My Opiate Crisis

The opiate crisis. Two words, so much baggage.

I think it’s reasonable to say that most individuals over the age of 15 living in the US today have at least heard something about the opiate crisis. Opiates are bad. Narcotics are addictive. They ruin lives and have a high risk for overdose. Opiates are a gateway drug and lead to use of street drugs & illegal self-medicating. (5th-10th grade health class, yah?) That’s what we learn about the opiate crisis, bad bad bad.

Opiates/narcotics can be dangerous…if used incorrectly or illegally. But for people like me, who are living with multiple chronic pain conditions, this opiate crisis is affecting our treatment plans and more importantly, our quality of life & ability to function.

That said, and all dramatics & sarcasm aside, for those of us living with chronic illnesses, the opiate crisis is not the same crisis that you hear about in the news or in a doctor’s office…

My opioid crisis involves trying to make the very limited quantity of pain medication last the whole month, every month….

and then I have to trek back to the doctor to try to advocate for myself and my needs when a change in dosage or medication is needed– I’m really shy/bad at confrontation and in person advocacy so this is a big stress for me.

My opioid crisis is struggling to make each dose last long enough; dealing with a connective tissue condition and genetics that make my body metabolize pain medications too quickly has made treating my pain very hard, high doses of pain meds are hard to get with all of the new FDA laws that are in place due to recreational users and ODs, which of course have nothing to do with my case, but laws are laws and now it’s been made my crisis, your crisis, and that of every addict or legal pain patient who uses these meds.

My opioid crisis involves choosing between being able to function during the day or being able to sleep at night. I’m an artist and a writer, but I can’t paint or write because of the pain in my hands, wrists, and arms. I can’t stand too long, sit still, or lay down without having severe pain in my back and hips. When does the pain end? What is more important, sleep or being productive and (semi)functional during the day?

My crisis means facing the consequences of others’ actions; I don’t abuse drugs nor do I purchase them illegally or without a prescription. I use pain meds because I am unable to really live without having a way to try to manage the pain, no different than how I work to manage my nausea or my migraines, any of my symptoms that can affect my quality of life.

My opioid crisis may not be “normal,” but it’s real. I know so many other girls going through these trials, we are lucky to have each other, but the stress and the guilt and the disappointment from disappointing doctors and failed treatments or lack of access to medications can be overwhelming. There are no words to explain how deeply the system can affect us– and not just because of opiates.

I would love to find something aside from narcotics that would relieve my pain effectively. I want to paint for hours with no shooting pains in my arms, hands, or back, and I want to type without my wrists feeling like they’re black and blue with bruises every time they hit the laptop/keyboard. I want to sleep all night and run a full bag of tube feeds without waking up in too much pain to sit up.

I don’t want to be on narcotics. I have so many goals, and none of them include narcotics, but they also don’t include severe, widespread joint and nerve pain. I also understand why there are strict rules on medications like narcotics. I wouldn’t want them to be easily available to everyone. But that doesn’t mean that those who are truly, legitimately suffering– whether it be acute (post op, injury, car wreck) or chronic (fibromyalgia, arthritis, ehlers danlos syndrome, CRPS, etc.)– should have to continue to suffer when there are actually medications that could make a difference!

Not all of my conditions have treatments. Not all of my symptoms can be managed. So if I find something that helps, and I have doctors saying it makes sense, why does it have to be so damn hard to get a hold of these medications? This system is just mind boggling sometimes.

I want to be a person, not a patient, not a statistic in a research study, just Rachel.

That’s a glimpse at my opiate crisis.

 

Tips for Tubies: A Tubie’s Guide To Success Vol. 1

 

  1. The doctors work for YOU. Not the other way around. If a doctor (or a nurse, tech, or anyone else in the medical system) treats you with any less respect or dignity than you deserve, consider finding a new specialist.
  2. No question is a bad question. There are awkward questions and there can be a boatload of questions, but all of them are important. Ask until you’re satisfied, even if the doctor is acting rushed or distracted. Your health and confidence is more important than anything else.
  3. Some surgeons aren’t big talkers – they like to get the job done; make a list of questions and concerns and make sure to ask them the first time you see them pre-op/post-op or during your follow ups, it could be the only time you see them!
  4. Recovery can be even more challenging than surgery itself. Have people who will be around to help you or at least set up some people to come visit and check on you each day. Before surgery, set up a place by your bed or couch where you can keep some essential items so you won’t have to get up and down every time you need something.
  5. Don’t push yourself! There are no “shoulds” with chronic illnesses or tube feeding. If recovery is taking longer than planned, take some time off from school or work if you are able to! Learn that it is okay to say no when your friends want to go out to eat or get drinks late on a Friday night, if you feel cruddy or just don’t want to be around food, it’s okay to stay in or suggest a different plan. No guilt.
  6. Learn to advocate for yourself. It can be hard to really get doctors to understand what you truly feel and then to get what you need to be comfortable. Be persistent and thorough in explaining symptoms and how it affects your life. If you aren’t good at being forward, take a parent, spouse, relative, or friend who can help make sure everything gets covered.

 

These are just a few of the major tips for getting started with “tube life,” but they’re applicable throughout the journey with feeding tubes and really with any chronic illness. Learning to manage your case, advocate for yourself, and stay on top of appointments/doctors, questions, and treatments both past and present can be a big task, but staying organized and figuring out early on what methods work best for you to manage it all is really beneficial in the long run.

Keep your eyes out for more tips, the next round will be more tubie-specific regarding tube care and what to look out for vs what not to get freaked out over! 🙂

Thanks for reading and  I hope it was helpful! If you have questions or suggestions don’t hesitate to comment or message me!

 

 

Good News– About time!

Well y’all, I have some great news. About time, right? Let me start by saying that I’m thrilled with this news. It’s incredibly exciting for me as well as for my family, but, I am writing this post and explaining this news to you because although it is wonderful news, and it is what I’ve been waiting for forever, it’s not going to be a walk in the park, piece of cake, cure all for me… it’s a complicated treatment that is not widely used for my condition but nonetheless, my best shot.

A couple of days ago I got the news that my IVIG has finally been approved, and not just for one dose, but for 13 rounds.  We’ve waited over a year and seen 3+ specialists in order to make this happen, it’s been a crazy battle to get to this point. On Monday 2/19 I will have my first round!

IVIG is IV immunoglobulin therapy. Essentially it is meant to reboot your immune system and help alleviate or reduce the symptoms of autoimmune or immune conditions. For me, the catch is that I do not have the typical conditions that IVIG is currently used to treat. There are many trials going on with how IVIG can help different conditions, gastroparesis included, but there’s no FDA approval for IVIG as treatment for it yet. That said, this is my only viable option left and because I do have an immunodeficiency, I was finally able to get it approved.

Throughout this process I’ve heard a lot of “slim possibility,” “doubtful,” “statistically…” “honestly…” “be prepared for disappointment…” and all of the other phrases doctors use to tell you they don’t think things will work…

BUT, we heard someone say, “it’s worth a shot,” and here we are today, after a long fight, ready to start a new trial.

IVIG is something my family and I decided was our best chance for change. Not all of my doctors agree, but when do they ever? It’s not a treatment widely used for gastroparesis or EDS/Dysautonomia, but because my immune system is involved, there’s a chance my GI system could respond in some way to it. My motility specialist is the one who suggested it as one of my last 3 options for treatment; today, this is the only one of those three options that I have left.

We don’t expect miracles. In fact, I try not to make expectations at all. I hope it works. It would be incredible. But if it doesn’t, I don’t want to be crushed. I’ve been warned by doctor after doctor that it is likely not going to help, so I’ve pretty much got that in my head, but I also have my own hope and positivity in there thinking maybe this is going to be it. I’m not a blind optimist, but I do have hope. It may be hard for some of you to understand that combination of emotions and feelings, but I’m glad it is, because it means you’ve never had to be this sick, and for that I am thankful.

I wrote this update because I know you all care, I know you all want and deserve an update, but I also needed to share with you how this process is going for me. It’s not going to be an easy treatment. It’s not a miracle drug. It’s not a guarantee of success or relief. It’s a treatment that is extremely hard on the body. It has major side effects. It’s a long shot. But it’s my only shot.

IVIG is what I’ve been fighting for and waiting for for a year. I’m so, so relieved that the fight for approval is over, but that doesn’t mean my battle is over, it’s onto the next step now. My family and I have worked so hard for this; hours of phone calls, emails, paper work, doctor visits, denials, tears…what a journey it has been, and now the journey continues. It will take at least 3-4 months to see any results even if this treatment does work. All great things take time.

What I need in this time is for my support team to just be here for me. I will update if there are any improvements or changes, I will update on how the treatment is going and if I am having any side effects or complications, and I will do my best to post regularly so you know whats happening in general. Try not to set expectations, have no disappointment, no pity or sadness if I see no results, no explanations of why it hasn’t worked or reassurances about when it will, just be here for me.

All I need is love. Support. Laughter. Company. Friendship. Exploration. Care. Distraction.

I’m sick and treatment is hard and unpleasant, but I have my ways of coping and I am still a person and sometimes I just need to be Rachel.

 

xoxo

The Start of Newbie Tubies

During recovery from my second tube surgery just 3 months ago, which I admit was long and pretty brutal pain wise, I realized how lucky I am to have such an incredible family support team working around the clock to help make me as comfortable as possible. I know so many people, of all ages, are walking the same journey but don’t have the support system that I do, and because these conditions are so uncommon, most people have never heard of them or have no idea that anyone can require a feeding tube no matter how old they are or how healthy they have been.

 

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3/2015– In the hospital for a picc line infection and the decision was made to place a surgical feeding tube
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10/2017– first week of recovery from jtube surgery; the pain was unbearable, my sweet dog by my side 24/7 and constantly alerting me to pain and tanking blood pressures.

Sadly, most of us –myself included– just have to learn from experience, both our own and from online connections to people who are also experienced tubies or caretakers. I’ve had tubes for 3 years now, so I have a lot of first hand experience as well as what I’ve learned from my online community; so, if I can use my experiences and my knowledge to help bridge the gap and make the transition to tube life at all easier, I can’t imagine not doing it.

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2016– me on a “good” day; a summer day embracing my tube and my central line and not being afraid to let the world see those parts of my body that keep me alive
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3/2017- My post-surgical, bloated tummy with both a gtube and a jtube; sadly my tubes haven’t helped me gain weight, yet!

In December I began looking for small businesses, mostly on Etsy, that would donate tubie products and a few other care items to my cause and throughout the holidays I used my own funds to buy other products that were on sale, some items included were microwave heating pads, cute socks or fuzzy socks, soft throw blankets, journals and motivational books/journals, etc. I have a more detailed list I will share later on 🙂

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One of my first big donations–  heating pads from DivineComfortRicePks on Etsy; definitely recommend her products 🙂

In January I had enough to begin! I set up an online application and at this point (January 12) I’ve already had 10 applications! I’m so happy to have another way to share my knowledge, advocate, and most importantly, just to help others who are going through the same/similar things I have/am. It is amazing and inspiring and I couldn’t be more excited.

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My first package, it was smaller and more simple than what I send now, but it was for a beautiful friend who was anxious about surgery and it inspired me to continue with this project.

As excited as I am, I just can’t fund it all on my own. I use all of the profits from my paintings (whatever is left after canvas, paint, mediums, etc.) as my main fund, but that’s limited and depends on how much art I can sell. I do have a few other fundraising ideas, but I will also need to find more donors who are willing to help just because they feel that my cause is worth it.

 

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11/2017– My first public art sale/”show” at a local elementary fundraiser; I sell my paintings on my blog, on facebook, and just through friendly conversation/inquiry 🙂

Depending on the products I have on hand and the person (based on age and needs of the tubie), each package has a value of $25-$50, and that is without shipping. Shipping can cost a minimum of $14-$15 but can be as high as $30, again depending on weight and size of items and whether or not they will fit in flat rate boxes.

Right now, I’m still working with some donated items to create each package; right now, it is mostly tubie pads, some self care/pampering items, a handful of heating pads, blankets, and some extra little do-dads. But I’ve made a large dent in my supplies, so I am thinking a bit more about how to acquire some new donors and brainstorming some opportunities to find new products either by donation or for major discount!

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One of my favorite tubie pad shops, tubie whoobies, donated some incredible tubie pads for us.
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Some of my “do-dads” that just add a little fun, color, or comfort to a package for kids, young adults, or even kids/siblings of the tubie!

I love supporting small businesses and I include a card in every package with the information of each (business) donor so that my newbie tubies will be able to purchase more of any product they find helpful. I also post any business/shops that donate to my instagram, facebook, and blog, which ends up hitting over 3k people, many of whom are facing chronic illnesses and make great customers.

I know I have so many loyal followers who like to support all I do, and I don’t want anyone to feel any pressure to donate when it is not convenient for you; honestly, I’m sure I’ll be posting my amazon lists or shipping needs fairly regularly, so if now is not a good time, please do not feel a need to donate or purchase anything for me!

 

That said, here are a few ways you all can help right now:

  1. I accept re gifting!

**Did you receive some Christmas gifts that you know you aren’t going to use? Maybe too many of one item? I know many spoonies end up with lots of coloring books and fuzzy socks!

Or do you just have some extra stuff you aren’t sure what to do with? If it’s something someone could love, it’s package sized, and its in good shape, don’t throw it out!

Way too many adult or child coloring books? How about gel pens, markers, crayons, or any other drawing/writing instruments??

Small toys for children, stickers, etc? Common one, too many stuffed animals?

An extra planner? Fuzzy socks or small throws?

I guess you can say that I will be your “goodwill.” Let nothing go to waste or sit around unloved, instead, donate it to a good cause!**

See the lists below for more information about helpful products/items; I will take a lot of small items to save for someone who would love them!

 

  1. Purchasing a painting

**My art directly benefits my project! You can order my paintings on the blog or by contacting me directly through email or facebook.

Any profit – what I don’t use for paint/canvas/pouring mediums/etc.—goes straight into shipping and shopping for Newbie Tubies!

If you are local, we can meet in person to avoid shipping costs.

 

  1. Donations

The last option is just making a donation. If you want to make a monetary donation that would likely go towards sponsoring shipping for a box (or two!), you can do so through pay pal, send a check, or if you’re local we can work out a time to meet up for a cash donation if you prefer that.

I am also including my amazon wish list, “Newbie Tubies Wish List,” and my Etsy list, that have items, labeled/listed by priority (amazon), that I update based on what I could use at any given time.

If you are local and would like to donate but would rather pick up an item or two at the store when you go, I am including a list of other items as well. They can be dropped off at multiple locations, so please email me and we can make a plan (or if you work with my parents they will take the items as well). 🙂

If you are a small business, or know others with small businesses, and would like to directly donate products, you can contact me at positivelyrachel101@gmail.com about what product you have and how we can best go about shipping/picking it up!

Thank you so much for reading through all of that, if you made it! Below are each of the lists I have talked about; please, feel no pressure, it is just an option for those who have expressed an interest in helping out 🙂

Click each link below to go to said list:

Amazon list

Etsy list

A detailed list as well as my paypal account can be found in a separate post, here!

 

Thank you all so much!

My Relationship With Chronic Pain

For the past few years, I’ve been very honest and open about my journey with Gastroparesis, it’s been one of the main chronic illness I talk about. So I decided to talk about another pretty major part of my life.

My relationship with chronic pain started when I was 12 years old. It was winter time, and I was doing a indoor winter conditioning camp for softball. During the camp, after a throw my right shoulder started hurting. Turned out, I tore my labrum pretty badly. So at age 13, my first surgery in was done in January and my surgeon cleared me for surgery that following season. I think I was cleared too soon to return to playing softball again because soon it was re-torn. I managed to play through the season, pushing through the awful pain I was eventually placed as a designated hitter. That was my very last season of softball, one of the biggest passions I’ve ever had.

Eventually I couldn’t handle the pain any more and hoped a second surgery at age 17 would fix my problem. But I was wrong. I remember the pain from that surgery being so extreme, I slept in a recliner for weeks. I’ve done so many hours of physical therapy for my shoulder, and it’s never really helped. Unfortunately the 2nd surgery was also unsuccessful.

During a follow up with my Orthopedic Surgeon, I decided to mention to him how I was also having pains in other joints. Hips, jaw, back, knee for the past 2 years. So he ran blood work, and sent me to a Rheumatologist. The doctor I saw, did some tests and gave me a diagnosis of ” fibromyalgia with hyper mobility” then handed me some brochure, and a handful of different medications. Unfortunately there weren’t very many in the area at the time so it was hard to find a good one. My body was so overwhelmed with all the different meds, all it did was make things worse. They upsetted my stomach, or made me extremely tired. So durning my Senior year of high school, was spent doing a lot of sleeping.

For a while I was able to manage, especially the pains in my shoulder. The other pains bothered me, but I was able to push through them. Lately, the chronic pain has been a struggle. I get muscle pains all over; my legs, arms, back. I have instability in my shoulder so it often feels like it’s not sitting in its right place. And at times that can be so painful it’s debatating. Some times it gets very frustrating, but I’ve learned to use certain coping skills when I know I need them. On bad days I’ll try to surround myself with things I like. I’ll listen to my favorite music, go and be outside, etc. 

Two different surgeons have told me a 3rd surgery probably wouldn’t help, so I’ve had to accept that in all likelihood this will be a part of my life, for the rest of my life. I know a lot of my friends can relate; they as well have painful illnesses that help them understand. It’s nice being a community that constantly amazes and inspires me. So, because of that, I guess my relationship with chronic pain will continue on as “it’s complicated.”

 

 

A great piece by one of my close friends and fellow chronic illness warriors, Sarah! Follow her blog at chronicallywandering.wordpress.com 🙂

Adventures of a Tubie

Have you ever had to make a decision between what may be smart or practical vs. what would make you happy or what would be fun? People often make these choices in small ways every day when it comes to choices about what’s for dinner, whether to study or go out with friends, what to wear, etc. One of the biggest lessons I have learned in my journey with chronic illnesses is that life is short and sometimes it’s worth a little bit of impracticality if you’re just in need of some fun.

I spend a lot of time taking care of myself and majority of the time my health comes first. I have a lot of doctors appointments and I spend anywhere from 16-20 hours a day hooked up to my IV pole on various tubes for infusions and feeds. I take countless daily and as needed medications and require a great deal of rest due to chronic fatigue and pain. That said, after a rough recent admission—which you can read about in a recent article here—my parents and I decided that I am in need of some fun.

I have some fabulous friends who live with similar health conditions that I do, but most of them live hours, states, and even countries away! Taylor is one of my best friends and she lives in Texas; she has two or three of the same conditions I have and has a feeding tube! Taylor came to visit me and our other friend, Macy, last summer and we had an amazing time! We have had two other trips planned but both fell through due to our health at the time.

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You’d never know each of us have tubes, central lines, and a handful of chronic illnesses! This time together was so precious.

Well, even though my health is not currently considered “good” or even stable, I’m going to go visit Taylor! I will fly to see her and spend a week with her in Texas! Considering most days I hardly leave my house right now, this is a huge undertaking for me, but it will be so good for my spirit. And although we are both in our early/mid twenties, Taylor and I are both quite sick and have similar restrictions so we will be good company for one another 🙂

I am so excited for this trip. I do have some anxiety about flying and traveling by myself and I know that I will need a long time to recover when I get home, but it is totally worth it. Although I can’t escape my body and my illnesses, I can take a small break from all of the stress that comes along with appointments, phone calls, insurance, etc. (or at least I can try!).

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Sometimes you just gotta pretend you’re a normal 21/24 year old and duck face it out 🙂

This trip does not mean I’m feeling better or I’m recovering, it just means I’m doing something that is fun and something that will make me happy. I’m taking time to be young and savor this part of my life as much as I can. We don’t have time to waste, so even if all Taylor and I do is watch movies and talk and nap, it is so worth it. Even if it takes me two months of sleeping when I get home, it is so worth it.

Don’t forget to choose the option that will make you happy sometimes, even if it may not be practical.

Thanks for reading.

xoxo