I brought my husband. Well, technically he brought me. And he lugged the giant contraption down the stairs and into the back seat of our “big enough for most things, but not this thing” Sonata.
The screen on his iPhone had cracked and he needed to go to Apple. I needed an outing worse than a puppy who has been crated too long.
He dropped me off at the door. He rode the scooter through the parking lot to meet me. Apparently, like so many other things, its a LOT more fun when you don’t need it.
I laughed in spite of myself at the sight of it. I was also glad our teenager had decided to stay home. The sight of it all would have likely been just too much.
People stare right at you, while simultaneously judging you as you drive this thing. The local mall lacks the tolerance of Disney World. In fairness, from face on, it looks like you’re using wheels for fun. It’s not until I have passed, if they bother to look, that they would see the giant walking boot resting on the knee pad.
Today is 8 weeks and 1 day since I’ve been “booted” again. 57 days.
I have had more surgeries in my life than I can count. Not a single one of them kept me down for 8 weeks. This foot has been messing with my life for over 8 months.
Double Mastectomy – back at work in 5 weeks.
Hysterectomy – back in 2 weeks.
I once had arthroscopic knee surgery over a long weekend, and was back on the 4th floor in my classroom the following Monday.
Vascular, over the February break…
Biopsies, a day tops…
We always say recovery pain is the best kind, because you know it’s going away.
And yet the answer to “Does your foot feel better?” still remains “Not really.”
My kind and compassionate local podiatrist, in a combination of frustration at the injury that won’t heal and my insurance company making it harder for him to treat me, has advised a visit to Hospital for Special Surgery. I’m sitting. Foot up, phone in hand, waiting to try to schedule.
I rode that knee scooter all over the mall. I rode it into the grocery store too. Quite simply, I’m tired of being locked in my house. It is truly a ridiculous and ingenious contraption.
If you asked me 2 years ago if I would ever… the answer would have been “NO WAY!”
Except if I keep learning anything through these years of life with a rare disease, and also just life, it seems to be” never say never…”
I had a boatload of things I wasn’t going to do as a parent. I’m pretty sure the first one was undone about three hours in… right after the anesthesia from that c section wore off…
Wasn’t going to… feed certain things, watch certain things, give certain things, etc. etc. And then you find yourself learning that all the plans in the world are suddenly invalid as you just try not to damage the tiny human.
A great deal of my pride was left behind in the OR where she was delivered.
I lost a bunch more of it through a slew of breast biopsies prior to the double mastectomy in 2012.
The uterine biopsies, the hysterectomy, the “cancer screening” human exams took a bunch more.
And there are few things quite as humbling as a breast MRI of your silicone implants.
I was never “in fashion” but I used to take great care in what I wore. Things were dry cleaned. Stockings and heels were worn daily.
Then there was back pain that seemed only better in sneakers. Coupled with a significant weight loss my wardrobe evolved into jeans, t shirts and sneakers. May be a dig at my early judgment of “too casual” teachers…
Life, at it again…
If we are open, and able to be introspective, we are changing and growing all the time.
I am in a painstakingly slow process of relinquishing control.
Control is really largely an illusion anyway.
Faith, trust, hope, and the ability to embrace what the future has in store, these are my current goals.
I’m a work in progress.
So if you see me and my knee scooter, be kind. You may even see me up and down the block. These are, after all, desperate times…
We’re done being caged up. I need some fall air. I am ready to get well. Since my foot isn’t cooperating, I’ll start with my mind.
One of those phrases hard to hear, yet typically true.
I woke for work so many days wanting an extra day off, to do nothing. A break from it all. A weekend escape. Me time. On my terms.
And here I am. Not on my terms at all. Finishing my seventh week in the “boot” with no end in sight, and daily trying to be diligent about restricting my movement. All in the hopes the foot will finally heal enough for rehabilitation, and a return to the daily grind. Isn’t it ironic?
Seems to be how life goes a whole lot. A dear friend once told me, “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.” Sage advice that I have frequently pondered through the years, but especially these last few weeks. She stopped by and spent an amazing few hours helping to make some of the time melt away.
Someone sent beautiful flowers to my house last week. They sat on my table and every time I rolled past them on my scooter I smiled. Unexpected random act of kindness that lifted my heart.
Someone sent me a text out of nowhere, just checking in. The smile it gave me lasted for hours.
There is one who checks in to keep me involved in the day to day outside of what is currently a very small world.
Another sends me Instagram messages. Simple Smiles.
A dear friend stopped by with a bottle of Coke and left it in a bright pink bag on my porch. She had taken the time to pick one up with my last name on it. I try to generally be healthy, but a sugary real coke is often a weak spot. She knows. I will save it for a time when I’m really starving for company. Maybe tomorrow?
I’ve been focusing as a chronically ill person would, checking boxes, and completing a variety of appointments that are necessary for the management of Cowden’s, yet sometimes interfere with my work day.
I’ve cleared a cardiology intake, and can now hope I need nothing more than an annual drive by. I have “stacked” several appointments for Meghan on a Monday in January. It will cost me the day (in my optimism that I’ll be there…) but it will save us a world of trouble going in once instead of three times. I have filed claims, copied, faxed, sorted….
Meghan got 2 wisdom teeth pulled Friday, right in front of a 4 day weekend from school. I’ve set her up with a new eye doctor for her annual screen on Election Day. The eyeglass forms from the Union are on my table. Felix and I need exams as well. I’ve spoken to pharmacies, stayed on top of prescriptions and supplements.
6 month dermatology screen for both of us next Wednesday.
I have a few projects, a few things I hope to get focused on. But, I am easily distracted. And I am focused on my apple watch, and my step count, which I have been instructed to keep painfully low.
There are some nights, after using up my steps at any of the above appointments, that I’m stuck in my bed pretty early.
I have an app on my phone that has me reading the Bible more than I have done in far too long. I love the way the books are illustrated in drawings first.
I also have an app that I can waste hours on bouncing bubbles.
I’m up to date on the DVR. I watched “Diagnosis” on Netflix.
I’ve been researching some alternative pain management.
There is always a way to stay busy. There is always something to research, to sort, to shred. There is ALWAYS a way to better yourself, regardless of the restrictions.
What I don’t do is pick up the phone. I don’t really reach out. I’ve been battling for quite some time, and I work hard staying afloat. I get the job done, and I always will. Failure is not an option. Becoming a completely isolated introvert however, is.
It’s hard to reach out when you’re struggling. I do my very best to broaden my senses and put small gestures in the direction of those I know might be having a hard time. Just because you haven’t heard from them, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t love a check in. In this technology world where its so easy to say “I’m thinking of you…” We should all try it more.
It’s not about grand gestures. It’s about knowing you’re missed. I’m not always as good about it as I could be for others. But, I’m working on it.
That starts now. Because if I feel this way, other people do too. And if we can all check in and share a smile in whatever way we know how, it will make a difference.
And right now, I’ve got plenty of time, anxiously trying to heal this foot while…
At any given point during our 10 days in Disney, our party of three also had six wheels and a boot.
We must have looked unusual to anyone who passed us by.
I traveled with a virtual pharmacy in my purse, which is really simply a string bag on my back, because who really wants to be fancy anyway?
The week before we left we had a PILE of appointments. I think I lost count at 17 in the 5 days. One of them was the orthopedist Meghan sees a few times a year. He was catching up on the new diagnosis of Ehler’s-Danlos Syndrome, paying careful attention to her knee, which by all accounts has been her ‘Achilles heel’ her whole life. There had been pain in that knee for weeks prior, which is always a concern. One of the surgeries she has had repeatedly has been to correct the tracking of the patella. Anxiety is warranted.
This doctor suggested an MRI to confirm the knee was tracking correctly. He also said that she was ‘not to walk consecutive distances longer than one block’ at least until the pain in the knee settled. He prescribed a painkiller and a muscle relaxant. He told me she was not to walk the parks in Disney. She needed to spend most of the day confined to a wheelchair. And while there is gratitude for the temporary nature of this situation, there is a mental and emotional adjustment to enduring it.
This was not a totally new arrangement for us, as the knee has limited her walking in the past. However, there is always the hope that with age things will change. And while Meghan is healthier and stronger than I have ever seen her, the realities of Ehler’s-Danlos and its wear and tear on the connective tissue are real and very present. So, out came the wheelchair.
And, one of my appointments was an MRI follow up for the foot that has been a disaster since I fell at work January 8th.
The initial fall partially tore the lisfranc ligament. Which might have been easier to recover from, except ligaments don’t show on xray. So the initial diagnosis was a sprain. Which was treated with 5 days rest. Then 2 weeks later when the pain was more than it should have been and my primary asked for an MRI, GHI decided I didn’t need one yet and I could wait 6 more weeks. So, I forced the foot into a shoe for a total of 8 weeks post injury before I couldn’t stand it anymore. At that point an MRI finally picked up the partial tear.
I was booted for about 6 weeks. I was pulled out of work and off my foot, but largely too little too late. I returned and handled the foot conservatively, waiting to feel better. Or at least closer to being able to walk like I did on January 7th.
Every other week there have been check ups at the podiatrist. Two visits to a specialist in NYC. Days blended into weeks and my patience started to wear thin. I began Physical Therapy, but even the PT was baffled by the amount of pain in the foot and encouraged me to keep looking for answers.
A repeat MRI was scheduled for 8/2. I obtained the results on 8/14. While the pain in the foot should have been an indicator, I was not prepared to hear that I needed to return to the walking boot, as I had a likely stress fracture in the cuboid bone, and a neuroma in between my second and third toes. This mess courtesy of my body compensating to protect the lisfranc ligament while it healed. I had unconsciously shifted all my weight to the outer part of my foot. I was to limit my walking. By that night I was back in my walking boot ordering a knee scooter for the trip to Disney.
I remember after the fall in January, and even after the diagnosis in March, feeling so happy that I would at least be healed and back to walking before our trip. The best laid plans…
So when we headed out for a 5AM flight on 8/18, we had all our suitcases, a wheelchair and a knee scooter. We checked three bags, and Felix pushed Meghan while I scooted behind. We were a sight.
And after waking up at 2:30 for our flight and traveling via scooter through the Magic Kingdom, I wanted nothing more than to go home. Immediately. I felt like I had done a bad step aerobics video over and over on only my left thigh and butt cheek. You might not realize the strain on the thigh when you rest the knee with a way-too-heavy boot hanging off the back. There was just no way I was going to make it.
So Monday morning I released Meghan and Felix to the Magic Kingdom. I sat in the hotel room. I cried for about 10 minutes. I called my mom. I made a cup of tea. And then I made a plan.
I researched a new set of eyes to consult on the foot when I arrived home. I rearranged our return flight to a more civil time to I could book an appointment for the 29th with confidence. I stretched. I took way too much Advil.
And sometime that morning between the NSAIDs and the caffeine, I started to feel the magic. I sat on the hotel balcony. I strengthened my resolve.
I am not sure at all why it seems everything is so hard. I couldn’t fathom why I had sent my otherwise healthy kid off in a wheelchair, while I sweated inside a walking boot, all the while healing from the Fine Needle Aspiration thyroid biopsy two days prior for thyroid nodules recurring on my previously quiet and well-behaved remaining thyroid lobe. (Partial thyroidectomy 1993 – dx multinodular goiter, 18 years before I had ever HEARD of Cowden’s Syndrome)
In that moment most of what we were facing had nothing at all to do with Cowden’s. And yet, the same choice existed in that moment. I had to decide that I was going to make the best of it. I had to decide that I was not giving up my family vacation for more medical nonsense. I had to decide to find a way to enjoy. Because the struggles, the pain, and the drama would all be waiting for me at home whether I found the “magic” or not.
All the positive thinking in the world was not going to make anyone’s pain go away. Not even a stomach burning amount of Advil and a few strong cocktails could do that. But, I am a huge believer in a positive mindset. And in that Monday morning overlooking the Hawaii themed resort, things started to fall into place in my mind and my heart.
We get 2 weeks a year to spend as a family, free of other obligations. We get 2 weeks a year. And I wasn’t going to waste it.
I joined them later that day, and never left them again. We traveled together – a family of three, six wheels and a boot. We laughed a lot, we argued a little, and generally found the best in each other. We met up with my sister and her family for a super fun night together.
We got to Mickey’s ‘Not So Scary’ Halloween Party for the first time. We saw more characters than we’ve seen since she was quite young.
Finally, after many years of staring at the giant “Hot Air Balloon” in Disney Springs, I got myself on. Because, Why not? Magical.
We found that our resort had a stand serving dairy free Dole Whip – the first time my 16 year old ever had soft serve. Magical.
Some people wonder how we do the same vacation year after year. They wonder how we don’t tire of it all. For us, there is a magic that can’t be explained, only felt. There is wonder in eating safely in restaurants and having access to a bakery free of gluten, dairy and soy. There is joy in eliminating something so basic as food isolation, and sharing meals, sometimes as a family of three, and other times with some Disney friends.
There is magic running into Pluto in the lobby of your resort, or finding the Seven Dwarfs waiting to meet your family.
There is magic in roller coaster selfies, and Figment reminding us to use our imagination.
There is magic in all things familiar, and always finding something new.
There is magic when you seek it, even with six wheels and a boot.
Because there will always be battles to fight. So sometimes they can just wait 2 weeks.
The foot problem is not solved. It’s time to find some serious answers. I won’t open the school year for the first time in 22 years. These next few weeks will be about making plans to heal.
There is no magical solution for my foot. There will be more MRIs, and more doctors.
My patience will be tested in new ways. I am not sure what to expect, and that makes me nervous.
But there will never be a single second that I regret adding 4 wheels and a boot to my own self to enjoy and appreciate the magic with my family.
I know the body can not heal if you don’t nourish the soul.
My Grandfather told me many years ago that I was “difficult to work with.” He said it with love. I don’t remember the exact context. I do remember it was said with a smile.
And he was undoubtedly right about that, like so many other things.
I had a boss a few years back that told me, “If you continue to hold everyone to the same standards you hold yourself to, you will always be disappointed.” Strong words, but also not inaccurate.
I am a lot to take.
I am intense almost all the time. I have a mouth full of words that last long past the attention span of anyone I strike up a conversation with.
I am passionate about things I believe in.
I make lots and lots of mistakes. But, I truly do my best all the time.
So I just sometimes struggle to understand why it seems everything I touch or encounter is a battle.
I spend hours upon hours sorting through medical claims. I look up who paid what, and when. I call on bills that need to be refiled. I take names on post-it notes with dates and times, in case things don’t get rectified.
I file out of network claims, and then I watch them processed in error. I make three phone calls to try to sort out the change in policy, which was simply just a mistake no one will own. I take names again. I am told to wait 6 more weeks for hundreds of dollars owed to me to be reprocessed. It’s only a little about the money. It’s mostly about the notebook, and the folder with the copies of the claims, and the alarm in my phone to remind me when I need to follow up on the call again.
I send medication to the mail order pharmacy because we have no choice. And then I wait for them to screw it up. That sounds negative, but it’s simply accurate. They have an entire notebook in my world to help manage the 9 mail away prescriptions between us. There is a perpetual box on my ‘to do’ list which tells me to check on the progress of any refill.
I make appointments. The list has 20 specialists between us. They vary from twice a week to once a year. A psychologist once told me not to let the appointments interfere with “preferred activities.” So there is a matrix with the impossible task as the ultimate goal. Except none of the 20 doctors know about the other 19. Or the full time job. Or the high school honor student’s schedule. Or swim practice. Or theater. Or voice lessons. Nor do they care. And I get it. They can not hear everyone’s story. So when I call to try to carefully place that appointment in a very tiny window of time, they are always unhappy with me. They think I’m being unreasonable. And maybe I am. But, I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t TRY to get everything to keep her physically healthy and still let her be a teen.
I deal with unexpected schedule changes. Like when I carefully stack 2 appointments in one day, and then one has to move to right smack in the middle of a week long summer internship that was planned forever ago, because now instead of two doctors with Friday hours at the same facility, one has Monday and one has Friday. No overlap. So I erase, and juggle. Except I’m not great at juggling in a literal sense, so one got cancelled and hasn’t been rescheduled. Actually two… because summer can not be ALL about doctors. Nor can every day off. But, neither can every day at work or school…
“What do you mean you’re not going to reschedule today?”
So much of our condition relies on screening. Early detection is a blessing. It is the key. It is also tedious and time consuming. It is possible to be grateful and overwhelmed simultaneously.
So much of this is case management. And, when last I checked my master’s degree is in education, not medicine. But, with no one to coordinate care I have to guess a whole lot. I have to decide if 9 months will be ok instead of 6. I have to decide when to push the doctor for more lab tests when the fatigue won’t quit and the thyroid is ok but the spleen…eh, no one is quite sure about the spleen…
And there are doctor’s whose pride won’t let them return a call because I haven’t seen them recently enough.
There is the genetics appointment lingering again. Because maybe Cowden’s wasn’t the WHOLE answer…
And the “normal people stuff” like the seemingly never-ending root canals because my stress is played out in the jaw clenching that overtakes the episodes of sleep. That is on the occasions everything is calm enough for me to make it to my bed.
Or the foot injury. The “rare” lisfranc ligament partial tear. Close to 6 months later. Not a soul wants to hear me tell the story again. No one wants to believe that it still hurts badly enough that I haven’t take a real walk since last fall. I’m not lazy. I’m horrified by the state of my body in the absence of real physical activity. I am trying to be patient. My patience is running out alongside my sanity.
And the IEP. Oh, the Individualized Education Plan… and the meetings. Over and over and over again… Meghan is on the waiting list for a service dog. She has PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder. The dog is coming. The process is wearing me out.
I am a lot to take.
I am often “difficult to work with.”
I hold myself and others to a high standard.
I am intense most of the time.
I am tired.
I am so very tired of fighting all the time.
There is no choice though. No choice at all.
So, in the mean time I will be here. Strengthening my resolve. I may bend, but I will not break. I will continue to strive to show my girl that she can have a rare and currently incurable disease, while excelling at school, at sports, being active in the community, and being a generally decent human.
Last month we walked out of a screening appointment. It was not critical. It was an hour behind. We rescheduled. Also a valuable lesson.
I am tired of fighting, but I am far from done.
As my Grandfather said, I am “difficult to work with.”
I am also loved. I am flawed. I am also forgiven.
When I have no more, I put my hands together and ask… and I am never disappointed.
Life is very much like a carousel… you must hold on tightly. It will not stop until it is over…
I always heard about the body changing every seven years. I never gave it much thought.A quick Google search brings a couple of interesting articles.Every Seven Years…
This has been on my mind a lot the last few weeks. I’ve never been one to spend New Year’s Eve wishing a year away, or blaming one for my misfortunes. However I do have a rock solid memory for dates, and 2012 is a year I will never forget.
Digesting our PTEN diagnoses from the fall of 2011, 2012 began with thyroid biopsies for my girl. It was the year of risk assessment and triage for us. In February there were breast and neck MRIs for me and another in a long string of embolizations for an AVM in Meghan’s knee. In March came my prophylactic double mastectomy that showed DCIS on pathology. In May of that year came my hysterectomy, as well as breast and an external pelvic ultrasound to assess my then 8 year old. In June she had another thyroid sonogram as suspicion of her nodules increased. She also had an MRI to assess the progress the embolization made on her AVM. Insert recovery times, and “normal people stuff,” and that took us only to the end of third grade.
In the summer she had kidney and bladder ultrasounds, and an MRI of her pituitary gland. I added an abdominal MRI to baseline hamartomas that to this day have continued to slowly outsize my spleen itself. That MRI was repeated in November, and we ended the year with an uptick in concern about my girl’s thyroid.
Things have not really calmed down since then, and I have never counted surgeries and procedures from 2012 alongside any other year to see if it truly was our most medically active, because by all accounts the year you spend trying to process this diagnosis is the longest one ever.
Over time we have adapted to our lives, dancing in between appointments, carefully trying to schedule doctors and surgeries around life, and not the other way around.
Its a valiant effort. Sometimes I am successful at it, and sometimes it is an epic fail. Regardless there is no alternative but to keep pressing forward. Adapting and changing.
Sometimes the adaptations make us stronger. Other times they make us more efficient. I am not sure the impact of the adaptations on emotional health. I am focused on not letting this diagnosis take away my life. I am determined to live my life in spite of it. But, sometimes I do wonder. I keep in touch with virtually no one. Unable to make plans for the likelihood they will need to be cancelled or changed. A deep fear of not being able to hold down a non-medical conversation reverberates through my soul.
So as I was hopping around on the crutches this morning it occurred to me that it is now 2019. It is seven years since the epic 2012. This year is shaping up to be one for the record books.
It is hard to tease apart the Cowden’s from the “Normal People Stuff,” because at this moment life seems to be a bit of an all-consuming medical drama.
That confuses people who see me smiling through the day at work with a large boot attached to my left foot for well over 6 weeks. It makes people I run into at the mall think all must be well. I smile. Most of the time. Frowning gives you uglier wrinkles.
Today was to be the day the podiatrist freed me from the walking boot. Instead he told me to trade it for crutches in the house. The boot is starting to hurt my knees and my hip. My foot is simply not ready to be full weight bearing. The partial tear is not healed. In fact it seems no better, if not worse than when I fell at work on January 8th. The delay in diagnosis caused by a denied MRI likely made things worse.
I was given names for a second opinion, and cautiously handed a script for PT, which cautions the potential therapist to be “NOT TOO AGGRESSIVE” with my foot. The weather is getting warmer. My pleasure comes from new sneakers and long walks…
Simultaneously working the juggling act with a few other issues, I have seen just about a doctor a day for the last week.
Fortunately my daughter’s brain MRI for lesions being watched for the last year was gloriously “unremarkable” on Tuesday and I am grateful for the little things – because they are the GIANT things.
My ENT was perplexed, as most doctors are. The hearing test was normal. The fluid that I feel was not visible to him as it had been to the other doctor. He spent a good deal of time listening. He decided he would offer me a tube to drain the ear with an anticipated 5% success rate. (No thanks) and an MRI of my head which would show the ear. He said he was 99% sure the MRI would show nothing. Then he corrected himself to say he was 99% sure it would show nothing in the ear… but I should anticipate incidental findings that will likely need follow up. Whatever. Brain MRI with Cowden’s is not a bad idea anyway. MRI tomorrow.
My thyroid labs, after 3 weeks on the new medication regimen indicated the need for another change. I’ve been having heart palpitations, and the highest blood pressure reading of my life. I’m awaiting the arrival of the new dose, and setting up the next blood appointment, all while wondering if this is an exercise in futility as it looks like the rest of my thyroid will need to be removed in the not so distant future. My partial thyroidectomy was in 1993. Clearly the body keeps changing.
I had a routine bone density screen on Weds. I also went for my abdominal sonogram to monitor the spleen. It’s a 45 minute ultrasound that requires 4 hours of fasting, but checks the spleen hamartomas for growth, while evaluating the liver and kidneys. Except it was done in 6 minutes.
Apparently there is a drop down menu somewhere when you order an abdominal ultrasound. I think the first item is Aortic screen. The “Complete” that I needed was a few clicks down. I’ll need to reschedule. But, I am looking forward to hearing the random screen I didn’t need was “unremarkable.” Results pending…
I am a different person than I was 7 years ago. We all are I suppose. If you evaluate your life in 7 year increments, you will definitely note changes.
The question is, will you be happy with them?
I am stronger. I am more fit. I am more confident in my knowledge. I am less drawn into drama.
I am also less social. I am less knowledgeable about world news, and more knowledgeable about rare diseases. My attention span is shorter. I am easily distracted. My brain is always on. Sometimes I catch really important things. Other times I torment myself…
I am introspective and honest.
Happy is a relative term.
I’ve spent a lot of time watching Netflix. More than I ever have. I picked up Grey’s Anatomy and keep hearing Meredith quote her mother.
“… But the carousel never stops turning. You can’t get off.”