the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.“through an awareness of intersectionality, we can better acknowledge and ground the differences among us”
The state of Arizona doesn’t believe that I exist. I’m a woman with a bachelor’s degree, but I also have some rare diseases that have disabled me to the point that I am unable to work. I really had worked my ass off until I had my last shunt failure and surgery, when my neurosurgeon threw in the towel and gave up on me. The judge that I sat in front of for six minutes in March of this year noted in my paperwork that I had an exceptional work history. So my monthly pay is above the poverty level, because it’s based on the amount of take-home pay for the past 10-15 years (at the judge’s and state’s discrimination and calculation).
Let me back up a little. I got my official judgement saying I’m disabled. Yay. Then my attorney told me that I might have to wait a number of months to see any money. But on May 24th, I got a call from the federal office saying that my money would be released on May 27th. I asked how it would be paid. They said it would be sent how I asked it to be sent. I asked how that was possible, since I hadn’t specified. They said, oh, it looks like we have info from Arizona. (Instant panic, since I haven’t lived there for 3 years.) I said no, absolutely not, I have all of my info updated for Minnesota, there’s no reason for it to be sent to Arizona. They said too bad, if you want it sent to Minnesota, you have to go to your local Minnesota office.
So I did, on the morning of Friday, May 25th. I was a little worried because it was right before the holiday weekend. Luckily it wasn’t a long wait. But I found out that the money was already sent to Arizona – they didn’t wait until May 27th. It was sent on May 22nd. My former bank in Arizona reopened my account, accepted this rather large amount of money, and just sat on it. They didn’t tell me, and didn’t send the money back. For days. I was able to work it out so they could send the money to my current bank so it wasn’t lost. Anyway…
So, while at the Social Security office making sure they didn’t send anything else to Arizona, I mentioned Medicare. The man helping me said, oh, didn’t you know, you’ve had it since January of this year? Another panic. I knew just from reading some info and talking to others that meant that I had a deadline coming up in just a few days. I had to sign up for a supplemental insurance policy and medication policy or I could lose out on tens of thousands of dollars. And Monday was a holiday. That meant that I had Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to make phone calls and sign up.
This is no small task. I take 19 prescription medications, one of which is a weekly injection. The doctor that prescribes that had actually been working on getting an exception because my condition has been worsening. I reached out to the Minnesota SHIP office to talk about supplemental plans and medication plans. We found a supplemental plan that costs hundreds a month but could possibly transfer if I moved out of state. For the meds, I plugged in all of the names and we found out the injectable is not covered. It costs $37,000. Welcome to the world of rare diseases! So I had to call the manufacturer and talk to them about a patient assistance program, which might also allow me to get on a higher dose.
So now back to Arizona. When I talked to their local office that helps seniors find supplemental plans for Medicare, they couldn’t believe that a disabled person under 65 had a disability check that was above poverty level. It isn’t a huge amount, mind you, but it doesn’t meet the standards for poverty. So I can’t qualify for medical assistance as my supplement, which is their only option in Arizona. I also can’t qualify for utilities assistance, transportation assistance or food assistance. The woman on the phone had very little experience but offered to find out more info and call me back. When she did, she told me to buy the policy in Minnesota and take it with me, as there was no hope for me in Arizona.
So Wednesday afternoon, I purchased the supplemental plan for Medicare and verified it could come with me (in writing) if I moved out of state. It’s possible it’s going to become much more expensive, but not nearly as expensive as having nothing.
Thursday I finished sifting through all of the medication plans and tried to pick the best one. It was the least restrictive with the medications that I currently take (most of them wanted to restrict my Singulair, for some reason, of which I need double the normal dose). So I managed to get everything signed up before my June 1st deadline.
However, while all of this is going on, there’s something else that’s been cooking in the month of May.
Actually, this started in March. I had a crown fall off. A bunch of decay was discovered – first on that tooth with the crown, then the tooth next to it, then two teeth above it, then a bunch of cavities all over my mouth and it’s painful to eat or drink. I actually had to file a complaint against my dentist that I was seeing for about 2.5 years because he was physically abusive. When he was examining or treating me, he would pull my mouth roughly – so much so that the last time he left bloody fingerprints all over my exam napkin, and I had a swollen face for five days after. It was only after my massage therapist asked me who had been abusive with me that I filed the complaint.
The complaint was supposed to have been anonymous, according to my insurance. However, they revealed all of my info, and the dentist counter-complained (like I was the asshole, because I was the one sitting in the chair with my mouth open). Then my insurance told me to go to two other dentists, which I did, and then they told me to go to my original dentist, and he refused (DUH), all to get this decay and a root canal taken care of. The two new dentists told me that they wanted me to go fully under and to be in an oral surgeon’s office or hospital because of my anaphylaxis history as well as my inability to numb with Novocaine. They referred me either to the U of MN or to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC).
I called the U of MN for five days straight, and got different answers each day. They would say they didn’t do sedation, or didn’t take care of complicated patients like me, or were too booked. In the end, I got nowhere. So I turned my attention to HCMC, which happens to be a trauma 1 hospital. They told me they weren’t taking new patients (a huge lie). Then they told me to get a note from my doctor specifying which medications I’m taking – but that was only after they refused to answer my messages for 3 weeks. They wanted to see if my medical assistance would run out before they had to do anything.
Well, ta da! First day of no medical assistance, June 1st! That means I get absolutely no dental coverage. So even though they have been aware of this issue for a few months and I’ve done everything they told me to do, I got zero help. By the way, it’s likely I’m having the trouble with the decay in my mouth because the abusive dentist put metal back in my mouth even though I told him in writing and verbally many times I’m allergic. I found out after the two other dentists examined me that he put metal-based crowns in my mouth after I paid thousands to remove all the metal in my mouth because of my allergies.
I’ve already talked to my dental office that I used to go to in Chandler, Arizona for 11 years, and they have an in-house plan. For $100 a year I can have my cleanings, checkups and x-rays, and then 20% off of fillings and other stuff. So that’s the route I’m going to have to take. Plus I like them and I know they’re not going to rip me up and make me bleed on purpose.
If there was ever a time that I have felt the impact of being poor and being female and being ignored completely, this is certainly one of those times. I’m sure I’ll have many more opportunities.
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.
The last couple of weeks of December were a revelation.
I spent 20 years away from my family over the holidays, and I learned very early not to make a big deal out of the days we had off in November and December. When I’ve had serious boyfriends and we’ve lived close to their parents or grandparents, I’ve ended up at their houses, but if not, I’ve stayed at home and cooked whatever I’ve wanted to eat and overloaded on movies. A few times I’ve gone to friends’ houses – and one time that I did that, bringing my most recent ex with me, is a story still told today. My friend’s mom introduced us as, “Hi everybody, this is Chelsea, and this is ______, and they used to be boyfriend and girlfriend, and now they’re not, so I don’t know.” This was about 18 years ago, and when I reminded my friend, she started reminding her mother, and her mother finished the story, so yeah, it’s still fresh in her memory.
This holiday season really felt like a roller coaster. I received the results from the upright MRI. Just a few days after that, I received some medical records from a doctor I had seen one time for 20 minutes in August of 2015 when I was trying to find a primary care doctor who would take me on as a patient. I remember this one visit because the doctor had been so friendly, but I knew she was struggling with understanding the complexity of my conditions, and I had to repeat some information. I carried my previous records with me but she wasn’t interested in looking at them, she just wanted me to tell her again.
I was relieved at the end of the visit because it seemed like she was willing to take on the basic care like ordering my thyroid and cholesterol labs for my Hashimoto’s stuff. But then a week later I received a call stating that I had to find a new primary care doctor because she left the practice – she received notification that she passed an exam for a different field. I was floored. If you’re anticipating leaving, why take on new patients??
But the real kicker is getting her notes from that 20-minute visit now. Because I had to repeat myself, she wrote that I was “bragging” about my surgeries, and that I had Munchausen’s.
It’s really hard to read that in the same week that I received results saying that my brain has literally collapsed and I have tissue growing like a tumor and doing damage to my memory and speech. (Today I couldn’t remember why I called the county regarding picking out a vendor for medical assistance.) I still have a hard time talking about what’s going on, to get the words out. It’s serious. What’s happening is that the pressure in my cranium keeps rising, and it’s going to keep rising until it’s the same pressure as my blood pressure and I have a massive stroke and die. The two methods they have of treating it don’t work for me. First, the medication to reduce the CSF production has been proven not to make any difference for me. It’s been tried multiple times. Second, implanting another shunt isn’t going to work; I’m allergic to them all. I’m now at the point where I clog them and strangle them within days. I simply don’t have options at this point.
I also just got notes from a neurosurgeon from the University of Minnesota that I saw a year ago, from one of the guys I have nicknamed the Three Stooges. He was one of the three doctors who saw my MRI from July 2015 that had the beginnings of the slit ventricle syndrome and a smaller version of the tumor, and observed my fatigue, vertigo, facial droop, unsteady gait, and resolution of some of the symptoms when I tilted my head to move the fluid around. In my file he wrote that I “walk with a cane and can’t perform a tandem walk” but that I’m “fine.” He also stated that if anything changed, they would welcome me back to the neurosurgery department.
Fuck that. He’s not going anywhere near my brain when I’m unconscious. He obviously can’t handle it.
But the one bright light in all of this swamp of shit was that on December 27th, I received a voice mail from a case worker with the State of Minnesota. She simply stated her name and said that she approved my case for disability. As soon as I heard it, I immediately burst into tears. Being approved by the state doesn’t mean that I receive any kind of financial compensation, but it does assist me when I’m applying for housing – I can officially state that I’m disabled – and I also qualify for medical assistance as a disabled person instead of just a person living at or below poverty. It will also help to make my case stronger when it comes time for my hearing with the federal case, which I still don’t have a date for yet. My attorney thinks it’s still “some months” away.
The colder weather is creeping in, and the vines that have clung to the outside of my building and my window in particular have changed to a bright red, signaling shorter daylight hours. The school of thought used to be that the cold stopped the leaves from keeping their green; instead, now we know that it’s the actual length of daylight hours that makes the leaves change from green to gold and red and burgundy.
Now that we are staying inside more, bacteria are just rolling around and proliferating like little Tasmanian devils. The little jerks caught up with me. First I caught the flu, and after five days of that it turned into a double ear infection (the nurse practitioner said both ears were severely affected but neither had perforated, luckily). Three days later I developed bronchitis…because why not?
In the middle of that mess while I was running a fever, I kept my appointment with my GI doctor because he’s very much booked ahead of time and it would take me months to get another appointment. I desperately need my medication for acid reflux because missing it for even a few hours is agony, plus I needed to discuss my new MCAS diagnosis with him so he would understand the importance of keeping me on the medications. He mentioned at my last appointment in February that he wanted to wean me off of the medications because he didn’t want me to develop long-term usage side effects like osteoporosis. Now it looks like I’m just going to have to live with it and be the old lady hunched over the shopping cart.
I had forgotten between February and now how much I like Dr. Chaudhary. I’m even going to use his real name because that’s how much I like him – no need to hide him behind behind a stage name. He is one of the few doctors who has not sent me away and he is not intimidated by the complexity of my body.
Dr. Chaudhary knows my primary care doctor, and so we chatted about her for a moment. Then we talked about my new diagnosis, and I thought ahead of time to bring the paper copy of Dr. Afrin’s notes. I knew Dr. Chaudhary would have access to Dr. Afrin’s notes in the system even though they belong to two different practices, but because Dr. Afrin’s notes are INSANE – and they are – I thought it would be better to bring the paper so he could flip instead of scroll.
Dr. Chaudhary paused and looked at me and said, “Can I be honest with you? I want to be honest with you.” I told him yes, that would be fine. He said, “I don’t think that Dr. Afrin can help you with the problem with the CSF, sweetie.” I immediately started to get teary-eyed, but told him that that was what I was thinking too, it’s just a very emotional conclusion for me, and he said he understood. (Even as I’m writing this, I am crying.) Dr. Chaudhary said that Dr. Afrin will probably get a lot of the other stuff under control if we can get the right combination of medicine going. I obviously know the drill.
Dr. Chaudhary then asked me who my neurosurgeon was. I had to explain to him how I had tried to go through every healthcare system in Minneapolis/St. Paul, as well as the Mayo, as well as petition to be sent to Johns Hopkins and to the Cleveland Clinic, but was turned down every time (the doctor handed me a tissue). I also told him about the three doctors at the U of M who misdiagnosed me and how it affected my request with the NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Network turning me down, and how my primary care doctor didn’t advocate for me. He seemed especially troubled by the last bit because she was his former student and co-worker but he didn’t ask any further questions on that matter. I asked Dr. Chaudhary if he had any connections, but he said that the one person he would send me to went back to India about five years ago, so that was no longer an option.
This whole exchange about my ongoing neurological mystery took about 7 minutes. What makes him a good doctor – hell, a GREAT doctor – is that neurology is NOT his area. Dr. Chaudhary still talked to me as if I knew what I was talking about, and he certainly didn’t offer up lame diagnoses like myasthenia gravis which has nothing to do with me (ahem, University of Minnesota Neurosurgery and Neurologists!). A friend asked what made him a good doctor. To me, a good doctor isn’t one that is just empathetic or sympathetic, because quite frankly, I get that all day long. Dr. Chaudhary is invested. All I can say to that is you know it when you see it.
I got my scripts refilled. As he was leaving, Dr. Chaudhary said, “I will always remember you. You are my patient who is the opposite of the doll – you stand up and your eyes close, and you lay down and your eyes open! Take care, my dear. Do not give up. I know it is hard, but do not give up.”
I wish all of my doctors could be like him.
Thursday was a gorgeous day by Minnesota standards in September. It was bright and sunny, no clouds or humidity, warm enough still to wear sandals and short sleeves. I caught some pictures of flowers and bees and captioned them #winteriscoming (because I’m not fooled – this is, after all, Minnesota, and if you can’t tell, the second one contains a bee):
I had just settled back in my bed after the short bus had shuttled me to my errands when my cell phone rang. The ID said it was the U of MN clinic. I thought at first that it was a reminder for my appointment on Monday, but usually I get those on my home phone, so I quickly dismissed that thought and picked up. It was my orthopedic doctor – not his nurse, but the actual doctor who has been dealing with my left shoulder. I couldn’t help but immediately be on guard. He said my MRI results were in and that I indeed had a significant tear in one of my tendons and also in a labrum as well as tendinosis, and that I had choices: I could go on anti-inflammatory meds, I could get steroid injections, I could continue with PT, I could get a surgical consult. I asked him if he could do an injection on Monday when I saw him. He asked me if I would be okay until then.
I’ve been breaking my teeth for months now and begging for help and begging for an MRI, and he’s suddenly worried about me being okay for a few days now that he’s discovered that I have some significant tears?
Someone get this man a medal.
I asked him if he wanted to delay my appointment past Monday for some reason. He said no. I told him that I had been in pretty terrible pain up to that point, so what did a few more days matter? I’m not sure what he was offering besides that because he didn’t say, “Hey, I can make room for you during the day tomorrow,” and he didn’t say, “I can call in a prescription for you to try to make you more comfortable.” He just said, “Okay, if you don’t have any questions, then I’ll see you Monday.”
I have no idea why he called unless he was just trying to shave some minutes off of our appointment time on Monday so he could have the needle ready. Maybe he was trying to make himself feel better.
Without histrionics, I will say to him, “I told you so.” I will have a question for him on Monday, and that will be this: Do women not get tears in our tendons in our shoulders? The answer of course is of course not – obviously women do get tears in our tendons. We just have to do a lot more to be believed, like dragging our limbs behind us in a wheelbarrow.
There were three things rolling around in my “Personal Belongings” plastic drawstring bag – one “hat” that is used to measure output, and two tall brown jugs with screw-on lids and my name on them. It was time to collect my pee.
The jugs were about 4.5 inches wide and 4.5 inches deep but a whopping 12 inches tall, which meant that in order to fit in my half sized refrigerator, a shelf had to come out. I made sure that I set everything up on an empty bladder so I didn’t have to scramble to do it later. I rearranged my fridge and put the jugs on the top shelf so that they would already be cold, ready for the first deposit. I very loosely screwed the caps on. I got the box of green latex gloves out of my medical supplies and sat them next to the toilet; I was not going to be transporting the collected goodies with my bare hands. I put the “hat” under the seat.
Luckily The Saint Paul had a good sense of humor about the whole situation too. He was on cooler duty for me; I sent him a picture of the one I thought would fit the jugs and he picked it up on the way to my apartment after work. However, when we tried to fit the jugs, they were just about 3/4″ too big, so I had to send him back out for a bigger cooler (that I could still carry by myself while also using a cane). I thought I would only have room in my freezer for a 5-pound bag of ice and so that is what he came back with for me.
Bright and early the next morning I started drinking water.
As luck would have it, I had plans to see someone that evening whom I hadn’t seen in at least 13 years who just happened to be in the city because of a work obligation. When you get an opportunity, you do everything you can to take advantage of it! This friend was going to be only blocks from my now deceased dad’s and uncle’s hair salon (still owned by their good friend), so I thought, “Hell, I’m going to get some wigs cut too.” I managed to get a short bus for 3:45 pm to take me to the salon, and to pick me up and take me home at 10 pm, so that meant that I could only pee from 7 am to 3:40 pm, and about 10:30 pm to 6:45 the next morning. It’s a good thing I’m a planner. It’s also a good thing I have the bladder of steel. I told my friend I’d see her at a certain time and that I couldn’t pee while we were out (without offering an explanation).
I did pretty well. I took in about 80 ounces of water between 7 am and 2 pm, and managed to get a bunch of samples before my bus rolled up at 3:45. However, I did hit a few snags. First, the “hat” didn’t sit well under the seat – I almost completely lost the biggest collection and I had to jump up midstream and pull half of the container up from out of the toilet. It wasn’t dunked in the toilet water but I did manage to get both hands wet, and was so grossed out that I had to do a surgeon’s scrub before I could finish peeing, but I had to do it really quickly because I hadn’t been able to wipe my booty so I had to kind of stand bow-legged and squat like a cowgirl who had been riding the trail for days so my legs didn’t also get drenched (thank goodness for the bidet). Second, the “hat” didn’t have a very big pour spout, so when I went to the fridge to transfer my drop to the jug, I had to pour very, very slowly. I had a lot of time to contemplate my urine. I remember thinking, “Man, that smells really fruity. Why does it smell really fruity? I’m not even borderline diabetic.”
Another thought: “There are some FetLife men who would mourn the loss of this tasty liquid.” Another thought: “Replace ‘tasty’ with ‘nasty.'”
I managed to not use the bathroom once between 3:45 pm and 10:30 pm, so no samples were sacrificed in the name of reconnecting with old friends. Everything went into those jugs.
I only ended up filling up one of the jugs with my samples, and my special instructions were to bring the sample packed in a bag of ice packed in a container of ice to the hospital. However, since this cooler was much, much bigger than the one that was only slightly too small, I had to improvise when I realized the ice only reached the bottom 2 inches of the cooler when it spread out. I knew I only had minutes before the cab showed up to transport me to the hospital, so I started grabbing the nearest things – throw pillows from my couch to fill the large spaces. I stuffed those around the pee jug in a bag, then poured the ice in. There was still space not covered in ice. What to do? I had an old bag of nearly petrified cut rhubarb in the freezer that I thought was going to be used for custard bars (seriously, make these rhubarb custard bars), so that was thrown on top. Perfect.
I got to the M Health building at the U of MN hobbling with my cane in my right hand and this cooler big enough to fit a small man on my left (bad) shoulder and slowly made my way to the lab. When I got to the front desk, I notified the clerk that I had a temperature-sensitive sample, so she asked me to follow her to the back area with the phlebotomists so they could accept it and log it. The woman who ultimately took it was flustered and momentarily angry when she saw my throw pillows – she assumed that I had forgotten the ice part. I grabbed the rhubarb off of the top and threw it in the trash and she took the cooler to the back to pass it along to the technicians.
While I was waiting for my cooler to reappear, the clerk and I realized that another cooler that was sitting there was leaking water all over the floor. She opened it and it contained another pee jug. I was surprised to see it laying sideways completely submerged in water – I guess they had complete confidence that the screw top was a tight seal and there would be no transference either in or out? Either way, the clerk and I started working on mopping the floor up with paper towels. Of course, I did another surgeon’s scrub at the sink immediately afterward. If I’m not okay with getting my pee all over my hands, I’m not crazy about Stranger Danger’s either.
There is a distinct possibility that I will have to repeat this test a few more times. If so, I will be more prepared – more ice, less rhubarb!
Today was my big appointment with the movement disorder neurologist at the U of Minnesota, and it was decidedly anti-climactic. My first impression was that he was a young version of Derek Jacobi, pictured here:
All of the doctors seemed to be excited that I was scheduled to see this particular one and told me repeatedly how thorough he was. In fact, I was supposed to see him over a month ago, but he looked over my file a few days before I was due in and instead insisted I get my face tased (with an EMG) before seeing me, which pushed my appointment back so that he could rule out myasthenia gravis (a second time). I knew I didn’t have it as of 2010 and I still don’t.
This doctor was short on bedside manner, so I immediately shortened my answers and didn’t elaborate on anything. We went over my family’s extensive history of autoimmune diseases. He made me walk and do things with my eyes closed to deliberately make me fall (which made me sweat and because I was under so much stress, the tremors started up almost immediately). He shook my shoulders, sending white hot pain through my left shoulder that I’ve been going through PT for but am going to get an MRI for after next Friday because I’m not healing – I spent three years laying on that shoulder because all of my surgeries were done on the right side for that length of time, and the pressure really messed up the tendons and ligaments.
After all of that, the doctor told me that his nurse gave me the website in December that I should have checked out on movement disorders. He must have seen my eyes glaze over and the stubborn set in my chin because he left the room and returned with screenshots of the website. I politely folded them into squares and stuffed them into a pocket in my purse. He said that a doctor from July of 2015 believed that I have a facial movement disorder. I told him it was news to me, since the only thing that was said to my face was that I wasn’t a good candidate to have surgery to relieve the pressure on my optic nerves. This doctor said that the other doctor may have chosen not to tell me that I have a movement disorder because there’s “nothing that can be done about it anyway.”
This entire conversation is deeply flawed. First, I don’t have a facial movement disorder. I have a problem with CSF pooling in my cranium while I’m upright and it presses on some of the nerves leading to my face as well as my cerebellum; as soon as I lay flat, the fluid moves away from the area and I get full functionality back. Second, I have plenty of issues in which “nothing can be done” for them – including alopecia universalis, though he was quick to point out that someone was doing a study. I told him that it was low on my list of priorities. Third, I’m the motherfucking patient. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if this is one or more of the thought process of the doctors that it should be discussed with me?
When it was time to go home, the cab driver that got the dispatch to take me home pretended to come and pick me up but then acted like I didn’t show up – even though I was outside sitting on a bench in between approaching every cab that rolled up asking if they were there to pick me up, so it took me an extra hour to get home after I had to call dispatch to bitch.
I really could have just stayed home.
In fact, I would have benefited from a day in bed. I predicted that I would be laid out for a good week after last Saturday, but I think that it was an accurate call. Now that I have an honest to goodness boyfriend, we’ve been trying to do activities that I can actually handle for a few hours. There was a flea market/antiques expo at the state fairgrounds and I thought we could just take the bus because it stops right outside my building and seemed to spit us out right at the fairgrounds gate. I was not a good planner for this trip and we ended up doing a lot more walking than we thought – and it wasn’t like we had a choice, no one could do the walking for us. My phone tracks my walking automatically and I wasn’t surprised when I saw 2.5 miles for the day rather than my usual high of 0.5 miles. By the time I climbed the steps to my building, I was visibly shaking and was fighting fatigue tears.
But damn, this boyfriend rocks. The Saint Paul is loving and affectionate, and goes on food runs and lets me stay behind so I don’t have to get out of bed. I have begun meeting his family and friends, and he is in the process of meeting my people.
Most importantly, we have said the “L” word, and meant it, and will continue to say it. When someone great comes along, you absolutely can’t take for granted that they just automatically know how much they mean to you or how much you appreciate them. I’m infinitely grateful to the universe for nudging me in his direction.
And then there were two.
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.
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.
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.