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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Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh, and Brain Damage

Happy Holidays! Froeliche Weihnachten! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa!

What is Santa/Kris Kringle/Krampus/Monito-monita, that crazy, overgrown elf/Viking who has nothing to do with a mythical baby born in a stable bringing you this winter solstice/Christmas/yule?

I already got my gift, but nothing like what the three wise men brought across the desert. At the beginning of November I saw a new neurologist who agreed to give me everything that I seemed to be missing: an upright MRI, a neuro psych test, and keep me on as a patient, as confusing as my case is. Three days after our initial meeting the doctor who administers the neuro psych tests had a cancellation so I didn’t have to wait four months. A neuro psych test is a series of tasks to evaluate my real brain functionality – not just the few words a doctor might ask you to remember a few minutes later, like “pencil,” “dog,” and “purple.” I had to take many different kinds of timed tests, including drawing, making linear connections, making word associations, and answering personality questions. That’s the short version.

I didn’t have any problem with drawing pictures from memory. I was shown simple lines and boxes and then given a blank piece of paper a half hour later and could draw them in sequence perfectly. However, when it came to things like giving a list of words that began with a certain letter in the space of 60 seconds, it was like the bottom of my brain fell out. I could only give four words for the letter “A,” and they were very simple words like “an” and “apple.” There were four letters total, and each letter was a challenge. I can only remember the letter “A” at this point.

There was another exercise where the tester gave me a list of words that included pieces of furniture, animals, and modes of transportation. Every time I repeated the list back, I always tried to give it back in order, I never tried to group everything together in like groups. It never occurred to me. However, if I had full functionality, it probably would have. I also could never remember more than a few words, even though I’m guessing the list was repeated more than 20 times.

They wanted to see how I could do with repeating numbers back, so they started with three numbers, then four, then five. As soon as I got to five, I started struggling. At six, I couldn’t repeat any numbers, not even the last two or three of the group. Again, it was like the bottom of my brain dropped out.

There were many other tests, but in the interest of space and to save some face, I’ll stop there. You get the idea.

A few weeks later when I could meet with the doctor who administered the test, she confirmed what I dreaded hearing but suspected: I have brain damage. Since I’ve never had an evaluation done before there’s nothing to compare it to, but she said she could tell that in some areas my knowledge base and functionality was “superior,” or above the level of a college-educated woman. However, the brain damage affected my memory and speed and speech and brought those areas down to true mental impairment.

A few days ago I went into the office for part II of my follow-up to look at the actual scans of my upright MRI. My MRI did not look good.

normalventricles

Above is a progressive MRI scan of a brain (not mine), moving down from top to bottom. As you move further down, you notice that the part in the middle gets larger and darker; that’s the ventricles. They are the four chambers that are the gold standard for figuring out if there’s a problem with CSF in the brain. This is what normal looks like.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any ventricles left. All of them have collapsed. My brain is pressing on the brain stem and I’m having all kinds of unusual problems, like my legs suddenly jerking if I’m standing and I look down briefly. Of course I have the problems I’ve always had, like the vertigo and the fatigue, and that pesky facial droop and ptosis (pronounced “toe-sis”). My new neurologist insisted that the disappearance of my ventricles must mean that I’m overdraining, but I knew that I must be suffering from Slit Ventricle Syndrome, and it means just the opposite – the pressure is crushing my brain.

UCLA has a pretty good explanation of Slit Ventricle Syndrome. I’m 100% certain that my shunt is “nearly blocked but barely flowing.” I always, always feel like my intracranial pressure is extremely high. It’s exhausting. So for now, it looks like I have Slit Ventricle Syndrome, and I’m not sure if this would have been picked up before this point – at least not two or three years ago, even though the symptoms are the same. I don’t recall that my ventricles have looked this horrific in all of my 20+ prior MRIs.

Also troubling is trouble brewing at the back of my skull. In 2013 I had two cisternoperitoneal shunts placed when my neurosurgeon was trying to find anything, anything, that my body wouldn’t reject. After we removed those and I ended up with a ventriculoperitoneal shunt, he barely got the old one out after a lot of scraping and pulling because of the scar tissue that had built up along the tract. A surgery that should have been an hour and a half turned into five hours and I was left with a huge highway of bruising from my head to my abdomen.

Unfortunately, he thought that it wasn’t detrimental to leave scar tissue in my head, and in fact may help to plug the burr hole where he drilled for surgery so I wouldn’t have any leaks. I knew what it was like to have a CSF leak; 2014 was incredibly painful when I had a leaking shunt for that whole year. The scar tissue has been increasing in diameter and it’s now growing like a tumor. From what I can tell it’s about the size of a quarter, and it’s pressing on the area of the brain that deals with memory and speech. It’s actually a long rope but it’s got a huge bulb, and if I press on the burr hole, it yanks on the area it’s attached to right behind my ear.

In plain English: My brain is being crushed. My shunt isn’t working. I’m growing my own tumor that was started by my scar tissue.

My challenge is that I’m allergic to the shunt materials. Also, now that the scar tissue is turning into a growing tumor, can we take it out without creating a leak, and when we pull it out, will the area it’s damaging have permanent damage or will it heal?

Also, can I fucking qualify for disability now? Everything that I’m reading about Slit Ventricle Syndrome says that it’s a permanent condition – there’s no going back.

Within the next few weeks (because of the holidays messing everything up) I’ll find out when I can get in with the best neurosurgeon in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. He came highly recommended by other hydrocephalus patients when I attended the hydrocephalus conference including the mother of Olivia, the young woman who had 123 surgeries since birth and who is now aged 20.

I am also in the process of finding an occupational therapist for an evaluation that can be included in my records for my attorney and disability case.

I’m going to share the most personal thing I possibly can and have up to this point, because some of you may doubt how much this has affected me because I have created coping mechanisms. It has taken me two full days to write this post and writing even the simplest words is sometimes a struggle. But the hardest thing for me to do to date was to send out holiday cards. At one point I had to stop writing for about a half hour because I broke down in tears. Hand writing words without the benefit of being able to go back and erase them and rewrite them like I do in the computer almost caused me a panic attack because I could no longer remember how to write even single-syllable words. For the people who did get cards, there was a lot more crossing out and scribbling than I would have liked. Maybe you noticed that I started to write an “E” where there should have been an “L” first. Sometimes I couldn’t even remember how to write my own name correctly – I would skip letters.

I don’t have all of the answers. I still – STILL – don’t know what’s causing the imbalance with the CSF in my brain. I don’t know if taking out the scar tissue/tumor is going to alleviate the memory and speed problems. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to tolerate an appliance in my body. I definitely don’t want to hear, “But you look fine!” or “Have you tried _____?”

.

 

97% Compatibility But The 3% Was Extra Bad

I was contacted by this guy on OKCupid, and his profile seemed very promising. A few things stuck out: first, he grew up in the bible belt and he is staunchly NON-religious like me; second, he’s able to construct sentences correctly; third, he’s handsome and tall so he can do things like see the top of the fridge without having to dig out a step stool. I was busy for most of the day yesterday so I didn’t log into OKC until it was after midnight. Here is our conversation from last night:

Him: I am very interested in having you proofread my profile. Seriously though, I spend a great deal of time lamenting how very few people have any idea what an apostrophe is for these days. I don’t know whether it was always the case, and Facebook just revealed it, or if this is a new issue.
Me: I think Facebook revealed the issue. I have a friend who was formerly a high school teacher and who is now home schooling her 7-year-old twins. Recently she posted something that said “Morning’s!”. I nearly lost my mind.
Him: I guess so. Most people don’t spend their high school years reading peers’ papers, so don’t notice until later in life.
Me: That sounds correct. I probably would have fallen out of my chair if I would have had to read some of my classmates’ material, or tried to. Do you write, or are you strictly a reader?
Him: I write on and off. I don’t do it regularly enough, but I always take it up again. I’m probably going to make the jump from fiction to nonfiction soon.
Me: I hate to do this so quickly after just starting to chat, but I have to get up fairly early tomorrow, so I need to call it a night. Would you care to try to chat soon?
Him: Of course. I didn’t realize that it was after midnight. Let’s try this earlier next time.
Me: Sounds great! Sleep well.
Him: Dobranac.

This appears to be a pretty sane exchange, correct? It’s reasonable that I didn’t realize how late it was, and that I said, “Hey, let’s try this again; for now I need to go to bed.”

This morning I received a message from him saying:

Him: Good morning. I hope you are having a good day. Yes I would like to chat. I just need to what hours are better for you. Last night, I was merely responding to your messages at the time that they came in.

Tonight I responded and said:

Me: I looked at the clock last night and was surprised by the late hour is all – I thought I would have been tired before then. Sometimes I have to get up early, I don’t always have a set schedule. I hope you have had a good day. Mine ended up being busy up to this minute, surprisingly. Tomorrow I won’t be on at all.
Him: I’ll have some free time tomorrow, Chelsea.
Me: Ah. Well, I have PT, then I have to take care of my young nephews all day until about 11 at night (we’re going to a concert since they’re off from school), so I won’t be signing in.
Him: You don’t have to alert me when you’re signing on.

So that didn’t take long at all for him to fly his freak flag. First he asks me for an idea of when I’ll be on so we can chat, then he tells me he doesn’t want to be “alerted.”

I typed a bunch of smart ass replies to him but in the end didn’t send any of them, because a nagging voice in my head was singing, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” so that guy gets radio silence. But if I would have responded, here’s some examples of what I had typed and ready to go:
– I was merely responding to your request to know when I would be logging into OKCupid to chat
– You mentioned you would be on tomorrow and I responded that I wouldn’t be as a normal flow of conversation
– Do people ever get tired of you starting fights with them even when you are in agreement with them?

 

Amateur Hour: How Vanderbilt/NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Network Failed Me

Earlier this year, I worked for four hours sorting and copying approximately 350 pages of medical records to send to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee when the coordinator for the NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Network notified me that my case was being sent there for review. I divided everything by year and specialty. I inserted notes and highlighted everything that should be of special interest.

I took it as a bad sign when I received an email that was poorly written, and rightly so:
I need you help with some missing records the UDN has requested on you. We are missing the records from the Movement Disorder Neurologist and ¬†also labs associated with Thyroiditis Workup are not complete. Please request these records be faxed directly to us at *********** or **********. We cannot move forward with reviewing your case until we have these records. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.” They weren’t actually missing the records from the movement disorders neurologist; the EMG results were included in what I forwarded to them. (Special note: capitalizing random words is an elementary mistake in and of itself and certainly doesn’t belong in official correspondence.) I wrote back and asked what needed to be obtained for the thyroid workup because I was going in for an appointment in the near future and could have tests ordered. However, I didn’t hear a response for weeks. Their suggestion to contact them with questions was not sincere because they didn’t respond to repeated calls or emails for three weeks total. I went to my appointment and guessed what they would want ordered, then forwarded them the results.

It didn’t matter, though. Last Thursday July 14th I received a letter in the mail from the head of the team saying that after a “stringent” review of my case, they were turning me down. They decided that because I have a strong history of autoimmune diseases that I must consider myasthenia gravis.

Here’s the problem, though: I considered myasthenia gravis already back in 2010, and again this year, and it has been ruled out by tests including the painful tasing of my face in April. All of those notes and tests were included in my paperwork. The 53 doctors who have seen me so far have positively said that I don’t have that. I also say I don’t have that. I have not found any documented cases where patients have received a working brain shunt to move CSF to relieve the symptoms of MG. I have hundreds of pages documenting my numerous symptoms and surgeries, and instead the Vanderbilt team chose to tell me to go back to the U of MN doctors (who, by the way, told me to go away and not come back) to get treatment for MG because “they would know how to treat me.” I am not allowed to appeal this decision or have any other team look at my file. The UDN door is forever closed to me now.

The next two paragraphs I’d like to address to that team directly:

Fuck you, Vanderbilt, you backwoods amateur cocksuckers.

This is what I don’t have: myasthenia gravis, lupus, MS, normal pressure hydrocephalus, communicating hydrocephalus, Creutzfeld-Jakob, IgG4 proliferation, scleroderma, pseudotumor cerebri, diabetes, secondary tremors, tumor, chiari malformation, or rheumatoid arthritis, among other things. After seeing so many doctors and going through hell and having to research A LOT on my own, Vanderbilt, your suggestion makes me think that my file landed in the hands of a beginner’s group. I’m way ahead of you, by years, and I didn’t even finish my medical degree. Every single one of you needs to go back to studying onion skin cells under your 10x microscopes because you obviously can’t handle the hard stuff.

As I feared, Vanderbilt chose to give much weight to the three doctors in the circle jerk at the U of MN claiming I had some sort of “facial weakness” that would imply MG and completely ignores the issue with the cerebral spinal fluid, which in turn ignores the vertigo, fatigue, slurred speech, numbness, and cognitive problems. It would also imply that I implanted a shunt for the fun of it – because I want something that I’m allergic to that causes a shit ton of pain in my body. It also means that they completely ignored the notes that indicated that my symptoms subsided when I had working shunts. Now I am back to the starting point, meaning no one knows what I have or how to help me. (Please note: I am still going through testing for the mast cell activation syndrome and I am watching the results slowly trickle in; my guess is that I’m going to have to repeat everything because nothing is extraordinary in the outcomes at this point.)

I also still don’t have disability money coming in. My hearing won’t be set until about a year from now, but my chances are only about 10% in my favor at the moment because I still can’t get a diagnosis or the NIH to work with me. I’m not being dramatic, I’m being realistic. My attorney would tell everyone the same thing.

If you have read this post in its entirety, thank you. I’m not asking for advice; that’s not how I operate. This is just one of those times where the Carousel of Crap feels extra shitty.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I’ve been laying low for a few weeks. Actually, that isn’t quite right – I’ve had to put on makeup nearly every day and wear a bra and be polite and make sure my pants aren’t falling off of my ass every time my name is called and I stand up because of non-stop appointments and activities. Most of the time it’s exhausting because my brain is being smushed like people have sent over a few of their puppy-monkey-babies to sit on my head and bounce around a little. At the end of each day I’ve had very little energy to do much else than watch my TV boyfriends Jimmy Fallon, Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore on Hulu.

My uncle’s memorial service was Monday. There was quite a large turnout – something in the neighborhood of 300 people, I think. It was lovely and sad, and especially tough to see pictures of my aunt and my dad on the slideshow that was run during the service, who preceded my uncle in death by 20 years. Every single one of us cousins on that side lost a parent at a very young age. Thankfully there were a few funny stories and pictures to break up the sadness.

About a month ago I went to a session at a health crisis center where a musician brought his guitar and we had a little singalong activity. It was nice to sing – it’s one of my favorite things to do – and I have a decent voice, and I met a woman who seemed to be fairly friendly. The thing about the crisis center is that people attend whether they have physical illnesses, mental illnesses, or both; this woman happens to have mental illnesses, though I didn’t know it when she started talking to me. She gave me her number and said she would be interested in getting together because she wanted to expand her friendship circle.

Well, I didn’t know it at the time, but “expand” really meant that she wanted to make A friend. One. Me.

I had new orders put in for nerve impingements in both my left shoulder and right hip, so I’m going to PT twice a week now. Besides that I have other appointments for counseling or additional doctor appointments at least once a week, including an EMG for my head and face tomorrow morning. I’ve still got the tremors going on in my legs from being upright so much.

I didn’t realize that the lady didn’t fully expect me to actually call her, or that I was the only one polite enough to give her the time of day. However, slowly as she cornered me on the phone day after day for a few hours at a time, she revealed she had some issues with obsession and stalking, including the fact that a man who attends her church has a restraining order out on her. At one point she told me that she thought that he was trying to be friends again; what did I think? I told her that he might have been polite, but she should keep her distance. I finally told her that I can’t talk on the phone every day. Now she texts me every day and asks if we can go and do stuff like shopping. I tell her every day that I have appointments and it’s really difficult for me to be running around all of the time. Now I’m at the point where I’m going to have to be firm and tell her that I just don’t have the energy or health to be her one and only friend. I’ll let y’all know if I come home to some rabbit stew and her standing in my bathtub with a knife.

I have been working on making the changes to my diet to make it anti-inflammatory, and that includes experimenting with ingredients. Today I made crispy chicken, which was breaded with garbanzo and fava bean flour (okay) and coconut flour brownies (eh), and I’ve determined that coconut flour and my esophagus do not mix. I’ve tried three different recipes that are coconut flour-based and they burn going down every time. I don’t think it’s a true allergy because I don’t get hives or asthma, but it’s still unpleasant enough to stop trying to make it work.

Four doctors now at the University of Minnesota have told me that they don’t think I have late stage Lyme, and they’re not quite sure what I have. No one can figure out why the hell I can lay down and make the CSF move away from wherever it’s pressing on my brain and I can open my eyes again. I talked to my PCP today about the possibility of getting my shunt removed completely since it’s not draining properly anyway and it’s just causing me pain now. It will probably be another six months before I will be able to go under the knife for that one since I first have to jump through the hoops for the pain doctor. I finally got the letter for the NIH Rare Diseases unit from my PCP and started that process tonight. Now I’m back on the rare disease boat.

Last, and most exciting:

I am no longer on OKCupid. I mean, yeah, sure, I was getting some really nutty stories to pass along (and I certainly haven’t told them all yet), but it’s because The Saint Paul really is worth it. The Saint Paul is close to my age, never married, no children, heart of gold, helpful, accommodating, matching sense of humor, curious, well-read and liberal. He supports my feminist stances and most importantly does not view my body as “his” space, as so many men still do with women. We had the best first through fifth dates, the last one involving him taking me to his favorite animal shelter so I could pet kitties. (I brought a shirt in a plastic baggie that I could change into so I wouldn’t contaminate my jacket on the way home.)

Stay tuned for further developments on the love front.

When Life Hands You Lemons

Another article has been posted on Patient Worthy! The picture is of lemons from my tree in Phoenix, something I dearly miss. My body is rebelling and my dates are in retrograde. Where’s my unicorn??

Hello Tremors, My Old Friend

Look Me In The Eye

On Friday, I wrapped up (I hope) a series of daily appointments at the University of Minnesota with a visit to an ophthalmologist.

Something happened while I was waiting to be seen. Actually, something was brewing the week before, but I wanted to deny it was happening, or would get worse. I think it has reappeared after more than five years because this is the first time since July 2011 that I have not had any successful shunt surgeries for 8+ months, and my brain/brain stem are getting seriously stressed.

Normally my symptoms resolve and I can open my eyes all the way when I’m laying flat. That’s the result of cerebrospinal fluid moving away from wherever it’s pooling and pressing on the brain stem and the nerve roots leading to my face. However, the tremors do not resolve with laying down. I remember being in an MRI machine in August of 2010 and the techs yelling at me to hold still because they couldn’t get clear pictures of my neck. I had absolutely no control over the tremors. This time around, for about a week I could feel the tremors in my neck when I laid down to sleep at night. I hoped it was the worst they would get.

Unfortunately, I have not been spared. The tremors are exhausting. And it’s bad enough that the world is already swimming around me – but the tremors really scramble my brain. They make my head constantly nod “yes.” I asked the resident doctor examining me for the ophthalmology test to document the tremors, since they started when I was sitting in a waiting area close to the examining room where I would be seen.

The reason why I insisted on seeing the ophthalmologist is that I wanted to have my vision problems documented – and not how they wished I could see, but what I could actually see. It’s going to take 12-15 months for me to get a hearing with a judge for a disability determination; I want to load the judge up with proof.

A tech took me through a ptosis vision field test. In the great scheme of things, it was pretty benign; no one had to stab me with needles or get me to take my clothes off. First they do the test without altering the eye to “see” what I can see. Then after that eye is done, the tech has to tape the eyelid so that at least 20% more of the lid is lifted. Have you seen the “tape game” by Jimmy Fallon? This is what it felt like. For extra special fun, my head was nodding so much that the tech had to grab my head and hold it in place for the test.