It’s Your Choice.
We are determined that for Derek, we will get Better. To get Bitter would mean bad health, constant hospital visits, and probably the end of our marriage.
I have been reading back over the medical records of Derek’s Hospital stay, starting with his Diagnosis of Cancer in May 2012.
I have been reading everything with new eyes. Not the eyes of someone investigating what went wrong. Not the eyes of someone needing to prove failures in the system but with the eyes of someone who is reading for the first time, what actually happened to Derek.
It is bringing back interesting memories of sitting by his bed being told he is going to die, being told he was the 2nd worst off patient on the cardiac ward and they didn’t know why. As a side note, the worst patient was rushed to ICU an hour after Derek had been told that by the most Senior Dr on the ward. Four years on it is finally safe to relive what happened without anger, fear, or distress.
Now it is what it is. We have travelled the road of the mourning process you travel when you suffer a serious loss. We have both come out the other side. If you are able to, looking back to see how far you have come can be a good thing. It’s something everyone should do when they have a major crisis in their lives. But it must be “safe” to do it. And for Derek and me now, it is safe.
Over the first 3.5 years I have read the medical notes trying to find specific things. I missed a lot of what the nurses said in their daily reports. I missed the real struggle Derek went through, how sick he was, and how bad he still was when he finally left hospital.
He will never be the man he was in 2011. We have mourned that loss. Now we are working on what is left. Learning what we can improve, and how we can improve it. And just as importantly, learning to live with what can’t be improved by learning to work around it.
The biggest challenge was, and still is, trying to make the medical staff understand that we KNOW he won’t get better, but if we don’t know what is wrong, how we can work either with it, or around it. There is a belief with some professionals that, if it can’t be fixed, you don’t need to know how bad it is, or sometimes even what it is.
The best example for Derek is that I began complaining while Derek was in hospital in 2012 that he had new issues with swallowing. I told every medical professional we spoke to. I became a cracked record, repeating the same thing over and over. But it wasn’t until I got angry with the medical fraternity as a whole in 2015, that they finally did a swallow examination and discovered that he does indeed have dysphagia. It is reported as mild, but also acknowledged that it will be worse when fatigued, or sick. The problem is, one of his main symptoms is fatigue. So we had to know.
It also turned out that the reason he would get throat infections and not know, was because he has no feeling on the left side of his throat. Now that we do know, we have worked out what foods he can eat when he is feeling good, vs what foods he can’t eat when feeling tired. It’s not about who’s at fault, or should they have done the investigations earlier. It’s about keeping Derek safe because when he gets tired he chokes, and now we know why, we can work around it.
Derek and I came to that point where we had a choice.
We went for a second opinion in 2015. We had ideas of what else we could do to try to improve his QOL. We also wanted to try and keep him out of hospital. He has come close a couple of times since 2014, but we have managed to keep him out.
How? By talking to other sufferers of the condition, following the latest research, and learning to listen to his body.
By being proactive in his care, not leaving it to the medical world to fix or forget.
For 2 years we became like a stuck record on a lot of his symptoms. The common question was BUT WHAT IS CAUSING IT? Why did he always choke, why did he get so tired when taking the recommended replacement steroid doses, why did he get sick every time he suffered a fight or flight reaction (an adrenaline rush). Why was he ending up in Hospital every time he got sick.
We know why he chokes now, we know that the text book answer for replacement steroids 3 times per day (an idea from 1973 which most Endo’s still follow) is wrong. We know that when you get a fright you get an adrenaline rush. But it also causes a call on cortisol to bring your body back from the fight or flight. This is not something the Endo’s tell you when talking about “stress dosing for illness injury”. We learned by trial and error. We learned the difference between UP dosing, which is taking a little extra steroid for a one off situation and STRESS Dosing which is in the books and requires 2 or 3 times your daily dose for several days because of serious illness, injury, or stress like a family death.
So we have made changes to his dosing. We have changed his eating, we have moved to 4 times a day with hydrocortisone, although we are considering 5. The latest research out of England says maybe 6x/day and no more than 4 hrs apart would be ideal. We have included DHEA, which is something most Endo’s don’t even consider for men, yet it is the most prevalent pre-hormone produced by the adrenals.
And we are getting on with life. Medical appointments are now just annual routine follow ups where we tell the Dr’s what Derek is are currently doing, and how it is working. We tell them what he has tried that hasn’t worked.
Otherwise he is at the GP’s because he is sick. Sometimes we don’t know what is wrong, we just know that things are not right.
He still has problems. As I write this he is sick and has been for 5 weeks, with what was for me a simple cold. It lasted 5 days for me but for him it became a full on chest infection which he still hasn’t recovered from.
If Derek was working in the Office, he would have worked from home for most of that time, but because he was already working from home all week, he has been able to work for most of that time. If he wasn’t able to work from home, he would have had to take sick leave for 2-3 weeks.
He has to take extra cortisol just so we can go out at night. This is something not in the books. It has been learned from trial and error. The trial being taking it, the error being not taking it and ending up sick for days afterwards. We have learned that Derek needs to rest the day after we go out, to recover.
He is not the man he was, but looking back on how sick he was 4 years ago and the major insult his body received, we realise how far he has come.
In those 4 years we have both changed and we both understand a lot more about both the medical condition and the lack of knowledge by the medical profession, for what is after all, considered a rare condition.
We have also learned the truth about the bogus condition that attracts all the “natural health professionals” that promote snake oil for Adrenal Fatigue.
We have learned people that inform us that Derek can stop steroids if he takes their snake oil, that the only way to shut them down is to shut them up with scientific fact.
Like anyone with a Chronic Illness Derek has good days, and bad days. He has days when he can’t get out of bed, he has days when he can do things around the house. And that’s fine, because after 4 years, that is what we know is the life of the Chronically Ill.
It doesn’t matter the illness. If you learn about it, you can learn to live with it, and go from being Bitter to being Better.
Please note when I say BETTER, I don’t mean WELL. I mean learning what your limits are, and learning to manage them so you can be the best your Chronic illness allows you to be.