What Keeps Me Going

I actually wrote this a week ago, but have been too knackered to proof-read & post it. So yeah, pretend you’re reading this a week ago… Or not. Same pills today.

“That’s a lot of pills!” exclaim my friends when I see them in the evening and they see me take my evening painkillers. This is true, but I’m held together by a lot more.

There’s a trend of people with chronic illness posting photis of their pills – although it may look like “sicker than thou” behaviour, it’s actually a response to people who see us functioning and berate others who don’t have the capacity and/or backup to do the same. This isn’t a positive attitude, or other such inspiration porn nonsense getting us through, it’s a shit load of pills, coping strategies, and people who carry us (sometimes literally). So let’s take a look at today as an example…

This morning started at 6am with a cup of coffee, overpowering nausea, and vitamins! Heart rate 56, blood pressure 86/62.

A hand with a variety of vitamin tablets

Due to the joys of Ehlers Danlos, I simply don’t digest or hold onto vitamins so need to take high doses to gain any effect. Other times, my stomach holds onto drugs for a few hours then digests them all of a sudden with the next dose. Because there’s nothing scarier than your stomach having a parasitic grudge against you. This morning contains:

  • Multivitamin with extra iron
  • Cod Liver Oil with glucosamine, both of which are good for joints, reduce inflamation, and tissue repair
  • High dose vitamin E to bolster immunity and improve circulation (useful for keeping POTS in check)
  • Evening Primrose Oil – because of lady things

Couple this lot with a naproxen to dull the aching and I was ready for breakfast. As usual, it’s a cinnamon pastry swirl thing which is basically the only thing I can eat in the morning without wanting to vomit.

Mr Geek gets me washed & dressed, then I can paint my face. Being over-tired at the weekend sparked off my rosacea, so beneath the foundation is a layer of Rozex – this stuff is miricle cream for rosacea in general, but it attacks the evil deep cysts that appear when nothing else does. It’s a mild antibiotic that restricts blood flow around the skin, sort of like acne cream but for inappropriate immune responses.

A hand hoding a used tube of Rozex cream

Cup of coffee #2 comes into work with me & raises my blood pressure higher than the previous undead level. HR 65, BP 102/73.

Work is a welcome distraction and despite feeling a bit overwhelmed right now with marking coming out of my ears, getting into some meaty project work took my mind off wanting to hurl. At the same time, I also kept sipping frim my bottle of diet coke which is another good way to settle stomachs…. And yes, I know diet Coke is the root of all evil, but I’m not being sick, so meh.

Lunchtime rolled around & I looked at my snack pasta & made a face, so opted for the bottle of slimfast in my bag. I’ve tried the medical ones & build up shakes, but I can never stomach them. Slimfast works for me, so I’ve stuck with it. Add in some Naproxen as a pain relief desert because my neck is sore & my back is in icy pain. HR 96, BP 91/65 (eating carbs doesn’t suit me but how else do I get through the day?!)

Final lesson of the day started with a mild headache from trying to (and failing) listen in big conference centre meetings*. As the lesson went on, the lovely flashy lights started and the right side of my face thumped. Metaphorically limping back to my office, I could’ve cried when my lovely colleague signed to me to ask if I was ok. The pain in my head was pulling my hearing levels down further & the brain power needed to lipread was too much. I was really lucky to catch the migraine early and attacked it with a Sumatriptan and Dihydrocodeine as what had been one side of my face was now in my spine (see my migraine post for why all the big drugs). I could literally feel the fog lifting. Bliss.

Unfortunately, post headache I’m tired & foggy and by the time I get home at 5pm I can’t function verbally or focus enough to lipread. The girls & I head up to bed to watch Bob’s Burgers & rest.

After I’ve semi-napped, Mr Geek brings up tea of grilled salmon & vegetable rice. It’s bland enough to et, but tastes nice. For the 4th time this week, we eat dinner in bed as I’m too exhausted to sit at the dinner table.

Evening drugs of:

  • More Dihydrocodeine – opiate painkillers that control my baseline joint pain well
  • Gabapentine – this is technically an anti-epilepsy drug, but it works well on the nerve damage pain.
  • Vitamin D – massive doses of this reduce joint pain, increase energy (ha), improve bone density, and make me a little ray of sunshine
  • A few others to deal with the ahem.. side effects of the opiates

Around 11.30pm my neck pops so hard that it triggers my spine being an arsehole again so Mr Geek measures out a safe dose of liquid morphine to at least help me sleep.

So there you have it. Before you chastise someone for not working through ill health because you see people with chronic illness “coping”, remember what goes into that image you saw. We are excellent actors, but also have a supporting cast of narcotics, and people who feed us, dress us, and take on all the jobs around the house that we can’t do because we’re busy looking like we’ve totally got this.

Even so, I’ve totally got this ok?

…. As a final word, I am a firm believer in science and I am perfectly aware that my headaches are triggered by orthopedic issues. But that doesn’t stop people giving some interesting advice /cures! Here are some of my favourites:

1. Head-TENS – Now I’m all for TENS as part of my toolkit, but I’m not up for electrocuting my heart or my brain.

2. Sex – with a migraine? Ha. Hahaha. Hahahahaha! No.

3. Um.. Pulling the blood from your head! You know, I’m not even sure what’s going on here even with the explanation. The internet needs a child lock.

*please don’t stand in front of windows when presenting. If people are lipreading, it’s nigh on impossible.

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What is your major malfunction?

This is a ‘remember this’ post. Stream of consciousness shortly after ‘a moment’ is useful to print out and use for pain management. Apologies if it’s a bit garbled.

There’s this wonderful sweet spot after a massive pain flare where everything becomes calm & quiet. Even if it invariably returns, for now it’s like the eye of the storm and I can lay here totally still aside from my hand tapping my phone and feel the multitude of painkillers dulling each of my nerves.

Describing this might sound like I want to be high (quite the opposite! The side effects suck, but these drugs keep me functional as a human), the pleasure gained from this quiet moment is in the polarisation from less than an hour ago when I reached a crescendo which left me literally rocking in pain. No-one seems to know for certain what causes these God-awful headaches aside from craniocervical instability (posh word for wobbly neck & skull) caused as ever by Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, but after sitting up for too long, or being bumped, the flashing lights signal the party is about to start.

I’ve tried to explain this before, but without success so just bear with me on this one…

Once the flashy lights start, one eye feels like it’s bulging & a steady thud starts in my cheek. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been taking sumatriptan at this point to stop it going further – for 6/8 it’s worked. I could kiss the GP that suggested this literal wonder drug. It didn’t work tonight, but the trigger was different – tonight I’d hurt my neck washing my hair (the water weighed it down & something popped), then I knocked out my jaw at dinner.

When it progresses, which it did today, that squishy bit at the base of my skull that was sore before starts to sting, and gradually the pinching in my neck moves down my spine until my pelvis aches. The pinching feels wet – there’s no other way to describe it. Like cold water travelling through my spine to where things hurt and either sending electric, tingling above my waist, or thuddy dull pains into my legs.

With my head pounding & my spine burning, my usual level of hearing dropped. This scares me because having lost my hearing reasonably rapidly I’m always concerned about how much will come back. Usually, I’m down by the dog in the Moderate/ severe range in the graph below (I hear lower sounds better & speech is only audible if there’s no background noise), but when it dips everything becomes like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher. It’s not that I wouldn’t cope, but I’m still very much functioning in the hearing world.

At this point I panicked. I know it’s the worst thing to do when you’re in pain and it just makes things worse, but reaching my version of an 8 / 10 on the pain scale causes me to hit the ‘make it stop’ button. There is no painkiller on the planet as successful as Mr Geek kneading my shoulders like dough when I’m backing away from my own body – why? Because in order for the actual painkillers to take effect I have to calm the fuck down.

I’m not actually rating my pain for fun here. Although monumentally subjective, pain scales are a useful way to stop, body check, and assess just how bad this is – it’s as objective as pain is going to get. The scale also provides facial images for Mr Geek to get visual cues of where we are. In this case, we’re well into nothing but the pain.

Many people with EDS have pain tolerances that would make a Spartan blush. I’ve been mildly annoyed by a broken bone, asked for paracetamol following an organ rupture, and yet had a full on sobbing fit because I had a cold. Like I said, messed up.

We treat my pain according to a pain management plan – imagine if you will a birth plan that we use daily (eg. him pointing to the plan & reminding me that heat and tea and soothing music will make it easier, and me yelling at him that if he ever wants to have the ability to get laid again he will give me drugs). This means that we work our way up from paracetamol, to codeine, to NSAIDS, to morphine, to hospital. Because of the brainfog, he’s in charge of timings & doses – this is a sensible step back on my part. Yes, it infantalises me, but on the flipside he is spreadsheet levels of anal about dosage meaning I camnot accidentally overdose.

This evening, after my spine was pinching, my arms were tingling with pins & needles, my hearing dropped out, & I was nauseous (but not sick). Despite feeling nauseous I was also really hungry. Mr Geek gave me everything up to morphine and sat behind me rubbing my neck & shoulders for an hour. The rubbing is similar to TENS – it’s distracting and the skin on skin chills me out.

It had reduced to tolerable levels & I laid quietly for a bit with my phone in ‘night mode’ & my heated blanket on but I could feel the pinching riding up again so we opted for morphine at the lower dose (this allows me to top up if needed, and keep my general dosage low). Laying in the dark with my hearing out is like sensory deprivation and having a distraction is useful.

A second dose of morphine was enough to create this lull and the potential for some rest and enough clarity to describe the type of pain properly instead of a mumbled “er, sort of stabby” when with my doctor. It’s very difficult with hindsight to describe the stages as it all rolls into one ‘bad headache’, so whilst this may not have been the most exciting read it will be useful for me & my doctor at the next review.

Post pain, I’m left with an ache along my back, a pounding headache, and absolutely knackered – this post was written in between sudden naps (and deleting the random characters from nodding off with my fingers touching the keyboard!)

If you got to the end, erm, hi?