Skip to content

When It’s All Too Much

Saturday night my gallbladder was in a bad mood. All it took was a small cup of oats and a tiny bit of chocolate chips to send it into the worst tantrum it has had so far–two hours of screaming at the top of its lungs and three more afterwards yelling and banging doors shut like a teenager. As I was laying in bed–trying and failing to sleep through the waning wrath of Mr. Gallbladder–I thought of something my sister said when I decided to start this blog: “you should write about what you do when it’s all too much.” Why would I think of that during a five hour gallbladder attack? Eh, no reason.

Honestly I do feel a little bit small, writing about when my little life is too much for me on a day we remember and reverence those who gave their lives for family, friends and country. But I’ll persevere in the simple knowledge that life is hard and no matter what our circumstance, we all have moments when it’s all too much.

The last time I had one of these moments was towards the end of February. I was sitting in French class. I was having a hard time hearing because my ears were so stuffed up; my face and head throbbed in time with my heartbeat. I had just finished the second two-week course of antibiotics I had been prescribed for this sinus infection, and my strength slumped at the realization I would need a third. There I sat in the middle of class, when all the sudden I felt I couldn’t take another second as myself. To my horror my eyes started to sting. “Mama prépare un bon dîner.” We chanted as a class. I will not cry I pled to myself. “Ma soeur Lise attend un coup de téléphone.” Not here, not now.

I made it through class. I made it to the car. I could make it no longer. I drove home with dangerously blurred eyes and when I got to my room I had a good cry.

That’s the first thing I do when it’s all too much–I cry. I don’t like crying–it makes me stuffy and gives me a headache–but sometimes there’s nothing for it. Sometimes life punches you in the gut and you just gotta cry about it.

Once my eyes were sufficiently red and swollen that the tears slowed their onslaught, I got on my knees and bowed my head. I thanked my Father in Heaven for everything I could think of; I thanked Him til my heart was as swollen as my eyes–but with gratitude instead of pain; I thanked Him til the storm inside went still.

That’s the second thing I do when it’s all too much–I choose to see all the goods things in my life that I take for granted when I get discouraged. Bit by bit I replace self-pity or self-loathing or whatever darkness I’m feeling with gratitude.

Eventually I rose from my knees. I grabbed a couple pieces of dark chocolate. I went into my sister’s room and we teased my brother’s little beagle, Bruce, by hiding his favorite ball. We laughed as he sniffed intensely at the blanket, completely oblivious to the bright orange ball sitting in plain site on the desk.

Those are the final two steps. If at all possible, eat chocolate. Then go find someone I love and goof around with them. If the world’s-worst-ball-hunter Bruce is around, well that’s a bonus.

 

My Top Ten Tips for Tummy Troubles

Intestinal cramps, gas pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, indigestion, heart burn, bloating… The list of ways your digestive system can cause you discomfort goes on and on and on, and pretty much everybody suffers under an unhappy digestive system at one point or another. As one who has racked up some serious frequent flier miles at the GI’s office over the last few years, I have learned a lot of insider tricks that I wish I would have known from the start–they would have saved me some serious misery. So here’s to hoping I can at least help some of you when the occasional (or not so occasional) digestive woes hit.

  1. Ginger, Ginger, Ginger!
ms-1AoEo2

Not that kind of ginger Ron, don’t worry

A couple of years ago I sustained some serious nerve damage in my digestive track from an infection that left me with “mild” gastroparesis and constant, crushing nausea amongst other things. I found ginger seriously helps with the nausea. Fresh ginger is best–I like to heat up water and put some cut up ginger in it. Let it soak, add a little honey and then sip til your tummy is happy again. Ginger Ale is also good, but make sure you get the kind with real ginger in it. You can also get ginger “candy”–I like Gin Gins Ginger Chews–but those are pretty spicy so I wouldn’t use them when your stomach  is seriously upset. They are awesome for motion sickness though. Really ginger is just all around a life saver when that sick feeling hits your stomach.

2. Peppermint Oil

Guess what else happens when you have nerve damage to your digestive track–cramps! Horrible, wrenching, gut-twisting cramps that leave you gasping in agony. Seriously, some of the worst pain I have ever experienced was from intestinal cramps. Luckily I eventually found peppermint oil, and we are very happy together. Nothing–no prescription or OTC meds–cut the cramps like peppermint oil does. It also helps with relieving gas, nausea and diarrhea. When I start getting that tugging feeling in my intestines I rub 3-5 drops of peppermint oil into my entire stomach area, moving my hand in a clockwise circle. Every essential oil I have ever bought says not to apply it directly to the skin, but to use a carrier like coconut oil–I have never not ignored that and so far I have lived. If you have super sensitive skin though, you might want to heed their warning and try it with a carrier oil first.

3. Probiotics 

This is an especially important one if you ever find yourself needing a course of antibiotics; before I learned about probiotics I would get really bad diarrhea whenever I was on antibiotics (which was almost constantly before I got diagnosed with PI). This is because antibiotics, in addition to killing the bad, infection-causing bacteria, wipe out the   good bacteria in your intestines. Probiotics help replenish these good bacteria so you can digest your food properly. Even outside of antibiotic use, probiotics are helpful for promoting proper digestion and boosting your immune system–70-80% of which is in your gut. I take a probiotic supplement everyday, and if I’m on antibiotics I double or triple my normal dose. Unfortunately probiotics can be pricey, but you don’t need the crazy expensive kind to see benefits–just be wary of super cheap supplements with a low cell count and only one type of organism. I stick with middle of the road supplements like Accuflora and Phillip’s Colon Health. Supplement this with probiotic rich Kefir and/or Kombucha and you’ll be on your way to a happy gut! Kefir probably wins out in functional probiotic content, but Kombucha has the added benefits of digestive enzymes. So I use a mix of both.  (My favorite Kombucha is GT’s btw).

4. Fennel Oil

ms-mufLsy

Fennel oil is great for relieving gas. Apply to the abdomen in the same way as the peppermint oil and fart away! You’ll feel so much better- let it go!

 

 

5. Yoga

Yoga can help digestion in a lot of ways, but I especially use it when I’m constipated, bloated or gassy. Type “yoga for digestion” into the youtube search bar and you’ll have tons of digestive friendly routines to choose from at a variety of difficulty levels. My go-to is Yoga with Adriene–she has several digestive/detox flows that help me every time! There are also some specific positions that can be utilized on their own to provide quick relief–like the figure-four stretch to relieve gas quick.

6. High-Calorie Shake for Gastroparesis and Gaining Weight

For my gastroparesis buddies or people who need to gain weight here’s my top-secret (not really) shake recipe that I survived on for eight months when my stomach couldn’t handle solid food:

  •  1 banana
  • 1 Ensure/Boost (high calorie kind)
  • 1 serving of favorite protein/nutrition powder (I like Orgain and VegaOne)
  • Several scoops of soy or coconut ice cream (or regular if you can tolerate it)
  • About a tablespoon of sunflower seed butter (could use peanut/almond butter)

Blend together and enjoy. Of course, I always used chocolate flavored everything, but you can use any flavor you like I suppose.

7. Apple Cider Vinegar

ACV is great for indigestion, heart burn and a sour stomach. It’s really important that you get the organic/all natural kind with the mother–it’s way more effective. The taste is pretty potent, so I always mix it (1-2 tablespoons of ACV) with a glass of water (heated), some lemon juice and a generous amount of honey. Sometimes I add fresh ginger for an extra kick of stomach-calming power.

8. Miralax

When you have to reach for a laxative, Miralax is your best bet. It’s not painful or habit forming like other laxatives because it doesn’t stimulate your colon to contract, it just draws water into it to make everything flow easier. A trick I’ve recently learned is that, especially if you’re like me and have to take Miralax on a regular basis, it’s best to take it at night. When I took it in the morning I had to take double the normal dose to make things flow normally that day; now I take a normal dose at night and things always run smoothly the next morning. So essentially you can half the dose you need when you take it at night, because it gives it more time to work. Also don’t pay for the name brand if there’s a generic–they’re the exact same thing but you pay extra for the “Miralax” on the bottle.

9. Allergy Friendly Foods I Love

ms-NX1khDWhether you have actual allergies or intolerances, eating the wrong foods can bring on a lot of bodily distress. I have a long list of foods that I avoid–some allergies, some intolerances. Here are some of my favorite allergy/sensitivity friendly items:

  • Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips: The only completely dairy and soy free chocolate I’ve been able to find (also gluten-free and nut-free)
  • Sneaky Chef No-Nut Butter: This stuff is seriously awesome. It tastes like a nut butter, but it’s made from golden peas! No nuts, soy, or seeds!
  • Luna Bars: If soy is a no-no for you then so are these, but they do have a couple totally nut free varieties (with 8 grams of protein)
  • Kind Breakfast Bars and Healthy Grains: Also have some totally nut free varieties that are also gluten and soy free.
  • Cheerios: Almost all types of Cheerios are now gluten-free! Mmmm tastes like childhood!
  • Annie’s GF Bunny Cookies: Gluten-free, not crazy high on the sugar or fat content, and delicious! These are my newest addiction.

10. Tummy Drops

Tummydrops-Ginger-and-Peppermint-Reviews

I saved the best for last. I first tried tummy drops a couple years ago and they’ve saved my tummy many a time. I always keep both ginger and peppermint tummy drops on hand–some at home, some in the book bag, some in the purse–wherever I go, they go with me. They were created by two doctors–one a GI specialist, one an avid cook–so they taste good, but more importantly THEY WORK. Ginger tummy drops are wonderful for nausea and motion sickness; they work better than anything short of prescription anti-nausea meds. The peppermint kind are powerful against intestinal cramps, urgency, bloating and a mildly upset stomach. They’re great as a tag-team with peppermint oil application or for when you’re in a situation where you can’t exactly lift up your shirt and start rubbing oil all over it. Sticking a drop in your mouth is a tad more discreet.

So there you go. My top ten tips for tummies are now yours to try!

ms-ucMfv2

 

 

 

 

Everything, Everything Gettin’ On My Nerves

I refer to the movie Everything, Everything of course, not literally everything–though I do have a migraine today so the world and everything in it is, in general, offensive to my overly-sensitized head. (Note: after getting this far with a migraine yesterday, the spinning world forced me to give up and watch Netflix instead).

If you haven’t heard about it, the movie in question is based on a questionable novel about a girl with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency. In the film/novel the girl cannot leave her house because of her immunodeficiency. Even though *spoiler alert* it turns out that her mom was lying to her and she does not actually have SCID, the impression that the audience is left with is that if she did have it she would have to live her life essentially in a bubble. Clearly the author didn’t even take the time to read the Wikipedia article on SCID. I mean, who cares if you grossly misrepresent an already poorly-understood portion of the population if it’s for the noble cause of providing the world with yet another gory teen romance?

Everything, Everything is hardly the first product of our society to distort harsh realities that people face everyday to make a buck; I can’t even count how many times the media has fed us cancer as a bucket-list-to-peaceful-death illness. No matter what illness or circumstance is being exploited though, it’s just wrong. People’s actual pain shouldn’t be monetized like that. But Everything, Everything takes it to a whole new level of ignorance. There’s already enough of that going around about chronic illness, thanks.

Maybe I can better justify my annoyance through a personal experience: at the beginning of every semester I meet with all my new professors. I give them the “Memorandum of Accommodation” letter I get from the Student Support office and explain to them about my immunodeficiency–how I often get sick and miss class because of it. One particular meeting I had last semester didn’t go as smoothly as the others have. Let’s just say there was a gap of understanding. My professor was obviously unfamiliar with the concept of immunodeficiency and I was unfamiliar with such blatant unfamiliarity. He seemed to think that when I spoke of missing class, I meant that I stayed out of class at specific times to avoid getting sick; he asked me if I had an idea of the dates I would be out. I thought buddy, if I had enough sick days to spare that I could miss class to avoid getting sick, I wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation with you. I also might have given him a “are you slow?” look while I was thinking up an actually appropriate response (not on purpose, it just slips out onto my face sometimes). He also asked me if I sometimes wore a mask. I explained, with the patience of a martyr, that while I am very careful about germs I don’t wear a mask. With IG replacement it’s not necessary. Besides, while it might be helpful sometimes, in American culture there are really only two reasons you wear such a mask: either you are sick with a contagious illness and people should avoid you, or you are very sick with cancer or something. Understandably I should think, I have no desire to be labeled as either of those things. So no, I don’t wear a mask.

That’s the kind of misunderstanding that works like Everything, Everything fuel.

So let’s set the record straight with an assist from the Immune Deficiency Foundation: “Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (SCID, pronounced “skid”) is a potentially fatal     primary immunodeficiency in which there is combined absence of T-lymphocyte and B-lymphocyte function. There are at least 13 different genetic defects that can cause SCID. These defects lead to extreme susceptibility to very serious infections. This condition is generally considered to be the most serious of the primary immunodeficiencies. Fortunately, effective treatments, such as stem cell transplantation, exist that can cure the disorder. The future holds the promise of gene therapy for several more types of SCID.” So someone Maddy’s age with SCID, who had not undergone a bone marrow transplant, would almost certainly be dead. On the other hand, if she had been diagnosed and treated successfully with a bone marrow transplant, her immune system would have been reset and she would have been cured. Either way, she wouldn’t be confined to her house. It’s 2017 people, enough with the “bubble boy” stereotype. We’re better than that.

THINKZEBRA

Infusion Friday

It’s Friday! That means later this evening I’ll be hauling out the medical supplies and chillin with some needles in my thighs–it’s IG infusion night!

First, to start with I’ll back track a little bit with an update on the whole gallbladder drama–because I know my dozen of blood-related readers world wide are simply on the edge of their seats. I met with the surgeon yesterday and he confirmed it–the gallbladder must go. He explained the operation very well, despite the fact he was obviously on auto-pilot. I’m pretty sure he was thinking more about what he was going to have for lunch than the explanation he was giving me; he says he does about 100 of these a year, so I can hardly blame him. This is my very first one and even I was thinking about lunch! Food-related day dreams aside though, we got through the appointment and I am officially scheduled to be separated from my gallbladder on June 2nd. Sorry to break it off gb, but if it’s any consolation–it’s definitely you, not me.

Now that I am done conversing with my own organ like a lunatic, we can talk about way cooler stuff–namely IG infusions! Seriously, no matter how much I dislike sticking myself with needles and having golf ball sized lumps on my person, the inherent coolness of what I’m doing never escapes me. Not to mention how much better these nifty weekly infusions make my life. Roughly 98.73% better. Roughly.

Obviously I love my infusions, and will therefore write about them repeatedly, so today we’ll stick to the basics: IG stands for immune globulin. Healthy people donate plasma and the immune globulins are separated out. Each time I infuse a dose of Gammagard, I receive antibodies pooled from about 10,000-50,000 plasma donors, so I can get the broadest range of coverage possible. See how neat this is?

I do my infusions subcutaneously, meaning the medicine is injected just under the skin and is slowly absorbed through the fat. My infusions are done weekly, though some forms of SCIG can be done every other week. IG infusions can also be done by IV–directly into the vein–once a month. I’ve tried them all, but the weekly SCIG infusions work best for me in terms of infection prevention and how I tolerate the infusions themselves; typically, SCIG infusions have much less severe side effects than IV infusions. Plus, I can do SCIG infusions by myself at home, while a nurse is required to administer the IV infusions. Some might not like doing it themselves, but I like getting to be the one in control and having greater flexibility in scheduling, etc. Not to mention sitting on my own couch, watching Harry Potter for the 100th time and snacking on something yummy is approximately way more fun than spendings hours in a hospital infusion center.

So enough words. Here are some pictures.

IMG_0070

After an infusion in my tummy–yes those are flying pig pjs. They are the coolest.

IMG_0062

Needle in my front thigh

IMG_0141-2

Everything prepped and ready to go

IMG_0139

Infusion set up at home

IMG_0140

Me pulling the Gammagard into the syringe

 

Mom and Me Freezing for a HIDA

Yesterday I had my HIDA Scan. Apparently Nuclear Imaging technology can only be operated at arctic temperatures. For someone who is constantly cold in anything less than eighty degree weather (me) this easily overlooked aspect of the test was by far the most trying. It took most of the car ride home in a sun-baked car for mother dear and me to thaw.

TleHzPkF1odWg

When I scheduled my scan they emphasized that I had to have another person there to drive me home. I did not understand why until an hour into the scan. The timer on the machine went off and the nurse walked in announcing “no gallbladder.” She told me to get up and move around for a bit and we’d try again, but if that little bugger was still hiding she’d have to give me…morphine! Suddenly the necessity of a driver made complete sense. I guess the morphine makes it easier to see the gallbladder- I’m not sure how. Luckily I didn’t have to find out because after a few minutes of pacing back and forth and doing the well known gallbladder-get-your-crap-together dance-chant combo, the tiny organ finally deigned to make an appearance. So no morphine for me. The rational part of me was extremely grateful, but my curious side was a little disappointed. I doubt–or that is I hope–I will not have a reason to be administered morphine again in my lifetime. It would have been an interesting experience to say the least.

Other than that small hiccup, my scan was by and large uneventful. I got in at 7:30 am and I walked blinking, frozen and stiff, but otherwise unharmed, into the welcome sunlight just after 10:30 am. So yeah, it took forever. Or three hours. The two are basically the same when you’re starving, thirsty  (I had to fast for it) and freezing. Still, if you have to get a HIDA scan, don’t sweat. It’s not fun, but there are definitely worse things out there–like math. Math is the worst.

fyzODLrZORdUAPlus as it turns out, the scan, unlike math, can be very useful. Mine showed that my gallbladder is functioning at 25% where the low-normal is 35%. So now I get to go talk to a surgeon Thursday about cutting the sucker out! I know surgery is never fun, but when I’m in the middle of a gallbladder “attack” there is nothing in this world I wouldn’t do to ease the pain. So all in all, I’m thrilled. For once, my body is misbehaving in a straightforward manner. Way to go body. You finally did something wrong, right.

10PptCqDkZIkZW

The Domino Effect

If you’ve ever wondered why people with chronic illnesses can’t just take some medicine and go back to things as usual, I submit the subject of this post to widen the highways of your understanding: the domino effect. The longer I’ve dealt with chronic illness the more I’ve come to understand that there is no illness, or medicine to treat said illness, thats effects are isolated to only one part of the body. Allow me to illustrate by relating the avalanche unleashed on me this year (dramatic I know but hey, it’s a killer metaphor-pun intended 😉 by one part of my body yelling out in pain.

The fall semester was going along swimmingly–September and the first part of October I felt the best I had in a good long while. Then the back half of October brought about 99 problems, all of which were related to the invisible hatchet that had implanted itself into my head. Perhaps it was the stress of midterms, or maybe my body had simply become bored of behaving–for whatever reason chronic migraine resurfaced in my life with a vengeance. You couldn’t even really call it a flare- it was more like full-blown fireworks painting the sky with the words “I’m back!” It got so bad that in the beginning of January, I did something I swore I’d never do again–go back on Topomax.

For my fortunate friends unfamiliar with Topomax, it is technically an anti-seizure drug, but it is also one of the few FDA approved drugs for the treatment of chronic migraines. A fun fact that I learned after being on it for more than a year in high school: it is colloquially known as Dopomax, because of its unfortunate tendency to make idiots of its users. But that is only one of its many fun side effects (side note–not everybody reacts to medicines the same; for many people Topomax has been a miracle drug with few side effects, so don’t just go off of my experience). In spite of poignant teenage memories of this drug causing me to believe I was getting dumb with age, I became so desperate for relief from the unrelenting pain that January third I swallowed a dose of Dopomax for the first time in over two years.

Thankfully I lucked into a neurologist that listened to my concerns about going back on this particular drug, so he started me on the lowest possible dose–a “sprinkle” dose designed for pediatric patients. But it didn’t matter. No matter how small the dose, my body refuses to get along with Topomax. This time it didn’t seem to effect my cognition as much, but it hit me harder in different ways. Since my sinus surgery about a year ago I hadn’t had a sinus infection requiring treatment with antibiotics. Two weeks after starting Topomax I was forced to go on the first of four rounds of antibiotics that dominated the first half of my spring semester. Although Topomax helped tremendously with my migraines, it destroyed my immune system, and the two and a half months I was on it were almost as bad as the years before I started on IG infusions. I couldn’t catch a break! A cold would lead to a sinus infection and I would catch another cold before I had even finished the antibiotics for the infection.

That is the domino effect–treating one problem worsens another or causes a new one altogether. I could not continue on Topomax because of the devastation it was causing my immune system, which will always be the central pillar of my health problems. On the reverse side, IG infusions often trigger migraines. Antibiotics for infections aggravate my severe IBS and lower my immune system. Steroids for infections and asthma flares decimate the immune system. Pain killers can cause stomach, liver, kidney problems–scratch that almost any medicine can cause stomach, liver and/or kidney problems. These are just a few examples. You see? The dominos never stop falling–round and round it goes, tumbling one into another indefinitely. That is one of the reasons why chronic illness is so, well, chronic. You can never quite get ahead of it.

To end this post on a more positive note: since stopping Topomax my immune system has been doing much better. I am also finding moderate migraine relief from an unexpected source–Prozac. It’s an SSRI that helps with migraines because of its action related to Serotonin. I have almost no side effects from it, which as we have been discussing, is nothing short of a miracle. It’s often hard to find the right fit with migraine medication; I was blessed to find it on only the second try this time around. So for those of you still struggling to find relief, hang in there–there is hope ahead yet.

 

 

How to Start?…Jump Right in I Guess

I have been trying to get this blog started all year, but a combination of school, sicknesses and just normal life stuff kept me struggling to stay afloat. Body, mind and grades having survived finals- just barely I might add- I am now ready to finally get to write something that is not a paper.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of finals this semester surfaced in a trip to the ER one Sunday evening two weeks before they began. For the past year or so I’ve been experiencing weird “attacks” of severe abdominal pain that for the longest time I believed to be gas pain. Well naturally, my body decided to hop on the crazy train that is the final weeks of a semester and the attacks suddenly became much worse and much more frequent. This culminated in me laying on my bedroom floor, using my cell phone to call my brother- who was downstairs- to come help me after about an hour of some of the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life. Poor guy. Mysterious medical emergencies are not part of the typical brotherly responsibilities, but he handled it like a champ. To make matters worse, my blood pressure had gone all funky because of the pain–I almost passed out when I tried to sit up, so brother dear had to carry me to the car. I suppose it’s lucky for both of us that he is my bigger brother in more ways than age alone.

The ER, was just about as helpful as usual. That is to say they gave me some pain medicine and a saline IV for the bp, made sure I wasn’t dying right that second and sent me on my merry way. Pretty typical. I generally avoid the ER at all costs, but the look on my brothers face when he found me pale and sweaty on the floor encouraged me to accept his proposition of a trip to the hospital.

A follow up with a GI (gastroenterologist) and an abdominal ultrasound later the finish line on this one still looks to be in the distance. On the ultrasound they found gallstones in my gallbladder, but my doc is convinced that they are not the problem because I am a far cry from the typical gallstone patient (Fat, Forty, Female, Fertile). So now I am waiting to get scheduled for a HIDA scan, which looks at the functioning of the liver, gallbladder, etc. I’d like to say it’s the first time I’ve laid on a table for hours while a machine followed radioactive material through my body, but I cannot. While it’s not painful, it certainly is a pain- it takes forever, it’s boring, cold (but to be fair that is my usual state), and you have to fast for it, which is fun. Oh well, as the weird crab thing in Moana sings ,”c’est la vie, mon ami.” (That’s life my friend)

So there you go. I guess you could say I’m starting my blog En Medias Res, which as I recently learned and will soon forget, is a convention of epic literature, meaning they start in the middle. So I guess that automatically qualifies my life as epic. I knew it.