Archive | February 2014

“What Goes Up Must Come Down”

tear

“What goes up, must come down.” These lyrics keep dancing around (banging around?) in my head.  They seem to be the only thing that accurately describes my current state of being. And let’s face it, my life in general.

Once again, the rug has been pulled out from under me. I felt like my life was traveling in an upward momentum. With starts and stops along the way, of course. But, truly could I expect anything less? Still, generally moving in a positive direction.

After such a struggle throughout the fall, with a constantly flaring body unresponsive to current courses of treatment, unrelenting fatigue, and an onslaught of back and forth calls to insurance pleading my case, there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel: infusion treatments were finally approved, literally in the 11th hour.

I began my Simponi Aria infusions around Christmas and experienced immediate improvement in my symptoms. My morning stiffness went from 3 hours to 2 and even onto a mere 1 many days!! My fatigue was abating and I was able to participate in multiple family gatherings without weeks of post-event “crash and burn.” It was a gift. It was a miracle!

I anxiously awaited my second infusion and experienced similar success, even a tad better this time! We may have finally found something that treats my autoimmune illness,” my heat sang with glee!

Visions of days without pain coupled with participating in, instead of just sideline observing my life danced in my head! I even allowed myself to daydream about a future of renewed productivity and purposefulness.

In the last couple of weeks, my body started to crash again (hence the lack of blog posts); locking, swollen joints, pain and fatigue. But this time, I was happy for the symptoms. Strange, I know. But they were clear indicators that the infusion indeed was working because I was on a downward trend heading right into my next scheduled infusion…

This Monday! Hooray!! I can’t wait! Bring on the relief!

But, then, remember the second half of my opening refrain? …

“…Must come down…”

And, come down it has. Crashing down.

Today, was my first follow-up with my rheumatologist since the start of the new infusion treatments.  I gave him the same low-down I just gave you. And he looked sad. Defeated.

“Has the billing office contacted you?” he tentatively begins.

“Guess they’re leaving it up to me to be the Bad Guy.”

What? What is he trying to say?! My heart begins to sink. Am I hearing this right?

Both Medicare and my (supposedly “super-duper”) private secondary insurance suddenly decided to retroactively decline my treatment.

“Its off-label,” they tsk. Tsk.

Well guess what numnuts?! EVERY medication I take is off-label.   I have a RARE disease that does not get studied because it is not profitable for the drug companies whom sponsor said studies. Never mind, that my disease, Relapsing Polychondritis, has an extremely high mortality rate in untreated cases (before discovery, most people were diagnosed post-mortem). Guess they don’t care when it’s only a 1000 people in the U.S. population.

So, now, not only have they denied any future treatments, they have also reneged on payments due for treatments already administered! That’s 2 infusions at the “cut-rate” price of $10,000!!! How can that even be ethical?

Doctor: “Legally, you could be held financially responsible for this amount. Ethically, I could never allow that to happen. And, we could continue treatments if you have a bunch of cash lying around to pay out of pocket.” Wry smile.

Full disclosure here: I just did our taxes and guess what? My husband and I currently bring in a combined annual income of a whopping $33,000! So, yeah, I don’t think so.

So, bottom line… it appears that insurance (or let’s face it, in this case, the government), feels it is more cost effective to keep me chronically ill (meaning more urgent care costs, hospitalizations and the such, in the future) and unable to have gainful employment (requiring on-going SSD payments), then to pay for a medications that will treat my disease (now) and prevent the progression of it.

What kind of upside-down world do we live in?

But, guess what? The ball has once again landed back in my court.  And what choice do I have but to evolve and adapt once again? To reassess life and the options it presents me, to pick up the pieces and try to build something worthwhile out of the rubble…

And I will.

But, for a short bit, I just want to have a pity-party.

To whine, “why can’t anything ever be easy, or at least simple, for me?!”

Because it just is NOT.

There must be some major life lessons I’m supposed to learn this lifetime around.

They say that when you pray for something, God doesn’t give it to you, he (she) gives you an opportunity to develop that skill. But did I really need another chance to practice Acceptance. Resilience. Inner Strength?

It feels like I have enough of that to fill 10 lifetimes.

Sigh.

Advertisements

Fluent in the “Language of Pain”

Pain and wisdom

A recent article in U.S.A. Today discussed the “health care crisis” of chronic pain, stating that 40% of Americans now experience chronic pain… 40%!  Just think about that for a moment.  Thankfully, research institutes are also finally paying attention to this startling statistic and studying ways to treat this epidemic.

What stood out most to me in the article is the description of what happens to a being when they experience unrelenting pain.  We learn to become fluent in the Language of Pain.  It’s the old “practice makes perfect” adage. But in this case, it is completely unhelpful.

Our bodies and minds are wired to learn new habits and behaviors through repetition.  The article states:

“In a sense, chronic pain is not all that different from learning to play the piano or speak French.  The more the body ‘practices’ processing pain, the better it gets at it and the stronger the connections between nerves becomes.”

It speaks of a term, us chronically ill are all too familiar with, “allodynia.”   Allodynia is when pain sensations are so out of proportion with the reality that even the slightest breeze on the skin, gentlest of hugs, or softest touch of a feather, can feel like scalding water, the burn of a blowtorch, or thousands of needles stinging the skin all at once.  This can be a very frustrating condition to explain to “non-sufferers.”  How do you tell someone, “I’m sorry, but your hug hurts me,” without hurting their feelings?!

Chronic pain is defined as pain lasting 6 months or more.  It can be triggered by illness, but also by post-surgical pain that doesn’t go away, injury (even after it is technically “healed”), aggressive medical treatments (especially those for cancer), and chronic conditions such as arthritis, back pain and headaches.

Chronic pain effects 100 million Americans and costs between $560-635 billion dollars per year, yet doctors only receive 9 hours on average of pain education during their entire medical school education!

One of the sacriest facts is that it causes permanent damage to the body.  Chronic pain can literally shrink the brain.  It can reduce gray matter as much as 20 years of aging does!! (according to research at Northwestern University)

The biggest enigma of the pain puzzle for me, is the incongruity of my own personal pain responses.  I actually have an extremely high tolerance for pain when it comes to injury, injections, and other invasive procedures.  And then there’s the flip side… my body can be triggered by God knows what (I always equate it to having a switched flipped). When this happens, I am writhing in pain, the touch of the lightest sheet on my body can trigger what feels like an attack on my body… my nervous system is on fire.  I would sell my soul to the devil to make it stop!

Hence the pain conundrum!

And also the reason why scientists state that suicide rates are twice as high in people with chronic pain.  Chronic pain is highly unpredictable and volatile.  And, currently, extremely mistreated and misunderstood.

Although, they are starting to discover that there are several non-invasive, non-drug treatment options for “quieting the pain.”  I have found many of these helpful (when I remember to employ them!) and I would be interested to hear what techniques others use to treat this painful condition.

  1. Exercise:  This can be the hardest to start because when we are in the midst of pain, our minds tell us to be still; we are terrified that if we move, it will only get worse.  But this is the exact opposite from the truth. The USA Today article states, “Exercise is as close as there is to a magic bullet for pain.” Hazzah!  I think of it as re-training the nerves, muscles and brain (just as it has been conditioned to feel pain at every turn).  I started riding my exercise bike daily 2 months back and it has changed my life.  Now when I am having a particularly bad flare of pain, my body actually “tells” me to get on my bike and move. And it works! Truly. NOTE: It may be helpful to begin a exercise program in a warm pool.
  2. Acupuncture: Once dismissed as little more than a “placebo effect,” newer studies in (objective) mice show that acupuncture stimulates adenosine, a powerful pain reliever made naturally in the body.  And studies in humans are showing that after acupuncture, there are powerful changes that occur in the nerve pathways, running from the brain to the rest of the body (an important way the nervous system can control pain). Has anyone had success with this?
  3. Massage: I swear by this! I see my massage therapist every 2-3 weeks and she has changed my body’s response to painful stimuli. My recommendation would be to find someone trained in therapeutic/medical massage that will work long term with you; make sure it is someone you can clearly communicate with. When I first started, my therapist could only “rock” parts of my body until I got used to touch. Now, even when my body is “on-fire,” it responds positively to her touch; she quiets the hyper-active nerves. There is no one else I would trust to touch me.
  4. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Meditation and Bio-Feedback:  All treatments that use the mind to quiet the body.  I use guided meditations daily and can now almost “leave my physical body” when it is in pain (not always, but often). I know people who have had success with formal bio-feedback training and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping Therapy).

There are other treatment options, not scientifically proven, but people have found comfort with:

  1. Chiropractic Care
  2. Magnet Therapy
  3. Reiki
  4. Heat Therapy
  5. Hydrotherapy
  6. Electrical Stimulation (TENS units)
  7. Ultrasound
  8. And what I like to call: “Distraction Therapy:” engaging the mind in another activity (something simple and repetitive like knitting, coloring, zentangles, bead stringing, crosswords or puzzle books, music, silly kitten videos!, etc.), until the pain becomes distanced from your physical body. This works wonders for me!

Please share your pain coping techniques, so that we can all benefit from the shared experience of this “painful” condition (pun intended!).

If you are interested in reading the full article, follow this link:

Chronic Pain: A Health Care Crisis

Also, here is a link to the American Chronic Pain Association:

ACPA

Practicing Being Myself

Today’s quote on my Zen calendar: “The purpose of our practice is to just be yourself.” (Shunryu Suzuki).

Another gentle reminder that we do not need to practice, practice, practice… to make (ourselves) perfect.  Our perfection already lies within in.  It is our job to discover it and bring it out into the light.

Imagine if each one of us stopped trying to be someone else; or some different version of ourselves; and just practiced being our best selves.  The traits we each possess create the unique tapestry of the fabric of life.

But when we ignore these inborn traits, just lying in wait, we turn our backs on our birthrights. We walk around as masked versions of ourselves.  Sometimes to the point where we even forget who we truly are inside.

So what if we changed our daily practice?

To one of centering the mind and the body, searching along our inner labyrinths to find our centers, the core of our beings.  And what if we looked among the muck and mud that only we can see (all our defaults; the things we so, so wish we could change… if we just tried hard enough), and found the tight bud of the lotus flower, hiding in the deep, dark crevice of our soul?

The lotus: one of the most beautiful flowers in the world, whose delicate appearance belies its inner strength. For it can grow in the harshest, and ugliest of environments. Because it believes in its true nature: it knows that it is a flower and its only job is to open its bloom wide to the sun and seas of adoring faces.

You are the flower.  Find your roots. Pick up that fragile, withering bud deep inside of you and sing to it.  Bathe it in light and love. Coax it open.

Do not try to make it contain certain qualities that you find appealing.  Discover the natural treasure trove of characteristics that lies hidden within, and start to honor, respect and celebrate them one by one.

Do this meditation daily until you start to feel your whole self open like that shy bloom.

Practice it every day.

Practice being yourself… your whole self.

And nothing more.

A more specified application:

Perhaps you are struggling with a daily practice of self-improvement.  You want to become a writer, an instrument player, a mother, a student, a yogi, etc…  This daily practice of “being yourself” does not mean that you cannot choose to learn a new skill or talent.

But try and apply the same principles from above to this practice as well.

I have found that when I stop trying so hard to be the “perfect” artist or “perfect” wife, I leave the door open for my true self to walk through.  I stop defining what “perfect” means, or looks like, or sounds like, and I just practice at being myself while engaging in each activity.

I am already that musician, that artist, that teacher, that student.  I just need to focus my mind on using that skill each day, and let the rest of it open naturally like the budding learner within.

Ever heard the term, “She’s such a natural at…”

I believe this is what “being a natural” means.  It means not forcing yourself to be any one thing or another.  Perhaps you won’t be a concert-hall worthy musician.  But, at the same time, perhaps you excel at engineering new and innovative ways to implement an idea. We all have different strengths and talents.

We can all practice at any activity we want.

Just practice at being yourself at that activity and watch the garden of your soul bloom. Some flowers will grow taller and stronger than others, and that’s okay. You won’t know until you practice at just being yourself and then seeing what naturally grows and develops.

Try and stop defining how your perfect self looks like (and all the talents this perfect being has) and start nurturing the in-born talents you uniquely possess.

The world would be a mighty boring place if we all excelled at the same things!