Scleroderma and Homeopathic Treatment

This post began as a Facebook post, sharing the Science Babe’s, Slate article about homeopathic medicine. Then, I started talking about my own personal experience  with homeopathic treatment for scleroderma, and here we are.
Figure investigating box of hope.Please enjoy this scenic car ride to my point about my experience using homeopathic medicine.
In 1996, I received homeopathic treatment for scleroderma.  If you are considering homeopathic remedies for #scleroderma, #sarcoidosis, a chronic condition, or know someone who is, you may want to keep reading.
Homeopathic Hope
I have been there.  Having an incurable disease that very few doctors even know about, can feel hopeless.  I was there.  I was frightened and I needed something to believe.   Homeopathic medicine sounded promising. No one else had answers, why not?
 In 1996 I worked with one chiropractor using homeopathic treatments. Along with some oral selenium tablets,  she had me soak my hands in a solution of what I will call “dead fish powder”.  It was made from ground up fish bones and other stuff. Of course, my ulcers became worse. The chiropractor with a PhD in philosophy, told me the swelling meant it was working. According to her, homeopathic medicine makes everything worse before it gets better. It resulted in a MRSA infection that went undiagnosed for nine years. (And a dependence on Oxycodone/paracetamol or (Percocet). But that’s a whole other post.)
By 2005, oozing ulcers had become a normal part of my life.  Just another scleroderma complication I had learned to live with.  That same year,  my raynauds had become so acute, the routine treatment of niphedpine to relax the muscles surrounding the artery to my left thumb. offered no relief.  I was instructed by my rheumatologist, to double my dose  of niphedipine at home.  He did warn I could get a headache, which is short for:  Your head will feel like it’s been  hit by an RPG shaped like a ball-peen hammer.  Doctors use abbreviations all the time.
My pulmonologist suggested  Rovatio treatment for my #Raynauds. My doctor wanted to make sure my blood pressure was stable while taking it. There were very few published studies done on raynaud’s patients by 2005.  I did not have pulmonary hypertension, so my doctor monitored me 24/7 during the treatment to make sure my blood pressure did not plunge to dangerous levels, causing heart failure.  My pulmonologist had me admitted me to the cardiac wing of UCLA, and by cardiac wing, I mean The David Geffen one you have heard about. I was going to be a case study for raynauds treatment protocols.  (Oh, if I had a dine for every doctor who said he or she was going to put me in a medical journal…)  The patient across the hall had an artificial heart he carried with him in a suitcase while he waited for a donor heart. I also got to share a room with the original Colgate Girl. In my 20 years in hospitals, she was the only roommate I have ever liked. I do wish I had kept in touch.  She was a remarkably kind woman with the most entertaining stories.
Wait, what were we talking about?  Oh yeah- complications of scleroderma treated with from  homeopathic remedies.
The Rovatio seemed effective in bringing blood flow to my extremities, but there was another problem.  During that two week hospital stay, I had a MRSA flare. It manifested as swelling and oozy ulcers on my fingers, bridge of my nose and elbows. Raynauds had limited the blood flow, weakening the integrity of my skin, resulting in constant infections on my fingers. I had become so accustomed to my oozing wounds, and because information was limited regarding treatment of scleroderma, the oozing ulcers were just considered something I needed to learn to live with by doctors. Well at least those who weren’t specialists. I had to commute over an hour one way to get treatment and care for scleroderma from the VA, and three hours one-way to see my scleroderma specialist, Dr. Furst. So getting in my car every time my finger oozed, did not seem justifiable.
A few days into my hospital stay, my doctor wanted to know what the infection was, that seemed to be causing these oozing, painful wounds that appeared to be  spreading rapidly.  Ooze was swabbed and nothing grew. The antibiotics they threw at me were useless.   The infectious disease team did a thorough medical history.  They asked about the places I had been while in the Navy, and tests they did to link it to infectious diseases came up negative.  Then, my lab tests came back positive for a little infection known as MRSA.  That’s when my room became isolation.  It looked like a crime scene from the outside. Yellow tape with black writing was all over my door.   Anyone who entered my room, even to just deliver food, had to gown-up.
So the infectious disease doctors tried to nail down how I got it.  MRSA was in the news as the latest plague and it was popping up everywhere.  We discussed my wound care.   I have used band-aids  through the years.  Personally, I find them to be nice incubators for infections.  I used to wear up to three band-aids for one wound, which from a distance made my wounds less noticeable than a giant white gauze  pad, secured with tape around my fingers.  If you keep up with my blog, you would know how important it is to me that I do not appear sick.  So piling on band-aids seemed like a good idea.  They provided protection,but they can get gross from sweaty hands.   Then, there was this one time in California, when I was soaking my hands in some water I mixed with some powder I got from a homeopathic “doctor”.   I was doing it three times a day.  Apparently, soaking a hand with open wounds in ground up fish powder probably didn’t help.  It wasn’t sterile.  And it was left on my skin. and then I covered it with a band-aid, because you know- appearance.
I forgot to mention that when I was doing the fish powder treatment, I was visiting family and I was on mountains of Vicodin for swelling and drainage of the wounds in my fingers.  Of course, when I asked my homeopathic doctor about these obvious symptoms of infection, she told me not to worry.  That meant the toxins causing scleroderma were leaving my body.  Did you get that?  The lady with an advanced degree in philosophy, told me the yellow puss pouring out of my knuckles and finger tips was scleroderma leaving my body.  Eventually, I was seen by a doctor who said something about a negative stain staff infection.  Of course, he was a doctor and all he knew was how to prescribe antibiotics that made the oozing stop.  Well, at least for a while.  Eventually the antibiotics began to fail.  Ooze was just something I had to live with.  It did come and go through the years.
Looking back on the “fish powder fiasco”, I now know that my fingers were infected. maybe it wasn’t the fish power that caused it.  Maybe, it was that the infection had become so bad, it developed into MRSA.  Unfortunately, I can’t go back in time for a case study, so I guess we’ll just have to speculate.
Since 2005, I still get infections, but rarely.  When I get them, my doctors usually go straight to the MRSA meds after a usual antibiotic fails.  Depending on the stage of infection, sometimes they go right to the Vancomyacin.  nd then there was that time I had an infection in my foot, and the rheumatologist at the Long Beach VA, misdiagnosed me with osteomyelytis because she did not pay attention to my past medical history.  That was the time I was hospitalized for 45 days.  It was a misdiagnosis.  Better safe than sorry though, right?  (Yeah, I have nothing kind to say bout that rheumatologist.)
Look, I know how hopeful homeopathic medicine can sound after years of no answers for symptoms that question one’s own sanity.   And there are concentrations of the homeopathic remedies that are so weak, they have no physical effects, but do present a psychological benefit known as the placebo effect.  I have to be honest.  I have done things with crystals, that I believe helped.  Not because of the crystals themselves, but because of what I thought of the crystals.  It helped me to relax, which lowered my stress and I felt better, psychologically.  For weeks I held those crystals, or rocks in my hands, or would keep the in my pockets.   Those rocks made me want  to eat better and  exercise regularly, and wouldn’t you know it?  I felt better.  The rocks did nothing but give me something to believe in and that’s what helped me. But just because I felt better, that does not prove these things somehow cured me. I still have scleroderma and it is progressing.  I am eating well and exercising regularly.  Does it prove anything?  No, because it’s anecdotal:  A non-scientific account of my personal experience.  It does however, create more questions.
While research is going on, and  the wait for better treatment and a cure continues.  As we are learning through robust research, the homeopathic market continues to provide hope to the hopeless.  To be honest, I still spend  money on hope.  I keep it limited to things like beet juice or infused chocolate.  When recommends their homeopathic doctor, or I should take a trip to the vitamin aisle at Whole Foods, I use a mantra to help me accept the person’s advice gracefully. They do mean well.  So,  I gently say to myself and repeat until calm,  “You know what else is natural?  Arsenic, uranium and bullshit.”

Scleroderma Is A Terrible Name

Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease.  Healthy cells are mistaken for unhealthy ones, and the body attacks itself.  Not only is scleroderma a difficult name to remember, it is also a Greek word that means: hard skin.  Because of the name, people mistake scleroderma for a skin condition.

When a doctor told a patient that he or she had scleroderma, it was usually followed by a statement like: Get you’re things in order, you don’t have long.  For a long time, that was true.  Now, thanks to research, there are treatments available to help patients survive the progression of scleroderma by treating a patient’s symptoms.  Scleroderma is different with every patient.  Some have Diffuse Scleroderma or the “fast and furious killer”, or Limited Scleroderma, which progresses slowly and in spurts.  Many patients die of complications of this type.  Then, there is the overlap kind.  In addition to scleroderma, a patient  can have  another autoimmune disease like Lupus, Fibromyalgia and any of the dozens of other autoimmune diseases that manifest slowly.  Often not receiving the proper diagnosis because symptoms have not yet appeared, or the patient’s medical team does not know enough about autoimmune diseases to diagnose properly.  Often resulting in the Limbo of illness: Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, or MCTD.

I was diagnosed in 1994, at the Madison Veteran’s Hospital.  The Veteran’s Healthcare System was originally  designed for aging men.  So not only did my medical team have limited research about scleroderma at the time, I was a woman and they really had to work hard to make changes to accommodate my treatment.  They did not know I should have immediately been placed in an occupational therapy program to prevent my hands from becoming severely damaged and impaired.   They did not know to inform me about symptoms and warning to watch for, so I didn’t have to loose part of my thumb.  They didn’t know that my additional symptoms were really sarcoidosis, and not scleroderma symptoms, proven by an outside provider after taking months of ER chest CT scans to UCLA’s pulmonology department, three hours away paid for out of my own pocket and private insurance I could only receive at the time because my husband and I owned a small business, and as an employee could not be turned down because of pre-existing conditions.  Yes, many people I met in the 1990’s are surprised to still see me alive.

Now that denying insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions is now against the law, patients with scleroderma are receiving life-saving and life-extending treatment, but many patients in areas that are not near a major city like Los Angeles, Chicago and Minneapolis, patients are still getting misdiagnosed and dying because of it.  How do we solve this problem?  With medical provider education and patient education.  Of course, money is the biggest help because that funds research and treatment.  All of these things are happening, but we can do so much more.  Scleroderma needs better marketing.

T-shirts and teal bracelets are not enough.  A pretty color, a shirt  and accessories is not enough.  Scleroderma needs a new name and  I have the perfect name.  One that embodies the surprise of the uncommon scleroderma symptoms. A name that expresses the pure frustration of scleroderma patients, in addition to the terror they feel when they experience trouble doing something we all do without thinking; like swallowing and breathing.  I think you will agree this name, fits.

Scleroderma needs to be renamed, “Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot”.

It’s easier to say, easier to remember and let’s face it, you can’t forget it.  It’s obvious why, but I’ll explain it in one simple sentence. It’s easier to Tango or Foxtrot after some whiskey.  (By the way, did you know there are two ways to spell whisky?)   Not everyone likes whiskey, but who doesn’t like dancing, or watching someone dance?  See how easy that is?  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.  Rolls right off the tongue.  So let’s not just raise awareness, let’s educate and get the word out about this debilitating, progressive  and degenerative disease called scleroderma and rename it Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.  Because I know when I first heard the word scleroderma the first thing I said was, “sclero-what?”.  End sclero-what today, because the best way I know how to express what scleroderma has made me think of the most is, “WTF?”

 

Scleroderma

What did you think of when you first heard scleroderma? This sums it up for me

 

Scleroderma Project: Beneath The Surface, Should be Seen by Everyone.

 

The title of my last post is, “I Hate The Documentary, Project Scleroderma: Beneath The Surface”.  I thought about changing the title, but I have decided to keep it, and follow up with this post.  I take you on a scenic route to my point, so feel free to jump to the paragraph that is headed in bold type, for my point.    There is nothing simple about scleroderm.  Every patient is different.  

The documentary itself, is a labor of love by those who created it.     I have seen clips and is very well done.  This documentary

See Project Scleroderma. Learn about scleroderma and share link with friends.

is needed because it informs and educates.  What I may have failed to relay in the last post, is that in addition to my denial,  I hate the lack of education throughout the medical community.    And then there is the issue of  spell check here in this Word Press program, that insists on auto-correcting scleroderma to sclerosis.  I’ve been acutely ‘aware’ of scleroderma for over twenty years.  To say that I am beyond frustrated about how little people know about scleroderma, is an understatement.  Luckily there are people who care enough to donate their time and money to amplify the voices of those with scleroderma.

For twenty years, I have been raising so-called awareness.  Friends and family “like” my blog’s Facebook Page, but never share my posts.  I wouldn’t mind that so much if they weren’t so quick to share every Bible verse or “Save the Tatas” meme.  I haven’t had the guts to say this to friends and family, until now.

Dear Family and Friends,

Thank you for asking me how I’m doing and offering to help out, but I would really appreciate it if you would follow up with action like sharing things from my blog- or at least reading it.  These memes that you post like “Share if you agree cancer sucks”, seem nice.  But I think we can all agree you are sharing the obvious.  How about sharing something about an illness that few people know about like, oh I don’t know.. maybe scleroderma?  It’s great to see all your selfies at breast cancer runs and the swag you spent a ton of cash on, but when I post about fund raisers why is it so quiet?  Seriously all you have to do is share and donate a dollar when there are fundraisers.

There are many of you who do, but you know who you are.

XXOO

Karen

This post may be too honest, but it’s not like anyone reads my blog anyway.  I have avoided speaking out to friends and family on Facebook, because I don’t like to complain, and let’s face it:  More people have been affected by things like breast cancer.  But just because another disease gets more ink, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak up every now and then and say: Ahem.. Over here please!

Yesterday, I posted about hating Project Scleroderma:  Beneath The Surface.  And if I can express my feelings about dreading to watch the documentary spearheaded by a woman who lost her mom to scleroderma within four months of her diagnosis, it would be irresponsible of me to be honest to strangers and not my friends, family or acquaintances.  What it boils down to, I hate having something no one else has heard of.   I hate that people share something every day about cancer or God, but rarely share about scleroderma.  I hate being a scleroderma patient.

Scleroderma: Beneath The Surface, will help spread the word about scleroderma.  Every day, I am reminded that there is very little publicity about scleroderma.  I was recently told by a customer service representative at the Social Security Disability office, that her understanding of scleroderma is that it’s a skin condition.   I wasn’t rude about it, but I did explain to her what scleroderma does to a human.  That it’s far more serious than a skin condition or rash.  She was shocked, and I was encouraged by her willingness to learn.  I was both encouraged and annoyed that someone who works with disabled Americans, thought scleroderma was just a skin condition.  Just thinking about it, makes my hair hurt.

Just because scleroderma doesn’t  have the coverage breast cancer “enjoys”, I do not want to diminish how serious breast cancer is, and how its publicity has saved lives.  Of course breast cancer continues to kill men and women and still there is so much to be done.     Many organizations have made progress because of generous donations.  What I see in addition to this great work, is a new industry, and that is something I am not fond of.

We don’t have to agree about everything, but we do agree scleroderma needs to be cured.
So many wonderful  Americans,  found ways to fund treatment for patients who could not get it, with fundraising.   That is a wonderful and selfless accomplishment.  And somehow, all of these good intentions have created the Disease and/or Cause market of swag.  We all love swag.  I don’t know about you, but swag that tells me I’ve done something good gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling.   Swag needs to be manufactured, marketed and sold.  Swag has become profitable when added to big named brands.   Do you really believe the National Football League would come out with all that Pink merchandise, if they did not profit from it?

I think it’s wonderful when communities come together.  Meanwhile, many individuals who belong to these communities, complain that giving all citizens access to healthcare, no matter what they could pay, is wrong because it’s socialism.  Now, before you stop reading this post because I do argue for universal healthcare for all in The United States, hear me out.

People have told me for years that I deserve the best, because I am a veteran.  I disagree.  I deserve the best because I am a human being.  I believe all who are in the United States should have access to the care they need, not what an insurance company or government program is willing to pay for that specific care.   Sure, I’m a veteran and I have scleroderma. But wouldn’t my family feel that I deserved the best possible care if I were not a veteran?  What if I was you daughter, sister, wife, mother or child?  Would you still feel that it would be okay that  I am denied treatment because I cannot pay for it?  I am also arguing is that veterans have friends and family,  they would like to see get the medical treatment they need.  (One, two, three, what are we really fighting for?) I have had access to the greatest treatment at the time, for scleroderma after fighting in both the VA system and private sector with what was nicknamed, Golden Insurance.

When things were going well for the business my ex-husband and I owned in the early 2000’s,  I chose the company’s health insurance plan.  Back then, no matter how much money my spouse made, no insurance company could provide the comprehensive coverage I needed, due to my pre-existing condition of scleroderma, unless I was employed.  So, I worked from home and chose such a comprehensive package for our company, it was one of the many reasons our company went bankrupt.  I already had access to great care at Loma Linda Veteran’s Hospital.  The Chief of Rheumatology told us that my prognosis was getting worse.  That if we had private insurance, he would recommend me to a colleague who just happened to be the Chief of Rheumatology at UCLA Medical center.  That admission of, “I don’t know what to do next, but I’m going to find someone who might”, saved my life.  I owe my life to this great rheumatologist who knew the difference between doing what’s best for his patient, and doing only what he could.  Of course, my ticket to the land of affordable second opinions, was money.  (That reads funny to me as well, and it’s not my grammar.)

If I did not have insurance, my rheumatologist could have referred me to the West Los Angeles VA, which could have taken months.  Meanwhile, Veteran’s health Care was overwhelmed with casualties returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Veteran’s Healthcare system was already overcrowded and underfunded before two wars.  My yet to be diagnosed sarcoidosis was simply written off as a symptom of scleroderma, and nothing could be done.  So my appointment with a UCLA associated rheumatologist might have taken as long as a year to be seen.  My difficulty breathing was dismissed by local doctors and emergency departments in Murrieta and the Loma Linda VA hospital as a symptom of scleroderma.  I know this because these things were written in my medical records by whatever resident doctor in the Emergency Room was, who just happened to have little experience with scleroderma patients.  At UCLA, my biopsy was expedited because after my pulmonologist at UCLA reviewed several of my chest CT scans from other facilities, he read in the notes that I should have further testing for lymphoma.  Following the recommendations of the radiologist’s report of these scans, was a another note commenting the testing for lymphoma results was unnecessary because I had a pre-exisiting condition of scleroderma.  The pulmonologist at UCLA ordered a PET scan and the lymhnodes in my chest lit up like a Christmas tree on steroids.  There had to be a biopsy done, because everything pointed to cancer.  A biopsy of my lymph nodes and lungs were done less than two weeks later.  Granulaomas known as sarcoidosis, were found in my lymph nodes.  This discovery was huge.  My rheumatologist at UCLA ordered a medication that my Golden insurance company and Veteran’s Healthcare formulary, both required the failure of two other drugs before using Remicade.  So, my rheumatologist provided the golden insurance company evidence to support my need to skip right over the formulary, and allow for Remicade.  It took some time, but in less than six weeks, I received my first infusion of Remicade at my local hospital in Murrieta, not eighty-five miles away at UCLA.  The cost was $22,00o per infusion.  (Yes, that is a five-figure number for one dose of medication that by the way, saved my life.)

There is no way of knowing for sure if the Remicade stopped the scleroderma from hardening my lungs or the sarcoidosis from making my lymhnodes so large, I would be unable to get the proper amount of oxygen in my blood and my heart would fail.  What I do know is that eight years after my diagnosis of sarcodosis, I maintain a stable prognosis.    My treatment with a medication that was $22,000 a pop was transferred to the the Veteran’s Hospital at Loma Linda.  The rheumatologist who ordered it there, the Chief of Rheumatology presented evidence to counter the formulary restrictions, based not only what was provided to my Golden Insurance’s formulary, but my progress since the treatment began.

There is a continuity of care requirement for medications that are benefiting a patient when there is a change of insurance.  I was not able to stay on Remicade because simply because I was already on it.  There was a record the Golden Insurance company had, of the valid research backing this decision, and there was evidence that in my case, no matter what was being suppressed by this strong immunosuppressant, the drug was working.  At this time, there is no way to know of knowing what Remicade worked to fix.  I am one patient with both scleroderma and sarcoidosis.  Both chronic illnesses are rare and I have yet to know of another human with both.  My rhumatologist at UCLA, who is a leader in scleroderma treatment around the world, just recommended what he thought would be best, based on research that existed at the time and his experience.  (The world reference is not an understatement. My doctor is **Dr. Daniel Furst.  Go ahead.  Google him.  We’ll wait…)
But what does this have to do with a documentary about scleroderma?
I live in Southern California.  My location alone, allows me access to doctors who have experience with scleroderma, and/or who are actively overseeing and doing scleroderma research.  The Veteran’s Hospitals in highly populated areas like LA and Loma Linda are teaching hospitals where young minds go to learn and make progress in treatment and diagnoses because they are med students working with those who teach, do research and have mountains of experience and work, they can build upon to improve care.  Teaching hospitals are where progress in treatment are made, and save lives.   UCLA doctors and faculty are the specialists who see patients at the West LA VA.  Not everyone has as good an outcome as I have had.  I am aggressive when it comes to my care.  Being able to fight for my care, and get it, has a lot to do with my location.  If I lived in Bakersfield, I would have to drive, or take a bus provided by the VA, to see doctors at the West Los Angeles, VA.  Why do I know this?  Because there are not enough facilities for veterans to get the care and specialization they need in Bakersfield.  They travel to LA.  This is nothing unique.  When I lived in La Crosse, Wisconsin, I had to travel three hours by car, one-way to get the care I needed.  At one time, I lived across the street from a hospital that consulted with the Mayo Clinic.  Yet I still had to drive three hours one way to see a rheumatologist my VA Healthcare would cover.

Doctors need to be educated, and get the most current information and resources available to treat their patients.  Patients should not have to cut medication in half so they can get almost the right dose they need, to save an insurance company money.  In fact, insurance companies are the consumers to pharmaceutical companies.  The statement: “Cutting medication decreases the cost to the consumer”, is incomplete.  Sure, it does cut the cost to both patient and insurance company.  Production of medication using the same dosage, increases the profit a pharmaceutical company makes because it does not have to pay for the production costs of a smaller dose of the medication.  So we’re inconveniencing and sometimes hindering the care of  patients to save a buck.  Someone has to make a sacrifice, and it’s going to be a company who answers to shareholders.  The company or insurance company does not serve the consumer (patient).  It serves the bottom line and it’s shareholders.

From my perspective, medication is viewed as a luxury item, by those who don’t need it.  Medication is not a luxury item.  Medication extends, improves and saves the lives of We The People.  Should anyone be denied lifesaving treatment, simply because they cannot afford it?  No, but this has become The American Way.  Because providing healthcare to all that is paid for by the Federal Government would be socialist.  Yet aren’t we entitled to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”?  No, because for some reason it has become the norm to deny people medical treatment they are unable to pay for, and allow them to die.  Wait, I know the reason.  It’s because we want the freedom not to pay for people less fortunate, like those who are sick and disabled, taking advantage of hardworking Americans.  People have limited access to treatment and qualified practitioners.  When something the government creates to help those who need medical care but can’t afford it, many companies who benefit by profiting on expensive medication, spend millions to stop expanding care to people who can’t afford care.  Not because they are cruel, but because it’s in the best interest of the shareholders.  A company cannot be cruel or compassionate.  It is a company and exists merely to earn a profit, no matter how helpful they appear.  (Companies are not people, my friends.)

Finally, my point:
Scleroderma Project:  Beneath The Surface, needs to be seen to show that swag is not what patients need.  Sure, swag is nice and don’t we all look good in pink or teal on Instagram at the most recent Race for The Cure?  I’m tired of swag.  I’m tired of merchandise.  Why is it that the disease with the best lobbyists gets all the funding for research?  I would love to see less people dressed in a color for their cause, and more money going straight to research for their cause.  I don’t hate the documentary itself.  I hate what the United States has become and that we need to show people suffering slow, painful deaths to prove that research for scleroderma needs funding, and is not simply a skin condition.  So download the movie, watch it then share a link to it and say a little something about it when you do.  The world needs to learn about scleroderma.  Watching and sharing is what you can do to help scleroderma patients like me.

Download Movie

 

** Dr. Furst educates rheumatologists around the world.  If you would like to find a doctor near you, please contact the Scleroderma Foundation by visiting Scleroderma.org  and you will find a doctor closest to you that has proper experience and education.  Dr. Furst works with my team of rheumatologsts who treat me through the VA.  This is because of my geographical location.  

Be sure to visit Project Scleroderma on Facebook and like their page along with Scleroderma Research Foundation and The Scleroderma Foundation.  Thank you!

 

I’d Rather Have Chlamydia.

 

The week of October 5, 2014, I had yet another stay in a veteran’s hospital with another weird diagnosis.   It’s only a matter of time before I recognize  my case in an edition of Scientific American’s Mystery Diagnosis article.

Monday was busy, and Tuesday ended with a trip to the ER, presenting with neck pain and difficulty swallowing.  My neck felt like I had whiplash.  I hadn’t done anything to injure myself, and wrote it off as a strained neck from to much driving.  But something wasn’t consistent with pulled neck muscle.  It was like a bad episode of Sesame Street’s “Which One of These Things is Not Like The Other?”

I assumed it to was  allergies.  Which is stupid, because I knew better.  After twenty years as a medial anomaly, I just  knew better.  But I didn’t think anything of it until my cousin asked if I had any flu-like symptoms.

So I packed a bag, got in my car and drove myself to the ER.  I always drive myself because I hate taking people with me.  I end up feeling like I need to make them feel comfortable.  I get those worried looks, and I hate them.  It’s not their fault I view my ER visits as somewhat routine.  Mostly because I never let things get so far out of hand,  I couldn’t drive there.  I’d rather go to the ER and ‘cry wolf’, than ‘Suck it up, Buttercup’ until my condition becomes catastrophic.  I’m proactive that way, I guess.

I did notify my family I was going, which I hate to do, but I am also thankful to live far enough away they can’t just jump in the car and come to the ER.   Not because I want to leave them out, I just hate not having answers to their questions.  I view ER visits as fact-finding missions, in addition to emergency care.  I’ve been doing this 20 years now, and a trip to the ER is just normal to me.  Not because I have fallen through cracks in the system.  It’s because whatever the complication,  waiting for a doctor’s appointment in a specialist clinic, held once a week, is usually  not an option.

My greatest fear of living in Long Beach since the beginning of the 2014,  is that things might get so bad, an ambulance might be needed one day, and I would not be taken to a facility that is equipped with doctors who know how to treat a patient with scleroderma and sarcoidosis.  Instead, I would be taken to the Long Beach VA, for another botched diagnosis.

The  ER in West LA, appeared to have their act together.  Well, except that  ER nurse profiling me as a drug addict.  I made sure to tell his supervisors, but that’s a whole other post.

Back to the ER:  First, using a CT scan with contrast, observations of signs and notation of symptom,  I was diagnosed with a retro pharyngeal infection.  well, sort of- it was worst case, but there were missing symptoms specifically a fever and evidence of an abscess.  Luckily, I was fortunate enough to work with a team of doctors who were interested in answers, and getting them correct.  So, they followed the evidence.

I thought when diagnosed wasn’t  as bad as a progression in scleroderma or sarcoidosis.  Of course, it is a very serious infection that could be fatal if not treated in time.  But the doctors were a little puzzled.  I had swelling, but no fever and no sign of an abscess, which are both criteria for diagnosis.  I was still treated with antibiotics until the diagnosis could be proven otherwise.

I was seen by an ENT, who then requested a second CT scan with contrast, and later, that diagnosis was changed, thanks to the very capable rheumatology department and lucky me, my attending doctor in the hospital was a rheumatologist.  I think she is also the chief of rheumatology.  The diagnosis was changed to calcium hydroxyapatite deposition in the periarticular soft tissues of my neck.  In English:  Calcinosis in my neck tissue, specifically the tendons.

And there was a treatment.  And of course when the in-patient doctor told me the diagnosis, I of course asked to have the infection instead, because to me, anything scleroderma related in a new region of my body, no matter how treatable, in my mind is always the worst possible outcome.  Of course, I had a much better prognosis with calcinosis in my neck than an infection in my neck, but it was scleroderma and it took hours to get my head out of my butt over it.  (Seriously, what kind of an idiot would rather have an infection that a treatable symptom of a chronic illness?  Oh, right.  I’m that kind of idiot.) 

So I was given medication to break apart the calcinosis, kept on antibiotics just in case and my condition improved in about thirty-six hours.  I was sent home.  The very next day, I went to my high school reunion and had a blast.

And here I am seven days after discharge, feeling completely recovered, and packing my things to move to LA.  I wish I could stay in Long beach, but I cannot be guaranteed continuity of care at the Long Beach VA

Sometimes, I would like to have a gentler, familiar diagnosis instead of scleroderma.  A diagnosis other people have heard of,  like chlamydia.  At least that can be treated.  And when I tell people what I have, I would not have to explain it.  Everyone has heard of chlamydia, and that can be cured.

For More information:

Scleroderma Research Foundation 

Scleroderma Foundation

National Institute of Health

 

On To The Mission At Hand…

 

In order for occupational therapy to be effective, the patient must be on time, and consistent with appointment attendance. I was not. A trip to my closest VA was a four-hour excursion. An hour one-way, an hour there and an hour back- with no traffic, which would almost never happen- I changed my appointments frequently when I had them with OT, so my therapist limited me to just splinting. And really, driving over two hours for each appointment. Something had to change, and for me, it was my location.

The VA does provide options to see local providers called, “Fee Basis”, but that’s a whole other post.

If You Skipped to the End

I will be posting more about my progress in occupational therapy to restore function to my hands devastated by scleroderma, called sclerodactyly. Today, I will share a milestone: I was able to wear the splint for my right hand through the night, two nights in a row. Woo whoo!

 

Hand in splint designed by patient's occupational therapist for patient with scleroderma

Notice how the splint is cut around boney prominences to avoid pressure sores.

 

 

hand in a splint made by an occupational therapist to gain or maintain range of motion.

Yes, that is nail polish. I’ve been moving, there’s no time for a manicure. Don;t judge me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the pictures, there is some hyperextension going on in the ring and pinky DIP’s or distal interphelangeal joints. The splint will need to be adjusted. It feels comfortable to me, but as I strengthen, that hyperextension will be counterproductive and possibly harmful in the long run. During my fitting appointment, my hands were further back and the DIPs were in line. So, my hands have opened up some and my fingertips have crept toward the end.

Are you receiving occupational therapy?
Please give me a shout if you are. I’d like to know how others are doing. Hand therapy for functionality is not just for scleroderma patients. I meet stroke patients, paralysis patients, RA patients and more. So let me know what goal you are working toward. My goal is to maintain what I have, and gain some functionality. Of course I’m shooting for the stars for being able to play some guitar again, but I will be happy with even a small gain. Post your progress in the comments. Not for me, but for other patients who might read and be encouraged, or learn from your difficulties.

Thanks!

 

Link Sources:

Scleroderma Research Foundation

Joint Replacement.com

You can make a difference and help fund scleroderma research:

Bounce to a Cure

Everyone Deserves The Health Care Dick Cheney & I Have.

..”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Emma Lazarus

Based on the cheers I heard about letting the uninsured die during the Tea Party Debate, I wonder if they would have led a protest against Emma Lazarus’ poem.

I mention Dick Cheney, because I saw that he was wearing his heart in his blazer due to the failure of his own heart. I have never liked the man. Yes, we have met. He wouldn’t remember. It was briefly while I was in the Navy. It’s no secret I’m not fond of him, but I would never wish his or anyone’s death.

I also mention him because many die of heart failure every year. How many are given an opportunity to have a portable, external pump 24/7? We’ll get back to that.

Let’s talk about my health care. In 1996, I had to fight for Veteran’s health benefits and won. I started in 1994 and I am one of the lucky ones. I wrote to my Representative in Washington and magically, I was 100% service connection disabled. (Thank you Representative of La Crosse, WI in 1996. I apologize for not remembering your name) When awarded my Veteran’s benefits, I called the VA and asked if the TV show, 20/20 would be knocking at my door to do an expose or something. After the government shut down of 1995, it was crazy times. To explain my benefits, here’s my latest post on Google Plus and Facebook.

“EVERYONE deserves the medical care I get. I will be at Rheumatolgy at the VA today to pick up my records for my Rheumatologist in LA. I remember every day how lucky I am. May everyone soon have socialized healthcare like me. I’m able to see the best specialists at UCLA because of Medicare. My specialists make recommendations to the VA, who actually sent me to UCLA because they didn’t know what to do with me. At the VA all my medications are covered. I am one of the lucky ones. Because of The VA and Medicare, my diseases are stabilized after 16 years, I have a good prognosis. EVERYONE should have access to such great care. EVERYONE. I served so I could go to college and get out of “Dodge”. The truth is, not everyone can serve, and their contributions are important. My uninsured friends are priceless. They deserve great care just as much as I do.”

So, why do Dick Cheney and I have health care, when so many others don’t? I feel as though we are the “storied pomp”, in Emma Lazarus’ poem, but we are not. Everyone deserves the health care we get. I am confident that if I have heart failure, I would fight my ass off to get a portable unit. Not because I can afford that, but because VA Hospitals are teaching hospitals. You get fresh minds mixed with the brilliant experience and knowledge of the residents. I have seen many cases and experienced first hand care where money is not a factor. I would be careless to not mention they do have a medication formulary, but I have found ways around that to get what I need- and I’m happy to share how if anyone needs it.

So why does Dick Cheney get a heart pump and I get infusions without having to try two other medications and have them fail before I get my beloved Remicade?

I could speculate and make jokes, but I honestly have no idea. I have felt massive amounts of guilt watching friends and family try to make it without insurance. We are Americans- we’re supposed to be the good guys. I grew up believing we stand for and with others who can’t do it on their own. If I were Karen, the manicurist, I would’ve died in child birth because I wouldn’t have had my magic letter. That’s right, a magic letter.

When I was pregnant in 2003-04, the VA did and still does not deliver babies. I received a letter in the mail that stated something like, “The VA will pay for all medical care related to the health of this veteran regarding her current condition.” When my blood pressure had become so high that I began to see orange spots, my OB/GYN sent me to Mary Birch Hospital in San Diego. Seventy two hours later, after shots of steroids and my organs began to fail, my son was delivered by C-section.

There is too much to that story to include all the details in this entry, but two things stick out.

1. I shared a semi private room with a woman my age in the same condition. Both of us were given steroid injections. After my 1st painful injection, I asked the nurse to put it in my IV. The next round of shots came and it was done. No question asked. I told my roommate to ask for the same. She did. They told her her insurance wouldn’t allow it. (record scratch stop) Yes, a woman who needed to be kept calm because her blood pressure was dangerously high, had to be put through frequent painful injections. Imagine sitting in comfort while listening to someone cry because they are in so much pain- that could have been avoided. Did I deserve better treatment? No. I had the equivalent of a blank check. What Karen needed, Karen got. Meanwhile, my equal in the room next to me had to suffer because some asshole paper pusher decided she didn’t need to feel comfortable. She could endure that pain. Both of us had HELLP Syndrome.

2. Three years later, I was in an emergency room at a public hospital, not a VA hospital because my ex-husband and I had a business. I was in charge of picking insurance our family and employees. I heard more than one doctor call it “Golden Insurance”. It’s what got me in the door at UCLA and medicare makes it possible for me to keep going back to UCLA.

In the ER, the nurse assigned to me, shared her own experience with HELLP Syndrome. She had the exact symptoms I had, without the happy ending. Her insurance required her husband to drive her an extra hour after going completely blind because of her blood pressure while she was pregnant. The ER they were assigned was not equipped to handle her condition. She lost her baby. She continues to work as a nurse to keep her family insured. She has to, to stay alive. She needs heart medication and frequent treatment by a cardiologist. I couldn’t say it, but all I could think was how unfair it was. Life is not supposed to be fair, but no one should be denied the care they need because of money. NO ONE. She lost her baby at 32 weeks and was in the ground, while my son- also born at 32 weeks, was at home getting ready to go camping.

So, I ask again, are Dick Cheney and I of more value than those two women above? Are we worth more than my friend Chelle? Are we worth more than Steph and Jennifer, Chelle mentions in the video below? No. But if I were Karen; the manicurist and he Dick; the retired electrician we would be both be dead.

Make time to watch Chelle’s video.

Thank you.