Whatever it takes?

Ten years ago I was Divinely selected to endure an often horrific chronic illness. I trust that the Lord ordains this plan for my life for my highest good and perhaps something good for the people around me. Certainly there was much bad for me and for the people around me, especially my husband of 3 years at the time, Steve. A decade later I am not exactly sure where Steve is on things at the moment but for me my mindset remains: WHATEVER IT TAKES!!! But maybe not in the way that you might think it does.

We have endured much, Steve and I. The stress level was so high during the remediation of our home for mold in 2013 that one night we nearly breached the fatal blow of divorce. I stated that “I would not hurt me to love you.” We just stared at each other. I had been living in a hotel at the time which was during the 76 days I was away from home. We were hemorrhaging money trying to figure out what to do and each of us had different ideas that barely overlapped. My Doctor had prescribed both traditional and alternative medicine treatments, one of the latter of which had made my condition much worse only we didn’t know that at the time. Steve was travelling between the house and the hotel while his adult daughter chose to stay in the house. With full time work and other obligations ongoing for Steve, his stress level was visible, tangible. And then the work on our house was done and I was able to come home. But unfortunately, the daily violent convulsive episodes quickly ramped up again. We were exasperated. The hardwood floors in our home are still nice though.

Ten years of researching, doctoring, extensive medical testing and treatments, genetic coaching, physical rehabilitation, trips to major medical centers, supportive counseling, pharmaceutical grade supplements, science-based modalities, specialized and traditional dental interventions, and finally pain management have improved my quality of life. My worst symptom, the convulsive episodes, have diminished; there’s about one bad episode every 5 days now; tic attacks most days with at least one day per week without one at all. Score! Yay God! I still have to avoid most strong noxious sensory stimuli such as sustained loud noises of a certain pitch and some types of mold that grow inside buildings, homes. We practice a version of extreme avoidance to make our home (and travel trailer when on the road) as safe for me as possible. The ongoing re-testing and treatments are still very expensive, limiting our budget for other projects and interests. The ongoing whacks of illness are still very costly in terms of social engagements and recreation. I still sit home alone a lot more than before I got sick with a serious illness and yet the isolation is breaking somewhat as I learn to navigate some improvements in functioning. It’s a natural process. I feel better and do more. I feel sick and do less. Such is the life I have come to understand.

Then one Friday night came with a major setback. I had recently pursued pain management services and was prescribed a few interventions largely for neck and headache pain that have reduced my symptoms up to 50%. After experiencing headaches so bad for the past year (and earlier in this illness) that I couldn’t get out of bed, THIS IS HUGE!!! The progress is tenuous however. Just like any chiropractic care or physical therapy: the next seizure attack episode wrenches my neck so badly that the gains can diminish or even disappear. This happened again with the surgical nerve blocks about 6 weeks prior. Dang. The violent convulsive episode 2 nights after writing this blog was so bad that it erased all gains from the Pain Management clinic completely! Not only was I horrified by the violence and scope of the episode, I have a new whiplash, a new back injury with which to contend. I AM CRUSHED!!! It’s spring for crying out loud. I’m an Extension Master Gardener who uses her better days to get outside in the dirt or serve as Editor of our county Extension’s newsletter. It’s a real struggle at times but it’s my “job” right now. I still rarely get out for anything social or worship-oriented, however. The challenge has always been to figure out how I was going to do anything in the post-ictal/recovery phase of the daily episodes when I can’t even figure out how to get out of bed? I had a setback like this on Friday; it was that bad all day yesterday.

For some reason yet to be determined, Steve was 42 minutes late picking me up at the local grocery store. I had a minor tic episode about 3 hours earlier and was fatigued from the recently diagnosed dehydration and other abnormal labs, troubling symptoms. IV fluids and more labs were scheduled the next week. We really needed groceries so I talked with Steve about how I could get the shopping done and best manage my depleted energy levels. The plan was for him to drive me to the store and pick me up later. But for some reason our timing got way off. I was left standing in an exceedingly moldy entryway of the store, not realizing what was going on, exhausted plus trying to stay calm and manage the thirst and need to go to the bathroom that were increasing. I had forgotten my phone. He knew that. I felt vulnerable standing there as I was getting sicker, worried that I would have an episode in public. People came and went and I just stood there, checking for Steve in our truck about 18 times. Maybe he forgot me? I was panicking. Somehow I exchanged eye contact with a very friendly-looking woman leaving the store with her own full grocery cart and figured out how to say the words needed to ask her to use her cell phone. (Forgetting my phone should have been another clue that I should not have gone to the store for and hour and a half of shopping. Maybe I should have done the remote shopping service we had used in the past? I just didn’t want to use up my Saturday dealing with 2 weeks worth of a grocery order while my husband was away at a sporting event. I wanted a day-off too. But you don’t get a day off when battling a serious illness, even when in the slow-mo phase of what appears to be recovery.) I made the call on her phone. Steve arrived 24 minutes later. I raced back into the store to use the bathroom while he loaded the groceries into the truck.

My physical discomfort came down a notch as I walked from the store back out into the cool spring air to the truck. I hoped it was reviving me some for the chores to follow at home of dealing with the groceries and making something for us to eat. That’s not what was to be, however. My mind was clearing enough for it to register that I had been in a moldy foyer of the grocery store too long and that the continuous opening-and-closing of the automatic doors did not protect me from a major mold hit. I quickly became aware that I was in the pre-ictal phase: the ramp-up to a major convulsive event. My gait got stiffer as I honed in on the door of the truck just wanting to avoid tripping and falling in the darkness. Steve was holding the door open for me. I could not speak. I believe I thanked him. Maybe I didn’t.

What followed can only be described as a waking hell-on-earth. I don’t know why I have to be awake for these violent convulsive episodes but that is what happens for me. I would rather pass out and deal with a bump on my head than know the horror of the wretchedness of my limbs shaking in various combinations that ramps up to spontaneous vocalizations of terror, writhing like a child with severe cerebral palsy, then hanging like a limp doll until the next wave hits. Whiplash, repetitive motion injury, flare of painful peripheral neuropathy in my fingers and toes, back pain, gasps for air, inability to speak, loss of motor control (aka hemiparesis), and increased sensitivity to all 5 senses that can intensify the episode, filled the next hour or so. My body extended so stongly, it pushed me between the front seats and into the back passenger area. Finally I could sit in the front passenger area and Steve fastened my seat belt for me. I couldn’t use my hands that were involuntarily drawn up to my chest in a flexion posture. He drove us home as I continued to seize. I remember Steve opening the car door once we were in our driveway and asking me what he could do, what did I need? Somehow I blurted out that the frozen food, now thawed, needed to go in the freezer. My eyes were open, my eyes pulled closed then they were open again. My left arm was already useless then my right arm fell lifeless off my lap and into the space near the seat belt and out the open door of the truck. The cool spring air blew over me and I was simultaneously chilled, re-awakened, and glad for my choice to wear flannel-lined jeans. The jeans kept me warm. Steve left my door open as he unpacked the groceries. The tears flowed and my face became a mess with snot and tears. It all burned on the skin of my face: another hypersensitivity anomaly. My mind moved in slow-motion, desperately trying to assess the situation, this medical crisis, from every possible angle. Most importantly I begged the question in my mind: how the hell do I make this nightmare stop! I prayed.

Many minutes passed. I couldn’t hold up my head any longer. It fell forward creating even more of a neck strain and worry about how I was going to continue to breathe let alone deal with the increased pain that would surely follow. I now have pain medications to take for specific symptoms but my liver enzymes are elevated. I have been cautious to only take a drug when absolutely necessary. The only “alternative” method that works is icing so I do that every night. But in that moment I couldn’t do anything but try to keep breathing and hope Steve didn’t accidentally close the door on my ankle dangling off the side of the floor board, out the door. I prayed some more. I always do in these moments, pleading for the Lord’s mercy. As during many times before, I asked for wisdom even on how to wipe my nose to stop the burning feeling on my upper lip. Maybe I could twist my torso in an attempt to reach my arm to wipe my face with my sleeve? I thought it was the last bastion of function left in my battered frame. Big mistake. The episode ramped up to a whole new level of hell as my torso extended, twisted and writhed to the left, sliding me off the backrest of the passenger’s seat AGAIN and into the space between the front seats. My head hung overstretched into the backside of the driver’s seat. I couldn’t stop it. Any of it. This new neck injury further crushed my spirits. And all I could do was hold on and try to breathe some more . . .

For those of you trying to do an armchair diagnostic workup at this point in my story, please stop. Thank you for your care and concern. I’ve seen the best medical providers in the country and completed all of their recommendations. And here I am. My own research led by the Lord and all I have learned from these professionals has brought me the most effective improvements overall. Please just pray for me and Steve. The Lord knows.

Eventually my beaten frame settled back into the front passenger’s seat and I was able to open my eyes, to breathe somewhat freely again albeit labored. I searched my frame and shifted my torso for signs of life in my limbs. Could I move my arms and legs yet? At this point probably 45 minutes had passed since the episode had begun. Steve had asked twice if I wanted him to carry me into the house. I couldn’t reply. My thoughts went elsewhere. I was aware of what was happening and the circumstances leading up to them yet not sure enough of the reason why Steve was late; I didn’t want him touching me just yet. I needed him but didn’t want his help. I was upset at so many levels and my remaining shred of personal dignity required me to find my own way to get into the house. I reviewed the steps over and over in my mind of how to ambulate into the garage, what I could use for support, how to disrobe for a shower, then how to wash off any mold residue on me into the cleansing comfort of a long, warm shower. By the grace of God I was able to advance my left leg by dragging it as I pulled myself out of the truck, limped into the garage then house, drag my dead leg down the hall, and get into the shower. I was so very weak. The pain was excruciating throughout my beaten frame. What is going on? I thought I was getting better? I had endured several mold hits in April in Florida and yes, had some minor episodes but NOTHING LIKE THIS ONE!!! Perhaps my seizure threshold had gone way down with the repeated exposures during that trip. WTF? This far down? I don’t get it. Eventually I lost it and could not hold back my angst any longer. No matter how many incidents like this we endure, each one is difficult for both of us and traumatizing for me. Please pray for us. This serious illness is really, really hard for both of us to live with, to try to live around.

Another thing is as clear for me that Friday as it was in 2013: I will endure whatever it takes to fulfill the purpose the Lord has for my life, no matter the level of suffering or loss, no matter what it takes. Each major “hit” like the one shared above challenges everything I know about life and death, love and hate, Divine Providence vs self-determination, the Lord’s provision, the economy of time in our finite lifetimes, and the question about where the heck did my serenity go if it can leave so quickly? At times of crisis I am ready to run away. Then wonder where would I go? We take ourselves with us when we run away, which includes virtually all of our problems with us wherever we land. It’s like the yellow felt banner painted in purple letters in the office of a counselor I knew in 1983 that read, “Bloom where you are planted.” Funny to recall this now. That was long before I would ever get into gardening. But even back then it was decades into living through the tragic hardships of my childhood and young adulthood. I did try to run away from my problems at home after I finished college. Turns out about a year and one-half later after I moved out of State I realized that I had taken most of them with me! The dysfunctional dynamics of my biological family were reflected in the relationships that filled my “new life” 300 miles away. How is that even possible? So much seemingly had changed. I took the geographical cure, right? Wrong. That’s just the way it works when you “do what it takes” to try to improve your life without first surrendering those dreams to the Lord, Jesus Christ. He knows the desires of your heart and has a Diving plan for our lives. Flash forward about 4 decades and He has fulfilled more of those dreams for me than I could have ever imagined. My life is better overall than I ever dreamed could be. I didn’t know Jesus back then. I know Jesus now. And life is still really hard at times.

To do whatever it takes to stop wretched convulsive episodes is not the most important task in the overall view of my life. Friday night I was in survival mode. I/we did whatever we had to do to get through it and will do the same to deal with the aftermath. Perhaps you get what survival mode is like? Sometimes we must focus on the task directly in front of us and simply HOLD ON. We have to make the hard decisions to cut the cancer out, end the abusive relationship, quit the job that puts our professional license in jeopardy, sacrifice resources usually spent on pleasures for medication or emergency food supplies instead, and move out of state to find yourself, to find Jesus. When those decisions are rendered unto the Lord, He will bless them and ultimately use them for His glory. We will be fulfilled beyond our wildest dreams. The pain of the suffering will diminish while the lasting joy of walking everyday with the Lord magnifies. And when we need to grieve, crash on our bed of sickness, the Lord Himself will meet us there in a tender embrace. He did that for me today at 3:30 in the morning on the day I described above. I had almost built that wall between Steve and I in my heart that we faced in 2013. I was ready to run away again or worse. The pain of the incident that Friday, the trauma of what had happened AGAIN, the loss of nearly 2 days afterwards trying to recover/manage the physical and emotional hurt, the burden of tasks not completed, and the lack of clarity of what to do from there are all just too much to bear alone. But I do know from past experience that I can separate my feelings from my faith. My faith is stronger. My trust in the Lord has been built over many tragedies that I have been entrusted to endure. Yes, it’s a kind of stewardship. What will I do with what has been ordained for my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly? Perhaps I will know someday.

With weakness I shall go forth. With a once baby faith that now roars like a lion I will trust that the Lord will lead me, give me what I need to live. It’s only in His strength that I have gotten through thousands of episodes just like the one described many times at Hope Beyond; any one of them could have killed me but didn’t. I survived. And having said that Gentle Reader, I will thrive from this day forward as unto the Lord. It just looks and feels a little different than it may look and feel for someone else, perhaps for you. Keep looking to the face of Jesus, little Julie. Keep looking at Him. You too Gentle Reader. We can do this if we but follow Him. It will all make sense one day. He promised. JJ

P.S. Steve and I worked things out. It was hard. We did it. Some better days followed and for that we are grateful. We are grateful for so very much . . .

St. George's Island, Florida, travelling, sick, chronic illness, better days, convulsion disorder
Getting out of the truck a few weeks later on my own. A better day indeed at St. George’s Island, Florida!

Another Healthcare Faux Pas

When I learned that there might be some pain relief for me if I went to a clinic that specifically focused on headaches, I was encouraged. I have some form of headache or migraine virtually every day. Pain lowers seizure threshold. Neurologists in this specialty have more strategies than typical anti-inflammatory and narcotic pain medications, over-the counter preparations, and the therapies we chronic folks go in and out of all the time, i.e. chiropractic care and physical therapy. I can rarely tolerate pain medication anymore and have used it sparingly my 30 years of chronic pain. Looked to me like there was something more to learn, some hope for a better quality of life, so I asked my Doctor for a referral to a headache clinic. What would I have to lose?

My dignity. Last Monday my dignity took a major hit at another major medical center. Here’s the raw footage from a message that I sent to a friend when I was still in shock.

Had a very odd, traumatic, and disappointing day at the headache clinic at the CC today. Gotta get this out. The MD Fellow with a couple months of experience listened to me, made a new HA diagnosis along with med ideas to try to manage them. This could raise the threshold for the convulsions, providing relief for both the episodes and HA pain. I have a HA every day and both HA and convulsions have been worse. Tweaked my diet recently and at least the HA came down enough to make the trip: 4 hours each way. The building was old and musty. It rained during half of each travel period. I had 2 hours of sleep Sunday night. I was ripe for an episode at some point; short tic attacks in the truck on the way out. Still was hopeful. The telehealth appts with the first 2 CC specialists 2 weeks paved the way for this appointment.

Then the young MD left to review my case with the staff MD; they both returned. We went in person so I could have a more comprehensive neuro exam. All the 2nd neurologist had me do was demo 5 simple range of motion exercises. A disastrous seizure attack ramped up within a minute! Thankfully I could blurt out to get Steve as she tried to coach me on breathing ex in a childlike way. I blurted out that I can’t breathe! She continued. I asked to lie down. The high velocity, repetitive, involuntary movements were injuring my neck n back. It’s terrifying and dangerous. SHE SAID NO! I could not believe my ears. Steve picked me up, my legs hanging, arms curled up, and put me on the exam table. I was able to get into my recovery position that protects my neck. Screams emerged that I cannot control. The pain seared my spine, head, extremities. Then they left. 4 times in this visit I asked to have the door closed (for privacy). 3x they said no so they could hear me if “anything happened.” Like what, I thought to myself. It was already happening. Steve stood nearby for my safety. I heard people walking by in the hallway. This is a HIPPA violation. (Correction: This actually violates their Patient Bill of Rights, posted on the CC website.)

Steve and I found ways to develop a plan. There were 3 violent episodes in total over an hour. The Med Asst came in once (as id’d by her voice, my eyes were pulled closed) and nurses after the 3rd round. I asked for the Doc. My tongue was thick and protruding out of my mouth, pulled to the right. My right arm dangled lifeless towards the floor; left arm curled and tucked in a flexion posture to my chest. This is mixed hemiparesis. But the young Doc had already left the building. The nurse said if it didn’t stop I was to go to the ER. How would I get there like that, I wondered, struggling to communicate and trying not to chew my tongue or trigger a rebound reaction. Finally I could ask Steve to turn out the lights. He put Prednisone in my mouth despite the snot and tears staining and stinging my face. I was able to ask for ice. Putting ice on the back of my neck broke the pain cycle worsening the episode. Like and overfilled balloon losing air, my body started to calm down. It took about 10 minutes.

The nice nurse had gotten a wheelchair. She figured I would be too tired to walk. I blurted out a thank you. I think she had left when I could tell Steve that I was WALKING OUT OF THERE under my own power. Any shred of dignity required it. I grieved so much on and off through this horror and trauma before I could finally sit up and stay up. Time to use the bathroom, wash my face, and get out of there. Soon I was gingerly walking out of there with all parts moving, albeit weakly. There was no one in the hallway. There was no one at their desk. We walked out into the dusk and rain.

Somehow during the first episode I was able to ask the young Doc to write down her recommendations for me. I’m glad I did. She hand wrote on my summary note only wrote 1 of 5 ideas she had for me. I was able to reconstruct the rest of it on our way home. The older Doc must have been the one to write a different, generic diagnosis. Only 1 recommendation was given and it was for a treatment program at CC that I already did at the Mayo Clinic. It made no lasting impact. Steve and I concurred that the older neurologist was of no benefit. He has seen this discounting behavior before. He said it’s why he jumped in to help me while the Doc did some chanting thing.

I’ll message the young Doc tomorrow via the MyChart online portal for her rec again. Hope she can do so for me. I went there for help with HA pain. I have no meds I can tolerate for pain when things get bad. The modalities help some. But with my chiro out with COVID, reg Doc/chiro rescheduling 60% of my appts due to his busy practice, difficulty getting to PT, and increased episodes, I need more tools to lower the pain threshold. The headache-specific tools could be a game-changer. Then I can go back to natural stuff. And be out of bed, able to function more again. Funny how I’m at the book of Job again as I continue to read through the Bible.

I spent the next 2 days largely bed-bound, struggling to function at all. The young Doc returned my message with the same diagnosis and recommendations as the older Doc but did add the name of the 2 classes of medications she had recommended. At least there was something new to pursue with my Family Doctor. I started an herbal remedy for headaches anyways and at day 5, the daily headache had already started to improve. But I still wanted to see their report. Turns out I was in for another shock when it became available 6 days later.

The Progress Note that got posted in my patient portal and I anticipate will be sent to my Family Doctor is a FABLE! The report lists so much false or inaccurate information that I wonder who they are talking about? Numerous tests were never completed but there are results listed for them! Below is my responses from the “Request for Amendment of protested Health Information” filed today in my patient portal on the CC website.

The Progress Note contains falsified information.  The following tests WERE NOT completed:

REVIEW OF SYSTEMS:  None of these questions were asked.  7 mm kidney stone, intractable back pain, arthritis, significant sleep disturbance with Mild Sleep Apnea denied or omitted.

PHYSICAL EXAM for rash (present on both legs), cardiovascular & lungs (no stethoscope exam), vascular (no checks).

CRANIAL NERVES:  No exam completed.  No sensory testing, venous checks.  My tongue protruded to right during the convulsive episode (in your office).

MOTOR EXAM:  No MMT completed of UE or LE.  Right UE hung from table during convulsive episode.

SENSATION:  No one touched me except for vitals.

CEREBELLAR:  Convulsed for total of 60 minutes.  No finger to nose, heel to shin, rapid alt movements completed.

REFLEXES:  All values are false.  No testing completed.  Neither Doctor saw me walk in the room nor had me do toe or tandem walk.

What does the current information say that you believe is inaccurate?

The only PHYSICAL EXAM that was completed was an upper extremity range of motion which was WNL, interview, and vitals.

Multiple false values need to be deleted.  We drove 4 hours each way to have a comprehensive neurological exam completed and all that was done was an interview, observation, and BUE AROM test.  No one touched me to do a physical exam of my heart, lungs, reflexes, cranial nerves, strength or other tests.  Neither Doctor completed the gait tests noted nor saw me ambulate in the room.  Neither Doctor reviewed my Headache Scores with me.  When the BUE AROM test triggered aura then speech changes, searing head/neck pain, tics then a convulsive episode, I struggled to ask to lie down.  Dr. K (the older Doctor who I finally got to see her name when it was stated on the PR) said “NO.” Whiplash re-injury followed from severe involuntary movements.  My husband picked me up and put me on the exam table in a position so I could brace my head from further injury.  Dr. K chanted to breathe deeply.  Sometime later my husband put 60 mg of Prednisone in my mouth.  I do not know when the Doctors left.  Later a nurse checked on me and brought ice for the back of my head/neck and the episode stopped completely within a minute thereafter.

We could have done this verbal exam by tele-health without the trauma of this visit, extensive travel, and false report.  My “After Visit Summary” includes the diagnosis of Chronic Nonintractable Headache, Unspecified Headache Type.  This diagnosis is not on the Progress Report that I anticipate is going to my family practice physician, Dr. J, for continuation of care.  Please add it as an addendum.

Sigh. Big sigh. I have no idea from where they got the physical exam results that are listed in the Progress Report. They are fabricated, false, wrong. The Request for Amendment of Protected Health Information can take 60 days to receive a reply. I looked up the Clinic’s HIPPA policy and Patient Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Looks like my privacy concerns fit more the latter and that I would have to contact an outside agency to file a complaint. It’s too soon to consider such action. I’ll see what the Request yields. Not sure if I should contact the young Doctor or not. She was actually very professional and listened to me. At the Mayo Clinic, the “MD Fellow” residents are able to file their own report in addition to the supervising physician. At CC, only a report with Dr. K’s signature on it is filed beyond the Visit Summary you get walking out the door (that only contains a preliminary diagnosis, single statement of recommendation, and information I had provided to the patient portal). The gross inaccuracies on the Progress Report from CC renders it useless in my humble opinion.

We’ll see what my Family Doctor says. He is a brilliant diagnostician and loves to review special reports. He’s just too busy most of the time to dig into the differential diagnoses of my case sometimes. Looks like the Docs at CC were also so they made it up. Another healthcare faux pas for sure. Oy vey. JJ

Coming out of shock

Quite disturbing is the realization that the consequence of serious illness

Adds damage from its own dynamics, worsening symptoms to a hellish level.

Hours of convulsive episodes reveal failed treatments intended to cure

Instead I have whiplash and the trial of convincing my Doc to test me some more.

Fortunately for me, he was willing to throw the book at me, inside and out

Not so good for my hubby who held me as I hung from his arms for my chiropractic care.

Gotta hand it to my Doc for making it all work when I could not stand

Both of them enduring the gutteral eruptions of screams when my brain is afire, nonetheless.

We all got through it, me with zero sleep from the night before

Grateful for the comfort from a local burger joint to restore our famished bodies, minds.

Oh to have respite from this waking nightmare whose root-cause is still mysterious

It’s the kind of Groundhog Day that repeats until you finally get it or maybe not.

Someday maybe . . . Lord willing. JJ

What else could they do?

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

King Tut Grass and Cannas @ParkviewHealth
Mandevilla vine, Begonias, Geraniums (right) and Potato Vine (left) @ParkviewHealth

Never Give Up

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.