What is left to eat?

January 15, 2019

Any of you with complicated food restrictions will totally understand. Sometimes it feels like nothing is safe. Like the world is full of food landmines.

Seven years ago I figured out that gluten was a problem for me. Over the next 2 years I figured out a bunch of other foods I had to limit or eliminate. As my leaky gut slowly healed, I was able to bring back some of those foods, while acknowledging that others are gone forever.

For the most part, I don’t mind giving up these foods. I can deal with never eating gluten or corn again. Yes, popcorn used to be one of my favorite snacks. But it’s worth it if it means no longer feeling so sick! So in theory, things were good.

Groceries

Over the years, I have slowly figured out many places where I was getting trace amounts of gluten, and as I eliminated them, I felt better. These were things like sunscreen, moisturizer, lemon juice concentrate, and kissing my then-boyfriend. Some were easier than others to avoid. Let’s be honest, dating gets a lot harder when you have to tell someone at dinner on a second date that you can’t kiss them if they eat gluten – and you don’t even know yet if they were planning to kiss you!

Things were going ok overall until recently. Something is wrong. So far my doctors have thrown around ideas ranging from mitochondrial disease to some sort of yet-unnamed chronic infection to weakened adrenals that aren’t responding to the current treatment. I’m going to see new specialists. But I have also begun to wonder about what I’m putting into my body.

You see, my thyroid med isn’t doing the trick anymore and I want to switch brands, as many patients have recently had to do. The new one is gluten-free, but then just as I was about to get it from the pharmacy it occurred to me that it could have corn in it. It turns out, it does. Hmm. I asked my naturopath what she thought. She said it might be fine at first, but eventually it would probably build up in my body and cause problems. That makes sense. So I’m going to start a compounded medication next week instead.

But then I realized that I hadn’t checked for corn in my current thyroid medication since the manufacturing process was changed last year. And sure enough, it has an ingredient that might have been derived from corn. Yet I still have to take it until the new compounded medication is ready. Every day, I take it knowing that it could be making me sicker, but that I also need it to survive.

Then I looked some more. My vitamin C contains cellulose. So do a few of my other supplements. Huh.

So now I’m wondering if my malaise, fatigue, and brain fog could be from too much corn exposure. I know that small amounts of corn syrup in ketchup, for example, causes a problem for me. So this might be it!

But then just last week I was reminded of the many ways that Celiac Disease symptoms can appear that aren’t necessarily gastrointestinal. And at the same time I learned about some other places where I could be getting trace amounts of gluten exposure that I hadn’t considered before. These are harder to detect, like particles in the air when I’m in the home of someone who has recently baked with wheat flour, or produce in the grocery store that has gluten on it because another customer was touching it. How on Earth can I avoid those? I want a gluten detection service dog (yes, that’s a thing! And they are amazing!) but I am not healthy enough to care for a dog as a pet right now, sadly, much less to train a service dog.

So maybe I will take my new thyroid med and feel better and not worry about this other stuff. Except, even though some symptoms got a lot worse recently, there were issues before, also. So something else is going on. And while I am willing to try a new prescription for adrenal issues and to see the infectious disease specialist, wouldn’t it make the most sense to first eliminate all sources of the foods that I *know* can cause problems for me?

The problem is, I found a list of places where corn can be found, and it’s intimidating. Many of these are common (vinegar) or often found in gluten free foods (xantham gum.) I don’t know how careful I have to be, either. Do I have to avoid honey just in case the bees were fed high glucose corn syrup? If this were a gluten issue I would say yes, but for corn? Am I sensitive enough to need that level of scrutiny?

So now a lot of foods and medications I thought were Celiac-safe might not be and might contain corn that I didn’t know about, produce could be contaminated by other shoppers, gluten might be in the air, and no one knows what’s really safe and what isn’t. Ahhh!

It’s no wonder I’m stressed out about food. It’s no wonder I wish I could just take a safe nutritional supplement and never eat again. Food is a necessity in life, but it feels like a danger, too. Yes, I have to make sure my shampoo is both gluten-free and corn-free and that’s a real pain in the butt to do. Yes, I can’t wear the kinds of lipsticks I like anymore and it totally sucks. Those are emotionally hurtful in different ways. But food is something I can’t ignore. I can say I’ll deal with the lipstick issue another time, but food can’t wait that long. And that – how much I need that thing that has so much potential to hurt me – might just be the most frustrating part of all.

Unfortunately, my insurance will not cover a visit to a nutritionist, and I don’t know how much that would help me anyway. But I would love to hear from others who deal with this. If you have Celiac Disease or corn intolerence, please please please comment below and tell me how you deal with all of this, offer suggestions, or just let me know I’m not alone. It helps so much!

Advertisements

Earwax: sometimes it’s the little things

January 10, 2019

It was one of those days. I had a checkup with my primary care physician and long list of things to discuss. In addition to all the stuff I know about, I feel like something else must be wrong. My naturopath thinks so, too. But I don’t like the possibilities! On top of that, it was earlier than I’d like. Still, I was determined to make it all work.

The plan was simple, but also overwhelming: get up early, get dressed, make lunch, eat breakfast, stop at the library, then go to my appointment. After the appointment I would pick up something from a friend, then go to another friend’s house to hang out for the afternoon. It would eat up all of my energy and I would be exhausted, but I felt it was worth it.

I got up early. I got dressed. And then things went south. I was awfully tired, and while I cut up fruit for part of my lunch, my hand slipped and the knife sliced my finger. Oops! The blood gushed and I rushed to put my finger under the faucet, then wrapped it in a paper towel that quickly soaked with blood. Not good. After a bandaid, I decided I didn’t need more fruit and put it in the fridge. I finished putting together the rest of my lunch, then moved on to breakfast, all the while wondering if I would need stitches. I really didn’t want to deal with stitches! I was already headed to the doctor’s office, at least.

As I left my apartment, I saw a woman walking a dog and asked to pet him. That helped a lot! When I got to my appointment I saw a message on my phone that picking up the thing from my friend got cancelled. Part way through the appointment, I got the message that my friend had to cancel hanging out. Which means I never had to make lunch in the first place! A couple hours later I was eating lunch at home anyway.

Things with the doctor went pretty well, though we ran way over time and still didn’t cover everything, which frustrated both of us. He looked at my finger which had, thankfully, stopped bleeding! What a relief! Then it was time to get the earwax out of my ears.

If you’ve ever had issues with too much earwax, you can see where this is going. I hadn’t had it done in at least a year, maybe two. When the doctor looked in my ear he couldn’t see my eardrums but that was no surprise to me. It was uncomfortable and sometimes it even hurt. I could *hear* the wax when I touched my ear and it moved. I had been looking forward to this.

Luckily, the medical assistant had time to do the ear irrigation. It took a lot of sprays with the solution, but finally the biggest chunk of wax I’ve ever seen came out of my ear. I mean, I’ve had big chunks of earwax come out before, but this was almost double the size of what usually comes out. How did it even fit in there?!?

And instantly my ear felt better. It felt empty. Clear. Clean. The discomfort was gone. The sounds were gone. Then she did the other ear and it felt just as good.

By the time I went to get my blood drawn I was feeling great! Sure, I’m fatigued and my thyroid med isn’t working properly any more and we think there’s something else going on but we don’t know what and I might have to start taking adrenal medications and and and…. but at least my ears feel better!

I suddenly had no plans in the afternoon. I put in my earbuds so I could make a phone call and was amazed at how well they fit. I didn’t realize they were uncomfortable before, until now they suddenly weren’t any more.

It was a shit show of a morning, full of blood, anxiety, and worry. But hey, at least my earwax got cleaned out. And that made it all a lot better.

Now it’s time to go research various doctors and medications that my doctor and I discussed because, as we all know, a chronic illness patient’s work is never done.


But did it help?

September 25, 2018

I go to so many medical appointments, sometimes I just take for granted that I have to go. But last week, after I wrote about having 13 appointments in just one month, I also mentioned it to a friend, and she asked me something that shocked me: were they helping?

It shocked me because I hadn’t thought to ask this myself! You would think that of course I’d be evaluating each appointment to see if it was worthwhile, but at some point, I just stopped doing that. I have gotten all too used to “follow up” appointments where the doctor reviews my symptoms, nods, and then tells me to come back in 4-6 months without suggesting any changes to what I’m doing. And often this is fine, because I feel like I’m on a decent course. Or because I know the treatments come with bad side effects that I want to avoid. Still, it’s worth taking a step back every now and then to ask,

Is this working?

Is this worthwhile?

I’m glad to say that in the case of this hectic September, the answer is a resounding, YES! The hand therapy has been making a huge difference. My sleep doctor suggested one small change that has had a big positive effect. My naturopath offered me some hopefully changes. I haven’t seen any changes from my new therapist, but it’s early, and there’s nothing negative, so I’ll give it some time.

This means that what I’m doing is working and it’s worth it. At least for now.

Still, 13 appointments in one month means very little time to relax, to deal with household chores, or to have fun with friends. And it’s really getting to me. I’m looking forward to one day soon actually being able to do those things again!

In the meantime, take a step back and ask yourself, are all of those appointments helping? I hope the answer is yes but if it’s not, it might be time to ask yourself how to change that answer. (Obviously I’m not a medical professional and I’m not suggesting you stop seeing your doctors even if you’re not seeing positive results right now. Use your own good judgement!)


Too. Many. Appointments.

September 17, 2018

I laugh whenever a benefits form asks if I’ve had any medical appointments in the past 6 months. Are you kidding?!? Of course, some months are busier than others. When I only have 1-3 appointments in a month, it’s freeing! I can do more things for fun, see friends, get stuff done around the house. And then are months like this one. By the end of September I will have had 13 appointments. THIRTEEN! This is not cool.

Some of it is coincidence. I only see my naturopath every 3-4 months and I’m seeing her this month. I only see my sleep specialist twice a year, and I saw him this month. There’s also the problem that I’m currently in hand therapy twice a week for painful tendonitis. We had to skip a week and a half for scheduling reasons, but that’s still a whole lot of appointments.

On top of that, I started seeing a therapist once a week. After a bit that will change to every other week, but it hasn’t yet. The idea was that hand therapy would end in August, so September was the right time to finally try seeing a therapist. And then hand therapy got extended by another month. Oops!

calendar-1990453_1920

Physical therapy got put on hold due to my PT moving to a new home and a new office at the same time, followed quickly by a planned heart surgery for her husband. It was good timing for me in terms of my hand therapy and other appointments, but I’ve been feeling my scoliosis acting up, among other issues, so I have an appointment to start seeing her next week, now that she’s scheduling patients again. I haven’t seen my dentist in about a year (oops!) so that will be next week also.

These are all important. They’re also TOO MUCH!

I’m exhausted and overwhelmed. I try to make plans with friends, but can’t manage anything on a day that I have an appointment, and that means we never get to hang out. Running errands, cooking, and laundry all have to be scheduled around these appointments, too. Benefits forms aren’t getting filled out and craft projects are being abandoned. You haven’t even seen me here on this blog lately!

For now I am just trying to hold on. I only have 1 appointment in October so far. All of the doctors I see only once every X months have been scheduled for other months. I haven’t scheduled therapy or PT for next month yet, so those will happen. Still, with any luck hand therapy will have ended and I might have only 5-8 appointments next month. I can hope!

People ask, “What do you do all day since you’re not working?” Little do they know how much work it is to take care of my health! This month is worse than usual, but still, appointments, benefits forms, pills, special food prep…. it all adds up in a big way.

I’m looking forward to having some more breathing room soon. In the mean time, I hope that you all are doing better on the appointment front than I am!


Wishing someone would tell me what to do

August 20, 2018

When I was a kid and I didn’t feel well, my mother would bring me a cool cloth for my forehead, some children’s Tylenol, juice, and toast. She took care of me. She told me to rest, to watch tv, to read a book. She told me if it was severe enough to go to the doctor. I didn’t have to think.

It’s not like that as an adult. Now I have to take care of myself. I have to remember to take the medicine, to rest or not, to buy juice at the store. Of course I miss having my mom take care of me when I’m sick, but mostly I manage those things ok. What I miss the most, though, is someone else telling me what to do. Making the big decisions.

Sure, I still struggle sometimes with when to take the Tylenol when I have a fever, but that’s not such a big deal. The harder piece is choosing which treatment approach to take with my chronic illnesses.

I have a long list of illnesses of course. And just when I think I know where to focus my attention, one of the supposedly not-so-important illnesses taps me on the shoulder, winks, and then pushes me down a flight of metaphorical stairs.

Like my PCOS. Everything seemed to be just fine, and then I got a period so heavy that my doctor told me to go to the emergency room due to the blood loss. Then I became depressed for several weeks as my hormones did wacky things. Not fun. I was already considering trying a new way to manage my PCOS, but that episode made it clear just how necessary a new plan was.

Now I have seen 4 medical practitioners who I trust a lot, and I have 4 potential treatment approaches. And I don’t like any of them. I desperately want someone else to tell me what to do.

You see, most people just take birth control pills and they’re fine. The problem for me is that birth control pills make me incredibly sick. Since those aren’t an option, I need to find something else. (Sometimes Metformin is prescribed. I tried this once and immediately had an allergic reaction, so that’s not an option, either.)

It’s easy to knock out 1 approach right now: the one I’ve already been doing. It worked great for many years but has recently become ineffective, so that has to go. But what about the other 3? They each seem reasonable, but which to try? Each of them has the potential to make me feel incredibly ill, so I’m not anxious to try any of them, but not doing anything isn’t an option. Each doctor makes an excellent case for each approach.

I will try one, and if I don’t immediately have horrible side effects, it will take months to know if it works. So it could take a year or more to find a treatment that works. If any of them do.

I want someone to tell me: do this. Simple. Easy. But that isn’t an option, either. So I will continue to debating, to research, to question. And in the end, maybe I will make the right choice and maybe I won’t.

These decisions are complicated and difficult. Sometimes the choice is obvious (though still not easy) but often it’s not. And no one is going to make it for me.

In case you’re curious, here are my current options (from an endocrinologist, a naturopath, a women’s health nurse practitioner, and a gynecologist – clearly I’m not limiting my sources!):

  1. A progesterone compound. I feel sick when I take it and it no longer works effectively to give me a predictable cycle.
  2. A supplement called Calcium D-Glutarate. It should help balance out estrogen. This appeals as an easy thing to take that can be easily stopped, but I’m concerned about what it does. It lowers estrogen, and the other practitioners say I need to increase progesterone and estrogen and/or lower testosterone, so I’m not sure this is the right approach for me.
  3. Progesterone cream. It’s harder to dose and I have to be careful to not damage my skin. It would hopefully fix my cycle but not the other symptoms so I would have to take spironolactone. This makes me nervous because it’s a blood pressure medication and my blood pressure is already too low.
  4. An IUD. This makes me nervous because if I have a reaction, I can’t quickly remove it myself. Again, I would need to take spironolactone in addition.

If any of you folks with PCOS have tried any of these things, I’d love to hear about your experiences! Maybe you can help me make an informed decision. Because I’m not having much luck so far.


Shining a light on disability-related injustices

June 21, 2018

Yesterday I spoke to a reporter about health-related stuff. This isn’t the first time, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last. I’m also sure it won’t be the last time I bring a new (to them) subject to a reporter’s attention.

Speaking to a reporter used to feel like a big, once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. Not anymore. As I have become more vocal about health- and disability-related issues, mostly on Facebook, friends and friends of friends have connected me with reporters they know who are writing on these topics.

I answer their questions the best that I can. When they plan to use my full name, I’m extra careful. I was clear yesterday that the article – which based on her questions seems to be about the “opioid crisis,” insurance coverage of alternative treatments, and new medications that are about to come on the market – would not be complete without also discussing medical marijuana. I was just as clear that I would not be willing to talk about medical marijuana if she used my full name, but that I would be glad to discuss it in detail without my full name. That’s my comfort level. For other people it’s different.

Still, I told her what I could because I think it’s important that the patient perspective is included. Too often in these discussions we hear from politicians more than anyone else. Sometimes they talk to doctors. But what about the people who are supposed to be benefiting from these medications?

Now here is where it starts to get a bit interesting. You see, we all have superpowers, and my superpower is getting people to open up to me. It happens without me even trying. I guess I inherited this from my great-grandmother. Apparently she would sit next to a stranger on the subway, and by the time she got off the train she knew their entire life story. My grandmother was the same way. So is my mother. I think people are happy to talk to anyone who will earnestly listen and care, which we do.

I also have an insatiable desire for knowledge. I read a lot. I talk to people to learn things. I reach out to others both to learn and because I care about them. And I’m generally sociable. Add that up, and I know a lot of random shit. Including about health and disability issues that don’t directly affect me.

That’s why when the reporter asked me my feelings about new medications containing cannabinoids (active constituents in marijuana), I not only told her my own feelings, but I was able to tell her about the controversy around these new cannabinoid-containing medications to treat children with epileptic seizures. I’m not in that community, and I made it clear she should talk to those folks to get a full, accurate picture. (My understanding is there’s a lot of concern that once these medications are available, they will no longer be able to get medical marijuana for their kids, and if the medications aren’t as effective as medical marijuana – they don’t have to be as effective to be FDA-approved – then they won’t have any good options for their children.) I also offered to connect her to them.

Over the course of our conversation, I told the reporter a bunch of things like this. Like when she asked my views about the problem of primary care physicians prescribing opioids in a one-size-fits-all manner without customizing things to each patient, I corrected her very strongly. I hear that bullshit a lot but, like I told the reporter, I have only ever heard it from politicians. It makes for a good headline, a good soundbite. But I have NEVER experienced that. Neither have my friends. Or the folks who comment on my blog. Or the people in my chronic pain support group. Or the people in the various Facebook groups I’m in. She was surprised and asked a lot of questions about this.

I felt good about correcting these misconceptions. It’s important to correct them for everyone, but especially for a reporter writing an article on this topic in a major newspaper (I won’t mention which newspaper, as part of protecting my anonymity on this blog.)

Now here’s where it gets even more interesting! At the very end, as we were about to say goodbye, I had an epiphany. After writing this post a couple weeks ago, I was able to speak to 2 different lawyers about the SSDI case review. And after we finished, one of them told me some interesting things. This is part of that superpower I mentioned – people just tell me things. And yesterday, I told the reporter.

I told her how the lawyer told me that she (the lawyer) has seen more SSDI case reviews in the last 6 months than in the past several years combined. The reporter sounded shocked. She asked a lot of followup questions.

I also told the reporter that the lawyer told me the number of case denials has increased a lot in the past year. Of course, before mentioning that I first explained how horribly high the denial rate had been before, and the impact it has on many people. Again, she sounded surprised. She asked followup questions. Including, did I think it was related to this current administration. I was clear that while my opinion was yes, that was only my opinion. I hope it’s enough, though, to cause her to dig into this. Because it is shameful that the safety nets we are supposed to rely on aren’t there for us. That’s why I also pointed out that SNAP (food stamps) allotments have gone down while the Section 8 waitlist has gone way up.

It’s possible this conversation will be forgotten in a pile of other upcoming articles the reporter needs to write. Or maybe her editor won’t be interested. Or maybe, just maybe, the reporter and her editor will see the huge impact of these new SSDI case review rates and denial rates, and they will also notice that no one else has been writing about this, so they could scoop the other newspapers. Maybe they will do some research and write it up and bring awareness to their readers that this is happening. And remember how I said this is a major newspaper? Well it’s big enough that if they report on this, all of the others will jump on the bandwagon. And then we might be able to build enough momentum to get the government to stop this fucking bullshit and treat us with the respect and dignity we deserve, by giving us the benefits we already paid for.

Or maybe none of that will happen. But I am trying, and it feels good to try.

Do you guys know of other “hidden” issues like this that we need to shine a light on? Please mention them in the comments or email me at msrants@gmail.com. I’ll do what little I can to publicize these things so they aren’t hidden any more, and I encourage you to do the same!


How dare insurance not cover my specialists

March 27, 2018

24 years. If I’m remembering correctly, I have had gastrointestinal problems for 24 years.

First it was ignored. I didn’t think to tell anyone. And I didn’t know that diarrhea wasn’t normal, that not pooping for days at a time wasn’t normal, that nausea and pain weren’t normal. So I suffered in silence.

Then I saw a doctor who wasn’t helpful. I drank prune juice for the constipation and that got me through the worse of it. Sort of.

Another doctor said I had IBS and gave me a prescription.

Years later I went off gluten, then a bunch of other foods. That helped a lot. The episodes that had been coming more frequently backed off. I no longer found myself in the fetal position from gastrointestinal pain 3-5 times a week. Now it was only 1-4 times a month. Only. Hmm.

The problem was, the episodes continued, and my emotional response to them got worse. I found myself thinking more and more often about how I would prefer death. I only thought that way in the middle of the episodes, when I am already in too much pain to seriously consider killing myself anyway, but still, that’s not good.

I never think about death when I have joint pain, even though that pain is much worse. There is something about the nausea that triggers these thoughts now.

Recently I had an episode that was especially bad. I called a friend and neighbor, who came right over. But even his dog, who he kindly brought, wasn’t enough to help me. I sobbed while curled up on the floor, unable to sit up, unable to think clearly, but knowing I needed to not be alone. Eventually the worst of it subsided. But it was enough.

After that, I finally decided to pay the money for the stool test that had been recommended to me. When I saw my doctor the next week, I was shocked to learn that the test was actually covered by insurance! Wow! I took it home, read the instructions, and realized I needed to go off of a couple of my supplements for 2 weeks before I could take the test. So I waited. And waited. And finally it was time, but my joints were acting up and I just didn’t have the mental bandwidth to manage the pain and the test at the same time.

And then, finally, I took the test. For 3 days I scooped poop into a cup. Joy oh joy. But I did it.

It took time for the company to process the test. Then more time for my doctor to get the results, and for the results to be sent to me. But now, finally, months later, I have the results!

And I have no fucking clue what to do with them.

Some aspects of my gut are in balance, others are not. My doctor was honest: there was nothing he could suggest except to take a probiotic (which I already take, but which I had to stop taking for several weeks before the test) and so he wanted me to see someone with more expertise. I appreciate his honesty. That’s why I see him.

There’s just one problem. He recommended 2 different practitioners. And neither are covered by my insurance. At all. Not one penny.

So now I’m considering paying. The one who looks more promising based on her experience is $217 for the first visit and $188 for each followup. I have no idea how many visits I’ll need.

I have the money. And to be honest, if I’m going to spend money, this is a good thing to spend it on. I save as much as I can these days, but really, why am I saving it? To take care of myself. And if I can fix this problem, avoid these episodes from now on, why wouldn’t I do it?

So once again, I am going to pay out of pocket for my healthcare. My insurance is fabulous when it covers my care. But when it doesn’t, I question what is wrong with our system. No one would question that I need help. There is obviously something very wrong. I have limited my diet, tried pills, and followed doctors’ orders. And yet, I still have episodes that have me curled on the floor thinking that death might not be so bad. I need help. And I am so incredibly lucky that I can afford to pay for it.

What if I was one of the ones who couldn’t?


%d bloggers like this: