Gender Bias: It’s Not Just for Work

Everyone is going crazy for this article that was published about a man and his subordinate who swapped names as an experiment to show gender bias in the workplace. Really, it’s not so much an article as it is a series of tweets, but you get the full picture. And REALLY really, if you’re a woman and you’ve worked outside of the home or if you’re a woman and you’ve been outside of your front door, you know how this went.

We Swapped Names and I Was So Surprised (Said Every Male)

But if you know anything about my blog or about me, I write about my experiences as a woman in the American healthcare system. Now I’m a really concerned woman as I watch a very out-of-touch bunch of Republican-led lawmakers work on dismantling the social safety nets that will help keep me housed and fed as a disabled adult with no chance of working (at least, not now, for as long as I’m allergic to the shunts they keep putting in me).

A huge barrier to my care is the fact that I’ve seen 57 doctors in 6.5 years, and a good number of them have told me to go away and not come back. My disease and symptoms scare them. They can’t diagnose me. I can tell them exactly what’s happening with my body, but they don’t believe me – they tell me it’s not possible, even when I demonstrate it and they see it with their own eyes.

I was told by someone close to me – a man – that I probably wasn’t doing something right. I wasn’t advocating enough. I wasn’t demanding enough. I wasn’t yelling enough. I wasn’t stoic enough. I was probably too emotional, or not enough, or not the right combo. I was just the wrong kind of patient and it was hurting my case.

By the time you get to 57 doctors in 6.5 years, you learn a lot of tactics: cajoling, crying, stoicism, joking, demanding, taking binders of info (so they can’t claim that they don’t have enough of your info at hand to continue).

My conclusion is that I just don’t have a penis. I wouldn’t be doubted. I wouldn’t be treated as if I’m being over-dramatic or like I can’t handle four-syllable words.

I always invite someone who has told me that I’m not doing enough to come with me. Of course that person suddenly becomes too busy to join me…but not too busy to dispense advice from his armchair.

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My Aching Back/Arm/Knee/Foot/You Name It

What are the two most common symptoms of chronic illnesses that we hear over and over, without fail? Fatigue and pain. This post is all about pain. That is why I was excited to receive this product to review, because in all of my adult years (24+ now), pain has been my constant companion. Just to be clear, I have been given this product through the Chronic Illness Bloggers Network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company Mo-Haganys’ Dream Cream Products.

One friend, Nikki over at As I Live & Breathe (https://ilivebreathe.com/about-me/), got her products before I did, and excitedly told me, “Chels, just wait! Just wait! I did not have to take my painkillers tonight!” Now that is a huge endorsement, because like me, Nikki has some major stuff going down in her body that is the stuff of horror films (I will let her tell it).

What is this stuff anyway? Well, it’s some crazy concoction that seems so simple that it should be obvious and available everywhere and after you read this, you should be wanting to bathe in it. Unfortunately, your cynical side might still win out and you will proceed with caution. You will wait a few more weeks to buy a bottle with a homemade label because, hey, what does this woman know that big pharmaceutical companies don’t? But if you’re smart, you’ll give this serious consideration, because I’ve been a doubter myself many times too, and I treat Consumer Reports as a shopper’s bible, and when you find gems, you buy them up like they’re going out of style.

The woman who owns this company, Keri, formulated these products after contracting bacterial meningitis and developing debilitating pain and being placed on, in her words, “ridiculous” pain meds with horrible side effects (something that I myself know well). She began researching apothecary and Chinese herbology, and discovered a way to ferment cayenne pepper to make a capsaicin paste that does not “burn” the skin. She then worked on using different ingredients for blending and aromatherapy to compliment the paste’s action to “deaden” or “muffle” the nerve action. It depends on the person and the severity, but the pain relief can last 6-12 hours.

I was looking forward to this particular product challenge because my body is really giving me hell right now. Besides the ever-present abdominal pain from the rejection of the shunt materials, I am pretty sure the tendons at my left shoulder are frayed. I’ve been in physical therapy for three months and though my strength has improved, the pain has actually become worse; my doctor has ordered six more weeks of PT and an MRI at the end, but is reluctant to perform surgery because of my proclivity to immediately build up copious scar tissue and possibly undo everything the surgeon would do for benefit. This month was also the Hydrocephalus Association conference and so I was in incredible pain from sitting, walking and standing for four days, my feet and hips taking the brunt of the beating.
2016-06-28 16.09.06

Immediately after receiving this package, I tore it open and slathered the lotion, Mo’s Dream Cream, on my shoulder. I could not wait. The lotion has a thin consistency and I would caution everyone to use common sense like they would around light-colored fabrics and tomato food products: make sure it is well-absorbed before contact is made, or there might be color transfer that is irreversible. Also, another caution mentioned more than a few times: do not apply to broken skin. Here’s a small sample so you can see for yourself:2016-06-28 16.09.32.jpg
These products have a very specific scent, though I struggle a bit to describe it. You will recognize the spiciness of the capsaicin, because it’s the stuff that flavors our Mexican/Thai/Vietnamese/Korean food and haunts us later. But the essential oils include orange, tangerine, clove and wintergreen, so you will have hints of hot chocolate and sledding parties wrapped up in your burrito dreams.

The left shoulder pain is preventing me from sleeping comfortably. I also cannot get dressed easily, pick up items at waist level, overhead or floor level, or reach over to rub my boyfriend’s shoulder in a display of affection. Even doing simple things like buckling my seat belt as a passenger are turning into ordeals, and I have cracked three teeth on my left side because of the pain. So for me, because there’s structural damage, it’s not an easy fix; the pain can spike up to a good old fashioned 10. However, the lotion can bring it down to about a 5 in a matter of minutes, and keep it there for about 4-5 hours.

My abdominal pain is a little trickier. I’m allergic to the parts of the shunt that are housed in my abdomen and the pain is at exactly the place between the front of my abdomen and the middle of my back, so it’s in the middle of my middle. Again, the pain can spike up to a 10, and applying the lotion can get it to calm down to about a 7, but it’s just in a tough spot. Until I can figure out how to get a dose to middle earth, I am not convinced it’s going to get better than that.

After the first day of the conference, the pinched nerves in my hips were severely limiting my gait. My feet felt as if I had walked over hot coals. I could barely move, and I nearly cried at the thought of having to get up and do it all over again for three more days in a row, early to boot. I decided to wash my feet and then try to the stick form of the pain relief:
2016-06-28 16.10.13
Even though the capsaicin paste is the same, the scent and emollients are slightly different. 2016-06-28 16.53.09 The next morning, when I had to go back for day two of the conference, I felt as if day one had been erased by the pain stick. That is HUGE.

Overall, I felt like the lotion did a quick job of penetrating to the pain and providing the relief, but I certainly appreciated the convenience of the “No Mo Pain Stick” too – so much easier to carry that in a purse than the bottle of lotion, which now has a permanent spot on my nightstand.

Now I’m mentally debating making an appointment to see my pain doctor just to push these goodies on him. He’s a younger guy and I know he has chronic back pain. I want him to try it. I mean, what could he lose? He could just put some on a spot on his back and then slap a pad over the top of it if he’s trying to maintain a scent-free office because of sensitivities…

The skeptic in me also wanted to make sure I wasn’t under undue influence of the placebo effect, so I sent this with my sister for a few days, because she has RA. She was afraid that her boys would be put off by the scent but her co-worker dug into it, and she felt as if it helped her with pain (though I didn’t get to discuss it at length before I grabbed it back because my shoulder was singing like the hounds of Hell).

Here is a snapshot of the information that Keri sent with her products that you may find useful:

2016-06-28 16.10.42

Since I can’t transport a bottle directly through my screen to you, you still have to go and get a bottle the old-fashioned way through the internet, but I’m thinking you won’t be disappointed. And hey – Keri is even offering everyone a discount who has enjoyed my review by using the code CHELSEA4U (which I was not expecting, but thought extra helpful if you are on a budget): https://squareup.com/store/modreamcream.

Now You See Me

About a month ago, my fellow blogger Nikki (As I Live and Breathe,¬†http://ilivebreathe.com/blab-archive/) and I started hosting sessions on Blab to talk about topics that concern us as patients with rare diseases and chronic diseases. We’ve had a lot of fun and have learned along the way what has worked and what hasn’t. Nikki also keeps seats on lockdown so we don’t have bullies show up on camera (though we can’t control trolls that come in and leave after they have said nasty, vile things). It’s pretty easy technology once you get the hang of it. I hope that you will consider joining us for our #SickadillyChat every Friday around 4 pm EST/1 pm PST (times sometimes change by an hour or two earlier if we have something that is going on – you can always subscribe to Nikki on Blab so you have the link for the show). If you are otherwise occupied, Nikki keeps a working list of our chats as they are recorded.

“Sickadilly,” according to the Urban Dictionary, means 1. To be fresh or poppin, or 2. To look beat. I mean, c’mon, we’re a little bit of both, aren’t we?

I consider us lucky to have the help of a few physician friends that Nikki has gotten to know well from her years of advocacy and education. Their enthusiasm and openness helps to keep us on the right track.

If you have ideas or topics you would like to cover, feel free to leave comments for Nikki or I. We also may approach people to join us, if they are able. We already have a running list of topics that we hope everyone will find interesting.

Here’s the latest one regarding apps and devices used to assist with your healthy living and healthcare from home, from February 26, 2016:
https://blab.im/nikkiseefeldt-sickadilly-chat-4-let-s-talk-about-tech-baby-ci-disab-rare-dis

Digging for Gold

This morning, when I retrieved my mail while I was waiting for my sister and her husband to arrive, I received a notice from the Social Security Administration regarding my disability appeal. They said:

*You have the ability to stand and walk without assistance. (That’s a blatant lie – I use my cane for everything.)
*You have the ability to use your hands and arms to perform tasks. (Apparently it’s not a requirement for me to see what I’m doing.)
*You are able to get along with other people for short periods of time. (It’s called Minnesota Nice, bitches.)

“We do not have sufficient vocational information to determine whether you can perform any of your past relevant work. However, based on the evidence in the file, we have determined that you can adjust to other work.”

What would be really helpful is if they included a list of employers who had job offers for me and would not require me to be upright at any time. I can’t see well enough to travel to a location outside of my home, and most employers at least want an interview. So their insistence that I work “somewhere” is pretty weak, considering they don’t have an prospects lined up for me. (I don’t want to hear, “That’s how they do it.” I know they’re assholes.)

The next step is for my attorney to file a request for a hearing, which I understand takes 12-15 months to occur. In the meantime I’ll continue to go to doctor visits and try to find someone who can put a name on this disease and tell me what to expect.

This morning I went to the surgeon’s office at the U of MN to have my wound checked. When he put a fair amount of pressure on it, I started yelping, which led him to believe that there is still some pockets of pus hanging out back there.

Rather than going through the process of shooting me up with Lidocaine and slicing down deeper and purging out more junk, the surgeon took the stick end of a swab and used that to dig around in my wound – think of it as a meat tenderizer, he just kinda made hamburger out of my flesh – without any topical numbing whatsoever. I broke out in a sweat and I had tears rolling down my face. I knew I had to lay still but I was also fighting to get away from him and just make the PAIN STOP.

He said he was stepping out for a few minutes to allow the bleeding to die down; about 10 minutes and a good, sobbing cry later, his nurse came in to re-dress the wound. I’m glad I had that time to myself.

 

 

Duck – Here Comes Another Turkey!

The Quiz Master (previously referred to in “What’s Going On With Your Face?” post) messaged me today and wished me a happy Thanksgiving. It was not his first message to me since he signed off with a “goodbye and good day” after I told him to stop contacting me. Oh, no. I knew he couldn’t be counted on to leave me alone, considering how obsessive he is. The Quiz Master also texted me on November 15th and said, “Hey, how are you?” as if I hadn’t cut him off. As if I would come to my senses and say, “Oh, you’re the best Quiz Master ever, I don’t know what I was thinking in telling you to go away.” He, of course, told me that I was pushing him away just because I am stubborn – not because I actually want him to leave me alone. “No” doesn’t actually mean “no” and all that bullshit, according to him.

I also got a cutesy cartoon from the church guy who went radio silent in “Showing Up is Half the Battle.” This was after he sent me messages saying “happy turkey eve beautiful” yesterday, and before that a message saying his aces were up while playing poker and that he wished I was by his side as he was winning.

Don’t worry, I didn’t reply to either of these jackasses. And in perfect harmony with this post, “A Little Respect” by Erasure played on my Pandora while I was typing.

On a different note, I traded emails with one of my mom’s sisters and updated her on what was happening with my situation. She said she had contacted my cousin, who is a doctor of osteopathy (DO), and he said that the doctors are turning me down not because I’m giving them too much or too little info, but because they can’t “win” with me – there is no way they can diagnose me. As it stands right now, there are approximately 7,000 diseases out there in the world that have no name or etiology, and the majority of them are similar to mine only in that the symptoms are neuorological in nature. I have been in contact with some groups that I think should be able to put me in touch with the proper researchers, and there are rare disease groups that focus on finding resources for patients. However, I’m feeling a bit like I’m drowning again. A lot of these groups talk specifically about patients that are children. I know it’s especially troubling when children are stricken with major illnesses; after all, I was sick for most of my childhood. However, now that I’ve managed to become a middle-aged adult while this particular disease popped up, does that mean that my life is worth less? I had my chance to reach adulthood so am I therefore not worthy of assistance?

Every person I talk to tells me not to give up. I am not sure I can anyway. I mean, I had to give up my house, my car and working – what else am I going to do with my time? But at some point I need doctors and researchers to fill in the blanks. I can’t imagine going another 10 years like this and waiting for technology to catch up.

Today was the first time in about 23 years that my sister, my mom and stepdad and I were actually in the same state for a holiday, so we pigged out at my sister’s place. Yesterday and today were pretty difficult for me and I think it has to do with the temperature, air pressure and humidity; we got snowfall that actually accumulated and stayed today. I had to spend most of the time in bed because of fibromyalgia pain, but also my CSF was accumulating like the snow. I was hoping I’d be able to hang out for a few hours before my brain started being crushed, but instead I began drooping noticeably as soon as my stepdad picked me up, and I had only been upright for about 45 minutes at that point.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope that you can find things to be thankful for every day. I’m working on my list.

 

Dating Whitecoats

Trying to find a doctor is a lot like dating. I’ve gone on a hell of a lot blind dates, and I’ve gone to a hell of a lot of doctors. I no longer get butterflies for either. I no longer have a feeling before I meet them of, “Maybe this will be the one.” Nearly all of them have broken my heart.

This week started off with a trip to a new rheumatologist. He was recommended to me by a friend whose mom had seen him, and he managed to treat her for much longer that she would have survived in the hands of another doctor before she succumbed to scleroderma. I read up on him and checked out reviews, and it seemed like he would be interested in solving mysteries. He was a tall, older gentleman with silver hair and a stern face, all business. After we began talking and I produced document after document for him, he began to get quieter, except for repeatedly shaking his head and sighing. I answered all of his questions from memory including lab results. Then he started stuttering. “What – what – what about your MRIs?” I told him the problem was that I had to lay down for them, and the fluid drains off almost immediately, so I don’t feel that they are getting a true picture of what’s happening when I’m upright. Then he started the, “Gosh, I Don’t Know” song.

He finally dropped his pen, turned to me and put his hands on his knees and said, “Has anyone seen anything like this before?” I told him no, and that I had seen a lot of doctors. (My count is 40 to date, including all of the ER doctors that have examined me.) He said it was obvious. Then he asked if I had tried the Mayo. I told him I had been turned down five times including the most recent try on October 2nd. He said, “What in the hell is wrong with them? They’re supposed to be number one in the nation for rare stuff like this.” I told him that I was going to try other avenues, including Johns Hopkins and going to the media to try to get my story out there with the hope that someone would be willing to take my case.

We went through the obligatory motions of the rest of the exam, where I put on a gown and he prodded my joints. I laid down for part of it and he watched my eyes open, and when I sat back up he saw the effects of the CSF pooling and forcing my eyes to droop shut again. I asked him if I could continue coming to his office, even if I saw another doctor, so that I could at least get care for my fibromyalgia because I didn’t especially care for the rheumatologist I had originally seen. He didn’t say anything.

When I got dressed again, he came back in and said, “I don’t have any answers for you. Try Johns Hopkins and see if they will take you on as a charity case since you have no income and medical assistance will only cover the state of Minnesota. I can’t help you.” He wasn’t unkind and I have heard that response many, many times. As I shuffled nearly blind down the hallway, I kept thinking, “This was just another waste of time. Waste of time. Waste. Waste. Waste.” I have gotten better about not crying after every unsuccessful attempt.

So, what’s next? Well, I’ve got to find a rheumatologist who will at least treat the fibromyalgia and not be a jerk. And I have to try to get my stories on local news stations and national talk shows. Everyone keeps saying, “Ellen! Try Ellen! She’s the best!” And I agree that that’s true and her show gives me lots of laughs and smiles, but I’m not sure she is even interested in taking me on, because I don’t have a happy ending. I have sent in a few submissions already. Thanks to the help of my former flame, I’m learning to navigate Twitter and have been trying to get the attention of neurosurgeons and neurologists around the U.S. I have also been tagging the Mayo in tweets about how they determined I’m “too rare” to examine and would anyone else like to take a shot? I’ve started following neurosurgeons and TV stations. I’ve tweeted Johns Hopkins repeatedly. They have a remote referral option that I have to pay for out of pocket, but honestly, I want them to be interested in my case, not just look at me as another number and dismiss me.

I’ve also started following groups that support rare diseases, either with research, treatment or resources. I managed to catch the attention of two of them and they will be publishing my submissions within the next few weeks.

After the unsuccessful visit with the rhuematologist, I sent a message to the neurosurgeon in St. Paul who told me, “Don’t give up. I know it’s been a long time and someone will be able to help you,” asking him if he could refer me to the University of Minnesota to see if I could be studied there. I was told that my case would be sent to the complex specialty care unit; yesterday I received a call and they stated that they wanted to get me in on Monday. I was surprised because I’ve never been able to get in with a specialist without having to wait 2-3 months, but of course I said yes. So I have another “date” Monday.

I also had to talk to my case worker for my disability appeal. I told her that she wasn’t going to see anything new from the rheumatologist, and that I was trying to get into the U of MN in the neurology/neurosurgery unit so I could be studied. She has been super nice to me, but it’s still her job to turn me down for disability. I know I’m going to get another call from Maryland telling me that my case is being rejected again because I don’t have a diagnosis – but it sure as hell isn’t for lack of trying. I’m trying! Seriously, slip into my body for a few weeks, or even a few hours, and you’d cry for your mommy and then tell me to take all my disability pay plus a little extra for having such a hard-ass time.

Finally, I’d like to say in closing: Screw you, Mayo Clinic. I realize that I’m not a wealthy billionaire and I’m not the Dali Lama, but you should take my case and figure out what in the hell is going on. As far as I’m concerned, you reputation for being the best for neurology/neurosurgery is completely undeserved. You just made my life 1,000 times harder. You were my worst no-show.