A life of constant experiments

December 11, 2014

When your health changes constantly and you’re trying to improve it, sometimes there’s no way to know what will help versus what will make it worse other than to try. It can be difficult, frustrating, and exhausting to have to constantly try things out, knowing they could make you feel horrible, but what choice is there? Sometimes, all you can do is experiment.

A few years ago I hated the constant experimenting. I was nervous about each one, and so many either had no effect or made things worse. It was overwhelming to be constantly thinking about which experiment I was in and which I should do next and how to control the variables.

I’ve been noticing a big difference lately, as the number of experiments has gone down. There are still a whole lot to keep track of, but over all, it’s less stressful. I try to only do one at a time, so the shorter list means I no longer have a year-long list of them waiting. Still, I get nervous.

Last month, my experiment was to start walking almost daily. More recently it has been getting my new CPAP setup to work for me. That involved further experiments with different sleep schedules. Then last week, I took a short trip. I have 2 new supplements to try and 1 prescription to start. Walking seems to be working, as long as I don’t overdo it. The CPAP setup experiment is a partial success. There’s more to be done. The new sleep schedule is a success, though. The trip was mixed, but overall it showed me that I need to improve more before I travel again. I’ll start one of those new supplements this afternoon, then the other in about a week. The prescription will have to wait until I know where those supplements stand. Maybe they’ll make me really sick, maybe they’ll help me feel better. Maybe both. Maybe neither. And that’s the “experiment” part, because I just can’t be sure.

Having relatively few experiments to do right now is a relief, but it still isn’t easy. I have to constantly think about what I’m doing and about how I feel. Friends think I just take a pill and then wait and see. But it’s not so easy when I know that pill might make me feel really sick. Should I take it today, even though I’m going out this afternoon? And if it doesn’t agree with me, will it ruin my plans for the weekend? Or I could wait. I could put it off, like I’ve been doing for the past 2 weeks. But that doesn’t help anything, it only delays the inevitable.

And of course there’s the juggling act, as I try to figure out which experiments to run in which order. Friends think my doctor decides this but they don’t. I do. My current list of experiments spans 3 doctors, and that doesn’t include the travel. There’s no one person to turn to. Besides, no one knows my body better than I do.

I feel like my own guinea pig. I don’t like it, but it works. Trying new things is the only way to feel better, either for a minute or in the long term. So that’s why I push myself. And that’s why I’ll risk ruining both my afternoon plans and my weekend plans by trying a new multivitamin today. Because despite the problems, it’s worth it if it works. I only hope it works.


Where’s my apology?

November 29, 2014

Apologies are powerful. They convey regret and an acceptance of responsibility. They are also hard to come by, especially, in my own experience, with doctors.

Over the years I have seen many doctors. Some have treated me well. Others did not. Some were dismissive, some were ignorant. I was told I was just trying to get attention or that I was imagining my symptoms. I was given misdiagnoses. I was dismissed. I was given unnecessary surgery, surgery that could have been avoided completely if the doctor hadn’t ignored some test results.

I received prescriptions, judgments, proclamations, criticism, and referrals. What I never got was an apology.

A simple example: I asked my doctor to run a test for something specific. He insisted on running a less expensive test. When I got home, I researched and saw that the test he ran was inaccurate for the problem I suspected. It came back negative. I paid out of pocket to have the test run myself and it came back positive. He accepted my test results but never admitted that he should have run the test in the first place. Where’s my apology? I spent my own money, did my own research, and spent many hours fretting over this. He could have just ordered the test, but didn’t.

And then there’s that doctor who did the unnecessary surgery. Where’s my apology from him? That was many years ago, but I’m still resentful that he was so pompous about the whole thing, insisted that it was still informative. I read the records. It gave no new information, but it did succeed in increasing my pain, weakness, and instability in that joint. He never apologized.

I know the medical field is wrought with lawsuits that cost doctors a lot of money and their reputations. So they need to be careful.

But we’re human beings, damn it! Patients are not just puzzles that, when you make a mistake, can be taken apart and put back together again. And if you break a piece, you can’t just throw out the whole box. And yet, that’s often how I feel I’m being treated.

I’m not looking for a 20 minute speech for each and every misstep. But when someone clearly makes a mistake that causes harm to another human being, the appropriate thing is to apologize. This is no less true for doctors. They should learn in medical school that saying, “I’m sorry” for their mistakes isn’t a mistake and it isn’t a weakness. Personally, it would make me respect them a whole lot more.


When healthcare talk is traumatizing

August 24, 2014

I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend and I’m not sure what to do about it. It’s been brewing for a while, but a couple of conversations recently made me realize how problematic it’s become.

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First there was the conversation with a volunteer for one of the gubernatorial candidates. We were in a social situation, but when I asked about her volunteer work, the conversation turned to that. She started talking about his plan to make our state a single-payer healthcare system. I wanted to calmly explain why I didn’t think this would work. I remained mostly (but not entirely) calm on the outside, but on the inside I was boiling, thinking about the many injustices I have faced within the system and how the government certainly didn’t make it any better.

The second conversation was a few hours ago. A half dozen of us were hanging out after lunch, chatting. Then one woman asked us if we’d ever faced discrimination in healthcare due to our sexual orientation (we’re all bisexual.) This isn’t something I’ve experienced, so it was safe territory, right? But just hearing people talk about their experiences was very upsetting to me. It made me think about all of the similar experiences I’d faced that weren’t discriminatory, but were hurtful nonetheless. It made me want to share my own stories that were about healthcare, but that had nothing to do with biphobia. As they talked, I remembered incidents that I’d forgotten about. I thought about recent incidents that were still fresh.

And I got upset.

Again, I stayed mostly (but not entirely) calm on the outside, but inside I was simmering, ready to explode like a volcano. I wanted to yell, to cry, to ask for understanding, to plead for someone to help.

That’s not normal. It’s not healthy. I know it. But I don’t know what to do about it. I saw the warning signs of this many months ago and I starting looking for a therapist who had experience with chronic illness issues. But then I started having health insurance uncertainties, so I decided to hold off until they were settled. Well, they’re finally settled, but now I have a different problem. For personal reasons, I don’t want to see a therapist at one of the major hospitals. I would only see a private practice therapist. And private practice therapists generally don’t take medicare and medicaid for health insurance. And I can’t afford to pay out of pocket for someone.

The truth is, I probably should have been seeing a therapist before now anyway, but I’ve always managed to handle these things on my own. I tried therapy a few times and never got anything out of it. I’m pretty self aware, so I made do. But this is different. I don’t know how to handle the anger, frustration, fear, and desperation I feel whenever anyone talks about doctors, healthcare, or health insurance. Feeling these emotions about my own situation is bad enough, but I shouldn’t be feeling them whenever the topic is broached in a way that has nothing to do with me. I should be able to talk to a friend about their own medical condition without this kind of trigger response.

I just wish I knew how to make that happen.

What about you? Have you felt this way at all? Do you have trouble talking about other people’s medical issues? Do you know of any ways to get inexpensive mental health care in the U.S. or, even better, in Massachusetts? Please comment below and let me know about your experiences.


The difference between being a mystery and being a case study

August 17, 2014

When my doctor asked if he could discuss my case in the doctors’ case study meeting, I felt sort of glad. That’s been hard to explain to my healthy family and friends, but to me, it makes perfect sense.

For years my symptoms were dismissed. I was labeled a mystery. One doctor told me there was nothing anyone could do to help me and I should stop seeking medical help. The attitude could be summed up as, “If we can’t label it, we’d rather not think about it.”

The first time I felt like a case of interest was about six years ago. I’d had a biopsy done of some skin on my breast. They thought it could be cancer. I waited and waited and waited for the biopsy result. Finally, late on the day the result was due, I called the doctor. She apologized. It had taken several different pathologists to figure out what I had, because it turned out to be something very rare. It was benign, just hard to label. When I went back to get the stitches out, she explained that the pathologist had been excited to see this rare thing he’d only ever read about. It’s so rare, most pathologists don’t get to see it. And she asked if she could take a picture of the remaining patch on my breast for his files.

The thing is, at that point, we already had a diagnosis. The mystery was solved. This time it’s different.

Before I left my doctor’s office┬áthe other day, he asked if he could discuss my case in their case study session. He promised he wouldn’t use my name, but that wasn’t what I was thinking about. I was thinking about why he wanted to use my case. I had a rare confluence of medications, symptoms, and test results. I had diagnosed sleep apnea that was perfectly treated with a CPAP machine, but after a couple months the CPAP stopped working for me. The results showed odd breathing patterns. I had recently gone off of my progesterone prescription, which can be known to have an effect.. The timing is rare enough, but I took a bio-identical progesterone, which is very rarely prescribed. To see a confirmed case of sleep apnea produce these odd breathing patterns would be interesting on its own, but to have the progesterone prescription affecting this was unheard of.

On the one hand, it sucks to be in a situation like this, where there’s no known solution. On the other hand, my doctor isn’t dismissing me. Quite the opposite: he wants to study me. He does research in addition to seeing patients, so this could be to my advantage. I’m going to have another sleep study. Usually sleep studies are supervised by technicians, but mine will be supervised by the two doctors I saw on Friday. They do this with very few patients, and while I wish I didn’t need the special treatment, I’m very grateful to be getting it.

My first choice would be to have my breathing problems resolve themselves. But since that’s very unlikely, having a top doctor monitoring me while I sleep, adjusting CPAP settings on the spot, trying different mask types, and doing all he can to find a cause and a solution to this problem is by far the best second choice I could have. Hell, I would never have even thought such a thing was possible.

After so many doctors dismissing me because I’m a mystery, I’m thrilled to have a doctor who would rather study me than dismiss me. So I’m glad to be a case study. Maybe it means I’ll finally get some answers.


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