Category Archives: Marriage

Rare Disease in Small Town America

The shower head in mine and Joe’s bathroom won’t stop dripping. It’s incessant “drip, drip, drip” keeps Joe and I awake at night. I catch myself nodding my head in time with the drips. It has essentially become the metronome of our existence at home. We’ve tried everything to fix it. We turn the shower on and back off again. Sometimes that slows the dripping- other times it gets worse instead. We’ve cleaned the shower head and the on/off lever. Sometimes we push really hard on the nozzle in hopes that we’ll make the shower completely stop running water. It doesn’t work. Nothing works.

Now, some of you are saying, “Why don’t you change the shower head?” Well, that’s a fine idea, but it’s not exactly in mine and Joe’s skill set. You see, Joe and I have a variety of gifts and talents- none of which include plumbing. I mean, technically, Joe fixed our sump pump a couple months ago, but he used a couple dumb bells and duct tape to do so. I’m not sure that solitary experience makes him qualified to change out shower fixtures. I once fixed the toilet chain in a college dorm toilet (Seriously, Cumberland College, why was I fixing my own toilet?) with a paper clip, but again, that’s hardly professional experience. It has come to this- we need a real, licensed plumber. That comes with its own set of difficulties. It takes days of sitting around the house before a person actually shows up for non-emergency water problems. “Real, licensed plumbers” are way more expensive than mine and Joe’s pseudo- expertise. At this point, we have just accepted that the shower drips, and that’s a strange quirk of our home.

Why do I think you care about my plumbing woes? Well, I don’t suppose you do. However, the drippy shower has become my constant analogy for living life with a rare disease. My body has several medical “quirks.” The quirks are the background noise for every day. But, at this point, I don’t have the time, energy, or money to address the issues. Much like my dripping shower faucet, my aches and pains have become such a part of my existence that while I’m not happy with the situation, I’ve accepted them as part of life. My pain is not adequately managed, and I don’t always deal with it well.

However, small town medicine is about as effective with managing a rare disease as Joe and I are at handling our plumbing situation. I have great doctors, really. I am sure they are great with managing many common illnesses. I feel like if I were a typical patient and went to any of my medical team with strep throat or high cholesterol or any number of other common problems they could handle it beautifully. Let me be clear- my frustration is not directed toward local practitioners. My frustration lies in the fact that awareness is lacking, physician education is lacking, and I’m the one suffering. Unfortunately, when you’re a “zebra” in the medical community, your problems are anything but common. Even when my complaints are “common” there’s always a rare disease (and its complications) to take into account.

The people that are equipped to help me (you know, the ones who have actually heard of my illness?) are hours away. They’re in clinics with a two year waiting list. But, I’ve never really had a medical issue that I’ve thought, “Wow. This should probably be addressed 24 months from now.” That’s not how illness works either. It’s complicated. It really is. For my friends with complex medical issues, medical care is pretty much a gamble. We are begging to be heard (drip, drip, drip), but we are blending in with the masses.

I get it. I don’t expect that any doctor in small town America is an expert in any rare disease. I’m not blaming doctors for this discrepancy. I’m simply saying this life is difficult. My medical issues aren’t easily addressed, and I am tired of being turned away. My illness is a constant dripping that keeps me up at night- praying that at no point does the drip turn into a gush- and knowing that if it does, I’m poorly equipped to handle the fallout.

Peace, love, and health.

T-5 Days Until Disney World!

I woke up to one of the sounds of summer this morning; Joe was singing. (Let’s all have a brief moment of reverence for the loss of my quiet morning routine.) He is a morning person, and I’ll be honest,  I think God’s sense of humor has never been more evident than it is in the fact that I married a person who sings in the morning. Ugh. All the ughs. All griping aside, the sounds of summer mean two things. 1. The college semester has ended, and Joe is home for the summer. 2. It’s time to go to Disney World. (I promise- I’m really excited about both things.)

We are five days away from going to Disney. Joe is totally packed, and I have refilled all my meds- so essentially we’re ready to go. (Yes, I realize I have to pack clothes, as well, but seriously, Joe would rather have me medicated than wearing clean clothes.) I’ve already written about the preparation process of Disney and general advice (Here.), so I’ll spare you the monotony. However, I want to share the pre-vacation prep schedule with you, because I know I’m not the only one in our community who deals with this.

1. Packing. I hate packing.

Joe is totally packed. I don’t even have enough clothes to be decent for a week. Here’s the struggle. First of all, why are women’s shorts so indecent? Don’t get me wrong; I think women (and men) should dress however they’re comfortable. I’m just not comfortable in shorts that’ll make me feel like I forgot to wear any. Also, there’s the whole wheelchair situation. (For those of you new to the crazy, chronic game, my wheelchair’s name is Snookie, and she’s infinitely more fabulous than I’ll ever be.) Some shorts are just not meant for sitting, and my body was clearly not meant for standing. It’s a colossal conflict of interest on the best days. So, yeah, I have to buy shorts within the next five days in my teeny tiny town. Ick.

2. I’m in energy save mode.

My house could stand to be cleaned. Some of the clothes Joe packed could use ironing. You know what? It’s not happening unless magical fairies bestow me with their abilities. That’s okay. It really is. I’m doing everything I can to reserve my energy for the vacation I’ve been making payments on since last July. I’m sleeping 10+ hours. I’m napping when I want to. I’m generally refusing to do anything that I don’t absolutely have to do. Fortunately, Joe is totally cool with that. He actually requested that I save as much energy as possible, and I’m grateful for the suggestion.

3. Planning for the worst- hoping for the best.

Let me be clear. I have no plans of having a health meltdown while I’m in Disney World. Clearly, Joe and I wouldn’t plan a vacation that we didn’t think I could handle. However, I’m trying to be practical. I’m packing books in case I don’t feel like leaving the room one day. I’ve taken every possible precaution for general comfort. (Here’s to hoping my body doesn’t throw a huge EDS tantrum!) I have rescue meds, cool packs, KT tape, and anything else that might be useful. I’m not being negative. I think my week at Disney will continue to be my favorite week of the year. At the same time, I don’t want to be totally unprepared for something that I knew could possibly happen. Besides, who really wants to buy a $9 bottle of aspirin in the most magical place on earth? If my body decides to throw a curve ball, I’ll be prepared (unlike my Braves . . . smh).

I’m excited- can you tell? I can hardly wait to go. I’m aware that it might not be the type of perfect healthy people imagine, but I can almost guarantee that it’ll be Crazy, Chronic Perfection. At this point, that’s all I ask. If you want to follow me on my Disney journey, feel free to friend me on FB (Click here- be my buddy!). I can also guarantee that I’ll upload pictures all day every day, and I’ll try to keep you informed on the whole traveling with a disability thing too.

Hugs to each of you always!

Peace, love, and health.

Sorry, not sorry. Social media is my bestie.

My husband is the ultimate extrovert. Put him in a crowded room and he’ll feed off the energy for days. Me? Well, the very thought of a crowded concert or even a potluck makes me cringe. I love people, but I’m not a person who can work a room. It’s unsettling for me. Add to that the constant fear of brain fog moments, health issues, and general social anxiety, and I’m a hot mess in a crowded room.

This seems to be the lament of many of my chronic illness friends. It’s not that we don’t like people, but rather that being around people is complicated. When you feel bad it’s hard to have the ambition for social engagements. Chronic pain makes it hard to concentrate on the conversation you’re having. And, to be honest, just the general lack of understanding the public has for my (and many others’) invisible illness is unsettling.

Basically, I’m too dang awkward to be in public. Just this morning at church a woman a couple pews in front of me turned around to shake my hand. She was far enough in front of me that she had to lean over the pew between us and still couldn’t reach me. I was sitting while everyone else was standing, because my heart was doing the cha-cha in my chest. In an effort to act like I had decent social skills, I stood up to lean toward her- then stumbled and grabbed the edge of the pew for balance. Then I burst out with a barely intelligible line- “I’m sorry. I don’t stand good.” WHAT?!? Of all the possible things I could have said, why did I say that? Seriously, there’s never an excuse for bad grammar. I should be kept in a cage.

However, on Facebook or Instagram, I’m a completely functional adult. Given the time to think about what I’m saying before I say it, I make sense, and I’m typically grammatically correct. (Full disclosure- I still rely on autocorrect for spelling.) With iPhone edits and social media filters, I’m way more cute and graceful. I need social media to be a normal person. I realize that you’re probably thinking, “You don’t have to be perfect. You want to make friends based on who you are- not a contrived online profile.” I agree with you. However, when illness turns your body into something you don’t even recognize anymore, I think it’s fair to find your confidence for entering the public realm wherever you can find it- even if it’s in the unrealistic world of social media. It’s helped me find who I am again, so I thought I’d share it’s virtues with you.

  1. I’ve made friends. It’s true. When I have exciting news, one of the first places I want to share my news is one of my chronic illness support groups. You see, at one point I had work friends, but the disabled life doesn’t exactly afford many of those. I met people for lunch and coffee, but that’s a little harder to do now. There are weeks that go by, and I don’t speak to any humans in person other than Joe and the lady who gives my allergy shots. However, my online friends are always around, and if they’re not they will be eventually. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people who live a life very similar to mine. I can share victories that don’t seem like victories to my healthier friends. My chronic illness friends understand when I post, “Guess who took a shower, fixed their hair, went to lunch, and unloaded the dishwasher today? This girl!” Normal people would probably not realize this is a huge achievement. My chronic illness friends on social media understand that this is a big day!
  2. I’ve found a way to be a part of something that matters.  As my health has changed, I’ve been less capable of doing a lot of the things I used to do. I can’t volunteer to tutor students or teach Sunday school. My body isn’t very reliable. For a while, I felt like I no longer had a purpose or a way to contribute to the good in the world. However, I learned that the social media world is filled with lonely and isolated people- like me. I can’t be there physically, but I can listen. I can offer prayers and hope and encouragement. Online support groups have been a fantastic outlet and a great way to try helping others rather than focusing on my own problems.
  3. Social media has an off switch (and it’s available 24/7 too!). If I have a migraine or a particularly symptomatic day, I have the option of not looking at social media. Instead of being online when I feel sick and grumpy, I can make the choice to stay away. Of course, you can make that same decision in real life, but it’s more difficult. Real life people involve commitments and explanations. Online interaction happens when it happens. There’s always someone there when you’re ready.

Is social media the perfect answer to all social interaction? Of course, not. It’s important to make friends who can actually be there physically when you need someone. However, if you can’t handle all that yet, social media is an awesome place to start. I’m unapologetically in love with Facebook and Instagram. (Twitter is just not my jam.) Does that mean that I’m one of those people that’s tied to their phone screen a lot of the time? Yes, but it’s only taking away from my napping life or doctor’s office waiting time. I’m okay with that. This life is difficult enough, and if an online support group, online friends, or anything else makes life easier for you- I say do it. Social media can be your bestie too. She’s big enough for all of us, and I promise not to be jealous.

 

Peace, love, and health, friends.

Back off, Bullies.

There was a girl in junior high who knew every other student’s weakness. She knew which kid would be hurt by being called fat or ugly or dirty or (in my case) “frog eyes.” (It’s true. I have huge eyes. I’m over it now. Besides, I like to think they give me an Amanda Seyfried vibe . . . Yeah, okay- maybe not.) She would use this mental list of everyone’s weaknesses as ammunition to wound most effectively. While I commend her excellent memorization skills, I realize now this girl was just a bully. At the time, I thought she just happened to speak the truth that was the most painful, but I realize now that she was intentionally taking aim with the most painful arrows- because that’s what bullies do.

Now, I’ll give this girl a break, because she may have grown up to be a perfectly lovely individual. I don’t really know. I only know that I would never want to be judged based on my 13 year old actions. What I learned from her, though, is that there are people that will wound without any regard for you. Even in the non- junior high world, bullies exist.

The real question is why I’m choosing to write about them now. I’m 31 years old; I should be over crying in the girls’ bathroom about being called “Froggy.” In many ways, I am over it. However, the more time I spend trying to support and advocate for the chronic illness community, the more I realize that we are easy targets for bullies. I keep seeing my friends- my chronic illness family- used and abused, and it makes me angry. So, I’m speaking up- for all of us. Back off, bullies. We’re sick, but we’re not victims. Every type of bullying I mention isn’t necessarily a type I have personally experienced. It is, however, a growing trend I see among my chronic illness friends, and today, I’m asking that you lower your metaphorical weapons.

Adult bullies aren’t as easy to understand and categorize as the thirteen year old “mean girls.” Some grown up bullies think they’re helping or just showing “tough love.” I get that. I’m sure there are times that I have had the best of intentions and just gotten everything very wrong. That’s why today, I’m calling out the grown up “mean girls (and their gender/ age equivalent)” that may have no clue what they’re really doing.

The social media merchant. There are so many online businesses right now, and I applaud anyone who is making money by selling a product they love. That’s awesome. Seriously, you rock, and I admire your effort. Having said that . . . stop exploiting my chronic illness. Do not tell me that your product will cure my genetic illness (that causes my very DNA to be flawed) just because it cleared up cousin Suzie’s eczema. All the InstaGram before and after pictures in the world do nothing for my community. Let me be clear- if you tell me about a great product that you sell, I am capable of understanding that it’s a business. I’ll listen to your sales pitch and thank you for sharing. However, if you are a perfect stranger and approach me just because you heard that I am chronically ill (and this happens way too much) to tell me that if I wanted to feel better I should try your product . . . then NO!

How is that bullying? Let’s think about the situation. A person who is peddling whichever “snake oil” happens to be popular is telling me that I am choosing my illness because I won’t buy their product. You are telling me that buying your product is “an investment in health,” but you fail to see that I spend every day investing every ounce of my mental, physical, and fiscal resources in my health. I’ve seen kind and well-meaning people post on social media that “ . . . if you’re tired of spending money on doctors, make an investment in [such and such product].” Really?!? Your shake, pill, or oil is going to stop my need to see a qualified medical professional? No, it’s not. Think about what you’re saying. I have my doubts that any magic concoction is going to trump the doctors and scholars at Vanderbilt University or Cleveland Clinic. Are you truly trying to tell me that I have wasted my money and time going to these places rather than using your social media cure?

The Pharisee. Let’s be clear; I am a person of faith. I was raised in church, and I am truly grateful for the values of love and kindness I was taught there. I am not calling out those with religious convictions. I have been so blessed with thoughtful people who have prayed for me when my health was in a difficult place. But then, there are the Pharisees. The Pharisees throughout Christian scripture were people who chose to focus on laws- rules of right and wrong- rather than the values of love and kindness Christ came to teach. They were far more concerned with the letter of the law rather than the spirit behind the law. The Pharisees saw every affliction as repayment for wrongdoing- rather than just an unfortunate situation. Sadly, these people still exist today. I recently read a post from a fellow sufferer of chronic illness where she was told that she simply chooses to be ill. A minister told this poor soul that if she had enough faith, if she prayed enough, if she followed Scripture closely enough and did enough good, she would have already been healed.

Yeah, sorry, Mr. (or Mrs.) 21st century Pharisee, but that’s not how life works. My body is human, and it is afflicted with some very un- heavenly illnesses. I refuse to believe that I caused this or that following your list of rules would cure me. I refuse to believe that I was pre-destined to this suffering. So, if you’re telling me that I made this happen- you’re being a spiritual bully. I did not choose to have flawed DNA. I do, however, choose to live every day loving others and being kind. And, if you are walking around telling others that they chose their illness, their own personal, physical hell, you haven’t made that same decision. You’re being a spiritual bully.

My husband (and I only share this because he has given me permission to – and insisted that I- do so) suffers from depression and is under medical treatment- which has been wonderfully successful to this point. In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, he was met with his own personal host of Pharisees. Pastors and other people of conviction took to their pulpits and social media to blame Robin Williams’ death on his lack of faith. I’m not sure that these speakers understood how much their words were undermining the efforts of the medical professionals who were treating some in their congregation for similar illnesses. The truth, however, is that Mr. Williams was ill. He struggled with depression and mental illness. I don’t know Robin Williams’ personal beliefs- they’re his and not my place to pry. I do know, however, that he was sad and ill. I know that others with mental illness need to hear kindness and compassion for his situation- not blaming and hatefulness. My heart broke as post after post and uninformed sermon after sermon we were forced to hear mental illness blamed on weakness, lack of faith, and a poor relationship with our Creator. In fact, the bullies were waxing eloquently on a situation they didn’t understand. Bullies do that. Pharisees do that. Sorry, Pharisees, but I would very much like it if you would leave me and my husband (and the lepers) alone.

The consort. Let’s talk relationships. My husband is wonderful; he really is. However, what I keep seeing repeatedly among my chronic illness friends is that relationships are especially difficult in the chronic illness world. Night after night I message with friends who are facing verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse, because their illness is making them not meet the aggrandized standards of their significant other. I know that guilt. There was a time that I truly prayed that my husband would leave me, because I knew he deserved better than this sick, shell of a wife. My remorse for the person I was becoming was all-consuming at times.

Having said all that, not once in all this grief have I deserved abuse. Trust me- I was abusing myself plenty; I certainly didn’t need more guilt. My husband was fantastic. He knows I’m a hot or that sometimes I go a couple days without washing my hair (much like the college students he teaches), but he has never once made me feel like less of a person. I have other friends who have not had that luxury. Please, spouses, partners, and significant others, listen to me when I say- back off! If your significant other is ill (mentally or physically), love them for who they are- every flawed inch of them. Due to their roles as a disabled/ chronically ill adult, if the house isn’t clean; heck, if the spouse isn’t clean, give him/her a break. They’re doing their best. If you look at the person you profess to love and see them as less of a person because of their illness, you’re bullying them. If you refuse to believe their illness is real- you’re a bully. You have chosen to face life with this person. There is a part of them you chose to love completely. You are supposed to be their cheerleader. You are supposed to be their advocate. If you are anything less, you are being a bully.

For those of you who are in such a relationship, I am sorry. I am truly sorry, and I sincerely hope and pray you eventually receive the understanding and deliverance you deserve. This treatment is toxic to your illness.

I fear in writing all this that you think I’m a jerk. The last thing I want is for you to think that I sit around waiting to call others bullies. (I’m fairly confident that would actually make me a bully, and that’s certainly not my intention- and that would defeat my entire purpose.) I simply want to make everyone think. I want to make others realize that it is not okay to blame someone’s illness or circumstance on that person. Even if you can’t see something, that doesn’t make it a figment of someone’s imagination. Believe me. Believe that I didn’t choose this life. Believe that I wanted more than this for my life, but I understand that this is the genetic hand I’ve been dealt. No one gets to bully me for something that I couldn’t escape.

You, my sweet sufferer of chronic illness, no one gets to victimize you either. We’re here. We’ve got each others’ backs, and, today, we’re asking that the bullies lay aside their weapons. So, bullies, back off. We mean it. We aren’t your victims, and we will retaliate- in our own crazy, chronic way. And, seriously, who even knows what that means?

Peace, love, and health, friends.

 

 

I can’t. I’m raising a chronic illness.

It’s only fair that I begin this in the most appropriate and reverent manner possible, so I’ll begin by saying that moms are rock stars. Seriously, if you’ve stuck with and cared for  a child through all of their horrible ages and phases, you’re a hero. I don’t know how you did it; I can barely remember to put out fresh water for my dog, Zoey. If you’re struggling with a chronic illness and still managed to take care of a child (or, good grief, multiple children), you’re a super human, and I have total respect for all you do. So please, momma friends, don’t judge me to harshly for referring to myself as a “mom.” I realize I don’t know your struggle.

Now . . . having said all that, I don’t fit into any logical groups for people my age. Working women? Nope. My main job is the care and management of my health- and keeping Joe from looking really mismatched and disheveled. Motherhood groups? Yeah, I have a dog- no tiny humans. However, the more time I spend around mothers the more I realize that my chronic illness acts remarkably like a toddler. (Don’t take this analogy too far, folks. A child is by no means a disability- I’m just having a little fun here.) Here are things I’ve heard mommas say lately that I’ve oddly identified with from my life of “raising my chronic illness”.

I would have loved to come, but [insert cutesy toddler name] needed a nap. She just won’t behave without one.

I feel ya, girl. The last time I didn’t give my chronic illness (and, you know, me too since we’re connected) a nap before we went out among people, I ended up whimpering in a bathroom floor. I also missed the event, because my symptoms were having a diva moment. My illness is a bit of a monster like that. If I don’t let it rest before we venture into public, it will throw a tantrum that rivals any sleepy toddler’s meltdown.

For the last UT home football game (my husband, Joe, is a SUPER FAN and season ticket holder), Joe and I met friends for lunch before the game . . . and by the time lunch was over, I was FINISHED. I was tired, my chest hurt, and I felt like I could cry if anyone looked at me. I ended up giving away my ticket and going back to the hotel to take a nap instead. Have you ever heard of anyone over the age of 5 who misses events they’ve looked forward to because they need a nap? Nope, me neither. Thanks, chronic illness. You couldn’t behave for a couple hours.

I can’t stay out late. The baby will get restless.

Yep. Anything longer than half an hour, and I’m a wiggly mess. I suppose this is a little different than taking a toddler into public. I mean, toddlers struggle because they have a short attention span. I don’t exactly have a remarkable attention span, but the real problem is sitting still. If I’m sitting for more than half an hour, my blood will pool, and I’ll feel faint. My ribs will shift, and I’ll feel like I can’t breathe. I’m a mess. You know those kids at church or the movies that pace back and forth/ up and down the aisles? I’m one step away from being right behind them.

Recently, Joe and I met a friend (a fellow POTSie) in downtown Nashville to listen to music. She and I (and our illnesses) behaved beautifully through dinner. When we tried to listen to music, we were both falling asleep in the booth. My poor husband looked like he had drugged two women and brought them out for the evening. Nope. Just tired. So tired.

Just as we were going out the door, she threw up all over me!

Ughhhh . . . yeah, I get it. Babies can be gross sometimes, so can chronic illnesses. For every time a mother has gotten ready to go somewhere and been unexpectedly covered in a smelly bodily fluid brought forth by her toddler, yeah, it’s happened to me too- except, you know, it was my own body that was expelling its contents. Chronic illnesses are messy and unpredictable- just like babies.

Once, Joe’s dad was giving the commencement address at a graduation ceremony, and Joe was supposed to introduce his dad and give the opening prayer. What did I do? I started projectile vomiting minutes before they were both going on stage. Fortunately, I was able to regroup, drink some water, and make it through. But right up until the minute the program started everyone was more worried about my diva disorder than the event we were there to celebrate. Yeah, vomit ruins everything. It just does.

Can you tell I’ve had fun coming up with similarities between my illness and a cranky toddler?

Of course, there are a number of reasons that I would rather raise the crankiest toddler than deal with illness, but clearly I haven’t been given that choice. I mean, toddlers have their redeeming qualities- they’re cute; they say funny things; they will likely grow into something in which you can take pride. I have serious doubts that my illness will ever do any of those things. For now, though, I’m okay with laughing at the similarities between the two. So, the reason I can’t go to the movies or on a long road trip? I can’t. I’m raising a chronic illness.

Peace, love, and health friends.

Chronic Christmas Craziness and Other Communicable Diseases

Confession time, friends. Yesterday, I had a full Clark Griswald-esque Christmas meltdown. You know that scene from the movie when he finds out his long awaited Christmas bonus is nothing more than a membership to a jam of the month club? (Which is a pretty dang cool gift, if you ask me.) He proceeds to totally have a total freak out of epic proportions . . . yeah, that was me. Now, before you label me a Scrooge and believe that I need to be visited by some of Charles Dickens’ ghosts, let me explain.

Holidays are tough for the chronically ill- really tough. For me, I feel like holiday time exposes all my flaws. The rest of the year I can hide that my house isn’t always neat and organized. I can keep you from noticing that I don’t have the energy to wash my hair (or even shower sometimes) more than every other day. My cooking short cuts (I’ve got to make a blog about that soon!) can fly under the radar. But at Christmastime, you’re going to see these things. When I sit around with family members chatting about the past year, you’re going to notice that I start lying down or leaning over- because for some reason I can’t sit up for long without my ribs moving out of place. You’re going to see that my Christmas cooking came from Kroger (grocery store, non-US, friends!). And, if you look closely, you might even notice that Joe has to open bottles and cans for me, because my hands won’t cooperate lately.

Although these are all parts of my daily reality, Christmas makes me feel much more exposed. Don’t get me wrong- my family is fantastic. I can’t think of a single member that would tease me (well, they might good-naturedly tease me- but NEVER hurtfully) for the things I cannot do. I’m very blessed to have a group of people who love me and do not think less of me when I just CAN’T do something. The problem lies in that I hate looking pathetic. I hate looking like that hot mess that just can’t get it together. There’s nothing more dehumanizing than being pitied.

So, anyway, back to last night’s meltdown- here’s how it went down. I was trying to cook real food- things that didn’t come pre-made from Kroger. In the process, I cut my finger, dislocated my shoulder and a finger, dropped essentially everything I touched, and somehow my blender full of boiling strawberry puree exploded. (FYI- If you’re covered in boiling hot strawberry puree and you yell for your spouse to come help you, FIRST explain to him that the red super-mess is NOT blood. The poor guy was preparing to apply pressure!) Somewhere during all of this, in a moment of panic (and chest pain that’s been haunting me for a couple days) I sat down on the kitchen floor and wailed, “I think I need to CRYYYYYY!!”

Poor Joe. He’s been through these meltdowns enough to know the protocol. He brought me a chair and a Cranberry Sprite Zero (yum!). He reminded me that everything that we were preparing for was fun- not something to freak out over. He even reminded me that we are celebrating with people that we love (and even like) who accept us exactly the way we are. He’s right. I just got caught up in the craziness of wanting everything to be perfect.

Here’s the truth. I will never have a Pinterest-perfect Christmas. My Christmas cards will be store bought, and my handwriting will probably be illegible after the first few. My gifts will always come from whichever store looks the least crowded- or better yet, Amazon. I can’t remember to buy things like bows for gift boxes or name tags. Joe did the wrapping- it’s not exactly his greatest gift in life. The gifts we bring are lumpy; the paper is ripped and patched, and the recipients’ names are written on the side with Sharpie. To be honest, Im not even sure if I put the correct name on gifts. So it’s possible there will be a gift shuffle at the end because I have given my brother the Princess castle intended for my 2 year old niece.

But . . . post-Griswald-esque meltdown, I’ve decided I’m okay with the imperfections. I may not feel fantastic sometimes; I’ll excuse myself and rest. I may not be able to get food on the table on time (you know, that food I just have to re-heat because I ordered it from Kroger), but we can just eat later. I might lie down while I visit with my family; I’m sure they’ve seen me do stranger things. I’m going to relax as best I can and enjoy this crazy, chronic Christmas.

So, um, could all of you remind me of this over the next few days?

Merry Christmas, chronic illness family. May your heart be filled with the hope and joy of this very special (and sometimes crazy) season.

Peace, love, and health friends.

Trading Places . . . not nearly as cool as the movie.

In life, there are good days and bad days. There are even streaks of exceptionally good and exceptionally bad luck. And then, there are those times when you start to feel a bit victimized by life. That’s basically the story of the last few weeks at my house. I’ve reached a point of calm after the storm, and I’m finally able to look back at all that’s happened and laugh. But . . . yeah, at the time, I was definitely NOT laughing.

All summer long I have known I would be having a permanent bladder pacemaker placed in my lower back in August. We vacationed in May, went to weddings in June, and prepared for Joe’s coming semester in July- all so we were prepared for August to be my great month of convalescence.

The procedure required 2 surgeries. The first surgery placed a wire near my sacral nerve (at the base of my spine) and all the other wires were left on the outside- taped to my body. It was a long, disgusting, painful week of not being allowed to shower and trying to keep from accidentally ripping wires out of my body. (Lovely, right?) The second phase was 7 days later and placed all the wires on the inside (and made showering possible again!). It was a LOT on a body that isn’t exactly high functioning to begin with. Even though I had spent the summer preparing to be out of commission during August, I was still a little shocked at how hard it all was. The first surgery I was completely sedated, so I had the accompanying chest pain/ sore throat from being intubated. The second surgery was simpler- just twilight sedation. During the second surgery I kept thinking I was climbing beautiful purple mountains with a pink glittery snow falling . . . Every time I would try to catch a snow flake my anesthesiologist thought I was in pain and would hold my hand and pet my head. She was seriously messing up my snow/glitter catching game!

It was a lot. One of my shoulders dislocated during the prep for the first surgery. (Doctors aren’t used to patients that come unglued just from scooting from one bed to the other.) There was a small allergic reaction to the IV antibiotics. There was the whole frustration of not being able to shower. Blech. Just blech.

And then . . . it all ended except for the healing process. For six weeks following the second surgery, I am not supposed to lift more than 5 pounds (My dog weighs 10!); I am not supposed to stretch or bend at the waist. I can’t exercise or be in any type of standing water (ie. bath tub, pool). I’m still a bit restricted. Then I developed a fever. Not just my normal “I’m a little tired today, so my body is going to overheat a bit” but a true 101+ degree temperature complete with a lovely rash. I called my doctor, started antibiotics, and stayed in bed even more than I already was.

During all this Joe was doing his best to take care of me. My mom cooked and brought food from 2 hours away so we wouldn’t starve. (Joe tries to cook, but his specialties are limited to break and bake cookies and Hot Pockets.) Joe did laundry, heated up leftovers, shopped for groceries, and bought a lot of grape slushes from Sonic.

Then one night during the first week of healing after my second surgery Joe wakes up and says, “My stomach feels weird. I’m going to sit in the living room a little while.” He gets out of bed and starts heading that direction, and then I heard a huge crash- a train load of elephants type crash. It was nighttime; the house was dark. I just assumed he had knocked down the full length mirror or hit the towel rack. I chuckled until I realized the house was eerily quiet. So I yell out a half-hearted, “Are you okay?” I really assumed he had bumped into something. It didn’t occur to me that anything could be wrong until he didn’t answer. I flipped on the lamp and saw that Joe was sprawled across the floor- clearly unconscious. I jumped up and ran to him. Joe came back into consciousness with an earth shattering sneeze (weirdest sound I’ve heard in my life) and tried to stand up. Before I could get to him, he passed out again- banging his head on a door frame in the process.

In a scene that would be totally fitting for a sitcom, Joe came to with another crazy sneeze (What’s with the sneezing anyway?) and sat up as I was trying to get to him. Remember that I’ve just had surgery; even at top speed, I moved slowly. Joe sat up just as I got to him and then fainted again. This time I was close enough to catch him and lower his head to the floor. At some point during all this, I realized I was in WAY over my head. I felt for a pulse, and I couldn’t even tell if his heart was still beating. I couldn’t lift Joe; I couldn’t even hold up his upper body to keep him from falling over. I had to have help. I called 911. You don’t realize how terrified you are until you reflect back on your emergency calls. I was saying pathetic things like, “Please hurry. Tell them to come quickly. I’m scaaaarrrrrreeeedddd!” Now, in my rational mind, I know that the dispatcher was not going to tell the ambulance driver, “Drive faster. This sick person has a scared wife.” But, when you’re scared and desperate, you just want to do all you can to try to get help.

The paramedics showed up in under 15 minutes, and they loaded up Joe. During this time he started vomiting. Given that he couldn’t move without fainting, that meant there was a huge mess but it was hardly the time to worry about that. I had to follow the ambulance to the ER which was a little terrifying because I was battling my own need to faint. We arrived at the ER; Joe was taken back for a head CT because he had bumped his head. It was all absolutely terrifying.

Here’s the thing. I’ve been in Joe’s place. I’ve been the one that is sick and hurting. I’ve been the person waiting to hear results from scary tests, but I’ve never been the spouse of that person. It’s HORRIBLE. I would have selfishly traded places at any point. When you’re sick, all you have to do is be sick. You’re in survival mode. You just keep breathing and hoping the pain goes away soon. When you’re the spouse, the weight of the world is on your shoulders. In my case, the weight of the world was on my broken down, faint, and nauseous body. I had to be Joe’s advocate. I had to make sure he was getting the best care possible. I was in charge of telling the nurses when he needed more nausea meds or needed another blanket. I had to ask for help getting him in and out of bed if he went to the restroom. I had to contact family members and update them on Joe’s condition. I had to remember to ask someone to take care of our dog. Those were my jobs.

Ultimately, Joe was fine(ish). He had a terrible stomach virus. We knew he had been exposed to a virus, but we didn’t expect it to present so dramatically if he caught it. He was released after a very long and frightening night in the ER. He came home, and I had to be in charge. I had 2 surgeries within 7 days, and I was still the healthiest person in the house. I had to be the one to clean the massive mess from Joe’s middle of the night sickness. I had to set alarms and take Joe medicine. I had to ignore any issues I had going on for a few days to deal with the more pressing issue at hand.

Joe was so terribly and frighteningly sick. I would never wish the terror of checking for your spouse’s pulse on anyone. It was awful. I’m nauseous just thinking about it. But in the most terrible times of life, there are moments of clarity. Joe is my husband. I made a vow to him and to God that I would always do whatever I could to love him completely. In that one horrible night (and a few days that followed), I was Joe’s lifeline. I had to put my own “woe is me” health concerns on the back burner, because it was most important that I care for him. I also realized that Joe is required to drop all his concerns to care for me pretty often. I didn’t realize how that feels. I didn’t know the stress of having to be an advocate, and a caregiver, and communicator for someone who is too ill to do those things for himself.

Coming out of this experience, I have a new respect for what my husband and family have had to do for me many times. Caregivers have a tough and unenviable job. I also have a new respect for what my body can do. I often feel like I’m not very useful to anyone. Even though it was a terrible way to have to prove this to myself, I was so very glad that when Joe needed me I was able to step up to the plate. The last few days I keep saying that I don’t understand WHY I am so exhausted, but as I write this I realize I probably have plenty of reason to feel extra tired.

Yes, I get it. This isn’t as light hearted as most of my posts, but it’s been such a huge part of my life lately that I wanted to share it with you. I promise, we’ll get back to making fun of all things sick-ish soon.

Peace, love, and health, friends.