The other day, right after I finished bitching about my “super bug” here, I found out that my girl friend, her husband, and her youngest daughter all have the same thing—killing my theory that this was just my immune system being an asshole. My girl friend said she and her husband were convinced it’s the flu, which made me stop and think. I’d said several times to Mike that this felt like the flu. Could it really be, even though I’d gotten my flu shot?
For hahas, I looked up flu symptoms and yup, it’s the flu—to a T. I had to come out of denial and surrender to the enemy. It was way too late for Tamiflu, so I’ve had to just ride it out: DayQuil severe, Gatorade, ginger ale, and rest. I didn’t bother with seeing a doctor, because there’s nothing they can do for me.
12 days in, I’m still exhausted. Today I have a bit more energy, so I’ve mostly been reading Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran on my iPad and doing some administrative things with my books (categories, keywords, etc)—when I have a bit of energy. The tiniest things wipe me out, which sucks. I’ve said “This sucks!” more times in the past two weeks than I have the entire time I was a surly teenager.
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I’d planned a blog hop, which pretty much got blown because almost 50% of us have the damn flu. I’d also planned on finishing beta reading for my CP, which I’ve been doing in tiny bursts. And I’d planned on re-outlining SOF4 this week, but my brain is mush, I tell you.
I’m not good at resting. I’ve always been a go-getter, so one of the things I’ve struggled with the most since getting sick in 2007 is just resting. I’m stubborn and impatient, so sitting still is not my forte. I’m absolutely sick to death of Netflix right now, so reading marketing books is a compromise. And even then, I can only do it in bursts because brain fog.
Just writing this blog post will cost me—which feels pathetic to me and not many people understand how this can be. But that’s the thing about autoimmune diseases and chronic illness in general; the invisible illness takes such a toll on your system, it’s exhausting. Throw in an illness like the flu, and you’re microwaved zombie.
You’d think, after almost 10 years, I’d be used to this by now, but no. I still hate it, I still get frustrated with myself, and I still stubbornly try to push my body. But the harder I push myself, the more I pay for it after.
The good news is, the flu won’t last forever, and the Prednisone/Plaquenil cocktail I’m on now should help with the pain and fatigue. Granted, it’ll be about six months before I notice any real difference. In the meantime, I need to practice patience with myself—which has been a theme in my life.
I’m getting there.
Need to get in the holiday spirit? I’ve got goodies for you!
When you’re autoimmune, you’re also immunocompromised—meaning that because your immune system is confused and attacking healthy cells, it gets ultra confused when you get sick. Sicker, in my case.
When the average person gets a cold, you might be out of commission for a day or two, depending on the cold. Usually within a week you’re back on your feet, though. When I get a cold, it also sends me into a flare: my joints start hurting (or hurt even worse than they already were); the stiffness really sets in; my fatigue knocks me on my ass twice as hard. It often lingers for weeks; I might as well have the flu.
It’s fun times.
Usually I can power through, but this past week I’m getting my ass handed to me by some super bug.
It’s supposed to start off as a scratchy throat, morph into a bit of a throat cold, kick you with some fatigue and brain fog, and then finish you off with some diarrhea—all with a fever. Everyone else had this thing for a day, a day and a half tops. Me? I’m on nine days and counting.
ED: So I checked in with my girl friend; she, her husband, and her daughter all have the same symptoms. We’re pretty sure we all have the flu. I’ll cut a bitch if I miss Xmas dinner.
It won’t go away.
Yesterday I started to feel a tiny bit better; the fatigue lifted to my “normal” chronic illness fatigue level. That I could handle. But then, as if I was in a game of Mortal Kombat, the bug screamed out “FINISH HER!” and pummeled me with diarrhea—all freakin’ day.
I hoped that today I’d start feeling better, but now I’m back to no energy.
Just when Prednisone was starting to help with my joint pain. *sighs forever*
I mostly missed out on Thanksgiving because of my UCTD flareup; if I miss Christmas dinner because of this rando’ sickness, I’m gonna choke someone.
I also have cabin fever—bad. Like, I’m totally stir crazy, in a totally insane way. Last night I was singing to the tune of “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Just a hungry girl
Living in a hungry world
What? Prednisone makes me ultra hungry (though yesterday I only had four meals instead of my usual five).
I’m not even exaggerating here. I’m officially a Hobbit.
The worst part about this autoimmune disease isn’t the joint pain. Most people my age without children are out living it up: drinks at bars with friends, casinos to celebrate birthdays, rock concerts just for the fun of it, hiking in the fall. All of these things I can’t really do anymore. Very rarely is it that I have the energy or feel physically well enough to participate in, well, life.
This weekend is a perfect illustration.
Right now, I’m in a flareup; even though I’m on medication, it doesn’t completely get rid of the fatigue and joint pain. It also doesn’t help that I’ve got a cold on top of the flareup. (Yup—the one-day sickness that everyone else had has morphed into a full-fledged cold for me.) I’m exhausted. Plus, between painsomnia and now being sick, I haven’t had a good night of sleep in a few weeks. Still, on Friday I pushed myself to go to my family’s annual girls’ cookie baking date.
By the time we finished, though, I was exhausted. The cold had moved south; it felt like I had a frog in my throat and an elephant sitting on my chest. I was supposed to go to a surprise birthday party for a family friend that evening. The problem was, I knew if I pushed my body and went, I’d definitely be useless all day Saturday.
And Saturday—today—is the second launch party for Phat Lip, the art magazine that my husband is a partner in.
I missed the first launch party because, you guessed it, I was flaring and didn’t feel well enough to go. I never feel well enough anymore. I know Mike doesn’t resent me for it, but I can tell it bums him out that I barely attend his events. It bums me out.
Before the launch party tonight, we’re supposed to go to my parents’ for a homemade pizza night. And with the way I’m feeling right now, I doubt that I’ll make it to either gathering. The cycle will start anew.
Mike will go out without me, and I’ll stay at home lonely and missing out.
I always have to choose: between sick or sicker; between washing my hair or cleaning my toilet; between getting much-needed rest or getting work done; between participating in life or maintaining the tiny bit of health that I have. The best metaphor I’ve ever heard for this is Christine Miserandino’s spoon theory.
So many people don’t get it. Those that used to text me to make plans stopped trying. I’m flaky, cancel-at-the-last-minute girl. Others rib me for never seeing me. I’ve even been guilt-tripped several times. Thankfully, there are two people in my everyday life who truly do get it, and that’s only because they too have chronic illnesses.
The holidays for me are the hardest, because I just can’t do the house hopping thing. I don’t get to connect with much of my family and friends. This time of year is rough in general, because the cold weather, my flaring body, and my compromised immune system keep me holed up. I miss out on everything, and I can’t risk pushing through, because if I do I’ll pay for it for days afterward.
But it seems to me that there’s an even greater price, one that I can’t seem to recoup.
That—the missing out—is the worst part of being chronically ill.
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It’s been two weeks since I started Plaquenil, the DMARD that will hopefully get my undifferentiated connective tissue disease under control. (That’s just fancy doctor speak for “undiagnosed autoimmune disease.”) I’ve also been taking Prednisone, a steroid. It’ll take up to six months for me to notice any real difference on Plaquenil, so the improvements I feel are all thanks to Prednisone.
Already my morning stiffness—haha—is down by like 90%. I’m still stiff, but I can move, which is amazing. When my alarm goes off, I don’t have to lay in bed for an hour before my body will cooperate. I now usually just lay flat on my back for a few, because my lower back has been killing me lately—especially when I first wake up. Once I’ve taken my morning dose of Prednisone, though, things start to calm down.
I’ve had minimal side effects with Prednisone. I’ll get a couple hours of hot flashes, but those go away. It doesn’t keep me awake at night, either (though I have plenty of painsomnia to keep me company). Usually, once it kicks in, I’ll change into shorts and a tank top—I kid you not. It’s been like 20°F outside and I’m wearing shorts in my house. (That’s -7°C for my non-American friends. Brr!)
These past couple weeks have been relatively smooth sailing. I even got back into a human schedule; I’ve been trying to be in bed by 10 p.m. and up by 8 a.m. Getting up is easy. I have so much work to do—that I’m excited about—and can actually get out of bed, that I can push aside any fatigue. The sleeping part… not so much.
Once Prednisone wears off for the day, the pain comes rushing back in. Plus I may have pushed it a couple times these past two weeks. Last weekend, I helped with my godson’s birthday party. We had 20 kids. 20! It was insane. I also ran after my littlest godson, who asked if he could go to the car, then the poor kid went the wrong way. He was technically doing right. We just didn’t consider that we all moved the cars around and that he might get confused. So Auntie went tearing after him in a total panic (even though my goddaughter was already almost to him). Talk about an adrenaline rush! Which I promptly paid for.
Still, it’s kind of cool to know I can still run; thinking about having kids always freezes me up, because I’m a little scared I won’t be able to properly care for them. Well, adrenaline is my best friend! If I do have kids, I’ll be just fine.
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I did yoga the other night—the easiest, most gentle three poses I know. Well, I don’t know whether it’s the super cold temperatures or what, but my joints did not like it. My joints have always snapped, crackled, and popped my whole life, but it doesn’t usually hurt. Well, these past few days, it’s been agony every time. And within minutes of my little yoga sesh—which I was so excited about, because I finally felt physically up to doing it—I was deeply regretting it. My hips, knees, and lower back were screaming. And making sounds I’ve never heard! So, suffice it to say, I’ll hold off a bit longer before I get on the mat again.
I’ve also come down with some kind of cold thing. The most annoying part about being autoimmune is that I get every sickness double. Meaning, if I get a cold, it knocks me on my ass. It also usually attacks my joints. It’s like my immune system gets ultra confused and goes completely haywire.
Thankfully, it isn’t too bad. My joints are actually relatively okay. It’s my throat that isn’t having fun. I’m also ultra-fatigued, and kinda wandering around in a cloud. We all got sick after the party, and my poor goddaughter was miserable the other day. At one point she said to me, “I think I took your suggestion and made ramen, but I don’t remember.” Now I understand why; yesterday, I was all kinds of foggy. I was still able to get some work done, though, and today I plan on tackling even more. My couch is my other best friend; I just pull up the recliner, put my MacBook Pro on my lap desk thing, and work in comfort. The recliner keeps the pressure off my lower back, hips, and knees.
Honestly, I’ve been pretty content lately. That’s probably a whole other post, but I just feel very grateful for the way my life is. I’m still going easy on my wrists. Instead of doing any writing, I’ve been working on administrative things (like my annual inventory, which needed to be done anyway). I’ve also been writing for Textbroker, but limiting myself to one article a day for now. (Textbroker is a freelance platform for copywriters; I can look through all of the assignments, choose what I’m interested in, write the article, and get paid within a couple days. The pay isn’t the greatest, but it’s working out perfectly for me and my situation—plus I’m earning extra money without leaving my home.)
Lately I’ve been missing social media, so I don’t think it’ll be long before I’m back. However, I’ve decided that when I do come back, I’ll be limiting myself to about an hour a week. I have to rest my wrists as much as possible, and it’s also been really nice to take a break from all the negative headlines. This is also a whole other post, but I’m an empath and need to practice lots of self-care so that all the bad news of the world doesn’t completely rip my heart to shreds. I accidentally heard about Aleppo and I’ve been intermittently sobbing ever since.
All in all, though, I’m very optimistic that Plaquenil and Prednisone are going to help me. Unfortunately I can’t stay on the Prednisone for long. I see my rheumatologist next week, so I’m sure we’ll discuss that then. From experience, I know that within a couple days of stopping it, the flareup is going to come raging back. But I have faith that Dr. S will take care of me. I’m in good hands—especially after advocating for myself.
My goal for my rheumatology appointment this morning was to walk out with some kind of progress. Any progress. I just wanted to move toward getting my life back. That’s all I’ve wanted for the past decade.
On Thanksgiving, a week before my followup appointment with my rheumatologist, I’m so miserable I consider going to the ER instead of family dinner. Every joint in my body is stiff and agonizingly sore. The pain keeps me awake at night. I’m so stiff, my husband has to help me get dressed. I’m 28 years old and I was raised by strong women; I’m used to doing everything myself. I feel powerless. Mike feels useless. We go to Thanksgiving dinner under a blanket of defeat.
My sister-in-law is having her own health troubles. I want to help her and be there for her, but I’m nearly incapacitated. My mother-in-law takes her to the ER, and I stay behind with the guys to finish and eat dinner. While I’m taking my plate to the sink, my left ankle goes out.
It’s so sore, I can’t bear weight on it. I swallow back tears; surrounded by a bunch of tough guys, I don’t want to cry like a little girl. A well-meaning family member gives me a Percocet to get me through the rest of the day. It helps, but it’s strong; by the time I get to my grandmother’s, I’m in a haze and I hate it. My body doesn’t have to fight off pain anymore, so I can finally rest, but I struggle to stay awake during dinner.
My aunt brings me home early, and the second I get home, I start vomiting. I’m not used to medicine like Percocet. It’s too strong. I throw up for hours, on my aching hands and knees on the bathroom floor in front of the toilet. The pain comes roaring back, and I have to limp-run to the bathroom every half hour. By some miracle I make it to the toilet every time.
By the time Mike gets home from work, I’m dehydrated and exhausted. I probably should go to the ER, but I’m disoriented. Mike brings me ginger ale and I struggle to keep it down. I curl into a ball in bed and hope the morning brings relief.
I stop vomiting, but the pain and stiffness keep me in a haze of hopelessness.
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It’s two nights before my rheumatology appointment, and I can’t sleep. My body is exhausted by pain, fatigue, and stress, but my mind is wired with anxiety. I’m worried that once again my appointment will end in disappointment, that I’ll once more feel brushed off, that I’ll still feel like I’m just spinning my wheels.
I try everything I can think of to fall asleep.
Cleaning, to work off that anxious energy. I do dishes, soak kitchen towels in bleach in a bucket, and fill my sink to soak cutting boards in bleach. I consider sweeping and mopping, but my body isn’t up to it. I’m tired all the way down to my bones. Even with pain medicine, my joint pain is agonizing.
In bed, I play Bejeweled on my iPhone to quiet my mind, and watch ASMR videos to help me drift off, but it’s useless.
I toss and turn all night, unable to get my body comfortable, unable to shut off my worries.
One day before my appointment, I wake up anxious. I want to tackle my To Do list; I have a lot of work to do but it will also help me get my mind off my pain and anxiety. Everything that can go wrong does. I spend hours trying to fix my antivirus; its firewall is blocking my internet. All I want to do is work off my anxiety, which grows by the second because I can’t fix my computer and I’m falling even more behind on my To Do list.
By the time I solve the issue, my fingers and wrists are so stiff and sore, I barely get any writing or any other work done. Instead of cooking the chicken parmesan dinner I’d planned, I make ramen and binge Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix. I need a hero.
After dinner, I spend hours writing up a seven-page document for my rheumatologist. I define my goals, outline my medical history (completely healthy before this illness set in), list my symptoms and trouble joints, describe treatments I’ve tried, tally activities that are affected by my chronic arthralgia, stiffness, and fatigue, catalog various labs that have popped up over the past nine years. My hope is that, by laying all this out for my rheumatologist, he can piece together whatever it is that’s wrong. Going through the document makes me realize how very bad this disease actually is.
Before I got sick, I played on a city softball team. I was the catcher. I had to stop playing because I couldn’t move fast enough to make bases or catch balls.
Before I got sick, I worked multiple jobs and at one point even had my own web design business. I had to leave the workforce because, sitting or standing, my body couldn’t handle the demands.
After I got sick, I went back to school to become an elementary school teacher. I was seeing my first rheumatologist, Dr. Greco, and the medication I was on had nasty side effects. The pain and fatigue pulled me further and further behind on my studies; both my grades and GPA plummeted. My fellow students either ignored or made fun of me. A girl who I thought was my friend ditched me on our way to an exam, and started treating me badly. The stress of being sick and trying to get through school was too much on my body. I withdrew and never went back.
Those are only three of the things I’ve lost.
I print out two copies of the document—one for me and one for Dr. S—and prepare to go into battle the next morning. Once again, I’m fighting to get my life back. I’m fighting to advocate for myself, to be heard. To not be erased.
Right as I’m about to lie down, my hypoglycemia flares and my blood sugar plummets. Tramadol wears off and the pain comes roaring back up to a 9/10. I make more ramen. Midnight comes and passes. I lie down again and calm myself with ASMR videos and one of the same threes audiobooks I listen to every night. Eventually, I fall asleep, but the pain wakes me intermittently. I can’t get comfortable.
My mind starts to run through scenarios: what I’ll say to Dr. S, the kinds of questions I want to ask, the what-ifs. Usually I just sit with my anxiety, let the feelings in, and examine them. But I have to get to sleep so I can be fresh and on my game in the morning. I slam down steel shutters, bottling up my worries. But they leak in anyway.
Between the pain and anxiety, I barely rest.
The morning of my appointment, I wake up over two hours before I’m supposed to be there. The plan is to have enough time to sit and let my joints un-stiffen. Of course, nothing goes according to plan.
My alarm goes off but I’m foggy and my bones scream for more sleep. I set it for another half hour and drift off immediately. It seems like only minutes later my alarm goes off again.
I have to get up, or I won’t have enough time.
Even though I’m too nervous to eat, I make oatmeal and coffee. I eat half my bowl and drink a third of my coffee. My mouth is so dry. I take my morning medication—vitamin D and one of my two daily Tramadol—and slowly dress, do my makeup and hair, and gather my papers and planner. Mike is off from work, so he drives me. A few days before, I asked him to come into the exam room with me and fight for me, to back me up on everything I’m saying—to explain how he has to help me do simple things like get dressed, to parrot what I tell the rheumatologist. It’s a proven fact that doctors take men more seriously. Mike is skeptical, but agrees to help me advocate for myself.
I leave our apartment armed with my seven-page document and husband. The only weapon I’ve ever had are my words. On the drive over, I mentally repeat affirmations: I am strong, I will accomplish my goal of progress, I am beautiful, I can do this. I lift my chin while fending off doubts.
I’m still worried that my rheumatologist will brush me off again.
In the exam room, he gets right down to business. He remembers our phone conversation where I all but begged him to help me, to listen to me, to sleuth this out with me. He starts off by reviewing my last labs and our phone conversation about trying Plaquenil. I’d intended to start off by asking him if we could go over the last decade, but didn’t want to interrupt him. He sees my papers, though, and asks if I have something for him. I pass over his copy.
I explain that I thought it might be helpful if we reviewed everything. He seems surprised and impressed. So we do. He asks questions. I give him answers, referring to my document when the fatigue and brain fog set in and I can’t remember. We talk about how I have flareups and remissions, about how the stiffness and intense pain lasts hours in the morning and then I have a small window midday when it calms down, how I’ve taken Prednisone in the past and it helped kick my flareup both times.
Dr. S says he definitely doesn’t think this is Fibromyalgia, because of the stiffness. But he also explains that usually with Lupus, there are other markers. I only have the anti-dsDNA, so it’s difficult to diagnose. But there’s definitely something autoimmune going on. I tell him about how Dr. Greco, my first rheumatologist, explained to me that I’m on the very bottom of the bell curve; something is definitely brewing, but I’m right on the edge and it’s hard to tell what just yet. Dr. S says that’s exactly what he thinks, and that he wants to monitor how this progresses.
But he also doesn’t want me to be in so much pain, and to be unable to perform daily activities. I tell him that’s all I’ve wanted for the last nine years—to get some of my life back.
He decides to start me on Plaquenil, cautioning me that it could take up to six months for me to notice any difference. We both have to be patient, he says. He suggests I keep a diary: rate the pain, list activities I’m having a hard time doing, etc. That way we can track how well Plaquenil is working. I now take 200mg of Plaquenil, twice a day—400mg in total. On this, I can expect very low side effects; he said maybe one day of diarrhea. It’s nothing like Sulfasalazine—no headaches or metallic taste, and no liver and kidney damage.
He’s also got me on Prednisone for a few weeks, to help kick the flareup while Plaquenil starts working, since we know it’s worked in the past. I’m taking 10mg of Prednisone every morning. It’s a low dose, so I can expect less intense side effects. In the past it’s made me dizzy and sweaty, and made my heart race and kept me up all night. I’m to take it first thing in the morning, to lower the chance of it keeping me awake.
I thank him profusely. Along with this new DMARD, he’s given me hope.
Mike and I go to our favorite sushi restaurant to celebrate. They have a lunch special and I owe him money for the printer ink he bought me the other day. We reconnect over sushi and when I get my fortune, I’m delighted.
“You have had a good start,” it says. “Work harder!” This is heartening.
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We head over to the pharmacy next. I go in without my wallet, because I’m only there to pick up my prescriptions and my insurance completely covers them, but when I walk in, there’s a display full of live Christmas cactuses. Their pink blooms are beautiful, and they remind me of my Biz Noni—who always had one. I can’t walk out of there without one. They’re only $3.99, but with my savings card I end up saving a dollar.
I walk out with all kinds of new hope in my hands, hands that can’t hold much these days but are so open to catch whatever tools life wants to give me to fight. Like I told my rheumatologist, I’ll do just about anything to feel better. I just need someone to give me a chance.
In the car, on the way home, I take my first dose.
Prednisone still tastes awful going down. I’d forgotten how bad it tastes. But the Plaquenil has no taste and, unlike the SSZ, it doesn’t leave a film on my hands.
It tastes like hope.
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TL;DR:My primary doctor’s office doesn’t know what to do with me. Basically none of my doctors do.
Today I went to see my primary for a followup. In October I was told that I now have to come in every time I need a refill for my Tramadol (opioid painkiller that I’ve been taking for my joint pain for about five years). I also got a bit of a lecture on opioid addiction, which I know they have to do but, yeah. This after I had to jump through hoops to get the refill in the first place.
I see Dr. S (my rheumatologist) on December 1st, but in the meantime really wanted my flareup and swollen thumbs on record. (My PCP and rheum are both in the same medical group, so they use the same patient portal.) My appointment was with the APRN at my primary doctor’s office. I went in with a two-page list of concerns, plus pictures of where I have joint pain in my chest. (Fun fact: There are joints everywhere. Everywhere.)
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To be fair, the APRN was nice and she listened. But… she admitted she doesn’t want to mess with me because “there’s so much going on.”
I showed her my thumbs and we discussed my other trouble joints. I also asked her about Tramadol. A friend with a slipped disc is in pain management and her specialist explained that Tramadol doesn’t work for pain unless you stay on top of it. Meaning, if you take a dose at the end of the day when the pain is already high, like I do, it ain’t gonna touch it. I’ve long suspected this, so it was nice to actually “hear” a doctor confirm it. I asked my APRN if there was any way I could split up my 100mg dose throughout the day. She instead urged me to go to pain management.
I have… doubts about pain management. For one, I’ve heard a lot of horror stories. And… I don’t want anything stronger than Tramadol pushed on me. I’ve tried Percocet and other things and, yeah, they worked really well for the pain, but they knocked me out or made me super loopy. Either way, I couldn’t function. I like functioning. I have writing to do.
Another concern I have is that very few pain management clinics in the state take my (state) insurance. My friend has the same insurance and had a lot of trouble finding a place. She ended up with a clinic an hour away. I can’t swing that because Mike works full-time and we only have the one car. Family members have offered me rides to appointments but honestly I feel bad about asking them to take me that far, especially when pain management wants patients to come in often.
Maybe this sounds like excuses.
Anyway, I expressed all my concerns to my APRN and she said there was one in Southbury. Alas, they don’t take my insurance—but she did find one closer to me than an hour away. Just not as close as Southbury. 😂
Honestly, at this point, I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice. My rheumatologist has suggested pain management before (after grilling me about my Tramadol prescription), and last time I saw the APRN she wasn’t too crazy about me and Tramadol, either. It seems like more and more doctors just don’t want to mess with painkillers. Which is a shame, because when used correctly, they’re extremely beneficial to chronic pain patients. Plus Tramadol is honestly the baby aspirin of the painkiller family. No one is going to pursue it to get high. But I digress.
So, I’m going to pain management. Hold me.
To be fair, my friend had the same fears at first, but she really likes her clinic now. They’ve got her Tramadol dose to a point where it’s helping, and she’ll be having surgery for her neck soon. She’s very happy with the care she’s getting, so hopefully this will be a blessing in disguise.
I also talked to my APRN about my GI symptoms. They’re… pesky. And embarrassing, so I’ve never mentioned them here before. Nor have I discussed them in-depth with my doctors. But I bit the bullet and flat out told her. She said it sounds like IBS, which I’ve been wondering. The kicker is, when I asked what we can do about it, she said she doesn’t want to mess with my body because “there’s so much going on.” And laughed.
I was not amused.
Honestly, I just feel like I’m always being passed on. No one wants to help me. They’re either too busy or don’t have the expertise, so they hand me off. And nothing ever gets taken care of.
This has been going on for almost 10 years.
I had to fight for a cortisone injection in my toe. I eventually got it, but I had to jump through hoops. Cortisone injections are standard procedure for patients with arthritis. My grandmother gets them all the time. I’m pretty sure my dad got a couple in his problem hand (he has tendon issues). But when I walk in, it’s always “You’re too young for all these problems.” Like it’s somehow my fault, or like I’m making it up.
I eventually got the shot, and you know what? It worked like a charm. It wore off, and when I mentioned so to my APRN last time and said I need another one, she said I’m too young and laughed. Like this is all one big cute joke.
Why, today, I couldn’t start Prednisone to fight the inflammation, or at least get cortisone shots in my thumbs, is beyond me. I was flat out told they would only treat my IBS when it’s flaring—even though I said I have symptoms all the time—because they don’t know what to do with me.
Those of you who have been with me for the past 10 years know I’ve been fighting a pesky autoimmune disease that is maybe Lupus. One of my main symptoms is debilitating joint pain, which I combat with a wide toolbox. My greatest ally has been the painkiller Tramadol, which knocks 10/10 pain down to a more bearable 7 or 8. The only downside to taking an opioid like Tramadol is that it can mess with your GI system.
One of my other main concerns about my autoimmune disease is my immune system itself. Since my immune system is confused and attacking my body, it gets even more confused when I come down with something like the common cold. Most people don’t even miss work when they’re sick, but I get knocked on my ass for several days and it almost always leads to a flareup of my autoimmune disease. This means lots of joint pain on top of an already annoying cold, so I try really hard not to get sick in the first place.
I’ve wanted to try a probiotic for a while now, but honestly the ones I’ve seen in stores are expensive. We’re talking like $15 to $20, which is way out of budget when you’re already struggling. I’d basically given up on trying one, until Schwartz Bioresearch contacted me and asked if I’d like to review one of their supplements and host a giveaway. Um, yes please!
Lucky for me, they offer a probiotic. They sent me a free bottle in exchange for my honest review. I don’t get paid for this review, but I do have some goodies for you!
The package itself came fast. Maybe it was expedited since I’m a reviewer, but it arrived three business days after I agreed to participate. I also really liked the packaging itself. The box was super easy to open; I didn’t have to fight with any glue like you do with most things on the market these days. My hands and wrists really appreciated that. However, the plastic around the cap was a pain to get open. It wasn’t perforated like most OTC medicine bottles are, and I don’t have the strength to rip it myself. So I gave up and used scissors. Still, no big deal! The peel-off protective thingy underneath the cap came off super easily.
Speaking of packaging, they were also kind enough to print a coupon for my next order right on the bottle. I thought that was really cool because I’m a busy author and I can easily lose a paper coupon in my various piles of papers, but there’s no way I can lose a whole bottle.
Being a spoonie, I take a lot of pills. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate taking pills. Any time I have to add another one to my pillbox, part of me dies inside. But these capsules go down easy with just a sip of water, and they play nice with my other medication. (Have you ever had a lump of meds get stuck in your throat? It’s not a fun thing.)
From what I understand, it can take a few weeks to get the full effect of probiotics. I take mine twice a day, as recommended on the bottle, and I’ve been taking them for over two weeks now. When I first started them—and sorry if this is TMI—I was not at all regular, thanks to my Tramadol. I try to eat a balanced diet with lots of fiber, but that’s not always enough. I really do think the probiotic supplement has made a difference; I’m still not as regular as I’d like to be, but I no longer have awful stomach pains, and I now “go” much more frequently than before. I consider that a win.
I also think they had something to do with keeping me germ-free while Mike died for weeks with a super cold. The poor guy never gets sick, but this thing knocked him on his ass. He missed like five days of work, which if you know him is unbelievable. And it was a mean cold, complete with stomach bug -esque symptoms and bronchitis. I never got sick, though. Now, I’m sure that washing our hands and not kissing had a lot to do with with that, but I also sleep next to the guy and I have a crap immune system. I once got the flu twice in a row, and I’m autoimmune. He’s finally feeling better, and I never caught it. Another win!
The bottle I received is a month’s supply, so I’ll know even better when the month is over whether it’s made a difference for me. The retail price is $18.90*, so it’s comparable to similar products in stores. Plus there’s that coupon. 😉
Even better, Schwartz Bioresearch offered a $100 Amazon gift card giveaway to my readers! Who can’t use a $100 Amazon gift card? I know I can think of a few things I’d like! All you have to do is enter your email address below (they’ll also send you a free smoothie recipe book).
So there you have it—my first time using a probiotic. I think I’ve finally got the “guts” to fight like the spoonie warrior I am!
Save 10% off on all Schwartz Bioresearch products! Use code 10SAVE17 on their website, http://schwartzbioresearch.com. My contact has assured me this code will not expire and can be used again and again, so start shopping now!
Have you ever tried a probiotic? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Schwartz Bioresearch. I received a free bottle of their probiotic supplement in exchange for my honest review. My opinion is my own.
ED, 11/21/2016: My original post linked to the wrong product; the product I received to review was the 40 Billion CFU probiotic, not the 20 Billion. I’ve updated the link and retail price. Also, Schwarzt Bioresearch’s social media manager read my post and very kindly sent me their turmeric and curcumin blend for my joint pain! I’ll be reviewing that product soon.
I never followed up on my last health update (the one where I found out I was once again looking at a Lupus diagnosis). Since that post, I’ve gone into a full-throttle, super nasty flareup.
My pain has been steadily at 10/10 (8/10 at the lowest, with medication). I thought I had it under control after breaking up my Tramadol dose. Usually I take 100mg at bedtime, but I started taking 50mg in the morning and another 50mg at lunch instead, using my herbal medicine before bed to get me through the night. I got the idea to split my Tramadol from a friend, whose pain management doctor told her that Tramadol isn’t great for treating pain; you have to take it ahead of the pain—which I’ve long suspected. The downside to all of this Tramadol? TMI alert: I’ve been a little constipated, which I’m pretty sure is making my back pain worse.
Joint pain is symmetric, meaning both sides hurt. So both of my thumbs are painful and stiff, both knees, both elbows, etc. Oddly, my right side hurts more than the left in some cases; my right big toe, right hip, and right thumb have consistently been more swollen and painful than the left side. I suspect these joints all have bone spurs (Dr. Memet said she thought my toe did [both in the toe joint itself and the other nearby joints]—, my hip x-rays showed bone spurs, and my thumb feels exactly the same as the other joints do).
The pain is a hot ache and it radiates. But it also feels… bruised? There’s almost a throbbing, too; I can feel my joints swelling. It’s really hard to explain. Regardless, it feels fucking horrible.
My lower back is equally painful on each side, and very stiff. This morning Mike had to help me get dressed and put my slippers on. He had to help me sit and stand up multiple times. And every time I need to get something from one of our cabinets, he’s had to do it for me (our cabinets are underneath our counter—no overhead ones).
The pain wakes me up at night, multiple times. There have been a few nights where I couldn’t get comfortable and so didn’t sleep at all.
On top of the pain, I’m drained—no matter how much sleep I get. I’m not usually a napper, but I’ve been caving and taking naps. I’ve also been chugging Emergen-C like it’s my job. Neither that or coffee really help, though, so I’ve mostly been drinking plain water.
The only place I’m truly comfortable is on the couch. It curves nicely against my back and reclines, so I can get the pressure off my hips and knees too.
I need my cane while out and about—if I’m even up to leaving. I stayed home instead of going to a wedding reception this weekend. Today I basically haven’t moved from the couch, because walking and standing are sucky.
Since my last post, I found out that my anti-dsDNA was positive and pretty freakin’ high. A positive anti-dsDNA means:
there’s definitely something autoimmune going on
there’s a pretty good chance it’s Lupus
the immune system is attacking the DNA
the person is currently or about to be in a flareup
the higher the levels, the worse the flareup
My rheumatologist’s lab measures anything over a 10 as positive; my anti-dsDNA measured a 24. That’s more than double the normal level.
My rheumatologist said he doesn’t want to diagnose without a positive ANA, but I’ve found several medical journal articles that said doctors don’t need more than a positive anti-dsDNA to diagnose Lupus—especially with presenting symptoms. My rheumatologist said he was calling in Plaquenil, though—or so I thought. When I went to pick it up at my pharmacy, it wasn’t in. I checked the pharmacy several times, and they even checked other locations. No dice.
Honestly I’ve been so exhausted, not to mention tired of the medical merry-go-round, I haven’t called my rheumatologist’s office yet to see what happened with the ‘script. I was on the phone multiple times with them before and after my blood work came back, trying to resolve my bad appointment. I’m just sick of having to do all of this.
I have, however, been reading up on the anti-dsDNA, Lupus, and some other things.
What Arthritis Pain Feels Like—It’s possible that I have both OA and RA (or Lupus). Dr. M told me I have bone spurs in multiple joints. However, some articles indicate that bone spurs can be caused by RA/autoimmune. It really depends on the author, as rheumatologists all have different opinions. Either way, this article describes my pain to a T.
New Findings with Eppstein Barr Virus—I know one thing for sure: this all started after I had mono, which is caused by EBV. I thought this article was interesting, because even though it didn’t mention Lupus, it did mention some findings. For example, researchers believe that a healthy zinc level may keep chronic active EBV disease at bay. I’m wondering if my EBV is slowly evolving into Lupus. If so, could taking some of these supplements help keep flareups away? Or maybe it’s CAEBV? Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? Rheumatoid Arthritis? Lupus? Some combination of multiple or all of these? Can someone please get me some answers before I lose my mind? 😜
Anti-DsDNA is more specific to lupus than ANA and can be very valuable in making a diagnosis of lupus. […] If the anti-DsDNA levels are high, the disease is more likely to be active. There is either a current flare or a flare may be imminent.
I’ve long been complaining about Connecticut healthcare. Recently I found another spoonie living in CT who, after years of getting nowhere, went to see a rheumatologist in Boston. Within a single office visit, he diagnosed her and began treatment. I’m starting to think it’s time to get an out-of-state opinion.
She also has a post all about filing for disability, which really gave me hope because I thought after being rejected that there was no way I could get it. I know many people get rejected the first time and have to try again, try again, but I thought since I lost my diagnosis, I definitely didn’t have a chance. But it seems like, as long as you can prove your illness is affecting your ability to work—which it is—you can get disability.
I know I should’ve called both my primary and rheumatologist days ago, because even if they don’t feel like doing anything about it, at least this will be documented. It’s nearly time for a followup visit with my rheumatologist anyway, and I’m scheduled for a followup with my primary for November 17th. (Long story short: My primary wants me to come in every month in order to have my Tramadol refilled.) And my rheumatologist wanted to check my levels again in another month.
I’m out of ink (and can’t afford more right now, sigh); I’d really like to print off these articles as well as a list—my current symptoms, things I’ve tried, goals that I have, etc—and bring them in with me. I’ve started looking for rheumatologists in Boston who take my insurance (spoiler: there aren’t many), and I’m considering picking one and calling to make an appointment. But it’s a three-hour drive there, and we’re barely scraping by—never mind able to afford a trip to Massachusetts and back. I’m really starting to think it’s worth the risk, though.
I also need to get my medical records from Dr. Mongelluzzo (my former primary) and Dr. Greco (my first rheumatologist who retired, which was why I started seeing Dr. M); those records have blood work showing positive anti-dsDNA (and I’m pretty sure a positive ANA, too). I’d like copies for myself, rather than transferring them over. For one, it’s just good to have them. And two, I don’t trust Dr. S to actually read through them (nor do I trust Mongelluzzo’s office to actually fax them over, as I’ve had so many issues with them in the past; they’re very nice but extremely busy). I’d like to make copies of my copies for Dr. S, and highlight things that fit into the puzzle. Basically, I have to be my own detective and advocate.
The problem is, I need to get into Waterbury and sign a release form for each of them (the offices are across the city from each other). This is also a gas money issue. And, I have to pay for copies of my medical records from Dr. Mongelluzzo (I’m not sure about Greco’s office). A friend got copies of hers, and it was something like $2 a page—so I know my records are going to be hefty, since I was there for several years.
So maybe now you can see why I’m so doctor-fatigued. 😂
It’s all got to be done, though, if I’m ever going to get anywhere. I’d really like to start moving forward, because I’ve been in limbo for the past nine years. I mean, I dropped out of the university I was attending for my B.S. in Elementary Education because I was so sick. And I never went back. I’m still paying off those student loans. Even though I really love being an author, it’s not enough. We’re drowning here; I’m frustrated because I can’t work, and Mike is frustrated because his job doesn’t pay enough and he can’t seem to find anything else. It’s kind of funny because we both really want to take care of each other.
He insists that he can handle everything if he finds something better; I insist that, if only I could get better, I could work too and he wouldn’t have to stress it.
I keep hoping that if I work hard enough, write better books, and write enough books, we won’t even have to worry about it anymore. But the reality is, even if I became the best author in the world with the most published books ever, it’s not always possible to make a living. I mean, maybe I’m being cynical and negative, but someone has to be on the low end of the spectrum. Not everyone can be a NYT/USAT bestselling author or even mid-list.
It’s November, which means two things: the election is coming up (eep), and the holidays are, too. While I can’t help you decide who to vote for, I can totally help you with your holiday shopping.
Schwartz Bioresearch recently reached out to me and offered to send me one of their products and open up their $100 Amazon gift card giveaway to my readers! I’ll be reviewing their probiotic in a couple weeks, but in the meantime, all you have to do to enter the giveaway is click here.
It’s been nine years since everything changed. I went from mostly healthy to being unable to get out of bed during the worst of flares. It all started with a numb arm, then joint pain and fatigue. I got passed from doctor to doctor—none of whom could figure it out. At best, they’d scratch their heads. At worst, they suggested my problem was psychiatric.
This whole thing has been enough to drive me insane, and today nearly pushed me over the edge.
Last fall, I was diagnosed with Reactive Arthritis by my rheumatologist, Dr. M. She said it could still be Rheumatoid Arthritis, but since I’m seronegative and my arthritis seemed to be enthesitis-related, she decided to treat it as ReA. She started me on Sulfasalazine and for the first time in nearly a decade, I started to feel hopeful.
That’s all been ripped away.
Over the summer, I found out Dr. M was leaving the practice. I saw my new rheumatologist, Dr. S, in September, and the appointment did not go well. I still really want to stress that he was very nice. He just didn’t listen. I called the office to complain and after a bit of pushing, was able to switch to another rheumatologist—as long as Dr. S okayed it. In the meantime, I was supposed to get my blood work done.
I finally did last Thursday. It took me a while, because as usual, my life was blowing up. I was dealing with pain and fatigue, financial stress, and my Biz Noni passed away. But I went, even though I didn’t have any expectations. “Everything came back normal” is a string of four words that I’ve come to loathe. However, Dr. S called me back personally yesterday evening. I missed the call, so he left a voicemail asking me to call back as soon as possible.
I knew right away that something had shown up.
I got the voicemail after office hours, so I called first thing this morning. And Dr. S told me that one of the antibodies for Lupus came back positive.
I’ve done this dance before. Anyone who’s been with me since my blog was called Perpetual Smile knows that my previous primary care physician was convinced I have Lupus. But because my blood work is always borderline, that diagnosis was dropped after seeing a rheumatologist. I was with Dr. G for years until he retired, and he always told me that my blood work is at the bell curve—that something is brewing. But “something” isn’t helpful, and if it’s only brewing, I sure as fuck don’t want to know what full blown feels like. Dr. G didn’t want to diagnose me with or treat me for anything until we had something definitive—which could take years. In the meantime, I was miserable.
This whole thing has been maddening.
So here I am again: maybe Lupus. No diagnosis. I can’t work a normal job because my illness makes me flaky, but I don’t qualify for disability because I don’t have a diagnosis. (And even then, when I did have one, I got denied.) Because Dr. S didn’t think I could possibly have arthritis, I was taken off Sulfasalazine. All I have is Tramadol, and it isn’t enough. It tones the pain down to a 8 or 7 out of 10, but often it barely makes a difference. And I can’t function on stronger painkillers.
I’m back to square one. The entire past nine years of labs and doctor’s appointments are meaningless. And while part of me is kind of all “See, I told you so”—since Dr. S kind of dismissed me—the rest of me is seesawing between shock and… I guess denial would be the best word.
I don’t want this.
But I do have to admit, ReA never really fit. SSZ helped at first but then I felt worse. And ReA is not triggered by mono, whereas Lupus is. Lupus explains the weird labs, the painless sores in my mouth, the joint pain, the fatigue…
Honestly, though, I don’t know if I can go through all of this again, only to be told “Nope, sorry—we still don’t know what’s wrong.” I don’t know if I can do another eight years of this. I’ll do it anyway, of course, because I need to feel better and I want to know what’s been completely ruining my quality of life.