Posts Tagged ‘Medications’

The Juggling Act: When Diseases Collide

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image394379

***Some parts of this post may be TMI.

I don’t know why the guy in the above picture is smiling. I really don’t.

RA is a very sociable disease. It likes to invite lots of friends along. As RA patients collect new diseases and complications throughout the years, it means new medications, new treatment plans, new diet or exercise changes, etc. etc. etc.

Fine – but what happens when the treatments are incompatible?

I’ve been having some issues with my heart for awhile. My blood pressure has always run on the low side, but I started getting episodes when it would be REALLY low – for example, 80/50. After one of my Remicade infusions, I tried to stand up and had a weird sensation of my heart going BUMP, followed by a feeling of intense dizziness that made me sit down. The doctor called it a vasovagal episode and recommended increasing my infusion time to three hours, which has helped a little. At another, more recent infusion, my blood pressure was so low when I first came in that the nurse insisted on pumping me full of saline before she would even start the medication. (It worked.) I also had a lot of episodes of standing up and blacking out, racing heartbeat keeping me awake at night, etc.

After two abnormal EKGs and one (thankfully) normal echocardiogram, a cardiologist diagnosed me with Postural Tachycardia Syndome, or POTS. This is actually very good news, since it means that nothing is wrong with my heart – just my stupid autonomic nervous system. Not shockingly, it is often associated with autoimmune diseases, including Sjögren’s Syndrome, another fun friend that my RA decided to invite along.

There are medications for POTS (beta blockers are popular), but most cases are manageable with lifestyle changes, and that’s the route I wanted to go. So I started implementing the changes my doctor suggested – increased salt and water, increased cardio, etc.

And that’s when the juggling got fun.

I started drinking two big bottles of SmartWater a day. SmartWater has electrolytes and was recommended by other people with POTS. I took the suggestion of one of these people and started chugging one bottle before I even got out of bed in the morning. It worked. I felt great.

Except…

The added minerals in the SmartWater drove my interstitial cystitis (IC) absolutely crazy. My bladder went berserk, and I could no longer sleep at night because of the urinary urgency and pain. Before this, my IC had been quiet for almost a year – I had actually started to think I didn’t have it anymore, because the treatments were working so well. I couldn’t stand it.

Out with the SmartWater.

So I concentrated on the exercise part, and started a pretty intense cardio regimen. My joints were behaving beautifully, I wasn’t injuring myself, and I felt better and more energetic than I had in years. It worked. I felt great.

Except…

The intense exercise regimen drove my pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) absolutely crazy. (Pelvic floor dysfunction is good buddies with interstitial cystitis – boy, these diseases do love their friends!) Again, up all night with pain, urinary urgency, etc. I saw the urologist who treats my IC and she confirmed that my bladder was fine – it was definitely the pelvic floor muscles, which were in major spasm. She didn’t have a great solution for the exercise problem, except to say that I should probably knock it off until the muscles relax. She prescribed a nightly low dose of Valium, which is apparently a common treatment for muscle issues like this. I wasn’t happy to add another drug. I also started spending a lot of quality time with my heating pad. (See what I mean about the TMI warning?)

Out with the intense cardio regimen.

That one really stung, because I was worried that the RA would be the obstacle, and instead my joints were perfectly happy. It was working. I felt great. I felt strong and powerful and able to do anything. I loved it, to my surprise. I really did.

Obviously I can still exercise, and will, but it has to be a lot more gentle, which probably won’t help the POTS nearly as much. I can still increase my salt and water, but the SmartWater was so easy, so convenient, and worked so quickly and well. It’s just frustrating.

I really, really, REALLY don’t want to take medication for the POTS. I was not at all happy to have medication added for the PFD. And my RA is actually in drug-induced remission. I want to enjoy this. It has made me so happy.

RA, I think it’s time for you to consider a more introverted lifestyle. These buddies of yours have got to go.

Medless

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

No medicine

I will explain the title of this post in a minute, but there’s so much else to catch up on. Where do I begin?

This year has been so full of change that it’s hard to know where to start. Those of you who read my blog regularly know that my family and I moved across the country back in September. So far, it has been an incredibly positive change. I can’t even begin to express what a difference it has made in our lives to have supportive family around. I can bring my son over to my parents’ house and go have a long, luxurious lunch with girlfriends. My husband and I can go out on dates. We can get to my doctor and hospital visits without bringing our son or worrying about who we can get to watch him. Best of all, my son is thriving, and his bond with his grandparents is a truly beautiful thing to see. There are negatives, too – we miss our old friends, and the cold weather has been a rough adjustment. But on the whole, it’s been wonderful.

My health has been confusing. For a long time, the only real symptoms I’ve been having are terrible headaches and some weirdness in my fingers. I finally had an MRI and they found damage in my cervical spine, which may or may not have anything to do with the RA. I had two cervical epidurals, a month apart. The first one was amazing – I was totally pain free for almost a month! I really couldn’t believe it. When the pain started coming back, I had the second one. Then, unfortunately, I fell down the stairs a few days later and was so banged up that I couldn’t really tell if it had helped or not. I did know that I was having headaches again, though. I went to the pain management doctor who had done the procedure, and he checked my range of motion and nerve function. He concluded that the epidurals had done their job – the problems in my hands were completely gone – and that the headaches were coming from something else, most likely muscle tension. So I’m going to see a headache specialist in January. On the bright side, he prescribed some Zanaflex to tide me over and it really does help when the headaches hit – looks like his theory is probably correct.

Next came a good news/bad news kind of situation. For the past week or so, I have been experiencing terrible pain and a new level of fatigue. My feet have been killing me, and pain radiates from my back all the way down my left leg. It was frustrating to find myself limping around again – it’s been awhile since I had lower body symptoms. So I saw my rheumatologist yesterday. The good news: my bloodwork looks great, and he couldn’t find any joint inflammation at all. The bad news: he thinks this may mean that I have now developed fibromyalgia. I am very resistant to this idea – I really, really don’t want another chronic condition! Anyway, we are holding off on drawing any definite conclusions for now. After all, I did fall down the stairs a few weeks ago, and we both want to see how I do after some more time passes. In the meantime, I want to see what massage, gentle yoga, and good sleep can do for me.

Okay, so now on to the medless part. My husband and I have decided that we would like to try to have another baby. We talked to the rheumatologist about this yesterday, and he approved. My RA seems to be in a really good place right now. It’s possible that it’s been in a good place for quite awhle, and that the headache and muscle pain were confusing the issue. So right now we are in the process of stopping all of my medications, with the exception of Pulmicort for my asthma, and seeing what happens.

Being medless is weirdly exhilarating, like hang-gliding. I push off from the cliff and hope that my remission-like state holds me up, at least until I become pregnant. (I went into remission when I was pregnant with my son, so I’m hopeful that it will happen again.) The freedom is dizzying – no more med side effects, no more panicking if I forget my pills. There are still vitamins to take, but it’s not the same. My med-free body feels great, healthier. At the same time, I know that like hang-gliding, it’s risky. It’s a race against time, and one that I can’t be sure I will win.

hanggliding

Summary

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Pills

In 2010, I had:

29 doctor’s office visits

19 sets of labs drawn

17 physical therapy appointments

8 trips to the hospital for Remicade infusions

3 trips to the hospital/urgent care for other reasons

96 prescriptions filled (not including Remicade)

 

And the sad thing is, these numbers are smaller than I thought they would be.

Nope.

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

I’m sorry it’s been more than a month since I wrote.  It’s been a tough time and I’ve been very sad. 

For those of you who were left hanging by my last post, the doctor declared it not remission, but a “near-remission experience.”  My bloodwork did look great, and my symptoms were on the whole SO much better, but joint examination showed that there were still just a few joints that were in a state of active inflammation.  That’s still great, amazing progress for me, and we were both in a very hopeful place.

Then the flare hit.  It began with an IC (interstitial cystitis) flare that wouldn’t get under control and soon triggered a full-on RA flare.  Fevers every afternoon, swollen fingers and knees, brain fog, exhaustion, the whole nine yards.  It’s far from being the worst flare I’ve ever had – the IC was actually much more difficult and painful to deal with this time around than the RA – but it’s not a good development.  Whether I got rundown from the IC or from stress (there’s been a lot of it lately, which I won’t go into) isn’t clear, and maybe isn’t even important.  The point is that I’m back in a bad place now.  I’m also back on prednisone, which I worked so hard to eliminate.  This really broke my heart, especially since it’s not a good step in the battle against adrenal insufficiency, which I was winning beautifully.  On the bright side, the adrenal problem was really caused by long-term daily pred usage.  Since this is intended to be a short-term pred taper, and since my adrenals have recovered almost completely, it’s not likely that it will trigger the same problem again so quickly. 

My Remicade infusion is on Thursday, and I hope it will quiet this down.  I also had labwork done on Friday, so we’ll see if it shows anything new, and talk about medication changes if it does.  In the meantime, I guess all I can really do is hang on.  I’ve been here before, and I can do it.  I’m just disappointed.

Lucky Seven?

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

642736_lucky_seven

Sorry I’ve been absent from my blog for so long.  I’ve been taking a kind of “vacation” from all things RA, while I am also literally on vacation.  The RA vacation was unintentional.  I’m spending the month at my parents’ house, across the country from where I live, and ever since I got here, I just haven’t felt like dealing with RA.  I’m still taking my meds and everything, but I’ve stopped keeping my health journal, and I’ve been pushing myself a little too hard, trying to feel “normal.”  It’s starting to catch up with me a bit… so here I am, reminding myself that I need to give the RA a little attention.  (Damn… this really interferes with the nice denial streak I had going!)

My rheumatologist recently made the decision to increase my Remicade to seven vials.  I know there have been people on higher dosages, but still, this seems pretty high to me.  It also makes me one of his highest-dosage patients.  I have my fingers crossed that seven will be my lucky number.  I think I’ve been really determined to prove that this is the case, so I’ve been ignoring the slow, creeping return of my symptoms since the infusion.  (The first week, I think, really WAS good.)

 Because of back-to-back UTIs, I wasn’t able to get my infusion when I was supposed to, right before my trip.  So I ended up having to make arrangements to see a new rheumatologist here in the state where my parents live.  My hometown rheumatologist was great about sending him my records and labs, and I also came to the visit prepared with copies and information for him.  I’ve written before about my infusion experiences, and this was a chance to see yet another environment.  But I’ll write about that another time… long story short, it was a basically good experience.

This was the first time I’ve had seven vials, and I was absolutely determined that this time it would work.  I had also just had a landmark birthday the day before the infusion, which doubled my determination.  I feel that in general things have been on an upswing, and the new rheumatologist seemed to think so too.  It’s nice to have fresh eyes looking at your case sometimes, and he said that from my most recent labs and my joint examination, I actually look like things are beginning to be controlled.  There are just two stubborn blood numbers that are going up and not down, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am getting worse – sometimes blood numbers just do funny things.  I’ve also been questioning things lately, wondering how much of my fatigue and achiness is really the RA as opposed to my recent problems with adrenal insufficiency, or even muscle weakness due to not exercising.  (The adrenal insufficiency, by the way, seems to be reversing itself beautifully, and I am finally off prednisone!  Yay for something good!)

So all of this determination and pondering and questioning have led to a kind of thinking that goes something like this:  My blood numbers look basically very good.  My joints look great.  My AM cortisol and ACTH levels are now in the low normal range instead of the basement.  Going off prednisone, shockingly, did NOT result in a major flare (Hallelujah!).  Therefore… Maybe my RA is not really active right now.  Maybe I need to start testing this a little and find out what’s really up.  Maybe I need to build up some strength after being unable to do things for so long.

I really don’t know whether this is denial or not.  All I can tell you is that I’m not doing so well right now.  And it’s giving me a chance to look at something else: my deep need for an EXPLANATION.  I can’t just accept that I’m feeling tired and achy and cranky – I need a label to put to it.  I can’t make sense out of feeling this way while my inflammation markers are low.  I’ve always had aggressive sero-positive RA.  I am realizing that it must be damn frustrating to be sero-negative, when you feel like crap and know something is wrong and nothing is showing up on labwork.

Interesting… this blog entry has taken a completely different turn than I expected.  I was just going to come on and write a brief note about hoping that seven will be my lucky Remicade number.  Who knew all of this was going on?

I guess that’s why we do this blogging thing…

Was It Just A Remicade Dream?

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Where would you rather sit if you were having a Remicade infusion?  Here:

waiting room chair

Or here?

infusion-chair

Yeah, me too.

I belong to a couple of online RA discussion boards.  Every once in awhile, a frightened Remicade newbie will post a question about the infusion process.  The community generally jumps in with reassuring responses and descriptions of how the whole thing works, describing friendly infusion nurses, recliners, TVs, even snacks.  And I sit there reading them, thinking, “Really?  It doesn’t go that way for me…”

Yesterday, I got to find out how the other half lives.  See, my infusions are normally done in my rheumatologist’s office – a nurse comes in on Thursdays to do them.  But about two weeks ago, I got a call saying that the nurse wouldn’t be available on my scheduled week, and could I move it a week earlier or later?  The other dates, unfortunately, didn’t work for me.  I’ve also been pretty unhappy with my infusion experiences, and have been curious about how other people do it.  So I asked if there was someplace else I could go, and the medical assistant reluctantly said that I could have it done at the hospital.  She did warn me that it would be more expensive, but I thought it would be worthwhile just to see what it was like.

And boy, was it different. 

When I get Remicade at my doctor’s office, this is the drill:

I am shown to one of the regular examining rooms, which are really tiny, and I sit in a wooden chair very much like the one in the first picture except older and shabbier.  Recently, someone moved the furniture around in the examining rooms, so the chair now sits awkwardly behind the open door, where the door bumps my chair if anyone tries to open it wider.  The nurse comes in and starts my IV.  Most of the time, he doesn’t take my vitals, and he never asks me any questions.  Then he hooks up the Remicade bag and leaves.  I generally don’t see him or anyone else again.  I sit and read a book or listen to music on my iPod.  At a certain point, I feel pain in my arm and look up to see that the IV has run completely dry.  So I get up, drag my pole out into the hall, and flag someone down to try to find the nurse.  If he’s not in the middle of something (which he usually is), he comes in, flushes the line with saline, and bandages me up.  Otherwise I wait awhile, then go back into the hall to repeat my request. 

Since he has so many infusion patients in one day and also has another job to get to after he’s done, the infusions have been getting faster and faster – they now take less than an hour and a half.  I’ve told him before that fast infusions make me feel awful, but he claims that the Remicade drug rep told him that speed isn’t an issue, and that some people just react that way to the drug.  (Funny, since I only started reacting badly when he started speeding up – also funny, since other people on the boards say they have the same problem.)  After my infusion, I go down to the car where my husband is waiting.  I am always depressed and shivering and my hands are icy; my husband has to turn the heat on in the car, even if it’s hot out.  I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.  We go home, where I collapse and sleep for hours.  Sometimes I wake up the next day still feeling awful.

 Now, here’s how yesterday went:

I got to the hospital and went up to the infusion room, which turned out to be on the oncology floor.  (I do have to admit that seeing “CANCER CENTER” on the wall when I got out of the elevator did bum me out a bit… the one negative in all of this.)  I walked into the room and saw about four or five blue recliners and two other patients, who were there for chemo.  The nurse, who was incredibly friendly, weighed me and took my blood pressure and temperature.  Then she asked me a whole bunch of questions about how I was feeling and went over my chart.  She had a list of my medications which my rheumatologist’s office had faxed over; about half of them were wrong, and she made the appropriate corrections.  (Okay, this worries me – time to have a talk with them.)  I found an empty recliner, which had a pillow waiting for me and a big table next to it for my things.  I told her that my infusions usually take about an hour and a half but that I don’t do well at that speed.  She reacted with horror and said that the Remicade guidelines are pretty clear on the importance of going slowly to minimize the chance of infusion reactions – she usually takes about three hours.  She started my IV and let me get good and hydrated before hooking up the Remicade bag.

At all times, there was at least one nurse in the room, and all of the nurses I saw were friendly and kind.  They came right over to each of us several times to ask how we were feeling.  They ordered lunch for us from the hospital cafeteria.  Several times, they passed out chocolate, and also offered to go get sodas if we wanted them.  The recliner was really comfortable.  There was a TV, but I didn’t watch it.  Instead, I had a great conversation with the 87-year-old cancer patient in the recliner next to mine – we turned out to share a common interest in opera.  My IV didn’t run dry – the nurse came over before the Remicade bag was completely empty and flushed the line.  I never had to go looking for anyone. 

When I came downstairs and got in the car, my husband remarked on how different I looked.  I was warm and happy and felt cared for.  (The chocolate zinging through my system didn’t hurt either!)  My hands weren’t icy.  I went home and felt mildly tired, not exhausted.  I didn’t need to nap.

Now I don’t know what to do.  I love my rheumatologist; he is smart, kind, spends lots of time with me, takes a team approach to my care instead of dictating to me.  He seems to know everything – I will come to him with what seems like a vague symptom, and he knows immediately which tests to order.  He has come up with some things that seem like they’re completely out of left field, and always turns out to be right.  He is, quite simply, the best doctor I’ve ever had.

But there are problems with his office, more than just my issues with the infusion process.  Twice now, I’ve gone to my infusions expecting my dosage to be raised, and learned that someone forgot to call the insurance to authorize the increase – so I had to stay at the lower dose.  The medications listed on my chart are usually wrong – I’ve called to have a prescription filled and found that someone forgot to note my new medication in my chart, resulting in a delay.  Medications have also been called in at wrong doses or in wrong amounts.  The billing office is more than six months behind – a big problem, since my FSA has deadlines.

I was pathetically grateful for the way I was treated at my infusion yesterday – I was ready to get down and kiss the nurses’ feet.  I almost felt guilty for getting such good care, as if I somehow don’t deserve it because I am not a cancer patient.  I question whether it was worth it, given the difference in cost - am I just being won over by chocolate and kindness?  (I don’t know exactly what the cost difference will be – I’ll know when I get the EOB – but our PPO only pays 90% of costs, so it’s bound to be expensive.)  My husband points out that we always meet the out-of-pocket max on our insurance anyway, and what does it matter if we meet it a little sooner?  My mom points out that infusions are, when you really think about it, a pretty terrible thing to have to go through, and that the least they can do is make the experience as comfortable and pleasant for me as possible.  And what’s wrong with a little chocolate?

I have much to think about.

Rheumaversary

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Blue_candles_on_birthday_cake

Monday, April 9, 2007

“You have rheumatoid arthritis,” the doctor said.

I looked at him.  He waited for me to speak.  I looked down at the table, at the long silver tray where the hypodermic needles lay waiting, loaded with hydrocortisone.  The doctor was a hand specialist, and I had come to be treated for what I thought was tendonitis in my left thumb and right index finger.  My mind reached back to the mother of an old boyfriend – she had rheumatoid arthritis.  What did I know about her?  She didn’t seem to have much wrong with her.  I remembered that she had a massage therapist come to her house every week, and that she told me that she needed to avoid stress because it made her condition worse.  From this, I had developed an impression of rheumatoid arthritis as something mild and possibly psychosomatic. 

Then I looked over at the nurse.  She looked stricken, as if the doctor had just told me something terrible.  Why? 

The doctor explained, slowly and gently, that while he could still give me the hydrocortisone shots, they would only help things temporarily, and that the problems would almost certainly come back in another joint.  He showed me my blood test results.  Something called the “rheumatoid factor,” which was supposed to be below 14, was listed as 468.  He used words like “severe” and “aggressive” and “damage,” and told me that I needed to get in to see a rheumatologist as soon as I could.  I just stared at him, trying to put what he was saying together with the impression of my old boyfriend’s mom.

I declined the shots, took the phone numbers he gave me, thanked him, and left the office.  I went to my car, sat down inside, and called my husband.  “He says I have rheumatoid arthritis,” I said.  There was a lump in my throat and I didn’t know why.

The ironic part is that I turned down the shots because I was afraid of needles.  I had no idea what was coming.

 

Thursday, April 12, 2007

My husband and I sat in the rheumatologist’s office.  I liked it – it was messy, a trait that for some weird reason, I had always associated with creativity and intelligence.  Under his white lab coat, the doctor was wearing a loud plaid shirt with a clashing tie.  For some reason, I liked this too.

He fired information at us quickly, so quickly I could barely take it in.  Words like “rheumatoid factor” and “sed rate,” “DMARDS” and “biologics” and “prednisone” flew through the air.  Again, like the other doctor, he mentioned “severe” and “aggressive.”  He kept saying, “We need to get this shut down.”  I had done a little research by then, and what I had read scared me to death.  The things he was saying didn’t make me any less scared, although he seemed pretty calm.

Then he said, “And, of course, you can’t get pregnant while you’re on these drugs.  Were you planning to get pregnant?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I’d like to see you wait about two years.  That should give us enough time to get this under control, and we can go from there.”

Two years?  I was 36 years old, almost 37.

In an examining room, a nurse gave me two shots, one called Toradol and the other called Depo-Medrol.  So much for avoiding the needles.  She sent me home with a lab slip ordering more bloodwork (again, more needles?) and four prescriptions. 

I called my mother and cried on the phone.  “Two years!  I can’t wait two years to have a baby.”

“If these drugs are really that dangerous, you should really take a pregnancy test before you start them,” she said.

“I don’t think I’m pregnant.”

“Just do it for me.”

 

Friday, April 13, 2007

Early morning.  I left my husband sleeping in our bed and went into the bathroom.  I took a pregnancy test out from under the sink.  It was a cheap one; one of my friends had bought them in bulk when she was trying to conceive.  I peed on the stick and left it lying on the counter, then went into another room and tried not to think about it.  I hadn’t even missed a period; it was due in about four days.

A few minutes later, I realized that I had forgotten to set the timer.  “Crap!”  A lot more than three minutes had gone by, and I knew that the results were no longer considered valid if you waited too long.  I looked at the stick anyway.  It looked like there was a faint line in the test window, but it was too hard to tell.

I took out the expensive Clearblue Easy test I’d been saving.  It was going to be two years of waiting – might as well use it now, right?  This time I set the timer.

There it was, in words clear as day – “Pregnant.”

My heart was pounding.  I went into the bedroom, woke my husband, and said, “I think I’m pregnant!”

“Really?” he said.  He looked excited and happy.

“I don’t know,” I said.  Then I started to cry.  I cried because I was happy, because I was mixed up, because this wasn’t the way I had wanted this moment to happen.  I cried because my husband’s birthday was in six days, and the timing would have been perfect – I would have just missed my period, and this could have been a wonderful birthday surprise.  I cried because I had gotten two shots the day before and had no idea what they might do to the baby.  Most of all, I cried because I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.  Would I be okay without the medications for nine months?  Would I be able to take care of the baby once he or she came?

We were only four months into our marriage, and everything had changed.

Becoming Visible

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

invisibility-cloak

For the most part, my illnesses are invisible.  I’m not in a wheelchair, I don’t need to walk with a cane except on rare occasions, and I don’t have visible deformities.  I’m the type of person who gets dirty looks when I use my disabled parking tag.  There have been huge (massive, really) changes in the way I look since my onset, but only people who knew me before would know that.  People seeing me for the first time would probably just see a fat woman, unless they’re really familiar with the distinctive look of steroid puffiness.  (I find that I can now spot it on other people.)  And although it rankles that most people who knew me before probably just think I’ve really let myself go in the past few years, I appreciate the fact that I can choose whether to disclose my illness or not – it’s not obvious.

But now…

I’ve written before about the fact that I’ve now been diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency.  This is probably a direct result of the RA, in one way or another - whether it’s because of prednisone overuse or because my adrenals have been attacked by the RA isn’t clear at this point.  (Probably the prednisone.)  But the bottom line is that because I have shown no improvement in the two months since it was discovered, I am now on hydrocortisone, and will be for quite some time.  And since adrenal insufficiency is a dangerous thing to have, it means that last night I had to buy one of these:

medic alert  

Yes, I know that lots of people wear these – most diabetics have one, and people with things like peanut allergies wear them too.  But can I be honest here, and tell you how much this step bothers me?  It announces to the world, “Something is wrong with me.”  It takes something private and makes it public.  It takes away a small piece of my choice – I know that I still don’t have to discuss my illness with anyone, but I can no longer pretend I don’t have one.

And yes, most people are pretty unobservant, but I teach piano.  I sit right next to students and they look at my hands.  There is no way they won’t see this.  And I just don’t want to talk about it.  I’ve worked hard to keep my health situation private at work, and I plan to keep on doing so.

I just feel as if another little piece of my “normal” has fallen away.

Yesterday I had a long, long, conversation with my husband (okay, more like a vent TO my husband) about feeling as if there’s a sharp dividing line in my life between the old me (pre-RA) and the new me.  My husband and I have been married for three years and four months, and we dated for two years before that.  Next week marks the three-year “anniversary” of my diagnosis, and for some reason, this made me realize that we are past the tipping point – he has known me for longer with RA than without it.  I wonder if he even remembers me the way I was.  (He tells me that he does, and that he still sees so much of the “old me” in me today – isn’t he sweet?)  But it really, really bothered me to realize that the dividing line is getting farther and farther behind me, and I feel as if all of my achievements, all of the good things about me, are behind it.  I don’t know why, but this bracelet just feels like a symbol of that, a visible daily reminder that I am not who I once was. 

In one of those weird acts of synchronicity that frequently happen in blog-land, I saw this post from RA Warrior yesterday, AFTER this conversation.  And it was comforting.  It reminded me that whatever I am feeling, whatever I go through in this crazy funhouse called autoimmune disease, someone else has been there too, and understands.  And that may not make it all better, but it sure helps.

P.S. – I recently saw a friend that I haven’t seen since the summer, and finally told her about my RA.  She said, “Yeah, you really looked sick last time I saw you - I wondered what was wrong.”  So much for my cloak of invisibility!

Her Diamonds

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

“Her Diamonds” is a song by Rob Thomas, written about his wife’s struggle with an unnamed “lupus-like” autoimmune disease.  I first discovered this song back in July by reading Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy’s blog, and was impressed at how well it captures the essence of a couple living with a disease like this.

So why do I bring it up now?  I’ve been going through a rough time physically, and strangely enough, this song has been following me around.  After a long period of not hearing it anywhere, it suddenly seems to be everywhere, and appears at times when I’m having particular trouble.  I was driving home from a difficult and painful bodywork session when it came on the radio, and I pulled into a parking lot and cried.  Then on another day, I was in the drugstore filling a new prescription, which felt like a defeat since I’ve been trying to reduce meds, and there it was again.

Rheumatoid Arthritis guy writes about it here, and he also includes a video that shows the words to the song if you’d like to read them.  But I want to show you the other video, the “real” one.  To me, it seems to capture perfectly the feeling of being trapped inside a body wracked with pain and fatigue. 

YouTube won’t let me embed it, unfortunately, but here’s the link:

Her Diamonds

Insufficient

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

funny-pictures-cat-is-losing-energy

My doctor is a smart man.

I knew this about him, but I was reminded of it this week.  When I called him with the symptoms I described in my last blog post, I really thought it was because my liver enzymes were elevated.  Last time they were elevated, I felt about like this.  But he knew what to look for.

The tests are back, and the answer is, in fact, adrenal insufficiency.  Both my cortisol and ACTH levels are in the basement, really alarmingly low.  While this can mean something more serious, like a pituitary tumor, the most likely explanation is prednisone overuse.  I’ve done three high tapers since December.  The sad part is, I am still flaring.  So I’ve been exhausting my adrenal and pituitary glands, and it’s not even working.

For right now, the answer seems to be to finish this most recent pred taper, then begin the process of getting off the stuff.  My doctor says that we will have to be very careful about my prednisone use from now on, and he will be monitoring the adrenal situation.  I’m not looking forward to the next several weeks (or, more likely, months).  I am already beyond exhausted, and getting off pred is never a picnic, even when there isn’t this sort of problem.  I know that I can expect a rough road ahead.  And even though I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with prednisone, and some part of me is delighted to put it behind me, it’s still scary wondering how I will cope with flares without it.

There’s also the bigger issue – why is my RA out of control right now?  I’m due for a Remicade infusion in a week and we are going to increase the dosage yet again.  If this doesn’t work, it may be time to say goodbye to this drug.  I am growing concerned that I’ve developed an immunity to it – it almost seems as if it was working better at lower doses.

But for the last week or so, it’s been all about the adrenals.  Yes, my RA is flaring and there’s pain, but the adrenal thing scared the heck out of me.  For a period of several days, I knew that my cortisol was low but was waiting on the ACTH.  All sorts of scary possibilities presented themselves, like Addison’s disease (which, thankfully, I do not have).  So I’ve been tense and exhausted and moody and impossible to live with.

Anyway, we’ll see where things go from here.  I’m seeing the doctor on Monday to talk about all of this.

Oh, and by the way, I wasn’t entirely wrong – my liver enzymes ARE elevated.  But they’re not as high as they were when I was suffering from symptoms last time, and they don’t seem to be responsible for this recent bout of exhaustion.  Still, something else to think about…