Rheumatology Appointment – 30th November, 2017: Changes I wasn’t expecting.

I had a funny feeling that something was going to change or happen at this appointment, I’m not sure why, but the last time I had this feeling, my whole treatment plan changed. It could just be that I’m a superstitious person, but so far that feeling hasn’t let me down. Although the change is only minor, it was enough to irk me.

If I’m honest, I was already in an irritated mood, it was snowing with bitter winds. Which, I admit, sounds like a stupid reason to be annoyed but when Raynaud’s sets in and you can’t feel your own limbs, you get irritated. I think I made it worse for myself by imagining the things I’d rather be doing than trekking to the hospital in snow and winds.

There’s something about the waiting room which depresses me, either because it’s a room I’ll spend so much of my time in or because it’s a hospital waiting room – probably both. I sat and read a mind numbing celebrity gossip magazine until I was called by the nurse for the routine checks of blood pressure, weight and urine.

I was expecting all 3 to come back clear as they usually do, which my weight and blood pressure did but for the first time my urine did not. It showed positive for protein, something usually not to worry about but I have researched mostly everything you can about Lupus and I know that protein in urine can be an indication of kidney involvement. I asked if that was anything to worry about and the nurse told me that people can naturally have protein in their urine and there’s usually nothing to worry about. She wrote my details on the bottle, I assume the sample went to the labs for further testing.

I struggle immensely with figuring out what is significant enough to tell my consultant, there was 6 months in between appointments this time and I think it’s too long. I decided that the most significant issues were the two bad flares I’ve had since my last visit.

I started with the flare that was caused by a viral infection, the flare that resulted in a visit to an out of hours doctor. I mentioned that the doctor I saw had said I needed steroids to get the flare under control but I could only get them prescribed from my consultant. I wasn’t surprised to see my consultant look a little puzzled by that. He confirmed my suspicions that, if I need steroids, my GP can prescribe them.

I proceeded to tell him about the flare that was so prolonged that I thought it would never end, the flare caused by insomnia. I explained that I slept for 10 hours in a week. I told him my joints were painful and swollen, that I had headaches and pretty much any other symptom you can think of, he said no sleep for that length of time will do that to me. I have spoken to him about poor sleep in the past which he confirmed is all part of Lupus.

The appointment moved onto the usual questions, are you still having regular headaches? “Yes”. Are you still having joint pain and aches? “Yes”. Have you been getting rashes? “No”. Slight lie, I have but they don’t stay long and ironically after the appointment, I had two – both on my face.

One of the hardest things for me to overcome and it’s something that I’m still trying to overcome, is that I’m not a pain in the bum to doctors, family and friends. Which means, admitting that you don’t think your current treatment plan or dose is working as best as it should. Which brings me to the part of the appointment I wasn’t expecting…

Are you having more good days? “No”. Are they mostly bad days? A thought flickering through my head to be honest with the doctor trying his best to help, “yes”. There was a slight pause in the conversation and then he told me he would like to increase my dose of Azathioprine. He asked me if we should increase it to 125mg or 150mg. It’s was like he was asking if I wanted the small bag of sweets or the large bag. I was more in shock because in the past I was told the dose would more than likely never go above 100mg, and if it were to be raised, doctors would need to be cautious due to low TPMT test results. I shrugged and said “I’ll leave that decision to you”.

He raised the dose to 150mg and lowered my appointments to 4 monthly. He handed me a prescription, a blood test form and a form to hand to reception. As I was leaving he said the sentence that irked me “your blood tests are now fortnightly”. It had taken over a year to just get to the 3 month mark for blood tests and now I’m back to fortnightly. I know nobody is to blame, but it’s annoying.

I went to the hospital pharmacy and then on a hunt for the biggest bag of Maltesers I could find…I found a bag and I also found Toblerone and I’m yet to find a regret.

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The Daith Piercing: has it worked?

My conclusion regarding the effectiveness of the daith piercing is long over due, it’s been pierced for nearly 2 months. During that time, I haven’t encountered any major issues, in the last week it has felt a bit sore but nothing excruciating, more of a bruised sensation. I bought a bottle of TCP to clean it and it’s been fine since.

Since we’re on the subject of cleaning, I’ll state now that it has been a truly awful piercing to clean. You cannot see where you’re putting the cotton bud, which resulted in me getting annoyed with myself and having someone else clean it for the first week. I was told to use cooled kettle water and salt to clean it, I opted to use Epsom Salts rather than normal salt. I had to use the salt water for two weeks and cooled water alone for a further two weeks.

Healing wise, it’s doing well, a week after it being pierced, I totally forgot it was there which resulted in “oh shit, I need to clean my ear” moments. The piercer told me I wouldn’t be able to sleep on it for a while, but 2 nights into it being pierced, I was sleeping on it fine. It caused no pain or discomfort and in the first week, it bled once but it hasn’t since. Cleaning aside, it has been one of the easiest and pain-free piercings I’ve had. And for those wondering, you can still use in-ear headphones with the piercing.

But, has it worked? I’m pulling an ‘erm’ face whilst writing this bit and as you read on you’ll see why. In the first 2-3 weeks, I still had headaches but oddly enough, only on the right side and nothing on the left side (it’s the left side that is pierced). However, I then suffered a bout of insomnia which snowballed me into a long flare. The flare was so prolonged from my usual flares that I asked the question of “am I even in a flare or has my lupus just got worse? Can that even happen?”. The headaches started back up on the left side during the insomnia period, but I gave the piercing a pass because the headaches were the result of exhaustion. However, after being prescribed sleeping tablets and sleeping a decent amount, the headaches didn’t disappear and I’m still suffering some degree of a headache daily.

BUT, and this is why I’m sat on the fence, since getting the piercing, I haven’t had one migraine. I usually have at least 1-2 a month that can last days but it’s been nearly 2 months without one. Sure, I’ve had bad headaches but nothing that requires me to stay horizontal for days or makes me feel like I’m looking directly at the sun when there’s a light on. But, this could just be a lovely coincidence because if it’s stopping migraines, why isn’t it stopping headaches?

My conclusion is that it might be affective if you suffer from migraines alone. But, let’s be real, I have several auto-immune diseases, a piercing was a long shot if medications weren’t working. If you were debating the piercing, I’d still try it because what doesn’t work for me, might work for you.

For the sake of £20 I gave it a go. I have a nice piercing though, so it isn’t a loss or waste of time…every cloud has it’s silver lining and all that!

Dear Lupus,

I hate to admit it but, you’re smart. You play hide and seek tremendously well, nobody believes me when I tell them I’m sick, you can even hide yourself when I have my blood tested. But, I have to ask, do you hide because you’re a coward? Or is hiding fun for you? Is this a game to you? Because, to me it’s not a game, it’s my life.

Why did you choose me? Did I do something wrong? You should of introduced yourself gradually, that way, I would have stood a chance at understanding you. For months, I was left confused, angry and upset at what was happening to me. I don’t frighten easily but you frightened me, all because you wanted a head start and introduced yourself too quickly. But, you like that don’t you? You like me to be frightened of you. It’s been two years, have you figured out that I’m no longer frightened?

It isn’t me that is causing the chaos, it isn’t me that declines invites and it isn’t me who cancels plans. I didn’t want to attend occupational health appointments, I didn’t want to be medically resigned from my job at the age of 21. I didn’t want to sit across from a nurse and answer questions, did you know my answers were scored? I was scored so they could see how sick I am, which is difficult to prove because you hide. Don’t you see? I’m judged daily by people who barley know me and by those who are meant to be close to me. Judged by people for YOUR actions. You think you make me look weak, but let me give you an analogy: you hide whilst I’m showing my face, smiling through the pain you cause, smiling when I know fine well I’m being judged. There’s not one person on this earth who can see you. Although I can’t see you, everyday I feel you because you demand to be felt.

What gives you the right to hurt people? Not only do you hurt people physically but you destroy them mentally. What’s enjoyable about reducing someone to tears because they can’t take the pain you cause for much longer? You make people feel useless, worthless and a burden to their loved ones. I can safely say, I have felt all three of those emotions. You have caused me so much pain and emotional discomfort that I’ve been curled into a tight ball on the floor and sobbed my heart out. It’s not just me you hurt, you hurt my loved ones, do you think they enjoy watching me walk around in a permanently exhausted state? Do you think they enjoy watching me suffer in pain? They don’t, and part of me dies when I see and hear the worry on their faces and in their voices. It leaves me feeling guilt ridden, guilt ridden for something beyond my control, guilt ridden for you because you feel no guilt.

They tell people you’re unpredictable, and for the most part you are. But, everyday for the last two years, I wake up and expect pain. And everyday for the last two years, I have received the pain I had expected. Sometimes I can bear the pain you cause but sometimes I think you’re too strong for me to fight and I start to believe this is a battle I have no chance at winning. But, that is a temporary thought because I’m playing you at your own game and I will only let you win for so long.

What exactly is your plan? It’s clear to me that so far this has been child’s play and you can and will do worse. The doctors and researchers tell me that death by you isn’t common anymore. But, that’s not to say you won’t try, will you eventually grow bored of me and give it all your might and end it? Because I will fight back with every fibre of my being. I’m too stubborn to go down without a fight. Did you really think I wouldn’t research you? From day one I’ve known you have the power to kill me and I even know how you’ll possibly do it. Do you know how that feels? To have a need to read up on things like that? The first few times I attempted to read about you, I stopped each time death was mentioned. It was tormenting.

Thank you, yes, I just thanked you. Because you have taught me many lessons, one being that you must find the positives in every situation no matter how tough and devastating those situations are. I have found a world of incredible people, people who battle you and other debilitating illnesses everyday. I have gained an eye that can see pain that isn’t visible to the majority of people, I have gained a level of empathy most people couldn’t fathom. I have realised it’s not the things we own that matter, it’s the people around us. I have gained strength and I carry hope with me everyday and I will never let it go. It’s likely I wouldn’t learnt these things without you, but these are things you can’t take from me.

I’d love nothing more than for you to leave, but you’re here to stay. Whatever you try and however hard you try, always remember that this is my body and my life. I’m done with you taking things away from me and no matter how much pain and devastation you cause: I will not give you the satisfaction of giving up.

Regretfully,

Emily Holling.

The Daith piercing: does it work or not?

I’ve been debating getting this piercing for a while. I’d think “yes, I’ll get it” and then I’d think “there’s no way a piercing could help headaches/migraines”. It does sound odd, a piercing alleviating headaches and migraines, but apparently it’s a pressure point, so it’s almost like having permanent acupuncture in your ear. During my research for it, I have found people claiming it has also alleviated their anxiety.

I’ve never been the kind of person who would wait for a piercing or spend time researching them. Through my later teenage years, when parental consent was no longer an issue, getting a new piercing for me was just a ‘fun’ thing to do. I don’t know how getting a needle through part of your body is classed as fun, but it was. I have gone through many, my nose was pierced around 6-7 times, I’ve had my tragus and cartilage pierced, my belly button and tongue. The only ones that are still remain pierced are my belly, tragus and tongue.

So why am I now holding out? Is it because my phase of spur of the moment piercings is finally over? Or is it because I’m genuinely skeptical that this will work? It’s probably a bit of both. It’s also not a piercing I’d say is ‘pretty’, if I wasn’t sick and didn’t have daily headaches I wouldn’t be contemplating it. It’s a piercing to me, that looks randomly placed – as if the wrong part of the ear was pierced.

I have asked fellow Lupus sufferers if they have tried it out, some saying it’s the best thing they’ve done and others saying it was a waste of time. I guess, its falls on the individual in regards to it working or not. I suffer from headaches nearly everyday, whether it be a normal headache, a pressure headache or a migraine. So, for my own curiosity I have decided to get it pierced.

I plan to get it pierced at some point next week and I will be writing a series of post regarding the effectiveness of the piercing.

(Also, please keep me in your thoughts because I have a feeling it’s going to hurt like a bitch).

I recently had one of my worst flares to date…

The start of August wasn’t great, my Lupus intensely flared up. I picked up a virus and due to that, it went haywire causing an array of issues. I’m late writing about this, it happened from Saturday the 5th of August to, well, now as I’m still recovering. You unfortunately don’t wake up one morning recovered from a flare, it can take days to weeks or even months to recover.

Friday the 4th, I was my usual self, maybe a little more fatigued than usual but nonetheless – nothing dramatically wrong. However, that night I slept dreadfully, I fell asleep around 3am but even then I woke every hour with a nauseous feeling. Every time I woke up, the sun was getting brighter and at around 8:30am I decided to just get up. I sat outside with a cup of tea and by 9:30am decided to try go back to sleep, as soon as I got into bed I was back up and vomiting. By 12pm I had vomited 3 times and had given up on sleep entirely.

Sunday the 6th. I woke up, from another sleepless night and feeling worse. This was the day my Lupus started to rear it’s ugly head. I was sat drinking water and I was almost certain I was about to faint, luckily I didn’t. But, I was shaking, my head was pounding, my joint pain was relentless and I started vomiting again. Just keeping my eyes open was exhausting and I couldn’t bare the thought of moving. I couldn’t even tell you what conversations I had and with who that day, I was so exhausted and in pain I can barley recall the day. What I can recall though, is it was the first time since my diagnosis that I rang out of hours for help. I was taking Tramadol and even though it dulled the pain, it wasn’t helpful and I was still suffering. They told me I had to see a doctor and on the way there I said to myself “I can’t be bothered with this illness anymore” because I genuinely didn’t have the energy to try and fight back. I wanted to curl in a ball, cry and honestly, disappear. Luckily, I was the only one in the waiting room so my wait was less than 5 minutes. The doctor took my temperature and it was raised, checked my ears and listened to my chest and they were clear. He checked my throat and he said it was red, he had me do a urine sample which was also clear and he checked my stomach which was sore as he pressed down on it. His diagnosis was a virus or the start of laryngitis, since the visit my throat hasn’t got worse so it was a virus all along. He couldn’t prescribe me anything stronger than Tramadol, so he prescribed me more to keep taking. After the checks and prescription were done he had a chat with me, he told me I need to get my Rheumatology appointment brought forward and told me that I really need to go on steroids. As soon as I heard the words “you need steroids but I can’t prescribe you them” I wanted the ground the swallow me. From the start of my diagnosis, I have been dead set against going on steroids unless I’m told I will die without them. I am yet to bring my Rheumatology appointment forward for the fear of being put on steroids.

This week has been rough. I’ve eaten next to nothing, my joints have been so sore and my fatigue just doesn’t seem to be improving – it feels like I’m at a dead end.
I try my very best to stay optimistic but this week has tested me, I’ve found it very difficult to take part in everyday activities and do basic tasks and I’ve felt extremely low in mood. I hate the thought of people thinking I’m snappy or horrible, I try my best to not be and it’s for those people I try my best to keep a smile on my face. My mood is slowly improving but I’m still struggling with a lot of pain, aches, headaches and nausea, but thankfully I haven’t vomited since Friday.

It’s the first viral infection I’ve had since being put on immune suppressants, which is good going as I have been on them since November. I was told I would more than likely constantly catch viruses and bugs. And, because of my lowered immune system it’s taking longer for me to shift it.

I can only hope that I start to properly improve this week. This has probably been my worst flare to date.

Misconceptions about Lupus.

Lupus is a poorly understood illness and when you're on the poorly understood territory, a few misconceptions happen. This is because the people who know about it are a minority compared to those who don't. The main point about this blog is to not only share my journey with Lupus but to also educate people about the illness. I have decided it's time to write a post about these ridiculous misconceptions, so here are 10 cleared!

1. You will NOT catch it.
It's not the common cold. It's impossible to catch it. Lupus is not a special strain of invincible bacteria, it's a majorly confused immune system. So next time you're in the company of a Lupus sufferer, shake their hand, or give them a friendly hug and maybe even share food. I can guarantee you'll leave as healthy as you came.

2. Lupus is NOT cancer.
I can see why people believe this one as chemotherapy is sometimes used to treat Lupus. But, you'll be glad to know, it's definitely not cancer.

3. Only women can get Lupus.
It is more common in women so maybe this is where the confusion has stemmed from but men can also suffer from Lupus.

4. Women with Lupus can't have children.
Although we will be classed as a high risk pregnancy and have an increased risk of miscarriage, women with Lupus can indeed carry to full term and have a healthy baby.

5. Lupus is easily diagnosed.
It's not a case of visiting your doctor and walking out an hour later with the diagnosis. There isn't a singular test to confirm Lupus so testing can go on for months to years with countless blood tests, questioning and physical examinations. It isn't a diagnosis given out easily and it's an extremely exhausting process to have to go through.

6. It's not real.
How could an imagery illness have the power to do so much damage? Everything we feel is real, Lupus is 100% real. Ask the scientists who research it.

7. We will get better.
There is research going on but there's very little funding for Lupus research so unless the scientists have a eureka moment, we will remain incurable.

8. Lupus is uncommon.
The NHS website even states this. Although most of the people you know are probably healthy, Lupus is not as uncommon as you'd think. Don't get me wrong, it's not the most common illness to have but in my opinion it's not as uncommon as they make out.

9. Lupus is deadly.
20 years ago only 40% of Lupus patients were expected to live more than 3 years following a diagnosis. Although we can still experience complications, we now have a normal life expectancy.

10. We brought Lupus on ourselves.
False. Although many believe Lupus is brought on by certain lifestyle choices, this is not true. We haven't brought it on ourselves. If this was the case, don't you think there would be more people with it and better funded research?

I think I can speak on behalf of most Lupus sufferers that if you ever want to know anything, just ask us. We'd rather you get the correct information and who better to ask than someone who lives with the illness?

There’s been better days. Diary entry: Thursday 20th July.

I've been dealing with a headache for around 4 days now. It seems to change in intensity throughout the day, going from what I'd call mild to intense and sometimes it's just a pressure headache – like my brain is expanding or someone has my head in a vice. I've talked about those headaches in past posts, I call them Red Queen headaches because the Red Queen has a massive head and that's what it feels like.

This past week has been a struggle with fatigue. I'm always tired but the last few days I've been asking myself "is 7pm really to early to go to bed?". My evenings have literally been spent clock watching. I mean, I really should just go to bed when I feel I need to. My body clock is already all over the place so I don't want to mess it up more. Either way I can't win, the end result will always be the same: tired.

I woke up today feeling generally okay, well, as best as I could but things went downhill pretty quickly. I'd say within in an hour or two of waking up I started flaring. This is what I dislike the most about this illness – it changes with no warning, you think "today feels like it's going to be alright" then the next thing you know, you're curled up in a ball on the sofa wondering where your 'alright' day went.

It started with a throbbing pain in my right knee, the throb was accompanied with a sharp pain. Then it quickly went to both elbows, the only pain I really get in my elbows is a sharp pain and the pain travels down my forearm like electric shocks. It's very typical of my knees and elbows to hurt, it's the joints my Lupus affects the most. Pain in my shoulders is less common, but today I had the worst pain in my right shoulder. It was a burning sensation mixed with a sharp pain, it started so suddenly and out of nowhere (like nearly everything this illness throws at you). It was the burning sensation that made it unbearable, fortunately the sensation didn't last long but the sharp pain decided to stay for the day. It's also sending a dull ache down my upper arm. So today, my full right arm has been affected – not so helpful when you're right handed!

I was sitting waiting to see if any of the pain would subside but nope. It wasn't letting up and I couldn't sit in pain any longer so today has been a codeine day, which I'm sure my headache will thank me for later. And by that I mean, I'll probably wake up with a blistering headache tomorrow, what's new? I'm due another dose in an hour and a half and it can't come quick enough. It's helping but not fully, it's just taking the edge off it all.

It still mind boggles me how any part of my body will start hurting, it's as quick as turning on a switch. Some parts of my body hurt briefly, like the soles of my feet but then it'll move to my legs or fingers. Although I'm writing about my joints, because those are the areas that have consistently hurt, nearly my whole body has been affected today. It just gets tiresome when there seems to be no break from pain.

I spent the day curled up on the sofa with
a blanket and my dogs in a codeine haze, having little cat naps and drinking tea…all whilst trying to get my head around the new season of Orphan Black…that's not a show you should watch whilst on codeine.

What a day! There's always tomorrow. As always, thank you for reading xo

Lupus and being abroad: diary entry 5. Would I recommend it?

I’m back in little old England, I landed at 5am this morning after the most dreadful flight – a toddler screaming for the majority of a 4 and half hour flight isn’t what anyone wants. I started travelling last night at 10pm Turkish time (8pm British time), so it was a long night of waiting around and what seemed like endless security checks at Dalaman Airport. 

I was awake for just over 24 hours, which is a risk in itself with already having chronic fatigue, you never know if forcing yourself to stay conscious for such a prolonged period of time will cause a flare up. For me, it usually does, I’m currently feeling extremely fatigued, aching, headache and I keep getting waves of nausea. 

Before I get to the whole “would I recommend putting yourself in blazing heat with a illness that hates heat” discussion I thought I’d recap on my final two days.

Thursday: Wonderful, despite the temperature reaching a firey 40+° and me being on codeine for joint pain in the knees. I was under a parasol for the whole day and yes, probably completely oblivious to the fact the temperature felt like fire around me due to being on codiene. It was our last day on Coco Beach, we stayed on the beach until the Garson no longer took orders. I honestly couldn’t tell it was that hot but again, codeine was clouding my mind. On the evening we walked around Icmeler, catching up with friends from a previous year of holidaying. It was just a lovely day. I took tramadol that evening and slept better than I did the whole holiday. 

Coco Beach.

Final dip in the sea at Coco.

Friday: In contrast to Thursday, this was a horrible day. It was 45°, that’s what the barman told us at around 5pm so during the afternoon it was probably hotter. My day started later, I got to the private jetty at 10:30am. I couldn’t cope. I was in and out of the sea like a yo-yo, as soon as I was out, I needed to go back in. I felt like I was going to hit the deck at any moment. We went for lunch and sat in the shade with cold drinks, that seemed to bring me back around. As soon as we got back to the jetty, I deteriorated again. It’s like a sense of being restless because you just don’t know how to gain control of the symptoms you’re experiencing. In the end I left the jetty and went back to the room and laid on the bed for about 30 minutes, I took a shower and then started packing. There’s absolutely no way I could of sat in the sun any longer. As you know, by nighttime I was embarking on my long journey home. It was an extremely long and tiresome day. 

Would I recommend it? Yes. Do it, go on holiday. Lupus strips us of so many things in our lives. We put up with so much, we’re beaten down by our own bodies daily – why shouldn’t you be rewarded for being a total badass and fighting yourself daily? 

Yes, there will be bad days, but don’t feel guilty for needing to go rest in your room or sit in the shade. If I’m honest, I spent the majority of my holiday in the shade, I didn’t put myself in the sun for prolonged periods of time, if you do that then you are asking for trouble. I understand some Lupus patients suffer a considerable amount in the sun and their rashes turn to big blisters, it’s a no-brainer on why they avoid holidaying abroad. I do suffer in the sun, it does bring me out in rashes but not the extreme scale that it blisters. If you react moderately well in the sun, try it. It’s 14 days out of 365, you have nothing to lose by trying it. So what if I flared? I was going to flare anyway with the damp weather in England. Instead, I chose to flare in the sun and a waiter brought an ice cold drink to my lounger. You see, that’s the point, we flare in cold weather and we flare in hot weather…we can’t win. 

Some people are probably still wondering why I did it to myself, I technically brought bad days upon myself. Why? Why did you make yourself suffer? And the only answer I have for that is I refuse to let this illness control every aspect of my life. I will never bow down to it. And I certainly will not let it frighten me, not now and not ever.