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

Another Direction Has Begun

In this series of 1, 2, 3, and now this 4th blog, I share the pain and agony, arduous process of desperately trying to find hope through yet another medical crossroad. The discovery then extraction of an infected tooth was akin to placing an entire 8 years of battling a serious illness into a 2-month window of broken shards of glass. The infection was discovered on March 16th and the first surgery consult on April 11th. The second surgery consult resulted in the surgical procedure on the same day of April 22nd. Two treatments with IV ozone BEFORE the extraction showed promise to end my worst symptom of convulsive episodes however the gains lasted 3 and 2 days, respectively. Then there were horrible complications after the tooth was extracted. The 3rd treatment with IV ozone yielded 4 days of reprieve and a considerable reduction in pain and inflammation of the gum tissue below tooth #19. We are now optimistic for what the 4th treatment will bring later today. I have had more better days in a row after the 4th infusion than in the past, well, very very long time!

It really looks promising that another direction towards healing has begun. It really looks like the extraction of two other infected teeth in 2015 then the craniomandibular treatments in 2018 are related to the current dental issues: they all relate to the innervation and bio-mechanics of the trigeminal nerve complex, particularly on the left side of my face. I suspect that there may be a vestibulochoclear component as well since certain noxious sounds can trigger a neurological event. Infection leads to inflammation; suboccipital constriction from the trauma of repeated seizure attacks clamps down on those inflamed nerves. Ongoing inflammation of the cranial nerves, including the vagus nerve, keeps me on edge and from getting well. The visit in Indianapolis tomorrow will include an osteopathic evaluation and treatment in addition to 10-pass IV ozone. Tis time for my entire cranio-sacral rhythm-and-function to calm the heck down, get straight, and fly right!

Did I tell you about the garden bed we were able to put together this past weekend? My body hurt like heck yet my spirits were lifted as I pursued one of my life’s passions: all things gardening. How poetic for me to be planting a new garden bed in the spring of this year, just when my body appears to be springing to new life? God is so good, Gentle Reader. He does sprinkle His goodness here and there even on our worst of days. And this past week we had a down-pouring of it, literally! The day after Steve and I pushed to get all of our veggie beds ready for planting, the heavens opened up with a day of soaking rainstorms. Like washing everything clean. Like nourishing the dirt for the newness of life to follow. Like paving the way to bloom where one is planted . . .

I’m good with all of that for sure. JJ

That was quick!

If we ever get the answers to the questions why, why me, or why not then we will truly have arrived in a place of peace. Will it ever be this side of heaven?

This side of heaven, life moves quite quickly. The agonizing wait for a package to arrive, bringing the compounded, whizbang elizir to remedy some malady, can be mind-numbing. It’s all you can think about. Then before you know it, you are opening the package and quickly moving on with the other tasks of the day. If only this would apply to a workup to rule out cancer . . .

My days are blurry now yet not without a moment of reflection: largely on how the year we just finished has actually prepared me for the lump that is on my plate right now. Or more accurately, 7 lumps. Ruling out autoimmune disease, being diagnosed with hyperthyroidism then switching back to hypothyroidism, placating the diagnosis of Functional Movement Disorder, ruling out hyperparathyroidism, and narrowly escaping a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer with surveillance puts 2019 on the map for me, so to speak. Every step of the way, my main concern was beyond the testing and treatments glaring on the surface; I was asking if this or that could be a cause of the more important strife in my life: daily convulsive episodes, my worst symptom.

Autoimmunie disease = Episodic Ataxia? Nope.

Hyperthyroidism = Seizure disorder of organic origin? Nope.

Functional Movement Disorder = Rehabilitation to resolve? Nope.

Hyperparathyroidism = calcium trafficking issues? Nope.

Pancreatic mass = insulinoma and blood sugar dysregulation that triggers seizures? Nope.

WTF is it then? Excuse my French and excessive use of metaphors. I am about to go mad and cannot use direct language anymore. How many near-misses can there be? The answer: at least one more.

A thyroid ultrasound just 8 months after one earlier in 2019 found SIX NEW NODULES with suspicious characteristics. Then there’s the hard one in my neck that didn’t go away with the common cold after Christmas. How can this be? Labs don’t lie but they certainly don’t explain this new, worrisome finding. It’s all I can do right now to keep from screaming while I research the good, bad, and ugly possibilities. Looks like at the very least, another Fine Needle Aspiration is indicated and will be completed under conscious sedation due to the seizure attacks that come with needle sticks. My only saving grace in this hot mess is that at least I don’t need to be awake this time when someone in a white coat puts a very long needle in my neck. UBER-EWWWWWWWW!

Someday to preserve the remainder of my sanity, I will list all the treatments, dietary habits, rehabilitation strategies, lifestyle changes, mold avoidance, and medical management that I do because some professional said it would help me. The list is burdensome. And expensive. But nothing compares to this. I have never had major surgery before let alone a bonified diagnosis of cancer. My heart races with the potential implications, my mind numbs the rest of the way after pressing on to complete some volunteer work on the computer, and of course I am hungry . . . again! If only I had taken that walk with the pup when she was whining so loudly this afternoon. I really should have, even in the freezing temps looming out the front door.

I talk to the Lord all the time now. It’s like breathing a prayer all day long. He’s here with me alone at this computer, this I know. Graciously, my beloved is more tender and sweet of late than any day prior in this almost 9 years of battling serious illness. I am so glad for Steve. Life’s skirmishes over here are about to escalate to battle and war. We both can feel it with the data on the ultrasound reports.

My, how quickly things changed. But like Barry Manilow once sang, could this be the magic at last?

When you are afraid of everything

Every once in awhile I emerge from the fog of battling serious, ongoing illness and realize that the way I view the world is not the same as that of others around me. I am often afraid of everything!

Folks are dressing up for special Christmas celebrations and with it comes perfumes, colognes, hair spray, and lots of pretty/smelly stuff. I just practice what I call a “virtual hug” during greetings and keep my distance from any close contact where something might rub off on me. It’s awkward but works better than being triggered.

Venture out to a social gathering and I’ll wonder what particulate matter rests in both the upholstered seat upon which I am sitting or the coat that the person next to me is wearing. The mycotoxins from mold persist forever and easily transfer from one cloth surface to another. How many of us have our winter coats dry cleaned each year or launder them? Our vehicles and outerwear can carry with them the toxins from anywhere we have visited in the past. Some items simply cannot be cleaned of these toxins. And even if they can be cleaned, who else but another “mold avoider” uses anti-fungal agents like we do when washing clothing? Or tosses coats in the dryer under the sanitize cycle before putting them back into the closet or wearing them again? Probably nobody I know!

We brought a nasty scent home with us inside our new-to-us truck, from a recent trip. The sour smell is from a water-damaged building where any contact has the potential to trigger a violent convulsive episode. Maybe this low level of exposure that remains will somehow de-sensitize me to this type of mold? Yeah, right. The portable ozone machine that we really can’t afford right now, came in the mail from Amazon today. I’m going to try to zap that stinky smell out of there soon and hope that the remaining fragrance in there from the dealership goes with it. Cleaning, vacuuming, essential oils, charcoal packs, or baking soda haven’t worked on the latter. Driving with the window slightly open hasn’t been enough to ward off fatigue and the risk of pre-tic symptoms when I am in there. I need to drive to medical appointments. We will fix this soon, Lord willing.

Sharp, loud noises have become an instant trigger again and quite a nuisance. Twice in the past 10 days, my husband initiated an innocent action that resulted in a high-pitched, short, loud “olfactory stimulus.” Immediately I felt my ear drum move inward and a convulsive episode ramped up quickly thereafter. These are really bad. One happened last weekend as I was riding home with my beloved from a sweet date viewing Christmas lights, listening to music on the radio coordinated with each display. I could barely open my eyes for the last display as the head-banging had not yet subsided; my biggest fear was that the hand I struggled to push near my head wouldn’t adequately stabilize the wrenching of my head/neck. Steve fed me a rescue remedy when we got home while I still sat in the frigid air on the passenger seat of our truck. My left leg dragged as he was eventually able to guide me into the house (with me struggling yet determined to try and walk under my own power and not be carried). We removed my outer layers of clothing in case the scent of the truck was on them; I crashed into bed and slept for over four hours. I woke up in the middle of the night very hungry, ate a very late dinner of sorts, and was not able to sleep again until after sunrise. The new day was trashed. We had already cancelled attending the Holiday Pops concert downtown to avoid loud music. But I love Christmas decorations and music! This really sucks man.

Everywhere from public restrooms to the open door of a neighbor’s home exudes air fresheners these days. A package of new neighbor was accidentally delivered to our home so I thought, neat, I’ll take it over and get to meet them. A waif of something fragrant washed over me as soon as the sweet gal opened the door; “c’mon in!” she offered in a friendly tone. A quick, I can’t due to sensitivities nearly killed that friendly encounter. Fortunately the late fall day was a little milder and she didn’t mind chatting on her front entryway outside of her home. Sigh.

I would LOVE to invite all of our new neighbors over to get acquainted later this Winter. We did this very thing with our neighbors before I got sick and it was a sweet time of fellowship. FOUR of the eight homeowners have turned over in our neighborhood court in which we live. Someone needs to organize a get-together and I wish it could be me and my hubby! I simply cannot do that. I’ll have to wait until the warmer weather comes and we can sit outside on our patio. I guess that’s alright too . . . five months from now when the weather thaws and warms.

We still practice a relatively high level of extreme avoidance that is getting OLD after all these years. Perhaps progress on treating a particular type of sinus infection will reduce my sensitivities. Let’s repair that blood-brain barrier already! I am grateful that I can finally treat the chronic MARCoNS infection that is characteristic of biotoxin illness. This makes me hopeful that maybe more than the olfactory cranial nerves will heal as well. Over time, of course. More time. The trigeminal nerve that gives rise to TMJ pain and had triggered episodes has already healed quite a bit with my specialized dental appliances from a craniomandibular specialist.

These are only a few of the examples of how chemical sensitivity, mold sensitivity, Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) play out in a person’s life. Gene expression gets turned on for persons with particular HLA types for mold illness, contributing to abnormal responses to everyday sensory stimuli. Turning it off or lowering it requires removal and avoidance of triggers, various types of testing (home/work/school environment then specific lab testing), dietary changes, and a hierarchy of expensive treatment protocols. I am grateful that not only am I able to tolerate a complex combination of nasal treatments, there are fewer food triggers of symptoms now than in the past. Some of the labs used to diagnose CIRS have normalized or are only slightly elevated. My local Functional Medicine Doctor versed in these protocols will re-test me for MARCoNs early next year. I am hopeful that I can finally clear this infection; the sinus headaches have already subsided. (This Doc is so very nice to me as well! Love that!) The laundry list of other medical conditions that has come alongside this nightmare are not nearly as disabling as CIRS. I never lose hope that many can get better or even be cured this side of heaven, Lord willing.

When you are afraid of everything, it is really really hard to want to try new things, meet new people, or go to new places. My confidence in virtually every aspect of living has suffered. Expertise, proficiency, and tolerance for the work environment of my profession of occupational therapy have eroded and I am not sure that I will ever be able to get it back (or even tolerate working with all of the potential exposures of a clinical setting). Indeed I have developed new skills during this period of time and you are reading one of them right now. I am grateful to have designed several websites and am the editor/assistant editor of 2 publications. Medical research has become a necessary pursuit. These are worth something I suppose and can be done in the middle of the night when needed. Gardening has sustained me throughout these 8 years of battling a serious illness and 6 of them with biotoxin illness in particular. Sometimes I am taking care of our yard or a public rain garden after dark when I feel better but hey, that’s what flashlights are for, right?

Perhaps I need to re-read John Maxwell’s book entitled, Failing Forward. While this time in my life is not my failure per se, the effect of repeated trials and traumas is very similar. Better pull it out again. In life, the opposite of fear is courage and perseverance is a requirement to succeed thereafter. Somehow I do although this has been one of my greatest challenges when feeling like a beaten puppy. Further, some would say that the opposite of fear is love as in the perfect love that comes only from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For if we truly know His love then nothing in this world can separate us from it, including the powerful tool of fear, fear of failure, fear that things will not change, fear that we are alone to suffer, and so on. The truth is that those in Christ will never again be alone, the same again, or away from the Divine plan and purpose He has for our lives. Knowing this truth brings not only courage to go on but hope. And my Jesus’ love and care has helped me move forward to even get to this day, to think that one day even if it’s in heaven, all will be made new, right, and good. That’s the kind of love in action that obliterates fear.

Sigh. I’m tired tonight. The shingles is healing. Some medical questions are now answered resulting in closing some doors and leaving others precariously open. I’ll need to meditate on these topics some more. Still, I think I have a better perspective, more hope than when I started writing to you, Gentle Reader. Do you deal with fear too? JJ

Start at the point of exasperation

When you reach the end of your rope then a new one must come forth

‘Cause everyone needs a hand to hold onto sometimes.

When all you can see is a dark web of experience, a broken road underfoot

Then we must cling to a crossbar strong enough to last forever.

When your body is broken, unreliable, and shaking with ravages of illness

There is no reason not to grab a hold of something eternal, transcendent, permanent, sublime.

When the pain begins as your eyes open and close each day, each night

Trust that these are a consequence of our fallen world, not your curse tender child.

When hopes get dashed over and over and over and over again

Re-examine what you are hoping for . . . the journey is alas, laced with gold.

When “challenges” plague you that would dwarf the average soul next door

Walk your own path with eyes fixed on your Maker Who is holding your heart.

When all hope is gone it is actually the perfect time Gentle Reader

To cling to our risen Christ, borne from an old rugged Cross, waiting in earnest to love you through it all.

When one day the suffering ends and your exasperation is but ashes on the dirty ground

Know that to finish well, not pretty or neat, is its own just reward. We’ve got this. He’s got us. And all will be made well.

Isaiah, 41:13, Lord holding us, take heart, trials, illness, disease, suffering, tragedy, Christian, Jesus, hope, enduring, reward