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.

Advertisements

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.

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!

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!

 

But it looks cute! : Chronically Misunderstood

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “chronically misunderstood” post, but don’t fret strangers are rising up to the occasion and helping me continue this series!

The majority of the posts in this series are about events that happened a while back. This one however took place just a few weeks ago. If you saw my post about trying Corlanor, then you know this medication gave me fairly severe side effects. On the Monday after I started Corlanor I was a hot mess. I dragged my body to school since I had tests that week and needed to make it to class, but I looked awful. I had no make-up on, I was wearing an over sized jacket, and my hair was in a ponytail. Most days I slap on some make-up, straighten my hair, and trick everyone into thinking I’m fine, but I just couldn’t do it that day.

I got to my second class of the day, which is Algebra, and I needed to turn in my lab since I had missed Friday’s class to go to the Electrophysiologist. I walked up to my teacher’s desk and instantly everything went black and my whole body felt like jello. I grabbed onto her desk rather abruptly and slurred out enough words to explain what I was giving her. She looked at me like I was crazy, and I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m weird, but oh well. I made it back to my desk, and sat down, when the person who sits next to me asked an all too familiar question. “Is your face always this red?” I’ve gotten this question a lot over the years. Most people think I’m sunburnt or embarrassed, but it’s just my face and screwy autonomic nervous system. My face looked red because

1. I had no makeup on

2. I don’t regulate my own body temperature well and my face was super hot

3. I was trying not to pass out

I told him that no, I don’t always look like this, and I wasn’t wearing make-up or feeling well. I guess the look of exhaustion on my face made him think I was upset, so he started back-tracking and apologizing profusely. Honestly, I’m not offended by anyone asking, but I do think it’s rude. In the moment, I just really didn’t feel well and was too disoriented to have a whole conversation on why my face looked uglier than usual. The girl who sits next to him then said, “but it looks so cute! I wish my face looked like that!” Okay, cut the bullshit. I’m way more offended by you trying to act like I look “cute” than by some dumb guy essentially asking me why I look ugly today. It doesn’t look cute, it looks bad. There’s no need to act like it doesn’t. I’m not upset by it, it’s simply just something that happens and is a part of my chronic illnesses.

The girl then continued to tell me a story about when she had a reaction to a face wash in middle school. She ended with, “and yeah my face looked like yours.” There isn’t an eye roll big enough. During all of this I was still super disoriented and couldn’t form together enough words to respond. Oh the joys of chronic illness! I find it hilarious when people try to “relate” to my situation by telling me obscure things that have happened to them.

At least I look cute though, right?

Gastro Appointment and Action Plans

I had a super busy week last week at school with quizzes, exams, and a lab for biology. I felt way less prepared for these tests than I did for my first round of tests, but luckily I actually did really well on everything. On top of all of the school stuff my health is continuing to spiral, and I’m having near syncope episodes where I become disoriented everyday, and they’ve gotten more severe.

One positive thing that happened last week is that I finally saw a new Gastroenterologist! I really liked him, which to be honest I wasn’t expecting to, since I saw two other doctors in that practice when I started to become chronically ill, and they thought I was faking it. He however, was very kind and had a few ideas on where to go next. He thinks I might have post-infection IBS, since I had some weird blood work five years ago that said I had a parasite. I thought this was a false positive since the parasite mainly lives in Africa, but apparently although possible it is incredibly uncommon for that to happen. If i did in fact have the parasite, then it may have damaged my GI tract causing the IBS.

I’ve actually never been diagnosed with IBS, even though all of my gastro symptoms fit the definition. He wants to do a few more tests before calling it IBS, since IBS really is just a nice acronym for “something in your GI tract is messed up but we don’t really know what.” I had some blood work and an x-ray, that I should be getting the results about at the end of this week. If everything looks good, we’re probably going to do an endoscopy since he thinks I might have systemic mastocytosis. I’ve done the tryptase test for MCAS, and it was negative but apparently the best way to diagnose it is by a biopsy of the small intestine, if you have gastro symptoms, or a bone marrow sample. Since I have a ton of gastro symptoms and doing an endoscopy is much less invasive than a bone marrow biopsy, we’re probably going to do that. If the regular endoscopy also fails to bring any good information, we’re considering a capsule endoscopy to make sure I don’t have any disease activity in the part of the small intestine that you can’t see during a colonoscopy and endoscopy.

If you missed my last update, I talked about how I tried corlanor for my IST and it really didn’t go well. This past weekend my doctor had me try it again, but now he only wants me to take it once in the morning every other day. I tried this on Saturday and it made me feel really crappy again, so I definitely won’t be taking corlanor anymore. The electrophysiologist also doesn’t want to see me anymore (even though I only saw him once) and is referring me to the research hospital that is attached to a med school in the city. His office has yet to send the referral, so I hope they hurry up since my heart is becoming quite an issue on a daily basis.

I’m sorry this is quite a Debby-Downer post, but it’s just reality at the moment! I am feeling positive about the new gastroenterologist and I’m hopeful that the referral for a new cardiologist will be helpful. I’ve been pushing myself so hard to make it to school, and get really good grades, so I know my blogging hasn’t been the best. Being chronically ill and being a student feels nearly impossible the majority of the time, so doing anything extra has been out of the question, especially the past two weeks. I’m hoping to post more regularly soon!

I hope you all are doing well!