Nicole Hemmenway


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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?


I was just stunned.


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.


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.


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?



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,


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


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.

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 (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

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