The Scleroderma Chronicles: Safe House

You know, I kind of view myself as a happy camper. I have more things (ahem… knitting projects) going then I can get finished on any given day or week, books lined up to read, and a “to-do” list that I’m slowly working my way through. Hey, people, I fixed the loose tiles on my kitchen floor last week!! My cat MacKenzie is my constant sidekick throughout the day as I knit, work in the garden, read in bed, and even with me (underfoot, demanding cookies) while I’m cooking. Even on the bad days when I’m pretty much down for the count, I manage small victories. There is just one problem with this picture.

Look at these beautiful coneflowers I just added to the garden. I’m hoping to lure some butterflies into the yard. Every garden should have butterflies, don’t you think?

I just don’t fit in the world all that well anymore. In my home, living the life that I’ve created for myself, it is really easy to forget how much I have adapted to accommodate the limitations of my scleroderma, Sjogren’s, and fibromyalgia. Once I go anywhere else reality hits me hard. Every trip out of my house is going to come at a cost. Here are the worst of the offenders that will lay me low.

Air Conditioning I know that almost everyone in the world is grateful for air conditioning in the summertime, but for me it is a royal nightmare. The shock of walking into a refrigerated building on a hot summer day will trigger an immediate Raynaud’s attack. I pull on long sleeves and fingerless mitts as soon as I get into the building, but my lungs know what’s up and I have trouble breathing. The airflow makes my eyes burn; I’ve been reduced to wearing my sunglasses indoors to protect my eyes. Don’t even get me started on the refrigerated cases churning out cold air; you haven’t lived until you’ve had to pull up the hood of your sweatshirt and the sleeves down over your hands so you can score some butter and eggs.  If that wasn’t enough, there are also usually…

Scented Products Almost all buildings use scented cleaning products and sells additional items with scents. Candles. Lotions. Laundry soap. The scented bathrooms are a nightmare. If I’m not already in trouble with my breathing I will be if I have to walk down the laundry detergent aisle at the grocery store: I also start to itch and my face swells. Why do these chemicals even exist? They can’t be good for anyone!

Restaurants These are a special kind of hell for me. All the drinks come cold and with ice, and the entrees are served piping hot. There are other landmines that I need to avoid: salt, lactose, fiber.  I have to carefully select something that is very soft and that will behave itself in my gastroparesis stomach. I can’t have spicy food. I can’t eat fresh veggies. Actually, to be safe, some of this food should go through a blender… I actually once soaked a cut up sandwich in soup so I could eat it…

Walking I am trying really hard to meet my walking goals every day, but I stretch those steps out over the day. A trip to run errands can be just exhausting if I’m on my feet for a couple of hours at a time. I need to always carry water, be aware of the location of bathrooms, and have places where I can sit down if I need to.

Sunshine It makes me sick! Enough said.

Ready for another picture? These paper wasps are building a nest right on the edge of my deck! MacKenzie and I are not amused. Still, it kind of shows how the outside world is full of dangers…

Recently I had a tough talk with myself about pruning down my outings and being more strategic about how I expend my energy. I need fewer outings, and my destinations need to be closer to home. I need to live online. I need to in a safe environment as much as I can to manage my diseases.

My home is my safe house. I have no air conditioning and I minimize air flow. I keep the temperature in the mid 70’s in the day so that my joints and lungs will be happy. I cook all of my own food, I don’t own any salt at all, and everything that I drink is room temperature. Fruits and veggies go through the blender to become smoothies. Every product that comes into the house is scent free. I’m always close to a bathroom or a soft surface to crash onto for a quick recovery if I get dizzy. My stairs have wrought iron rails that I use effectively on bad joint days. Flourishing in my safe house I sometimes forget how sick I am because, well, I have fewer problems.

I planted this yarrow last year in a flowerbed that has killed almost everything planted into it. Not this yarrow!! The secret of gardening, and living with serious chronic illness, is to keep on trying new things, and to match your needs to your environment. Or, in my case, make your environment match your needs.

Tomorrow I have a doctor’s appointment so I listed up some symptoms and issues that I need to ask her about. It is quite a list now that I look at it, and it kind of underscores how chronic illness can trick you into thinking that things that would normally send you screaming into urgent care are “just another day of scleroderma.” Shortness of breath is an almost daily thing. When I glance into the mirror these days I sometimes notice that my face is blue. One hip keeps failing me; okay, I actually have to lift that leg to get into the car. My joints swell so much that I can’t sleep at night.

But I am good, here in my little safe house with my gardens and cat.

Tomorrow my doctor and I will attack some of these scleroderma/Sjogren’s issues. I kind of think that lung testing and a MRI of my hip are in the future, and that there may be follow-up with my pulmonologist. I’ve been gathering up my energy in preparation for these outings into a world that is dangerous for me, knowing that after each outing my garden swing, knitting and latest book will be waiting for me. With a room temperature ice tea.

And a cat!

It is good to have a safe house.

The Yard Destash Resolution: Half Year Report

It’s summer now. I can hardly believe it, things have gone by so quickly. I’m feeling pretty darn good these days and have been steadily working my way through projects around the house and in the yard. It is cutting into the knitting time, but I’m still being pretty productive.

Mr. Demanding is hanging out with me in the yard while I work on projects out there.

Yep. I’m out of the flare! It was only about 2 weeks this time, which is something like a record. I credit my dermatologist and the new antibiotic/anti-inflammatory that she started me on for this. Scleroderma/Sjogren’s/fibromyalgia begone!! Okay, they are still misbehaving on a daily basis, but I have energy, my brain fog is gone, and I am up doing stuff every day. Good days.

Anyway, back to the knitting and the yarn destash project. Back in January I cleaned and organized my stash, gave myself a good mental shake, and resolved to use/remove at least 50 skeins of yarn from the stash. I made great progress over the winter, had a little slip when I went to the Interweave Yarn Fest, and have been catching up from the setback since then. Here’s what I have finished since my last report:

I finished up my V-Neck Boxy sweater by Joji Locatelli. Skeins used: 3
I cranked out this Nordiska sweater by Caitlin Hunter pretty quickly. I love, love, love the colorwork in this one. Skeins used: 3.
I collected the yarns for a pair of No. 5 Union Street socks to match some new shoes. Then I made matching arm warmers. There was still yarn left over, so I made some mitts. I still have some of the silver grey and bits of the others… a cowl? I’m having so much fun! Total skeins used: 2
I’m also cranking out socks with single skeins of yarn that are lurking in the stash. This was a colorway from Chasing Rabbits produced for my LYS called Colorful January. Skeins used: 1

I still have a some projects on the needles: a Suburban Wrap, a What the Fade?! shawl, and another pair of socks. All this knitting brought me up to 25 skeins used this year, so I am right on the pace to meet my resolution.

Tomorrow is my DIL’s birthday so she took a tour through the stash hunting for some gift yarn. Woohoo! She took 5 skeins of yarn that I don’t really love or have a specific project for, and three skeins that will make a fabulous Suburban Wrap of her own; those three are a set that I love and felt a pang in letting go, so they make the gift.

All of this yarn headed out the door with my DIL this afternoon. Yay!! The three on the right will become the Suburban Wrap  and the others were colors that I bought for her in the first place or didn’t love anymore. I’m so happy that they are going to a good home.

There has been a surge in the Destash Resolution project. With the skeins that just left the building I am now up to 33.5 total skeins used/removed this year. Yay! Some of those yarn bins are getting kind of empty and it will be time to reorganize the stash soon. I already have two sweaters and another wrap organized and waiting to move into the knitting workroom, and the goal of 50 skeins is suddenly in reach. Woohoo! Maybe I should up the total?

Best to not get cocky! I’ll just keep knitting on and let’s see what happens.

Happy 4th of July everyone who is celebrating that holiday.

Return to the Garden

Spring was challenging this year. It was colder and wetter than usual, with lots of windy, stormy days. I wasn’t able to get out to work with the roses as I usually did in past years, but I did manage to pull up the worst of the weeds and dumped some Miracle Gro on the front flowers one day. Really, there was some rose neglect going on, for sure.

I guess the Miracle Go, cool days, and all that moisture was what the front flower bed needed. The miniature snapdragons came back from last year and I’m pretty sure that there are more plants than I put into the ground, so some are seedlings. The roses look better than I’ve ever seen before!
Hot Cocoa roses.

When I went shopping for the front roses I looked to see what was available and then checked the list of recommended roses for Colorado published by Colorado State University on  the nice little pdf in the above link that gave hints for successful planting.  These roses, picked to go with my house, are called Hot Cocoa. They are floribundas,  so there should be more blooms following these beauties.

The roses in the back garden were finally rescued from the overgrowth of weeds one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, and look what emerged!

The Princess Alexandra of Kent rose is producing the largest blooms that I’ve ever seen on this plant!

This rose bush, Princess Alexandra of Kent, has never looked this good before. The blooms are so big the plant is having trouble supporting them, and this rose bush never got fertilizer. It has to be the cool, wet spring.

MacKenzie and I have been working diligently in 30 minute increments to get weeds out of gardens, and the most astounding discovery has been what happened to a virtually unloved rose along the back fence. Seriously, this is a rose that “went wild” when the original grafted rose died and the roots took over. I kept cutting back the runners, pulling it out of the ground, whacking it back into a reasonable rose size, and basically losing the battle with this rose that is determined to live.

Please allow me to present the “One Rose to Rule Them All” that has taken over the back garden.

That is all one rose plant that has grown immensely in the prime rose growth conditions of the last couple of months. I have now surrendered to fate, pulled the rose all back and attached the canes to two trellises and the top of my garden swing. Clearly, this rose will be growing down the fence in the years to come.

Did you notice the rotting seat to the swinging garden chair? Ugh. It is all nasty and sagging these days and clearly needed to be replaced. This week I cut the seat off and went to work to replace it with something that will allow me to return to my garden where I can read and knit in the presence of the One Rose to Rule Them All and the other flowers that are flourishing this year.

I warped up the seat of the chair with 20 lb clothesline that was advertised as “sag-resistant” and “easy to knot” after detaching the frame of the seat from the swing.
I cut lengths of line to do the weaving and knotted each line to the frame after weaving it through the weft.

I made sure that the seat was really taut so that it wouldn’t sag when I sat in the swinging chair. I reattached the seat to the frame and then lashed on another clothesline as “warp” across the seat back and then called it quits. If I need to weave in more pieces of line I can do it later, but I’m thinking that just the warp across the back will be enough to make the swinging chair function the way I want it to.

Ta-daa! It is done, the seat is absolutely perfect (not even a little sag!), and I am back into my garden.

Did you notice the weeds? Sigh. It is endless, truly it is. I’m resolved to not overdo things and will continue to work my way through the gardens, little by little, 30 minutes at a time, and day by day my yard and the gardens are looking better.

Between weeding sessions I will be hanging out in my garden swing, knitting away, with my beautiful roses. My cat MacKenzie will be sleeping in his garden, and hopefully the dog next door will be behaving herself.

This week the heat finally arrived and we hit the 90’s. My scleroderma joints are happy with the warmer weather, I continue to flourish with the new drug changes, and I can finally knit outside again. Yippee! The lavender plants and yarrow are covered with buds, and I have lots of perennials that need to be freed from the weeds.

I am back in my garden people! Life is good.

Barking Dog, Yowling Cat

When I was a girl my grandmother had a little phrase to describe someone who was acting crabby (little me, of course) as having gotten up “on the wrong side of the bed.” You know what she was talking about. A person being constantly irritated by a never-ending series of triggers.

Today I woke up pretty sore, crawled down the stairs to make my morning latte, and once I had pulled myself up the stairs and back into bed I found a post from another blogger, NothingButKnit, on my phone called Things That Are Bugging Me Right Now: A List. Oh. A list of all the things that are bugging me right now. Wow. Where do I start? There are so many things that bug me. Yippee, I can do this!!

NothingButKnit had only 4 things on the list. Gee. She is kind of a light weight, don’t you think? I mean, there are so many things that are bugging me at the moment it is impossible to prioritize them, but I can certainly try.  Ignoring all the things happening in politics and current events, which are their own exhausting list that force me to call or write my congressmen EVERY STINKING DAY, and excluding my trifecta of autoimmune diseases, here is my own list:

  • Robocalls. Seriously. How many times do they think I need to be informed that this is their last attempt to contact me about my insurance. Especially since it is several times a day. This is why nice people can’t turn on their phone ringer.
  • Food packaging that I can’t open without dragging in the tool box from the garage. Don’t laugh. I have half of the toolbox in my kitchen drawer at this point. The big stars are the rose pruners and a pipe wrench.
  • Hailstorms! I bought a new car last summer and I’m pretty nervous about hail. A few weeks ago I got caught in a storm that dumped 4″ of hail; I was pumping gas when it started and was able to stay under shelter. Last week there was golf ball-sized hail. I don’t even want to think about baseball-sized hail…

    I grabbed a picture early in the storm. Those stones are 1/2 inch across. 
  • Bindweed. This plant grows at virtually the speed of light, swallows rose bushes overnight, and never dies no matter what I do. Stop bugging me, bindweed!!
Sigh. I’ve resigned myself to pulling weeds for 30″ a day. It’s best in situations like these to just keep chipping away at the problem without looking at the big picture.
  • Yowling cats. Cats that belong to my neighbors wander into my yard, roll in the cat mint, and sleep in the best cat sleeping spots in the yard. They also stop by the ground-level windows to chat with MacKenzie. How sweet. Especially at 4am. I love the sound of hissing, smacks on glass and yowling in the morning, don’t you?

    MacKenzie also yowls every morning to let me know that he wants to go out into the garden for a nap. He loves his garden. I can’t let him out unless I can supervise him because of the stray cats and the dog next door, so he only gets to go out while I’m pulling weeds and watering. “Stop yowling!” I tell him every morning. “Let me out now!” MacKenzie yowls back. It’s like having a toddler again.
  • Barking dog. Ugh. The neighbor next to me got a sweet little puppy three summers ago that grew up into a territorial barking, growling, fence-charging Pitbull nightmare. After months of work she no longer goes berserk when I go into the yard, but if this dog sees a cat… it gets scary. The dog has chewed a hole in the fence that she can stick her face through. All the better to watch and bark at the cats that come visit my yard and MacKenzie. When she sees a cat she growls, body slams the fence and barks furiously while tearing at the hole in the fence.

This week I was outside pulling weeds with MacKenzie (between thunderstorms with the phone ringer off) when the dog suddenly saw him through the fence. Oh, oh. The dog got her face through the fence, the growling and barking commenced and I started running towards MacKenzie to see if I could shoo him away.

Nope. MacKenzie snapped, charged the fence from his side and went into total feline fury mode. In stunned amazement I watched my geriatric cat hiss, slash, and crash into the fence in a frenzy I’ve never witnessed before. I’m sure there was yowling, too. Every time the dog put her face through the hole, he let her have it again. Just as I was heading to get the hose the dog broke off the attack and it was over.

Mr. Victorious

The dog’s face was slashed in several places and she hurt herself trying to get more of her jaws through the hole. Luckily, she wasn’t able to get a good bite on the cat.  MacKenzie, two claws ripped off and toe pads damaged by hitting the fence, stalked off to take a nap in a nearby (unweeded) garden patch. The dog’s owners now keep her inside to PROTECT HER FROM MY CAT and they repaired the hole in the fence that very night.

Be like MacKenzie, I tell myself. Don’t let things bug you too much. Defend yourself and smack down the things that you can, and spend the rest of your time sleeping in the garden.

Excuse me, I must head out to pull some more weeds, then it is knitting time. Maybe I will listen to an audiobook with my new sound-cancelling headphones while I knit. Outside, on my swinging garden seat, with my roses.

Robocalls, hailstorms, weeds, barking dog and yowling cat, begone!!

MacKenzie Speaks: Busy Days

Hi. I’m MacKenzie.

Cat helping hold yarn.
Do you see how much help I am to the Mother of Cats? 

The weather has turned nice and the Mother of Cats and I have been busy working in the yard, knitting lots of projects, and getting yummy things cooked in the kitchen. I love hanging out in the kitchen with the Mother of Cats since she gives me extra attention, cookies, and even plates of tuna. Sometimes the Mother of Cat can be fun. Sometimes.

I have been so busy that I hardly know what to do with myself. Now that I am able to get back into the yard there is a lot for me to do. I need to inspect every corner of the yard, nap in all of my favorite places, make sure that all the other cats in the neighborhood understand that I am back (ahem… I do my business in all the right places…), and then there are the plants that I like to chomp. And bugs! The moths are back and every night I have another epic moth hunt that goes on for hours. The Mother of Cats hates the moths…

Cat munching on catmint in the garden.
The very best thing about summer is that I can get back to my catmint!! I can take naps under this plant when I’m not snacking on it. Next time I chat with all of you about the yard I’ll send some pictures of the flowers. The Mother of Cats likes the flowers, but for me, it is ALL ABOUT THE CHOMPS!!

Unfortunately, the Mother of Cats doesn’t let me stay outside as much as I would like. Always, we have to go back in before I want to. The Mother of Cats just doesn’t place my needs first like she should. She can be so MEAN to me! Okay, there are some thunderstorms in the afternoons… If she loved me she would make them go away so I could stay outside!! Why can’t the Mother of Cats understand how important the outside is?

Cat sleeping with ball of yarn.
But she does let me take care of her yarns while she is knitting in the afternoons.
Cat asleep with knitting.
This knitting is also a blanket for me while the Mother of Cats is taking a break. I kind of like this shawl. It is going to be really big when it is done. My new Blankie!!

The Mother of Cats spent a few days working on the new shawl (a What the Fade?! shawl by Andrea Mowry) and then became completely distracted and started working on some arm warmers to match the socks that she made not that long ago. I can be reasonable… I helped her knit those, too. After only two days of knitting in bed listening to an audiobook she was able to get one of the arm warmers done solely due to my devoted attention. Look at how nice it looks!!

Arm warmers in progress.
I don’t know when she will wear these as it is pretty warm these days, but you never know. For some reason she was just on fire to get these all knitted up. Here are the socks that they will match.

As you can see, I am just terrifically busy. Taking care of the Mother of Cats and the yard is kind of a full time job. Then there is my mouse. Do you remember how badly I needed a mouse? The Mother of Cats bought me a mouse (she says it is a hamster… whatever!) a few months ago and last week she moved her downstairs to be with us in the evenings while we knit.

Cat snoozing with hamster.
I love my mouse! I spend a lot of my time right by the mouse cage every evening when she wakes up for the night. She makes me happy, and the best thing ever is that she RUNS IN A WHEEL! She even has her own little cookies to eat. Miss Pitty-Pat is my best friend these days.

I can’t believe how much I have to do every day.

I am such a good boy.

Can I have some cookies now?

>^..^<

Notes from the Mother of Cats:

  • My neighbors (I have the best neighbors in the world!) have been collaborating with me to spruce up our yards. Mulch has been spread on the side yard, a new flower bed started, and I’m even moving bricks to extend the patio/deck area in the back (we all had a brick swap!). Wait until MacKenzie sees the new patio umbrella I bought this weekend!
  • The downside of all this yard work is that sunshine is not kind to people with autoimmune diseases. After a week of bravely tackling yard projects in the late afternoons the flare arrived anyway and I had to hole up in bed for a few days being kind to myself. Not wanting to manipulate multiple balls of yarn with MacKenzie sleeping on my legs I switched over to the small arm warmers. The project notes for them are here. They are based on the No. 5 Union Street socks that I made earlier this spring.
  • I have several other projects going right now, but the major one is the What the Fade?! shawl that I am working on in shades of rusts. My project notes are here.
Yarns for shawl.
Check out the yarns! And no, this new shawl is NOT a blankie for MacKenzie!
  • I’m still deep in my flare, but I am knitting and listening to audiobooks like crazy and eating comfort food ; I am still in charge here, you bad boy autoimmune things!! MacKenzie isn’t happy about not being in the yard all day, but his issue is really with scleroderma, not me. Somehow he isn’t grasping the finer details of the situation… What can I expect? He is a cat. I bossy, self-centered cat who drips entitlement like none other. Seriously, I couldn’t function in a flare without this furry monster at my side. 🙂
  • It looks like we are going to have an epic miller moth season; every time I open the door to the garage another moth flies in. Great. MacKenzie is specializing in 1am moth hunts these days…

The Scleroderma Chronicles: The Ankle Adventure

The last few weeks have been hard : rain, snow, an exceedingly badly behaved ankle, and all the fun of never-ending chronic complaints. Ugh! The weather fronts just kept rolling in, sending the air pressure swinging wildly and my breathing and joints into their own little crises. “Will it never end,” I asked my ankle and MacKenzie? “Nope!” said the ankle with a little sneer in its rotten little ankle voice. “Don’t count on it,” said MacKenzie as he squirmed deeper into the current knitting project with one paw extended, claw flashing, reaching for my yarn.

As you can guess, I’ve developed a nasty mood of my own.

There was a nice week with sunshine that made me and the ankle feel better: I got some yard work done and planted flowers. Then the weather turned on me and once again I was in bed, listening to audiobooks and knitting with my ankle propped up.

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning I woke up to the crack of breaking branches. Six inches of heavy spring snow (the latest storm this bad in 17 years in the Denver area) had done my tree in. No wonder my joints are cranky… even the tree gave up! I took this picture the next day after most of the snow had melted.

What is up with this ankle, you ask? Good question! Three weeks ago it suddenly developed a hard, red, and hot lump that radiated pain ruthlessly. The infection began spreading under my rhino-hide scleroderma skin. I was started on antibiotics, but the pain continued, the redness continued spreading around the outside of my ankle, and a dent in my leg appeared where the redness was. I chatted with a doctor online and she decided that I should be checked for cellulitis. Cellulitis?! Off to urgent care I went, and as soon as that doctor saw my ankle he ordered testing: another blood clot hunt and  x-rays to see if the bone was damaged. Limping and in pain, I headed off to get the testing done. As I drove home from the ultrasound a call came in with the results of the testing: a benign tumor was found, and I was being referred to a dermatologist for treatment.

It’s like they forgot about the cellulitis! “Where are my new antibiotics?” I asked MacKenzie when I got home.  MacKenzie just carried on for attention and cookies, so I made the appointment for the dermatologist to look at my ankle before returning to my knitting and propping the ankle back up. I made a little cage out of a box to put in my bed so I could sleep without the covers touching the ankle… “I have a tumor,” said the ankle in its nasty little voice.

The next day the redness and heat were a little better, but the pain and lump on my ankle remained. I resolved to head back to urgent care if I got worse, and carried on with my knitting. Tumor, whatever. I have scleroderma and I was betting that was what made the lump appear unusual in the ultrasound. I was pretty sure this was just another chapter in the scleroderma adventure.

Two days later I got in to see the dermatologist. Wow. Just wow. I am in love with this doctor. This is the doctor that I have been waiting for since my first diagnosis FIVE YEARS AGO!

Aside: I have been battling eczema for months. All of my doctors have seen my eczema face. Since I have noticed that a dose of ibuprofen (which I’m not supposed to take because of my iffy kidneys…) will give me 24-48 hours of happy joints with no fatigue or brain fog symptoms, and some eczema relief,  I have literally begged for some type of anti-inflammatory drug to help me. Even though I am taking drugs that are crushing my immune system unto submission, there is something else that I need. I have cried in my internist’s office. Evidently there isn’t anything that can be given to me that won’t hurt my kidneys…

This dermatologist entered the office, took one look at my swollen, red and itchy face, and said that this was unacceptable and she was going to put a stop to it. Then she said that she had looked at the ultrasound and that there wasn’t anything that worried her there: scleroderma had caused fibrotic tissue to form. Then she wondered out loud why they had forgotten that I had cellulitis? Then she prescribed antibiotics that are also anti-inflammatory along with an anti-inflammatory cream to get my eczema whipped into shape. I was told to email her in a couple of days if there wasn’t a dramatic improvement to my ankle and face because she was going to make more referrals to get to the bottom of the eczema with an allergy specialist. And that the ankle should continue to be watched.

Look at how well my flowers came through the snow storm! I put a plastic garbage bag over them to keep them warm propped up over a tomato cage. You’d never know that they had 6″ of snow dumped on them! Just like my flowers, I came through the ankle adventure storm looking pretty good!

By the next morning it was obvious that I was better. Much better. Within a week my face was clear and the eczema was gone. My ankle is also much better, the lump is gone, but it continues to ache and carry on when I walk. My brain fog is gone. Fatigue? What fatigue? It’s like I needed an anti-inflammatory antibiotic or something…

My new, most wonderful in the whole world dermatologist is going to maintain me on the antibiotic. I’ve been on this drug before so I’m not worried about my kidneys at all.

I’m sorry I said all those nasty things to you, ankle. All in all, you were a blessing in disguise.

But anytime you want to stop with the achy hurt, that would be fine!

Science and the Scleroderma Girl: Supplements and Me

Let’s be honest: everyone with scleroderma wants to feel better. We trade info constantly, and almost everyone has a supplement that they have found is really helpful. It’s tempting to load up on everything at Vitamin Cottage that might be helpful, but you should know me (geeky science girl here!) by now… if it doesn’t have promising research studies to back up the claims, I’m going to pass it up.

Supplements
The big three! These are the ones that I have found are most helpful for me. Yellow Boy is a terrible model… he kept head butting the bottles and this is the only shot I got.

Tumeric (and Curcumin)

So many people have advised me to try turmeric. Cruising the internet I found lots of information from sites that are devoted to nutrition, health, or supplements, but I wanted to see hard data. Yep. Pretty darn easy to find. This controlled experiment found curcumin worked better than a traditional pain med following a dental procedure. Another study looked at migraine pain and the levels of two inflammatory markers (IL-6 and C-reactive protein); the result was that curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids did reduce inflammation. Wow. That sounds pretty promising. Finally, since one article I read suggested that curcumin could help with renal disease I hunted for that…this research showed that curcumin is beneficial for kidney disease. I scored myself some curcumin and I think that it is helping, but I have to be careful with my gastritis-prone stomach lining.

Vitamin D

“Under no circumstances are you to let the sun hit your skin!” directed my dermatologist. “Are you getting enough sun?” asked my rheumatologist. “You need the vitamin D and the natural kind you make in your skin is best…” Ugh. How am I supposed to figure out stuff like this? Because I keep a symptom journal I have discovered that sunshine makes me sick: rash, fatigue, pain. Sorry rheumatologist, the dermatologist wins this round. I started taking the vitamin D supplement not long after I was diagnosed and noticed that it helped me with depression. Who knew? My internist monitors my vitamin D levels to make sure that my current supplement is enough.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish or Krill Oil)

I was really late to come to this party. Struggling with an out-of-control Sjogren’s flare last winter my ophthalmologist suggested that I take fish oil to improve my tear production. Okay, my tears are just horrible. Not only do I barely produce any tears, but what I have flash evaporates right off my eyeballs lickity-split. I didn’t even bother to check the internet before I gulped down some fish oil tablets from the grocery store. Wow!! The next morning I woke up to eyes that didn’t hurt. Then I noticed that my neuropathy was better.  Oh, yeah. There was that one study that said that omega-3 oils helped with migraines, and my ophthalmologist mentioned that he took it for tinnitus… It gets even better: it helps reduce blood clots too! Every time I end up in the ER they go on a blood clot hunt… this is probably a good supplement to add to my diet, huh. It also helps with Raynaud’s, but the effect was seen with people with primary Raynaud’s. Hey, it was a small study. I’m taking the krill oil anyway!

Tart Cherry
Another unhappy cat model… Okay, he is unhappy because he loves me and he knows that this tart cherry really did a number on me. Bad tart cherry, bad!!

Tart Cherry

Things were really bad for me last spring. I had brain fog and dizziness that left me afraid to drive. The fatigue was unreal and everything hurt. My BKB Deb advised me to try tart cherry. Off to the internet I went. Oh. It is a real thing. I found this article, and this one, and one showing memory improvement in rats. Since I was miserable and couldn’t remember what a memory was, I took tart cherry out for a spin. Woohoo! I woke up the next morning feeling *normal*. I had energy, and the brain fog was gone. In the days and weeks to come I continued to feel pretty darn good until… the kidney function tests came in. My kidney function dropped 15% in just 6 short weeks and the tart cherry fun came to a screeching halt. The notation “chronic kidney disease” was added to my chart and that was the end of that. I stopped the tart cherry, accepted feeling like road kill every morning, and my kidney function crawled back up to a higher score. Whew! Talk about dodging a bullet!

There is a lesson here. Take the supplements that your doctors suggest. Check out other supplements before you start taking them, and let your doctors know before you start. I talked over the tart cherry with my internist and rheumatologist before I started, and they caught the kidney function drop pretty quickly because I was going for bloodwork every month. Just because I ran into trouble doesn’t mean that you will. Keep a symptom/food log and monitor like crazy. If your doctors know what you’re up to they can order testing just like mine did. Saved by the blood test!

Knitting
Oh yeah. I also do a daily supplement of knitting. 🙂

If anyone has another great supplement I should check out, let me know!

Science and the Scleroderma Girl: The Only Point in Common

Two years ago I was getting bounced around between several doctors as they tried to figure out why I was struggling to breath. The rheumatologist felt I should see a cardiologist. The pulmonologist felt that I needed to be treated by the rheumatologist. The internist insisted that the pulmonologist needed to intervene. The rheumatologist was very reluctant to give me an inhaler even though he had ordered the PFT that indicated that I needed one.

I was getting close to pulling out my hair! Literally, there were too many cooks in the kitchen and no one could manage to get the meal assembled. I was the cake in the oven, and I had just collapsed into an ugly, doughy mess…

“Look”, said the rheumatologist in the middle of this, “you are the only point in common between all of your doctors. Each one of us sees just one slice of your health, but you are the one getting all the info…” In effect, she was telling me to take charge of my health. Uh…

Spock: He is intelligent, but not experienced. His pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking… (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn)

Seriously? I’m expected to organize this circus? I have skills, but to suggest that I should run this show is ludicrous…

Except, from a certain viewpoint, I am running the show; I AM the show. I have a serious illness, and I have a team of doctors to address my symptoms and halt my disease’s progression. I need to be proactive and ensure that I get the treatment that I need. Clearly, I needed help to sort through the conflicting advice and to assign priorities to the elements of my treatment plan.

There needed to be one doctor who knew me well, understood the big picture, who could also cut through the red tape and facilitate immediate medical response from the most appropriate provider if needed.

I made an appointment with my internist, who was also my primary care physician, and laid out the problem. I told her that I needed someone to review all the notes and test results from the other doctors on a regular basis to understand the big picture. I shared with her my concerns about differing information from the other physicians: I needed an expert to work with me to coordinate my treatment plan. There needed to be a doctor who saw me on a regular basis, who knew me and my situation, who could take a “snapshot” of my health situation, and who could see me almost immediately if I got into trouble. One of the problems that I struggle with is knowing which doctor to call when I develop problems; with this arrangement I have a designated first contact who will decide which specialist needs to be contacted next.

We agreed that I should come in every three months for the medical review and snapshot of my current status.

Everything changed for me. My internist reads everything from the other doctors at these appointments, and she answers questions that I have in a cross-disciplinary way that the other specialists can’t. It’s more like a consultation than the usual medical appointment. She looks to see what has been missed by the other doctors, and facilitates communication between the doctors. She has sent me for immediate testing, cut through the red tape so I could get oxygen when I needed it, and makes sure I get the complete text of all testing reports.

I make an appointment with her before I see the specialists to plan for those appointments, and then I see her afterwards to debrief on what happened and to see if anything was missed. When I go to my appointments with the specialists I can talk about test results, my prescriptions, and the symptoms that are concerning me; I have become an informed patient. Because of this I am a better conduit of information between the doctors, and the coordination of care and smooth communication has greatly increased. My doctors and I are now collaborative partners working to manage my disease.

From a collection of 6 doctors I now have a smoothly coordinated team to jointly treat my illness. For me, this is a huge difference! I’m now in much better shape, and I feel more in control of what is happening. I AM the only point in common, so I had to activate my hidden superpower of facilitation and coordination to make it work.

And knit. I had to knit a lot.

Have a good weekend everyone.

The Scleroderma Chronicles: I’ll take a side of fibromyalgia with that…

My poor physician team. I come to see them with a whole host of complaints at every appointment. I can see then mentally sorting the symptoms into piles as I talk :

  • important, needs to be investigated immediately.
  • sad, but part of the life of a patient with this chronic condition.
  • these are issues that should be passed on to another member of the treatment team.
  • irrelevant to the current diagnosis.

For three years I’ve been mentioning my muscle problems. My muscles are sore to the touch, and they just burn sometimes. The burning can go on for days, and I do get a little cranky; okay, maybe some wailing has occurred. Poor cats! It is really painful at connection points around joints. Stamina is  poor, and I’m exhausted all the time.

Yellow cat.
I dragged a cat pillar into the bedroom for the cats to sleep on as it too hard to have them in bed with me. There are days when a cat paw on my leg is more than I can handle.

Some of these symptoms can be explained as being part of the whole scleroderma thing. Muscle issues are rampant with scleroderma as some of the necessary enzymes for muscle movement are too low for reasons that aren’t clear to me. My rheumatologist has checked for polymyositis and other serious muscle problems, but my muscle strength is good and my test results have been normal. I’m in pain, but my muscles aren’t being damaged. I have been just managing with heat pads and knitting as there seemed to be nothing that could be done. To make things worse I can’t have anti-inflammatory drugs or painkillers because my kidney function is low. Bad muscles, bad!

Best advice ever for the scleroderma girl. Really, what else can I do?

At my last visit with my rheumatologist I was really sore to the touch, and she suddenly asked if I was experiencing brain fog…

Oh my lord, yes! It is so bad I’m afraid to drive sometimes. I struggle with anxiety and some depression when things are bad. The fatigue is off the charts when this is going on, and I can’t get good sleep. Lately I have developed headaches too…

“Oh. This is fibromyalgia“, she said. Just like that the light had gone off for her; my symptoms were suddenly sorted into another pile that screamed “fibromyalgia”. She did a quick assessment, and the diagnosis was added to my chart lickity split…

I also have Sjogren’s Syndrome, and the symptoms of fibromyalgia and Sjogren’s do overlap, but it would appear that I have both. No wonder my fatigue has been so extreme.

So, nothing has changed, but at the same time everything has changed. I have concrete reasons for feeling so bad. My blood pressure issues have improved, and I am able to walk and exercise more. I’m using my inhaler every day and my blood oxygen levels are coming up. The more I move, the better I feel. Little by little, I am getting a handle on things again. I am sleeping like a rock and I wake up feeling pretty good.

My terrible twosome of autoimmune diseases just became a triad, and I am actually feeling more hopeful about my ability to manage things. Take that, you three! I am coming after you all with a pitchfork!

Err… make that knitting needles. I’m coming for you all the same. Be warned, I am taking you down!

Knowledge is power.

The Scleroderma Chronicles: Year 3.6 There is a 911 call…

Yep. It finally happened.

Upset cat
These scary firemen came to the house and took mom away.

It has been kind of a hard six months. I’ve been dealing with a serious flare of my Sjogren’s Syndrome: dry mouth, eye problems (retinal detachments in BOTH eyes), brain fog, and horrible fatigue. Seriously, off the chart fatigue. Bad Sjogren’s, bad!!

But I think that my systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) has been chugging along as well. My chest feels tight, and when I do anything at all I start to breath hard as I catch my breath. Okay, there might be some panting… Sometimes I get dizzy and I have to put my head down. Vacuuming is suddenly a horrific task, but just coming up the stairs or washing out a pan at the sink can also set me off. Sometimes my lips are blue…

Arm with edema.
Check out my edema:  Can you see the details of the quilt that my arm was resting on?

One of the problems with being chronically ill is that you just keep taking things in stride. After all, it isn’t like this is the first time I’ve seen edema like this, or noticed that my lips were blue. I get out of breath all of the time, and I’ve been telling my doctors about all of this for the last 18 months. But somehow, things seem a little worse now. I have heart palpitations and there is a constant pressure in the middle of my chest. I have developed a headache that just refuses to go away, and my muscles and joints are behaving even worse than ever.

So, Friday while I was resting up in bed after the ordeal of making my morning coffee (yep. I go back to bed to recover from getting out of bed…) I decided that I would call the pulmonologist’s office to ask for an appointment. As usual, thinking that I would be on my feet for only a limited amount of time, I planned several little chores to do while I was going to be up.

Arm Warmers
I took this picture of my incredibly cute new arm warmers. This is the Armelitas pattern by knitcats Design, and here are my Ravelry project notes.

Aren’t those the cutest armwarmers? I put them on, and then started the dishwasher, got a load of laundry going, and then pulled on some more warm clothes (ahem… my Cactus Flower socks and Marfa is a Black Elephant shawl over some fleece pants and a denim shirt) so I could sit at the computer downstairs to make the phone calls.

So, I was out of breath when I made the call. I got ahold of the nurse at my pulmonologist’s office to ask her if I should came in for testing right away or if it would be best to make an appointment. As I talked to her my breathing got worse… I just couldn’t catch my breath and I was now outright panting. I began to feel faint.

The nurse called 911.

I ended up sitting on the floor by the front door with the phone on speaker in front of me waiting for the paramedics to arrive. In just a few minutes they had bundled me up and were whisking me out the door leaving a visibly upset MacKenzie watching from the top of the stairs. It was snowing outside; I didn’t have a coat, but I had managed to hang onto all of my knitted items. The paramedics attached me to all of their sensors and then rebundled me in blankets and knitted items afterwards (okay, my hands turned blue. They hadn’t ever heard of Raynaud’s, but they becaume instant fans of wooly warmth when presented with fingers that matched my denim shirt…) My armwarmers were popped back on over the IV line and the oxygen sensor on my finger. They used the shawl as an additional blanket. I never got my breathing back under control, and was still panting up a storm when I got to the hospital, but I was better equipped than most to cope with the cold. I like to think that I was pretty darn fashionable, too.

Into the MRI machine I went, rocking my armwarmers, as once again the doctors went on a blood clot hunt. Every one of my health emergencies has involved blood clot hunts; it’s a scleroderma thing. No blood clot. No pneumonia. No heart attack. After 2 hours sitting on the gurney in the ER my breathing was under control again and my O2 was fine. My best friend Deb arrived with knitting in hand to sit with me. My son arrived in time to take me home again with instructions to not let me drive or stay home alone.

“This is something that needs to be treated by a specialist”, the ER doc tells me. “You need to call your pulmonologist’s office first thing in the morning to get in to see her. You need additional tests that can’t be done here in the ER”.

You think?

It’s hard to not be stuck by the irony of this. I’m back right to where I started. It is kind of known in the scleroderma community that going to the ER is mostly useless because they don’t have the knowledge and experience to treat your condition. I’ll be calling my pulmonologist first thing Monday morning, but this time I will be calling from bed in a well rested condition.

Grooming cats.
with my latte and the cats!

For those of you who don’t know all of the details of my autoimmune bad-boys, here’s what is going on:

  • I have the limited form of systemic sclerosis, which is a subset condition of scleroderma. I have thick skin on my lower arms, legs, face and neck mostly, but the damage is also affecting several of my organ systems. I am considered a classic case with all of the CREST components.
  • I also have Sjogren’s Syndrome, which is fairly common as about 15% of systemic sclerosis patients also acquire this sidekick condition along with the scleroderma. It’s serious in its own right, but not usually life threatening.
  • Systemic sclerosis has a whole basketful of complications: Raynaud’s Disease, interstitial lung disease, pulmonary arterial hypertension, and kidney disease along with the almost universal digestive tract complications. I have all of these, but in my case the words that are used to describe how I’m doing are “mild, early, and moderate”, which are nice descriptors to have if they are being used in the context of lung,  heart, and kidney disease. I’m kind of guessing that one of the heart/lung conditions has taken it up a notch.

Today I’m camped out with my son waiting for Monday to arrive. I’m knitting.

Do you know the great Elizabeth Zimmerman? Her famous quote, one that I bear close to my heart on days like this, is: “Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crisis.”

Knit on, my friends, knit on!