Changing seasons, changing gears

As the winter loses its harshness on this second day of March, so have I. Seems that I am letting go of a few things inside and out as a change of season has landed on our doorstep . . .

Our trip to Mayo Clinic ended with a focus much different than the one we had when we arrived. Briefly, the expert neurologist informed us that my labs that I had painstakingly collated from home were “garbage,” that my problems appeared to be psychiatric, and that further testing would be a waste of money: we see 150,000 people a year in the Autoimmunity Clinic. You don’t have it! A second neurologist expert used more functional terms yet still claimed that “even a 3rd year medical student knows the difference” in the various differential diagnoses. So we (my healthcare providers to date + myself) are idiots? So it seemed as we entered the weekend in Rochester, Minnesota . . .

Six days after that first appointment, the shock of what they were telling us had worn off. The exhaustion and soreness from extensive lab testing, EEG, lumbar puncture, and 5 additional consultations gave way to a new direction in my ongoing recovery from a serious illness. It was a tough mental journey while literally trapped on Sunday in a Minnesota blizzard but I did get there. First, on Monday an Endocrinologist determined that I was on too much thyroid medication and it could be contributing to my symptoms. Holy cow! The new medication was ordered that afternoon and sent on its way to our home address. Days later, the adjustment process is both rocky and underway.

Second, the physical rehabilitation department has a special program for what they term a “Functional Movement Disorder.” The physical and occupational therapists retrain the brain using specific balance, breathing, and movement techniques within the context of stimuli for me that trigger my convulsive episodes. Interesting. A trial run of this approach was horrific! In retrospect however, I recalled an evaluation in a local Balance Center 2 years ago and treatment that was recommended for a “Mild Vestibular Disorder;” it was also horrible and I couldn’t do it in tandem with other treatments my Doctor recommended at the time. The Mayo Clinic staff say that their approach is different so I decided to begin their PT and OT home programs regardless. What if it helps? In 3 days since then the convulsive episodes have not yet changed but my balance is improving! Yay!

I don’t have an autoimmune disease as defined by the Mayo Clinic. My labs are also negative for various infections and inflammation, glucose and other markers for which my blood and cerebral spinal fluid were tested. But some other labs are waaaaaaaay off and those are the ones in focus right now. If I can progress in my home exercise program, and I suspect that I will do so quickly, I have the option to return to Mayo Clinic for a 5-day intensive Functional Movement Disorders Program. Perhaps within a couple of weeks I will know if this Program will be effective for me: if the techniques begin to change any aspect of the episodes then, Lord willing, I hope to return to the Mayo Clinic. By then my thyroid status should be moving in a better direction as well. It’s all good I guess.

Funny how enduring very early morning appointments under duress in a strange place with 1-2 hours of sleep painted a much different picture of me to these clinicians than what I am presenting now! Tonight I still feel depleted yet my stress level has gone down significantly. All of the laundry and unpacking is done along with the myriad of things you have to do after returning from a 9-day medical trip. (Our trip to Mayo Clinic was extended twice to complete all of the consultations recommended and requested.) The expenses were immense and we haven’t even seen the medical bills yet! (Did I mention that the water heater needed replacing 3 days later? Ugh.) Still I am stabilizing and in a better place than when I was struggling to just breathe 2 weeks ago.

The seasons are about to change and the gears of treatment planning for me are moving forward as well. Gentle Reader, you know my mantra will remain that Lord willing, I am going to get well! And to Him be the glory! I am grateful that Steve and I got to go to the Mayo Clinic and learn so much on so many different levels. What other levels you ask? Well that will be a bit o’ prose for another day of course. Until then Godspeed my friends, JJ

Countdown to Mayo

I’m kind of freaking out over here. No really. You would think I was preparing to go for the biggest medical evaluation of these 8 1/2 years battling a serious illness, or something. Well maybe I am!

The little city that comprises Mayo Clinic: most buildings and surrounding businesses are connected via the underground Subway Level. You may never have to go outside in the cold!

Some of my medical conditions have flared a bit lately, requiring medication and distracting me from my primary goal at the moment: preparing for a consultation at the famous Mayo Clinic. I have SIX medical appointments this week alone, FOUR next week! Gratefully, the locations of these appointments have put me in the proximity of places from which I need to gather medical records; one of them proved to be timely in addressing the flare-up of an acute, stress-related condition: shingles! Thank the Lord I caught that one early! Ugh. And just about everything related to my care will have been updated by the time we leave for Rochester, Minnesota: the biggest snow belt of the United States of America! Not that I am stressing over that one as well? Maybe so.

My beloved is both helping and complicating the process with his energetic ideas, last-minute plans, and on again/off again pursuit of a better, new-used truck. Turns out we are letting the last one go for now. Yay! There are always extra expenses and things to do when you make a major purchase. Now is not the best time for us to buy a truck! We really need to think through this purchase a little more, focus on our trip to the “Mayos,” and get some other proverbial ducks in a row. Steve will still be off working hard and doing his various activities in the meantime before we leave . . . seeya for dinner or at bedtime when you return home my love. (Yes, we still have a very late household.)

What’s left to do:

  • Receive the medical records from the Doctor and 2 hospitals I have visited the most.
  • Organize and condense hundreds of pages of test results into about 50 pages, labeled in some meaningful way.
  • Confirm arrangements with the hotel who promises NOT to use fragranced products in our room prior to our arrival. So bummed that an Airnb didn’t work out nor the Serenity House Network.
  • Pack WARM clothing, dog food, new dog medications, numerous supplements and medications for me, and enough food to get us through the first few days in the northern tundra. Gratefully our hotel room will have a kitchenette; it’s too frigid for our usual mode of camping via our “mobile clean room.” Most important on the packing list of my beloved: cross-country skis! I may take my snowshoes as well.
  • All the other stuff you do when away from home like laundry, placing he mail on hold, watching the weather here to have the snow shoveled when we are away, watching the weather there to confirm suitable road conditions, and the like. Should be less work than camping for sure!

While this process is exceedingly stressful when still battling a serious illness with bad convulsive episodes virtually every day, I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to got to the Mayo Clinic. Thank you Lord! It’s rated the best hospital in America! The top Doctors in the area of autoimmunity and neuroimmunology conduct research and see patients at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. I have heard first-hand from some of my new Doctor’s patients and they state that he provides excellent care. Yay!

I am also glad that I did not go the Mayos 3 years ago when I was looking for new answers to troubling medical questions. Since then, we have further tested and treated for Chronic Lyme disease, lowered my burden of heavy metals, healed from various dental procedures and treatments, investigated numerous other potential infections, addressed/ongoing orthopedic issues, completed a comprehensive cardiac work-up, and even received genetic testing and coaching. It’s been a busy 3 years! All of these conditions could have explained this horrible illness but they did not. Good news: I can now tolerate more of the supplements and medications that are needed to re-build my health (which was impossible to do without triggering convulsive episodes in the past).

My prayer has always been that something of value would come from over 8 years of daily struggle. The Lord has been faithful to see us through even the darkest hours where demonic influences were palpable, suffering greater than I can even describe. Both Steve and I have been tested beyond what we thought we could ever bear yet the Lord has met us, sustained us, even carried us. There were sweet moments along the way that served to encourage us. We understand that others have been encouraged by our testimony as well. Yay God! Overall, these past 3 years preparing to go to the Mayo Clinic certainly were not wasted, that is for sure. It’s time to rally for a cure.

Let’s hope so, eh Gentle Reader? We are hopeful again! JJ

New Year, New Direction

Like many times before in January these past 7 years, I am seeking a new direction for my medical care as a serious illness continues. A recent autoimmune blood test found antibodies for a particular type of central nervous system disease. So of course we are off now pursuing the next big thing! Here’s an initial brain dump on the subject (absolutely no pun intended!).

Autoimmune disease (AD) is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells. There are up to 100 different types of AD (depending upon which resource you use) and 3 triggers that I can discern that initiate the onset of symptoms:

  • Gene expression that gets turned on. This is where your have genetic markers for a particular condition coming from somewhere in your family tree that starts to express itself as active disease when triggered by stress, infection, toxicity, or some traumatic event.
  • Infection by bacteria, fungus, or viral agents. This appears to apply when the infection is severe or chronic.
  • Cancer. This may be a chicken-or-egg type of dynamic where a patient may never know what came first.

Docs have diagnosed me with a few conditions in the past that may be considered autoimmune disease. But it wasn’t until my Doc finally decided to start testing me for AD antibodies (Cyrex Array #7) that something concrete was identified and it is serious. The condition mimics a neurological disease that my Father had. The biotoxin illness that triggered my 7 years of chronic illness (beginning the same year in which he passed away, interestingly) and subsequent infections may also contribute to my situation. Thankfully, no cancer has been identified so we will stick with the first 2 triggers as entering me into the AD phase of my long term treatment plan.

So I started researching as usual and discovered two primary approaches to neurological disease in general: 1) manage the symptoms of a debilitating, degenerating course, or 2) treat it with immunotherapy and medications that have the potential to reverse its course when there is an AD component. My Doc suggested continuing various supplements and physical therapy. A second Functional Medicine Doc suggested a “functional medicine chiropractor” and a neurologist who specializes in Parkinson’s Disease. Of course I will consider these but I am also not going to wait around while my body deteriorates without seeking something more substantial! Fortunately it appears that for me, there may be medical treatment options including what is called IVIg that have the potential to REVERSE THE EPISODES THAT APPEAR SEIZURE-LIKE, VIRTUALLY EVERY DAY FOR NEARLY 7 YEARS!  Yes, let’s do that!

Yesterday I set up an account and submitted a brief case history for review by the Autoimmune Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Their neurologists specialize in neuroimmunology, participate in the latest research, and are willing to initiate trials of immunotherapies and medications to help their patients. I had contacted a couple of researchers directly, consulted the leader of a regional support group, watched lectures and interviews, and reviewed the literature on the factors relevant to my case. “Time is brain” and “time is cerebellum” appeared several times in the studies, suggesting not waiting around for something to happen. Overall, this field of study is very complex; I believe that I understand the main principles enough to share with my beloved Stevers and, as one accord, proceed in this new direction in my medical care.

As with anything new and complicated, there are many unknowns ahead of us. Will the neurologists accept my case and when will I be able to schedule my consultation, testing, treatment? How much, if any, will my insurance cover? How will I tolerate a lumbar puncture procedure likely needed for comprehensive diagnostic work-up even if administered under anesthesia? Will we be able to pay for the travel and out-of-pocket expenses that, for immunotherapy, could exceed tens of thousands of dollars? Can any of the treatment, if indicated, be completed locally and how many times will I need to return to Mayo Clinic (a full day of driving away from home)? In the winter when it’s too cold to camp, will I be able to tolerate staying in a hotel often laden with fragrances that trigger convulsive episodes? Will our aging and endearing pup Elle be able to travel and stay with us?

You know we are praying about all of these questions already! I am a bit frightened by the diagnosis I have been given, having worked with persons with movement disorders during my career as an Occupational Therapist. Yet I am also in awe that this information came NOW and not 3 years ago when I first considered a consultation at Mayo Clinic. We have learned so much since then, ruled out other conditions that don’t apply to me, treated conditions that put me in a better position to benefit from an Autoimmune Clinic, confirmed that this illness is not psychiatric, and know the process of travelling for medical care (as in my craniomandibular specialist whose care continues).

I feel like the expression on Elle’s face in this picture. Three paws in view and one paw under the rug with the unknowns lurking underneath there as well. Will there be Rubber Duckies or sweetness from the Lord to lighten this journey? Surely. Each phase of this time in my life has brought blessing with the hardships. Besides, you know I love road trips with Steve! And Elle!

Hang tight Gentle Reader. We may be headed north really soon! JJ

A Well Worn Path

If you travel the same way and expect different results they say it is the definition of insanity.  I get that so I resist the same.

If your baseline shifts and you take the same precautions against a disastrous outcome, you might say you are taking a chance that you might get different results.  I usually control the factors I can and go with the new direction . . . when amnesia sets in from the last failed effort and something new looks promising.

If you smash into a devastating blow anyways and have to retreat to combat the devastation, you might say that you were more rolling the dice than making a reasonable plan for success.

If you add too many factors in any plan, precaution, retreat and come up against a surprise attack from an unforeseen foe then you won’t know what hit either one of you until the smoke clears along with your heads.  Me:  hours of violent convulsive episodes and the aftermath.  Him:  heartache, exhaustion, and no peace.

And if you are me in the latter years of battling a complex illness, you live in shock from the blows of what hit you in the last 24 hours when it is after 6 days of relatively few symptoms.  The new treatments did look promising.  They did not hold off the onslaught, however.  And you paid one of the highest prices once again this side of heaven.

And if you are the beloved husband trying to navigate these landmines, help fight the war while carrying on with the normal and fun activities of life . . . you will have to watch the horror of your beloved get tortured on the battlefield.  You try.  Success is elusive or temporary.  You fail.  Again you grieve and so does she.

And if this well-worn path brings despair then so be it.  Tomorrow is still another day.  As for me, I’m still here and so is my beloved.  Most importantly, I know that my Lord sees my waterfall of tears lain at His throne of grace.  Life will go on somehow as it always does; I have more responsibilities now.  The despair will give way to some sort of hope in due time; the Lord will add His grace and strength to see me and my beloved through once again.

For today, I am like a beaten puppy on this well worn path of life.  It is tough stuff indeed.

Dang!  JJ

Stuck in the middle with you

My beloved is most gracious, loving, and kind to me

For these I am grateful.

My ventures out into community work were wrought with struggle then success

For some good results I am humbled.

My convulsive episodes have lessened then spiked on occasion, giving more clues than questions of late

For this I am, alas, perplexed.

My  labs raise questions about new things that need attention more than providing answers about a cause, per se, oh my

For the discouragement I will turn a cheek and trust my Lord, the Yahweh.

My distant family faces tragedy so we love on those who have come nearer for a time

For them we will simply give our love, again and again.

My life sprints and spurts in a race against time, energy, resources, wisdom, and fatigue

For the long naps this past week I shall be grateful.

My most prized moments are those stuck in the middle of all with you my dearest love

For your tender arms bring Jesus with skin on:  tis a really good thing, being here with you, even now.

My life would matter less if not witnessed, not shared by one who cares for me so and me for him

For such a time as this, you are the most incredible gift.  I love you Steve.  Thank you.

JJ