Advocating

She used to tell other girls

Sista! Stand up for yourself!

And when others needed her voice

She lent her ROAR

Don’t be quiet and let them walk over you, she cautioned

But when it came to her own

She sat demure, a photo in old box

Doe eyed and blinking

Knees together, ironed hair

Palms touching in supplicate

Head keenly nodding on hot wire

Stomach lurching like unmoored ship, drunk on the dream of voyage

All the while

A scream building inside

NO! NO! NO!

I am not a number to be parceled and coded

Spat out and told, we have no answers, for we have no understanding of the soul

I FEEL and in the night, if you listen closely at my door you’ll hear me pray

To every spirit and four leaf clover, even, the lopsided rabbit in my arms

As time flickered away with each new day of sickness

She needed an advocate

To be her unguarded voice

Which had become lost

In all the twists and turns.

And the tall doctor

He was no mind-reader

He had his well rehearsed routine and could if needed, click his ankles in mid-jump

She wasn’t easy to label and dismiss

Nor did she want to be, a compliant good girl

She wanted to question until they dragged her out into the street

Writhing to the sound of her own outrage

That we are abandoned by medicine in our most desperate hour

Leaving unhealed like scabs, without voices, our ill tended shadows

She wanted to understand

And find ways that didn’t involve dependency upon pills

He was a blonde marionette, testing his overbite

Talking in her head, Yak yak yak

The sound of chomping wood and splinters for lunch

She heard no future

Unless she spoke up

But where was her tongue?

Where had it gone?

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Papier-mache

e23b1d77a3144773d37a060c30b340b9--the-velveteen-rabbit-being-ugly

They said, keep the blinds drawn, what we have to say, isn’t good

they lay her down on a white sheet and beneath, the hammered metal hummed

the bulb in the middle of the room, behind linoleum, sung a hissing song

their white-coated pluck and scratch, indifferent and sterile, she was just, flesh and blood

another in a long line of patients who, largely were forgotten, consumed by a machine, uncaring of individual

she could feel the dried corners of her eyes crack, as she looked left and right

someone once told her, adult survivors of abuse, find it hard to relax

they are always looking for what is crawling out of cupboards

she didn’t want her past to run her future, but now it seemed, her future was in doubt

never before had she felt so alone

the petty bravery of moving countries, seemed a facile thing, for children who didn’t yet know, true terror

surely it is easy to be brave when you have no war, and are just posting letters

she lived like that for so long, running from childhood’s sadness, enjoying the wide open space of adulthood

thinking she had all the time in the world, surely growing older was for another life

it wasn’t entirely selfish, she did her part, but there was always the tendency to want to make up for the past, by living without a care

and then it was no longer that way

impossible to ignore, unable to let go of, she was swiftly consumed and irrevocably changed

even if tomorrow the cloud lifted, she would never walk as lightly as she used to

the power of naivety, ignorance is surely, our dearest friend

now her heart beat fast all the time, unable to still, the surge of emotions inside

she was a rabbit in her burrow, smelling fox

she was no longer the quick silver of a girl, without terrible knowledge

days were unbearably long, and serious, like the frown on an old man’s face

they spoke of compromise, a series of steps, faltering and bursting apart and trying over

it was as if all of her was removed and pummelled into earth and made to rise again

never was it more silent, never did she wish for the phone to ring and something to let her out of the nasty trap with jagged mouth

words are just words, she could have said; I am strong, I am going to fight, but in the next breath she may

simply not be able

and that lack of, that inability, like a prison, or a sudden dismemberment, was, a kind of horror she’d never been creative enough to imagine

like being stolen from yourself, and hearing in the distance, the sound of children dancing

to your favorite song

if life is indeed a battle, she thought, this is where I need to buckle down

put aside my tendency to want to climb out of the window and skip the lesson

stifle the longing to run fast, in the opposite direction

everything so far, had brought her to this point, it wasn’t what she’d imagined

instead, she’d hoped by now, she’d have found her groove, begun as humans tend, to build her fortress

it wasn’t time yet, it wasn’t nearly time yet

and all the days she’d squandered, thinking there would be more

all the long drawn out machinations, to position herself and be ‘responsible’

denying the lustre of living

she’d put off joy so many times, in favor of ‘sensible choices’

where were those now? She berated herself for not having taken

more vacation, more experiences, that glass of wine, danced on that table top

she worked for a future, she may never get to experience, sure she felt bitter, angry at her lack of insight

though most believe, we’re never ready for bad news or, the fall of favor

we think we predict worst case scenario but that’s only an anxious mind

seeking to control the uncontrollable and unknown

nothing prepares you for a premature curtain fall

nothing shores you up to deal with catastrophe

we muddle through or we give up

those are the only two ways we journey

when the wet-ass hour comes tolling

she felt a grief for her bad choices and wished, like others she could have no regrets

it is hard not to regret when you’re cut off from everything

difficult to look forward when the present is biting at your ankles

she wasn’t one to pray for herself

but she did now

she prayed for the strength she felt she didn’t have

she prayed not to feel so isolated

cried thinking of how many before her, went through this darkness alone, their hearts aching to be cared for

she was a little girl again, looking for her mother beneath furniture

seeing her in album covers and from the top of buses

that woman had her mother’s eyes, large and dark

that lady’s figure is slim and reedy like her mother’s was

at night she wanted to feel the way she imagined a child does

put to bed and told, everything is well, you are safe

if she’d had children, she’d be saying it to them now

but life threw her a curve-ball and she ended up reproducing only

empty rooms collecting dust

perhaps it was for the best, now that she’d sunk so low

for how could she care for anyone, when she could not for herself?

if everything has a reason, she wasn’t sure of this

to teach her gratitude? To punish her for lassitude?

if there was a God she hoped, somehow to end her suffering, even by means of eternal sleep

but she felt bad for praying when so many, suffered far worse than her, and how they coped, she did not know

only that she had to try each day to keep going, in what direction was unclear

she wasn’t sure of the sign-posts or meaning, it was too easy to let fear, guide her way

so many things needed to change and yet, she was tired, so tired of fighting and being scared

they say those brought up unkindly, learn to be strong

she didn’t feel strong at all, she felt like only a thin wind, kept her from collapsing

and all her plans were thrown in water, watching the ink bleed out, with nothing left to find, but papier-mache

her grandmother once told her, out of nothing you can build, entire universes

she tried now to imagine a place, where she would be restored

where all the things she still had to do, remained possible

surely you can tell when, the end of the record is over and, it’s about to go quiet

she hadn’t been able to, she’d one day been carrying her dancing shoes, across the newly waxed floor, her eyes feverish with anticipation

and the next, swallowed by sickness, left without curative

only the static of a cold room and a script for patience

she’d been spat out of the system, left to flounder by road-side

how different, she thought, from childhood where, we do everything to protect them from fear

sewing toys that will keep them company at night

mobiles to send them to sleep, songs to ward away nightmares

and at some eventual point, we decide they’re ready for the real world

full of savagery and disregard and people who are supposed to help

but are only doing the bare minimum

is it any wonder we flounder, and miss a step?

looking around in wide-eyed fear

mouthing the unasked question

is this what it feels like, to be real?

Six Months

Illness is the defining point. It tells us if we have been going the wrong or right direction, it forces us to our knees, we find out the truth whether we want to or not.

I’d been blessed with good health. I didn’t even know it. I thought those who were tan and never got the flu were healthy, surely not me, I often felt a little rough. But I didn’t know what ‘rough’ could feel like, I mistook a morning allergy or sleep deprivation or a headache or stomach-ache as suffering. I had no idea.

I could write a book about this. But for now I want to write the most important salient things. Namely, what you learn, where you go and crucially, what you should AVOID.

You should avoid thinking the internet is some kind of medical reference library. The majority of information online is actually negative, it can scare you senseless. It can misdirect you, it can make you give up.

If you Google Gastroparesis you would come to find out it was an incurable, little-understood disease that would cause chronic life-long suffering for all who were diagnosed with it. You would not find out that in many ways, it is an umbrella term, just as many things before it were, that it is completely contradictory pointing to gross error in definition and that there are so many reason(s) for it and presentations, no one size fits all.

I often wonder who decides to write; Chronic incurable disease. Don’t they know what that does to people?

It’s pretty scary when you Google a disease and find so little on it, and what you do, is negative and bad-news. When you are sick you need hope more than anything else. You desperately search for it but all you find are horror stories of suffering.

That’s why I am writing this. In hope that if ONE person who has been told by their doctor they have Gastroparesis and has found the horror-story world of Google, they may see this and have their hope restored.

You may think … what’s the point of having hope if you might end up with a chronic incurable disease? Exactly for that reason. And because there are many things UN said about most diseases and many experiences NOT documented that should be. They say there are no cures for most things but so often there are ways to cure the body that go beyond what is ‘said’ and well documented.

Gastroparesis loosely means a motility disorder of the stomach (it doesn’t move right) which can cause a paralysis of functioning which are known as Gastroparesis attacks that often lead sufferers to the ER. When you experience Gastroparesis it often is 24/7 with cycles of ‘really bad’ and ‘bearable’ symptoms.

What the internet will not tell you and what the poorly trained doctors in most ER’s will not tell you and what the money-hungry Gastroenterologists will not tell you is if you get diagnosed with Gastroparesis, it doesn’t even mean you have it, and if you do have it, it doesn’t mean you will always have it. Yet if you Google Gastroparesis, most sites from the Mayo to the Cleveland Clinic will tell you it is incurable and may even lead to you having a feeding tube.

The first time I read that, I searched and searched the internet and found NO story of someone overcoming Gastroparesis. In that moment I lost hope and everything became SO much worse.

I was lucky, in that my family doctor thought to do an Epstein Barr Virus test on me, it came back VERY positive, suggestive that it was a virus that caused the symptoms of Gastroparesis. If you add ‘viral Gastroparesis’ to your search term, you may find some mention of virally-induced Gastroparesis going away in 1/2 years time.

I found out that it’s what you pair your search words with that brings up the right articles, and by searching in more detail I found tons of examples of Gastroparesis symptoms going away after a virus and the period of time needed for the body to heal from the nerve damage (much like Shingles). The average time being 1/2 years, some longer, some shorter.

Nobody told me this. Everyone told me Gastroparesis is a Chronic life-long disease that you will always have, and there aren’t even any good treatments for it and if it gets really bad you will need a feeding-tube and you may even have a pacemaker in your stomach implanted. Not once was I told there was any hope. If my family doctor hadn’t thought outside of the box due to having a similar case a couple of years ago, I may well have found the highest bridge in my city.

It got me thinking … we need to be more responsible about information and most positive. I’m all for realism, and anyone who knows me knows I’m not always glass-half-full but when you experience the negativity of the medical system and the incompetency (and the sheer cost) and you get only bad news, you quickly realize that something is very, very wrong.

If you are reading this and you have been told you have Gastroparesis or you suspect you might, bear in mind, for every negative story there are stories of cures and remission and complete resolution of symptoms. It depends upon why you got Gastroparesis and how you body copes and how you cope. There are things you can do.

First and foremost, you’re going to feel like never eating again, you may become anorexic unwillingly, because who wants to eat when they are sick all of the time? Nevertheless, keep eating, eat like your life depends upon it, don’t quit, eat through gritted teeth, eat when it makes you cry, because your body needs its strength and this will get you further away from the risk of having to be fed via a tube.

I felt a moment where I could have given in and quit eating, because truthfully I HATE food with a passion right now, but I hated the idea of a feeding tube even more, so now I eat even though I am NEVER hungry, NEVER have an appetite and hate food. I eat enough although it is very, very hard and some days I throw up what I eat and I have to wait and begin all over again. It has been a total nightmare, a complete living hell, and many times I have wept with fury that I ever have to eat again, but I remind myself of those who have NO food and I remind myself of my goal (to get well) and I eat.

Second to eating, when you have the lowest points where you may have to go to the ER to be rehydrated, because you cannot keep anything down, don’t forget that THIS WILL GET BETTER. Keep telling yourself you are strong, you are healthy, you are a warrior, this may lick you but it will not beat you. Remember during a really bad period where you are sick EVERY SINGLE MINUTE that you will recover, you will feel differently. Hold tightly onto that.

I have been BLESSED with friends who have helped me through this. My friend Mark is now my brother, he has been more than I could ever, ever have wished for and I love him dearly. It still astounds me that anyone like him could exist. He has selflessly given and given and given, even as he himself suffers. He is the perfect rare example of a truly selfless soul and has renewed my faith in humanity tenfold. I may not have had much family support but that has been made-up by the support I have had from my friends and it is true, in sickness you find out who your true friends are and often there are more than you realize.

Let me take a moment to thank anyone reading this who has been one of those people, I have thanked you personally but please know, your mercy literally has saved me from the brink.

So if you are going through this yourself and you have anyone – reach out to them. If you do not have anyone, contact me and I will help you. We must be willing and able to help those who go through these things because they cannot do it alone and should not have to. I will write more on this as I go through this – I am going to recover. I am going to get well. I will document what I learn to help others. We need to pay it forward.

Finally (for now) take the experience and grow from it. For me, I have experienced crippling anxiety with the Gastroparesis symptoms, the doctor(s) told me this is due to the nerves being damaged and how the mind-gut connection is so close, what feels like mental anxiety is actually physical anxiety and you cannot tell the difference. It feels like a huge panic attack. There’s not much that works against that, except taking some type of anti-anxiety medication in the short-term or long-term if it helps. I used to think taking pills was a last resort and yet, it’s sometimes necessary, to get through really hard times.

I have learned that if you had any anxiety beforehand (which I did) it will be exacerbated by Gastroparesis symptoms and you may also experience other issues connected to the reason you got the symptoms in the first place. In my case, Epstein Barr often causes very bad fatigue. By understanding what is going on, taking sublingual Vitamin B6 and B12, you can keep your immunity up, and keep your hope alive. After all, even if it’s a year from hell or two, it’s not your entire life.

That is what I am trying to hold onto. I may wake up heaving every day right now, but I’m hopeful that won’t be the case in a years time. I panic and worry that it will go and then return, but what I have to do as my friend told me, is take it day by day and not imagine worst-case scenarios. I can honestly say the advice and support of others is how you get through the worst of days. I may be too sick right now to work and I may be broke but I am more grateful than I have been in years, for the kindness of those who have extended their hands and said ‘let me help you’. Those words are a miracle.

My friend Mark says what helped him the most with his illness was to pay it forward, and focus not on himself but on others. I hear him and I am attempting to do the same. Currently it’s day-by-day, some weeks are unbearable still and I pray to die, whilst other days I can almost remember how I was before I got sick. What I do know is, if you get sick, with anything, don’t rely upon the internet as your go-to, and don’t isolate yourself. In my case it was my family doctor, not the fancy high-paid Gastroenterologists, who found out what had caused my sudden and violent symptoms. I have learned so much from this experience and continue to.

If you’re reading this and you feel hopeless, know that you are not alone and there is hope.

A room with a view

ERSignWhen I was finally hospitalized, the nurse apologized profusely to me; “I’m sorry Ms. Daquin, but none of our rooms have a view.” I laughed as much as anyone who has been throwing up for 24 hours can laugh and when asked what was so funny, replied; “As long as it’s in the hospital you could put me in the broom closet and I’d be content.” The nurse must have thought it was a quaint European joke and she didn’t ask for me to clarify what I meant. Had she asked I would have told her; “When you are starving you’ll eat anything.” And this would have been the perfect explanation for my immense relief at being hospitalized AT LONG LAST. A few months previously I would never have imagined I could have wished to be put in hospital, let alone beg to be. This is the story of how that came to be.

Before I rampage against American healthcare systems, let me preface by saying having lived in other countries, it’s not a singular flaw but a worldwide flaw. There is one reason for this and it is this. PROFIT over COMPASSION.

It is true, we cannot go back to the ‘village days’ of doctors who work out of the goodness of their hearts and do not expect to become rich. That ship has sailed. Doctor’s today go through years of expensive training and expect adequate compensation, perhaps without this they would not be motivated to endure those years of rigor. This is one reason costs go up, quality of care down, and patients are often kicked to the curb in terms of continuous and good care, few people have it in them to become doctors and with a growing population, those who do, are tempted to compensate for arduous training by charging high fees. The other huge elephant in the room, the real problem, is the insurance industry, which has ruined the system so thoroughly there may never be a fix, irrespective of whether doctors over-charge.

Okay enough with the negatives … problem being are there any positives in healthcare today?

Certainly not where mental health is concerned. Anyone who has had a mental health crisis can attest to the stigma, lack of care, and inadequate diagnosis, not to mention penchant for over-medicating (or under-medicating) and error.

Unfortunately the same may often apply when you go through the healthcare system for physical illnesses, especially via the ER. I preface this by saying I am infinitely grateful that I had ‘some’ healthcare insurance at all, for surely having none unless you are on public assistance, can be even more terrifying (and I had 14 years of that).

My ordeal began a little over three months ago. A violently ill day out of the blue. You think to yourself; “It will be okay I’m just sick, maybe food poisoning. IT WILL PASS.”

Famous last words ….

The illness did not pass. Days of throwing up and all the rest, led to my first ever ER visit, then my second, then my third  and so it went on. One thing marked these experiences aside a dizzying variety of ‘opinions’ based upon no evidence and seemingly at whim. The thing marking those ER visits was the current healthcare’s notion that most diagnosis and treatments should be out-patient.

Until just recently I would not have even considered this. Is it right to make most healthcare on an out-patient basis? I may even have said; “Yes, because of diseases the more you can avoid hospital the better, it’s a modern approach of out-sourcing and enabling you to get diagnosed without having to spend days in a hospital bed.”

Made sense to me. Until, throwing up for weeks on end, nausea 24/7 and we’re talking “Super Nausea” the kind you couldn’t even describe accurately if you tried, I realized that I might actually end up dying at home.

It isn’t as hard as you think to get REALLY sick, REALLY fast. And in my humble estimate, when you get that sick if you are anything like me, you don’t want to be at home. You are scared, unsure of what is going on, violently unwell and you want to be in hospital. Yet every time I would go to ER, shaking, unsteady, sick and scared, I would be given basic treatment and told to follow-up with my specialist.

And sent home. Where not long after the medication wore off, I would get sick again and soon enough, end right back in ER.

During this time I thought of my grandparents, visiting them when they were in hospital, maybe for appendicitis, something like that, bringing grapes and flowers. It felt so comforting. I envied them the ABILITY to be in hospital. Apparently it was a modern-day luxury to be admitted these days.

There are times, continuity of care in the ER system needs see the bigger picture. If a patient repeatedly comes into the ER (at great expense I may add) it makes more sense to hospitalize that patient and DO THE TESTS THEN AND THERE than ask that they continue to follow-up with their specialist. Whilst having the specialist in the loop, the critical nature of such experiences requires for the patients sanity that their symptoms be addressed in a more direct manner as used to be the case before hospitalization fell out of vogue.

Seeing a specialist may sound wonderful, but what if they can’t see you for a month? Or you have to wait in a waiting room for 3 hours? And you’re throwing up? Or you can’t even make your appointment because you can’t ride in a car without vomiting every three seconds? There are times that out-patient services FAIL very sick patients and only exacerbate the STRESS for everyone involved. If a patient is very sick and cannot drive themselves or obtain a ride? If a patient has gone to the ER and misses that appointment?

I longed for someone to say; “You are VERY ill we’ll admit you and find out what is going on” but instead, I was released, released, released, paid a fortune in ER visits, got the basics done lots of times without any progression, and waited for days to see specialists who then tested me, and released me to await the results. Days, weeks passed, the sickness continued, my weight fell off me, doctors asked if I was anorexic, appointments were made, and I felt I was part of a nightmare.

Eventually EVENTUALLY when I was so sick it was impossible to turn me away, I was admitted. And in that admission I was tested and given a diagnosis and some kind of ANSWER for what ailed me. But this did not in any way appease the weeks (by this time, months) of extreme anxiety and feeling that I had absolutely nowhere to turn.

If you cannot turn to a hospital by way of an ER during your darkest moments of health then something is VERY wrong. It is absolutely terrifying to feel that you are incredibly sick and nobody is willing to say; “I will help you.” Instead, you are at the whim of the system which profits each specialist and mires progress to a crawl, causing an illness to become a trauma from which it is very hard to recover.

In essence I say this. Bring back hospitals. The kind we recall from childhood, where if you were really sick they would take you into a ward or room and doctors would come and examine you and answers would be given, and even if that didn’t happen over-night, you were not left being sent home desperately sick without answers, and without the succor of the medical world.

When you are very sick, sometimes the only thing you can cling onto is the reassurance that someone in the medical field will be able to help you, that you will not die alone on your bathroom floor, that you are safe. The anxiety of a serious illness cannot be underestimated, until you have experienced it, you may know logically that it is unsettling but not really comprehend the terror you can feel when something is very wrong and doesn’t stop. Be it pain, throwing-up or nausea, we are not trained to cope well with either the unknown or the unstoppable. It is the purpose of medicine as much to support as to ‘cure’ and this should include better options of hospitalization for those who do not fit the ‘recently amputated limb’ category of emergency.

I fully appreciate that with our burgeoning population, what was possible in 1950, or 1970 is not possible today. There are simply too many people. But if you look at the sheer waste of resources of repeat ‘visits’ to the ER, as well as unnecessary repeat tests, and the danger of some of those tests being repeated, it become apparent that it is ineffective to triage very sick patients without an option for hospitalization. In a sense a ‘one shop’ approach rather than our current plethora of experts, all in swish offices with highly expensive over-heads.

Most hospitals today in the US are quite grand by my European standards and yet, I would give anything for an antiquated ward if it meant receiving constant care in crisis, over pretty looking ER’s that offer little by way of comfort.

I admire anyone who works in the healthcare industry and this is no indictment of their tireless efforts, nor underappreciating the reality of modern-day-medicine, and the ‘frequent flyer’ type of ER patient who comes in regularly and to some extent, cries wolf. Maybe there is no fix, or way of discerning the patient who simply wants in, versus the patient who really needs to be, but something has to change.

Faced with mounting debt because of the number of cries for help which in effect a visit to the ER represents, I look back on the early part of this crisis with dismay, wondering what I could have done differently. Maybe if I panicked less? If I were braver? If I had been able to do more research? (Perhaps in between throwing up constantly and not having any energy). And yet, I must also hold the system accountable, because I feel both grateful and yet, that it failed me.

How did it fail me? One ER hospitalization relatively early on, based upon serious, ongoing symptomatology, and tests done during this hospitalization, may not only have gotten answers two months earlier, but avoided the trauma that I now unwillingly associate with this illness, exacerbated not only by the actual illness, but the experience of feeling completely helpless, without anyone to turn to.

A word to the wise, if I learned anything, I learned the value and importance of a VERY proactive PCP. I did not have one. Mine was kind, friendly and completely unprepared for helping her patient navigate quickly through the system. A proactive PCP can go a long way to cutting through some of the things you will not be familiar with, they can have you hospitalized if they know how to circumvent some of the bureaucratic red-tape insurance companies put up.

Additionally, have an advocate, someone who can speak for you, because when you are severely sick it is less likely you will convey all that you wish to convey effectively. An advocate may be the difference between ensuring doctors understand the severity of your illness and not. It takes some of the stress off you during a very stressful time and can avoid being at the whim of unresponsive doctors who are coming off a long shift.

I’m hopefully on the path to healing. At least that is what I have chosen to believe and much of getting well is attitude and focus. Just as I was traumatized by not having any support during the hardest time of my life, I am reminded that so much of ‘wellness’ is our will to be well. We cannot control very much in our lives, and nevermore is this true than when we are sick, but we can try our hardest to overcome burdens when they strike, and stay positive, because without that the journey is too hard.

The medical world should encourage this positive faith and hope, rather than strike it down with incompetency and bad protocols. Sometimes a sick person really does need, more than anything else, a room with a view.