Congestive Heart Failure And Me

August 27, 2014 at 11:22 am (Congestive Heart Failure, Hospitalizations, Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, The Journey Towards Diagnosis) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have been diagnosed with stage 3, right sided congestive heart failure. Let’s break that down so you understand what that means. Keep in mind, I’m not a doctor and this is by no means meant to be a completely scientific lesson on heart disease. I am sharing the information I feel will help my friends and family understand how this diagnosis affects me and what it means. Feel free to ask your doctor for more information.

I’m going to start with the “congestive heart failure” part. Your heart is a wickedly smart little organ. It knows exactly how much blood each of your organs needs to operate at their maximum. When one or more of the organs needs more blood, the heart is able to increase how fast it beats, pushing blood faster where it’s needed.

The first symptom I had was that my heart was beating pretty fast – upwards of 120bpm. Obviously, that can be caused by a lot of less serious reasons, so although it was something my doctor was aware of, it didn’t cause any alarm all by itself.

Meanwhile, my right ventricle, the one in charge of getting the right amount of blood to my lungs, thought something was up. It wasn’t getting as much fluid back as it was sending out, which is cause for concern when you’re a right ventricle. It assume that there has been some trauma or injury to the lungs wherein there is blood loss, so it wants to pump harder to make sure the wound doesn’t drain the blood the lungs still need to function.

But in my case, it was not a wound that was causing the lack of fluid return. My body was soaking it up, in the form of edema. That’s the reason my feet and ankles, and then eventually my abdomen, got really swollen. The reason my heart thoughts my lungs were in trouble is because my lungs were really struggling with keeping my oxygen levels high enough to function. The struggle was primarily caused by my sleep apnea – I was using a CPAP setting from 2005, and a lot has changed since then. I need a BiPAP in order to get the right amount of oxygen at night, and the more oxygen and the less carbon dioxide in my system, the less the demand on the right ventricle.

CPAP? BiPAP? Is this like a Pap smear?
No, thank goodness. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure is one way to make sure someone’s airway is open and functioning while they are asleep. If you’ve ever shared a bed with someone who snored terribly, that snore was likely caused because it was the only way to get the passages open enough to maintain enough oxygen. With a CPAP, it gently blows air into your nose (and mouth if necessary) to help keep the airway open.

With CPAP, there’s one number: the amount of air pressure the person needs to keep their passage open all night. However, if the person needs a very high amount of pressure, it becomes difficult to exhale without feeling like you have to use your exhale to push against it. What makes sense is to have two pressure settings: the higher one when you breathe in, and the lower one for when you breathe out. Thus: BiPAP. Bilevel positive airway pressure. BiPAP comes with a second usage, which is that it can also stand in as an external ventilator should someone have significant trouble breathing night *or* day.

I knew I needed a BiPAP for a few months, but I was dealing with a lot of doctor office monkeyshines and did not get it. But I will have one when I get home, as the hospital has taken care of that.

The Right Side of Heart Failure

Like I’ve said earlier, the right ventricle is specifically tasked with keeping the lungs happy. Because I was having severe O2 deprivation due to the apnea, my poor little right ventricle did all it could do. Now it is damaged from being overclocked for so long. Part of the reason it took so long to figure out what was going on is that the symptoms of heart failure are easily attributed to being fat, even if you aren’t really fat to begin with. CHF makes you feel tired all the time, it robs you of your stamina, you lose your breath even when you aren’t doing anything, and then the swelling comes. The edema is made worse when it gets to the abdomen, because then it is putting extra undue pressure on the diaphragm and lungs, making it even more difficult to breathe.

Although I am still a little angry about it, I have come to accept that even though I was clear with many doctors about these symptoms as soon as I noticed them, many of them dismissed me and told me it was because I was fat and I should reconsider weight loss surgery. (In case you weren’t a reader when I wrote my many rants on WLS, look at the tags on the side of this page for more info). I mean, my weight is a contributing factor (but not the only factor!) to my apnea, so in a way it is also a factor in my heart failure. But lots of people get CHF, and getting it at my age is getting more and more common.

What does this mean? Are you going to have to stop traveling/teaching?

Well, Del is going to have to get used to a daily regimen. Not only am I increasing the amount of prescriptions I need, but there are other changes I need to track carefully. I will have to weigh myself every single day (whee!) and do it in kilograms because metric! If I gain even a little bit of weight, I have to call my doctors ASAP to see if it’s related.

I am also going to have to learn how to live with strict fluid intake rules. I am only allowed to have 2000mg a day of any kind of fluid – that’s 2 liters. I have a plan on how to measure this, so hopefully that will work. I’m just from a world where drinking fluids was a good thing, and there was no such thing as too much water.

The reason I have to restrict my fluid intake is because should my body have extra fluid, it is likely going to shunt it into edema, because the right ventricle will be all like, “Hey feet, I got some extra fluid here, so I’m a hook you up!” and my feet will be like, “No, dude, we’re already super full! I’m sure your fluid is tasty but I can’t even imagine another…oh. Thanks.”

The last part I’ll tackle is the Stage 3. There are 4 stages, with 1 being asymptomatic and 4 being severely damaged and in need of interventions like surgical implants, surgery, or transplant if the patient is young enough to recover. 3 means that I have significant symptoms, but we’re hoping that with a minimum of intervention I should be okay for a while. But I’m going to give it to you straight – this is not a thing you take a pill, you stop eating salt, and everything gets better. This will degenerate and become more bothersome as time moves on. At some point, I plan on writing about how this diagnosis takes some of the vagueness out of “Del is sick”. The monster in the closet (or at least one of them) has a name, a face, a sense of reality.

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below. Just please don’t break my rule of offering treatment options unless you are a professional. I don’t want to know what your Uncle Tommy did to recover from CHF, nor do I want to read that article you saw on how CHF is a made-up disease to sell cardio meds. But at the same time, I want to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what’s going on with me and how it affects things moving forward.

*BONUS ROUND*

My blood sugar numbers were also wacky out on control when I got here, and I had a great endocrinologist who helped get me back to a normal-ish level. When talking about follow-up and finding the endo, I took a chance and mentioned that I was hoping to find an endo who would manage my diabetes *and* administer T. Without hesitation, he made me a recommendation to a Hopkins endo who does T for lots of different people. Even got me the number of the pysch I need to see for clearance before we can talk about T. He keeps reminding me that this is a maybe, not a yes, because I am so complicated; but he also said it may come down to an informed consent situation, where we go over the pros and the cons and then I choose what I think is best.

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Hanging In There

August 21, 2014 at 1:42 pm (Disability, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health, Spiritual) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you’ve ever had any kind of conversation with me, regardless of the medium, there is an incredibly high probability that when you’ve asked some version of “How are you doing?” I have responded with my fallback, favorite, non-pessimistic, doesn’t-drag-you-into-a-conversation-you-didn’t-want-to-have response:

“I’m hanging in there.”

Those who get to know me more intimately hear that phrase so often it begins to lack meaning. Or they’ll see a twinge, a wink, a deep exhalation; something to cue the listener to the “where” I might be “hanging in”.

I learned at a party four years ago that “How are you, really?”, can easily be mistaken for “I know you had a medical ‘thing’ recently; please tell me how miraculous your healing has been so I can feel good about the world.” I know some people actually mean “I read your blog and I have a general sense of the technical side of what’s not working for you; we’d just like some secret stuff not shared on the blog and I know some pretty awesome doctors who treat Ginger Cancer*.” But once the gathering gets past the awkward social niceties, no one is sure what the next step should be. (If you’re roleplaying 1950, I believe it is to take his hat and coat and usher him into the downstairs sitting/crochet/wielding/welding/spelling correction room while asking him about coffee preferences.)

Sometimes people really do want to know how I’m feeling, generally or right in the moment. Maybe they read this blog and want to hear some of the wacky stories straight from my mouth, or they want to ask questions about things I’ve written.

And sometimes people are super grateful when I answer with something so non-committal, so they can skip past the whole ‘Del’s life is hard’ part and get straight to the “Do you want to go catch frogs with me?” mode. Or just about any other question or conversation or activity.

People are correct that when I go to a party or fun gatherings or even just have you over for hangouts, that I am both of the following at the same time:

  • Totally willing to answer any questions or share any details about my medical journey. Remember, that’s what Baphomet said in the beginning of all this, was to share my experiences as far and wide as I can.
  • Sick and fucking tired of every conversation I have with any human being on the planet is somehow related to me being sick, disabled, or in pain. I want to pretend for an hour or three that I’m just an average ordinary Joe doing ordinary Joe things like going to the movies or setting my friends on fire. Y’know, stuff that just happens every day.

I have been getting MUCH better at setting and supporting boundaries around these things, including being totally willing to withdraw into my bedroom if we are hanging out and I’m starting to feel weak, tired, in pain, etc. I warn people before they visit that it will happen, and sometimes it happens for the majority of a visit, and sometimes it was just during the most critical moments of why they came to see me. But there’s nothing I can do about that, so I accept it and move on.

Too Intimidating?

Another social thing I’ve been trying to figure out lately is that many people think of me as being intimidating. I think the first time someone brought this to my attention was a wonderfully powerful and bodily petite Priestess. We had been to a lot of the same events and such, and when necessary we’ve have fun and interesting but politely distant social contact. I couldn’t really tell if she liked me as a person, or if she was being respectful of my experience while secretly disagreeing with any one of my many unusual beliefs or practices, or if she just thought I smelled funny.

Anyway, said Priestess comes striding into my cabin during a camping event, and sits on the edge of my bed. “Del,” I paraphrased, “I am done being intimidated by you.

This is the sort of thing I hear a lot. People saying that they read something I wrote or went to one of my classes or saw me at a party but couldn’t approach because I am intimidating. It baffles me, as I try to be open and warm and friendly, even though I am introverted down to the remnants of my toenails. But it’s a perception, and all I can do to change perception to be reliably un-intimidating (whatever that looks like).

I mean, it’s nothing like what you’re going through…

People are sometimes afraid to talk to me, especially about wellness-related issues, because they’re afraid that being worried/upset/tired/challenged with their health situation when compared to whatever they perceive I’m going through.

What you don’t see is how that reflects on me. Here are some of the things I hear between the lines when people say things like this:

  • You’re so much sicker/weaker/poorer off than I, so much so it’s only okay to talk about your struggles all the time.
  • You’re never going to take my struggles seriously because yours are so much bigger and more threatening than mine,
  • You are so, so ill that even a simple conversation causes you pain, so instead I will only engage in flighty small talk with you.

I’m sure you get my drift.

Now, this is not an invitation to grill me further the next time I tell you I’m “hanging in there”. Sometimes I really do need a little pushing to open up about things, partially because I find myself telling the same stories over and over again (Baphomet sorta promised me this blog would stop that from happening), and partially because I don’t want to waste the 20 minutes of face time I’m going to get with you at the party/gathering/concert/event to be all about my blood sugar numbers and my O2 sats.
I also have a hard time telling who really wants to hear every single detail about what tests I’ve had and what they’ve shown and who all the “charming players” there are (I not-so-secretly nickname most of my doctors and nurses, especially if there are ones that stand out screaming for one. This trip to JH has given us several – Nurses Anxious, Snake, and Afro; Doctors Bopper, Blondie, and Randomly In Charge; even techs like Pocket Fairy and New Best Friend. In fact, I’ve been asked to come up with a new cast of characters and why they got the nicknames they did, so I’m going to end this post a little prematurely so I can take a break and then tackle that. The next post will also likely have much bigger updates as to what’s going on and why I’m not discharged yet…

….and I just may have found my Zebra hunters. Oh yes, another nickname. The “Zebra” thing comes from an old medical school saying – “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”

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Darling, Can’t You Hear Me SOS?

August 12, 2014 at 12:42 am (Hospitalizations, Medical, The Journey Towards Diagnosis) (, , , , , )

It’s now been officially a week since I have been admitted to Johns Hopkins. Although Rave and I both had tingly spidey-senses that a hospital trip was close at hand, we had no idea what we were in for.

I have been slow in telling people why I’ve been admitted, primarily because I’m still wrapping my brain around it and the effects it will have on my life going forward.

I have congestive heart failure. Specifically, right sided congestive heart failure, which is the rarer of the two. The doctors believe it was caused by my obstructive and central sleep apneas – a long story about which I am saving for another time.

I am requesting as strongly and seriously as I can that you do not ask questions or offer information (especially anecdotal or third-party info) about the causes, treatments, lifestyle adjustments, etc. THIS REQUEST PERTAINS TO THE INTERNET EVEN MORE SO THAN IN MEAT SPACE. One of the reasons I’ve been hesitant to post about this is because I am really not in a space to hear suggestions from everyone as to what to do next.

My second impetus for this post is more practical. In a perfect world, Rave would be here with me 24/7 until I was discharged. In the past, she’s done her best to attempt it but graciously accepted when she needed other people to step in. This time, things are much more challenging for us both as a unit and as two separate people.

What would be of help is people who could come and spend an entire evening with me (Ernie and Cookie Monsters may be warded against if necessary.). Throwing us a tank of gas (there are better turns of phrase, I’m sure) or helping us obtain parking passes. Specifically making plans to pick Rave up and take her to do de-stressful things. Rave may have some other ideas, and you may come up with ways to help that we didn’t think of.

I’m only going to add this next bit because I feel it’s necessary no matter how many times people have said it is not: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. We both loathe asking for assistance, especially with how generous our tribe has been for us, and we would NOT be asking if we saw many other alternatives.

Here’s the thing – I may be in here for another full week. In fact, that’s on the low end of the spectrum. It’s one of those visits where there is a goal to be met that can’t really be influenced by willpower or any kind of effort.

If you feel you want to help, contact us using our shared email address – delandrave @ gmail . com.

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The Magic Number

August 8, 2014 at 2:26 pm (Death and Dying, Hospitalizations, Medical, Mental Health, The Journey Towards Diagnosis) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Hey there, dear readers. Before I begin, I want to apologize. When I started this blog, one of the main reasons was so I could share information about my health in a timely manner from a centralized location – so I didn’t have to post to every single social medium and then answer comments from them as well – but this time I didn’t feel ready to blog about coming to Johns Hopkins ER or why I came in. I’m still not ready to write about all of it. But here is a little information, a little navel gazing, and a little update. -Del

A while ago, back in March, I started taking on some serious edemitous weight (what we non-medical types call “water weight”, “edema”, or “swelling”) – one doctor guestimated I had gained 50-70lbs of swelling (and he was pretty close to exactly right). I began seeing a long and complicated list of specialists, each of whom happily pointed to one another as the doctor who could help me tackle this once and for all. I was bounced from cardiologist to infectious disease to primary care to nephrology and around again. I got put on several different combinations of drugs, kept on using the pneumatics when I could, tried to limit my fluid intake, etc, etc, etc.

I will admit, I was feeling pretty defeated. Not only did each doctor think it was definitely a SEP (Someone Else’s Problem), but none of them treated it like a big deal. When I had to buy new shoes 3 sizes larger, I barely got a shrug. To me, my Non-Violet Beauregard impression felt like something pretty hazardous but even when doctors was using scary words like “organ failure” and “amputation” they did it with a resignation usually used about troublesome boys.

After all, the list of symptoms I had –

  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Apparent Weight Gain (Swelling)
  • Lack of Appetite/Nausea
  • Sleep Disturbance

- could all (and were) attributed to being obese/sedentary. When I showed my primary doc that I was losing my breath just from standing up and buttoning my pants, we had a ten minute conversation/debate; she was forceful with her opinion that I was decompensating. (Basically, the opposite of ‘getting in shape’.) I kept arguing that even if I was truly decompensating, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t happen that fast and that dramatically.

But all along, everything that popped up she immediately tried to relate to my weight. In fact, when I came back to her after getting the diagnosis “Volume Overload” (Totally my Del Tashlin cover band), she weighed me to confirm that I’ve had a radical weight change – 60ish pounds in 3 months.

But to me, that wasn’t the shock. It was the magic number. I think we all have one. It may not be the same statistic, but there’s a number somewhere in your life that fits the category.

  • “If I ever have to buy my pants at Lane Bryant, just shoot me.” (number implied)
  • The day my scale says 300lbs is the day I lose my shit.”
  • “When I can no longer buy clothes at the mall because I am too big/short/tall/etc, I will have to kill myself.”
  • My cousin’s bra size is a 44G. I’d rob a bank to get a reduction before I would live like that.

There I am, standing on the scale looking at the highest weight I’ve ever been. I’m not seeing the magic number, but I’m very close to it. I take a deep breath and start reminding myself that it is edematous weight, swelling, something that will go away once they figure out what is causing it. Maybe a few tears roll down the side of my face, because it’s a number I wasn’t ready for that day.

As we go back into the exam room, my doc makes a comment about possibly revisiting the weight loss surgery conversation. Anyone who has followed my story from the beginning can probably guess how that conversation went. She’s trying to assure me that just because I had ONE bad experience with ONE doctor should not mean I reject the possibility forever. I am trying to clarify to her that this weight is not “Del ate some extra cheetos and skipped aqua aerobics” weight, but “something is physically wrong with Del that is causing water retention at a ridiculous level”.

I left the appointment feeling pretty sure that my GP wasn’t going to be any further help in this situation. Once again, I’m thinking I might have to go looking for someone new – especially in light of what has happened. In the most obvious application of the metaphor, I came to her with a list of symptoms of a serious medical problem of immediate need of treatment, and what she saw was a fat, lazy person who wasn’t taking care of themselves.

I got so disheartened, I stopped giving a shit. I still took my meds and the like, but I stopped making doctor’s appointments. I lost my fire. Inside I knew that something serious was going on, but it was as if I ran around the village telling everyone the Monsters are Coming and the village reacted with affected apathy. It wasn’t until Rave and I noticed that the swelling was getting markedly worse, and now was happening faster than before, that we decided something had to be done.

Now I am inpatient at Johns Hopkins and I know for certain what all my symptoms were caused by and what the short term plans are to get me going home, at the very least. As I discussed things with Winter last night, he asked me what he and the Clan could do to support me in this time, and I paraphrase for you, dear reader, as well:

I feel like I need some time to wander in the dark, bump into the walls, wack my toe on the moulding. I need permission to let this filter in slowly, rather than jump to branding it on social media for the 140 characters times worth of edification faded into the next cute cat meme. I don’t want to have to educate each and every person I talk to about what it is, how I got it, and how we’re treating it. I just want to sit with this for a while, think about it, run my fingers around the edges and see if there’s a contingency envelope hidden somewhere.

When I’m ready, I will share everything on the blog and you will all know what’s going on. Until then, for now, it’s just mine to feel in all the ways I want to feel it.

(And the good news is, I’ve already lost 15 lbs away from the magic number, so that’s reassuring.)

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How to Talk About Pain – NYTimes.com

July 16, 2014 at 9:30 pm (Uncategorized)

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/13/opinion/sunday/how-to-talk-about-pain.html?_r=0&referrer=

This is a wonderful article about how we lack the kind of language we have for love, jealousy, and other human experiences, for pain. We have moved away from seeing pain as a spiritual experience as medical science has learned how to dull it past the point of overwhelming sensation (at least some of the time).

What language do you use to describe your pain? Do you use the same words with your doctors as you do with your loved ones or caretakers? Are there works of literature that you feel expresses the kind of pain you experience, or details what it is like to be in acute or chronic pain?

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Still Not Dead

June 26, 2014 at 11:12 pm (Death and Dying, Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, The Journey Towards Diagnosis) (, , , , , , )

I think I’ve told this story before: when I called my mom, I would always start by saying “I’m not dead!” This was because once she chastised me for waiting too long in between calls and it left her worrying I might have died. In fact, she would often leave messages for me that would said, “I just want to know you’re not dead!” It was a playful thing between us, because of our shared dark humor about living with chronic illness.

I say this to you because it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on either blog. One would hope that means that there’s nothing to write about, but in fact the opposite is true. Things have been both busy and difficult in my life as of late, and I’ve had so much on my plate “writing a blog post” almost seemed like a frivolous endeavor.

It is made more complex with a new neurological symptom I’ve gained. For years, I’ve suffered from a very soft form of aphasia – basically, I can look at a cup, and know it is a cup, and can describe what a cup does, but I can’t say the word “cup”. It’s like someone has temporarily erased it from my memory. Now I find myself misspelling simple words over and over again (It took me three tries to get ‘misspelling’ right!) until I give up and use spell check. If you’ve seen me type, you know that I type super fast – 110 WPM, last measured – and I rarely get hung up by a word like that. And the words that catch me aren’t super difficult ones to spell – I spent 10 minutes on “column” the other day, writing “collum” over and over again. Needless to say, that makes it hard to write.

The big news about my health situation is my kidneys. As I shared earlier, I gained a large amount of water weight in a very short amount of time. I’ve been on several different diuretics, and use a pneumatic pump on my legs for 4-6 hours a day to push the fluid from my legs back into the core circulatory system. I’ve had to buy new shoes because my feet are swollen enough that my normal ones don’t fit. I have to be careful about my fluid intake – too much and I swell more, too little and I get dehydrated fast. It is really annoying and nothing seems to help.

It seems we’ve narrowed it down to where it’s very likely my kidneys. Not only am I dumping a lot of protein in my urine (symptom of kidney problems), but I’ve had flank pain that gets worse when I am dehydrated. I’ve seen a nephrologist and right now he has me getting blood and urine tests every week to see what needs to be done to get me on track.

There are also a host of other symptoms that cropped up, and we are trying to figure out what is related to what. I am having night sweats, insomnia, incredible fatigue (not just being tired because I can’t sleep at night, but being too tired to do anything and running out of energy just from sitting around and talking to people). My gait has suffered and even just walking around the house can be difficult.

There are also a host of things going on in my life that cannot be pushed back or avoided. My soon-to-be-ex-husband wants to change our separation agreement in ways that require me to have legal representation (ie, because I don’t agree with his proposal), but I can’t afford a lawyer and, sadly, my magical rolodex has yet to rustle up a family lawyer willing to take me on pro-bono. As separation agreements that don’t involve child custody are seen as very low priority, organizations like Legal Aid don’t cover them. So I have been applying to various charity organizations while simultaneously trying to prepare myself to represent myself pro se. I would rather eat rusty nails than do that, so I’m putting a lot of time into finding alternatives. There is also a lot of drama from that sector, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I also had a friend die from pancreatic cancer, only two months after being diagnosed. I spent time with him both as a friend and as a death shaman, and in the end I hope I was useful in helping him prepare to transition. I was there the night he died, and I did what I could to guide him to his next adventure. It was difficult for many reasons, and he was so treasured by his friends that the hospice actually thought he might be some kind of local celebrity. I think about him often. (I am planning to write an essay just about this, but I am not ready yet.)

It still feels like yesterday that my Mom died, and I’m still trying to tie up lose ends with my maternal family. I can’t seem to communicate with them clearly, no matter how hard I try. I had hoped that maybe my Mom’s death would help me reconcile with them, because I never met anyone from my father’s side, so they are all I have when it comes to blood-relations. But if things keep going the way they’re going, I may have to accept that my mother was the person who kept me connected to them, and with her gone there’s nothing left. I don’t know.

It’s funny, I started this post wanting to write about something very specific. I tried to post about it to FB this afternoon and my keyboard kept “accidentally” erasing it. And now I just don’t feel like I’m ready to write about it in any detail, so instead you get this. But it’s better than nothing, I guess.

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Fat people and feeding tubes.

May 15, 2014 at 3:26 pm (Uncategorized)

Del:

The following is an incredibly well executed essay on how doctors, naturopath, and Internet hoo-has completely misunderstand the role of weight, obesity, and nourishment in fat patients. Long time readers of my blog will hear echoes of things I have written about here, but I appreciate the ability to share someone else’s story, especially when that story took courage and steadfastness to post.

Originally posted on Ballastexistenz:

This isn’t a post I like to write.  The idea to write it always comes after someone, who is not communicating with me in good faith, approaches me and makes snide remarks about how I can possibly need a feeding tube if I’m fat.  Except they usually go beyond calling me fat.  They usually make some reference to my weight that makes it sound like I’m unusually fat, just to make things worse.  In one case, a known repeat cyber-bully (he has made threatening phone calls to a friend of mine — if I’d recognized him on sight I’d have deleted his comment unread) even told me he’d lost some relatively minor amount of weight during the course of a disease I don’t even have, and that therefore since I was still fat, clearly I couldn’t have any of the diseases I do have.  It’s clear that most of the…

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A Pain Contract Has Two Sides: A Letter to My Primary Care Physician

April 30, 2014 at 2:53 pm (Chronic Pain, Living With Chronic Illness, Medical) (, , , , , , , , )

Dear (My Primary Care Physician):

I don’t know if you are aware of the struggles I had this week with your office, so I will give you a short summary before I make my point.

My Oxycontin script ran out on Sunday. On the preceding Friday, my partner went to the office to pick up the script as she has done for months. She immediately recognized that the script was incorrect – it was made out for the short-acting oxycodone, rather than oxycodone ER or Oxycontin. She pointed this out to the front desk nurse, who disagreed with her and would not agree to have the script changed. My partner was willing to be wrong, so after 20 minutes of arguing she decided to leave and get the script filled on Monday (which is when the script was dated).

Obviously, we had to wait until Monday to fill the script, so I started going into withdrawal on Sunday night. It robbed me of the very small amount of ability to take care of myself and do the small amount of income-generating work I manage.

Monday, my partner went to 10 – no exaggeration, we can provide a list – of pharmacies, all of which said they didn’t carry that med. As we learned later, this is because the short acting oxycodone does not, in fact, come in a (amount redated)mg pill. However, most pharmacies won’t release any information about opiate scripts; they just tell you they can’t fill them. Finally, a pharamcist saw how harried my partner was and told her that the script was wrong and that’s why no one would fill it.

We had to wait until Tuesday *night* to obtain the corrected script, which was now three days of active withdrawal. The front desk nurse wasn’t at all apologetic, but was actively snide to my partner. When my partner asked for help locating a pharmacy that would fill it (so she wouldn’t have to repeat her wonderful tour of Hagerstown pharmacies) and was denied rudely.

Finally, at 7:30pm, I was able to take my first pill in three days. However, this was less than an hour before I was scheduled for my sleep study. I went anyway, but I am pretty positive the after-effects of withdrawal affected the results.

I see a pain contract as a two-way agreement, perhaps even a compromise. I agree to limit my choices and behaviors in part to protect your DEA licensing and ability to provide other patients with pain medication. In exchange, I am able to access legal medication I have a proven medical need for without shame or guilt. You agree to provide accurate scripts in a timely manner in part to keep me from undergoing physical risk from withdrawal symptoms. Even in the throes of suffering, I stuck to our agreement, not seeking out supplemental sources.

I would really like to find a way to streamline this process so problems like this stop occurring. It seems to me it should be fairly easy to make sure I receive scripts written for the right medication, and for the office personel to be more understanding and compassionate when I or my partner point out a mistake. At the very least, when it is revealed a mistake has been made, an apology rather than further attitude would be more appropriate patient care. Finally, I’d appreciate it if we could find some sort of timing mechanism so when I need a refill the process flows as smoothly as possible.

I am aware I hold few cards here – my options are to continue to deal with your office/practice or tempt fate by going to another doctor/practice. One of the reasons I fell in love with your practice was your ethic of being the main source of care for me, that you were happy to oversee as much of my care as possible before sending me to specialists. I see myself as a faithful patient, and it really pains me to feel like I’m a thorn in someone’s shoe. It seems like such a small issue, but this incident caused me a great deal of suffering as well as losing what little money I’m able to bring in independently. I’m also very worried the sleep study won’t be an accurate reading of my sleep patterns since I was in full-out withdrawal less than an hour before I went.

What can I do to help smooth this process? Are there other solutions or measures you can think of to keep this from happening? Were you aware of these problems?

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Del Tashlin

Edited on May 6th to add:
My doctor replied within a few hours of receipt, offering a handful of solutions. We are going to change how I access my scripts so that I don’t have to wait until my pills are almost out to start the process. She also offered to address the behavior of the front desk staff at their next staff meeting, as well as make sure they are educated on the difference between long-acting and short-acting pain medications as they are indicated on the prescription print out.

So even though we went through a circus to get this month’s pills, hopefully things will be easier in months to come.

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Finding New Depths

April 25, 2014 at 5:06 pm (Chronic Pain, Disability, Medical) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

It’s my fault, of course. Not just because I am the blogger in the equation, but because the current health struggle is complex. Probably the most complex since the surgery last December. It hit me at a very inopportune time, and has been one of the most difficult depression triggers I’ve dealt with. I am hanging in there, doing my best to keep pushing and keep living and not give in to inertia, shame, fear, and pain.

Part of why I am writing this post now, why I have come out of the dark, is that I need you. I need allies in my current situation. I need people who know what’s going on to answer the questions and comments people will make behind my back. I need people who will understand why I might be making different decisions, why I might not want to talk about certain things, and why I might walk away from conversations that stir my turbulent emotions any faster than they’re already dizzying me. My work “season” is about to begin, so hiding at home is no longer an option.

Here’s the story, as best as I can relay it. Back in early March, I noticed my legs and ankles were getting very swollen. I had never understood how much vanity I took in having slender, muscular calves and feet until I didn’t have them anymore. I also developed shortness of breath, even when doing the smallest things – I would take the six steps into my bathroom and have to recover. I started having a deep chest cough, so I thought maybe the breathing problems were just a portend to a chest cold/bronchitis/etc. These symptoms progressed, getting more and more difficult to function. It felt like someone had wrapped my chest in an ace bandage.

The next symptom is the hardest to write about, so bear with me. I have these two pairs of jeans that I call my “jeans of requirement” (a vague reference to Harry Potter). These pants fit me for the last ten years, from my heaviest through my medically unsafe weight loss and back again. For some reason, the way they’re cut or something, they might fit differently, but I could rely on them. So you’ll understand when I tried to put one of them on, and could not fasten the button, I was downright scared. I took a deep personal inventory to examine the possibility I’d gained so much weight that they just wouldn’t fit, but in the end I know I’ve been eating well, getting up and moving when I can, and hadn’t been particularly laid up more than usual.

Then we noticed that this was happening all over my body. My feet became so swollen my shoes didn’t fit. The skin on my calves and lower thighs was stretched so tight, the smallest touch was painful. My fingers and arms were also chubbier than usual, and finally when I saw pictures of my face I noticed that even my neck and cheeks hadn’t been spared. I got really, really scared.

I started a new round of doctor’s appointments, and the first thing that gave me a little solace was that my doctor confirmed that I was suffering from edema (swelling), and specifically anascara (swelling that happens all over your body). It is most pronounced in my lower abdomen and legs/feet. It was also determined that my shortness of breath was because of the swelling putting pressure on my lungs and diaphragm, making it harder to get deep breaths. Swelling like this is a big symptom, but it could have hundreds of reasons, so this is why if you follow me on Facebook, I’ve been going to a lot of doctor’s appointments lately.

To put it in perspective: one doc’s estimation after looking at CT scans of my body, is that I am currently carrying 50-70lbs of a combination of fluids in my body. This is not “I am PMSing and feeling kinda bloated”; this is “The pants I accidently ordered three or four inches too big are all I can wear now, and even they are tight.” None of my shoes fit comfortably. I had to buy special socks because normal ones were causing deep indents in my ankles.

I had some hope in the beginning that this would be more straightforward than my other medical mystery solving tours, but that’s been shot to hell. I’ve basically been the hot potato that various specialists throw at each other. And like any other mystery solving tour, doctors find other things that aren’t related to the issue but need to be addressed – one highly suggested I see an ophthalmologist to rule out edemic pressure on my eyes causing my double vision, but it turned out I’ve just had a lazy eye since childhood that no one ever diagnosed so now it’s bad enough to cause most of the weird eyesight I’ve had lately. The eye doc wants me to follow up with a different specialist, but obviously that’s been put on the back burner for now.

Another reason I haven’t felt like narrating this part of the journey is that many, many different possible diagnoses have been suggested and/or tested for, and most of them are pretty major/life changing kinds of diagnoses. Since I’ve already told a handful of people, I guess it’s safe to say that 2 kinds of cancer are near the top of the list right now. But I don’t want to be the boy who cries cancer before any solid diagnosis has been made. I can say that heart failure and/or other heart problems have been ruled out – my ticker seems to be doing pretty well, all things considered.

When it comes to real life stuff, the swelling has killed any sense of self-esteem I usually have in abundance. I look fatter than I have ever been my whole life. Even having seen the images that prove the “weight” is NOT fat tissue didn’t really help. There are places where the swelling is pulling my skin in very painful ways. I hate how I look. I hate how I feel. I hate that my pannus – that part of me that had been cut away – has fallen again due to the swelling. There is pressure on my surgical scars. I can’t walk more than a few steps before the pain becomes intolerable. Although I’ve always gotten dirty looks from people when I’m in my wheelchair (the looks are meant to communicate “If you got up and walked around, fatty, you probably wouldn’t need that chair”), it has definitely become more pronounced since the anascara.

It has not been unnoticed that the one part of me I had come to some radical acceptance with is now the one brought to the forefront of my attention. Is there a size or weight where being fat is less acceptable? You hear things like that from people all the time – “I’m okay with being 240, but if I cross into 300 I’d shoot myself.” Or “I’m okay with being overweight, but I’d never want to be ‘morbidly obese’.” I know that you can’t let what others say interfere with your self-esteem, but it’s also true that these ‘throw away’ comments have to stick somewhere.

Because the universe is a big cosmic joke, I’m supposed to be getting ready to teach at a sacred sexuality event next weekend. I am teaching some things that I am pretty uniquely qualified to teach, but the idea of being at an event about sex and sexuality feels pretty horrible while I’m trapped under all this fluid. As Rave often says, “I’ll just put on my educator hat and get the job done”. But underneath that hat, I am pretty depressed.

Part of what I’m asking for help with is if you’re going to THE Beltane next weekend, or know someone who is. I am sure there will be people who will be asking about my apparent weight gain, both to my face and behind my back. I know some people will be curious out of a legitimate desire to know what’s going on with me, too. But I’m just not in a place where I feel like retelling the story over and over again. Nor do I want people trying to make me feel better by throwing an arm around me and telling me I’m still attractive or whatever. I just want to teach awesome classes, have fun with my friends and play partners, and spend 4 days not making phone calls and emails to my various doctors or looking for rides to appointments. If you can do anything to help create this safe zone for me, I would be deeply appreciated.

(In particular, the owner of the location tends to comment about my weight whenever he sees me, and I am literally dreading what he will say when I get there. If you are genuinely close with said person and can explain things to him, that would help too.)

So where I stand with the mystery hunt is that cardiologist has cleared me, and infectious disease did find an infection, but that’s not the cause of the issue. Next is either endocrinology or nephrology, once I get through a sleep study (because there’s a infintessimal chance that this could all be because my CPAP needs to be reset. It would be wonderful if it turns out to be that easy, but I’m not placing any bets.)

So there’s the update. I am looking for help with two things:

1. A comfortable recliner. It seems that sleeping in a chair is working better for me right now, but the recliner we have is very, very low to the ground and getting out of it hurts my knees a lot. I don’t care if the material has holes or scratches in it, just that it is tall enough for me to get out of easily, and that the reclining mechanism works well. Rave has the exact measurement for how tall the chair should be, so if you are local and want to help us hunt on Craigslist and Yard Sales you can email her at delandrave at gmail dot com.

2. Volunteer Drivers. I’ve been going to many more appointments lately, so my regular pool of drivers are getting a little burned out. I have my own car, which I prefer because I am comfortable in it, but I will ride in other cars as long as they are high enough off the ground. I particularly need drivers the times it is most difficult to find them – between 11a and 6p, Monday through Friday. I have appointments in Hagerstown, Baltimore, Lutherville, and Frederick. The actual appointments are usually an hour long, plus travel time. It is vitally important that we arrive on time, and I would rather be 5 hours early than 5 minutes late. (Not literally.)

Drivers must also be able to lift, pack, and push my wheelchair. You are welcome to do a dry run on a day when I don’t have to be somewhere – you can come over and push me around the mall or a store or something to get the hang of it.

I can’t pay right now – money has been a real issue lately – but I can offer a variety of barter. I can send a “Rave for a Day”, who is happy to do laundry, clean and organize areas, babysit, mend torn clothing, etc. She’s pretty spectacular and multi-talented.

Again, if you might be able to help with driving, email delandrave at gmail dot com.

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