2015 was not last year

We are now six months into 2017 but my brain is still failing to catch up after last year. I am still catching myself thinking that 2015 was last year or writing the date as 2016. It’s almost as if 2016 didn’t happen at all and throughout all the years of chronic illness this has never happened to me before.

 

Last year holds very few memories for me, much of it is a vague blur. When you look at what occurred last year it’s hardly a surprise. From the start of the year I started to experience what I believed to be migraines several times a week. Over the course of three months they became daily and at the end of March 2016 I collapsed in the shower due to the pain. It was immediately diagnosed (correctly) by my gp during a home visit to be a low pressure headache caused by a CSF leak. My gp spoke to my PoTs / EDS consultant who advised increasing my salt tablets (salt can increase CSF production). I spent much of April in bed, three weeks after I collapsed I was referred to a neurologist who specialised in CSF Leaks. First hurdle jumped through or so I thought.

 

Despite my referral being marked as urgent, my referral was refused. This is not uncommon these days as many hospitals now employ admin staff (not medically trained staff) to sift through referral requests to see which ones they can deny and which ones they will approve. At the hospital the consultant was based, insider knowledge from an anonymous source informed me 60% of referrals to neurology were being denied for spurious reasons. When I still hadn’t heard anything back from the hospital by mid May (and now in daily agony) my referral was submitted again. By the end of the week I had an appointment for 22nd June, the day before the EU referendum vote hence why I can never forget date, as it was discussed in my appointment. Now cynical me would say what a devious  strategy for hospitals to keep their waiting lists down by refusing to accept 60% of referrals. But with the UK at the polls today for the General Election you’ve probably been all politicked out, I know I won’t be sleeping tonight whilst I wait for the results to come in.

 

A week after my hospital appointment in June I was admitted to hospital for various tests and the hope that I would get an epidural blood patch done. Those of you who regularly follow my blog will know that I didn’t get an EBP done but instead started monthly caffeine infusions and occipital nerve block injections. With the introduction of the infusions and injections things did improve a little but I was still pretty much incapacitated every day to varying degrees.

 

On the worst days I would be in bed for 20-24 hours, unable to lift my head up off the pillow whilst violently throwing up. My bedside bin (lined) became an impromptu sick bucket and I became an expert at throwing up whilst lying on my side. My world really began to shrink, much of the time I couldn’t watch TV or use a computer / phone as the light emitted was too bright even with sunglasses on. I ended up listening to audiobooks or the radio to pass the time. The back of my head and neck were permanently red from lying on hot water bottles. Days, weeks and months merged into one, something I am not surprised about as this is the worst medical condition I have had to deal with.

 

I look back now and I am surprised that I got through this at all. I was lucky as I had the support of my husband, parents and friends. Someone without that support network would have really struggled. When I was able I could also get support from a Facebook group for those who have a CSF Leak, they helped me in so many ways. I now realise that I have probably been leaking on and off since I had a lumbar puncture in 2009. Although it’s not completely gone away, I still have days where by 2-3pm I have a headache start that will only go away if I lie down, I have quality of life back. Lying in a darkened room, completely alone for much of the time is no way to live. I have to be honest I don’t know how I would have coped if the pain hadn’t suddenly dramatically reduced just before Christmas last year. You don’t realise how much you have even when chronically sick before, until it’s gone. It really shocked me how quickly life as I had known it had been taken away.

 

Even though I know 2016 happened and have snapshot memories of things that happened, it does feel like life completely passed me by. It is a really bizarre situation. Obviously it’s quite normal at the start of the year to think the wrong year was last year, for example in January 2017 you were still probably thinking 2015 was last year (or maybe that’s just me?) However it’s June now and I am still struggling to accept that 2016 has been and gone, that 2015 wasn’t last year its two years ago now. It a really hard thing to describe unless you’ve been through a similar situation.

 

I realised just how caught up I was in still thinking that 2015 was last year when I had to correct myself when speaking to my hairdresser this week – again something I rarely had done last year was my hair! I explained that I was caught up in this brain trap due to losing much of last year to being so ill and she totally got it. Some people I have spoken to about it don’t or can’t understand how you can lose a year but realistically it must happen to many people for a variety of reasons. 2017 just seems so alien to me it takes a conscious effort to remind myself it is this year. One mantra I am repeating constantly is 2015 was not last year. I have six months left to recognise this year is 2017, let’s hope it’s sorted by 2018!

A general update

I know I can be terribly annoying talking about the various new things happening medically but then never going back and updating you all. Unfortunately I have the memory of a goldfish, my husband will attest to that. I forget things, I continually ask the same questions  etc. It must drive him nuts some days but he patiently answers those repeated questions.

Octreotide:
In April 2014 I was admitted into hospital for a medication trial. Luckily I escaped on the second day, the hospital setting drove me to the brink of hysteria. This was triggered by awful experiences of hospitals in the past.
I was started on 0.25mls Octreotide three times a day before meals. Whilst in hospital I suffered no side effects but with in a few days I was suffering from diarrhoea (neon yellow in colour!) and stomach pain. On the advice of my consultant I stopped the injections for a few days and then restarted them but just once a day. All went really well – it stopped my postprandial episodes, until June which was when I started getting repeated bouts of cellulitis. I decided that I would stop the injections whilst I waited to get rid of the cellulitis. I had four bouts of it in total, by the end of July I had simply got out of the habit of injecting and it fell by the wayside. My postprandial episodes had lessened so I just didn’t use it.

Last week as the episodes had come back with a bang I decided to bite the bullet and start using the octreotide again. I started off on a 0.2ml dose and that has gone really well. As there were no side effects I have increased this week back to 0.25ml, I had got up to 0.3ml before stopping it so I hope to slowly increase it back to that amount. So far so good, the weird thing is I can really feel it wear off with tachycardia coming out of nowhere once I get to the 90 minute mark after the injection. I see my consultant at the hospital in the next few weeks so I will update him them.

Fludrocortisone / Florinef:

I started taking fludrocortisone again back in February 2014 after the tilt table test sent my autonomic nervous system into free fall. Since then its been on and off until January this year when again I have taken another downturn health wise. I am currently taking two tablets a day which I find helps with the tachycardia and palpitations. It does zero for my blood pressure but if it stops the banging heart every time I move I am happy to take it. If I am having a very rough day I will increase to three or even four tablets.

Home Oxygen:

I still have my oxygen concentrator which is an enormous help to me….when I remember to use it. It is very reassuring to have the oxygen concentrator at home so that I don’t have to take a trip to hospital. There are several reasons why I use it, the first one is quite obvious I use it when I feel like I can’t breathe. This tends to happen if I am having tachycardia that wont settle even when resting. It is exhausting when your heart decides to run at a million miles an hour when you aren’t. It feels like you can’t catch your breath, so the oxygen just makes it a lot easier. On occasion it will slow my heart down as well so a double bonus. I also use it when I have a bad migraine, the oxygen seems to reduce the length of the attack and ease the severity of the pain. Since being on the fludrocortisone again I have had a lot more headaches an unfortunate side effect so I find I am using the oxygen more and more.

Back Pain:

Overall my back pain is 100 times better than it was back in August when I could barely get out of bed. I still have bad days and semi bad days usually when I overdo things however some days I can just wake up in agony. I am not brilliant at doing the Pilate’s I seem to have fallen out of the habit. I really need to get back on the case.

My back pain has also moved from being predominantly my lower back and now can be anywhere from the base of my skull down to my tail bone. For the moment I have stopped going to physio therapy as I really don’t believe that my back will get much better than it is now. I completed Pilate’s from the September to the December at a cost of £70 a month. We don’t really have the £70 a month to spend. If I can’t keep my back pain at the level it is now I will go back.

Bladder Problems:

My bladder has been doing much better since I have retrained it to wait for longer until I empty it. So far no infections which was my main concern as my going frequently was a habit I had got into due to recurrent infections. 

I have not cut out caffeine, fizzy drink, artificial sweeteners or the devils juice. This was my decision and just because I have done it does not mean that this decision would be right for you should a medical professional advise you to do the same. I knew that my problems were not related to my consumption of these items but down to a neurological problem. The bladder nurse was trying to treat me for an over active bladder due to me urinating over 26 times in a day. What she couldn’t quite get her head around was that if you drink between 6-7 litres a day you are going to pee more than the national average.

I am being taught how to self catheterise at the end of this week…..I am so looking forward to it. At least this is happening in my home and not in a hospital ward. Knowing how to do this will be an enormous help as my bladder is still refusing to empty properly or completely stop working. I am hoping that by being able to empty my bladder in this way will mean I will not need the district nurses coming around and fitting a catheter with a bag in future. Time will tell. I am sure there will be a blog post following this hilarious fun-filled episode.

B12:

I was diagnosed with a vitamin B12 deficiency at the end of the summer. I had the standard 6 injections and then was supposed to be given the injections every 8-12 weeks. After 6 injections it was clear that I needed far more B12 than was being offered on the NHS (despite the NICE guidelines informing doctors of the correct practice). As soon as the B12 injections wore off my neurological symptoms came back. So since then I have been initially injecting every other day. I then spaced that out until every 3 days then every 4 days and now I am down to once a week. Any longer than that and the burning sensation in my left leg and foot comes back. I was obviously a lot more deficient than my B12 test accounted for.

Overall Health:

As I have a hospital appointment coming up in the next few weeks to see the consultant who looks after me for PoTs I have been thinking long and hard about how I am doing. I haven’t seen my Dr since April due to a massive balls up within the hospitals admin department. Hand on heart I can honestly say my health is slowly getting worse each year, which is upsetting and a little depressing. I don’t know where this decline will end and that is scary. No one seems to know or discuss it. 

I am now starting to suffer from random drops in blood pressure when sitting. I am used to my blood pressure dropping like a stone on standing and have coping mechanisms in place for this. What alarms me about this new symptom is it is happening when I sitting with my legs raised. I will be reading or using my Chromebook and all of a sudden the screen will seem to scroll up or down. This is actually my eyes rolling in my head, within a few seconds my heart will feel funny. The only way I can describe it is that I get the sensation you have when you are falling in a dream, only I am awake. The attacks can last for just a few seconds or several minutes. I may get one in isolation or repeated attacks throughout the day. I know that whatever it is that is happening is causing my blood pressure to drop as I have been lucky enough to capture an episode on my BP monitor. This is just crazy and when I put some feelers out within the PoTs community only one person replied and said their son suffers from them.

I worry about these attacks as I have no warning that they will happen. For the moment I have placed myself on a driving ban until they have stopped for a few weeks. I feel like I am hanging onto my independence by a thread. Losing my driving licence – even though I only drive a few times a year would devastate me. Obviously having an accident and hurting other people would devastate me more. It is just that I feel that this illness has taken so much away from me I would hate to lose yet another thing.

Weight loss:

I am still sticking to my diet and I will admit it has been very hard at times. I have lost 21lbs since starting and I am just 3lbs away from what I weighed on my birthday in November which is what my first target was. I still have a long way to go, I am not even half way yet. I have found that reading my cards that I have made up with positive affirmations on them reminding me of the reasons why I want to lose weight etc have been really helpful especially on the days when I am finding it a hard slog.

One last quick update:

 This one is regarding my mum. Those of you who are regular readers may remember I wrote about the length of the waiting list for my mums spinal surgery. She still hasn’t had the operation and has deteriorated further. She saw her surgeon last week after her gp wrote to the surgeon explaining how badly my mum was now doing. Her case has now been marked as urgent and she has completed all her pre-operative tests. She is now just waiting to hear when the operation will take place. Fingers crossed it takes place soon as she really needs it.