Finally Having a Diagnosis

After visiting the Mayo Clinic, I finally have a diagnosis for my chronic health issues. I’ve been waiting six years for a diagnosis, but the experience of actually receiving one has been quite different from what I imagined. Maybe this is because I was diagnosed with so many things all at once, which quickly became overwhelming. I’ve definitely learned a lot in the past two months, and have had many things to contemplate.

Receiving a POTS and Dysautonomia diagnosis was in no way surprising. I’ve been tasking Doctors to test me for autonomic conditions for two years. After I did the autonomic testing, I received a phone call the following week to tell me the results, which did in fact confirm the diagnosis. I instantly felt relief. There was no more guessing, and no more begging doctors to listen. I also love being right, so I felt quite smug although this is not the kind of thing you want to be right about. I was relieved to know that I didn’t need to have an ablation or a pacemaker.

Then frustration hit, because dysautonomia is not something that is easy to treat, and there just aren’t many options. I’ve already taken every medication used to treat POTS when they thought I just had inappropriate sinus tachycardia, and they all failed. I’m trying to have hope that a few lifestyle modifications will help, but realistically I know that many people still struggle after making those changes. I made as many changes as possible right away, and so far I’ve only felt worse. I do think (or at least I want to believe) that some of these things will help at least a little bit, but it’s going to take more like six months to see any results.

The gastroparesis and pelvic floor dysfunction are two things I definitely didn’t think I had. I had always associated gastroparesis with a lot of vomiting, and since I rarely vomit I didn’t think it pertained to me. Now that I have the diagnosis I can recognize quite a few of the lesser known symptoms that I have, but never thought much about. I also didn’t realize just how many of my symptoms corresponded with eating until I started paying more attention to them. When your body is constantly doing weird things you don’t always voice all of them. When I do bring up a new symptom to my parents, they always say, “When did that start?” and I’ll be like,” well it started like six months ago…” because if I told them everything that my body does that it shouldn’t do I would never stop talking.

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Leaving school because of all of this has been really hard. My education is so incredibly important to me, and to have to pause it once again has been difficult. I also hate being unproductive, but many days I just don’t have a choice. I am planning to return to school in the Fall, and maybe even take a Summer course online. I don’t know if this is foolish, since I’ve only gotten worse in the past two months, but I need something to look forward to and to work hard for.

When I was undiagnosed, I never knew what the future held. That was both terrifying and relieving. It left a tiny glimmer of hope that maybe this would all end one day. Now that I know it won’t, it’s not the easiest thing to cope with. Realistically my life will probably look a lot like it does now forever. I’ll have good days and bad days, I’ll flare and I’ll have months where I’m able to be around 60% functional. I’m still trying to figure out what I should do about my career path, knowing my body cannot handle a job that requires me to do much physically and that I cannot work long hours.  However, there’s always the possibility that things will truly get better, so I don’t want to hold myself back.

I try not to think too much about the possibility of things getting worse, but it’s always kind of hanging around in the back of my mind. Having a diagnosis hasn’t necessarily given me much peace of mind, but I am glad that my treatment options can be tailored towards the cause of my problems instead of just guessing. I’m still working on the whole “positivity” thing. It doesn’t always come naturally to me and I think I just need some more time. Overall, I am grateful for the answers I have received. I have spent too many years begging for any answers, so to have figured out quite a few of my issues has been indescribable. It’s still hard to wrap my head around the fact that we know what’s wrong. For so long I was a “head-scratcher,” a “difficult case,” and a “medical mystery.” I’m still just a girl trying to figure it all out, but at least this girl has some explanation for it all.

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Life Update: Withdrawing from College

This semester has been incredibly rough for me.

Some of it I have shared with you, like documenting my journey at the Mayo Clinic, but there’s been a lot going on that I haven’t talked about yet. My health has been very poor since around the last few weeks of Fall Semester, and has been continuously getting worse. This was one of the major reasons I chose to go to Mayo in the middle of Spring semester. Unfortunately I missed a lot of class before my trip, and then a whole week for the trip (my first trip was during spring-break so I didn’t miss any class for that). While I was successful in obtaining multiple diagnoses, the treatment options are very limited.

As of right now, they are mainly focusing on the lifestyle changes; things like exercise, following the gastroparesis diet, and eating tons of salt. These things may or may not work, and if they do work it’s going to be months before I see any improvement. Since returning from my trip, I’ve only become more symptomatic and much less functional. I’m honestly not sure what to do right now, since I know if I contact the Mayo doctors they will probably tell me to just keep trying to do these things since it hasn’t been long enough to see results, but at the same time my body is incredibly weak and doing simple life tasks can be very difficult.

Missing this much school has seriously affected my grades. Some of my professors have been great, and others have been awful. I have disability services, but they aren’t very helpful and professors have found loop holes that essentially disregard any accommodations I’m supposed to have. It’s crazy how little legal protection disabled people have, but that’s a whole nother can of worms. I made the decision to withdraw from college, since my Spring semester grades were going to tank my GPA. I really wanted to only withdraw from the two classes I was doing poorly in, and stay in the two classes that I had nearly perfect grades in, but that isn’t an option at my college.

This also means I will not be able to transfer to a University in the Fall. I won’t have nearly enough hours after I lose these 14. Now, I’m going to have to do at least one more semester at community college, maybe two. I’m trying my best to remind myself that I’m only 18, so I’m actually ahead of my peers by at least one college semester, but withdrawing makes me feel so behind. There’s a lot of emotions to process, and I’m doing my best not to fall into a pit of despair, but it’s been really tough. I think hope and positivity are important when it comes to living as a chronically ill person, but I also think it’s okay to recognize that some situations just suck.

I’m planing to return to college in Fall, or even take a Summer class if I’m able to get my health under control enough. As difficult as this decision is, I know it is the right one. This is not the first time I’ve had to withdraw from school, as many of you know, I started this blog right after I withdrew from high school in November of 2016. It’s crazy to think that almost 18 months later I’m having to do the exact same thing. I’ve got to say it doesn’t hurt any less the second time around, but I know from the first time that it will get better.

Mayo Trip 2: Day 3

Day three at Mayo, I started off by seeing another cardiologist. I wasn’t given a reason for why I was seeing him, and he wasn’t so sure either. Essentially it was unnecessary, and all he said was to stop taking digoxin and gave me a tapering schedule. He asked me if medications have helped my symptoms or if I mainly just push through, I responded by telling him medications have never worked very well for me, so I mainly push through the symptoms as best I can. After praising me for coming to that realization, he gave me a fifteen minute lecture about how so many people are way more disabled than I am, and so I should just push through and not “let my illness define me.” Then he tried to use Stephen Hawking as inspiration porn, which made my blood boil, but I did my best to keep a pleasant face and my mouth shut. I am very happy there is no need to see him again.

I got my results back from the norepinephrine testing and it was normal, so no hyper-POTS for me. They also did a urinalysis to get a base line of my sodium levels, and the autonomic neurologist told me I drink too much water. It’s kind of ironic that I’ve been lectured about drinking lots of water over the years and now I’m being told to decrease my water intake by .5-1 liter. I did drink more than normal that day, because I wanted to make sure the results didn’t make me look dehydrated, and it seems like maybe I went too far. What can I say, I’m an over achiever! 🙂

I saw the fibromyalgia clinic and they were super nice. To be honest I’m a little confused whether I have fibro or not. Apparently I meet all of the 1990 criteria, but it’s questionable if I meet the 2010 criteria. However, she believes when I’m in more of a flare as far as the joint and muscle pain goes that definitely do meet the criteria. Plus I meet the criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome. In her report she wrote “probable fibromyalgia” but the way her nurses report was written it sounded like I had it for sure. Basically I’m supposed to follow suggestions they make for fibro patients, but it’s unclear whether or not she gave me an official diagnosis. I think she did, but it was confusing.

I was supposed to go to a class on fibro today, but it lasted for 8 hours and I’m honestly just so ready to get out of here. I feel like after hearing her recommendations and hearing the autonomic neurologists recommendations that I know what I need to do, and the class may not be all that helpful. Mentally this has been very taxing and at this point in time I think I just need to go home, rest, and assimilate back into daily life. We’re leaving this afternoon, and have no more appointments. I have a lot to process, but I feel very privileged to have been able to go to Mayo and overall I had a very positive experience here. Cross your fingers I don’t have to see the inside of the Rochester airport for quite a while!!

Mayo Clinic Days 3-6

Day three was pretty simple. The only appointment I had was to see the electrophysiologist. Essentially they confirmed what I have believed to be true for the past two years. They think I have dysautonomia and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, and had me do autonomic testing to confirm the diagnosis. I do not yet have those results, but from the numbers I saw during the test, I think it’s going to be confirmed. Since this is an autonomic issue, they’ve referred me to an autonomic neurologist. Unfortunately we couldn’t get into see her this week, so we will be returning to Mayo later next week. They reiterated to me how difficult it is to treat dysautonomia, and how since I’ve failed every medication used to treat POTS already, there isn’t much they can do. It’s incredibly discouraging, but not surprising. My electrophysiologist here in Texas wanted me to have a complete ablation of the sinus node, but given the statistics they quoted me, it definitely isn’t on the table right now, since it has a greater possibility of making me worse or doing nothing at all than helping.

On Thursday, I began my GI transit test, which is basically a gastric emptying scan only they look at the whole GI tract. I had to eat a breakfast of two eggs, a pice of toast, and a glass of milk in ten minutes, which made me really sick. Then for lunch I had to eat a sandwich made with butter, mayonnaise, 5 ounces of turkey lunch meat, with a whole bottle of water and a container of jello all in 30 minutes. I ate as much as I could, but I had to stop when I started violently retching, because throwing up could have altered the scan. Friday morning I had more x-rays to do for the scan, and then I had my autonomic testing done.

Friday afternoon, I had my follow up with the gastroenterologist, and frankly its been hard to digest (no pun intended) the news he gave me. Essentially I have gastroparesis and pelvic floor dysfunction, neither of which was I expecting, let alone two separate GI diagnoses. Gastroparesis is also something that is not easy to fix, and knowing how severe it can get for some people really scares me. At this point mine has progressed to moderate (out of mild, moderate, severe) and they’ve recommended I eat mainly pureed and soft foods. Following a gastroparesis diet is going to be a complete 180 for me, since the main things I eat are fruits, vegetables, and brown rice and I’m no longer supposed to eat any of those. As for the pelvic floor dysfunction, I’m not emotionally ready to try and treat that yet. It involves very invasive physical therapy, that I do not feel is necessary, and I definitely want a second opinion about before I do something so drastic.

The cardiologist thinks I also have fibromyalgia, and the GI suspects endometriosis. When I go back next week I’m seeing a gynecologist for the first time, and also the fibromyalgia clinic, as well as a dietitian to learn more about how I should change my diet. This has all been incredibly overwhelming, but I finally have some answers after six hard years of looking. I’m going to try and go back to school on Monday, but I honestly can’t even imagine going right now. I feel as if I’ve been living in an alternate universe, and being thrown back into daily life feels so odd. Even though I was only gone for one week, I feel like I’ve been gone for a solid month, but as I’m writing this I’m curled up in my own bed with my cat, and some level of normalcy feels restored. I apologize for being MIA, and a lot less active on here for the past two months, I hope you can see a lot has been going on in my life! I will continue to keep y’all updated through my Mayo Clinic experience when I travel back next week.

Mayo Clinic Days 1-2

This trip has been a whirlwind already!

I arrived in Rochester, MN on Sunday March 11th in the afternoon, and had my first appointment the following morning. Walking into Mayo was unlike walking into any hospital I’ve ever been to before. For one, it’s massive and the sheer number of people walking around can be overwhelming. The employees are super friendly, and they have tons of staff whose sole job is to tell you where to go. It’s very easy to get lost, but when you do there is always someone to help. Most of the people there are old, which I guess isn’t surprising since the majority of sick people are old. I was definitely the youngest person at most of my appointments by a good 40 years, but there were a handful of people who were probably between 16-35.

My first appointment was a chest x-ray, which was started and completed before my appointment time. They are incredibly efficient, and don’t waste any time. I then had an EKG, which also went incredibly smoothly, and finished off my cardio tests for the day with the placement of a Holter monitor. I had done all of these tests before, so I’m not sure why they repeated them as they didn’t offer us any new information.

That afternoon, I had a gastroenterology appointment. I really liked the doctor I saw, but was definitely shocked by what he wanted to do. He thinks my GI symptoms are either caused by pelvic floor dysfunction or are a motility issue. I knew what pelvic floor dysfunction was from following some blogs here on WordPress, but I never thought it related to my issues. He ordered an anorectal manometry test, which I was incredibly nervous for and had a minor freak-out the night before over. If you don’t know what that is, google makes it sound way worse than it is, but it still is a very uncomfortable and degrading experience. I think my GI issues may be motility issues, given my autonomic dysfunction. I have a GI transit study scheduled for later this week.

I did the anorectal manometry test the following day, after some blood work. I had to do an enema prep before the test, and since my stomach was already not doing well that day, it made me really sick. The test itself went pretty quickly, as uncomfortable as it was. I don’t know my results yet, but from what I’ve read I’m pretty sure I’ve passed with flying colors and don’t have pelvic floor dysfunction. After that was over, I had an echocardiogram in the afternoon. I’ve also done this test before, so it wasn’t anything new. The woman who was the technician for my echo would tell me to “stop breathing” instead of saying “hold your breath” which I found very amusing.

All of the cardio tests are being reviewed today (Wednesday) and after more testing everything will be reviewed by gastroenterology later this week. I’ll keep ya’ll updated with everything else that’s going on this week. I hope you are all doing well!

So I Guess I’m Going to Mayo Clinic?

On February 22nd, I had an appointment with my electrophysiologist, and in the end we decided I am going to go Mayo clinic. Instead of spending my first spring break of college somewhere on a beach, I’ll be in Minnesota going to doctor’s appointments. Somehow that doesn’t sound as fun.

I’ve talked about my Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia before, and how my electrophysiologist believes I should have a surgery to try and correct it. I am currently on the last medication available for IST, and it has failed. My IST is much more severe than most people’s, and my doctor believes my only option is to have a complete ablation of the sinus node (aka they want to burn the shit out of my heart). This will most likely leave me with a pacemaker. At this point I’m not super convinced I want to have the surgery. For a long time now I’ve thought that I may have other autonomic issues on top of IST, and from what I’ve read if that is true this surgery could actually make it worse. This is also a very controversial procedure, and only two places in the country perform more than a handful per year, one of them being Mayo Clinic.

Back in October of 2016, I applied to be seen by Mayo Clinic physicians, and was rejected. They didn’t give an explanation so I have no idea why that was. I’m glad I’m going to be able to go, because to be honest the past three week have been really bad. I started to decline around 10 weeks ago, but it’s gotten increasingly worse in the past three. I’ve been missing quite a bit of school, and I haven’t been able to function at all. This has been a major leap backwards. My last round of quizzes did not go well, and I have two exams as well as a lab practical next week over information I was not there to learn. I am so incredibly frustrated and very sad. I’ve been here so many times before, but it doesn’t get any easier.

I worked really hard last semester and I did incredibly well in all of my classes. My health was pretty good, until the end of the semester, which was a huge blessing. Unfortunately this semester started off bad, and has only gotten worse. It’s so hard to constantly give your all in school, and not reap the benefits because your health sabotages you. Not to mention none of my professors ever respond to my emails, so I have no way of catching up while I’m gone. When I do try and study, I’m not retaining any of the information and can’t concentrate due to brain fog. I feel stuck and powerless.

I am really grateful that I’ve been accepted by Mayo Clinic, and that I got an appointment pretty fast. I’m hoping I’ll be able to see gastroenterology and maybe immunology while I’m there, but I haven’t heard anything from those departments yet. I’m also nervous to go, since I have always felt that if Mayo can’t figure all of this out, no one will be able to. I’m trying to stay hopeful, and positive that we may have some more answers sooner rather than later. I hope you are all doing well!

Dear Body,

The Dear Body Project was started by Ari Fitz. She asked some of her friends to join her in writing love letters to their bodies to promote body positivity. Since then, many people have started writing letters to their own bodies and posting them as videos, letters, and photo captions on social media. Here is my love letter to my body.

 

Dear Body,

Wow we’ve been through a lot together. I often find myself blaming you instead of recognizing how much you’ve been through. For many years, it felt as if I as a mind, were fighting you as a physical being. A battle I felt you always won, yet somehow we both lost in the end. Together we’ve gained weight and lost weight, gained confidence and lost confidence. We’ve struggled to stay alive, and we’ve celebrated living life to the fullest.

When people talk about disabled bodies they often say, “You are not broken, you’re beautiful,” but I believe we are both. Beautifully broken. Not that every aspect of you is always beautiful, but I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be. Thank you for doing what you can, even when I feel like you aren’t doing enough. Thank you for teaching me that my value does not rely on others traditional measurements of success. I’m sorry often I don’t believe you.

I don’t appreciate or praise you enough. I want you to be perfect, look perfect, and work perfectly, but those aren’t fair expectations. I promise to try and not make perfection the goal, but you know how meticulous I can be. I am learning perfection is subjective, and you are perfect at doing what you are able to do. Thank you for continuing to fight for me, not against me, even when it feels like the world is fighting against us.

Love,

Alyssa