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!

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The Scleroderma Chronicles: Rocking the Spoonie Clock

I, along with a lot of other people with chronic illnesses, consider myself to be a “spoonie”. If you’ve never heard of spoon theory, it is a metaphor that describes the intricate bargaining game that those of us with limited energy resources play everyday to balance our activities with the little gas in our tanks.  Christine Miserandino developed the spoon theory and described it in an essay on her blog in 2005; trying to explain to a friend how she managed fatigue with her lupus, she grabbed spoons and used them as props to represent discrete energy packets. If you only have a limited number of energy units (spoons) to use in a day, you are painfully aware of how many spoons everything that you do costs. A shower? That is a spoon. Walk to the mailbox to pick up the mail? Another spoon. If you want to grocery shop, plan ahead. When the spoons for the day are gone, you are done. If you planned badly, you are basically toast. Get ready for some bad days ahead.

Owner and her cat.
Wrapped in layers of knitted goods, struggling to stay warm, MacKenzie and I enjoy a late night purr break at the height of my flare in December.

Early last December I ran through my spoons and just kept going for another couple of days. I knew I was headed for trouble, but I was in a situation where there were no other options for me. Take care of today and deal with tomorrow when it comes, I told myself.

Oh dear. The flare arrived and fatigue descended with a vengeance. I slept 10-12 hours a night and collapsed in exhaustion for a nap at least twice a day. If energy is counted in spoons, I was down to only about 10 for the day. Not only were the spoons my problem; it appeared that as soon as I got onto my feet and went into motion an internal clock started running. No matter what I did, I could not go more than 2.5 hours without a nap.

Christmas shopping!! AARRGGG!!!

Thank goodness for the internet. I made plans and checked the availability of items I wanted to buy using my phone while in bed. I made sure stores close to me carried the items that I wanted. I made shopping lists in a little spiral notebook that I carry with me (hello… brain fog!!) to help me remember what I’m looking for while in the stores. I planned shopping routes that were short loops that would take me to three stores/stops max and then get me home before my time and energy ran out. I planned the trips for times when the parking lots would be almost empty so I wouldn’t have to walk far.

So, one day I planned and cooked food for the week. Who knew making spaghetti was so exhausting? Before I could get the dishwasher loaded the timer on my spoonie clock went off and I was done.

The next day I made one of the loops. Whew. I got right up from the nap, started up the car and headed off to Kaiser for my monthly blood testing. Then on to Target… hurry, hurry, it has already been an hour. I finished that loop at the book store where I shared a laugh with a mom who was making the same stops as me on her own shopping route. She had also gone to the public library, though. She looked at me kind of weird when I said I had decided to not go to the library as it was too far to walk in from the parking lot there. Ugh. No way was I going to explain about the spoons to her. No time. My clock was ticking; I was at the 2 hour mark and had to check out and drive home. Hurry, hurry. I’m now having trouble walking because my legs don’t really want to go… Brain fog is starting to close in and my head feels buzzy…

Home. Nap. I didn’t even take the packages out of the car until after the nap.

Two more days, two more loops, and I had gotten everything and even got stuff mailed out on one of the loops. Careful planning, lots of patience, and an acknowledgement of my limitations went a long way in getting me through everything. Did you know that if you go grocery shopping late at night there is no line. True fact!

For more than a month I was careful with the spoons and never ran down my spoonie clock. I knitted in bed. I ate my little pre-planned meals and ordered things off the internet when I could. I took lots of naps, kept up on my meds, and did everything I could to manage my symptoms. The Turkish Hell socks lengthened as the list in my notebook got items crossed off.

Today I am through the flare and I must have at least 20 spoons a day. Maybe even 25. I’m rich!! The spoonie clock is up to 6 hours. That’s pretty darn good.

You know, people are always telling me how great I look.

If only they could see my spoonie clock ticking away.

 

 

 

 

MacKenzie Speaks: The Tale of the Turkish Hell Socks

Hi. I’m MacKenzie.

Cat face
I know that it has been a long time. I hope that you haven’t been missing me.

The Mother of Cats has been a severe disappointment for just weeks and weeks. She caught some kind of cold early in December, carried on like a baby for over a week (nasal spray, salt water gargling, boxes of tissues… Yellow Boy and I became quite concerned about her mental health…) and COMPLETELY ignored our needs. As if that wasn’t enough, when she finally got over the virus, she then became even worse. She slept for hours and hours, stayed in her bed even when she was awake, and totally failed to deliver our cookies on time. SHE DIDN’T EVEN DO CHRISTMAS!!! which is totally our favorite time of the year. Hello… Christmas trees = world’s best cat toys. How could she have failed us this way?

She said she was in a flare. Whatever.

When she was awake she worked endlessly on these socks for her cousin’s Christmas present.

Yarn Blank
The yarn for the socks was from this sock blank that she bought at a yarn festival. She made it into a ball and wouldn’t let me help even a little bit.
Knitting
She wanted to make these complicated socks for her cousin. This cousin is special… they were born two days apart and are kind of like displaced twins. This cousin once gave her a whole quilt for a present. The least she could do was to make these socks! She started knitting the first week of December. Lots of time. I looked forward to days of great knitting together.
Cat
But she was too tired to knit very long on them at a time, and can I be frank, she was pretty stupid with brain fog. Lots of mistakes. Lots of stress. She kept chasing me away while I was helping. She tried to knit in bed, which is MY place. So I ate the yarn a couple of time. If she gave me cookies in a timely manner these things wouldn’t happen.
Heel of the sock.
Her lack of energy and general stupidness was really obvious when she knitted the heels. It took her THREE HOURS to pick up those stitches to knit the afterthought heel. She started sighing and pushing me off the bed. She began to refer to the knitting project as the Turkish socks from hell. The Mother of Cats was really in trouble.
Cat and knitting.
I just kept on encouraging her. I purred a lot. I settled for fewer cookies. I even stopped eating the yarn. She was really in pitiful shape.
Unfinished socks.
By Christmas Day she had finished this much. Her cousin reminded her that Christmas continues until January 6th.
Finished socks.
Finally, finally they were done!
Finished socks.
Those horrid and ill behaved heels look pretty good, don’t they?

The Turkish Hell socks were packed up last week and mailed out. On Saturday, the last day of Christmas they arrived safely in their new home. They had better behave themselves and last for years and years; I would hate to travel all the way across the state to whack them into shape!

I’m such a good boy.

Can I have some cookies now?

>^..^<

Notes from the Mother of Cats:

These socks, called Classic Kilim, are from the book Around the World in Knitted Socks by Stephanie van der Linden. The socks were supposed to have tassels and embroidery; that so did not happen!!Here is the info on Ravelry with more info about the book. My notes on Ravelry are here.

On December 1st I got my pneumonia vaccine even though I had been struggling a little that week. That night my youngest son became ill with complications of diabetes and was rushed to the ER . I spent the next 2 days/nights at the ICU with him. Yep. About the time my son returned to work and I moved back home I was sick;  my autoimmune diseases flared while I was fighting through the viral illness. My Sjogren’s symptoms have been off the chart and crushing fatigue and brain fog appeared along with them. This week I am better and have been knitting up a storm and planning blog posts. Hopefully I’ll be online again in a couple of more days.

Happy New Year everyone!

The Scleroderma Chronicles: Year 2.5

Wow. How quickly time flies. It has now been two and a half years since I was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease limited systemic sclerosis (AKA scleroderma), and I joined the rare disease club. When last I reported on my progress I was at the end of a tough year; lung disease, oxygen, a referral to palliative care, gastroparesis, and constant pain. I was having trouble walking and my stomach was really acting up; I was losing weight at the rate of a pound a week. Ugh. I was somewhat upbeat by the end of the second year since I was off oxygen, but still, things weren’t really all that great.

Mitts and bracelet
Look at the cute mitts I made in teal, the color of scleroderma. I got that bracelet last fall at a scleroderma patient education conference that loaded me up with lots of great information.

What a difference six months can make. A change in medication made my Raynaud’s much easier to handle. I started doing yoga (carefully) a few months ago and added tart cherry extract as an anti-inflammatory that I can tolerate better than traditional NSAIDs. I bought shoes that felt better on my feet (Haflinger clogs) and got serious with stretching exercises for the plantar fasciitis I developed due to tightening on the bottoms of my feet. I switched to a gastroparesis diet that is mostly easy-to-digest, low fiber foods (got to love pasta and yogurt to do this one…) and began to add some blended  fruits and veggies. My weight loss stopped and I started to gain back some weight. My skin has started to loosen up on my right arm (scleroderma literally means “hard skin” as the most obvious symptom is thick, hard skin that develops as the result of systemic scarring), which is pretty darn exciting!  Over the last six months my energy has been slowly coming up and I have been managing with less pain; I can even walk normally! I’m breathing better and I rarely need to use the rescue inhaler. There was a Sjogren’s flare, but still, things are better.

I just finished making the latest round of testing and doctor visits, and I have to say, it is pretty exciting to visit with happy smiling doctors. My pulmonologist was almost giddy! My lungs and heart have maintained (scleroderma damage tends to be forever…) with almost no new damage; I am right at the edge of trouble, but I’m not there yet. I have good blood work, and even had the first NORMAL kidney function test in over 5 years. My red blood cell count is back down in normal range, and my muscle strength has improved so much I can now easily push shopping carts.  It seems that the increased dosage of immunosuppressants has turned the tide and I am stable. STABLE!! What a wonderful word that is.

I will continue with all of my current drugs for now and there will be more testing in a year, but it is clear that I have definitely pulled up from the nose dive that they through I was in a year ago.

Life is good.

Back to knitting!!

 

April Updates: Sjogren’s Syndrome and ANOTHER Fade

Hi. If you’ve been following my blog for very long you already know that I am an out-of-control knitter owned by a self-absorbed and bossy cat named MacKenzie. You have probably detected that I am a science-oriented geek, an obsessive reader, and a casual gardener who loves her roses. You may have also realized that I have some serious and chronic health problems that I am trying to keep from taking over my life. I’ve been pretty up-front about the more serious of my autoimmune duo, systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), but I hardly ever mention the lesser of the two, Sjogren’s Syndrome. After all, since the diagnosis came in, all of my doctors (I have a six-pack of docs…) tend to focus on the scleroderma, so I almost forget that I also have Sjogren’s.

Except for this: of the two autoimmune conditions, it is the Sjogren’s that has pretty much taken over my life in spite of my efforts to keep control. Since April is Sjogren’s Awareness Month, I decided that I would share with all of you some information about this disease and how it has impacted me.

But first, the Fade!! I’m cranking out another Find Your Fade shawl that I hope to get done before the end of the month. Look at these colors! Look at how great this shawl is going to be! Color me happy! My Ravelry project notes are here.

Shawl
I’ve just started the 4th color and I can’t stop knitting because of the happy turquoise color. Must keep knitting. The 5th color will be even more wild!
Yarns for a shawl
See what I’m talking about? The color sequence for the shawl moves from right to left in the picture, and the next color will be that Hedgehog Fibres yarn. Then there will be that electric violet. Woohoo!

The weather has been nice this week so the cats have moved outside to bug hunt and I have moved into major knitting and house cleaning mode. OK, there has been more knitting. It’s important to have priorities…

Back to the Sjogren’s Syndrome. I know that you are just dying to know more about this little know and hard to spell disease. Sjogren’s isn’t as rare a disease as my bad-boy scleroderma (about 4 million Americans have it), and it isn’t usually life-threatening, but it is still serious and exceptionally life altering. Check out this symptom chart. This is one crazy-ass autoimmune disease; basically my immune system is attacking all of my moisture producing cells. That doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? As it turns out, the impact of this damage affects an awful lot of my body’s ability to function properly, and for this reason Sjogren’s is considered to be a systemic condition. Its most obvious feature is extreme dryness. Let’s take a little walk around my house as I explain this to you.

Lotions
Even I was shocked to realize how many types of lotion I have on my bedside table. There are 11 types of lotion here, and another couple of lotion bars in the drawer. I also have lubricant eye drops that I put in at least twice a day. I absolutely have to stay up on the eye drops every day or I develop cloudy vision. See, dryness. Dry skin, dry eyes. 
Bathroom
Dry mouth too. I never knew this before, but your saliva is necessary to fight bacteria in the mouth; without it things get out of control quickly.  I was producing no saliva when first diagnosed and I did have lots of dental issues. Things are better now, but I have to be very careful to keep my teeth as clean as possible, and I use the rinse nightly to help protect my teeth.
Sunglasses
The struggle to protect my eyes and skin continues every time I leave the house. I need lip balm and sunscreen before I go out, and sunglasses are a must since my eyes are really sensitive to sunlight. Because my mouth is so dry I don’t move anywhere without some type of fluid to drink. It’s such an issue for me I usually keep a case of ice tea in the car so I won’t ever run out. See the cute fingerless mitts? Sjogren’s causes Raynaud’s  (which I have) so I need to keep my hands and fingers warm at all times. If you think I’m crazy about managing fluids you should see how many pairs of fingerless mitts and gloves are riding around with me in the car with that case of ice tea…
Steamer with hot pack
Combating dryness makes sense, but there are lots of other annoying symptoms that I’m dealing with too. My joints and muscles hurt all of the time. I start every morning with chemical hot packs on my knees and leg muscles. I recharge them in this steamer each evening so that I’ll be ready to use them as soon as I wake up. This is my routine: make a morning latte, and then go back to bed with the hot packs and coffee.  Usually there is a cat added. Cats love hot packs!
Inhaler
My Sjogren’s antibodies also cause small airway disease (asthma). I notice blue lips quite often these days, and I have to monitor my blood oxygen levels and use the inhaler if my levels get too low; I’m trying hard to stay off oxygen. Darn. Just another couple of items I need to fit into my knitting bag.
Blender
and then there are my gastrointestinal issues. I developed gastroparesis this fall and now I am rocking a low fiber diet of easily digested foods. Check out my lunch. 

Now for the things that I couldn’t take picture of: fatigue, neuropathy, and concentration/memory problems. The fatigue that comes with Sjogren’s is not the usual “feeling tired” stuff. This is true crushing fatigue that makes me feel buzzy, numb and like I’m walking through concrete. The neuropathy means that I have feet/hands that are always falling asleep; more trouble walking. Then there is the memory stuff. When I’m in a flare all kind of crazy things can happen. I got lost on the freeway once; now I always use the GPS to give me driving directions. I have gone out to run an errand and then couldn’t remember where I was going. I have big problems with vocabulary recall, and I forget things like my phone number at the most embarrassing moments. I lose my ability to read because I can’t concentrate…

Good grief, I pretty much have my life arranged around my Sjogren’s needs. I thought that MacKenzie was running the show around here, but it looks like he needs to take a back seat to Sjogren’s.

Cat
MacKenzie: Not happening. I am the man!!

Which brings me to the good things for which I am grateful. Most people with scleroderma/Sjogren’s struggle with anxiety and/or depression. I do not. I think that I am so very lucky in my wonderful, supportive friends and my son. I am lucky to have good neighbors, health insurance, and a pension that meets all my needs. I am lucky to have cats that pile on and purr through all the sad times. I am lucky to have the immensely meditative and calming art of knitting to carry me through each and every flare of my disease.

Knit on, my friends. Knit on.

The Scleroderma Chronicles: My Second Year Report

Well, here I am at the end of my second year since my diagnosis of systemic sclerosis, a life-threatening form of the autoimmune disease scleroderma. Last year I blogged about my illness: I had come through the worst of the grief and horror at the initial diagnosis, had made my way through some scary incidents that sent me flying across town to emergency centers, and was pretty upbeat about where I was in the progress of the disease.  I was sick, but I hadn’t developed any of the most serious, life threatening complications. My heart and lungs were fine. I had just been started on some serious immunosuppressant drugs (the same ones that are given to kidney transplant patients), and while they are risky, I had been told that they could really make a difference in my 10 year survival rate.

Hey, you roll the dice and you take your chances.  No sense worrying about the unknown future. I drugged up and slept like a baby at night.

Star Trek Meme
The Kobayashi Maru test, as all Star Trek buffs know, was a no-win scenario;  it was meant as a test of character. Systemic sclerosis, an incurable,  progressive, disabling and potentially fatal disease, can  also be considered such a test.

Ready to hear about my second year? Let me give you a hint: buckle your seat belt, because we are in for a bumpy ride.

  • November-December: the drugs begin to kick in and as they beat my immune system into submission my skin starts to harden up. I hurt everywhere!! I can hardly bear to comb my hair. The place where my flu shot went in hurt for weeks afterwards.
  • January: I caught the flu. Talk about insult to injury! Here’s the short version: antibiotics, off the immunosuppressant drugs so my body’s immune system can fight back, and then trouble breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, and a partridge in a pear tree. What a mess! The month passes in a blur.
  • February: I’m still pretty sick and struggling to breathe. I get bounced back and forth between doctors as the debate about the root cause of my symptoms rages. I begin to pressure my doctors for answers and there is much testing. Oops. All is not well with my lungs and my heart is accruing damage. I get sent to a pulmonologist and she give me an inhaler to help me breath. She also tells me I am in serious trouble and refers me to palliative care. The doctors increase my immunosuppressant drug dosage.
  • March: Why, hello, Sjogren’s Syndrome. We forgot all about you! In the concern about my systemic sclerosis, the bad boy of my autoimmune twosome, everyone forgot that I also have Sjogren’s Syndrome, another serious autoimmune disease that causes dry eyes and mouth. As it turns out, it can also cause small airway disease (think never-ending asthma attack) and it has pushed me into chronic respiratory failure. Hello oxygen machine. You are my new best friend.

    Oxygen machine
    My new best friend!
  • April: new lung scans are back, and while I am diagnosed with interstitial lung disease, it appears that it is only mild. Huge sigh of relief!! There is also consensus that my pulmonary hypertension has not advanced. Both of these diagnosis, while still early and mild, are very serious, and the decision is made for palliative care to continue to follow me. Bummer!
  • May-July: Sunshine! Heat! Burning muscles, aching joints, gastritis, dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, and I notice that my lips are blue. I’m on oxygen 24/7 by the end of July.
  • August: my internist changes my meds to bring my heart rate up, and suddenly I have enough oxygen. The heart palpitations stop and after more testing I come off the oxygen. The 6 month Sjogren’s-driven asthma attack is finally over.
  • Quilt and socks
    Summer quilt and socks for my poor hurting feet.

    September-October: why does it hurt to walk? What is up with my feet? And this whole barfing in the middle of the night is getting downright annoying… My internist tests me to see if I have an H. pylori infection.

  • November: Well, doesn’t this beat all. The H. pylori test came back negative and I am diagnosed with gastroparesis. The muscles of my stomach are too damaged by systemic sclerosis to work correctly; the damage is irreversible. I start eating a very limited diet of soft foods and dairy. Ironically, I can now eat jelly donuts, but not fresh baby carrots. I’m losing weight anyway.
Little Greenhouse
The gastroparesis diagnosis hit me hard even though I kind of  knew it was coming. I stopped to get a little cheer-me-up on the way home.  Check out the little greenhouse I put together for the kitchen window. As always, MacKenzie had to help out with the picture.
Flowers
Here’s the flowers. Aren’t these cute? They were sold at the local nursery to put into “Fairy Gardens”
cat
and how could I resist adding the little cat and the mushroom? Those plants are miniature Kalanchoe that should eventually bloom again.

See, a bumpy ride that is still going, but a year that was also rich in gifts. Palliative care forced me to face the future with more courage and to make end-of-life decisions for my family and to start cleaning out my house of junk. I talked to family about my medical power of attorney. I enlisted one of my doctors to manage the medical team and I began to feel more in control of my basically out of control disease. I began to knit gifts for those I love with a purpose: everything now is a piece of me. In my mind the shawls that I am making for everyone I know are the “Good-bye Shawls”. I am on fire to make as many fingerless mitts for other scleroderma patients as I can. At the end of the day, this year was not one of struggle and heartbreak as I dealt with the endless march of a disease that has no pity or remorse. Rather, it was one of care, giving, creative fire, good friends, and the meditative peace of knitting.

Okay, I do get cranky at times, and there has been some crying.  I get short with annoying salespeople because it is so hard for me to shop. I told my ex-husband I was tired of hearing about his “stupid-ass”  motorcycle. I yelled at the cats. I hate when people say, “Well, you look great!” in a way that suggests that I’m not really all that sick at all. I wish that they were there to hold my hair when I hobble to the bathroom at 2am to throw up that nice meal that I hopefully ate but couldn’t digest. There. I got it off my chest, and I feel much better. Aren’t you relieved to hear that I can be petty and mean from time to time?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. You know, it is easy to focus on the day: travel, turkey, family and the descent into wild Christmas shopping. Sometimes we forget the history of this national holiday; thanks for a good harvest and the blessing of probable survival through the coming winter. It is also a time to reflect on the bounty of the last year and to be grateful for the gifts it brought.

In spite of all the bumps of the last year, I am grateful for all of the gifts I have received.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

So Long, Farewell, Auf Weidersehen, Good-bye… to My Support Group

Okay, this is a rant. This rant is so long and complicated, with so many connections to other topics, that I have considered that I should perhaps launch another blog just to deal with it. Or maybe create an online course for people with complex autoimmune diseases. Something. Because I finally have snapped for sure.

It happened while I was attending my monthly Scleroderma Support group in July. I go to these meetings because I need to talk to people about my illness, become educated about treatments and coping strategies, and to get, you know, support! I want to flock with my peeps!! Usually in these meetings there are introductions, a little sharing, nice snacks, and a presentation by a guest speaker.

This is the problem. The speakers who have been coming are often involved in alternative treatment strategies. As in alternative medicine. As in flat out pseudoscience masquerading as legitimate methods of treatment for our complex health conditions.  These speakers have been trained in their “method” and faithfully parrot back what they were told in their training. They have little actual knowledge of human physiology, biology, disease, or science. They are connected to a product or system that they want to sell to us to help us “stay healthy”. They especially tell us that they can help us have “healthy” immune systems and/or take away our pain. Since I am in pain because my immune system is misbehaving it’s hard to not find their messages appealing.

Except… I was a biology teacher. I used to work in a research lab. I know science as a logical process with rules, and this information is so outrageous it causes me to wiggle around in my chair, bite my tongue, and often whip out my cell phone to fact check.

Me: Google, please tell me if Leaky Gut is a real thing?

Google: Are you crazy? Of course not.

Me: That’s what I thought…

But evidently I absolutely, positively need to take this essential oil to protect me from leaky gut. Or the toxins will leak out though the holes in my intestines. This is the cause of many complex illnesses. Research? We don’t need no stinking research. We have testimonials!!

Compression Points on Foot
This pressure point chart was so outrageous I needed to put down the knitting to take a picture!

How about the day I learned that I need to massage my hands and feet at specific pressure points to clean the toxins out of my liver, pancreas and other parts of my body? Really. I was informed that the problem is that the cells of my body get dehydrated, will form tough protective barriers, and the fascia then can’t move fluids throughout the body. This was such a garbled version of reality it was practically science salad.

Me: Google, please tell me exactly what fascia is.

Google: Sure. Fascia is the thin, tough barrier around muscles and organs. It is part of your connective system and made of collagen.

Me: Google, just to be sure, it doesn’t have anything to do with fluid transport?

Google. No, dumb ass. That would be the lymph system.

Me: Google, that’s what I thought. No need to cop an attitude with me, you wouldn’t believe what I’m dealing with here.

As if all this fact checking wasn’t exhausting enough, there is also a hint of “anti-science” in the room. Several other patients have become convinced that we need to stop taking our meds as they have unacceptable side effects. It is better, they argue, to control our disease with diet, essential oils and supplements. OMG! It isn’t possible to google fast enough to keep up with this stuff!

Me: Google, what is this alkaline diet all about?

Me: Google, is dairy inflammatory?

Me: Google, do I need to take massive doses of probiotics every day, or can I just eat yogurt? This speaker is telling me I have to buy their product since I can’t eat dairy anymore…

Me: Google, how quickly do bacteria divide? Every 20 minutes? So I don’t need a massive dose?

Me: Google, is there any research showing a positive benefit of essential oils in systemic sclerosis?

Google: Stop! I have smoke coming out of my ears! Let me direct you to this nice List of Topics Characterized as Pseudoscience. There. You’re welcome.

Lunch
Yep. This is my lunch. See the dairy? That yogurt has 8 live cultures in it and I am not giving it up!!

While loading up on gluten free snacks at the break I finally snapped and asked the group facilitator if she thought it would be appropriate to let people advocate going off their meds and using essential oils to treat their conditions if this was a cancer support group?

“Well, no…”, she replied. “But that’s cancer.”

I just looked back at her until I saw something click in her brain, and then I left. I’m done.

Since then I have been fussing around about why this is happening. I understand that this is a tough disease (in more than one way), but how awful it is that there is so much misinformation out there that people don’t know what is accurate, and what isn’t. Desperate people will clutch at anything that gives them hope. Sometimes these things are based in sound logic, reason and science (stem cell transplants), and sometimes they are not (amber beads for pain relief). Obviously people need to know more about the nature of science, basic physiology, immunology, cell biology, and how the medications prescribed by their doctors work. They need to know their Star Trek!!

Star Trek Meme
A no-win scenario, the Kobayashi Maru test was designed to be a test of character. 

That’s right. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn is what I needed to put this into perspective.  So many movie quotes, so many posts.

So, I feel a lot better after finishing up my rant, but I still think that I may need to launch a mini-series of posts relating to this. I mean, there are all those pseudoscience cures to debunk. All that biology to share. All those Star Trek quotes.

Stay tuned. If I start the new blog, I’ll let you all know where it is. Otherwise, a lot of my knitting friends are going to be exposed to some biology.  Feel free to let me know how you feel about that.J