Thursday, January 22, 2015

One More Test

I’ve been dreaming about quitting my day job as a disabled couch barnacle to be a more productive member of society again, go back to teaching or become an archaeologist, a scientist, or a jazz vibraphonist. Or all of the above.

But in the meantime, I’ve still got work to do. I’ve been writing about the saga of getting a firm diagnosis for likely Myasthenia Gravis for some time now and mentioned that I had another test last month at Stanford.

I had hoped to come home maybe with something definitive. A label to provide a tangible explanation.

But it didn’t happen.

I haven’t written about it because I needed to try to get my brain around it, try to logically work through the anger and frustration, so that I don't unleash it into the world. No one needs to see that. I was in a dark place last month and the holidays weren’t the real reason I took some time off from writing. I was seriously depressed. I’m doing a little better now but it waxes and wanes. It’s something I’ve battled my whole life and this strange ride through illness really amplifies it. Not even all the chocolate in the world can pull me out of it, but a little doesn’t hurt.

My husband and I made the long trek to Stanford so that I could do a Single Fiber EMG, an EMG that is specific to MG diagnosis. It wasn’t the test that disturbed me (more giant needles. Been there done that. Whatev). My doctor said that I couldn’t take Mestinon for 24 hours. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been having a lot of difficulty with breathing, a common symptom of MG. More than anything, the Mestinon is helping this symptom. I’ve grown fond of breathing. I’m accustomed to it now. Please don’t take it away.

I had already cancelled this test once. It had to happen. I booked us a hotel for multiple days. I can no longer make the trip to Stanford in one day. The hospital is only about 2 hours away, but with Bay Area traffic, we often spend 6-7 hours in the car. Along with a few hours for an appointment, it’s just way too much for me now. Sadly, my body requires that I treat it like the delicate flower that it is. I needed extra days this time so I didn’t have to travel while coming off the Mestinon. I bought some oxygen designed for athletes. I packed some books, some movies, my shower chair, my wheelchair, and we said goodbye to our cats and headed out.

My husband is a master organizer and packer. All those years paying Tetris really paid off for him
I splurged a little on the hotel since we had to stay there a few days, and it was worth it. It was an adorable little hotel and each room had it’s own enclosed patio. They even gave us the handicapped room, though I think the only difference was that it had a shower chair. We ate over-priced, underwhelming take out, re-watched The Lord of the Rings, my husband slept all day, and as the Mestinon wore off, the breathing difficulty and weakness intensified. Yet, I didn’t have to do anything but sit in that hotel room, read, and hydrate. It wasn’t a vacation but it was definitely ideal.

On the day of test, I put on my finery (workout pants and a loose fitting sweater) and we headed to Stanford.

They called me in and told me to lie on the table. I had flashbacks to exactly a year earlier when I did autonomic testing and a regular EMG in the same room. I thought that EMG was a breeze. They warned me that this one would be more painful and take much longer. They weren’t kidding. The needle had to be placed deep in the muscle and held for 20-30 minutes for each reading. I had to slightly flex my ankle or leg so they could get a reading of how the muscle was responding. By the end, I was convinced I had sprained my ankle. Once they removed the needle, it snapped back. It was fine.

They told me to dress this way so I couldn't get my #hospitalglam on unfortunately

My doctor oversaw the test but it was a different doctor I had never met before who performed it. My doctor came in periodically, making jokes and being jovial as usual. When they finally finished, he read the results. “Slightly delayed but normal.”

 Everyone in the room turned to me and said “Aren’t you relieved?”

I was not. No. I was not. It didn’t matter what the results were. There’s no way that I can accept losing most of my mobility rapidly over a year as “normal.” Or waking up repeatedly in the middle of the night because I’m not breathing as “normal.” What I’m living is anything but “normal.”

Honestly, I wanted to scream. I had made a detailed list of my symptoms before the test since I hadn’t been able to talk to this doctor since May. I wanted to tell him about how much I have declined since then. How I can barely leave my couch or bed. I just wanted to be heard.

Someone in the background said “your next patient is here.” They wrapped everything up and my doctor started leaving. I asked him to wait and tried desperately to compose myself. I was angry and frustrated. I hadn’t gotten a chance to say anything. All those notes I made and I had to try to quickly condense it into a few seconds.

I work hard to maintain a calm, collected exterior in appointments and tests. This is important so you can communicate and to avoid that pesky label of being “overly-anxious.” I lost my cool. When my doctor looked at me, he must have seen it because he asked me, “are you going to punch me?”

I tried to explain the symptoms I was experiencing and my confusion. I had tested positive for the antibodies for Myasthenia (which aren't a false positive for anything else), I had the symptoms, and they were already treating me successfully for it. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, isn’t it a duck? He explained he was hesitant to provide that diagnosis right now. He doesn’t want me to have to start taking a long-term steroid. I understand this, but I don’t understand why we can’t just put aside the song and dance and just finally label the darn thing. 

He said we should do the antibody test again and perhaps the results of that would change the diagnosis and mentioned I should do pulmonary function testing. The results of my antibody test showed that they have doubled. I should probably contact him to ask about it, but I haven’t. 

I knew better than to have such high expectations for one test. This was one test in years of endless testing. I forgot that this is a process. There are often no delineating lines between symptoms, testing, diagnosis, treatment. They overlap and intersect. But this one time, I just wanted something solid. Just this one time. For once.

I was in bad shape at the end of the test. I was off my medication for over 30 hours, had just been tortured, and was exhausted. Yet, I still deeply regret losing my cool. Often when you are doing testing and even during appointments sometimes, you are just a body in a room. Doctors talk about your body to each other in front of you. Motion to your presence. You sit there silently trying to absorb the medical babble to listen for something familiar or understandable. The process can be incredibly dehumanizing.

I don’t regret trying to make my voice heard. The physical and financial costs for me to get to that table were significant for my husband and I. I don’t get to see this doctor again until May. I can’t keep waiting. I can’t keep suffering with no answers and no response. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to maintain my humanity and give voice to the experience of this body.

Another disappointing test. I cried most of the way home. My husband keeps asking “why does a diagnose matter so much?” I wrote a post about it here, but there’s more. There’s something very material about a diagnosis that counterbalances the nebulous, invisible experience of illness. It’s an explanation, a satisfying answer for my broken body and spirit. It isn’t the end game, but it’s a means to move onto the next stage in the journey, open possibilities for treatment, and I could finally put the label on documentation.

So I came home and went back to my job being a couch barnacle. Maybe I’ll make employee of the month soon. I'm still waiting and waiting for some answer. Still dreaming and fighting for a better tomorrow still.

Next week I have another test, pulmonary functioning test. I hope that I can finally have some proof for my breathing difficulties, but I’m not holding my breath (see what I did there). One more test. Not the last surely. Not the end of this journey, with miles to go before I sleep.


  1. Hi Stephanie,
    I hope you are resting up after what must seem like a very stressful medical "adventure". I am so sorry that this test didn't come back as positive. I know many people with MG that have had negative SFEMG / EMG but positive antibodies. Its crazy that they won't at least try the steroids to see if they help.
    Have you been on the forum Neurotalk? The people there would be able to tell you the best MG doctor in your area and also share their own journeys with you.
    I have never had a positive Achr test or a positive SFEMG I had a tensilon test - one negative one overwhelmingly positive. Yet they still refuse to diagnose me. I like you rely on mestinon to help me breathe.
    Again I am just so sorry.
    Rach x

    1. Rach, thank you for commenting. I know your road to diagnosis has been long and difficult as well. I wish you all the best. I will check out the forum. Thank you!

  2. Hi Stephanie,

    I was looking up SFEMG and found your post. They are trying to diagnose me with MG and so far everything is negative. I had my SFEMG yesterday afternoon. They put the needles in my forehead. It was excruciating torture. It was supposed to be 2 hours long, but I had to tell them to stop after 1 hour and 45 minutes. I am still suffering the effects today. The young, un-empathetic doctor said she couldn't diagnose me because we didn't finish the test, but so far everything was within normal. I am furious! Enough of the torture tests. I am like you, I just want to know what's wrong with me. I will keep up with your blog, it's nice to know I'm not alone in this painful frustration. I wish you the best of luck!


Comments are much appreciated!