Feed Me, Seymour

Well hello. It’s been a minute.

I’ve had a couple of doctors appointments which I guess I should tell you about, since I tell you everything. (Just about. More than I ever thought I’d tell someone. Never did I ever think I’d be telling absolute strangers about my poop. Welcome to this!) I had MRIs done to make sure there weren’t obvious physical deformities causing the problem and there weren’t – the MRI came up normal, except I apparently have a growth on my adrenal gland? because of course I do. We’ll check on that in six months to make sure it hasn’t grown. What’s one more medical problem to keep tabs on? Add it to the pile! I mean, even if it IS cancer, the fuck are we going to do about it except have a race to see which one kills me first? Winner literally takes all.

ANYway. We started down the road of gastroenterology to figure out what was going on there, and that whole appointment was a complete farce. It started out as a disaster before we even got there -literally everything went wrong in getting me out of the house and to the appointment to begin with. The first ice of the season needed to be scraped off my windshield, and I don’t have an ice scraper in the van yet (hooray for hotel card keys!), we missed a turn, there was an accident on the road causing a delay, and then we wound up going to the wrong place altogether, which was totally my fault for assuming I knew where it was. There is a huge Providence Hospital which contains many professional medical offices inside, and that’s where my urologist was, so that’s where we went. It turns out on that very same street there is a little business park next door, which is where I should have gone. It was ridiculously close but just too far to walk in the literal freezing cold. So we had to go back across to the parking structure, load me into the van, strap my chair down, drive half a block, park, unstrap, unload, get inside. I arrived 11 minutes late for my appointment and was told that exactly 10 minutes is the cut off and I would need to reschedule. She wasn’t even allowed to ask for an exception, she cheerfully told me. I had tried to call them to tell them I was running late, but wound up in a phone tree to press one for physical address, two for the fax number, and if this is an actual emergency etc. etc. and no way to speak to a human being at all. So, irritated, I conceded defeat and made an appointment for later that afternoon with a different doctor and apologized a lot to J for making him wake up at 6AM the day after Christmas for nothing and now he had to miss even MORE work because of me.

At that rescheduled appointment, the doctor was 25 minutes late coming in (because when doctors are late it’s fine), hadn’t even looked at the MRI which had been done, and so he wound up leaving the room to go do that while we waited some more. The doctor came back, confirmed that everything looked normal there and there seems to be no physical reason for my issue. He suggested a load of tests for bacterial infections, and a host of other possible issues in my guts. Also he told me to cut out caffeine and artificial sweeteners for week and see how that went. All of this can cause loose stools, he explained, so we’ll start with the basics and go from there.

All of which has absolutely nothing to do with the main problem.

In the meantime, collect a stool sample with hands that don’t work! Poop in this thing and then stand up and grab it from under you without spilling everything – you can do that right? Here’s four tightly capped containers – threemwith liquid to spill everywhere! – and tiny little spatulas to collect the sample. And gloves that you can’t put on because, again, your hands don’t work. Easy peasy!

I am legitimately afraid of the prep work that will be required when he decides I need a colonoscopy. I quite literally do not know how I’ll pull that off.

I’m sensing echoes of my treatment course with the urologist, where we try a whole bunch of stupid things that aren’t going to make a lick of difference, but at least we can be said to have tried something. And then we’ll get tothe invasive as hell tests and conclude that welp, there’s weak muscles there and that’s probably the problem. BECAUSE I HAVE A NEURODEGENERATIVE DISEASE. Because of course actually listening to me in the first place and taking into account I have a disease that’s killing all of my muscles is just crazy talk. My urologist outright stated I had no strength in my pelvic floor and then still wanted me to try Kegel exercises. YES LET’S EXERCISE MUSCLES THAT DON’T EXIST SURELY THAT WILL SOLVE EVERYTHING. My gastro apparently is focusing on the loose stool part of the equation as if somehow that’s magically going to help me retain poop. I guess the problem WILL go away once they get me constipated enough, and we’ll just ignore that that comes with its own problems. And as with my urologist, I am 100% certain that the ultimate solution is going to be surgical, it’s just a matter of waiting for the specialist to arrive at that conclusion.

So there.

This last Thursday was my follow-up with Dr. Goslin. I reported in everything that I just told you about, and she agreed that the ultimate solution will probably be surgical. And in the worst segue ever, like, “oh, speaking of surgery… ” she asked if I had given any more thought about a feeding tube.

I hadn’t come prepared to have that conversation. I repeated what I had told the pulmonologist, that I knew I was going to get one eventually, but I hadn’t really thought of it happening yet. She repeated his point about the breathing being the accelerator of the timeline; it’s not that I can’t eat on my own, it’s that my breathing is declining and is making the surgery more dangerous. She said that she really liked to strongly consider it once breathing hits 50%, and I’ve been hovering around 48% for a little while. It’s a bit different from the 40 to 20% that the pulmonologist told me. Whereas he had told me somewhere between six months and two years, she made it sound like, “so what are you doing on Wednesday?”

Even though I’ve been mulling over since last clinic, I still haven’t actually visualized that happening in a practical way. It’s an idea, not a visualization yet. It looks like I have to start that process now. She pulled out a rubber torso that had feeding tubes installed in it, to show me what to expect. She went over the basics on how to take care of it, and stressed that I’m welcome to eat for as long as I can, this won’t interfere with anything, it just needs to be flushed with water once a day. She gave me a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopied pamphlet titled “So They’re Telling You to Get a Feeding Tube”. It was written by one of her patients and was actually pretty informative. It talked about who pays for supplies, how to get supplies, recommended procedures for care, what to expect from healing, and things like that. It kind of read like one of my blog posts if I’m being honest. Without the sarcasm. I’m grateful it exists, and really, really grateful I’ve got friends who’ve dealt with them personally, both as patient and provider to answer all the questions I know will come up.

It’s an outpatient surgery, but she said they like to keep you overnight for this one, just to make sure everything’s okay. It’ll be my first overnight stay in a hospital ever. For now I’m thinking it over and tentatively making some minor plans, but nothing set in stone yet. We’ll talk about it more in depth next month at clinic. I need to schedule it around the clinical trial that I’m still participating in. It shouldn’t be that big a deal. Physically. Psychologically, emotionally, it is a Very Big Deal.

It’s just that with the catheter, this, and a colostomy bag in my future, I’m beginning to feel like a reverse porcupine. A little more Capital-S sick. A little closer to the end of the journey. It’s hard to think about. I don’t want to think about it. I’m death positive as hell but that doesn’t mean I’m in a hurry. I’ve still got a lot more to say. More I want to do. So much more food I want to eat. None of this means I can’t do those things, it’s just a reality check that my timeline is more abbreviated than I want to admit.

And that really sucks.

In the meantime, I’m going to eat all of the delicious food that I can and get remarkably fat. That’s gonna rule. March is Portland Dining Month, where a lot of local restaurants serve a special menu on the cheap, and this year I’m going to take SUCH advantage. Food is awesome. Eat something delicious on my behalf, darlings, because food is amazing and so are you.

Scars

ALS is whittling my body, and marking it as it goes.  Most of the changes to my body are slow, gradual shifts that are only noticed once the damage has gone pretty far.  Holy shit, I’ll realize one day, the palm of my hand is concave at the base of my thumb.  Huh.  My calf just tapers from my knee to ankle, instead of the graceful curve it used to have.  A slow, glacial injury without drama, but still with much import.

Some of the marks ALS has left on me were more sudden; sharp, violent signs of change.  I’m no stranger to scars – I used to self-harm as a teen, into my twenties, and what is a tattoo after all but a pattern of scars filled with ink?  Each of these little marks my disease has left me tells a little piece of my story – a concession, a loss, a search for an answer.

The first scar is the first nail in my coffin.  One and a half inches, on the outside of my left thigh.  A thin, straight line of white against pale skin, flesh tone once described as “ghost-ass white”.  I’m regaining sensation there, but for a long time it was a patch of numb skin.  I got this scar from the biopsy that sealed my diagnosis.  A little chunk of flesh taken to examine for nerve degeneration, degeneration that was confirmed and my fate thus sealed.

The second scar was First Blood. An L shaped mark behind my right side, under my rib cage. I took a fall getting out of a car, catching my flesh on the corner of the door as I went down. My first disease related injury, and sadly not the last – but so far the only one to leave a mark on the map of my body.

The third scar is two-part. A dash and a dot. The scars of my port surgery. A dot over the right artery in my neck, where a line was fished through, snaked into my system of valves and tubes and blood, and connected to a bubble of plastic that rests under the second scar. A one inch line cut and pulled apart for the port to be shoved in and connected to the plumbing. This was a violent scar but a relief to get; it’s made infusions of medicine indescribably easier. My only visible to the public scar, a surgical badge of Legitimately Sick.

The fourth scar is one of persistence. A year of puncturing the port for infusion has left a pink dot under the incision line. Scar tissue building up with each stab, eventually making the stabs less painful. A welcome scar.

I have an appointment on the 20th of May to discuss acquiring my fifth scar, the scar that will hopefully make my life oh-my-GOD so much easier. I’ll speak with a urologist actually familiar with ALS and therefore not liable to suggest that I do some motherfucking Kegels to keep from peeing myself all the time. I’ll ask for a superpubic catheter to be inserted, and hopefully get approval and a surgery date. And hopefully then I can go back to wearing clothes that I don’t have to strategize how to get out of in 30 seconds or less otherwise they get peed on. I wanna wear my shark onesie again.

I’m willing to get a scar over it.

Clinic Day

Okay kids, it’s that time again. Let’s have the update on the status of things.

My first appointment of the day was with the social worker from the ALS Association. I was introduced to a new employee, and I had been asked if this new employee could sit in with me for the whole day to get an idea of what clinic is about. I’ve had a couple people sitting with my sessions; I think I’m a good candidate for kind of easing someone into the job. I’m not so far down the road that I’m a bitter, depressing train wreck, I’ve got a pretty good attitude about things, and – as evidenced by this blog – I am not opposed to sharing. He was a really nice guy and understood a lot of the gaming and geek references that J, Gecko, and I shot back and forth with each other throughout the appointments as usual. There was nothing new to report on my part for this segment, the house search is still ongoing, the appeals for help are coming along, I’m doing okay here.

Second appointment was with Kelly the dietitian. Because she is also my friend, she had brought me birthday presents of two graphic novels from a series I adore called Lackadaisy. Happy birthday to meeeee! The official part of my appointment went smooth as usual, I received my typical good-natured lecture about drinking water instead of soda, otherwise everything checked out. I remarked to Tony, the observer, that presents aren’t usually part of appointments, but I would never be upset if they were. ALS shuld come with fabulous prizes. Or at least an administrative assistant. Kelly is incredibly thoughtful and it’s a pleasure to be her friend – not just for the comic books.

Third appointment was nursing. I had a few things to talk about here, things that would be addressed by the corresponding specialists as the appointments happened that day, but it’s always good to give the nurse a heads up so she knows what to follow up on.

Fourth was respiratory. My absolute least favorite appointment of all time. We started with the standard cough check, which is still great. Second thing we always do is check my inhale capacity, a test where I put a mask over my nose and mouth and inhale as sharply and strongly as I can. I’ve always done really well on this test. The respiratory specialist agreed with me and told me my sucking was great, upon which J, Gecko, and I did our level best to not lose our shit laughing. We are 12. The last test is the worst one, where I lean into a mask again with my nose plugged and after a couple normal breaths I forcibly exhale as much as I can and keep exhaling and keep exhaling until I feel like I’m breathing myself inside out, and then sharp inhale. I do this three times. During this appointment, the test machine said “great effort!” on all three tries, which it doesn’t always do, so I felt really encouraged. Until she told me my breathing had actually still gone down a bit. Not as dramatically as before, though. Still not dangerous levels yet, but still very much declining. I tried not to get discouraged and mostly succeeded.

Appointment number five was neurology with Dr. Olney, the new partner for Dr. Goslin. I mentioned to him the biting my tongue in my sleep thing, and how I’ve been using a night guard to get around it, and he asked me a very obvious question. “When did you start your new medication, again?” I replied it was… Right around when I started biting my tongue. Derp. It had not occurred to me at all that it might’ve been the side effect of the new medication, but when he asked that question it seemed very obvious that it was the problem. It’s still not a dealbreaker, just like the weird sleep pattern is not dealbreaker. That is the price I pay for not spiraling into a black mood at 4 AM every day, and it is worth the price of admission. I also talked to him about bladder control, or in my case the absolute lack of, as a follow-up to my previous conversation with Dr. Goslin. She had told me what my options were, and I went home and researched the mall because that’s what I do, and I had pretty much made up my mind how I would like to address this. I’m getting really sick of wearing adult diapers, they’re expensive, and they don’t always work properly and I wind up wetting the dang bed anyway, and I’m getting preeeeeeetty tired of sitting in my own pee. I have two options for a catheter, one is the traditional Foley catheter which is just a tube snaking into your urethra and a bag attached to the other end. It’s functional, but prone to infection, and for women it’s not something that is fun to have to sit on at all times. The other option, the one I’m now pursuing, is called a superpubic catheter. It’s where they punch a hole into your abdominal wall, connecting a tube through there, which drains into a bag, same as the other. It’s reversible, it’s not a horrible procedure to have to endure, and it would eliminate the need for a very uncomfortable tube in a very sensitive place. We talked about my previous experience with the urologist, how I stopped going to her because it was obvious she had no idea what ALS was. (Here’s a clue: we are not going to fix my problem by doing Kegel exercises.) He gave me the names of two urologists that have worked with their patients before and were trusted. I’ll keep you posted on how this goes.

Sixth appointment was pulmonology. The last clinic had me meeting with the pulmonologist also,and so this is a new part of the Clinic routine. My standard physician was on vacation in New Zealand (jealous!) so I had seen a practice partner. Who I actually really liked, though my regular doctor isn’t a bad guy at all; his partner has a better sense of humor is all. He had grabbed my breathing machine records from the net, because my AVAPS automatically uploads my sleep reports to the cloud and that’s not even creepy at all what are you talking about. He was overall pretty happy with my results, but still chided me about needing to use my machine for more than four hours a night to get the best results, and more than 60% of the time. I was properly chastised and promised to be better about using the machine. Which I stayed true to by the way. So far. J came over and helped me this last weekend with cleaning and organizing, and now my AVAPS doesn’t live on the arm of my wheelchair or the corner of my bed anymore, it has a proper home now, on a shelf just out of reach when I’m lying in bed. Since I have to wake up properly and sit up to turn the machine off, I’m not pulling the mask off after only four hours anymore. I also was encouraged to keep up with breath stacking. Because of course I was.

Seventh and final appointment was with PT/OT. I didn’t get to see Deb unfortunately, but I like all the specialists. We breezed through the appointments since I didn’t really have anything to report. We tried the grip meter on my left hand just for funsies, and it registered nothing at all. “…You got it to move,” she told me encouragingly. But not enough to register as a grip. Meh. I promised to hit them up when I start needing help with other things, like toileting and whatnot. I’m still doing pretty okay on my own with those things, for now. But I will be very happy when I don’t have to get up to pee anymore. I can still do the necessary things, but only having to do them once a day instead of four or five will be a very welcome change.

So that’s what we did. And that’s how it went. Steady as she goes, with nothing new to report except a 6% decrease in breathing capacity. They didn’t even have me bother talking to speech therapy this time; I never have anything to report. Oh, there is one weird thing that happened. We did the FERS scale and my self-evaluation actually had me at 32, higher than the 26 I was last time. When I got the letter afterwards, they hadofficially put me at a 30. Which is still higher than it was last time? I have another appointment with Dr. Goslin in a few weeks and I will ask her about that then.

And now you are up-to-date.