We’re Breaking Up

“There’s plenty of fish in the sea.”

Are there, though? I want someone who really listens to me and understands where I’m coming from, who sees me for who I am and not who they think they would like me to be. I’m sure they wish I would lose a little weight, or dress a little better. Maybe they wish I would talk about something else besides always going back to my rare disease. But I can’t, because it rules my life.

I’m talking about my doctors, of course. They keep breaking up with me – or at least, it feels like it. And this is incredibly difficult as a rare disease patient.

The first one to jump ship was my primary care doctor. To be honest, I was a little relieved. I had had a difficult time landing her in the first place – other doctors writing things in my records such as “Munchausen’s” – but most recently she had told me to stop looking for a solution and to just accept it, and that there probably wasn’t anything really wrong with me. She had seen my MRI and claimed that she didn’t know enough about the brain to make a judgement call about what she was looking at, but JFC, even I could see that if all of the big, cavernous spaces are gone and the corpus callosum looks like Charlie Brown’s hair swirl, there’s a problem. Anyway, hers was the first letter to arrive on the University’s letterhead.

The second was my pain doctor. I knew about his desertion ahead of time because we talked about it during my last visit with him. He worked it out so I can remain his patient at his next office. HOORAY. I don’t have to train in another doctor. I like him. We have mutual respect. But I still got his letter on the University’s letterhead and an official-sounding offer to continue my care there with someone else, if I wanted. (No, thanks.)

The third one was my mast cell disease doctor. This one is actually extremely devastating. I felt quite lucky to have found him and to have gotten my diagnosis, and then to have been under his care for about a year. The problem with this disease is that it was only named about nine years ago, and so not much is known about it. I probably fit into a different subcategory from a lot of people because my CSF and dura have been affected.

The mast cell disease doctor is relocating from Minneapolis to New York. His goal is to further his research; he will make himself available to any doctors who reach out to him with questions. He will also see patients on a cash-only basis: $2,000 each for the first two visits, then $650 for each visit after that. 

I can understand why the mast cell disease doctor would want this type of arrangement. He would not be at the mercy of insurance companies. He could run his office and research with full autonomy and receive complete compensation for his time, rather than having to negotiate contracts. And he’s not a young guy; I’m sure he’d like to reduce his own stress in the gloaming of his years.

Specifically, these are my barriers: 1) I’m on Medicaid, so I’m unable to go outside of the state of Minnesota. I’ve tried many times, and each time, the petitions have been turned down. It doesn’t matter how rare my disease is. 2) I can’t find local doctors willing to take me as a patient. Believe me, I have tried. I’ve sent them info ahead of time (per their request), I’ve gone in without giving them any hint, I’ve brought all of my records with me, I’ve bargained with them, I’ve promised not to be a nuisance, I’ve answered all of their questions…bitch, please. Any way that you can think of to convince someone to become your partner, I’ve done it. 3) I don’t have any way to save up money. My earning power is gone – it’s not like I can go to work and take my bed with me so I can keep the pressure off of my brain. I’m using up every last bit of my savings for living expenses while I wait for my disability hearing, which I believe will be in the next six months, so that’s three years guaranteed without a cent of income.

What happens if I don’t receive care? Well, it’s going to get ugly. My chest, arms and face have been covered in hives for the past month. I was supposed to get another prescription last week, but that was abruptly dropped mid-process. This is a crazy disease. Other patients constantly go into anaphylactic shock. I haven’t gotten to that point, though I sometimes have sudden shortness of breath, or lose my voice because my throat becomes suddenly raw. Unfortunately, for me the allergies continue to get worse and stranger, also a common factor in this disease. I won’t even go into the brain stuff, except to say that I know it’s being strangled too.

I can’t adequately describe what it’s like to have a rare disease to people who don’t have one, especially when it comes to finding medical care. I’ve had a fibromyalgia diagnosis since I was 23, and those of you who have chronic illness may have an inkling, but this is a completely different ballgame. I got a diagnosis last fall but have been sick since birth (and I’m 43 now). I only figured out a month ago myself – MYSELF – why I needed 10 shunt surgeries. There are no other documented cases like mine.

If I can put this in perspective, imagine that your child is one in a dozen in the world who has Progeria – the disease that makes children age prematurely, so that they look elderly as infants and young children (and they come with a plethora of underlying maladies). And imagine that there is only one doctor in the world who is an expert, so every child with that disease is going to that doctor. One day, that doctor is killed in a motor vehicle accident. Then there is no one else to treat those children.

That’s what it feels like right now to have my mast cell disease doctor break up with me. The disease affects more than a dozen people, but to actually find doctors who can and will treat me is impossible. I think it would be easier to ask a man to have a baby naturally. 

Back To Life, Back To Reality

I had the pleasure of planning my arts high school’s 25th reunion for my classmates. It’s difficult to explain, but our school was unlike any other that most people have attended. It’s a public school and we came from all over the state of Minnesota, we had to audition or submit portfolios as well as letters of recommendation, we lived on campus like a college, and we created life-long friendships (most of us). I’m not saying it was without flaws. But going to college was a complete let-down because we already did it all, and our skills were senior level when we went to our respective schools post-high school.

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The reunion officially lasted nine hours. We started with performances, some dancing, I handed out random door prizes (which included ramen, Pop Tarts or macaroni and cheese plus sticks of margarine but NOT milk – because we never had milk; also Nerf guns, and cassette tapes such as Crash Test Dummies, The Sundays, REM, M.C. Hammer, Bullet Boys, anything that would have been released by 1992). Then we headed over to a pub that served microbrews and sausages where whomever couldn’t make it to the portion at school hung out with us there. We were officially done at 10 pm, but some people wanted to keep partying, so they went back to one couple’s hotel room and kept it going until 4 am. I didn’t – I was toast.

(By the way, the picture with the classmates trying to pull open the doors is something I didn’t find out about until later. They were giving themselves a tour, not realizing that they locked themselves in an area and they would have to wait for someone to randomly walk by and let them out.)

Our turnout was excellent. My classmates are literally scattered around the U.S. and the globe. I haven’t lived in Minnesota for 20 years and would have been counted as an out-of-towner if I hadn’t been forced to move back because of my circumstances. I know that I have classmates in Sweden, South Africa, the UK and France for sure, but I’m also sure that I’m missing some places. So to have this many show up is considered a small victory. And everyone was helpful, mostly sober and didn’t want to leave.

When I was attending school here, my major was theater (located directly to the right of the dancing space where everyone is slapping hands and their shoes are off). I discovered there that I had a natural affinity for organization and detail. So that was the reason that I gave everyone for wanting to organize the 25th reunion.

But I had an ulterior motive.  Two years ago, and even continuing through to today, a lot of the classmates that traveled back for the reunion (either by driving or flying) have helped me. When I relocated from Phoenix to St. Paul, they contributed to a fund. Sometimes they organize and send me gifts. A lot of them have their own hardships to worry about, so I appreciate their contributions even more for that reason. So the fact that I could work out every damn detail for them and all they had to do is show up was great – and even better that they all had a really great time and didn’t want to leave. 

Unfortunately, I did have to ask for some work from a few of them, but being the wonderful people that they are, they stepped up and said of course, and blew the rest of us away. The school was under great scrutiny and was nearly closed, and I had gone to all of the state senators and representatives, asking them to come to about an hour and a half of our reunion to meet us to see what had become of one of the first graduating classes from this school. One of the representatives, Mike Freiberg, happened to be a classically trained pianist and agreed to accompany our opera singer – and wow! It was fantastic! In all, we had two writers, a violinist, an opera singer, and a dance instructor.

Pictured below is an example of many of the lockers – students are allowed to paint them however they choose. Also, the woman in the phone booth is one of the readers from the performances. The phone booth is an infamous one; it was down the road from us and is from before the advent of cell phones, and we all used to walk down the road to use it when we wanted privacy. 


So for the week after the reunion, I stayed in bed. It was totally worth it. I love these people. Some of them I’m lucky enough to see frequently, and some I suppose I’ll have to wait another 25 years to see, but we know we had a unique experience and kinda feel sorry for people who had to drag through regular schools. We had a completely amazing experience for our junior and senior years.

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Today, I had a doctor’s appointment for an outpatient surgical procedure. I’m not going to go into detail for what it was. I was just dreading it. So I got the usual notification from the cab company that the driver was on his way, and then I got a notification that he was outside. So I went out. He wasn’t out there. Sometimes it happens that the notification comes about 60 seconds before the cab. I wasn’t alarmed.

However, after waiting for about 12 minutes, the cab still didn’t show. Today the temp was 91 degrees Farenheit, and Minnesota is humid this time of year. Also a problem: My high-rent building’s front door was vandalized, so I can’t actually get in with my key. If I want to enter the building, I have to walk around to the back, which is the equivalent of walking the length of a city block because the spaces between the buildings are fenced and locked off. I also had no idea when this cab was going to show. So I called the cab company.

They claimed he was five minutes away. I have a GPS tracking map and he hadn’t moved. I explained that the heat makes my condition worse. I also can’t go back inside because I can’t go in the front. They told me to just wait. This is what happens to me because the cerebrospinal fluid builds up in my cranium because my shunt hasn’t worked for two years:

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Many times my facial droop has been mistaken for myasthenia gravis. I can assure you that I do not have that. I can actually slosh my CSF around, and when I tilt my head parallel to the floor, the paralysis goes away within seconds. Also, my face is not swollen. The muscles on the left have relaxed because they are paralyzed.

I was actually stuck out in the heat for a total of 35 minutes. When the driver finally got there, he first tried to force me to cross the road to him. I can’t see very well like this – this is as far as my eyes will open. When he finally came to my side of the road, he parked up the street so I had to walk to him, even though there were spots open in front of me. When I got in the car, I asked him to turn on the air conditioning. He told me I had to wait until he “got going.”

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When he finally did turn on the a/c, it was at the lowest setting to spite me. I had to tip over in the back seat to take the pressure off of my head, which at that point was absolutely unbearable.

When I got to my appointment, they took me back to the exam room and got me on the table. However, I wasn’t doing so well. The nurse and the PA both said I looked grey and the PA reclined the table while the nurse ran to get me some sugary drink. I whipped off my wig and they slapped wet cloths on my neck and head. I could tell my pulse was all over the place, but I knew this wasn’t a blood sugar problem – those feel completely different to me. [I am getting checked for POTS next month.] When I got up from the table, I saw that I had completely soaked through the paper with my sweat, which was disgusting, but they said it was an obvious sign that I was in distress. We made sure everything had returned to normal and we got on with it.

I absolutely wrote up a complaint to the cab company, with details and times. They have a contract with my insurance company, and if this driver can’t handle medical rides, he shouldn’t get them. Period. 

Big Help In A Little Package – TechCare Pro24 Ultimate Massager Review

People often ask me just what it is that I do with all of my time now that I’m stuck in bed. I love writing and I count myself lucky to have been included in the Chronic Illness Bloggers network, and given many opportunities to try products I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

Back in 2007, I had a beast of a knee operation. My right patella (“knee cap”) was tracking wrong, meaning it was slightly dislocated, so it would cause all kinds of problems as I bent and straightened my leg and my patella slid all over the place – but not exactly where it should have. I also had damage to the underlying cartilage. Before surgery I was required to go through months of physical therapy to strengthen the surrounding muscles, and after surgery of course I had to recover. It took me a year to straighten my leg.

Anyone who has been through orthopedic surgery has had a run-in with a TENS unit. I was issued a big, black carrying case with a handle, multiple square pads and a control box with a dial. The controller had an on/off switch and the dial to change the intensity of the charge, and that’s it – no frills. You got what you got.

I didn’t have any expectations with this TechCare Pro24 Ultimate Massager, deliberately.
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In actuality, I was pleasantly surprised. The controller feels like it’s made of high quality metal, not cheap plastic. It has the capability of running two lead lines at a time, though the user can choose to run one lead at a time. The lead lines themselves are considerably long, which is useful if you need to reach around to the back of your body for any reason (which, if you’re anything like me, you will).
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I’ve been trying to walk outside while the weather has been cooperating, because I’m trying to get stronger. I have a lot of joint pain because of fibromyalgia, plus I’m in bed a lot to keep the pressure off of my brain, but the downside is that the rest of my body pays the price. Since I’m walking outside there’s a lot of variation in the elevation and terrain and my muscles and joints very quickly and loudly rebel. It’s the perfect time to put the TechCare Pro24 Ultimate Massager to the test.

I want to pick the right size of pad according to where on my body I want to attach the pads. This unit comes with three sizes:
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I chose to work on my right hip, which never fails to make its presence known. The big, rectangular pads are the best for that area of my body, so I decided to slap one on my back right flank, and then one on the top of my right femur.

The TechCare Pro24 Ultimate Massager doesn’t run on willpower alone; it needs actual electricity to roll. I’m always in front of my laptop, so I chose the option to hook up the unit to the USB portal for the juice.
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So as I had everything hooked up and charging, the next step was to choose the actual mode that would work best for what I wanted to accomplish, which would be to relax my right hip. I pushed the slide button over on the top so that the unit turned on, and then I could see the different choices for the massages for the most helpful option. Every time a different mode out of the six options are chosen, the strength returns to the lowest intensity so that the user can change it to his or her most tolerable level. I think this is a good thing because some modes felt more stinging than others, depending on the intensity.
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My favorite option that I found for my hip is the one that appears with the number “1” in this picture. As you can see, I didn’t even have to go to half intensity to feel the effects. The timer starts at 15 minutes but can be reprogrammed all the way up to 60 minutes.

At one point a friend called during one of my sessions, and I was so relaxed that he asked me if he had awakened me from a nap.

I did try it on other areas of my body – my neck, my left shoulder, my right quadriceps – and I tried out the other modes. The best thing to do is try the modes and strengths and find the best combination of style and length of time, because there’s no one-size-fits-all like there used to be with the old TENS units.

One extra goody that is included in the package is a chart of the human body and suggestions of where to place the pads to relieve certain pains.

This TechCare Pro24 Ultimate Massager is light years past that unit I had to use ten years ago for my knee rehab, and is much more affordable to boot. You can find it here – check it out!

Pat, I’d Like To Solve The Puzzle

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This week I’ve been taking care of stuff; taking care of me by walking to make myself stronger, taking care of medical records, taking care of clogs in my sinks and taking care of throwing out excess trash. It’s the medical records that sent into emotional pits, though. I was angry after reviewing a bunch of misinformation and it was rolling around in my head. But then I had an epiphany.

Back when I started having operations on my cranium, when my shunts were relocated from my back to my brain, my neurosurgeon remarked that my meninges were incredibly tough to break through. I don’t believe he’s ever noted that on my medical records, though. But his memory is like a steel trap so if I went back to him, he will probably be able to recall it with certainty. It certainly stuck with me. He said he had only seen it once before in his lifetime.

And then there was this published paper by Jonathan Kipnis where he explains that he and his team discovered lymphatic drainage vessels in the cranium. They weren’t known about before because when autopsies and dissections were performed, the lymphatic vessels were torn and destroyed because of their fragility. This paper was published in July of 2015; I traded emails with Jonathan in November of 2015. He explained that he doesn’t actually work with humans in clinical trials so he couldn’t help me, but after I connected the dots this week, I emailed him. I’m not sure I’ll hear from him.

Lastly, I have this mast cell activation disease diagnosis from Dr. Afrin. When I saw him in January, he told me that my outrageously high histamine level is probably what is making everything change and grow into scar tissue, including the tumor, as well as the tract along the shunt.

So here’s what I think is happening: Back in 2010 when I first started having the really bad symptoms, the meninges had already turned tough because of my high histamine levels, and the fluid can’t drain properly into the lymphatic drainage vessels like it normally would. That’s why I need shunts. The shitty part is that I’m allergic to the shunts. Just as an aside, this whole time I thought that the underlying cause was an autoimmune disease, but of course I had no idea what it would be.

So what now? That’s the question my mom asked. The tissue that has changed cannot be changed back. There is nothing on the market that I’m not allergic to. I’m at a high risk for aneurysm or stroke. This is going to kill me, there’s just no telling when. I mean really, who else do you know that is going through this? None of my doctors would be able to begin to guess.

Of course, I have to check with my doctors…but again, I’m the one leading them, not the other way around, which is almost always the way it is with rare disease. First I’ll see the neurologist and explain all of this to her, and hand her Dr. Afrin’s notes and Dr. Kipnis’ notes. I’ll see Dr. Afrin in August. After that, I’ll contact my neurosurgeon in Phoenix and roll this past him. I hope that he remembers that I was right about everything that I told him, even though some things took as much as 2.5 years to admit.

So for now I’m still waiting for my disability hearing. I talked to my attorney’s office and they called the person who sets the dates for the hearings, and they were told that hearings were being set for 18-22 months past the appeal filing. My last appeal was filed in February of 2016 (the initial filing was April 2015), so by the time I’m in front of a judge, I’ll have been waiting for nearly 3 years. Every state is different. I can’t get a rush unless I’m homeless, stage IV cancer, a danger to myself, or I have no access to care.

So I wait.  

Retrain My Brain – Gupta Amygdala Retraining Programme Review

People often ask me just what it is that I do with all of my time now that I’m stuck in bed. I love writing and I count myself lucky to have been included in the Chronic Illness Bloggers network, and given many opportunities to try products I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

This particular series, The Gupta Amygdala Retraining Programme, is being offered by a doctor who was laid low by chronic fatigue syndrome (which I will shorten to the commonly known acronym CFS), which is also referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (the acronym ME for short). The Centers for Disease Control states: “CFS is a debilitating and complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity. Symptoms affect several body systems and may include weakness, muscle pain, impaired memory and/or mental concentration, and insomnia, which can result in reduced participation in daily activities.” (https://www.cdc.gov/cfs/) The CDC also indicates on their site that despite trying their best to figure out what triggers CFS, they haven’t pinpointed the cause. It could be a number of infections, it could be autoimmune related, it could be something in the central nervous system; they’re just not certain.

I was given this program because I have fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia shares some of the CFS/ME qualities – mainly crushing fatigue and pain that does not go away with a good night’s sleep. Dealing with constant pain and fatigue also changes your brain and your outlook, affecting the way that you interact with the people around you, as well as your ability to handle your own sickness, or wellness, as it were.

The very first thing I noticed when I opened up my packet was this map from Dr. Gupta.
20170522_092902If you can’t tell, this piece is quite large and almost covers my entire area rug. As we found out, it is an interactive practice piece that you actually stand on and use to help retrain your brain to stop negative thinking.

The other items included in the package were a workbook and a set of audio and video DVDs.
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I was signed up for weekly interactive web meetings as well. In our first meeting, we were introduced to Dr. Gupta, and informed that the web meetings were actually the most important part of the program, and that the DVDs, workbook and practice poster were supporting materials.

The web meetings were 12 weeks long total, so it is quite a commitment if you decide to join the program. And there is a lot of material to cover. However, if you think about it, some of us have been sick for years. I’ve been sick for two decades. 12 weeks is really a drop in the bucket. It’s just a matter of adjusting your schedule and making room, just as you would for a physical workout program. You want to lose the weight? You do an hour at the gym. You want to lose the disease? You do a few hours a week at the Gupta program. 

So what is amygdala retraining? Basically, it’s to stop the negative feedback loop so you can start healing. Your body feels bad, so your mind gets stuck thinking, “I’m not good enough, I don’t don’t deserve friends if I’m going to bring them down, I don’t deserve love, I’m a terrible person, I’m a loser, I can’t do anything right, I hate my body, I’m going to stay sick forever,” etc. If you can get rid of that negative feedback, you can also retrain your brain to start a positive flow of thoughts, including, “I will allow my body to relax, I will feel comfort, I will smile, I’m choosing health and happiness, I trust myself.”

And back to that interactive poster that’s on the ground: That’s the “Stop! Stop! Stop!” technique that Dr. Gupta often refers to as part of the retraining. He encouraged us through the course of the initial training to actually follow the steps on the poster: think the negative thoughts, then hold out our hands and think or say, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” Then we would breathe and smile, return to our loving self, then choose to take the loving path and be kinder to ourselves in our thinking, then visualize health and happiness. We would repeat these steps over and over again – at first slowly, then faster, as if picking up anything that feels clunky at first but then suddenly becomes second nature.

Throughout his sessions he often took breaks for us to breathe, or meditate. We also had time to ask questions or interact. Dr. Gupta warned us that there would be times when emotions would bubble up and sometimes get the best of us. I tend to be pretty stoic except when it comes to dealing with my neurologist and neurosurgeons, so I was surprised when even I had a web session that affected me emotionally. The point is to not hold everything back so that our ego doesn’t get in the way of getting better.

The DVDs and audio CDs are helpful because there are some meditations included, and meditation is one area where I always need improvement and assistance.

Dr. Gupta does advise for anyone going through this program that the changes will be gradual, and to not expect anything earth-shattering immediately; after all, anything shocking would set us back, not make us better. Six months would be a good goal for feeling a significant improvement if you do the work with sincerity. 

I’m grateful to have these materials at hand for the long haul so I can refer back to them as often as I need to – because there’s so much to learn, and I’ll definitely need a refresher from time to time. And Dr. Gupta records all of his sessions so that we may go back and rewatch (or if you couldn’t make it to the session in real time, you can watch at your convenience). I did personally notice a certain calmness and lightness after each session, and I do feel like my attitude has shifted towards all of my diseases; I’m choosing right now to be loved and to be worthy of love, and maybe that will shift again in the near future to another positive focus as I journey on.

Dr. Gupta’s Website:  http://www.guptaprogramme.com/

Give Me A Break

On Thursday afternoon, I saw my 59th doctor, a neurosurgeon. At least, I think he was #59. I don’t feel like going back in my previous posts to make sure. I could be like that person who doesn’t want to admit that their birthdays keep happening so they claim to be 29 & holding.

The ride out was long. The conversation with the cabbie was lively. His name was Isaac. I found out he has a wife and five children who still live in Uganda. He goes back every 6-8 months to spend time with them when he has saved up enough money. I can’t imagine having to live like that, my loves living half a world away. He told me about the worst job he ever had (digging pits that were 20 feet deep, 16×16 wide/long with a pick ax and then having to haul away the dirt himself because there was no machinery). The pits were for storing water. We talked about what shocked him the most when he moved to Minnesota the first time, which was snow (before global warming kicked in, the state used to get dumped on so that sometimes the snow would be thigh high) and teenage pregnancy (in his culture, girls would live with their parents until they were married and they never spent time with boys until the marriage happened). We talked about how violent men are towards women in the States, and how women are so accommodating and undemanding of the men, as in, “It’s okay if you don’t work. Here, lemme make you a sandwich and buy you a house.” See? Lots of sharing.

In my appointment, I first talked the physician’s assistant through everything and demonstrated how my symptoms disappear when I tilt my head parallel to the floor. He asked if I had seen the one doctor I had asked to see, and I said I hadn’t. He asked why, and I said, “Because he said there wasn’t anything wrong with me.” The PA couldn’t hide his bafflement. He said it was obvious that my ventricles were completely gone. He did a few of the standard neurological tests like having me squeeze my eyes shut, follow his finger with my eyes, push and pull his arms, etc. Then he went to get the neurosurgeon.

The neurosurgeon came in and after our introductions, he said he had talked to my neurologist. He mentioned that they thought I was overdraining, and I shot that down immediately. I told him that my lumbar puncture came out with a high opening pressure and I hadn’t had anything surgically done since then. I also told him that I had a leak for an entire year so I know the difference between overdraining and underdraining and they are completely different sensations. For me, the underdraining always brings vertigo, fatigue and the facial droop. Overdraining will never bring paralysis for me; instead, I get the tire-iron-beating-me-in-the-skull pain. 

We talked about the fact that there hasn’t been new shunt materials in ages. We talked about the near-impossible task of finding materials that I won’t be allergic to since I’ve had so many already and I’ve reacted to them.

We also talked about the mass that’s growing on my right side. I asked him if it was at least possible to take that out. I’ve been having pain on the right side that radiates down my neck, and if it’s killing brain tissue and turning it to jelly (which it is according to the MRI), then I’d like to get rid of it. However, because of where it is – in my cerebellum – it’s in a bad spot for a craniotomy. As of November it had grown to about the size of a quarter (not sure what size it is now). 

The neurosurgeon doesn’t want to operate on me at this point. He wants to repeat the upright MRI in about six months to check the size of the mass. He expects it to interfere with my coordination; it might be what’s causing my legs to jerk uncontrollably right now.

So, that’s the plan. Follow up in six months. No surgery right now. Wait for the mass/tumor to get bigger and my symptoms to get worse.

Luckily the same cab driver drove me back – he stayed nearby so it wouldn’t be a long wait for me, thank goodness. The office was really way out in the middle of nowhere by city standards. But the ride back was completely different. Isaac was trying to get me to talk, but I couldn’t. I was overwhelmed and upset, and trying (but failing) not to cry in front of this total stranger. It was just a few sniffles, not an ugly cry, thank goodness. 

That evening I got home and received a notice that my primary care doctor is leaving the practice (and maybe even the state). During our last visit in March she had tried to talk to me about palliative care, but said she would wait for me to decide.

Just so I don’t lose my mind, I have to stop pursuing another opinion on the neurosurgery side for the time being. I’m getting a lot of well-meaning advice about how I should just “stay strong” and “keep going” and “don’t give up.” Honestly, though, I’ve been going at this for nearly seven years. This isn’t fibromyalgia, which I’ve had for 20 years – and I’m not knocking anyone who has it, it’s a beast; and this isn’t Hashimoto’s, which I’ve had for 12 years and again I’m not trying to put anyone down, but this is a whole new level of sick. I was able to work through that shit, even if I had to sleep after work and sleep through weekends. My brain is literally being crushed and I have a mass that’s growing in my cerebellum. There aren’t good days and bad days. I need a break from having to be my own advocate for this really rare orphan disease as I drag my sick ass around from neurosurgeon to neurosurgeon to try to convince them that what they are seeing is real (because it’s right there on the MRI).  

In the meantime, I have plenty of other things to keep me busy and other doctors to visit. We just won’t be tapping into my skull right now.

MedCline For Heartburn – A Crazy, Functional Pillow System

Do you suffer from heartburn or GERD? I have, for years. I’ve gone through a number of tests to find the cause of it and also to make sure that the valve between my stomach and esophagus isn’t degrading from the acid backing up (it isn’t). It is the absolute worst feeling to wake up because acid comes up all the way from my stomach into my mouth at night. I’ve also tried a combination of medications, but sometimes they don’t do the trick, and it’s not always safe to be on them long-term. Now I know my acid reflux is likely caused by my mast cell activation syndrome. 

So I saw an ad for this pillow system and decided to give it a try. It was especially appealing to me because I had surgeries done on the right side of my body for three years and had to lay on my left, and had torn up my left shoulder terribly – I’m still doing physical therapy, getting injections and dealing with regular pain continuously now. The base inclined pillow looked like it would help me a lot because it actually has space tunneled out for the shoulder and arm:

What you see propped on top of the wedge is the body pillow that is also available with the system. You can buy the wedge by itself, but honestly, I don’t recommend it; I’ve tried to sleep without it, and it’s not at all comfortable to me. Here’s a pic that shows more of the body pillow, which is filled with memory foam bits:
2016-08-25 11.15.10Both pillows have covers that can be unzipped and washed, which I do often. 

To sleep, I first tunnel my arm through the wedge, and then I wrap my body around the body pillow for support. MedCline recommends that it’s best to sleep on your left if you are able because of the shape and functionality of the stomach, but it’s okay if you aren’t.

MedCline recommends that you buy your pillow according to your height and weight. If you meet one requirement but not the other, I would say go with the height and not the weight, because where the wedge inclines makes more of a difference for you than anything else.

The pillow system is shipped for free and they have a 60-day money back guarantee. MedCline wants you to give the pillow system a try because they know it will take some getting used to, but they believe their product is worth the time and effort. I believe it too. I showed my pictures to my gastroenterologist because he had never seen or heard of it before, and he knows countless patients who sleep in recliners or who purchase traditional wedge pillows or try to sleep on stacks of whatever will keep them propped up at night.

I agree with MedCline – it does take time to get used to. When I sleep on it, I don’t have problems with my shoulder or arm hurting or going numb, and I don’t have problems with my acid reflux. That was my ultimate goal when I bought it.

Failure Or Fun? You Choose

I get a lot of flak for my dating life. Well-meaning friends and family have tried to keep up with the names of the men I’m dating, and I tell them not to bother, because they won’t be around long. I also deliberately avoid family photos. It means that I’m often the butt of many jokes, which admittedly sting from time to time. But my refusal to settle means that I continue to avoid divorce, too. I always end up with good stories.

Here’s the perfect museum for me, and people like me: The Museum of Failure. Of course this has to do with the world’s worst innovations and not relationships, but these are gloriously bad. That shocking facial mask?? OUCH. I had my face tased for a test, it’s not pleasant. I would not buy a device and do it willingly on a regular basis. What the what…?

And the Colgate lasagna…well, this year there was an ad for toothpaste that tastes just like a Burger King Whopper, but that was an April Fool’s joke. Trust me, you do not want this unless you are going to be single forever. And not talk to anyone. Ever. And not get laid. EVER. No.

If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, one of the items included in the Museum of Failure is the Bic for Her pens. It’s not because the pen itself is dysfunctional. Bitch, please – why the fuck would you market a pen as only “for her”? Talk about trolling, Amazon couldn’t keep up with erasing the “reviews” fast enough, so there’s a ton of material out there that you can search for, but here’s a taste.

All You Need Is Your (Whole) Health Back (Movie and Book Review)

Half of the adult population around the globe has some sort of chronic condition, varying in severity. Some are lucky enough to barely be bothered by it except as a reminder on their calendars once every few years to get checked by a doctor for any notable changes. Others can’t move an eyelash without being reminded that their body has taken on a long-term burden and there’s no relief in sight. A huge majority fall somewhere in between. Because of this, and social stigmas falling away regarding the discussion of chronic conditions, the market is being flooded with all kinds of materials and “how to” manuals for coping.

Through the Chronic Illness Bloggers group, I was lucky enough to be given these two products as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although these products were a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

The two items that I was given in tandem were a documentary called “The Connection,” and a book called “The Whole Health Life.” I didn’t approach either medium with any expectations, which turned out to be a good thing, because I tend to be very particular and picky – I don’t want my movies or reading materials to be too “preachy,” nor do I want them to assume that I know nothing about my diseases. Most of the time I see manuals out on the market that are written with new patients in mind, not with 20-year war veterans like me.

First, I’d like to cover “The Connection.” I’ll admit, I reached for this first because I didn’t feel like I had the attention span to get me through a book right out of the gate. I was quite pleasantly surprised. It was a good pace, but not overwhelming, while still giving the audience constant reliable information to process. For instance, I learned about “medical hexing” – many patients are told by doctors that we’re not going to get better. Would you believe it if I told you that two weeks ago, my primary care doctor told me that I should just give up and accept that I will never find a neurosurgeon who will be willing to help me with another shunt surgery and who will take my tumor out? Boy, is that ever a hex! But a hex doesn’t have to be that obvious. It can be about giving you a pill rather than looking at your whole lifestyle and looking at what can be improved upon. 

More points from the movie hit home for me, especially since I’m having such a hard time finding doctors who will help me. For instance, if I have zero support – friends, family, doctors – I’m three times more likely to die early. Luckily I have some really great family and friends. Also, belief is part of why we get better, but it takes both the doctor and the patient believing. So far, I don’t have the doctors backing me up. And I also learned from the film that our genes do play a major role in what we do develop as far as diseases go, but our life experiences and our environment also trigger the genes. In other words, you could be perfectly fine but if you go wading knee deep through an oil spill, chances are that MS is going to come leaping out that has been lurking all these years.

So if you haven’t picked up on it, the documentary “The Connection” got my attention. Because of that, I was confident that the book “The Whole Health Life” would be engaging – and it was. And that says a lot, especially coming from someone who has the attention span of a gnat at the moment.

As readers, we can spend more time on the book, relating to what the writer is saying about wading through the soup of pain and foggy brain, trying to get through an able-bodied world and looking normal on the outside. Immediately the author, Shannon Harvey, introduces the core concept: we cannot deal with health by separating “body” health and “mental” health. They are intertwined and inseparable. A pill may address one portion and meditation may address another portion and talk therapy may address yet another potion and engaging in positive social activities may be uplifting, but when consumed in isolation, they hardly make a difference. When combined, they improve a person’s well-being by leaps and bounds. Ms. Harvey breaks it down into 10 topics to easier process and incorporate the practices into daily living.

For me, meditation is difficult. As I mentioned before, my mind is more that of a squirrel than it is a turtle, but she talks about the benefits of calming the mind and recommends a few easy steps that anyone can pick up. Emotions logically follow right after that. What are we doing to process our emotions? What do we allow to play on our inner recording? And then there is the “placebo effect.” Let’s try changing the name of this, the taking of sugar pills and still seeing positive results, as if a patient has taken “real” medicine; what is really at work is the power of belief. The belief that a patient can heal and become well again (or at least have an improved life) that comes with the motion of the taking of the medicine is just as powerful as the drug itself and has been documented for hundreds of years; it’s why people “pray” when it seems all hope for recovery is lost.

Of course, on the physical side, what we put into our bodies and how we move our bodies makes a huge difference. Eating the foods that are the best for us, sleeping the right amount and exercising to the best of our abilities are all important in our recovery and maintenance.

As a “spoonie,” as those of us are known who have chronic conditions that cause fatigue and pain, many of us keep blogs, as I do, as well as participate on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We seek out others who are like us. We appreciate having others who understand our daily (and sometimes hourly, minute-by-minute and second-by-second) struggles. I think that “The Whole Health Life” would be a good book to read and re-read because we tend to get stuck in patterns that reinforce the negative feedback loop – myself included. If someone isn’t feeling up to concentrating on words, then they can sit back and watch “The Connection” for some reinforcement.

Please visit the documentary movie “The Connection” here.

You may purchase the book “The Whole Health Life” by Shannon Harvey through Amazon here.

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