Time to Take the TMI Train to Tinkle Town!

Ok seriously, this is a TMI warning. There be candid, unglam talk about pee and even some butt stuff. So uh. Yeah. Proceed with discretion.

Soooooooooo the main reason I have not been posting is two-fold, with the reason being DEEEPRESSSSHUNS, stemming from 1) my stepfather dying and now my mom lives with me, and 2) a new symptom which is KICKING MY ASS in all kinds of fun physical, mental, and emotional ways. My surprise roommate situation – that will get its own blog, don’t you fret. Things are actually settled and pretty ok on that front now; that’s the GOOD part about avoiding blogging during a crisis – you get to walk in at the end of the story!

Ok so I just checked the archives for the first time I wrote about this thing and it was March of 2016. So I need to stop calling it a new symptom. Duly noted, self. Well. It was kinda a one-off thing, it happened a couple of times? But the last few months it’s been a serious deal and I am seriously not dealing well.

As you may have surmised, it’s about this:

And then I was just…peeing.

“Urge incontinence”. Only…there’s no “urge” part anymore. It’s closer to say that it will occur to me that I haven’t peed for awhile and should prolly do that, or I kind of have to go, and then before I can get to the toilet, I am just peeing. Everywhere. I’ve had to leave work early because I had to change my clothes, I’ve had to change clothes I literally just put on. And it’s not like I’m peeing in my chair, oh no, it fucking WAITS until I am alllllllllmost to the toilet and then just lets itself out all over me and the bathmat in front of my toilet before I have the chance to undress, much less sit the fuck down. Unless I physically cross my legs to contain it – and often, even then – there’s a mess.

I’m 42 and I wear incontinence pads every day now. As I posted previously, a lot of the articles about ALS say that usually bladder and bowel function aren’t affected. I took a lot more comfort in that than I realized. Like..sure I might be choking on my own spit someday, but at least I won’t be sitting in a puddle of my own urine. But no, I’ve not even begun to have speech or swallowing problems yet, but I have left trails of pee from my room to the toilet – while WEARING a fucking pad. They only hold so much, and I’ve peed through even the overnight Poise pads more times than I can count.

Fun fact – Poise pads are rated by flow, just like menstrual pads, onle they don’t use words like “light, medium, and heavy”. They use words like “drips, dribbles, spurts, and gushes”.

Additional fun fact: menstrual pads and incontinence pads are NOT THE SAME THING. Ask me how I found out! At work!

So, last clinic, I brought this up, and we started the road to Figure Things Out. It has NOT been a good road.

Like, at all.

We started the easy path, with a medication. That did nothing. We upped the dose. Nothing. I was referred to a urologist. He had me pee in a cup to make sure I didn’t have any weird infections – this is not easy any more. You kinda need functioning hands to maneuver this, and remember this point. It becomes VERY important later. He then did an ultrasound on my bladder to make sure I was emptying it completely when I peed. I do. He shrugged and gave me samples for a new med to try. I did. They did nothing. He gave me another months’ supply in samples, and said he was previously going to do a couple of tests that day, but given my whole situation, he instead referred me to his colleague, who could do an ENTIRE workup. He said they’d call to schedule that; it’s an hour and a half appointment that involved probes and a scope up my urethra, soooooo be prepared for that I guess.

A week later, I get a call to make the appointment, and they send me a pamphlet of what to expect, and a sheet of instructions on how to prepare. The word “enema” is involved. Two enemas, exactly. One the night before, and one the morning of. The informational pamphlet says they’ll be sticking a scope into my bladder, to take a look, they’ll also be doing a flow test which means I sit on a commode and pee to determine…something, I guess. How fast I pee? And then they’ll be filling my bladder with sterile saline and stick a probe in both ends, and then have me do some tests like bearing down, and standing up. I guessed there would be puppy pads all over the room for that part. I was not looking forward to this, like, at ALL.

And so, the weekend before the appointment, I had to muster the courage to ask J to take me to the store so I could buy a freakin’ enema. He’s actually been amazing about listening to the really awful details of this whole bullshit Godzilla Disease, and took it in stride, and sympathized about the scope part cause he’d had that done. We bought what I needed, and then the night before the appointment, I set forth to do the thing.

OK. Here is where it is important to remember the part about “you kinda need functioning hands”. If you’re not familiar with an enema, it is essentially a flexible little bottle of saline with a thoughtfully, pre-lubricated plastic tip. You insert the thoughtfully pre-lubricated tip into your butt, squeeze the contents of the bottle in, and then wait for nature to do its thing. The bottle, for reference, is smaller than a standard soda bottle by a lot. It’s also full of water, which is heavy. Sooooooo don’t actually picture this, because gross, but…entertain a brief thought about what kind of difficulties a person with ALS may have in this situation. Especially when she is also overweight, and seated on a narrow, raised toilet seat with bars that prevent her from say, separating the knees as far as one might wish to get access to that business.

If your imagined, hypothetical scenario included dropping the bottle in the toilet more than once, and then ultimately only managing to squeeze maybe a third of it in? Congratulations. Now do that again in the morning.

The night before the appointment, after dealing with the ahem..effects..of the ordeal, I have a worrying thought. The clinic has more than one urology office location. There’s the one at the hospital in NW Portland, where I’ve been seeing this dude, but they ALSO have a location in NE Portland, where Dr. Goslin is. The urologist just mentioned a colleague. Same office? I scoured the paperwork I had, nothing had an address on it. It was Monday night at 10. I couldn’t call anyone. I checked the web portal for the clinic, and they had NOTHING about upcoming appointments anywhere. I could check every fucking thing else in my medical files with them, but nothing about an upcoming appointment. They hadn’t called with an appointment reminder.

I took my chances and went to the same clinic. And…yeah, you already guessed it was the wrong fucking hospital. Amazingly, they had another opening at the right hospital the very next week, so I made that appointment. After the month I’d been having, and the whole enema ordeal and the humiliation of that and the frustration of my hands just not fucking cooperating enough to do this, and the nightmare scenarios of thinking I’d ever have to ask someone for help with that, and paying $30 on a Lyft to the hospital and knowing I was going to have to spend another $30 to go home….I went into the hospital bathroom and sobbed a lot. Then I went home and took a nap.

The next week, I had better ideas about how to do the prep work. It went better, but also involved having to do the thing twice, since I could still only get a half dose in. The morning of, I had a complete incontinence issue and peed alllllllllll the fuck over m,y bedroom carpet and the bathroom tile and the bath mat and the toilet seat and everyfuckingwhere. And then after I cleaned it all up, I had to deal with the second dose of enema funtimes, and then got dressed and called my Lyft. It is 20 miles from my apartment to the hospital, mayyyyyybe 45 minutes with traffic. I left around 7:30 for an 8:30 appointment. There was a 25 minute traffic delay. I got to the hospital at 9AM. When I realized I was going to be 10 minutes late, to a 90 minute appointment, I thought about calling them to apologize but didn’t think I’d missed the appointment It was an hour and a half, and they always keep you waiting 10 minutes in the lobby anyway. When Waze bumped the arrival estimate to 8:45, I contemplated having him just turn around and take me back home. When the arrival time hit 9AM, I just kinda…turned off and knew I was showing up just to reschedule with the receptionist. I got to the office, explained what happened to the Eastern European lady, told her I realized at this point I was probably going to have to just reschedule the whole thing, and she looked at me like I was stupid.

“You have to PLAN for these things,” she told me like I was a child. “You can’t think traffic isn’t going to happen.”

“I planned a 15 minute buffer,” I told her. “It took 45 minutes longer than it should have.”

“You have to think about traffic,” she shook her head at me, exasperated. I guess she realized I was very, very close to tears, because then she said “I’ll see if they can get you in. But I don’t think so.”

Cue about 8 minutes of me leaning against the counter while she talked to the other office folk about how I seriously expected to be able to show up 30 minutes late and then a muffled conversation around the corner with the nurses, and I was JUST about to tap on the glass and remind her snarky bitch ass that I had ACTUALLY apologized and asked to fucking reschedule in the first place when I GOT THERE when she came back and said they could do PART of the appointment today, and maybe if the next person doesn’t show up for their appointment, we could get it all done.

We did not, in fact, get it all done.

Wanna guess which part we did not get done? The part that required the enema prep? OH WELL DONE YOU GET A PRIZE. We DID get the part done where they put numbing gel in my ladybits and then jammed a camera scope in there. I got to see the inside of my apparently healthy bladder, and even watched my kidney spit a blurble of pee into it. I did the pee-over-a-cup-on-a-scale test, too, and then sat in the room alone with no underwear on while we waited to see if the next guy showed up. When he did, I was ushered out to the lobby to reschedule without being given a chance to put said underwear back on, and then stood at the counter with a breeze up my dress while I waited for Ms. Thing to get me another appointment. At least she was equal opportunity bitch, because another dude came out of the office and needed some followup something, and she barked at him to just sit down and she would get to him in a minute. And then told me that she just couldn’t STAND when people just HOVERED like that. And then she tried to be sweet and called me darling when she found an appointment a month away “so much quicker than I thought for you” and made a point of scheduling me for the LATER time, and wrote my appointment time as 15 minutes earlier for arrival on the reminder card. Like…yeah, I GOT it, bitch. I WAS LATE. And then I went outside and got a Lyft home that cost $40, like the ride in, and I guess the worst part is how everyone assumes I have a magical support network for free that can help with enemas and free rides where I need to go so it’s just an inconvenience to THEIR asses when I get caught in traffic or they send me to the wrong fucking hospital in the first place.

Oh, and this was on Halloween.

So now, I get to wait a month, do enemas again, and in the meantime just continue peeing myself all the time because it’s not at all disruptive to my life? And then pay another $80 in Lyft fare to have probes shoved in me? And in the meantime, the urologist’s advice was to do some Kegels. IF I COULD CLENCH THOSE MUSCLES IN THE FIRST PLACE, LADY, WE WOULD NOT BE TALKING TODAY. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE FUCK ALS EVEN IS. It’s when you try to use a muscle and CAN’T. BECAUSE THE MUSCLE IS GONE.

So yep. I’ve not been living my best life lately. This has been really hard. And humiliating. And a big fucking mess. In every sense of the word.

Next time I’ll tell you about clinic day and all that. This was a difficult post to write. I’m going to go look at some cat pictures or watch some jellyfish for awhile.

Stabbity Stab Stab

One thing I love about being one of Dr. Goslin’s goslings is that she is super, wicked smart and stays on top of the latest research. Any time someone sends me an article about some new breakthrough or other, I am completely confident that she has already seen it and researched it to pieces. The upshot of this is that, when she suggests I try something, I know it’s a very well-considered proposal.

In our last Clinic Day, she told me about this article. Massive megadoses of B12 have been tentatively shown to maybe possibly potentially help with some of ALS’ stupid symptoms. She gave me the article, asked me to mull it over, and let her know if I’d like to try it.

Roadblock number one? Insurance won’t cover it. She told me it ran between $250 – $300. I could either get it in a vial with needles, or pre-filled needles, for more dollars. Now, I can manage to afford that now, while I’m unemployed, but when I’m not? Sucks to be me, if it works. I had me a nice angry meltdown on facebook about how stupid that is, sulked, and researched some more. My friends assured me that if it worked, they’d help me fundraise to get it, so don’t let that stop me.

Roadblock number two? Self. Administered. Intra. Muscular. Injections. Now, I’m tattooed, have multiple piercings, I am in NO fear of needles. But I didn’t know that I’d have the nerve to stab myself every day in the thigh. In the morning! And then there was the problems of mechanics, having enough hand control to push the plunger in. So, a mental AND physical challenge.

I decided to try; they recommend one month at least. I decided to go for it all three months until next Clinic, and I’ll likely still be employed all that time to afford it. I sent Dr. Goslin an email, she gave me the prescription, and thus began the Wacky Comedy of Errors. Holy crap.

First of all, only several pharmacies compound the stuff. For some perspective, the average over-the-counter supplement is 2.4 micrograms. This injection is 25 MILLIGRAMS. That is more than TEN THOUSAND TIMES the dose. Understandably, there’s a limited number of folks who make it that strong. So I had to *gulp* CALL A PHARMACY. IN PERSON. They got the prescription from Dr. Goslin. Then they called me to get my personal information. Then they called me back with pricing. A vial of it would run me $215, plus $30 shipping because it has to be kept refigerated and mailed cold. Oh. But they can’t ship it to Oregon; they’re not licensed to ship there, did I know someone in California or somewhere I could have them ship to, who could forward it to me? For another whatever-it-costs for overnight shipping to keep it cold? LUCKILY I have my dear friend Amanda in Vancouver, which is not so far away, and she was happy to recieve the package on my behalf AND dose it out into the syringes for me. Two days later, she got my vitamins.

With no syringes.

No big deal, she went to a pharmacy. …Who would not sell her any without a prescription. They gave her 4, though, so I could get started while I waited over the weekend for my doctor to send in a prescription. Doc Goslin was in a conference, turns out, so she turned the task over to her nurse, who mistook the instructions and sent in a scrip as though the injections were WEEKLY, so they only gave me 11. And to the wrong pharmacy, but that wasn’t her fault, DocGos didn’t tell her that part of my request. So I sent in an email to get it corrected and to the right pharmacy, only insurance now wouldn’t cover it because I was trying to fill the scrip too soon. You’d think the fucking things already have heroin in them, with how hard it’s been to get hold of some. FINALLY we’ve got it sorted and I can go pick up the rest of them tomorrow.

Theoretically.

I started the shots a week ago. You have to keep it refrigerated, take the shot out of the fridge 20 minutes prior to administration, and keep it in a dark place while it waits, because B12 is light-sensitive. And THEN you may stab yourself. It took a couple of tries, mind you. 1mL is a LOT of liquid to get in there. The initial stab isn’t bad, unless I hit a nerve, but sometimes it takes some doing to get the plunger all the way in. And sometimes some of the liquid comes back out when I withdraw the needle, which sucks because it’s a blood red liquid that stains. I was warned that it gets metabolized quickly, and I’ll pass whatever doesn’t get readily absorbed, so my urine miiiiiight turn reddish or pink.

It totally does. So, thanks for the warning.

I haven’t noticed a difference in anything yet. I’m still experimenting with where to do the injection, as there’s not a LOT of muscle left in my thighs, and it’s blanketed with fat. Shooting my bicep though, feels like an immunization shot and leaves my arm sore all day. I’m sure it will get easier. It’s still taking one or two false starts before I manage to work up the nerve to stab myself though.

I’m not sure what I’m hoping for, with this. If it does something, then I’m tethered to $245 payments a month out of pocket. And eventually finding someone to stab me with a needle every day. If it doesn’t, then I’ll be out a lot of money with nothing but soiled cupcake band-aids and self inflicted puncture marks to show for it. I mean, of COURSE I’d like it to do something, even if it does mean weighing the pros and cons of perceived improvement vs. cost and hassle.

I guess I’m just saying, this disease complicates everything. At all times. For everyone. It really SHOULD come with a secretary and a kitten.

And someone to do the shots for me.

Sometimes Snake Oil is Actual Medicine.

So! I had a follow up with Dr. Goslin about all the things that came up from clinic day, notably meds changes, follow up with the physical therapist, and a general check-in. I found that I had lost 5 pounds, which I am not at all unhappy about. She was unconcerned about that, telling me as usual that maintaining my weight is important; as long as I’m not dropping weight quickly it’s not a problem. Even though I miss being 60 pounds lighter, I suppose that will come in time, and that will be a problem. But until then I am fat and alive.

As far as the physical therapist goes, we didn’t find any braces that helped more than the ones I currently have. Most of them actually exacerbated the problems, particularly on inclines and declines. Instead we’re going to look into some sort of knee brace, as my knees are usually what fails when I fall. We’re thinking some sort of neoprene brace with metal supports; maybe that won’t make it quite so meat-stilty when I walk. We will see. Basically anything that keeps me walking as long as possible is a good thing, in my opinion. Ideally, also not tripping over the cats would be good.

Regarding the meds conversations, we had started me on something to help with the… er.. accidents… And something to may be kickstart the antidepressants again, as they didn’t seem to be doing a whole hell of a lot lately. Lab bladder control made is working out awesomely, we’re going to slightly increase the dosage on that. The other med doesn’t seem to be helping but it also doesn’t seem to be detrimental, so we are going to slightly increase the dosage on that. Maybe we’ll get a reaction. We are also increasing the dosage on Nuvigil, to see if we can’t kickstart my energy levels some more. In that same light, we are decreasing the gabapentin because I’m not sure it’s doing much of anything anymore, and it’s known to cause drowsiness, and I really hate taking something three times a day. Hopefully I can taper off that altogether. The antidepressant kick starter was also prescribed hopefully to reduce the migraines; I haven’t had one in a couple of months and I’m not sure if that’s working, or if it’s just that the Botox is no longer in my system.

Related to the headaches, we had a conversation – again – about the Cefaly device. When she had first talked to me about it, she had explained that she KNOWS that it looks like snake oil and seems super fake. (Seriously so fake.) The science she assured me, was sound and it had potential to be effective. Since then, she had actually tried the device and bought a few for her patients to try; a few of them reported up to 50% fewer migraines. It worked so well that none of her patients have returned it. So she wrote me a prescription for one, and almost $400 later, it should be arriving soon. The crappy part about it is that insurance will not cover it so this was out-of-pocket. Expect future updates when I finally get my hands on it. LIVE FROM THE FUTURE WITH MY SPACE HEADBAND OF MIGRAINES -2 !

We also spoke about medical trials. She hadn’t been able to attend the research symposium, so I told her about my conversation with Dr. Beckman and how frustrated he seems with his complete lack of progress. She shared my sense of dismay and agreed that an actual trial is probably not forthcoming anytime soon. HOWEVER, she told me, there was ANOTHER trial about to start. LITERALLY about to start. Like, in August. She was positively geeking out about the potential for this trial, super excited about the potential, and in fact said she felt BETTER about this than the copper trial. It’s centered on inflammatory behavior with ALS degeneration; previous trials had stopped the progression of ALS in patients with those inflammatory markers while they were taking this drug. Only 35 percents of ALS patients have those markers, though. It’s an IV administered drug, and a six-month trial; I think she said five visits for the first two months and three visits a month for the rest of the duration. I’m not exactly sure what it entails in detail, but I suppose I shall find out if I am selected for this trial. Because of course when she asked if I was interested, I said HELL YES. The trial coordinator is supposed to be giving me a call very soon to give me more information and arrange to have me tested to see if I have those markers.

So THAT’S exciting.

She also suggested, which in retrospect seems OBVIOUS, that I go to the physical therapist to learn how to fall gracefully, and how to get back up. It’s the getting back up that’s the problem, usually. So I’m going to go do that. Soon. In the meantime she gave me materials about various “med alert” type devices. Which, I realize I really SHOULD be looking into, but every time I think about it, the phrase “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” also goes through my head. It’s one of those stupid associations, one of those steps that feels like surrender, no matter how practical and ultimately necessary it may be. I’m working on getting over that.

So that’s the haps. You are now fully updated. I’ll make a goofy video once I get the Cefaly. I’m sorry I haven’t been updating lately, the world those outside and inside has been in that sees stupid, dramatic, and sad. So I’ve been in full out capital avoidant mode, sitting in bed with my cats eating candy and watching nature TV. It’s so much easier.

I hope life is treating you kind. I hope you are safe, and happy.. And I hope it stays that way.

I’d name this post some kind of marijuana pun but I hate them.

Okay, peeps. Real talk. First? Any employer who may or may not be reading this should regard this post as a work of fiction or satire or something. I have never smoked pot*. I hate the smell of it, it causes migraines**. These are theoreticals and opinions and satire. As far as I care to say.

I know I’ve mentioned marijuana before, but I can’t seem to find it to link to, so I’m just going to pretend I’ve never said anything and start from the beginning. So here’s the beginning:

I have hated pot ever since I was a wee thing. (seriously, as a kid I once cried so hard I threw up and was angry at my mother for WEEKS because she smoked a joint with our neighbor) The smell of it is one of the small handful of things that will nearly ALWAYS trigger a migraine, which doesn’t help at all, but I mostly have always had an intense dislike for it because of the people I know who smoke. Who…’partake’. And they’ve ruined that word for me. I hate that the people most upfront about habitually using it are usually complete idiots. That stoner laugh, the drawn out “….whut?” Most of the people I knew while growing up who smoked pot were complete idiots, and it was not until much later in life that I learned the difference between “person who smokes pot” and “pothead”. My sole experience with the drug was a second hand high I got at a Depeche Mode concert, and that may VERY well have been endorphin and adrenaline that come naturally with a rock concert. I came home hyper and hungry. I came to know some people who could keep their act together but still smoked, but I always thought a little less of them, if I’m being perfectly honest. OK sure you can hold down a job, but how much more could you accomplish if you DIDN’T light up every night when you got home?

I’m saying, I have some prejudices.

How could I not, really? My direct experience has always been pot = migraine. Stoners = idiots.*** Oh sure, people swore up and down that pot cured cancer and AIDS and ADD and whatever other letters you wanted to throw at it. You can make hemp everything! The hemp people always struck me as trying to find a loophole to legitimize their habits, NO SERIOUSLY IT’S NOT FOR GETTING HIGH MAN IT’S FOR PAPER AND CLOTHES AND SHIT and okay also getting high because you don’t see us making the same arguments for using bamboo which ALSO does all these things plus FOOD, and collecting signatures for THAT, but hey, whatever man. I could never take any of it seriously because all information about the medicinal benefits were nothing more than anecdotal. ..Because hey, it’s pretty hard to do a legit medical study on an illegal substance, turns out.

…Okay side rant, people, because I HONESTLY, SERIOUSLY believe that a major reason why no one ever took marijuana seriously as medicine? IS BECAUSE YOU NAME YOUR STRAINS DUMB ASS THINGS LIKE CAT PISS AND PEPDAWG AND ALASKAN THUNDERFUCK. There was no medical journal out there willing to take seriously a chemical composition and therapeutic benefit breakdown comparison between Purple Urkel and Ninja Turtle. If you want to be seen as a legitimate, scientific cure, KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE SATURDAY MORNING CARTOON NAMES. No doctor is going to prescribe “2 tablets of Purple Monkey Balls”. There is probably a way to scientifically, accurately track the medicinal benefits of each strain, but you stoners made it REALLY REALLY HARD for us to see it as science with names like Romulan Cotton Candy and Skyhigh. OKAY? Ok. Also, I only made up ONE of those names****.

Anyway.

I’ve a lifelong dislike for pot, is what I’m saying. It was recently legalized for recreational use here in Oregon, and I actually think that’s marvelous for a lot of reasons. I strongly feel, that no matter what my own opinion on smoking pot might be, anyone should have a chance to use a medicine if they thought it might help. There’s been awesome articles about the benefits people have found through its use; epileptic little girls finding seizure relief, and cancer patients using it for pain management, and ADHD people using it for focus, and PTSD victims using it to quell anxiety attacks, and I think that’s awesome. I am ALL ABOUT letting people do what they feel is doing them some good, so long as it hurts no one else. People have been telling me for years and years that pot would help with my headaches, and while I declined to take up their advice, I encouraged others to do so if they thought it helped. Just don’t smoke it around me, please. I agree that it’s practically harmless, it fixes a lot of things either for real or through the placebo effect, legalizing it recovers a lot of police time pursuing people who are not actually a threat, and brings in some tax money. I don’t believe it’s truly harmless, because while doing nothing but smoking pot may not be dangerous to your health overall, it’s harmful like overindulging in ANY addictive pastime, like video games. You’re not hurting anyone, but how long has it been since you checked in on your friends? They miss you. And you are REALLY BORING to people who don’t do #hobby because that’s all you ever talk about, be it pot or Fallout 4. But I freely admit I’d MUCH rather be on the road with someone driving stoned than drunk. You don’t get stoned and go on a bender that ends with seven dead. You don’t clonk a granny over the head and steal her purse to get money for a joint, no matter what Reefer Madness told you. You don’t get stoned out of your mind and then call your ex sobbing that you two should get back together, because, like..the phone is way over there, and you’d have to get up to get it, and then press all those buttons.

So I was honestly kind of irritated when I read a lot of studies about medical marijuana doing great things for people with ALS.

I asked Dr. Goslin about it, if it would help with anxiety and the twitches and the cramping and everything, and she said, yes, it probably would, would I like a medical marijuana card? I told her I’d go do my own research and pursue it if I felt it would do me good. I did a LOT of research. I talked to a few people who used it, and tried to open my mind to the idea. While I fail to see how something known to trigger migraines could possibly help my headaches, I was at least passingly interested in the possibilities. A year passed, the data I found was inconclusive, so I let it lie.

Then I had a Really Bad Stretch. So bad I can’t even tell you about all of it; but my heart was broken by a lot of awful events conspiring to happen at once, so much drama and heartache and confusion and I really, really just wanted it to go away and let me think straight. I was back in the same dark headspace I used to get in when I self harmed; not a desire to die or disappear, just desperately needing an outlet and a calm space to sort things out. Some time to think without panicking. A friend strongly advocated for marijuana as a stress relief, and gave me strong enough testimonials that I caved and applied for the card. Because I strongly feel, that no matter what my own opinion on smoking pot might be, anyone should have a chance to use a medicine if they thought it might help.

Including me.

The card took FOREVER to get to me and cost $200. An initiative passed to legalize recreational pot here in Oregon, and it was actually in place and active only a week or so after I finally got the thing. It’s still necessary, though, because ‘recreational’ only includes the flower and seeds. No oils, tinctures, edibles, or anything, and like I said, the smell gives me migraines so I’m not smoking it ever. But I was interested in the alternatives and dipped my toe in. The first thing I bought were chocolates, I bought them from a legal dispensary in Washington that was INCREDIBLY crowded so I didn’t get a lot of time to ask the questions I had. A lot of questions. Dosage, strains, methods, I mean I knew that different strains did different things and that ‘medibles’ (seriously, stoners. “medical edibles LOL U GUIZE SO CLEVAR”) reacted differently in your body than smoking, but I needed details. I didn’t get them that day, just bought the very expensive white chocolates, and slunk away.

I made sure I had a babysitter when I tried a chocolate with 10mg in it. It tasted bad and did nothing, which wasn’t terribly surprising since I was later told that 10mg of THC is NOTHING. Another day, I tried a vaporizer with a friend who smokes but had never used a vaporizer before, and it did nothing for either of us. I tried two chocolates, another day. Felt nothing but calm, but I’d also slept all day and then soaked forever in a hot bath with a Lush bath bomb so I was pretty freakin’ relaxed already. I saved the last two and tried them another time, when work had sent me into a rage, so I knew it would be a good test. I felt nothing but calm, which could have been the chocolates, but could have also just been the time that passed once I was home from work. I was still angry as hell, but just not as energetic about it – which tends to happen with the passage of time on its own. I dwell, but I don’t tend to stew when I’m angry. So that wasn’t a particularly good test, either.

The same friend that originally testified so strongly (later jokingly called my Pusher) brought me a small assortment of ‘medibles’ (ffs) to try. These gummy robots, hard candies, a pink lemonade, and some CBD caps. CBD is the more medically useful compound in pot. I don’t want to get high, just want the medical benefits, so low THC and high CBD is what I was after. The gummy robots were super cute and there was a little diagram on the back showing which part of the robot had what kind of dosage. I tried a small piece of one of the gummy robots (his head) one night and…yeah, I got high, I guess. I was decidedly altered. I wasn’t giggly or paranoid or anything, but aware that my perceptions were altered. I opened a wordpad document and started typing something in it but stopped bothering after awhile, but the gist of it was basically “now I know why stoners talk like they do, because there’s literally no way to describe these sensations without sounding like you’re on drugs.” Even later, sober, while trying to explain the sensation to a friend, it was TOTALLY STONER SPEAK. “There was something like a core of energy in my gut, and it pulsed out in waves, and I could feel the tingling of the waves as they radiated out and off of my body like electricity.” (Um. Yeah. Shut up, stoner.) I was cognizant enough to know that social contact would probably be a bad idea, especially writing the emails I was working on to introduce myself to clinical trial coordinators, so I banned myself from social media and instead just watched television for the rest of the night, knowing that it was NOT in 3D even though it sort of looked like it. “This is probably WAY more surreal right now than the actual show is. I’ll have to rewatch this tomorrow and compare.” (it was still weird, for the record, but not nearly as bizarre as I remembered, predictably.) My body was tingly and heavy and I did not enjoy the feeling. I had to walk to the kitchen to get something and had to concentrate really hard on not falling, which might be fun for some people, but I already have real life troubles with such things so I did not need a chemical to enhance that. I wound up sort of falling at one point, very gently, and it was really hard to get back up; and even chemically altered, I had the presence of mind to realize that this would be really, horribly upsetting if I let it be, and turn into a Terrible Time, so I concentrated really hard on not thinking about it at all and just pet the cats until I felt like I could stand up again. I went straight to bed and was glad to wake up and have it gone.

I tried a hard candy, another night, and it didn’t feel like it did anything except test my powers of endurance by forcing myself to suck on an awful hard candy for 20 minutes. I tried the other part of the robot another, different night, and got REALLY altered, and my twitches got so much worse it was like having a seizure. I found I could calm the jerking by thinking about it, practically mentally commanding myself to do so, but then they’d start right back up and there wasn’t anything for it but to sleep it off. Except I couldn’t sleep because I was spasming so hard I was kicking the cats off of me and reenacting the part of Ash from the Evil Dead. GIVE ME BACK MY HAAAAAAND. It wasn’t painful at all, just completely surreal to watch my limbs thrashing about of their own accord, and a little scary. I wound up taking a video of my hand twitching, mostly to see if that was really what was happening or I was maybe just imagining things. Turns out I wasn’t. I can’t move my hand that fast if I wanted to, anymore. Maybe not even before they started losing their strength; it was seriously bizarre. But, I had another bad day and another piece of robot, so I tried it one more time and got REALLY altered and REALLY REALLY sick. I wound up in bed, in the dark, trying to be quiet and calm. I wasn’t freaking out or anything at all, I was just seriously overstimulated, and every sharp noise was a weird synaesthetic flash of light in my brain, and eventually I just barfed it all up and felt a lot better and went to sleep.

So, fuck those little robots.

Also? Fuck the taste of pot. SO GROSS. There is no way to make anything with pot in it that doesn’t taste like pot, and pot tastes AWFUL. Bleah. The pink lemonade tastes like acid and death and pot. The hard candies taste like artificial raspberry and sweet and pot and death. -15/10 DID NOT ENJOY. WILL NEVER ENJOY. Shelf that with beer and wine as Things I Do Not Like and Don’t Understand Why People Do This To Themselves On Purpose.

Bad days continued, and while I was pretty sure I hated pot forever still, I hadn’t tried any concentrates and had no idea what strains I’d actually tried so far. I knew there were LOTS of options. I finally went to a recommended dispensary with a name that was ..tolerable.

…Okay side rant number two. Dispensaries: STOP WITH THE PUN NAMES. “CannaBliss”. “Grin Reefer.” “ReLeaf”. “Urban Farmacy”. OK YES WE GET IT YOU SELL POT. IT IS LEGAL. You’re NOT CLEVER. You are making it HARDER TO TAKE THIS SHIT SERIOUSLY. I feel dumber just walking in. Again, like with the strain names, if you want to be taken seriously as medicine, maybe calling your dispensary “Fifty Shades of Green” is not the road to credibility. It drives me NUTS because only stoners think this is funny – HURR HURR “420 Collective” IS REALLY CLEVER GUISE. Only SLIGHTLY less irritating are the ones that take some aspect of pot, open a thesaurus and choose a name. “Above”. “Ascend.” “Elevated”. “Lift”. GET IT CAUSE IT’S ANOTHER WORD FOR HIGH. LIKE HOW YOU GET HIGH WHEN YOU SMOKE POT. (I can’t stand it when beauty salons do it either, for the record. “Curl up and Dye” was funny the first time I saw it, but how many “A Cut Above”s do we need, or “Hairway to Heaven”. GET OUT.) Fine, name your store something that clues people in to the nature of your business. “Holistic Remedies”. “Green Gardens”. So far “Flora” and “Bloom” are the ones I’ve found the least irritating. But really, as long as you put “Dispensary” in there, people will get it. You don’t see proper doctor clinics with names like “A Cut Above Surgery” or “Meds4U”. There is a reason for this. You are the reason no one is taking marijuana seriously as medicine. Stop it.

okay.

So I got to this recommended place, was soothed by the totally actually clinical interior, like a doctor’s waiting room, and approached the reception counter. I explained what I was after and why. Something for anxiety, maybe, but primarily an anti-seizure/relaxant, I wasn’t looking to get high. He was extremely knowledgeable, and suggested several particular strains. I told him what I’d tried, and what they did, and that I couldn’t smoke and why. He said it was no problem, they have several vaporizers possible, but the higher heat, the better the effect, but the more smell. He explained how oils work and what the naming convention was for some of the things. The oils come in a syringe, “Which sounds scary,” he told me, “but the oils are so sticky it’s really the best delivery method.”

And the whole time he’s talking and writing things down for me on this post-it note, I’m thinking, “Great! Are you gonna maybe SELL me anything?”

I told him about my experiences with medibles (guhhhhhhh), explained I wasn’t looking to get high but I wasn’t adverse to feeling some effects if the thing did good. He used the word ‘intoxicated’ instead of ‘high’ which I liked. He explained, continuing to write on the Post-It, that I would want higher CBD and low THC to avoid the intoxicating effect. I asked questions about what the oils’ availability and such was, hint hint, do you have this in stock right now? And he was oblivious to the subtlety until I finally asked, “Do you have any of this that I can actually LOOK at?”

“..Oh! Do you have a card?”

…That maybe should have been a first question, boyo. Yes, I did! He took my patient ID number, matched my card with my ID, and buzzed me into the back. The back was actually just a storefront, and not little offices at all. I have no idea why there are three doors. He pointed out the syringes, and suggested that I pipe out little dots on a piece of parchment and freeze them, and when I need a dose, just peel one off and take it like a pill. But he put the syringe back in the case. He walked over to the tinctures and pulled one out, a bottle of a strain called Harlequin. It is a glycerin base, so it will be sweet, he said, and I said, “OK I will try that” before he could put it back. And then I kind of looked around, saw the display for the “sour bhotz” and said, “Them robots, man.” He nodded and showed that the display was almost empty. “Obviously they’re very popular,” confirming that people actually do enjoy that feeling. Mystifying. They had all kinds of other medibles (whhhhhyyy) that I wouldn’t have minded looking over, but he didn’t seem inclined to show or sell. So in the end all I bought was the tincture, which was super gross and did nothing. Pot tastes like barf, so let’s make that barf SUPER SWEET and then have you hold it under your tongue for a few seconds before swallowing it okay? To make sure it’s completely warmed up and the oil spreads alllll over your mouth and makes everything taste gross for the next ten minutes and assure that you hate your life if you burp.

I wound up going back and buying a vaporizer (it is a vaporizer. It is not a vape. OH MY GOD YOU SOUND SO STUPID WHEN YOU SAY THAT. ‘Vapin!’ ‘I’m VAPIN! LOOKIT ME WITH MY VAPE’ HURR DE DURR) pen and a small assortment of different strain concentrates from a MUCH more helpful and sales-savvy assistant. No less knowledgeable and willing to educate, but much more willing to actually, you know, let me BUY something. I explained up front that I was looking to get an assortment of things to try and would come back for more of the thing that worked. I got one for anxiety, one for focus, and one that was the highest CBD concentration. I tried them all, and they stink both figuratively and literally (“It’s harmless, it’s just water vapor.” “If it were just water vapor it would be odorless. It is not. IT STINKS LIKE POT AND THAT IS HARMING ME.”). They don’t alter me or affect me in the same way as the stupid robots, which is good. But they don’t actually do much at all. They just taste bad and make me cough and then dry out my mouth really bad.

And to top it off? It doesn’t help anything. I don’t get calm, I get incapable of thought, which is frustrating. I’d actually rather be sad than frustrated, any day, and I’ll take crying because I feel powerless over getting angry because I literally can not remember the thing I was just trying to do. I don’t enjoy getting ‘high’ and I don’t see any benefit for the physical effects I’m trying to combat, so there really isn’t a point to it for me. I gave it several good tries, but pot is definitely Not For Me. I don’t see the appeal in how it makes you feel. I like not thinking about stressful things, but I don’t like being unable to think about anything at all. I don’t like having a 5 second attention span. It didn’t calm, it didn’t quiet, it just made it really hard to concentrate and impossible to do more than one thing at a time, like walk, which I already have enough problems with. I don’t enjoy feeling like my reactions are on a time delay and my density has increased a hundredfold. The muscle twitching either stays the same or strangely got so much worse. The cramping and sleeplessness and headaches are all still there.

So medical marijuana gets a big ol’ F. More power to you if it works out for you and your symptoms, I completely support you. Even if you just want to get high and watch cartoons, I support that, too, and I’m really trying hard to work on that whole ‘pot smokers are losers’ mindset from my childhood, I promise. Just don’t smoke it around me, please, because it stinks.

*This is actually technically absolutely true and did not need a qualifying statement.

**This is actually also totally true. I guess I just feel like making asterisked statements for no reason today.

***Also not helping, the fact that people who smoke pot but still have their shit together DON’T TEND TO TALK ABOUT SMOKING POT ALL THE TIME. So you don’t know they smoke and the visible perception of pot smokers as a collective is just the stupid loud people. Just like with religion and politics, really.

***Skyhigh, the LEAST RIDICULOUS ONE. Think about that, stoners. A MADE UP NAME WAS LESS SILLY.

Not even going to mince words here.

Fuck everything about this image. Fuck the message it conveys, fuck the people who made it, fuck the president of the stupid fucking website it came from.

suffering is not beautiful
suffering is not beautiful

I’ve ranted about this before. And I will again. Because every time I hear something like this, every time I see something like this, I am filled with a rage indescribable in its intensity. I am sitting here, sobbing, because I’m angry. Because I’m afraid of someone thinking they have the power to make this decision on my behalf. And because I can’t make them understand. Short of committing an act of extreme violence or wishing something horrible to happen to a loved one to present them with the opportunity to reconsider their opinion, I am completely unable to make them understand how fucking HATEFUL this is. I want you to look at a dying woman with inoperable cancer and tell her how lucky she is to participate in the passion of Jesus Christ.

In my rage, I typed, “Let me stick a knife in your guts and then while your stomach acid digests you from the inside out, you can tell me how beautiful your suffering is.”

There is no grace, no beauty, and no “opportunity” inherent in terminal disease. There is nothing beautiful about starving to death because you’re unable to eat. There’s nothing graceful about shitting your bed every day. There’s no opportunity to be found while trapped in a shell of meat you’re unable to control, no opportunity when you’re in a hospital bed wracked with pain that the strongest drugs can’t touch, no opportunity while your memories and self slip away until you’re nothing but a meat robot that looks like someone your friends and relatives used to love.

We FIND grace, beauty, and opportunity in dying because we must. Because we have no choice but to laugh at pain, to smile at death, and to accept. Because we can not fathom a world in which suffering is for nothing and pain has no reason or purpose. And when all hope for life is lost, we find a new hope in allowing an end to the torment. In accepting our own death, at last, we find grace in deciding when your limit is reached, beauty in allowing the suffering to end, and opportunity to end things on your own terms, in your own way, in your own time.

Enjoy the life you live, that you are allowed to have such a hateful opinion because you have no idea what it’s like to be close to someone who wants nothing more than a quick end to their inevitable, pointless suffering. Praise Jesus that you don’t have the opportunity to make this decision for yourself because you’ve still got a life ahead of you. And enjoy that you have the opportunity to think you are entitled to make this decision for others.

Because you don’t.

You really fucking don’t.

Clinic Day

Sorry it’s been a bit of time; life has been…interesting. Last Monday I had a Clinic Day. My brother Gecko kept me company. It went like this!

Appointment 1 : Respiratory Therapy

I’m grateful that this was the first one. This one sucks the most. It involves inhaling as much as I can, and then blow out hard and fast into a plastic instrument, and then…keep exhaling. It’s like… I don’t even know what it’s like. It sucks. Try it. Inhale as much as you possibly can, plug your nose, and then blow out hard and fast and keep exhaling for like, a count to five. Feel light headed, don’t you? Now do that two more times. While someone is yelling at you to keep going. She gave me a little plastic clamp to go over my nose while I exhaled to make sure that no air escaped that way. “You are Master of the Nose Clip,” she pronounced. I’ll try very hard to live up to the title and not abuse my newly granted power. In the end, she pronounced my breathing was healthy and normal (yay!) and gently admonished me for not doing the breath-stacking every single night. She didn’t seem to care that I wasn’t using the CPAP after I’d moved, but I ought to.

My brother has video of me doing the breathing exercise. I have to be nice to him from now on or he’ll publish it.

Appointment 2 : Speech Therapy

This appointment was to make sure my swallowing and speech was still as normal as I felt it was. She watched me eat a shortbread cookie, and drink a swallow of soda. It’s weird to have someone watch you intently while you eat, and weirder to have them put their hand on your throat to feel you swallow. It’s like..you start to wonder how you normally do it. But I passed her tests and was pronounced normal. Hooray for me.

So the two things that will kill me have not started to happen yet. This is good.

Appointment 3 : Neurology

Dr. Goslin was out, so I saw her colleague instead. She was very nice and knowledgeable. We ran through the normal strength tests, which she pronounced good, but yes, there is weakness in my hands, but the PT person would know better about that. I’d started a conversation with Dr. Goslin to maybe FINALLY work out what’s been causing my daily headaches for the last oh, 25, 30 years and part of my time with Dr. Sax was spent continuing that talk. Dr. Goslin and I had concluded the next step was going to be to try amitryptaline, which is not only can prevent migraines (yay!), but might help with the daily headaches, and also was a mild antidepressant, and ALSO might help me sleep. (sidenote: holy crap has it ever, but that’s another post) We were taking me off of Wellbutrin last time, and we didn’t want to start a new one until I was off of that. So we put that scrip in. I was disappointed I didn’t get to see Dr. Goslin, but she’d been on call all weekend and I totally get the need for a freakin’ day off. She’s got a lot going on. I was also directed to get another blood check to make sure Rilutek isn’t eating my liver (it isn’t).

Appointment 4 : Social Work

Rachelle the Magnificent was my social worker for this appointment, and she had in tow the new director of Assistive Technologies. We had a talk about caretakers and resources, and a lot of other things that gave me much to think about. I fortunately have a lot of time for things, and can coordinate a lot of it myself, but I really do need to have things officially in place sooner than later. We talked about a follow up appointment so she can see my new apartment and see its accessibility. Gecko had some questions of his own answered. Yay!

Appointment 5 : Physical and Occupational Therapy

The two women I worked with in this session were familiar faces, one of them being the PT I was seeing while we were trying to figure out what Godzilla Disease really was. We measured my strength some more, which was predictable results: feet are nearly useless (I can only juuuuuuuuust wiggle my big toe now) and they tend to turn in at the ankles because my tendons are tightening up due to lack of stretching. There’s no muscle there to pull them to stretch. I have a manual stretching exercise that is supposed to help somewhat. Calf strength is going, thighs are still strong. 5s all around on the upper torso, except my left hand. She had me stretch my fingers out and resist while she tried to pinch them together, and they weren’t able to resist much. I still have full range of motion, but there is a measurable loss of strength there – 4 of 5. I am in an every day fight to not let this freak me out. She watched me walk down the hall with my braces on, and with the walker I was borrowing from the ALS loan closet. She agreed I am MUCH more stable with the walker which, on the one hand? No duh. But on the other hand, it’s nice to have it confirmed that I not only FEEL more stable, I AM more stable and less likely to fall.

The occupational therapist measured my grip strength (again, doing something hard while a woman yells at you HARDER! MORE! HARDER! is a surreal experience). She asked about my struggles with daily tasks I’d noticed popping up, and I was making a considered effort to be open and honest and accepting the help she offered. I admitted the toilet in my apartment is CRAZY low (seriously other people have told me so, too) so she offered a toilet frame with bars I can use to haul myself up. I said okay. She offered a shower chair. I said okay. The Zombie Tramp house had a seated shower, so I hadn’t needed such a thing before, but I accepted this for my new place. I don’t need it yet, I can still shower standing, but I lean against the wall when I do. A chair might be easier. She also gave me a couple of pieces of something called Dycem (registered trademark) which is a flexible grippy plastic sheeting that I can cut up and put where ever I need extra grip, like a piece across the back of my phone so I can hold it easier, use a piece to grip jars to twist them open, wrap a glass in it so I don’t drop it, etc. She said once I start using it, I’ll find a million uses for it. She’s probably right.

Appointment 6 : Nurse

The nurse on staff is a lovely woman, I like her a lot. She was basically just there to tell me that if I needed them, they were always around. She gave me the wrap-up paperwork, and said that after the next and last appointment, I was free to go.

Appointment 7 : Registered Dietician

You know how when the dentist asks how often you floss, and you lie, and you both know you’re lying? Yeah I was avoiding that with the dietician, so when she asked how much water I drink a day, I admitted that no, I don’t drink water. At all. I hate the way it tastes (water does TOO have a flavor). I also admitted that I eat like crap and don’t eat breakfast usually, unless you count an energy drink as breakfast, heh heh.

She does not.

There’s not a lot of dietary advice that comes with ALS, because you’re pretty much encouraged to eat whatever you feel like and don’t try to lose weight. She made me promise to swap out ONE soda a day with a glass of water instead. And for heavens’ sake, EAT SOMETHING FOR BREAKFAST. She gave me a cookbook of easy to chew, easy to swallow foods, which she said I do not need to take now, but it has really interesting information about what physically goes on when you swallow, and some other tips in general. So I went ahead and accepted it now, even though I absolutely do not need it yet because my swallowing is fine. It has a recipe for stroganoff in it though, and it made me really want a good beef stroganoff. mmmmm.

And then, after stopping in the lab for the blood test, I was free to go!

Wrap up

No surprises. I’m happy to have it medically documented that my breathing and swallowing are still fine. I’m discouraged about the hand strength loss of course. By ‘discouraged’ I mean ‘freaking out’ but I’m learning to cope. I have a lot of people around to help me out and so far my typing is still awesome. So as long as I can game, we’re good. I’ve since started the amitryptaline, and it is KICKING MY ASS. I have been sleeping SO HARD the last two days, and it’s near impossible to wake up. I hope that evens out. We’ll see. My blood test came back fine, my liver is not imploding. Yay. I have a followup with Dr. Goslin in August, and my next Clinic Day is in November.

So that’s the update!

Chemical Defendants, See.

I imagine a lot of people out there share my weekly regime of tipping pills from many bottles into little plastic containers that mark the days by day and night. Times were, I took nothing (though my recurrent anemia said I really ought to be taking iron, and my living in Oregon says some vitamin D would be good). Occasionally I’d get a wild hair and buy some supplements and taking them maybe a week or two before I tired of it. I don’t have the luxury of tiring of it and setting the pills aside anymore, so once a week, I pull many bottles off of the apothecary shelves, and count them out into little daily pods.

Drugs, man

9 in the morning. Gabapentin (twitches/cramps), riluzole (the only ALS drug), buproprion (for depression), armodafinil (for energy), citalopram (for anxiety), ranitidine (for heartburn caused by these pills), vitamin D (for missed sunshine), coconut oil (because maybe it helps, studies are out). Usually magnesium (for muscles and nerves), but I’m out of it just now.

At 2PM, another gabapentin.

When I get home, another riluzole and buproprion. Also vitamin C, iron, and a multivitamin (because you know why). Yes that is a children’s chewable. Deal with it.

At 10PM, another gabapentin.

5 of these are to deal with effects of ALS. One is to counter the effects of the drugs I take to deal with the effects of ALS. And then supplements, because my body needs all the help it can get. So many pills, and I have never calculated how much this costs me per day. Maybe I ought to. I’d probably be afraid. And then there’s the three optionals I have; cyclobenzaprine (for really bad headaches and stress tightness), lorazepam (for when I start to freak out), and zolpidem tartrate (for when I can’t sleep). I don’t take those very often. The cyclobenzaprine (flexeril) is an emergency maneuver – I’m prone to headaches and this is for when they last for days and for fucks’ sake I just want to relax and sleep. The lorazepam (ativan) is usually taken as a preventative when I am going in to a stressful situation (why hello, legal paperwork regarding my death) or when I have panic attacks. And I’ve had the zolpidem tartrate (ambien) on prescription for ages because I sleep for SHIT. But I rarely ever take it, one bottle of 30 of them lasted me nearly 6 months. They’re also an emergency maneuver (hello, trying to fall asleep with CPAP for the first time), reactionary rather than preventative.

And there is another one out there. A possible addition to my chemical combination.

It’s called GM604. There has been a very limited trial, it’s still crazy early, but they’ve shown it to slow the progression of the disease, and even one specific trial showed a minor return of ability. As you might expect, there are a lot of people trying to get it fast-tracked through FDA approval. There’s a petition here, and a Google Group here. The company producing it is called Genervon, which sounds like something Transformers use to make new Transformers. They’ve been keeping the world aware of their progress through press releases.

At the moment, Genervon is awaiting a decision from the FDA. If they’re approved, GM604 will be available and covered by insurance. If they’re not, they must continue through Phase 3 trials, which even at an accelerated rate that the FDA has promised will still take 3 years. Which means most of the people alive with ALS today will not live to see it. There really hasn’t been enough evidence, though, that it works. There’s enough evidence to prove that they should keep studying it, and have further trials, definitely. But not enough to prove it works.

The MS/ALS news magazine, the ALS Therapy Development Institute, and The Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins (yeah I totally cut and pasted that from the website) and many many others are watching this with cautious optimism, but not committing to either endorsing or condemning the drug. They want more trials to make certain it’s safe.

“Wait and see.”

“But we QUITE LITERALLY DO NOT HAVE THE TIME TO WAIT,” says just about everyone with ALS or caretaking someone or in the Silk Circle somehow. “GIVE US THE DRUG.”

“We don’t have enough tests to prove it’s safe,” says the FDA.

“What’s it gonna do,” ALS peeps say, “kill us!?”

And so the world waits. Maybe this is a miracle drug. It’s certainly not a cure, but it may be a substantial step.

Next stop: someone stealing the formula from Genervon and producing it in Mexico. Cue many, many ALS peeps taking vacations in Mexico. Because they just want to live awhile longer and will risk anything to get it. Their life is literally on the line.

I don’t know how I feel about it either way, to be honest. My progression might be slow enough that I’ll live to see the results of that trial. But I also fully identify with wanting to take a chance, if it means more time. More ability. More quality of shortened life. I’ve already said I would participate in trials, and I meant it. If I can create clinical data for this drug by taking it and checking in with doctors, sign me up. If it kills me faster, well, now you have a data point. And if it doesn’t, you also have a data point. From a medical trial standpoint, you win either way. From my standpoint, I might come out better than I went in. Or I might die, which I was going to do anyway. I definitely want to see more testing. Either controlled by the FDA or released into the wild and see what happens.

I’m excited that there is SOMETHING happening, in any case. Even if it’s potentially one more pill in my cases.

Beautiful Kitten Fish, Sleep Baby Sleep

I have a very romantic weekend planned. While everyone is eating expensive dinners and watching 50 Shades of Sexual Assault this Valentine’s Day, I will be having my second sleep study. We’re going to try me on CPAP as I’ve said before, and it’s likely I’ll get one of my very own. It’s better than chocolates and roses any day!

…I should note that Valentine’s Day means nothing to me at all. Lest you think I’m actually bitter.

I will call the pulmonologist and make an appointment today, they’ll want to know the results of the study before we get started with equipment and everything. I’m hoping it all helps with the exhaustion and whatnot, I’ve been having a REALLY hard time waking up this last week or so. It might be the med change; we’ve upped the dose of Adderall from 10mg to 20. I don’t know that it’s doing a better job than the Nuvigil did, honestly. But we’ll see.

Sleep’s been kind of elusive these days, but that can be written ENTIRELY off to stress. I’m packing for real, now, and going through things to give up for the garage sale. It’s three times as difficult as it should be – I have to fight my inherent laziness, the high cost of physical exertion that ALS brings, and it’s just..SAD. It’s depressing as hell to go through my things with this air of finality. It’s moreso than the usual “Meh, I don’t need this” when you move, it’s “I will probably never have another use for this at ALL and I don’t want someone else to have to deal with it when I’m dead.” So it makes me tired and maudlin and my brain won’t stop even if I’m physically tired. I have a ton of people on standby who will help me pack if I ask, but they can’t go through my things for me. That’s my sad and lonely duty.

Also, I’ll be honest, the thing with the news article about my work and ALS has stressed me right the fuck out. And that conversation continues on my work’s internal news site.

Work stress, too, was about ALS recently.

Life seems entirely about the stupid disease lately, and it’s all stressful, and it’s really hard sometimes to not just curl up and sleep and avoid it all for awhile. I just don’t have the time to indulge in that. It hasn’t beaten me, not by a long shot, I still know everything’s going to be just FINE, goddammit, but it’s harder right now. It’ll calm down and be okay in a bit, but all I see for awhile is deadlines and packing and expenses and pressure. And while I’d like to just sidestep all that, and play Skyrim instead, I know I can’t, and it will be so much worse for me if I even try.

And so I will continue to work, and pack, and sort, and not sleep very well, and spend too long in the mornings lying in bed and snuzzling my cats instead of getting up and getting dressed for work. For now. For awhile. Not forever. There will eventually be an end to the work, and most of this stress, and I’ll be allowed to properly sleep.

Bloop bloop bloop bleep bleep.

Learning New Can’ts.

Every day is a voyage of discovery.

I have recently discovered that I can no longer stand up from a seated position without either swinging my arms wildly in front of me for counterbalance, or using my hands to lift my butt off the seat and pitch forward. I have also discovered that I can’t go in to my backyard when it’s muddy anymore, not even to close the shed door because it’s raining hard and the floor inside is getting soaked, because I WILL fall in the mud and bend my umbrella and muddy the hell out of my hands and knees AND lose the freaking key for the shed lock somewhere in the grass. I have also discovered that I can’t step over the threshold of my house without pulling myself up on the door frame or something. Stairs are becoming akin to mountain climbing.

I’ve had two proper falls since the last Amtrak one. I fell on a wet inclined driveway with mulch while getting out of a car. That didn’t hurt too badly except for very nearly ripping my middle fingernail off. That really sucked. And then I had a fall in my driveway while carrying things inside the house. It was my own fault, I was carrying things with both hands and I have recently discovered that well, I should not be doing that. The fall wasn’t horrible, I didn’t break anything, just skinned the hell out of my elbow and landed on my foot wrong enough that my big toe was a solid bruise for a few days.

Lessons learned.

On the plus side? My arms are fucking BUFF now.

I had my follow up appointment with Doctor Goslin last Wednesday. We mostly talked about meds, new insurance, and stupid administrative crap. She checked my strength in my thighs and hands and arms and was satisfied with the rate of decline – there wasn’t any. My calves, though, are basically devoid of useful muscle now and my feet are done. When I don’t wear shoes in the house, my feet just drop on the floor with each step – I call it froggy feet. I don’t walk down the stairs so much as clomp.

The last time I saw her, she recommended a sleep study to see if maybe my exhaustion was in part because I don’t sleep well. The sleep study found mild sleep apnea – no surprise, it runs heavily in my family – but nothing to explain the lack of energy. I’ve got a follow up study on Valentines Day, how romantic! And I’ve been referred to a pulmonologist to see if they have any recommendations about that, but I’ll probably be getting a CPAP machine. It will help with keeping my lungs strong, if nothing else, she said. I can see that. I have no idea how the cats are going to handle it. It doesn’t make so much noise once it’s on your face, but still.

Today, we start the voyage of discovery that is med changes. I was out of Nuvigil about a week before I had my appointment with her, and OH MY GOD the difference. I went straight back to sleeping 18 hours on the weekends and nearly falling asleep at my desk all the time. I went home from work and crawled in to bed with my laptop and passed out at like 9, those nights. Because this is a new year, new insurance, she tried to prescribe me adderall again, and gave me samples of Nuvigil just in case.

Insurance denied the adderall. But not a blanket denial! Just..she had prescribed one to two a day, and they only covered one. It’s the second to lowest dose of it, and I was only ever going to take one anyway, but it took a couple of days to sort it out. And by couple of days, I mean I just got it yesterday. Today’s the first day, we’ll see what happens.

It’s a world of flux and change, even if I have the answers. I know I’m going to lose my ability to walk, but it’s a question of when, and discovering daily the new can’ts. I discovered that I can’t function without some sort of energy med. I don’t have an answer why not, yet, but it’s a new can’t.

But sometimes can’ts are not a bad thing. I can’t do this on my own, because I have people who love me and won’t LET me. I can’t stop moving forward, even through all of the can’ts, because I have so many people carrying me.

I can’t stop believing things are okay, because I know they will be. They’re gonna SUCK and be full of more can’ts than I could ever imagine, but somehow, it’ll be alright. Things will work out.

It can’t happen any other way.

Checking Up With DocGos!

Man, I can’t even tell you how busy – STUPID busy – I’ve been. Sorry. I should have posted this one ages ago (last week) because it’s a quick check in.

I had another check-in with Doctor Goslin last Wednesday. It was a strength check, a meds adjustment check, and a general well-being lookover. I’d messaged her earlier with some concerns about my energy levels and OH MY GOD that became a whole thing because my insurance decided to be awful.

So, my energy levels have been in the toilet. Seriously in the toilet. Friday nights I was going to bed around 11, my usual bedtime. And sleeping until 2 in the afternoon. And then taking a nap at 5 until 8. And then back to bed at midnight. During the six hours I was awake, I accomplished nothing. Not even ‘played a video game’ “nothing”, just…stared at the internet and/or watched tv shows I’ve seen a million times and know by heart “nothing”. I like sleep, don’t get me wrong, and I’ve historically spent entire weekends sleeping a whooooole lot. But it’s not something I’m doing for enjoyment anymore. I sleep because I’m THAT freakin’ tired. Unfortunately I’m not really in a position to be able to waste time.

So as I posted before, she called me that evening and we set things up to get me a scrip for adderall. It’s a controlled substance – because let’s be honest, it’s legal meth – so I had to wait for a physical prescription could be mailed to me. We also started me on a low dose of Celexa to supplement the Wellbutrin I’m already taking for depression, because Celexa has better anti-anxiety properties and my fatigue COULD be caused or at least exasperated by depression. I got the scrip, took it in to the local Frederick Meyers..

…and was told Cigna wouldn’t pay for the adderall because they don’t approve of its use in people over 19 years old.

Thus began the Dance of the Morons, where we appealed, they said no, Dr. Goslin tried to clever her way around the restriction, and was shut down again because they do not cover adderall as a treatment for fatigue in ALS patients. But they WILL cover it for MS patients.

MS IS A FREAKIN SISTER DISEASE YOU JERKS. THEY ARE VERY SIMILAR.

Only mine is a guaranteed death sentence, but whatever.

SO they said no every possible way they could in response to every single way we tried to weasel through it. In defeat, during our checkup appointment I was given samples (a lot of samples) of a drug called Nuvigil, which is for sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and shift work disorder.

…I didn’t know there was such a thing as Shift Work Disorder either.

It’s diagnosed for people who work widely varied shifts, like nurses, to stay awake when they are working crappy hours. Just like it says on the tin. Anyway. Yeah. She gave me samples of that. We also doubled my Celexa dose, to be slowly ramped up over two weeks.

We also checked my strength, and she saw no change at all since I saw her two months ago. This is AWESOME. Super slow progression FTW. As she put it, she’d very likely be seeing me for years and years to come. Yayyyyyyy <3 During the visit we also chatted a little bit about assisted suicide, but that...that is its own post. That's been brought up a lot lately, and I want to talk about that. Later though. Later. So in the end of the appointment, she was really happy about how well I'm maintaining my strength, and she saw no reason to see me for another three months (but I'm welcome to email her with questions or concerns of course). I had been scheduled for a clinic day soon, but she canceled that because I don't need it. I started the Nuvigil the next day, and it seemed like I was a little more awake. Friday, a little better. Saurday? I slept until 9AM, screwed around on the internet for awhile, wrote that last emotionally draining post, and then took a nap from noon to two - because I WANTED to. And then I went through my closet and got rid of two bags of clothes, cleaned all the catboxes, tidied my room, went through some things in my office....SUPER productive day. I felt pretty normal. So, Nuvigil is awesome. I'm not sure what we're going to do about that in the long run. We'll figure things out. She always does. So that's the haps, man. I'm doing good. Meds are helping me retain a normal level of activity, my strength remains unchanged, and life is pretty freakin' great.

When I say Amazing, I mean Amazing.

I gush a lot about Dr. Goslin. BECAUSE SHE IS AMAZING. But, I’m also prone to hyperbole. I get it. You might think I’m exaggerating. But here’s this thing that happened.

Lately, I’ve been having a few more rougher days than usual. Some depression is absolutely expected with a terminal diagnosis. Duh. And I was on antidepressants before I was even diagnosed, because broken brains run in my family and I am no exception. But this last couple of weeks I’ve been more prone to let things get to me, like the Ice Bucket Challenge haters, and slight arguments turn into self-hate sessions, and I am just having a hard time with things right now. In addition to this, things are harder to do, physically. They’re taking a lot more energy than I would think. I’m tired all of the time. And I don’t know if I’m tired because I’m depressed, or if I’m depressed because I’m tired? But everything seems so much harder than it feels like it should be. Friends and family have noticed, and my little brother has mentioned several times joking-but-not that I should ask my doctor for some Adderall. Maybe I’d have the energy to get things done and cleaning won’t be a herculean task that wipes me out for the entire next day.

Monday was a holiday, and a classic Depression Day with lots of sleeping and moping. It carried over to the next morning, which is unusual. I’m typically over it the next day. So I got fed up with being a mopey, tired lump and that afternoon I sent Dr. Goslin an email:

We have an appointment to meet in a month, but I wanted to let you know that when we do meet, I’d like to talk about medication adjustments. I’m not sure the wellbutrin’s doing anything anymore, and I’ve been completely devoid of energy. I know some tiredness is to be expected of course, but for example, yesterday I slept from midnight to noon, ate some lunch, then slept from 2 to 7. And back to bed at 11. It’s to the point my brother told me I should talk to you about adderall or get a speed habit or something. hehe. So when we meet, can we talk about this?

I was expecting maybe an email in a couple of days to acknowledge the question, a quick “Yes, we can discuss your medications when we meet.”

Instead she called me after work. We talked for about about my symptoms, where I was at, and where I thought I should be. She asked what I’d like to do. Do I want to attack the depression, the fatigue, both? I told her I didn’t know, because, (as I said up in that second paragraph) I wasn’t sure if they were separate issues, or if the one was feeding into the other. She gave me many options, made sure I was seeing a therapist regularly, and told me about different drugs, what they did, what their side effects were; she usually prescribes another antidepressant that deals more on the anxiety side, that is a nice compliment to the Wellbutrin, would I like to try it? Additionally we COULD try some energy-producing meds, if I thought that was something I would like to try. She carefully explained all of my options, made her suggestions, and ultimately left it up to me to decide which route I wanted to take.

I didn’t even have an appointment. She won’t get paid for that time, probably. But she made the effort, she called me outside of her office hours, to talk to me and see that I was taken care of. Because she didn’t want me suffering for another month if we could start to do something about it NOW. And this is why I tell people she is amazing. And why I love her. She is one of the most powerful players in my support team and I really don’t know what I’d do without her.

So, without hyperbole and in all seriousness, Dr. Kim Goslin is the mutha-f**kin BOMB.

Let’s Get Clinical! Clinical!

Clinic.

When I was a kid, and my parents spoke of taking me to the clinic for one reason or another, my child brain heard “clink” instead. I had once heard of being in jail being called “thrown in the clink”, so my kidbrain thought my parents were taking me to jail, just because I didn’t feel good.

The concept of Clinic Day can sound a little bit like jail too. Five hours and a host of doctors and experts cycling through in a dizzying whirlwind. I attended my first one yesterday, which was primarily to get me introduced to the people who will be working with me to keep me alive and functioning as long as possible. I was warned it was long, it was overwhelming. My appointment was scheduled from 12 noon to 5PM. The long haul.

I showed up with Danielle and my older brother Gecko. They’ll be the primary caretakers of my health and my (so-called) estate, so it was important for them to know what to expect in the days to come. The practical upshot of this was that we were our own peanut gallery and amused ourselves through the day with HIGHLY inappropriate jokes. Which would have been even worse, only Lance from ALSA asked if I’d mind someone sitting in on my clinic – she’s just started her job with ALSA and wanted to know what the clinic experience was like. I said okay, since I knew there was nothing really major happening with me, and we tried our best to rein in the Your Mom jokes and gallows humor. Which is the best humor.

We didn’t always succeed, but she was a good sport.

The first appointment was with an occupational therapist and a physical therapist. Tag team! The OT was there to judge my hand strength and to see what kinds of things I can be doing differently to conserve my energy. She didn’t like that I carry my laundry up the stairs, and suggested a duffel bag that I can fill and kick downstairs, and then haul up by a rope or something once I’ve walked up the stairs. She also suggested a rolling cart for my kitchen, sitting down whenever I can, that sort of thing. She measured my grip strength with this weird metal handle device, and amused me greatly by shouting encouragement while I squeezed. “GO! GO! MORE! DO IT!” and I thought “People would probably pay a lot of money to have an Asian woman yelling at them.” And then I realized, I *am* paying her. My grip strength and arm strength were 5s all around, I’m good. My favorite suggestion of hers by FAR, though, was that I get someone else to come over and clean the litter box and hairballs so I don’t have to be on the floor. I am actually worried about my “I can do it” being overridden by my innately LAZYFACE nature – I mean, hell YEAH I’d rather not clean the litter box, but I don’t want to make someone I love have to make a special trip out to my place to scoop the freakin’ box for me. That’s dumb.

The PT was there for walking ability – I’d met her before, when I was doing physical therapy regularly before Godzilla Disease had its other name, my usual therapist had called in because it was snowing, so she filled in. She watched me walk down the hall after asking if I had any concerns. I told her I (and other people) have noticed that I lean on walls whenever I can while I walk. I’d kind of thought to myself lately that a cane would be kind of awesome to have around, something else to lean on. We tried me with a walker, which was really awkward. It’s instinctive to lean on it with some weight, but you’re just supposed to use it for balance. And while it’s awesome to have a seat that you carry around with you all the time, it just felt awkward and weird, so I won’t be using that yet. The cane, though, we had me walk with that (again – balance! not support!) and my gait was better. “You kind of..sashay without it, but you’re more stable with that.” I agreed. We tried me with two and THAT was ..comical. I mean, I don’t even get that whole two cane thing. Hikers do it. It looks dumb, and it turns out that it feels pretty goddamn ridiculous, too.

So I have officially graduated to a cane now. I am borrowing one from the ALSA loan closet (which if I have not said before? is a FUCKING AMAZING resource to be able to have, they’re awesome) but I’ll get my own. They said I can keep it as long as I want, spray paint it, whatever; I get the feeling they’ve got quite a few of them.

Speaking of ALSA, the next appointment was with Lance, with his Social Worker hat on. We talked about financial planning, and the major upshot of that was GET AN ELDER LAW ATTORNEY. It’s expensive now, but they can help me plan financially for the future care I’m going to need, and if I have tax-shelter like options, it’s better to take care of them NOW, since SSI looks back a little ways when you apply for benefits. We talked a bit about the Walk coming up, and then his time was up.

The next appointment was all about making sure I can still speak and swallow okay. This made me a little self conscious because it involves making a lot of goofy faces to make sure you can move your mouth fine – stick your tongue all the way out, now try to lick your nose, etc. With three other people looking at me. It was not helped at ALL when Gecko whipped out his iPhone like he was filming, even though he wasn’t because he loves me and I would genuinely be mortified if he posted any pictures like that. (*Author looks sternly at her brother* RIGHT??) Then she gave me a graham cracker and water, to watch how I eat and swallow. That, also, was weird to do with a total of four people watching me. She explained how the mouth moves when you eat, and how that starts to break down, when ALS progresses, and what to watch for. But I was doing excellent, she said, and everything is normal.

Then I met with a nutritionist. We talked about my weight, about my diet, about how evil prednisone is for that. She agreed that it’s not good for me to lose weight, because heavier people have better prognoses, and I’ll NEED that fat later, but I also don’t want to be super fat so I need bariatric equipment or anything, so take that in moderation. Losing weight is tricky, because the body burns through muscle before fat and…I really kind of need that. She gave me advice on what to eat, how to do portion control, and was justifiably disdainful of how much soda I consume (even though it’s diet) and was exasperated when I told her I hate water because it tastes gross. And it does. You can say all you LIKE that water has no taste but you’re a LIAR. She suggested infused water – which my work cafe has all the time, they just dump some melon or something in ice water and call it fancy. I guess I can do that. But…soda, man. Delicious soda.

Next up was Shana. <3 We were short on time for her appointment and ended up spending most of it talking about Doctor Who anyway, because Danielle is ALSO a Whovian and she hadn't met Shana yet so yeah, we totally devolved. But it was awesome. Then we met the respiratory specialist; I was gonna be cute and call her a breathologist, but that sounded familiar and it turns out it's a thing and it's a pretty dumb thing at that. So. ANYWAY. She had all KINDS of toys. There was a thing to measure my ...cough aptitude? (which is good) but I had to do it twice because Danielle is a bitch. hehe. It involved coughing really hard into a plastic kazooey thing and she said it was a good cough, but Danielle said, "you wanna do it again?" as a joke but then the specialist said, "That's a good idea". Damn her. And then we measured my lung capacity, which made me REALLY self conscious because it involves breathing out as hard as you can and keep going even after you can't. I sounded a bit like Muttley. And had to do it a couple of times. THAT one I'd rather not have an audience for again. But it wasn't as bad as the breath stacking. Oh my GoD. So! You get a thing (I walked away with fabu-less prizes!) that is a modified one of these: [caption width="800" align="aligncenter"]hurrhhhh...hurrrhhhh... BREAAAAAAATHE[/caption]

Mine is a prettier purple and collapses. It’s a mouthpiece that you clamp your lips over, connected to a tube, which is connected to that bag. You breathe in as much as you possibly can, and then squeeze MORE air into your lungs with the bag, and again, and again, and then hold all that in for five seconds. And then rest a minute and do it again. And then one more. It feels a little like the opposite of drowning? But you’re in total control so it’s not panic inducing or anything, but you think your lungs just can’t hold any more and then you squeeze more in and then again and oh my god I think I’m gonna pop and what do you mean I have to do one more squeeze oh fffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

I have to do that routine every day. For the rest of my life.

It’s to improve my lung capacity, and since ALS kills you by robbing you of your ability to breathe? I’m TOTES WILLING to put up with it. But it..dunno. I guess it was a big-ass reminder of HEY DUMBASS DID YOU FORGET YOUR DISEASE WAS TERMINAL OR SOMETHING? BECAUSE IT IS.

Next step was a quick check in with Dr. Goslin, we went over how I’ve been doing and the results of my clinic so far. We’re checking my liver again because Riluzole can cause damage and it’s no good extending my life by 6 months if I’m going to die earlier because of liver failure. We’ve got an appointment in 2 more months for an extended visit to just recheck everything and see where we’re at. It was good for Gecko to meet her, too. She did a quick strength check, we chatted just a little bit about anxiety and stress factors, and then that was done.

And it was only like…3PM with one more visit to go. During one of the waiting times, Danielle mentioned that she thought it would be more of a meeting room environment, instead of the standard doctor office with exam table that it was. “Yeah,” I told her, “I thought there’d at least be a table, so we could color.” The day was hot, and the room was a bit stuffy even before there were four bodies in it at all times.

The last visit was with a nurse. He was a very nice guy – well, EVERYONE I met yesterday was super nice and patient. His job was to talk to me about things like advance directives. He had a packet about all of that, we talked about what it would take to get the form all official – it doesn’t need to be notarized or anything, he said, just signed with witnesses who aren’t involved in the health care decisions. But just in case someone decides to fight it later, it’s a good idea to send a copy to your doctors, and everyone involved in the decision making. The only thing I ever expect would be a problem on that front is some of my very religious family might be opposed to yanking the plug when it’s time because sanctity of life BLAH BLAH BLAH just let me fucking die when it’s time.

I have faith in my posse, though, to see my wishes done.

We were done by 3:30, and I left with some lovely parting gifts – an appointment for next time, an appointment for a followup with Dr. Goslin in 2 months, an order for bloodwork to be done downstairs before I left, a loaner cane, a breathing excercisey thing (they’re called ambu bags when they’re not modified, but I don’t know if there’s a proper name for them when they’re in ALS patients’ hands after modification), and ALSO an application for a disabled parking permit.

Which, when we left, the DMV was still open so we did that so now I have a gimp parking pass! WOOO!~ Instant popularity when we go out for lunch! “Ride with me!” “NO! Ride with ME!” And I also discovered, because Danielle is ON TOP OF THINGS, that I get to skip to the front of the line when you get a disabled parking pass. I guess terminal diseases have SOME benefit, which is awesome because I was number 608 and they were serving 545.

Danielle was amazing through all of this. She kept very diligent notes, which she is transcribing and putting on our shared Google Docs drive where all of my care info is kept (like meds list, lab results, etc). I quite literally don’t know what I’d do without her. Gecko was also awesome in keeping me happydistracted and he had some really good questions. So I’m grateful that they came with me. And then we ate delicious gyros.

And that’s the story of how I did time.

Walk This Way

I’ll be in a wheelchair someday.

 

This is just fact.  It isn’t sad or depressing, maybe frustrating because I’m powerless to do anything about my own impending powerlessness. For now, I’ve got braces on my legs.  Then probably a cane, and then probably those crutches that have the arm bands.  I’m sure there’s a medical name for them.  Hang on.  Lemme Google that.  They’re called “forearm crutches”.  Well, that’s disappointingly obvious.  There are some pretty cool looking ones tho.  ANYWAY.  Tangent.  Sorry.  After the crutches will be a wheelchair.  Maybe a manual one because my arms are still really good, and maybe not, but certainly, inevitably, an electric one.  Vrooooooom.

 

Even before my diagnosis, when I was losing the ability to walk, everyone told me “you’ll have the coolest wheelchair EVER” and “You’ll have the pimpenest cane EVER”.  And I really, really plan to.  I joke about cards in the spokes and streamers, but dammit, if I’m gonna sit in the fucking thing forever, I’m going to make it a comfortable and classy ride.  And if I’m going to carry something around with me everywhere I go, it IS going to be an awesome cane.

 

A dear friend of mine was having his own sudden health crisis, and he showed up to work with a cane.  He commented that it’s a lot harder to walk with than you’d think.  I don’t doubt it.  With every step of this progression, I am having to relearn how to walk.  I had to learn to be more conscious of my foot drop so I didn’t trip over things.  With the braces, I’m having to learn to trust them not to break and not feel like I have to stoop over when I walk so I don’t lean on them.  They’re so lightweight and springy I feel like they’ll snap, but carbon fiber’s pretty hardcore and as long as I don’t go all Portal with them, I’ll be fine.

 

In said friend’s post, a friend of his commented that he hopes my friend got a really cool cane.  And since my friend is a musician, he linked this one:

 

https://www.etsy.com/listing/93330041/custom-order-walking-cane-tenor-guitar

 

….WHICH IS FUCKING AWESOME.

 

And of course, because etsy is already one of my favorite wastes of time (as evidenced by the number of things from etsy on my Amazon wishlist (thank you very much Amazon for making that feature because it is awesome (okay I think that’s enough parentheses (no, we need to go deeper (ok seriously I’m done (let’s see if I correctly close them all out))))), I poked around on that sire awhile to see what kind of cane I’d buy for myself, if I needed one right now.  And I have a lot of options, just from etsy alone.  I’ve learned a couple of things.

 

  1. People on etsy make canes that would actually, physically HURT to use for their intended purpose.   I intend to wear gloves when I have to go this route so I don’t callus the shit out of my hand, but can you imagine having to trust your weight with your hand on this? http://etsy.me/1s3I1Jt
    1. SERIOUSLY.  http://etsy.me/1sIA2hu
    2. http://etsy.me/1r4zhSp  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THAT, SIR.
  2. You can go out in to the woods, pick up a stick, put a rubber stopper on it and call it a cane.  And charge $60 for it.  http://etsy.me/1jkM0O8
    1. Or $69.  http://etsy.me/1nfS31E
    2. http://etsy.me/1r4zIvL  $87 ARE YOU KIDDING ME
    3. HOW IS THAT A CANE http://etsy.me/1s4UxaO THAT IS CLEARLY JUST A STICK THAT YOU FOUND.
  3. You can buy canes that are going to break the moment you put your weight on it.  http://etsy.me/1ory69e
    1. Or might look awesome but still look like they’ll break  http://etsy.me/1jinDuJ
    2. Seriously this one is awesome but it feels like it would snap instantly http://etsy.me/1q0FvBT
  1. And then there’s this fucking thing.  http://etsy.me/1oJr971  *makes Skeksis noises*  Channnnncellor!
  2. Also, there is such a thing as a cane cozy.  http://etsy.me/1oOK1kn  I can’t tell you how much that weirds me out.  Or explain why.  http://etsy.me/U6Ye16  Just..wow.

 

But there are really good ones out there.  A lot of solid, dependable, suited-to-the-purpose-without-being-medical-looking ones.  If I had to get one today, it’d probably be either http://etsy.me/1xErFHy or http://etsy.me/1qoL3Ds .  Or both.  One for dailies, one for Sunday best.  😀

Outfitting yourself with a cool accessory is a powerful coping mechanism, I’m finding.  I feel SO much better about my pills and pills and pills since I made the apothecary shelves with them.  OH!! I haven’t showed you that lately!  I have Apothecabinet Mark II now.  Separate post.  Yep.  It’s like consoling yourself to go through chemo by thinking about all the awesome wigs you can get and have a different hairstyle whenever you feel like it.  I have to take a lot of damned medicines, but I feel better about it dispensing them all from little awesome jars.  Yeah, I’ll have to walk with a cane eventually, but it’s gonna be an awesome accessory, besides being functional.

My chair will totally have metallic glitter paint and stickers.

6-11-14 Followup, Checking In.

I had my followup with Dr. Goslin about the prednisone and whatnot. More shocks and stabs, more with the scrapey tool against the arch of my foot, more of the “hold your arms out” pushy/pully tests. She concluded that there’s no difference between this session and the last. So that either means the prednisone is keeping me stable, or my progression is just so slow that there wouldn’t have been a difference anyway. She’s taking me off the prednisone now, and we’ll check back in a couple months to see which is the case. If the prednisone was helping, then we’ll have to talk about alternative treatments, maybe IVIG.

You can’t, of course, just stop taking a steroid. It’s a recipe for bad times. So we are tapering me off; down 30 mg from the 40 I was taking, for 4 days, and then down 5mg every four days after that until I’m done. I’m happy to be done with it. I’m grateful that the bitchy side effect never happened; as side effects go, weight gain is not that terrible. It still SUCKS, do not get me wrong, but at least I wasn’t screaming at my loved ones while I bloated up like a whale.

Dr. Goslin is still a little stumped by me. I’m just…odd…enough that she’s not comfortable putting the ALS stamp on my forehead with assurance. She’s like, 99.9999999999999999999999999% sure that’s what’s going on, but how did she put it, something to the effect of, my symptoms are exceptional outliers. So basically, “I’m really pretty sure that this is ALS, but juuuuuuuuust in case some years down the road it turns out to be something different, remember she wasn’t completely certain.” She asked that I be open to further experimental treatments as ideas occur to her.

Let’s see. The only other thing going on with all of this is that I have a cough – which may just be a cough; sometimes? You just get a cough. It’s been about a month now, though. Eeeeeeverybody in my office got some kind of plague, but I don’t think it’s that, as I FEEL okay, it’s just that I cough and clear my throat a lot. My nephew was sick about a month ago and had a cough with it, but it also had a fever, which I never had. And my coworkers and nephew are all better now. For an unrelated reason, I was checking on the various side effects that my Fistful O Meds have, trying to track down the actual culprit for the heartburn I have a lot even though I’m taking ranitidine now. I found out that one of the possible side effects of riluzole is…coughing.

I’ve been on riluzole…about a month.

I really hope they’re not related. It would be a REALLY SHITTY CHOICE, do I live for a little longer? And have a cough for my entire life? Or no cough, but dead sooner. Or potentially take ANOTHER med to counter that.

Blehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Fatty McFattersons

Rooouuuuuuuuuundabout four, five years ago, I hit what you might call “a rough spot”. End of my marriage, purchase of a house, the move, mom had a health crisis, things like that. A rough spot. And I grew up incredibly poor, so food has always been a comforting thing. Thus, I have always been…a little rounder than necessary, usually right around 160 when the charts all say I should be 140, but fuck those BMI charts anyway, I like a little curvy. But this little “rough spot” pushed me to be far heavier than I’ve ever been. I freaked out when the scales tipped past 200, did the paleo diet thing, and lost 40 pounds.

I weighed pretty close to my target weight, I had a shiny new house that needed some decorating, I looked cute, my job was going great!

And then this whole thing kicked in for real. Annnnnnd I began stress eating. And so I gained back ten pounds.

And then my little brother and his family moved in with me while they wait for their new home to become ready, and they have a little kid, and they eat a lot of processed food. I am surrounded by unhealthy food and people giving me permission and non-judgment to eat it. And it tastes good and is easy, which is why I got fat in the first place. So I eat fast food while we are out, I eat processed food smothered in ranch while I’m home, and drink sugared soda again instead of diet. And so I gained another ten pounds.

And theeeeeeennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn prednisone.

Fucking prednisone.

With the water weight gain and the wanting to eat ALL. THE. TIME. And there’s nothing around me but junk food. And so I gained another twenty pounds.

So now I’m just about back to the weight I was when I lost my shit in the first place and started hardcore dieting. I had to buy new clothes because I’d either thrown away or turned my fat pants into painting pants. I feel gross, I feel unattractive, I feel like a loser. …As I shove another handful of candy in my mouth because holy SHIT does the prednisone make me want to eat, like, ALL THE TIME. And my life is incredibly stressful right now, so I console and reward myself with delicious food. And so I gain weight.

FUCK IT – YOU ARE DYING! EAT ALL THE CREAM PUFFS. ALL OF THEM. ALL THAT EVER WERE. WHAT’S IT GONNA DO, KILL YOU? HEY IS THAT SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE? I BET IT WOULD BE AMAZING TO DIP THOSE CREAM PUFFS IN. YOU’RE DYING – LIVE A LITTLE. YOU CAN’T PUSH CREAM PUFFS DOWN A FEEDING TUBE, BITCHES. ENJOY THIS WHILE YOU CAN.

I tell myself I’ll get back on the paleo diet just as soon as my little bro and his family are out – I’ll be cooking for myself only, and I can buy non-processed shit. I won’t have someone else to cook for me, and I won’t be going out to fast food every other night anymore. I will Eat Right and Lose Weight. And I won’t be on the prednisone for much longer, so that will help a lot, too.

Except eeeeeeeverything I’ve been reading about ALS has said in big bold print that if you have ALS, YOU SHOULD ABSOLUTELY NOT DIET TO LOSE WEIGHT. Because…well….you’re not going to be able to eat, eventually, and you’re going to NEED that extra weight to live off of. And statistically, my doctor tells me, people with extra weight tend to have better prognoses.

It’s every fat girl’s dream! Not only PERMISSION, but RECOMMENDATION to stay fat!

HEY CAN I GET A SIDE OF RANCH WITH THESE FRIES?

…But I don’t WANT to be fat. Yes, food is delicious, but I really liked being able to fit into 32s. I felt healthier, I looked cute. I want to be there again. I want to be rid of this emerging double chin. I want to fit into medium girls’ shirts – I’d say small, but I’ve always been too busty for that nonsense, and I am OKAY WITH THAT – because I have some really awesome ones. My Night Vale shirts are all mediums and I miss them. I want to not sweat so goddamned much. I want to not have my shirt flip up in the back when I sit down. I want to be not so self conscious about it when it does.

I don’t want to be fat.

I have the power to not be fat. I have the self control. I have proven this. In 5 months, I lost 40 pounds. I can do it again. I just don’t know if I SHOULD. I mean, yes, eventually I will not be able to eat at all. Probably. It doesn’t always happen. I don’t think this necessarily gives me permission to eat whatever I want though. And I don’t know that hauling around this extra weight is any healthier, in the long run. It’s such a slow progression, and I can’t be fat for years and years “just in case” I start to become unable to eat.

So do I trade healthier and happier NOW for just healthier later?

I will ponder this some more, while I eat my Taco Bell lunch.

Mmmmm Baja Blast.

A Walking Pharmacy

I take ten pills, every day. In two weeks, it will be eleven, when the riluzole dosage increases.

An anti-depressant, twice a day. Riluzole. Two prednisone. Vitamin D because I live in Oregon and the sun is a rare thing. Iron because I’m always getting deferred from giving blood for low iron count. Vitamin C to help absorb said iron. Magnesium to help with the cramps. And an all-purpose multivitamin – dinosaur shape. Because fuck yeah, dinosaurs.

There are three other meds I take on an as-needed basis, ativan (which is new), ambien, and flexeril. The flexeril is for when the daily headaches I get become so horrible I just want to sleep. I don’t take that one much at all, mayyyyyybe once every other month. The ambien I’ve mostly been using because of the nighttime cramps I get. No more than twice a week, ever. And then there’s the occasional OTC pain killers for the daily headaches when they get obnoxious and I just want to take the edge off. Which is maybe once every other week, but I make a concerted effort to not take them if I can help it so as not to build a tolerance. If I took one for every headache, I’d fuck up my stomach and have no liver.

So many pills. All of them to deal with one specific aspect of the fuckery that is my body.

And speaking of bodily fuckery: of all of the symptoms of ALS, the cramps bother me the most, so far. It sucks having a hard time walking up stairs, sure, but when I am just trying to sleep and my ankles turn in and my calves craaaaaaaaaaaamp the fuck up, that is RAGE inducing. Sleep is my favorite thing. You do not fuck with my sleep. Sitting on my bed, reading comics with my cats, and a sudden random sneeze (I sneeze more often than anyone I know, and almost always in threes or fives) will cause my sides to cramp up like the worst runners’ stitch ever. A really good morning streeeeetchOWOWOWOW MY FUCKING BICEP WHAT THE HELL. I’ll sit cross legged on the floor and the muscle above and behind my knee suddenly tells me to fuck off and sit some other way. FOR NO REASON. I can just stand up, and then it’s fine when I sit back down. One time I was walking up the stairs and the back of my thigh gave the middle finger so hard I had to sit down on the stairs and wait for it to go away, which was a little embarrassing. Saturday, though, while dyeing my hair, my hands got in on the action and several times I had to stop what I was doing and press my wrists against the counter to try to unfuck my hands.

I’d hit up Dr. Goslin about the cramping in the same email as the anxiety concerns, but we got sidetracked and didn’t get back to addressing it. I sent her another email today. She responded very quickly, because she always does and is amazing, and reminded me that before we tried klonopin for the cramps (VERY BAD WOULD NOT RECOMMEND OMG), she’d mentioned neurontin. ‘It’s a medication used to treat seizures and it decreases the nerve irritability that is causing the cramps. Let me know if you want to try it. It is a very safe medication that is well tolerated except that it can make some people (but not all) feel tired or sleepy.’

And I am not sure I want to try it. And that uncertainty is ENTIRELY because of the ten fucking pills I already take every day. I have discovered that I have a real problem with this. And it’s entirely one of self-image and I need to get over myself. I’m worried about the drugs and supplements interacting, of course, but mostly it’s a problem of image – of seeing myself as Sick with a Capital S because only Sick people take so many damned pills every day, but I’m not really Sick, I just have a bit of a hard time walking so far. I mean, Sick comes later, right? It’s not now. I’m not geriatric, not clinging to a better life through chemistry. I don’t HAVE to take something for the cramps.

And I also don’t HAVE to take something for depression. I can sit around and mope and be unable to perform the simplest things like getting out of bed without a Herculean effort. That’s an option.

I don’t HAVE to take the prednisone. But it might be helping me keep some of my strength, which is helping it be JUST a hard time walking so far.

I don’t HAVE to take the riluzole. But it is extending the time I have, time while it is JUST a hard time walking.

I don’t HAVE to take the iron. I can keep getting deferred from donating much needed blood because my iron count is too low and wasting everyone’s time when I try to volunteer. And have blood like water.

I don’t HAVE to take the vitamin C. I can let the iron twist up my guts.

I don’t HAVE to take the magnesium, I can find out for myself how much worse the cramps are without it.

I actually don’t HAVE to take the multivitamin, I suppose. Or the vitamin D. I’m not sure those actually ARE doing anything, but they’re certainly not harming me and the least of my concerns. And the dinosaurs are tasty like candy.

I don’t HAVE to be a walking pharmacy and take eleven pills a day to maintain some semblance of normalcy. I am free to live without any of these things and deal with the effects of their absence.

But I also don’t HAVE to see it like that, and realize that I have the power to make my life easier in a very simple way, by just getting over myself and swallowing a couple of fucking pills.