In the Collecting of Obscure Medical Procedures…

When I wrote my last post, I had no idea that I would find myself needing every one of those words the very next day.

But first, let’s back up a bit.

So for the last year and a half, I’ve worn duct plugs.

It’s a really fun phrase to say over and over out loud – try it.

Giggling now? Good.

Duct Plugs.

One of the most annoying symptoms of Dysautonomia is severely dry eyes – to the point that no drops can help it. On top of that, I’m limited as to what drops I can put in my eyes, so really – nothing helps.

Except for Duct Plugs.

They’re fantastic. They’re like tiny bathtub drain stoppers that are inserted into the tear duct on my lower eyelid to keep my tears from draining and, therefore, perfectly solving my dry eye issue.

I got my first pair of duct plugs the summer before last. About a year later, they fell out. My eyes had been burning and making me feel ridiculously sleepy, and it occurred to me to check my duct plugs (because you can see the tiny little things sticking out of your eyelid,) and alas – they were gone.

(Let’s take a minute for everyone to go find your tear ducts. Look in the mirror. They’re on the top side of your lower lid, on the nose-side of your eye. You have tiny holes just waiting to drain your precious tears away. They’re quite useful – unless you suffer from an eternal draught. Now. Think of the biggest pore plug/blackhead that you’ve ever squeezed out of your nose, except envision it made of rubber and shoved into those tiny ducts. That’s what my duct plugs looked like. Are we together now?)

I called to make an appointment with my Ophthalmologist (the receptionists all passed around my call so that everyone could hear me ask for new duct plugs), and when I went in for my appointment, he told me what I had previously not realized – duct plugs falling out was expected. In fact, my duct plugs lasted a lot longer than most. He said he’d put the next bigger size in, and hopefully they’d last a while. But it turned out, those were still too small, so he gave me the BIGGEST size of duct plugs available.

(I have big ducts. And I cannot lie.)

He explained that our next step, when these duct plugs left me, would be permanent duct cauterization – it was a great solution, but insurance didn’t allow it until you’d lost a pair of the biggest duct plugs.

So I happily left with my XL Duct Plugs, snugly keeping my tears in Eye Lake.

Which brings us to this week.

Again, I began feeling infinitely sleepy, eyes burning, lethargic, the whole deal. You just don’t realize the debilitating nature of something so simple as dry eyes until your eyeballs are withered raisins, and then wow do you ever.

I made my appointment for duct cauterization (so much nicer to request than duct plugs), made sure I wouldn’t need anyone to drive me home, and anticipated eyeball moistness once again.

I dumped my kids on my neighbor and headed in.

My Ophthalmologist came in and checked out my one remaining duct plug. I asked him to go ahead and pull it so I could get this cauterization thing over with in both eyes. He looked at me skeptically, but agreed to do so. He yanked it out, examined my eyes some more, then said,

“Do you think you can do this without a pain injection? Because the injection is really just as bad as the procedure itself.”

I thought of the all the things I’ve let my Physical Therapist do to me in the past six weeks. I’m tough. I can handle whatever my Ophthalmologist throws at me.

“Sure.”

I’ll be fine, I told myself. He wouldn’t offer to do it without the pain shot if it wasn’t a viable option.

The doctor left the room, then came back with paperwork that I had to sign, acknowledging the permanency of the procedure, and with a pen-sized blowtorch.

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While the door was still open, the nurse walked by and said, “I’ll be right out here if you need me…”

I raised an eyebrow. “That sounded ominous.”

The doctor laughed. I was not sure how to interpret his laugh, but I was pretty sure I didn’t like it.

He told me to lean my head back, and he stuck the tip of his cautery gun on my eye duct and turned on the zapper. I jumped slightly, as one does when a red-hot piece of metal touches their eyelid.

He pulled back. “Did you feel that?”

“Yes, but I can take it. It wasn’t horrible.”

“Hmm. I changed my mind. I want you to get the injection because I want to be able to really get in there and burn it good.”

He disappeared again and came back with an unholy-long eye shot.

He again told me to lean back, open my eyes as wide as I could, and look at the ceiling. He pulled back my eyelid and stuck that needle through the inside of my lower lid.

GUYS.

We have SO MANY NERVES in our eyelid. SO MANY.

The needle went into my eyelid and felt like it was coming out of my right nostril. He jammed that thing all up in my face. I felt the cool liquid of the numbing medication trickle into my sinus cavities from above, and it made me desperately need to sneeze.

But alas. There was three feet of needle in my eye. This seemed like a bad time.

“Keep your eye open!”

(I would have answered “I can’t!” but I couldn’t move without moving the needle in my eye.)

“Are you okay?”

(I would have answered “Are you kidding?” but I couldn’t move without moving the needle in my eye.)

He finally pulled it out, then walked around to the other eye.

WHOSE bright idea was it to get both eyes cauterized on the same day? I should have kept that precious duct plug as long as it agreed to stay in.

It was unbelievable. The pain from the injection was definitely that red crying face from the pain chart, and worse if such a thing exists (a crying poo emoji? Yes. A red crying poo emoji.)

Pain Assessment Tool Poo Emoji

(And as a reminder, this is coming from the person that has happily let her Physical Therapist stick her dozens of times in the past six weeks in the neck, shoulders, leg, and head.)

But I somehow survived.

He told me he’d be back for me when I was numb, and happily walked of the room, leaving me to tend to my gaping eye wounds.

I dabbed. I thought about crying but figured it’d hurt too much. I dabbed some more and realized I couldn’t feel my dabbing anymore. At least that seemed like a step in the right direction.

He came back and had me insert my head into the head brace so he could “get a really good angle.”

He got out his burny tool and inserted it deep into my left eye duct. Pressed the button, heard the electrical burning sound, then the frying/boiling of flesh, then a poof of smoke shot up directly in front of my eye. I guess that was his cue that cauterization had occurred, because he retracted his eye branding gun and stuck it down into my right eye duct.

Button, burn, boil/fry, poof of smoke, retract.

Seeing the poofs of smoke caused by the frying of my live eyelid skin made me thankful for those Son-of-a-Motherless-Goat Shots from Hell.

Each eye took maybe three seconds.

But after he finished, THEN he found it to be the right time to say,

“Oh by the way. Just so you know, the cauterizations will probably open back up at some point. But the good news is, we can do this as many times as we need to!!”

I looked at him incredulously. He did not look like he was being ironic.

The paperwork. Our conversations. Everything had indicated that this was it. The Holy Grail of duct closure. A vasectomy of the tear drain. AND NOW HE’S GONNA TELL ME I GOTTA DO THIS AGAIN AND AGAIN AND POSSIBLY AGAIN.

No.

I said in my most biting tone, as I tried to hold my recently char-grilled eyes open, “You know what, let’s go ahead and schedule ourselves a monthly date.”

As I got in my car to drive away, the numbing shot quite immediately wore off, and I began to feel the third-degree burns in my former eye pits. I fought to keep my eyes open, thinking angry thoughts about the receptionist who told me I wouldn’t have need for a ride home.

But I made it.

And for now, at least, my ducts are closed for business.

Appendix: if you want to see the procedure, I found a very accurate and short video here. Except that my doctor definitely did believe in inserting the cauterizing gun into the puncta. And also if you see me this weekend and I appear to have a black eye, please compliment me on my stellar eye shadow job.

Doctor’s Orders.

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My neck injury from the wreck has been getting increasingly worse for the past week, including radiating pain down through my shoulders, arms, and hand. I’ve also gotten to experience fascinating symptoms such as burning skin, the superpower of being instantaneously heated from the inside out, tremors, and finger tingling.

All of this led to a 10 hour medical trek on Friday that included attempting to get an MRI to see if I need neck surgery, nearly going back to the ER, and ultimately seeing a doctor who specializes in neck and back injuries.

His diagnosis was serious ligament strains on top of the muscle damage I already knew I had, and the swelling ligaments and muscles are pushing on the nerves and creating all of my other symptoms. To deal with these things, he prescribed me a new kind of muscle relaxer and more pain pills, and told me I need to not stress or stretch my neck in any way for 2-4 weeks, and I need to take the muscle relaxers and pain pills three times a day for at least a week. No lifting, certainly still no running, and I can’t really even do my photography because my camera is so heavy.

I’m not exactly sure how I’m supposed to continue my life, drive to physical therapy, homeschool my kids, and be a mom while not moving my neck and taking narcotics and muscle relaxers for a week, and I’m going to desperately miss our outdoor adventures, but I do know that I need to clear my calendar and my stress as much as possible to somehow achieve it. My plan this upcoming week is to do nearly nothing, to lay in bed as much as possible, and to follow all prescribed treatment in the hopes that I can heal faster and that it won’t take four weeks. Because I need to be able to run – badly. On top of the neck pain and resulting arm pain, my Dysautonomia is significantly flared up from not running for the past two weeks, and I’m blacking out almost every time I stand up (my vision goes black, I get clammy and dizzy, and I have to hold onto something to keep my legs from buckling. It passes in a few seconds but it is still rather inconvenient.)

So. Although I still want to tell you all about our state park tour (which was most likely not helpful at all in my neck recovery), I need to take the week off from writing to try and focus on healing and resting and not being stressed. I will be back soon, hopefully with a happily functioning neck that doesn’t require surgery.

My neck appreciates your prayers. And chocolate.


p.s. For those of you who are local (and those who aren’t), please keep the Picture Birmingham shop in mind as you start to think about Christmas shopping. 100% of the profits go to The WellHouse to help rescue victims of human trafficking, and one of the things that has distressed me the most about these wreck injuries (and really, this entire year) is that it has kept me from being able to focus on raising money for The WellHouse through Picture Birmingham. I am trusting that God has a plan and He doesn’t need me to see it through, because since I can’t lift things, I may not be able to do any Christmas events, either. But everything is available online – prints, note cards, 2016 calendars, and canvases. I haven’t been able to add any of my newer pictures to the shop yet, but I can order any picture in any size or format (canvas, note cards, prints.) Just email me – rachel@picturebirmingham.com – and I can get any special order you need (although I might be a little slow for the next week unless you notate that you need it right away.)

THANK YOU!

It’s All In My Head.

I started using the LoseIt app again last week.

This seems completely unfair to me, that I need to count my calories, because I run nearly every day. I should get to eat whatever I want!! Anytime I want!!

But alas. That is the kind of logic that makes one need to get back to LoseIt.

Because exercise is stupid.

It is stupid because it doesn’t burn nearly as many calories as it feels like it should. I burn barely over 100 calories a mile, which is officially the biggest rip-off in the history of humanity. A mile should be worth a giant hamburger and a milkshake – not a piece of watermelon or a slice of cheese.

But my real reason for going back to LoseIt is that I haven’t been feeling great this summer. My brain has been functioning at approximately 10% of its normal processing speed – you might have noticed by the quality and quantity of my writing and interactions. I can’t process stuff, I can’t remember stuff, I can’t accomplish stuff, and I have trouble staying on task – something I’ve always excelled at. I’ve been trying to narrow down the causes to this breach of health, and my eating habits are on the list of possible causes that I sincerely hope I can rule out. Ultimately, it’s most likely another symptom of my Dysautonomia, but if I can find anything that helps me locate my brain, I’ll do it.

(Just picture me as Carmen Sandiego, searching desperately in Moscow, Brisbane, and Beijing for my missing brain. Because that’s totally how I picture myself.)

I’ve been to the doctor and they’ve run all the tests and they even gave me a new drug to (maybe) help me on my quest, but I know the mantra – the three main things that help Dysautonomia are regular exercise, outrageous water consumption, and eating healthy.

Two out of three should be good enough – haven’t I already changed my life enough? But NO. Dysautonomia is the worst. It is a master that demands everything be attended to. And so I am finally facing my diet – which has, admittedly, actually gotten worse since I started running. Because after all, every mile feels like a hamburger and a milkshake.

So I even tried the Gluten-Free Lifestyle – for a full twelve hours, y’all.

(It didn’t help.)

(Yeah, yeah I know they say you’re supposed to give it six months to start seeing a difference, but six months whimpering every time the basket of hot, buttery rolls is passed cannot be worth having better cognitive performance.)

After I discarded my Gluten-Free self, I moved on to a Caffeine-Free lifestyle. That lasted significantly longer – 38 freaking hours.

This second experiment in futility was my Mom’s fault. On the same day I adopted my Gluten-Free Life, I had been at my parent’s house and was feeling especially awful. Mom noticed I’d been drinking Starbucks Cold Brew Coffee, and after I left, she did a little research – turns out, Cold-brewed coffee has twice as much caffeine as normal coffee – 240mg in a Venti.

(They really should advertise this fact. I told Chris in horror of its insane amount of caffeine and he said “I gotta go get me some of that!”)

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The Cold Brew, combined with the 5 Hour Energy that I’d had before my run that morning (200 mg of caffeine), led me (and my mother) to believe that I had severely overdosed myself in the caffeine department, and that perhaps all my problems were from an inability to metabolize caffeine and that maybe I should quit that mess.

Personally I was thrilled for a reason to put a pause on my Gluten-Free diet – that twelve hours had been rough – and I was starving.

(Things without gluten have about as much filling power as a single M&M has chocolate-craving-curbing power.)

My thrill left me the next morning. When I was desperately in need of a pick-me-up. And I also realized that I had not actually been gluten-free the day before because I had inadvertently snacked on Noah’s pancakes to collect my Mommy Tax, as I do every morning. So yeah. GF for twelve hours is IMPOSSIBLE, y’all.

But decaffeination isn’t any easier.

And what did I learn in those 38 painful hours?

– I cannot converse without caffeine.
– I cannot run without caffeine.
– I do not feel nice without caffeine.
– I am not nice without caffeine.
– A lack of caffeine makes me feel depressed. And gives me caffeine-lusting thoughts.
– Caffeine makes me a better person.

So, after trying to function without the nectar of life for 38 hours, I threw my caffeine-free lifestyle in the dumpster right next to my gluten-free lifestyle and decided that maybe caffeine in moderation is necessary for a healthy life, but caffeine overdoses are bad. “Because moderation is always the answer, right??”, I thought, as I sipped my first Iced Caramel Macchiato after what felt like half a lifetime of agony and pain.

As soon as that caffeine hit the back of my throat I started feeling better. I felt happy. I felt chipper. I once again had words to share with other humans.

And so, I decided to go back to what I knew wouldn’t kill me – a calorie counting lifestyle. It would keep me from eating crap (and also quickly made me realize how much crap I had been eating when I began to remember what types of foods maintain a 1,500 calorie diet), it would force me to eat more good-for-me stuff, and I could have my gluten AND caffeine. In moderation.

I’ll let you know if and when this is the clue I needed to track down that missing brain, gumshoe.

(In the meantime, I hope you can abide my meandering and sometimes sparse posts.)