’s nice to work for as a boss, he doesn’t get crabby often.”

When I say she was young, I mean early to mid-20’s. She wasn’t affected at all by me telling her that his notes basically ruined my life and chances for getting treated properly. I also haven’t had any money (including and especially disability) coming in for three years. I also wasn’t successful in filing a complaint with the Minnesota Board of Health – they said I didn’t have sufficient evidence. But now I’m wondering if I’m the only one who has complained about what he put in my chart because it was so obviously wrong, and I backed it up with 100+ pages of medical records.

This Dr. X is Harvard-educated, but you know, even Harvard has to have someone who is the shittiest out of the bunch. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s the one.

This is also why it’s important to stay diligent about your own care. I realize that anger makes people uncomfortable, but in my case, it’s legitimate. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I returned home from this gathering, I was taking my nighttime meds and catching up with my emails, and I saw one pop up in my inbox. I dreaded opening it. It was from a researcher I had written to a week ago to give her an update on my situation. I had met her in 2016 at the hydrocephalus conference that just happened to be in Minneapolis. I wasn’t sure that I could handle more disappointment, but after delaying it for a bit, I braced myself and checked her reply.

I had explained that I was diagnosed with mast cell activation syndrome, and that my Phoenix neurosurgeon had noted that my dura was extra tough when he started doing surgeries in my head rather than my back, so my theory was that my CSF couldn’t drain properly and that it was probably because of the mast cell degranulation. I already know the shunt failures are because of the mast cell action.

Her reply was very encouraging. She thought that I was absolutely on the right track, and she wants to work me into her research. A lot of it already revolves around inflammation; I consistently have astronomical platelet counts (that have already been checked via a bone marrow biopsy), but she hasn’t studied mast cells and I would be the perfect candidate since I had problems before the shunts and with the shunts.

I tend to be a pragmatic person, which sometimes leads to awkwardness in emotional situations. But I’m more than happy to sacrifice my body at the altar of science if it means that some knowledge is gained and others are helped. I’ve become a broken record in the online MCAS groups because I’ve talked about the CSF and shunt issues so many times, but every time I do, more people step forward and say that they have had some mysterious problems too, even if they are not exactly like mine. For a long time doctors have said that only fat, middle-aged women have pseudotumor cerebri/ideopathic intracranial hypertension, but I’m beginning to suspect that mast cell activation syndrome might be playing a bigger part than they realize because of how many people in the groups have stepped forward. 

So after this low low and this high high, the super blue blood moon arrived in the early morning hours Wednesday. The moon has ruled my Earth. I feel a little bit lighter now.

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.

That Time I Went Back To Arizona

About five months ago, I decided fuck it, I’m going back to Arizona to visit. I miss everyone and everything. A few weeks after that, I figured out what started this whole thing with my brain. (Yes, I mean figured it out, not the doctors.) I knew I’d have a place to stay with friends, and eating out was out of the question, so I’d just have to come up with a plane ticket. Done. It might be my last opportunity to travel depending on how much worse the scar tissue and the brain damage gets – literally no one fucking knows.

I have about 35-40 people that I would have liked to have seen, but I was only there for about 8 full days, so it was impossible. One night a bunch of people came over and we had a little potluck and hung out. The rest of the time everyone was gracious enough to drive to me, or I took the short bus to see them.

It was my first time traveling without being able to drive, either at home or my destination. First of all, nothing can happen on a whim. It took me about 2.5 weeks to assemble all of my medications and a vog mask, and that included negotiating with the insurance company to get an override on 8 of my medications that would have needed refills while I was gone but couldn’t get in Arizona – they can only be done in Minnesota, because I’m on medical assistance. I also had to make a trip to a compounding pharmacy.

Then the day before I left, a medication I had been trying to get for about 7 weeks was finally approved, so I had to go and get that – but it was such a high volume that there was no way I was going to be able to fit it in my luggage, so I decided to start it after my return. Every time I have to go somewhere, I have to request a ride from Metro Mobility – but I’m only allowed to call one to four days ahead of time. I can’t call on the same day. So I was on a dead run (or as much as I could have been for someone who is half blind) up to the day I left.

It was so worth it, though. Arizona was all blue skies. As I’m writing this, we’re getting rain in Minnesota.

Hopefully my friends know I love them, but I forgot to take pictures of them. Apparently I shoved them aside and made a beeline straight for their animals, which I am deathly allergic to. I did a little planning for that too. One of my doctor visits beforehand was to get my regular and steroid inhalers refilled so I could start on those prior to my visit. I also packed extra diphenhydramine and Claritin (above the 12x daily dose I already take) in anticipation of the fur balls, and every time I came home from a house with pets I changed clothes and put the contaminated clothes into a plastic bag and did a big scrub down.

First were the rescued baby kittens, all black except for a few white spots on some bellies. My friend was just grabbing and distributing them around the bunch of us, and I just happened to get my soul mate – a little one who has neurological problems. It just wanted to get as close to me as possible so it curled up tight against my neck and slept. Once in a while I felt it have tremors and twitches that were not at all normal. I was laying back so the fluid wasn’t trapped in my cranium, and I swear, it was heaven. I wanted to stay there forever. At one point the kitten woke up and started putting its little paws right on my mouth. (I’m in the blue.) I did get hives, but they may not have been as bad as they could have been because apparently the night before the kittens pooped all over each other and so they had to have an impromptu bath, which they loudly protested.

Back at my host family’s house, a large lizard showed up on their property wall. Usually they do not get this big!
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I was lucky enough to be able to spend two afternoons with my friend and his wife. He was instrumental in getting me to be active on Twitter after reading my blogs, which has led to guest spots on other blogs, podcasts, and our Blab series (now deceased because they couldn’t figure out how to make money off of the platform). These two are quite funny; the male, bright orange, is loud and LOVES women. The female, green, is a lot more quiet but likes to ring her bell ball to communicate. The male will say both of their names together and then swivel his body from side to side when he is showing off or pleased.
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Next were my good friends including a couple and their live-in mom. They were usually the first ones I would call when I needed a kitty fix while I lived in Arizona – they had three kitties I knew well. Within the past year and a half they ended up adding another cat and dog under pretty terrible circumstances. Their friends relocated from another state; my friends didn’t realize there was drug addiction and abuse happening. The kids have since been placed in foster care, and the animals were traumatized. Actually, the really big, long, grey kitty seems mostly okay, but the dog has suffered terribly.

When I came to visit, I was told to expect him to pace and whimper. I was also told that I shouldn’t expect him to eat, or approach me, because anyone else who has visited hasn’t had any success even though they were animal lovers too. So this poor, beautiful dog did start pacing. I made sure that I moved slowly, and told him that he was a good boy whenever he paused to look at me. Then I put two treats on the back of the sofa and turned away from them, and eventually he worked up the nerve to get close enough to take the treats. Then he paced close enough to smell my hands while I wasn’t looking, and then quickly paced away again. While this was going on, he was carefully watching how I was interacting with each cat, making sure I wasn’t mean. A couple of times I closed my eyes. I suspect my friends thought I was tired, but I was actually sending him messages of love.

We sat down to dinner, and I couldn’t eat part of mine because of an allergy, so I put it down on a plate for the dog. Another win! And he came over multiple times to sniff my fingers. I made sure again to not be aggressive. I told him over and over he was good.

I stayed long enough to go on his last walk of the evening, which he loves. He wasn’t even confused about there being a strange lady with him on the walk until one point where he crossed over to me and then suddenly was like, “Holy shit, who is this???” and then quickly walked on the other side of the sidewalk.

At the end of the night I was saying goodnight to everyone (read: handing out the last pets to the pets), and the dog was near when I was petting the pretty calico. He was again watching very intently to see if I was being mean. So I carefully got down on all fours and made myself small, put a treat in my hand, and put my head down, and HE ATE OUT OF MY HAND. Everyone was stunned and thrilled.

My friends ran me back to where I was staying, and let me know that when they returned home, all of their animals were lined up at the door, as if they were waiting for me to return. They had never seen that happen before.

The last evening before I flew home, I was able to visit with a former co-worker whom I had the longest work history with – something like 8 years together on our team. I also remember when she had her kiddos – vividly! Our conversation went something like:
Her: “I feel like something isn’t right.”
Me: “You’re in labor. Go have your baby.”
Her: “I’m not really sure. I’m going to wait a little longer.”
Me: “I don’t think you should wait. I think you should go.”
45 minutes later: Baby.

They have two cats and a dog. I failed to catch a photo of the dog, but she was a sweetie. The white cat, Gracie, is quite elderly now, and doesn’t put up with anyone’s shit, including the dog’s. The kissy photo was taken right before Gracie got pissy about the dog bothering her. Seamus is a year-old instigator of trouble and very handsome.

Obviously the mast cell disease is preventing me from being a crazy cat/dog/bird lady, so I suppose I should be thankful.

Anyway, it was really difficult to come back to Minnesota. The night I flew home, my friend’s little boy called me and told me to come back. Sheesh, kid – right in the feels.

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