It’s been a relatively quiet April on the health front, which I am so grateful for. I still had appointments almost every week but they were not necessarily related to diagnosis and treatment. I needed that break, and the universe gave me a win. I’m still filled with frustration about test results, the struggle to get a diagnosis, and the daily battle of managing a nebulous condition, but I’ve been able try to get to a better place this month, reorienting myself into a life that isn’t completely defined by being ill. Listening to the suffering and experience of others, trying to understand the historical civil unrest in my country, helping my family when I can, reading about prehistory, analyzing every detail of the results of the ancestry tests my husband and I did.
But it's time to re-focus. I start the next round of appointments next week. I see my new local neurologist in two weeks, and I have an appointment Stanford on Tuesday and will finally see my neurologist there.
I’ve had that appointment for almost a year. I saw him last May, which feels like a lifetime ago. I had just finished my first year as a full time professor and it was the most brutal semester I’ve ever been through. I had to go on leave twice during the semester and my symptoms were worsening every day. I wasn’t using a wheelchair yet, but I needed to. I was struggling to drive and my independence was starting to slip away.
I’m trying not to let the ghosts of that last appointment haunt this one. I left feeling like it was a great appointment but when I read his notes he mentioned that he discerned no walking difficulty and that I needed a “more positive outlook.”
I cried a little during that appointment. Life was pretty bleak at that moment. I didn’t get to say goodbye to some of my classes (again) because I was on leave, in my heart I knew that I was going to have to either radically change how I did my job or it was over, and the mysterious symptoms were only getting worse. Of course I was upset. I try to smile and keep a calm demeanor in appointments, otherwise you end up with notes about mental health and stress if your file, further invalidation. But I’m honestly getting to the point that I don’t care what they say.
I spent a lot of years trying to justify and explain in appointments to get them to hear me. At this point, I don’t have the energy for that. Now I just try to present my symptoms and experiences and communicate effectively. These are my symptoms. Take it or leave it.
At that appointment a year ago, he explained that my mystery symptoms of weakness, difficulty walking, difficulty breathing, etc were not related to POTS. I had those symptoms for over a year at that point but I was still hoping they were related to POTS so I didn't have to get back on the hamster wheel of diagnosis. He gave me a list of tests he wanted me to do, and as I listened I knew those tests would take a very long time and that a diagnosis was at least a year off. At least.
I started suddenly having mobility problems about two years ago and I told my primary doctor about it first. He took me seriously and said it was likely something else presenting itself. I refused to believe that at the time but I have told him since then that he was totally right. He figured that out before any other specialist. I really need to send him a fruit basket someday.
I saw him yesterday so that he could fill out my long term disability paperwork, and every time he sees me he asks, “did you finally get a diagnosis?” Nope. Together, we have been fine tuning innovative ways over the last few months to explain and label my symptoms for these forms without using a label that is unofficial, to the point that it becomes a humorous art. You have to laugh at the absurdity of it sometimes.
I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment, but I am hoping to finally get that label in these next appointments. Not just for the peace of mind but mainly because of the material benefits it offers: I could finally put it on my official paperwork, I can wave it in front of insurance companies who want to refuse treatment or deny benefits, and I can have access to other treatments options. If it is Myasthenia Gravis, I'll have a condition that sounds like a Harry Potter spell, so I'll feel pretty special.
I try to remember that a diagnosis is not the end game, a better quality of life is. But I can’t help wanting the diagnosis. It’s been the carrot I hold in front of myself as I’ve gone through all the torture testing for years. Yet, even with a diagnosis I know that my life wouldn’t change dramatically, but damn it would help.
I’m doing my usual routine of carefully writing out symptoms, notes, and questions, and gathering test results to bring. Most of this has become second nature for me and my husband so it makes it easier to keep going, even when both of us are completely worn down by this process. We are staying in our favorite hotel again next week before my appointment. It’s pricey but I’m very much looking forward to that part. Sometimes it takes little things like this to make it easier, little rewards and treats along the way to make it a little more fun and enjoyable.
So this is what it looks like when you want to give up on this process but you continue to press on, trying to keep a “positive outlook,” keep digging deep for whatever pieces of hope you can find, and remember that you’ve come this far so you can keep beating on. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. That’s important to remember.
Whatever the results of the next appointments are, I’ll come home to my life with my cats, my husband, my music, my books, and it will be all good. I'm trying to remember that life will go on no matter what. I’ll keep working toward my goals, trying to create some art and music, write some words that have meaning, exercise as often as possible, and continue to feel grateful for this life and how lucky I really am.