Furnishing a House And Keeping My Parents Living There With Me Through Memories and Decorative Items

The past few weeks since dad died have been the days I’ve been most dreading for quite a while (starting in earnest last summer when he was too tired to go on a private yacht for a week.  He claimed seasickness- that didn’t fly as he’d been in the navy and had a sailboat with two other couples.  Then it was too much fatigue- which was a huge change; this guy ran around ALL the time.   He was changing, and his mortality slapped me upside the head.  With both parents gone, I feel like I’m about 12 years old some days (and younger on other days, for bits of time) when nothing seems like it’s going to be OK, even though I know eventually the pain dulls, and the memories of good times will again get brighter.  Right now, it’s just a rat maze going through the paperwork things, keeping up with two ‘abodes’, and working to get the decisions made for what I want changed in the house without removing either of my folks from it.   I miss my daddy… haven’t called him that since about first grade.   Tonight I asked my uncle Russ if here was still a pair of shoes (or something ) that I could put with mom’s on a Welcome Mat inside the door.  I’ve got a pair of mom’s (with San Diego animal park shoelaces) that will work well- and Russ has a pair at the house in mind for dad’s.  <3

My dad designed that house with his cousin (who is an amazing architect), and put a lot of time into it. I want to keep those special touches that remind me of him.  There are bricks from the streets of Chicago from the time of the Great Fire that make up the living room fireplace – 14 feet tall on one half of the ‘Great Room’ (remember Mrs.  O’Leary’s agitated cow?), a custom stained glass window in the gable of the vaulted ceiling in the kitchen, and an acre in the back of the house, with partially wild grass and trees- very private, and beautiful during seasonal changes- snow is gorgeous back there.  There are a lot of birds, squirrels, sometimes deer, wild turkeys, and other critters, which I love.

It was all put together by a family friend who is a great contractor (still in business), which has been HUGE in helping me get through the various updates I want to get done- the guy who built it has been out measuring, and his son and project manager have been walking me through all of it; they’ve been wonderful.  What they don’t do, they know someone who does that works with them often.   The carpet is the original stuff from 1976.  It’s gotta go- it’s got green tints where there were no drapes (on purpose).  Window treatments must be changed- the drapes are ‘nice’, and in good condition, but not my thing- I MUST have something that directs light away from me because of the dysautonomia and temperature regulation in my body.  The windows face east-west on either side of the house, so sauna material if I’m not careful.  The bathroom wallpaper is “disco era”, with foil.  It’s in outstanding condition, so for now, it stays.  I can live with that.

Dad and I had talked about things I liked and others I’d probably change long before he died.  His taste was “House Beautiful” (with antiques and high end collectibles- that  are  now at an auction house)… I’m more “House Standing”, with comfortable furniture and a casual vibe that I hope is inviting, as well as a place I’ll stay in as long as I’m still breathing air.  There were a couple of things that I hadn’t anticipated (isn’t that how it always goes?) that ate about a third of my original ‘goal’ budget… but I want to get it all done right, so it seemed like a no-brainer.  I found an alternate for a pantry that will work well, and saved me a few thousand bucks.

After getting a check from the first auction of dad’s belongings that I didn’t keep, I set off to a local mom and pop furniture store that has been in town for  a LONG time.  They’re having their grand opening of a store closer to me, which I hadn’t realized was still going on, so that was a nice surprise to know I’d get %20 off (roughly).   I’d set out for 2 green recliners  (only) that felt like sitting in a cloud, but had to swivel to either talk with guests or watch show falling/thunderstorms from the windows in the living room. If I can get the gas fireplace going, that’s another form of live entertainment.  Anyway, the chairs will be made to my preferences.   I hadn’t expected to be able to get a couch in a custom fabric for what I could afford, a beautiful Amish (simple design, well made) BED- the whole thing, headboard, frame, and foot board, and a great  buffet – all in my taste.  Very simple designs, sturdy, and fit into a contemporary house in the main part, with the Amish bed working with my quilt and a bit more retro/mild country vibe in there.  The kitchen will be a bit of an eclectic bouquet- but still keep the colors dad worked so hard to pick out for the counter overlay and bigger items.  There are a few cosmetic cabinet things that I need to get done – but all in due time.

This might not sound like an earth shattering event to a lot of people, but it’s the first  time I’ve been able to pick out everything I like !  I’m not refurnishing the whole place- I still have some nice pieces here, as well as some things I’m keeping at the house that dad had.  When dad found out that the reason I didn’t have much furniture in Texas (and nothing new) because of financial constraints, he sent me money if I’d find a second hand item in good condition.  He did buy me a new dinette set (was eating at a card table for over 20 years), as well as a group of end tables and coffee table, and a 32 inch TV when my 13 inch set that I got  in late high school  had lost so much horizontal hold that I got audio and about an inch of the “picture”, but it had lasted for about  20 years ! .   The ‘new’ TV even made it back to my hometown when I moved 1250 miles back to help take care of my mom (she died in 2003, which was unexpected), and was then graduated to the flat screen.   Now, I have at least 4 other TVs (dad had one in his bedroom, my old bedroom (his self-proclaimed den),  living room, and kitchen… I forget if one was in the downstairs living area  or not- it’s designed for visitors for the most part).

The dining room table was made for the house, and is a big, solid piece of table, covered in formica- doesn’t sound that exciting, but in the “Great Room”, it works very well.  Chairs from an old opera house from somewhere around here surround it.  Those stay.  :)   Living in apartments for  30 years has been great in a lot of ways; I’ve moved a lot, maintenance was a phone call or e-mail away, etc.  But white walls (I will have those at the house  mostly,  except for the  wood paneling walls that are painted a shade of almond, and the disco wallpaper, which is fine- outstanding installation), the less expensive carpet in apartments, dinky refrigerators, some seriously funky linoleum over the years, and NO ‘right’ to do my own thing has been annoying.  Then there are the views.  One takes what one wants if the price, neighborhood, and location work.   For the last 13 years, I’ve had a nice apartment, but my view is of a parking lot and a tree. My second apartment in Austin,TX overlooked a relic car part lot… never saw so many Corsairs in various stages of decomposition.    I do have nice neighbors here at the apartment now- and I will miss them.  I spent time growing up at the “new” neighborhood, but don’t recognize the vast majority of the folks there.

It is fun to pick out new things, but it’s also really important to me to keep my parents’ presence in that house.  They are what made it a home.  The scuff marks at the top of the stairs from dad’s shoes will stay.  Mom’s wheelchair marks on the bedroom door will also be untouched.  There are some things that nobody but me will appreciate, and that’s fine. Dad left me a wonderful home and “yard” (more than an acre, WITH his lawn guy staying on for the weekly trims).  It gets harder to know he won’t be coming back.. it’s only been  a month and a half since he died (time gets so warped).  I was pretty sick with bronchitis for a couple of weeks after going gangbusters with “getting it done” (I’d ‘house sat’ for dad whenever he was out of town, so knew what as in the house, and what I didn’t want to keep).    I’ve slowed down a bit, but still moving forward.

But I really miss him.  Fifty-two years, I was blessed enough to call that man my dad.❤

My Earthly Rock…. Part Two

This is the hard part… it’s hard to write these memories, that are so fresh.

Dad was transferred to the rehab hospital on March 24, 2016,  three weeks after being admitted to the hospital.   He was very nervous about the rehab hospital not wanting to take him because of various symptoms associated with the spinal cord pressure from the lesion that was still not identified after several biopsies (the spinal cord lesions, bone marrow biopsy- nothing was ever identified as cancer).  I reassured him (or tried to) that those issues were why they were in business.   Dad was willing to give it all he had.  He was weak after three weeks in bed.  During his time in acute care, all transfers were done with lifts or passive movement (mostly to avoid the hospital staff getting back injuries).  He hadn’t been up on his feet for those three weeks.  For each day in bed, %3 of muscle strength is lost.  That’s why it’s so important to be up as much as possible when someone is sick and/or in the hospital.  But sometimes, it’s unavoidable.

The first day dad had physical therapy at the rehab  hospital,  I wanted to be there to get an idea of how he was starting out.   With two therapy staff, putting their shoes in front and back of dad’s shoed feet, and him pushing up from the elevated therapy mat, he was able to stand up absolutely perfectly… but he couldn’t tell he was vertical, and he felt like he was falling.  He knew he was up, but had no idea where he was in space (proprioception issue).   He had a look of terror in his eyes, but he was doing everything they asked him to do.  Everything.   I was actually very encouraged by what I saw, and it brought tears to my eyes.  It really looked like he had a good chance at getting strong enough to go home.  He had to be able to transfer with one assist (one person) in order to go home, and if the first day had him ‘up’, I was thinking that a few weeks would have him that much stronger.  I  kept telling him “you’re doing SO good!”.  And I meant it.

During the initial acute care hospitalization, and continuing in varying degrees, dad had been having stomach pain (he’d also been hospitalized in Florida for stomach issues that were thought to be food poisoning).  It was thought to be from the way the nerves worked coming from the area of the spinal cord with the most pressure on it.   I questioned why nobody was trying to figure out how to help that, and I was sort of dismissed as just not understanding that it was from the spinal cord pressure.   I had worked neuro when I got out of nursing school, as well as various types of rehab during the 20 years I was able to work as an RN.  I understood the obvious symptoms, but knowing my DAD, I also knew that nobody was even considering that something else could be causing a problem.   Being out of an acute hospital sort of narrows focus.  Nobody was looking for any other problem.   And that was a huge omission.  I don’t know if anything could have been done, but nobody was looking.

The stomach pain continued to be a problem in regards to general comfort (progressing to suffering), ability to eat, and his general feeling of not going to be OK.   Come to find out, dad was right.  There was something going on that nobody knew about.  He’d been telling me specific things he wanted done if he died.  He had me write them down.  There were four things he wanted done specifically with three paintings and a  small Steiff teddy bear.  I wrote them down, but never thought that he was not going to get through rehab.

On April 3, at 5:20  that Sunday morning, I got a call from the rehab hospital to tell me that dad was having more intense abdominal pain, and his blood pressure had dropped when they got him up to use the bedside commode; he needed to go to the ER.  I jumped out of bed and grabbed what I might need (my medications) for the day, and took off to try to catch the ambulance to make sure we got to the hospital where dad had been prior to rehab.  I understood that they HAVE to go to the closest one if someone’s vital signs are too unstable, but thankfully they went to the hospital with his more current records about the current situation.  I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I got back to the room to see dad.

He was delirious from pain as well as sepsis (which was discovered through the ER blood testing).   He was unable to give the right year, and wasn’t cooperating with the nurses as they tried to get an IV in to give him pain medications.   Normally, dad would joke around with those trying to help him, but he kept telling us all to “shut up” (not a phrase he used), “get my overcoat”, and “goodnight, goodnight, goodnight”  (wanted to be left alone). He was also doing these weird biting gestures towards his female friend when she got there.  I got  up near his head to talk to him (and wiping his mouth after he vomited), and explaining that everything that was going on was to help him.  He’d acknowledge that he’d heard me, but was still erratic and ‘not right’.  Eventually, the nurses got an IV in to give him pain meds (and nausea meds), which did help him settle down.   I’d never seen dad like he was that morning, and it scared me, but I had to stay in ‘nurse mode’.   I knew that I’d just become responsible for decisions regarding his care.  He was no longer capable of making rational decisions about his health.  The POAH (Power of Attorney for Healthcare) had just kicked in.  That made me so sad.  Dad had always been able to make good decisions, and his mind had always been so sharp, with a great sense of humor.

Dad was sent for an abdominal CT scan, to find a source for the pain.   When the ER doc pulled me out of the room to tell me what was going on, I was completely caught off guard.  Even the ER docs and radiologist weren’t expecting what they found on that scan. There was a ‘diverticula’ (small pocket that extends from the intestinal wall) that had ruptured.  Dad had never been diagnosed with diverticulosis (the outpouchings) or diverticulitis (inflammation of the outpouchings).  The contents of dad’s bowel had been spilling into his abdominal cavity, causing extreme infection to the point that his system wasn’t able to fight it off (peritonitis with sepsis/septic shock).  The bacteria had also spilled into his bloodstream causing the sepsis and septic shock (what  made his blood pressure drop).  The sepsis was so severe that it was producing gas in his abdominal cavity and bladder.   Four specialists that were contacted, and nobody could fix it. Only one came in to see him (urology guy), and he said that the catheter was the only fix for gas in the bladder (which had already been inserted when he got there).  A general surgeon, urologist, infectious disease doc, and internal medicine doc- and the ER folks- all said that dad was going to die, more by what they didn’t do than what they said.   I knew what they were saying, and yet it didn’t seem possible that this vibrant man who had driven home from south Florida just weeks earlier was going to die very soon.  And that I was responsible for any decisions until that happened.

Dad and I had discussed end of life care many times, and I knew what he wanted.  He didn’t want anything heroic or that would prolong the inevitable.  The disease process was making all of the decisions for him for the most part, I just had to sign off on not doing anything active, other than whatever it took for comfort.   I knew that he didn’t want to be a full code- he had made himself a “no code” when he was initially hospitalized in March.  But signing that “Do Not Resuscitate” paper broke my heart.  I felt like I was giving up on him, and yet I knew that keeping him in a state of intense suffering would have been cruel and selfish. The ER doctor and nurse practitioner made sure I understood what was going on, as well as the inability to offer any hope besides comfort care.  When  I told them that I’d been an RN since 1985,  they sort of relaxed a bit.

I had gone back in to talk to dad, telling him that they knew why he was so sick, and that they couldn’t fix it.  He nodded enough to let me know that he heard me.  When I asked him if he was ready for comfort care only, he nodded (not that we really had a choice).  When I asked if he was ready to see mom, he nodded again.   I had promised him that first day he was in the hospital (March 3) that I’d be honest with him about anything I knew, and I felt that I needed to keep my end of things regarding what the CT scan had shown.  That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  He had a right to know.  He almost seemed relieved.  He’d been in so much pain, and was facing dependency in a nursing home if he couldn’t transfer with only one person.  That wasn’t my dad.  My dad was the guy who got up at 7:00 a.m. to go stand in line at estate sales, or drive crazy distances while traveling.  He wanted to live as long as possible, so when he nodded that he was ‘ready’, I knew that he needed the ultimate relief of being healed by the Great Physician.  He was ready to see God.

They offered a bed in ICU, which would have driven dad nuts with all of the bells and alarms, and it wouldn’t have fixed anything.  Dad hated any extraneous noises, so I knew he just wanted a private room where it was quiet.  With any admission, he’d beg me (literally) to make sure he got a private room.  I had to tell him those times that I’d do what I could, but hospitals have to reserve some private rooms for people who are admitted with infections that would put others at risk.  But with palliative care (end of life), private rooms are generally available.  So that’s where we went… to a room on the cancer floor where they were used to handling patients who were there for comfort care only, until the inevitable happened.

I had called one of dad’s close friends earlier that day while dad was in the ER, and let him know what was going on.  He had been able to get to dad’s Sunday School class and let them know  en masse, which was incredibly helpful (one of dad’s lifelong friends was also in that class, and he came up when dad was still in the ER).  Those two friends were able to come and visit, and another friend had dad’s brother’s phone number (he was in Florida) so I could let him know as soon as I got it.  My uncle called dad’s local cousins, who were able to see dad later that afternoon, after dad had lost consciousness.  But they were there, and able to spend time with dad once he got to the room.  I firmly believe that it’s important to let people know that they aren’t alone, even if they can’t respond.  It was important that those friends and family be able to see dad before he died.   The friend that I first called (I had his phone number, as he was my ‘go to’ guy while dad was in Florida) arrived after dad was in the room, and I went out to tell him that dad was dying… I’ll never forget the look on his face. Nobody was expecting things to change so drastically.  Both of those friends had seen dad the day before, when he seemed to be doing better.  Looking back, it’s likely that the diverticula had already ruptured, and the pressure was relieved, so he felt better- but that started the cascade of toxins in his system, that ultimately caused the septic shock which is what killed him.

During the time in the room, the nurses were fantastic about watching dad’s comfort level. Even when someone can’t verbalize how they feel, it’s easy to watch restlessness, picking at blankets or clothing (dad kept trying to remove his gown, so I just took it off and kept him covered with the sheet and blanket),  moans, etc.   I was there from the time he got to the ER that morning, and  alone with him after 9:00 p.m. or so, when the others went home.   I wanted that time alone with him, knowing that those were going to be the last hours I’d ever have with my dad.

The nurses would come in periodically, and ask if I wanted certain things done (blood pressure, blood sugar, catheter, etc).  I agreed to anything that was for comfort (the catheter helped decompress the gas that had built up in his bladder, but there was already no urine being produced).  Nothing was going to be fixed by having his arm squeezed for a blood pressure reading (but I did agree to them doing it if they needed it for paperwork; they didn’t).  His blood sugar wasn’t going to get better (he’d been on steroids for the spinal cord pressure, which are known to elevate blood sugar, as can infection).   I’d had to make the same decisions when my mom died.  Dad had deferred to me once he knew that mom wasn’t going to recover from her sepsis caused by a urinary tract infection that was blown off at a hospital in Sun City West, AZ (not Mayo).  It was a horrible repeat of her death in many ways.

For almost four hours, I was alone with dad.  I’d sort of flip flop between ‘daughter’ and ‘nurse’ mode.   Sometimes, I’d sit in the recliner by his bed and just listen to his breathing, never wanting it to stop, but knowing that he needed to get some perfect peace.  Other times, I’d  sit on the bed, and hold his hand or stroke his cheek with the back of my hand, telling him how lucky I’d been to have him for a dad.   I reassured him that I’d be OK, but that I’d miss him.  I let him know that I knew he’d been working so hard to go home, but if he was ready to rest, it was OK  (it’s important to let people know that if they die, loved ones will be OK).  The nurse medicated him a couple of times when his breathing indicated that he was likely uncomfortable.  And, I’d  cry, knowing that ‘it’ was going to ‘happen’ soon.  Those hours were both precious and excruciating.

Finally, his breathing eased into a gentle rhythm.  There was no struggle.  He just slowed somewhat, and then his breathing gradually and gently slowed to a stop.  I was sitting on the bed with him when he went to be with the Lord.  There was a single facial ‘contortion’, and then ultimate peace and healing.  He was reunited with mom (they’d been together for 46 years), and his love after mom had died (Marilyn- 8 years).  He got to see his two sons who had died as newborns, within a couple of weeks after their separate births.  He was reunited with many friends and family.  And, most importantly, he was finally free of the pain and fear that had gripped him for many weeks.

It’s only been a little over a month since dad left this earth.  I will always be so thankful for the 52 years I had him.  He was my biggest ‘cheerleader’, and always had my best interests in mind.   I miss him.  A lot.  But with hope in the promises of the God I believe in, I know I’ll see him again.

My Earthly Rock… Part One

The last couple of months have been heart wrenching.  My dad died.  He was 83 years young, and until the end, he was very active.  A couple of weeks before he went to the hospital, he drove from south Florida to northern Illinois in two days, covering the distance from south Georgia to home in one day to outrun a snow/ice storm.   He had always been my biggest ‘cheerleader’ from the time he and mom got me at 10 days old until he died.  But let me back up a bit.

My dad had always been pretty healthy.  He had the standard appendectomy and gallbladder surgeries.  He did have a bout with thyroid cancer a few years ago, that required surgery and radiation, but he was considered to be cancer free with the scans monitoring his situation.   This is a guy who didn’t even own a bottle of Tylenol for a long time, and when he started having some unexplained back pain several months ago, he finally gave in and got some Aleve.   When he called his primary doc about the back pain in November 2015, the doc ordered muscle relaxants over the phone- for a guy who had no history of chronic back pain, and did have a history of cancer.  I wasn’t (and still am not) very happy about that.  I feel he should have been seen in person.  Just as a matter of good care for something that wasn’t part of dad’s history.  Dad just sucked it up and dealt with it.

He felt good enough to go to Florida after Christmas with his female acquaintance, whose daughter and son-in-law have a condo overlooking the ocean.  During his time there, he had what was felt to be food poisoning, and did a two night stint in the hospital down there, staying an extra night when he got too dizzy in the elevator when leaving the first time for them to actually let him go.  He felt bad enough after that to want to get home as soon as possible,  to see his own doctor who finally ordered an x-ray when he got back.  X-rays really aren’t that great for back pain unless there is a fracture of some sort, or the discs are showing degenerative changes (which is the very basic place to start with diagnostic testing).  The x-ray didn’t show much besides some normal aging changes.  The doc also gave dad some pain meds, which did help a bit.  But dad got worse.

On March 1 (a Tuesday), dad asked me to go to see his doctor with him (being the family RN, dad liked it when I could explain things to him after appointments in language that made more sense to someone not in the medical field).  He was able to walk into the office and perform all of the tests with no difficulty aside from some pain with specific movements.  The pain was mostly to the left of his spinal column in the chest portion of his spine (in the back).   The doc ordered an MRI, which dad did NOT like, because of claustrophobia, but it was the best thing he could have ordered…. and would have been much more useful a few months earlier.

The next day, dad called me to say that he woke up with his legs feeling weird, like he couldn’t feel them very well, but it had eased over the course of the day.  He chalked it up to the muscle relaxant he’d taken before bed the night before, and decided not to take any more of them.  The next day, Thursday March 3, dad called me at 8:00 a.m.  Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a night owl normally, and getting up around noon was my usual routine.  Dad always respected that, so I knew that if he was calling, something was really wrong.   He said he couldn’t walk right.  He’d gotten to the bathroom, but needed me to get over there as soon as I could.  I asked him if I had time for a shower, and he said yes.  I had already figured that going to the ER was the only logical thing to do at that point, and was getting ready for a day at the hospital, minimum.  When I got there, dad was sitting on the bed.  He stood up, and it was like watching someone try to stand on an inner tube in a swimming pool.   I told him to sit down, and just let me know what he needed to get ready to go to the ER via 911- it was going to be the safest way to transport him, as well as avoid the waiting room.   After he shaved and had a bowl of cereal, we got a few things put into a bag in case they kept him (I couldn’t imagine them not keeping him since he lived alone, I’m disabled enough that caring for him would be not very logical no matter how much I wanted to, and he needed to know why this was all happening… he needed tests).  Then EMS came for him, and I followed the ambulance to the hospital.

The usual ER things were done (IV, labs, x-rays), and then they ordered an MRI.  Dad was not amused, and was very anxious about the whole thing.  He’d gotten some pain meds, anxiety meds, and nausea meds, along with a washcloth over his eyes, and by the time he went to the MRI I don’t think he would have cared if they put him in a coal mine shaft.  He said it wasn’t so bad.  The results weren’t so good.  They’d only done the lower spine in the ER, as they can only test for emergent problems- and there were some ‘suspicious’ lesions in his lower spine.  It was enough to admit him.   And enough to scare him.

His oncologist (he requested) has been a family friend for decades, as well as my mom’s and my oncologist at times (mom died in 2003 after 17 years cancer free).   The good doc came up that evening, and suspected that dad had multiple myeloma based on the type of tumor he’d had in his thyroid gland a few years earlier, and the looks of the initial MRI.  He also said that they needed to get an MRI of the rest of his spine, since the area where dad had the most pain was higher up.  Dad has always been terrified of hearing ‘multiple myeloma’ since his mom died from that (with amyloidosis complicating things the most) in 1979.  SO much has changed in treating MM since then, and “Bob” (oncologist- not real name) said that if it was MM, that dad could have a good quality of life with chemotherapy pills.   But first,  more testing with the MRI being the one dad was most nervous about.

It took a couple of days to get dad through the MRI, but when they got it, they saw a lesion pressing ON dad’s spinal cord at T-7, causing the pain, as well as inability to feel where his feet were when he was trying to walk.  He could move his legs, and had good strength when pressing or pulling against the doc’s (or my) hands.  The pain at this point was the worst, but only really bad if he had to move.  I’d never seen him in so much pain, and in 20 years of working as an RN, I don’t know if I’d seen too many other people with that level of pain.  Even my chronic pain (which is a different beast altogether) paled in comparison (and I don’t condone comparing pain, as everybody feels it differently in accordance with their own very personal frame of reference).  But dad turned pale, and grimaced to the point of not recognizing him if I hadn’t been there when it happened.  He was immediately scheduled to start radiation to shrink the mass within a couple of hours of the MRI being done and read.   Biopsies were done of various areas in the spine and bone marrow, and the hope was still that dad was going to be able to go to the rehab hospital, and eventually return home.   At least that was what we were aiming for, and “Bob” was optimistic at that point.

Dad was in the hospital for about three weeks before being sent to the rehab hospital (NOT a nursing home with physical and occupational therapy, which are fine for many things, but not intensive rehab).   He was still very understandably terrified, but gave it his all once he knew that the rehab hospital would  only work with him if he could do three hours of therapy a day (broken up into four sessions between PT and OT).   He didn’t believe he’d be OK, but knew he had to work as if he believed if he wanted any chance at going home (with help if needed), and not a nursing home.   So, he worked as hard as he could, and was transferred to Van Matre Rehab Hospital for the next stage in his excruciating journey.

…. on to Part Two.

The Wacky World of Peripheral Neuropathy and Methadone

This hasn’t been a good weekend.  I slept most of January 1, 2016  (Hey, welcome new year !!), and the next two days haven’t been anything to cheer about (although I am alive, so that gets points).  This peripheral neuropathy is kicking my butt, and this morning it felt like a literal kick just to the right of my butt cheek crack. It is like a deep bruising- definitely a muscle type pain… not the weird ‘nerve’ pain of burning, numbness, tingling, etc.   The burning pain in both outer thighs is also bad.  Generally, the burning pain has been when I’m in bed, but today it has decided to join me until ?  But when I touch those areas on my thighs, it feels numb.  And then gentle contact with those areas brings a type of pain that is disproportionate to the degree of the touch.   When I say ‘burning pain’, I’m not talking about sunburn pain… I’m talking about hot oil type pain, over an area the size of the sides of both thighs.  The first time it happened, I froze with confusion.   Chemo and diabetes can have some gnarly complications.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for.  Since getting the CPAP for sleep apnea last year (close to this time), my head feels much more clear, and the morning headaches have been reduced by about %99- that  is HUGE !!  I’m still tired, but not nearly as wiped out as I had been post chemo.  Chemo fatigue is indescribable.  I’ve had fibromyalgia fatigue since the late 1990s, and it’s bad…. but chemo fatigue can be immobilizing.  Just getting up out of the TV chair to go to bed was overwhelming.  Fibro-fatigue is bad- but at some point, it eases up a bit to take care of basic daily activities enough to function, even if minimally.   (I live alone, so nobody to ask to do something on the fly…. there are a couple of friends around here who are so willing to help, but they have jobs and lives, so it can be hard to schedule a good time for both of us- but they are so willing, which is great.  My 83 year old dad is around, but I want him to have a life… I do ask him for help at times, but I don’t want to take advantage of him or anybody else). 

I know I need to contact the pain doc again.   This next two weeks, I have lab work, a follow-up with my endocrinologist, a routine visit with my neurologist, and the endoscopy with the ultrasound and biopsy of the junction between my stomach and lower esophageal sphincter for the “clinically significant lesion” that was found during the esophageal manometry to clarify the spasms in my esophagus that make swallowing so difficult.  Sometime in all of that, I need to see the pain guy.   And the CT of my pelvic area.  Can’t forget that.  I actually need to get that done before the pain guy, since I don’t want to do any spinal cord implants (to sort of confuse my brain about pain perception in my lower spine area) until I’m sure that nothing lurks in my pelvis.  SO many symptoms are common to a bunch of things, and I don’t want to have a metal implant (kind of like a pacemaker sized thingie) put in if something else is going on.

In the meantime, I’ve been prescribed methadone (t’s not just for getting heroin users off of heroin and on to something that has no ‘buzz’- it is a legit pain med), and have already been on ‘adjunct’ meds for other disorders that also help with pain management, like gabapentin, carbamazepine, clonazepam, cyclobenzaprine, and topical things like Icy Hot ‘sticks’, Salonpas patches, and sometimes just lying still on my uber comfortable bed, with my CPAP machine.

About the methadone.   I don’t like the stuff.  It does work for pain (same category as morphine)…. but I worked drug and alcohol rehab for about two and a half years, and from an objective point of view as a detox RN, it is the worst substance for detoxing.   I’m not concerned about addiction for myself.  I generally have a lot of pain meds left over, to the point of throwing them away because they’ve been in my drawer for so long.   I don’t mess with the instructions or dosing set by my doctor (who is board certified in anesthesia and pain management…. not a doc-in-a-box who only accepts cash, and has a line around the block).   I get no emotional ‘perk’ from the stuff.  But with any controlled substance (as well as things like caffeine, nicotine, etc), there can be physical tolerance and dependence.  That gives me the willies, which I guess isn’t a bad thing, but it does make it hard to take the methadone as often as I can (three times a day), even when I’ve got pain that ‘justifies’ taking the stuff.  It’s common knowledge that pain is easier to manage when it’s treated before it gets really bad… but methadone is no joke.  I have a lot of conflicting feelings about taking it.  And yet, the pain I have now is interfering with just moving around my apartment.   I need pain relief.  I’ve discussed my fears with my pain doc… and he reassures me that he will never leave me hanging as far as dealing with physical tolerance.

My pain doc told me that if the methadone doesn’t help now, the spinal cord implant is the next thing he would recommend.  I trust this guy, mostly because he is not a pill pusher.  He does prescribe them, but he also does nerve block injections with steroids and numbing meds, and options like TENS units (little electrodes on the outside of the body to help ‘trick’ the brain about pain perception).  He has rules about how things work at his office (no dosage adjustments over the phone, no messing with doses/frequency without his approval, random urine drug screens, calls for refills have to be on certain days, etc.).  If he feels people are not following his rules, they’re gone.  No jerking around with pain meds.  I respect that a LOT.

I also consider my age.  I’m 52 years old, and might have another 25 years, give or take, to cope with the neuropathy (and other) pain.  It concerns me to take strong stuff now, knowing I have an unknown number of years to live with this crazy body and the weirdness going on with it.  And yet I hurt.  I can’t take NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc) because of chronic gastritis.  I deserve a decent quality of life with less pain, and if that means pain meds, I need to accept that.  The doc can only help me if I am willing to follow his instructions with the meds that scare me.  I don’t expect to be pain free- that is totally unrealistic.  But less pain would be good.  I’ve had daily pain since the mid 1990s… it’s getting worse, and from different sources.    I want to be able to have some times to enjoy time away from my apartment, and hopefully with friends (those I’ve known for a while, and those I’m meeting at the Bible study).

I thank God for the doctors I have.  They listen, do the proper testing to find out what is going on, and in the case of my primary doc, orders things like my wheelchair to help me be as ‘able’ as possible to get around outside of my apartment.  That has been huge.  Going to the weekly women’s Bible study has been a wonderful way to get away, be around others, and meet people !  I’ve been isolated for the most  part for nearly 12 years. It’s been SO good to be around others, and hopefully be a source of positive interaction for them.



Ramblings of 2015

Here it is… New Year’s Eve.  Getting ready for 2016.   It’s been a bumpy 2015, though I realize I still have a lot to be thankful for.  A lot has happened.  A few things are still being diagnosed.    There have been family changes.   And like always, I seem to manage… but it’s getting harder to do it on my own.   Fortunately, I believe that God has it all figured out. I don’t have to understand it all…

Last year about this time, I did a home sleep study, that showed that I stop breathing about every 3.5 minutes….so basically I don’t sleep enough for it to be useful.  I hadn’t been getting to the REM stage, so restorative sleep was kaput.  I went in to get ‘fitted’ for a CPAP (continuous positive air pressure) machine, and it has really helped.  The morning headaches have pretty much disappeared (that alone was worth the price of admission).  I dream more- weird dreams, but not bad dreams, and I’m getting to the stage of sleep where I can dream.  Add a pulmonologist/sleep specialist to the list of doctors I see- but this guy is A-OK.  The increase in the quality of my sleep has perked me up, so I want to do more.  I can’t always physically get it done, but it’s nice not to feel like I’m a total slug.

Then the summer came around, and it seemed like my body decided to take a flying leap towards deterioration.  From the head down:  scalp psoriasis got much worse (no more dark colored shirts for these shoulders), swallowing got bad, GERD got worse, back pain intensified, blood sugars got nutty again,  legs started having intense burning pain (as in being set on fire… not sunburn), right leg  atrophy got worse (muscle shrinking), legs started getting weak to the point of feeling like they would give out, blood pressure and heart rate started to do their dysautonomia/POTS thing- again, and something I’m forgetting.  Oh, yeah…. the kidney function tests got weird after my blood pressure got really low.

The psoriasis is an autoimmune thing (not to be confused with autonomic… they are very different).  I keep my head shaved for the autonomic disorder (very heat intolerant, and what is more heat retaining than a head full of hair that is about as thick as a bear rug?), but now the psoriasis ointments benefit from not having a ton of hair to muck through.  SO, I’m usually mostly bald, and flaky.  Not like normal dandruff flakes (those are there with the psoriasis as well), but like sheets of skin the size of my little fingernail peeling off.  Lovely.  And, yet that is more of an annoyance than life-altering.

The swallowing is still being evaluated.  So far, it looks like achalasia (esophageal spasms that don’t allow for food to pass into the stomach normally; feels like a golfball is stuck in my pipes).  They also found a “clinically significant lesion” at the junction of my stomach and lower esophageal sphincter (end of the esophagus), which will be further checked in a couple of weeks when I have the third endoscopy in five months, but with an ultrasound and biopsy done this time.  I don’t like the word biopsy, and don’t like that it took about a MONTH to get the biopsy scheduled. To me, that’s not OK.    In the meantime, it hurts, and food choices are more limited, or I have to pull things out of my throat with my fingers. The safe foods are  more carbohydrate ‘intense’, which hasn’t done much for my blood sugars.  SO, add a gastroenterologist, and return visits to my endocrinologist.

The reflux was also really bad, but changing some of what I eat, as well as  a hefty dose of a proton pump inhibitor (GERD medicine) has helped somewhat.   I can no longer take ibuprofen, or any meds in that category because of chronic gastritis (inflammation of the lining of my stomach), so that is a problem with pain management with other stuff.

I’ve got degenerative disc disease, so it’s not all that unexpected that lower back pain gets worse over time, and I knew I was going to have to go back to my pain doc. I needed a current MRI so he knew what was going on.  That MRI was horrible.  I’ve had a lot of MRIs, and usually it’s no big deal.  This one was for both my lower back and neck (it’s in worse shape with messed up discs and bone spurs), with and without contrast, so it took a long time.  I bailed after the “without” part of the test. I got both the neck and lower back done, but  I couldn’t take  being on my back any longer, not able to move.   Anyway, I went back to the pain doc, where I got an injection in my back (have had a lot of those; they aren’t that helpful, but it does help a little for a few hours).   The next step with that whole mess is to have a spinal cord implant thingie that blocks how my brain perceives pain.  It fixes nothing except perception.  I’m going to have a pelvic CT just to make sure something else isn’t going on before I have something implanted in my back/spine.  In the meantime, it’s pain meds (that I don’t like).  They do help, but I am very careful about making sure I don’t get too used to taking them.  I’m not concerned about addiction.  I get no ‘perks’ other than pain relief.  I use them as directed.  But physical tolerance is something that happens with several types of meds even when used as directed.  It is not the same as addiction (no psychological component ), but can cause symptoms if the meds are suddenly stopped.  So I’m careful. I don’t use them every day.   I follow the dose instructions.  I don’t mess with them.

During a routine follow up appointment with my oncologist, my lab work came back funky for my kidney functions.  My blood pressure had been low for a while, and evidently low enough to mess up blood flow through my kidneys.  After a few medication adjustments, my blood pressure came up and my BUN and creatinine went back to normal, along with my glomerular filtration rate (which had put me in the stage 3 level of chronic kidney disease).  One thing that has always spooked me about being diabetic is kidney failure.  I’m not sure I’d agree to dialysis if it involved the sort that requires dialysis three times a week no matter what the weather, for 3-5 hours at a whack.  That’s not a life in my eyes.   Just my opinion, though I’m sure if it came down to it, I’d do dialysis for  a while, and make any other decisions along the way.

My right thigh had started to shrink (atrophy) a couple of years ago, and a muscle study (EMG) that involves pins stuck into the muscle with a bit of an electrical jolt thrown in showed that I have neuropathy.   Between being diabetic and a LOT of chemotherapy that often gives people neuropathy that don’t already have it, I was like a neuropathy magnet… and it was getting worse.  During the summer, I started having sensory issues.   As in it felt like my right thigh was literally on fire.  Ignited with an accelerant type of fire, not a sunburn.  I’ve got a pretty decent pain threshold (as in joking with nurses during bone marrow biopsies), but this pain would not only wake me up at night, but briefly immobilize me while I tried to make sense of the intense fire sensation, and no fire anywhere near me.  If/when I got myself rolled over ON to the burning leg, it would start to subside.  The same area was numb to touch all the time… Back to the neurologist for another EMG.  The sensory peripheral neuropathy was now said to be progressive (I think most of them are).    Then back to my regular doctor to discuss medication options that wouldn’t mess up the rest of the pharmacy I take.  And, to have her check my muscle strength.  The right leg isn’t so good, and if I’m standing for very long, I feel like it’s going to give out…. so I now have a wheelchair for more than walking around in my apartment, or to the dumpster- which I still do to keep using my legs as much as I can.  The other leg decided to join in the burning pain and numbness, so it’s a two-fer now.   The wheelchair has been a huge help  in getting around at church (I joined a women’s Bible study this fall- the first socialization in years).  I hope to go to the mall soon.  :D DSCN4140

With my blood pressure and heart rate starting to be weird (kind of like it was in the beginning of the whole dysautonomia business), I was getting more symptomatic.  One night on the way to my dad’s girlfriend’s house for dinner, I started feeling like I was getting a bit foggy-headed, and my heart rate was going up.  Time to head for home.  Don’t pass go. Don’t collect $200.   My internal med doc (regular doc) had already adjusted my long-acting blood pressure med a couple of times,  (paradoxically helps keep my blood pressure UP, unless something isn’t working even more weirdly) , so she sent me off to a cardiologist – more specifically, an electrophysiologist who deals with heart rhythm problems, and dysautonomia.  The good news was that my EKG in the office was OK (which was expected).  My echocardiogram (ultrasound of heart) was OK.  Not perfect, but not bad for my age…. my AGE….. arghhh, I’m getting older on top of all of this  :p .  Thankfully, she didn’t want me to hook up to one of the 3-4 week King of Hearts monitors for extended testing. Those are annoying.  I’ve done them twice.  I end up with episodic tachycardia (fast heart rate), PVCs (not good if they keep going but a couple of them aren’t that big of a deal), and ‘burns’ from the electrode adhesive.   I’ll go see her again in a couple of months as a follow-up.

Sometime during all of this, I went back to my endocrinologist after my A1C (average blood sugar over about a 3 month period) went up more than I was OK with.  I hadn’t seen her in about two years…. I’m SO tired of seeing doctors.  But she got me some new fangled insulin samples, as well as the ‘good’ short acting stuff and told me what to take.  I found out that my Medicare part D (drug plan) would cover BOTH of them at the Tier 2 copays !!  That was huge !  I actually cried with joy at being able to get the ‘good stuff’, and not have to take the “disco insulin” anymore (it was popular in the 70s) .  God bless Walmart for making disco insulin available for $25 per vial ( good insulin can be 10x that price).  But I was going to be able to get the good stuff, AND the endocrinologist got me enough samples to get me from the beginning of October THROUGH the end of the year !  :o

SO, just from medical junk going on, I’ve seen a pulmonoligst/sleep specialist, internal med doc, oncologist, cardiologist, neurologist, endocrinologist, gastroenterologist, and board certified pain management doc.   Good to have all of those folks to help.

My 100 year old grandmother died on Halloween. There was a lot of really snotty stuff that went on with the living siblings (aunt and uncle) ‘passing along’ information to those of us grandkids whose sibling parent was already deceased.  From my standpoint, there is no more family besides my six cousins (in one family).   I am in contact with my mom’s deceased brother’s kids, and that’s it.  Toxic people can be prayed for from a distance.  I will always wish them well.  I will not be part of the games by pretending that it was all OK.  I couldn’t go to the funeral (see above), and the six cousins who also have a deceased ‘sibling parent’ weren’t even seated with the rest of the family.… ’nuff said.   Who knows what my other cousins have been told about how we were left in the dust with being informed about changes in grandma’s condition (admission to hospice) AFTER they’d all had a chance to go visit grandma from various parts of the country (not all did go, but they KNEW what was going on).  And it really doesn’t matter anymore.  It will be very clear in the end when we all meet our Maker.  The aunt and uncle (living siblings of my grandma’s) have to live with themselves.  I don’t.

I’m so thankful for my dad.  He’s my earthly ‘rock’.   He’s 83 years old, and going strong.  We talk every day, and see each other at least weekly.   It’s a gift to still have him in my life.    We joke with each other all the time, which is great- but I’m also so grateful for him.

Shelby turned three years old on Christmas Eve.  She’s still a ‘puppy’ at heart, and my baby.   She had to have a toe amputated this summer- it was benign (there was a swelling and firmness to it that was suspicious)… and she’s back to running around all over the place.   She really is a wonderful companion.  She’s nuts… but that’s fine <3 DSCN4026

Joining a women’s Bible study was great and I look forward to the new semester starting next week.  It’s been a LONG time since I’ve had much continual socialization opportunities.  I have to take my cooling vest, wheelchair, and Bible with the  specific study guides, but it is such a blessing to feel like I’m a bit of a part of something.  It’s at the church where I grew up, so there’s a sense of familiarity, and I’ve met some really nice new people.  I also ran into the mom of one of the tiny babies I looked after in the church nursery (who was my favorite in the 0-7 month nursery- she was such a bitty little thing, and so cute; I claimed her as mine for an  hour each Sunday😉 ).  It was great to see someone from the past.

A lot has gone on… it sounds like most of it was ‘bad’, but I don’t feel that way.  I’m getting some help with making life a bit easier (wheelchair, better insulin), as well as less isolating (Bible study).  That trumps the bad stuff to the moon and back.   I’ve accepted that I need help with some things, and have a couple of friends who are willing to help. My dad is healthy and a lot of fun.   I have a great relationship with my birth mom, as well as her extended family.   I can still live in my own apartment, and have my goofy dog.  Through Facebook, I can remain in contact with family,  friends from Texas, as well as those I’ve known from before then.   No matter what is going on, I believe that God has it all under control for His good.   I don’t have to understand it, but I do find comfort in His ability to get me through whatever goes on.  I always seem to land on my feet (more or less), and I believe that my faith is what gets me through things.   God is good.

Bring it on, 2016 !  ;)



Feeling My Body Fail

This has been a rough six months on top of a weird twenty years.  I’d learned to deal with diabetes, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, degenerative disc disease, nocturnal seizures (left temporal), degenerative joint disease, GERD, and the temporary effects of acute disorders like multiple pulmonary emboli (all three lobes of my right lung and right pulmonary artery), and acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), or acute myelocytic leukemia- subtype M-3.   The longterm effects of chemo have been rough and more noticeable  in the last few months, and the thought at this time is that much (not all)  of what has been going on recently is a combination of chemo effects, and  the progressive nature of diabetes (even with good control, though chemo totally ripped my blood sugars to shreds).  I had chemo DAILY for 20 months (ATRA – all trans retinoic acid, M6 mercaptopurine, arsenic, methotrexate, and initially daunarubicin, ara-C, and assorted meds for nausea, fluid retention, and protective eye drops.  I was also on gentamicin and vancomycin for most of six weeks.  I think that things are just catching up.

This summer, a lot started to happen at once.  The GERD (reflux) got really bad, so I was sent to a gastroenterologist (GI) for some testing.  Most of those tests turned out relatively OK (to a cancer survivor, that means nothing malignant… something could be rotting and ready to fall off of my body, but if it’s not cancer, it’s pretty much OK).  I have chronic gastritis (so no more NSAIDs – or ibuprofen type meds which is a bummer for pain management), and some irritation in my esophagus, and I was supposed to have a gastric emptying test (related to gastroparesis- a diabetes complication, but because of pain, I can’t lie on my back as long as is required…. and if I burp yesterday’s lunch in the morning, that tells me something isn’t moving).  I tried to have the esophageal manometry test done last week, but SURPRISE !!!  I couldn’t swallow the tube !   I’m being tested for swallowing problems.  Now, I have to be knocked out, and have the tube put in under anesthesia, woken up, then swallow water 10-12 times, then have the tube pulled out).   I’ve had to eliminate a few foods/food groups, but that’s OK.   Marinara sauce, chili, fried foods, ‘high volume’ foods (like full meals), and some other things are out of the picture for the GERD. I cheat once in a while, but have to have Tums and Gas-X available.   For the swallowing issues, dry foods, meat without ‘lube’ (sauce, gravy, stewed), celery, hard breads, rice without some type of moisture, etc are out.  I literally have to pull the food out of my throat before inhaling when something gets stuck.  I keep 8-inch curved hemostats next to where I eat. It’s rather scary.

The pain.  Oy.  I don’t remember ‘pain free’.  I’d gotten used to just dealing with it, but this summer, the neuropathic pain got very noticeable, and the burning pain along my right outer thigh got really bad at night.  Now both of my feet burn at night- though neither of them are every night.  The sensation during the day along my right leg is weird.  If I stand too long, I feel like my leg will give out.  I got a wheelchair last week, and the one time I have used it so far (only need it away from home at this point) has been very helpful.  I’m going to have to use the scooter at the grocery store from now on, and not have a three-day recovery period every month when I go to do my main shopping. I’ve got a few volunteers who have agreed/offered to come with me to push the larger cart.  It’s just too much now to do monthly shopping.  The pain management  doctor (board certified in pain management, and ‘legit’… no lines around the block, no shady characters in the waiting room, and lots of rules about how he does things that I respect) said that if the methadone doesn’t work, then the next step is a peripheral nerve stimulator… kind of like  a pacemaker device implanted under my skin that sends out little zings to trick how my body perceives pain. (BTW, methadone is a legitimate pain med, not just used for exchanging it for heroin in drug addicts).    I am usually pretty tough during diagnostic tests, and have had many, many MRIs over the years, but this summer I had to bail before the “with” contrast part was done.  I was in tears just getting the “without” part done.

I did get through the EMG (done at my neurologist’s office, by her), which clarified that it’s a progressive sensory peripheral neuropathy… it’s gonna get worse.  The implications are kind of scary. I’m already noticing some altered sensation in my hands- so being in the kitchen is a little dicey (pun intended).  And, if I lose sensation in my right foot, driving will be out of the question.  Right now, I have enough sensation- and I don’t drive much, so it’s OK for now.   A couple of weeks ago, I was opening a box of stuff I’d ordered (monthly Amazon or Walmart supplies) and I didn’t feel the inner angle of the scissors ‘catching’ part of the ‘pad’ of  my right thumb… and it got cut off (about the size of a pencil eraser- and completely cut off about 1mm deep).  :/   That was pretty sore for a while.  It’s still not completely healed, but much better.  I’m going to have to pay much more attention to hands and feet.  The decrease in sensation means that I could whack something off, get an infection, and end up with an amputation (pretty common in diabetics).   ‘Help’ aids for opening jars, buying pre-cut veggies at the store, etc are going to be things to consider.  I got one jar opening thingie, and it was useless…. it fit around the tops of many sized jars, but without the strength to hold the jar in my left hand, it’s pointless.   I can still do the vacuum release move with an old cheesy can opener, and then get the lids off- at least for now.

My blood sugars were also getting wonky again so it was back to the endocrinologist. She wanted me to try a new type of long-acting insulin- but as usual, I had to check my Medicare plan D formulary to see if it was covered, and at what ‘tier’ for copay purposes… this year, it’s not good; next year I can get it !!  I’m so excited to be able to get a type of insulin that wasn’t popular in the 70s !!  She got me enough samples to get through until January 1st, which brought me to tears.  The short acting insulin is also going to be doable next year- and she got me samples of those as well !!    It requires me to pay three times more for my monthly premium next year, but it’s SO worth it for no deductible, full donut-hole coverage, and good monthly copays for each medication (I’m on something like 15 prescription meds and many over the counter meds that are always out of pocket).

Then there are the changes in the symptoms with the autonomic neuropathy /dysautonomia.  I was sent to a cardiologist (I’ve been trying to cut down on the number of docs I see, and that plan isn’t working well).  Because of multiple medication changes for my blood pressure meds (which is actually used to keep my blood pressure UP in a paradoxical way), and my blood pressure going down far enough for long enough to decrease blood flow to my kidneys ( that was ‘fixed’ with medication changes and more deliberate fluid intake), I needed someone to take a look at what is going on.  Dialysis has always been ‘the’ diabetic complication that I’m not sure I’d get treatment for; a machine 3 times a week indefinitely doesn’t sound like quality of life to me.  Anyway, the cardiologist sent me for a simple ultrasound of my heart (ECHO) and did a simple EKG.  No results on the ECHO yet.  She adjusted a couple of meds, and the next step is to add another med, which I do NOT want.   I’ve had a LOT of episodes of near syncope and increased heart rate (not necessarily at the same time, but if my heart rate stays up, I generally pass out because it will suddenly drop; I have to get home and get my feet up or just go to bed – which usually takes care of it).

So, I’ve seen my primary care doc, gastroenterologist, pain management doc, neurologist, endocrinologist, and cardiologist since this summer.  I do not like doctors’ appointments.  Leaving home is painful.  They usually want to order tests, which means more time away from home.   I appreciate their help (though the GI situation is horrible to get anything done; right now, I’m waiting to get the anesthesia assisted tube placement to measure esophageal spasms -achalasia is suspected-, and they have a very blasé attitude, even when I’m pulling food out of my throat because it won’t go down).   I need to get things treated to the point of maintaining independence as much as possible.  And, I’m going to have to suck it up and ask for help when needed.   That is hard, since most of my friends are 1200 miles away… or have lives/families/jobs/etc.   And I don’t like to be ‘dependent’.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for.  I’m still in my own apartment.  I still have my dog.  My dad is around (he’s 83, and has a full life; he’d help but the ongoing commentary at the grocery store for a full month’s shopping would be too much- he doesn’t shop for more than a few days since he eats out a lot), and he is a huge part of my life.  I have a lot of online friends and family.   I’ve got family in other states that I’m in contact with.  There’s a lot of good.   But it’s hard to see things changing.  Fortunately, as an RN- disabled, but still have my license- I know what to look for, and know what types of ‘help’ devices are out there.   I know when to ask my doc for things like the wheelchair.    I’ve got some word-finding issues, but my brain seems to be mostly intact- LOL.  :D   Always stuff to be thankful for🙂


My Legs Are Retiring Part-Time … Wheelchair Will Be Here Next Week

This week, I went to  my doctor’s office so she could do the ‘face to face’ appointment required to order a wheelchair for me.   Normally I detest MD appointments (leaving home is painful- the docs are OK ), but I actually respect that Medicare requires this so that they aren’t paying for scam wheelchairs.  I’m thankful that I’ll have the w/c available for times when I can get out.  It’s been about eleven years since I’ve been to the mall.  I’m not much for shopping, but it would be nice to just see human beings.   I recently joined a women’s Bible Study, which has been great- I not only get to see people, but to interact with them as well.  But walking from my car to and from the room where we meet is hard.  My legs hurt, and I get short of breath.  I look OK, except for a limp, and no eyebrows ever grew back after chemo.  My head is shaved to minimize heat retention.   I don’t look ‘broken’.  But I feel decimated.

Grocery shopping has become increasingly more difficult.  I can maneuver with the cart for support, but unloading the stuff once I get home as well as the toll that shopping takes leaves me in increased pain for about three days.  This has been going on for a while, but it’s gotten worse.  I don’t even bother with clothes shopping… I get undies on Amazon, and order t-shirts and Cuddl Dud leggings/longjohns online.  I’m at home most of the time, so that’s all I really need.  I’ve also found a couple of plus-size online sites that have  stuff that is suitable for when I leave home.  Amazon has Prime Pantry, and Walmart delivers, so some things are available to have dropped off at my front door.

I’ve had autonomic dysfunction (dysautonomia) for almost 20 years.  That involves my blood pressure, how my breathing feels,  and my heart rate (they go very low, and I keel over if it gets bad enough, or I feel like I can’t get air ).  I have horrible heat intolerance, and must wear an ice vest when I leave home; too hot = unconscious.  Dysautonomia can dull my memory (facial recognition is getting worse), make me feel exhausted when doing very little, and in general, make me feel off kilter.  That’s what got me on disability (along with nocturnal left temporal seizures that leave me exhausted in the morning).  The last two months I was working as an RN, I was sent out by ambulance about 10-12 times… I don’t remember any of the ambulance trips.   The chemo I got for acute promyelocytic leukemia is known for making peripheral neuropathy worse, or starting it to begin with.   The chemo was also  hard on my heart; I had to skip the last dose of one IV chemo because my MUGA scan showed problems.  Fortunately, my heart itself got better… but the cardiac symptoms with dysautonomia have been really wonky.   I have degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, and degenerative joint disease (involves my hips at this point).   I guess I need to be thankful for not being in a wheelchair sooner.   And it will be ‘part-time’ at this point.

I seemed to do fairly well until this last summer, when the cardiac symptoms as well as the painful part of neuropathy started to change.  There were several medication dose adjustments to deal with the blood pressure and heart rate changes (were going up with a palpable feeling of something being wrong, then dropping enough to diminish blood flow to my kidneys- that was scary).  Then, I’d wake up with my right thigh feeling like it had been doused with some type of accelerant and lit on fire. One night it was so intense I couldn’t move.  I was stunned into immobility by how bad it felt, and had to get myself calmed down enough to turn on my side- which helps dull the pain enough to not feel like something really bad is happening.  Now, both of my feet are very sensitive, and I wake up with them hurting as well.  My right thigh has atrophied (shrunk), which has left my right leg weaker than the left.  The reflexes on that leg aren’t there from the knee down, and when I stand for any length of time, I begin to feel like the leg is going to give out.  If I step back and forth between legs, I can manage to get through a grocery store checkout line, but I have to lean on the cart- and I look like I have to pee real bad.  When I went to the store this week, for just a few things, not even my usual monthly trip, the pain afterwards was as bad as a ‘full trip’ to the store… it’s time to use one of those scooters, which don’t hold a lot.

One of the hardest things about these changes is that I need help.  I don’t want to need help.  My dad will help, but he has no clue about what a full month’s groceries looks like for someone who doesn’t eat out (like he does), and the running commentary can get annoying (“do you really need two of those?”, or “you’ll pay $5 for hamburger meat?”).  For short trips, he’s great.  I have a couple of high school friends who have offered to help me, which is very kind; they work long hours.  I’m also going to hit up the Bible Study group for volunteers (meets during daytime working hours, so I’m thinking they might be available for a quick trip during the day, when the stores aren’t as busy).  I now need the scooter, and need someone else to push the cart if I’m doing a full month’s shopping (for a mid-month trip, I can maneuver the scooter myself).  For the past several years, I’ve done my shopping at 1 a.m. to avoid the rude people who don’t like being behind someone who is slow.  I always move over in the aisle if someone is around, but for some, my being there at all seems to be an offense that could alter the course of their life permanently  for the worse.  It’s just been easier to avoid them, and shop when they are safely tucked away in their houses of intolerance.  But, that isn’t going to work any longer for the monthly ‘big trips’.   I need help.  :(

The chariot will arrive next Wednesday.  I have a seat cushion ordered for it.  My bio-mom suggested a tall flag attached to it.  I am considering a cup holder and bicycle horn  :D   I figure I need to make the best of it, and look at it as something that will help me be less isolated, and reduce the pain of normal life.  I will still walk around my apartment (that hurts, but it’s manageable).  I can still take the trash out; it hurts, but I can still do it.  I hope I can ‘chair walk’ (use my feet to propel myself) on the sidewalk at the place where I live, so I can go down to the pond and watch the frogs, geese, and crane-like bird that hang out there.  I haven’t been down there for at least seven years.

Changes like this are hard.  I’m thankful that I’m not in worse shape- things can always be worse.  And I’m thankful that the wheelchair is available.  Medicare and my expensive out-of-pocket supplement plan will cover it.   But it’s a sign of decline, and that is hard.  I’m only fifty-two years old.  Something I wish I’d known when I was much younger is that nobody knows how long their body will work like it was designed to work.  Even as an RN, seeing the end products of car wrecks, botched suicide attempts and recreational overdoses, and other life-changing events, I lived  a low-risk life.  I never imagined things going wrong from the inside.   When I found out I was diabetic in 1995, I thought that keeping my blood sugars and A1C in good shape would protect me… chemo totally screwed up my blood sugars in 2010-11.  I didn’t imagine my spine deteriorating.   I didn’t see my life changing as it has.  I guess nobody really does.

I guess that’s my point… live  life while you can.  Don’t spend every minute working double shifts.  Pass up some of the ‘toys’ in life, and have a GOOD savings account in case you have your life turned upside-down through no fault of your own.  Drive a used car.  Live in a house that is “enough”, but not so much that it takes over your finances.  Always get disability insurance.  ALWAYS.   (That has been the difference between living in some public housing pit, and a decent apartment.)  Learn what you need, and what you want- and to be thankful for the needs that are met.   Plan for craziness and be absolutely grateful for the mundane.  And don’t give up when the craziness hits.  Do all you can to be independent, but learn when you need help.   But no matter what, be thankful.