Category Archives: Life’s Travails- Big and Small

More Drugs and Dust, Part 2

At this point, my symptoms got even more complicated, because I didn’t know if they were related to my illness or the drugs that my doctors were prescribing.

EKG

My new blood pressure medicine worked by reducing my heart rate—to 46. Forty-six! I was afraid that my heart would forget what it was supposed to do from one beat to the next! I looked up “low heart rate,” and it said that sometimes people in very good shape have low heart rates. I considered that for half a second and admitted, “Nah. Probably not.” I called my doctor, and she told me to cut it in half. That helped a lot. In the meantime, the itching from the hives was becoming unbearable and the swelling continued. Of course, I was going through the usual allergy questions: laundry detergent? Soap? New foods? Nothing seemed different. The next time I showed up at my doctor’s office, she sent me to an allergist. Since I had had another bout of laryngitis caused by throat swelling, she got me into his office that same day.

As usual, I got lost in downtown Raleigh. Arriving at the allergists’ office completely stressed out, I found a practice full of people who see patients reacting to mysterious and sometimes invisible substances in all kinds of ways all day long. No big deal. To me, it was a very big deal. In the past, I’d known that I was allergic to cats and latex. Solution: Do not touch cats or latex. Boom. Done. Now, I didn’t know what was going on. My preternaturally calm doctor and nurse decided to send me out to a lab for blood work, and then see me again in three weeks for a follow-up. They couldn’t do allergy tests that day, since I had had Benadryl (newly purchased!) the night before, but he was going to put me on a daily dose of a prescription antihistamine that would allow me to work. I launched into probably the most ridiculously condescending speech of my life (and there have been a few), saying that my goal was not to add another prescription medication to my daily routine, but rather to identify the problem and to eliminate it. The doctor was admirably restrained, and said that that was his goal, too, but that sometimes that was not possible, and it was certainly not going to be possible today. I was most unhappy. I was even more unhappy when, after more than two weeks, the five vials of blood I donated that day turned up nothing but a dust mite allergy.

Dust Mite

These critters are all over your house, your car, your office– you name it.

Three weeks after that appointment, I was scheduled for allergy tests. I had to go off my now-beloved antihistamine for five days before the appointment. Within three days, I went from symptom-free to completely symptomatic. Even though we had bought a new mattress, box spring, and pillows, there had been no change in the hives, which mostly started in the wee hours of the morning. Fifty-five allergy tests later, I could see that I was a little bit allergic to cats and extremely allergic to dust mites. Talk about welts! The best thing that happened in that visit is that my husband accompanied me, so he got to hear three different professionals say, “You should never dust or vacuum by yourself.” One went so far as to say to David, “Maybe you could do that?” I asked the doctor if he thought I could get Blue Cross to cover a maid, and he replied, “I can’t even get them to cover Zyrtec.” He admitted that he did not think that dust mites could be the complete answer, and neither did I. He noted that I had recently switched from name-brand Synthroid—which I had taken for fifteen years— to the generic levothyroxine, and said that the inactive ingredients in the generic sometimes caused these symptoms. If that was the case, I would be only the third patient he had ever treated with that allergy.

Would I be that rare patient?

Stay tuned….

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Of Drugs and Dust, Part 1

One bulging cheek

Some days, I looked kind of like this guy, only not as cute.

One morning in January, I was talking to a colleague when I realized that I was biting on my lower lip as I spoke. A trip to the ladies’ room mirror showed me that my lip was swelling up. It went away after a few hours, but on the way home that evening, I stopped at a grocery store, and walking into the store, I was concerned that when I coughed, it came out as a squeak. Checking out, I could not answer the clerk, so I drove to urgent care a couple of blocks away. The doctor there diagnosed me with the laryngitis virus that was going around then, and opined that the swelling lip was unrelated. I believed him, since I had several co-workers who had had that very virus.

It was not a virus.

A couple of weeks later, I had a regularly-scheduled checkup with my primary care physician, and I told her about the urgent care visit, and said that the facial swelling had continued, now accompanied by hives, mostly in the morning. She asked about stress in my life, and I said, “Let me see. We’re financially stressed, my son moved out in December after a prolonged closing, we’re in the midst of rearranging our house since his move, my mom fell and broke her hip on Thanksgiving and is now in rehab…” and on and on. So, yeah, my life was a big ball of stress. She put it down to that, and I believed her, since hives are a typical sign of stress.

It was not stress.

A couple of weeks after that, I was still having hives and facial swelling, and had even had to take days off from work because my face was so disfigured many times when I woke up in the morning. A lot of my stress factors had been relieved, but my symptoms hadn’t gone away. I came home early one day because of a winter storm, and as ice fell outside, my throat started to swell up. I was terrified, since if I could not breathe, I didn’t think an ambulance could get to me on the ice-slicked roads. I searched for Benadryl in our bathroom closet and found that our bottle was two years past the date. I took it anyway, and in a couple of hours, the swelling went down. I went to my doctor the next day and she immediately took me off my blood pressure medication, Lisinopril, as my symptoms are a typical allergic reaction to that drug, even though I’d been on it for ten years. When I told this to a group of people the following week, I didn’t even have to name the drug. Everyone in the room said, “Oh, I’ll bet it was Lisinopril.” I was so relieved to have found an answer.

But it was not Lisinopril.

To be continued…

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The Goochland Inquisition

Spanish InquisitionIn one of the more outrageous examples of government overreach—and the field is crowded—the Goochland County, Virginia, school board decided to hold inquisitions for every fourteen-year-old homeschooler in their district. This story has me so incensed that I hardly know where to begin.

Virginia law allows parents to teach their own children by either filing a letter of intent or stating a religious exemption. I am not very familiar with Virginia law, but it seems that the religious exemption option would lead to less government oversight, whereas the letter of intent requires some reports of progress. Therefore, for those families who are religious, taking the religious exemption makes sense.

Doug and Carla Pruiett

Doug and Carla Pruiett discuss the homeschooling law with the Independent Sentinel

On January 9th, according to this article, among others, the Goochland school board ruled that when a child being homeschooled under the religious exemption reaches the age of fourteen, they have to make a statement of faith within 30 days of their birthday. If they do not comply, they burn at the stake. No! I made that up. Seriously, their parents can be criminally prosecuted. Furthermore, if the school board has any misgivings about the statement of faith, the child can be called to testify before the school board. In my opinion, it is cruel to force a fourteen-year-old to defend himself—and, by extension, his parents—in front of a bunch of adult strangers.

There are so many problems here. The first is that this governmental body seems to be under the impression that it owns this child, including his soul, and is only allowing the parents to be caretakers for the state. While I might, grudgingly, concede that there are truancy laws in this country, and that parents should make some assurances to the local school board so that they won’t worry, let’s keep in mind that compulsory education in institutional schools is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was not until 1852 that Massachusetts became the first state to pass a law requiring the towns to build grammar schools and force parents to send their children for at least 12 weeks every year—and the parents were not happy about it! Today, if anyone sees a child accompanying her parents anywhere during “school hours,” they will ask her, “Why aren’t you in school?” As if our children are born incarcerated.

Here is how responsible parents should interact with the local school board when they plan to teach their children at home.

Parent: “Hey, we’re going to homeschool Suzi Q. next year, so you don’t have to expect her at the local public school.”

School official: “Thank you for letting us know.”

That’s it. Just informing, not asking for permission, because they’re your kids!

The second, screamingly ridiculous problem is that the school board is setting itself up as a theological examining board. Is an M.Div. a requirement for Goochland School administrators? As I understand it, the point is to see whether the child agrees with her parents’ religious convictions, and if not, the school officials would probably consider themselves the great liberators of this child from her parents’ backward notions. If your fourteen-year-old has cemented his spiritual convictions already, he should go set up his own church. Most of us find this to be a lifelong journey. Furthermore, I’d give my last indulgence to watch the school board respond when the child stands before them and says, “My parents are paedocommunionists, but I have to confess that I am not sure that their position can be supported by Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.” If they could figure out what that meant, would it be grounds for terminating parental rights? Will they start in on straightening out all those quibbling denominations next?

It is so ironic that this is happening in Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, in a letter to the Danbury Baptists:

Thomas JeffersonBelieving with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

Many people misinterpret this “wall of separation” to mean that the church cannot interfere with the government, but it was obviously meant to affirm that the state cannot interfere with the church. Jefferson wrote this letter in response to one he received from the Danbury Baptists in which they worried that the state was going to collect taxes from them to support a state church, which would probably have been Anglican, but in any case would certainly not have been Baptist. Jefferson reassured them that this would not happen, based partly on the First Amendment to the Constitution.

It was announced Wednesday, after the case was taken on by the Home School Legal Defense Association and became national news, that the Goochland School Board suddenly realized that perhaps this was not such a good idea after all. We should all be alarmed, however, that this incredible bit of arrogance ever passed a vote by people who were at least respectable enough to have been elected to their positions.

I fear that the people of our nation have become too willing to surrender their rights to those in power—or if not their own rights, the rights of their neighbors. Perhaps they think that it could never affect them, but the government is a ravenous creature, ever seeking more power and never satisfied. Freedom of conscience and freedom of thought are enormously important to our liberty. In the same way that I do not have to enjoy Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons to support their right to publish them, we do not have to agree with our neighbors’ religious beliefs or educational choices to support their right to live according to their own values. Not only does the government have no right to decide whether our religious beliefs are correct, they have no right to even ask what they are! And they certainly have no right to question our children’s opinions about this or anything else.

Teach. Believe. Be vigilant.

__________________

Spanish Inquisition drawing from Getty Images.

Photo of the Pruietts taken from the Independent Sentinel website at http://www.independentsentinel.com/virginia-school-board-demands-home-schooled-teens-justify-their-religious-beliefs/, accessed January 14, 2015.

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Zoom Zoom Zoom

2014-12-25 18.44.56Sometimes, when we expect things to be really difficult, they’re worse. I knew my time between Thanksgiving and New Years would be challenging, since I had all of the usual holiday obligations and activities, plus our county’s annual booksale, plus our son’s move out of our house into his own house, but there was more! On Thanksgiving, the very first day of holiday festivities, my mom fell and broke her hip. It was almost eleven o’clock at night, and she just turned to get up from her chair, and over she went. We followed the ambulance to the hospital, where the staff very kindly ignored the fact that some of us had obviously been celebrating quite a bit and were wandering aimlessly around the emergency area. Everyone was fine by the time we left at six in the morning, and we all spent much more time over the next few days than we ever expected at the fabulous Parkridge Hospital (Resort & Spa?) while Mom had surgery. Seriously, I have never seen a hospital this gorgeous, with marble floors, fountains, and firebowls in the pools. Mom is still in rehab, but she was able to come home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for all the festivities. Here she is on Christmas night, snoozing after a big day.

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Our county’s annual book sale took place two weeks later, and all the normally sedentary librarians had the experience of standing, walking, and carrying 450,000 books on a concrete floor all week long! We shared naproxen sodium tablets and tips for easing muscles. I began a love affair with Blue Emu. For those of us in administration, it was a fun time of customer service. Who doesn’t love a huge building full of readers?

2014-12-21 15.33.35Our son was happy to move into a new townhouse, and his realtor’s wife was happy to have a December closing!* His move was somewhat more stressful than anticipated, though, and was delayed several days. Here is a Public Service Announcement: When you buy a phone from AT&T and ask to make payments, they open up a $5000 line of credit for you! Our son did not know this, but his lender found out the day before closing. Even though the new phone was paid for, he had to produce a document that proved that the credit line was closed, and that document had to cross numerous desks before he closed. Because of that, he ended up moving the furniture in the middle of the week, when all of his helpers were at work. However! He now has a lovely townhouse located right near the city—just where he wants to be. First order of business: Get that NC State Christmas tree up with just a week to spare!

In the meantime, I now have a guest room and a craft room! We moved all of Michael’s furniture out of his office, along with three truckloads of furniture and stuff from the garage, and then we started cleaning. I took every single book off the three ceiling-to-floor bookcases, dusted them, and placed them on the floor. When each bookcase was done, I wiped it down, and then David pulled it out and vacuumed behind it. Then I put every single book back on the shelves. Ten thousand squats! I could hardly walk the next day. We cleaned up an antique chest of drawers and moved David’s grandmother’s dining room table in there. It had been in the garage for three years! Murphy’s Oil Soap is a wonderful invention. I spent some of the Christmas money I received from my mom on art supplies and moved all of my old art supplies and my sewing machine into that room. While I was looking for old paintings, I found a substantial length of dark red fabric, so I turned it into window treatments and a matching seat cover for the chair. I rounded up some favorite mugs and repurposed them, too. Here are some before and after photos.

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Like most of you, we also spent more time than we would ever want staring at the television screen, stunned at the news. People were in the streets in Missouri, New York, Paris…. The mind boggles.

Even with all the undecorating and return to work, we did find time to grill salmon in the dark,

2014-12-28 19.09.51

make the best New Year’s Day pork roast ever, thanks to Ina Garten’s Make It Ahead cookbook,

Make It Ahead and sip tea in our new teal tea pot,

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also compliments of my mom. I’ve spent some time on resolutions and plans, which I will share with you in another post, coming up soon. Here’s hoping for a nice, dull 2015.

______________

*Note: For those of you who didn’t know, my husband was our son’s realtor.

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Yew Might Be a Redneck…

2014-12-07 18.53.49We’ve spent two days here trying to get a respectable Christmas tree up. First came the fluffing of the branches: assembling my mom’s old artificial tree, with bits of greenery snapping off as we go along. We have a whole grocery bag full of detached fake spruce segments now. After that, it was pretty late last night when we were trying to string the lights. I said, “If we can just put the lights and the garland on, we’ll finish decorating tomorrow.” Michael was at a birthday party by this time, and David’s and my Christmas Spirit tank was on E. Plug in first set of lights: half-dead. Second set: ditto. We threw away three sets of lights.

Today, refreshed and renewed, we bought lights and all three of us gathered ’round. The lights and the garland are now on, but just as I pulled out the first package of balls, my son said, “But Dad! Shouldn’t we try to put it on the stand before we go any further, since the clamp broke?” Me, shrilly: “What? What clamp? What?” David, calmly: “No problem. I’m going to duct tape it.” And he proceeded to do just that, as you can see. Here’s hopin’.

However, decorating has come to a complete halt, since we carefully removed every hook from the decorations last year and sealed them neatly in a zip-lock bag. If you happen to see a zip-lock bag full of hooks, please let me know. We’ve searched all the way up to the attic, but my living room floor is still fully decorated with hookless ornaments.

Merry Christmas.

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Call Me Eowyn

House of HealingThis is probably the longest stretch between posts that I’ve ever had! We have been holed up here in the House of Healing for the fall. I returned to my doctor last week to receive a clean bill of health, although I have to remain on Nexium until the Saturday before Thanksgiving. If I have problems after that, it’s swallow-the-light time. However, I feel so much better that I hope for good things.

TrubioticsRight now, I am on a kick in which I eat everything with good bacteria in it, since I have effectively killed every bit of bacteria I ever had with nuclear doses of antibiotics. Eating bacteria on purpose has never been a goal of mine before, but now I can direct you all over the grocery store for gut-gratifying foods. The pharmacist recommended a 30-day course of TruBiotics, the One a Day brand probiotic supplement, so that was step one. I already eat Fage yogurt every day, and I decided that I would also drink kefir, since I used to drink that in my ‘70s health food days. GoatLet me just say that the fruity—obviously sugary—kefir that I drank then was much more pleasant than unsweetened kefir, which is a serious assault to the taste buds. I’ve tried sweetening it up with different things that are acceptable to diabetics, but , well, *shudder*. Sauerkraut that is found in the deli section, as opposed to canned sauerkraut with vinegar, is also filled with busy little creatures.  The hot dogs I’ve eaten it with are probably not so healthful.

A few weeks ago my son went in for some minor surgery, so we’ve been worrying over him and helping as much as we can. We are all getting better here! We have had flu shots! We have excellent digestive health—barring any unexpected Ebola outbreaks! Soon we will have our fireplace tank filled with kerosene, and we will be ready for the snowy winter forecast!

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That Little Burn Might Be Telling You Something

FlamesC.S. Lewis, writing in Mere Christianity, says that a person who seems to be a grump may really be someone with a bad digestion, whereas we may believe that we are “nice,” when we actually just enjoy good health. None of us know what’s on the inside of another person, so we shouldn’t judge. At the end of all things, we will see each person without earthly complications:

All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.*

How true it is that a bad digestion can change your perspective on life! A few weeks ago, I started feeling some mild heartburn. Now, that may not seem like a big deal, but people on low-carbohydrate diets don’t get heartburn. This is a well-kept secret, but it’s true. My husband used to suffer from heartburn pretty regularly, but when he eats low-carb, he never does. Try it. You’ll see a change pretty quickly. However, it is difficult to go to the doctor with mild heartburn. She’ll look at you blankly, tell you to take Tums, and think that you’re wasting her time. But it had been years since I’d felt this burn, so I worried that something was wrong.

About two weeks ago, the heartburn exploded into fire. We had had a tailgating dinner on Saturday, with stuffed jalapeños and chipotle hot dogs, but I only had mild discomfort. On Monday, we had leftovers for dinner, and there really weren’t that many, so I thought I’d be fine. A few hours later, I was in intense pain. Around ten o’clock, I couldn’t sit down any more, and I paced the floor until four in the morning, with breaks to look up symptoms of “heart attack in women” and “gallbladder attacks.” It was awful. I actually got to sleep at about 8 AM, sitting up on the sofa.

Urgent CareNow, a normal person would go to the doctor after that, but I put it down to spicy food and decided I’d be fine. For the rest of the week, I just had that mild burn, but it was there all the time. On the following Saturday, I woke up feeling as if I’d drunk scalding hot soup, and it had scarred my esophagus all the way down, and all the way up into my sinuses. We went to urgent care—for hours. One of the first things the doctor said to me was, “You thought you were having a heart attack, so you went on the internet?” Hey, I am a librarian. That is how we roll. Every problem can be solved by research and reading. After doing an EKG to rule out heart problems (thank goodness), he handed me this little cup of nasty pink stuff that made me feel as if a dentist had anaesthetized me all the way down to my stomach. It was horribly lovely. He did a few more things, and then opined that it was an ulcer, and that I should go to my regular doctor for a blood test for h. pylori bacteria.

Of course, that led me to the internet. According to WebMD, 80-90% of all ulcers are caused by the h. pylori bacterium, and half of the people over 60 in the United States have h. pylori bacteria in their stomachs. It is the most common infection in the world. The discovery of this bacterium’s role in stomach ulcers is very recent: the 2005 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine went to the two physicians who established the link. Think of all the years that people used to spend drinking milk, avoiding spicy food, and trying not to be stressed! Spicy food and stress can stir up your ulcer, but the ulcer has to be there in the first place. More dangerously, untreated h. pylori infections can lead to stomach cancer.

h pylori bacterium

An h. pylori bacterium

When I went to my doctor on Monday, she did the blood test, but also sent me to a radiology clinic for an ultrasound of my gallbladder. I had never been to our new hospital or the surrounding medical plaza, and it is only five minutes from our house! Considering that we live in the hinterlands, that is incredible. I was impressed. The technician told me that she would not be able to give me the results, so I just lay there and watched the screen. Did you know that your insides are always moving around? It’s like a sci-fi movie in there. As I watched, I became concerned at the dark spots I could see, but I didn’t want to ask. Eventually, just before the end of the exam, I said casually, “So, what are we looking at?” She cheerfully answered, “This is your liver.” In my mind, I screamed, Oh, my gosh! My liver is full of holes! I must have some kind of parasite that’s digging holes into my internal organs! Then she continued, “And these dark spots are your blood vessels.” Whewwww!

After waiting several days for all of the results, my scan came back clean. I now know that my liver, gall bladder, pancreas, and right kidney are in great shape. That knowledge is somehow very satisfying. Not that we need to know all those things all the time, but the state of our internal organs is generally a mystery. The h. pylori test, though, came back positive. The definition of h. pylori sounds like a third-world disease that one contracts from living with swine. However, as I said above, it is astoundingly common. The cure is a nuclear bomb of two separate antibiotics at 3000 mg. per day, plus Nexium. Plus, for women, fluconazole and lots of yogurt. This combination has curtailed any activity outside of my house, which means that I’m working from home and not walking in the park.

NexiumAfter hanging out in my pharmacy for hours last week, I learned quite a bit about Nexium, which I will share for your edification. The urgent care doctor had called in a prescription, and the co-pay, after my very excellent pharmacy insurance, was $85. Yikes! The pharmacist told me that Nexium had recently become available over the counter, so I bought that for $20. It didn’t do much. Five days later, when the nurse at my doctor’s office called with test results, she asked me for the strength of the OTC Nexium, which was 22.3 mg. The prescription stuff is 40 mg. Even doubled, though, the OTC price is still half of the prescription price, and Wal-Mart sells it for $3 less than the drug store. Now that I’m taking the right dosage, it is my heartfelt belief that Nexium is a beautiful thing. No more pain; just a continually full feeling and the sensation that what I eat (mostly pills) is not getting all the way down. The weirdest side effect of the antibiotics is a nasty taste in my mouth in the morning, and I’m not sure if it’s the drugs or rafts of dead bacteria washing ashore on the back of my tongue. Bleh.

You may have noticed from the blog that I’m getting a lot of reading done. It’s amazing how much more time you have when you take away the getting dressed, packing lunch, driving to and from work time. I’ll keep on posting the reviews! In the meantime, I’ll try to remember C.S. Lewis’ advice and never again dismiss stomach troubles as no big deal. As a matter of fact, I keep telling my husband, “Don’t make me stressed, now. Remember that I have an ulcer.” He rolls his eyes.

_______________

*There are so many editions of Mere Christianity, but in my 1952 MacMillan paperback copy, this quote is on page 86. It is Book 3, Part 4.

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