Medical Madness: Survival of the Introvert

I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, my parents often tell me that when I was young, my teachers said I hardly spoke a word, I was polite and hardworking, but quiet as a mouse, which my parents thought was odd since I often talked a lot at home J I’m shy and often have trouble making friends, I have always hated confrontation or having people be upset with me. I worry about running late or being in the wrong place at the wrong time… I’ve got a lot of thoughts and opinions and knowledge, but being introverted and having trouble sticking up for myself in tense or questionable situations, it can be a major downfall when you’re living like I do.

Getting sick at such a young age with conditions that so many doctors don’t even know about let alone know how to treat. Since I was young and still living at home, my parents were always with me at doctors appointments – still are today J — and they were able to help me express things fully and ask all of the questions I needed to, ask for help with whatever needed more attention, but I still often got overwhelmed.

Being sick so long I’ve begun running my doctors into retirement, and of course with that comes the need to begin the draining search for new doctors, a task that brings difficulties in many ways. You’d think that after almost 8 years I would be able to do this on my own, to handle doctors and keep focused and calm and get everything out of it that I need, but that’s just not the case. You never know what you’re walking into with new doctors; each has their own protocols for testing and treatments, they believe in different approaches, and you have to explain your history in detail, which gets longer each time.

There are so many biases against girls like me with “invisible illnesses” simply because of my age, gender, and appearance, and the worst part is that those biases and judgments don’t just come from stupid high school kids or young adults, they come from doctors, from insurance, from pharmacies, from all of those who are supposed to be the ones making my life, making my body at least feel a bit more comfortable, a bit more active, a bit more NORMAL.

After a few bad experiences with doctors and nurses and hospitalists, some being members of my own care team, the medical professionals who hold my life in their hands, and that kind of brutal betrayal can lead patients like myself to extreme anxieties and even medical PTSD, which makes finding new doctors a terrible thought, a stressful time for me, and on top of that, I have to be brave enough to get through these appointments feeling like I’m in good hands.

Doctors are supposed to “do no harm,” but that concept is flawed and misinterpreted sometimes; “do no harm” isn’t a pledge meant just to protect us from doctors intentionally causing harm, doing things to make us sick or cause us pain, etc., it means do all you can to help your patients no matter who they are and what they have. There’s so much that happens behind the scenes of the medical system, doctors with prejudices who feel they have a right to be rude and judgmental and negligent when we know something is going on and we are asking for help. Negligence is a crime just as serious as purposeful, physical harm.

Why do you get to decide what I’m feeling, what the symptoms or side effects can or cannot be based on a decade old case study instead of putting trust into the patients, the ones living this, the ones suffering every day while the professionals get to wash their hands and go home without another thought of how their actions or lack there of are affecting us. I may not be a medical professional, but I am definitely a chronic illness expert, and if doctors could truly understand that, we could work together, creating trust and mutual respect.

A wise woman once told me that I need to remember that doctors work for patients. I think doctors forget that and take advantage of their position and their capabilities, the things that only they can do or get their hands on. We need doctors, we need the resources they can give us, but they need us, too, and they need to keep in mind that those of us with chronic illnesses aren’t your average patient, and we know our stuff.  No one knows chronic illnesses better than the patients themselves.

Since there are no options for spoonies to join the medical field based on our personal knowledge and research, it would be incredibly beneficial if our doctors and insurance agencies and dieticians, pharmacists, etc. would take us seriously and use our advice, consult with us more so than just making the decision and saying that’s that.

We do so much of the work, so much of the research, and all of the first hand experience, yet we still rely on the “professionals” who are making these decisions without listening to the answers we are offering.

Chronic Illnesses: Who Knows?

In the past few months I’ve seen increased frequency and severity in my symptoms and even new symptoms coming to light. When I have flare ups or new issues I often become more aware of my current physical state, and ironically, while doing so, I usually think I’m better off until these harsh realizations, moments of brutality that shine a light on the fact that no, I’m not better, I’m actually worse, but I’ve just gotten used to being sick, used to this flare up that just never left, that became my new “normal.”

Though I’m used to high levels of pain, severe nausea, frequent migraines, fatigue, etc. when I wake up and have new symptoms or symptoms I’ve had before all of a sudden “amplified,” it can be super frustrating, discouraging – not to mention painful. But when these “flare ups” come about and decide to stick around for more than a day or two, the mind starts to wonder….

Is this a flare? Are these symptoms going to go back to “normal?” Is there something more serious going on?

Pain is a hard thing to talk about and understand because everyone has a different relationship with pain, everyone’s “scale” is their own – my 6 could be your 9 for example – and you can’t really know what anyone else’s is unless you’re living it. My pain has been a totally new phenomenon the last couple weeks, my body is searing, my head is killing me, it’s just relentless. This pain is different from my “normal” pain, though, so it’s kind of hard to compare them severity wise, it’s hard to simplify it to a word like “throbbing, stabbing, burning, etc.” or a number 1-10 – I’m in severe pain and discomfort all over my body and it won’t give me a break — I wish that were enough to figure out a way to help, right?

“What concerns me the most is the unknown….it is just too overwhelming to think about…”

When my symptoms cause me to be even more “disabled” than normal, when I can’t get up or out of the house for a week or more, I’m hardly able to be around others because of the pain and stimulation, and I’m sleeping excessively or unable to sleep at all, it can be hard to find motivation, hard to force yourself to get up and get going, doing something as simple as shower or change into fresh pjs…

“No one really explained to me the depth or the magnitude of that diagnosis, no one explained how serious and life changing this chronic illness can be….”

There are so many unknowns with chronic illnesses, and most of us learn all about that through personal experiences, not from doctors or even google doctor! Living with conditions that even doctors don’t know enough about can be scary, all of a sudden everything you know is just swept out from underneath you, you’re left with so little understanding and no control over your own body, your own life. This is all shocking, it’s devastating, and you have got to find a way to embrace it, conquer it, and grow right along side it, otherwise, it will break you through and through, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, mind, body, and soul.

Chronic Illness Dictionary

New to the spoonie life? Are you the patient or a loved one/caretaker/friend trying to support a spoonie? We have a lot of chronic illness “lingo” that can be confusing to the “real world,” so I decided to create this list to help get some of these out there and easy to find 🙂 This list contains many of the common words and acronyms you will come across  but I’m sure I’m missing something! If you have other words/acronyms I missed, comment and I’ll add them in! I plan to do so as things pop into my mind, as well 🙂

And off we go!

  1. “Spoonie”- chronic illness patient; a term based on @TheSpoonTheory that aims to explain the level of fatigue we face as well as what simple, daily tasks can take so much energy from a “spoonie.”
  2. “Tubie” – a term used in the chronic illness world to talk about individuals who are tube fed; not an insult, we use it about ourselves and one another all the time.
  3. “Stoma” – the tube site, the area on your outer abdomen where the tube enters, and is used to keep it clean and comfortable as much as possible.
  4. “Feeds” – formula that goes through the feeding tube to sustain and nourish patients; “Time for feeds” is like “Time for supper!” except a lot less fun.
  5. Tubie Pads: similar to gauze but much cuter, used to help keep the tube site clean, healthy, and CUTE 😉

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Tubie pads donated by some of our VIP donors : @newbietubies @turkeytotcustoms @HomemadeTubieHappiness @DorkyLittleEtsyStore

  1. “Vent” – if you have a feeding tube that is in your stomach (gtube/gjtube/NG tube) you can “vent” it if you are nauseous or have air stuck in your gut (which doesn’t move). It is often done with a drain bag for gravity or a syringe for suction, which requires more caution – ick!
  2. A cental line ( hickman or port, picc line) – essentially a long term IV that is placed into a large blood vessel near the center of the body most often through your chest and ending at the heart; used for IV treatments like chemo or IVIG, TPN, medications, IV hydration, etc.
  3. Brain fog – cognitive dysfunction that comes with conditions like dysautonomia, ehlers danlos syndrome, fibromyalgia, etc. and causes severe problems with word finding, on the spot thought processing, short term memory problems and sometimes long term as well, lack of mental clarity and trouble holding conversations, etc. // People often say they feel that way too, that it’s normal when you’re tired, it happens as you age, etc., but if you felt the fog we feel as patients, you’d be very glad your fog is not what we experience.
  4. Motility (GI) – movement of the digestive system and its ability to move anything in there along with it throughout the GI tract. When there isn’t proper movement, undesirable symptoms can come up and you can be at risk for conditions like gastroparesis. Gastroenterologists who specialize in these conditions are called “motility specialists.”
  5. Flip/flipped – if you have a GJ tube  you can experience a “flipped” tube, this is when the j-arm comes up from the intestine and into the stomach, where it doesn’t belong. To fix this you have to have it rewired in IR.
  6. Tubie Friend” – a stuffed animal or a doll with medical devices to match your own, so feeding tubes, central lines, oxygen mask, etc.; these are incredibly comforting and meaningful for all ages.
  7. “Button tube” – low profile feeding tubes have an extension that can be removed, leaving only the “button” when you’re not using it! The other surgical tubes don’t have that option, and we usually call them “dangler” tubes or catheter tubes.26610760_10211000346221389_75216378_o.jpg

13. “leaker” – individuals with cerebrospinal fluid leaks

14. Zebra – a zebra is representative of rare diseases, sometimes patients refer to themselves and others with such conditions as zebras themselves

Acronyms you may come across:

NTCP: Newbie Tubie Care Packages

NP: Nurse Practitioner

PCP: Primary Care Physician

GP: Gastroparesis

EDS: Ehlers Danols Syndrome

POTS: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome; a type of Dysautonomia

MCAS: Mast Cell Activation Syndrome

NPO: nothing by mouth, long term or short term, often just 24hrs/overnight before surgery or certain procedures such as tube replacements, or even for fasting blood work

TPN: total parenteral nutrition, nourishment coming straight from an IV bag into your central line in order to stay nourished; can be short term or long term and is used as a last resort for dysmotility/gastroparesis patients who can no longer tolerate oral intake or feeds into the jejunum.

 

Types of Tubes:

GJTube: through your stomach and into the intestines; has access to both stomch and intestines

Jtube: a feeding tube that enters straight into the intestine; most complex and serious surgery out of the 3 surgical options, mostly used for those of us with severe dysmotility not just in the stomach, but also through the lower GI tract – small and large intestines/colon/etc. – and hence cannot keep the j-arm of a GJ tube “down” due to the lack of movement/pull.

Gtube: a tube through the abdomen and into the stomach directly, no lower access

NJ/NG: tubes going through the nose instead of the gut; usually used for short-terTm help for babies, individuals hospitalized, etc. or trials for feeds before surgery for G/J/GJ surgery.

 

*If you have any suggestions for words/phrases I should add, let me know- I’m always happy to have opinions from others 🙂 *

xoxo

Rachel

 

 

 

 

Not Just a Patient

I am a person.

I may be sick, I may be a professional patient, but I’m also a person, but sometimes I feel like less than that when doctors, nurses, or insurance agents treat with disrespect, have biases against me before even seeing me or getting to know me, or neglect my physical or mental health because I am a challenging, serious case on the inside and a young, blonde, smiling 22 year old on the outside; invisible illnesses, especially in young women, often lead to many instances of mistreatment from medical professionals.

I’m almost never late to appointments. I have never missed, skipped, or forgotten an appointment. I email doctors with updates, questions, and reminders so that I can keep things going as efficiently as possible. I fill my meds, do my feeds, and try pretty much every alternative therapy suggested. I treat doctors with respect, no matter what. Not to sound stuck up, but I truly can’t think of much I could do to become a better patient, but honestly, that’s not my job in all of this. I am the patient, and I pay for these doctors to help me.

The idea of “doctors working for me,” is something I had never thought of before about a year ago when someone said it to me after I had a doctor say some hurtful things to me; I don’t work for the doctors, they work for me. They have no right to treat me with any less respect than they expect me to have for them or than they would have for another doctor, a friend, or a family member.

In fact, they should be treating me with great respect even if I’m not being extra outgoing or outwardly friendly. I don’t get paid to be sick. I don’t want to go to the doctor all the time. I’m often traveling hours to see them for just 10-15 minutes and they’re often not even able to help me or offer me anything new, so if I’m upset or not talkative, it’s just out of disappointment and frustration with my situation.

But doctors have chosen to be there, to help people. They choose their specialty, choose where they work, what age they work with, and they get paid very well for what they do. But just because they get paid and because they went through medical school doesn’t mean they are better people or even that they know what’s right.

Having invisible illnesses is hard. Many of these conditions are rare and under researched, doctors in small towns and even doctors who work in highly respected hospitals but aren’t specialized just don’t know these conditions. I’ve been to endless doctors who can’t pronounce the names of my conditions, don’t know what they are or what the symptoms are, or think they know and insist they know but are downright incorrect.

Sadly, a lot of girls with conditions like mine deal with doctors being rude or curt, abrasive, neglectful, biased and judgmental, and even abusive. Whether doctors are just having a bad day or whether they think they can speak to us in hurtful ways just because we are young or pretty, appear healthy, or smile and laugh like “normal” people and aren’t bald or in wheelchairs 100% of the time, I don’t know, but I do know that their actions and words can affect us for a long time.

When we are treated so poorly by people we have put our trust into, it isn’t just upsetting for a moment, it often affects our ability to put our trust into doctors and the medical system in general. Sadly, the only way someone like me can live at all comfortably is by seeing a multitude of doctors and working very hard to find treatments and medications that help minimize symptoms. We’ve put our lives in the hands of these people, we literally cannot go on without them. There is no excuse for them to treat us poorly, but when they do, we lose trust for them and we lose what faith we had in the system.

Doctors can go home and take off their white coats and eat dinner with their families, never having to think again about how that day went or what a patient said or did, but we go home and have to deal with the consequences of appointments for days, weeks, months. We rely on doctors and nurses and insurance agencies not just to be alive, but to have any comfort on a day-to-day basis. It’s not an option whether or not to have doctors or treatments, so if we lose one doctor, we have to work hard to find another one who is as good or better and willing to take on a tough case.

Conditions like mine mean you sometimes have to be both patient and medical expert, which is frustrating and exhausting. I don’t ask my doctors for magical treatments or cures that aren’t out there yet, but I do ask them to treat me with respect and dignity. I’m a person, not just a patient.