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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Finding New Depths

April 25, 2014 at 5:06 pm (Chronic Pain, Disability, Medical) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

It’s my fault, of course. Not just because I am the blogger in the equation, but because the current health struggle is complex. Probably the most complex since the surgery last December. It hit me at a very inopportune time, and has been one of the most difficult depression triggers I’ve dealt with. I am hanging in there, doing my best to keep pushing and keep living and not give in to inertia, shame, fear, and pain.

Part of why I am writing this post now, why I have come out of the dark, is that I need you. I need allies in my current situation. I need people who know what’s going on to answer the questions and comments people will make behind my back. I need people who will understand why I might be making different decisions, why I might not want to talk about certain things, and why I might walk away from conversations that stir my turbulent emotions any faster than they’re already dizzying me. My work “season” is about to begin, so hiding at home is no longer an option.

Here’s the story, as best as I can relay it. Back in early March, I noticed my legs and ankles were getting very swollen. I had never understood how much vanity I took in having slender, muscular calves and feet until I didn’t have them anymore. I also developed shortness of breath, even when doing the smallest things – I would take the six steps into my bathroom and have to recover. I started having a deep chest cough, so I thought maybe the breathing problems were just a portend to a chest cold/bronchitis/etc. These symptoms progressed, getting more and more difficult to function. It felt like someone had wrapped my chest in an ace bandage.

The next symptom is the hardest to write about, so bear with me. I have these two pairs of jeans that I call my “jeans of requirement” (a vague reference to Harry Potter). These pants fit me for the last ten years, from my heaviest through my medically unsafe weight loss and back again. For some reason, the way they’re cut or something, they might fit differently, but I could rely on them. So you’ll understand when I tried to put one of them on, and could not fasten the button, I was downright scared. I took a deep personal inventory to examine the possibility I’d gained so much weight that they just wouldn’t fit, but in the end I know I’ve been eating well, getting up and moving when I can, and hadn’t been particularly laid up more than usual.

Then we noticed that this was happening all over my body. My feet became so swollen my shoes didn’t fit. The skin on my calves and lower thighs was stretched so tight, the smallest touch was painful. My fingers and arms were also chubbier than usual, and finally when I saw pictures of my face I noticed that even my neck and cheeks hadn’t been spared. I got really, really scared.

I started a new round of doctor’s appointments, and the first thing that gave me a little solace was that my doctor confirmed that I was suffering from edema (swelling), and specifically anascara (swelling that happens all over your body). It is most pronounced in my lower abdomen and legs/feet. It was also determined that my shortness of breath was because of the swelling putting pressure on my lungs and diaphragm, making it harder to get deep breaths. Swelling like this is a big symptom, but it could have hundreds of reasons, so this is why if you follow me on Facebook, I’ve been going to a lot of doctor’s appointments lately.

To put it in perspective: one doc’s estimation after looking at CT scans of my body, is that I am currently carrying 50-70lbs of a combination of fluids in my body. This is not “I am PMSing and feeling kinda bloated”; this is “The pants I accidently ordered three or four inches too big are all I can wear now, and even they are tight.” None of my shoes fit comfortably. I had to buy special socks because normal ones were causing deep indents in my ankles.

I had some hope in the beginning that this would be more straightforward than my other medical mystery solving tours, but that’s been shot to hell. I’ve basically been the hot potato that various specialists throw at each other. And like any other mystery solving tour, doctors find other things that aren’t related to the issue but need to be addressed – one highly suggested I see an ophthalmologist to rule out edemic pressure on my eyes causing my double vision, but it turned out I’ve just had a lazy eye since childhood that no one ever diagnosed so now it’s bad enough to cause most of the weird eyesight I’ve had lately. The eye doc wants me to follow up with a different specialist, but obviously that’s been put on the back burner for now.

Another reason I haven’t felt like narrating this part of the journey is that many, many different possible diagnoses have been suggested and/or tested for, and most of them are pretty major/life changing kinds of diagnoses. Since I’ve already told a handful of people, I guess it’s safe to say that 2 kinds of cancer are near the top of the list right now. But I don’t want to be the boy who cries cancer before any solid diagnosis has been made. I can say that heart failure and/or other heart problems have been ruled out – my ticker seems to be doing pretty well, all things considered.

When it comes to real life stuff, the swelling has killed any sense of self-esteem I usually have in abundance. I look fatter than I have ever been my whole life. Even having seen the images that prove the “weight” is NOT fat tissue didn’t really help. There are places where the swelling is pulling my skin in very painful ways. I hate how I look. I hate how I feel. I hate that my pannus – that part of me that had been cut away – has fallen again due to the swelling. There is pressure on my surgical scars. I can’t walk more than a few steps before the pain becomes intolerable. Although I’ve always gotten dirty looks from people when I’m in my wheelchair (the looks are meant to communicate “If you got up and walked around, fatty, you probably wouldn’t need that chair”), it has definitely become more pronounced since the anascara.

It has not been unnoticed that the one part of me I had come to some radical acceptance with is now the one brought to the forefront of my attention. Is there a size or weight where being fat is less acceptable? You hear things like that from people all the time – “I’m okay with being 240, but if I cross into 300 I’d shoot myself.” Or “I’m okay with being overweight, but I’d never want to be ‘morbidly obese’.” I know that you can’t let what others say interfere with your self-esteem, but it’s also true that these ‘throw away’ comments have to stick somewhere.

Because the universe is a big cosmic joke, I’m supposed to be getting ready to teach at a sacred sexuality event next weekend. I am teaching some things that I am pretty uniquely qualified to teach, but the idea of being at an event about sex and sexuality feels pretty horrible while I’m trapped under all this fluid. As Rave often says, “I’ll just put on my educator hat and get the job done”. But underneath that hat, I am pretty depressed.

Part of what I’m asking for help with is if you’re going to THE Beltane next weekend, or know someone who is. I am sure there will be people who will be asking about my apparent weight gain, both to my face and behind my back. I know some people will be curious out of a legitimate desire to know what’s going on with me, too. But I’m just not in a place where I feel like retelling the story over and over again. Nor do I want people trying to make me feel better by throwing an arm around me and telling me I’m still attractive or whatever. I just want to teach awesome classes, have fun with my friends and play partners, and spend 4 days not making phone calls and emails to my various doctors or looking for rides to appointments. If you can do anything to help create this safe zone for me, I would be deeply appreciated.

(In particular, the owner of the location tends to comment about my weight whenever he sees me, and I am literally dreading what he will say when I get there. If you are genuinely close with said person and can explain things to him, that would help too.)

So where I stand with the mystery hunt is that cardiologist has cleared me, and infectious disease did find an infection, but that’s not the cause of the issue. Next is either endocrinology or nephrology, once I get through a sleep study (because there’s a infintessimal chance that this could all be because my CPAP needs to be reset. It would be wonderful if it turns out to be that easy, but I’m not placing any bets.)

So there’s the update. I am looking for help with two things:

1. A comfortable recliner. It seems that sleeping in a chair is working better for me right now, but the recliner we have is very, very low to the ground and getting out of it hurts my knees a lot. I don’t care if the material has holes or scratches in it, just that it is tall enough for me to get out of easily, and that the reclining mechanism works well. Rave has the exact measurement for how tall the chair should be, so if you are local and want to help us hunt on Craigslist and Yard Sales you can email her at delandrave at gmail dot com.

2. Volunteer Drivers. I’ve been going to many more appointments lately, so my regular pool of drivers are getting a little burned out. I have my own car, which I prefer because I am comfortable in it, but I will ride in other cars as long as they are high enough off the ground. I particularly need drivers the times it is most difficult to find them – between 11a and 6p, Monday through Friday. I have appointments in Hagerstown, Baltimore, Lutherville, and Frederick. The actual appointments are usually an hour long, plus travel time. It is vitally important that we arrive on time, and I would rather be 5 hours early than 5 minutes late. (Not literally.)

Drivers must also be able to lift, pack, and push my wheelchair. You are welcome to do a dry run on a day when I don’t have to be somewhere – you can come over and push me around the mall or a store or something to get the hang of it.

I can’t pay right now – money has been a real issue lately – but I can offer a variety of barter. I can send a “Rave for a Day”, who is happy to do laundry, clean and organize areas, babysit, mend torn clothing, etc. She’s pretty spectacular and multi-talented.

Again, if you might be able to help with driving, email delandrave at gmail dot com.

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