Is your pain not under control?
Six years ago, mine wasn't: Not even a little, and I very seriously wanted to die. Not because I was depressed - or even unhappy with my life - I was simply in pain, non-stop, around the clock, and I couldn't take it any more.
I want to share my tips for how I got my doctor(s) to take me seriously and to stop pushing absurd amounts of Tylenol, Advil, Aleve, Aspirin, rest, a better diet, weight loss (I wasn't even over weight), PT after more PT, and thier CONTINUOUS ignoring of my worsening 10/10 pain by throwing more and more referrals to specialist doctors (ortho, rheumatologist, neurologist, endocrinology, etc etc etc) who likewise, didn't know how to help me get control of my pain.
I hope you have a chance to read this if this applies to you, and I hope it changes your life like it changed mine because my pain is now a 3-5 MOST OF THE TIME.
I was diagnosed with EDS at thirty years old, immediately following a pregnancy. The hormones had triggered what HAD BEEN a lifetime of mild symptoms and I spiraled out of control thanks to misdiagnosis and the use of IV Levoquin & ciprofloxin over ten times in one year.
That first year, with a newborn, I was in and out of the hospital nonstop. First it was mono, then recurrent kidney infections, my pain was a worsening 10/10 around the clock and when my son was seven months old, I was suicidal from the hopelessness and the constant hellish torture of the pain.
I had survived a pregnancy born out of domestic violence and sexual assault. I gave up my beloved law enforcement career and my beautiful home and all my independence to move home and in with my parents - instead of the adoption id planned, my best friend if sixteen years suggested we keep the baby and get married and despite all this, I'd never been more content or happier with my life... But I told my husband I wanted to die... Because even though my life *situation* had NEVER BEEN Happier and more fulfilling... I was in CONSTANT HELLISH PAIN.
"I cant live like this," I told him. "I know," he agreed.
My primary care had me on 10mg vicodin once or twice a day, but it wasn't doing nearly anything. A half hour after the pill was in my system, nothing. I was taking benadryl around the clock to try to sleep through some of my pain. It wasn't working.
I was having nonstop intestinal bleeding from the acetaminophen in the vicodin, the hospital pinpointed it was the cause. Each new symptom (reynauds, the nerve pain, Mast cell rashes, arthritic pain all over, now tendon ruptures from the antibiotics and the interstitial cystitis (that WASN'T recurring kidney infections)...
Finally, I went back to my primary care doctor and laid it on the line.
I told him, "Look, I understand that it's difficult for you to prescribe pain medication long term and in any quantity because of the monitoring and concerns for your license, but here's my reality. I'm in pain around the clock that's not being controlled and its affecting every part of my life. "
I then handed him a *pain journal* I'd kept FLAWLESSLY vigilantly for eight plus weeks. I'd written down everything... My overall "scale of ten" pain score (every few hours), along with a second score for my ACUTE pain. One score for my allover body condition and a second score for the acute pain: so say I just reached for a book and my shoulder dislocated.
Body-wide I may be feeling like a 5, but now my shoulder is a 9 momentarily. I logged EVERY subluxation, every dislocation and how much each one hurt and for how long. I documented how long the acute pain lasted from each injury...in and out of the hospital, I kept it up.
I tracked every single accommodation i made to cope with my eds. Every nap I was forced to take because I couldn't keep my eyes open... Every time I sat down on the floor waiting in line because I couldn't hold the gallon of milk anymore... Every meal I skipped because I was STARVING ...but no one was home to feed me, each time I just couldn't pull myself together to make something and fell asleep STARVING.
I gave my doctor that pain journal and asked him to go through ANY GIVEN DAY with me, line by line. As he read it, he was forced to CLEARLY see, in front of him, in black and white, just how serious my condition had become. He could SEE how much my pain was affecting every single part of my life ... I wasn't sleeping, I couldn't eat, I was constantly hungry and nauseous and gaining weight despite bordering on starvation....
And I spelled it out for him; "I realize there's only so much you can do but what you CAN do is write me a referral and a reference to a pain management physician. Someone who *can* attempt to help me, weather its different medication, additional medications, injections, customized bracing, nerve blocks, you name it... But I can't live like this anymore and I need YOUR help. I need that referral so that I can get the treatment I need to get this condition under control."
I could see that I had him, but I didn't let up: "My entire life is out of control and as a patient, it's right here in your patients bill of rights statement (I pointed to the ACTUAL handout I'd gotten from his office manager) - it says that I have a right to your respect and *proper pain management protocol* and since I realize your hands are tied in regards to what *you* can do for my pain, I need that referral. I need you to advocate for me, to help me find a doctor that you can explain the specifics of my condition to, and to whom you can explain how long you've been treating me and how this condition has taken over my entire life."
In that moment, my entire life changed.
Forty eight hours later (after a minor hiccup, bc the first "pain management" office I was sent to "didn't do medical management" - so I would add to my advice to request a doctor who Does include prescriptions in thier possible care so that you have ALL available options)... But anyway... within 48 hrs I was sitting in a different office, again in tears, with that same pain journal in hand... But this time, it was **happy tears**.
(I also have to wedge in this suggestion here ... No matter how independent you are, please take someone with you who sees your daily struggles and can and will advocate WITH you that will attest to your struggles and how responsible you are with mediation and with wearing your braces and doing your p/t. It helps if this is the person you ask to help when you can't shower, the person who has to make your food when you can't and so on.
They are VERY helpful in getting your doctor's eyes opened. Let him or her talk, in a concise way, about watching your struggle. The doctors need to hear this from someone else. Sadly, if you're female, it often REALLY helps to hear it from your husband, boyfriend, brother or dad. It's not fair but it is true that many doctors listen to men and DON'T take women at their word.)
I was written prescriptions for an around the clock, slow, long-acting 60 MG morphine (bear in mind you'll need to be VERY open minded about what is prescribed. Do NOT shoot down medications unless you are LEGITIMATELY ALLERGIC. If you have a reaction, report it immediately - but don't INSIST on certain prescriptions or you WILL be flagged as "drug seeking")
I say this bc in the hospital prior, morphine never helped me in acute situations, but I tried it anyway. After THREE weeks of using the long acting KIND, it finally started to be processed by my body and it began to lay down a pain relief that dropped my GENERAL pain level to UNDER A FIVE around the clock!
I was also PRESCRIBED (Same day, same doctor) SIX 15mg oxycodone per day for breakthrough pain (later changed to 4mg dilaudid) which I've slowly voluntarily decreased my use of... Beware though, breakthrough medications effectiveness slows down RAPIDLY... You'll learn to only take breakthrough or instant release meds as ABSOLUTELY necessary.)
I was enrolled in the medical marijuana program a year later, after we'd tried (with no success) every muscle relaxer in existence...
That pain journal CHANGED MY LIFE.
So please, consider this advice:
- Be firm but understanding with your doctor.
- Try to keep the same physician long term, but if they absolutely refuse to refer you to someone who WILL see you specifically for your pain (even after pointing out that thier own patients bill of rights insists that they WILL treat your pain reasonably and responsibly) - you may have to move on.
- If you fire your doctor, do so PROFESSIONALLY and get your records to take with you. You can't just walk into a new doctor and ask for strong pain medications.
- You'll need to build a rapport and to be seen over a period of time to establish a relationship with new doctors, respect that.
- Lastly, try to be UP FRONT, honest, and as calm and rational as possible. Don't use your primary care or your pain doctor as your therapist. If you're depressed, have anxiety, yes, mention it, but please seek the KIND of doctor. Keep your medical and mental health care to the appropriate physicians when possible. (Let's face it: its not good to appear mentally unstable in front of someone you hope will prescribe strong pain killers- likewise, you SHOULD seek that support from a physician who CAN help you with mental illness)
And the two MOST IMPORTANT TIPS:
1) BE OPEN MINDED TO TREATMENT OPTIONS.
You should be willing to try everything they suggest if you want your doctor to take YOUR suggestions. Doc wants you to try compound creams? Leg braces? Water-based physical therapy? Fine. But keep your pain journal and insist they keep treating you until your pain is MANAGED reasonably. And if something makes it worse or doesn't help, give it a fair shot before putting your foot down.
AND 2) Have REALISTIC pain management goals;
You will never not be in pain... But setting the goal to be able to get yourself food and drink 90%of the time when you need it, to have pain levels below a 5 at least 50% of the time, to be able to get out of bed in under three hours OR to be able to shower unassisted (even if it means using a shower chair) ... That's not at all unreasonable.
You MAY have to do things that don't feel fair or right; Like being drug tested and paying for it- every single month. Like signing a contract agreeing to random pill counts and agreeing to call your pain management office before accepting emergency room treatment for your pain. You will have to use one pharmacy until the end of time, and not accept ANY controlled substance from your dentist from now on... That kind of thing.
But if you can get your pain under control... It's all worth it.
I want everyone with EDS to have access to the pain control options I have now. I want everyone to have the support I had in getting here but I can't do for you what my husband did for me.
I have long acting and immediate release medications. I have the capacity to be put out-of-my-mind on those WORST days when my hip has been out more than its been in and I can't breathe from the pain. I can force myself to sleep thanks to medical marijuana and the ativan prior to dental work (since the novacain doesn't work) helps me cope. I have a shower chair, a wheel chair, a window ac in my bedroom even when the rest of the house is not on, I have double KFOS (knee foot ankle supports), hip supports, ring splints, a great masseuse and a chiropractor I swear by at least once a month... You name it.
I don't have 10/10 untreated pain around the clock anymore, but I did once... And I did something about it.
You can too, I promise, there IS help out there. Just don't give up.
I wish there was a way to let people know "you should look for all these weird symptoms" and "If you're finding that all these strange things are happening to you - you MIGHT have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome" - while the EDNF site is really good, much of the symptoms listed are just medical terms,and not necessarily things people can relate to.
I know there's a lot of things MANY of us have, but it doesn't seem as if doctors have 110% connected it to our EDS.... like Keratosis pilaris (red bumps on your skin on your arms and legs most often, which can appear purple when you're cold - it's common among EDSers). I'm trying to catalog all my problems from head to toe...I hope it will help my doctors (I'm planning to give it to them), plus, I'm hoping you guys reading who suffer from EDS can help do the same, so we can make a generalized "If you're noticing that you have a large number of these problems, you might want to talk to a geneticist."
Here are the things I've come up with from a thorough evaluation - but this list isn't complete and I'm sure I'll be adding things as I remember them.
My EDS related symptoms - from head to toe - starting with things noticed when I was a baby:
As a Baby:
-I was born with hips that seemed to have no natural stop - they were extremely floppy and could bend in every direction. By the time I could stand, i could and would often rotate my legs inward almost 360 degrees. I can STILL do this.
-I was very ahead of my age physically. I never needed my head/neck supported as an infant bc i could hold it up myself. - as a baby, I had incredible strength and could hold my head up and do push ups. I stood at four and a half months, pulling myself up, and then walked at barely over five months.
-(I've noticed a large number of these things in my son who is now four - he was incredibly ahead- crawling from the foot of our bed to the head at only 13 weeks - and the day he was born, he could lift his entire top-half into a push-up position and look ALL over the room, holding himself up for minutes. It freaked out the OBGYN so badly, he at first thought the baby he was seeing in our room WASN'T the one I'd just given birth to downstairs. He called in over a dozen people to witness the super-human baby whose head/neck and arms were SO strong.
-I was always a very advanced learner. Spoke in full sentences before 18 month, was reading full books by three,
and chaptered adult books by four and a half. I was offered to skip multiple grades in school (but passed to stay with my friends).
-I was VERY clumsy as a kid, with horribly toed-in walking, I tripped over my own feet often and they tried to put bar-shoes on me, but had to remove them because I walked so young.
-As a child, I always felt like my joints were SUPER loose, and I always felt like just sitting up /standing in line, etc was EXHAUSTING. This has only gotten much worse as I've gotten older.
Head / Hair / Brain:
-I'm a natural red-head with fine skin and freckles, which seems to be pretty common in EDS type-3. I've seen a LOT of red-heads.
-Accelerated Hair growth (my head-hair grows nearly 1.5" a month)
-Thin, fine, limp hair with a permanent part no matter what I do - my hair won't hold a perm, and resists dye. (This could be because of my red hair)
-Brain-fog, short-term memory problems with functional things- like I can't remember if I did something, or WHEN I did something. It's like my body doesn't remember what it's done. HOWEVER...
-I have incredible long-term memory - I can even remember many things that happened when I was just 8 months old in detail.
- I have an Eidetic memory for things I read and see. I can flip through a magazine, and then tell you what page the razor ad was on, or almost repeat an entire article word for word.
(For example: No one has EVER beat me at that bar-computer game where an image flashes, the faster you touch the screen, the faster the picture goes away, and then it asks you a bunch of questions about what you just saw - like how many spoons were on the table, or how many people were wearing sunglasses - to date, I've never gotten a single question wrong because my mind forms a complete photo almost instantly of what I saw, and I can recall it in incredible detail)
- I read incredibly fast and can type over 165 wpm
-ADHD symptoms that started in middle-school with impulse control issues, inability to sit still (which i still think was due to pain/discomfort/always looking for a more comfortable position - not necessarily hyperactivity)
-Oddly, I've almost never had a head-ache in my life, save a few times when I was really sick and had sinus pressure. (I realize how lucky I am).
-I have keratosis pilaris on my upper arms, thighs (above my knees on both upper legs) and along my jaw line. It causes the pores to get plugged up and red bumps. On my face, it causes bumps almost like acne but it's clearly not.
-I have a horrible time with picking, especially at my face because I cant stand that just washing/exfoliating doesnt clear it up, so I often pick, poke, squeeze, etc. The doctor can tell me all he wants that it makes it worse, but I cant stand having anything IN my skin.
-I have VERY fine blonde body-hair that's totally unnoticeable and almost invisible. As I hit my 30's, this fine peach fuzz has shown up along my jawline, my upper lip, and below and around my mouth - where the plugged skin is worse. Even though it's all but invisible, I've found that shaving it can help exfoliate the skin and does help.
-I soak in Epsom salts and exfoliate with apricot-shell and loofah oatmeal soaps which help reduce the keratosis pilaris.
-An illumask from Walmart REALLY helps with my skin on my face, to reduce redness, and Lotrimen (not because it's a fungus, but because the medication helps to break down the keratin plugs that form under the skin), and breaks down many of the painful lumps before they begin. I HIGHLY recommend this combination!
- I've never needed glasses, until my 30's - because my night vision and depth perception have become awful, very rapidly.
- I am red/green deficient from a head injury that happened when I was playing soccer at 13.
-I have floating spots that started when I was 31. Nothing is wrong with my eyes and doctors have yet to get an answer to why. It gets worse and then goes back to a minor inconvenience, but it never totally goes away. The spots seem to remain in the same spots, though sometimes they get larger and return to a small size. These floaters often make me think I'm seeing a bug or something in my vision, takes a second to remember it's just my eyes.
Anesthetics / Surgery Issues:
- Almost no general anesthesia works properly - it either wears off really fast or doesn't knock me out even in large doses. This has been observed by over a dozen different doctors.
- I've woken up during various surgeries, and my epidural wore off in less than 20 minutes - they barely had time to finish my tubal ligation, and I was fully able to move my legs before getting to the recovery room.
-Local anesthetics don't work at all- for dental procedures, I've had hundreds of shots, which sometimes numb near my eyeballs and parts of my upper face, but don't do anything for my mouth/teeth. I can feel almost all dental work if I'm awake.
-Pain medication does not work normally either, I can have abnormally large doses that someone my size shouldn't metabolize so quickly or be able to handle without seeming "high" or out of it. No one in my life except my family would have ANY clue that I take 100 mg extended release morphine every 12 hrs and 4 mg dilaudid for breakthrough pain because it doesn't affect my behavior or coordination at all. Even my eyes don't dilate severely like most people's do.
Mouth / Jaw / Teeth:
-Jaw locking problems - pops if I open wide enough. TMJ symptoms since I was a young teen.
-No dental anesthetics work or last. I've had HUNDREDS of shots of varying local anesthetics and I can still feel everything.
-Dental pain seems to affect me abnormally badly to the average person.
-I used to get a lot of mouth ulcers (NOT cold sores - little round open wounds inside my mouth, on my inner cheek, inside my lips, on the gums, tongue, under my tongue. Adding vitamin C to my diet seems to have worked to reduce these. My mom and son have the same problem.)
-Very high pallet
-Very crowded teeth with no room for all my teeth - had to have some pulled. Had braces for a few years because my teeth were crossing, and they moved immediately as soon as my retainer broke. Even though I now have some missing teeth - the teeth crowd together.
-My baby teeth never fell out and had to be pulled. I got my first loose tooth at NINE. Two of my baby teeth lasted until I was twenty four.
-I was missing eight adult teeth - one of my wisdom teeth and several of my other teeth both front and molars simply didn't exist.
- My jaw was broken when my wisdom teeth were pulled because the doctor must have not realized that my jaw would just dislocate when he opened my mouth far... my guess is that it easily dislocated from manual manipulation, and he just opened it too far and my jaw bone cracked length-wise. It was a LONG healing process, caused huge swelling and eight weeks of being unable to open my mouth. We had to pry my teeth open with a spoon to put pain medication in - no joke.
-While I was pregnant, my teeth which had NEVER had a cavity my entire life, suddenly began to crumble. Since then (I'm 33 now) - I've lost seven teeth, have two that are beyond repair, and have about a dozen untreated cavities. Fillings seem to fall out, and while root canals do kill the nerve- the teeth can't seem to last after, and regardless of caps, crowns, etc - every tooth I've had a root canal in, has completely fallen apart.
- Since this list was made, I had all of my molars pulled by an oral surgeon. The only teeth I have left are thirteen of my front teeth and those are breaking and will need to be pulled as well. :-(
Thyroid / Fatigue / Insomnia
My thyroid was diagnosed as slightly low functioning at 29 while I was pregnant, but not low enough for medication. By 31 I was low enough to need medication.
-The thyroid issues cause horrible fatigue - even when I take my medication properly, I still have issues with fatigue that's impossible to counter-act without medication (I take 30 mg Vyvanse which helps with memory-fog, short term memory, impulse control AND helps give me the energy to stay awake 12-16 hrs a day)
-I have waves of insomnia that I've yet to solve. I will not sleep normally for weeks, and then be unable to do anything BUT sleep for days. Vyvanse helps immensely but has severe side effects for the first 7-10 days on it and is VERY expensive.)
- Thyroid issues can and have affected my ability to have a second child, and we are now being treated for unexplained fertility issues five years after the birth of my son.
Neck / Throat:
- I have problems swallowing, and at times get a lump in my throat that I can't swallow. It lasts for hours, days, sometimes weeks. Doctors tell me its GERD but I've got no other symptoms of heartburn. Simply a lump that shows up for no reason and wont go away.
- I was finally diagnosed with an incompetent esophageal sphincter during an endoscopy recently - so apparently some stomach acid IS corroding my throat.
Spine / Back:
-Horrible posture - I can't sit up straight, feet on the floor, back straight for more than 40 seconds. I slump, I put my feet up on everything, I sit with my feet tucked under me or up on the dash - on the computer, I sit like a pretzel - it's almost absurd the positions I will get into to get "comfortable" - it's like my body naturally looks to rest on itself - even when I was a police officer, at the range, I'd hold my elbows against my belly to shoot, because holding my gun up was EXHAUSTING.
-I have horrible muscle spasms and knots in my back. Myofasical release massage helps IMMENSELY but only lasts 2-3 days or less because the spasms come right back. It's also really expensive, so I'm lucky if I can get a good massage once a month, sometimes less.
-To date, we've tried nearly every muscle relaxer that exists and none seem to work, OR they just knock me out for 16-20 hours which isn't practical. I'm not currently taking any muscle relaxers for this reason. I now have a prescription card in NJ for medical marijuana (as of July 2015) for muscle spasms, and it does help quite a bit.
-I have horrible ongoing low-back and tail-bone pain. When I was a police officer, I would shove my metal ticket book behind my low back as lumbar support in my car which helped immensely. As a child, I would sit in weird positions to avoid back pain. As an adult, l spend a LOT of time unable to get comfortable - I used to sleep curled up, now I sleep on my back, but I've yet to find a comfortable bed/surface or way to sleep that reduces my pain. A pillow between my knees DOES help. I have since gotten several Yogibo chairs and pillows, which help a lot - I even sleep in my large Yogobi couch from time to time!
-MRIs have to be upright because I'm terrible claustrophobic even with meds - they show some arthritic change but arent overly helpful because nothing is actively dislocated while the MRI is being done, so it doesnt show a whole lot. The first two orthopedists completely dismissed all my pain and problems because my MRI's didn't show any bulging disks, etc.
-I was diagnosed with crohns in summer 2008 while i was hospitalized on and off for seven weeks where I lived at the time. I still have specific foods, meds, etc that I avoid for flareups although some things (like fried foods) are just ALWAYS a no-no, no matter what.
-I've been off medication since my pregnancy in 2010 - and have been in remission since around mid 2009 though I still have have some IBS type symptoms occasionally.
-I cant take anti-inflammatories or NSAIDS as well other typical mild pain relievers. (the entire list is advil, tylenol, aspirin and naproxin) because they cause horrible GI pain, cramping and bleeding, and I'm pretty sure that's what caused or at least triggered the crohns to almost kill me in 2007.
- I have tried EVERY exclusion diet, and skipping gluten, dairy, citrus, meat, carbs, sugars, carbonation, etc etc etc doesn't work. I have literally done each one, for months, with NO results - none of these benefit anything.
-I have regular colonoscopies to be sure the Crohns is still in remission - the only problem is that
- I had severe GI slowdown and even a blockage that required surgery while on oxycodone, so I got off of it - it did help with the chronic pain, but wasn't worth the awful effects on my GI. During the time on 15mg oxycodone, I gained almost 60 lbs, destroyed my appetite and sense of taste, and was constantly battling digestive problems (related to stasis).
- I had one pregnancy and it was fairly normal in 2010.
- During my pregnancy, I was off all medication (I wasn't yet on pain medication as I was diagnosed with and my EDS got much worse at the end of, and after my pregnancy). My GI slowed down naturally, so the pregnancy almost seemed to "solve" all the problems with my crohns even though I'd stopped medications (I had done remicade treatments when first diagnosed, and later was on Asacol and Dicyclomine/Bentyl).
- I have horrible cramps that seem to be worse when my thyroid works properly, but I do have very short periods and very irregular cycles that have proven impossible to track.
- I was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis and have chronic and constant problems that feel like UTIs. I did have a problem with recurrent kidney infections which were solved with heavy IV antibiotic use - but the iv antibiotics caused permanent tendon damage (levoquin and cipro - at the time we didn't know that with EDS, I shouldn't be taking them).
-The cystitis causes chronic UTI symptoms, and I take AZO about fifteen days a month to help reduce the pain/burning/urgency. It's especially bad during that time of the month and is a pain in the ass in relation to my marriage for obvious reasons (though my husband is incredibly understanding). Sometimes I take AZO as a preventative because I *know* the symptoms are coming back.
-I have had awful problems with urgency, maybe I just wait too long to actually get up to go to the bathroom because of the chronic pain, but once I'm en route, its basically an emergency.
- I tried to do both the bladder installations (where they put the medication right into your bladder) plus take the oral meds (elmiron and elavil),but the oral medication made me violently vomit and no adjustments help- I absolutely can't take them. The bladder installations don't last long enough to be worth the inconvenience, humiliation and constant risk of infection, plus, they leave me with the same pain and burning and I still have to take AZO. So I just live on AZO and I'm hoping it's not killing me.
I THINK that's about it.... still adding to this as I think about more things...
I was 29 years old when I became pregnant - the specifics of the situation are a story for another time, but at that time, I was, by all accounts, a fairly healthy and very active person. I was a police officer, I raced BMX on the weekends, I rode a motorcycle regularly and went horseback riding every Sunday morning. I had a lot of "little accidents" and bruised easily plus I suffered with an unusually weak immune system, and I had lots of small things that seemed odd for someone my age - but I never would have dreamed that I would one day be completely disabled because of something I'd had all along.
It wouldn't be fair to say that being pregnant CAUSED me to become disabled, but had I not become pregnant, it's impossible to know if i would have ever been seriously affected by the Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, especially to the extent that I am now. I may have gone through life just being sick more than the average person, being unable to tolerate the heat, and having an unusual number of "little issues" here and there with my health.
I didn't want to have a baby- I had never wanted kids, but all of that is an entirely separate story. Regardless, by the time I was nine months pregnant, my best friend was doing the best he good to take care of me as the swelling (of my legs and feet) had gotten so bad I could barely walk and all I wanted was the baby O-U-T. When we had gone to the hospital to have the baby, my birth plan was a scheduled c-section but my baby plan was open ended... I was fairly sure my son would be headed to an adoption agency as my life-plan had never included children and I had no intention of being a single parent.
During my pregnancy, I had moved to my home state of NJ to be with family - and with my best friend who I came home every other month or so to see during the ten years I'd lived in Florida. How we didn't know that we'd one day end up married neither of us can figure out in retrospect... and even though we never technically dated (about a week before our son's birth we discussed that by entering a relationship we were basically acknowledging that we were planning to get married - hell, hadn't what we'd been doing all that time we'd spent together over 14 years essentially been dating without the kissing and whatnot? Anyway, he is Kaedin's father, and he had been his daddy since our son was the size of a lima-bean growing in my belly even if we didn't actually know we'd choose in the end to become his parents.
Justin also had never wanted kids, I was dead-set against them, and despite our being the best friends for fourteen years, it wasn't until I moved home pregnant and in crisis that we fell in love... right there between the morning sickness and my ever-expanding mid-section, somehow it happened. The first time he told me that he thought I was beautiful was a slightly sideways comment about how pregnant women can be really beautiful. I got what he was throwing out there... neither of us had ever been the mushy type - after all, we had been platonic besties for over a decade, but somehow it worked.
And as it turned out, he is the most amazing father in the world - like I said, he was, even before we knew we'd be parenting the little munchkin. He was incredibly supportive, from foot rubs and staying up all night with me when I was feeling really awful to emotionally supporting me through the entire crisis that had caused the pregnancy in the first place. But my amazing husband (he's my husband now, he wasn't yet then) isn't what this blog is about... this is all about how my pregnancy caused me to become disabled.
Despite his best effort to keep me smiling and get me comfortable, even all of the foot-rubs, and back-rubs (Not to mention and how amazing to go from scared, alone and pregnant to having the most wonderful man in the world supporting you through a rough pregnancy ALL all the emotional trauma to boot), I was still getting more and more uncomfortable.
He would hold his hand on my ever-expanding belly to feel those insane kicks (and the hiccups my son had for almost an entire month before he was born!) and it was truly amazing to know how loved we both were - but still, I was in a LOT of pain by the time the 9-month mark rolled around. I hadn't gained much weight throughout the entire pregnancy (in retrospect, thank god for that!) - but all the sudden at eight months, it looked like I'd swallowed a basketball.
Due to the traumatic nature of my pregnancy, sadly, there are few pictures the documented the journey, so you'll have to take my word for it, but at seven months along, I was still getting the side-eye whenever I'd park in the "expectant mothers" spot, and yet less than a month later, right around Christmas, everyone (including myself) was quite positive I would burst at any moment, possibly with twins! So when the day finally came (and yes, we made the decision to keep our son and bring him home while daddy was holding him in the middle of my tubal-ligation... the big emotional mess of a decision I'd made as a kick-back from the trauma of the pregnancy in the first place...) - I thought that all that back pain, leg pain, etc would finally end.
I went home on pain-killers - for about ten days after my c-section and during that time felt pretty great. Of course, much it it was probably the fact that I was now engaged and in love with both of my amazing men... I remarkably feeling well for someone who had just had a human being ripped from their abdomen and I was actually up walking around quite a bit just hours after our son was born.
I had remembered the horror stories from my sister in law who couldn't walk for days afterwards, but none of that was the case. In all reality - had my digestive system responded better to the dilaudid, I probably could have gone home that next day, but instead we got snowed in and spent six blissful days with nurses and catered meals and we all snuggled together and slept in my hospital bed. (It's a pretty weird way to start a marriage, by the way... his family was all "So... you're not coming home after work because you're at the hospital with your new baby.... um....)... but again, THAT is a whole other story. :-)
Our First Family Photo (1/24/11): I was crying. Right before this photo was taken, my then fiance brought the baby over for my first look and said to me, "I think we need a car seat." Until that point, we hadn't decided that we would be parenting vs. my placing the baby for adoption as I'd been planning through my pregnancy, so this picture is incredibly special to us. I was so incredibly blown away that my best friend had fallen in love with our son so completely before I'd even had a chance to lay eyes on him.
The problem wasn't my body wasn't the c-section or the recovery afterwards, what actually "upset" my faulty collagen had started long before the surgery as my body was moving through the stages of pregnancy and preparing for labor. All the low-back pain and hip problems I'd been writing off as pregnancy-related weren't actually -they were foreshadowing.
The problem began to show itself in the weeks after the birth when the low-back pain from the pregnancy (it had crept up right around the eighth month) had never gone away... by early summer it had gotten so bad I was at my GP asking for pain medication and MRI and x-rays. Disappointing and confused by "minor arthritic change" being the only notable thing, I couldn't understand why my pain was only getting worse. And spreading. It seemed like my knees, my ankles, my shoulders... one at a time, every joint in my body was starting to slip out of place, to sit funny - I'd dislocate a hip during sex (sorry for the TMI, but I promise, no one was more traumatized than we were!) - I'd step down a step only to find that my ankle had slipped out of place and end up in a heap on the ground.... something was very wrong and it wasn't related to my now months-gone pregnancy. By now my son was standing on his own, and I was becoming less and less able to stand on my own, even sitting up for long periods was excruciating. While he was having tummy time, all I could do was lay flat on my back on a heating pad, taking twice the recommended dosage of Advil and nothing was helping.
Finally, almost a year after my son's birth- after various referrals and two orthopedists who told me that nothing was horribly wrong with my back, I saw an orthopedist who was able to give me some REAL answers. (For the record, my husband had already come to the right conclusion) But for me, this was a real specialist, who I really trusted, who could explain what no one else had figured out: I have Ehlers-Danlos Sydrome, Type III. Otherwise known as Hyper Mobility Syndrome, it's a genetic condition that causes faulty collagen, which is otherwise known as the glue that holds us all together. So here I was, feeling as if I was coming apart at the seams... and I really WAS! As upsetting as it is to have a genetic disorder and no hope for a cure - everyone I know who has been diagnosed to this day is just glad that they finally have answers.
Being told that it's not real, that it's all in your head - it's demeaning, it's downright abusive. To have doctor after doctor treat you as if you are a head-case while your body is being racked with such severe pain that your quality of life is becoming non existent, you just don't understand what that's like until you're living it. I was just glad to have something I could go home and Google, to read about, to learn about, to learn to cope. The first stage of accepting this condition is knowing you have it - so at least I had that.
And for the record, I really have to thank my orthopedist Dr. Levy from Sprains Strains and Fractures in Cherry Hill, NJ because he's an amazing person and he really may well have saved my life, because up until the point where I started getting proper treatment for this incredibly painful condition, it was not looking good for me.
I spent the first few days after the diagnosis in tears- at first I was terrified I had Type 4 (Vascular EDS, which is often deadly) - I do not, I have type III. But still -this has no cure. It's a lifetime of pain. The dislocations will never go away, they will never stop - surgery won't help. This is a condition you manage and learn to live with - but it's not something that you can change because it's faulty genetics. And worse... I could have passed it to my son. But now you know the end of the story, and you didn't really find out HOW I went from being a healthy happy 130 lb police officer to a 185 lb disabled woman with a three year old son... so let me explain how pregnancy (and later, an inept moron of a doctor at Virtua Hospital in Voorhees) destroyed my body...
(but first let me say... even had I known that this would be the outcome... we wouldn't trade our son for the world.)
HOW PREGNANCY CAUSES EDS SYMPTOMS TO GO AWRY ...
The relaxin hormone floods a woman's body at the end of pregnancy to prepare her hips and pelvis for birth - unfortunately that hormone loosens up ALL your joints, not just your hips and pelvis. A healthy women's body will slowly tighten back up, and her lax joints from pregnancy hormones will slowly go back into their normal place after labor as the healthy collagen does it's job after the pregnancy is over.
Unfortunately, my defective collagen couldn't help my body go back to where everything belonged. The pregnancy set me up for a lifetime of joint dislocations each and every time I move, even ever-so-slightly, the wrong way. If I reach for something in front of my, my shoulder can drop out of the socket. When I roll over in my sleep, my hip often slides in and out of socket more times than you flip your pillow to get to the cool side.
Every joint in my body regularly dislocates, except oddly, my elbows, which seem to have remained free from the effects of my hyper-mobility. Everything else in my body is affected; my jaw broke during surgery to pull my wisdom teeth, my fingers dislocate from typing, writing with a pencil is physically painful, my wrists snap from picking up my cell phone to look at my text messages, toes slide out of socket and are so cramped and painful the only way to put them back in place is to get on my feet and apply pressure to them with my whole body to "re-set" them into place, my ankles drop if I try to run (that's a joke - trust me, there's no running going on here!), my knees dislocate from staying bent on an airplane or at a movie, and more than anything, my hips.
My hips are why I walk funny - they are why I'm in horrible pain as i type this blog, they are why I can't sleep, why my back is constantly a huge tangle of painful knots.
My hips are the bane of my existence... That's what the collagen disorder, EDS Type-III is, after-all. As a child, they put these awful bar-shoes on my feet to try to stop me from "toe-ing in" as they called it. Doctors told my parents not to worry and that I'd "outgrow it" and not one specialist was concerned that I can rotate my feet well over 180 degrees inward, even walking with my feet facing forward and backward at once. Here's a photo to illustrate. And here's one that shows what I can do standing up...
It's quite typical for woman (and their doctors) to only put together all the puzzle-pieces of a lifetime of "little things" together after a pregnancy, when all the damage done by the relaxin begins to cause chronic pain. And that's what happened to me.
HOW LEVOQUIN AND CIPROFLOXIN CAUSED ME PERMANENT INJURY AND A LIFETIME OF PAIN...
One of the biggest things that contributed to my life-long battle with chronic-illness (in addition to the pregnancy that triggered the onset of severe symptoms) - was 100% the fault of Virtua Hospital and the HORRENDOUS admitting doctor who was put in charge of my care there. (*Please see the foot-note to this story) That's a story for another time, but I promise I'll tell it.
There is some debate about the facts - but this we know for sure: Shortly after my son's birth my husband and I both were diagnosed with Mono (well, to be fair, he had Mono, I was battling with the Epstein-Barr virus as I have immune system issues we didn't yet know about). My husband became jaundiced and was hospitalized, I had an IV infiltrate and and had a serious issue with cellulitis I began to battle with nearly permanent urinary tract infections and kidney infection symptoms.
I had sharp pelvic and abdominal pain, pain in my low back near my kidneys, burning and the constant feeling of needing to pee.... it was never-ending and so severe that I went to the ER nearly a dozen times because absolutely nothing would reduce the pain short of IV morphine or dilaudid. It became unbelievably bad during my periods, after sex, after bathing, swimming... I did everything possible to avoid UTI's - literally followed the handbook to a T - including giving up sex for quite a while despite the fact that I was newly married and very much in love. Nothing I did helped.
I was admitted to Virtua Hospital more than nine times in the year after my son was born, and several more times in early 2012. During the first few hospitalizations, I was told that I had MRSA in my kidneys... MRSA is a HIGHLY infectious staph infection. It HAD to have been given to me during a cathaterization... and up until that point I'd had exactly ONE catheter in my entire life: DURING MY C-SECTION... at Virtua Hospital. Isn't that nice? I was treated like a bio-hazard. Everyone who came into my room suited up as if I was an E-Bola patient and even friends and family were supposed to wear gowns, masks and gloves to come see me. My newborn child who I'd care for at home, skin to skin, I was told was not allowed to visit me in the hospital (they got WW-III about that, and I won, btw.) I missed my own baby shower (it was after my son's birth) because I was in the hospital, and I was in quarantine, so they wouldn't even let me guests visit me.
So the onslaught of antibiotics started. They pumped me full of antibiotics and I never began to feel better - only worse. The only thing that ever seemed to help the UTI symptoms was over the counter AZO (which I still use to this day on a regular basis) - even the various antibiotics didn't keep the infections at bay for more than a week or two. Some of my hospitalizations were LITERALLY just days after I'd been released. I was repeatedly treated with two strong antibiotics: Levoquin, and Ciprofloxin.
Each time I would get a bag of IV antibiotics, the pain would come. I felt as if they were pumping wet cement into my body and it felt as if every joint was hardening to a solid. I felt like I couldn't move - the fire-y pain that shot through my veins was worse than the broken jaw, worse than third degree burns, WAY worse than the c-section, even worse than the bowel impaction and intestinal tears I'd survived... it was HELL. I reported to the nurses my horrible pain. Occasionally a doctor would up my dilaudid from every 6 hours to 4, or add Vicodin on top of my morphine, but nothing was ACTUALLY helping. I was just getting sicker and no one knew why.
I'll tell you another time about the world war that went on between the doctors and I, but suffice to say that if a hospital can't explain your symptoms, they have two responses...
1) They'll tell you that they don't believe you're actually sick because your symptoms "don't make sense" or because nothing you're complaining of is showing up on their tests.... and they'll discharge you, even if you have VISIBLE symptoms, such as bacteria or an infection they can confirm.... they'll discharge you, after having you on anti-inflammatory medications, pain medications, antibiotics, probiotics and ran a whole bunch of tests.... and they'll send you home with NOTHING. The hospital will flat out tell you that they don't know the answer and that they "can't keep you here forever" and will simply send you home with NO answers.
2) They'll imply that perhaps you have a mental illness, that the pain is in your mind, or worse, that you are simply there seeking pain medications because you are a drug addict. I repeatedly told the doctor after being trearted with antibiotics that I was experiencing SEVERE and worsening pain... and in response, the admitting doctor flat out accused me of "drug-seeking behavior" claiming that my report of pain made NO sense and COULDN'T be true. (*Please see the foot note below about the serious affects of the Fluoroquinolone family of antibiotics.)
*I was accused of this once - by the same idiot doctor I mentioned above and in the blog post (here).
Why? Because at the time, in her words "No one being treated for a kidney infection SUDDENLY has sharp severe pain in her hip, shoulder and lower back. It makes no sense." Seven months later, a black-box warning was added to the Fluoroquinolone family of antibiotics- including LEVOQUIN and CIPROFLOXIN. Read more about this in the footnote or (here).
Basically what it comes down to is this- SEVERE PAIN as a side-effect of those antibiotics is a sign that something is VERY very wrong. And she continued to treat me with those same drugs, over and over and over, all the while, claiming that I was "over reporting" my pain and wasn't being truthful. In the end, her ignorance and ignoring my reports of pain, ended in PERMANENT damage to my joints, throughout my entire body, that I now have to live with forever. .
** Footnote Regarding Fluoroquinolone Antibiotic **
Approximately 7-9 months after I was accused of lying when I reported severe pain during and after IV antibiotic treatments - the FDA released new Black Box warnings about the SERIOUS dangers associated with these antibiotics. Here's the information from the FDA.
Warning: Fluoroquinolone Antibiotics May Cause Permanent Nerve Damage.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required the drug labels and Medication Guides for all fluoroquinolone antibacterial drugs be updated to better describe the serious side effect of peripheral neuropathy. This serious nerve damage potentially caused by fluoroquinolones may occur soon after these drugs are taken and may be permanent...
Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage in the arms and/or legs, characterized by “pain, burning, tingling, numbness, weakness, or a change in sensation to light touch, pain or temperature, or sense of body position.”
Due to their tremendous health risks, fluoroquinolones should be reserved for treating serious bacterial infections that won’t respond to any other treatment, when the patient is made fully aware of the potential for serious adverse events. Instead, they’re often inappropriately prescribed for mild conditions like sinus, urinary tract and ear infections.
In fact, fluoroquinolones are among the most commonly prescribed antibiotics in the United States. I highly recommend you take pause before filling a prescription for these drugs, especially if you have a “routine infection” that has not been treated by other agents that have a safer side effect profile.
You should not expose yourself to this degree of risk unnecessarily! The dangerousness of fluoroquinolones definitely warrants some serious discourse with your health care provider about whether they are really necessary, versus safer treatment options.
Life at 34, as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend... with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, nothing is easy..but it *IS* worth it.