April 10, 2015, was the last day I commuted home from a paying job. It was the last day I was on a dreaded conference call with a bunch of frustrated staff members. It was a Friday, and only three weeks into a contracting job after being laid off from a place where I had worked for over twelve years. I was already nervous about surviving because work had been interrupted by so many shunt surgeries prior to that time, but April 10th was the final straw.

I remember driving home during rush hour and having the familiar “lights out” sensation cloud my vision. I was only working about 8 miles from home, but since it was rush hour, it would take at least 45 minutes, and the darkness squeezed in almost right after I got behind the wheel. It took all my energy to focus on my lane and not crash into anyone else. I don’t even remember how I made it to the hospital after that, which was another 7 miles in the opposite direction. But I remember having to call my boss the next day to tell him that I would never be coming back in; they wouldn’t hold a short contract position indefinitely.

I wasn’t even sure my neurosurgeon would do surgery #10 in less than 4 years at that point. He had already said after #9 back in November that if I failed again, he was not willing to operate. But he did – sort of. He only did half of the surgery. And of course it failed. And then he sent me away, telling me I had to figure out what was the source of the problem, because he wasn’t going to continue doing something that was going to keep failing. It was all being put on me.

I did figure it out. It took me from 2010 to 2017 and 65 doctors to put all of the pieces together, not to mention the fact that I am one person, not even an entire lab or radiology department. I got zero support from the NIH’s Undiagnosed Diseases Network. The Minnesota Board of Health decided not to discipline 3 doctors (among many) who falsified information to get out of treating me. The Mayo Clinic banned me so I wouldn’t hurt their success statistics and change their #1 in the nation status in 21+ areas.

I lost everything: my car, my house, my ability to earn a livable wage, my confidence, my sense of security and self-worth, friendships, independence, and every last penny of my financial reserves. Thank goodness I already lost my hair over 15 years ago because if I had to go through that right now I’d absolutely lose my shit.

After filing three years ago, I finally had my disability hearing on Wednesday the 28th of March. I didn’t know what to expect. My attorney pulled me into a small conference room prior to the hearing and prepped me, telling me that if the judge asked me questions, to not take longer than 15-20 seconds to answer, and to speak up because he was older and may be hard of hearing. I was also told it may go as long as an hour.

But five minutes, and we were done. Long enough to read my name, and say that it was obvious I was disabled and not making anything up. The letters I asked Dr. Afrin and my current immunologist write for me were key for my case and noted in the judgment. The judge also specifically said that the way I was treated by the majority of the 65 doctors was appalling.

What’s next? I have to wait for Social Security to process the judge’s ruling, and then enter my info for payment, and like the Kool-Aid man, all you’ll see is my silhouette – I’m busting outta here. I gave Minnesota a fair shake for three years, but the fact that so many doctors lied in my medical records and refused to treat me has made my decision an easy one. I’ve decided to head back to Arizona where I will pick up again with 8 of the doctors I previously had; only a few will be switched out, including getting in with a neurologist who specializes in MCAS and Ehlers-Danlos. (Minnesota is a great place to be employed as a nurse, because they are paid relatively well, but it’s a horrible place to be a patient, and I’m far from being the only person who feels this way.)

I want to be clear about what this disability status means for me: 1) It doesn’t change any day-to-day abilities that I have. I still have to lay down and rest for the majority of my day, about 20 hours every day. 2) The actual status of disability is not permanent; I’ll be reviewed and my medical records will be combed through every few years by Social Security to make sure my health and abilities haven’t changed. 3) I still have to take the short bus everywhere, especially now since I’ll be making “too much” to get medical assistance (which is more than $0.00). 4) I still can’t get a motorized scooter – do you really want a half-blind person driving one of those??

My prediction is that this is all going to go down by the end of May, but I’m at the mercy of Social Security.

You Are Not Alone

It was such a beautiful day – partly cloudy, unseasonably warm. Such a beautiful day that our uncle’s soul could not be contained by the body that was failing, so he took his last breath at 9:00 a.m., sharp. He was never really one to sit still for very long anyway.

My brother called me last night. I had already taken my last dose of meds and had stumbled into my pajamas, when he said, “Chels, you need to get here. He’s here at the hospital and he’s not going to make it through the night.” I clawed out of my pajamas and hurriedly put my clothes back on, and then called my sister. I knew as soon as I heard her voice that she would not be able to get out of bed because she was sick as a dog. She was heartbroken and asked me to say goodbye for her.

Texting with my brother, I advised him that my cab was on its way, and he told me that our uncle was not responding. I started shaking. I tried to remember to put random things into my purse, including my phone charger and my favorite cough drops. I put on extra deodorant (though I knew I was fighting a losing battle on that one – I sweat like crazy when the fluid builds up in my brain like it has been for the last 9 months while I’m upright).

After what seemed like an eternity, but was really only about 20 minutes, the cab arrived. He asked me where I was going. I told him the facility. He asked me how to get there, because he had just moved to the area from Phoenix. Great. The blind leading the blind. Then on the way he had to stop for gas (but he kept the meter running, saying it was at a “reduced rate”). I couldn’t believe it. I was crying and trying to explain to him that I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the hospital on time. Then he started quizzing me on how old my uncle was and if he was sick for long. I’m not new, I know where this line of questioning leads: some stranger-danger jackass is going to tell me that he lived a long life (a week and a half short of reaching 65) and that if he was sick a long time, then I shouldn’t be sad.

But I am sad. You see, my uncle and I missed out on two decades of knowing each other. When he found out I was sick, he began slowly reaching out to me. But before that, we had had no contact. Twenty years ago, his brother – my dad – died, and as people do when they endure a major life event like that, we acted our worst. First, we fought over what Dad should wear to be buried. Whenever he wasn’t working, Dad was in either pajamas or very grubby outdoor clothes, and we kids and our step-mom said we wanted Dad to be buried in his (very nice) favorite pajamas. Our uncle put his foot down and said he should be buried in a 3-piece suit, because otherwise, what would their clients think? (Dad and our uncle along with their close friend owned a successful business.) I told him that the funeral wasn’t for the clients. Eventually we settled on the favorite pajama pants and a nice shirt.

Second, our uncle took me aside and told me, “I know I wasn’t very interested in you when you were growing up. I figured you didn’t really need me because your dad was so involved in your life. Now that he’s gone, if you ever need advice, you can come to me.” I was 22 at the time and already had been living away from home for about 5.5 years, so I felt as if he really missed the boat on being part of my life. Mostly I was hurt that he admitted what he thought about me. I was raw from dealing with the sudden loss of my dad and had no support like everyone else who was there and paired up like they were going on Noah’s Ark – no boyfriend and no spouse. I did what I had perfected long ago, and that was to shut down emotionally. 19 years have passed since we buried Dad and I moved around the country.

Slowly last year my uncle’s messages started to trickle in. He even made a donation to my YouCaring page to help me with expenses during my Magical Medical Mystery Tour. When he found out I was moving back to Minnesota, he asked if we could spend some time together. So the week after all of my belongings arrived and were still taking over my living room/bedroom, we squeezed a chair in between the boxes and the wall so that he could talk to me while I laid flat on the bed. I was mid-sentence in giving him a generic update on what was happening with me when he grabbed my hand and said while fighting back tears, “I’m sorry. I’m so happy to see you.” 

Now that I’m 20 years older and have contemplated life, death and illness, it was all I needed to hear. I repeated his words back to him. He leaned over from the chair to hug me tight and we cried. It’s the crying that you do when you see life with such clarity and you know that your time is limited. It’s the crying that you do when you’re not afraid of death but you are afraid of not being able to make wrongs right before it’s time for you to shed your body. He had stage IV squamous cell carcinoma and didn’t know how long he had until he could no longer function. We managed to have a few more visits before Christmas; after Christmas, he developed pneumonia and was sentenced to bed rest and constant care by his new girlfriend.

Last night a group of people hovered around his hospital room, all red-eyed and occasionally sadly smiling over the sharing of memories. I thanked his girlfriend for taking such good care of him; she went home to rest. Eventually the visitors dwindled down until it was my brother and I, our cousin and his best friend, our uncle’s ex-wife and our uncle’s best friend/long-time business partner. My nighttime meds were kicking in and making me extremely sleepy and I desperately needed to lay down to take the pressure off of my brain, so someone very kindly set up a cot for me in the family waiting room. My brother opted to sleep in the chairs. Everyone else stayed in the room with our uncle. I figured that we would hear sometime in the night that our uncle had passed.

I woke up and stumbled to the community bathroom and tried to make myself presentable. My eye makeup was smeared to raccoon status. My deodorant indeed was a huge disappointment. I stopped pretending to care and instead made my way to our uncle’s room. Surprisingly, only the best friend was there watching over our uncle – my uncle’s son, his best friend and the ex-wife had gone home to change clothes and make sure the dog was taken care of. My brother was still asleep in the family room and so the best friend/business partner went to get coffee while I stayed at my uncle’s bedside.

I used my time with him to sing. Sometimes it was impossible to get the notes out because the knot in my throat strangled me with grief. He wasn’t conscious and was fighting to take in air while he slowly drowned in his lungs. It was painful to watch because our once super-fit uncle had fluid pooling in his abdomen and lungs, prompting him to keep his mouth gaping open while he worked just as hard to push the air out as he did to get the oxygen in. Singing was all I knew to do because I felt helpless – I was coming into this process late and didn’t know what his wishes were as far as pain control went.

When my brother and my uncle’s friend entered the room, they both were concerned about the amount of work it was taking for my uncle to try to get air into his lungs. He seemed to be clenching his fists a bit and his shoulders were also working themselves forward and back in an effort to try to take in oxygen. The three of us decided that we wanted him to be comfortable, so I found the nurse and asked her if we could get assistance with pain medication. We talked about the effect that upping his meds would have on him, which was mainly depressed breathing. I was concerned that our uncle’s son wouldn’t make it back to the hospital in time. My sister and her husband were also trying to get there to say goodbye. But we went ahead and had the orders changed so our uncle could receive his meds more frequently to aid him in dying in comfort. We didn’t know when that would happen, because he survived another night when he should have been gone, really.

The nurse gave him painkillers in his IV and some drops under his tongue; he seemed to settle down and labored less to take in air. I stepped out of the room for about three minutes to make a phone call. When I returned, his color had changed completely. Our uncle was taking in small, shallow breaths, and his skin had taken on an unnatural tone of yellow with underlying grey. My brother held one hand while I held the other, and our uncle’s friend stayed at his feet. We all told him we loved him, we all wanted him to feel no pain, and it was okay.

I watched the pulse at his neck as it slowly ebbed like a far-off ripple on a lake. Finally, I put my fingers to his carotid and confirmed there was no pulse. The friend went to the nurse’s station to call the nurse and resident into the room. Our uncle had left, to join his mom and dad, his brother and sister, and probably my sister, as well as countless other souls who were no longer caged by their bodies. No more pain, only flying free.

My dad (L) and my uncle (R), playing around with their mom’s pantyhose. 


Why Feminism Is Good For Men

I recently connected with a man who proudly says he is a feminist. He is truly concerned for the women in his life and his actions match his word; yesterday he brought dinner to a friend who was working two jobs and had no time to get food, and then when he found out she wouldn’t be able to put gas in her nearly empty tank until 11:30 pm, took her car himself and filled the tank. We talked about what it’s like for women to move through this world – the men who shoulder check us when we are walking in opposite directions, women having to always think about how we are going to survive a trip to the grocery store without being hit on or hit over the head; how unsafe it is for a woman to travel alone to a majority of other countries (not to mention going a few miles away from home).

Of course, men are also hugely disconnected in interpersonal relationships when they label feelings as feminine and therefore without value. Some of the men I encounter on OKCupid have been on there for six years now, and claim that any blame lies with the women they meet on the site. However, they are terrible at self-examination (and most likely don’t have the first clue about how to learn it), and they will ALWAYS be single if they have shut down all possibilities to meaningful relationships complete with love and communication.

Spare Some Change?

This morning started out with crazy pain. I’ve had 18 years of fibromyalgia pain, and I have to say, that’s child’s play compared to what I have going on in my abdomen. I had an appointment with a new pain management doctor this morning, so the crazy pain at least had good timing. I had to explain all over again why it’s happening (I’m allergic to the drainage catheter of my shunt, which goes down to and loops around in my abdomen), and endure the doctor poking and prodding my stomach and bending and lifting my legs. Big, fat tears were leaking out of my eyes. I begged for a change in meds.

What I have to do to transition from one medication to another is slowly decrease one med over the course of two weeks, and then begin a new medication and work up to the full dosage over four weeks’ time, so I have to commit six weeks to focusing on getting this right.

Really, it’s not different from anything that’s a change. I need to also change my food intake. No dairy, gluten, soy or sugar means some big adjustments in what I eat and when. I really have to plan and think out the simplest things, because I’m not going to be able to grab a hunk of cheese as a snack and instead I have to have something readily available that falls within the much smaller parameters that I’m stuck with.

Kira’s blog on change is so timely for me. She talks about the process we logically and methodically use to incorporate the change into our lives, and what makes change successful versus a total and utter flop.

I wish someone could diagram for me a plan to successfully avoid chocolate.


Illness Army: “9 Things I wish I knew when I first fell ill”

I first became sick when the internet was just in its infancy, and so I had to figure a lot out on my own without reaching out to people online. Now that we are lucky enough to have a robust internet and increased access, I think this is a great list for people who are researching their new diagnoses, as well as a good reminder list for those of us who are seasoned sufferers.

Indisposed and Undiagnosed

Here is a thoughtful, honest piece from my friend Rhosyn.
She runs the blog https://rhosynmd.wordpress.com and is happy to chat to any sufferers who are seeking support. Rhosynhas been ill for four years now and has gained many coping mechanisms along the way, that she is happy to share with you.
Please give her a follow.

If you would like to see your post published, check out our Submissions Guidelines Page.

A few months ago I was laying in bed after another fruitless doctors appointment and I was thinking of all the things I wish I knew at the start of my illness, so I decided to write them down in the hope that they might help someone else. So, without further ado, here are my top tips for the recently diagnosed chronic illness warrior.

1.) Don’t dive into anything right away.

Make sure you give yourself time and…

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But I’m A Nice Guy

I have grown to dread this self-proclamation: “But I’m a nice guy.” In fact, I have grown to develop a specific distaste for OKCupid profiles that are like “Niceguy4U” and “niceguy69” and “goodguy98787.”

Why? Well, if someone has to keep telling others that he is “nice” or “good,” it’s likely he’s not. The key is to get past the words and watch the actions. 

For about a week I was chatting back and forth with a guy who claimed he wanted a real relationship. His screen name was something like “Love4You” – red flag right there. We messaged for a few days and then he asked if we could text, so I agreed and gave him my phone number. Then he asked if we could get on the phone, so we chatted that way. He told me it was really great to talk to me, and that he felt at ease with me, and that thinking about me and our conversation made him smile. I thought he was really friendly and enjoyed our conversation too.

We made a date for last Saturday, but it fell through because he had to have work done on his truck. He suggested we make a date for the next Saturday. Between that afternoon and this evening, we spoke on the phone a few times, and we texted multiple times each day. Mr. Nice Guy said that he wasn’t interested in sexting at all. I told him that I thought that was refreshing. I also told him – multiple times – that I don’t want to talk about anything like that until after we met, because it puts unrealistic expectations on us when we do meet for the first time. He agreed and told me he was much more interested in sharing his life with someone – specifically, me – and he was already talking future plans, like what he was going to cook for me and where we could go, even with my physical challenges.

Again, through all of this, Mr. Nice Guy repeatedly told me that he liked my sense of humor and that he smiled when he thought of me. He told me that I had a very positive attitude. I told him that I was looking forward to our date on Saturday. He said he was too, that he thought we’d have a great time.

Another red flag: On Tuesday (Super Tuesday for voting!), I got a message from Mr. Nice Guy saying, “Can we meet Sunday instead of Saturday? Busy day.” I told him that would work for me, and he thanked me. This was the second time in less than a week that he changed the date.

We had gotten into the habit of saying good night every night. On this particular night, I told him sweet dreams, and asked him what he would like to dream about that night. Mr. Nice Guy answered, “You.” I said, “Thank you. Where would you like to go in your dream?” He said, “In my dream with you?” I said, “Yes. Pick a place and we’ll go there. I’ll see you in your dreams.” He said, “In bed.”

I didn’t see this right away because I was still trying to change for bed as well as wash my face and brush and floss, so he noticed the big pause and said, “Too direct?” When I saw his messages, I said, “Didn’t we say we weren’t going to go there at this point?” He said, “Yes very sorry.” I said, “I just don’t want to jump the gun.” Mr. Nice Guy said, “That sounds good to me. Falling asleep” and he ended his text with a very enthusiastic smiley face. The trouble is, he didn’t go to bed. OKCupid showed him logged into the system until 9:40 pm, later than our interaction. That reeks of looking for a piece of ass, in my book.

The next evening I sent Mr. Nice Guy a text greeting him by name and asked him how his day was. He answered, “Very busy. Had a 5 minute lunch. Stayed 45 minutes on overtime. Gonna get much more busy.” And then he said, “Good night” – at 7:45 pm. You bet your sweet ass he was logged on for a few more hours on OKCupid.

Then at 6:05 pm tonight, I got a message that said, “I met someone. Good luck in your seach” (bad spelling included).  How did I respond? “Nice.” How did I want to respond? “You’re a dick” would have been appropo; so would have “You’re a fraud.” I mean, for someone turning 50 in a month, you would think he would have the manners and integrity to be truthful with me and call me instead of texting this ridiculous made-up story. I am pretty sure that’s why he’s still single.

I have his number and messages blocked on my phone and I blocked him from seeing my profile or messaging me on OKC. However, I can still see his, and he was logged on for three and a half hours this evening. With as quickly as he wanted to move to chatting on the phone, Mr. Nice Guy’s claim that he met someone is obviously false because he’s still trying to hook up with someone.

A couple things could be happening here:

1) Mr. Nice Guy really does just want sex and is not interested in a relationship;
2) Mr. Nice Guy is still married;
3) Mr. Nice Guy is embarrassed that I turned him down;
4) Mr. Nice Guy is pissed that I turned him down.

Whatever the reason, that’s one less man-child for me to raise. Mr. Nice Guy isn’t so nice after all.


I Love Where I live-Part II

Where does your heart sing? Live THERE.

Marilyn R. Gardner


I know this brilliant woman, Alisha Paddock, who is working on her doctorate on the intriguing subject of sacred space. As part of her research she’s been studying the difference between space and place. Here’s how she briefly describes those differences at their very essence:

Space is an abstract concept and needs an identity, memories and certain behaviors attached to the space in order to change it to ‘place’. When people lose (their place and with it their sense of identity, their memories, their behavioral cues) because they have been displaced (by outside forces as refugees), or (by) travel, or because of a move, these people are re-placed and need to work at creating a new identity, defining proper behaviors for the new space, and staying long enough to create new memories. People need these types of connections not only to other people but also to…

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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:

Don’t Ever Think ‘Equality’ Is A Dirty Word

We need women (and MEN) from all walks of life, from all occupations, from all age groups, to get on the bandwagon with the idea that equality is worth it. Already my nephews, aged 10 and 6, have started reciting the ugly words, “Boys are smarter than girls.” They certainly didn’t learn that from me or their parents. Now our work is even harder with trying to turn that thought process around (if it is even a process – because they are more parrots at that age than scholars).

I want all girls and boys to grow up to appreciate differences while embracing each other for their value as human beings first.

I want women to receive equal pay for equal work.

I want men to stop claiming all space as their own, including women’s bodies.

I want women to be supportive, rather than see each other as competition to be beat.

But in addition to that:

I want people who are labeled “disabled” to be out in the work force (if they are able) and have a social life filled with inclusion, and to be portrayed correctly in advertising, TV and movies.

I want “inspiration porn” to end.

I want the freedom to practice – or NOT practice – any and every religion of my choosing.

I want churches to start paying taxes.

I want people of ALL races to be valued, truly, but I want privilege to be acknowledged and then driven to extinction.

I want our actions to match our words.

I want choices, whether it’s the company I keep, the job that pays the bills, the food I put in my body, the chemicals I keep away from my dwelling and the doctors I see. The more we work towards total inclusion, the better our lives will feel, period.


I Take My Sex Like I Take My Tea – With My Consent

Consent, with sex replaced as tea! If you can understand drinking liquids, you can understand consent.

The Lonely Tribalist

This video was created by the Thames Valley Police November 2015. They’ve been implementing a #ConsentIsEverything campaign, which is all sorts of awesome. Why it hasn’t gone more viral is a damn shame because it is so good – mainly for its simplicity. If you haven’t seen it before, give it a watch below. It’s quite worth 2 and a half minutes of your life.

*sigh* So sad that consent can be so easy to understand when applied to pretty much any other activity, but it’s just flabbergasting to apply to sexual agency and freedom. Thank you, Thames Valley Police, and everyone else putting in the hard work to normalize consensual sexual relationships!

[Header image source: Vimeo]

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