Surgical Solutions And Resilience

If you read my last post, you know that I live with a number of health issues, and have for many years. What I didn’t talk about was a more recent issue that has come up involving a bump on the back of my left ankle and my Achilles tendon that is tearing away from the bone.

The bump is called a Haglund’s Deformity. I’ve had it for over a year now and it seems to have developed after I had my right hip replaced, perhaps in response to a changed gait in my walking. I didn’t notice it at first, not until it became painful. What my Physiatrist (my pain doctor) and I didn’t realize is that it was also affecting my Achilles Tendon and that tendon was slowly pulling away from the bone. It wasn’t until I could no longer walk without constant pain that we came to understand the full severity of what we were dealing with. 

I was sent for x-rays and the results showed the truth. Since November 2018. I’ve been wearing an Air Cast to help protect my ankle and reduce the pain when I walk. We’ve tried Botox in the calf muscles to try to tighten the tendon so it will reattach to the bone, but if this doesn’t work, it’s going to mean a complicated ankle repair in surgery. 

So, why I am I sharing this with you?  Because this isn’t the only surgery I’m facing in the next little while and I want to talk about resilience. 

Resilience is a funny word. The official definition is this: 

re·sil·ience
[rəˈzilyəns]

NOUN

1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
“the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions”

2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
“nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience”
synonyms:
flexibility · pliability · suppleness · plasticity · elasticity · springiness ·

Now, I wouldn’t say that definition number 2 is all that appropriate as I certainly don’t feel all that “elastic” or “springy”.  I do agree with the first one though. I think I have a remarkable ability to recover from difficulties. With everything I’ve been given in life to handle, and each new challenge I’ve been given to face, I’ve been able to rise to the occasion and deal with it as it’s happened.

As I said, I am facing another surgery this year and it’s one I never thought I’d hear myself say – Brain Surgery. Because of my Trigeminal Neuralgia, we have come to the point where I’ve exhausted every medication out there and I’ve been left with no other options for treatment. I am meeting with the Surgeon on April 30th and the surgery we will be discussing is called Microvascular Decompression. It has an 80% success rate, which is the highest of all the available surgeries, and is the least likely to cause lasting facial numbness afterward.

Trigeminal nerve branches

In Microvascular Decompression surgery, the Neurosurgeon creates an opening in the skull behind the ear on the affected side and using delicate tools, places a sponge between the nerve and the blood vessel causing compression, which in turn reduces the irritation caused by the nerve. It also prevents almost any facial numbness from happening which is a common side effect in most other surgical procedures, such as Sensory Rhizotomy, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery or Peripheral Neurectomy.  A small titanium plate is used to replace the bone removed and is put into place with tiny screws. 

A sponge is inserted between the nerve and the blood vessel, usually the superior cerebellar artery, causing compression.

MVD sponge placement

A sponge is inserted between the nerve and the blood vessel, usually the superior cerebellar artery, causing compression.

After the surgery, you spend a night in the ICU and then 1-2 days in hospital before being released to recover. 

It all sounds pretty scary, but it’s my best hope for relief from this insidious pain. I’m now averaging a flare up every week and they generally last for 12 hours at a time. It’s sheer agony when they happen – there’s a reason this condition is called the suicide disease. 

So, how do you bounce back from something like this? Where does the courage come from? Part of it for me is my faith in God. Part of it is my natural positive outlook on life. My Dear Readers know that my motto is “there is always hope”. I end each post with those words, they are tattooed on my left arm, they are my favourite words from the movie The Lord of The Rings, when Aragorn is talking to the young boy just before the Battle at Helms Deep. They remind me that no matter what we are facing in life, things could be worse. I know that might sound silly, but truly, they could be. I could be facing a terminal illness, not just an issue that causes tremendous pain. There could be NO solution for me at all.

The thing is, I believe we have a choice in how we react to news, good and bad. Being joyful is easy in good times, but I choose to be joyful in the bad times too. I choose to stay positive in the dark days. I choose to believe that things can get better. My attitude is one of gratitude despite the circumstances. And I encourage others to try to do the same thing. You have a choice. Be resilient. Fight with all you have inside you. Choose to find the joy in your circumstances, as small as it might be. Remember…

There is always hope.

 

Refresher Course

I thought I’d start out the year with a refresher course on the conditions I live with and how blogging has had such an impact in my life. Because of my blogging, I have had chances to be interviewed in a Canadian National newspaper, on two different podcasts, and several different articles online. The various conditions I write about are because of the fact I live with them and am personally acquainted with them. So, without further ado, here we go:

  • Chronic Pain
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia / Myofascial Pain
  • Osteoarthritis (in all my major joints)
  • Forestier’s Disease (aka D.I.S.H.)
  • Type 2 Diabetes (on insulin)
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Gastroparesis
  • Internal Adhesions/Scar Tissue/Chronic Pelvic Pain
  • Hypothyroidism

So I’ve talked about my Chronic Pain from Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis, and when I say I have arthritis in all my major joints, I’m serious. I have it in my shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers, my cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, left hip (right hip has been replaced), knees, ankles and toes. Some areas like my left hip and right knee are quite serious and will need replacing, but the rest I’ll have to live with.

Meanwhile, my thoracic spine has a different type of bone condition called Forestier’s Disease or D.I.S.H., which stands for Diffuse (Widespread) Idiopathic (Of Unknown Cause) Skeletal (Referring to the Skeleton) Hyperostosis (Excessive Growth of Bone). It forms in the shape of a bone spur, but instead of a normal spur that could be removed, it looks more like melted candle wax on the spine, so nothing can be done about it.

Diffuse-idiopathic-skeletal-hyperostosis-DISH-of-the-spine-grave-290-male-50-60-yrs

I also have regular bone spurs on my right hand – I had one removed from inside my pointer finger as it grew through a tendon, and there is a second one on the outside of my middle finger growing through the knuckle. Both have been very painful and interfere(d) with typing and writing.

My Type 2 Diabetes has been with me for 8 years now and is mostly under control. I go for regular blood tests every 3 months, to get my A1C numbers that show my average blood sugar levels for the previous 3 months. Generally speaking, I average around 6.9 to 7.2 which is slightly higher than the 5.9 – 6.2 my doctor would like, but I do my best. I use long acting insulin at night, 14 units which does a good job at helping to keep things under control. I’m trying to eat better, but I’m a sucker for sweets and it’s hard to be disciplined.

My Trigeminal Neuralgia is something I’ve talked about before so you can read the article about it here.  The same goes for my Bipolar Disorder.

So, what else is on that list. Ah yes, the ever lovely Gastroparesis

what-is-gastroparesis

Now, the way they determine if you have this or not is through something called a motility test. In my case, they wanted me off ALL of my meds first to make sure they weren’t contributing to the problem, so for 2 days prior to my test I had to quit my medications cold turkey. That included my meds for Fibromyalgia, my anti-psychotics AND my opioid narcotic for pain. Do you have any idea what going through withdrawal is like? It was horrendous. I had the shakes, the runs, I couldn’t eat or sleep, and for those 2 days, I alternated between thinking I was dying and wanting to die to having to feel better in order to die.

On the day of the test, I went to the hospital to where the Nuclear testing is done. I knew that I was going to be eating an egg sandwich with a radioactive tracer in it and that tracer would be monitored through a series of special x-rays, but I explained to the nurse that everything I ate was immediately running right through me like water. She was so sweet…she “reserved” me a private bathroom, brought me my sandwich and told me to eat as much as I could while I sat there. Talk about embarrassing!!! It’s embarrassing writing about it!!! But, I managed just over 3/4’s of it, which she said was enough. She brought me into the x-ray room where there was a gurney to lay on, and then gave me a warm blanket.

The first pictures were taken every 2 minutes, so I just sat. Then they took them every 5 minutes apart, then 10 minutes apart, then 15, then 30 and finally 2 pictures 1 hour apart each. In between, I slept on the gurney, and my nurse brought me as many warm blankets as I wanted. She also brought me a cold wet face cloth for my forehead. When it was all over, I gave her a big hug and thanked her for being so kind. Then I took my medications asap!!!!

The tests showed that I have a moderate degree of low motility so my food sits in my stomach for a long period of time before moving on to the intestines. This explains why I always look bloated and pregnant. There are medications that can be taken, but I’ve asked my doctor if we can just hold off and wait on that for now. This is more of an inconvenience than anything right now, and I just don’t want any more drugs in my system than I absolutely need. If the problem becomes hugely bothersome, we’ll revisit it, but in the meantime, I’ll just try to watch what I eat, drink more water and try to exercise a bit more.

The Internal Pelvic pain is because I have had a number of pelvic surgeries over the years, so there is a lot of internal scar tissue left over that has attached itself to things like my bladder and bowel, etc. There are occasions when I move a certain way, and those adhesions stretch very painfully – it feels like velcro being ripped apart except it’s my body doing the ripping. It takes my breath away sometimes, it’s so painful, but it only lasts for a minute or two, then it’s gone.

Which leads to Hypothyroidism. For a long time, I assumed that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was the only reason for my constant exhaustion, as my Thyroid numbers always came back normal on blood tests done every three months. One day though, my thyroid went rogue and those numbers were crazy. I had been especially tired…like dragging my ass tired, needed toothpicks to keep my eyes open tired

DraggingMyButt

Oohhh, that is NOT a good look on me!!! My doctor put me on meds and I could feel a difference in a very short period of time. On my next 3 month course of blood work, everything was back to normal, so now I take Synthroid on a daily basis for the rest of my life, to ensure I have a properly working system. So glad that was an easy fix!!

So there you have it. It’s a tough road to walk, I have to be honest. I live with pain 24/7 and have for almost 30 years now. Suffice it to say that you have to be mighty strong to live like this, to get through the day-to-day of actually living in pain. I know some people who just couldn’t. They tried so, so hard, but in the end, their pain was too much for them, and they took their own lives.

I’m a huge advocate for assisted suicide for people who live with severe, intractable pain. We take better care of our pets when they are hurting than we do our humans, and I think that is just plain wrong. I believe every human has the right to choose to die with dignity and I’m glad our Government has come on board with this. I know it’s not perfect, but at least things have started and that’s the main thing.

One thing having all these conditions HAS done though is that it’s given me a platform to blog about them and to discuss them as a Patient Partner in my volunteer work. I live in Langford, BC Canada and I belong to an organization called Patient Voices Network. They help take the voice of the patient and partner us with Heath Care Organizations who need Patient Advocates for the work that they are doing. I’ve been involved in committee work, focus groups, conferences, quality assurance forums, seminars and more because of PVN. The educational experience I’ve received is on par to anything I attended in my working life and in fact, when I attend anything in their offices in Vancouver now, it’s like being greeted by family – I know everyone and they all know me, I’ve been there so often for meetings.

I currently sit on 4 different committees: I am a member of the PVN Oversight & Advisory Committee, I currently sit on the Clinical Resource Committee for the BC Emergency Physicians Network , and I accepted a role with the Laboratory Quality Council Committee. We are responsible for all Labs on Vancouver Island as well as all Medical Blood Collection Stations.

Most recently, I took on a new role as committee member on the Measurement System for Physician Quality Improvement- Surgical Group. I am surrounded by top surgeons in Cardiac Care, Orthopedics and Neurology, plus high-ranking members from the Ministry of Health, the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council and other Health Organizations – and then there’s me. The lone patient voice to represent the masses. It’s a huge responsibility and one I take very seriously. I’ve already spoken out to let them know that while they see quality one way, I as a patient see it differently, and I expect my voice to be heard. It was empowering to have them tell me that I am the whole reason the others are there, because it’s all about the patient in the end.

So all this adds up to some pretty amazing experiences for me because of the pretty extraordinary pain that I live with on a daily basis. I have been truly blessed in my life, and I’m fortunate to be able to share it with you, my Dear Readers. Thank you for taking this journey with me. I hope to bring you more articles this year about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia and other Invisible Illnesses. And remember…

There is always hope

Chronic Pain & Post Holiday Blues

blog-holiday-blues

Do you find yourself feeling more pain after the holidays are over? More physical pain seems natural because of all the running around that we do with Christmas and New Years and the extra work that happens to make the holidays special. What about the post holiday blues? Do you find yourself feeling more mental pain when the holidays are over? More depression, or more Seasonal Sadness? How do you manage that and where is it coming from?

Some of it comes from the Holidays themselves. Often, we project what we want them to look like instead of accepting the reality of what they actually are for us. We want the perfect family around the perfect tree with perfect presents and everyone getting along in perfect harmony. What happens instead is the stress of buying, decorating, cooking and cleaning all while appeasing children, spouse and family members who may or may not be speaking to each other on the big day. No wonder you’re left with a huge let down after the New Year rolls in.

Financial stress plays a huge role as well, once those credit card bills start showing up in January. Even if you swore you wouldn’t have a credit card Christmas or Hanukkah, chances are you’re still looking at some expenses that you weren’t expecting, and now you need to do some budget adjusting. That’s enough to make anyone feel blue. And if you’re one of the many people who put your entire holiday shopping on your credit card, you’ll be feeling the hit even harder.

The weather also plays a huge part in how we feel in the New Year. Depending on where you live, you could be seeing sunshine and cold temperatures, mild temperatures and rain, or bitterly cold and snow, or any combination in between. The days are short and darkness prevails. Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder is a real condition that deeply alters the lives of more people than we realize. Getting out into the natural sunlight is the best remedy, but the alternate is to use a special lamp to get the light you need to function properly during the winter months.

How else can you combat these Post Holiday Blues? Here is a list of suggestions that might help:

Limit alcohol – Now that the holidays are over, start to limit your alcohol intake, and try not to keep it readily available around your house. Drink lots of water to flush your system and get back to good nutrition.

Get plenty of sleep – Try to go to bed at a specific time each night. Being well-rested can improve your mood and help you feel ready to take on the day.

Exercise regularly – Plug in your headphones and pop out for a walk around the block a couple of times a day. A quick 10-minute walk will get your heart rate up and release mood-boosting endorphins.

Learn to say “no” – Overscheduling and not making time for yourself can lead to emotional breakdowns. Learn how to say “no,” and stay firm on your decision.

Reflect on the Special Moments – 

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Grab a hot tea or hot chocolate, sit by the fireplace, and reflect on what you loved about this holiday season.

  • What was the best conversation you had?
  • What was the most thoughtful gift you received?
  • What was the funniest thing that happened?
  • What was one disaster that turned into a blessing or a great memory?

Try Something New – New Year, new hobbies! Make up your mind to try something new this year. Take a class, return to an old hobby, or pick up a new one.

Make a Budget – No one likes to dwell on financial stuff, but vow to make a budget this year and then stick to it. You’ll be amazed at how much stress relief this can offer you when you see exactly where you money is going and how much you can actually save every single month. Buy software for your computer to help you, download an app or get a book to make it easier.

Volunteer –  If you can spare a bit of time each week or each month, consider doing some volunteer work in an area that interests you the most. From working with kids, seniors, or animals to helping with community arts and theatre, health organizations or your local Downtown Business Association, there are so many places that can use your help. Even just a couple of hours a month makes a difference when we all pitch in together.

Give Blood – Another way to help others, if you are physically able to donate blood, please consider giving. There’s nothing like being a Lifesaver to make you feel good!

Keep a Gratitude Journal – Each day, write down three things you are grateful for.

Can you come up with your own suggestions for this list to make it your own? If and when you do, share your ideas with your friends and in the comment section below. One thing I do want to remind you of is that if the Post Holiday Blues tend to linger on for longer than a month, you may want to speak to your doctor. You could be experiencing something more than just “Post Holiday Blues” and require proper medical care. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help if you feel dark thoughts or deep depression. There is help available and absolutely NO shame in asking for it. I live with Bipolar Disorder and have to be very careful during and after the holidays that my mania isn’t triggered because I would go on shopping binges.

Remember…

There is always hope

 

Starting With Gratitude

Happy-New-Year-Nice-HD-Pictures-Pics-2019

I hope dear Readers that you all had wonderful Holiday celebrations and are ready for the challenges of 2019! I wanted to start the year by thinking about Gratitude, a favourite subject of mine.

Here you’ll find 50 very solid things to be thankful for in your everyday life. These are great reminders for you to treasure everything you have.

1. Good Health

Even if you’re health isn’t great, it could be worse and you likely still have some working parts to be thankful for.

2. Money in the Bank

Having just a few coins makes you richer than most people on Earth.

3. Good Friends

Often, it’s the quality of friendships, not the quantity.

4. Freedom of Religion

Being able to worship whomever and however you want is something many people don’t ever experience.

5. Your Parents

Even if they’re dysfunctional, they gave you life.

6. Weekends

There’s something magical about weekends.

7. Pets

Adorable puppies and kittens and bunnies together together with cats little friends friend dog sweet cute animal bunny orange

Pets offer one of the best examples of unconditional love.

8. Learning from Mistakes

If we never made mistakes, we wouldn’t learn much so it is one of those things we should be thankful for.

9. Opportunity to Get an Education

The opportunity to attend school is something many people don’t have.

10. Having a Home

Whether you live in an apartment, a mansion, or a tent, having a place to call home is something to be thankful for.

11. An Ability to Read

If you’re reading this right now, you have a lot to be thankful for.

13. Breathing Fresh Air

Being able to step outside to breathe in fresh air is a good reminder how many little things we should be thankful for.

14. Laughter

Without laughter, the world would be a sad place.

15. Sunshine

The sun’s warmth can brighten any day.

16. Time

Although we often don’t think there’s enough of it, time is something we shouldn’t take for granted.

17. Clean Water

Many people on earth lack access to clean water.

18. Cell Phones

Cell phones make talking to loved ones easy.

19. Love

The world sure would be a different place if we lacked the ability to love.

20. Books

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Books provide an opportunity to enter another world all from the comfort of your own home.

21. Kindness of Strangers

Never take the kindness of a stranger for granted.

22. Campfires

The simplicity of a campfire creates lifelong memories.

23. Pain

Without pain, it would be difficulty to appreciate life’s joys.

24. Art

The world would be less beautiful if art didn’t exist.

25. Holidays

Any reason to celebrate is something we should be thankful for.

26. Freedom of Speech

Being able to express your thoughts and feelings freely should never be taken for granted.

37. Rainbows

Rainbow over Rabbit Ears

The beauty of a rainbow is unmatched.

28. Tears

Sometimes when there are no words to say, tears express how we feel for us.

29. Waking up Today

Simply waking up today means you have things to be thankful for.

30. Indoor Plumbing

Indoor plumbing not only provides convenience, it spares us from disease.

31. Wisdom that Comes with Age

Thankfully, we grow smarter over time.

32. Mountains

Mountains provide us with beauty and recreation.

33. Sunsets

Sunsets are a reminder that we should enjoy the simple things in life.

34. Entertainment

Entertainment gives us a way to relax and enjoy life.

35. Your Mind

Being able to think, remember, and solve problems sure makes life easier.

37. Diversity

The world would be a boring place without diversity.

38. Moon and Stars

The moon and stars encourage us to dream.

39. Electricity

Electricity makes most of our chores efficient.

40. Hearing

Being able to hear your loved one’s voice is something that not everyone gets to do.

42. Children

Kids Playing3

Watching children laugh, grow, and dream can keep things in perspective.

43. Ability to Learn

The ability to learn new things means we have endless potential.

44. People Willing to Teach

Whether it’s your grandmother teaching you to knit or your plumber showing you how to prevent future problems, be grateful that others are willing to use their time and talents to teach you something new.

45. Oceans

The sea creatures in the ocean almost seem too mystical to be real.

46. Modern Medicine

Without advances in modern medicine, many of us wouldn’t be alive.

47. Music

Music brings out new emotions.

48. Entrepreneurs and inventors

Some of life’s best inventions resulted from an entrepreneur who was willing to take a risk.

49. Freedom to Vote

Being able to have a say in the laws should never be taken for granted.

50. Challenges

Without challenges in life, we wouldn’t be the people we are now.

Thank you to Lifehack.org for the list.  What other things can you think of to be grateful for? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Remember…There is always hope