Frustration and Unpredictability of Dysautonomia

I’m supposed to be over at my dad’s  friend’s home, eating tacos with them.  I’d looked forward to it since getting the invitation this morning.  I took a shower (not a simple task when temperature changes are risky) and got my extra ice vest inserts packed into the insulated bag, and the ‘full’ ice vest ready to go.   I got in the car, and headed over there.  By the time I got to the first stop sign, I could already feel things changing.  I hoped that some cool air, and ‘thigh squeezes’ would change my heart rate and blood pressure (I couldn’t measure it in the car while driving, obviously, but anybody with dysautonomia knows when it’s changing).   No such luck.

I got to her street, and since I wasn’t feeling any better, decided it was better to circle around and go home.   I’ve had a mental plan for years for what to do if I get symptomatic in the car.   The air conditioner (which is usually on anyway), talking to myself, thigh squeezes, and knowing where the side streets are in case I need to pull out of traffic are at the top of the list.  There is no scarier place to have symptoms than when I’m in the car, driving.  If I have symptoms before leaving home, obviously I don’t drive- but tonight, it hit kind of fast. Fortunately, I do have enough warning before I pass out to safely pull over, but  I feel badly for being such an unpredictable guest.

During the last few months, I’ve had a lot of stuff going on that has made the dysautonomia (POTS and some neurocardiogenic syncope- not quite to the point of syncope) labile.  I’ve had a scare with my kidneys (that turned out to be just a scare, so dodged a bullet there).  I’ve had to change the dose of my primary dysautonomia beta blocker to HALF of what it was a few months ago- my blood pressure got low enough to cause the decrease in kidney blood flow and change my lab values, which is not a good thing.  I’ve had a lot of neck and lower back pain that has required some tests that didn’t show anything new (degenerative disc disease, and some bulging discs in my neck).  I still have another  test in a couple of weeks (EMG- needles in my thighs with electricity pulsed through them; I’ve had it before- it’s no big deal; nerve damage is already known- just have to see how fast it’s changing).  My right thigh is visibly shrinking in a weird, not normal way (like maybe if I were losing weight…. then both thighs should ‘shrink’ the same).  Diabetic neuropathy is getting worse with burning leg/thigh pain, as is gastric reflux.   The reflux issue has some other tests pending as well, but the ones that have been done show esophageal spasms as well as chronic gastritis.  Toast is my friend. The diabetic nerve pain is a burning like I’ve never felt before.  I have been awakened by it, and it feels like what I’d imagine if someone put some type of accelerant on the outer part of my entire right thigh, and lit it on fire- yet when I touch it, it’s numb.   I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that the dysautonomia is going through some “out of whackness”.   A lot of other stuff is out of whack.

I hate these fluctuations and changes in the status quo.   I get used to one way of my “normal” and how to adjust my life accordingly, and then something else happens.  The whole thing gets weird again, and it’s another ‘normal’ to get used to.  I don’t like being undependable.   I’ve always been punctual and if I said I’d be somewhere, I showed up (aside from the dysautonomia and disability stuff that ended my working career as an RN). My dad is used to my 50-50 chance of showing up.  Not everybody knows this about me, and I feel bad when I bail out.

The shower could have made things less stable.   I have horrible heat intolerance, and showers can be a problem.  I generally don’t take a shower and go somewhere in the same day- I need some time for things to get back to ‘normal’ after being exposed to the warm/hot water (I like hot showers… my blood vessels don’t).   I didn’t feel bad after getting out of the shower (a bit winded, which is ‘normal’, but nothing weird).  I allowed time to rest (about an hour), so thought that would be enough.  Guess not. 😦

Anyway, my head still feels a bit loopy when I stand up.   I just got done with a plate of food my dad’s friend sent over- which tasted really good, and had some salty stuff which probably helped.  I just feel bad that I couldn’t be over there with them, as we’ve had fun the other times we got together.

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 😉

Hot Flashes, Menopause, and Dysautonomia

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For many years, I’ve wondered what it was going to be like to have the heat intolerance of dysautonomia, and the hot flashes of menopause. Well, now I know.  It’s like nothing else.  If you’ve ever been too close to a bonfire, and felt like  you were going to spontaneously combust, that’s close… but the fire is inside of you. You can’t move away from it.  It takes away the ability to focus on anything else.  It is all-consuming.  And, thankfully, it only lasts for 15-30 seconds, hence the ‘flash’ label.   By the time I get to the thermostat to set it on ‘freezer burn’, it’s over.  Then it’s back to the ‘normal’ heat intolerance of dysautonomia. I’ve had the AC on since January (in the middle of one of the coldest and snowiest winters we’ve ever had).  Now it’s summer, and the hot flashes are part of daily life.

Some other little treats I hadn’t expected with peri-menopause are nausea (literally like morning sickness, with no particular pattern), memory lapses (that go along with some leftover chemo-brain, and make me wonder if I’m becoming demented, but then remember that people who really are demented don’t wonder about it much), and changes in body odor.  Make that a stench that one expects amongst cross-country runners in the Sahara that have never had the luxury of showers or antiperspirant.  It’s awful.  Like I can smell myself, and it’s a combo of nasty pits, a landfill, and chunky, sour milk all wrapped into one.  Hormones, the articles say.  It’s all about shifting hormones.

I’d noticed some odd chin hairs for a while, and have a pretty good system for plucking… magnifying mirror, flashlight, reading glasses, and primo tweezers. Not a problem.  Or so I thought.  After the family Christmas party last year, I found one that was about an inch long (did I mention the vision changes that start pretty much on the 40th birthday?  I turned 50 last November, so my close-up vision is toast). I wonder how many family members saw it, and wondered if I was going ‘continental’.   I figured that was a hormonal thing.  But the nausea caught me off guard.  Fortunately, it does get better with some saltines and nausea meds.  The memory stuff is annoying, but I really don’t have to remember a lot, and the stuff I do have to remember, I write down.  The stink is manageable, but still annoying.  But the hot flashes?  They are “special”.  While I know in my head that it’s gonna be over soon, it’s intense for those few seconds. I keep wondering if I’m gonna leave charred areas on my recliner.

The dog seems to know when the hot flashes are going on, and she wants to get up on my lap with her hot furry self, and lie down on me.  😦   She’s been quickly pushed off of me  a few times, giving me a look of disgust.  I just want any exposed skin to have full advantage of the air conditioner when the flashes hit.  She can come back when it’s over.

The hot flashes happen several times a day, but not often enough to get any soy pills marketed for peri-menopausal women (I worry about side effects and interactions with my mandatory medications).  I keep telling myself that there’s a tradeoff for not having to ride the cotton pony every month.  I’ve been lulled into a false sense of “No Aunt Flo”, only to see her again three months since the last visit.  NO real warning, besides a day of boob aches, and then BOOM.  She’s back.  I’ll be glad when it’s all done, but have heard that sometimes the symptoms of menopause can be gone for years, and come back when someone is in their 70s and 80s.  Seriously? I might be 75 years old, and be wracked with a fogging stench and waves of blistering heat, whilst my friends are in their rockers, with an extra  lap robe and sweater on, and long-gone senses of smell?  I’ll be the odd duck, I’m pretty sure of that.   No point in thinking that I’ll turn ‘normal’ as time goes on…. that hasn’t panned out so far.  If anything, the dysautonomia is getting consistently worse (starting with the chemo).  Oh, bother.

Well, the wonder of those hot flashes is over.  I’m pretty sure they’d be awful with or without dysautonomia.  Seems like most women have them, with or without night sweats (knock on laminate, I don’t have those).  I don’t remember how long this is supposed to last… and in some ways, I guess it’s good that it’s started, so it can get on and be done with.  Until then, my thermostat is shifted more often than undies full of fire ants.  And with as much urgency.

Groceries and Dysautonomia

This one went to OH this week :)

This one went to OH this week 🙂

More on him in a while….

Before dysautonomia, I loved grocery shopping.  I’d go to several places for various things, and just truly enjoyed picking out fresh produce, making new things, and trying something different each time I shopped.  Now, I am thankful to get out upright and lucid, and home on my own power.

I’ve learned that it’s much better for me to shop in the middle of the night when others who are huffy about me being rather slow are home with their noisy kids.  It’s also cooler, and while I wear my ice vest year round (in the winter people have the audacity to have their heat on), it’s the only truly  safe time to go (well, as safe as it gets).  If I try to go when it’s 90 degrees outside (and humid, like we have in Northern Illinois, and most of the Midwest during the summer), it would be incredibly foolish.  I can manage a quick ‘refill’ trip for milk, ice, and things like that…. but for my main shopping, it’s a middle of the night affair.  Handicapped parking also helps (and keeps me as independent as possible).  And, I remembered to take my cell phone tonight !

I just went shopping a few hours ago.  This time was rather noteworthy as I’m just now back on the extended release form of propranolol (beta blocker that works for me).  The idiots that decide the formulary for the Medicare part D prescription plan (which I pay for– and get the highest coverage possible) opted to cut out the extended release versions of generic meds. GENERICS !  That stuff that was free (for the past 4 years) if ordered through the preferred mail order pharmacy every 3 months is now $75 per month. Each. In addition to the other stuff I have to pay out of pocket for, now there’s this.   And the premium – I’m paying for the privilege of not having good coverage.  I spent a LOT of time comparing Part D plans…. they all chopped the extended release of many meds (my main seizure med was cut back to the regular release unless I fork over another $75/month for that; that regular release works OK for me)- as well as muscle relaxants, nausea meds, clonazepam (even though it’s used for the dysautonomia, and adjunct to seizures- which is its original classification as an anticonvulsant- it’s a benzodiazepine, which are considered bad news for the usual Medicare population, so it’s not covered…. can’t depend on a doctor to know what his/her patient needs), and the inaccessible forms of insulin that would be huge problems with the ‘donut hole’ where coverage stops until another level of out of pocket costs is met.  So I get the stuff that has been around since T. Rexes roamed the earth (but thanks to Walmart, I have an option that I can get if I fiddle with my budget for other things- can’t NOT have insulin).  Sigh. Grumble. Arggghhhh.  😦    I worked 20+ years to give good care as an RN… and now,  I’m getting bottom of the barrel stuff.  But, at least I’m not eating cat food like some people resort to.  😮

I had to try the regular release propranolol, since $75 is HUGE to add into mandatory expenses.  And, it was a big failure.  Since the chemo for the leukemia back in 2010-2011 (19 months), the autonomic stuff has gotten considerably worse (not uncommon with chemo with people who do NOT have autonomic problems ).  It’s now making my thigh muscles shrink (adios strength that was pretty iffy to start with) along with the blood pressure, heart rate, fatigue, heat intolerance, etc., especially in the evening.  I was already taking an extra 20mg many evenings, when the facial flushing and tachycardia started, as I just watched TV- no trigger or physical stressors.   The regular release stuff had me sleeping up to 20 hours a day- waking up just long enough to take more meds, get something to drink, check my blood sugar, pee, and go back to bed.  That wasn’t going to work, so I had to fork over the $75, and add it to my monthly expenses list.  That means I pay about $700 per month for Medicare premiums, a Medicare supplement, out of pocket drugs (insulin, syringes- to keep me out of the ‘donut hole’ where there is no coverage), over the counter drugs,  Part D premium, dental premium, etc.   My rent isn’t much more.  That’s nuts.  BUT, I’m back on the ‘good’ propranolol (Inderal).  The good news is that I get enough meds to get free delivery for the out-of-pocket-cost meds. ! One less trip to the pharmacy.  That’s always a good thing.  Oh, did I mention that I’m now in perimenopause and have hot flashes?   They are definitely not the same as the normal heat intolerance.  For about 15-30 seconds, I feel like I have a bonfire inside of me.  Not good.

I made it through getting this month’s groceries, at the less convenient, but more options, grocery store.  I do have a friend who will pick up bottled water for me (city water here is like putting a straw in a swimming pool, there’s so much chlorine- and I actually have stalactites growing from my faucet, the water is that hard… I chip them off periodically; and my fridge isn’t big enough for a filter pitcher, and fresh food).  She’s great about dragging water over- but she also has a life, job, husband, and young kid.  My dad will help – but his idea of shopping is getting enough for 3 days.  I can’t function like that.  I have to get what I need, and be done with it.   I’m the one who deals with %95+ of my shopping… and unloading it from the car, putting it away, hating that I hurt for a day or two afterwards.  Fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, and arthritis don’t like shopping at all.

I do make use of Amazon and Schwan’s.   I think most folks know about Amazon, and they’ve started Amazon Prime Pantry.  It will require a $100/year fee, but I can get grocery store items in single units, at grocery store prices (decent ones), and as much as can fit in a box that is rated for 45 pounds will cost 6.99 per shipment of the whole box.  Plus there are perks with the regular Prime for non-grocery items. That is a good thing.  And there’s Schwan’s, that has frozen food that is actually good (the ice cream cones are addicting… I have to have very good blood sugars before I can indulge in one of those ) .  Many items are basically heat-and-eat.  Minimal prep (you can get raw proteins, but I rarely do).  The turkey and mashed potatoes, and sliced beef and mashed potatoes are really good…. they have great fruit and veggies, and also decent breads (I don’t use a lot of bread, so the smaller loaves or baguettes are great).  That has helped a lot.  My dad got me a 7 cu ft freezer for Christmas for my ice vest inserts and ‘back-up’ inserts- and it’s been way roomier than I expected, so I have room for a month’s worth of stuff, easily- and some bags of ice. It helps SO much to have stuff dropped off at the front door.  That is a huge help.   The dollar entrees (Michelina is the brand I get- both the lean and regular versions) are pretty good, great on the budget, and three minutes in the microwave equals a decent small meal (which I prefer).

So, now I’m home, showered, and getting ready to go to bed.   I had some nasty calf cramping when I got home, so took some magnesium and potassium along with a pain pill, and am seeing if that’s going to be enough before I go to bed, to not wake up having to step on my foot to get it to flatten, as it’s spasmed so hard into a ‘toe point’.   Also drinking some tonic water with powdered lime (True Lime)…. tastes great- and the quinine might help the cramping.  The fluids won’t hurt either.

It used to be so easy.  I’d lug stuff up to a third floor apartment at times (lived there for about 3 years- and only had 1 1/2 flights of stairs how the building was set up).  Thought nothing of it.   I was younger, and it was many years before the big D was diagnosed.   I never wondered if the ice vest was going to ‘hold’ (it actually draws heat away from me; I’m looking into some inserts that are actual ice packs for really warm situations). I didn’t know cooling vests existed…. or that people  had need of them.  I didn’t  wonder if I’d pass out, or be on the road home and have to pull over until a pre-syncopal episode passed.  Fortunately, I do have enough warning, and know what symptoms lead to what, for me.

I’m thankful I can still do what I do.  This will be the only time I’m away from home except for MD appointments this month.  There are no social outings.  I do want to go to a conservatory here that has amazing plants and flowers (camera op !!), but figure it will be heated- and that will require the ice vest, and rolling walker with the insulated bag for the back-up inserts.  I will have to wait until the fall now, for that to work.

I still think about doing things, and do what I can to stay busy at home (the reborn doll painting is helping…. here’s some examples of a doll I’ve done and sold- they start as blank vinyl…no color.  It’s my biggest activity now, on days when I can tolerate being in the chair.  I end up in pain, but I do love making something that (so far) three people have liked enough to buy 🙂   Totally off topic from shopping, but it helps the bummer days when I can do something creative- even if only 15 minutes at a time.  🙂   OK.  I’m rambling. Time to go to bed (it’s 7:30 a.m.).

Same one that is in the pink shorts and striped shirt.

Same one that is in the pink shorts and striped shirt.

Still  here... will be getting hand rooted hair (each individual hair inserted).

Still here… will be getting hand rooted hair (each individual hair inserted).

)

"Caleb" kit 14" long, 2 pounds

“Caleb” kit
14″ long, 2 pounds

'Taite' kit 16 inches and about 3 pounds.

‘Taite’ kit
16 inches and about 3 pounds.  I redid her from one I bought…. I didn’t like how pale she was.

'Avery' sculpt 21 inches, and about 6 pounds

‘Avery’ sculpt
21 inches, and about 6 pounds.   She’s a thrift store rescue I got on eBay- and fixed up.

Scarlett kit by Cindy Musgrove 22 inches long 7 pounds 8 1/2 inches

Scarlett kit by Cindy Musgrove
22 inches long
7 pounds 8 1/2 inches

 

Frustration with Chronic Health Issues and Pain Control

Yes, I know I write about this often.  It’s my primary way to get stuff out of my head and blow off some steam.  I figure that people can choose if they read this or not; I have no choice living with it.   I’m frustrated.  I’ve had more stuff going on the last few weeks that have added something else to the list of physical problems.  I broke a tooth (doing what, I’m not sure), and when I went to have it fixed, I opened my mouth really wide and felt something pop or pull- something ‘not right’- in my jaw.  I got a bunch of novocaine for the tooth repair, so didn’t think much of the jaw until the next day.  I still thought it was possibly just a muscle strain, so tried to blow it off. That worked for about a week and a half, each day getting a little bit worse.  I went to an urgent care clinic on the weekend when the pain got pretty bad, and the lackluster nurse practitioner said he thought it was TMJ.  I always thought that was a more chronic wear and tear thing, but evidently not.  It can be acute or chronic.  I had the other side of my jaw knocked out of place during a rape/attack in 1987, and while it has never closed right, it never hurt- but I wonder if it set up the other side to be more sensitive to injuries.  I don’t know.  I’m just ticked off.  It wasn’t anybody’s fault when this happened a few weeks ago- I’m just tired of something else going wrong.

I went to see my pain management doc, and he gave me more info about temporo-mandibular joint issues.  He said that my description sounded fairly typical.  He felt the ‘popping’ and ‘crunchy’ stuff when I opened my mouth. He thought an injection into the jaw joint might help (he’s injected my spine several times so getting ‘shot’ didn’t bother me).  Initially, the injection only lasted about 6 hours, but today (2 days after the injection), it does feel better.  I know that sometimes the steroids take some time to kick in.  I’ve since read that injections into the TMJ can cause increased joint destruction if done more than three times a year, or more often than every 3 months. No problem.

The pain doc also increased the frequency of an opiate I take (fairly mild one), and I ‘gave in’ and took it more frequently yesterday, per the new orders.  That may have affected the improvement today as well. I get so tired of dealing with pain management issues.  I’ve worked in the drug and alcohol rehab business as a charge nurse (RN) in detox.  I’ve seen what addiction looks like.  I’m not someone who is likely to take too many meds- if anything I back off.  I’ve asked for weaker meds more than once when stronger meds were offered. I figure I need to have something  in the future since degenerative disc and joint diseases aren’t going to get better.  Fibromyalgia is a bugger on a good day.  The chronic headaches don’t respond to many medications.  And, because of the ‘opiate hype’ from  high profile situations that went bad, I feel I have to defend my right to not live in constant pain because of someone else’s addiction.  I’m not an addict.  I don’t want pain meds to take care of emotional issues- I want to have decreased physical pain, taking meds as they are prescribed.  I just want to be able to stand being in my own body.

My pain management MD is board certified, and has specific rules for remaining his patient.  If people don’t follow HIS rules, they are no longer his patient.  Done.  I like that.  I also like that he doesn’t act as if my complaints of pain are nothing but ‘drug seeking’ behaviors seen with addicts.  He listens- and that alone is helpful.  I know he’s not judging what I tell him about my pain.   I’m sure he does mental assessments to look for red flags, but I go out of my way to not give him any.  I never ask for refills a minute before they are ‘due’.   I never claim I’ve dropped a prescription down the sink.  I don’t adjust dosing on my own (even though I have plenty of nursing drug manuals to find safe dosage limits).  I don’t mess with the plan.  I’m compliant.  He, in turn, isn’t extremely picky about the time interval between the allotted number of pills prescribed in a day.  He IS definite about how many pills/24 hour period he will allow.  That works for me.  If I take a pill and in an hour or two, I’m still not doing well, I can take another.  Chances are, that will get me through 6-8 hours, or longer.  He does allow for non-opiate meds for ‘breakthrough’ pain. The biggest help is knowing that something is available.  I can put off taking something if I know it’s there- I don’t have to ration to the point of living inhumanely. But I don’t have to take the allotted pills every day either.  I prefer not to.

Addiction involves a lot of components, most notably continuing to use the chemical in spite of negative consequences, and using the chemical for something other than its primary indicated use.  Medicating emotions with medications for physical pain is a huge trigger for addicts.  Many  addicts start out with physical injuries needing physical relief, and end up getting more of a positive emotional reaction that keeps them looking for more. No matter what.  I do believe it’s a disease. Nobody starts out hoping to become an addict.  But, it does screw things up a LOT for those of us who are not addicts and simply want to be able to stand being in a body that hurts all the time.  Statistics state that for non-addicts who are prescribed opiates, and use them as directed, only % 2-5 become addicted.  That’s not the same as dependence or tolerance (the body’s adjustment to having the chemical on board on a regular basis).  I purposely don’t take the stronger pain meds I’ve got (still not that strong in the opiate world) on consecutive days UNLESS I’m dealing with an acute situation.  Like my jaw.  But, if I do take the meds as ordered for 2-3 days, the relief is good enough that I can go back to non-narcotic options… anti-inflammatories, topical creams, ice packs, massage, etc.  I don’t expect to be pain free. That isn’t a reasonable expectation.  But an attempt at humane existence is reasonable, I think.

SO (in general), because %2-5 have problems, % 95-98 are treated as if they simply want a buzz.  That doesn’t add up in my book.  But the ‘problem patients’ are often very high profile celebrities, and anything to do with pain management gets lumped with them.  Opiates are a valuable part of being able to tolerate and treat physical pain.  I know that former co-workers (who are in recovery and have a history of addiction) at the drug and alcohol rehab place don’t agree with opiate prescriptions being used much at all.  There’s a big ‘anti-pain medication’ mindset out there.  And, non-recovering MDs take that stance out of fear and misinformation as well, I think.  They run scared.

My primary care doc isn’t comfortable prescribing opiates for a chronic pain scenario.  That’s fine.  We have an agreement that she can contact my pain doc at any time, and I let her know about any changes in my meds after I see him.  Everything is above board.  Total transparency.  And I don’t ask her for narcotics.  I do discuss non-narcotic pain meds with her, since she manages most of my medications for my list of chronic disorders.  Anti-inflammatory meds are in her domain.

My dad asked if the pills I take will make me addicted. I told him that I’m not an addict, so that is extremely  unlikely.  Addicts become addicted.  Non-addicts seldom do.  But, nobody seems to want to hear about the benefits of treating pain with medications.  Since nobody can see or feel other people’s pain, it often gets minimized.  If it doesn’t bother someone else, why should the one in pain be complaining?  Because an addict can’t handle a prescription for narcotics, then nobody should be given pain relief if they experience the level of pain that narcotics are appropriate for.  It sucks!!

I’m fortunate.  My pain management doc has ‘house rules’ that make sense. He can require a urine drug test at any time.  He doesn’t discuss or make dosage changes over the phone.  If he finds out that someone is jacking with the prescription frequency or dosage, that’s it.   I respect that.   I want someone to have those kinds of rules so he can treat people who are there for legitimate physical pain, who are seeking anything that will make existing more tolerable- not to get loaded.  I no longer have a frame of reference for ‘pain free’…. those 1-10 pain scales are a joke.  I’m always at least a 5-6, which sort of resets the whole thing.  Those scales don’t work for chronic pain. I can use them for new pain (like my jaw).

Regardless, I’m still thankful for a lot.  I’ve got a routine down, and know what my limitations are.  I ‘look OK’ so sometimes I feel very misunderstood.  But, I’m still able to live on my own, and enjoy my puppy, computer, and TV.  I don’t require a lot of time with other humans (which is very fortunate).  I have contact with friends on Facebook even if I don’t have much ‘in real life’ time with them.   I have a relationship with God that gets me through a lot.  If I didn’t have some sort of spiritual belief system, I don’t think I’d be able to tolerate a lot of what has simply become ‘normal’.  I also have the promise that in eternity, I’ll have a new body, and no more pain or disease. 🙂

Redefining Normal

As I continue to struggle with some of the medical issues I’ve got, I’m trying to figure out how to maintain my independence, safety, and general medical stability.  Sometimes that’s easier said than done, and on days when I don’t feel as bad, I forget to pay attention to what has become my reality, and I get into trouble.  I know my primary triggers for the dysautonomia are pain and heat (my perception of heat- not what others feel as warm).  Dysautonomia, diabetes (5 shots/day), epilepsy, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, arthritis, bone spurs, degenerative discs (neck, thoracic spine, and lower spine), scars in my lungs from massive pulmonary emboli, one replaced knee, one messed up knee, etc), fluid retention…..  There are a lot of things to have to adjust things for, and sometimes it can be overwhelming.

I have to avoid being overheated away from home at all costs, since I can easily get to the point of passing out.  This involves keeping my body cool enough on the outside (using my ice vest when needed), and avoiding ‘internal’ heat through foods that are too warm.  Any activity that increases body heat or heart rate is no good. So my activity tolerance is pretty dismal.  In the summer, this involves shopping after the sun is down, and not leaving home any more than I absolutely have to.  Ironically, the winter is almost worse since everybody has their heater on, and I don’t tolerate artificial heat well at all. I keep my thermostat at home set around 60-64 degrees, or I get into trouble even being at home.  It’s going to be in the 30s tonight, and I’ve got the air conditioner on… no joke !

Cool and cold foods are much less likely to cause my body to overheat (duh), so I avoid warm and hot foods unless I’ve got the thermostat ‘perfect’, and I’m not already having trouble.  I never drink hot drinks. I have never liked coffee, but don’t drink hot tea, and if I do drink hot cocoa, it has to cool off considerably, which sort of defeats the purpose.  The process of cooking (or even just ‘assembling’) meals is very difficult. Repetitive motion of prepping food is extremely painful, and if it involves using the oven or stove to cook it, I have to be very careful that the thermostat is set low enough to help compensate.  Even stuff reheated in the microwave can be a problem.

Pain is something that is nearly impossible to avoid.  If I’m awake, I’m in pain.  Any repetitive motion sends my muscles into spasms, which can get to the point of causing vasovagal reactions.  I feel like a wuss.  There are so many things I want to do, but it’s just not safe. I need to see my pain doc again and talk about the next step in pain management. The sporadic injections into my spine aren’t helping at all, and the pain medications I have aren’t really that strong, and don’t work that well.  I do use more NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen sodium) now that I’m not on blood thinners, but they don’t do a lot for the deep pain.  I’ve resisted taking anything stronger that the doc offered before. He understands that I’ve worked in the addiction rehab business (as an RN), and have seen some horror stories with detox.  I know that pain medications used as prescribed are very safe. I’m just a chicken…but I have to get over that at some point so I can function at home as independently as possible.  I’m losing some of that.  It’s a little scary to be just under 50 years old, and looking at needing help to get basic tasks done.

I already have mail order for as many things as is practical and available.  It helps a lot to have it just dropped off at my door.  My dad takes the trash to the dumpster sometimes; I still try to do that when I can, so I’m not doing ‘nothing’.  Today, that was very painful- but I got it done.  A childhood friend of mine and I have reconnected, and she has helped with many things- and will help with more if I just ask her…. it’s hard to accept help.  I’m supposed to be the one who helps others. I moved back here to help my dad with my mom, but she died.  I worked as an RN for 20 years, so I could help people.  I don’t want to need help.

I feel like I’m just not trying hard enough, but I’m starting to realize that my body is broken, can’t be fixed, and I have to do whatever I have to do just to ‘maintain’ things at home.  Leaving home isn’t really something I can increase… it takes quite a bit of equipment to be away from home for more than 2-3 hours.  I have to get home before the ice vest inserts I’m wearing begin to thaw too much.  As a twenty-something young nurse, I sure never saw this coming.

I’m thankful for a lot- I have a garage attached to my apartment and a washer and dryer in my apartment.  That helps a lot.  I have a great new puppy, who wears me out, but has  amazing positive energy.  I know things could be  a lot worse; I worked in some rough areas of nursing and saw some pretty tragic situations.  I’m still living at home, alone (which I prefer), and have figured out how to get stuff done, even if it’s not like I used to do things.  I believe that all things happen for some reason.  I have strong faith in God, and I trust that He can use this for something good.  Yet, there are days when it’s hard living like this. My world is pretty much my apartment and my dog.  I still have my dad around, and we’re in regular phone contact, and usually see each other weekly.  I’ve got computer access to former coworkers, and friends.   I’m still in remission from leukemia and I can still keep my mind busy with various things. So things could be worse. ‘Normal’ has changed.  But I think that as people go through life, even if they’re relatively intact, lives change.

At least I’m still around, and I have to make the best of it 🙂

 

The End of Life As I Knew It

Nine years ago, on April 6, 2004, life as I knew it stopped.  It was my last day working as a full time registered nurse because of medical disability. I tried to go back to work a few months later, but it was a total failure, even though I was working back into full time hours slowly. My body was broken.  There was nothing to do to fix it.  I entered a world I didn’t really  understand- that of being useless and having no obvious purpose. My life since the age of 21 had been about being an RN (I graduated from nursing school in May 1985).  I had worked so many overtime hours and holidays because I enjoyed working.  And then it was gone.

I’m not sure when the medical problems ‘officially’ started, but I know when they got bad.  About 5 months after moving back to the midwest from Texas, and being subjected to indoor heat, the symptoms of my dysautonomia became severe enough to cause me to start having heart rate and blood pressure episodes that made working impossible at times. Then, over the next 10-11 months, it got to the point  of being totally unable to work.  I’d pass out if I got overheated, and that didn’t have to be all that warm- most people found themselves comfortable when I was turning beet red and feeling like I was going to faint.  Then there were the seizures.  Later, it was discovered that they are more likely to start at the beginning of sleep cycles…but that could be at the beginning of blood sugar fatigue, as well as the deep sleep I’d end up in after one of the dysautonomia episodes. It was a mess to sort out.  My boss and co-workers told me what they’d seen, which helped the doctors at the time.

My employer had started sending me to the emergency room by ambulance when I was found unconscious or seen seizing or collapsing. I was a liability.  It got to be a routine occurrence.  I was sent out more than the elderly residents at the nursing home where I worked (like a dozen times in the last 2 months I was there).  I remember none of the ambulance trips, but I do remember a lot of abusive ER nurses and docs when I would ‘come to’, who thought I was a low-life ‘frequent flyer’. They never stopped to realize that I hadn’t sent myself to the ER- I’d been sent.  ER personnel like to fix things. I couldn’t be fixed, so they took it out on me with name calling and general ‘disgust’ when they interacted with me. There was a rare ‘nice’ doctor or nurse, but I began to dread waking up in the ER.  It got worse before it got better (I found a different ER).

Those initial months and then years of not working were really difficult. In addition to the neurological disorders, I was having drug interactions that dropped my blood pressure low enough to cause small strokes.  It wasn’t uncommon to have a blood pressure in the 40-50/20-30 range.  I was usually still conscious but definitely feeling very unwell.  It was scary.  I eventually figured out a way to put a thin feeding tube in my own nose to put Gatorade through, in order to increase my blood pressure with fluid volume.  It beat going to the ER.  There were also the times when the dysautonomia kicked in and my pulse and blood pressure would go nuts on their own.  I was so frustrated that I couldn’t just ‘make myself’ do things that used to be so normal.  Like work.  Or go out in public, where the thermostats were out of my control. Now, I’m pretty much homebound, aside from monthly trips to the grocery store or MD appointments. I have as much as possible delivered.  It’s just too painful and risky to do much away from home.

It took many years to work through the shock of being unable to work.  I kept thinking I just had to ‘make’ myself well enough.  But I was having trouble doing basic things around home.  My world shrunk to that of my apartment and the monthly trip to the grocery store, or doctors’ appointments.  At the time, I had nobody to socialize with; I had no friends here.  I also didn’t have online access to most people I’d known in Texas, and none with people here.  I had my dog- and she was so important. I also had regular contact with my dad. But nothing with anybody who understood being a nurse, or being disabled.

Things are getting progressively worse when it comes to ‘normal’ activities. I just took the trash to the dumpster (about 12-15 yards away), and am now in considerable pain.  Pain is a trigger for the dysautonomia (along with heat), so I need to get more comfortable to prevent my blood pressure from crashing.  It’s very frustrating to feel like such a ‘wimp’  with normal activities.  Making lunch is also painful.  I have ‘grab and go’ foods as much as possible.   When I have ‘good’ days, I’ll make tuna salad- and then hurt.  I keep trying to do things, and it’s harder and harder.  I don’t know what sort of future I’ll have.  I am trying to find ways just to  make things work here, so I don’t end up needing assisted living anytime soon.  I want to be independent. It’s hard to accept help.  I don’t want to be a ‘whiner’ or not do as much as I can… but when I do, I always end up in a lot of pain, and often pre-syncopal.  I turned the air conditioner on about a week ago, when the night temps were in the 20s, but daytime temps were over 40.  It’s a matter of just being able to survive being at home.

I think about my old life a lot.  I miss working as a nurse. I keep my license active so I don’t have to say I ‘was’ a nurse.  I still am a nurse- unable to work as one, but I’m still a ‘real’ nurse.  Many things have changed in the nine years I’ve been disabled. But there are core nursing things that I still remember. I remember some of the patients  I took care of, and many of the other nurses and personnel I worked with. Those are good memories.  I’m glad I have them.

To those who think it can never happen to them…. you never know what life is going to hand you, or what challenges may come  your way.  Get disability insurance whenever you can.  It can make the difference between living in a decent place, or barely making it at all.  Take time to enjoy things, and don’t work ALL the time.  Jump on all opportunities to experience all you can.  Don’t create regrets.  Do make time to nurture friendships that will last.  Don’t let horrible experiences create limitations that don’t have to be there.  Live as much as you can !