The Three Sided Coin

April 16, 2013 at 7:21 am (Hospitalizations, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, Mental Health, The Journey Towards Diagnosis, The Panniculectomy, Tuberculosis (Inactive)) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you just want the short version, you can skim/scroll down to the “Here is the TL:DR Bookmark”, and start there. You’re welcome.

As you all know, I had a panniculectomy in late December, from which I healed much faster than expected. The surgeon had predicted a much more dire situation, but in the end other than a little breathing issues on the table everything seemed to be going fine. By February, the surgeon was ready to start scheduling my follow-up appointments six weeks apart; we had agreed before the surgery that we would be following up for at least a year if not longer, because there was a really high chance of post-op complications. Six weeks was the maximum time between follow up appointments, so that’s how well I was doing only two months after the knife.

In the middle of March, I noticed that there was some very slight swelling around the right-of-center part of my abdomen, around part of the surgical scar. The doctor has warned me that there might be odd swelling up to a year afterward, so at first I dismissed it. Also, I had just spend two and a half months “healing from surgery”, so I wasn’t keen to go running back to the doctor right away; I wanted to spend that time and energy getting back into the swing of things post-separation, booking some gigs and finishing the book. Every week I’d say to myself or Rave, “I should call Dr Sacks about this swelling in my belly; it looks a little worse.” And then I’d get distracted doing other stuff and wouldn’t. I kept assuring myself I had the six-week checkup already planned and if nothing else, I’d be seeing him then.

Six weeks finally passed, and I went to see him for the appointment. As soon as he walked in the room, my guilt jumped out at him and said, “Don’t be mad at me; there’s been some swelling. I kept thinking I should call you, but I was busy with other stuff and was afraid I’d have to go on hiatus again to deal with it.” He laughed; he reminded me that this is my body, not his, and if I want to ignore something I had the right to do so. He’d eat those words a few weeks later.

This is an interesting thought, and something worth going on a bit of a tangent on, if you’ll indulge me. (Again, if you want to skip ahead to the part where I get to the point, feel free.) Between having friends who deeply care and sometimes feel invested in my well-being, and being a blogger who shares their medical journey with the general Internet public, it can sometimes be overlooked that we’re talking about my body, and that everyone has made decisions that did not put their body or their health at the top of the priority list. Whether it’s extreme sports or eating a triple bacon cheeseburger with hamburger patties for buns, we accept that sometimes the experience is worth the risk. But when one is both public and chronically ill, people tend to want to bundle us in soft cotton and keep us from any extra suffering. It’s actually something I’ve read quite a bit about when reading disability advocacy and activism papers; that part of fighting for body autonomy is fighting for the right to do unhealthy or risky things with one’s body regardless of one’s state of health/ability when they make that decision.

In writing this blog for over a year, I frequently get emails, comments, or find myself in conversations, in which people basically inform me that they know more about how to treat my body than I do. That’s not what they say, but it’s what they mean. When someone sees me eating something delicious, but not the most healthy (or these days, merely something I’ve previously stated is a food or drink I am avoiding) they feel they not only have automatic permission to point this out to me, but in some cases, they physically take the food away or publicly shame me for making that choice.

During this hospital stay, people have been bringing me slushies from Sonic, which is a total Del comfort food. They’re basically fruit, simple syrup, and frozen water (and I get the ones that Sonic claims are made from “real fruit”, rather than just a flavored syrup), but it doesn’t take a food scientist to know that they’re full of simple sugars. My blood sugar numbers have been pretty shitty lately, and most of that is due to stress/pain. However, I’ve noticed a behavior among the nurses here that I really wish the rest of the world would take a cue from: they don’t care. When I get “caught” – when a nurse comes in to take my blood sugar only to see a half-empty Sonic slushy on my table next to my laptop – the nurse doesn’t actually say or do anything at all. It’s me, responding to years of programmed fat-and-sugar-shaming, that immediately jumps and says, “You caught me. I was having a slushy.” And it is Pavlovian, this response, because my experience from the last few days has shown me that the nurses don’t give a damn. It’s the people visiting me who make the judgement statements or even just a joke about how terrible it is that I’m drinking this thing.

It’s as if disabled/chronically ill bodies no longer belong to the person using them. We are community property, open to scrutiny and judgement by anybody, but most often by people who think they know better. However, I will assert that when a person feels entitled to judge another based solely on what they see/hear/know in the moment, or solely on what that person shares on the Internet, frequently their judgements say more about them than they do about us. Someone may attempt to shame me for my choices, as some sort of dodge or deflection about their unhealthy choices.

There’s more I want to say about this, but this tangent is getting really long and you’re more interested in what’s going to happen next in my hospital story, so remind me to come back to this sometime.

He didn’t think the swelling was anything particularly surprising or negative, but he sent me to get a CT scan right away to see if it was a new fluid collection or abscess. It turned out I had a much smaller (9mm) fluid collection, but that it was not infected. I got another drain installed via Interventional Radiology (IR), but there was (oddly) very little fluid coming out. What did come out was serrous fluid, or basically white blood cells. I only had the drain in for a week and a bit, as it mysteriously fell out of it’s own accord on that Sunday when I was at Charm City Fetish Fair.

The day before that happened, Saturday April 6th, was a very bad day. Even though I knew I needed to be up very early (for Dels) in order to go to Charm City and register, I could not for the life of me get any sleep the night before, mostly because I felt pain and nausea. It was bad, really bad. Probably the worst chronic illness day I’ve had in the last two years. We got to the hotel and I went right to sleep, woke up, did my class/panel, went right back to sleep, woke up for my volunteer shift, and then sleep. I couldn’t really eat or even drink fluids because I was so sick to my stomach. I emailed my surgeon and his PA to tell them how bad I was feeling and asking for their advice. Dr Sacks felt it was no big deal and to be expected, whereas his assistant thought going to the ER there and then was the better choice. As I was not feeling inclined to go to the hospital, and Dr. Sacks was assuring me it didn’t have anything to do with my abdomen, I decided to stay at the event.

As part of my earlier tangent, I wanted to add another point here. Again, feel free to skip this part.

Another way in which people outside of my immediate circle judge me and my choices is when they criticize me for leaving the house. I have lost count of how many times someone has suggested that if I only stayed home more often, or rested more, or did less work, or some other way confined my life to my bedroom, I would miraculously feel better and/or have taken better care of my body. They also feel entitled to make those comments because I openly write about financial struggles and have received donations from people in the past to help cover medical costs; and yet, I also write about going to parties or events or in some other way spending money on a social life that, in their opinion, would be better spent on medical costs.

I can’t stress enough how backwards this is. If I never go out and never do fun things, then my entire life becomes restricted to “being sick”. The only people I know – and I do know them – who want their lives to completely revolve around being ill/having medical emergencies, are mentally unstable. They thrive off of the attention people who suffer are given, and they are immediately jealous if someone else gets one iota of attention because that other person is also suffering. It’s as if there is nothing redeeming about them, nothing worth paying attention to or engaging with them over, except their illness.

I, and I like to think saner people, fight that perception with every bone in our body. I begged Baphomet to allow me a second blog specifically because my online presence had become completely focused on me being sick, and it’s not the only, or even most important part of my identity. But in order to do that, writing about my adventures is not enough; I actually have to go have them. Now, this doesn’t mean that I spend the grocery money (or the prescription money) on sex toys and roller coasters, but it does mean that – gasp – I choose to cut back on one thing in order to have fun, and also that – gasp – I frequently go out and do fun things when I “should” be home resting. Anyone who tries to shame me for leaving my house twice this month, putting off seeing the doc by a week or two, doesn’t understand or support the concept of people living full, complete, joyous lives. And that’s just sad, because it means that their life is so boring, so empty, that their idea of fun is to criticize and ridicule some random person on the Internet for doing something fun.

Sunday morning came, and our plan was to get dressed, eat some breakfast, take a look at the vendor mart, and go home. A friend of mine was in charge of vendors and was telling me that no one was buying stuff and the vendors were feeling kinda desperate. As I was getting dressed, I turned at one point and realized my drain was on the bed, and it was too far away from me to still be attached. Sure enough, upon closer inspection, I could clearly see the end of the tube that goes inside of the abscess lying on the bed like it was just another piece of my outfit. I emailed Dr Sacks and his PA again, and this time they both stressed that I should only go to the ER if I felt I had to, because there was really nothing the ER could do to assist me. I bandaged up the wound and left the hotel for home, spending most of the next two days asleep.

I was looking something up online about Isoniazid, my TB drug, when I remembered about liver-toxicity, which is a well known and documented side effect that hits those who get ill a lot. I brought up a page on the med and lo and behold, there’s a list of all of my current symptoms under the heading, “Seek out medical attention immediately if you experience…”

I had been waffling about calling a new PCP or going to see the old one. My PCP is no spring chicken, but at least I’ve been with him for long enough that I feel like he knows what’s going on and how to look at the bigger picture. However, I couldn’t get in to see him specifically, but another doctor in his practice. My ride shows up to take me to the appointment, and even she suggests we skip it and go directly to the ER instead. At this point, however, I’ve created this narrative in my head that says “If you go to the ER, it will be an emergency. If you go to the doctor, it will be no big deal.” I even reaffirm my decision when we reach the point in the journey where we could still peel off and go straight to the ER.

Well, we know how that played out. The PCP listened to what I had to say, and immediately knew she was out of her depth and I should go to, not just the ER in general, but the ER at Johns Hopkins, since I’ve been working with them and my files are all integrated. So my patient driver and I hop back in the car and reverse our trip to JHER.

It is quickly realized that I do not have a liver problem, but whatever is ailing me is fucking serious. I get admitted fairly quickly, even though it takes hours upon hours to get a bed. I start to feel much more ill as they park me in a tiny waiting room (which they now swear is a “staging area”) for two hours with no supervision, no one checking in to see how I’m doing, and a gaggle of very angry sick people who have also be relegated to this purgatory. Finally, Rave and I make enough of a stink combined that they move me back into the ER proper but we have to continue waiting for a “real bed”.

We learn that the new fluid collection has grown larger. It now has a “skin”, a membrane that holds it all together, which makes it really difficult to kill with antibiotics alone. They take cultures and try to determine exactly what is in there and what way is best to treat it. I end up losing the fight over getting a PICC line or central line when they start running Vancomyacin through my veins, and I blow three or four veins that first night alone.

The next few days are kinda blurry for me. See, at the same time, I started suffering from very short bouts of amnesia. I would forget where I was, or what I was doing at Johns Hopkins (I kept thinking I was back in High School). I got a neuro consult and although they’re testing just to make sure I didn’t have a mini stroke or temporal lobe seizures or anything like that, they think it might be a side effect of long term use of narcotic pain meds. I don’t know if I agree, but I do admire them for at least making an effort to make sure it’s not something more serious. They chided me a bit for not chasing the neuro stuff more aggressively (like going to get all the test my neuro ordered or going to see him more often) and I explained that I have been putting out fires since August and am doing my best.

Anyway, now you know enough of the backstory to get to the point.


Here is the TL:DR Bookmark

The Infectious Disease Doctors, The Plastic Surgeons, and The General Surgeons all agree.
The reason I am getting these infected abscesses in my abdomen is because of the mesh that was used during my ventral hernia repair back in 2009. Yes, that was Dr. WLS’s doing.
They used mesh to hold up and strengthen my abdominal wall, and in the process the mesh grew a “biofilm”, basically, a wonderful fertilized area for bacterial infections to grow and flourish.

Option One: “The Big Deal”

I will continue to have these infections while I still have the mesh inside of me. Removing the mesh, however, would be a big deal surgery wise. The mesh is covered in adhesions, and may very well be attached to my intestines, and it was put there for a reason. So this surgery, which I’ve nicknamed The Big Deal, would be a team of surgeons going in, finding said mesh (it doesn’t image well on CT or Xray), carefully removing all the adhesions, removing it from my bowels (which could get complicated very quickly, and include such favorites as “Bowl Resection”).

The surgeons are giving me all the exact same doom and gloom songs that they did about the surgery in December; that I will definitely be in the hospital for close to a month if not longer, that there is a really good chance I won’t make it through the surgery (especially now that I had a hiccup in the Dec one), and it will be a very long and difficult recovery with lots of creative agony and embarrassment. But this time, none of the surgeons want to do this surgery. They all feel this is something we should wait, and plan, and know the area super well beforehand, for the reasons we all know and have discussed.

The only way The Big Deal would happen during this hospitalization is if I spiked an abnormally high fever (like 104), or in some other way showed signs of advanced infection.

Option Two: “History Repeating”

My second option, which is still very much on the table for this hospitalization, is to address this specific abscess. That would entail having much the same surgery that I did in December; it would be much more superficial than The Big Deal, in that it would not entail cutting into the muscle wall or anything like that. It is still as dangerous as it was last time, but we also know that I did very well with the surgery itself and healed fairly well.

Option Three: “No Cuts, Just Infinite Pills”

This is the option most of the doctors (but not all) are currently advocating for, depending on how the next few days go while I’m here. This course would be to put me on really strong “nuclear bomb” home antibiotics, either via a PICC line or oral meds, for six to twelve weeks. After that, I would be given a permanent prescription for whatever antibiotic they feel will fend off more infections in the abdomen. I would still have the mesh, and that would still be fertile soil for growing infections, but the antibiotic would hopefully keep the infections from becoming anything to write home about.

Before you get all excited that there’s a non-surgical option, there are some big drawbacks to both being on a nuclear bomb level antibiotic for six to twelve weeks, and there are some bigger drawbacks to being on a permanent antibiotic prescription. Now, I’m saying “permanent”, but that makes the assumption that we never decide to try to correct the problem surgically.

Now, this makes it sound like I have a decision to make, right? Not really. I need to be informed about each of the options, and have a general understanding of how I feel about them and how seriously I want to pursue them. But how things like this usually play out is that the doctors will look at all the test results and data and make the best decision based on their knowledge and experience, and then recommend that choice heavily to me. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t chose to advocate the fuck out of a different choice if I really wanted it (like in Dec, when Dr Sacks kept suggesting reasons why we’d postpone the surgery another six weeks), but I’m the type of guy who trusts but verifies.

If we lived in a world where I could make a free and conscious choice, I would probably choose History Repeating for the right now, and then spend the summer preparing for The Big Deal. I’ve already reached out to Dr. Awesome and asked her if she might be willing to look at my current records and give me a consult over what she thinks is the best choice; but I did this with the covert agenda of asking her to be my surgeon for the Big Deal. Dr. Sacks would handle History Repeating, but I know from past discussions that he would feel uncomfortable doing The Big Deal all by himself. He and Dr. Awesome have worked together in the OR before, so it’s possible to get them to team up for The Big Deal.

Right now, they’re still trying to get a very accurate understanding of what types of infection I have growing in my abdomen, and also digging up information about the mesh that was installed – when, what type, where, etc. If I had to take a wild guess as to how much longer I am going to be here, I’d say at the minimum three more days, at reasonable maximum (barring surgery) I’d say a week or a week plus a day or two. If History Repeats, I would bump that up to two to three weeks.

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Things are Looking UP!

November 26, 2012 at 9:38 pm (Chronic Pain, Disability, Hospitalizations, Living, Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, Mental Health, Spiritual, The Journey Towards Diagnosis, The Panniculectomy, Tuberculosis (Inactive)) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I get comments sometimes that this blog has turned into one gripe after another about how negative my life is; a “bitch fest”, “too much focus on the negative, and not enough positive thinking”, etc. So I thought since I’m having a pretty red-letter day that I would take a moment to let all of you know some of the positive things that are going on in my life.

First and foremost, when I was seen for my post-hospital stay follow up, my surgery team jointly decided that there was no need for me to be seen again until my pre-surgery appointment on December 14th. This is great news, and basically turned 4 appointments into one. We decided to leave the drain in until surgery, both to reduce the number of appointments and also to keep the abscess from cultivating more ick before it’s surgically excised.

We’ve found a great service that we’re going to be using to control all the informational traffic around the surgery and aftermath; rather than litter social media and having multiple phone trees, we’re using Wiggio as our sole information stream. We chose Wiggio because it has a ton of features that will be useful for us, including the ability to send mass text messages, have a shared calendar to schedule visits, project folders to organize different things that I or Rave will need help with, and lots more. The way the Wiggio works, you need to send us an email at delandrave@gmail.com to request an invite; we did this so we can know everyone who is on the group and make sure people who are on there are more than just passively interested in what’s going on. There will be some posts made to social media, so if all you want to know is if I’m out of surgery or ICU, there will likely be posts to that effect eventually. On the other hand, if you want to be actively involved in helping Rave with things during my hospital stay, or want up-to-the-minute information on my situation, please feel free to ask us for an invite. If you’re not someone we already know, you may want to include some information as to how you know me and how you expect to be helpful, so we have some idea. Like I said, we want to make sure everyone who is on the Wiggio is someone we trust to be an active partner in what is happening.

In that vein, the house that we’ve been affectionately referring to as “The Squat” is on the market, and the arrangement was that we could stay here until it sells. Well, an offer has been made, and if the bank accepts it, we have 45 days to vacate the premises. But fortunately, we found a perfect place for us right in southeastern Frederick; Rave went to tour the house today and found it to be old and a little beat up, but otherwise totally awesome. It’s on a 41 acre horse farm, a four bedroom house with a master bedroom/kitchen/full bath all on the first floor. I love that we’ll have space for two guest rooms, which will double as a sewing room for Rave and an altar room for me. We should be getting an application tomorrow; we tried to make a deposit because the landlady said she’s had a LOT of interest, but she wouldn’t accept it. So for now, we just ask that you keep your everythings crossed that the application goes through with flying colors and we can solidify a place to live. It would mean a large burden off of both of our shoulders, so we can focus on the surgery without having to split that focus with the arduous task for finding a place to live.

And what’s made that all workable has been the incredibly wonderful response to our request for help. We’ve received so many packages from my Amazon wish list, and a blessed amount of financial assistance. We have enough to make a good deposit on the house, should we pass the application. However, we can always use more help, so if you haven’t had a chance to check it out, please take a look at my entry detailing the many ways you can be of assistance to us.

That’s not all! Rave went down to my old house to pick up some belongings and happened to find a piece of mail I have been waiting on for four months! Yes, that’s right, my name change has been approved, no court date needed! I am so incredibly pleased that my name is finally my own in all senses; I have been told by my Gods that I am *never* to change it again, no matter what. I finally have a name I chose for myself, one that represents who I am and how I move in the world. I took my long-time nickname and nom de plume, “Del”, as my first name. I kept the middle name my parents gave me, because it’s pretty awesome and also as a tie to my familial line, so it stays “Astra”. Finally, I was able to shed myself of my STBX’s last name (which I wasn’t thrilled about taking in the first place, but did it as a token of my love and devotion to him) and take my Clan’s name, something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time but my STBX was totally against. So my full legal name, which I am unafraid to post on the Internet, is Del Astra Tashlin.

Another great thing is that I am now on a course of drugs to finally treat my latent tuberculosis, and I haven’t had any withdrawal or other terrible side effects. I, by no means, am trying to say it’s been a walk in the park, especially combined with all the antibiotics and other meds I’m on, but it’s nothing like when I tried the Rifampin, twice, so I am so pleased that someday, I will be TB free.

So in all, things have been looking up here at The Squat. We’ve finally hit a streak of good news, tons of support from our friends and family, and are preparing for a surgery that, although it won’t heal *all* the problems I face, will significantly reduce my suffering (especially in terms of infections and repeated hernia surgeries) for some time. There is hope that while I’m in the hospital, they will be able to run a battery of tests to help discover why my immune system seems to be so suppressed/why I seem to get every infection that walks by, as well as possibly transfer my pain management to an office closer to where I live now (the one I currently see is now over three hours away!), and also get more Johns Hopkins doctors interested in my case so I can get some integrated care – where the ID doc knows what tests the neurologist ran, and the pain management doctor can talk to my surgeon about how to administer meds so my chronic *and* acute pain can be treated simultaneously, and the like. This is all very exciting, and a really good reason to live, which is the real thing I’ve been looking for these past four months.

Thank you to all the Gods and Spirits who have been with me patiently while I thrashed through my suffering! May they stay beside me through the trials ahead, but also be able to celebrate with me all the good things that have come into my life! Thank you to all the people who have done the same!

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Looking Towards Surgery: The Plan

November 15, 2012 at 7:43 pm (Hospitalizations, Medical, Mental Health, The Journey Towards Diagnosis, The Panniculectomy, Tuberculosis (Inactive)) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I am happily writing this post from the comfort of my bedroom at The Squat. I was discharged today after my “two to three” day stay that was actually six. But a lot of good was done in those six days; the abscess was repunctured and all of the infected fluids that had collected inside was drained out and cultured. I found out definitely what kind of infection (or at least one of them) resides in my pannus and was given a strong antibiotic that will help clear up some of the immediate threat. I was able to start my course of Isoniazid while being observed in a medical setting to make sure I didn’t have any negative reactions to it; and I got a much better understanding of what I face when I go back in the end of December for my panniculectomy.

The biggest goal between now and then is to keep the infection(s) as low as possible. It’s unlikely I will be completely infection-free before the surgery; after all, that’s a big reason for the surgery, to remove not only the pockets of abscess, but all of the infected and necrotic tissue that has built up in my belly since the hernia repair in April (and who knows, maybe before). I have been chastised to take the bedrest “suggestion” much more seriously, so other than some low-key social gatherings (like going over to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving) I will be spending the majority of my time in my bedroom being a big ol’ slacker.

I not only have to go to a few follow-up appointments to make sure the infections are doing as well as they can, but I have to see a pulminologist to assess my strengths and weaknesses where a long surgery is concerned. I want to get my daily life in a place where I can convalesce for a month or more at Johns Hopkins without a lot of worries back home. This includes doing what I can to help Rave get the search for a more permanent place to live into full gear, getting my meager belongings that are here ready to be moved in my absence, and making sure that I have little to nothing to stress about so I can fully focus on getting better.

In an odd way, I feel that this unplanned trip to JH turned out to be a very good thing. I was feeling a bit at loose ends about the upcoming surgery since there was really nothing planned until my pre-op appointment with the plastic surgeon on Dec 14th. It gave my doctors a chance to think and experiment with pain management post operatively that really takes my (somewhat high) tolerance for opiates into consideration. (A regimen that actually brought the pain related to all of this down from a 7 to a 4 on a regular basis, that did not require IV access was put together the day before I was discharged. Because it increased some of the meds I already take by quite a bit, the chance to “try it out” before I was home and on my own not only to make sure it addressed my pain, but was something that didn’t leave me a drooling nonfunctional mess was appreciated.)

It also highlighted some weaknesses I need to address before the surgery. Rave busted her ass, like she always does, to be as available to me as she possibly could, but at the cost of enough repairative sleep to allow her to be fully functional at work without having to rely on her wakefulness drugs or caffeine, which in turn gives her migraines. When I go in for the long haul, it will be better for both of us if we can figure out a schedule that allows her to feel useful and be available to me when I need her, but also gives her “nights off” so she can get the sleep she needs. This means we may need to find other people who have evening/nighttime availability to spend time with me, but also make sure I have occasional daytime visitors who can help with some of the needs/tasks that I can’t ask a nurse or tech to do.

I think it’s important for people to understand that although visitors who come purely to socialize are nice and appreciated, it’s not the only reason I may want friends and family around. For instance, I had a really difficult time this visit getting the nutritional team to understand and meet my basic food needs, so having people bring me supplemental food and drinks can assure that I’m not going without. I may also want someone I feel completely comfortable with assisting me with things like hygiene, rather than having to ask a stranger, especially since the inpatient experience forcibly strips you of a fair amount of privacy and autonomy already. Being able to run down the day’s meetings with various doctors and other medical professionals with someone else not only helps solidify my own recollection – which I have issues with due to some of the neuro issues – but brings a fresh perspective and alternate points of view that may hold important answers for difficult situations. Sometimes, having someone else present while meeting with a doctor can help remind me to ask questions I may otherwise forget, or bring up subjects that those who assist me might benefit from knowing. Even something as simple as watching as a nurse dresses a wound in a particular way can then lead to having someone who can teach those who can’t be present when it’s demonstrated (but who will eventually be in charge of doing the dressing).

And it’s worth mentioning that this trip was incredibly emotional for me. Admittedly, part of the problem was that I got my period two weeks early (practically unheard of for me) so I’m sure my hormones were all messed up trying to deal with that. But I had two days where my anxiety was bad enough that the nurses were suggesting I take some of my anti-anxiety medication, and not having someone who could serve as a touchstone to reality exacerbated issues. I am, by no means, trying to guilt people about not being able to visit, especially since this trip was unplanned and happened to fall almost entirely during a work week, but more to share something Rave and I learned about the power of visitors.

One of my fears about how the planning for the upcoming surgery is falling out is that I have plenty of friends and lovers who are coming from out of town to be there directly before and after the procedure, but most of them will have to return home once I am stable. That leaves me with several weeks where I will still be stuck there, so it might behoove me to reach out to friends and family and set up some planned visits during that time. It can be anything from a local friend making the commitment to come “every Wednesday afternoon”, to other long-distance friends making a trip down to spend the weekend. If you’d like to volunteer for this important service, please email me at awesome.del@gmail dot com so I can start putting together a calendar. If you aren’t local and want to come for a visit, we have lots of resources not only for crash space, but also for people who can lend you a car, or drive you around, or provide meals so together we can minimize the cost. In that vein, if you have those sorts of things you could offer others, or skills/talents/abilities that we might be able to put to good use during this time, please let us know.

That being said, I think it’s okay to mention that in the next few days, Rave and I are beginning to collect funds specifically to help defray the costs of those who have the time and/or inclination to visit, but for whom money is an issue. It’s not the only reason we’ve decided to pass the hat, but it’s one of the most important ones. We’ll also accrue some costs that come with a long term hospital stay that medical insurance doesn’t cover – gas and parking costs, comfort items, etc. Most importantly, my insurance doesn’t cover any of the sorts of things one needs once home again, like bandages, tape, cleaning supplies, and the like. The nurses usually throw together a “care package” of items to help me out, but when I had the first drain in, we eventually ran out and had to source a lot of this kind of stuff on our own.

When the announcement goes out, there will also be things that people who live too far away, or for other reasons cannot contribute time, resources, or money, can do to be of assistance. For example, we will have a phone/email tree set up so people can be kept up to date with how I’m doing without having to clog Facebook (or share intimate details about my recovery with people I barely know) or having to wait until there’s enough for a blog post. We will need a few “captains” who can be in charge of a list of three or four people; make sure everyone gets information and also to collect questions/observations and aggregate them so the “home team” can address them without having to compose the same response several times. (You know, this sounds so complicated, but I’m actually kinda flattered that there are so many people who care about me and my welfare and want to be kept in the loop. When I stop worrying about the details and look at the bigger picture, I’m always humbled by how much affection there is for me in the world. Really.)

Finally, I have “appointed” my friends and (somewhat unofficial) clergy persons Hugh and Shelly to undertake the spiritual support side. There will be a post before the surgery that will help coordinate all the wonderful prayers, energy, and will-working that people have so generously offered.

For now, I’m very glad to be home and in comfortable surroundings. I’m pleased that I have a pain control plan that actually makes things tolerable, and can be proactive about fighting off some of the infection to make the surgery’s success easier. This was a welcome eye-opener on how Rave and I can better plan for what’s coming to minimize our stress and help distribute the work so no one person is overtaxed and everyone – me included – gets the care they need to get through this.

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Three Doc Monty, Shame, and Speaking Up

November 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm (Living With Chronic Illness, Medical, The Journey Towards Diagnosis, Tuberculosis (Inactive)) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Before I begin the whole story of my recent adventures in dermatology and infectious disease, I want to address one of the reasons it has taken me this long to write this entry. I have written about all sorts of medical problems and procedures – from abdominal surgery to uterine ablation – and although sometimes I get a little pang of “Maybe I should just keep this part to myself”, I never feel ashamed by the fact that I am chronically ill and/or need treatment. Maybe I feel like I wish I had a little more privacy, or that I could pick and choose who reads about what’s happening in my uterus, but never really shame.

When I started to write this entry, I found myself avoiding it. I’d find just about every reason in the book to do something else. It probably helped that I’ve found myself with a little bit of email drama that has been emotionally challenging, so every time I wanted to get out of writing this entry, I went back into my email and re-read some of the posts. But why? Why was I slacking from writing about an experience that was, in turns, funny and serious?

So I posted to Twitter about this odd feeling of shame I was having that I couldn’t figure out. It was my friend Stephanie who said that we are taught as children/teenagers that you can avoid all dermatological problems if you just keep yourself “clean”, and therefore someone who has a skin problem is “dirty”. And that hit the nail on the head for me; for some reason, I felt like I held blame for developing a skin condition, whereas I don’t feel I am responsible for needing a hernia surgery.

With that being said, and me being clear that I haven’t stopped being ashamed about it, but am blasting through it instead, here’s the wacky story of dermatological adventures.

You might remember back a few months ago when I wrote about seeing a great dermatologist named Dr. Lee. It’s worth noting that even in that entry, I mention that his office is in Damascus. I really liked him a lot, and so when I had an odd wound on my back that wasn’t healing right (and had been dismissed by another doctor, but more on that later), I decided I would go see him again to figure out what was going on.

Rave makes the majority of my doctor’s appointments. It’s one of those things I really hate about being chronically ill, the constant scheduling and paperwork and other inconveniences that come with seeing yet another doctor, so when I’m left to my own devices I walk around the house for months saying, “I really need to call and make an appointment.” To keep me from walking around my house to death, Rave helps me out by making appointments for me that magically just show up on my google calendar. It’s nice to have someone in my life who is actually willing to help with the parts of being chronically ill I hate the most.

So I told Rave to call Dr. Lee and see if we couldn’t get an emergency appointment.

Keep in mind, that I have seen (no exaggeration) more than 20 medical practitioners in the last five months or so, and that they’ve been located all over the area, from Washington DC to Baltimore, from Rockville to Frederick. So at times, it can be hard for anyone to keep track of which doctor has which specialty and where their offices are located. Add upon that, that several of my doctors have more than one office in the the area and so I’ve been seen in two locations for the same doctor, and it gets even more complicated.

Rave recalled that I was seen at a place that had Dermatology in the name, like “The Dermatology Center” or “The Center for Dermatology”. She also knew that when I saw him, it was pretty close to my house in Germantown. So she searched for “Dr. Lee, dermatology, Germantown” and got a hit for The Dermatology Center. However, that Dr. Lee is Dr. Joseph Lee, who doesn’t practice in the Germantown office. The Dr. Lee I had seen and loved back in June was Dr. David Lee, who practices at Dermatology and Surgery Skin Center in Damascus, which is about a fifteen minute drive from Germantown.

She called the Germantown office and told them about the situation and asked for an emergency appointment. They gave her one, in Bethesda, at 9am. As I am now living in Hagerstown, Google Maps mocks me with it’s estimated “1 hour and 10 minutes”; at rush hour going in the direction of rush, I’d have to leave here at somewhere around 6 or 7am to make sure I got there on time. Not to mention that the friend who was taking me was driving up from Sterling, VA, so she’d have to leave at something like 4. I thanked Rave but told her to cancel the appointment, as 9am in Bethesda is not doable.

She calls the next day and they tell her I can be seen that day at 3pm. Rave calls my friend Rebecca (who was a trooper!), who jumps in the car and heads in my direction. The first hiccup is that lately, between having a cold and being on 50-80% bed rest means that I usually sleep pretty late. What happened on my end is that I woke up, looked at the huge number of missed calls and text messages, and pieced together that I had about ten minutes to get my ass in gear and be downstairs waiting for Rebecca. This is somewhat difficult for Dels, but somehow I pulled it off.

We start to exit Hagerstown, which has a preponderance of very narrow streets. As we were trying to navigate our way out of town, someone opens their door into our lane and clips the side mirror. Luckily, no one was hurt and the other car didn’t have any noticeable damage, and the other driver was much more concerned with our well being than trying to pick a fight.

I honestly don’t remember when I realized we were going to Germantown and that Dr. Lee’s office was…somewhere else. I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember what town it was in. My best guess was Olney, as I remembered it being in a town I don’t visit often. Maybe it was Frederick? I think in my head I assumed that maybe Dr. Lee had another office in Germantown I didn’t know about, so I didn’t think too hard about it.

When we arrived at the office, they had no record of me at all. No patient records, no appointment. I take several deep breaths, and tell them repeatedly that I had seen Dr. Lee in…Frederick? Olney? The receptionist tells me he doesn’t have offices there. I’m trying to rack my brain to figure out where it was, and at the same time plead with the receptionist that we had gone to great trouble to be here, so could I please be seen? They finally agree to let me see the doctor, and I had to quickly fill out all the new patient information stuff I hate so much.

So now, a little background on why I needed to see a dermatologist at all. About a month or maybe a little longer ago, a strange wound showed up on my back. At first, it just looked like a red, raised stripe. It didn’t bother me at all, so I basically wrote it off to a scratch or pressure wound or something else that would heal on it’s own. It got bigger, and deeper, and more infected looking, until I found myself in a great amount of pain when I tried to sleep on my side or back, and I am a dedicated side sleeper.

I had an appointment coming up with an infectious disease nurse, to take out my PICC line. While I was there, I mentioned I had this wound on my back that was becoming much more bothersome, and she took a look. As it happens, ID and Derm share space at this clinic, so she brought two dermatologists over to take a look. Almost immediately, they agree it looks like HSV or shingles. They take a sample to test and send me on my way.

I go back for a follow up, and this time they have me being seen by a doctor (I needed clearance from ID to proceed with my plans for surgery). She was the queen bitch of all bitchy doctors I have ever been to, bar none. I mean, Dr. WLS was an asshole, but at least most of the time he was trying to appear nice. She didn’t want to be there, she didn’t want to see me, she wanted to spend the least amount of time possible around me, and she made that all readily apparent.

She informs me that the tests were negative. I tell her it’s gotten deeper, more painful, and more productive. She takes a glance – and I really mean a glance – and says, “Well, it looks like it’s healing now, so nothing to be done.”

I go home and I know she’s full of shit, but I decide to wait a week or two and see if she’s right. Absolutely not. At this point it has become so painful I cannot lay down unless I have a lidoderm patch on it, and now there is a big ulcer at the top of the stripe and the stripe is widening and more red/productive.

So this is where the Dr. Lee/Dr. Lee circus joins the story. In fact, I see Dr. Yu, and he is very concerned that this could be MRSA. He takes a culture and prescribes both an anti-fungal and an antibiotic cream that I have to put on twice a day. (Luckily, I can reach where it is so I can do this without help.) Rave and I notice that within two or three days on the creams, it is looking much better. It’s still red and productive, but less so.

Finally, after no less than six rounds of phone tag, I finally got to talk to the nurse at Dr. Yu’s office (in Germantown, for those playing the home game) and she informs me that it’s Streptococcus, and that he’s adding an oral antibiotic for ten days, and to call him if it doesn’t get better.

My research with Dr. Wikipedia has me confused, though. Although strep can produce several different kinds of skin lesions (including Necrotizing Fasciitis, which is otherwise known as “flesh eating bacteria”, but my thing doesn’t look like that at all) I can’t seem to find one that looks or acts like what I have. The closest I’ve come is possibly Ecthyma, although I don’t think my lesion is quite that deep. Although Impetigo is also caused by strep, and the grouchy old man in me would love to whine about his impetigo, it looks and acts nothing like that either.

So I’ve decided to stop playing Dr. Wikipedia and just take my meds like a good patient and see what happens. However, now that I knew that I had an infection when I saw that ID doc at Johns Hopkins, I wrote the following letter to the head of her department.

I apologize if this is the incorrect email address to use for this purpose, but I would humbly ask for your help in getting this message to the right recipient.

My legal name is [not yet Del Tashlin]. My DOB is [numbers].

I was seen by Geeta Sood in the ID clinic at Bayview on October 4, 2012 at 2pm. This was a follow up appointment after being seen by Karen Daniels.

It was clear from the moment she walked in the room that Dr. Sood had not read my chart and did not know why I was there. She was rude, curt, and completely unhelpful. She finally acquiesced and left the room for over 20 minutes to read my chart, and when she returned she was incredibly short with me and dismissive.

She actually said, upon her ending the appointment, “I hope I never see you again.” while shaking my hand and the hand of the person I brought with me.

She made medical mistakes that have created further issues for me. I had a wound tested for hsv and varicella. Those tests were negative, and although I reported the wound had grown, and was incredibly painful, she took one short look at it and declared, “Well, it looks like it’s healing, so nothing to be done there.” I have since been diagnosed with a strep infection, which if it had been caught earlier would have meant less aggressive and easier treatment. But since it was clear that Dr. Sood wanted to spend the bare minimum amount of time with me, it was completely overlooked.

Also, she prescribed a course of Ioniazid for my inactive TB, with absolutely no plans to follow me to monitor for liver issues. She was rude when I asked what symptoms should worry me/send me to the ER, and was completely dismissive of my concern that since I manifest many of those symptoms already I wouldn’t know the difference between my everyday experience and hepatits or other liver infections. She just retorted, “You’d know.” As she had never seen me before, she dismissed me trying to explain that I suffer from chronic nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite (which, if she had read my chart and seen that I had lost 40 lbs in less than three months, she would have known), and also have dark urine and muscle/joint pain on a regular basis. It was only when I filled the prescription and read the materials did I realize that I need to contact a doctor for monthly liver panels. This was not even mentioned to me by Dr. Sood at all.

Overall, I had an incredibly negative experience with her, and now that I know that I have had an infection for over a month that she could have treated if she had just shown any interest in my welfare at all, I feel strongly that I need to report her negligence to someone in a position to see that she reads this, and at least it be added to her HR file.

If I don’t hear back from someone at Johns Hopkins in one month’s time, I will have no other option than to file a complaint with the Maryland Board of Physicians. This is not my intent, but I feel very strongly that her conduct was more than unprofessional and rude, but negligent. I would rather see her be dealt with inside of the structure of Johns Hopkins (which I have had stellar experiences with, save the ID department) than have to go to such measures.

Thank for your time reading this, and helping me to find the correct place for this to go. Please feel free to respond to me via this email address.

Thanks again,
[Del, who has stopped taking shit from shitty doctors]

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Nothing Is Ever As Easy As You Think

November 29, 2011 at 4:55 pm (Medical, Tuberculosis (Inactive)) (, , , , , )

A short medical update:

I came home from Thanksgiving Day weekend, having taught at Brimstone, an event up in NJ. I was feeling sort of run down and wonky, and then there were a multitude of situations at the hotel which challenged my  health – like rooms that were either boiling or freezing, including my hotel room.

Top that with my assigned roomie (a lover of mine, so I lucked out, but still assigned) was recovering from bronchitis, and my fate was sealed.

I started the TB med on Monday morning.

So I woke up this morning around 4, both sick as a dog and suffering from the same god damn symptoms as last time I tried the TB meds.

I tried treating the “sick as a dog” part on my own, but it quickly proved to be bigger than home remedies. I got in to see my PCP, and got my ID on the phone.

I’m taking antibiotics for the sick, and the TB meds have been stopped again. Hopefully I can nurse my way back to feeling normal from the interaction this time, rather than going to the ER.

I’d be angry and disappointed, if I didn’t feel so freaking sick.

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TB meds! Neurologist number five!

November 17, 2011 at 11:57 pm (Medical, Tuberculosis (Inactive)) (, , , , )

A quick update on the medical front:

I saw the (somewhat saner) infectious disease doctor, and I start my TB treatments after I get back from Brimstone. I’m grateful that I can finally start, but I’m also hesitant because these drugs have a reputation of tearing you apart. I have to get regular liver tests, and stay away from things that tax my liver; I’ve also heard they wreak havoc on your G.I. systems. On top of that, they will make my pain drugs work less, if at all. So though I’m happy that I will be TB free in a few months, those few months scare the crap out of me. The good news is but I will see my pain management doctor after I’ve been on the TB meds for a couple of weeks; hopefully, he’ll have some ideas as to better manage my pain once we know exactly how ineffective the narcotics will be. There is a little fear that I will suffer a similar reaction as I did in June (I was hospitalized due to an interaction between fentanyl transdermal patch and the TB meds that caused me to go into immediate withdrawal even though I was wearing a brand-new patch); the ID doc said that  if there is any wackiness I should go to the ER. Let’s hope that’s not what happens.

I also got a surprise phone call from the new neurologist today. I was supposed to see them in mid-December; and was angsting because I have pretty severe nerve pain and December was a long way away. it seems they had a cancellation for Friday (tomorrow as of this writing) which makes me a very happy Del. it also means that there’s a good chance I will get a script for an MRI — those of you who know, know that I have been looking for an MRI to accommodate me for almost a year now; Johns Hopkins just got two new machines that sound like they may fit the bill. If that works out, I may be able to get my pain management doctor to play nice with the neurologist and see if we can’t come up with a better solution for my neuralgia.

so wish me luck tomorrow with neurologist number five. I’ve worked with him before; he is also a sleep study specialist and was the one that prescribed my CPAP. I really enjoyed his candor; Ninja has been seeing him for neurological stuff and really likes him. His office is about 25 minutes away from my house; not quite as bad as going to Johns Hopkins but not as convenient as neurologist number three (who blamed everything on my opiates).

 

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