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.

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Mayo Trip 2: Days 1-2

I’m already back at Mayo and a few days into my trip! I flew into Rochester on March 22nd, and had appointments on the 23rd. The flight went smoothly, but walking through the airport takes so much out of me. On Friday I had two appointments, one with a gynecologist to have a consult for the possibility of endometriosis ,and one with an autonomic neurologist to talk about / confirm my POTS diagnosis.

The gynecologist visit went fine, but was super inconclusive. He didn’t think I have endometriosis but had no explanation for my super irregular periods. The only way to truly know if you have endometriosis is to have a laparoscopy, but he kind of beat around the bush when I asked if that was something I needed to do. At this point I’m probably just going to continue tracking my periods, and if it’s still an issue later on go see another gynecologist for a second opinion, but endometriosis isn’t a huge concern of mine right now.

I absolutely loved the autonomic neurologist! He confirmed my POTS diagnosis, by evaluating my autonomic testing results, and doing a very thorough neuro exam. He thinks I have hyperadrenergic POTS, and had me do a weird blood test to test my norepinephrine levels. First they place an IV, which took them over 30 minutes and 3 sticks before they got it, because my veins sucks. Then you have to lay completely still in a quiet, dim room for half an hour, in order to simulate what your norepinephrine levels are like while you are sleeping. After that, a nurse comes into the room very quietly, and you cannot speak to them or move while they draw the blood. When they’re done, you have to walk around for 10 minutes (or at least sit up in a chair if you can’t walk) to raise the norepinephrine levels, and finally they draw your blood again. I’ll get the results back from that by the end of this week.

The neurologist went over all of the “lifestyle changes” that are supposed to help with POTS, like eating tons of salt, drinking a lot of water, exercising and wearing compression garments to keep your blood from pooling. I thought it was interesting that he recommended wearing compression style shorts and a shirt under your clothes, because I’ve seen a lot of people with POTS use thigh-high compression stockings. According to him, the blood pools in your thighs and abdomen mostly, so those stockings won’t be as much help, unless you get the ones that go all the way up above your belly button. I really hope making these changes will be helpful, but I know they don’t work for a lot of people, or at least aren’t enough to make them functional.

He talked about putting me back on corlanor if after I try these non-pharmaceutical things, and they aren’t enough. He believes that it might work better for me, when I have a higher sodium level in my body. I hope all of this helps, because I have not been doing well at all. The gastroparesis has caused me to be widely nauseous and not able to eat very much, and the POTS has made me so incredibly tired and light-headed. Add traveling to the mix, and you get one very exhausted spoonie. The neurologist thinks I have mast cell activation syndrome as well, but since I have so much other stuff going on right now, we’re going to hold off on doing more testing for that. Given the dysautonomia and my symptoms I most likely have it, and the reactions have become more frequent. The past five days alone I’ve had a reaction to a new t-shirt, makeup that I’ve worn for over a year now, marijuana smoke (thanks a lot to the assholes smoking in our hotel), and one every single time I’ve taken a shower. Needless to say, Benadryl is my best friend.

I also saw a nutritionist, but she wasn’t very helpful so there’s not much to say about that. I still have a consult with a different cardiologist this week, as well as an appointment with the fibromyalgia clinic to see if I have fibro. I really want to go home, but I’m grateful to be here and I know I need to be here. This post was kind of long, so thanks for sticking around for the end. I hope you all are doing well!

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.

It’s Been a Minute: Life Update

It’s been a little while since I talked about what’s going on in my life, so I thought I would catch you all up!

First, I got the results back from my endoscopy and they were inconclusive. I had elevated mast cells in my biopsies, but they weren’t nearly high enough to diagnose mastocytosis. I had a serum tryptase test done to see if I had any elevated levels there, and it came back normal. It looks like I probably don’t have systemic mastocytosis, but my gastroenterologist is referring me to a new allergist/immunologist, who I have an appointment with on the 16th. Having negative results for tests is a good thing, because you don’t want anything to be wrong with your body, but it is also incredibly discouraging when it was the only new idea a doctor had in a long time. Since, I looks like I don’t have any mast cell issues, the gastroenterologist diagnosed me with post-infectious IBS.

I continued to have trouble with exhaustion due to my IST, so the electrophysiologist upped by digoxin dose. It had been working really well, but the past couple of days I’ve been exhausted and have felt my heart racing. It’s hard to know if the medication is no longer working or if I’m just having a rough few days.  I have an appointment on the 22nd with him, so we’ll see what he says. The gastroenterologist put me on Linzess for my IBS, and it hasn’t worked. It’s supposed to help with chronic constipation, but instead it’s making me have no bowel movement for two to three days, and then diarrhea. I stopped taking it, and became incredibly constipated immediately. Luckily, I see him on the 8th so hopefully he has some ideas on how we can get my digestion under control.

With school starting back on the 16th, and three doctors appointments in January, this is going to be a pretty busy month for me. I’m also starting to volunteer at a nursing home this Friday, which I am excited about. I feel ready to go back to school, mainly because I’ve been bored. I really hate feeling unproductive, but having the time to relax is nice, and something I try to take advantage of. I hope you all are doing well, and enjoying the new year so far!

November Health Update

Quite a bit has changed since my last health update!

I’ve now seen my electrophysiologist two more times, even though he originally wanted to refer me on. I went on flecainide acetate for a few weeks, but it made me incredibly hypotensive and I couldn’t properly function on it, so we decided to discontinue it. I’m currently on Digoxin, and my symptoms have improved. A major part of the improvement is due to coming off the flecainide acetate, but I do think the Digoxin may be helping some. I saw him on Monday, and we are going to continue to digoxin and possibly increase it, depending on the results of my endoscopy.

At my last appointment, he brought up the possibility of having another electrophysiology study, but this time actually ablating my sinus node. I didn’t have an ablation last time, because I don’t have SVT so technically nothing is structurally wrong with my heart. The complete ablation of the sinus node for people like me who have IST, a form of dysautonomia, results in a pacemaker over 50% of the time. To me, this would be a last case resort. I’m technically on the last medication that is prescribed for IST, so if it doesn’t continue to work I’m kinda screwed. However, I’ve read all of the research papers I can get my hands on and this procedure is often contra-indicated for people with dysautonomia. As of right now I don’t really view it as an option, but if things get worse it may have to be a possibility.

On Wednesday, I had an endoscopy mainly to test for systemic mastocytosis. I had no visible abnormalities, which we expected. This was my third endoscopy, so we were basically only doing it for the biopsies, which they did a ton of. The procedure went really smoothly and quickly. I had felt absolutely terrible on Tuesday, but even with the anesthesia I felt okay Wednesday. Thursday and Friday however were a whole other story. I felt like I was being stabbed in the stomach for most of Thanksgiving, and Friday I had a migraine most of the day. I tried by best to celebrate and push through, even though I felt quite terrible.  I’m moderately nervous for the results, since having systemic mastocytosis is kind of a big deal, but on the other hand having yet another false test is going to be frustrating. You really can’t win for losing with chronic illness.

I keep having really bad days/weeks and then really good days/weeks, so it’s been hard to judge the pattern of my health. I’m incredibly grateful for the good days, especially when they’re proceeded with a terrible day. I think I’m doing a pretty good job of handling it all, but I am pushing myself pretty hard. Having a few days off of school for Thanksgiving has been nice, and before we know it, it will be Christmas break. I still feel like I’m slowly declining, but I also feel hopeful due to the new doctors I’ve added to my arsenal.

How’s your health been?

I hope you’ve all been having a good November!

 

Corlanor and Other Frustrations

Last week was the roughest week I’ve had in a while. My migraines have returned, my stomach has continued to be a hot mess, and my heart is becoming a major problem again. What a great mix!

I saw a new electrophysiologist on Friday, and he confirmed my diagnosis of Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia. I was diagnosed with IST back in February after an electrophysiological study, but due to a terrible experience with that doctor I hadn’t done much about it since then. I’ve tried metoprolol, verapamil, and propanolol to slow my heart rate, but all of them failed to do so and caused side effects. Although I actually really liked this new electrophysiologist, he made big promises; promises he should have never made.

He started me on Corlanor, and told me verbatim this would be a miracle drug. As a skeptic with an asshole for a body I didn’t really believe him, but I was hopeful. I hadn’t done much research on IST, surprisingly since I love to research things, but now I have a million questions, most of which probably don’t have answers. Here are my questions, so if for some reason you have answers or have IST I’d love to hear them!

  1. Is IST a form of Dysautonomia?  The internet is giving me mixed signals
  2. What are other treatment options if beat-blockers, calcium blockers, and corlanor don’t work?
  3. How could this affect my laundry list of symptoms that no one seems to have an answer for?

Unfortunately my body is not liking the corlanor at all. My pulse is all over the place, sometimes “normal” around 75, and other times I’m still very much tachycardic at 120. It has also caused me to become extremely fatigued, hypotensive, and dizzy. Pretty much all day Saturday and Sunday I couldn’t do anything because I was so out of it. I started to get super disoriented (which does happen to me sometimes without medication) and couldn’t formulate sentences or comprehend anything I was trying to read. I’m on the lowest dose of this medication so I don’t think we can make this work.

I decided to stop taking it Sunday night, because I have a busy school week this week and I definitely won’t be able to go to school with all these side effects; It’s also not safe for me to drive when I’m so out of it. As far as I’m aware this is the last option I have to treat the IST, which is incredibly frustrating. I can feel my body progressively getting worse and returning to a dysfunctional state, which really scares me.

So far in the six weeks I’ve been in school I’ve only missed one class and it was for the electrophysiology appointment. I’ve been pushing myself incredibly hard and studying a ton, but if my health gets worse I’m afraid I’ll go back to missing school all the time. I just really don’t want to lose the progress I’ve made or have to leave school again. Maybe I’m thinking about this too much, but it’s really hard not to. We’re going to call the doctor today and see what he says about the side effects; I’m supposed to have a follow up on November 3rd, but it looks like I may need to see him sooner. I also have a gastroenterology appointment on October 18th with a new doctor, so hopefully that will bring some answers for my GI problems.

As for the migraines and daily headaches, I’m not sure I’m ready to go back down that road again. I’m feeling really emotional right now and the lack of control I feel over the situation is getting to me. I know that I can handle this because I’ve done it so many times, but honestly I just really don’t want to feel like like crap all the time and not be able to function. All I can try and do is hope that the electrophysiologist will have some ideas and the gastro appointment will go well.

I hope you all have a good week!

Starting School & Declining Health  

This week was my first week of being a full time college student!

I’m taking five class, which translates to 13 hours. Since this is my first semester (besides the one summer class I took) I’m taking the basics: Algebra, Biology and Lab, US History, and English.

This week has been a bit of a whirlwind. My health has been declining some, so I had a doctors visit on Monday after class. ( Warning TMI) She’s putting me on a new medication to hopefully help with a new problem I’ve been having-  passing undigested food in my stool. I really need to go see a gastroenterologist again, but I honestly just don’t want to. I know I probably need to do another colonoscopy/endoscopy and I don’t want to do that. For now I’m going to try the Colestid and see what happens.

Monday traffic at my school was TERRIBLE! I left my house at 9:15 and my class doesn’t start till 10:00, so I thought I had more than enough time. It only takes me 13-15 minutes to get there, so I had thirty minutes to park and find my class. When I got to the parking lot there were at least 150-200 people circling the parking lots looking for a spot. I honestly wasn’t really sure what to do. I circled every parking lot at least three times, and as the clock creeped closer to ten I got really nervous. Professors are understanding when people are late on the first day, but I still didn’t want to make a bad first impression, even if there were circumstances out of my control. Luckily I saw a guy come out of the school and I was able to stalk him and take his spot. That was at 9:55 so I had five minutes to walk tot the other side of the school and find my class. I made it to class on time though, which seemed like a miracle.

The rest of the week I gave myself an hour to get to campus and parking wasn’t really a problem. I had to walk really far, and wait around an hour for class to start, but at least I had a spot. My classes have been good, and overall haven’t given me very much work. I’m sure that will change soon though. Over the weekend I have some work, but since it’s labor day weekend it isn’t anything unmanagable, especially since I have three days to do it.

With my health getting worse, the reality of being in school and being chronically ill really hit me mid week. I’ve done the whole being chronically ill and going to school thing for 5 1/2 years and it’s getting old. I feel like I work so hard and get nothing in return. I’m trying to be positive and go into the new school year optimistically, but when things go south it feels more painful when I’ve been optimistic. Another big change is being around people the majority of the day. Since I’ve spent most of my time alone since becoming sick I’ve developed some social anxiety that makes being in public for extended periods of time emotionally exhausting (not to mention physically exhausting from everything else) and overwhelming.

Even if this is going to be a rough semester like the years before I’m grateful to be in a place at the moment that at least let’s me try to continue my education. Back in May there was no way I’d be able to go to school at all. It’s crazy how much my health can change so quickly. It declines rapidly and improves rapidly, I just never know which one to expect! Are you in school/ working? Do you have any Fall plans?

Let me know!

Lots of Love,

Alyssa