With extreme fatigue I find it’s important to pace myself and to look for products, activities, and strategies that might at least over time increase my energy level or at least conserve it as much as possible.
One thing I am very interested in (especially since it has become more and more difficult to tolerate solid food) is Cannabis edibles. (I have been sampling a few that melt away to compare effectiveness, as all the pills I’m taking now are about to gag me).
While none of the products I’ve tried is the “real” stuff with all the elements of the plant, I know that as nutrients some of these products have at least some nutritional benefits of the hemp they are made from.
The above Fleur de sel Caramels with sea salt purchased from a small maker called Nutrient Bomb where I ordered on Etsy have an interesting flavor almost like black tea, and smooth and very stretchy texture. The seller also sent me a few of their other products as free samples. The pills I’m not really keen on (for the reason I mentioned earlier), but the hard candy squares were pretty good tasting and I couldn’t taste the CBD, although the flavor was hard to identify; somewhere between cinnamon, cherry, and mild menthol.
If nothing else, I’m trying to eat 1 caramel a day (I just got 9 to test out and see whether they improve my energy level or GI symptoms). So far I’ve only had 3 days to try them.
After seeing a new Gastroenterologist the day before yesterday I discovered that I have really lost alot of weight. I knew my pants were beginning to fall off me but it did’t hit me how extreme it really was until she mentioned it. I’ve started losing my hair too and it has on occasion literally fallen out of my head right in front of me without provocation! I have been finding it all over my bed sheets, clothing, etc., even on the carpet. I don’t know if it’s some sort of endocrine problem or what. It’s very strange, though. I hope it doesn’t continue dropping at this rate or I might end up bald!
My muscles often burn and even the slightest exertion takes everything out of m so I’m trying to conserve energy as much as possible.
I find that one of the best ways to do this is to literally sleep whenever I feel I need to and not force myself to stay awake because of the time of day or what I’m doing.
Sometimes I need to sleep alot more hours than normal in order to have the stamina to shower once a week, and since I currently don’t have anyone to help me I just can’t do it everyday as I would like to. I have to let certain activities go out of sheer necessity.
I find that alternating activities more often helps as well. Changing positions is very important if you are bed-bound because you are less likely to develop pressure sores, and if you have chronic pain and muscle spasm that’s triggered by sitting squarely putting pressure on your butt, then shifting to one side or the other can make things easier.
Being in pain in itself can wear down your energy and aggravate fatigue and it can make you irritable. I find sometimes pain creeps up on me before I realize it (because I’m so used to it), and all of a sudden I feel awful. I try to identify as best as I can when I’m starting to have pain and take my pain medication as soon as I notice it.
At times I have mistaken it for fatigue when it was actually pain starting up. I have now become pretty good at recognizing this pain aura and know when I need to take care of it to prevent a cycle of pain and fatigue from being set off.
As I also have some severe sensory issues I know about my body that I cannot tolerate any type of suffering for very long before I’m in all-out sensory overload. Symptoms I find are causing significant distress need to be taken care of expeditiously; no waiting around and procrastinating. They need to be treated now. This is something I was not able to get through to my GP, but it is absolutely crucial that any physician working with me understand this and respect it because it’s not that I’m being demanding or being a diva, but that I really can’t stand it.With the way I am wired, this is not a choice or a mere matter of convenience as some may assume, it is a need.
So if any of you readers are in the same boat it might be good to try to have a talk with your doctors about this as early as possible. If they are truly interested in helping you they will understand and try to accommodate you. If not, then it’s better to find out sooner than later after you’ve become invested in that doctor/patient relationship and find a doctor who will understand and meet you where you’re at on this.
Maybe I made the mistake of not telling mine this soon enough, but I think I was less aware of it almost 13 years ago when I began seeing him, so I’m not sure I could have made the connection back then. It has been a long process of self-discovery to fully understand how my brain and body works, but now I know alot more than I knew then and often learned things through rough trial and error.
It takes more energy for me to withstand protracted suffering (pain, stomach upset, near syncope, etc.) than it might be for somebody who does not have sensory issues. It’s as if somebody turned a dial way up and the longer I go with untreated symptoms the more excruciating it is. Someone who does not experience this themselves cannot ever fully relate, but a truly compassionate doctor will take your word for it and not expect you to jump through yet more tiring hoops that only make your life more difficult and deplete your energy.
My not being treated for my Dysautonomia since November, I’m sure, has taken a toll on me both physically and emotionally, and it occurred to me that it might actually be causing me to burn fat and muscle at an unhealthy rate. I suspect I’m probably in ketosis.
This state will deplete the little energy you have remaining very quickly. I’m trying to drink some Pomegranate juice I still have in the house in-between drinking my ice water, as Pomegranate is a super-fruit filled with anti-oxidants and has lots of nutrients in it.
When I need something from the kitchen I try to bring everything in there I need to at the same time, and everything back from the kitchen I need at the same time.
Although I’m in a power wheelchair I get fatigued very quickly just sitting in an upright position and the one I currently have has no neck or headrest so my neck can’t hold out unsupported for more than about 15 minutes.
Having the right adaptive equipment can make quite a difference. I’m working on getting a better chair that will support my body more equally and allow me to recline if I suddenly start to feel faint when I’m up.
Whenever possible I also try to put my forearms on the counter when preparing something, I now don’t bother putting dishes inside the cupboard like I used to, but keep them on the counter so that I don’t have to reach and strain to get a plate or a bowl after taking them out of the dishwasher.
Mental concentration for long periods of time tires me out, so I try to break up those activities and when I feel worse I stop and either lie down and totally rest or sleep, or I do something that requires less intense concentration.
I recently went onto Listia , (which for those who are unfamiliar with it is a site where you can get items for points rather than money), and bid on and won two adult coloring books. Being an artist who is used to drawing, painting, and making jewelry, when I saw these becoming popular my first impression was that is was a little bit wussy to color prefab designs.
However, as I have gradually lost some fine motor abilities in my hands when it comes to the type of art I have done for years and now find impossible and frustrating, I understand the appeal of these for adults with chronic disease.
I think what it is that is so freeing about these is that certain types of executive functioning such as planning out where to position an original design on paper, perspective, and composition require the artist to expend alot of energy.
When you are healthy you may not even be aware of it, but when you’re ill you definitely feel as though the act of creating (the very thing you love) becomes a chore of monumental proportions!
Not being required to do these things that tax your brain and attention gives those of us with chronic illness a break from having to plan things out to the 9th degree, an activity which can sometimes just be too much, especially on days when we have alot of pain and/or fatigue and brain fog.
I would love to hear from readers what you do to conserve or increase energy. Please feel free to leave a comment and to subscribe. 🙂
Things have become increasingly precarious as time goes on. I am used to spending time alone and often prefer it but it doesn’t really hit me how alone I am until I find out I need help with certain things and can’t obtain it, yet can’t do certain functions myself either. Then all of a sudden it hits me that there’s nobody there but me, at least noone reliable. With my body becoming less and less reliable that is really becoming a problem.
The past few days have been unbearable with the dysautonomic symptoms out of control and nothing I can really do to stop them. The near fainting spells wake me up from sleep and along with them comes heart arrhythmia; my heart pauses and then beats weakly with a faltering type of flutter. I feel so weak now and just want to rest. I’m finding now that my GI problems are becoming more baseline and that I can’t tolerate much by mouth except yogurt and applesauce. Last night the applesauce didn’t even sit as well in my stomach as it had just the day before. The previous day I’d tried making a rice bowl with cheese and some sour cream and some seasonings and ended up in bed on my side clutching my stomach. It felt as though by the next morning my food was still up in my throat. It was not digesting.
Because of all the stomach upset I have not been able to take most of my medications. It’s harder and harder these days to take anything by mouth but my ice water.
I’m now running out of things I can eat in the house anyway and have neither the money nor the stamina to go out and get more from the store.
There was one person who shopped for me occasionally but he has dropped out of sight for weeks now and I’m not sure what has happened to him. The few people I know locally seem to always have tenuous phone and internet connections. They either don’t receive messages due to a technical problem or else their services are cut off on any particular month for non-payment.
Today I got word that my application for the Independent Care Waiver through medicaid was denied. The Reason? Because I am “wheelchair bound and have no circle of support” both things I have no control over. I wonder what kind of people came up with those harebrained regulations?
So if someone is in need, is disabled, with limited mobility and has no support then the response is you don’t give them support? How much logical sense does that make? 40 hours of service a week is sure better than nothing! I would take that if that’s all they can offer, but somehow my voice doesn’t count. This is another example of the patient’s needs being totally and arbitrarily disregarded.
Two more weeks to go before I find out about the other waiver. That one gives you less hours but doesn’t have the requirement that some person in the community sign a form, so we’ll see where that leads.
So nobody’s regularly checking on me locally now and things are worse than they were several weeks ago both in terms of people coming around and in terms of my health.
I have also been unable to reach my son. His new phone contract is now long distance if I call him but if he calls me it’s free to him, but I now get a generic voicemail when I leave a message. Emails have also been unsuccessful. They go through but no response.
I need somehow to reach my aunt to let her know that I will likely need someone to go with me to some of these out of town independent evaluations. She would probably want to know but I have heard nothing from my cousin for months now from her Facebook account who had said she’d contacted her and a few of her children after I got out of Piedmont.
As for making new connections, it’s a bit late for that. I’m not much more than a pet rock at this point, lying in bed only able to sit at my computer propped up on pillows. Honestly, who locally would want to know me? I’m sure they’d be bored after a few weeks at best. I can’t really go places, I have no money to go out to eat these days, and if I did the food would make me sicker. Then there’s the fact that my underlying disease is untreated and totally out of control and this makes me not the best company because I have to first focus on saving my own life on a daily basis. That doesn’t make room for much talk of everyday things that others take for granted and are part and parcel of most friendships.
On my better days I can talk about art and politics, and animals, and if I don’t have to talk I’d much rather hear about their lives than talk about my own as answering questions in itself has become taxing and painful, but my better days are getting fewer and fewer now.
Bills are falling by the wayside because my brain can’t hold any more than what’s right in front of me right now. Processing is at a slow crawl.
I find it hard to do much at all today besides making sure my glass of ice water has enough ice in it. Going to the kitchen even in the wheelchair is exhausting to go get more ice, but I hope I can continue to do at least that because I don’t want to be further dehydrated.
Beneath the surface I am grieving a life lost and the realization that my days are numbered. This is not some sort of depression but a coming to terms with what is, and what could never be despite all my efforts. I never wanted it to end this way, but at least if it has to be I will die at home with dignity. If I don’t make it through then perhaps they will find out what’s really wrong at autopsy and if it’s genetic as I suspect these results will be shared with my son so that maybe he won’t have to meet the same fate as he gets older.
As with any disease, early detection and treatment are key, even in those without a cure. If my story ends up a cautionary tale then my life will not completely have been in vain.
Treatment has hit another snag and it’s precisely because of those medical records from Emory; both what they say that is false and what they don’t say that is true. The worst of both worlds. What good are medical records anyway? Isn’t the whole point to help the patient? And if they actually sabotage a patient and prevent them from receiving the care they need then what?
I wonder how long I can go without treatment before this again becomes an emergency. I am so overheated there isn’t enough ice water in the world to relieve it. I can’t seem to stay cool enough and I sweat around the hairline and in other specific areas of the body. It’s strange because it’s not my entire body that sweats, just certain parts of it such as lower back and my face and scalp get spontaneously oily. I change positions but that only helps temporarily. Holding my glass in my hand helps to a certain extent but it also melts my ice faster. Although I have my wheelchair next to the bed even getting in it to go to the kitchen is exhausting especially given the fact that I still have no neck support and am sitting upright. Me and gravity don’t exactly get along.
The weekend was absolute hell with cardiac events waking me up two nights in a row, several times each night with my heart pausing and then straining to beat slowly and haltingly. The only way to prevent it is to stay awake in the wee hours of the morning and even that doesn’t always keep it from happening. It often flairs really badly at around 3:00 AM – 6:00 AM.
My gastrointestinal symptoms have been quite erratic lately and I have noticed loose sticky stool yesterday and more urinary retention. Oddly when I peed it was as though I really wasn’t feeling it coming out. It wasn’t numbness in the usual sense, just lack of sensation or greatly reduced so I was unaware of just how much was actually in there. I had to consciously push with my abdomen to get it out but it was quite alot.
Then later I started noticing some fecal odor and leakage from the back end and have had to change underwear on a number of occasions. It’s not diarrhea but some sort of brownish greenish clear liquid. Sometimes I see it when I wipe myself on the toilet paper too.
I’ve been waking up each morning with headaches that are so debilitating I can’t move sometimes for an hour before the pain lets up enough even to sit up and get more ice water with which to take my pain medication.
My eyes continue to be dry and the skin on my arms is taking on a distinctly crepe look. I must still be dehydrated. The water I’m drinking and salt intake just aren’t processing through the GI tract.
“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. then they fight you. And then you win.”
This saying has often been attributed to Ghandi but some version of it has been repeated by a number of people in activist movements the first of which is believed to have been Nicholas Klein of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union said in 1914.
It is especially fitting now for as I’d suspected the offending parties are in fact reading my blog. I got confirmation of it today in a letter dated March 21st, the envelope of which says “Administration”, and inside top left-hand corner says “Office of Quality & Risk”. Apparently T.Js Supervisor decided to write and tell me to shut up, himself. He says and I quote; “This is a response to the various concerns you have continued to raise to several individuals within the Emory system regarding your medical care and treatment at Emory University Hospital on December 3, 2015. At the outset, I emphasize that we thoroughly investigated your complaints properly considered your requests, and responded in writing to them. I direct you to the response letters from Emory regarding these matters. Further, we have performed additional reviews after learning you were not satisfied with our response.”
Interesting he should say they’d done “additional review” as all I was told by TJ in her nasty, unsolicited and retaliatory phone call was that she’d already finished her “investigation” and that “nobody is going to call you back”, (before talking over me and rudely hanging up). There was no chance to ask any questions or raise further concerns, and it was clear she in no way wanted to accept any more nor to help solve any. That was the last correspondence I had from anyone in that capacity.
I received no letters showing any evidence of further investigation nor were any of the gaps addressed in their investigation that I’d pointed out. Many questions remained unanswered and he never returned phone calls I’d made to him when I got the initial response showing that his subordinate had not done a fair and complete investigation. Then he goes on to say;
” While we remain apologetic that you have been dissatisfied, please know that our conclusions and decisions regarding your aforementioned complaints and requests have not changed since the time of the response letters. Please also understand that you continuing to raise the same complaints and requests to different individuals within the Emory system will not change our conclusions and decisions regarding these matters.”
So in other words he as agent for Emory will not remove the libel from the ER record, amend the record, bar the offenders from accessing my record, nor take any other actions to protect me as a patient, nor take any disciplinary action against those who participated in the abuse and neglect even if the CEO himself were to insist on it. (That was who’d I’d written by the way; the head of the corporation. I did not know at that time there were two; one for the University side and another for the medical side, so I mistakenly wrote the wrong one first and then was directed to the one for the healthcare side).
Then he goes on to say this…”If you have any new or additional complaints or requests regarding any medical care provided to you at Emory at any time, please let us know. As we have done with your complaints and requests up to this time, we will thoroughly investigate the complaints, properly consider the requests, and respond in writing to them. We have assigned Ms. T.J., Manager of Patient and Family Advocacy, as your point of contact regarding your complaints and requests. Ms. J can be reached at (phone number).”
As it will be when pigs fly before I ever enter their ER again, Ms. T.J.s “services” will not be needed. She is not allowed to tamper in other areas and if I catch her doing so it is a further violation.
He goes on to say;
“We do ask that you focus and limit your communication to Ms. J so that we can ensure none of your concerns go unnoticed and so that we can manage your communications with us in an efficient and effective manner that does not detract from our goal to provide quality medical care and services to our other patients and families.
We are aware that you have posted and discussed online at patientsrigtsadvocate.com your complaints and requests regarding your medical care and treatment at Emory. While we respect your right to express yourself, we request that you remove the specific references to Emory and our personnel. We also encourage you to direct your complaints and requests to Ms. J in lieu of posting them on your online blogs.
Moreover, as we have stated in previous correspondence to you, it is our expectation that our patients have positive experiences while under our care, and we deeply regret that we disappointed you. If you truly remain dissatisfied and feel that we at Emory have not appropriately met your expectations, please know that you can always seek out your medical care and treatment elsewhere. We do thank you for reaching out to us to express your concerns and for giving us an opportunity to look into them and to continue respond to you.” He then signs his name, LOL.
OK…Now let me get this straight…
First they neglect and abuse me in their ER, then libel me in my records, then refuse to correct their rights violation, turn my own doctors who I’ve known for years against me, play all sorts of dirty tricks to cover it up and sabotage my treatment at Emory and out and because I write about my experience in my blog he wants me to remove it? Aaaah…Nope, I don’t think so. After a full and complete investigation I find everything to be correct and complete as is.
So sorry you aren’t satisfied.
But hey, if you really did nothing wrong then what are you worried about? I stand on my principles.
One has to wonder why little old me, one patient in the entire Emory system has that much power that he implies to warrant that sort of extreme knee-jerk (sorry for the pun) reaction (just a strong reflex, I guess).
Me thinks maybe there’s something a bit deeper going on which has nothing to do with me and that even I do not know.
Oh, and the best part…I’m starting my treatment very soon! (from someplace else that is taking me seriously despite all the dirty corporate tricks and unprofessional attempts to distract, dispute, and derail me from my goal).
Phrases and affirmations for and about the chronically ill or disabled can be healing or they can be insidiously hurtful. A recent video I watched about society’s shift in perception of the chronically ill got me thinking about just how we got here and provided some insight into those factors that have eroded empathy and created a cynical public perception of those whose illness or disability does not go away in an allotted “socially accepted” period of time. In the video The Slow Death of Compassion for the Chronically Ill a number of sociological factors are discussed which over time have affected how the general public views those who don’t “overcome” their disease or disability.
The media bombards us everyday with messages and stereotypes of people who have overcome and “beaten the odds” while the subtext beneath the surface suggests that those who don’t are somehow weak, not trying hard enough, not positive enough, or are undeserving of understanding and acceptance. The underlying message is that “if this worked for me it must work for you, and if it doesn’t then there’s something wrong with you!” This message is so woven into our culture that we may not even recognize it when we see it, and may pass it onto others without even knowing it.
Consider these phrases for a moment. When you really pay close attention how do they make you feel?
“It could be worse”
“Are you still in bed?”
“You just need to change your attitude“
“You need to change how you think about your disease”
“A pity party”
“Suck it up“
“Don’t let it bother you”
“We can’t change what happens to us but we can change our reaction to it.”
“You’re doing it to yourself.”
“Complaining is only hurting you.”
“Stop being so negative”
“You don’t look sick”
“You just need to exercise more.”
“Pain is unavoidable, suffering is optional“
“Don’t give illness your attention by repeating the story of it over and over again. Focus your attention on other positive areas and often illness will get the hint and go away.” J.J. Goldwag
I highlighted the key subtexts in red to signify that while these statements may appear on the surface to be supportive they in fact contain messages that undermine one’s sense of self-worth, leave the person feeling inadequate, wrong, or as though they brought the condition on themselves or are somehow to blame for it or are not doing their lives “right”.
These are words of judgment, not of support, and we need to recognize what’s being passed along and the messages they contain which are toxic to others who are going through legitimately hard life circumstances. Platitudes are not what people need when in pain, when symptoms are at a fever pitch, and on those days when everything’s just too much. To family, friends, and supporters; Just giving the person a hug or acknowledging the validity of their struggle goes a long way. Don’t tell them to stop, because if they could they would. This is what they’re going through in real time.
There is no such thing as a good or bad way to feel about one’s illness or disability. Feelings just are and no they’re not like a water faucet. Only sociopaths can turn them off at will. For the rest of us we get over them when we get over them…in our own time-frame, and that’s OK.
Sometimes achieving a greater sense of peace requires better medical treatment for the condition and when the pain subsides the irritability or fear subsides. Sometimes other factors are keeping the person in a state of unrest and it won’t let up until those factors are ameliorated. Things are not always as simple as they appear.
Anybody who tries to tell you that you should just make up your mind “not to feel this way or that way” and tries to imply that when and how they think you should and if you can’t do that then you’re not good enough is not being truly supportive.
Anyone who tells you that you need to change to see or do things their way in order to be acceptable is not loving you unselfishly and they’re not valuing you for who you are. Your process is exactly that; yours. People need to respect that.
The image of the impenetrable stoic ill or disabled person is a hollywood image that no real person can ever live up to.
The person who never cries, never lets them see you sweat, never shows you their down days, the days when they can’t take it anymore, who only lives and speaks in positive affirmations, never gets irritated, never asks for anything, and never gets scared, and always gets things done yesterday simply doesn’t exist. Not being that completely mythical person doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong because you’re authentic; not hiding behind a mask just to make those around you comfortable.
Chronic illness and the societal expectations that go along with it are hard. Whether it takes you 1 day or 6 years to feel better it is not your fault. You’re doing the best you can with what you have to work with. Let them see the pain you live with because that’s the only way to make the invisible visible and believe it or not it helps all of us and helps the non-ill to understand and to develop empathy. This in turn will make the world a kinder and more compassionate place, not only for us but for the generations that come after.
The best gift we can give to others in this community of chronically ill/people with disabilities is not to pass on those harsh judgments and expectations we get from the rest of the community at large, not to project them onto our bothers and sisters, because to do so leaves others in a very desolate place and in the end hurts everyone.
There are those among us who are the soldiers in civilian life, those who live out loud in order to make things easier for the next chronically ill person or person with a disability. While the harder aspects of our private lives are not pretty these are individuals who sacrifice so that others who feel more comfortable playing it safe won’t have to. They are not complainers. You never know when you might receive a badly needed medication, service, test, or treatment because of the efforts of activists within this community.
On a personal note; I heard today from the nurse doing assessment for one of the Medicaid waiver programs and also got an unexpected phone call from a mobile doctor’s office affiliated with another program I’d applied for and both will be out tomorrow. It sounded as though there’s a possibility that the mobile doctor’s office could order the IV Saline treatment. I told the woman on the phone my situation about having gone untreated for the past 4 months and that I’m a little leery of doctors right now. Apparently there are two doctors, I believe, one African with a name that was nearly unpronounceable and one Hispanic, and several nurse practitioners working for the company which is a mom and pop operation. I didn’t even know there were places like this anymore that made house calls. The husband and wife owners are the ones coming out here around noon to get me established.
Today I’ve been having quite a bit of pain and pressure in my jaw. The TMJ seems to be getting worse, and so do the GI problems. Now it’s as much upper as lower GI upset. It’s taken all day before those died down enough to eat. I need to really have the Gastroenterologist to check me for Gastroparesis. More and more frequently my food is not digesting and instead sitting and fermenting in my stomach.
I know nothing stays the same, but if you’re willing to play the game it will be coming around again. So don’t mind if I fall apart, there’s more room in a broken heart…Carly Simon
The day before yesterday was one hell of a day. The appointment with my pulmonologist was to some extent a repeat performance of my last meeting with my GP.
Some may think that because this blog’s focus is on experiences (often bad) in the healthcare system and on patient’s rights that I am just angry, but in truth I’m not. Emotions are part and parcel of the human condition and I don’t shy away from them, but what I feel is more frustration, fear, and grief that although it would be so easy in this situation for those in positions of authority to make things right, instead they make the decision not to at every turn, and in their opposition they prolong physical suffering unnecessarily.
Doctors, when you see signs of disease document them, don’t just have verbal conversations with the patient and not put down a diagnosis if treatment depends on it. If you discover later there were procedural mistakes, then for Godsake amend the record! Untreated disease will continue to tap you on the shoulder until something’s done about it. It waits for noone. Leaving the patient on their own with it to twist in the wind is never the answer. If I seem a bit on edge at times, then this is why.
If you’ve ever had a pet who is injured you will understand. They may bite if you try to pick them up, not out of anger but because they’re protecting the part of their body that hurts. It is just instinct; not intent. Humans as well become quite to the point when there’s little more time to waste. This is nature’s way of motivating us to stay on task to find a way out of peril so that we can survive. When the struggle for self-preservation stops then you really have to worry.
While I am an activist this is not all that I am. Some may view me as a radical but if that’s all they see then I haven’t communicated my point effectively. I’m a mother, an animal lover, an artist, and a writer. (The broken heart at the top is a component I cast in 22 Kt. gold years ago from a mold of my own design. The line created from it was about regeneration in the face of adversity). Most of all at the core I am soft-hearted and fundamentally believe in the goodness of people and man’s ability to change and transform. I also believe that not everyone’s path is the same, nor should it be, as we are all individuals.
I am more apt to assume that people are with me when they aren’t than the other way around. It is actually because at the core I think positively that I am like this. This is why I often give people in my life maybe more chances than I should.
I try to stay on topic in this blog because the atrocities that take place within healthcare are what I’m trying to shine a light on so that there can be social change. While I am telling my story, this is not just about me, but about so many people who, like me, end up sidelined because of a broken system that leaves little room for tolerance of differences, individual needs, and those who don’t fit the mold of what doctors, insurance regulations, and levels of government who set the laws and rules dictate. There is no manual for the human body and yet there persists the false expectation that there is within the medical field.
The chubby black nurse with lots of tiny braids came in and took my blood pressure, charted a few stats on the computer and then handed me the standard sleep questionnaire to fill out, watching me impatiently.
“He’s running on schedule so I don’t want it to eat up your time. He can’t spend an hour with you” she blurted out rudely.
I narrowed my eyes at her not knowing what brought that on. I never knew how to fill those things out anyway as my sleep/wake pattern is all screwed up from day to day. She told me to average it out, her voice growing ever more impatient.
“Is Z here today?” (another nurse) I asked her.
“No” she replied. “She’s off for a few days.” I thought back to our last phone conversation and suddenly had an uneasy feeling. I’d told her what had recently transpired and told her that I was going to need the pulmonologist to take over all the order writing. She understood. There was no mistake about it. She’d been open and empathetic and she was hearing me in a way she hadn’t ever before. When I asked for verification she said “Yes Ma’am” in a way that conveyed that now she understood the gravity of what I was up against.
In the past she’d told me this doctor thought for himself and didn’t think he’d buy into the buzz, but in this last conversation I remember telling her I was glad he was not one to buy into group-speak and that he was the only one left, that I was glad that he at least believed me. On that she didn’t respond to reassure me as she usually had.
I never got a call back from her regarding his answer. Then about 4 or 5 days later (the day he’d refused to do the two referrals) another nurse had responded on his behalf on the Patient Portal. When I’d asked where Z was I was told she’d asked off.
Did she know what awaited me at my upcoming appointment? Perhaps she did and couldn’t bear to be there to watch what was about to unfold and didn’t want to go along with hurting me.
Once the nurse in the office left the room with the clipboard in hand I waited in anticipation that at least he was still with me as he’d indicated on the Patient Portal…or so I hoped.
Medicine is more than the mechanical fixing of bodies. It’s about a partnership between doctor and patient and when one is chronically ill this becomes even more crucial. Often along the way that human aspect gets lost in the process. Above all patients need hope when going through a difficult and long diagnostic process and they need to know that whatever happens their doctor is there for them.
The other day even though he’d refused to write the two referrals I’d sent him the information on (Vanderbilt and the Undiagnosed Diseases Network), I still thought positively that he hadn’t diverged from me. Maybe he just wanted to see me in-person before writing any orders or referrals, I reasoned, or maybe he just felt that it was the GP who should have done this. I tried to believe that there was a reasonable explanation in every way I could.
Not long after the nurse had left he knocked briefly and entered the room.
His face was red at the top of his cheeks just under his eyes. Because I am close with him I knew that was a tell. Even still I powered through, tried my best to ignore it, thinking maybe it was just a temporary bump in the road. I had a smile on my face because I was genuinely happy to see him and I still considered him a confidant until such time as I knew otherwise. I was willing to give him a chance, to hear him out before passing any judgment. Even with some weird vibes I was picking up I couldn’t switch gears that fast and suddenly be unhappy with him. There was a history there. He had helped me in the past, maybe more than any of the doctors at Emory. I had the impression he genuinely cared.
“How are you” he asked looking at me from across the room as he sat down in his chair. He made eye contact, but I just couldn’t block out the distracting reddening in his cheeks and kept looking there instead of his eyes.
“Not good. I’ve been feeling pretty bad with this Dysautonomia not treated for the past several months. I’ve nearly passed out several times in the past two weeks.”
“You’re smiling” he said, nodding. I didn’t exactly know what to say to this or why that was significant to him. I grappled as best as I could to find the words, but failed miserably in fully explaining. I communicate better in writing than I do verbally.
“Well things went well yesterday. The nurse practitioner told me that she didn’t think I was nuts, and apparently Dr. V validated my Dysautonomia, so that’s progress.”
“You’re smiling” he said again, a little louder this time, almost cutting into the end of my sentence. I wanted to ask him what his point was but I didn’t know how. It was as though my brain stopped for a moment. I could think it but the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. In the time I’ve known him I have grown very attached to him and in the past he has always been willing to do whatever he could to help me. All I had to do was ask. I told him just the other day on the Patient Portal how much I appreciated that, and suddenly as if the rug were pulled out from under me all that was gone.
I tried to push the gnawing insecurities aside in favor of logic. How could a strongly positive doctor/patient relationship go from 100 to zero in just a week’s time, I wondered? As I sat there across from him something didn’t feel quite the same.
“What is your understanding of the situation right now?” he asked. “Do you think Neurology is moving forward in getting the answers?” It was one of those statements masquerading as a question. I could feel it yet was unsure exactly what he was going to say although I grasped that it wasn’t good.
“Well it’s too early to know for sure. I just started with them, but Dr. V. definitely picked up on something of the underlying condition. She just isn’t sure what it is yet. She’s only seen me once, so hasn’t even had time to investigate very far before going on maternity leave.”
The pulmonologist shifted in his chair from side to side, not a good sign. “She was hanging her hopes on it being the Sarcoidosis.”
“Yes, and it turned out not to be that” I answered the question for him. The red in his cheeks continued to spread outward. “The Gallium Scan was clean” he said with almost an eeriness in his voice.
That meant it wasn’t in acute flair but he seemed to have a much more ominous take on it.
The significance for him seemed to take on an almost supernatural quality to it and I could tell it scared him. We live in the bible belt here in Georgia and one always has to consider that doctors in this part of the country may read in a religious significance to explain things that as of yet are medically unexplainable. That is yet another variable that can and does interfere with trust within the doctor/patient relationship; the good vs evil dichotomy.
“It was the inconsistency in the exam that concerned me” said the Pulmonologist, his cheeks reddening further. At this point he was looking kind of ill himself. I knew what he was thinking because doctors are trained that way.
I felt the need to reassure him that I had not been taken over by some strange evil force and that there was and is a reasonable explanation, that we just needed to find out what that is. There is a confounding variable neither he nor Dr. V were taking into account which elicits inconsistency in an exam, but the growing sense of mistrust and feeling of utter futility held me back from telling him what it was. I opted for the simpler of explanations.
“This is just the beginning”, I continued. She’s just started with me. Sometimes it can take as many as 6-8 years for patients to be diagnosed. I sure hope it won’t take that long for me, but the point is that alot of people go through this. It’s not that uncommon for things like that to come out negative or inconsistent, but at least they can start by treating the Dysautonomia since they know that the Saline helped when I was at Piedmont. That would be a start.”
It was all he could do to stay put in his chair. He seemed to be grappling within himself pulling to one side, then the other. I could imagine opposing dialogue going on in his head.
“You keep coming up with that word; Dysautonomia!” his speech accelerating and growing in urgency. “There’s no evidence of Dysautonomia.” (pregnant pause) “that’s your perception. That came from you. She said by patient report.”
“What do you mean no evidence? “It came from Piedmont” I replied. “Didn’t you see the BP stats that were entered into the electronic records system? My blood pressure was all over the map for 11 days, measuring it 6 times a day!”
“That could be anything. A cardiologist would have to determine what that is….and you need to consider that this could also be…psychological. I would recommend seeing a Psychiatrist and a Cardiologist.”
“Well it sure isn’t in my head. Believe me, I went that route first, as I had problems on my left side a number of years ago. The therapist suggested I get it medically checked out because she didn’t think it was psychological.”
“It can reoccur.” he replied ignoring the fact that I’d said it had been ruled out.
“Blood pooling in my feet? Pictures I sent Dr. B. on the portal.”
“There’s no evidence of Dysautonomia. That’s your perception. They have to do tests for that!” at this point seeing he was losing this argument but sticking to his story so as not to lose face.
“They should have done that testing 4 months ago. I’ve been telling people this since I was discharged from Piedmont in November. The doctor there had a conversation with me about this. It didn’t come from me, it came from him. He just didn’t document it and I didn’t know that until I got the records later. I believe it’s secondary and that it and the movement disorder are all part of the same syndrome. They need to find the underlying condition.”
“If there is one. Why not see a Cardiologist?”, he said.
“I could. That’s another reason to go to Vanderbilt. They have specialists there and I’m sure they have Cardiologists there as well as Neurologists.”
“You could see one here… or at any place locally. You don’t need to go out of town for that.” I wondered why he was so wedded to the idea that I stay here in town for such an evaluation.
“The thing is if I went to just any Cardiologist they may be too general to recognize this. Many Cardiologists are generalists and they have many other heart related disorders to focus on. I need an expert who knows what to look for.”
“I would recommend doing it here.” I’m sure he would, I thought, beginning to feel as though he wanted to control the situation. Odd, given the fact that just a few days previously he’d taken a hands-off approach.
“Then my chronic constipation, the fact that I’m thirsty constantly, how can you say there’s no evidence?”
“That could be dehydration. Dysautonomia is extremely rare statistically.” He seemed genuinely afraid and holding onto this denial for dear life, like a security blanket, although I wasn’t sure why. The whole time we’d been talking I was drinking water and sucking on ice cubes.
“Well why am I dehydrated? As you can see I’m drinking ice water constantly. I have a cup with me at all times and yet I’m still thirsty.” He was out of excuses and just looked at me seemingly frustrated. He asked about Dr. B. and I said “He’s gone.”
“Gone? What do you mean?”
“I mean out of the picture; gone” I did not elaborate.
“He’s not your primary anymore?”
“No, he was doing me more harm than good anyway. You see, nothing was moving. My treatment was going nowhere. I tried to tell him but he wouldn’t listen. I’ve been untreated for almost 4 months now and I can’t wait much longer. It’s getting worse.”
“Untreated for what?“
“And you really think Neurology is helping you?”
“According to the Nurse Practitioner she is supposed to be good and I was told she thinks outside the box. I figured I’d give her a chance.”
“OK then, I’ll take a back seat to Neurology then and just follow what they’re doing with you.” he replied seeming somewhat offended or hurt, I couldn’t tell exactly which. “I still think you should see a psychiatrist” he threw in for good measure.
“I just don’t want to cloud the issue. I want this looked at on it’s merits. There are several problems in seeing a psychiatrist. Every specialty tends to look for what they specialize in and they can’t bill insurance for situational problems so that motivates them to fudge and give you a psych diagnosis when you really don’t meet the criteria. Would it make any difference at all if a psychiatrist wrote a letter saying that what is going on with me is not psychiatric but medical?”
“Yes” he said emphatically, “It would help alot”. Somehow his words rang hollow as soon as they’d been spoken. I found it hard to believe that he could ever go back to the way things were before. A line had been crossed and another rung of trust broken. Even if he could go back I couldn’t. It scared me that he could so easily go from supporting me 100% to being so determined not to support me. It was like the air let out of a balloon. Knowing that deep down he was not trying to rule it out but rule it in was what hurt most of all. The way he looked at me just killed me; a mix of irritation, amusement, and pity as though I had wasted his time.
“I feel like you don’t believe me” I said. I wasn’t smiling now.
His face clouded over and he looked through me rather than at me. “Ms. Carlington” he said with a forced new formality “I need to move on” he stated dismissively looking somewhere to my right, then avoiding my eyes and looking to my left.
The first level I perceived right away (move on as in to his next patient), but then I picked up something on a deeper level.
He was officially uninvesting himself in me and though I was still technically his patient I’d clearly been relegated to the cutting-room floor.
A thousand pieces of paper wouldn’t change anything now with his resolute mind-set and knowing, that psych is a soft science and based more on individual clinical opinion than provable fact, to take that particular piece of advice and gamble with my future could put the last nail in my coffin.
As both of us exited, he to the left, and me to the right he called back over his shoulder that I should really get a new Primary Care physician to coordinate all these specialists and I told him that with managed care and heavy caseloads I really don’t know if one would, so I wasn’t in any great hurry to do that. It didn’t work out for me the last time. He said that’s what they’re supposed to do. Yes, I thought, they are supposed to.
I went to the front checkout desk where the young receptionist with the long wavy black hair and black-rimmed glasses greeted me with their customary “Did you have a nice visit?”
“No, not so much. Not this time. I feel a bit uneasy.” She got on the phone to ask the doctor when to schedule me for my next appointment.
“Six Months” she said as she turned toward me. I winced. (It was usually more like 2-3), but still feeling that sense of futility I didn’t ask her to make it earlier, only asked if I could if I needed to, and she said yes, that he was here 5 days a week and if need be it wouldn’t be hard to get an appointment should something come up.
Yesterday Dr. V finally responded through her Nurse Practitioner, but since she’d not heard of the IV Saline treatment she told her she wouldn’t authorize her to write the order “at this time”. None of the other items on my list of priorities (other than the med refills) had been addressed, so I wrote back and asked if she had authorized her writing the referral to Vanderbilt, and provided her several pieces of information about the treatment and contact info for two specialists familiar with it.
Yesterday I got the name of a guy at another specialty clinic out of state and am waiting to hear back, as he is out for the week. The office is supposed to call when he returns. All the pre-registration was taken care of over the phone. If I don’t see some action out of Emory Neurology soon I’ll go that route, as he seems to have diagnosed lots of people who had the same experience I’m having now and there you don’t have to have a referral. As gut-wrenching as it is to be losing doctors I’ve known for years locally I wonder if maybe, just maybe with doors closing at Emory, another window is about to open.
As Spring brings new buds after the thaw from the harshest of Winters sometimes one finds unexpected reprieve even at the 11th hour; maybe even because of it. Although I don’t want to jinx it today’s visit to Emory General Neurology was more hopeful than I’d expected. I’d prepared a list of things I needed help with, placed it in my soft briefcase, and after dragging myself out of bed having barely slept, back and core aching, dark circles under my eyes, feeling gutted and weak I forged ahead not knowing what lay ahead. 7 AM is not my best time of morning and I was holding it together by a thread. As I arrived on the 5th floor I was already starting to feel worse and sucked on ice cubes from a large styrofoam cup with a plastic lid on it in a rather ineffective attempt to settle my stomach. After about 20 minutes in the waiting room a nurse in a light green scrub outfit, red hair parted slightly to the side and flipped upward called me to come back. She had a Hispanic accent, so at first I thought she was the Nurse Practitioner although the name of the woman I was to see sounded quite WASPY. I didn’t quite get a good look at her name tag as she sat at the small wraparound desk in front of her computer terminal. She asked me the usual mundane questions about my medications, weight and height and took my bloodpressure which as is usually the case at Emory appointments runs somewhat high. It seemed as though they were well versed as to what I was asking before I ever arrived and although it was a little unnerving, it didn’t appear that they were at all viewing it negatively. I wondered if they’d had a meeting earlier that morning. The nurse assured me that I was in good hands and that this was a “good team”. She informed me that the Nurse Practitioner would be in shortly.
In just a few minutes another woman came in. She had dark brown hair a little longer than shoulder length, but as bad as I was feeling I didn’t register much more detail than that. She introduced herself as the Nurse Practitioner and explained that Dr. V. was going to advise her and that she didn’t have a clear-cut idea about where to go from here. She told me that she could write orders but had to check with Dr. V. first although she was covering for her.
It was unclear whether she’d read the scan or if any of the doctors had but at that point I really didn’t care since it was the Dysautonomia that was most pressing. I handed her my succinct list which she was grateful for and she looked it over, commenting on several of the items favorably.
This was very different from my recent experiences with Dr. B. I felt comfortable with her enough to tell her what happened in the ER and told her they treated me like I was nuts, and what had transpired since, including the dumping by Dr. B after he failed to treat my Dysautonomia for so many months and she didn’t bat an eye.
“I’m not nuts; I swear” I said preemptively, but no opposition came.
“I don’t believe you are either” she responded looking me squarely in the eye. She seemed warm and genuinely open. She went on to tell me she’d heard alot about the Undiagnosed Diseases Network and that many of Dr. V’s patients asked for referrals there. Apparently Dr. V. liked to see patients 3 times before referring them so that she was familiar enough to write a good letter but that given my difficulty getting the help I needed until way late she would ask if there was enough in the file and from my interview with her (the Nurse Practitioner) to make the referral sooner. This was more like it! Finally, someone who really wanted to make some headway!
I told her about how my adoption yielded no medical history and that there was no documentation of my ever having been born in the State of Pennsylvania, how I’d had strange symptoms for years ever since early childhood and that I’d needed genetic testing for a long time.
I went on to tell her that it had mainly been brushed off. She thought my line of thinking made perfect sense and was intrigued by the possibility that I might have some genetic form of Dystonia or that this may be secondary to a larger genetic syndrome.
“I don’t know what so many doctors have against acknowledging Dysautonomia. It seems like this dirty little secret that nobody wants to touch with a ten foot pole.” She smiled in agreement.
“I don’t know what it is that makes people view it any differently than any other disorder.”
“I Don’t know either” I said. “It seems like the doctor at Piedmont who had that unofficial conversation with me at my bedside didn’t want to go on record for the diagnosis nor the IV Saline treatment, but when I got home I discovered there are quite a few doctors doing that for the condition. It’s really not that controversial.”
“Really Dr. V. is into controversial!”
“Really?” I had to hear this.
“Yes”, she continued. “She really likes that.”
“So I have the right doctor” I queried.
“I really hope she’ll do it because I’m absolutely miserable going for almost 4 months untreated. I don’t know how much more I can take.”
“I’m sorry”, she said looking a little sad.
The nurse practitioner asked a few details about my abnormal movements and noted these, then said she’d call Dr. V. at home and see if she could get permission to write these orders and that she’d get back to me once she got an answer. I got her card and headed out into the waiting room to call my transportation service. Then I went downstairs to wait by the front entrance. After sitting there awhile I got really cold and the near fainting spells hit me like a ton of bricks. My core ached from the spine inward and increased in intensity. I doubled over in pain and tried holding my head down but that wasn’t very effective and I began seeing stars and getting dizzy. I figured I’d better go back upstairs because if I fell and passed out in that downstairs lobby alone it could be bad.
Heading back upstairs I went to the front desk and asked if there were some coffee as there was in some of the other doctor’s offices. The receptionist said no, but that she might have some in the back she could bring me. I needed some sort of external heat source to warm myself up. As she went to bring me some coffee I lay down on the one couch they had in the waiting room and put my feet up on the armrest. Finally the faint feeling started to subside but the hot and cold spells continued to alternate every few minutes. I managed to drink the coffee but still felt very nauseated.
It took an inordinately long time to be picked up to go home, and even longer to be picked back up from the pharmacy after refilling my prescriptions.
Once home and situated in bed I called Daria. The woman answering at the front desk asked who it was and after giving my name I had the feeling that was why she was unavailable. I was told hastily that she’d call me back as soon as she could, but it was implied it wouldn’t be today.
I hope after all this that she isn’t tired of all the doctors not having followed through and that she’s not bored with me already just when I might be getting this treatment successfully.
I sent the nurse practitioner an email to follow up and send her the photos of blood pooling in my feet and a few other details I’d forgotten when I was in the office as well as filling her in on the fact that my condition has continued to get worse. Hopefully she called her today and didn’t wait, as I’ve waited too long already.
Tomorrow I have an appointment with my pulmonologist. I might have him do liver enzyme blood work, as it always seems to be elevated again when I feel this way.
Maybe at some time in our evolution the Darwinian principle “survival of the fittest” made sense for the continuation of a strong gene pool, but as human beings in modern society we should be more evloved than that, yet it continues to permeate our culture, or work, our healthcare, and even our relationships and when we as humans no longer meet the criteria of viability we are discarded like yesterday’s garbage.
For those of us with severe chronic disease this baser nature in those around us can prove fatal, be it a spouse, a friend, a relative, even a doctor who has been charged with treating us for these conditions for a long time.
I found out yesterday that at some point my GP decided he didn’t like me, and I guess that makes my life worthless and my not being liked is punishable by death. The “pink slip” was coming. It was just a matter of time, I sensed, but nevertheless it hurt to know that he was just barely tolerating me for God knows what length of time.
Apparently the straw that really broke the camel’s back was the “tone” of my message, but I had reached the limit of my patience after so much mistreatment that I was one raw nerve, and after 3 months of being left to suffer I was like a tormented animal in a trap. It wouldn’t have mattered what I’d said, he didn’t want me as a patient and was just looking for the nearest trash can to throw me into.
Because he didn’t like me he was impervious to my pain, my near fainting spells, my unquenchable thirst, my need for home healthcare, and the worst thing of all is now I know without a doubt exactly why he didn’t like me. It in truth was not what I said, or really anything I’d done, but most of all my very failure to thrive and the secret I continue to keep to myself which is part of the reason why. I almost told him, but after the last appointment when it became clear he was being mean to me I knew that secret would only be used against me, so I thought better of it.
The evaluation for that unspoken thing is stalled, like most of the other independent evals; there’s a long wait. In this instance it’s Medicare holding it up; some arbitrary limit on the number of providers in the state of Georgia. It could be 6 months before I can fully make it official and safely disclose it to any of my doctors.
It is this very condition that Emory is really discriminating against that which makes so many others a target of bullying and abuse. This thing has no curb appeal when you’re no longer a cute 5-year old. Even so, one can only do what one can with the tools available and I have lacked all the supports and resources I’ve needed all my life in order to cope with all my disabilities much less this doozie, and I know in my heart I’ve done the best I could given the fact that I’ve had to do it alone. That is all anyone can really expect, but they don’t care. They expect more anyway. It is only when I’m backed into a corner that I become the hellcat only after having been way too patient and way more tolerant than anyone should have to. Why is it only me who should be tolerant?
He says he’ll be available only for emergencies, isn’t that a laugh. What good could he be as he has no admitting privileges and besides what’s been happening has been a slow emergency that festers and worsens with each passing day. It is in the emergencies that I’m most vulnerable and why would I trust myself in such a condition to someone who despises and in his heart wants to hurt me? Perhaps they (those in the ER) are lying in wait for me to hit the floor so that they can finish me off. I will not give them the satisfaction.
I wanted him to understand me but he didn’t want to. He’d already made up his mind and nothing I could say would ever change it. It was as though every atom and every cell within me was rotten in his eyes and there was nothing in it worth saving. With a double-bind like that it leaves you no hope.
He said that he was highly offended by my saying he wasn’t honest, but the truth is he wasn’t. On a very core level he didn’t like me but he pretended he did and he led me on to believe he would act in my best interest, but he didn’t. What is that other than dishonest? His actions gave him away. If you care about somebody you don’t just stand there and allow them to suffer.
Besides, it’s in the Hippocratic Oath; First Do No Harm. Doctors seem to think that there’s a loophole, that they can get away with it as long as it’s passive-aggressive, but the truth is that medical neglect is doing a patient harm! He’d have handled it better just to put me out of my misery than to subject me to this Chinese water torture of a death by a thousand cuts.
On yet another level, maybe it was too easy for him not to like me as a convenient excuse for poor judgment the cause of which was something even more disturbing. I have my suspicions because this is not the man I knew for the larger part of nearly 13 years. It seemed almost as though his soul had been taken over by someone else. The last sentence I wrote to him was that he must be going through something and that I hoped he got healing for whatever it is going on in his life that would cause him to do what he did.
Hopefully those whose job it is to hold him accountable will do that and not let him just pretend nothing’s wrong, as I do not believe this only affects me, but other patients now and in the future (if his superiors fail to insist he take care of his problem).
There are times when I truly wish I wouldn’t wake up the next morning. I’ve been able to sleep less and less the past few days, and last night I only slept in catnaps because the last thing I ate didn’t digest. I can feel it still sitting in my stomach, yet it has upset my whole GI tract from top to bottom. Also, I’ve been overheating almost continuously now with just short periods of normal temperature sensation and cold spells in-between. I feel like I am truly in hell. My autonomic nervous system has turned on me and I can’t make it stop. I need that saline ASAP!
As for the referrals to Vanderbilt and Undiagnosed Disease Network the only thing I can do now is to ask General Neurology to do them and hope some random person filling in for Dr. V will do it. Also, they need to get a message to her as to what’s happened. She won’t be back until May, but I think she sees through the bullshit going around and really might actually care (based on what the Nursing Supervisor said on the phone) and my being able to read people on multiple levels. Despite her being a bull in a china shop I could decipher something else; something underneath. It took awhile to fully process but nonetheless it was there and I knew she had no ill intent. That energy was very different from The Dark Man. My first reaction was not to like her because she forced herself onto me, but I read that it was not malicious like he had been, and that something underneath was good.
Maybe in her mind she was thinking she wanted to get it over with now because she knew she wouldn’t be here for several months to do the exam if she’d waited. It’s too bad that she didn’t get to read the films from Piedmont or the Gallium Scan herself. She sounded as though maybe she was better than some others at looking for Sarcoid lesions. If they are there and someone else misses them, then what will happen? Will they want to take the extra time and effort to be sure?
I was glad that Dr. B. didn’t try to touch me when I saw him the last time. I could read enough just in his body language and tone of voice to know he was not on my side. To read it in his touch would have been like being clubbed over the head with it.
On Monday when I go into General Neurology I may be a mess but at this point I don’t care. Maybe they need to see how it really is for me after I’ve been targeted so callously and viciously by the system that grinds people up and spits them out in the name of healthcare, how I’ve been left a mere shadow of my former self. In some distant corner of my being I remain strong even now. I’m trying to hang on to the shred of dignity that still remains.
People who haven’t experienced this cannot imagine what it’s like to be branded with such libel in their medical record and then told it will sit there for eternity assumed to be accurate even though it’s all lies because of “policy”. Imagine someone took a piece of shit and put it in your clothing and you had to wear it going around stinking for the rest of your life. It wasn’t a part of you yet anywhere you went people would assume it was.
And then to be sick on top of it and not treated feels like I’m being punished for something I didn’t even do wrong. All I did was ask for what I needed. All I did was stand up for myself.
All I can do with this awful feeling is sit here and lick my wounds at home at the moment. It is the weekend, and on top of that I really trust no one right now.
I’m still talking but I fear that might end soon. When it happens I can’t will my brain to do it. Sometimes it just happens for a few minutes when the stimulus is short-term, but when the stimulus is longer-term I have been known to go for days and even weeks.
On the practical side I have gathered the names of some attorneys who are in the right specialties to right the wrong and have emailed one of them. I hope someone will help soon. That stuff cannot stay there if I am to have a chance for the treatment I need.
Some have called me an idealist and did not mean it as a compliment, but there is something within me that in spite of all the negative experiences; all that can (and does) go wrong in life, still believes that the 100th time’s the charm.
Years ago I had a friend who had left an abusive husband who beat her repeatedly. To escape him she had to leave her son behind (something she hated to do, but there was no way she could have taken him with her with no money and no place to go, sleeping in laundromats, and staying in homeless shelters, and her husband would have probably found her before she’d had time to leave town and would have killed them both). In fear for her life she fled from Alaska to Georgia to start a new life, then obtained a divorce by mail. It was interesting how she healed from this toxic relationship, the process by which was partly healthy and partly not. She drank too much, slept around in an attempt to validate she was lovable and for a reliable place to live, and often had rocky relationships in which men sought to control her because of their higher status in life.
Even with all these unhealthy coping mechanisms she had some that were quite healthy and quite transformative. She was a heavy smoker and devised a way to systematically cut down her use of tobacco until she successfully kicked the habit.
She also had a wry whit part of which she’d honed from reframing phrases used by her abusive ex that (ironically) helped her to find humor in some of the must un-humorous circumstances. One of these phrases was
“First you gotta find somebody that cares…Then you gotta tell ’em.”
While these words were used as a sarcastic message to tell her he didn’t care about her, once she’d removed herself from his life she was able to take this phrase and change the connotations from those he’d meant to discount her, turn them around and use them herself to empower her.
It occurred to me that taken literally this is exactly what she did. She found somebody that cares and she told them…and low and behold they listened. She left a place where her husband had all the control and influence and she held no credibility and widened her circle to find those who did not have split loyalties and who could truly support her.
In my 20s I took lots of people into my home struggling with difficult circumstances and she was one of them. I knew how it was to feel that nothing you said would make a difference, to feel powerless at the hands of your abuser, to have one’s whole environment completely controlled, and I wanted to do what I could to extend any street cred I had and share it with others so that they could have a soft place to fall and to heal at their own pace, in their own way.
Sometimes this process starts by one’s groping in the dark, but one must be allowed to do this without another removing their free choice even when it may appear from the outside that the person has no idea where they’re going. Anthropology suggests that man does what one can to always right ones-self no matter what. It is an instinct we all possess and I truly believe that the best outcomes are self-directed and will believe that as long as I live.
The phrase used by my friend’s ex and reframed by her is a model by which one can find their way out. When I first started this blog I made the difficult decision that I was going to make my process public because I felt (and still do) that much of what allows atrocities, stigma, and discrimination to continue in modern society is that those who are targeted are often beaten into submission and into closets where they hide in fear and shame while those who commit these crimes against them prosper and go on with their lives as though nothing happened.
All too often society is more concerned with maintaining the reputation of a perpetrator than they are the survivor. These nameless, faceless people who remain in the shadows die silently and are sometimes even vilified when they do speak out. Their truths are not considered positive enough to be discussed in polite company and attention is focused on their “telling” instead of on the act that was committed against them, and the important message gets lost in the translation.
Native American culture places alot of importance on the story as a transformative modality, while Anglo culture tends to dismiss it as overly sentimental or even “circumstantial”, yet who can really judge what is and is not relevant. It depends on the beholder and whether he or she values the teller and the wisdom the story imparts.
Those who do transform and reinvent themselves usually do so because they never allow shame to define them and they tell, and tell, and tell until they find their supporters who are loyal to them and not to their abuser(s).
When one does this an amazing thing happens. It takes the power away from the abuser and creates change both inside and out. Sometimes you have to go through 100 who don’t hear your message before the tide turns and it resonates, but trust your own process that it will. If we fail to trust our own judgment then the abuser wins and gets to define us by his yardstick. It is natural and human to have moments of self-doubt, but at our core if we believe in ourselves we will find those who believe in us and will accompany us to the finish-line.
Yesterday even as sick as I’ve been feeling, I began to notice a shift. I think it began when I saw the physical therapist. Although she couldn’t help me (with physical therapy) in some unexpected way she actually did help me by validating that I knew what was right for my body and what wasn’t. She recognized without my saying anything in the first few minutes that the plan that had been laid out for me was all wrong. If the shoe didn’t fit I could not wear it and sooner or later this fact would reveal itself. Although this shift was long overdue I began to see that the professionals charged with helping me would eventually see for themselves what I’d been saying all along, and those that didn’t would be replaced by new supporters even without my actively replacing them.
Today I faxed the material to my pulmonologist about Vanderbilt’s Autonomic Dysfunction Clinic and instructions for referral and information about the Undiagnosed Disease Network and its multi-site NIH-funded study. This innovative clinical trial seeks to help people who are having difficulty getting a diagnosis for their persistent symptoms and are often vilified for their doctor’s inability to put a name with the disease-process robbing them of their function, peace-of-mind, and even their lives. Its plan is to map the genome of these people with unusual and unnamed diseases that don’t fit the mold as well as to use other state-of-the-art methods to quantify what other tests commonly used in clinical settings don’t or can’t. Yesterday my pulmonologist sent me an unequivocal reassuring message that in no way was he going to back away from me and on the Patient Portal that is a big show of support. He had the courage to do what my GP couldn’t bring himself to do and it meant alot to hear him say that.
Knowing that he had access to the full electronic record that I could not read I knew that he probably read whatever Dr. V. had written and that most likely it was not the ominous sign my GP had implied. This validated further my growing sense that it was more a matter of how my GP was taking what she’d written than what she’d actually written. Further still, the Nursing Supervisor of General Neurology returned my call today and shared with me that Dr. V. had validated my Dysautonomia even though she’d charted it “by patient report” in the context of her saying she wanted to do the Gallium scan to find out whether the Dysautonomia was secondary to my Sarcoidosis (important point being that she believed it/me). While the Nursing Supervisor couldn’t guarantee that the Nurse Practitioner or a doctor covering for Dr. V. would write the saline order, she did say that she’d speak with the Dept. Head, Dr. G.E. tomorrow morning and find out whom I should make an appointment with and that the reason they wanted me to come in is because they want to carve out enough time to go over all my comparison MRI and CT scans and my Gallium scan and then advise. I’m thinking they may have found something, as she mentioned it may make a difference whether the Dysautonomia is primary or secondary. She did say that the Nurse Practitioner knew something about Dysautinomia and was patient-centered and so was Dr. E. Maybe, just maybe this will finally happen.
It was one of those light-bulb moments when I realized that when my GP had told me in the office that he “could not take any of” my “patient reports at face value” and that Dr. V’s validation that I have a real underlying neurological condition “wasn’t good enough” (in his words), what he was really telling me was that he (not she) was looking for reasons not to believe me (despite the fact that she did!)
While I still don’t understand his personal motive for doing this to me after 12 years I thought he’d supported me, I know now for sure that it was his issue, not mine and not hers. I don’t know if I’d ever get the truth out of him as to why he’d throw me under the bus like this, but it is comforting to know that other doctors I see do not share his cynicism.
I believe that his supervisor knows the truth about why he’s doing this and that’s why she (unlike he Neurology Nursing Supervisor) hasn’t called me back. I’d left a message on her voicemail saying I needed to know the status of the situation and whether he’s through treating me like a ninny or not because I need to know whether to count on him for anything in the future because I cannot go on like this with his foot-dragging and passive-aggressive behavior.
If he is dead set on treating me this way and viewing me so unfavorably then I won’t bother wasting my time with him, and will transfer everything over to other doctors, whereas if this is a temporary issue due to something going on in his personal life then maybe it could be remediable. The longer it goes without a phone call from her the more I begin to suspect the worst.
If nothing else I’d like to get some closure even if it turns out his “support” for the entire 12 years was merely an act of deception on his part. That would hurt, but at least I could proceed based on the truth rather than going in with rose colored glasses just to have all my goals tanked at the worst possible time. I’m not one to jump to conclusions and just throw people away and I prefer to work things out with them if their intentions are good, but having illusions that intentions are good when in fact they aren’t could ultimately do me more harm than good. As my health is declining it is becoming ever more imperative that every doctor on my team be working for me and not against me if I am to have any chance of getting what I need to have the best quality of life.
Eyes on the prize, everyone. All hands on deck. I guess we’ll see when I go in for this consultation whether they actually will support me in my plan for my treatment for my bodyand just how patient-centered they are in supporting my process.
I awoke again at some odd hour with stomach still rumbling and a burning inflammatory pain in my muscles accompanied by an intensely salty taste in my mouth. It was the same way I felt before ending up in Piedmont and I knew it wasn’t a good sign. I had an appointment yesterday morning for a physical therapy evaluation and hoped this feeling would pass and that things would go smoothly, but all I really felt like doing was going back to bed to sleep this off.
Transportation called to say they were coming between 8 and 9 AM and as I got dressed I noticed that my throat felt a little strange but I couldn’t quite put my finger on how. It was almost as if I had some sort of acute allergy, but I have actually been lucky in that department and have never been prone to allergies, so I figured it must be something else.
Before 8 there was someone at the door. I opened it to find a middle-aged black woman dressed in what looked like a blue scrubs outfit and wearing an ID badge like they do in hospitals.
My mind must have not been fully alert yet because for some strange reason I got a little mixed up and wondered if maybe this had something to do with my search for a personal assistant. I thought it was a bit too early for the nurse’s visit from Medicaid, but really couldn’t place anyone I knew in this type of clothing. She identified herself as being with the transportation company and I told her I’d be out in just a few minutes once I’d gathered my ice water.
In my hurry to get out the door I totally forgot my pillow, something I rarely do and always regret. This power wheelchair is hard on my butt and the back of my left leg especially and it wasn’t long before muscle spasm and a growing stiffness started to set in there and in my shoulders and upper arms on both sides. A slim elderly woman with dark denim jeans sat in the back of the van and we dropped her off at a day program downtown. She clambered past me saying hello and squeezed past to exit through the right-hand door on the passenger side.
The pain continued building to about an 8 and I was beginning to really need some medication by the time we started heading in the direction of Emory Rehab. Hospital. When we finally arrived at our destination I got off the lift and entered through some automatic glass double doors and into the lobby where a young and chic light-skinned black woman sat behind a circular desk at a computer terminal. She was smiling with a pleasant fine featured face and nicely quaffed hair that looked as though it had been straightened or as though she was mixed with Caucasion or possibly Somali though she reminded me of Shirley Jones, who played the mother on that old show The Partridge Family that was popular in the 70s. She greeted me as I passed by and I spoke briefly but was mostly focused on taking something for the pain before I got into any exercise, so I entered the room where I obtained my paperwork, signed it and then headed upstairs to the 5th floor via elevator.
The building was old with hard floors and wooden paneling that had been painted over and some of which had chipped and I didn’t feel entirely comfortable there but couldn’t figure out exactly why. Maybe it was because the lighting was dim and the place seemed outdated as though it were Emory’s step-child, a far cry from the slick danish design utilized in most of its other buildings (not that I like that decor either, but somehow the building seemed neglected).
Although the office staff seemed very kind I picked up an uneasy energy. Usually I am right about such things even before the feeling is validated with hard data. The clerk gave m some more paperwork to fill out some of which had questions on it I had never encountered in physical therapy before, questions about making social conversation and expressing oneself, which was kind of uncanny because I was having just exactly those types of problems in addition to my muscular problems. My cognitive processes seemed stuck in a mire this day and I really didn’t feel like talking. It wasn’t depression but more a matter of just feeling overwhelmed and maybe a little out of my element.
Soon a woman approached me introducing herself as Beth. She seemed kind of wooden and mechanical and there was a pushiness about her personality that seems common in the physical therapy field, not in the same way that Dr. V. is pushy, but more a type of edginess as though there was an anger hiding just beneath the surface.
I found myself distracted by all the sounds in the building and had trouble focusing enough to finish filling out the form. She brought it and me into a large dimly lit atrium with lots of padded benches in it. It felt a little too public to me but I tried to block out all the people working out on various machines, benches and parallel bars and watched to see what she was going to say or do next.
First she launched into a mini lecture about how this isn’t for everyone and that she had to warn me that after the evaluation she might determine that it would not be of benefit to me.
She began going through the rest of the questions to get as many answers as she could. I tried my best to answer but the time-frames asked were just too hard for me to remember and finally she put down the form and turned her attention to asking me some things such as did I live alone and whether I had pets. I told her about my dog Carmella and my Ball Python, Velvet. She reacted with a strong aversion to the very thought of a Python stating that she knew that Pythons “squeeze you to death” and seemed very hypervigilant based on what she’d heard about those pets released into the Everglades.
This is something I know about and those poor animals have a much undeserved bad rap perpetuated by ignorant and fear-mongering people, but seeing how Beth was positioned to strike at little or no provocation I thought better of engaging in further discussion with her on that topic after saying how innocuous Ball Pythons are and how they are more likely to hide their head than to attack people, and that what she most likely heard about were the really big constrictors such as African Rock Pythons, to which she said, “A python is a python. You can’t convince me to buy into that. They’re an invasive species!” Honestly, if the truth be told I felt she was the invasive species in my personal space and in my life whereas my sweet little Velvet was a comfort who posed no such threat. I wished at that moment I was home with my pets where I felt safe and at peace.
This felt all wrong and I thought if I have to work with this woman I don’t know how honestly I will get through it without a snag. Her irritation was like her skin turned inside out with all her internal organs exposed for the world to see. It was more than I wanted to know.
She engaged in some sort of nitpicking with one of the other physical therapists across from the bench I was lying on. I could not hear the words but it was clear that the two disliked each other and were barely tolerating working together. I sat up and looked over at the two, at which time Beth said “I need you to wait. I’m having an issue with someone.” Again, I thought TMI for the workplace. This unprofessional display only intensified the uncomfortable atmosphere and I wanted to leave. The pain medication and antispasmodic I’d swallowed before the session started had yet to take effect, and overall the day was not off to a great start. I’d told her briefly about my waiting for the movement disorder specialist at UF and how far in advanced they were booked up. She seemed genuinely shocked.
I explained to her that I have alot of fatigue and thatI dobest in the water, so I would like to have that be the focus. She commented that we couldn’t do that today and seemed to have an overall fatalistic demeanor about it as a whole. I’d brought a swimsuit just in case and wished I could just submerge myself to remove the huge weight hanging on my frame, but no such relief was forthcoming. As for massage I didn’t feel comfortable with her touching me with the type of energy she emitted, so I didn’t bother asking about that.
The evaluation that followed was one of the strangest I’d ever encountered among the numerous evaluations I’d had at various PT practices around the city of Atlanta. She had me lie down on the padded bench and pushed my legs into various positions. She did nothing with my arms although I have significant pain and spasticity in those too. She pressed and pushed and prodded my feet and legs in various lying down and sitting positions to see what my muscles would do. There was alot of jerkiness. Then she had me take a few steps on the parallel bars. I was completely exhausted after just a few steps, muscles in my upper body burning and inflamed as I supported my weight on my arms and shoulders.
As I got back into my wheelchair and we came back to the padded bench her expression had taken on a sad appearance. I knew that look well as I’d seen it before when I’d tried CPAP in the sleep lab and failed miserably, and the technician had been so saddened by the significance her experience had taught her about patients in my condition that she could barely keep her composure. It was clear that Beth too was ascribing an ominous meaning to my prognosis based on whatever she’d learned about body mechanics and that it wasn’t good. She didn’t elaborate, but she didn’t have to. I got the gist of it.
“I’m sorry” she began with a grave look on her face as if a close relative had just passed away and she was delivering the bad news. “I really don’t think you’ll benefit from physical therapy. Your condition is unlikely to improve with exercise. I think you should just do what you’ve been doing. And other than that pressing down on your feet when you are able since the spasticity seems to be less when you apply counter-pressure. It seems to be much more jerky when you’re moving your legs in the air.”
This came as no surprise to me and actually under the circumstances I was rather relieved. I guess you could say it was a good news/bad news scenario. I have honestly been in no shape to do much of anything strenuous and thought Dr. V. was being a bit overly-optimistic in issuing such a referral, especially given the fact that aquatherapy was not being offered to me. Beth wished me well at UF and I told her that my impression is that my brain was probably sending the wrong messages to my muscles and that maybe the clinic in Florida would identify a medication that will reduce this to a low roar. She agreed and we said our goodbyes.
Once back downstairs I called transportation and told the driver I was ready to go home. She stated that she’d be by in about a half hour. I sat in my chair patiently waiting and drinking my ice water. Suddenly out of nowhere I began to feel severely faint. Leaning down to hang my head between my legs it seemed started to reduce the onslaught but it was short-lived, followed by a stronger wave which was worse than the first and this one threatened to take me down, my vision became swimmy and then began to turn black. Then my hearing started to go. When I realized that sitting in my chair with head down wasn’t resolving it I waived over the receptionist to the left of me and asked if she could help me lie down or find a gurney. She replied that there were no gurneys but that she could help me to the leather couch at the other side of the room. I told her to prop up my legs in a position elevated above my head and she did. It took quite awhile before it died down and it was touch and go before things subsided enough for me to get my bearings. A nice woman came over to help me and she offered to call transportation back since a half hour had long passed and no ride yet, but the phone was rolling over to another number with just a voicemail, so I had her call quality assurance with the broker system to let them know I needed to get home and into bed ASAP. She did so and once we thought they were close to the entrance two women helped me back into my wheelchair and out to the driveway, but it turned out to be someone else’s transportation van, not mine.
The second woman who had helped me call quality assurance went in and brought out some saltine crackers which I was really grateful for. I ate several and in a few minutes began to feel a little more solid. Finally my ride appeared and the driver told me that she’d been tied up with another crisis; an elderly woman needed to go to the ER she’d scheduled to pick up for a doctor’s appointment. She had family but apparently they couldn’t take her themselves so that tied her up there at her house longer.
When I arrived home I immediately wrote my pulmonologist on the Patient Portal telling him what happened and that I really need his help. He’d answered my message from the night before asking if one of the doctors from Piedmont would refer me to Vanderbilt or put down the official diagnosis. I explained to him that they were hospitalists only and that they probably would not since I’d been out of their hospital 3 months already. I’m trying like hell not to end up back at an ER.
I never heard back from Dr. W. a week ago after the message I sent through her receptionist. I plan to call her back but have an MRI today on my TMJ at 8:00 AM. Will get on that as soon as I get home. Just want to get this appointment out of the way and then stay in bed until we can get treatment on board.
I fear after how I was abused and charted on at Emory that any ER in the city most likely would treat me badly, not treat me at all, and it would be a wasted trip anyway. All ERs are hooked up electronically and the first records they look at are your last ER visit. That would not be good. I wonder how long Emory will let this go on and how severe it will get.
My GP never lined up a hospitalist to work with for direct admission in such an event and it’s getting dangerously close to my needing hospitalization once again. I need to call his supervisor back and get her to find out why and tell her about these episodes becoming more frequent now. I need to let her know how important this is and that I cannot safely go to an ER and that to do so would surely put me at further risk. Things are getting really crucial now. Someone has to do something, and soon!