Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Post Concussion Syndrome

Woman holding her head in her hand with tear running down hand

This has been a story in the making for over a year now. I am now released from worker's compensation and feel able to share my story with Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS).

In 2015, I fell at work and hit my head due to my blood pressure bottoming out. I didn't have a concussion from that fall, and it wouldn't be until 2022 that I would come to understand how so many of my health changes stemmed from that single fall that caused me to develop Abdominal Migraine.

In early February 2023 I fell on the ice at work injuring my head and my right knee. I didn't even land on my knee but yet I twisted it in the process. At first, I didn't think anything about it really. I immediately hurt from my fall, as I would expect. I called my neurologist's office to let them know I had hit my head so that they were aware and that I was feeling alright except for the expected pain from a fall. However, within a few hours, things started to change. I started having pressure in my head, headache, my concentration and speech were off, I felt funny. There was such a remarkable difference in my speech alone that when I called my neurologist's office back, I was told that I definitely needed to go the ER for evaluation.

My mom took me to a small, local ER. In spite of being there for concussion symptoms, the ER doctor was only concerned if I was vomiting and if I had hurt my knee and neck. He ordered a knee x-ray and a neck CT scan - both were unremarkable. He said I scored a 15 on some scale (which was really good evidently), I wasn't vomiting, and I had hit the back of my head so he wasn't concerned about a severe concussion and therefore he wouldn't order any imaging of my head. I didn't realize until after I was released that I don't think he asked me if I was having any other symptoms other than pain and vomiting. The only reason that the ER doctor explained why he wasn't worried about a severe concussion and would even use the word "concussion" with me was because I kept asking every staff member that came into my room why I wasn't having any imaging tests of my head. Word got back to the doctor, and he decided then to say anything about a concussion to me. Even then, he would only say "you might have a mild concussion". Might my ass. And the only instructions I was given were by the nurse who warned me about increased symptoms if my heart rate increased over the next couple weeks and to take Tylenol or Ibuprofen. A day or two later, I realized that I hadn't advocated for myself at all like I normally would, and this wouldn't be the last time either when dealing with my concussion, unfortunately. 

To say that I have been completely confused and scared, unlike myself in so many ways, is an understatement. A friend told me to not look at any screens and to follow up with my PCP. I told her about it and asked about any precautions/restrictions I needed to take. The only thing I was told was to limit screens. 

The night of my fall, my entire body hurt - every single joint and major muscle group was flared. I hurt almost as badly as did following my gallbladder removal surgery when my nerve pain kept me bedbound for 4 months except for the time I went to work. Four days later and looking at screens still triggered or increased my headaches. Since my injury occurred while at work, I was followed by worker's comp and bound to their rules and recommendations. With my symptoms no better after the 4 days the ER doctor wrote for me to be off work, I was directed to 3-4 different nurse practitioners to manage my care at an urgent care contracted with my worker's comp. I wasn't assigned to one nurse practitioner, so I never knew who was going to be the one to manage my care that week when I would return for each follow up visit. The time I was allowed and restricted from screens changed every week. But by my 2nd visit back, there was concern about my knee that I twisted in my fall and was referred to physical therapy. There the physical therapist told me I likely had an injury to my outer meniscus and was allotted 6 sessions of physical therapy to strengthen it as it healed. 

In the meantime, I was still experiencing headaches, memory loss, loud noises bothering me, excessive crying at sometimes nothing at all and other times if I was overwhelmed in the slightest, misreading signals so I thought everyone was mad at me with absolutely no evidence, numbness, difficulty concentrating and forming sentences when my headaches were really bad. I differentiate between how noises bother me - usually when a noise bothers someone it hurts their ears but for me, noise hurts my brain. One day, I had the worst headache I've ever had in my entire life. My entire head hurt immensely and every few seconds it felt as though I was being forcefully struck on the top of my head repeatedly for about an hour. It took Tylenol 45 minutes to start to lessen the pain. I struggled with my short-term memory for a long time, and it was very upsetting to me. I couldn't remember things like where I had found a coffee I liked. One week, I bought a to-go drink from somewhere that I sipped on for several days. By the end of the week, I looked at this generic cup and realized I had no recollection of where I had obtained this cup from. While most of the things I couldn't remember weren't significant it was the mere fact that I couldn't remember that was extremely upsetting and would lead to crying spells.

There were so many days that I was completely convinced that Mike was ending our life partnership with absolutely no reason to think this. The most frustrating thing? I wasn't even feeling depressed and yet I was more emotional and crying more frequently than I think I usually do when I am depressed feeling. It literally was as though I suddenly lost all of my coping skills. I could only handle feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated, stressed for about 5 minutes max before I would break down into tears - and sometimes I couldn't stop crying for 2 hours or more. My neurologist told me that I needed to address this in my mental health counseling or as my brain heals from the injury "it will get stuck like that". Great, like that didn't add even more stress to me during this. My counseling had to be placed on hold though as my cognitive behavioral therapy was virtual so there were times I couldn't be on the computer, and it was unsafe to undergo EMDR therapy due to risk of seizure with a concussion. 

After a few weeks, with symptoms not improving and probably only because I had a crying spell with one of the nurse practitioners, a brain MRI was ordered but didn't show any explanation for my continued symptoms and then after a couple more weeks, I was finally referred to a neurologist. The majority of this process I felt completely confused, no idea what to expect, no idea if what I was experiencing was normal, and feeling terrified this would be how I'd be for the rest of my life. So, to finally be allowed to see a neurologist was a large relief...except though of course, my anxiety of providers I'm not familiar with and my fear of being dismissed and overlooked, misunderstood as a rare disease and medically complex patient. 

The earliest availability with the neurologist I was referred to was mid-July. My case manager and adjuster both agreed this was too long of a wait for me to be seen by a neurologist and asked if my neurologist would accept worker's comp and see me instead. My neurologist, a saint of a man, agreed as a favor to me because he knows me well and is aware of my mistrust and fear of new providers. 

With all the approvals in place, I was able to see my neurologist who advised my brain looked good and cautioned me to only use analgesics 2-3 times a week, not daily, as it could worsen my headaches. Instead, he wanted to focus on preventing my headaches and prescribed Topamax for me to try. It would take up to 6 weeks to become fully effective and has some bothersome side effects and so it's recommended to take it at night so that one sleeps through the side effects. This, of course, had to be approved by my worker's comp team before I could obtain the medication though. My neurologist also recommended that I discuss with my adjuster the logistics for me to have a reduced work schedule to allow time for my brain to heal. He told me that my brain hadn't been getting the time it needed to heal and jumping straight back into work and usual activities hinders the healing process following a concussion. Additionally, he advised me that my difficulty to remember words, using word salad, saying phrases backwards and even repeatedly saying the same thing over and over were all a signal that my brain was needing a break, it was working too hard. 

I indeed did experience side effects from the Topamax - namely numbness. Both of my arms became numb, and it was bothersome, but I was willing to withstand it if it would help my brain. However, by the 3rd night on the Topamax my legs became numb and were hurting. I could barely sleep that night from neuropathy like symptoms in my legs. I thought perhaps taking a hot shower would help my legs feel better. That was the wrong move though as I nearly fell more than once in the shower due to the severity of numbness in my legs and I couldn't feel how hot the water was, so when I got out of the shower my body looked like it had a severe sun burn. I called my neurologist that morning who immediately switched me to Candesartan. Migraine prevention is one of the off-label uses of Candesartan as it is actually a high blood pressure medication. Again, he instructed for me to take Candesartan at bedtime in case it made me drowsy, and it would take a while for it to build in my system. He also advised he wouldn't want to test if I no longer needed the Candesartan for at least 6 months and possibly not until a year. I also required worker's comp approval to try this medication and then again, each month to obtain a refill.

Let me tell you, I am in love with Candesartan. It is an old medication, and I don't have any negative side effects. It doesn't make me drowsy but if I take it at the right time, it allows me to actually sleep well throughout the night. I have never slept as well, especially continuously, as I do with the Candesartan. It doesn't leave me feeling groggy the next day either like all other sleep aids/medications do. And of course, the very best thing about it is it does help reduce my symptoms to a tolerable level. I have not recovered to how I was prior to my fall and am not anticipated to return to that baseline either. I did require my dose to be increased as one missed dose caused a several day flare of my symptoms and one missed dose shouldn't lead to such a long recovery. 

Loud noises, overstimulation, and the decreased frustration/stress tolerance levels have been extremely difficult to navigate as they feed off one another and would then trigger a Migraine headache. Loud noises start to overstimulate my brain, as I become more stimulated the less I can tolerate and the more emotional I become the more likely I am to cry and every one of these things trigger headaches for me. There are also times that the slightest noise is too much for me and I need complete silence. I have been unable to find headphones that cut out 100% of noise but I do have noise cancelling ear buds and headphones that Mike got me to help reduce this cycle. There are times that I require using both my earbuds and headphones simultaneously as the noise is too bothersome with just one. Certain sounds and frequencies are at times more bothersome than others and at times they're not, there is no 100% consistent predictability to what will trigger my Migraine headaches. To make it worse, when I can't escape noise, it has triggered a form of anxiety in my brain that has at its worst required me to use all my strength to not smash my head into something to try to make my brain stop hurting. There have been plenty of days that I come home from work, and I message Mike "I'm lying down, leave me alone until I get out of bed" and he knows that means my brain is requiring complete silence and darkness to recover to a functioning level again.

In the midst of all these events transpiring, I was crying at nearly every turn due to my anxiety and fears coupled with my loss of coping skills since my fall. Once I was able to resume counseling, my counselors started working on identifying the root cause of my emotional distress and loss of coping skills. And we came to the conclusion that while a symptom of PCS is a lower tolerance level for stress and frustration and increased emotionality, trauma was also contributing to my increased emotional state. It was as though I had been transported back in time to when I was 9 starting with my first surgery. As a 9-year-old, I didn't have any coping skills, everything was new, confusing, and scary. Which was exactly how I'd been feeling. I didn't have any providers I trusted then or in the beginning of my concussion. It'd been a week-by-week trial and error for me and Mike trying to fine tune the best things for me and him to do to help me. And it's during this that I realized I need Mike and I truly don't know how I would be navigating all of this emotionally without him. Perhaps that's why I was convinced he was leaving me even. I was letting him closer to me than I ever had before, something that is scary to me, something against the vow I made to myself following my divorce. It was all too much at once and I felt vulnerable on all fronts. 

Mike's been really great though throughout. He makes every effort to answer my calls or call me back as soon as he can because he knows that I'm calling because I'm spiraling, and I need him to help walk me through it into calmness. He pays attention to all the random, useless information I tell him so that when I forget something, he can help remind me and prevent a spiraling episode. When we're in person and I start to spiral, he physically makes me stop and just breathe with him. And it was working! Slowly, over time I've required less time to calm even by myself and lengthened my tolerance level for stress, frustration, and overstimulation. Over a year later and all my symptoms are still not at the level I had pre-PCS but it's much closer at least and much more tolerable. Sometimes I'm able to go almost two weeks without crying from my decreased stress or frustration tolerance level and increased emotionality. I no longer feel insecure about my relationships with others, and I can tolerate loud noises for longer periods before requiring noise cancelling headphones. 

Once my symptom improvement maintained but I was no longer seeing improvements, my neurologist and I agreed that I had achieved maximum medical improvement and not anticipated to ever return to my baseline. My worker's comp then scheduled an Independent Medical Exam by another neurologist at my 1-year mark of my injury to determine if I still required the Candesartan. 

I finally received the notice that my worker's comp case was being closed as the independent neurologist found that I have achieved maximum medical improvement and my medication and any other future claims related to my injury would no longer be covered under worker's comp. Simply put, my PCS won't get better and even though I have only improved as well as I have because I am taking Candesartan, worker's comp has cut me off and doesn't find that Candesartan is needed to maintain that improvement. However, I expected their ruling and while it does suck to have to pay for my medication for the rest of my life it also means that I don't have to jump through any of the hoops that's required by worker's comp to obtain the continued care I need for my PCS. 

I hope I never have another fall again. I am particularly careful now when walking as my brain can't handle continued injuries. This is my second fall as an adult with a head injury that caused a new life-long condition. 

If you or someone you know receives a head injury, I implore you to take it seriously. Concussions are no joke. Seek out the care of a neurologist for monitoring and possible treatment options. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

La Mémoire Noire

female child peering through the darkness with her eyes visible and barely any of her face showing through the darkness

La Mémoire Noire or The Dark Memory is a letter series written to my first surgeon. The man who caused everything ultimately in my life to reach this point today. I was to have 2 surgeries beginning at the age of 9 and his surgical errors altered the course of my life. Ultimately, I instead would require 7 surgeries and experience repeated life-threatening complications resulting in medical PTSD, suicidal and homicidal ideation. This is trauma I am still trying to heal from nearly 30 years later that has touched every aspect of my life and how I react, view, and process the world. I have a lot of hate and anger for this man. As part of my therapeutic efforts to heal, I am writing this series to him. It is my raw, unedited thoughts and feelings towards this man and all that transpired following my first surgery that he performed. It will be a series that is periodically updated as I process each letter, my trauma, and continue inching towards healing embodying full love and forgiveness for myself and others.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Living My Best Life

I started this article as 2022 was coming to a close and I was reflecting on all that has transpired and what is presently at hand. I only now feel ready to publish it though as it has been a pretty intense 6 months of 2023 already! As I was reflecting on 2022, I had the following questions and answers and I find myself asking them again now in June of 2023.

Has this been the best year for me? No, absolutely not. Has my life changed for the better this year? Absolutely it has. This acknowledgement led me to the realization that I was and still am living my best life right now. And I'm celebrating it with immense gratitude.

As a result of my medical PTSD, I've struggled with periodic bouts of depression and intense anger with a longing for death that I've experienced since my first surgery at age 9. It didn't help in high school during one of my near-death experiences that I was overcome with the deepest sense of peace I've ever encountered. This peace has left me longing for death even more ever since. So, joy wasn't something I regularly experienced or even thought about, much less sought. To me, life has merely been a waiting period full of suffering. This isn't to say that I've lived an unhappy life. Rather, it's often a life overshadowed by fear - fears of losing my parents or other loved ones, fear of uncertainty, fear of emotional and physical pain, fear of the past repeating itself. 

2021 forced me to dedicate 2022 to focusing on my mental health, learning self-care and allowing self-growth. I started 2021 with emotional turmoil from reliving my own medical traumas while writing my own medical story and my children's book about FAP for publication. This was an intense, emotionally exhaustive and long process - much more than I had anticipated. I ended the year with my 8th abdominal surgery and new, unexplained debilitating chronic pain that would take over 6 months for a diagnosis of Abdominal Migraine. I also was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia around this time, a new diagnosis for me that I haven't even given any thought to until recently. 

I began 2022 with resuming anti-depressant medication and counseling. Shortly after, within the span of a month, two of my family members who had helped raise me, passed away. Not long after that, another family member who had helped raise me moved 2.5 hours away - she was no longer physically close to me in proximity, and it was as though I was losing her too as I was losing those that my childhood life was so firmly founded upon. I was taken back to the loss of previous family members in the early 2000's that shook me to my core. 

In 2022, I added metaphysics courses and EMDR therapy for trauma work to my CBT therapy. While life significantly improved upon appropriately managing the pain of Abdominal Migraine, the end of 2022 wasn't easy either. I started experiencing regular vomiting with the reason only just being determined in May 2023 as that of esophageal dysmotility. I lost another family member and am preparing for the loss of yet another family member. And my trauma work to process not only my past trauma but also my future fears is extremely emotionally difficult work. 

And yet, I'm at a place in my life that I can't deny is the happiest time of my life. I'm cherishing every moment with my parents. I have built a family and life with my life partner, his son and family. I've regained my quality of life after enduring a year of debilitating pain. I'm learning and practicing self-care and healing from my past trauma. I'm maintaining employment, serving in new advocacy roles for the cancer and rare disease communities and celebrated the 10th anniversary of LAP. 

In 2021, I attended my first Reiki session and was confronted by my lack of experiencing joy with a challenge to start finding joy. Through all of the hard work I'm doing for my self-care, self-healing, and self-growth - I can finally say that I do experience moments of joy now in life. And they are absolutely wonderful, and I want more of them. I want them so much so that I often am faced with moments of fear and anxiety to hold onto those moments as they're overshadowed at times by my fear of never having them again. This is becoming a lessening concern though as I am incredibly doing well maintaining self-care after a year of trial and error with how to maintain self-care practices

I'm also relieved and grateful to finally know the reason for my unexplained chronic vomiting after nearly a year of this issue only worsening and learning what my treatment options will be for it. It is something I've really been struggling with since July of 2022 that was only worsening and taking a heavier and heavier mental toll. With my esophageal dysmotility, I am faced with very limited options for treatment - a muscle relaxer or surgery - both of which my doctor doesn't like. Fortunately, I previously took Baclofen in 2014 following developing a bulging disc in my neck and didn't experience any side effects from the medication. My doctor agreed to allow me to trial it for my vomiting and so far, as long as I time my doses right and don't overeat, I'm able to keep food and drink down! I've decided to not pursue surgery for two reasons - not only because medication is working but also, my doctor confirmed I have another stricture around my small intestine. And as he reminded me, no one really wants to do surgery on me due to my long history of surgeries and excessive adhesions. I fully anticipate in the future it is likely that I will require surgery for the Whipple Procedure and/or to remove the adhesions creating my stricture. I'd much rather at this point, trade a surgery for esophageal dysmotility for one or both of these possibly needed surgeries in the future. There comes a point when a person becomes inoperable, and I don't want to hasten that time for myself any more than what's absolutely necessary. 

The mental toll I've been under this year has also been compounded by developing Post Concussion Syndrome following a fall in February 2023. This is a subject I will explore in a future post but do not presently feel comfortable publicly sharing the full details of what life has been like with PCS at this time except that PCS has been an extremely challenging and nightmarish experience that no one has been able to truly understand how it's affected me except for my partner, Mike. And that has also been a challenge as it has led me to feel isolated, misunderstood, and dismissed by the majority of people in my life because they don't see or grasp what it's like to have a brain injury that isn't healing at an expected or wanted rate. My brain is still healing with slow improvements, which is something I am also extremely grateful and relieved about and hope that when my brain fully heals that I won't have lifelong complications from the injury. 

It's a difficult process to accept when life changes with no guarantee or even signs of improvement to return to how life was previously. In spite of a multitude of changes occurring in the last 2 years with barely any time to adjust to one change before another arises, I can confidently say that presently I am living my best life and even though there are no cures for my conditions, I'm full of gratitude for where I'm at in my life and I eagerly anticipate a world of wonderful things to continue as time goes on. 

Sunday, April 30, 2023

When You're Eager for Medical Testing


I don't think I've ever been so excited to undergo medical testing as I have this last year. I felt like I was literally begging for any medical test to be ran and I wouldn't even say I felt that way during the 6.5 months I spent seeing 7 specialists to ultimately diagnose my Abdominal Migraine. Sure, I was willing to do any test, but I didn't realize at the time that I needed tests to be done...I didn't have any idea of what needed to be done to determine why I was having debilitating pain that kept me bed bound for the day except for my time spent at work. But this year has been different. In fact, everything has been different ever since my gallbladder removal in August 2021 and I believe this present issue stems from that surgery as well.

My gallbladder removal exacerbated my undiagnosed Abdominal Migraine and I believe it also kickstarted something else - what exactly is yet to be determined. Let me back up and I'll give a brief timeline for understanding. 
  • August 2021 - gallbladder removal, chronic debilitating pain starts following surgery. I'm started on Lyrica in December. After surgery, I begin losing about 10 pounds a month until February because I have no appetite and Mike forces me to eat one meal a day. In March, I started to gain a small amount back and then hold steady as my appetite improved a bit.
  • April 2022 - diagnosed with Abdominal Migraine, Amitriptyline medication is added to the Lyrica. Sometime between April and July, I start noticing that not only do I feel full easily and quickly but I also feel like I need to vomit.
  • July 2022 - I start vomiting whenever I feel too full. It literally feels like I have food all the way from my stomach to the back of my throat. If I don't vomit, I continually regurgitate it and swallow it on repeat until I lean over, open my mouth, and squeeze my stomach. This is not vomiting caused by nausea. This will begin to progress to increase in frequency and ease to the present day. My weight continues to incrementally increase again until by January 2023, I have gained back almost all of the weight I lost following my gallbladder surgery. 

This entire time, I'm keeping my GI specialist informed. I started asking for an EGD, even though I wasn't due for another one until 2023. He tests me for C. Diff, he's monitoring my labs but everything keeps coming back fairly decently. In spite of vomiting up to 3 times a day, I'm maintaining weight. Some days I don't vomit at all. Most of the time when I do vomit, it's not immediately after ingesting food or drink and I don't always eat healthy foods. So my body is still able to get enough calories and nutrients to sustain itself. We try adjusting PPI dosages and trying different PPI medications. I undergo a food test study where I eat a meal with radioactive substance that is recorded in a body machine to determine the rate my stomach empties into my small intestine - to determine if I have gastroparesis. It shows my stomach empties food faster than someone with gastroparesis. 

In December 2022, I finally undergo an EGD...but it's pretty normal, some mild gastritis but no unusual acid found, no bile seen at all, esophagus looks good, my usual polyps are found, no sign of a hiatal hernia. I ask to complete a SIBO test, just in case. It came back as suspected SIBO...but I question the accuracy because I think I may have skewed the results by doing my baseline breath sample twice because I was uncertain, I had done it correctly at first. But either way, I completed a round of two antibiotics for SIBO. Nothing changes. 

The only thing that reduces the vomiting, not eliminate it, but reduce it is not ingesting anything. However, I discovered during a partial blockage that when I don't ingest body will make me vomit bile - and that was one of the most, if not the most, awful taste I've ever experienced. 
I undergo an EGD with Bravo Test to check the PH level of my stomach acid. For 10 days before the attachment of the Bravo test capsule to my esophagus, I had to stop my PPI. This resulted in vomiting bile that tasted of pure lemon juice. At least it was better than regular bile taste. My throat becomes inflamed and irritated though from the vomiting of bile without the protection of my PPI. The Bravo test comes back with significant acid reflux and esophagitis. I'm still not sure why I needed to complete this test because I've been diagnosed with GERD since my colon removal in 1995. However, my GI assured me that it would be helpful in identifying what may be going on and what steps to take. Oddly enough though, the surgeon I went to in 2021 for a second opinion about my hiatal hernia following my gallbladder surgery recommended an EGD with Bravo Test. The reason he did, I've since forgotten because my hiatal hernia was so small at the time, he wasn't even positive I had a hernia. And I wasn't having the urge to vomit or uncontrolled acid reflux. But fast forward, and I'm going to have that test done anyway. Fine by me, just as long as we're doing something to identify the cause for my vomiting and can attempt to resolve it. 

The next test to complete is an Upper GI Series with Small Bowel Follow Through. Essentially, I drink barium contrast and images are taken as my body digests it to help evaluate for small bowel obstruction. In my experience, this hasn't been very helpful except to say yes, I do have adhesions or in the case of when my small intestine wrapped around itself. But this type of test was unable to determine there was a stricture around my small intestine from adhesions resulting in my near death from excessive vomiting and diarrhea. That was only discovered through exploratory surgery. However, I am willing to undergo this test. It is just one step closer to something else being done and a checkmark for insurance requirements for further testing. My GI wants to do this test though due to my history of a stricture around my small intestine caused by adhesions. He thinks that small bowel obstruction could be contributing to my vomiting, and it very well could be, that is what caused my vomiting in high school after my ostomy reversal. 

The following week I will undergo an Esophageal Manometry. I had a PTSD related panic attack once I looked up this test. A tube must be inserted through the nose into the stomach and then the patient swallows while the tube measures the motility of the esophagus to test for different conditions. I absolutely want to do this test but I'm terrified of being awake while this tube is placed. I think this test is necessary as I've thought all along that there is something wrong with my esophagus. Fortunately, my GI agrees to place the tube under sedation and to allow my dad to be with me during the test to help calm my trauma responses. This is scheduled for May 11. Just like the EGD in December 2022, I am 100% ready to do this test. I am excited, eager, impatient to do this test. In fact, let's do any and every test that may possibly answer why I'm vomiting so it can then be treated. 

In all reality, I anticipate I'm likely facing surgery to resolve my vomiting at some point in the future. The Esophageal Manometry can help to diagnose or rule out a few conditions, majority of which can be treated with surgery. I accepted a long time ago that I would likely have future surgeries and at this point, if surgery is what will help resolve the vomiting...I'm eager to undergo surgery too and the sooner the better. I just want to identify the source and work on a treatment plan to resolve it. 

Monday, August 15, 2022

Advocating at Medical Appointments

man wearing business suit

Self advocacy is often a trial by error skill that we learn out of necessity with chronic illness. Each encounter with a medical provider may be different and can be a teaching opportunity for us. Studies have shown that the more someone is motivated to be involved in their healthcare, the better health outcomes a person has. Self advocacy quite literally can make the difference in better or poorer health. 

I've been fortunate to be able to learn from my mother as I watched how she managed not only her own health with Familial Adenomatous Polyposis but also how she managed my medical appointments when I was a child and teen with the same health issues. I watched her in her dealings not only with medical providers but also the insurance and medical supply companies. My mother is a fierce advocate and I learned a lot over the years from her. Here are my best practices that I use for myself for my medical care.

  • Research
            The first best thing one can do is be armed with information in advance of your medical appointment. I research my symptoms and my health conditions on a regular basis and I gather information from a variety of sources - health websites, medical studies, medical communities, and medical providers I personally know. 

Knowing about one's health conditions and symptoms is vital not only for personal knowledge and self-advocacy but also to improve coping and adjustment to health issues. Giving up control of one's healthcare management to providers without any input or understanding of health conditions and treatments allows for opportunities for treatment options to be missed. 

Gathering information from various sources increases the identification of possible health conditions causing new or worsening symptoms, alternative treatment options that haven't been tried yet, and different medical tests to request.

For instance, I abruptly started having chronic nausea in 2015 after a hospitalization. The standard treatments of oral Zofran or Phenergan were not effective in controlling my nausea. I researched other medications and remedies for controlling nausea and I asked my online medical communities what has worked for others with chronic nausea. After a lot of trial and error and trying various over the counter and prescription options with my doctor, I was able to effectively control my chronic nausea with Compazine and peppermint oil. If I hadn't researched other options and requested my doctor to prescribe medications I was requesting, I wouldn't have been able to find a tolerable solution to my nausea management. I do the same with requesting medical tests and procedures to be conducted when I'm having a new or worsening symptom - whether that's a lab test or procedure such as a scope or imaging test.

  • Specialists vs. Primary Care
For appropriate care to be provided, it is crucial to be followed by the appropriate type of doctor for the condition requiring evaluation and treatment. Primary Care doctors are a great place to start for evaluation but if it is a condition outside of general care, we need to be seen by a Specialist for that condition or part of the body. Primary Care doctors have a general understanding of the body whereas Specialists specialize in specific conditions and parts of the body.

When seeking the care of a specialist there are several ways to find a specialist you're looking for. Such as obtaining recommendations or referrals from your existing doctor(s), requesting a list of Specialists from your insurance plan, recommendations from other patients in the chronic illness community, and online medical databases that also provide reviews. Depending on the condition and one's area, some patients choose to be seen by a Specialist outside of their state. 

I am under the care of 7 Specialists and none of these issues should be managed by a Primary Care doctor, they require the care of Specialists:
  1. Gastroenterologist manages my GI rare diseases and everything that comes with them and the GI organs I'm missing as a result. He monitors my lab values regularly, adjusts medications as needed, completes my upper and lower scopes on a regular basis, monitors my liver, etc.
  2. Hematologist manages my anemia. While my GI Specialist is able to manage my anemia through oral medication and iron infusions/transfusions as needed, a Hematologist specializes in blood disorders and has an even better understanding of my anemia than my GI specialist.
  3. Nephrologist monitors my kidney. I have renal cysts that she monitors via ultrasound annually, treats my UTIs, and monitors my lab values regularly. She manages my Vitamin D. While my GI Specialist is able to manage my Vitamin D levels and medication, Vitamin D and the kidneys are intertwined providing my Nephrologist a better understanding of this connection.
  4. Neurologist manages my Abdominal Migraine. Once I obtained a neurological disorder diagnosis, my Neurologist began managing my medications to treat the Abdominal Migraine including the pain and nausea that it causes. Previously, my GI specialist was ordering my Lyrica and nausea medications when we believed it was solely a GI issue.
  5. Endocrinologist monitors my thyroid. With FAP, a yearly ultrasound of the thyroid is needed to monitor for cancer risks. She also monitors my thyroid via labs as well. 
  6. Gynecologist not only monitors my reproductive health but she also monitors my hormones to ensure my estrogen is within range and not worsening my Abdominal Migraine. My organs are adhered to my abdominal wall and pelvis by scar tissue and I have a large ovarian cyst, she monitors these issues to determine if either are attributing or worsening my pain levels and to treat the issues as indicated.
  7. Dermatologist monitors and treats any skin issues I have. While I don't require regular appointments at this time, she has treated me for cysts and scars from my abdominal surgeries that weren't healing. 
  • Request and Review Medical Records
Obtain copies of all of your medical tests and procedures including history and physicals. Request the images of any imaging tests done. While the majority of people aren't able to read their own imaging disks, it can be helpful to have them on hand in case a future provider would like to see the images. Review your medical records, compare them to previous records, and ask questions to your providers about any concerns or questions you have in your records and test results. Keep a copy of your medical records in a folder to take with you to doctor appointments, especially with new providers.
  • Track Symptoms in Detail
Keep track of your health symptoms and any changes to them in detail so that you can accurately and fully discuss your symptoms with your provider. 
    • What the symptoms are and what they feel like
    • When they started, changed, or stopped
    • Duration of symptoms
    • What affects the symptoms - medications, foods, etc
  • Keep a List of Everything to Discuss at Appointments
Medical appointments can easily veer off track from how you anticipate they'll go and it can be easy to accidently leave out information or questions. To stay on track with your concerns and questions, keep a list of everything you want to discuss in your medical appointment - questions, symptoms, concerns, treatment or test requests, etc. Take with you any applicable medical records or research to your appointment with your list of things to discuss.
  • Create Online Accounts with Medical Providers
The easiest way to communicate with your doctors is to create online accounts. This is easier for you and for them. This saves you time waiting on hold and will reduce your wait time for a response. It is much faster for a provider to read your question or concern and reply to you than to try to reach you via phone. Some providers have online portals but don't check them as regularly as others. Ask your provider what their process is with the online portals. If you have sent a message and not received a response back within a week, call the office. 

Another benefit of the online portals is I receive electronic copies of all my labs, office visit summaries, medical procedures and tests that are completed with my lab and hospital system. I can also request records through my hospital online portal without having to call or fax a request. 
  • Maintain Regular Communication with Providers
If you have a change in health or a concern and don't contact your doctor in between your appointments, they will assume everything is stable. For your doctor to best provide care, it is essential to maintain regular communication with providers to alert them of any health changes, concerns, or questions you have. They are unable to help you if they don't know something has changed in between appointments.

The easiest way to maintain communication is via online patient portals, however, calling the office remains better than waiting until your next appointment when there's an issue. 

My GI specialist says I use my online portal more than any other patient of his!
  • Avoid HMO Insurance Plans
HMO insurance plans significantly reduce your medical care freedom by requiring referrals to see other doctors and also have a smaller in-network selection of providers. If at all possible, choose an insurance plan (i.e. PPO) that doesn't require referrals. Having the freedom to schedule your own appointments with any in-network doctor saves you valuable time, stress, and increases your ability to access medical care. 

As a child, when I started having chronic abdominal pain, my parents had an HMO plan. A referral to a GI specialist was required by the PCP in order for me to be evaluated. My PCP refused to refer me for evaluation stating I "was just a whiny child". My parents had to change to a PPO plan in order to obtain GI evaluation and it was discovered I had inherited Familial Adenomatous Polyposis from my mother and a year later I required my colon to be removed due to my colon polyps starting to turn cancerous. The possible alternative outcomes at the time are countless and unknown due to delay in care caused by having an HMO plan and a PCP who refused providing referrals. 
  • Obtain Consultations 
Don't hesitate to ask to be seen by other medical specialties for consults and second opinions. If you have a PPO insurance plan you can find a provider in-network and schedule a consultation without requiring anything from your existing doctors. Specialists are trained to focus primarily in their area of expertise and while your health issue may not be in the realm of another specialist, there's no harm in obtaining a consultation to confirm if something else is occurring.

For instance, I have been having chronic pain shortly after my 8th surgery to remove my gall bladder. After my surgeon released me after ordering a few tests to try to determine the cause of my pain, my GI specialist took over the evaluation. I obtained a second opinion from another surgeon and without success from the tests my GI specialist was ordering, I scheduled an appointment with a Rheumatologist and Neurologist for consultations. Rheumatology was unable to identify any issues in their field but the neurologist was able to provide me a diagnosis and treatment plan for my symptoms. It took 6.5 months and consulting 7 specialists, but I finally was diagnosed with Abdominal Migraine
  • Ask About Differential Diagnosis
A differential diagnosis is a list of possible conditions that share the same symptoms. This is not a final diagnosis but rather a theory of possible causes for particular symptoms. Once you have this list, then you can ask your provider about each potential cause of your symptoms - why does your provider think or doesn't think X is causing your symptoms and so forth through the differential diagnosis list.

  • Request Explanation and Documentation of Denied Medical Requests
If you ask your provider for a certain medical test to be performed or a medication to try and your provider refuses to order the test or medication, then ask why that test or medication isn't being ordered for you. After receiving an explanation, if you still believe the test or medication should be ordered and the provider refuses again, tell your provider that you want your request, the provider's refusal to order the requested items, and the reasoning for refusal to be documented in your medical chart. 
  • Change Providers
If you aren't comfortable with any of your doctors, discuss your concerns with the doctor and if the issues aren't resolved, you have the right to change providers - essentially firing them. This can be more difficult if available providers is limited by HMO insurance plans or the area where you receive care (i.e. rural). If possible, it can make a significant difference in medical care if one is able to travel further for care. 

There are some instances where the process of changing providers needs to be carefully done to preserve continued treatment. For example, a dialysis patient cannot receive dialysis treatments without being under the care of a nephrologist. While a dialysis patient can change to a different nephrologist, it is vital for the patient to have an accepting nephrologist before ending care with (firing) their nephrologist to avoid any lapses in their care.

Monday, April 25, 2022

My New Diagnosis: Abdominal Migraine

After 6.5 months of chronic pain that was only improved but not cured by Lyrica, consults with 7 types of doctors, a multitude of tests and an absorbent toll physically, mentally, and financially - I finally have a diagnosis: Abdominal Migraine

All of my tests have come back normal from my various specialists except for my pancreas enzyme and platelets that were elevated. I underwent 2 CT scans, abdominal ultrasound, MRCP, 3 MRIs, EEG, sleep deprived EEG, EMG, nerve condition test, and a neuropsych test with all unremarkable results that provided no explanation for my new symptoms and pain. With these normal results, my neurologist came to the conclusion that I likely have abdominal migraine which is a type of migraine. 

My doctor explained that migraine is a chemical imbalance in the brain and depending where at in the brain determines what type of migraine and mine happen to be abdominal. He stated this would explain my trunk pain, chronic nausea, dizziness, scalp sensitivity, hearing sensitivity, headaches, lightheadedness, brain fog, appetite loss, and chest pain. Through our discussions and medical history review, we came to the conclusion that my abdominal migraine started in 2015 after I fell and hit my head. A couple days after the fall, I had a sudden, intense headache that pain medication was unable to treat and after that I've had chronic nausea ever since.

The only medication that's been able to manage my chronic nausea is Compazine, which is an abortive migraine medication to break through migraine symptoms. And Zofran can actually trigger a migraine and hasn't been effective in managing my nausea. To treat my abdominal migraine, he's started me on Amitriptyline which is a preventative migraine medication. 

My doctor explained that abdominal migraine is typically diagnosed among children and often forgotten about for adults often leading to other diagnoses such as IBS. Through our discussions though, this diagnosis makes sense considering all of my accompanying symptoms and the time frame of events. I'm relieved to finally have a diagnosis and a new treatment to pursue for my symptoms. 

It will take 6 weeks for the Amitriptyline to reach it's fully effective state and I've been taking it for 4 weeks now. During the 3rd week, I started noticing periods of time where I was pain free for the first time since these new pains started. I am still requiring the Lyrica in conjunction with the Amitriptyline presently to treat my pain but this may change over time as the Amitriptyline reaches full efficacy levels in my body and dosage may be adjusted. I haven't been experiencing nausea either. I will see my neurologist in another 4 weeks and any medication changes will then be decided upon as he didn't want to make any changes to my Lyrica or Compazine yet. I haven't had any changes to my appetite, although I'm not bothered by that. 

I look forward to my next neurology appointment to see what medication changes may be decided upon and continuing improvement to my symptoms now that a diagnosis has been reached. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Colon Cancer: A Family Tribute and A Reminder

This March, Colon Cancer Awareness Month, hits harder this year than those previous. Colon cancer runs in both sides of my family and as a person with the hereditary colon cancer syndrome, Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), I particularly know the importance of colon cancer screening firsthand. 

Due to my FAP, I required my colon to be removed at age 9 as my precancerous polyps were starting to turn cancerous. A fact that was difficult to obtain as my primary care doctor had refused me the necessary referral to be evaluated by a GI specialist - a refusal that could have cost me my life. 

Colon cancer goes beyond me though. FAP runs in my mother's family. She was diagnosed with colon cancer just 3 months after I was born. My grandfather had FAP and had colon cancer as well, he later died from stomach and esophageal cancer caused by FAP. Both of their stories can be read in Touch of Cancer.

Beyond my grandfather, other members in his family likely had FAP including his sister, mother and her two brothers, three cousins, and two nieces. Beyond that, we are unsure who else has since had FAP among their family lines. 

Colon cancer also runs on my father's side of the family. In his family, my grandmother died of colon cancer and two of my aunts have had it - one being my aunt Martha who we recently lost.

My aunt Martha was extremely healthy her entire life until she developed colon cancer - likely about a year or so ago. Good genes and long life run in my dad's side of the family - several family members living into their 100s. My dad is the youngest of 7 siblings - the oldest one is still in good health at age 89.

Martha was 83 and could have likely lived a much longer life if she had completed the recommended colonoscopies to prevent colon cancer. She never went to the doctor as far as I'm aware of since becoming an adult.

She began having symptoms of unexplained weight loss, bloody stools, change in bowel habits, loss of appetite, weakness. We weren't aware of all of these changes - only the weight loss. She wasn't diagnosed with colon cancer until mid-February 2022 when she was basically forced to by my parents after she fainted upon answering her house door. As it was told to me, she figured she had colon cancer just like her mother, but she had been refusing to go to the doctor or hospital out of fear of never returning to her home. Unfortunately, once she finally agreed to be evaluated, she was diagnosed with colon cancer with metastasis to the liver and lungs that was terminal and given 8 weeks to live. 

Sadly, we lost her on March 22, 2022 - 5 weeks after diagnosis. My last visit with her she was barely able to speak and hard to understand, she had difficulty staying awake. We were fortunate to have hospice care available to keep her as comfortable as possible during the last weeks of her life as the pain did become increasingly worse.

Please take heed from the story of my aunt Martha and complete your recommended colonoscopies for prevent colon cancer in yourself. Please go to the doctor regularly and notify them of any changes in your health, any symptoms you experience. Please do your best to not be another colon cancer statistic.

My Tribute to My Aunt Martha

Martha and Me
My aunt Martha was a steadfast, loved, and integral presence in my life. She was one of several family
members who literally helped raise me from the age of 3 months. She spoiled me to no end as a child whether it was ensuring I had plenty of my own clothes to keep at her house, displaying my portrait on her mantle, or unnecessary gifts such as my 3-foot christmas stocking full of items.

She taught me to enjoy a variety of word puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, solitaire, and mahjong.

She supported everyone in her life, she was always in everyone's corner no matter what. She showed her love through gifts and loans to support others in their life goals and interests. She was ever giving and generous to a fault. She constantly put others ahead of herself even if it caused herself harm. She was ever more concerned about others, their feelings, and not wanting to inconvenience others than she ever was about herself.

If she discovered something that you liked, she would surprise you with a gift of that item even if that meant trying to give you her own possession. Even when she was in her last weeks of life, she wanted to read my children's book to show her support.

She was an avid believer in the power of positive thinking. Every time when asked how she was, her favorite response became "I'm phenomenal!" and said with as much enthusiasm as possible.

She was notorious for bad directions and odd quirks. During one trip to Texas, a route she had driven a multitude of times, she suddenly exited somewhere unfamiliar to me. When I asked her where we were going, she responded "I don't know, I just followed the line". She was able to laugh at herself during such instances.

She was my aunt, who I have held dear in my heart since infancy and will forevermore continue to do so.

Monday, November 8, 2021

The Continued Mystery of My Post-Surgical Chronic Pain

chronic pain

I was hoping my health would have improved after experiencing chronic pain complications after returning to work following my 8th surgery; but alas, there has been none. 

Where I've Been Having Chronic Pain since 9/13/21
Not only has my pain continued throughout the majority of my torso, since 9/28/21 my incisions have
started feeling as though they are ripping from the inside out whenever my abdominal muscles are strained or stretched in the least bit. 

I returned to the surgeon on 10/6/21 and he decided to order another CT scan without contrast as my pain hadn't improved. My latest CT scan on 10/14/21 revealed a small hiatal hernia and everything else remained the same. I was distraught upon reading these results. I fully expected to require additional surgery in my lifetime but I didn't expect the possibility of another surgery so soon. I contacted the surgeon's office asking to speak to him about the CT results as I was very upset. He contacted me via phone that afternoon and the information I was provided was even further upsetting to me. I had been crying nearly non-stop after reading my CT results and was actively crying when he called me. The surgeon told me that he believed:

  • My hernia wasn't causing or contributing to my pain even the upper stomach pain
  • My pain isn't new
  • I've had this hernia all along
  • He was releasing me to my GI and PCP as he has nothing to offer me or idea what is causing my pain
I wasn't fully processing the information he stated and only managed to repeat the exact things he said but in a question form. To this, he simply repeated the same information without any elaboration of his conclusions or advice for going forward. Afterwards, I realized that the information he stated didn't make sense. The more I thought about it, the more I became enraged. The next day, I left a voicemail for his office explaining that I was confused by his statements for the following reasons:
  • Upper stomach pain can be a pain symptom of hiatal hernia
  • The pains I've been reporting since 9/13/21 are new, I didn't have them before surgery and the issues I was having prior to surgery, I'm no longer having
  • I have had multiple, repeated testing that includes the ones used to diagnose a hiatal hernia and none of those tests ever showed a hiatal hernia until this one
His Medical Assistant called me back and stated "He told me that none of this changes anything, he has nothing surgically to offer you but if you want to see him in the office to discuss it, you can". 
This further enraged me as I felt my trust in this doctor had been betrayed, my concerns and questions dismissed, and I felt frankly abandoned. I thought he understood my medical complexity and that my body has never followed the medical textbook explanations for anything. I felt he had indicated he would follow through with trying to identify the issues I've been having since surgery and now, he was giving up on me. Furthermore, why should I pay this surgeon a copay to finally get answers to the questions I posed when he should have explained his conclusions when he was on the phone with me the day before especially when I'm going to have to pay a copay to consult with my GI and PCP anyway. I figured, I might as well obtain a second opinion from another surgeon, pay that person my copay, and have all my questions answered in one. And, at this point, with confidence and trust lost in this surgeon, I wouldn't feel able to fully believe anything he says going forward.

I immediately followed up with my PCP, GI, and sought a second opinion from another surgeon.
My PCP advised she didn't believe my hernia was causing my pain due to the large scale of my pain not being consistent with symptoms of hiatal hernias. Instead, she thought my pain may be caused by gassiness from my probiotic or esophageal spasms. She advised to stop my probiotic for 1-2 months to determine if my pain would improve. I had stopped taking my Bentyl after surgery as I no longer have been having the abdominal pain it was controlling but resumed the Bentyl as it may help with esophageal spasms. I have not noticed any improvements to my pain with either of these medication changes thus far.

My GI ordered lab and stool tests as the surgeon hadn't checked my blood tests again after my pain started, only before my pain started. Tests showed that my liver and pancreas enzymes are high, white cell blood count low, and there continues to be blood in my stool and the calprotectin levels measuring inflammation in the GI doubled since 8/3/21 - from 58 to 117. Both of these levels remain in the borderline range, however, 120 is the threshold for elevated. He also ordered an abdominal ultrasound, however, no issues were identified by the ultrasound. He suggested the new pain may be due to adhesions. Although, I don't understand why abdominal adhesions would cause pain everywhere other than the abdomen especially considering I just had adhesions removal and the adhesion pain I had prior to this, has stopped. He started me on Carafate for possible Bile Gastritis and I will see him in the office for a follow up on 12/2/21. I remain in regular contact with him and his office though, so he may order additional tests in the meantime.

My Nephrologist advised she believes my torso pain is caused by dehydration and my high liver enzymes are likely due to my medications. Neither of these suggestions make sense to me and my GI reviewed my medications following my test results for possible contraindications with the liver and found none. 

I also scheduled with another surgeon. I obtained the images of my 3 CT scans from this year for him to review and I brought all my paper medical records I have for him as well. The moment I stepped into his office building, I began to cry and continued to do so until he met with me. This was due to my high level of fear and mistrust in new medical providers due to my medical trauma. I felt confident in him prior to our meeting as his reputation as a surgeon is well known and a friend is his patient for hernia repair as well. He spent an hour reviewing my records and talking with me. While he agreed that I am a complicated medical case he explained to me that:
  • He isn't convinced I even have a hernia. If I do have a hiatal hernia, it is "tiny". 
  • He doesn't believe my possible hiatal hernia is causing me any issues
  • He doesn't recommend surgery at this time as he doesn't believe it would benefit me and would only worsen my health issues
  • He believes I have recovered well from the surgery itself and my incision pain is likely due to adhesions. My abdomen is also not likely to ever feel "normal" due to all the surgeries I've required so the abdomen issues I'm having are likely to be my normal. (Honestly, I figured as much so I wasn't surprised)
  • He doesn't know what is causing my pain and believes my other doctors are "throwing darts" but recommends scopes if gastritis is suspected and to have a Bravo pH test done at the same time to measure my stomach acid 
With my 2nd opinion complete, I feel comfortable in trusting that my possible hernia isn't the issue and I can now relax about the hernia. I don't believe my probiotic or dehydration is the culprit. I don't believe I'm having esophageal spasms and perhaps it is bile gastritis but not convinced there either. Honestly, I'm hoping the Carafate isn't effective as I don't want to take this medicine for the remainder of my life. 

I'm required to take the Carafate 1 hour before meals or 2 hours after meals or I will have an intestinal blockage, which I am already prone to due to adhesions. I typically only eat 1 meal a day in the evening and it is usually only when I'm with Mike for dinner 4-6 times a week. Without him, it's debatable if I will eat anything for the day. When I do eat outside of my daily meal, it is typically a very small snack and often it is late in the day. Therefore, timing when I can safely take the Carafate has been a nightmare. I also am beginning to think the Carafate may be causing me to feel worse. I've noticed I've started feeling feverish (even though I don't have a fever), nauseated, sick to my stomach, symptoms of low blood sugar, and the like sometimes within 30 minutes of taking it. 

I continue to have pain from pressure placed on my abdomen including from clothes or bending. A physical abdominal exam causes severe, post surgery like pain for 1.5-2 days after the exam. I haven't noticed any improvements to my torso pain since it began in mid September, but I do believe I am starting to tolerate it better most days. I suppose that's something. Unfortunately, OTC pain medications are no longer dulling the pain and having my muscles massaged causes intolerable pain. I don't want to start taking prescription strength pain medications for multiple reasons either. At this time, I just hope the pain will improve over time or I will continue to at least improve in my toleration.

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Unexpected After Surgery


When my CT scan showed gall stones in 2017, I expected I would require surgery to remove my gall bladder at some point. I didn't have a time frame in mind for this so I didn't quite expect it to be required by 2021 but within this time frame my many small gall stones changed into innumerable medium sized gall stones. My GI specialist theorized that my gall bladder was worsening my symptoms of chronic nausea and abdominal pain and it was time for removal. It was after receiving this news that I started to have increased pain, bloating, early fullness, and loss of appetite including difficulty eating solid foods - again contributed to my gall bladder. 

My doctors agreed that it was time to remove my gall bladder and my GI specialist and surgeon urged for sooner rather than later. My main concern was increased diarrhea without a gall bladder as I already have Short Bowel Syndrome and had 20+ stools a day. 

My GI specialist warned me of the risks if I decided to delay removing my gall bladder:

  • Gall stones dislodging and blocking a duct and gall stone attacks which could require emergency surgery
  • Inflammation and infection
  • Gall bladder fusing to the liver which would further complicate surgery
  • Gall bladder cancer
I also discussed bile salt supplements with my GI specialist as I had researched them as a possible treatment to improve digestion and reduce diarrhea after gall bladder removal. My GI specialist advised that I would likely not require bile salt supplements and to revisit this as a possible treatment if needed in the future. He stated that bile salt supplements allow the liver to become "lazy" by doing the liver's job for it of releasing bile salts and that the liver will likely function well on its own without assistance. My body was already functioning as though it didn't have a gall bladder so he, and my other doctors, suspected little changes to my bowel habits with the gall bladder being removed. This would also mean that I wouldn't likely start becoming deficient on Vitamins A, E, and K although my GI specialist approved if I chose to start taking these over the counter vitamins. I am already deficient of Vitamin D and presently prescribed Vitamin D3 by my nephrologist. 

Originally, I thought I would delay this surgery until January 2022 so that I would be able to use my Flexible Spending Account (FSA) for the cost. I had already used all of my FSA funds for the year and would be able to delegate the full amount to be contributed for the 2022 year if I waited. My symptoms continued to become more bothersome though so I thought I would schedule surgery for the end of September. Ultimately, I decided I didn't want to wait if possible and was able to schedule the surgery for two weeks after my surgical consult - August 26. 

Due to my medical PTSD and mistrust of medical providers, I was extremely nervous about electing a surgeon. My GI specialist provided me a list of possible surgeons to choose from. Between my familiarity with a couple of the surgeons due to working in the medical field and researching the possible surgeons, I made my selection and I feel that I made the correct choice. He has been extremely attentive to my concerns and my PTSD. 

My surgeon advised that he would attempt laparoscopic surgery to remove my gall bladder but due to the extent of my adhesions from my previous 7 surgeries, I would likely require an open surgery. He stated while gall bladder surgery is typically an outpatient surgery, he wanted to keep me overnight to monitor me even if he was able to complete the surgery laparoscopically - partly due to my medical complexity but also to monitor my pain control as I advised him that morphine is not an effective pain medication for me. In high school, my post surgical pain was controlled by Demerol, however, this is not a standard pain medication preference by doctors and we were uncertain how I would respond to other pain medications. If the surgery would be open, I would require a 3-5 day admission. 

We planned for an open surgery while hoping for the best outcome of it being laparoscopic. Due to increased Covid19 cases and hospitalizations, I was only allowed one person with me at the hospital so my boyfriend, Mike, went with me.

The surgery went better than expected and my surgeon was able to complete the surgery laparoscopically. He created 5 incisions across my abdomen - 2 on each side of my belly and one along my midline. He removed my gall bladder, a small mass on my liver, and another section of my liver for biopsy due to my liver becoming increasingly enlarged - resulting in 3 biopsies. While he provided me the option to stay over night following surgery, we ultimately decided for me to return home that day.

A few of my gall stones

The pathology results showed that my gall bladder had FAP polyps with dysplasia without malignancy - meaning my gall bladder was precancerous. I knew that FAP polyps could develop anywhere in the GI tract resulting in additional GI cancers outside of the colon but I didn't realize that included the gall bladder. The FAP polyps in my gall bladder hadn't been detected prior to removing the gall bladder so I was fortunate it was removed when it was as gall bladder cancer is difficult to treat. 

The mass on my liver was scarring and my liver biopsies were negative for any other issues. My surgeon recommended yearly imaging to monitor my liver due to the enlargement and scarring - which my GI specialist had already planned for follow up imaging in 6 months.

Following surgery, I suffered from lack of appetite and thirst resulting in dehydration. This further decreased my strength and energy levels and also caused my blood pressure to drop risking falls and fainting. I also experienced, numbness in my face, chest and under my ribs - particularly while using this restroom. This was concerning to my surgeon which prompted an office visit within a week of my surgery rather than two weeks afterwards. He ordered blood work that showed elevated liver enzymes and therefore ordered a CT scan. The CT scan results were unremarkable. He stated my elevated liver enzymes could be caused by surgery and ordered repeat blood work for the week after along with my 2 week post op office visit. I was able to discontinue my pain medication within 3 days post surgery and these symptoms have since subsided. However, I also periodically experienced such an intense heart beat that I could physically see and feel my stomach and chest moving with each pulse. It lasted for at least an hour each episode and it caused me to feel fatigued and the constant jarring is upsetting to my stomach. My doctors haven't been concerned about it and if it were an abdominal aorta aneurysm, it should have been detected on the CT scan. This intensely pulsating heart beat in my abdomen finally stopped occurring about 3 weeks after surgery.

Another concerning symptom following surgery for me has been a change in bowel habits. Prior to surgery, I had 20+ stools a day and while this number hasn't specifically changed post op - I was unable to feel as though I fully voided my intestine when using the restroom for about 3 weeks after surgery. I have also experienced significantly increased gassiness since surgery even with medication such as Gas-X. About half of my restroom trips are due to the gassiness rather than the actual need to use the restroom. My appetite remains suppressed which has allowed me to lose weight that I've been trying to lose for the past few years. I become full rather quickly and I haven't truly felt hungry since surgery. Rather, I eat something because the taste of a certain food will sound appealing not because I'm actually hungry. I have been eating one meal a day typically and on occasion I will have a snack. Surprisingly, I have been able to tolerate every food I've eaten post surgery including greasy foods. Various foods haven't increased my urgency to use the restroom or my abdominal pain. I am no longer having nausea and have been able to discontinue to medications to reduce chronic nausea and abdominal pain when eating. The chronic nausea and increased abdominal pains that I started having in 2015 were thought to be caused by my increased adhesions. However, I am left to wonder if these symptoms were not brought upon by gall stones entirely or at least partially. Additionally, my surgeon was required to remove adhesions in order to remove my gall bladder so the combination of removal of adhesions and gall bladder would have helped to address both of these issues. 

I returned to work 2.5 weeks after surgery as I felt comfortable enough to do so. However, after returning to work I started having new pains. My incisions hurt periodically and I have near constant pain under my ribs, on the sides of my torso, and up my back. The severity of this pain has varied and I've required resting in bed and Tylenol or Ibuprofen to help manage the pain. I've also required taking time off work each week in order to recover so that I may continue working the rest of the week. My surgeon is concerned by these new pains, especially as they have continued at a month after surgery. He and I both believe the new pains are a result of increased activity since returning to work and these pains were likely unavoidable. Since he ordered a CT scan one week after surgery that was unremarkable, he is waiting to repeat the CT scan or order additional testing. If my pain continues to worsen or doesn't improve by my next follow up appointment, he may decide to order more testing. 

I also met with my GI doctor for follow up post surgery and he explained that my liver was shown to return to normal size after my surgery. He further explained that my gall bladder was causing chronic inflammation and likely a chronic low grade infection resulting in my liver becoming enlarged. He agreed to complete a liver ultrasound in a year to continue monitoring my liver due to the scarring found on it during surgery. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

When One Thing Becomes Many

medical test questions

I undergo an upper and lower GI scope every two years presently due to my Familial Adenomatous Polyposis. My FAP polyp growth is slow enough at this time to not require more frequent screening. 

I continue to have a carpeted stomach of fundic gland polyps and recurring duodenal FAP polyps - typically just one or two of them. However, this year I asked my GI specialist one medical question in particular for this year's scopes - can he determine what is causing me to have needle like pain in my intestine, near my ostomy reversal connection site. 

My GI specialist was unable to determine any cause for this pain during my lower GI scope and ordered a CT scan for further evaluation. My last CT scan had been in 2017 so he figured another one was due anyway. This CT scan spawned a battery of tests to follow.

My CT Scan this year discovered:

  • My enlarged liver grew another 2 cm
  • My enlarged pancreas returned to normal size
  • My normal sized right ovary doubled in size and now has multiple cysts including one measuring 6.4 cm cyst 
  • I continue to have sub centimeter cysts on both kidneys
  • I now have innumerable gall stones that have also increased in size
These results led to:
  • Surgical consult for removal of gall bladder
  • Recommendation for liver biopsy
  • Pelvic ultrasounds
My GI specialist advised my needle like pain may be due to my adhesions. He referred me to a surgeon to discuss gall bladder removal due to my innumerable gall stones and recommended for me to have a liver biopsy during the surgery. He stated my gall stones may be contributing to my chronic nausea.

My Nephrologist was pleased that my renal cysts remain less than a centimeter and didn't require my annual kidney/bladder ultrasound this year due to having the CT scan. She also was in agreement with my GI specialist recommending gall bladder removal stating that I am essentially living without a gall bladder presently, it's just still in my body. 

My gynecologist ordered pelvic ultrasounds and determined she wasn't overly concerned about my ovarian cysts and recommended pelvic ultrasounds to be performed in another year to monitor the larger cyst. My ovarian cysts were classified as simple cysts which are common for women to develop during the menstrual cycle and are often symptomless. Ovarian cysts often cause the ovary to become enlarged and ovary size also changes throughout the month during the menstrual cycle. It is common for ovarian cysts to develop and go away on their own. She did not think the enlarged ovary was contributing to my GI symptoms.

My surgical consult is scheduled for the middle of this month and I have also requested another appointment with my GI specialist to further discuss my concerns and questions about having my gall bladder removed. I have accepted that my gall bladder will require removal at some point, however, I still have questions and concerns I want to discuss. I've also decided that whenever I do decide to have my gall bladder removed, I am going to have at least a week of celebrating greasy foods before the surgery.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Turning age 95 with Familial Adenomatous Polyposis

95th birthday celebration

Carleton Myers turns 95 this June. He has Familial Adenomatous Polyposis and has had an ostomy since about 1948. He has seen a lot in his years and a lot of changes in the management of this rare disease and ostomies. 

Carleton's mother likely had FAP as she died from colon cancer in 1928 at the age of 28. She was adopted so there is no further family history of his mother available. His father lived to be nearly 105 with no history of colon cancer or FAP. Carleton's only sibling, Elmer, was first diagnosed with colon cancer and FAP and Elmer's first son also had FAP and died in his mid 30s. Carleton and his wife, Sheila, 91, have 5 sons who have all tested positive for FAP. Two of their grandchildren also tested positive for FAP.

This is an interview with Carleton conducted by his son, Kevin.

    What were things like when you were growing up with FAP?

    I managed it very well; it was right before I went into the service. I didn't have too much trouble then; it was after that when trouble started. When I learned we could have an operation to take the large intestine out completely, I did that, and it was successful.

    When did you first find out that the operation could be done?

    It would have been probably around 1948. That's when I knew what had to be done because my brother (Elmer) had it done in the early 1940s. He was out in the South Pacific and they sent him back because of it. He had a lot of trouble and hospitals. He managed to survive it. He died when he was 42. Other problems that this brought on, I guess. He had a lot of trouble before it. I didn't, I was fortunate enough to be younger than him and they were learning more and more about it and what they had to do and that saved me.

    How did you find out about Henry Ford Hospital and Dr. Block?

    I went there when Elmer found out that he had cancer. In two months, I went in and had the whole rectum system out because that's where it started growing in my brother. Because he had his intestine out before me. I didn't know which way, but I had good doctors. Just as soon as we found out that my brother had cancer, I had everything taken out.

    You never expected to live into adulthood when you were a teen, is that right?

    I was hopeful about getting into my 40s. That's what I was shooting for, that I could get that far. I got that far, and I kept going. What they did to me originally was taking all of the polyps that were left after they took out most of my large intestine, they left about 6 inches and the rectum. I had to go in many times to get polyps removed. Once Elmer found out he had cancer, I went immediately and found a doctor and had the rectum taken out - it was about three months after that. All of you (my children) were look at in your teens.

    Do you have any recommendations for anyone now that has FAP?

    I don't know what the doctors are doing now. I was just so glad to be living.

    What was it like knowing about FAP?

    Sheila - Scary. I knew it was going to be a battle.

    Carleton - My brother wrote me a letter right away and I immediately got a doctor to do it. My brother raised me because my mother was dead so didn't have much choice. 

Myers Family
Carleton and Sheila in the middle
Their son, Kent, and his wife at top left
Their son, Keith, below Kent on left
Their son, Kevin and wife next to Keith
Their son Kory on bottom left
Their son Kurt on bottom right

Carlton and Sheila at their 75 Wedding Anniversary
Carleton and Sheila 
75th Wedding Anniversary
Carleton passed away at age 96 on 10/16/2022 after viewing the Autumn leaves changing with his son, Kevin, and daughter in law. By all accounts, he died peacefully.

Carleton had an ileostomy and in recent years had surgery for an urostomy as well. He had Diabetes and some difficulty walking without mobility aids but in general was doing well with only rare intestinal blockages and maintained a well intact memory until Sheila's death in June 2022 - afterwards his health began to decline rapidly, per his son, Kevin. 

Michigan started a Familial Adenomatous Polyposis Awareness Week each year during the week of June 16 to honor him. Find out how to help further honor Carelton's legacy and FAP/AFAP patients where you live with the FAP/AFAP Awareness Week Proclamation


Updated 10/20/2022