Letter of Courage Series Archive
Today, our housing support ends.
I don’t know what comes next.
Its been sunny, but chilly. It’s that time of year when standing on my foot is painful, as if my foot bones were broken. Sharp shooting pains come out of nowhere. I feel myself become afraid. I tell myself to relax. Hold on to hope, hold on.
I’ve learned that apparently no one can find the MRI done on me two years ago. In fact, it was December 2009, a sudden appointment with neurology, I believed I was finally going to get help.
That was a joke. I got a phone call on a Sunday evening from the lowest doctor on the rung, telling me ‘you’ll get better.’
I don’t want to think back to that moment now that I have, it makes me sad.
Now, they say they can’t find my MRI. Oh, yeah. right.
I go back over the last year since I was told that the first hospital was ‘off-limits’ to me in December 2010.
I remember driving home with my Dad, in shock that my doctor had said that to me. I was crushed.
I was reviewing some old correspondence in my year-end cleaning. I came across emails I had forgotten. Twice, Stanford lost the first referral from my GP.
I was so distraught at the time, it seemed like more of the same from the first hospital.
It took my mom calling to ask that Stanford see me. They finally agreed. When the specialist said he knew exactly what happened to me, and told me about a patient of his in England who had just started Graduate School, I felt so hopeful. The nightmare was over.
Then, my medical files from the first hospital were ‘lost.’
No one could find the file I sent by email even though the file never bounced back.
I kept calling, I sent it over and over by email as they asked me to do. I even sent it by registered mail in time for our meeting. But, they didn’t want to talk about the MRI.
At all. Now, the MRI is lost.
I think back to the last appointment. I was told that I was ‘rude’ because I kept calling, and was anxious, that my medical file was lost.
I was told if I ‘do that again,’ I will be prohibited as a patient. Again.
Now, my MRI is lost, no one knows where it is. You can guess I’m not about to call to try to find out.
Ironically, since my dad is a doctor, I sent him the same medical record, and he reviewed the MRI himself. In fact, we talked with them about the MRI, and what he had seen on the MRI, in the meeting.
I mean, I was asking them if they didn’t want to perform even 1 (one) test at all???
Of course, what am I to do now? I can’t call chasing down my own MRI, otherwise, I might be ‘banned’ from the specialists.
Another symptom that has been spiking recently is the incessant pins and needles and itching. Its awful when it spikes at night, making it hard to sleep.
I’ve talked enough on this blog about how I’ve used the warm water (sometimes, hot) as a method of pain control and management.
Over time, I’ve added and experimented with various herbs. I’ve added ginger for inflammation, honey for soothing skin, lavender for relaxing, Epson Salt, and even various anti-oxidant fruits.
This month – Oatmeal!
I’ve added Oatmeal to see if it helps calm my skin in general, or if its more of a ‘spot’ treatment. Since the itching is often worst at night, I may just have to try a late night Oatmeal soak.
So far, I still had itching last night, but I’ve found relief during the day with the Oatmeal soaks so give it a try if you are so inclined.
Well, it has been a year of little progress on the treatment front. And, as I said, we’ve just lost our housing subsidy. While the delays piled on, lost referrals, lost records, lost MRI’s, a whole year has passed, and I am no closer to knowing what is going on or how to access treatment.
I hear people in my RSD support group talk about the testing and treatments, but none of those things are ever offered to me. I called an expert to find out if he can talk to my GP to find out what is going on.
Through prayer and alternative treatments, this year has been a HUGE gain. Spiritually and emotionally, I am a lot stronger within than last year feeling crushed when I was told in Dec 2010 that treatment access was never going to be offered at the first hospital.
The trauma of the last 3 years, of having a medical system that not only hurt me, but pushed me under the rug, attempted character assassination, gathered intelligence rather than help me, the entire experience was a huge lump that sat within me.
It’s a trauma I’ve never known.
It opened my eyes to the Tragedies in Health Care occurring every single day.
Even today, I hear about another woman with RSD who is losing her housing.
The other night, my son brought me to a bawling mess.
He shouted, ‘if there is a Creator, how did he let something like what happened to you happen?’
Alone, in the dark of night, I looked up to the sky and asked Creator, ‘how can we restore my child’s faith? Please help me because I do not have an answer for why this medical system has been able to get away with what it has.’
This horrendous process, from the moment I got hurt up to lost MRI’s today, has shaken the faith of a woman who was embarking on the job of a lifetime, and a 10-year old who watched mom get stuck in the arm with a needle, heard the bear cries into the night, and saw as the rest of our world came crashing down when soon I was unable even to walk. He saw what the medical and legal fields offered by way of help.
The alternative healers worked on me to remove that trauma so that I can grow strong again. Where every visit with the hospital was soul crushing, the work with the alternative healers offered positive discussion with the illness, and sought to mediate the damage of the trauma on my spirit and emotions. I must be strong so I can prove to my child.
I pray to the Creator to please help me restore my child’s faith in this New Year.
May you have pain-free days and walk a good road towards healing, and arriving at peace.
Happy New Year!
Actions, Not words
At times, like now, it’s not easy to write.
Sometimes, it’s not good to speak. This is what I have learned. Sometimes, words are only that – words.
Actions speak louder than words.
I had hoped for more action in my last appointment.
I suspect that the doctors had wished for fewer words from me.
I went with, what I felt, were reasonable questions. What I was asking for now was a conversation. Gone were the days of telling me they didn’t know what I had.
Now, I wanted to talk about what I had.
I had learned about all the possible tests for CRPS and nerve damage, so that I could be informed and calm, yet, also ask for information about whether my nerve was still injured, and if it was, why it had not shown up on the 2nd EMG, unlike the first time, when the technician personally went to make the appointment with the neurologist. The 2nd EMG, I was told, was hard to read because the hospital reported I was in ‘so much pain,’ and, yet, two different doctors came in to test me twice that day.
Now, two years later, can we do another EMG to see if I have nerve damage in my arm and leg?
But ever since my records from the first hospital had arrived, then, not arrived, suddenly, I had become a ‘kid’ and told to bring my dad along. Did they realize how old I was? Really, my father?
When the clarity of the first appointment there gave way to the sudden wishy-washy, I saw the familiar picture.
I first asked about ispolateral spread of the RSD. Why had that been ruled out in my case? I brought the recent journal article from Europe that showed isolateral spread is not random.
No one wanted to talk about it.
I was very sorry to learn that no new tests of any kind, I was told, were warranted.
I was also told I was rude.
And, told I was rude to the staff when I tried, for over a month, to locate my own personal medical files which the hospital had lost a month after the email was received.
I was told to send it again, but the email now bounced, over and over and over again.
I was already feeling a chill. Like the hospital where I was injured, a coloring of the situation had been set in motion and I was not asked to contribute to the landscape of understanding.
That’s not an easy place for me.
I was told we were starting from a fresh slate, and yet, still, there were no new tests. The one EMG scheduled at the new place was cancelled because an EMG had been done previously, almost two years ago now.
I was not asked about my symptoms, and was continually told my symptoms were on both sides of my body despite repeatedly trying to share my experience rather than the one painted in swaths on me.
I felt like the whole world of medicine and technology, boasted about and claimed as our advantage, completely cut off to me.
Another moment in this process with CRPS that makes me wonder, what exactly is going on with this condition? Why is there so much hostility to questions?
Why did the doctors seem shocked I knew about ipsolateral spread, or that I would ask why ipsolateral spread was not a reasonable consideration.
All questions or inquiry was missing.
This stunned me when so little is known about CRPS.
No one asked me anything about my experience.
Instead, I was threatened of losing access to care, again.
This time, because I had called so many times to try to track down my records the hospital lost. The staff had found me rude.
No one said it was rude to lose the files, or, for all the bounced emails when I resent the files again, and, again, and again. Like they didn’t have any other way of getting the files?
Of course, no one says its rude that I got hurt in the first place. Or that I was asked whether I filed a lawsuit rather then the doctors asking themselves whether a spinal block was necessary.
Being threatened again with ‘bothersome patient’ for wanting to be a collaborating partner, to be treated like an adult – which I am, by the way – and, be informed about what’s going on, to have access to the technology and tests that I read about in the journals, was more than I could handle.
Is this for real? What makes this acceptable medicine?
I am told that I should have taken the anti-depressant prescribed to me — even before the diagnosis had been complete — which was pulled the next year after a lawsuit in 2009 for excessive off-label use.
I asked why the doctors didn’t want to study me since I had not gone to pain killers right away, and, is it possible those drugs, in fact, make the CRPS worse?
As my father said on the way back home, ‘they don’t care what you have to say.’
The unfairness of having been hurt by the venipuncture wound, having them lie about what happened, and now, I can’t even be a part of the process? What I have to say doesn’t matter?
I guess not. I was hurt, put through a horrendous process, so why would anyone treating this illness, or who creates policy, want to know what happens to the patient in the US who suffers a venipuncture wound at a major hospital?
Of all the elements of CRPS treatment, the one most covered by insurance is Medication.
One of the other pain centers sends a long form with all kinds of warnings about pain medications, and how, even before being seen, patients will be put through a database, and on and on, and I wonder, what?
So, people hurt at hospitals, suffering extreme pain, now become drug suspects?
I don’t use painkillers and I don’t want to. I have rejected any narcotics. Why do I want to go into a situation where, off the bat, the entry door to help is submitting to a drug check?
It says the same thing as being told at my age to ‘bring my father.’
I didn’t ask to come into this RSD world. If I hadn’t been injured, maybe it would have been easier to get to a place of acceptance, if it had been some bad luck, but it wasn’t. It was the action of hurting my nerve during the blood draw, and the delays of months in treatment, and in fact, the utter denial of isolateral spread that led to further break down in the patient-doctor trust and care.
I’ve never been evaluated for a spinal unit or any other possible pain blockers. I am told, I must first take the Medication.
The doctors know that my insurance won’t now cover mental health support, nor a specialist RSD PT. They know that potentially two out of three treatment pillars won’t be available to patients who can’t pay for it on their own.
I asked if they understood that I would not be able to access those services.
No one says that’s rude.
It simply breaks my heart the approach and process CRPS took in my case. I cry when I think back to all the positive experiences I had with doctors before this condition, before I was suddenly on trial for an injury, and my body accused for it’s reaction to the injury.
I read this week about a man who had the very same thing happen to him that happened to me. A blood draw during which his nerve was hit, and just like in my case, the nurse continued to draw blood after the injury.
In my case, the state investigator refused to interview the witness who saw that two vials of blood that were drawn, nor to the attending physician who initially diagnosed the venipuncture RSD. Instead, the investigator took the hospital’s word. She laughed at me and said the RSD must be my age since she had never heard of a needle doing what happened to me. She said my records showed, incorrectly, that I had taken drugs, pain killers. I offered to have a notary count and certify that I had not taken any of the pain killers originally given to me.
This was the state! I felt I had no recourse. In fact, the state investigator said I didn’t have any recourse to their ultimate finding that nothing happened to me. Erased.
I couldn’t fight anymore on my own.
I was tired, from the RSD, from the pain, from not being able to work, from being tossed out when I could no longer afford the rent, told we had 2 weeks.
The man I read about who developed CRPS following the nerve damage from the venipuncture wound had experienced the same thing.
The man’s attorney called the case a ‘David vs. Goliath’ trial against the hospital for the award of $2.5 million dollars.
I think about the bright, well-educated and prosperous S.F. attorneys who laughed at me when I tried to get help, who said there was no way a needle could cause the damage that I had experienced. Those laughs, I would find, were pretty tame in comparison with the many accusations, not only that I was looking for pain killers, but, a way out a bad economy.
My way out of the bad economy 3 years ago had been the producing job I had been referred by a professional colleague and for which I had made it to the second round when the venipuncture wound happened.
Where before I had not been involved with hearings and medical rights, suddenly, I would show up now as on the records defending my access to health care, needing ssdi and calworks.
Not my idea of success.
The investigator didn’t say anything when I told her I didn’t take pain killers. No laugh. No apology.
The one thing to come out of the appointment with my doctors was a prescription for 12 weeks of physical therapy with mirror box therapy, 2x a week.
I was surprised to hear they did not think a specialist PT in CRPS was necessary.
So, the search for a PT begins. Below, I offer some tips on how to find a good PT for CRPS.
Right now, I face daunting housing challenges I feel entirely incapable of handling. I struggle to hold on to faith.
Yesterday, I had a meeting with a disability specialist to see if there is any way I can find another apartment, on the first floor, so I can try to get out more often, to keep pushing myself.
Even after three years, the doctors said the other day I should not have a wheelchair as I might become dependent on the wheelchair.
I was upset and said ‘but, it’s not you who can’t get out to get to the store or out with people!’
I felt embarrassed to speak so directly, or to let my emotions get beyond me – to be emotionally unintelligent.
Say nothing of being dependent on an in-home care worker for groceries, laundry, and the limited options of going out every day to try to walk. No one seems to care.
After a year, and numerous attempts to get the appropriate paperwork from the local paratransit service, I was finally been approved for more taxi script so I can try to get out more often by taxi, and not have to fear how to get to and from home, especially those days when every step can be so excruciating.
If I share with you the challenges of finding affordable housing for disabled people in a large city today, I will not serve my goal of being positive. And, I want to be positive.
Ironically, most disabled housing is often with senior housing which don’t allow children. And, yet, I was told today that most likely we won’t continue to receive help with rent because my son is away at school during part of the year so we are no longer considered a family.
I felt so discouraged. I had no idea the challenges of disabled people. I know that part of this journey is seeing what I had not known of previously, yet, often it’s so overwhelmingly difficult to view, I am often speechless.
I am grateful to friends who each contribute in their own way to giving me faith, to help me hold on to faith in the face of overwhelming and daunting challenges.
If I think about disabled housing from this new vantage point. Its now very important for me to have a home that is also within a community, with access to the needs of daily life, interaction with people of all ages.
Now, where I live and how I live becomes really important. Before, a car and gas money and physical strength in my right leg made possible visiting with friends in so many places.
Physical Therapy and American RSD Hope
I started physical therapy last week. I was so anxious to get started, I went to the PT in the building with my GP. I asked whether the PT had experience with CRPS, which he said he did but had not treated anyone with CRPS. I could tell the PT was a great trainer, the gym offered many items like a bike and weights and mats. Still, when we didn’t start with mirror box therapy, I was a bit concerned. The PT said we weren’t going to worry about the CRPS.
Its been warm out lately, which is always good for me. It’s already November and still, I can sleep often with the windows open, a rare treat where usually the winds and chill blow through at this time of year. I felt pretty strong at the first appointment.
I have been able to get to a point now, from limited activity on the limbs, where I have beat back the daily excruciating burning and deep pain, and enough days that my brain has begun to consider myself starting to heal, like I have made improvements.
Walking and use of my right arm are the activities that I can not seem to master, jump the blockades if you will.
I was in more pain after the first day of PT, but I thought, NO PAIN, NO GAIN, right!
By the day of the second appointment, the pain and lack of movement were pronounced just getting to the PT. I was embarrassed to cry through most of the appointment, and remind the PT that I was not on any pain killers.
When the blisters appeared and swelling started to spread over to the left side after the second appointment, I knew I had to face that I had acted too quickly, and needed to take the time to find a specialist PT.
I was also concerned that the PT’s assistant had wanted me to sign a paper stating that Medicare had an annual cap of 15 physical therapy appointments a year, which they do, yet I knew that 15 sessions was already fewer than what had been ordered by the doctors. I felt the stress of having to deal once again with explaining the condition to more laughing faces. I shuttered.
I found this great site American RSD Hope which provided many answers to the stresses of these questions. The American RSD Hope site has a great section on how to choose a Physical Therapist, and the importance of finding a PT who not only has heard of the condition, but who has treated at least 5 patients.
Admittedly, the bored huffing of the PT frustrated by my performance by only the second PT appointment convinced me that I had to admit that the trauma of speaking with unknowing faces from doctors for 3 years has produced a strong counter-reaction in me that makes it hard to stand any longer being in such a situation.
I knew I could not bare working with, albeit a kind person, someone who did not have experience with the challenge of CRPS.
I suppose the purpose of starting with mirror box therapy is that the potential ‘off’ switch for CRPS is in the brain, not in the muscles.
HOPE – In capitals!
I have shared on this blog the story of Joseph Martinez, a young teenager who got CRPS from a horrible stomach flu. He was transported by medical helicopter to Stanford before he began working with Dr. Rhodes in Corpus Christi, Texas. Joseph started his treatment a few weeks after my Medicare became effective. I was hopeful I too could go there for treatment.
Unfortunately, Medicare had decided to stop covering Dr. Rhodes treatment.
Well, in the week of my very discouraging meeting with the doctors, I received the most exciting text message from Joseph’s mother that Joseph Martinez had not only been able to stop using a wheelchair and walker, but he was GOING HOME!!!
I was so happy that this young man has a new lease on life, a chance to be a kid, a teenager, and to go on to be an amazing person in this world. Joseph’s mother sent me wishes of prayers for my healing and I was so grateful.
Joseph’s ongoing recovery and his mother’s prayers for me eased the sadness I felt knowing that getting to Corpus and paying for the treatment was more than I could afford.
See a broadcast about Dr. Rhodes success with patients from around the world!
Is there an exception for Physical Therapy with CRPS?
I also found an answer about the Medicare and PT appointments for CRPS patients. Please visit this link to access the valuable information American RSD Hope about the Medicare Annual Cap on Physical Therapy.
‘NO PAIN, GAIN FOR CRPS PATIENTS’
I am working through emotions too as part of my healing. Learning to feel and accept even difficult realizations is healthy and maintains emotional fitness.
Lately, I’ve had to deal with my feelings about how my life has changed since CRPS.
Some days, I simply can’t work through the issues of sustainability, which only exacerbates the stress I place on myself. If this is in my brain I reason, I must be able to turn the CRPS switch off.
I must get on with my life. A drum beat to get back on my feet.
The fear of not being able to provide for one’s family when disabled is to a degree I thankfully did not know before. Yes, as an artist, it’s always been tough, but each day you can hit the pavement is a chance to change things around.
The challenge while disabled is much more overwhelming that I could have imagined.
When I read about a recent study that there might be a ‘fear’ element to using limbs after the onset of CRPS, I find myself feeling again a disconnect from people who study this condition.
If they only knew the fear that comes from losing one’s ability, and in the process, all the other overwhelming aspects that come with CRPS.
The Fear of Using My Limbs is the least of my Fears.
In fact, I dream of walking. I daydream myself dancing, walking, living a life again, to make it out to the social events I am invited rather than sitting at home.
It’s not the fear of the pain, it’s the actual pain that pushes back even the best of my intentions.
Mind blowing, scary levels of pain that will make anyone sit down rather than walk to have the pain stop.
As I sat soaking my limbs and body after the two PT sessions, I had to recognize the deep sadness I feel to not be able to go out socially as I have done my whole life, or to be able to set out myself, or with family, on an adventure.
I’ve promised to attend so many things, and yet, in the moment, I recognize the reality of what going out means. Several days to recover from the pounding pain from standing on my leg for any length of time, or dull, deep pain in my leg and arm, and then, the burning.
So, I have to measure, in the moment, what is doable.
Empowered by the physical therapy and wanting to just push through the pain, I tried to move around and organize boxes of my work and our family memorabilia.
I was shocked to see my wrist swollen so large and so quickly.
I was shocked to see how quickly I was back in the tub soaking to warm my body and try to tame the burning in my right arm, the severe stabbing pains in my right leg.
All my natural responses to fight through the pain – ‘No Pain, No Gain’ – the motto that inspired me to swim 5x a week in college, and walking and dancing for fun as an adult – does not help me now.
As the RSD resource explained, with CRPS, it’s the opposite,
‘NO PAIN, GAIN FOR CRPS PATIENTS’
Meditation Mantra – ‘I am the Doctor’ – What does this mean?
I meditate on letting go. Letting go of feelings of lack, of lack of understanding and support from the doctors, working to let go of accusations.
In the meeting with the doctors, I sensed they believed that my mantra ‘I am the doctor’ is literally my belief — like I am a doctor.
No. I do not think I am a doctor.
‘I am the doctor’ was a healing mantra I started using to try to activate any and all possible healing mechanisms and energy I possess within my own body.
In today’s terms, I guess this belief can be termed a healthy mantra for ‘taking responsibility for my own health.’
Faced with doctors who do not have consensus, let alone a cure for CRPS, and considering the lack of access from the start after the Venipuncture RSD diagnosis originally, the long journey of 3 years to a specialist that was located a mere 30 minutes away from my home, my sanity demanded that I not come home crushed every time I saw those blank faces staring back.
The mantra was my defense.
A healing meditation to retain and strength my mental health, and in the process, my physical health.
HOLDING ON TO FAITH
I must balance the desire to walk with the reality, balance loss and gain, have faith.
I am also working hard to accept the amazing support and abundance in my life, even when I feel so hopeless sometimes. To focus on the positive aspects of my art business which is starting to see some positive signs of life. I have begun my consulting with the art business expert and have been energized to continue to look ahead and see possibility still.
I am deeply grateful to all the people who have been sending me prayers.
I seek to embrace the abundance that does exist, opening myself up again to long-time friends and the many good people in my life, who encourage me to hold on to faith.
I want to give great thanks to the community in Guatemala who are devoting days of prayers to my healing, I am humbled by their generosity. I am so grateful for so many prayers from people who barely know me, and pray as much as those who have loved me for years.
Their faith that I deserve healing, their willingness to give up food and water to make the prayers stronger, for my healing, tells me a lot about medicine.
I feel the worst about myself when I face my role as the provider, the sole provider. I feel trapped when I consider how to work harder when my legs can not carry me faster. It’s then I feel so hopeless. So, I have to hold on to faith.
All I can do now is put my faith in the prayers, and pray to find the right PT.
I did find a doctor who is very experienced with CRPS, and he employs alternative methods. I was so excited to find him. Then, I found out he doesn’t take insurance. I don’t know how I’d be able to afford it given the other challenges.
I did find a PT that takes Medicare and I start next week. They have experience working with nerve injuries. They offer a range of approaches and although mirror box therapy is not yet a modality they offer, the assistant said they’d check into it. The PT’s office was also familiar with the Medicare exception and it was nice to not have to also be concerned on that front given that I will start with 24 PT sessions.
This week, someone said that I might actually get better from the PT. I had just read about a variety of people who had tried so many different approaches to CRPS without success, so I was less optimistic.
But, its true, I might heal from the PT. It took so long to get access, my friend’s reminder helped me retain hope. I started informing myself about the best way for CRPS patients to choose their PT, and by learning about the CRPS exception for physical therapy.
With the good news, and forward movement, I am feeling freer to approach two other specialists I was recently referred.
One, an accupuncturist, who works with other RSD patients, and, a homeopathic consultant with years of experience.
I will be exploring all the options available. I will be sharing the experience here for others who are struggling with pain like RSD or other pain conditions.
Only just a year ago, my day was mostly spent dealing with the overwhelming burning, horrible headaches and nausea. The daily warm soaks, using skin cremes to beat back headaches and aches, and, using honey to push back the nausea, as alternatives, have all had positive impact on my pain levels and general comfort.
I can’t say enough about daily meditation, and, EFT for bringing down stress and fears.
I think Emotional Freedom Therapy can be one of the most important tools in the healing box because it works directly through accupressure points on fear and trauma, which can arise just from the pain levels, but also, accompany the ‘disbelief’ aspect of this condition.
In my case, limiting my activity enough over a long enough period allowed for a space to develop a new level of ‘normal’ when the pain is limited and I can be easily distracted by turning towards my endeavors.
I thought to try this approach after reading about mirror therapy research, noticing how with RSD, the patient’s brain creates these pain pathways that never get shut off with the condition, so these pain pathways get grooved into the brain from so much pain.
It was such a struggle until, with SSDI and In Home Support, I was able to stop pushing my body long enough to rest.
I also stopped fighting the need to rest. Instead, I focused on what I could do. As I always say, I give great thanks to my computer, the lifeline to the community.
I was able to, little by little, build up the positive, low-pain moments and, unless the weather was particularly bad, these moments started adding up. Was I was creating positive pathways? It sure felt like it.
Unfortunately — not yet anyway — has this theory and experiment of mine changed the end result whenever I head back out into the world with the same confidence I feel sitting day after day.
When I go out walking to do errands, it’s not more than a short period of time I am brought back to the same place, same symptoms. It becomes a cycle in itself.
I still believe that these positive pathways are going to continue to grow. With the help of the pain specialists, I am going to extend the positive pathways into walking without pain, using my arm without pain.
As I have strengthened emotionally and spiritually, my desire to increase my activity has grown.
Although the recent swimming experiment and driving brought the burning back, and actually extended it, I want to find a way to move beyond the pain.
I know just ‘doing it anyway’ brings on more symptoms, so I am excited that physical therapy, in a consistent way, can possibly help me move beyond what I have been able to do till now.
I don’t know what will happen in the appointment with the pain specialists, what testing we will do.
I pointed out to the neurologist this one point on my hip, a nerve or a muscle, when I touch it, the pain is excruciating and goes all the way down to my foot, and goes numb whenever I stand for any extended period.
Each day my symptoms are different depending on the weather, making planning difficult.
Going down to the neurologist, I was in the warm weather and out of the fog. It was a delight to my body and skin.
The specialist I spoke to this past weekend mentioned that the cold, damp climate probably is not the greatest for me. The joy of the sun on my skin, and the sight of the beautiful California coast prompted me to consider once again moving to a warmer climate.
Anyway, in the meantime, until the next appointment, I continue to do all I can on my end to improve my health.
You all know the saying about the coldest summer right?
So, when it’s warm here, its lovely, and every frustration within the Golden city is forgiven with views that inspire deep understanding of the word ‘paradise.’
I was offered the opportunity to house sit for friends who have one of the most beautiful gardens in this city. It’s almost the size of a house lot itself, and in the very back reaches is a special pool.
I was doubtful about offering to house sit, since movement and use can spark symptoms, and I know now that activity has its price.
The family themselves eased my fears, letting me know that the house had been adapted for one of the family members who has MS.
Even the garden had been set up so that there were plenty of supports to make it all the way thru to its end, where, tucked in the far reaches, I saw the shining pool, custom designed for MS therapy. My youthful pool side days growing up here in California flooded back, and I smiled to see the blue waters.
I knew the family understood my physical situation, so I felt more at ease and excited to sample an environment that had so beautifully integrated mobility enhancements into such a wonderfully warm, bright home. I was inspired, as if someone had opened a window to show me what is possible, a normal life with some modifications.
I was also happy to have a place to enjoy with my son, so much of his childhood we had spent outside, I hoped the garden would allow us an important connection that had been frayed and tested by this condition.
I was also excited to try swimming as exercise. I hate that I can not walk. I hate that I can not exercise. I do any type of movement I can at home, when I feel good, I dance, or at least move the part of my body that can, and when I feel good in the right arm and leg, I do small movements, careful to remember that building up, little by little, can be built upon for longer-term improvement.
By now, many of you might recall that into the second year, I began using warm water as a pain management technique. Over the last year, as it seems I am experiencing more ‘chills,’ the warm water has become instrumental in managing the pain in my right arm and leg, and brings relief in a way that a shower had the opposite effect, each drop burning my skin.
I also found the water temperature somehow balances out the internal temperature, bringing relief.
On caveat. I have noticed that afterwards, until I lie down again, there is a sensation of the outer side of my leg being ‘asleep’ like the circulation is not moving there, and its bothersome. This is what I feel when I stand for too long, when I go out, I have to ‘shake’ my leg to try to get relief. Getting off the leg is what eventually brings relief, and one of the reasons that I, over time stopped trying to force myself to walk, thinking I’d strengthen that way. The nighttime after walking or activity comes with throbbing pain in my arm and leg, and incessant nerve firings or perhaps, now I better understand, those are spasms.
I’ve wanted to try swimming, believing that all my many swimming days when I did not have RSD would add up to extra movement in the water, the opposite of the restriction I feel walking on land.
Last summer though, as I prepared my application for the local YMCA, and started doing small exercises to prepare to swim, the activity upped the symptoms in my right foot, provoking the sensation of a broken foot with each step, and a near 3 months almost entirely home bound.
FRUITY ANTI-OXIDANT FLAVORS!
Speaking of healing waters! Don’t forget that summer is a great opportunity to combine fresh fruits – high in antioxidants – and other supporting herbs for a healing bath. I have recently read research that shows how the skin in involved in chronic pain, and perhaps this points to the various skin reactions of people with CPRS, the ‘burning’ sensation, and other skin issues that develop for chronic pain patients. If I understand correctly, the skin symptoms may be an indicator of pain, rather than as a symptom of pain. Read the full article here to learn more. Taking in mind what I read, I wonder if I am inadvertently nourishing my skin, and hence decreasing symptoms by adding these anti-oxidant elements to my baths. Worth a try.
So, a year later, and a pool right in the back yard, a yard where I could sit with the trees and birds and sun, I felt blessed for a break from the little 3rd floor studio from which I rarely venture, I felt blessed.
Before arriving at their house, I had to figure out how to get my son home from camp, located about an hour and a half away. The camp had arranged a carpool there, for which I was grateful. Yet, I had felt so useless as a mom to not be able to take him, to not be able to enjoy an activity we always had, driving through beautiful California, exploring together this great land.
So, I set all my sights on going to pick him up. I couldn’t wait for him to see the garden and pool too. I spent a few days preparing physically, resting up. It was a beautiful day. Warm, which helped a great deal, as for me, the warmth seems to make it easier, movement wise.
Already having driven over an hour in unexpected stop and go traffic nearly the whole way instead of the cruise-controlled, gentler-for- my leg ride I envisioned. I was late too which stressed me. I should have stopped and done a quick EFT which immediately helps lower stress and has become a valuable tool for me.
My teen son was happy when I drove up, dusty and tired, but happy. He jumped in the car with ‘I hope to come back next year too’ which was a good sign he had a positive, healthy experience at this new camp. Yet, quickly, as I wanted to know everything he had done, before I knew it, he remembered he’s not supposed to not like his mom, and the conversation ended with ‘I hate you.’
I tried to push back the sense of being unappreciated, and tried to remember I could be purple and my teen probably would find something to hate in his parents. The bull and the lion. We quickly were done with our mutual fit, and we went on down the road towards the late setting sun along the coast.
I had driven this road so many times, it was familiar and felt like home since I had known it most of my life.
Before jumping back on the road, we stopped for a bite to eat which was nice for about 10 minutes before texting interrupted and we were two generations at odds as to what to do with such a beautiful moment in the here and now.
I realized just how close we were to the spot where my grandpa had always taken us each summer. I decided to share that special place with my son, stopping so he would know it too.
Sitting there with him, in the presence of the spirit of my grandfather, I knew that we had come through so much these last 3 years, so many changes that RSD brought, requiring us to become stronger in other ways, to grow closer in new ways. In my next post, RSD and Parenting, I will be sharing a bit more about this experience we’ve had and what I’ve learned.
The journey seemed to bring us back together for a brief moment, before he made it clear that it was already an hour and a half later, and he wanted to get home, he was tired and wanted to connect with his friends.
We set out on the return journey, now with no traffic, cruise control the savior. Time with my son, a reminder of normal like before. A reminder of what we lost, and what we’ve gained.
The sun kept shining the next day, now, at the house sitting, the garden my new den. The sun didn’t take the pain away, but it felt like a soothing hand. The birds, the breeze, the trees, they sang to me and helped ease the pain and connected me to a deeper truth about how fragile life is, how quickly time passes, how we are a grain of sand rolling in the ocean of time.
A day later, when I read that the health plan had rejected the request for a wheelchair, this time, because ‘there was no diagnostic testing to show’ I needed the chair, there was no proof I needed the chair.’
I began to feel an overwhelming sense of futility. It was like a kafka nightmare. I realized no one is really going to care whether I get treated, or whether I am seen by a neurologist. No one worried whether I was going to be able to have a better quality of life with RSD.
Perhaps it was the visit to the generational spot of our family, there on the coast, or perhaps it was simply accepting that my experience is like so many others that no one cares about either.
I came to face my own temporal existence in the world. To consider the future, what is left to me, and how I will live that life. The experience had the effect of pushing me to come to terms too with the change in my body that is there 24/7, when I wake up, and when I go to bed, and to recognize that I am different too.
Its perhaps what has lead me to become more vocal in ways I might not have before, perhaps because I now have experienced things, and I feel that its important I add my voice to respectfully asking for change.
There, at that spot on the coast, I had time to give so much thanks to my ancestors and to life, to this land, to our country, to my family and all those people who have shared so much with me on this journey, for all the people I came in contact, or got to know, or grew to love, and even those, who later drifted away, or from whom I ran.
I use meditation to work towards acceptance and forgiveness, and pray, that one day, things will change, a cure for RSD, cooperation on research, diagnosis and treatment, and a change in how RSD patients are treated.
What I learned while house sitting, laying down, not moving in my little studio was masking what having a huge house and garden to walk showed.
My symptoms increased steadily each day I made my way thru the house, and the swelling in my right arm started again.
Swimming, despite the most luxurious feeling even when not using my legs, brought swelling in my left forearm, and skin rashes sprouted up again. After another week of pushing myself so my son could get to camp and back each day for a week, both my arms are swelling, and the terrible burning that I had been able to calm, has come back in both arms.
Today is my birthday, and despite my plans to go out this evening, even for a brief moment to wish a friend well on her way to graduate school, or to go sit to see another friend’s film, I realize, that’s probably not going to happen.
As the symptoms spread, I work hard to keep down my panic. I feel my attention turning again to the doctors, why isn’t the new neurologist calling, is this going to happen again?
I saw my new doctor again. She mentioned that the last place had not recorded all my symptoms. This did not shock me. I have the photos to show the symptoms they said they never saw. I began taking the photos when the first blister developed that left a crater in my right arm, just below where the needle had gone in. As the delays continued, I wondered, if the doctors keep sending me home and telling me to come back in six weeks, what symptoms do they see? I am never asked what my symptoms are, nor asked to record them. I have any way.
My new doctor has referred me again to a neurologist, a 3rd attempt to see a neurologist, to confirm what she believes is RSD. I pray they will finally see me.
This time I was referred to a neurologist outside the city. My first referral sent by my doctor was not received. The second fax was, and my case is being reviewed, they’ll call me in 5 days.
Its been a week. I work at pushing away the worry, besides, there is only one neuro specialist there now so it might be a while still.
I turn again to my meditation, ‘I am the doctor.’
I turn to this meditation not just to spark my own internal healer, but, also, as a protective mechanism to the wait, wait, waiting.
I also use the EFT too, to strengthen myself.
So, I continue to wait for the call. I’ve been trying to get to a neurologist since April.
In the meantime, I am trying to find a new balance, to bring the symptoms down again. That means being home bound right now, using the arms as little as possible, walking as little as possible…and its hard for me to accept.
Writing and connecting with people thru the internet is a lifeline. I can start to see a line ahead towards crafting a new life, even if RSD is confirmed.
I have been watching Youtube videos about CPRS, well, really, people’s stories about how they have healed, others sharing their symptoms, helping each other by sharing hope, by making connection.
Regardless of any challenge any of us may face, we all need connection to lead healthy lives.
I am deeply grateful to the family in whose home we stayed, for giving us the space to reconnect to each other.
And, to that special place on the coast, I am grateful for the connection with those ancient cycles of life, just as vital to human development today.
I left the house very inspired to move ahead in life, to do the best I can, with the abilities I do have, and to strive to overcome limitations.
I was inspired to reach out to the Department of Rehabilitation about attending art school in the Fall since I was accepted in June. My recent flares have worried me though, will I be able to go? Will doing so only cause a relapse of the torture of the very worst symptoms?
I’ve had to soak twice a day lately. I am adjusting my food to add even more healing, pushing back a cold, which seems always at the ready these days.
I wait. Doing the best I can in between.
A few days ago, the weather was in the upper 80’s, a nice treat for me. It inspired visions of driving a short 2 hrs to the mountains by the ocean I love so much.
Strangely though, while the warmth was soothing, old symptoms cropped up again, like the little skin blisters and itching. Difficulty sleeping too after I attempted to drop back from the medication a bit to see if these improvements with the weather could be built upon.
I have been doing my daily mediation in the morning, listening to Louise Hays every day to work on rewiring my brain.
I’ve had been off my right leg for many days now, so yesterday, when I went to see my child off, I felt like I was doing pretty good. Except, I felt like a failure that I could not drive him, and in the morning, I called myself lazy and asked, was I just not wanting to make the effort?
But, later in the afternoon, after an ambitious attempt to organize my room lead to excruciating pain in my right leg and arm, I realized, it was an illusion I could drive that far on my own, and back 2 hours? The pain reached that pitch that literally causes me to fall asleep. Like the pain killers used to, but, all the time.
A few days ago, I used dance as healer, playing a few songs that can’t help but make me want to move. My left side does most of the moving but I coax the right side as far as I can. I miss dancing sooo very much. More blisters came out, this time, on my left side. I had a blood draw two weeks ago, on my left arm, and I’ve noticed now a few subtle changes on my left side. Still, not enough to hold the left side down in a bit of dancing.
I wrote earlier that I was going to share more about a few of the heroes that I want to give thanks. After being turned away from the neurologists, I was feeling pretty down, and confused about this entire process. Then, in the midst of it all, and because my new GP had thought we needed a RSD evaluation from a neurologist, I finally started connecting with other people who have RSD.
I purchased a book written by Nicole Hemmenway, “No, Its Not in My Head,” about her nine-year plus journey through a very extreme case of RSD in her arm that she got as a young, soon-to-be high school graduate. Nicole eventually ended up in a wheelchair.
Nicole had traversed something few people at her age or older ever had, and as is her spirit, she shared her journey with the world in her book.
Nicole Hemmenway walks the walk daily in her blog http://blog.nicolehemmenway.com/2011/06/25/celebrate-good-times.aspx (You can get her book there too.)
I thank Nicole greatly for her courage, and her kindness.
What has been most inspiring in reading Nicole’s story is hearing about her recovery, of her getting out of a wheelchair. She gives thanks to Dr. Rhodes in Texas who has worked with many RSD patients, and others with similar conditions, to bring pain relief.
I spoke with Dr. Rhodes a few weeks back, and, just talking with a doctor who understands, who didn’t assume I was trying to get out of a ‘bad life’ with an illness, who did not make any judgment of me but had answers about the condition, It was Healing right there!
I have also been inspired by Joseph Martinez. You can read more about Joseph’s experience here http://www.dailybreeze.com/news/ci_18130738
Joseph is currently being seen by Dr. Rhodes. Joseph has a very extreme case of RSD because the condition came on by way of a stomach flu, so his entire body was deeply impacted since the RSD originated in his stomach.
Joseph was also experiencing the nausea that I have, and I shared with his mom that honey has been a savior for me. I take it when I go out to avoid any mishap as exertion seems to provoke severe nausea. When it was warmer, the nausea, just from eating, returned.
The honey immediately stops the nausea, and I am able to recover very quickly. Strangely, I have noticed since using honey for this purpose that my level of nausea has decreased overall.
‘It’s not hokus pokus,’ were Dr. Rhodes’ music to my ears. He knew every symptom I had been experiencing for the last 2 plus years, each and every one, not just 2 or 3 he read from a book.
And, Dr. Rhodes was nice. Hey yeah, he was nice. Not overly so in a fake way, but ‘understanding’ and well, let’s just say, I’ve had a shortage of understanding from doctors so I am grateful for any.
Dr. Rhodes, and the patients who have been treated by him, do not speak in any absolutes. Each case is going to be different. No promises. But, understanding, wow, that is half-way to hope right there and that’s the closest I’ve come to the type of doctor patient relationship I had always remembered until this RSD came up.
I am very excited to leave behind the past and move forward.
My last meeting with the new GP was also inspiring. She understood my frustration in not being seen by the neurologists, and she did say she had ordered my records from the previous place but still had not arrived. She said as soon as she had those records, she wanted to find a neurologist in SF to evaluate me. She took more blood, not sure what for, but it seems right she’s at least checking the levels so to speak. Thankfully, so far, everything else is fine with my health.
To get to see Dr. Rhodes, I need to find out whether I can travel and as my GP confirmed, she doesn’t want me traveling until I do have the neuro evaluation. Dr. Rhodes will work with me for five days and then, can work closely with my GP here to continue the treatment.
I am very excited that, soon, I will have some answers about next steps. If I can travel, next steps are – how? How to be able to afford to travel there, and how to afford the machine and other things that the insurance does not cover. I know I have to get there if Dr. Rhodes can make this pain go away so I can resume my life again. Since I dreamt that I will walk again, I believe this will happen and I only need to find a way there.
It frustrates me that non-invasive approaches such as this don’t have coverage while, often other things, with side effects that can degrade health, are approved lickity split.
My limited income till now has forced me to consider alternative ways to healing. Since there is no cure, only pain management available, there is a lot of space in between that is complex and often difficult to understand, even for doctors.
I see from the RSD Canada site interesting research that shows RSD is caused by nerve damage, and there is another treatment with IV that, like, what I am learning, may be related to how much oxygen the nerves are getting, related to circulation.
There is more research coming available every day. In this day and age, it seems that its important that research be put together considering the rareness and small number of patients globally speaking. What about harder to reach places where many may get this tragic condition and face unknowing doctors too?
I am having to consider the realty again of not having the resources to get to the doctors I need. I thought Medicare would be an answer, but I see the politicians ready to punt it down the road.
I’m not even sure I will be able to cover the costs not covered by Medicare, and some days, I think about giving up on seeing a doctor at all. Talking to Dr. Rhodes helped me consider once again that what happened these last two years may recede forever as a memory, remaining only an impulse to make sure it never happens to anyone else.
In light of the upcoming budget cuts coming down in July 2011, I am now faced with a dramatic income shift.
The in-home support and benefits had made these six months bearable where before, getting food, doing laundry, were painful reminders of what I could not do. Reminders of how awful to be stuck on the 3rd floor and how little I get out at all.
The budget cuts for vital disabled services feel like another sign that I am disposable in this world. Only, I know I am not, so I must find another way.
I feel the stress, which pushes me to want to get better faster, making the month in between till my next appointment with my new GP feel almost torturous.
I want to travel to Dr. Rhodes and live the dream I had a few weeks back of walking again.
I am reminded by Nicole’s experience that this is a process.
Dr. Rhodes also makes sure to explain, his treatment is not a cure, its pain relief to allow for the best possible life.
Knowing that my GP is moving forward and can be part of the team in finding a solution is a huge step forward.
Dr. Rhodes said with the relief of his treatment, patients can stop taking pain medications.
Its one of the most appealing aspects of this treatment, and is a great addition to the arsenal I have been utilizing to gain the improvements I have so far: mediation, positive thinking and looking beyond limitations. I have chosen not to take pain killers, narcotics.
In that vein of considering creating the best possible life moving forward, I have been considering what comes next in my career. I’ve sought the support and guidance of a Small Business Counselor who is helping me address both the internal and external blocks.
I have found myself, at times, very sad that I am unable, right now, to physically lead my life as I had before. I’ve had to process this change, a letting go of the past, to be in the here and now.
I’ve also begun to consider how I can work given my physical limitations and I am trying new experiences.
I’m developing the Catherine Herrera Photography online site for sales from my photo portfolio, from which these latest images are a part.
I am now working on a cover photo for a book, which has been a delight of a project. In this assignment, I have set up the images in my studio, instead of running around on the streets.
I am still working on graduation photos, now several weeks in process, rather than what would have been a day to turn around before. I have to let this be ok, but it feels like a pull weighing me down. Perhaps that is why the new approach to my work is inspiring, having the advantage of a different workflow than photojournalism.
In that vein, I have started to look at writing in a new light too.
Recently, I shared with some friends that this condition’s impact on my mobility had the effect of forcing me to sit down, to stop long enough to focus on editing in a way I had not before. Also, writing.
I try to cultivate a ‘present’ moment attitude, and it is from that space that this series, From My Window, began. I’ve just uploaded new images to the series.
I also took the step of applying to the art institute to see if I can take any classes next semester. I have been encouraged by the experience of RSD patients further into the condition who often say ‘pain is not going to rule my life.’
I did not understand this entirely before, but now I do. Maybe I won’t be a student like I was before, but as I have seen so far, art, communicating and sharing my experience with others has been very healing and positive.
The internet has become an indispensable tool for the disabled, or those with illness. A lifeline that never existed before.
I remember thinking in that awful first year how dearly grateful I was to the internet. It provided needed distraction, and it provided a way to still interact on a level that was not in any way ‘disabled.’ I think that’s why perhaps so many have said they never knew what happened, or others who were shocked by the cane and walking difficulties where my voice and person was so clear here.
The internet is a source for information. It is a PIPELINE to Laughter, which became my best friend.
Since I did not want to start pain killers or medications that had varied results, or in some cases, recalls for off-label uses, I had to cultivate a new tool box of devices. Without the internet, my life might have been very different today.
The cold has rumbled back in, and the warm water of my healing bath each day feels divine, like a rejuvenation and soothing spa. Summer, I bring with me the smells and flavors of fruit. This week, with the left over Jasmine flowers from my photo session, the fragrance of a forest, of deep soil, and I smell health.
I like getting fresh mint and basil, now in season, to put around the house, to smell those aromas feels very soothing to me, and gives me an upbeat connection to nature here in this 3rd story perch.
As I contemplate a career moving forward, I must consider housing for live/work. On SSDI, my income is limited and I have had to grapple with that reality. I felt hopeless about it before, and as I begin packing and looking for where to go next, I may feel that way again, but I am trying to simply recognize it and not attach judgment.
I have looked at artist communities in different places, and even considered purchasing a $100 house in Detroit or Philly and joining other artists seeking places to survive.
But, then, California keeps a strong hold, and I wonder, is there a little plot of land for me? I guess the issue of housing, as an artist, has truly always been an issue for me since I moved out of my mom’s home. I was working on the photo series, Landless Indian, at the time I was injured. You can see the work in progress here.
I joke with my grand-aunt that I will have to learn to grow my own food and figure it out like in the old days and she sounds more relieved with the joke rather than worried as she had sounded a minute before. You see. Laughter. Best friend.
I don’t tell her I am scared.
I feel the beating down of the pressure from the social service agency, again. Now, claims that they did not know about SSDI income, which seems odd, so I have sent them the emails clearly indicating we discussed it right after my hearing, and again, when the housing social worker recalculated my income for housing based on both the ssdi and social service aid. What if in-home support is cut? These are the worries that I try to wash away with Louis Hays in the mornings to start my day, but I can’t say it’s as easy to push away in the evening.
I’ve sent proof now to the hearing judge, will it matter? I have learned over two years of these constant battles, often, its a losing one. It’s discouraging on top of the struggle to get my health back.
In speaking to the, now, several RSD patients I know, one recurring theme that jumps out at me is the need to be an advocate within one’s own community. I have provided information on RSD to the social services agency, hoping I would no longer be seen as an ‘enemy’ out to ‘take’ something. The disbelief on their part has been an added and constant burden since the first diagnosis of RSD in 2008.
I was encouraged by the results others have had in bringing greater attention to the experience one goes through after being diagnosed with RSD, and I believe in sharing with the goal, instead of punishment, of greater understanding.
I decided to bring attention to my experience to disability advocates. I did this in part because of the affinity I feel for Veterans, both as someone whose family members fought, and as a result of the afternoon I spent last spring at the Veterans building in San Francisco. You can see images from that day here.
Soon after, I read about Veterans with RSD, who had gone to Congress to share their experience with the condition, and similar tug and pull with agencies meant to help but confused as we all are by this condition.
I am always encouraged by the positive, yet, determined approach of the heroes I’ve mentioned today. What I appreciate about Nicole is her forthright understanding of the very difficult, and often, solo experience RSD brings, on top of the body ‘feeling’ hurt. She doesn’t hide that painful reality, and in so doing, makes it possible for others to see a way through.
I am inspired by Joseph for his parent’s and his courage to visit over 17 doctors in search of a cure for the excruciating pain their son was experiencing. I am rooting for Joseph and his family. I’ve heard from his mom and Joseph is doing very well.
I am someone who is in the common age group of RSD. I am older than both my heroes, still, I am without shame in saying, I am grateful to them for lighting the way forward with their resilience and faith. May they both be blessed with permanent relief from this pain.
Here’s to living in the moment.