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Peace

It seems these days that peace is hard to come by. As defined, peace is the absence of disturbance and, when you look around the world today, there aren’t a lot of examples of that. We can all see lack of peace in things like wars and natural disasters, but in our personal lives we also have a lot of things pulling at our hearts. So what in your life brings you peace? I think most people would answer financial stability, good health, or thriving relationships. So what happens when those things are taken away?

We like to think that we can be confident in our worldly comforts but the reality is that all of those things can be lost in an instant. For me, I lost my health first. That was followed by losing my opportunity for a college education. I lost my independence. Financial security went out the window when I lost the ability to work. So where did that leave me? In one word, floundering. All of the things my identity was seeded in were gone and peace was replaced by anger and frustration along with their good buddy, worry. However, after many attempts to find peace in other worldly outlets that ended in failure, I turned to God and sought peace in his promises.

John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. I found that the kind of peace I have received from reading scripture and becoming more rooted in faith is very different from peace derived from material things. The most striking difference is that this peace is not dependent on circumstances. I haven’t suddenly become healthy again but I no longer have to sit in worry and fear of the future. I know that whatever happens in my life is part of a plan that is for my good and God’s glory.

2 Corinthians is a letter written by the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. We know that Paul dealt with a chronic and debilitating “thorn” in the flesh. We don’t know exactly what caused his distress but I think that makes him even more easy to relate to. Physical difficulties are often the source of many pleas to God and many times he chooses to not heal the afflicted but rather use the experience for a greater purpose, as he did with Paul.

In 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 Paul says, “Three time I pleaded with the Lord to take it [thorn] away from me but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.

While Paul had to accept his proverbial thorn, he did not complain about it or rage against it but rather he allowed the Lord to shine through it and set an example of confidence and trust. In chapter 4 of his letter he told the church, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary struggles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all”. That’s a pretty powerful statement! No matter how many times Paul was beaten, imprisoned, insulted, or even stoned and left for dead, he had the world in checkmate.

He exemplifies this in his letter to the Philippian church which was written while he was imprisoned. In Philippians 1:21 Paul says, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. By this he means that if he continues living, he would be continuing to share the gospel and, if he were to die, he would be in the presence of God for the rest of eternity. It didn’t matter what the world did to him because his peace didn’t come from the world. It was a peace that could never be taken away from him.

Having peace from the Lord is the only peace that lasts. Our circumstances can change in an instant. Jobs can be lost. Houses can be washed away in a storm. Relationships with people can whither and die. You could wake up sick one day and never get better. But amidst these trials we can rest easy in knowing that there is an Almighty God who is more powerful than any of it and he has promised us an eternity so perfect that it makes our current struggles not even worth comparing. I don’t know if my personal thorn will be taken from me or not but I will chose to allow God’s power to be made perfect in my weakness.

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Fighting Lyme: Step 1

Earlier today I had my first appointment with the doctor that will hopefully be able to lead me down the road to remission! When mom and I got to the building, I was already much more encouraged than I had been walking in to see the previous Lyme doctor who diagnosed me. In the front cover of the book mom picked up to flip through in the waiting room was a note from a previous patient’s mother thanking this doctor for all of the help she had given to her daughter.

Confidence continued to grow when we walked back to the exam room and I saw how thoroughly my doctor had been when she went through my 4 inch binder full of medical records. She was excellent when going through my history with me and really listening and acknowledging each symptom I have experienced. Determining what treatments I was comfortable with was very much a conversation between the three of us rather than simply being given a prescription to manage symptoms and then ushered out of the office – a huge change from previous experiences!

We determined from my medical records and symptoms that Babesia is most likely my biggest problem at the moment with Lyme being a close second followed by Bartonella. With that in mind, we will be treating the Babesia infection to start with and then will move on from there. We also discussed my POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) difficulties and how to best manage it. My heart rate when sitting was 80 bpm and blood pressure 90 something/70 something. After standing for less than two minutes, my heart rate had jumped to 111 with a BP of 80-ish over a diastolic too low to register. These wacky vitals are caused by autonomic dysfunction and for now we will be trying to control that with another medication. Of course I will also be adding probiotics to the daily regimen to help keep the GI side effects at bay as well as a couple of herbal therapies.

As long as I am able to keep from losing any more weight, and I don’t have any cardiac complications (unlikely but with a history of QT interval issues, its needs to be kept in mind), this will be the plan of attack for the next six weeks when I’ll check back in with an update. If all is still going well then I’ll continue on until my next appointment in 3 months. We were told that I can expect to be in treatment for at least 18-24 months. Battling Lyme and co-infections is a long road but I’m so glad to finally be taking some steps forward! What’s that cliche? A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step?

Overall I am incredibly encouraged by this appointment and I feel very blessed to have access to this type of care. Because most Lyme treatments and doctors are not covered by insurance, its a very costly illness to treat. I am beyond grateful for such a supportive family who provide the means for me to have an opportunity to get better. I’m grateful that I have found a doctor willing to treat me. I’m grateful that after all these years, I finally have a diagnosis that explains all of my symptoms. And once I get these treatments started, because I’ll feel worse before I feel better, I’ll be grateful for my comfy couch and extensive blanket collection!

Medical · Uncategorized

A Diagnosis!!!

“We would know if you had Lyme disease.”

“Well do you have a skin rash?”

“Chronic Lyme is something doctors say to take advantage of their patients.”

“If you had Lyme, you would have the antibodies and would be able to tell from your white count.”

These are all comments I’ve been met with when I’ve asked about Chronic Lyme Disease to doctors I’ve seen in the past. A couple of years ago my primary care doctor ran an ELISA test to appease me and lo and behold, it was negative. This isn’t too surprising as that test is known to be very inaccurate and misses about 60% of Lyme cases.

Over the years I’ve been given several disjointed diagnoses for the symptoms that have cropped up all over my body. The constant headache was NDPH, the low blood pressure, chest pain, heart palpitations, PVCs, and pre-syncope was POTS, the weight loss and nausea was labeled idiopathic when all of my test came back clean, the blue fingers and toes were idiopathic Raynaud’s disease, the debilitating fatigue was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome… None of these things were tied together though and there was never an underlying cause found. While the diagnoses themselves are probably accurate, I couldn’t accept that they all just happened out of the blue with no connection. So the research continued.

I had come across Chronic Lyme in the past but because it is so difficult to get properly diagnosed, I decided to knock out the easier possibilities that insurance would cover first. I was treated aggressively for NDPH (the most debilitating of all of my issues) but despite six hospital admissions, countless drugs, and a neurostimulator implant, I am still not well enough to return to working. You see, the CDC does not admit that Chronic Lyme is a real disease. They use the term “Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome” and argue that 2-4 weeks of antibiotics is curative of Lyme and that sometimes the symptoms just persist but there is nothing to do about it. This means that insurance companies do not have to approve any Chronic Lyme treatment, making this a very expensive disease to manage because so much of it is out of pocket. This is also why there are so few physicians who will treat it. There are only three Lyme specialists in the state of Indiana.

When my long awaited admission for a 5-7 day Lidocaine infusion was not approved by insurance, I decided to chase down the question that has always been in the back of my mind. The more I learned about Chronic Lyme, the more I became convinced that it was the answer. Not only did it explain my current symptoms but it also explains so much of my milder issues I dealt with in high school. I reached out to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society for help in finding a Lyme literate doctor in state. The first LLMD was right here in my town but is so overwhelmed, she cannot accept any new patients. The second phone call I made was to the doc about two hours away from me. She was also swamped and would not be accepting new patients until the end of August and would be scheduling those new patients for October or later appointments. Finally on the third phone call to a specialist three hours north, I had the orders for the more accurate test along with a test for a co-infection called Babesia.

One week later on August 21st I got the call to say that I did indeed have Lyme and Babesia. As strange as it sounds, my family, friends, and I were thrilled! When you have lived with a mysterious illness for so long and watched as everything that makes your life yours crumble away with no way to stop it, finding a name for that demon is like Christmas morning! Now that it has been named, we can better know how to fight it and hopefully achieve remission.

Chronic Lyme Disease is difficult to treat because the bacteria is so smart. It can exist in the body in the form of spirochetes, cystic bodies, and biofilms. The co-infections make treatment even more complicated and while I have been tested for one, I have several symptoms of another called Bartonella. So much of the treatment is holistic, meaning there are a lot of diet changes and supplements which are all out of pocket expenses making it a very costly disease.

This is just the beginning of a difficult battle ahead as treatment can be brutal but it is a battle I’m so ready to take on. Finding a diagnosis has been so helpful mentally and emotionally because now I know that no matter what any doctor has said to me in the past, I am not overly dramatic. I am not a drug or attention seeker. I am just a girl who knows her body and refused to give up on finding an answer.

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I’m a Failure, and That’s Ok

Recently I was thinking about where I am in life and I realized that by worldly standards, I am a complete failure. I am 24 years old and I didn’t get my degree, I haven’t been married, I can’t hold a job, and all of the goals I set for myself at high school graduation have not been met. To look at me on paper is to see someone who has completely missed the mark when it comes to “adulting”.

However, there are so many things under the surface that have shaped me into a much more mature and capable woman that I don’t believe I would have learned had my life gone according to my own plan. I’ve become much more confident in myself because I have had to advocate for myself with doctors and insurance companies on a regular basis. I’ve learned to be much more laid back because it is physically painful to get upset about things. I’ve learned to appreciate the little things because so often the little things are all I can manage. I’ve become much more tolerant of other people because I have to carefully allocate my energy and it takes too much brain power to overthink what other people are doing. Best of all though, I have become much more grounded in my faith.

When I first got sick I was attending Texas A&M University and loving my animal science classes. When everything came crashing down around me and managing my health forced me to have to withdraw from school, there was a long period where I was so angry with God. Why does it seem that every time I almost reach my goal, something snatches it away? I felt like the dud child. Over the past couple years though, I could feel God chipping away at my anger and beginning to change my heart.

I began to realize that my tantrum over not getting my way was never going to change things. This is the hand of cards I was given and I could either continue to be angry and bitter about what I can’t have, or I could find the good in my current experience. I began to study the word with more intention and really began to apply what I was reading to my life. Until this point my faith was child-like and I was praising God in the good times, but not in the trials. When the difficult times came, I was sitting in self-pity and completely ignoring God’s promises to me.

I don’t mean this to say that I think God has caused my troubles. I know that illness is not from God but can absolutely be used by him. I know that he uses all things for the good of those who love him. I know that he has plans for me to prosper and not to harm me. I also know that my human perception is not the same as his divine knowledge. What looks to me like my world crashing down and my physical body being broken, is actually causing something much more important to be strengthened. My relationship with God is growing much deeper roots through my physical struggles in a way that likely would not have happened had things gone according to my own plan.

I am a failure by the worlds’ standards but I would never want to gain the world and lose my soul. Life has become so much more enjoyable since deciding to genuinely trust in God’s plan for me, even when it seems so unfair and nonsensical I can’t figure out how any good could possibly come from it. I no longer see myself as the child who failed to launch and I don’t define myself by what I have or haven’t accomplished in life, but rather I rest in knowing that I am loved by the creator and the hope of everlasting life.

James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything. 

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future”. 

Matthew 16:26 What good would it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Medical · Uncategorized

Inside My Head 

Today I was thinking about just how much thinking I do all the time. I realized that I spend most of my time considering things that most people probably never give a second thought. I woke up today extra dizzy from low blood pressure caused by POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome). I knew the best way to manage that was to drink lots of water and eat lots of salty snacks. That sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, POTS is not the only way my body fights me. I also had to gauge how much nausea/abdominal pain I was going to deal with today. If I go ahead and eat, is that going to make me too nauseated? Is my stomach going to bloat and be ridiculously uncomfortable? Is it going to cramp up and hurt? Then there was the catch-22 of needing to drink water to combat the dizziness, but drinking lots of water means needing the bathroom, and walking to the bathroom causing dizziness.

This is all just to manage one symptom of one issue. I also must juggle finding the settings on my stimulator to best control the head pain, judging how much energy I have for walking around and knowing where the next place to rest will be, taking meds on time, trying to think through the brain fog, not pushing too hard and causing joint and muscle pain to flare, deciding when to risk eating foods that have the potential to make me sick and when to play it safe… and this is just for my body. I also think about all the things everyone else juggles too like carrying on conversations, making sure my dog is taken care of, being where I need to be when I need to be there, and so on.

While my body is at rest a lot of the time these days, my mind is not. Its usually a whirlpool of thoughts and questions. The more practice I have living with these chronic curveballs my body likes to throw me, the better I get at managing them, but there are definitely time it gets overwhelming, and times when, no matter what I do, the best I can hope for is a better day tomorrow. That’s ok though because at the end of the day, that’s really what everyone is doing! My curveballs come in the form of my body rebelling but we all have things we must overcome. We just do our best in the moment and keep moving forward!

 

 

 Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Medical

Jefferson Adventure: Day 5-6

On Thursday, July 27, I woke up alone for the last time in my hotel room and got myself prepped for another day of infusions. As much as I was dreading the drugged, sluggish, awful feeling of having so many medications pumped through my body, I was hopeful that they did seem to be helping manage the headache pain! I made sure to pack up my book and coloring book even though the visual side effects of the meds made looking at things difficult. Sometimes a girl gets desperate for some distractions.

I hopped in the back seat of my very friendly Uber driver’s car at about 7 am and tried to get myself fully awake during the commute. Once I made it to the office I had my usual meeting with the nurse practitioner and we went over the plan for the day. I again had low blood pressure and again declined the Benadryl infusion in hopes of being less groggy and mush brained. I had the same nurse in the infusion center which was nice although this time it took three tries to get an IV placed.

After the second unsuccessful stick, nurse Kristin brought out a fancy-shmancy tool that would shine a light on your skin and illuminate the blood vessels! It was the first time I had seen one in person and we both agreed it was a pretty nifty little contraption. We finally managed to get the IV taken care of and the infusions began with 30 minutes of Compazine followed by Zofran, DHE, Toradol, Magnesium, and more Compazine. Maybe more Zofran. Definitely more DHE. Anyway, it was a lot of stuff.

I tried to be more aware of what I was doing with my neck and made sure to stand up and stretch or walk around in the hopes of avoiding the same muscle side effects from the previous day. Unfortunately that was unsuccessful but more about that in a moment.

Mom got up in New York and said goodbye to her traveling buddies with Turner and opted to get a rental car and drive down to Philly rather than ride the bus back to Terre Haute. Thank goodness mom loves driving! She gets lots of hours logged on the road getting me where I need to go for all these medical appointments! We talked on the phone about an hour before my infusions were going to be done and I decided rather than getting an Uber back to the hotel, I would just wait in the city for her to get there and pick me up.

Once I left the infusion center I walked down to a Dunkin’ Donuts and got myself a coffee and waited for mom to get to the city. I don’t usually drink caffeine as it makes the chest pain more intense but desperate times call for desperate measures and I needed to stay awake! There were a lot of phone calls trying to coordinate me being on the correct corner at the time she would be driving by but we finally made connection and I hopped in the rental Camry with her. Philadelphia is not exactly the most fun place to drive – especially when you’re used to the roads in the Midwest that are wide enough to accommodate tractors! Mom is a trooper though and we finally made it back to the hotel.

We decided to just use Grub Hub again for dinner but an hour after placing our order at a nearby pizza restaurant, we got a call saying their delivery person had not shown up and asked us to cancel the order. We couldn’t find anywhere else that we wanted to order from and didn’t really want to wait longer for another delivery order so we found a little Italian place not too far away. We got the smallest pizza they had which was 14 inches and finished half of it between the two of us. We decided cold pizza for lunch in the car the next day sounded like a plan. Our standards for road food are clearly set quite high. (Insert sarcasm here)

This entire time I had been fighting the muscles in my neck cramping like they had the day before. Then the uncontrollable muscle weirdness went to my eyes and for some reason they would get stuck rolling to the back right side of my head. It was incredibly uncomfortable and admittedly kind of frightening. It was a bit like something else was controlling my eyes and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get them to move where I wanted them to. There were a few tears shed out of frustration and fear but we decided that since sleep helped with the neck issue, we would hope for the same with my eyes and if it wasn’t better in the morning we’d call my doctor. Otherwise, our plan was to get on the road home in the morning.

Thankfully, I woke up with much more control over my eye movements and just left with extremely blurry vision which is a side effect of the medication I’ve dealt with before and I knew that would improve with time. We were up and out the door by 7 am and opted to drive home by way of Baltimore rather than have to drive through Philly again.

I was feeling the fatigue pretty hard but also feeling very restless (another side effect) so I got myself some caffeine riddled coffee with my breakfast croissant at our morning stop. They were terribly overpriced, albeit tasty, but we thought it was ok because we were having leftover pizza for lunch. The drive was, overall, uneventful and I am always thankful for the fact that all of the thousands of miles we’ve driven for my sake have all been safe ones.

As we were passing through, we stopped at my brother and sister-in-law’s house to pick up mom’s little dog, Moxie. We were lucky enough to arrive before my niece’s bedtime so we got to enjoy some entertainment courtesy of the cutest little curly blonde-headed child I know. Once in Terre Haute mom asked if I wanted to go to my house or stay at hers for the night. I opted for my house even though my car was still at my dad’s. We got all the way there and I was unloading my things when I realized I didn’t know where my keys were! I assumed I had left them in my car since I couldn’t find them in my backpack anywhere and because I had no spare house key, ended up staying with mom for the night after all. Spoiler alert: I found my keys the next morning in the one pocket of my backpack I never ever use and didn’t check! Oops!

While trip was definitely not what we expected and in some ways disappointing, I do believe it was worthwhile and have gotten some relief from the IV medication I was able to get. I am very grateful for any positive changes and also thankful for the POTS diagnosis. That is not to be confused with being grateful something is wrong necessarily, but it is nice to have a word that encompasses all of those symptoms rather than having to describe each one individually. It also helps my doctors figure out what course of treatment is most promising and gives me credibility as a patient because, yes, I am still not taken seriously in some arenas. I think the outcome of the trip was overall positive and we have scheduled the lidocaine infusion for mid-September. Until then I will be praying for favor with insurance, more good days to get me through, and reminding myself that while things may not make sense to me, there is a bigger, better plan than my own in place.

Isaiah 43:1 “But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are mine.'”

Medical

Jefferson Adventure: Day 3-4

Dad and I woke up plenty early in order to pack up our things and head to the infusion center to be on time for my 7:30 am appointment. Our Uber got us there with time to spare and after a quick meeting with the nurse practitioner to check on vitals and discuss any last minute questions, I headed off to the infusion room. My very sweet nurse, Pandora, got an IV started and dad went off in search of some decent coffee while I began my infusion of Benadryl, Compazine, Zofran, DHE, Magnisium, and Toradol. All of these are medications I’ve had in the past but this time they were given together and at different rates than past experiences.

The Benadryl had me pretty worn out for a good while so dad was in and out of the infusion room while I slept. He left around 1 pm to head for the airport to catch his flight back home. I finished my infusions around 3 pm and I caught my own Uber to the hotel room I’d be staying in for the next few nights. Unfortunately when I arrived I was informed that the elevators were not working and were not expected to be functioning again for a few weeks. Not the most welcome news for someone who just spent hours having their body essentially assaulted with medications and who on a good day deals with intense fatigue and dysautonomia. Oh, my room was also on the third floor.

I managed to lug my bag and myself up the stairs and generated some laughs from the two men behind me because this healthy looking 24 year old woman was completely out of breath and feeling pretty faint after a short trip up the stairs but I was really too tired to care. I made it to the room and pretty much passed out for the rest of the evening. Dad made it home safely and I missed just enough texts and phone calls to accidentally cause concern. Oops!

I woke up on day four feeling worn out from the day before but thankfully more rested than when I got to the hotel. I got myself dressed and downstairs and called my ride for the morning. My day was much like the one before with a check in with the NP, comments on my low blood pressure, and then off to the infusion room. My nurse took a couple of tries getting my IV started which didn’t surprise me since DHE is a vasoconstrictor, which makes finding a good vein more difficult.

I opted to skip the Benadryl since I didn’t like being quite that groggy while having to stay awake and alert enough to safely transport myself between the office and hotel. The NP said that would be fine unless I started having side effects that required it. Thankfully that wasn’t an issue.

However, after this day of infusions, I did experience a really weird side effect of my neck muscles contracting uncontrollably. That meant that my head was stuck in a position like I was cradling a phone between my ear and shoulder and was really uncomfortable. I tried stretching but it didn’t really help. Thankfully a night of rest did do the trick and the following morning was much better in that regard.

I talked to mom from my hotel room and she caught me up on how her Niagara Falls trip had been going. I updated her on my surprise of just how much more difficult this all was than I expected. We both agreed that we were pretty excited to be reunited the following day! I fell in and out of sleep starting fairly early in the evening and prepared to do it all again in the morning!