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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Why Handicapped Parking Spaces Matter… Even If I “Look” OK

To look at me, I probably don’t look ‘disabled’- or ‘that bad’.  I have all of my limbs, don’t use a cane because of vision issues, am not in a wheelchair all of the time (though I will have a wheelchair by the end of the month for longer distances), etc.  I don’t have contracted or withered limbs, use braces to support my legs, or any other visible disability.  And yet handicapped parking spaces make it possible for me to go to the store on my own. Period.

My disabilities include peripheral neuropathy (my right leg is deteriorating and both feet burn at times), autonomic neuropathy (if I stand up for a period of time my heart rate accelerates and my blood pressure drops, or if I get overheated, I pass out), degenerative disc disease (my spine is ‘collapsing’ from the discs deteriorating- lots of pain), degenerative joint disease (have had one knee replacement, should have had another, but leukemia got in the way, and both hips have bone spurs), and at times my chronic pain is really bad.  (Did I mention fibromyalgia?)  It’s always there, but some days are worse than others.  I’m a gimp.  Who might keel over if I’m not careful and prepared.  I am also very intolerant of temperatures over about 65 degrees for any length of time.

Having handicapped parking makes going out at all possible.  That along with my cooling vest.  Those two things (and soon the wheelchair) make it possible to be ‘normal’- or at least take a stab at doing normal things.   I already look weird from leftover chemotherapy side effects: my eyebrows never grew back right, and I’m much heavier than I was prior to cancer.  I keep my head shaved because of how my hair affects severe heat intolerance.  But having a closer parking space gives me some freedom on the days when I am able to leave home.  It’s a big deal !

When I see someone park in a handicapped parking place, but leave someone IN the car in that place, and walk in to the store with no indication of disability, I get annoyed.  Now there are a lot of disabilities where the person is able to move around relatively normally.  Some folks have handicapped parking for emotional disabilities.  Those are valid.  But I’ve heard people talk (or read) about using their friend/spouse/partner’s disability placard to get good parking.  That is illegal, and morally reprehensible to me. Then there are those with no placard or handicapped license plate at all.  On a day when I can leave home, those closer parking places are crucial !  They’re not just a convenience.  I can’t leave home just any old day.   Walking an extra 20 feet can be incredibly painful.  More pain can cause unstable blood pressure and heart rate, and that can lead to losing consciousness.

I know which stores I can go to and be safe, because of the proximity of the handicapped places (one hospital here has the handicapped places down a flight of stairs or a lengthy ramp… great planning; they do have valet parking until 5 p.m., so I have to schedule any tests prior to then).  I know how far I can walk before getting a grocery cart to hold on to.  I haven’t been to a mall in about ten years, except for once when I was waiting for a new battery to be installed in my car- I gimped to the food court for a soda while waiting, then gimped back.   I’m hoping the wheelchair will allow me to ‘chair walk’ (use my feet to propel myself as a form of exercise and general mobility) in the mall.  I’m not a huge fan of shopping, so it’s more of an issue of seeing other human beings and being more mobile. As it is now, I shop about once a month, and aside from my dad, I might not see other people for weeks. It’s been like this for 11 1/2 years.  I have joined a Bible study recently, which has been great.  It’s hard to walk from the parking lot  (with handicapped parking) to the room we use, but I’m getting there. It takes about 36-48 hours to recover.

But without handicapped parking, leaving home is not even an option for me and millions of others.   Staying as independent as possible is really important- not only to maintain whatever physical mobility is left or do ‘routine’ chores,  but to interact with others.  For those who need handicapped parking, it is not a convenience.  It’s a necessity.

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.