Modern Medicine Movements

Losing Hope, FINDING COURAGE

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The last six months have been very tough. Apart from the loss of the housing subsidy, even more cuts have fallen on our family. I no longer have money for medicine, often, short on food, and forget any extras. Everything has gone to rent just to ensure I won’t be on the street again, with no physical strength even to walk.

At the same time, the discouraging experience at Stanford only grew more so:

1) After returning to my GP in October after Stanford refused to do anything at all, I begged and cried for an MRI – what Stanford would later characterize as my “demanding medically unnecessary testing.”

Well, over the next 3 months (yes, 3 months since my GP refused to order all the MRI’s at the same time) the MRI’s of my spine, neck and finally, yes, finally, ONE MRI of my ankle/foot – of course, I was denied an MRI of my entire right leg (now that would just be too much!) – REVEALED MANY SURPRISES.

While UCSF and Stanford claimed I had ‘mental health problems’ or ‘fibromyalgia’ – yes, you guessed it, with absolutely NO testing to back their claims – this is what they missed while they did nothing for the last 9 months – before throwing me out of care just like Stanford PM threatened – as they claimed because I had  ‘demanded medically unnecessary testing’

A) Significant damage in my Spine that requires Orthopedic Surgery.

B) A ganglion nerve cyst in my right ankle,

and, drum rolllllll

C) the chronic tear that appears on the top of my right foot – right where I pointed to every single time, and completely ignored for over 3 years! (Yes, the same three-year time limit for a Medical Malpractice suit against UCSF for the Venipuncture Wound).

So, as Stanford and UCSF were padding my file with fake Pain Management appointments, and failing to conduct ANY tests at all, they were also trying to build a picture of the ‘savage, angry, violent’ Indian to fit their narrative of why they did not do their jobs, nor, conduct any of the necessary further testing to ‘eliminate’ anything else.

No testing of anything, nada, zilch.

So, by last October when Stanford sent me on my way, the three years expired during which from the time of the nerve injury from the blood draw, complaining that I was ANGRY, they failed to conduct any testing nor find the damage described above.

What was worse was that:

1) After the MRI revealing the ‘extensive’ damage to my spine as my GP mentioned, we both – she and I – called Stanford PM to follow-up and get an assessment of the spine damage. We called over and over and over. No reply, no response.

I called Medicare to ask why I was not getting appropriate treatment and response. Stanford’s Patient Advocate contacted my GP’s office staff to ask about their experience and when they described the numerous lost faxed documents, appointment and MRI requests and failure to call us back, all they got from Stanford was ‘sorry.’

What did I get? I got a letter stating that ‘my behavior’ and ‘demands for medically unnecessary’ testing was the reason Stanford, after 9 months of NOT even seeing me, testing or doing a thing, said they were no LONGER going to see me as a patient.

When the Patient Advocate said Stanford PM would send a report my GP, I laughed. Was she joking? What were they going to report?

From August 2011 to June 2012, I was seen a total of 7 hours between Stanford PM and Neurology.

Stanford Neurology said there was nothing more they could do – mind you, they had done NOTHING, not even an MRI despite the visible continued shaking of the arm and the PM diagnosis of the VRSD/CPRS II  – I later found out, Stanford Neurology had ordered an MRI in August 2011, but the MRI was ordered and cancelled with no one telling me at all.

The way I found out? When  I called for my follow-up appointment with Stanford Neurology,  the receptionist told me. Medi-cal has now confirmed the MRI request was submitted and rejected. I had never been told. NEVER.

I have submitted a letter to Stanford asking that hereon forward, STANFORD SHOULD REFRAIN FROM REPORTING  a THING about my health.

2) When I went in to get the results of right foot and ankle MRI – mind you, this being the MRI that I was ABSOLUTELY unable to get any UCSF or Stanford doctor for 3 years- despite the mobility disability and EXTREME PAIN, the Foot/Ankle doctor’s receptionist smiled when she saw me  – ‘you are going to be very happy!’

I knew then that they had found in the MRI the cause of the pain and walking difficulties. Maybe now he’d order a whole MRI of my leg in those spots that I told him hurt so much.

I knew the MRI showed the damage I had pointed to these three years.

Yet, instead, the doctor didn’t mention the chronic tear or cyst found by the MRI.

No, not at all. Not one peep. This from a doctor who continues month after month to damage my credit by showing a pending amount for doctor services not even provided!

No, the only way we learned about this information on my foot and ankle was thanks to a dear friend who drove all the way out to the laboratory herself, and got the films and report.

When I read the report, I literally SOBBED!

3.5 DAMN YEARS!  All the times I had been told they just ‘didn’t know what I had!’ After all kinds of nasty notations about me:

a) Mental Health Problems: yet, no testing, referrals nor even talking to me about any mental health problems. Rather, these ‘mental health’ problems were reported to SSDI, and included in my File.

Instead of asking why I was angry after so long of not being listened to or treated, Stanford threatened to cut off medical access because I had tried in vain to have Stanford find my medical files which they said they had ‘lost’ – Like the lost faxed appointment and MRI requests, Stanford had also supposedly ‘lost’ my medical records.

This was all quite RICH given that I never got any access to those shiny machines and stellar medical knowledge. Instead, myself and my doctor were treated to rude and snickering receptionists who said over and over and over how someone would call me back and never did, or would call the Doctor’s office and never did.

b) Fibromyalgia was something since UCSF even that the doctors kept suggesting, yet, there was ABSOLUTELY  no testing of any sort to confirm nor corroborate this claim. In fact, Stanford and UCSF physicians kept INSISTING that I had pain on both sides of my body – which fit the FIBRO criteria – but was simply NOT TRUE!

In the last appointment with Stanford PM, I insisted in front of two witnesses that they stop, STOP insisting I had pain and symptoms on both sides of my body when it wasn’t true. UCSF had done the same thing.

But, I was also SHOCKED and HORRIFIED why this foot and ankle doctor, who I had trusted and was a colleague of my GP, would simply LIE, and HIDE medical facts from me.

Since I didn’t know he had hidden the facts during our appointment, today, I called to ask that the Dr. call me and provide a complete analysis of the MRI results.

His receptionist was quite surprised to hear the DR. had never given me the results of the MRI.

No, in my appointment with the foot/ankle doctor, he instead suggested maybe I had a ‘pinched nerve’ or perhaps it was CPRS and there was ‘nothing more we can do for you.’

When I asked why it had taken so long to get the test, the Dr. replied that ‘some people think it’s easier to get benefits…’

I was stunned – this man was suggesting that their failures as doctors and institutions pointed to me wanting BENEFITS! Are Doctors and Hospitals now the GateKeepers for Public Benefits?

And, if so, how makes up for their mistaken beliefs that ensure that the patient in fact DOESN’T GET FAIR AND EQUAL ACCESS TO BENEFITS DESIGNED FOR CPRS AND DISABLED PATIENTS? WHO PAYS WHEN THEY MAKE A MISTAKE IN JUDGEMENT?

I told the foot/ankle doctor that he didn’t know me – knew nothing about me or the job I was up for at the time of my injury – who I was as an individual, how hard I had worked my entire life, how excited I was about MY LIFE and OPPORTUNITIES, and WHY WOULD HE THINK THAT ABOUT ME? DID HE KNOW I WAS A FULBRIGHT SCHOLAR, GRADUATED TOP 30% OF MY LAW SCHOOL CLASS?

WHAT MADE HIM THINK I’D WANT TO BE ON BENEFITS RATHER THAN LIVE MY DREAM?

I was just stunned.

And, ANGRY.

Well, that was not to be the end of my day.

No, next was a visit with my GP who I had seen for over a year. She had been the one who ordered the first MRI after 3 years, and found the significant damage in the spine. She had referred me to the foot and ankle doctor.

What I was to experience next was simply stunning.

I had asked for a longer appointment because I had been having continuing problems with my vision, and in fact, during a recent exam with the eye doctor, when the light went into very edge of my right eye, I nearly threw up and passed out. I was also starting to have some new dystonia and other ‘freezing’ in my arm.

Not having money for medication has meant that my symptoms have begun to dominate my life again, impacting my sleep, ability to eat, and to manage the pain. In the process of the medication moving further out of my system with no replacement, I noticed the numbness in my right hand and arm, and I wanted to talk about the swelling and extreme pain in right leg.

I now wanted an MRI of my right arm.

With the MRI’s we had done already, we were starting to pinpoint the physical issues that were present in my body, and I wanted to have my right arm examined in this way too, to reveal if there was continuing nerve damage.

I asked if we could do an MRI of my right arm.

This doctor who had treated me for over a year suddenly looked at me and said ‘Catherine, what more can I do? I’ve sent you to 4 neurologists – UCSF, Stanford and two in the city – and YOU DIDN’T WANT TO GO TO ANY OF THEM!’

What? What? What?

I was stunned but before I could react, the doctor had left and gone into another patient room.

I simply couldn’t take it anymore, and I broke down crying right there. The doctor’s assistants came in and I said – ‘what is going on here? UCSF – I didn’t even come to this doctor until after UCSF so how could she refer me? Two of the Neurologists that she referred me – 1) refused to even exam me because ‘did I expect him to believe a needle had done that to me?’, and 2) the second Neuro didn’t want to get in the middle with UCSF. Stanford Neurology said there was ‘nothing more they could do and perhaps I should go to the Mayo Clinic!

When the doctor came back, she denied in front of her assistants saying that to me  – basically, calling me a liar, which upset me even more. Here was this doctor I trusted, and she was simply LYING.

What I learned next shocked me.

I had tried to explain to my DR that I had learned that my aunt had been diagnosed with MS. I wanted to know if it was possible I might have MS, and should we do a comparison MRI of my brain given that the last one was in 2009.

I said this seemed important given how FAST the spine damage progressed.

This is when the Dr. told me that, in fact, the UCSF MRI of my spine, neck and brain, had, in fact, SHOWN SPINE DAMAGE!

What? What? What?

Neither myself, nor my father, were told this information by the UCSF GP, EVER.

The UCSF doctor, when we begged to know why UCSF was not doing any testing, or treatment, they said ‘they had no idea what was causing the walking problems’ although they were POSITIVE it wasn’t RSD.’ When I asked why I could not have the MRI, we were told it was ‘political.’

Last week, we went to UCSF to get that 2009 MRI and report.

I had requested that MRI in August of 2011, never given, and then again, in November 2011, when I was told the MRI and report would be ‘sent to me in the mail,’ – it NEVER WAS.

Well, last week, they also refused to give the MRI over, claiming, once again, that they were going to ‘send the MRI and report’ by mail.

We were very lucky that the Radiology Department was able to give us the MRI.

Not only is the spine damage EVIDENT, and never mentioned to us, but, I’ve also learned that I had A CYST IN MY SINUS CAVITY.

We were NEVER TOLD ABOUT THIS CYST EITHER, NO TREATMENT WAS OFFERED. NOTHING.

To say I have been totally disillusioned with the efforts all these doctors and hospitals went to protect UCSF against Medical Malpractice, even the Administrative Court where I went over and over to seek relief to access medical treatment – its beyond comprehensible.

While I sit here with no food, no money, to think of what I have been subjected, just to protect UCSF, its beyond comprehensible.

My doctor saying I didn’t want to see a Neurologist is beyond belief given the numerous times and documented times I BEGGED to be seen by a Neurologist. I even filed a request for access to a NEUROLOGIST with the State of California, so, for my DR to now suggest I didn’t want to see a Neurologist, was more than I could bear.

I was so hurt, angry, distraught, I am sure there are more notations of what a ‘bad patient’ I am.

Last week, I went to a new Neurologist here in San Francisco. Referred by Medicare. A fresh start, with the new MRI’s and no longer being treated like some crazy woman out for benefits.

The Neurologist listened, then, asked, “have you filed a lawsuit against UCSF?,’ as the doctor asked me to hold my arms out and touch my nose. ‘A settlement?’

The Neurologist asked me to send her the ‘evidence’ of the MRI’s. I did.

I’ve never heard from her again and my calls to her office have gone unanswered.

Each time these doctors choose to protect UCSF and do nothing for me, sending me home with CRPS II, Spine Damage, Ganglion nerve cyst, Sinus cyst, with absolutely no care or concern or follow-up, it feels like a part of me is torn apart.

I have NEVER BEEN TAKEN SERIOUSLY SINCE I WAS INJURED AT UCSF, and even now, HAVING MRI’S AND EVIDENCE THAT I AM HURT, AND SICK, AND IN NEED OF MEDICAL ATTENTION, AND I STILL CAN NOT GET IT???

Let me tell you, this is one of the worst feelings in the world.

I can not help but notice that many CPRS patients deal with this kind of run around. I’ve heard that doctors who treat CPRS HATE these patients, hate their complaints, and many of them, think CPRS is made up!

Like that those doctors who were protecting the BENEFITS, all these trusted medical professionals worried more about UCSF, protecting public benefits and their own asses and nothing about caring, helping, healing or serving me.

In concert, these institutions prevented me from 1) receiving information about my own health and conditions, 2) prevented any further testing, treatment or diagnosis’, 2) failed to provide the appropriate testing to eliminate any other causes, and 3) failed to treat the condition of CPRS-II or spine damage or cysts.

In fact, when I think of how a wheelchair has been denied over and over, despite wheelchairs being issued commonly to RSD patients like myself who are no longer able to walk, the MRI’s we kept requesting and never got, when I think about how we were treated by the public agencies and these institutions who are supposed to protect and help patients, I am STUNNED THIS is CALLED HEALTH CARE.

First, I was injured, and experienced pain levels that were beyond anything – the highest levels of pain on the McGill Pain Scale – and TORTURED EMOTIONALLY, Refusing to help me in PM when I begged and cried in the UCSF Pain Management doctor office, begging them to please help me, the way they told me, laughing, ‘to buy some new shoes,’ and the way they lied, trumped-up mental health conditions, while telling myself and my dad, a psychiatrist, that this was ‘physical, not mental, but we don’t know what it is.’

I think of how on 2 occasions UCSF, instead of reporting the CRPS-II to SSDI, given the special designation of CPRS for people just like me who become disabled within weeks and can no longer work, UCSF lied and said I had a ‘sore back.’

We did not get benefits but instead lived on $561 dollars a month for two years, often, like now again, not having enough food or money for medicine and rent. My SSDI lawyer, despite telling her we were homeless, did not submit an SSI GA request for support, but instead said there was no provisions for someone like me, and never ever spoke to me before my hearing.

I lost good friends, colleagues, jobs while these prestigious medical institutions with SPECIALISTS IN RSD never even BOTHERED TO OFFER THEIR EXPERTISE to help me.

The experience I have been through these last 3 years has shattered many beliefs and faith I had in our country and the people. In the medical system, in doctors.

How much money did these doctors and institutions make from Medi-CARE and Medi-CAL while they lied and hid facts and information?

How much of my life, the life of my family did they take?

AND, WILL I BE ABLE TO GET ANY DOCTOR TO HELP ME?

WILL ANYONE HELP ME THAT WON’T BE AFRAID OF UCSF AND, NOW, STANFORD?

This past weekend, I came to terms with the fact that these doctors, these institutions were quite experienced at, and easily able to throw me under the bus, able to delay my care and testing for 3 years to protect themselves from liability.

It is what has motivated me to become a dedicated and serious advocate. I WILL BE SHARING MY STORY, and I WILL BE FIGHTING FOR PROTECTIONS;

A) To create a new system for patients who are INJURED at a hospital, to ensure a third-party is immediately interjected to PROTECT THE PATIENT AND MONITOR CARE OF THE PATIENT INJURED AT A HOSPITAL,

B) A COMPLETE CHANGE IN HOW RSD/CPRS PATIENTS ARE TREATED.

My case is extreme in the legal details since I was injured at UCSF, but, not rare in the lack of coordinated, careful and kind treatment.

I will be exploring what sort of Large Coordinated Effort RSD patients can undertake to ensure that officials and representatives have a CLEAR AND COMPLETE PICTURE OF WHAT IS HAPPENING TO RSD PATIENTS ACROSS THIS COUNTRY, MANY, MANY ARE NOT RECEIVING PROPER, APPROPRIATE AND CONDITION-SENSITIVE CARE..

Many are Veterans and Military who have RSD/CPRS from the line of duty. Many of these good people are now friends, and are inspiring as advocates themselves.

I WILL BE A FORCE FOR CHANGE.

I will add my voice to the chorus of RSD/CPRS patients demanding that CHANGE HAPPEN.

It’s simply unconscionable that because I was INJURED AND DISPOSED OF BY UCSF AND STANFORD, THAT I CAN NOT ACCESS ANY DOCTORS EVEN NOW.

What am I supposed to do?

In my next post, I will be announcing new changes to Letter of Courage – changes that will be in line with the goals described above.

I have sent out letters to Stanford, UCSF, San Francisco Health Plan, Nancy Pelosi, Marc Leno, the Department of Health Services ‘Disparities in Health,’ State of California, and the Civil Rights Division describing exactly what happened to me because many of these people/orgs have been informed since early on in the process.

Documentation of what I have shared here is available  because I FOUGHT TO TRY TO GET THE ACCESS, TREATMENT AND COMPASSION I DESERVED, trying so very hard to be taken seriously, and to get equal access.

I will be sharing my story far and wide and making sure change comes to how RSD and CPRS is treated, how patients are treated.

In 2008, in November, one night as my child and I sat a dinner, me so very sick and trying so very hard to put on a good face for my child, to try with all my fiber to be myself like before the injury, I told my child that I knew there had to be a reason this awful experience was befalling me/us.

When I started Letters of Courage, it was to share my experience with RSD, to share how the condition impacted me as a patient, artist, a woman, and a mother.

I simply had NO IDEA what journey we were going to have to travel.

Well, now, I know that I will be using my skills and talent and intelligence to ENSURE THIS SORT OF TREATMENT NEVER HAPPENS TO ANYONE EVER AGAIN.

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Faith, Holding on to Hope – Physical therapy

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'San Francisco Bay at Sunset, 2011,' photo by Catherine Herrera 6 of 36
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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.

'San Francisco Bay at Sunset, 2011,' photo by Catherine Herrera 11 of 36
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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.

'San Francisco Bay at Sunset, 2011,' photo by Catherine Herrera
Click on the image to visit a secure site for fine art prints and gifts as seen on this site.

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?

'San Francisco Bay at Sunset, 2011,' photo by Catherine Herrera 13 of 36
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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.

'San Francisco Bay at Sunset, 2011,' photo by Catherine Herrera
Click on the image to visit a secure site for fine art prints and gifts as seen on this site.

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.

Housing

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.

'San Francisco Bay at Sunset, 2011,' photo by Catherine Herrera
Click on the image to visit a secure site for fine art prints and gifts as seen on this site.

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.

'San Francisco Bay at Sunset, 2011,' photo by Catherine Herrera
Click on the image to visit a secure site for fine art prints and gifts as seen on this site.

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.

'San Francisco Bay at Sunset, 2011,' photo by Catherine Herrera
Click on the image to visit a secure site for fine art prints and gifts as seen on this site
Click on the image to visit a secure site for fine art prints and gifts as seen on this site.

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.

'San Francisco Bay at Sunset, 2011,' photo by Catherine Herrera
Click on the image to visit a secure site for fine art prints and gifts as seen on this site.

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.

'San Francisco Bay at Sunset, 2011,' photo by Catherine Herrera
Click on the image to visit a secure site for fine art prints and gifts as seen on this site.

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.’

'San Francisco Bay at Sunset, 2011,' photo by Catherine Herrera
Click on the image to visit a secure site for fine art prints and gifts as seen on this site

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.

'San Francisco Bay at Sunset, 2011,' photo by Catherine Herrera
Click on the image to visit a secure site for fine art prints and gifts as seen on this site

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.

Resuming hope….

Amazzzing Honey!

Posted on

Its been a while since I’ve written.

After my second appointment at Stanford, both myself and the woman who helps me, we both caught a horrible flu.

I haven’t had a flu-like that for a long time.

I haven’t written much either because not much else has happened.

I feel very fortunate to be meeting with the doctors at Stanford. It was such a relief to hear the doctor say immediately he knew what I had. When we were in the waiting room, we talked to a couple who had traveled from Bakersfield for their appointment. They told us in Spanish they drove the distance because the doctors at Stanford were the best in the world.

It’s a relief to meet with experts who know and understand RSD. I mean, I feel lucky to talk with them. They are on the cusp of this fight to find an answer for RSD.

I met with my GP. She recommended taking a semester off from SFAI so I can work with the pain specialists. Unfortunately, the SFAI program is a year-long, so that means I can’t go back until next September.

Not the news I had hoped for, yet, I had to open myself to seeing the positive side of focusing on getting completely better.

Mobility

I went to the bank and store the other day, walking and rolling my cart was unbearably painful and I caught a cab home. I felt rather defeated.

When I go to the Stanford Pain Clinic, which is in the back of the wing, I can use one of the many wheelchairs, and avoid the painstakingly slow pace of walking.

I love how fast I can move and get myself around.

I hope that until I can get back on my feet, I can finally obtain a mobility device. I think a scooter, mobility, can really help in the meantime.

The insurance rejected the request for a wheelchair, several times. They said I wasn’t diagnosed so they couldn’t approve the chair.

Now, I am told, with Medicare, all I have to do is ask.

Well, I called and called, but the Medicare number kept disconnecting after a few rings.

So, is that the joke. All you have to do is ask, if, you can get through?

I liked the rush of air on my face when I was in the wheelchair, feeling my hair blowing in the breeze.

Until now, I didn’t realize how long its been since I’ve felt that sensation.

Tests and Records

My GP said that the neurologist had ordered more specialized blood tests, and that Stanford confirmed CRPS II. She also said they were concerned about a possible spinal issue.

That was a surprise.

I sent my records of EMGs and MRI’s so let’s see what Stanford can see from those tests.

Maybe Stanford will schedule new tests. Now, 2 years have passed since the last ones.

Wait and see.

Urgency

In the meantime, I am starting to adjust a bit now to the change in my child being away for the first time. He’s at home now for the monthly break so I am happy to be with him. I had hoped in the month he’s been gone, I’d have more answers, and be further along in the treatment.

Its been over a month since I sent the first copy of my medical record from the first doctors I was seen during the first 3 years.

I get angry with the waiting.

I have a child to support.

I have a life I want to get back to, opportunities that are my dreams, a lifetime of working towards. I was interviewing for a documentary series when I was injured. I want to go back to my career.

Despite the doctors signing reports and notes, the social services continue every month to delay our benefits. Every month. I feel like I am being punished for needing the disability support. It compounds the sense of loss to not be able to work like before, do what I could before, and I feel badly to not provide.

I wonder, is this how other disabled people are treated each month too?

Its exhausting.

This week, I allowed myself to feel the frustration in not being physically well, particularly since, for the first time in over a decade, my single parenthood schedule is different enough so that I can consider returning to my career full-time.

I feel an urgency to have the testing and evaluation done so that treatment can finally happen.

Why is it so hard to get the results of tests that hospitals and doctors have access?

Spreading of RSD

Still, no one can tell me what’s wrong in my right leg. Still, the specialists say, RSD generally doesn’t travel.

So, what of  the hundreds and hundreds of people with RSD in whom it spreads, is documented to have spread?

The whole issue of whether RSD can spread to another limb was the big question that held up treatment for an assessment of what else could be causing the leg issue. That’s been going on for 3 years.

Well, this conundrum I am told, is one of the many aspects of the RSD debate.

So, when I recently found this study, its findings helped clear up the debate for me.

The spreading of the RSD from my right arm to my right leg is not unheard of — in fact, this type of spreading is called ‘Ipsilateral,’ as opposed to ‘Contralateral,’ which the name implies, spreads from one limb to the limb on the other side.

Spreading of CRPS is not random, the study concluded.

In fact, I rarely read of when RSD doesn’t spread.

Why am I being told this kinda thing? Still?

The article published in February 2011 summarizes a study at the Department of Neurology of the Leiden University Medical Center of 185 patients.

Ispilateral spread occurs less frequently, but does tend to show up in younger patients, and may point to other genetic and immunological components still being studied.

As with all research, it’s always best to read the source article (link above) as I’ve only provided here a simple, non-medical summary. I read this article on what I have found so far to be one of the most dynamic of the research sites, T. Howard Blacks Definitive Link Library on RSD.

Why then the lack of testing with all that equipment to find out what is wrong in my leg if it’s not RSD?

The urgency of making a living for myself and my son makes this debate so esoteric as to feel rude. Especially while it’s so hard to even get those devices that can improve mobility. Three years have passed since I have walked without pain.

Dreaming

I had another dream. This time, I saw myself walking around a new neighborhood, and I remember looking at myself with happiness to see that I was not walking with the cane any longer.

Community Healing and Prayer

One of the nurses shared with me how much prayer had helped her daughter and asked if I had begun praying.

I have not written much here about that part of my healing journey. Maybe I should have written more, but, all the outcomes are what I share in my writing.

Prayer, no doubt, has been an element from the start. For those moments of horrific, mind-blowing pain, you can believe me, prayer is a huge part of making it through that type of pain.

I have been fortunate to have so many people praying for my recovery from CRPS, and, I have participated in group prayers for healing.

I have felt an improvement in my mood, and decrease in my sense of isolation.

I am inspired by so many with stories of healing, even, when all hope was lost.

Ever since I read there are cases of spontaneous healing of CRPS, I have set my sights on doing just that – healing.

Looking within – Art as Healer

At the same time, as my grandfather taught me – ‘when there is a problem, look inside first.’

It wasn’t easy because I was in so much physical pain, but, I also began to take a look at my own life and who I was as a person. My art during this time, captured in this video below, was part of my healing work.

Art was my refuge, a place to pour my feelings so I could move past the anger I felt about suddenly having a horrific pain and disability where the day before I had none. I know everyone with this condition understands that feeling.

The woman floating on the ocean, and the one at the end, where she is sitting on the banks by the ocean holding a shell above her head, were recently published in the program announcing the screening of my film.

I have so much in life I want to return. I am just grateful for the art I can do still.

I stopped drawing and painting after we became homeless. My supplies are in storage still, hoping soon I can leave this perch on the 3rd floor, to get to the ground so I might try to get out more often, and get my things out of storage. I’d like to start drawing and painting again.

Measuring Pain

When I was seen by the new doctors, I was told the pain in my arm and leg were separate, unconnected.

I had never thought of it.

So, I spent the last few weeks observing – is the pain connected?

I never found a time when my arm and leg pain was disconnected. In the morning when I wake, it’s there – sometimes less, sometimes more. Yet, always there, on both limbs.

My arm pain may be less in comparison to the leg when the pain spikes from walking, but, like last Sunday, when I screened my film at an event, all this week, my entire right side was in deep, deep pain for several days afterwards. All week, my ankle has that swollen ball from which the pain seems particularly worse.

If Venipuncture RSD is so rare, why do they keep trying to tell me what is happening in my body instead of asking me?

My dad will say that the pain switch that goes on with CRPS is triggered by stress so in a way, that pain and disability was always there, just latent, and the stress of my artistic, on-the-edge life is what eventually caused the CRPS.

Yet, a new study adds to a growing body of work that seeks to dispel – once and for all – the notion that CRPS is caused by emotional or psychological issues. The 2010 study published in Joint Bone Spine Journal (Vol. 78, pages 194-199) found that biopsychological complexity is not associated with perceived pain in CRPS type I. Although different from the CRPS II with nerve damage, I wonder if the study applies.

So, its back to that question – does the fact that I didn’t recover from the Venipuncture wound, vs. someone who does, mean that there is an emotional/stress factor that causes CRPS?

The Debate.

I don’t know the answer. When I offer to go to therapy 5x a week if it can make me walk, in three years, no one has taken me up on the offer.

Do I resent the debate being carried out on CRPS patients? Yep.

If the issue of who does or doesn’t experience pain is such an important debate, well, how about trying the study on cancer patients with neuropathic pain, or patients going for a root canal. Do a whole psychological work up to find out what might be making it possible for those, and not others, to feel the pain from their conditions.

And, make sure to deny that they should even feel that pain.

I mean really.

I read about this new innovative test for verifying pain. Like measuring heartbeat (yep, I’ve felt my heart speed up when extreme pain strikes. Like cutting my food the other night at dinner, when a sharp pain caused me to drop the fork and knife like hot coals), or, sweating with increased pain (check).

It occurs to me, there might be some simpler answers.

Why hasn’t one of these doctors, in three years, ever gone walking with me?

I mean, simply walk outside, around the block, observe what happens when I walk, where the pain is, and how it impacts my walking.

Not only do we do no walking, there is no actual exam of my leg or arm. No tests for weakness or damage to the bones.

I sit on a table for 15, maybe 15 minutes, sometimes an hour, that’s it. How are they going to know the pain when I am not using my leg and arm?

“Self-reporting” pain

Excuse me, is there any other type of reporting?

I’ve never been asked to log my pain, or describe the symptoms over time, or to share how the symptoms change with weather.

How exactly do doctors find out about pain?

If there is a way, in 3 years since the Venipuncture RSD, I have not been shared those tests or methods.

Meanwhile, I continue to wait to hear about the results of scientific, medical procedures to know whether there is radial nerve damage still in my arm and leg, and whether there might be a spine issue.

CRPS vs. Neuropathic pain?

In 3 years, no one has been able to say whether its possible to have nerve pain and not have CRPS. I’ve asked, over and over.

I mean, if my nerve was injured, what makes it CRPS and not just plain painful nerve damage? These are questions no one answers because they say they don’t know why – why someone with spinal injuries can report no pain at all and why people with a simple nerve damage from a needle can have pain.

Well, in a study published in the European Journal of Neurology 2010, (vol. 17, pages 1010-1018,) carried out by a team of experts from various Pain and Neurology Clinics and University Departments from around Europe. The study sought to consider the guidelines for Neuropathic Pain Assessment, and the tools used to make NP diagnosis.

Interestingly, the study found that NP can often be confused with CRPS, with the study authors, in fact, finding that CRPS can sometimes be ‘overdiagnosed’ where possibly a Neuropathy or NP related condition is instead a proper diagnosis.

The study concludes by sharing which testing mechanisms the team assessed and found useful in diagnosing Neuropathic pain.

Again, please read the study yourself, or talk over with your doctors, to get a medical review of the article.

Reflection – A Mutual Benefit

I know others with CRPS can also understand how awful it can be to have someone pointing the finger at you when they themselves have no real answers either.

If we are asked as patients to dig into our personal lives to see how our actions could be cause for CRPS, why not the same of the medical system that treats the condition?

After my experience, I think these are valid questions.

As many times as I’ve been asked whether I filed a lawsuit, why has no doctor asked more about the pain, or done any testing?

Why can I still not get a factual answer about what the tests done up to now say?

And, if Venipuncture RSD is so rare, why am I spoken to like they have all the answers or know all about it?

I feel lucky to be able now to see the experts at Stanford, known for its innovative research.

I will meet with the experts next week.

HONEY – 20 amazing uses!

I’ve written before how Honey has been life-saving for me with the nausea that results when I exert myself physically. I’ve also written how using honey over the last year seems to have actually improved the nausea that came even when I was lying down, and got worse as the pain increased.

Well, here is a wonderful list of 20 uses for honey written by Anna Brones, travel and food writer, Marketing Manager for EcoSalon, published in the Huffington Post in celebration for Honey Month! Enjoy!

20 Unusual Uses for Honey

Superpowers and parasitic cleansing? Honey, who knew?

It was brought to my attention last week that September is in fact National Honey Month. Honey gets an entire month all to itself? Why yes, it certainly does.

Turns out that Americans consume 1.5 pounds of honey per person annually, and there are more than 300 types of honey in the United States alone. That’s impressive, and we figured that if honey gets to be honored all month long, the least we could do is give you 20 different uses for it. Enjoy!

1. Put it on your lips

Did you know that making your own lip balm is as easy as tracking down some almond oil, beeswax and honey? Sure is. Makes you feel a little guilty about that $10 version you picked up at the health food store yesterday, doesn’t it?

2. Make your own honey moisturizer

If you’ve got a handful of sweet smelling herbs — think lavender — laying around and ready to be used, why not use them for your own homemade honey lotion? Warm honey over a saucepan until it gets to a liquid consistency. Pour honey over herbs and cap tightly; the ratio you want to use is 1 tablespoon of herbs per 8 ounces of honey. Let sit for a week and then mix 1 teaspoon of liquid into an 8 ounce bottle of unscented lotion.

3. Eat it with goat cheese

In need of a classy hors d’oeuvre but lacking in the time department? Try this: put a round of goat cheese in a ramekin, sprinkle honey and chopped walnuts on top and place in oven at 350F until honey and cheese are both soft. Serve with baguette or crackers and you’ll be the life of the party.

4. Prepare for the end of the world

You never know what’s going to happen, so stock it. Now.

5. Drink it

We all know a drop of honey in tea is good for a sore throat, but you can add it to most drinks for an extra energy boost. And simply because it’s a whole lot better than tossing in a few Sweet ‘N Lows.

6. Make a salad

One of my favorite and easiest fruit salads uses just a touch of honey to enhance the sugars in the fruit, and it’s a perfect late summer dessert.

  • 1 cantaloupe, chopped
  • 3 nectarines, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons chopped basil
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Mix together and enjoy!

7. Give yourself a facial

Honey is a natural humectant with antimicrobial properties, which means your skin will be happy when you give it some sweet honey love. Try a basic honey wash by mixing a dollop of honey and two tablespoons of warm water and massaging the mixture into your skin. Or you can go all out and try the Cucumber Honey Facial.

8. Go the extra mile

Forget energy bars and shots, just pop a tablespoon of honey before your next workout. Seriously, it has been proven to boost athletic performance.

9. Remove parasites

Got a post-Southeast Asia backpacking trip bug that just won’t leave you alone? Mix up a good blend of honey, water and vinegar and you’ll quickly be on your way to being parasite free.

10. Clean your cuts and scrapes

Honey can actually be used as an antiseptic, like a natural Neosporin. Because of its many antimicrobial properties, it can be used to treat wounds and even burns.

11. Get rid of your hangover

Forget a morning of popping ibuprofen, spread some honey on your toast or add some to your tea. Because honey is loaded with fructose, it will help speed up the metabolism of alcohol.

12. Clear up your dry elbows

Nothing’s worse than scratchy elbows (no really) so next time, after you’ve washed and scrubbed, rub some honey on to soften the skin. Leave on for 30 minutes then wash off.

13. Soften your skin

Honey is an excellent exfoliant. You can pair it with ground almonds and lemon juice for a killer homemade facial scrub.

14. Mix a drink

After you’ve been busy reaping all the health benefits that honey has to offer, it’s time to celebrate, and what better way than with a good ole cocktail. Honey Gin Cocktail? Bring it.

15. Eat the honeycomb. No really, just do it. 

Yes, it can be done! One of our fave food bloggers Clotilde Dusoulier, of Chocolate & Zucchini, put the ingredient to her readers and got some fun responses. The best sounding one? Mix it with crunchy peanut butter on toast.

16. Get an energy boost

Feeling a tad lethargic? Skip the coffee and go for the honey instead. Mix a tablespoon into a cup of tea and you’ll be feeling better in no time.

17. Beautify your hair

In the shower, after you wash your, coat the ends with a bit of honey. Let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing out and you’ll find that your hair is less frizzy and extra conditioned. Or make your hair shiny and bright by adding one teaspoon honey to one quart of water, and after washing your hair, pouring the mixture over your head. Let dry and enjoy your new-found shiny do.

18. Preserve fruit

Jam is so five years ago; show you’re truly cutting edge by preserving your fruits in a honey sauce. All it takes is one part honey to ten parts water and then covering your berries. Pretty much the closest you’re ever going to get to bottling up a little bit of summer.

19. Relax in the tub

Add a few tablespoons of honey to your bath, for sweeter smelling, softer feeling water. Pure bliss.

20. Lose weight

Well, what were you expecting? With a list this long it had to be pretty apparent that honey is in fact a wonder food, and as it turns out, you can even make it part of your next weight loss plan. Honey is an excellent substitute for sugar and it also helps speed up metabolism. Just remember: all things in moderation.

Forward Moving, even more

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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.

Moving forward.

Forward Movement

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Well, shall I say a miracle occurred?

It felt like it to me.

Perhaps that’s why today I have no photos to post, as my mind was directed to, finally, meeting with the doctors – neurologists. I now move on to a team that will include a pain specialist, physical therapist and pain psychologist so we can do more diagnostics to confirm whether I have RSD.

So, forward movement.

It feels great, and I have hope. The neurologists felt that despite my lack of balance and difficulty initiating movement when walking, there were many positive signs from a neurological stand-point.

So not RSD?

Perhaps muscular-skeletal,? they wondered. Maybe RSD,? they wondered again. Hence, the team.

I learned information too.

The first EMG had shown possible radial nerve damage in the right arm. The neurologists yesterday still didn’t have the 2010 EMG test of my right arm and leg, nor, I guess, the rest of the tests done on bone density, vit D levels, etc.

I will receive those files soon, so I can take them to my next appointment.

Yet, as far as I understood, they did not find nerve damage or muscle weakness.

When I mentioned that I had been told by the PT’s that I had nerve damage, the neurologist told me that in that type of general conversation about nerves and muscles, it’s not in way I understood.

Interestingly, the neurologist explained, nerve’s don’t hurt. If a nerve is cut, you don’t feel pain from the nerve itself. It’s the muscles and tissues.

Again, remember, I am not a neurologist, I am still only processing medical information to better understand this experience.

So, soon I will be meeting with this team to learn more.

I feel a deep relief to be moving forward.

Especially since I recently overcame my fear about whether physically I can go to school this Fall, I went to the DOR appointment anyway to begin the process.

Now, I will be working with this team to regain physical strength I need, and overcome the pain.

All this news comes too just when I have heard from the book publisher that the photos I took for my client’s cover images were accepted and just what the client wanted! It was the first assignment that consciously took into account my reality of not being able to run and do the documentary work I have before, making it possible to open up to a new way.

As a result of the experience, I am working now with my business coach to create a series of books that will be available when I give presentations or talks, and online for the wonderful people from around the internet that I meet through this great medium of blogging.

The drive and walking for my visit has left me with shaking in my right arm, pain in my neck and leg. I’m going to work on recovering from the activity to regain my physical balance, that zone where I have been able to find relative calm from the pain thru the day – as long as I don’t walk or stand too much – daily soaks in warm water, meditation (still every day for me), continuing with the food as medicine work, and creating natural skin treatments to help with the skin rashes, itching, and strange bumps.

Ok…I said no photos but here is one from two days ago. The bumps showed up about 40 minutes after a strange painfully sharp pinching in my right forearm that produced swelling.

The neurologist mentioned that its possible I might have processed the RSD differently, in a way they don’t know about yet.

I wondered if I processed it differently because, ironically, the way the process went, I never started the standard drug treatment.

I mentioned to the neurologist that shortly after I was diagnosed,  looking on the internet for alternative treatments, I came across an RSD study being done at the hospital where I was seen. I tried the experiment myself since it seemed like a better way to go then the other options, which are more invasive.

Does the medication treatment protocol for RSD cause a reaction with the RSD,? I asked. Currently, the treatments are designed to address pain but are not a cure for RSD, nor is there a generally agreed upon cause for RSD.

As the neurologists said, RSD is still little understood.

Hum, maybe I did process the condition differently.

What feels amazing is to move forward. I can now work with experts, doctors who study this condition, who will know and have access to all the newest research around the globe.

I feel very grateful, deeply grateful to eliminate the big stress of disbelief that seemed to block forward movement.

One big stress from the moment the pain started was the experience of  ‘disbelief.’ It happened right after the second visit to the ER brought the diagnosis of neuropathy, then, a call from neurology to cancel my appointment because what I had wasn’t serious enough.

I was relieved when finally, several weeks later, I was finally seen in neurology, and the attending came in with the resident to say he was ordering more tests, that RSD was the initial diagnosis.

Finally, the disbelief had disappeared.

Only, it hadn’t, it had only just begun.

To experience such traumatic pain levels and have such accusatory eyes staring back is a nightmare I wish on no one. I remember in those darkest days, when someone reached out to help me here, there, I thought about others who may not have that support, maybe not as strong as me.

It’s what made me ask the questions I have here in Letters of Courage.

In my case, that ‘disbelief’ eventually traveled down a line that impacted our lives in so many exceedingly stressful ways as the agencies I turned were also ‘disbelieving,’ pointing to ‘the tough economy’ to suggest RSD was my way of dealing with the economy. Yes, seriously.

I remember that afternoon in the ER before I was stuck with the needle, as we waited and waited, I saw the news on the tv in the waiting room. It was October 03, 2008. The economic meltdown was being announced by the reporters.

I turned away to get my son dinner in the cafeteria.

Yesterday, the first question the attending neurologist asked when she came in to consult was whether I was stressed when the whole RSD started.

I thought back. I had been under stress.

My consulting contract had ended six months before when city funding for the organization’s outreach work was cut. In fact, we were house sitting at the time, because I could not afford our rent.

I said yes.

Yet, when I got home, I realized I did not mention to the neurologist that  by the time I was seen for the urinary tract infection at the hospital, I had already had to adapt. Despite the set backs, I had been resilient.

I was in the second round of interviews for a dream t.v. documentary producing job on a 10-part series with a director for whom I had tremendous respect. Only days before, the professional camera I saved and worked 3 years to finally purchase had arrived.

I had already turned negatives into positives.

When I no longer had a car, I walked my son instead to and from school, seeing it as a good way to lose pounds, feel healthy.

I had started advertising and getting freelance assignments, was starting to earn money, and I felt certain the dark days had already passed me.

I also forgot to tell the neurologist yesterday that despite the disability, and tough economy, I already had a new client by the New Year. Despite the pain, I accepted the assignment so we able to move into a new home, in a neighborhood, close to my son’s school as I was no longer able to walk him to school anymore.

Nor did I tell the neurologist that the contract ended six months later, on the same day I was finally seen by a pain specialist, 6 months after I was told I did not have RSD in my leg.

Instead of an appointment, I was asked whether I had filed a lawsuit against the hospital, oh, and that the pain specialist would not be answering any questions about my EMG, or anything else.

I was so confused by what had happened since my GP had told me the pain specialist would answer my questions. I remember struggling on the bus trying to get home, in shock, apart from the pain, just in plain shock that a doctor would ask me such a question.

When I got home, I had to deal with the loss of my consulting contract.

I missed an important meeting for the client that day, but I had waited so long to see the pain specialist. I understood the client’s frustration, they had a show date that involved teams of performers, tickets had been sold, the show had to go on!

We lost our home two months later.

Nor did I mention to the neurologist yesterday, I had just completed a dream video commission this March that had felt like the greatest assignment of my career to date, but that required super patience from the client for the same reasons.

Still, none of those positive events, or decrease in stress as a result, have brought back the ability to use my arm and leg without pain or sparking symptoms, the more activity, the more the symptoms. It’s a hell.

I did mention to the neurologist yesterday that I have been accepted to SFAI for the Fall.

Can we just wrap this up now? Can I can get on with my life?

Nope.

The team.

O.k.

The neurologist also said I should stop saying that RSD is progressive.

I listened because ‘progressive chronic nerve condition’ is used all the time to describe RSD.

What she said, it kinda made sense to me now that I hear about people healing spontaneously, even years after having RSD.

When I got home, I wondered, why is RSD described as ‘progressive’ in so many places when it’s not true?

This seems like something the RSD medical community can agree? So that sort of description is no longer used by patients or others.

I’m no medical doctor so perhaps I didn’t understand completely myself 🙂

It was a great relief to share the news with my son, who had been there and saw what happened during the blood draw, and the terrible pain that came after, and all that happened next. The disbelief had hurt him too.

I could hear his relief. Joining up with mine.

It’s a healing, and restores faith because this experience, if anything, really rocked my faith in many things that I had granted full credit.

The team the neurologist said they are referring me is what I kept reading is standard for people with RSD.

It’s all I kept asking for, and I could not understand if the hospital wasn’t sure entirely, why did they only see me every 6 or 8 weeks? or, why didn’t they send me to the specialists two years ago when I begged? or why did the pain specialist not accept the neuro and GP referrals? or help when I went to the pain clinic to find out why the referrals were not accepted, crying, and practically, begging for help?

My mom reminded me that moving forward is good, and I give great thanks that she also called the neurologists on my behalf to ask for the neuro appointment. Special mom power she said.

Since forward movement is here, I’m going with the flow rather than looking back.

I will learn even more about RSD, and that can only lead to better understanding all around.

The neurologists scheduled an MRI, but not right away, in a few months, to me, further confirmation in what the neurologists said they saw as good information from our appointment yesterday.

So, onward movement.

Summer Treats!

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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.

'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera
'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera

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.

'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera
'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera

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.

'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera
'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera

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!

Strawberry Healing Waters'  2010-  Photo by Catherine Herrera 2010
Strawberry Healing Waters' 2010- Photo by Catherine Herrera 2010

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.

'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera
'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera

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.

'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera
'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera

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.

'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera
'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera

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.

'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera
'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera

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.’

'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera
'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera

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.

'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera
'California Coast, Half Moon Bay, Landless Indian Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera

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.

''Ascension, From my Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011
''Ascension, From my Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011

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.

Brighter Days

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'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011
'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011

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.

'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 9 of 18
'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 9 of 18

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.

'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 13 of 18
'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 13 of 18

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.

'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 16 of 18
'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 16 of 18

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.

'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 18 of 18
'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 18 of 18

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.

'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 2 of 18
'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 2 of 18

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.

'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 4 of 18
'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 4 of 18

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.

'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 14 of 18
'Purple, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 14 of 18

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.

'Fresh Starts, From My Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 1 of 1
'Fresh Starts, From My Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 1 of 1

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.

'June 15, 2011 Eclipse, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 3
'June 15, 2011 Eclipse, From My Window Series, photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 3

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.

'Chilly Winter Morning, From My Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 20
'Chilly Winter Morning, From My Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 20

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.

'Spring, From My Window Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 2 of 6
'Spring, From My Window Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 2 of 6

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.

'Humu and Jasmine, From My Window Series' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 1 of 1
'Humu and Jasmine, From My Window Series' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 1 of 1

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.

'When Grandma stopped by, From My Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2010 2 of
'When Grandma stopped by, From My Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2010 2 of

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.

'When the Moon Comes Closest to the Earth, From My Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 3 of 12
'When the Moon Comes Closest to the Earth, From My Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 3 of 12

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.

'When Hawk arrives and Crows come along, From My Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 2 of 2
'When Hawk arrives and Crows come along, From My Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 2 of 2

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.

'Drying Sage in Spring, From My Window Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 1 of 7
'Drying Sage in Spring, From My Window Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 1 of 7

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.

'Drying Sage in Spring, From My Window Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 5 of 7
'Drying Sage in Spring, From My Window Series, 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2011 5 of 7

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.

'In Time, From My Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2010 1 of 1
'In Time, From My Window Series,' 2011 photo by Catherine Herrera 2010 1 of 1

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.

'Presidio, 2 days later' 2010- Photo by Catherine Herrera 2010 3 of 4
'Presidio, 2 days later' 2010- Photo by Catherine Herrera 2010 3 of 4