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

Tired vs. Exhausted

I’m so tired, I’m repeating a post from the past!!!

Have you ever felt exhausted? So exhausted you could barely move?  The kind of exhausted that leaves you feeling almost helpless? Guess what…I have a new word for you!!!

Actually, I think there are many people in my life who this word could apply to…the warriors who struggle along every day despite the illnesses that try to hold them back. My friends and fellow Warriors…you are simply Quanked!!!!!!

Quanked

Taken from Grandiloquent Words:
Quanked
(KWANK’d)
Adjective:
-Overpowered by fatigue.
-To have the strength reduced or exhausted, as by labour or exertion; become fatigued; be sleepy. Origin uncertain Used in a sentence:
“After sprunting all weekend, then frooncing to get my chores done, I’m well quanked.”Quanked is a condition in which one’s energy and vitality have been consumed. One who is quanked has used up his or her bodily or mental resources, usually because of arduous or long-sustained effort. To feel quanked at the end of the day; quanked after a hard run; feeling rather quanked; quanked by a long vigil.-See forswunke
Now, in all seriousness, I think the word is an excellent one to describe how it feels to be exhausted when you live with an Invisible Illness. It’s beyond any type of tiredness you’ve ever felt before. It’s sleeping for 12 hours and waking up just as tired as you were before you fell asleep. It’s like climbing a mountain when all you did was go up one flight of stairs. When sleeping on the couch is easier than trying to get up to go to bed.
Now add in being in pain constantly and what do you get? You get you. You get me. You get people like us, who have been living in varying stages of agony for varying periods of time.  I’ve talked with several friends who live with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue plus various other Invisible Illnesses and they’ve described their fatigue and pain like this:
  • It’s like swimming through concrete while being on fire at the same time (this was mine).
  • It’s like constantly having a “pins and needles” sensation that never goes away
  • I feel like I’m being randomly stabbed by a crazed maniac, but that crazed maniac is inside my body and I can’t stop it.
  • There are parts of my body that are numb and parts of my body that are burning and other parts of my body are throbbing and it all happens at the same time.
  • My brain is foggy and I can’t remember things like I used to. I hurt everywhere all the time and I’m always tired, no matter how much sleep I get. I don’t like this me that I am anymore.
  • I feel like I’ve been in a war, but you can’t see my wounds
  • Do you remember when you were young and you could stay up for hours and hours at night and never feel old? Yeah, well I can’t do that anymore. I’m lucky if I can stay up past 7pm and I don’t even have kids. I’m too tired and achy and sore.

There are ways you can try to improve your sleep with Fibro and Chronic Pain and the key is consistency:

  1. Sleep in a quiet dark room with a slightly cooler temperature than normal. Wear a sleep mask if necessary.
  2. Power down the electronics (TV, computer, Smartphone, etc.)  one hour before bedtime. The light from your bedside clock is also enough to disrupt your sleep, so check and see if there is a dim light setting, or face the clock away from you at night.
  3. Set a regular bedtime and wake up time. Establishing a schedule can help the body recognize good sleep habits.
  4. Consider downloading and listening to “sleep music”. There are many recordings that are free, including delta wave music which works with your brainwaves to help lull you into a natural sleep. A “white noise” machine may do the trick for you. These can be found in almost any electronics store and come with various sounds and settings, designed to help your body relax and let go.
  5. Limit Alcohol before bed.  You know you’ve read this before but for good reason. Alcohol may make you “feel” tired but actually will wake you up more often.
  6. Eat a healthy snack 45 minutes before bed. This would be something with protein in it like half a turkey sandwich, a small bowl of whole-grain low-sugar cereal, milk or yogurt or a banana. Eating like this before bed helps stave off the “midnight munchies” where you wake up starving in the wee hours of the night.
  7. Get some exercise! Regular exercise like walking or swimming can help the body to rest well in the evening. Start slow and build up over time. Work with a personal trainer if possible who can help you set up a routine tailored to your specific needs and abilities.
  8. Check with your Doctor to ensure there are no other underlying health issues that could be causing your fatigue (i.e.: thyroid issues, anemia, etc.).
  9. Don’t just lay there – get up! If you haven’t been able to fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and leave the bedroom. Read or do something that doesn’t involve your TV or computer/Smartphone until you feel sleepy and then try again. The bedroom should be for sleep and sex only. The longer you lay awake in bed for, the more used to being awake in bed your body becomes. You need to break that cycle so getting out of bed and moving to a different room is the smart choice.
  10. Medications should be the last resort but are available to help if needed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for information about over the counter medications to try first.

If you tend to be a worrier at night, with a million things running through your head, allow yourself 10 minutes of this. Set an alarm and let your thoughts go wild. At the end of those 10 minutes, it’s time to stop. It takes practice but it gives you the opportunity to get all those worries out without mulling them over for hours. This isn’t the time for solutions, just the time to acknowledge that they’re there. In the end, say something like “I’m glad I had this time to worry about everything, but now I’m going to sleep on them. I’ll deal with them in the morning”. It tells your brain you’ve acknowledged the worries, and you’ll do something about them later. And off to sleep you go.

Another way to sleep better at night is to be organized during the day. The less you leave to chance during the daytime, the less you need to stress at night. “Did I sign Johnny’s papers for camp?”  “Where did I put the chequebook?” “When is the next Book Club meeting?”  Whether you use your smartphone, an organizer or the calendar at home, by having a regular system for keeping track of appointments, meetings and paperwork, you’ll stress less knowing you have it all in one place and you’ll sleep better at night.

Sleeping better isn’t always about being in less pain. It’s about doing all the things you can to make your environment as sleep-conducive as possible which may result in less pain. Removing as much stress as possible from your sleeping area is one of the biggest and best things you can do, so try and think of all the things that will make your bedroom area the most comfortable it can be. The key is, whatever you do, do it with consistency. None of us wants to feel quanked.

Remember…there is always hope

Staying Connected…

Here’s a quick question for you. When you are a patient in the hospital, what do you do for entertainment? Do you watch TV? Read a book or magazine? Surf the internet or check out Facebook? Go for walks or check out the Gift Shop? Or are you mos….woah, woah, WHAT????
GO BACK…surf the internet? Check out Facebook? Don’t you use up a lot of your Data that way? Or does your hospital provide free Wifi?

I was recently invited to be interviewed for a news article about the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, as it’s the first hospital in BC to offer free Wifi for patients and visitors. Now, we’re not talking blazing fast for video downloads, but good basic Wifi for surfing the Internet while you are in the hospital. I don’t know if this is offered where you live, but it’s brand new for us. There is one other BC hospital trialling this, and the BC Ministry of Health hopes to roll the program out to the rest of the province, though there is no set timeline.

I can tell you from my own experience that this is a very welcome move. I’m not a TV watcher (I don’t even watch at home) and I often don’t feel like reading. So what’s left? I listen to music a lot, but when you hallucinate music, that’s not always the first choice either. Having the chance to message chat with a friend or to be on Facebook or Twitter really appeals to me and I think this will be a very popular decision.

Here are the transcript and sound bytes from the interview:
~~~~~
Patients and visitors to Nanaimo Hospital can breathe easier knowing they won’t have to worry about racking up high cell phone bills.
Island Health announcing today they’re introducing free wi-fi at the hospital.

Patient partner Pamela Jessen says when it comes to Data usage, it removes a heavy burden from people already in a stressful situation…

Island Health says they hope to expand free Wi-Fi to more of their sites, but there’s no timeline yet in place.

Free Wi-Fi at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital means patients won’t have to feel isolated and disconnected.

Island Health announced the service today, saying the Wi-Fi will be for keeping in touch and using the internet but won’t be able to handle high-def video streaming.

Pamela Jessen with the Patient Voices Network says it removes a great burden from patients but also their visitors…

The service is expected to cost roughly five thousand dollars a year. It’s paid for by the Nanaimo Hospital Auxiliary, who raise funds for the hospital.
~~~~~
What about you? Your thoughts in the comments would be appreciated!

As for this idea spreading far and wide?

There is always hope!