Does It Ever End?

I’m sure the dysautonomics out there will totally ‘get’ this.   Even as an RN for 30 years (the last 11 on disability, but I keep my license active to deal with myself !), I’m constantly learning about things I never bothered with much before.  It all ‘worked’, so no need to pay attention to some stuff.  Like the low blood pressure issues.  I’ve pretty much lived by the motto that if it doesn’t cause symptoms, don’t focus on it.  Well, that’s not a good philosophy.    I found out that my blood pressure had been low enough for long enough to decrease blood flow through my kidneys, leaving abnormal renal function tests.   I’d had a few ‘foggy’ episodes that correlate with hypotension, but I’ve got dysautonomia !  I always have some vital sign parameter that is off kilter.   Anyway, some medication changes have helped, which is a huge relief.  Dialysis has always been something I would seriously have to consider if I did it or not… and if not, that means life would be short.  If I could do the nighttime dialysis at home, I’d do that.  But going out three days a week, every week, indefinitely…. uh, no.   Especially when it’s 20 below zero windchill.  Fortunately, the last set of tests were better- so a definite scare, but not a disaster.

For the last few months, I’ve also had horrific right thing burning pain at night.  I only lasted through the “without” contrast MRI (lying on my back ‘in the tube’ had me in tears…. I’ve joked during bone marrow biopsies.  The MRI pain was worse; I’ve had many MRIs in the past, and they are no big deal… I left this one in tears).  The burning comes and goes- so it’s not like it’s every night, which is good.  My right thigh is also visibly ‘shrinking’.  So, with the pain and atrophy, I’m scheduled for another EMG in a few weeks.  It scares me that I won’t be fully ambulatory for as long as I’d hoped for…  I’ve been walking more, the further out from chemo I get.  I hope it’s enough to keep me vertical and independent.

I’ve also been having some GI tests done because my GERD/reflux has been bad.   The endoscopy just showed chronic gastritis, so nothing that’s going to kill me.  That’s good 🙂   I’m postponing two tests at this point until the leg thing gets taken care of, since the gastric emptying test requires me to be on my back for FOUR HOURS.   Not likely to happen at this point.  Nausea is pretty much a routine symptom.   I’m not sure that swallowing the manometry thingie would work all that well.  I also need a break from some of this stuff.

In the middle of all of this, my dog needed to have a toe amputated.   It has been about a  5 week ordeal, with trying antibiotics in case the swelling was an infection, then the surgery and sutures in for two weeks.  Now, she’s getting back to normal, and will go for a much-needed haircut at a good salon this week. The toe issues started (maybe coincidence ) after going to a chain store groomer. They lied on the ‘report’ that the nails had been done… they had not.  I have little tolerance for lying.   Anyway, she’s going to be OK.

I haven’t written a lot lately.  I’m tired.

The Weird Thing About PTSD

I was raped, sodomized, and beaten for six hours back in January 1987.  Twenty-eight years ago.  Initially, I knew what I “should” feel like, but didn’t really register much.  But that wasn’t really anything new- I’d been pretty good about not registering specific feelings for a long time.  As I’ve gotten older, and had more life experiences, the specific emotions have become much more identifiable.  And unpleasant.  I’ve been through enough therapy to recognize specific feelings, as well as have a greater understanding of what others go through who have been in similar situations.  And sometimes, not so similar situations.  Those can be triggers as well.

I had never been much of a crier.  I’d boo hoo once in a while, but for the most part, I could suck things up and move on.  That has changed.  Some of that is from a good thing: I’ve been able to understand how other people feel with both good and bad events.   That has been a huge ‘plus’ in so many ways, but it also makes my own memories and reactions that much more intense.  I’m a regular faucet now whenever there’s anything that remotely sets off my own memories.  Doesn’t even have to be all that similar.  Just has to trigger a feeling of some sort.

With another parole protest going on, I’m even more on edge.  For the most part, my daily functioning is ‘normal’.  Movies and TV shows can be really tough.  The news stories can be absolutely grueling.  I feel SO badly for those who are violated and/or lose a significant part of their life.   I have to ‘pace’ my exposure to the news.  With TV and movies, I generally have seen most of the episodes before from several series, so know to ‘brace’ myself during specific scenes… but sometimes even that doesn’t work so well.   In one episode of “Law & Order: SVU”, ‘Olivia’ walks out into the squad room after having been held hostage by a serial rapist/stalker who takes her out of the city to a seasonal house (that doesn’t belong to him).  She beats the snot out of him, and has to make a statement.  When she walks out into the squad room, it brings up all sorts of feelings of when I had to walk out of the apartment of my neighbor, after being raped.  There were news stations/cameras and people lining the sidewalk, and looking at me.  One of them lowered her camera, and looked down- giving me the first bit of dignity after that life-changing event.  When ‘Olivia’ walks through that group of people, it stirs up so much.

Some would argue that watching such shows as “Law & Order: SVU” and “Criminal Minds” are poor choices given my background, but I disagree.   In those shows, they show as much as they can about the impact that crime has on the survivors (I hate the term ‘victim’) and, they get the bad guy in 48 minutes.  The good guys win.  There are characters that include the ‘collateral damage’ of crimes against individuals.  And sometimes, the shows are hard to watch.  But it was much harder to live through an event that would be a plausible story line for those shows.

I’ve been much more ‘tender’ this time around with the parole protest.  I’m getting so tired of them, but at the same time, I feel responsible to keep fighting to keep him locked up.   He doesn’t deserve to be out. He agreed to a 60 year sentence in a plea bargain.    He offends EVERY time he’s on parole. Since he was 18 years old, parole is just another opportunity to rack up more ‘victims’.  I’m angry that the woman he attacked prior to attacking me just blew off sentencing.  Had she made sure he got as much time as possible, I wouldn’t have been raped.   I don’t want that same burden on my shoulders.  I may not be able to control the decisions of the parole board, but I am involved.  If they let him out, it’s on them.

In the meantime, I have to talk myself down now and then.  And sometimes, I have to just let myself cry and feel whatever is going on.  On good days, I write.  And every day, I have to remember how much I have to be thankful for.   PTSD isn’t something that gradually resolves in a predictable manner.  It comes and goes when the triggers set something off that is associated with some memory or feeling.  It doesn’t have to make sense.  It just is.

 

Brain Dump… or Just Getting Weird

OK, for those who know me, the ‘getting weird’ part might be nothing newsworthy.  I go through times when I’m skating along fairly well with the medical stuff, and then something happens, which freaks me out because of the cancer history and neurological issues, and I get in a funk.  I’ve been having trouble swallowing consistently, and have finally asked for a referral to the ENT (should hear about an appointment time soon).  Raw carrots and medications get stuck regularly, and things like rice or dry chicken are sometimes downright scary.   I guess I’ll find out about that when I finally get to the appointment.

The continued atrophying of my thigh muscles is still an issue.  I do what I can to stretch, walk around the apartment, take out the trash, and do my own grocery shopping (very painful).  The days after my monthly grocery store trip are generally miserable- but I’m also not good at taking the pain meds.   I try to make them last, and since hydrocodone is now a Schedule II (and requires a paper prescription for each refill- no faxing from the pharmacy), it’s inconvenient and painful to go get them. But, I’m going to have to give up and just go get them.  My doc can give me two refills per trip- just all dated for different months – so have to be filled at spaced intervals.  And, I have to take them.  I’m meticulous with other meds- but the pain meds hit me the wrong way- like I just need to buck up and get a grip.  That doesn’t work well when I’m lightheaded from the pain.

My blood pressure is also shifting (going low), so that is a problem.  I’m adjusting the meds for that.   I’m requiring less insulin, which is good- but sort of trial and error as I readjust the dose.  None of these things are any big deal… but sometimes the pile-up of several things is exhausting.  I’ve also lost a little weight (about 25 pounds from highest chemo weight; 14 since March 1st )- so that’s good, but still trying to shed more.  But I bailed out of Nutrisystem.  It was getting too focused on numbers, and my history doesn’t bode well with compulsive number calculations.  I get back into thinking about how much easier it is to lose weight when I’m NOT following some relatively rigid rules.  I think it’s a good program, but NOT for someone with a history of eating disorders.  I could feel those old patterns swinging from the rafters of my brain.

Then I look at the world at large, and the horrible things people do to each other.  I’m not going to go into specifics, since I’ll just get upset.   When I see tragedy on TV, I just want to reach through the screen and wrap my arms around those who are suffering.  SO, I pick and choose what I watch anymore. Tonight I had the weather on, as we were having severe storms again, and more tornadoes hit the area.  We had an EF-4 come through on April 9th that really tore up one whole town, and heavily damaged another subdivision.  Tonight, a 6,200 ‘lot’ camping ground was hit.  They’re still looking for people as I write this.  The other towns hit in April haven’t got their lives back together, and now some folks 10-12 miles away are looking for their lives, that are scattered around the neighborhood.  As of now, they know of 5 who are injured, and trapped  by flood waters.  But they haven’t accounted for everyone yet.

The shooting in South Carolina was an abhorrent act- and the congregation of that church are amazing examples of how NOT to hate back.  Truly inspirational people, and all before a week has gone by since nine of their friends and family were mowed down.

My brain is tired.  My limited ability to DO anything to help is so frustrating  (I can’t be outside in this weather because of the heat intolerance).    And yet, I have SO MUCH to be thankful for- and I do realize that.  I’m very blessed in so many ways.    Today, I got something I’d wanted to try for a while – Mexican street tacos- they were outstanding, and a real treat since I don’t leave home more than 2-3 times a month for groceries and MD appointments.  This did make me happy today 🙂  They were so good.

Street Tacos with steak, pork, and beef tongue (which was like pot roast)

Street Tacos with steak, pork, and beef tongue (which was like pot roast)

Sometimes, I just need to blow off steam 🙂

Sometimes Being Homebound and Isolated is Really Hard

Considering what has gone on with three people who have been very important in my life this year (they died), I have to know that I’m very fortunate.  Two had battles with horrible cancers between 9 and 10 months long, and one had a sudden collapse with an aortic dissection, but lived two more days…. she had been over a few weeks earlier talking about limited time. Maybe she know something was up, or was just being realistic that at 89 years old, she wanted to get things in order.   We had a really nice visit that I’m so thankful for.  The one who had the 9 month battle with colon cancer is a cousin I had a lot of  phone and e-mail contact with during her horrific struggle.  The other was my dad’s lady friend from church;she and  his first cousin (with the aortic dissection) had services last week.  I wasn’t able to go to either, but did at least meet the lady friend’s family, who I’d heard about for years, and felt a need to pay respects to them; we’d all heard about each other for years. I couldn’t stay long, but at least I popped in after the service for a few minutes.  I will miss them especially during the holidays, but also in general, as they were either family, or just about, as she and dad were buddies for church dinners, going out with friends, etc.

Overall, I really do realize how fortunate I am, but I don’t have many perky days when all is sunny and wonderful. There are some times when I just get overwhelmed when I think about what I used to be like.  Other days, I do my best to get by, and I do still have a lot that I enjoy from home. I still get to help out family and friends with medical  questions/translations- and I’m very glad to do that.  It helps me feel useful in some way.  And I get rather nostalgic about the days when I was working 3 12-hour shifts a week as a charge nurse in some sort of facility (hospital, drug/alcohol rehab, adolescent psych), or the Monday-Friday desk jobs entering assessment data into the computer for Medicare reimbursement and/or care planning for skilled nursing facilities.  I also did some stints on neuro floors, head injury rehab, and pediatrics- so a greatly varied career that I miss.  A great thing about nursing, especially in Central, rural Texas between 1985 – 2002, is that when I’d get bored with something, I had no problem finding another job within days.  Sometimes the offers were waiting for me on my answering machine when I got home from the interview.  Being an ADN, and not having a 4-year degree was never an issue, either as a staff nurse, charge nurse, weekend supervisor (only RN in the building/facility), or department head.  I was lucky to graduate from nursing school in 1985 when we were expected to know how to do procedures and skills, or we didn’t graduate.

Then came disability in 2004.  I fought through 8 years (starting in Texas) of trying different medications to regulate the fainting and weird episodes where I turn beet red, then a bluish red, before becoming pale and cold like a corpse. For eight years, I muddled through, and even had several decent years after the neurologist down there wanted to try an off-label medication.  By the time I was told I was no longer OK to work (by my boss in IL in 2004), it crushed me.  My identity had always been as an RN.  I didn’t have a husband or kids, so no other roles.  My relationships were all with co-workers in Texas ( even though I’d moved back to Illinois, where I was basically thrown away- nobody returned calls, and one former coworker went out of her way to avoid me at the grocery store).  I’d gotten sick- I hadn’t embezzled anything !  I guess it’s a Yankee thing. :/

That started some very chaotic years of figuring out what meds would help with the worsening symptoms (fainting more often, with some injuries including a concussion, and torn meniscus on my right knee requiring a knee replacement, some very strange medication interactions that caused a small stroke, many blood clots in my right lung, and ultimately leukemia (AML, subtype 3, or APL) which required chemo that worsened the autonomic disorder with thigh atrophy and increased sensitivity to heat).  I was a ‘regular’ at one of the ERs early on, and they treated me like trash.  Had I not gone to a decent ER with the blood clots in my lungs, I likely would have died – they were numerous in all three lobes of my right lung and pulmonary artery, and in various acute, subacute, and chronic stages.  The apex of my heart had pressure against it from my lung pushing into it.  It was bad. I only went to the hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack.

I’ve been essentially homebound for ten years.  I’m not sure that many people really understand what that means when “friends” here (coworkers) disappeared as soon as I left the parking lot on my last day.  I do have my dad, and a couple of friends here- one in particular makes an effort to come over periodically, and has done a LOT of work helping me get things organized so that I can get “stuff” minimized around here. She has been incredibly helpful once we found each other again on FB a few years ago.  I have been invited to family holiday parties- which I can attend one of, after everyone eats, since hot food in close proximity to body heat of other people is a problem- so I go when I’m less likely to stick out as being totally weird.  I really like that family bunch, and I hope I don’t come across as not liking them.  I just can’t tolerate a room over 66 degrees.

There are days when I don’t hear another human voice other than my dad (who is 82 and healthy, so I’m very thankful for that). We try to do daily “attendance” checks with each other, and he is really a huge asset in my life for many reasons… he always has my back.  I know he will never give me bad advice.   I might not see another human more than once a week (again, dad) for a few weeks at a time.  The phone rarely rings… usually it’s dad, my birth mom, or a reminder for  a doctors’ appointment or test (this week it’s an abdominal/pelvic CT for some intense bloating likely related to the autonomic problem).  Facebook is my primary form of contact, and I’m incredibly grateful for that; prior to getting this laptop from my birth mom and cousin, I was even more alone… now I can at least keep up with people I’ve known for years, whether from work, family, or childhood.   I challenge anyone to unplug the phone, have nobody show up at their door, and not hear another live voice in person for days (and occasionally weeks) at a time. It takes getting used to- and even now, it’s still hard.

I miss seeing co-workers and patients.  I miss being able to just go out and do something social without having to deal with the logistics of cooling vest equipment, distance from home, how I’m going to get there, can I leave if I need to, etc.  There are no ‘going out to lunch’ days (who would I go with?).  My dad is the one I go places with on the days when I can go (and I know I’m the most undependable ‘date’ with frequent last minute cancellations because of symptoms of some sort).  He knows that when my cheeks turn a deep bluish-red that it’s time to go.  And he’s always willing to take me anywhere.

People don’t understand that I can’t unload the dishwasher and fold laundry in the same day, or I end up with spasms from the base of my skull to my lower back, and am useless for a day or two.  Chronic pain isn’t ‘seen’.  Fibromyalgia and degenerative disc disease are chronic and  the DDD, will get worse (degenerative is a clue)- so I pace what I do as much as possible.  I miss the days when I’d set my mind to doing something around my apartment, and not stop until it was done.  That’s long gone.  I ‘look OK’, so I’m not sure people understand that I really am doing the best I can.  I live independently (getting many things delivered to my apartment from Schwan’s- frozen foods, Amazon, and Walmart).  I go to the store about once a month… maybe twice if it’s a good week about halfway between disability checks.   I still want to do as much as I can myself, so I don’t lose any more muscle mass.  The initial chemo took up about 20 pounds of muscle, and then the neuropathy in my thighs took much more – while I gained weight on chemo (not easy for my head to deal with, or to get rid of the poundage).

I’ve written about the expenses of Medicare and medications not covered in other posts. Buying insulin from a part D plan guarantees that anyone on it will go into the dreaded ‘donut hole’ where meds are NOT covered by the Medicare drug plans.  Most diabetics are on several medications.  The donut hole is dangerous.   The ‘good’ insulin is upwards of $200 per vial….between the two types of insulin I use , if I got it from the part D company, that would be $600 a month just for that- minimum… Thank God for the  cheap stuff from Walmart; I’d be sunk without it.  I don’t understand why insulin (the better stuff ) – a drug that is absolutely necessary for many diabetics- is so  unattainable.   I worry about this sort of stuff…

But mostly, I miss the things that I used to take for granted… seeing coworkers, having daily contact with other humans, having a purpose that felt like ‘me’ (being an RN), and not having to plan for every contingency every time I leave the apartment, even if it’s only for an hour.   My short term memory and word-finding are still not back to normal after chemo.   Going to the store for fresh produce every week has been long gone.  I might figure out something with dad, to go with him a couple of times  a week to get fresh fruit and veggies.

I really do have a LOT to be thankful for.  I have survived a lot.  During my 55 year old cousin’s final weeks, she weakly asked why I was allowed to live and she wasn’t- not in a nasty way, but in a tone that just sounded like she was trying to make sense of things.   I don’t know.  I know I must have some reason to still be here.  I hope I can make a difference somehow.  The blog helps… I keep track of my stats, and more than 100 countries have hit more than 16, 000 times.  At least people know I’m still here… that and Facebook. And my dad and a couple of people I see every month or two.  That they take time out of their busy lives (and they are busy !!) means a lot.

I’ve got God, my dad, my birth mom, folks on FB, and my dog- who is my main companion and pretty good at it 🙂   So, even though I miss what my life was, I’m at least alive, and still able to live alone, and figure out how to get things I need.   I truly am thankful for that. I know that there are others out there who struggle a lot more.  I remember those people I used to take care of that were never going to live on their own again.  I don’t know where the dysautonomia, diabetes, degenerative disc disease, degenerative  joint disease, or lung scars from the clots are going to lead me… but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.  I always seem to land on my feet 😉

Dysautonomia Awareness Month…. I’m Very ‘Aware’ All Year, Every Year

OK.  October is Dysautonomia Awareness Month… With Breast Cancer Awareness Month at the same time, nobody will care about dysautonomia.  Men are more than likely behind the sanctity of boobs, so along with being a rare disorder that people really are NOT aware of, there is the whole ta ta thing that people go all pink for, and dysautonomia remains a mystery to most, if they ever hear about it at all.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ‘against’ cancer awareness, but who on the planet with a pulse and working brainstem isn’t aware of  breast cancer?  I’ve known and do know many women with breast cancer (including my mom, who died in 2003 after surviving multiple cancer sites for 17 years, dying from something unrelated). I understand that any cancer diagnosis is a nightmare (I’ve been there, with leukemia).  (And why is there no blue ribbon with balls on it for testicular cancer awareness? Ladies? ).   Anyway, dysautonomia is something that I’ve lived with for decades- probably longer than it was diagnosed.  It didn’t flatten me until 2004.  And most doctors are clueless.  The general population can’t even pronounce it.  Dis-auto-gnome-ee-ah.

Every morning, I wake up not knowing if I’ll be able to actually get out of bed and begin my day without my head spinning as my blood pressure tanks.  Will my peripheral vision begin to narrow, and will my hearing get muffled?  Or will I actually be able to get up and not have to lie down again?  When I get in the shower, will I get that ‘sweet spot’ in the temperature of the water where I get a nice hot shower, or will it be too hot, and once again start the process of passing out?  My heat intolerance isn’t about temperature preference or comfort, it’s about staying conscious.   My thermostat must stay around or below 64 degrees, or I start to have symptoms.  Fifty degrees is much better if I’m outside.  I wear a light snap-front sweatshirt, left open,  when it’s in the 40s.  If I leave home to go into another building where I have no control over the thermostat, I have to wear 5 pounds of cooling vest inserts.  To stay conscious.  I’ll start to ‘burn up’ for no good reason (and this is NOT hot flashes- I’ve had those, and they are totally different).  Or I’ll get so tired, that doing anything is overwhelming.

I ‘look OK’… aside from being overweight, and having very few eyebrows post chemo (which at this point has to be permanent), I look fine.  That’s all well and good- but it can also be very frustrating when trying to explain why I can’t do something.  I also have multiple ‘other’ medical and orthopedic problems (discs, knees, spine, epilepsy, diabetes, yadda, yadda, yadda…), so when I’m walking I look a bit gimpy, but the dysautonomia is totally invisible if I’m not lit up like a red stop light from severe flushing when the dysautonomia spells kick in.  My thigh muscles have atrophied (probably from diabetes and chemo), which looks weird, and makes walking quite tiresome.  But people really don’t ‘get’ the whole dysautonomia thing.

The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary body functions- blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, flushing, muscle/brain signals, etc.  There are many ways this can all go wrong.  Initially, I had problems with passing out, as well as my right pupil dilating.  Then my gait would get wonky, and eventually I’d keel over and sleep hard for hours.  Temperature dysregulation hadn’t shown up yet.  I was in Texas when this all started, and I did fairly well at first.  When it was first a ‘thing’, I was living in a house (with no central AC- just room units for at night) with a coworker to share expenses (perfect situation; we had opposite schedules, so it was basically like living alone).  My housemate would hear me hit the floor from her room at the other end of the house, and find me passed out on the wood floor.  I thought I was just ‘nervous’ after a recent hospitalization for eating disorders, but she said that there was nothing  ‘nervous’ about me that she’d seen, and she really thought I had some type of medical issue.  One  night I couldn’t get up off the floor like usual, and I agreed that she could call 911.  That started the whole testing process.

I was lucky that I had a neurologist who thought I had dysautonomia. She sent me to see an electrophysiologist (EKG specialist) in San Antonio, who ended up doing a tilt table test.  My blood pressure dropped to 44/16, and heart rate dropped into the 50s (heart rate should go up, and compensate for a low BP, though a BP that low isn’t usually associated with ‘coming back’).  I was put on the first of several meds, and sent home (driving myself 60 miles after nearly passing out).

I continued to have issues with work, but eventually meds were sorted out, and I was doing well enough to get my work done. Additional disorders were ruled out (MS, myasthenia gravis, pheochromocytoma, brain tumor, stroke, etc).   The nursing home I went to work at had some very accommodating supervisors, which made a huge difference in not being panicky when I felt something coming on (the prior place did a lot of ‘threatening’, and since I was the only RN on campus at a drug/alcohol detox center on weekends, I understood the need for a conscious employee :p – but I didn’t want to stop working; being a nurse is who I AM).  I had a mattress overlay in my office at the nursing home,  to put on the floor if I needed to lie down.  I also had a fan from home, as temperature had begun to be something I had to keep ‘moderate’.  If an episode hit, I lied down; when it was over, I finished my work.

Fast forward, and I’m back in Illinois in my hometown, trying to keep things together at work, and it just started falling more and  more apart. I was hauled out by ambulance 10-12 times in a month or so at another nursing home (office job), and it was clear that I wasn’t able to keep working. I’d left a pediatric hospital job since I was terrified I’d get dizzy/lightheaded when handling very tiny babies (or larger, heavy ones), and that just wasn’t something I was willing to risk (along with some other issues with the job itself).  I had to deal with a new neurologist on my insurance plan at the hospital, who seemed clueless.  Once on disability (and Medicare two years after that), I found a neurologist who did know about dysautonomia, as well as a internal medicine doc who was quite familiar with the disorder.  With multiple medications (roughly 25 pills/day on a good day; more if not- and 3-4 shots of insulin) and total control over my thermostat, I’m able to sit up for several hours, but  I have to get up every few minutes to avoid any ‘pooling’ of blood in my legs, or I’ll enter the ‘pre-syncope zone’ when I stand up.

Now, my ‘normal’ consists of having the air conditioner on when it’s 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside.  When there is snow piled up outside, my AC unit is the only one with space around it where the snow has melted from the heat generated by the AC.  I leave home about 2-3 times a month– monthly grocery shopping, a doctor’s appointment here and there, and maybe a short trip to the grocery store about half-way between disability checks, for milk and/or bread.  Everything has to be ‘paced’.  If I do laundry, I can’t unload the dishwasher.  If I take trash to the dumpster, I can’t vacuum in the same day.  And I struggle to maintain any muscle tone, to avoid getting worse… but the chemo I had to have to survive the leukemia has caused deterioration.  I guess there are tradeoffs with everything.  Nothing is taken for granted.

Being on Medicare has been a horrific eye-opener.  I used to do the assessments that determined reimbursement for Medicare patients at the nursing home I worked at in Texas.  I was superficially familiar with Medicare.  Then I was on it.  Medicare is expensive.  There is the part B (doctors’ office and equipment/supply part) monthly premium (about $110).  There is the supplement plan since Medicare doesn’t cover huge portions of hospitalizations and tests (so add another $325 per month).  The part D (prescription plan) is about $75 per month, and between over the counter medications I MUST have, as well as paying out of pocket for insulin, that adds about $125/month (I’ll get into insulin in another post).  SO if all goes well, $635/month goes out the door for medical expenses.   That pretty much ensures no out of pocket expenses for doctor’s office visits, tests, and (knock on wood) hospital costs.  When I was in for 6 weeks for leukemia in 2010, the bill was $300K…. nearly 1/3 of a million dollars.  I will make my last payment on what they didn’t write off this month.  Four and a  half years later.  That’s not included in the $635.

Dysautonomia can be mild or fatal.  With the chemo causing deterioration, and knowing what I was like beforehand, I don’t think I have the fatal type (Johnny Cash did).  I have the invisible, life-altering, disabling, survivable kind.  Some symptoms may be worse than others on different days.  I can have one cheek very hot, and flushed to almost a blue-red, while the other is cool and has normal coloring.  I can have blue fingernails, not from lack of oxygen, but because of constricted blood flow.   My heart rate has dropped into the 30’s for no good reason (that bought me 5 days on a cardiac floor with nurses who were very nervous about the epilepsy- padding the side rails and putting a bed alarm on my mattress that went off if I got up to go to the bathroom- and GADS, they panicked when I got up to walk in the halls for some type of activity one night…. how did they think I lived at home?  Alarmed, padded bed?).  Sometimes one arm is flushed and hot, and the other cool and pale.  I’ve looked ‘dead’ per one former supervisor, with breathing so shallow and extreme paleness, it scared her many times.  I live alone, so have had to learn what sets me off… sometimes it’s as simple as a ‘scare’ on a TV show that wasn’t expected.  But heat and pain are my main triggers.  I’m in constant, chronic pain- that’s harder to control than the temperature.

Some people have POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardic syndrome), which causes symptoms if someone is standing. At all.   Their heart rate goes out of control simply by being vertical. Lots of folks with that need wheelchairs for safety.  There is neurocardiogenic syncope- which is actually a simple faint, until it’s a pattern.  There is pure autonomic failure – where nothing works right most of the time.  Shy-Drager syndrome is one of those total failure syndromes, and even saliva production is involved.  Dysautonomia isn’t one thing.  It’s a combination of symptoms that are generated by an abnormality of the autonomic nervous system.  Some are relatively minor, and others require feeding tubes, and other external measures to make it survivable.  More people have dysautonomia than are diagnosed, per research estimates. It can affect any age group or gender, though females tend to be diagnosed more often.  It can be seen as a conversion disorder or other emotionally based problem, which causes improper diagnoses, and completely inappropriate medications.  I encourage anyone who finds their symptoms listed in the informational links to talk to their doctor.  There isn’t a cure, but it’s generally not fatal, and can be treated.  Getting used to the new normal is the hardest part, as is not being understood.

See the following for more information:

www.ndrf.org 

www.dysautonomiainternational.org

www.dinet.org

 

 

 

 

Suicide… It’s Not About Dying !

Tonight we learned  that Robin Williams is dead, and the consistent information is that he took his own life.  Social media being what it is, there are many comments.  Most are of shock and acknowledging the incredible talent and genius of a brilliant actor and comedian; another  who is gone too soon.  There are some  comments that are just rude and clueless.  But there are also those who just don’t understand how someone could get to the point of feeling that it was just time to give up on life, that it was too painful.  That there is no hope in sight, and that the people closest to him/her would be better if he/she was just gone… Thank God most people don’t understand what it’s like to be so far down in a pit of ‘no hope’ that suicide makes sense.

Suicide isn’t as much about dying as it is about wanting the pain to stop.  The cause of the pain isn’t really that important, though addiction is often a component.  Alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, gambling, etc. are ALL ways to numb some sort of emotional pain.  I worked as an RN in drug/alcohol rehab and adolescent psych for years, and nobody ever listed death as the main reason they considered suicide.   I had a good friend (also a co-worker) who was so solid in his sobriety and recovery  when I knew him.  He became a well-known therapist in the city where we worked.  Recently, I found out that he killed himself a few years back , while  I  was searching for him online, hoping to reconnect.  He had great local resources about where to get help (including where he could get away from town for treatment).  He knew the warnings… and yet, he relapsed into drugs, and overdosed in an amount that was said to be inconsistent with an accident.   I was able to find a close friend of his who could help me fill in the blanks, enough to know that something happened to take him into that dark hole of depression and relapse. Those are never good together.

With Robin Williams, he had resources and had recently gone back to treatment for a ‘tune up’ of sorts, knowing that he was feeling a need to protect his sobriety, not that he’d relapsed  (common knowledge).  He was getting help.  None of us know what his pain was from.  We look at the professional aspect of the man and can’t make sense of what could have been so bad in his life that he decided to give up.  But even if we knew the ‘reasons’, for most, the decision to end one’s own life will never make sense.

In 1982, I was battling an eating disorder, and got to the point of feeling very overwhelmed and unable to see that things were going to get better.  I don’t remember wanting to die.  I overdosed and was in a coma for 3 days.   I was lucky to have survived, and was able to get past those feelings of just wanting to go to sleep so I didn’t hurt (in my situation, nutritional ‘rehab’ was a huge part of clearing up my thinking).  I remember taking the sleeping pills, but don’t remember ‘death’ being my goal.  I don’t remember taking the 50 antidepressants.  I don’t remember the ambulance trip, or anything else until  I woke up in ICU three days later.  At other times, always when dealing with eating disorders, I would find myself in a mindset that didn’t see an end to the overwhelming hopelessness I felt.  I would feel myself on the edge, and yet I didn’t ever want to die.  I just didn’t want to feel so much pain.  It’s an incredibly dark place to be… and there’s a feeling of loneliness that has no words to adequately describe it.  Even with people in my life, they didn’t understand what was going on in my head, and the surrounding circumstances made things more isolating.

For those that don’t understand, please be thankful that you have no frame of reference for that kind of despair.  Please look around and see if there is someone who might need a quick phone call or note to say that they matter, and to just check in to see if they’re OK.  If someone you know has changed and either seems really down, OR suddenly ‘up’ after a period of severe depression, see if they’re really OK.  When someone makes the decision to give up, sometimes they are so relieved at making the decision, that their mood improves.  That type of ‘improved’ mood (sudden) is an alarming sign.  Gradual improvement is more likely due to good treatment ( medication for the biochemical issues, and/or psychotherapy to resolve emotional pain).  Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions.   When someone approaches from concern, it’s unlikely that it will make a situation worse.

Clinical depression isn’t sadness.  It’s not about ‘reactive’ grief that many people will feel during their life when they lose a friend or family member to death, or the loss of a job, pet, or if someone moves away who had been a part of daily life.  Clinical depression is often a biochemical disruption to normal thinking and feelings.  Hopelessness and helplessness become so pervasive that the ‘normal’ way of seeing solutions to problems just doesn’t work.  While suicide is a permanent solution to temporary despair, it doesn’t feel that way to someone who finds it  worth considering.  It doesn’t feel temporary.  It’s kind of like being too far underwater after falling off of a boat, and wondering if getting to the surface is ever going to happen… like there’s no air left in life, and no ability to feel that the surface could be reached with just a couple of kicks to reach the air that restores hope. Even if getting back on the boat is a ways off, at least there would be air.  It’s like treading water UNDER water, and never getting closer to the surface.  It’s hard to withstand that type of hopelessness and helplessness for a long time, and each person has their own threshold for how long they can hold on.

People can’t snap out of it.  They can’t just go pop in a funny movie and everything is OK.  It’s a disease, that needs treatment, and  support of friends and family that understand that the person is doing the best that they can.  And when the ones who are depressed are finding themselves going further from their normal way of looking at life, they need someone who can help them hang on…

But sometimes, it just isn’t enough.   And those left to make sense of the loss  will never have a good reason to satisfy the ‘why’ questions that inevitably come up.  It definitely isn’t fair to those left behind.  And while it’s something they have to live with for the rest of their lives, it really wasn’t about them.  Sometimes, there is nothing that will redirect a tragedy.  But nothing can take away the good memories the person leaves behind… always remember the good.

Intervention and Treatment Memories

I gained a lot of weight during the time I was on chemo for leukemia.  It’s been very hard to get rid of it, as I’m also perimenopausal, and limited physically as far as what activity I can safely do.  Add a history of eating disorders, and the idea of losing weight is actually rather frightening at times.  I guess in some ways that’s good, since I don’t take for granted how bad things got the last time I relapsed in 1995-1996.  It took years to put my life back together so I could eat normally, and longer than that before I could accept my body without being disgusted by it.  My oncologist told me just to be thankful I’m alive (which I am), and don’t focus so much on the weight.   Easier said than done.

The last time I started to relapse coincided with being diagnosed as diabetic, and suddenly having to account for everything that passed by my lips. I lost about 50 pounds over several months prior to, and after being diagnosed (not noticeably abnormal ), and was holding my own without any eating disorder behaviors (purging- laxatives were my vice, restricting, excessive exercise, etc).  I ended up with pneumonia later that year (November 1995), and lost quite a bit of weight in a few days, and the sensation of being ’empty’ and seeing the scale numbers drop was enough to trigger the old eating disorder stuff that started when I was in my late teens and twenties (early 80s).  I’d been free of the anorexic end of things for many, many years.  It didn’t take long for being around food to cause anxiety, and for numbers on the scale, calorie books, and blood sugar meters to drive my entire life.  I lost another 50 pounds in about three months.  Other people noticed.

I worked at a drug and alcohol treatment center as a detox RN (and weekend charge nurse of sorts- if anything was wacky on campus, I had the last word if it was OK or not, though with serious stuff, I had plenty of folks to call for feedback and input) , so my coworkers were very aware of what addictive behavior looked like.  And denial.  And refusal to listen to rational feedback.  I coasted for a bit, but by the time a formal intervention was done, I was in bad shape.  Eating anything was excruciating.  Every night, I was asking God to just let me wake up in the morning.  And I literally crawled up the stairs to and inside my apartment.  Chunks of skin fell off of my heels.  Things weren’t good.

The day of the intervention was on the day after having worked a double shift.  I got off at 7 a.m. and went to rest for a while in one of the cabins my coworker had (she lived a few counties away and stayed on campus when she worked- we worked weekends and Mondays) while she went to do some discharge summaries, which I planned to do as well once I got some rest.  She came and got me at around noon, and asked me to come with her to get something to drink, and also drop off something in the Operations Director’s office.

I never saw it coming.  Inside the Operations Director’s office were my boss, her husband (who also worked there with the clinical staff), the medical director, day charge nurse, and several other people, including clinical staff who I worked with as well. There were 8-10 people there.  When I saw them all in the office, I knew what was going on.  I was terrified, but also wanted to stop fighting the wars in my head over something as ‘stupid’ as food.  It’s never about food, but that was what was going on mentally.  I was told of the plan to take me directly to my apartment to pack (supervised), then driven to the San Antonio International Airport to be put on a plane.  Someone would take care of my dog (that’s a whole different story), and my car could stay on campus where it could be monitored.  I’d fly to Houston, where an outreach employee would meet me, and be sure I got on the flight to Los Angeles.  That was the only way I’d be allowed to come back to work. What I hadn’t told them was that my primary doc had told me that I probably wouldn’t last a month, tops, if I continued as I was.  Their timing was perfect.  I wouldn’t have been ready before then.

So, off to Los Angeles I went.  Scared to death… I knew they made people EAT in eating disorder treatment.   But, I figured the sooner I got with the program, the sooner I’d get out of there.  So, in a feeble way, I’d begun to surrender on the plane.  By the time I got there, I was so exhausted from the double shift, then the intervention, traveling, etc, that the guy who picked me up thought I’d OD’d on something that made me semi-coherent.   I was just flat-out tired, and told him I was there for not eating (I never looked like I was starving as much as I was- curds of cottage cheese were something I worried about).  I was also exhausted from the battle fatigue from what had been going on in my head for months.  I’d been ‘confronted’ a couple of weeks earlier by a former coworker from another place I worked, about my weight (she was dropping off her child for treatment), and she asked if there was anything wrong with me.  I didn’t know how to answer.  It didn’t register that losing fifty pounds would be visible to anyone.  Seriously.  That jarred me a bit, but the intervention had the biggest impact.

I went to the treatment center in California (they no longer ‘do’  eating disorder treatment, thank God), and it was horrible.  The facilities were pleasant, and the food was really good (which amazed me, since I didn’t like much of anything, but all of the fresh produce ALL THE TIME was great) !  A few of the staff were decent, but eating disorder treatment it was not.  And the primary ‘assigned’ therapist I had was bad news… I was not allowed to speak about some things that seemed therapy-worthy to me. The ED patients had a table segregated from other patients in the dining room (and we were often like an exhibit in a zoo for the other patients who wanted to see if we ate), and one OA meeting a week (otherwise we went to AA).  That was the ED program. They may have been great for chemical dependency and/or dual diagnosis, but I was a generic eating disorder NOS (not otherwise specified) patient.  They didn’t get that right either.

When I first got there, I was so weak that when I went on the ‘beach walk’, I could barely make it.  Walking in the sand was exhausting, and I was having a lot of trouble even keeping a visual on the rest of the bunch who opted to do that activity.  My jeans were falling off, so they gave me a trash bag to tie two belt loops together, then trimmed the excess so it didn’t violate the safety rules about plastic bags.

The day before I was sent there, I’d packed up a detox patient to go there for more dual diagnosis issues than we generally dealt with at our facility, and then I showed up as a patient. Surprised her !   We sort of stuck like glue together, trying to make sense of the place.  Then another patient, AND person who worked where I worked showed up… They were both dumbfounded about the detox and treatment  process (so had a lot of questions), but come to find out one hadn’t told them all of the things she’d been taking. I told her she needed to fess up for her own safety.  They’d come to me (their former nurse) before talking to the staff there.  I wasn’t licensed in CA, and I was off the clock out there- but I was glad to be of some support.  We all needed each other out there.

There were a few of us ED patients, and we stuck together between groups, wondering where the ED services in the brochure were.  But, I managed to survive 36 days out there. The last 10 days, I had a virus of some sort, and wasn’t allowed to participate in any groups or meetings (but wasn’t sent home). They’d taken me to an ER, where they had me pee in a cup, and then decided I had a BLOOD virus- from a pee test…  The group would literally come to my room at the end of the session to say hello.  I could go outside and sit in the sun (or smoke), but no activities anyone else was doing. I could go to the dining room with everyone else, so it wasn’t like they were worried about me giving bugs to someone… but whatever.   I had a few roommates, some ED and one alcoholic,  (at different times) who were nice enough.  But I left there feeling totally unprepared for going home and making it OK.  I had no aftercare.  I was more scared leaving than when I got there.  But it was a great motivator to not want to ever end up in another situation like that was.

One really funny thing happened one evening, during my ‘banishment’ from groups, when I was outside  smoking.   One of the techs (fondly called the ‘clipboard jockeys’) came running around the corner asking if I’d seen the REST OF THE PATIENTS.  All of them !  😮  I told him no, and he was sure I must know something, even though I wasn’t allowed in groups. I really didn’t know. Come to find out that the rest of the patients were doing the evening community group, and after the tech checked everybody off of his clipboard, they went to another room to mess with him, and hide.  Eventually, all showed up, and the tech laughed, but I can imagine the thoughts going through his head about how he’d lost the entire lot of patients, except the puny one not allowed to go to groups.   That would have been a serious pile of incident reports and phone calls.

In the meantime I’d been told that I would NOT be allowed back to work where I’d been working at the time of the intervention until the director of nurses OK’d it (she had some serious boundary issues, and was also a neighbor of mine who had been in contact with my therapist in the treatment center- acting like some sort of information verifier.  The treatment center wouldn’t let me talk about being raped until my boss had reported to them that it had actually happened when she found the info and news clippings in my apartment when I was gone). Anyway,   I really liked that job, so that was a huge loss until I showed I was doing well enough to come back.   Eventually, I did get to go back, and stayed another couple of years until things started feeling unsafe with a huge increase in census, and no changes in detox/nursing staffing for several months.    But I’ll always be incredibly thankful that I got to work in that facility.  I learned a lot, and am a better nurse for my experiences there.  I still am in contact with several people I worked with there.

The intervention likely saved my butt, even though I had a lot of work to do ON MY OWN when I got back.  I got every professional book on EDs I could find, and did an ‘as if’ thing.   I looked at what I needed to do ‘as if’ I were carrying out orders for one of my patients.  I had to detach for a while.  Eventually, I was able to make it about me, and feel like I was doing OK. (The one OA meeting/group in town was ‘lead’ by someone who brought specific diets to show to the group- nothing 12-step about it, so I passed).  Whenever I see the show ‘Intervention’ or someone getting nailed on Dr. Phil, it brings back a lot.  Interventions are terrifying, but there was also a huge sense of relief at not having to go it alone any longer.

For those who think it might happen to them, just go with it.  Let everybody talk, and then be thankful that you don’t have to get well by yourself, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.  One step at a time, even if they’re baby steps.  A slip doesn’t have to become a relapse.  It beats being tied to an addiction that wants to kill you !  Things can get better, IF you are willing to let someone nudge you on your way (feels like an emotional sledge hammer, but in retrospect, it’s more of a send-off to the rest of your life 🙂 ).