Hanging In There

August 21, 2014 at 1:42 pm (Disability, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Mental Health, Spiritual) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you’ve ever had any kind of conversation with me, regardless of the medium, there is an incredibly high probability that when you’ve asked some version of “How are you doing?” I have responded with my fallback, favorite, non-pessimistic, doesn’t-drag-you-into-a-conversation-you-didn’t-want-to-have response:

“I’m hanging in there.”

Those who get to know me more intimately hear that phrase so often it begins to lack meaning. Or they’ll see a twinge, a wink, a deep exhalation; something to cue the listener to the “where” I might be “hanging in”.

I learned at a party four years ago that “How are you, really?”, can easily be mistaken for “I know you had a medical ‘thing’ recently; please tell me how miraculous your healing has been so I can feel good about the world.” I know some people actually mean “I read your blog and I have a general sense of the technical side of what’s not working for you; we’d just like some secret stuff not shared on the blog and I know some pretty awesome doctors who treat Ginger Cancer*.” But once the gathering gets past the awkward social niceties, no one is sure what the next step should be. (If you’re roleplaying 1950, I believe it is to take his hat and coat and usher him into the downstairs sitting/crochet/wielding/welding/spelling correction room while asking him about coffee preferences.)

Sometimes people really do want to know how I’m feeling, generally or right in the moment. Maybe they read this blog and want to hear some of the wacky stories straight from my mouth, or they want to ask questions about things I’ve written.

And sometimes people are super grateful when I answer with something so non-committal, so they can skip past the whole ‘Del’s life is hard’ part and get straight to the “Do you want to go catch frogs with me?” mode. Or just about any other question or conversation or activity.

People are correct that when I go to a party or fun gatherings or even just have you over for hangouts, that I am both of the following at the same time:

  • Totally willing to answer any questions or share any details about my medical journey. Remember, that’s what Baphomet said in the beginning of all this, was to share my experiences as far and wide as I can.
  • Sick and fucking tired of every conversation I have with any human being on the planet is somehow related to me being sick, disabled, or in pain. I want to pretend for an hour or three that I’m just an average ordinary Joe doing ordinary Joe things like going to the movies or setting my friends on fire. Y’know, stuff that just happens every day.

I have been getting MUCH better at setting and supporting boundaries around these things, including being totally willing to withdraw into my bedroom if we are hanging out and I’m starting to feel weak, tired, in pain, etc. I warn people before they visit that it will happen, and sometimes it happens for the majority of a visit, and sometimes it was just during the most critical moments of why they came to see me. But there’s nothing I can do about that, so I accept it and move on.

Too Intimidating?

Another social thing I’ve been trying to figure out lately is that many people think of me as being intimidating. I think the first time someone brought this to my attention was a wonderfully powerful and bodily petite Priestess. We had been to a lot of the same events and such, and when necessary we’ve have fun and interesting but politely distant social contact. I couldn’t really tell if she liked me as a person, or if she was being respectful of my experience while secretly disagreeing with any one of my many unusual beliefs or practices, or if she just thought I smelled funny.

Anyway, said Priestess comes striding into my cabin during a camping event, and sits on the edge of my bed. “Del,” I paraphrased, “I am done being intimidated by you.

This is the sort of thing I hear a lot. People saying that they read something I wrote or went to one of my classes or saw me at a party but couldn’t approach because I am intimidating. It baffles me, as I try to be open and warm and friendly, even though I am introverted down to the remnants of my toenails. But it’s a perception, and all I can do to change perception to be reliably un-intimidating (whatever that looks like).

I mean, it’s nothing like what you’re going through…

People are sometimes afraid to talk to me, especially about wellness-related issues, because they’re afraid that being worried/upset/tired/challenged with their health situation when compared to whatever they perceive I’m going through.

What you don’t see is how that reflects on me. Here are some of the things I hear between the lines when people say things like this:

  • You’re so much sicker/weaker/poorer off than I, so much so it’s only okay to talk about your struggles all the time.
  • You’re never going to take my struggles seriously because yours are so much bigger and more threatening than mine,
  • You are so, so ill that even a simple conversation causes you pain, so instead I will only engage in flighty small talk with you.

I’m sure you get my drift.

Now, this is not an invitation to grill me further the next time I tell you I’m “hanging in there”. Sometimes I really do need a little pushing to open up about things, partially because I find myself telling the same stories over and over again (Baphomet sorta promised me this blog would stop that from happening), and partially because I don’t want to waste the 20 minutes of face time I’m going to get with you at the party/gathering/concert/event to be all about my blood sugar numbers and my O2 sats.
I also have a hard time telling who really wants to hear every single detail about what tests I’ve had and what they’ve shown and who all the “charming players” there are (I not-so-secretly nickname most of my doctors and nurses, especially if there are ones that stand out screaming for one. This trip to JH has given us several – Nurses Anxious, Snake, and Afro; Doctors Bopper, Blondie, and Randomly In Charge; even techs like Pocket Fairy and New Best Friend. In fact, I’ve been asked to come up with a new cast of characters and why they got the nicknames they did, so I’m going to end this post a little prematurely so I can take a break and then tackle that. The next post will also likely have much bigger updates as to what’s going on and why I’m not discharged yet…

….and I just may have found my Zebra hunters. Oh yes, another nickname. The “Zebra” thing comes from an old medical school saying – “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”

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If I Eat a Crow, Will I Get Sick?

September 28, 2013 at 1:18 am (Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, Mental Health, The Journey Towards Diagnosis) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I get a lot of odd search terms (what people put into a search engine and find my blogs). But one of my all time favorites has been “If I eat a crow, will I get sick?” I mean, it’s a good idea to check before diving into strange meat to see if there are any standard precautions, y’know, like not eating raw chicken. And honestly, I’ve never done the homework to find out the answer to that time-old question. I mean, I figure any source of meat, if thoroughly cooked, is probably edible.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about today. It is, however, a someone apt title for my newest and most amusing symptom.

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve updated you guys on my medical situation, and part of that is because I’m in a state of limbo; a brand new, completely different, confounding medical problem has become the star attraction. I’m wary to say too much right now, because it’s in that stage where my new PCP just spouted a lot of guesses based on what they saw in my bloodwork and some of the things are game-changers. I’ll put it this way: the person who accompanied me to the appointment disagreed with my remembering of what the doctor said, so to be extra clear that I wasn’t worrying over nothing, I emailed her and got some clarification (I was right, if that matters.)

So the new issue is my blood. There is something funky with both my red blood cells and my white blood cells. The only white blood cell disease that has been ruled out is leukemia. The red blood cell problem is likely just anemia; but the biggest symptom is what I want to write about because I find it so damn funny.

Pica is a disorder I’ve found endlessly facinating since I was a child. I have even devoured every episode of “Strange Addiction”, as most follow a formula of “Person who does weird thing” followed by “Person who eats a nonfood substance” (like toilet paper, bathroom cleaner, or cornstarch). I once even asked a friend about a trend on the show, where African-American women were in the majority of the latter-half segments. She told me that, indeed, pica is common in African-American women (as the wikipedia article says), and that she herself had tried eating a non-food item after an errant craving.

My pica snuck up on me. Normally, when I’m at home, I don’t use ice in my drinks unless, for some reason, I have to drink water. (I really dislike water unless it is very cold.) But as the dog days of August came in, I started filling up my ice tea tumbler with ice cubes before adding the tea. Once the iced tea was gone, I would suck on a few ice cubes and maybe bite them so they would break into smaller pieces (making them easier to suck). As time wore on, I was putting less and less iced tea into the cup, and just filling it with ice so I could eat the ice. I didn’t think of this as “eating ice”, though; I still thought I was drinking iced tea.

It got to a point where I could no longer deny that I was now skipping the iced tea entirely and just eating huge cups of ice. I would wake up in the middle of the night because my craving for ice was so strong. Instead of pouring myself something to drink with meals, I would just pop an ice cube in my mouth every once in a while. Finally, Rave noticed the trend and decided a) this is a “thing” now, and b) we needed to get smaller ice cube trays so I didn’t break my teeth or hurt my jaw.

It seemed pretty harmless. I figured that it was, at the very least, upping my water intake. Almost every time I’ve been to the hospital or ER, I’ve been dehydrated. The last trip, in August, I was so dehydrated my urine was reddish orange. When I get in pain, I stop drinking. I don’t know why, but I do. And when I am super nauseous, the only liquid intake I can handle is ice, or water with a lot of ice.

It became such a habit that I would fill a mug with ice before going to bed, both so if I awoke wanting ice it would be there and so I could use the water in the morning to take my pills. Rave now makes sure I have a cup of ice at hand most of the time she is home.

I saw the doctor last week and I first brought up the restless legs. It is a symptom I get any time I go into opiate withdrawal, but I am currently on a low dose oxycontin regimen and have no withdrawal symptoms other than the RLS. It’s so bad that there are full nights I’ve lost sleep because every time I laid down I would reflexively start rocking my legs. Even when I’m sitting up, I get this crawly energy that runs up my calves. Nothing else relieves the sensation but moving my legs. I do use my foot bike when the feelings are overwhelming, and the fact that is has a backup motor (so if I don’t have the power to push the peddles against resistance, my legs will still go in circles) is super helpful in those times, especially at 3am when I’m exhausted and just want to go to sleep.

Between my odd bloodwork numbers and the RLS, she was already thinking that something is up. When I told her about the ice, it clinched it. I basically have all of the markers of iron deficiency. So that’s in the works.

However, the pica has “grown”, I guess. It’s hard for me to admit this, but I am trying to keep a lighthearted sense of humor about it because otherwise I would probably freak out to the point of uselessness. In the past two weeks, I’ve had cravings for dirt (another classic pica symptom), cigarette butts, and wanting to chew on wood. I have not given into any of these for obvious reasons, and when I get the odder cravings I just get more ice and eat that until it passes.

I am not at all concerned about this being some sort of mental health issue, because if there’s any disorder I know for certain I do not have, it is OCD. I am not autistic, nor am I eating ice in some odd way of getting attention. In fact, I prefer to eat my ice in my room alone.

I also learned that pica gets its name from the Magpie (another reason why the Crow thing seemed appropriate) because people observed that magpies will eat just about anything.

So there it is. Maybe this is some odd coincidence, since I’ve always been fascinated with pica. I had a dog with pica when I was a kid, who ate all sorts of nonfood things. Now I know what she was going through, I guess.

I should know more about the blood issues in a week or two. Longer, of course, if they turn out to be more serious and require further testing.

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