The glass chamber is designed to match your body temperature while you complete the subtests of the Pulmonary Function Test. Mike did his job. Steve helped where he could. And for me?
The trauma was REAL.
The cardio-pulmonary work-up continued this past week with a carotid ultrasound, beginning of a 7-day EKG event monitor, and the torture chamber otherwise known as a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT). Perhaps the PFT is not designed to create stress but completing it between 5 sets of convulsive episodes was a real bite in the shorts!
I knew the risks for me for the PFT from having completed one about 5 years ago. We were unable to progress to the section administered after a bronchodilator medication because of convulsive episodes triggered in the first few subtests. So this time I asked my beloved to drive me to the hospital for the test and brought with me several rescue remedies that sometimes stop the attacks. With assistance to administer them I might get through it all. When Thursday came I was not motivated to head out the door for the hospital and after only 4 1/2 hours of sleep. Looked like it was going to be the same story, different day.
The first part of the test went alright as Respiratory Therapist Mike kept a close eye on me. I had given him the spiel of what can happen if I had a seizure attack, including the request not to call the paramedics if I had an episode! He said he understood and actually stayed calm throughout the entire ordeal. Seizure-like tics began after the 2nd subtest and most of the ones that followed. Steve graciously brought me the ice pack I had in my lunch bag which served to slow each episode once placed over my sternum. We continued and eventually got it all done like a good beating on a warm summer day.
The test that required you to breathe against resistance was particularly frightening. When deep breathing or panting re-triggers the episodes, I thought that surely breathing against the mouthpiece where my airway would be blocked would be good. On the contrary. It actually calmed me down considerably! Holy cow. Have we found another tool to help control these dang things? Mike said that breathing against resistance stimulated the vagus nerve. Well there you go again. I first started looking into vagus nerve seizures and treatment strategies at the beginning of 2018. This ultimately led me to see a Craniomandibular Specialist and the rest is now history. But here we are again. The trigeminal nerve of the TMJ and the vagus are interrelated cranial nerves. To date only these 2 of the many vagus nerve stimulation techniques I have tried have proven to be helpful. Turns out there is a difference between the sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers of this 10th of the 12 cranial nerves; the trigeminal is the 5th. We shall revisit this topic here again another day for sure.
The PFT was scheduled for about an hour. We left after 2 hours! Each time there was a trigger of seizure-like tics, we had to stop for me to struggle to pick up the ice pack on the laminate floor of the glass chamber, apply it to my chest, then wait for things to calm down again. The violent shaking wrenched my neck. I longed to lower myself to the floor and curl up in a ball, holding my head and neck. The pain, the pain. At home I struggle (or Steve carries me) to lie down someplace safe where I can grasp my head and neck to prevent whiplash. Not so during the PFT. My right leg banged against the metal frame and glass walls of the chamber a few times; my body tensed with fright as I feared falling off of the narrow stool and onto the hard, linoleum floor. No warm blanket was anywhere to be found. Mike and Steve just watched in silence each time. What else could they do?
Times like these finds me terrified of falling and getting injured. Gratefully I have never fallen even after thousands of these wretched episodes. But initiating movements of any kind to either speak, break a fall, or otherwise create safety exacerbates the directionality and velocity of the seizing; this in turn creates a high risk to fall or get injured! Too bad that I am awake to remember all of this hell unlike an epileptic seizure where the person is unconscious. (Well it’s probably good so that I don’t have the injuries that can come with falling after passing out.) I guess it’s my own form of grace manifest as survival mode. Tense my muscles to prevent of a fall but trigger a rebound: increased rapid-fire, uncontrolled shaking of an appendage or two that may bang against whatever is nearby. Metal frames and glass walls. Still can’t speak most of the time. Breathing? Yeah maybe. Oy vey. I hate this!
It took awhile after the PFT was over to regain enough muscle control to walk out of the chamber of doom to a chair across the room. Perhaps it will be diagnostic for the cardiologist later this month as to why forced-breathing maneuvers trigger such bad episodes? Maybe the test results will show something this time? Everything flooded my mind as I tried to be pleasant to the two men staring at me the whole time who were powerless to do much to help. They were both most kind. I could see it in their eyes above the masks they both wore. (I was the only one allowed to remove mine! Go COVID-19!) Mike and Steve remained standing as I slumped into a hard plastic chair in the opposite corner of the room. One of them asked if I needed anything but I just couldn’t speak very well yet to respond. Managing the wires from the EKG event monitor, holding the ice pack to my chest, and groping for a snack bar in my lunch bag for something to revive me was about all I could handle. Steve opened the packaging of a Clif Nut Butter Bar and helped me get a drink of water. He knows the routine well. Love that man!
Cracking jokes has been my way to bring humanity to this hell when someone new comes along for the experience. “Welcome to my nightmare.” “I guess I’ve completed my involuntary exercise program today.” Or something similar are my usual bylines. I let a few fly. Before long we were leaving. I was walking verrrrry slowly however.
Somehow I got through a telehealth medical appointment a few hours later followed by a full day of several long blocks of sleep. Thankfully I had made some food ahead of time and thankfully Steve was willing to bring me a meal later on as I began to recover. My Skype appointment on Friday needed to be cancelled and I declined an additional make-up appointment from a second Provider. I was too weak and shaky. About all I accomplished on Friday was a load of laundry and achieving many levels on a word game app. The pup got lots of scratches too.
Two days later I realized how traumatic all of this was. A dearth of tears busted out after yet another bad episode and eventually I got the story typed out here. Perhaps someday these wretched convulsive episodes will stop. Maybe my beloved Steve and I will actually get a peaceful night of sleep on a regular basis, together. Maybe my life will be about the volunteer stuff I get to do here and there instead of medical appointments every week. Seems like we are getting closer than ever before to the mechanism of action of what triggers and what stops these waking, convulsive episodes; I have a few rescue remedies that keep me out of the emergency room these days. Yay God! Lord willing, I pray and plead, my Jesus will mercifully bring me to complete healing. Maybe someday soon? JJ
The pattern has repeated itself so many times that I do not know why, in my humanity, that I am still here. There must be a God.
When suffering exceeds the limits of the human frame, or so it seems, then there must be more holding that person together. There must be a God.
Satan will use every and any negative emotion, event, infirmity, mental game, situation, deficit or even excess, pain, memory, experience, high or low to attempt to separate us from our Creator. When he ultimately fails, we know there must be a God.
Our worth has little to do with what others think, do, or say once we come to know Who knew us from our first moment of life. As this transcendence to seeking others to seeking God becomes real, we will understand that God has a personal form.
What that personal God shows us in His mercy and grace, speaks to our hearts in a way we can know and feel, so that we respond in submission and an eternal embrace. The love and acceptance you will find therein comes from Jesus Christ. He becomes not only THE God but YOUR God.
We are stewards of what happens to us just like the stuff that is given to us to use in our lifetimes. And if your journey like mine has included chronic illness, we still have a stewardship responsibility to use what has been allowed in our lives for some greater good. Yes, even the bad stuff. Use it to point others to the hope you have in Christ. What has He done for you? For what are you grateful? How did you overcome the grave marker of despair? How did you come to understand that the Lord is not Santa Claus and that bad things happen to good people in a fallen, imperfect world? And how did you become o.k. with all of that?
So what then about the meme above? What if others judge you anyways no matter your “testimony,” mock you, and really don’t care about what message you have to convey? You have to live your life anyways in concert with the tri-une God who will never leave you or forsake you. What He thinks is what matters most! His Holy Spirit will guide you along the way, take your prayers to the Father and let Him help you to know that Jesus Christ is real and really God. Oh and especially reassuring is that He will make all things right one day, maybe soon.
I write these thoughts as I sense gradual breakthrough coming in my battle over a horrific illness these past 8 years. Improvements are lasting more than a day. Treatments are starting to work and I can do some things that I enjoy at least one day per week. Sleeping is more restful for at least one, 4-hour segment with at least one of these during the nighttime where it belongs. The convulsive episodes are more consistently less intense, shorter, and sparing of at least one day per week. I am somewhat less reactive to more types of noxious sensory stimuli. Progress is not perfection but I gotta shout out that this time for me there are clear improvements in my life as a whole.
I knew a young bride some years ago as her wedding got closer, who faced the frequent harassment of an overbearing mother-in-law. Her own mother taught her a simple technique of taking the verbal assault as if they were splashes of water. The young lady learned to let those splashes of water run off of her like water on a ducks back, exclaiming in her thoughts, “QUACK! QUACK!” The little internal laugh of such a silly technique has actually helped me shed the critical remarks of others many, many times. With the COVID-19 pandemic, I have had several folks claim my conservative views were due to my health problems. No one cares about my Master’s degree nor extensive work experience in the health care field. I get shot down as one of those with a “compromised immune system,” probably o.k. to let go, to get sick, to die. Seriously! Or I am not someone whose opinion counts about anything important because I am not important. And that is a LIE. QUACK! QUACK!
Just don’t give up Gentle Reader, k? No matter what gets thrown at you or thrown against the walls around you, keep going. Lean on the Lord as the person of Jesus Christ to provide supernatural strength and wisdom. Dig into His Word if only for one verse at a time. Cling to it like a lifeline! These are crazy times indeed. Regardless the God of the universe has overcome it all!
Belief in the Lord Jesus Christ may just change more than your own life. JJ
1 John 5:4
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
Two weeks, 6 Dental considerations, 10 prescription medications, numerous rescue remedies and supplements later, the complete resolution of a dental procedure remains in the distance! Perhaps you know the story here and here where I suffered with anguish then crawled my way into renewed hope with the extraction of an infected tooth. Yes, the tooth is out. And no, I am not convinced that the infection is resolved. Some goo came out 3 days ago and the gum is still somewhat inflamed. Pain is not yet resolved. How can inflammation go down when there is goo? No one seems to believe me that this nightmare is not yet over, that there is more that can be done to help me.
The struggle continues this night with a less-clear course of action from here. Dr. L, the oral surgeon, says everything is normal and won’t see me until a month from my call last week. Dr. K, the referring dentist who diagnosed me, says the medications prescribed are “strong,” what else do I need? Yeah, I agree they are strong and the side effects created 2 new symptoms! I don’t need stronger. I need a modification in my treatment plan! Dr. J, my medical Doc, says it’s healing epithelial cells that oozed out; use some anti-microbials topically. Already on it sir but one of them has inflamed my gums so I had to discontinue it. Oh and the antibiotic tore up my esophagus so I had to discontinue it too. Dr. R, the Biologic Dentist out of town, still won’t see me in this COVID-19 pandemic even though he is the one who has the procedures and expertise to clean up this mess. Then there is Dr. B: the one whose office WILL treat me with IV Ozone this week because hey, I am willing to pay for it. So it is to the office of Dr. B we will go for a systemic treatment of infection and inflammation. Lord willing, I am hoping it helps!
Lots of tears have drained from my face these past few days. I went 8 days with nary a convulsive episode then they returned as my intolerance to pain medication of any type progressed. I went off of icing 24/7 only to return to this treatment so I can sleep at night; it seems to reduce the risk for seizure attacks as well. But make no mistake: the cranial nerve complex in my face, predominantly the trigeminal nerve (teeth) and vestibulocochlear nerve (ears) on the left side are still inflamed. A sharp banging sound of my hubby pounding a board while putting together a raised bed triggered all matter of hell breaking loose! It was all I could do to slam myself down on the sectional before the episode of involuntary shaking, gutteral screams, flexion posturing, leg posturing then flopping, writhing, and finally weeping in exasperation. I was helpless. And I am really spent after years and years and years of this hell.
Somebody please figure out how to calm down these nerves in my face, k? Can’t some dental, medical or otherwise knowledgeable person figure out how to fix it? Will the Great Physician speak healing into my life soon? I know that healing will take time from the second tooth extraction procedure from hell. (The first was in 2015 with extraction of 2 infected teeth and virtually NO PAIN COVERAGE after the first day! It was just too much to bear.) The trauma of these repeated incidences of convulsive episodes, complicated/painful medical procedures, and waning compassion from the medical community create a type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Each new procedure brings grief and tears as I earnestly try to work through issues of appropriate pain management and recommended treatments that my body ends up not tolerating. IT IS NOT MY FAULT THAT I CAN’T FOLLOW YOUR TEXTBOOK PROCEDURES PEOPLE!!! Welcome to chronic illness! Even when I do the work of researching everything and writing down what works for me, they really don’t care much past the initial service or consult. Dr. L changed one med then prescribed what Dr. L prescribes. ISN’T THIS PART OF YOUR JOB PEOPLE!!!
Looks to me like there is a subset of Docs within any area of practice that really doesn’t like a smart, engaged, researched female patient who is really trying to make your job easier. When I bring a list of questions and show it to you it’s because I am scared and don’t want any further harm than the illness or the potential procedure otherwise might bring. I am trying to make things easier on BOTH OF US. Please listen to me. Please bring your best to our appointment as I will too; I have taken hours and hours to prepare already. I am scared; please be nice to me. Please follow-up with me and allow me to participate in my care. I want to be YOUR BEST PATIENT EVER! If we are successful together then know that I will write your praises everywhere with a clear and compelling testimonial. Isn’t that worth something to you?
I wannabe well. I realize that I might not get to be well. In the meantime I hope at least to have some good moments beyond the medical crap that dominates my life. I fight for moments of normalcy every day despite chronic pain and numerous medical problems. It might be too much to ask for the Docs to want something bigger for me beyond the procedure he or she is rendering. I get it. You have lots of patients and a practice to run and can’t get bogged down with one more problem to solve. Well just maybe this is why you got into the dental or medical field to begin with some years back? Saving lives? Bringing cures? Helping people feel better? Something more than money and prestige must have brought you into one of the most respected professional titles on earth. You can do it Dr. L, Dr. K, Dr. J, Dr. R, and Dr. B. Let’s see you try a little harder for me.
In the meantime I will rest in the arms of Dr. GP, the king of surgery of the heart, mind, and spirit. One day I know that I will be whole again in Your presence. Oh dear Jesus, is this all there is this side of heaven? I’m just so very broken. Thank you for listening. Thank you for your provision in my life including the most incredible helpmate and love on earth for me in Steve. Thank you for the ability today to make a nice meal for us despite the pain and problems. Thank you for protecting us from the virus that is wreaking havoc on our world. Just thank you. JJ
While it may be time for celebrating a Christmas holiday, preparing for the new year about to begin, or maybe completing something else on the “to do” list, one thing is for sure: it’s not my time to go yet. But what does it all mean?
Sunday was a particularly difficult day. Taking a particular anti-viral medication in the wake of a return of shingles left me with few options other than continuing it for awhile longer than in the past. I had just sent a message to my Doctor via the patient portal at our local health system asking if he would he extend the prescription? He agreed. But what was I thinking anyways?
Considering it a good idea to add a a supplement that fights viral infections, two days prior I had added a low dose of one about 2 hours after the dose of the prescription medication. That was a BIG MISTAKE. Within the hour I would begin what would become a day and one-half in bed with on-and-off convulsive episodes. Holy cow! Here we go again! Was it die-off? Overdose? Redistribution of toxins from another source other than that which I had intended to target? Who knows?! The result was disastrous. Too bad that the weather was very mild and sunny for a December day; my hopes to get outside and take the pup for a walk were trashed. Hubby went for his 20-mile cycling ride. I had to stay in bed, taking 2-3 hour naps after any activity such as making a meal. Another weekend was LOST to factors of illness.
Perhaps it is exhausting to be battling FOUR infections at the same time? Indeed it is. Yet that is exactly where I find myself: 3 strains of herpes infection (zoster plus the reactivation of EBV and HHV-6) in addition to a MARCoNS sinus infection. Treatment for the latter has included a complexity of rotating nasal sprays and rinses. I was nine days into the treatment of shingles with famcyclovir TID. Yes, shingles had flared up for the third time in as many years, this time with severely itching and burning lesions on my upper back. Increased fatigue was profound. As the days wore on, the convulsive episodes appeared to be coming down again as well as reactivity to sensory stimuli. It seemed like progress. However, this trending did not last beyond that extra dose of an antiviral supplement called Lauricidin.
Evening came and my saint-of-a-husband had already helped me with a couple of rescue remedies in the afternoon. He lain beside me as another episode ramped up, this one more aggressive with guttural utterances that were as frightful as they were embarrassing. Seizure spikes and vocalizations emerge much like vomiting does during the flu. It just comes out of you and there is nothing that you can do about it. One arm shakes repetitively so fast that you think you will either sprain something or fling a hand right off the rest of the extremity into the air . . . then a leg on the opposite side repeats the pattern about 9 inches up off of the bed! Try to cover up to stay warm and just the initiation of movement exacerbates the intensity of the convulsions, sending my body further out of my control. I gasp for air then pant vociferously lest I pass out for a lack of oxygen. Then the pattern cycles again with new, involuntary movements that send my head and neck into spasm, along with great pain. I could not even grab my neck this time to protect myself from further injury. A headache follows every time.
Tears pushed out from my face with weeping when I could breathe more than a couple times in a row. Somehow I blurt out to Steve to please pray. These episodes have appeared demonic more than one time in the past and I sensed that could be the case on Sunday night as well. It was just too frightful to be a simple seizure. Precious Lord, why do I have to be awake and witness this hell, burning it into my memory then try to function sometime later as if everything is alright again with the world when it certainly is not? It’s like an abusive trauma that repeats over and over again so that your spirit never can heal, always remembering, always fearing its return. I may never know the answer to questions that I have asked, researched, prayed over with THOUSANDS of convulsive episodes over 8 years of chronic illness. And grievously, dozens of the episodes have been really dark ones like this one. But only 2 have been true near-death experiences.
My breathing got shallower yet I was not gasping for air anymore. The room was already dark from Steve turning out the light for me to decrease sensory stimuli; my vision was dimming further as I felt my very life closing in on me, my left eye pulling shut on its own. I started to feel as if I was leaving my body and wondered if I would pass out before my breathing would stop altogether? Is this how it works when people die in their sleep? Or does their heart stop beating before they gasp one last time for air? Do they know what is happening and does it terrify them when they cannot stop the train wreck from reaching its fatal impact? Why did I seem so far away in my mind’s eye yet still feel the painful stiffness of my weary frame shoved into the foam topper on the bed?
Somehow I became aware of my beloved lying behind me and blurted out my final goodbye, “I love you Steve.” He replied, “I love you Julie.” It’s all I could say. Then I saw him in front of me. Well not really but in my mind’s eye, I saw the archangel Michael coming for me. He told me to follow him and drew me away from the present tense towards another dimension of space and time. “Follow me,” he repeated. I saw no white lights as the scene was actually rather dim making it difficult to see anything else but the back of his right side as he turned to lead me away somewhere. I didn’t ask where, I just “went.” Then I became aware of another figure. This one did not show me His features but I knew Who it was. It was Jesus. He looked at me for awhile with tenderness yet directness all the same. Time did not stop or move forward . . . it simply was not there. It appeared that some sort of evaluation was going on or maybe it was some sort of test. I had no thoughts. I just waited there before His presence.
Then my Lord spoke. “It’s not time yet.” I wondered in my spirit what He was talking about? I couldn’t process the words. I actually do not recall breathing just then. By this point, Steve had reached his arm around my waist to check if I was still breathing. He would tell me later that he was wondering in this moment if I was going away for good? The seizing had stopped. I had become unusually quiet. And I had stated the phrase that many people say before they take leave from this life: to express their love for the ones in life they hold so dear. I do recall hearing him sniffling. At some point, he got up to blow his nose. I was becoming aware of my surroundings although still engrossed in the encounters I was having: quiet in my spirit, listening submissively, starting to realize how similar the present reality really is to that of an eternal one. THEY ARE ONE AND THE SAME. I had felt myself “leaving” but never felt separate from my body per se. What was happening to me?
Michael led me backwards, fully back into my fragile frame and the place of brokenness where I have spent tens of thousands of hours, there on our bed. I wept deeply. Bitterly. Tenderly. To the point of emptiness. I took inventory of my self, my situation. Where am I now? Let’s see, I am still lying here and yes, still breathing. Steve is still here with me and the room is still dark. I am not convulsing anymore. I am finally warm. My body feels war-torn with pain throbbing from every joint, burning flaring in the tips of my toes and fingers. (That burning is an indication to me that these episodes are a medical crisis yet to be solved as it has a name: peripheral neuropathy. It gets worse during and after episodes.) My mind was too empty, too traumatized or maybe in shock of what I had experienced to say anything aloud. I just had to dwell there with my beloved for many moments before I could re-orient myself to life again. I wasn’t 100% sure that I was back in the world yet.
Finally I asked Steve, “Am I still here?” “Yes,” he said quietly. He would later say how grieved he would be if he had lost me that night. His eyes reddened and we both cried on the inside, me crying all over my face as well. Eventually I asked him if he wanted to know about what I had experienced and he did. He believed my story. Something had stirred in his spirit as well. I believe that is why he reached out to check if I was still breathing. We didn’t and don’t really now how these things work, the Biblical perspective on near-death experiences, nor what it all meant for our lives together. Does this mean that I am cured now of the seizures? Did it mean that I would now be free from demonic oppression? Did I really have an encounter with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, or was it some cruel trick by Satan and his minions? If it was a test ordained by God, did I pass?
I crashed into a deep sleep for a couple of hours, even though I had slept or napped most of that day. I woke up in the middle of the night ravenously hungry with gunk in my nose, forcing me to get up to do a nasal treatment and make some food. By the time I was done with all of that, I was wide awake and it would take hours for me to get back to sleep. Too soon I would need to be awake for a medical appointment, some errands, and a visit with the first of Steve’s family now in town for the holidays. How in the world would I do all of that on THREE HOURS OF SLEEP, an ENTIRE WEEKEND OF SEIZURES plus a NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE? By the grace of God, of course. And so I did. I made us a fabulous breakfast and did everything I needed to do, albeit loopy and somewhat forgetful in a health food store later that afternoon. It was over 18 hours before I could get back to bed again . . .
I have come to see that time and eternity might not be that different from one another. We measure time with our watches but our Lord measures our hearts within the experiences He ordains for His purposes. I need to reflect and study all of this some more. How I managed to get my errands done plus a short-and-sweet visit with Steve’s family is beyond me, perhaps supernatural. The day after was a mixture of sleep and a return to sickness with a terrible seizure spike right before I was hoping to go to a Christmas Eve church service with Steve and his family. It didn’t happen. Dang. Very sad. One thing has became very clear though: I am done with famcyclovir! My time on that medication is NOW OVER.
The rest lies at the foot of the cross with my Jesus. After all it is Christmas: when we celebrate His victory over death with the miracle of His birth. Maybe there will be a miracle for me too? JJ