Still a Single Road at Times

Aside

In 2013, my second post was very short.  It was entitled “As single road at times”.

My posts back then were very short.  They were a lot about how I was feeling, how we were learning to live with this condition strange new called Primary Adrenal Insufficiency (Addison’s Disease).

It was May 2013 that I began to Blog.  In the last 6 years a lot of things have changed.  But a lot have stayed the same, we have just learned to accept them and adjust to them.

Going to live performances, etc alone has become a new normal.  I buy 2 tickets, and find someone to join me if Derek isn’t up to it.  This could be a big show, or one that our children are performing in.  Adjusting things so that we can go together has also become a “thing”.  Whether that is by buying a matinée performance ticket instead of a night time one, or making sure he has a full day of rest, including a sleep, we will do what we need to, to keep going.

In May last year Derek had a set back.  It was serious but it wasn’t obvious.  A few blood tests went haywire for no obvious reason, he became a lot more tired than normal, and other subtle differences occurred.  Despite this we carried on with life.  We continued planning our big adventure overseas.

We did the trip.  It was extremely tiring on Derek.  We did a lot of walking with him using a walking stick constantly.  We would walk, stop for coffee, walk, stop for a cold drink, walk, stop for a few photos, walk, stop for an ice cream (they make great ice cream in Europe).  You get the picture.

Derek has been more tired than usual since getting home.  It’s now 6 months since the trip and he is still a lot more tired than he was before May last year.  So we have made more adjustments.

We have learned from that trip that you have to choose the fight.  So now, if we are going out and we know it will be stressful, or very tiring on Derek, we use a wheelchair for him.    After borrowing one for an evening we knew would be too hard on him without, he finally agreed that he really did need it.  But not all the time, just for the harder events.  It means that sometimes he can go out, and we can enjoy ourselves together.   I still go out on my own because he is not up to it.  Or we cancel our plans because I don’t want to go alone.

What we thought was just residual tired from the trip appears to not be that at all.  After having more “crazy blood tests” we began to wonder.  We have now looked at his bloods for the last 12 months, what ever is wrong, has been wrong since his various blood levels went haywire in April/May last year.  But that’s ok, there is nothing we can do except keep an eye on his levels so that is what we do.

The reason we know things have not be right since May is that we keep track of all his blood tests.  We don’t need to go the Doctor to ask, we can see.  We know the symptoms, we know the signs and we can see his “normal” is changing and not for the better.

Having said that, in the words of a good friend who writes an amazing blog, he is clearly alive and will remain so.

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The Half-life of Facts

Aside

I was watching QI this morning. It’s a show where the facts are “Quite Interesting”, and generally obscure.

This morning the episode said something I was so intrigued with, that I rewound it to.
It stated that “At medical college, they usually teach that half of what medical students will learn, will be considered untrue in 10-20 years. This is termed the “half-life of facts”. That is to say that you know that half of the information will be untrue, you just don’t know which half.”

I found that to be Quite Interesting. Enough so that I decided to look the fact up, and see if there was any truth to it.

Samuel Arbesman, a mathematician at Harvard, titled his new book “The Half-life of Facts”. When talking to the Economist, he stated:

For example, in the area of medical science dealing with hepatitis and cirrhosis, two liver diseases, researchers actually measured how long it takes for half of the knowledge in these fields to be overturned. They gave a whole bunch of research papers from fifty years ago to a panel of experts and asked them which were still regarded as true and which had been refuted or no longer considered interesting. They plotted this on a graph. What they found is that there is a nice, smooth rate of decay; you can predict that every 45 years, half of this particular sort of knowledge gets outdated.”

But why am I citing an article in the Economist. Because you probably know a Dr that is still using that 50% of knowledge that is now outdated. Yet they treat you based on that knowledge.

According to Dr. Michael Gold from the Medical University of South Carolina; To paraphrase:

The half-life of medical knowledge is seven years.”

If Dr’s are not keeping up to date, they may be treating you based on what is now outdated knowledge. We have found one such Dr in the guise of the Medical Advisor of one national Advocacy group

He trained 50 years ago. Based on the half-life of facts, if he finished his training in 1970, by 2010, almost 50% of what he learned is outdated. Some of that is “knowledge” is still stating as fact which is on the groups public webiste. When we recently questioned this knowledge (which we showed with research papers to be obsolete) we were told by the Advisor “I don’t care.” (words in writing).

This attitude by the “Medical Avisor” of a major Advocacy Group for a rare condition leads to several questions.

  1. Why is he holding the position? Is it just that it has some kudos?
  2. How does his obsolete knowledge help patients today to live a better life when other Doctor use that “knowledge” to treat the patient.

Knowledge is Power, but obsolete Knowledge is DANGEROUS!

Continuing education is key to good Doctoring. And that continuing education must include reading recent research on the conditions they are treating and accepting that just because it goes against what they have been taught, doesn’t mean it is wrong, or that the Dr researching and promoting the new information is doing it “for ulterior motives”.

Next time you speak to your Dr, ask him the date of the last Research Paper was that they read? If it is before 2000, then there is a better than even chance that half that knowledge is obsolete, or will be in the next couple of years. Ask them if they have heard the term Half-life Of Facts.

Some will agree, others will get upset because they will be reminded that they are not as up to date as they should be, and others will probably refute the statement, or get angry about it. Most likely the latter, are so well past their half-life with knowledge, that they should perhaps be ignored completely.

But What Cost, a Medical Misadventure

When the Medical Side is Under Control

4 years on from Derek twice having his warfarin stopped by a hospital who’s excuse is “Oh, the Dr didn’t realise the importance of bridging” and we have, with very little help from them, managed to get Derek as stable as he will ever be.

 

We have got his Adrenal Insufficiency as under control as it will ever be.  We have worked out through experiement, what dosing works for him (and it’s not what they say in the books).  We have added other replacement medication (DHEA, Vit D) which is helping.  We are learning the symptoms of low cortisol.  We should have learned, we see them frequently.  Derek updoses as he needs, which is different to stress dosing when sick, and how to stress dose (double or triple HC) when he IS sick.

He is being driven to work, although he works mostly from home at the moment.

But what is the unseen cost of the medical fraturnity almost killing him?

It’s the costs they don’t compensate you for.  It’s the cost of things he can’t do any more. The things we now need to pay to get done.  For some it is things like having to employ a builder, for others, it is having to downsize their home, pay a cleaner, pay a gardener, or just not do things any more.

Why is employing a builder a hidden cost of his injury?

Bedroom RenovationBefore Derek suffered his CAPS event we used to work together to do renovations to the house.  This included turning our downstairs bedroom, shower room, and toilet, into a Master Bedroom with ensuite.

The cost of this exercise was extremely low.  We paid just for the materials used.  We paid a very small amount to have 2 power points moved.  We worked weekends, nights, and took a few days off work.

Top Left is the entrance foyer of our home.  You can see the door to the shower room, and the door to the downstairs toilet.  The bedroom is the door to the right.

Derek built the new wall (back of new wardrobe).  He then demolished the old wardrobe, we gutted the room, insulated, relined, and created a new Master Bedroom.

This was done a year before CAPS.

We have done a couple of small outside projects, with a lot of help from others including building a garden and a garden shed  and an deck outside the dining room.

Derek designed the deck, but we had to call on friends and family to build it.  It is an amazing asset,  and again, we paid for materials, and food for workers.  The help to build these things was fantastic.  But what about the bigger projects. Something the size of the Master Bedroom.   Like a kitchen?  Or insulating the Living Room?

We are looking at selling our home in a few years and find something slightly smaller.  There is a lot of new building going on around our area and we have to have our home at the right level to get the right money.  That means insulation in the Living Room is essential, as is a new kitchen.

Once upon a time we wouldn’t have thought anything of it.  We would have just purchased the materials, contracted a kitchen manufacturer to make the cabinets and bench top and over a period of a couple of months, done the work.  But not now.  And it was too big a job to ask friends to spend 2 days building.

So we had to pay a builder.  He is a great builder, with home renovations/alterations as his specialty, but still, we had to pay.  We have had to pay him for a lot of the other “little” jobs around as well.  Things that would normally take a weekend for Derek and I to do, now either doesn’t happen, or Chris comes to our rescue, but at a price.

So, Chris came in and gutted the lounge.  He then built a new ceiling, insulated the entire lounge, relined it.  We had to get a plasterer in to paint.  We had to get a painter in to paint it.

As for the kitchen.  It is a great Kitchen, I love it.  But again, we kept Chris employed where we could would once have done much of the work.

Gutted KitchenWith the help of a friend we did remove the old kitchen.

Most of the kitchen was still in good enough shape to be used elsewhere.  It was after all, a Designer kitchen.  It just wasn’t a well designed kitchen.

Our friend agreed to remove it with her and I doing the bulk of the work including carrying the units down to her trailer, taking them to her place, and putting them in her garage, for her to have installed in her home.  Derek did the little bits.  He unscrewed units from each other, and supervised, or held things while Sian and I did the hard labour.  Thank the Lord for Sian.  She has a new kitchen and Derek didn’t end up overdoing things.

But once everything was removed the walls were a complete mess.  Patches here and there.  Holes in the wall.  No insulation,  It had to be gutted.  We also needed to install a new window as one of the windows was sitting below the height of our new bench.

 

rebuilding

Chris, working hard (instead of Derek)

Enter Chris again. It wasn’t a big room.  For someone fit and healthy, which Chris is, it was a 5 day job to put up new ceilings, new wall lining, and install the new window.  Working along with the plumber and electrician it took 2 weeks in total.  Inbetween that, we had the kitchen company come in and install the units and bench top.

Then Derek and I could do some more work.  Well I could do some more work.  Derek “supervised”.  I plastered, sanded, and painted.  Derek did bits and pieces, working as he could, taking extra HC as he needed.  It took several days, with me doing the bulk of the work.  It was hard work, but rewarding.

Once we had the units installed it was time to put up the tile spashback behind the sink, and along the bench top.  Again, Derek cut a few tiles with a motorised tile cutter, and I did the installing of them.

KitchenFinished

The Finished Kitchen

All Up, for the living room and kitchen, it cost us $10,000 for work that 5 years ago we would have done ourselves.  This was the cost of employing a builder for work that Derek was once very capable of doing, and in a good timeframe.

So what is the hidden cost of a medical misadventure.  So far in the last 12 months it has added up to $10,000 and rising.  This, you do not get compensated for.

 

I understand that others would already have to get someone in for this, but when it is something you would have previously done yourself, it makes a difference. It certainly made a difference to the cost of the Kitchen.

For others it may be something different but there will always be hidden costs that are not compensated for, or that have no real measure and that are not thought about when it comes to the cost of a Chronic, or unexpected illness.

 

 

 

Frog in a Well

frog

Did you ever go to a dance and try to slow dance on a crowded floor with the aim of just getting from one side of the hall to the other? Have you found that each time you moved in one direction, you ended up further back than when you started? You are moving, and think you are going forward, but when you look up from focusing on dancing you see that you have moved in the wrong direction?

This is what it can be like with Chronic Illness.

Derek has been trying to get his fitness up. Each time he tries, he gets sick, either a cold, general fatigue, pneumonia (this last one). It takes a long time to recover from each illness.

The problem is, he takes 1 or 2 steps forward in his fitness, and bam, he is knocked down with something. It then takes him a month to recover enough to try and get fit again. The problem is, that month has not only taken away the fitness he had achieved, but it has also wiped out another part of what little he had started with.

For example, we have recently bought him a Fitbit. It’s a fancy pedometer.  We set it so that each day Derek must do 6000 steps.

When he began, he could easily do 5000, and had to make a little effort for the last 1000. He got pneumonia 4 weeks ago. He went from doing 6000 steps daily to nothing for 3 weeks. Now he is struggling to do 4500.

You see, he is swimming against a strong current. He is not only having to start again, but he is starting a little further behind where he was. And the more he tries to get back to his 6000, the harder he has to push himself, and the more chance he has of getting sick again.

This doesn’t mean we are giving up. He is doing other things to try and improve his leg muscle tone even when he can’t get out and walk far.

I read a post by a teenager with 3 Chronic illnesses today who was talking about the fact he may not be able to do his chosen sport of boxing any more. He likened it to Muhammad Ali who, when knocked down in a fight, and everyone thought it was over for him, Ali got back up, took one punch at his opponent, and knocked the guy out. He had decided that being down for the count was not for him. Nor was it for the brave teenager.

And that is what most people with Chronic Illness do every day. Something sucker punches them, they lay there for a minute, take stock, then get back up fighting. They may not have a lot left to fight with, but sometimes it only takes one punch to win the fight.

The battle still goes on, one fight at a time.

As Derek and I dance on this dance floor of life, we dodge some things, we get blocked by others, we get pushed backwards by yet more. But eventually we WILL make it all the way across the dance floor.

 We won’t dance around the floor because even moving forward you end up right back where you started from and where’s the challenge in that. It seems a wasted effort to me.

What Happens When Doctor’s Don’t Know Everything.

Over the last year one thing has become very clear.  Dr’s don’t always know everything.

We recently went to our Dr to ask about the fact that Derek was not feeling great.  After being told several times that he should not be taking extra Hydrocortisone just because he was feeling fatigued, or unwell, or had a ball of gastric wind under his ribs.

Because of this, he stopped taking the extra “stress dosses” of HC and began charting his BP instead.  After 6 weeks of readings at 4 times each day, we went to the Dr.

We found that his BP will go into a clinically Hypertensive range of 154/96 with a 68 heart rate one day and clinically Hypotensive at 94/59 HR 101 the next.  Just the effort of standing, and the change of position could have his pulse rate jump by anything from 40-60bpm (up to a 90% increase), where it should only increase by 20%.

Derek had been trying to get back to a semblance of fitness, so we organised through ACC, to have a schedule of fitness sessions with his Physiotherapist.  The physio was doing the starting assessment, and found out about the problem with his BP and would not touch him without clearance from the Dr.

Armed with the readings from the previous 6 weeks we went along to the Dr to ask if he knew what was happening and why.  The first thing he did (and all kudos to him) was to admit that Derek was the one and only “Addison’s” Suffer he had ever dealt with, and didn’t know that much about Adrenal Infarction and the complications of it.

He looked at Derek’s medical records.  The Endocrinologist had written that at some point, and probably without warning, he would need his fludrocortisone increased.  So it was decided that perhaps a change of Fludro from 0.05 to 0.1mg per day could work to stabilise it.

Home we went, armed with the hopeful knowledge that it was the fludro out of sync that was probably causing the large difference in BP.

We tracked his BP for another week.  There was definitely a change in pressure and heart rate.  It continued going higher during the day, but falling further overnight.  It had also become more erratic.

OK, so 0.1 wasn’t the answer.  So go back to 0.05 but twice a day.  We had seen on various forums where others had had some success with this option.

Another week of tracking and another change in BP (or not).  Still heading upwards during the day and downwards at night and still no real pattern for week days and weekends.

We returned to the Dr with this new information.  He agreed that the extra fludro wasn’t doing anything positive so we should go back to 0.05.

He also had the results of some blood tests.  There was nothing markedly different from last time.  Kidney’s still not at a great level, everything else seemed fine.  Potassium and Sodium all comfortably within range.  Thyroid a little wonky but he has no adrenals so it is not unexpected, and not sounding an alert.

The Dr agreed that it was time to refer him back to his Endocrinologist and to a Cardiologist.  So we now wait for an appointment.

While we wait however, we don’t just sit here doing nothing…..

And the mystery continues.

Along with his BP and HR issues, he also can’t take a fright/shock or be startled now without “crashing”.

We decided we needed to get to the bottom of it.  Thinking it was BP related we went out on Saturday to go for a drive, taking the BP monitor with us.  One of two things was going to happen.  Either nothing would happen to cause him an adrenaline rush, or someone would do something to force me to break quickly and sharply, which would give Derek a fright, and I would get an adrenaline rush.

Thankfully the latter happened.  Derek was on the phone, and didn’t see the car in front of me that started to pull into another lane, and then started driving in both lanes, blocking everyone.  I had begun to speed up as we were going 20-30 km under the speed limit.  A little late, I realised he wasn’t pulling all the way over, and I braked harder than intended.  I got a little adrenaline rush as I thought for a brief instant, that I may hit him.  I felt my heart start to beat a little faster and harder.  I got a tingly feeling around my chest.  I am sure we have all felt it.

I asked Derek how he felt.  I could tell immediately that he hadn’t had an adrenaline rush.  It was obvious that it was going to be another drop.  I continued driving for about 2 minutes, until I could find somewhere safe to pull over.

We took his BP and pulse.  It was perfectly normal.  Almost TOO normal. His pulse was in the low 60’s.  Yet we could see, and he could feel, the usual symptoms.  Headache, feeling slightly ill, couldn’t keep his eyes open, felt weak, his speech went quiet, it slowed down.

We continued home (5 minutes away) and checked his BP when we drove in the drive (before he got out of the car).  It hadn’t moved.  His pulse was the same and his BP was within 2mmgh/l of the first reading for both systolic and diastolic.

We continued checking it every 10-15 minutes for an hour.  I had to wake him to do it as he went to bed and just lay there, unable to talk, or really communicate.  Still there was no change in his BP or pulse.

We are none the wiser.

So we are going to try his glucose levels next.  The problem is, we have to wait to see what happens with a fright.  Unfortunately I can’t just make a very large sudden noise and frighten him myself, as tempting as it might be.

We have done a lot of reading on the topic of the Adrenal Medulla and epinephrine/norepinephrine.  There are definite links to these hormones and stress.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of research into what the effect of not having an abundance of these hormones does.

Adrenal medulla

The inner part of the adrenal gland is called the adrenal medulla. The adrenal medulla produces hormones called catecholamines such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. Catecholamines play a role in the response to acute or sudden severe stress, for example during life threatening event.

Catecholamines are responsible for the palpitations (racing heart), sweatiness, widening of eyes and shakiness of the hand when faced with sudden fear or other stressful situation.

This information is all over the internet.  What we can’t find is what happens when this process doesn’t happen properly and you don’t get the palpitations, sweatiness, etc with sudden fear or stress.  Does the body skip to the next section (rest and digest), or is it part of the process fails but another part kicks in, and then is not switched off because again, the Medulla has failed it’s job.

It is very hard when you have a rare condition, one that is so rare that little research has been done.

If we could find an answer to what is happening when Derek faces the sudden stress perhaps we could find a way to reduce the impact but the Dr’s don’t know and we don’t know how to get them to investigate.  In the meantime, we are having to do it ourselves.

Dr’s don’t know what to do with Derek.  If anyone has an answer please let us know.

One Size Dose NOT Fit All

If there is one thing we have learned in the last 9 months it is that where Adrenal Insufficiency (Addison’s) is concerned, One Size Does NOT Fit All.

We have met other addisonian’s on line, from NZ and other countries.  They are all different in how they manage their condition, how much Hydrocortisone they take, or which other corticosteroids they take to replace their Cortisol.  It also varies on when they take it, when they “stress dose”, why they “stress dose” etc.

Derek is slowly learning what works for him.  We ask others with more experience what they do, and then work out if it could be of benefit, either by trialing, or by “assessing the benefits”.

One thing we have found out is that “Stress” is different for everyone.  Derek finds it stressful getting to work in the morning.  Since he has had a Taxi to work, he is feeling a lot better.

He also finds meetings where he is not the person with the knowledge and experience, can be extremely stressful.  When he is in a meeting at work, or with a client discussing their needs for individualised versions of  his Security software, he is in control, he knows what he is talking about, so he does not get as stressed and can normally manage such meetings without “stress dosing”.

When he is in a meeting with  someone where they “have the upper hand”, or they are controlling the meeting, it is a lot more stressful.  A Job interview, a phone call to make a complaint as a consumer etc, are all stress triggers for him and he needs to Stress Dose.  Others find just dealing with their Dr causes high stress levels.

We have also found that the standard “You are this height, take this dose” also doesn’t fit everyone.  In fact, it’s a shame the Dr’s don’t realise it doesn’t fit anyone.  There is no consideration for what you do for a living, what your home life is like, what other medical conditions you may have that your body is working hard to control.

And then, just for the heck of it.  Something happens (like you get older) and you have to change the amount you take because your circumstances have changed.  You no longer have to get yourself to work, your have moved into a house with no garden work to do, you get a pay rise so can get a house keeper, your kids leave home (one day please).  Any thing can change your routine to a point where you need to take extra, or, if you are lucky, can reduce what you take routinely.

Addison’s, like many, is a hidden condition. You don’t know someone has got it unless they tell you, or they collapse in front of you.  On a good day, they look “Normal”, on a rough day, they look tired, on a bad day you don’t see them because they haven’t got out of bed.

The only time you would notice it is if they are in a stressful situation or they have overdone things and they start to “crash” in front of you as their cortisol levels drop, their blood pressure drops, their ability to “function” drops.

I have watched this happen with Derek recently.  He was fine, talking, thinking, interacting, with life and zeal.  I turned to look at him and I could see him going down in front of me.  His speech had slowed, his eyes were a little sunken, he looked like he had been through the mill.  He decided to get up from his seat to get some more HC and found it hard to stand.  His blood pressure had dropped.

It can happen quickly.  The good news with this event is that when it happened, he took the extra HC and an hour later he was feeling better.  He woke up the next morning feeling well enough to go to work.

The speed an Addisonian recovers from stress is proportionate with how they are feeling pre-stress.  If they are unwell, it will take a lot longer to recover than if they were feeling good before hand.