Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Socializing in a Pandemic

dinner table

As the year is drawing to an end and the holiday season has begun, it got me thinking about how different socializing is with my loved ones.

The holiday season doesn't hold much significance for me although my family does have its own traditions. For Thanksgiving, my parents and I like to go to my favorite Chinese restaurant for the treat of Dim Sum. Since purchasing my home a few years ago the tradition has been for my dad's family to join us for Christmas at my house during the first week or two of December for a meal cooked by my parents. Then my parents and I like to have a meal just the three of us on actual Christmas day. My parents and I decided to downsize our holiday meals a few years ago and it has greatly reduced holiday stress all around for each of us.

This year is different though thanks to Covid. My parents and I have been having a meal together once every week or two. We all wear masks and socially distance from one another. We don't even hug each other anymore. We were planning to have Indian Tacos together with my boyfriend, Mike, for Thanksgiving. That was until Mike was exposed to someone with Covid so both of our families decided to cancel any get-togethers. We both remain asymptomatic and are awaiting testing. To truly know if you're positive for Covid, it sounds as though daily testing is what's actually needed. According to Harvard Health Publishing, if you test too early or too late, there aren't enough viral particles to detect the virus. This has made it more difficult to determine when Mike should be tested as we are uncertain when exactly he was exposed or when that person started experiencing symptoms. We also didn't want to risk a false negative and then expose anyone in our families to us if one of us is actually positive for Covid.

My dad is the youngest of 8, the oldest being in her late 80s. As he and his siblings are older, we decided not to host a Christmas meal for the family. My parents and I still plan to have a meal together, however, that is subject to change as life is unpredictable during a pandemic.

Being apart from family for the holidays is a small price to pay to help maintain my health and theirs. I greatly miss being able to hug my parents but my priority is keeping them safe. This is particularly true as I am still working in the medical field and am exposed to many more individuals than my parents.

Technology has been a blessing during this year so that I may text, call, and video chat my parents and my nieces. It isn't the same as an in-person visit or hugging a loved one. It remains an option to be grateful for though. One of my patients told me that every Saturday he and his wife video chat with all of their children over dinner. Each week someone chooses a recipe and every household makes the same meal that they then enjoy while video chatting together.

It has been difficult to not be able to see my friends or my nieces as often as I usually would have this year. I did take the risk of spending a day with my best friend and her family during the summer, Mike and I went on a vacation to Colorado, and I had an outing with each of my nieces this Fall. I feel as though it has been particularly hard on my nieces not being able to have our usual outings as I want to keep them and myself healthy. I'm fortunate to have the companionship of Mike to help me cope with the stress and isolation of this year. Since we are our own grouping, I am able to receive all the hugs from him that I'm missing from my parents. Not everyone who is isolating has that blessing. I am grateful that Mike and I started dating prior to the pandemic starting as I would not have felt comfortable being involved in the dating world during these times. 

Our families have been kind to offer to drop off a part of their holiday meals so that we may still partake as we are able without potentially placing them or others at risk. This holiday season looks quite different than years past but hopefully, we'll be able to look forward to many more holiday seasons together if we remain safe and cognizant during this time.

As the progress of a Covid vaccine advances, I'm hopeful that by this time next year the world will be very different from what it is like today. I wish you all the best health - physically and mentally during these times. Reach out to loved ones as safely as possible - not only for your well-being but theirs as well. We all need one another, perhaps more now than ever. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

FAP and a Feeding Tube: Jeni LeeAnn's Story

life with a feeding tube

This is a Guest Post with Jeni LeeAnn

I grew up knowing I had a 50/50 chance of having Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP). My dad found out he had FAP just before I was born. His mother had FAP and all she knew growing up was that there was some family digestive disease that was killing some family members. She would up dying at 51 years old from complications of a Desmoid tumor when I was age 6.

My story is a little more complex because I was born with no nasal passages and had many surgeries before I could even remember. I do remember spending a lot of time in the hospital and doctor offices as a child. I was always preparing for a surgery or recovering from one. 

When I turned 16 we did the typical scopes to see if I had FAP. Sure enough I had FAP. I don't remember being sad or depressed about it. It was just another thing to deal with. I was no stranger to hospitals and surgery, so for me it wasn't a huge deal.

I had my large intestine removed when I was 20 and reconnected to my rectum so I don't have an ostomy. Life for me was pretty normal for the next 10 years, just yearly scopes and whatnot. I felt blessed and had no major issues.

Jeni LeeAnn
That all changed in 2009 when I started to have nausea, bloating, and pain. My doctor at the Cleveland Clinic did all the normal scans to see what was going on. What would follow would be about 10 years of guessing and uncertainty. He would do 7 surgeries to try to find out what was going on. Two surgeries were laparoscopic and 5 were full open surgeries. Finally, we found Desmoid tissue where my stomach and small intestine meet. It is as my doctor puts it "strategically placed for maximum damage", if it were even one inch lower it would not be an issue.

The hardest part of this time was the fact that I felt crazy. Every test and scan he did came back normal. I felt like it was all in my head. I even tried telling myself there wasn't a problem and would force myself to eat. That would only cause more issues such as being sick for a week following forced eating.

I was incredibly blessed by my doctor, he trusted me and knew what I was was the way it was. He never once said "sorry, I don't see anything on the scans so I can't do anything for you". He always said "I know something is wrong, we just don't know what it is yet". I know if I had many other doctors, they would have given up on me. I am beyond thankful for my doctor, who kept fighting for me.

The last 5 years have been a series of surgeries to put mesh around the Desmoid tissue and keep it at bay. This sadly, only gave me three weeks of freedom for my symptoms and would have a three month recovery due to the amount of surgeries. This seemed like a very high price for only three weeks of freedom. Then things progressively got worse to the point where after my last surgery in December 2019, I was loosing half a pound every day. I just was not able to eat or drink enough. It became mentally exhausting. So we decided to try a feeding tube. In March 2020, I had my Jejunostomy feeding tube (J-tube) placed.

Now, July 2020, I have had my feeding tube for almost 5 months and it has not been without complications. I had issues with granulation tissue as my body was healing from the surgery. The feeding tube had to be placed a second time which created a second hole. Due to Covid19, my doctor didn't want to risk infection due to any leaks from ingesting food or drink so I was nothing by mouth for three weeks until the hole was healed. 

I clean my feeding tube daily, keeping the site dry and flush the tube every three hours to keep it clean and for me to remain hydrated as I have difficulty drinking enough fluids. I complete nightly feedings for 10-12 hours with a nutrition formula I obtain through a home health agency. I obtain about 75% of my nutrition, or 1000 calories, through the feeding tube and about 500 calories from oral ingestion.

The feeding tube has given me my quality of life back. Food now is back in its proper place in life. It's something I can enjoy when it sounds good not something I have to force and get sick from. I feel incredibly blessed.

Jeni LeeAnn obtained a Bachelor's in Ministry Leadership and has served with her church in various capacities for the last 25 years. Jeni particularly enjoys working with her church's female youth as a youth leader.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Navigating and Understanding School Accommodations

I was 9 when I had my first surgery that gave me an ileostomy for 6 years before undergoing a straight pull thru reversal. Throughout my academic career following my first surgery, I required accommodations for my learning due to my physical health. My parents obtained a 504 plan to achieve such accommodations during my middle school and high school years. A 504 plan outlines how a school will support a student and prevent learning discrimination of students with disabilities under the civil rights law Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

My accommodations allowed me unfettered restroom access, use of a private restroom where I was able to keep extra clothing and medical supplies I may need in case of my ostomy leaking or a bowel accident after my reversal, and understanding of absences due to illness and hospitalizations. As I recall it was an easy process for my parents to obtain my 504 plans and I remember my schools being very supportive and understanding from my teachers all the way to the principals.

There are no set rules for what should be included in a 504 plan although schools are required to have written 504 policies available. There isn't any standard form or template for 504 plans. 504 plans are not part of special education and so there are fewer protections than in the special education process. To qualify for a 504 plan a child may have any disability that interferes with the child's ability to learn in a general education classroom. According to the 504 Section, a disability substantially limits one or more basic life activities that can include learning, reading, communicating, or thinking. Accommodations to learning are typically included in 504 plans to address specific challenges to learning - this doesn't mean that there are changes to what a child is taught but how they are taught through removing barriers to learning. Accommodations may include changes to the environment, instruction, or how curriculum is presented. On rare occasions, modifications may be included that do change what a child is taught or expected to learn. 

Every school is different so a full evaluation may be required including medical information and school performance. Requests for a 504 plan must be submitted in writing and should go through the 504 Coordinator - the school principal can direct parents regarding who to contact for their request. A meeting will be scheduled to determine if the child qualifies for a 504 plan and what support may be needed. It is advised to review and update the approved 504 plan once a year. Read a sample 504 plan here.

There are also Individualized Education Programs (IEP) that differ from 504 plans. An IEP is a plan for a child's special education experience in school by providing individualized special education and related services to meet the child's needs. IEPs are covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which is a federal special education law for children with disabilities. To qualify for an IEP a child requires a comprehensive evaluation and must have at least one of the disabilities listed in IDEA that affects the child's educational performance and/or ability to learn and benefit from the general education curriculum and requires specialized instruction to make progress in school. An IEP must include the child's present levels of academic and functional performance, annual education goals, services the child will receive, timing of services, any accommodations or modifications, how the child will participate in standardized tests, and how the child will be included in general education classes and school activities. An IEP team must review the IEP plan once a year and re-evaluate the child's needs every three years.

504 and IEP plans are only available to children through grades K-12. The Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act still protects college students from discrimination and college students may still receive accommodations although they will not be provided a 504 plan like in grades K-12. It's important for college students to contact the disability services at their colleges to obtain required accommodations.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Vacationing Amidst a Global Pandemic with Chronic Illness

It's been over a year since I took a real vacation. I took a week off work at the end of 2019 to work on projects for my house, but that doesn't really count. I've been in need of a real vacation, particularly with the stress of Covid19. Work has changed with the pandemic resulting in extra responsibilities and increased exposure to others. I'm always mindful to wear all of my PPE to best protect myself and thus far haven't caught it myself.

Right before Covid19 hit the United States, I started a new relationship and this August we reached our 6 month anniversary. This may not seem like a big deal to many but it is for me. After a devastating divorce in 2016, it hasn't been easy for me to find someone I feel as though I have a real chance for a lifetime commitment with.

We decided to drive to a cabin in the mountains, in the middle of a nature preserve, in Colorado to celebrate our relationship milestone. Travel is not the easiest situation for someone like me who has Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS). I don't let my health stop me from enjoying the activities I'm most interested in but that doesn't make participation in activities easy either. We would be driving for a full day with as minimal stops as possible in order to reach our cabin. This meant I would need to take the appropriate amount of Lomotil medication to slow by SBS and limit my food and fluid intake as well to help us minimize our stops for restroom breaks. However, I have to be careful with the amount of Lomotil I take as it will cause me to have intestinal blockages if I'm not careful and when traveling across the United States there are long distances without any facilities. And remember, we're in the middle of a pandemic and a toilet paper shortage. Not every business will allow non-customers to utilize their restrooms and not all businesses even admit to have a restroom. This not the best situation for anyone, especially for someone with gastrointestinal issues. We stocked up on toilet paper - I think we took about 25 rolls and an entire box of Calmoseptine ointment just to be on the safe side. I was over prepared but it's better to be safe than sorry.

The day we left for vacation was actually easier than the day we came back as my intestine was barely active resulting in a lack of appetite and thirst which helped reduce the number of stops we needed to take especially as there was about 2 hours of travel where there weren't any available stops. On our way back, I wasn't as fortunate although we managed fine. I took 5 Lomotil tablets on our way back but I was regularly hungry and thirsty. I was worried about the distance in between available stops so I frequently asked to stop - about every decent sized town that had a facility. I've also increased my water intake this year and so my body has become more accustomed to feeling thirsty and the need to urinate even if I haven't been drinking as much as I usually do anymore. Wearing a mask regularly when in public spaces to help prevent Covid19 transmission has also increased my thirst making it even harder to limit fluid intake. Any food or fluid intake and movement activates my SBS so any activity involving walking also increases my facility needs.

Me and Mike

We finally reached our small cabin in the mountains and though we had some activities in mind, we didn't have much of an itinerary planned. It was more about relaxing away from home and work for us. The cabin belonged to the parents of my boyfriend's friend - who had just moved to a house within the same nature preserve a couple weeks earlier. We visited with his friend's parents often during our trip - enjoying meals and borrowed their off terrain utility vehicle to explore the nature preserve one day. I made sure to take a roll of toilet paper while off roading as the preserve was large and there were no public facilities. During our visit, we would see deer, big horned sheep, birds, eagles, rabbit, and even a bat that almost hit both of us in the face one night.

We decided to visit the nearest large town and enjoyed visiting its' local distillery, breweries, and winery as well as shopping at local shops before dining at a well known local pizzeria for dinner. We traveled to the Royal Gorge but decided not to cross the Gorge's bridge due to a steep admission price. We were able to enjoy the views from available overlooks.

Royal Gorge, Colorado
Chipmunks in St. Elmo's
We spent another day traveling the back dirt roads (which was a 2 hour trip, again no facilities available anywhere) to Mount Princeton in the San Isabel National Forest and driving to St. Elmo's - a ghost town in the national forest. There are still buildings to view in the ghost town and a small shop that remains open to visitors. There you can purchase seed to hand feed the local chipmunks at the Chipmunk Crossing. The chipmunks were very friendly, crawling all over us and into my purse even. The views and interacting with the chipmunks made this my favorite outing for the week.

I managed well during the day with our activities in spite of my SBS, however, the nights were a different story. Due to increased fluid intake and my Lomotil wearing off in the evenings, I required a significant increase in restroom breaks during the night. There was one day when I required to not take any Lomotil in order to allow my system to return to normal and prevent an intestinal blockage from occurring due to prolonged Lomotil use.

Overall, the vacation was a success and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Colorado is a beautiful state and we were able to social distance from others easily to help reduce our risk of Covid19 exposure. If you're considering traveling during the pandemic, remember to be aware of any relevant state or local mandates of the areas you'll be visiting, bring a mask with you and plenty of your necessary medical supplies. I would also suggest toilet paper (you never know!) Consider traveling to less populated areas to reduce your risk of Covid19 exposure and avoid Covid19 hotspots. Each state of the US has a tourism website with great information about their local attractions and places of interest to help plan an interesting trip. Be safe out there!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Sensory Deprivation Tanks

I've wanted to try out a sensory deprivation tank for years now and this year, for my birthday, I finally went to one.

Sensory Deprivation is also known as Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy. A sensory deprivation tank is a float tank that contains Epsom salt (800 pounds or more) in a small amount of water to allow an individual to effortlessly float. Floating in salt concentrated water allows pressure to be removed from joints, muscles, and tendons. The tank is closed to eliminate all sensory tasks including light and sound thereby allowing the entire body to enter a deep level of relaxation and process information and thoughts in a new way without distraction or strain. The water and air are heated to skin temperature to reduce the sensation of water on the skin. Benefits can include reduced joint, muscle, and nerve pain, improved sleep, energy, creativity and mood with a reduction to depression and anxiety. Soaking in Epsom salts helps soothe sore muscles and irritated skin and reduce swelling thereby helping with minor aches and pains.

My boyfriend and I went to a local float spa. Each suite had it's own sensory deprivation tank and
private shower. We were instructed to shower, using their provided products, before and after entering the float tank. The reason to shower before is to remove any oils or body products that would enter the tank water and with hundreds of pounds of Epsom salts, one would want to wash again afterwards to remove the salt water. The tanks could be left open or be closed and offered a blue light that could be turned on or off as well as sounds. We both decided we wanted the full experience and so we turned off the light and any sounds and kept the tank closed. We were offered ear plugs to further reduce sound and help prevent water from entering our ears. The suite and tank weren't completely sound proof but the float spa was kept quiet and soothing music was quietly played in varying areas of the spa. A head flotation device and spray bottle to rinse your eyes of salt water were also available.

We laid with our heads at the end with the blue light and quickly discovered just how buoyant we were in the saturated salt water. We both kept floating around the tank until the water settled from our entering the tank and disturbing the water. Any movement inside the tank would disturb the water resulting in floating around the tank once again. The water felt silky when touching my skin due to the high level of salt. The salt water could cause slight burning to any open skin that was cut or irritated. Protective ointment was offered to help reduce any stinging from the salt water. We started floating with our arms down by our sides, however, we both felt tension in our shoulders and neck in this position. I found stretching my arms above me to be comfortable and my boyfriend remained with his arms down by his sides and stated that eventually his shoulders and neck relaxed after a period of time. We both have neck problems so I'm not sure if the shoulder and neck tension we both experienced was related to our neck conditions or if others would have the same experience. My boyfriend also has chronic nerve pain in his back and lately his knee has been bothersome as well (we've since learned he had a meniscus tear so no wonder his knee was hurting). I noticed completing a full body stretch in the tank was very pleasurable and felt better than typical stretching outside of the tank. My boyfriend reported reduction in pain after the float but was experiencing pain again by the evening time.

I had a difficult time shutting my mind off in the beginning of the float by towards the middle of my float time I was able to experience a meditative state. My boyfriend became so relaxed he almost fell asleep during his float. There are many benefits to meditation and a sensory deprivation float helps to reach a deep meditative state by relieving the body of sensations. Some of the benefits of meditation include to reduce stress, anxiety, pain, and improve sleep. Meditation becomes easier and more effective with practice. I would conclude that this would be the same for sensory deprivation floats as well. Visit here for a list of relaxation techniques you can complete at home.

Overall, we both enjoyed our float experience and would recommend it to others.