Hello my lovelies!
Monday the 14th was Clinic Day. I had originally wanted to do a video update for this, but I just haven’t felt up to it? And if I wait until I feel up to it this update is going to take for freaking ever and then you all will start to worry because you think it’s all bad news. Spoiler: it is not. I am just lazy.
When we first checked in, I was given a sheet to fill out. I am pretty sure I did this last time as well, but I do not remember. It was a self assessment sheet for the ALS functional rating scale (ALSFRS-R). This is a standard way to track the progression of the disease. Usually though, the care team fills this out for me. During the nursing portion of the appointment, it was explained that they are heading towards having patients fill this out for themselves, as a sort of experiment to see how the self assessments differs from the professional assessment. I actually assumed that the self assessments would be worse, since I tend to understate my difficulties when talking to someone, but am more honest with myself filling out a form. Apparently not everyone is like that, since the nurse would tell me that for the most part the scores are consistent. Huh. There are 12 categories, and each category is rated from 0 to 4, with four being completely normal and zero being nonfunctional. For instance the walking category is rated as 4 being normal, three being early ambulation difficulties, to his walks with assistance, one is nonambulatory functional movement, and zero is no purposeful leg movement at all. I am currently at a two. So then you take all of the numbers and add them up, which gives you a number from 0 to 48 and 48 is a normal human being with no difficulties at all. It’s a nice numeric way of tracking progression, and encompasses a lot. It isn’t perfect of course, but it’s a nice shorthanded overview of everything at a glance. You can check it out for yourself here, if you wish.
Last Clinic Day, I was at a 34.
My first appointment of the day, after getting to our assigned room and being handed a schedule, was nursing. In addition to explaining a couple of substitutions in scheduling (I’ll get to those) she went over what I just talked about with the self assessments. Nursing checks are always an overview of the big picture in my life, if I need any special appointments made, if there are any concerns I have outside of the specialists I’ll be talking to that day. We talk about any changes since last visit, and in general she is my master coordinator of all things. Nurse Nancy is amazing and I am lucky to have her on my team. She also explained she would be playing the part of my dietitian for the day, as Kelly was sick. Poor thing. I always look forward to talking to Kelly, even though I never have anything to report. My eating is fine, we usually wind up just chatting for most of the appointment anyway. Today, however, it was noted that I had lost a whole 11 pounds since last clinic. Normally, this would be a good thing for someone, but not so good when you have ALS. I weigh 211 pounds currently, up from 160 when I was diagnosed, all of that on purpose. I am under strict orders to not diet to lose weight, as extra weight statistically helps with prognosis, and when I am no longer able to eat I will need that extra wiggle room. So to speak. So we talked a little bit about my dietary habits and I mostly attribute the weight loss to no longer being at work and on any kind of schedule, so I kind of eat whenever I feel like it, which is usually only once a day. Anymore I also need help with food prep, so if I want to eat something besides the frankly embarrassing amount of snacks I have stashed in my room, I have to bother my mom. Not that she minds, at all, but I am terrible at inconveniencing others for my own sake. Nurse Nancy made me promise to stop that. I am making an effort to stock more snacks and not just drinks in my fridge that I can get to whenever I want.
My second appointment was with Dr. Goslin. It had actually been a few appointments since I’d seen her specifically, since the previous appointment was my introduction to the new doctor, Dr. Olney, so it’d been half a year. We spoke mostly about the medications for this appointment, my increasing depression specifically and overwhelming anxiety. Unfortunately no longer reporting to work means I no longer have a distraction to keep me from spiraling into bad moods when I think too much. It’s been a rough couple of months because of that. I still don’t have a permanent place to live and I am continuing to freak out about that. We doubled my dose of Ativan in the meantime, and she gave me a couple of options to think about for ongoing anxiety and depression. Otherwise, as usual, she is very pleased with the rate of my progression.
My third appointment was with the power duo team for occupational and physical therapy. Physical therapy pointed out that my calves are getting tight and I need to be better with my stretches, and since I can’t really stand on my feet and touch my toes anymore to stretch them out, I was given bands to put around my toes and use my forearms to pull up on them while I’m laying in bed. The whole point of that is to keep my muscles limber so that I can continue to use the walker to visit the bathroom while I am at home for as long as possible. Occupational therapy was entirely centered around keeping my hands functional as long as possible, and preventing my fingers from curling up and cramping while I sleep at night. We also measured my hand strength as usual, and of course they are still garbage meat noodles of uselessness, no big surprises there. Deb the Amazing OT had previously suggested a new kind of brace for me to buy, and I had, but they need adjusting and some modifications to make them actually usable on my own as they are primarily built for bicyclists and didn’t have crippled people like me in mind so they’re not exactly easy to get on and off. We made plans to have another appointment outside of clinic to go over all of those things. I’ve since had that appointment, and like a total genius I forgot the braces in question at home, so she wasn’t able to adjust them for me and now I have a second appointment this coming Monday to take care of that. I was told if I forget them next time I’ll be sent right back home. Hehe.
The fourth appointment was speech. This appointment also includes swallowing, and all of those muscles in general. Luckily, this is the one area that I have yet to experience any problems, so these appointments always go very fast. She just verifies that I am not choking on my own spit anymore than a normal human being does, watches me swallow liquid, and eat a dry graham cracker, and make some funny faces including blowing my cheeks out and trying to touch my nose with my tongue etc. to prove that all of those muscles are still in tune in good shape. So far so good.
The ALS Association was fifth, for social work. I remain eternally grateful for their help. Unfortunately the problem I most need help with is housing, which is not their specialty by any stretch. They do however have resources and connections to other services that are useful, and most importantly they have always been willing to do research on my behalf to do what they can to help. During this appointment, we talked a lot about senior services to get my mom some assistance in whatever way we can. It’s all very useful information, and I truly appreciate the help. They have connections I would never even dream of and that alone is extremely helpful.
My sixth appointment was respiratory. This is the one I hate the most. It’s exhausting, and for the last few Clinic Days, it’s also been somewhat disheartening. We spoke a little bit about new policy changes, specifically about the clinic no longer being able to keep equipment for their patients and so I have to take my respirometer home with me every time now. No big deal, it’s not that big and it fits in my purse just fine. The breathing test came and went as usual and I was surprised to find that my breathing has actually remained perfectly stable since last time. I don’t even need to tell you how happy I was to hear that. I think sleeping with the new AVAPS machine has been helping, and I still need to recommit to breath stacking of course, even though I hate it. A lot. I still owe you guys a demonstration video of exactly why that’s so miserable. But still. No change. Great news. I will take it.
Usually, that would be the end of it. I typically have six appointments. However, since I have graduated to the new sleepy time breath machine, we have added a pulmonologist to the mix. I met with him last. My standard doctor was apparently on vacation in Ireland or something, so I met with a substitute from his practice. It’s a shame he was a substitute, because I really like him actually. He had some suggestions about the mask I’m using at night, some accessory suggestions for the machine, and sheepish apologies that a lot of these commonsense accessories aren’t covered by insurance at all. I came out of that appointment with another doctor appointments to make for a new mask fitting. That will happen on Tuesday.
After that, I headed downstairs to the lab for some overdue bloodwork – I was supposed to have done so last time apparently, but we missed it. Most of my levels came back normal, but I am once again experiencing a vitamin D deficiency. Probably because now that I’m not going to work I don’t really get out into the sun at all. Ever. I take a 1000 IU supplement, but after seeing my levels Dr. Goslin told me to bump it to 4000. Apparently my deficiency is not screwing around.
After all of this, and my summary letter came in the mail, I discovered that my ALS FRS rating has gone down to 26. Down eight points out of 48 total in three months worries me a bit, I admit, but I don’t know if that’s me shifting from doctor to self evaluation or what. I certainly don’t feel like I’ve declined that far in so short a time. But my breathing is the same, and that’s what I care the most about right now. So I’m happy.
And that, my loves, is how Clinic Day went.