Thursday, March 29, 2018

Living for Work

chronically working life's a polyp

My pediatric GI doctor talked to me and my parents about my chances for Social Security Disability (SSD) Benefits to ease the financial burden associated with my chronic illness since I was a child. I grew up hearing about how I would be able to obtain SSD benefits if I applied. My parents opted to never apply for SSD benefits for myself as they didn't want me to see myself as different from other children and teenagers and were fortunately financially able to withstand the financial burden my health placed upon them.

For me, SSD benefits was never an option truly placed upon the table but I also knew that my doctor and my parents hoped I would be able to physically complete my schooling and obtain full time employment and become a financially independent person - but that this was not a given but rather a hope as none of us were sure how my health would withstand the such physical stress.

So I put forth my full effort into the tasks of life. My parents home schooled me for a year in grade school due to my health not allowing me to meet the attendance requirements of public school during the first year of my surgeries. And in high school I risked inability to graduate on time during another physically trying year with medical tests, procedures, surgeries, and multiple hospitalizations. I was only able graduate high school due to the kindness of one of my high school teachers agreeing to tutor me during my home study absence period.

In college, I endured regular hospitalizations due to difficulty maintaining my electrolytes. My college professors worked with me to allow me to complete my assignments and exams around my hospitalizations as needed. My health stabilized the year I graduated college affording me attendance to graduate school and my practicums with minimal difficulty.

However, when I started my first full time job the stress would become too much for my body. I was traveling around the state on a daily basis, even to the borders of my state on a bimonthly basis. My employer was not overly accepting of my health. After consulting with my parents about my health and financial situation, I was forced to resign for the sake of my health.

I was not defeated though. I allowed myself a month of rest before re-entering the work place with a different employer. I had learned new ways to cope with the stress of full time employment and how to deal with an employer. I succeeded at maintaining my health even when this employer entered the realm of a hostile work environment. I found a new position with yet another employer who works with me on my health issues and have been able to maintain full time employment ever since without difficulty for 7 years now.

With abrupt health changes over the last two years, especially during this year, I began to worry about my ability to maintain full time employment. Without my employment I would become dependent upon attempting to obtain SSD benefit approval and assistance from my parents in the meantime. SSD benefit approval is not necessarily an easy task to achieve and can take years. Even after approval, you are often required to wait another two years for Medicare health insurance to become available.

life's a polyp
My greatest fears in life include not being able to financially support myself and to become nursing home dependent or homeless and to be able to care for my parents as needed. When I was married, I was less fearful of these risks as my home was a two person income home. However, I had to weigh the financial risks I could potentially be under when I divorced. When I divorced, I was accepting that I am solely responsible for my financial well-being regardless of my health. I would be at greater risk of my greatest fears becoming a reality if unable to maintain employment. When I divorced, I learned a new level of independence that I vowed to fiercley protect and cherish for all my days on Earth even if that I meant I had to work until my death. No longer would I allow myself fairy tale dreams of being a stay at home wife - I would forever be a working woman for as long as I required and am able.

And with this new attitude and determination, I admit that I live to work. It's not out of enjoyment or because I'm a workaholic but rather out of necessity for my surival and mental sanity. My health has always been unpredictable causing my future to be unpredictable. I will ferociously hold onto the few things I can control in my life with an intense tenacity. It is due to this outlook, that I dismiss others when they say it's no life to live to work. For others this may be true, but it doesn't hold true for me. Rather, I increase my ability to survive physically and mentally when I focus on maintaining my employment ability for as long as I am able - even if that means I work past retirement age. The more I work, the more financially stable I become, the more I am able to prepare for the uncertain turns my health will take that is chronic illness.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Life with Chronic Nausea

nausea life's a polyp

Nausea is easy to understand, right? It's simply of feeling of sickness with the inclination to vomit. Seems pretty straight forward. Not so much for me though, at least not my chronic nausea.

For me, chronic nausea is something different than just the inclination to vomit. It's different from nausea that can accompany a stomach virus, food poisoning, or over indulging on alcohol. I don't typically even vomit from my chronic nausea. My mouth doesn't start to salivate in preparation for the impending upchuck, I don't start heaving, I don't have to stop talking or risk vomitting. None of the usual signs I experience when I'm inclined to vomit. No, typically if I were to vomit from my chronic nausea, it's because I forced myself not because my body forced me. Although, frequently I wish I would vomit when I'm nauseated as I believe it would help provide relief. This is a predicament I find myself struggling with regularly and unfortunately, not new to me.

Instead of the typical response to nausea, my whole body reacts to my chronic nausea. My nausea has various triggers and although I can usually predict when the nausea will hit based on my behaviors, it is not always known to expect it crashing in upon me. Ingesting food or liquid often triggers the nausea as it fills my stomach and causes discomfort or if I become overheated I will become nauseated. Other times physical or visual motions will send me overboard. The slightly shaking is too much for my stomach and at times even the movement of a computer mouse or the scrolling of a computer screen will act as a trigger. And even with these triggers, there are times that I will simply awake nauseated. But whatever the reason for it, it always feels the same.

Typical nausea that subsides upon the expultation of the irritating source, I would welcome that. But that is not my experience. I can usually feel the nausea crashing over my body like the waves of a tide. I feel like complete and utter rubbish when the nausea hits. My body has a generalized, overwhelming sickness to it; my stomach hurts and feels uneasy, I feel full and bloated. On particularly worse occasions my head will slightly hurt and if I close my eyes to rest, I feel as though the room is spinning about me. I feel as though if I could just vomit or empty my bowel, I would feel better. I have the urge to lie down in a ball and hold onto my stomach. At times it becomes too much and the tears fill my eyes as I'm overcome with frustration at my physical status.

I regularly utilize my anti-nausea remedies- Compazine and Phenergan tablets, peppermint candies, and Peppermint Oil. I even have Phenergan gel as well. But nothing makes the nausea dissipate immediately, it's a gradual overthrowing of the nausea. And in the meantime, I'm left wanting to make myself vomit in an effort to make it stop yet knowing that it's not healthy to make ourselves vomit.

The chronic nausea is there with me, almost every day without warning, it is never cured. It's simply managed and so I must continue functioning in spite of the discomfort. I can't stop living my life or completing my responsibilities over nausea. In spite of my efforts to fight through the nausea, there are times that it is simply too overwhelming and all I can manage is to rest. But it sure would be nice to return to my pre-chronic nausea days.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Probiotics and the Immune System

food and probiotics life's a polyp

I attended a seminar about Probiotics, Food, and the Immune System presented by the Institute for Natural Resources. This is just one of the many topics INR Seminars provides for healthcare professionals. The material is written by an expert and then presented by various educators. This particular seminar's syllabus was written by Dr. Nikita Katz, M.D., Ph.D. and was presented by Dr. Laura Pawlak, Ph.D., R.D. emerita.

This 6 hour seminar covered an intense amount of information about how the immune system works and is affected by foods and probiotics (healthy bacteria) with a specific focus on pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory influences. I will not be going into as much detail as the seminar provided.

Dr. Pawlak began by explaining that in the big picture there is a reciprocal interaction between food and environment on the immune system and on an individual's microbiota that then may affect the brain. The particular focus was placed upon the effects of pro or anti inflammatory properties that may protect or hinder the body as genes become expressed and diseases occur. Food and the probiotics that are found within our food or through medicinal supplements impact these protective or harmful factors and how our immune system functions.

Probiotics are commonly recommended for individuals with digestive disorders or diseases to help maintain a healthy gut flora that is easily disrupted by digestive disease. Probiotics are also recommended to be taken following the use of  antibiotics in order to help replenish the good gut bacteria that is stripped away by antibiotics. To understand the importance of probiotics, it helps to have an awareness of the effects of microbiota on the body and interaction with the immune system.

Our immune system is made to protect us against threats that are not considered "self". Typically, immune responses are elicited from viruses, bacteria, and parasites that cause infectious diseases but can also be prompted by our own cells that look different than expected, such as cancerous cells. Immune responses are aggressive and must be controlled as the immune system has the capability to kill the identified organism, or person, itself.

The human microbiota is a combination of microorganisms that includes bacteria, fungi and archaea. Some microbiota found within humans are beneficial to the body whereas others may be harmful. There is a delicate balance required for human microbiota and its essential role for a healthy immune system and various neurobiological functions.

The Human Microbiome Project found that there are thousands of bacterial types found within an individual and different body sites have their own distinctive bacterial communities. The specific bacterial makeup for a given body site varies from person to person by type and abundance. Due to each part of the body having a different microbial arrangement, different probiotics will target different areas. Not every probiotic will be helpful to every part therefore this needs consideration when selecting food and medications specifically for their probiotic benefits.

It's estimated that 500 to 1,000 species of bacteria live in the human gut. Gut flora has the largest numbers of bacteria and the greatest number of bacteria species in comparison to other parts of the body. These gut bacteria are predominately Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes but others present also include Proteobacteria, Verrumicrobia, Actinobacteria, Fusobacteria, and Cyanobacteria. The gut flora is established within one to two years after birth which is enough time to allow for the intestinal epithelium and mucosal barrier to support the gut flora and provide a barrier to pathogenic organisms. Probiotics help protect the mucosal surface barrier from inflammation. When this barrier weakens due to inflammation, resistance to malignancy is reduced and cancer and inflammatory disorders may occur. With weakening of the barriers, we risk microbiota leakage or absorption in between cells where we do not want absorption. The brain receives every nutrient introduced to the body and probiotics activate the vagus nerve that reaches from the abdomen to the brain. The blood brain barrier allows nutrients to reach the brain while limiting harmful substances reaching the brain. However, with weakening of the barriers due to inflammation, harmful substances may pass through the blood brain barrier.

Depending on our food choices, certain foods can help keep good microbiota alive and bad microbiota down and vica versa. Fiber and oils promote the good whereas sugar and fats promote the bad. You may notice this when constipation occurs as bad microbiota likes constipation. Once the diet falls apart, so does the immune system. Diet also influences the type of microbiota present. A healthy diet promotes healthy microbioata whereas unhealthy foods promote harmful microbiota. Nutrients are vital for efficiency of the immune system.

Typical and Unusual Types of Probiotic Bacteria for Healthy Gut Flora

Foods that naturally contain probiotic bacteria include:

Fermented cruciferous vegetables, fermented root vegetables and legumes, and sour milk products such as:
  • Yogurt, recommended to be plain yogurt with no added sugar and labeled with live and active cultures. To sweeten, add fruit. Avoid adding sugar, artificial sweetners, or honey
  • Kefir
  • Icelandic skyr
  • Swedish filmjolk
  • Buttermilk
  • Acidophilus milk
  • Crème fraiche etc.
Non-dairy foods:
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Green olives
  • Tempeh
  • Szechwan vegetable
  • Indian pickle
  • Mixed pickle
Another method for delivery of healthy probiotic bacteria is the Fecal Microbiota Transplant (Stool Transplant) to aid in restoring healthy colonic microflora by introducing healthy bacterial flora from the stool of a healthy donor by means of an enema, orogastric tube, or an oral capsule. This has been shown to be effective for C. Diff infections and is being used experimentally for treatment of other GI diseases including colitis, constipation, IBS and neurological conditions.

For the growth and activity of probiotics, prebiotics are necessary. Prebiotics are typically non-digestible fiber compounds in foods such as chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, asparagus, wheat bran, whole wheat flour, and bananas. There is not a broad consensus on an ideal daily serving of prebiotics but recommendations typically range from 4 to 8 grams for general digestive health and up to 15 grams for an individual with a digestive disorder.

There are diseases and syndromes linked to bacterial imbalance and immune dysfunction. These imbalances can occur in various parts of the body where the microbiota has deranged. In such instances, the normally dominating bacteria species become underrepresented and the normally outcompeted or contained species increase to fill the void. This dysbiosis, or microbial imbalance, is most commonly reported as a condition of the GI tract, particularly when there is an overgrowth in the small intestine of bacteria or fungi. This has been reported to be associated with illnesses such as periodontal disease, IBD, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, and colitis. It may be important to note that patients treated with PPIs to reduce stomach acid tend to have a higher frequency of small intestine bacterial overgrowth.

Microbes within a tumor can affect cancer growth and spread. Microbes and microbiota affect cancer formation by altering the balance of tumor cell life and death, immune system function regulation, and influencing the metabolism of foods and pharmaceuticals.
Mucosal surface barriers within the body require rapid repair, once these barriers are breached then microbes can elicit pro-inflammatory or immunosuppressive programs thereby allowing cancer and inflammatory disorders to occur. Probiotics can help protect the mucosal surface barriers against inflammation.

Inflammation is a biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli and a protective response. Inflammation functions to eliminate the initial cause of cell injury, remove necrotic cells and tissues damaged from the original insult and start tissue repair. The typical signs of inflammation include heat, pain, redness, swelling, and loss of function. Inflammation may be acute or chronic. Prolonged inflammation can lead to a progressive shift in the type of cells present at the inflamed area. Inflammation can cause disease related genes to be expressed and is linked to most chronic diseases including arthritis, cancers, cardiovascular diseases, IBD, and diabetes.

Of the dietary components tested thus far on the Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII) for pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory properties, the top anti-inflammatory components include Turmeric, Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Fiber, Genisten (protein found in soybeans), Tea - the leaves are best, Alcohol - wine berries, and Magnesium. Turmeric should be taken with fresh ground black pepper in 10 parts turmeric to 1 part pepper for optimal absorption. the DII has a long way to go still as only a handful of dietary components have been tested for their pro and anti inflammatory properties.

When thinking of maintaining a healthy immune system, we must take in consideration not only the foods we ingest but also our exposure to environmental factors. With the advance of technology, we are now exposed to chemical compounds that were not naturally occurring on the planet previously and we are now exposed to chemicals normally hidden within the ground that are now exposed through mining and manufacturing. Heavy metals exposure causes significant alterations to the immune system by increasing the body's pro-inflammatory and decreasing anti-inflammatory responses. Air pollutants, pesticides, phthalates, PCBs, and perfluoralkyl substances exposure are also associated with medical conditions.

To help reduce one's susceptibility to immune dysfunction associated with such environmental influences, it's recommended to choose phthalate free personal care products, fresh foods rather than processed foods, and reduce exposure to pesticides, heavy metals, and air pollutants as much as possible.

To help lower inflammation and maintain a healthy microbiota balance, it is recommended to eat healthy, fresh foods, ingest probiotics, obtain adequate sleep , exercise regularly, and reduce stress. Exercise secretes proteins that are anti-inflammatory and remaining in the stressful fight or flight crisis response mode increases inflammation.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Lasik - Eye Surgery

life's a polyp

Disclaimer: I will be sharing my experience with Lasik eye surgery and may be a trigger for those who are sensitive to medical descriptions.

I've dealt with nearsightedness for years. I required eyeglasses by the time I was in high school so that I could see the blackboard and once I started driving. It seemed as though with each annual eye exam, my nearsightedness worsened but I hate wearing eyeglasses or contacts on a regular basis. I feel as though I can't complete everyday activities outside of driving with my eyeglasses and wearing contacts was more effort than I found worth it on a daily basis except for special circumstances. Also, with contacts I had to be mindful of late activities as the longer I wore contacts in a day, the more bothersome they would become and of course I couldn't fall asleep wearing contacts.

As an additional benefit, my employer offers a discount on Lasik procedures to correct vision. With my health stabilizing once again and no scheduled medical procedures for the year, I decided this was the year to finally undergo Lasik.

With any type of procedure, my PTSD becomes triggered and I experience severe anxiety. I spoke with several individuals who previously underwent Lasik and each person reassured me that the procedure is not painful at all. I was informed that the eyes are numbed with drops and the laser surgery itself takes mere seconds.

After completing a qualifying exam, I scheduled my Lasik. I was provided a single Valium to take upon the completion of paperwork the day of the surgery to help ease my nerves. The last time I took Valium for a procedure was in 2009 when I underwent a 6 month follow up procedure to ensure that the Essure procedure I had underwent was successful. At this time, my anxiety was so severe that even with two doses of Valium, my nerves wouldn't allow the Valium to take effect until after the procedure was completed. I feared this would be the case again now but I repeatedly reminded myself that Lasik would be a painless procedure.

Lasik is completed with the use of a laser to reshape the cornea after a flap of corneal tissue is created. Lasik is an outpatient surgery that takes about 15 minutes to complete. It is such a quick procedure, that Lasik centers are able to schedule several patients in a short amount of time. There are risks to any procedure that can be serious and should be thoroughly discussed with the surgeon.

After completing paperwork, I was directed to a waiting area to join other patients awaiting eye surgery. When it was my turn, I entered the room with my toy kitty that I take with me to medical procedures for added comfort. The surgeon joked with me and notified me that they actually keep a stuffed toy in the operating room for patients to hold on to if they so wish. I was provided a blanket for extra comfort and situated myself upon the operating table. A nurse stood next to me the entire time and walked me through every step of the surgery. She notified me that an instrument would be used to create a flap in my cornea and she turned on the instrument so that I could hear what it sounded like so that I wouldn't be caught off guard. This particular instrument sounded like a drill used by a dentist. It was a terrifying sound when considering that this would be used on my eyes. Drops were inserted in my eyes to numb my eyes. Tape was used to pull my eyelids back to open my eyelids enough for an eye speculum to be inserted to keep my eyelids open. I had no ability to close my eyelids even if I had tried. This was not painful at all although it sounds as though it might. My eye was cleaned with a swab and I was told that a device would be placed on my eye to create suction, I would notice some pressure but no pain. This device was placed on my eye and pushed down - I felt the pressure, but no real pain. This suction ring stabilizes the eye and lifts and flattens the cornea. She told the surgeon it was "building, building, stabilized" and the pressure stopped as the suction was completed. The nurse notified me the drill sound would be starting. Even with this alert, the drill sound startled me and I couldn't help but slightly move my head backwards more into the table. I couldn't see the drill or anything unusual, I could just hear it. I didn't feel anything...the sound was just unnerving as it sounds as though I should see and feel something, but I didn't. My vision remained clear until the surgeon did a swiping motion to move the cornea flap and my vision became extremely blurry and hazy. I was told to stare at a green light that was previously concentrated but now was a blur. I stared at this light for a few seconds, maybe 5 seconds, and then the flap was placed back in the correct position and my blurry vision returned to normal. Several drops of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory eyedrops were placed in my eye. It was time for the next eye and the same procedure was completed. And it was over. During the procedure, in order to calm myself I had to repeatedly remind myself that I wasn't experiencing any pain, this would be over soon, and to think of it as looking through a camera - not through my actual eye itself.

I was taken to another room and another doctor examined my eyes to ensure the cornea flaps had sealed and my eyes looked appropriate. As I waited for the doctor to start his exam, I noticed that I could clearly see letters on the opposite wall that I wouldn't have been able to clearly see previously. The doctor reviewed the instructions for prescription eyedrops for the week and all the dos and don'ts to follow and answer any remaining questions I had. I was provided ice packs, sunglasses, and three boxes of preservative free eyedrops for moisture and told to try to sleep for 4-5 hours and to keep my eyes closed for that period.

The numbing drops were starting to wear off on the ride home. Even with the sunglasses, I was finding any amount of light to be extremely painful upon my closed eyes. My eyes were beginning to feel dry, like sandpaper but I couldn't rub my eyes as this would cause damage to my eyes and risk regression of my improved vision. Once home, I tried to sleep but the Valium had worn off and I was so bothered by the sandpaper feel that I was barely able to sleep. I could barely open my eyes, the sandpaper sensation was so intense. When I did manage to slightly open my eyes, they would immediately tear up and tears streamed down my face. This actually provided some comfort as it moistened my eyes. I had set my alarm to insert the eyedrops as directed and found this extremely challenging on account of the difficulty to open my eyes enough to insert drops. I began to question why I had decided to undergo Lasik. If I could just sleep until this passed, I would have been much more comfortable. I was only able to doze for brief periods through the sandpaper sensation. Finally, over the course of time the sensation began to lessen and my comfort increased. After about 5 hours, the sensation had ceased and I was able to comfortably open my eyes and clearly see things that were previously blurry to me.

I was instructed to use the prescription eyedrops four times a day for a week and to use preservative free artificial tears every 1-2 hours for the next two weeks. I wasn't allowed to wear make up for a week and no eye make up for two weeks. Aerobic exercise was prohibited for a few weeks. I was advised to not rub my eyes ever again, to take Omega 3 fatty acids, drink 5 glasses a water a day to help protect my vision from regression.

Two weeks later and my vision is 20/15! Extremely close objects in front of my eyes are blurry whereas they weren't previously but it isn't enough to interfere with anything and I normally don't have anything extremely close to my eyes anyway. I'm told that my vision should continue to improve over the next 6 months as my eyes continue to heal. I haven't driven at night yet to know how my vision is affected by lights at night. I'm told to expect halos and glare at night from lights for a few months although every individual is different. A second follow up occurs after 2-3 months and a final follow up around 6 months.

I'm pleased with my present outcome of the Lasik eye surgery. At times, I'm not certain if I would elect to undergo Lasik again but I am enjoying no longer requiring eyeglasses or contacts and the ability to see long distance for a change.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reviewing Young Living Essential Oils for GI Symptoms

life's a polyp
Disclaimer: I have been given this product as part of a product review. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

With worsening GI symptoms of chronic bloating, abdominal pain, and nausea interfering with my quality of life and a lack of improvement with prescription medications, I decided to try Essential Oils to address my bothersome symptoms. Rachel, with Young Living Essential Oil, provided a sample for my symptoms. 

I was skeptical of oils being able to help with my pain but with desperate times come desperate measures. Prescription medications were no longer managing my bloating, pain, and nausea to my satisfaction. However, I have used peppermint oil by itself before to ease my nausea. Oils can be applied topically and some may be ingested. 

It's recommended to apply peppermint oil to the soles of the feet or on the abdomen. I previously
applied peppermint oil to both locations without any improvement to my nausea. However, as long as I was able to smell the peppermint oil my nausea was subdued. I decided to resume using peppermint oil by rubbing a couple drops under my nose and reapplying as needed. In the case of severe nausea when I've been unable to tolerate visual movements such as watching tv or even reading, I applied a large amount to my abdomen and a small amount under my nose with noticeable improvements to my nausea. With the nausea relief provided by the peppermint oil, I decided to give DiGize Essential Oil a try for my bloating and abdominal pain. 

DiGize is a blend of oils that can be used topically or ingested as a dietary supplement and includes the following oils all used to address heartburn, bloating, nausea, stomach cramps:
  • Tarragon
  • Ginger
  • Peppermint
  • Juniper
  • Fennel
  • Lemongrass
  • Anise
  • Patchouli
I'm not comfortable with ingesting oils as a dietary supplement, although I believe the oil would be more effective ingested versus topical application. Due to this discomfort, I was instructed to apply 1-3 drops to my abdomen or the soles of my feet and I could reapply as needed. 

The first time I used the DiGize was the second consecutive day I had been feeling well after two completely miserable days due to my chronic bloating, pain, and nausea. For these two days, I had been tolerating food decently well and even was able to enjoy a night out with friends. However, this first night to try DiGize was after I decided to eat a snack without any of my other medications. Although my bloating and pain were not severe after this snack - they were bothersome. 

I have a midline scar and scars on each side of my midline from my previous ostomy stomas. Due to my scars being a thicker skin, I decided to apply about three drops of oil in between my scars on both sides of my midline scar equaling about six drops. I waited approximately 10 minutes with some improvement to my bloating and pain before applying a second dosing of the same amount to the same spots. After about another ten minutes, I noticed a greater improvement to my symptoms to my satisfaction.

I started using the peppermint oil regularly to combat my chronic nausea and saved the Digize for when my stomach became bothersome or remained bothersome even with the medications I take with meals. I've found that my nausea is no longer a daily nuisance anymore after more than two years of enduring it on a daily basis. The combination of my meal medications with the Digize has been a promising combination as the Digize provided the final push my symptoms needed to significantly reduce in severity.

If you're interested in trying any of the oils, I encourage you to contact Rachel for guidance on recommended oils specific to your bothersome symptoms. You may also find her on Facebook or purchase oils here with international shipping available.