Posts Tagged ‘working mom’

Let the Storm Rage On

Frozen-150x150My 2-year-old does not ask to listen to the Frozen soundtrack in the car; much to my delight, she asks to SING FROZEN! A former musical theater actor, I have a particular love for singing in the car. I first bonded with a most precious friend singing Cabbage Patch Kids songs in the car on the way home from college…yes, college.  It makes me incredibly happy singing along with my mini-Idina in the back seat. Like most of America, my daughter’s favorite song is Let It Go, which she sings with absolute abandon. To my surprise, this song continues make me cry every damn time we play it. Something about the idea of

I don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway.

has me by the heart-strings. It speaks to my life with chronic pain in such a clear, defiant way. A sort of screw-you to the day-to-day struggle to remain normal, to ignore the rejection, to be tougher than this disease I do not control. I know I’m not the only one who has found myself in the lyrics of this anthem. Sometimes you just want to scream

And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone.

Ultimately it is the idea of being free that makes it all so right. I never, not for the briefest of moments, feel free of this pain. So if you see me and my kiddos in my car belting with everything we’ve got, please understand: I am standing on my ice castle, hair flying behind me, absolutely free. Can’t keep it in, heaven knows I’ve tried.

 

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Squeaky monkeys and Light

MonkeyMy husband and I rarely have enough cash to buy each other traditional Christmas gifts, if he’s lucky I manage to put a bottle of his favorite scotch in his stocking. However, we do make sure our girls are able to get some little things for each of us. This year we decided to keep it interesting by asking our 2 year-old what she wanted to get us, promising to buy exactly what she said. So I asked her what she wanted to get her daddy and she said, without hesitation, that she wanted to get her dad A TOY! And then she added, with absolute glee, “a squeaky toy!” If you’ve experienced my husband’s relationship with his girls you would know that this fits perfectly into their love of goofy, noisy, silly stuff. If it burps, farts or makes a face they absolutely lose their minds. He calls our youngest his Monkey Boo, so we found a squeaky monkey in the dog toy section at Target and wrapped it up. It was perfection.

On Christmas morning I unwrapped a beautiful candle set from my little one. My husband tells me that when he asked her what she wanted to give me she replied, again without hesitation, Light. My two-year-old gave me Light. If only she understood how profoundly she has brightened and lightened my life.

We celebrate solstice at my Universalist Unitarian church, which often includes a meditation on absorbing the peaceful dark, actively waiting for the light. For me, it beautifully compliments the quiet manger scene many of us contemplate at Christmas. I feel like it mirrors my struggle with chronic pain just as perfectly. I am trying every day to make peace with the dark, while finding the light wherever I can.

So many of us create hope and light for our friends, family, community, and even ourselves, during this winter time. However, it is rarely met with choirs of angels singing praises. This year we should be that choir of angels for each other. Let’s be loud in our support, gratitude and love.

I’m going to regress a bit into my 2-year-old brain, the one that recognizes what is funny, what is beautiful and what is important, without hesitation. I hope you all got a bit of light for the new year, it is a gift to be treasured.

 

By the balls

ClinicI had a doctor friend tell me that when she was in medical school the loser students chose the field of pain. It was seen as a money-making arena, rarely successful for its patients. Ambitious doctors chose other fields, where they could actually be effective.

A friend was just dumped from her pain clinic for remaining steady on her treatment plan for many years. She has a neck injury, two children and runs her own fulltime practice. She found a med that works for her, and has been taking it at a low dose without incident. Dream patient, right? Evidently, no. She doesn’t need expensive, experimental procedures. She isn’t making her pain clinic any real money and they need to make space for patients who need their services (i.e. desperate and have some insurance cash to spend). She is now struggling to find a clinic that will take her care on, her life will be turned inside-out if she cannot get the medication she needs.

Pain clinics are failing our community. I’m sure you have heard at least one story about the pill mills, and they certainly exist. But the demonizing story you are likely to hear is too simple and has made things impossible for those of us trying to get real treatment.  Most general practitioners are no longer allowed to prescribe pain medications, their clinics don’t like the liability. So if you have a chronic  pain disease, you are sent into the pain clinic system.

Let’s use my experience as an example: I have a condition called Sphincter of Oddi (SOD3), one of my digestive valves is misfiring — closing when it shouldn’t and remaining so, causing my entire system to back up. It hurts like hell, all day, every day. I see the top GI specialist in the country and he does not have a cure for me right now. My pain, and its cause, is very different from that of Fibromyalgia, RA or a back injury — it is called binary pain.  It is rare, but not unheard of. I have been with my pain clinic for almost 2 years now and I still have to explain what SOD is at every appointment.

Without knowing anything about my disease, my pain clinic had a list of recommended treatments for me at my very first appointment: take gabapentin, do physical therapy twice a week in their PT clinic, and undergo steroid block injections. I have discovered that this is what they recommend to everyone who comes to them, no matter their diagnosis. I don’t pretend to know why, but I suspect those injections make them a pretty penny. I did each of these things, the injections three times. When the third round made my pain worse, the Doc commented that he hadn’t thought that treatment would work for me.

Along with the expensive treatments, I get a lecture each visit about the horrors of using opioid pain medications. They simply must get me off of the one medication that actually works. The one thing that has kept me out of my bed enjoying my girls for the last 7 years. I have told them again, and again, that unless they can find something that actually works, I will continue the medications. However, if the war on drugs is successful at limiting the use if these medications for patients in good standing, it won’t be an option for me much longer.

I rarely see my actual doctor (he is one of the top 25 pain docs in the country), the clinic uses nurse practitioners and assistants to run the day-to-day appointments. I have yet to have an appointment where the nurse has actually read my chart before meeting with me. Every time I have a procedure with my doctor I have to tell him who I am, and describe my condition & past treatments, while laying face down on the surgical table. They must see thousands of patients a year within their 8 clinic system.

It is a money-making mill, and it is my only hope. Most pain clinics are much like this. If you switch, or doctor shop, too often they decide you are a med seeker and you can no longer get in anywhere. They have us by the balls and they know it, no customer service required. This is all to say that something has got to change. Contrary to the guilty-until-proven-guilty way we are treated by our pain doctors, we did not choose to have chronic pain disease and we deserve the same kind, thoughtful treatment given to those with other conditions, like diabetes or heart disease. Every patient should get an individualized treatment plan based on their actual diagnosis. Doctors should spent time with their patients, actually getting to know them and their potential for drug abuse. The end game should be bringing comfort to people who desperately need it, not filling pockets with cash. It is time to submit editorials, write to our representatives and advocate for ourselves, or continue to accept things are they are, in quiet desperation.

You don’t look sick

pain-faces-web

Recently my pain clinic posted a video asking patients how they want their lives to be remembered, it seems we have choice between “she was such a kind person, but oh, how she suffered,” and  “she lived her life to the fullest!” I guess the answer is supposed to be #2, all made possible by the clinic’s amazing treatment plan. Don’t I wish the answer was that simple, what kind of idiot chooses answer #1?

It is hard for people to know how to approach me. One of the most common compliments I get is “you don’t look sick!” I suspect they are scrutinizing me; trying to connect the person I am here in my blog with the person they see everyday running around with my kids. I’m not sure what a person with chronic pain looks like, maybe those faces on the pain scale? You have to watch pretty carefully to catch my “tell.” My weekend looks just like anyone’s: my husband works on Saturday and I take the girls to swimming lessons, shopping, errand running; Sunday is church and some weekend fun at the zoo or park. We love our family movie nights at home, or a dinner splurge out on the town. There isn’t time for illness, so I do subtle things to make life possible: like taking meds though out the day to keep the pain and nausea at a reasonable level (what a concept); I use a stroller for my little one and her daddy carries her more than I do; I sleep-in when I get the chance, leaning on my remarkable husband to wake with the girls; I am beyond exhausted at the end of the day, far more than I should be. But, most days, I’d rather end it in absolute collapse, than spend it on the couch waiting for my life to return.

It is easy to discount my pain by conceding that if you can’t see it, it doesn’t really exist. I further facilitate that notion by living, for the most part, as though it doesn’t exist — it is just easier on relationships.

I had an officemate who would notice a tell I wasn’t even aware of: I would hold my breath at my desk when my pain was ratcheting-up. She would notice that I wasn’t breathing and say something simple like, “it must be bad today.” I am glad, and proud in many ways, that I do not look sick, however, the unassuming way she acknowledged my illness was such an unusual kindness. It made it easier for me to keep on pushing, just because someone acknowledged what was really happening to me.

If I have learned anything throughout all of this, it is that we need to be better at acknowledging each other’s pain, without judgement or comparison. So, I guess my answer to the clinic’s question is: she lived life to the fullest, because she had love and support all around her.

7 Januarys

JanuaryYou remember that thing in middle school (I assume it still happens), where a kid is rushing down the hallway, her arms full of books and another a-hole kid sticks his foot out, sending the first kid flying to the ground, stuff scattering all over the floor? That has been 2013 for me so far.

I spend my holiday vacation gathering up enthusiasm for the new year. The nausea meds were working and 2013 was going to be IT! I was already planning the tattoo I would get to celebrate when the pain finally vacated. January was the month that my Doctor would finalize my diagnosis and schedule the cure.

I just had to fail a couple of tests first. I began with another MRI. Did you know that 1 in 100,000 people are allergic to the contrast they use to day-glow your insides? Turns out, I am one of the lucky ones. Not going to go into great detail about what happened in that tube, nobody needs to relive that. Test two was an endoscopy (scope down your throat to view your insides & take pictures), they threw in some secretion to really piss-off my pancreas.

The attending Doc woke me from my sedation haze to tell me that everything looked great, “absolutely fine” he says smiling at me. I could barely speak, I think I nodded. Lucy just yanked the football away, again. I lay there, on the ground, for a day and a half.

Figuratively, of course. My body got up, put on my winter gear and hiked back to the car with my family. I crawled onto my couch with my girls, cried with my husband, and took an extra day home to comprehend how I would revive the part of me that makes the hope.

My girls are magic

My girls are magic.

I have proof by way of illustration: My pain has decided to double in the last week for no apparent reason (really must figure out who has my voodoo doll).  I came home from work a grumpy mess, extremely self-loathing and unhappy that my husband had to leave for work instantaneously.

Seeing as I’d taken all of the pain pills allowed, I self-medicated with a piece of leftover pumpkin pie – which my sweetly smiling 15-month-old ate most of, who can resist those big blues? She then insisted I sit on the floor with her to play Little People, while her big sis did her practice-spelling test at the kitchen table.  I grabbed a couple of pillows and hit the carpet.  She proceeded to pull all of the plastic animals out of the toy barn and pile them on top of me, while making the appropriate animal sounds.  Then she tried to shove every one of them in my mouth or up my nose. We were both giggling and it broke into an every-girl-for-herself tickle-slash-kiss-every-part-of-her-face fight. For 15 minutes she did what my Doctors cannot, what my meds cannot, what I cannot do myself; she made my pain disappear.

Magic.

Fighting to stay in the 54%

I have been fighting to remain at work fulltime despite the last 6 years of chronic pain and illness. I’ve managed to stay off of disability thus far, so I guess that puts me in the 54%? I cried the day ObamaCare was signed. It actually means the world to me.

As hard as I struggle to stay at my desk everyday, I will to come to a wall at some point; a time when I can no longer bear the traditional work day. I imagine that I might start my own consulting firm (small business), a job that would allow me to work flexible hours, from more comfortable positions. The key to my ability to remain viable in the workplace is ObamaCare. Without it, my pre-existing-condition-self will not be able to get health insurance. Without it, I will hit the disability rolls far sooner than I care to.

ObamaCare isn’t just some program that the politicos debate over, it means the world to me. This final week of the political season, I hope that we all can take a minute away from the score-keeping craziness of the 24-hour news cycle to consider the people these programs will actually affect. In the end, it isn’t an ideological game to be won, it will mean something to my future, to my family’s future and to yours. Use your voice to vote for all of us on Tuesday.

The Littlest Rabbit

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