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.

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Did I Ask You?

One of my fellow rare disease/chronic illness warriors/sufferers posted a thread on Twitter tonight. She’s quite well known because her condition is very unusual and obvious, but she doesn’t shy away from the camera or public speaking engagements. Her post tonight detailed an eye doctor visit that was made all the more difficult because 1) The eye doctor googled her condition rather than talking to her directly about it – and she is a much more knowledgeable source than Google; 2) The eye doctor left the light shining in her retina while he took a personal call, after finding out that she is extremely light sensitive because of her condition. 

Her post had to do with the appalling way that she was treated. As each of us who have chronic and rare diseases either have done or would like to do, she had some choice words for the doctors following her as pointers on how NOT to treat rare disease patients. At no point did she ever say, “Gosh, I have no idea what to do. I don’t know who to talk to about this or how to go through the proper channels [in Australia] to file a complaint.” There wouldn’t be any reason for her to do that. She’s lived with this condition all of her life and she is actually a very vocal and active advocate.

But of course, there’s some asshole who decided to announce that she should file a complaint. 

No. Shit. Since the original poster wrapped up the thread by saying that she confronted the doctor and quite forcefully said that the rare disease patient is the best source, and a light sensitive patient shouldn’t be left in front of the light scope while a personal call is taken, and she would be following up with the office, and she just looked forward to trying to relax after being in a lot of pain, I responded. I said, “It’s okay – she knows how to handle bad appointments. She’s had this condition her whole life. She’s an advocate and speaks out often.” In other words, go fuck yourself.

Also recently, a young woman ended up in respiratory failure and was in a medically induced coma and on a respirator. She lost days of her life. When I say young, I mean young. Her significant other has been updating us and has been an absolute rock, but they are both scared and worried and facing big changes. Wouldn’t you know it, in the middle of the updates, I see something about, “Can you guys not offer advice, please?” She’s also a rare disease patient with some of the same stuff I have, but some is different, and I know some asshole is telling her that she needs to do yoga or chew on bark and vitamins from the Himalayas or something. So to whomever is sending her unsolicited advice, fuck you too.

Why does this get me so worked up? I was always a sick kid who grew up to be a sick adult. I became really sick in 2010 and it has been a mystery that has been mine alone to solve; no one has traveled with me to see 65 doctors, or see me through all 10 surgeries. There have been a few people who have helped to fill in some gaps, but they have been sparse. I know what I’m doing. I am educating doctors and nurses and physical therapists as I go along. I teach people how to maneuver through insurance. I help people search for doctors – even when there’s a few thousand miles between us.

I have never said I don’t know what to do, I don’t know who to call, I don’t know where to look, I don’t know where to go, I don’t know what to eat, I don’t know what to take, I don’t know what I like, I don’t know what’s best for me. And though I am currently well below my natural quota of 8 doctors, I know how to care for myself.

The next person who says, “Oh, it must be the acidity” after I tell them I can’t eat pineapple because I’m allergic to it, I’m going to throat punch them. Fuck them too. And fuck anyone who gives me unsolicited advice. I’m so over it and you have been warned. This video is much nicer about it, of course.

To Put Into Words

Six days post-election here in the U.S., and it feels like every day is different.

The night of the election I stayed awake until about 11 pm until it was clear that Trump was going to win the electoral votes. I refused to watch TV; I couldn’t bear to listen to voices yelling in disbelief, but rather I listened to my own favorite music and instead refreshed Google and saw everything roll in real time.

On Wednesday morning I woke up with my alarm clock – or rather, I woke up with alarm, saying to myself, “Fuck, Trump is president.” I went through the motions of getting ready for an appointment; as luck would have it, my regularly scheduled counseling appointment just happened to be that morning. Above and beyond my normal anxiety and depression and PTSD, I cried for all of the kids that morning who my friend as a teacher said were scared in her classroom about being targeted by racism and ignorance because of their immigrant status and religious beliefs.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was shocked by a call I received out of the blue. Back in August I wrote a letter to the POTUS regarding the sluggish process of applying for disability and antiquated means of qualifying, when people like me are clearly disabled but can’t qualify because science hasn’t caught up to our diseases. This woman was a staff member of the Obama administration and she had the unfortunate task to call me the day after the shitty election to talk to me about my letter to make sure my immediate needs were being met. I assured her that my hospital bed finally came through (it should be here in a few hours this morning) after trying to get it since January. Then we talked about how my current governor chose to expand medical assistance (“Medicaid”) to everyone at or under a certain income level (which comes out to be around 120% of the poverty level, or $1313/month for a single person without children in my case). In two years when my governor’s term is up and he has indicated that he will not be seeking another term, our new governor has the option of continuing this, or only allowing people with children and/or only allowing people who are federally recognized as disabled (which I cannot get) to continue receiving medical assistance.

So to be clear, I could lose my last line of access to healthcare. I confirmed that with her because I just needed to say it. We both cried on the phone together.

She gave me her phone number and told me to call her in case I had any follow-up questions for her. I will call her this week to see if she has any connections at the NIH to see if I can get anyone to reconsider my case, but I think that’s all that I can ask of her.

There are so many things rolling around about Trump already. I’m not sure I can remember all of them and they change hourly, so please excuse my imperfect recall. First, there are rumors flying about his desire to only spend part of his time in the White House in D.C., and part of his time in his place in Manhattan. It can be argued that not all presidents lived at the White House 100% of the time, but that was probably before there was electricity and running water and the Secret Service and, you know, technology. It’s not like his Manhattan penthouse has a bunker in case he starts a nuclear war by being a complete asshole – and let’s get real, it’s not such a far-fetched expectation.

I’m not sure what to think about him actually making it to the swearing in ceremony. Is he truly going to trial for rape and false imprisonment of girls under the age of 18? Are those cases going to suddenly disappear just because some judge is going to feel sorry for a guy who has been elected, just like judges feel sorry for star athletes?

And Jesus H., why isn’t anyone bothered by how many times he has filed bankruptcy? When I worked for Bank of America, we had to pass strict financial checks, and I just worked in the tech area. We couldn’t be hired on if we had bad credit including bankruptcies or foreclosures or judgments. Also, during my years as an escrow assistant, I was especially skeeved out when I had to work with mortgage brokers who had no scruples about giving financial advice to customers when I knew that the brokers themselves were on their own fourth or fifth bankruptcy filing (they told me how they played the Ch. 13 system before the laws were made more strict).

After his first visit with Obama, he walked out telling everyone that he wasn’t going to reverse everything about the Affordable Care Act, specifically the bits about the pre-existing conditions. That means that he has already reversed one thing he promised the ignorant, writhing masses who were convinced that “Obamacare” was responsible for their rising premiums – not the greed of the insurance companies trying to make a profit off of our bodies at the widest margins possible.

So if Trump doesn’t get sworn in, does that mean we’re stuck with Pence? I’m screwed with him too, since I no longer have my uterus, and he thinks that’s all that I’m good for – bearing babies and overpopulating the earth. That’s all he’s concerned about. Read “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood for reference.

On Thursday I had my very first psych evaluation test, ordered by a neurologist I met on Monday. It took about six hours to go through everything and I was mentally exhausted. It’s one thing to explain to doctors that I lose my words when I’m speaking and writing (you can’t see it, but sometimes it takes me 7-8 tries to write words that used to come easily to me), so this test was supposed to help pinpoint my deficiencies. From what I could tell I had pretty good picture and spatial cognition, but when it came to actual word gymnastics, I had a really hard time. One really painful portion of the testing was coming up with words that began with a particular letter. I think we did four or five letters total, but I only remember two letters – “A” and “S”. With the letter “S” I came up with about 10-12 words in 60 seconds that had multiple syllables, and with the letter “A” I came up with about 5 words and they were 1 to 2 syllables at most. It felt like the bottom of my mind had dropped out. This is actually what happens now on a regular basis and is one of the reasons that before every phone call I make I get a fair amount of anxiety, even if it’s just to make an appointment.

So after I went through all of that (I won’t get results for at least a few weeks), I got my usual cab ride/medical transport. I’ve been taking pictures of the cabbies and asking them questions and posting everything on Instagram. I asked this particular driver what he thought about the election because he was an immigrant and had only been living here in the U.S. for five years. He said he supported Trump because “Obama hadn’t done everything he promised to since he was elected.” I was absolutely floored. This guy was everything Trump (and all of Trump’s supporters) hated. I feel like his safety is at risk and I don’t want him to find out the hard way. I feel like all of us are at risk.

All of us, that is, unless you are a white guy between the age of 18-70 and you’re telling everyone else that they have to adapt to Trump/Pence and that you’ll be “fine” having your rights and/or access to basics taken away from you. Because, you know, ‘Murica.

The Good Doctor

The colder weather is creeping in, and the vines that have clung to the outside of my building and my window in particular have changed to a bright red, signaling shorter daylight hours. The school of thought used to be that the cold stopped the leaves from keeping their green; instead, now we know that it’s the actual length of daylight hours that makes the leaves change from green to gold and red and burgundy.
2016-10-18-14-14-03Now that we are staying inside more, bacteria are just rolling around and proliferating like little Tasmanian devils. The little jerks caught up with me. First I caught the flu, and after five days of that it turned into a double ear infection (the nurse practitioner said both ears were severely affected but neither had perforated, luckily). Three days later I developed bronchitis…because why not?

In the middle of that mess while I was running a fever, I kept my appointment with my GI doctor because he’s very much booked ahead of time and it would take me months to get another appointment. I desperately need my medication for acid reflux because missing it for even a few hours is agony, plus I needed to discuss my new MCAS diagnosis with him so he would understand the importance of keeping me on the medications. He mentioned at my last appointment in February that he wanted to wean me off of the medications because he didn’t want me to develop long-term usage side effects like osteoporosis. Now it looks like I’m just going to have to live with it and be the old lady hunched over the shopping cart.

I had forgotten between February and now how much I like Dr. Chaudhary. I’m even going to use his real name because that’s how much I like him – no need to hide him behind behind a stage name. He is one of the few doctors who has not sent me away and he is not intimidated by the complexity of my body.

Dr. Chaudhary knows my primary care doctor, and so we chatted about her for a moment. Then we talked about my new diagnosis, and I thought ahead of time to bring the paper copy of Dr. Afrin’s notes. I knew Dr. Chaudhary would have access to Dr. Afrin’s notes in the system even though they belong to two different practices, but because Dr. Afrin’s notes are INSANE – and they are – I thought it would be better to bring the paper so he could flip instead of scroll.

Dr. Chaudhary paused and looked at me and said, “Can I be honest with you? I want to be honest with you.” I told him yes, that would be fine. He said, “I don’t think that Dr. Afrin can help you with the problem with the CSF, sweetie.” I immediately started to get teary-eyed, but told him that that was what I was thinking too, it’s just a very emotional conclusion for me, and he said he understood. (Even as I’m writing this, I am crying.) Dr. Chaudhary said that Dr. Afrin will probably get a lot of the other stuff under control if we can get the right combination of medicine going. I obviously know the drill.

Dr. Chaudhary then asked me who my neurosurgeon was. I had to explain to him how I had tried to go through every healthcare system in Minneapolis/St. Paul, as well as the Mayo, as well as petition to be sent to Johns Hopkins and to the Cleveland Clinic, but was turned down every time (the doctor handed me a tissue). I also told him about the three doctors at the U of M who misdiagnosed me and how it affected my request with the NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Network turning me down, and how my primary care doctor didn’t advocate for me. He seemed especially troubled by the last bit because she was his former student and co-worker but he didn’t ask any further questions on that matter. I asked Dr. Chaudhary if he had any connections, but he said that the one person he would send me to went back to India about five years ago, so that was no longer an option.

This whole exchange about my ongoing neurological mystery took about 7 minutes. What makes him a good doctor – hell, a GREAT doctor – is that neurology is NOT his area. Dr. Chaudhary still talked to me as if I knew what I was talking about, and he certainly didn’t offer up lame diagnoses like myasthenia gravis which has nothing to do with me (ahem, University of Minnesota Neurosurgery and Neurologists!). A friend asked what made him a good doctor. To me, a good doctor isn’t one that is just empathetic or sympathetic, because quite frankly, I get that all day long. Dr. Chaudhary is invested. All I can say to that is you know it when you see it.

I got my scripts refilled. As he was leaving, Dr. Chaudhary said, “I will always remember you. You are my patient who is the opposite of the doll – you stand up and your eyes close, and you lay down and your eyes open! Take care, my dear. Do not give up. I know it is hard, but do not give up.

I wish all of my doctors could be like him.

Medical Sexism and Trump Grabbing My Girl Parts

I pride myself on being a college-educated woman. The education came at a steep price. The student loans will likely haunt me long past my death; I only finished two years ago, and I was even handing in projects while I was in the ICU recovering from my many surgeries.

My education is not strictly located in books, though. I have traveled through 36 states and 7 countries in 20 years, and moved across the U.S. 4 times. As my friend pointed out on Friday night, I seem to be able to talk to people wherever I go (I didn’t realize anyone noticed!). Sometimes I hang back and observe, and there is a lot to be learned by listening and watching body language.

I have never liked Donald Trump. I was never attracted to his slicked-back hair and definitely would not have recognized him if I stumbled across him in the 1980’s or ’90’s when his star was rising, and I couldn’t stomach his show for even one hour when “The Apprentice” started airing. I didn’t understand the appeal of him being put in front of a camera for being extra nasty. I never bought into the idea that it was being played up for entertainment; I actually thought that he was even worse than what we were seeing.

Now here we are and somehow he has slipped past all of the 14 other candidates for president and it’s the last few weeks before the big election. Here in Minnesota we’re allowed to vote early by absentee ballot, so rather than join the crush on voting day, I made arrangements to go to the county office at a time I knew it would be much quieter. It took me about a half hour to fill in all of the boxes manually for all of the different options. We had state representatives and judges that needed votes as well as the president and vice president. Luckily Minnesota is still using paper ballots – so many states tried to go electronic and the glitches resulted in votes disappearing forever, and Republicans winning votes where they might not have.

In case you haven’t guessed yet, I didn’t vote for Trump. I happen to be a few things he hates: a disabled, fat, bald woman who will never compete in beauty pageants or for his attention. But here’s a more comprehensive list of why having him as president would pretty much guarantee that 99% of us would be dead by February 2017 (or there would be a coup, but that would require people getting off of their asses and abandoning their cats).

I attended a school in a very rural area of Minnesota for five grade levels before I moved back to Minneapolis to finish school. Some of those classmates are now friends with me on Facebook – or at least “friends” as Facebook defines us. But we have led very different lives. As much as I have ventured out on my own since the age of 16, the majority of them have stayed very close to home, married very young (some even fellow classmates), had children, and some have already started working on grandchildren, even though our age range is only 41-43. Collectively and in general, they are afraid of anyone who isn’t white and Catholic; Lutheran is marginally okay, even though those fuckers don’t kneel. You’re fucked if you’re Jewish in that area. There’s been a mighty wave of Muslim Somalians of course, and the white folks are scared shitless. Trump seems like a white-orange god because he makes them feel secure – walls! Muslim registry! Deny entry to any more Muslims! All Mexicans are bad (except for tacos)! Um…money! (Shhhh, don’t say anything about the fucking bankruptcies. He was smart for dodging taxes, you’re just jealous because you’re not as smart as he is.) And the creme de la creme: GRAB WOMEN BY THE PUSSY! He sure tells it like it is!

Well, let me tell it like it is.

First, let me drop in a little truth bomb. I had my genes analyzed through 23 & Me just to get the raw data because of all of this rare disease business and to see if they could pick up anything identifiable, and something that came up on my mitochondrial DNA (mom’s DNA) is that I’m Yemeni Jewish. That’s right, fuckers, I’m Jewish. Yemeni Jews happen to be the oldest lineage of Jews, desert dwellers who often converted to Catholicism in order to avoid being put to death, which is likely what happened with our family somewhere along the line – we’ve got bishops and nuns. Jews who converted to Catholicism became self-haters publicly to save their lives. I’m a survivor.

Second, I feel like we are moving backwards in time. Trump is just a very obvious sign of it. Here we are in 2016 and a swimmer gets 3 months in jail for raping an unconscious woman in a back alley because a judge feels sorry for his potential swimming career; young men are deciding that as a reaction to women trying to get equal rights and pay to men, there needs to be a movement called “menenism” where their “grievances” need to be aired (and though it was started as satire, I’ve been personally targeted numerous times on Twitter by guys with the “menenist” agenda – mostly ending with “shut up bitch what have you done nothing,” so of course I’m mentally correcting the punctuation); and now females aren’t going into medicine in equal numbers to men.

When I was debating the Trump vs. Hillary vote with these former classmates and they were telling me why they thought Trump was still “better”, and here was the list that one of the debaters came up with:
Instead, I suggest folks vote based on simple, concrete (non-emotional) things like
1. Who will keep us safer?
2. Who will keep the government out of my health and education choices?
3. Who is LESS LIKELY to be swayed by bureaucracy?
3.5. Who is least likely to fu*k up our economy further?
4. Who hasn’t been linked to several national security leaks?
5. Who hasn’t been linked to voter fraud?
6. Who hasn’t been linked to multiple nefarious deaths to those opposed to or threatening to them?
7. Who HAS BEEN?

This was my response:
Okay, I’ve gotta jump in on this, because I’m a little worried about just where the “facts” are coming from. First of all, we have a pretty solid idea of how Trump is going to treat certain issues.
1. Trump is going to be just as challenged with geography and world events as Palin is.
2. Trump needs to stay away from my vagina and needs a thesaurus because he only knows the word “tremendous” – so do you really think he needs to be in charge of determining how education is either built up or broken down?
3. Trump is easily swayed by anatomy, money, perceived power, hair spray and dementia (his own). 3.5. Are you guys really okay with the number of times he has declared bankruptcy and denied payment to all of his contractors, big and small?
4. He leaks what’s going on through his brain (i.e.: “I don’t pay taxes because I’m ‘smart'”) – pretty sure he shouldn’t be trusted with nuclear bomb codes.
5. He doesn’t have a voter fraud record because he has never had an office that he has been voted into; he has bought all of his offices. And then filed bankruptcy. Multiple times.
6. Multiple nefarious deaths….well, that comes with the territory of being American, doesn’t it? We’re all bullies. We don’t take time to listen or understand or practice any diplomacy.
7. Silly question that is more like a bumper sticker and carries no meaning.

Then one person asked how I felt about “all” of our health care providers supporting Trump?

I’m going to let the “all” slide because I don’t think that’s the case, but I am personally struggling with getting adequate care, and I truly think it’s because we have a boys’ club that is going strong still. Right now the breakdown is about 70% male and 30% female doctors, and I really do feel like my female primary care doctor isn’t confident she can stand up to the male specialists who misdiagnose me. Because she can’t, it really, really fucks me over. It fucks over my case with the undiagnosed diseases with the NIH, and it fucks over my case with disability.

I’ve been struggling with the right way to put this into words, and it’s a little more complicated. I have a deep mistrust for doctors at this point in my life. I expect them to let me down. Last week when I had my appointment to follow up on the testing for the mast cell disease, I barely slept three hours the night before and fully expected to be sent away, just like hundreds of other times. So right now, if I even have the slightest hint that someone worships Trump and his hatred for women besides as sexual vessels, I instantly get anxiety. I can’t trust that doctor to write objective notes in my file and I can’t trust that doctor in my personal space. This is not unfounded.

But the truth is that most doctors won’t talk politics freely. I just have to trust my instincts and  read the doctor’s body language and figure out if he’s an asshole the old-fashioned way.

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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