Category Archives: Medical Visits

Teamwork

I went to a new dentist last week, for my regular cleaning and updated x-rays.  I’ve never been fond of the dentist to begin with, but since I got CIs it is extra challenging because being reclined makes my CI processors (aka my “ears”) fall off.

I’ve tried many things over the years — wig tape, headbands, scarves, even a knit cap.  Nothing is foolproof (although the knit cap worked the best, since it also helps to keep my magnets where they need to be).  However, I am not about to pull out a knit cap in August.

This time around I used something called a Snuggie from Advanced Bionics, basically tubing made to fit my Harmony processors that fits snugly around my ear.  It works perfectly to keep the processor from being pulled off my ear as my head is reclined back.  The only issue that remained was keeping the magnets from being knocked out of place by the headrest.

Advanced Bionics Snuggie for the Harmony cochlear implant -- the clear tubing goes around the ear

Advanced Bionics Snuggie for the Harmony cochlear implant — the clear tubing goes around the ear

I played around with a scarf tied strategically over both magnets, but eventually decided it was too fussy.  I figured I’d just deal with the magnet situation if and when it arose.

In the end I didn’t have too much trouble; they were able to adjust the headrest so that my magnets stayed in place during most of my visit.  They did slip off when I was told to turn my head to the side, but those instances were brief and my other magnet stayed in place so I had enough hearing to still follow instructions.

What really impressed me, though, was when the dentist came in for the exam portion.  She had a bit of an accent, and originally asked me a question when her back was turned (she also had a mask over her mouth, just for an added challenge).  I had no idea if she was talking to the dental hygienist or me, so I stayed silent.  She turned back to me, and I met her eyes and said, “I can hear you, but I also read lips to understand what you’re saying.”

Her face lit up and she pulled the mask down.  “Thank you for telling me! That’s very good to know.”  Then she turned to the hygienist and asked her to repeat everything for me — although the dentist kept her mask on, everything she said was repeated by the hygienist so I could read the hygienist’s lips.  I’ve never had anyone in the medical profession do that for me before and it made a huge difference.

Not only did I get a clean bill of dental health, I came away feeling like my needs were met with respect, kindness and ingenuity.  It almost makes me not dread going to the dentist again!

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Say What You Wanna Say

I’ve been trying to be better about speaking up for myself, but last year I failed miserably where my glasses were concerned.

Because we moved, I had to find a new eye doctor (which was nerve-wracking enough). Eye exams make me feel really vulnerable because I have my contact lenses out and my vision is really terrible (nearsighted, -8.50 in both eyes). The room is dark and I’m looking through the big machine with the lenses, and I have to be able to understand what the optometrist is asking me. Even looking at her to lip read doesn’t help, because I can’t see her face unless it’s literally about an inch from my eyes.

I did luck out with my new doctor, who is easy to understand and doesn’t have an accent. I asked for prescriptions for contacts, regular glasses, bifocals, and also computer glasses. I explained that sometimes I want to take my contacts out at the end of the evening, but still be able to sit at my desk and see my computer screen. My bifocal glasses are a bit too strong in the distance prescription to see my monitor, and to use the bifocal area I have to tilt my head back and look through the bottom of the lens. She understood what I was asking for and had no problem giving me a prescription just for computer glasses.

I’ve been caught off guard with high prices for glasses in the past; they hook you with a coupon, and then by the time all the add-ons and upgrades are added, the $99 glasses suddenly cost $400. Since the computer glasses would just be a once-in-a-great-while thing, I figured I would just order them online from Zenni to save money.

After I paid the bill for my first visit, we got in the car and I looked through the papers the receptionist had handed me. I assumed my prescriptions were part of the paperwork but they weren’t there. We were in the middle of a snowstorm and I really just wanted to get home before the snow got too bad, so I didn’t go back inside to ask for copies of my prescriptions.

At various points all through 2015, I tried to psych myself up to go in (or email) and ask for copies of my prescriptions. And I was too chicken. Even though I know by law they have to provide them if I ask. I just kept making excuses not to do it.

So when my annual eye exam came around at the end of last year, I was determined. I was not leaving there without copies of all of my prescriptions. I did give in and get new bifocal glasses because my prescription had changed and my bifocals from Zenni were just a little too tight. I wanted my new bifocals to be properly fitted and make sure my PD (pupillary distance) was correct. I went in prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on these glasses that I basically just wear for five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night (from the bedroom to the bathroom, where I put in and take out my contact lenses).

I was pleasantly surprised, though, when I asked the optician to give me the cheapest pair of bifocals possible. She didn’t even hesitate or argue, and they were less than $150. Yes, the lenses are thick and heavy because I didn’t get the more expensive, thin lenses and my prescription is really high. But it doesn’t matter – they look fine, fit great, and they do the job.

Having just dropped some serious coin (for me, anyway) on these glasses and the exam, I was emboldened and didn’t hesitate to ask for copies of my prescriptions when they weren’t automatically given to me. “Oh, sure!” chirped the optician. She handed me four sheets of paper. What the heck was I so afraid of?!

I came home, measured my PD and went online to shop at Zenni. Since these are glasses I’ll just be wearing around the house, I decided to go a little wild (for me) and get big, oversized frames. (I know they’ve become popular again but I still have bad flashbacks to my huge glasses from the 70s.) I did get thinner lenses because they were a free add-on, although not as thin as they recommended for my horrible vision. The anti-reflection coating and the lenses themselves were free; all I paid for was the frames and they were $9.95. (Well, and $4.95 for shipping.)

Less than two weeks later I had my new glasses, and they are just awesome – exactly what I needed for late-night computing.

I just wish I hadn’t waited a whole year to get the nerve to order them. Here’s to bravery in 2016!

Words Are Very Unnecessary

On our way home from Dave’s one-month checkup with his hepatologist in Fort Wayne, we stopped at Subway for lunch. Although we like the food, Dave kind of hates going there because the ordering process confounds him. They ask a lot of questions, and for someone with hearing loss that’s a real drag.

I have an easier time with this kind of thing (as long as it’s in person) because I lipread, so I am usually the one to order. I just consult Dave first to make sure what he wants, or if he starts to order himself then I will relay the questions to him if he misses them.

Since it was just a light lunch, we did our usual and got the same sandwich in the foot-long size, and then split it. This location had a drive-through but we decided to go inside because I really struggle to understand anything through those speakers.

We were the only customers, and as we walked up to the counter the guy started talking. I wasn’t close enough to read his lips and had no clue what he said (he was talking really fast and also had a bit of a southern accent). I did my usual and just assumed what he probably said based on my past visits to Subway.

Well yes, I can relate to this.

Well yes, I can relate to this.

I told him the type of sandwich we wanted and the type of bread. He said something else that I missed, but I knew they usually asked about cheese and I thought I’d caught part of his question. “Did you say something about pepperjack cheese?” He nodded, and I confirmed that we wanted it. Then he asked if we wanted it toasted, which caught me off guard. I had to have him repeat the question a couple of times. After I answered him, I added, “I’m deaf and I’m reading your lips, so that’s why I sometimes miss what you say.”

Now, usually I add that I have cochlear implants and I hear with them; that way people know that I do hear sound but they also know that I’m reading their lips as well. But I figured eh, this is just a quick lunch order and why go into all that detail? Here’s what happened when I just let that statement hang in the air without further clarification:

The guy stopped talking.

He had been keeping up a constant patter while we were there, which was making it hard for me to tell if he was asking a question, making a comment about our order, or even perhaps just talking to himself. My statement silenced him, and what a gift it was!

He quietly made the sandwich and just kind of looked up when he got to the veggies, waving his hand vaguely in the direction of the options available. I smiled and said we just wanted tomato, nothing else, and no sauce.

Obviously he thought I couldn’t hear anything and there was no point in really talking to me anymore, so he resorted to his version of sign language – and it was perfectly fine with me (even preferable, if I’m being honest). I thought it was kind of hilarious; it’s been a long time since I’ve had someone react that way when I say I’m deaf. Even before I got my CIs and I really couldn’t hear, when I told someone I was deaf and reading lips, they would still keep talking to me the same way they had been.

(Before I get to my next story, I have to interject and say that Dave had his viral load tested at this appointment, and we got the results yesterday. As of one month into his three month treatment with Harvoni and Ribavirin, he has cleared the Hepatitis C virus! He never cleared it in 2013; he went from over 4 million to 11,000 but that was as low as it went. This time he started at over 3 million and BOOM … now it’s undetected. ! ! ! !)

The other hearing loss-related thing that happened around here was during a power outage. The power really doesn’t go out very often here, and when it does they get it back on within a few hours (at the most). It seems to go out at weird times, though, not during storms. The last time was about a week ago, after we’d had some rain come through. During the storms all was well, but about 3:15 in the morning my eyes just kind of flew open. I could feel that something wasn’t right; I just didn’t know what it was. I realized Dave wasn’t in bed, and then I looked over at the clock and saw that it was off – we had a power outage.  (Dave had realized about five minutes before me and was getting candles.)

It wasn’t hot so we didn’t have fans on (or else the room suddenly getting hot would have woken me up). I realized that when I’m sleeping I’m more sensitive to light (and the lack of it) than I realized. I always assumed I wouldn’t wake up from a strobe light on a smoke detector, and that I’d need something that vibrated the bed to wake me up. (Those systems are, by the way, very expensive.) Now I’m kind of wondering if the strobe light would actually do the trick. I must be more sensitive to that kind of thing when I’m sleeping since I don’t have hearing to rely on. Very interesting!

 

Hep C, Writing, Fitbit, House

“It says here that I should eat ice cream every day.” Dave looked up from his computer screen and smiled.

I have to give him points for trying – ice cream every day would take the sting out of going through treatment for Hepatitis C a second time.

His new treatment starts next week, and it goes for three months this time. He’ll be taking a new drug, Harvoni (I keep wanting to call it Havarti, like the cheese) along with his old friend Ribavirin. No interferon shots this time, thank God. We couldn’t remember if he had to take the drugs with a high-fat snack the way he did last time, so he was doing research to refresh his memory. (Turns out it was the boceprevir that required the high-fat snack, so no requisite Hershey bars or peanut butter this time around.)

This regimen should have way less side effects, although there will still be a few from the Ribavirin. (If he was treatment-naïve, he would just take the Harvoni which has very few side effects.) We’ll be making bi-weekly trips to Fort Wayne to pick up his medicine (he gets a two week supply each time) and have them check his labs.

I didn’t mean to let so much time go by without an update. I was taking an online class on how to make money from your writing, and it ended this month. By the end of the class I was feeling like I just wanted to write here and not try to actually make any money by writing – and then I stopped writing here, go figure. It was pretty eye-opening, though, and I’m glad I took the class. I had a lot of misconceived notions about writing for magazines, for instance. I didn’t realize that you don’t actually write a piece and submit it (unless it’s an essay, which I discovered is the type of writing I prefer). A magazine article is just an idea when you send a query to a magazine – ‘Hey, how about I write on this subject for you?’ – and then you wait to find out if anyone is interested. If they are, then you write the article.

And a book – well, my memoir has been stalled for months, so it’s not like I was on the verge of being done or anything, but I was still thinking of book publishing as ‘write a book, submit the manuscript and hope it gets accepted, if it does then the publisher promotes it and you hope people buy it.’ No sir. It’s more like, write a book and then try to convince a publisher to accept it by showing how popular you are and all the things YOU can do to promote it. I have NO desire to try to sell a book. I don’t want to have to give talks or readings, I don’t want to do interviews, I don’t want to spend my days begging my friends to buy my book. I just want to write, man. So I figured, screw it, I’m just going to satisfy my urge to write through my blog. And then, like I said, I stopped writing.

I was very caught up in the whole ‘I am not a writer if I don’t get paid for what I write’ thing and it was really messing with my head. So I backed off of everything for a while, I guess.

In other exciting news, sort of related to writing, I got a Fitbit last week. Influenster offered me the eBay Guide badge, where you earn a $25 eBay gift card by writing two eBay guides. It took forever and a day to have both of the guides accepted (they read them and approve them one at a time) and then to actually get the gift card, which was sent in the mail. While I was trying to figure out what to spend it on, they offered me an eBay Guide VIP badge for another $25 gift card. I decided to do two more guides, and held onto the first gift card so I could combine them. The second gift card came via email and voila, I had $50 to spend on eBay.

I had done some research on the Fitbit, and decided on either the Flex or the Charge. I don’t use it for phone stuff so the only thing the Charge really offered that the Flex didn’t have was an on-screen display. I did some pricing and realized I could get the Flex for very little of my own money, so that sealed my decision. I finally snagged a slate blue Fitbit Flex for $60 with free shipping, used my $50 in gift cards and got myself a Fitbit for the low, low out-of-my-pocket price of $10.

I am properly obsessed right now, and I do find myself extending my workouts to get in at least 10,000 steps a day if I can. I don’t really bother with the calorie portion of the app because I use the Livestrong MyPlate website to track my calories, but I do take note of the calories I supposedly burned (according to Fitbit) versus the calories I consumed (according to MyPlate).

I am holding steady with my weight, and I just have seven measly pounds to get to my ultimate, in-my-dreams goal. However, I’ve been within 4 to 7 pounds of that goal for nearly a year now. Maybe the Fitbit will take me over the top. If nothing else, I’ll be more active. Win, win!

Now I’ve gotten a third eBay Guide badge, the VIP Plus, for another $25 gift card. I completed those guides and they were accepted right away, so I’m waiting for the gift card (it usually takes a few weeks). Let me just say, finding topics that I could write on was really hard. You have to use the Influenster topic suggestion tool and use something from there. You click on this ‘inspire me’ button and it spins around and throws out a topic. Most of them were for things I’d never even heard of, or had no idea what to write about (how to replace a manual transmission; pricing Pokemon cards; birds of Asia). I lucked out with a couple of candle topics, one on canning, DIY hair stuff, things like that. It took a lot of clicking to get there, though.

I think we are finally ready to give the garden a go. Dave is out burning the brush pile right now; it has to go because it’s currently in the area we plan to till. Well, I think we may have someone come in and do the tilling for us. We’ve figured the cost of renting a tiller AND a truck (because we can’t fit the tiller in our Hyundai Sonata), and it may be cheaper just to pay someone to come do it for us with their own equipment. One way or another, though, the garden area should be prepared in the next couple of weeks and we can finally begin planting. One more thing – we finally started a compost pile. I’ve never had one, so I keep having to dig through the trash to pull out vegetable peelings, egg shells and the like.

We will miss this little house when we move on, but it won’t be until 2016 at the earliest. Last year was so full of trauma and upheaval, and we are looking forward to just staying put for this year. It is so nice to wake up every day feeling relaxed, wondering where the day will take us. Every day we find new flowers coming up, new buds on the trees. I’m already looking forward to mulberries and raspberries.

Raspberries from our yard last year

Raspberries from our yard last year

It Only Took 32 Years

… for me to change my attitude on exercise.

When I was in high school, we were required to take gym class. Except for the times we were doing special units (my favorites were roller skating and gymnastics), we had to run a mile every week. We’d get out on the track and, in my case, huff and puff until the punishment was done. I hated doing the mile. Hated it.

It didn’t matter that I was really skinny in high school; I was not physically fit at all. In the beginning, I’d kind of jog along with everybody until I got too tired, and then I’d walk. As the months went by I just said ‘screw this’ and walked right from the start. I was usually last to finish, and I didn’t care.

I often wonder if we’d ever been taught how to work up to running – you know, a Couch to 5K kind of thing – then maybe I wouldn’t have hated it so much. I just could not jog for that long without physical pain. It taught me to hate jogging with a passion.

When I saw my doctor last month for my new patient physical, she asked if I exercised and I told her that I jogged on a mini trampoline daily. “I’m trying to transition to jogging outside,” I added, “but it’s so hard.” “Oh, walking is better for you,” she replied. “There’s less chance for injury.”

When my physical was over, I had a blood test. I was curious to see how my cholesterol levels responded to the daily exercise and 35 pound weight loss. My blood pressure was already showing positive changes; even though I was nervous as hell at my doctor appointment, my blood pressure was 112/70. (I take medication for it.) I see the doctor again in September and there’s even a chance she might take me off the blood pressure medication, which I’ve been on since 1994.

High cholesterol runs in my family, and although it responds a bit if I lose weight, I usually still have high cholesterol if I don’t take medication for it. I have never exercised regularly though; this is the first time in all of my 50 years that I’ve exercised on a regular basis for more than a couple of weeks. (It’s been about a year and a half for me now.) I think the biggest change was my HDL cholesterol, which went from 45 to 64 – the highest it’s ever been.

My overall cholesterol went down just 4 points, but I’m taking a fibrate instead of a statin so that doesn’t surprise me. (My last doctor was trying to get my triglycerides down, so she switched me from the statin.) The fibrate medication does bring my triglycerides down more but it doesn’t really touch my LDL or overall cholesterol much. I was happy that my overall cholesterol was still under 200, even on the fibrate. My LDL went down 14 points, but it’s still a shade over 100 (which is the ‘optimal’ range).

My triglycerides though – holy crap. They are 71, which is so much lower than I’ve ever been. My highest was 237; that was when I was taking prescription fish oil (Lovaza) and ugh, that stuff was horrible. So I really think the exercise is helping my overall health more than I realized, possibly even more than losing weight.

While I was still riding the high of my much-improved results, I happened to see a small notice in our town paper about a 5K to support a local grief support and hospice program, Lory’s Place. I’d just finished reading Being Mortal and really liked what the author had to say about hospice in general, so I was all for doing something to support them. I talked to Dave and he agreed. So I signed us both up to walk our first 5K on May 16.

We’ve been walking outside every day that it isn’t raining. I was pretty sure we could finish a 5K in an hour; I mean a 20 minute mile sounds so leisurely, you know? But we got out and walked around the backyard one day and I was positively gasping, my heart pounding, my thighs screaming … and it took over 22 minutes to walk one mile.

“I’m going to be last!” I despaired. I’d made the mistake of looking at the past race results and noticed that the slowest walking time was about 1:17. I could see myself slowing down after the first mile and doing my subsequent miles in 25 or more minutes each. I actually made Dave promise that if we were last, he would slow down so I could cross the finish line before him and be second to last. (My husband is such a good guy!)

Of course, jogging is out of the realm of possibility here; I can’t even walk that fast, much less jog. But we made it out to an actual paved trail yesterday and did our mile in exactly 17 minutes, so that gives me hope. I was still panting and gasping at the end, but it’s definitely easier to walk on a paved surface versus our soft, lumpy, molehill-ridden backyard.

I’ve decided to just dial back my competitive nature and do this 5K for the fun experience I hope it will be. Maybe with time and practice, it will get easier. Maybe we’ll even sign up for another one in the future.

If you would have told me back in high school that I’d voluntarily walk 3.1 miles, I would’ve thought you were crazy. At least I don’t have to do it wearing a gym suit. ::shudder::

Stuck Out

Last week Dave noticed something weird happening with his eyes. He said he saw flashes of light in his periphery, and then a bunch of floaters. Both of us see floaters on occasion, and we know it’s one of the many joys of getting older, but this was above and beyond what he considered normal. It just took a quick Google search to find out that one of the causes could be a detached retina, or a tear. He decided to call the VA hospital and talk to someone there.

He was scheduled for a liver ultrasound on March 9th, so when the VA nurse said he should be seen by a doctor, he asked if it could be scheduled for the same day. The hospital is in Fort Wayne, Indiana which is more than two hours south (by car) from us, so it’s a fairly big deal to make a trip there. They had to talk to the doctor first; when they called back, they said the doctor wanted Dave to come in the next day. Okay, so this was urgent.

After he hung up, I suggested he call the liver clinic and see if they could reschedule the ultrasound for the next day as well. He really seemed skeptical; the VA we went to in Chicago (Hines) was really not flexible as far as changing appointments and getting you in quickly, so he expected the same thing for Fort Wayne. But he called – all they could do was say no, right?

Well, they said it was no problem and scheduled him for an 11 am ultrasound. We were both kind of flabbergasted that it was so easy. The eye clinic visit was not for any specific time; they knew we were coming from far away and told him to just get there as early as he could and they’d get him in.

We left a little after 8 am the next morning, and figured he would do the ultrasound first and then we’d pop over to the eye clinic. As we were driving, I read over the appointment card they’d mailed for his original ultrasound date.

“Hey hon? Um … did you know this card says your ultrasound is being done at the Marion facility? It’s not in Fort Wayne.”

Dave pulled over and looked at the card. “Do you want to call and make sure this is being done in Fort Wayne?” I asked. We weren’t far from home; we could drive back and call with the captioned phone, or he could take a chance with the cell phone and call right from the car.

“What? This is crazy. The appointment says Fort Wayne online!” he protested. He was sure it was just a glitch and they’d used the wrong facility information. We talked some more and decided that if nothing else, the eye appointment was more important, and he knew for sure that was in Fort Wayne.

We got to Fort Wayne around 10:45 am and went to check in. Sure enough, the ultrasound was scheduled for that day in Marion, Indiana … an hour away from Fort Wayne.

In the end, he had the x-ray department cancel the Marion appointment and he just went to the eye clinic. They said everything looked fine and it was just one of those things that happen when you get older. He’s still got to go back later this month for a check to make sure nothing bad has developed in that time frame.

When we got home, he discovered that not only was the ultrasound canceled, but also the video conference appointment with the liver doctor that was being done in South Bend. (This is all part of getting him started on the new Hepatitis C drug either this or next month.) As of right now, he has the video conference rescheduled for a week from today, but they still haven’t called to say whether he has to have the ultrasound done first. We were under the impression the doctor needed the ultrasound results before we had the video conference. (The doctor is in Fort Wayne, but South Bend is only 30 minutes from us so we have video conferences from there whenever possible.)

We had no idea there was even a hospital in Marion; I guess it’s a good thing we found out the way we did and Dave still needed to be in Fort Wayne anyway for the eye appointment. If we’d driven there solely for the ultrasound and then found out we were in the wrong place, after four hours round-trip of driving, we would have been rather irked to say the least.

All of this craziness has gotten us thinking about possibly moving closer to Ann Arbor, which is where the best VA hospital in this area is located – as well as a great place for getting my CIs mapped. (Right now I would have to drive back to Illinois because there is no place around here that does mappings; my old clinic in Illinois is closer than anything in Indiana or Michigan.)

We do love this area, and when we drive to Illinois it’s just a straightforward two hour drive. It’s also super, super affordable (the main reason we chose this part of Michigan). On the other hand, sometimes it doesn’t even feel like we live in Michigan. We can be in Indiana within 20 minutes of driving in the right direction; all the television stations are out of South Bend, and even our weather forecast area is Northern Indiana (they throw far southwest Michigan in there as an afterthought). We want to live in Michigan, though, not Indiana.

So I think we’re going to make a weekend trip to the Ann Arbor area this spring, just to check it out. We don’t think we can really afford to live there (not in Ann Arbor proper for sure, but maybe in a smaller town that’s 30 to 45 minutes away). It will still be fun to see, though.

In the meantime, they’re supposed to be building a VA hospital in South Bend to service all the people like us who are completely stuck out – we have to drive two hours either to Michigan (Battle Creek) or Indiana (Fort Wayne) or Illinois (Hines) to get care for Dave at a proper VA hospital. He does go to a clinic in South Bend for minor things, but anything major (including his Hep C treatment) has to be done at a hospital. The South Bend hospital was originally supposed to be done this year but I believe they still have not even chosen a site for it yet, so we aren’t holding our breath.

Nervous Nellie

We’re waiting for a furnace repair fellow to show up, so I figured I’d pass the time by writing. The furnace is still hanging in there, but a few days ago I noticed a … burning? … smell right before the furnace fan kicked on. It was hard to describe, not really alarming but definitely noticeable. I mentioned it to Dave and he checked it out. He said it looks like the furnace starts to ignite and then fizzles out one or two times before it finally catches. So maybe it really was the furnace and not the thermostat when it stopped working overnight a couple weeks back.

Our landlady is very cool and she responded right away to Dave’s email. We all have our fingers crossed that this is a quick fix – our landlady for her pocketbook, Dave and I because we don’t want to be without heat for very long. It’s not as cold as it has been, but still … it’s a brisk 18 degrees outside, and we have no space heaters or fireplace here. We would like to be without the furnace for the shortest time possible!

I finally conquered my completely irrational but entirely consuming fear of making an appointment with a new doctor here. I have no idea why I was so frozen with fear over the idea of simply making an appointment, but I was. Finally last week I just told Dave, “Today we’re going to return my library book, then stop off at the clinic and I’ll make my appointment.” Boom.

After I explained my situation to the front desk clerk – new in town, don’t have a doctor yet, meds are running out and I need refills – she said, “Oh, we can do that in the walk-in clinic.” And not only did I have my appointment, I was also being seen that same day, in a matter of minutes.

One thing I was pretty sure of was that I might not need my blood pressure medicine anymore. One of my goals when I started counting calories and losing weight was to be much healthier in my 50s than I was in my 40s. My 50th birthday was looming, so right after my 49th birthday I really dug deep, found my willpower, and started losing weight. I added exercise reluctantly – I hated most forms of exercise – and as the weight came off, exercising got easier.

I don’t credit the exercise with helping me lose weight; it never has. But it makes me feel better, and I look forward to doing it every day. My stamina has increased so much. I told Dave that I used to worry I’d be sent for a stress test, the kind where you run on a treadmill, and I wouldn’t be able to last even one minute. (Seriously.) I feel better than I have since I was in my 20s. My knees don’t hurt any more, I don’t have aches and pains when I get out of bed, and I don’t run out of breath.

There’s been a few times in the past couple months when I’ve felt a little goofy – sometimes my heart is kind of racing, sometimes I feel a little lightheaded. I never know if it’s from perimenopause (which I’ve found can give me heart palpitations on occasion) or something else, so I always ask Dave to check my blood pressure to make sure it’s not sky-high. Every time he’s checked it, it’s been really super low (for me), like 80/60 or in that range. It scared the crap out of Dave, and he kept telling me to go to the doctor because I probably didn’t need blood pressure medicine anymore, now that I’ve lost weight and I exercise daily.

I started on blood pressure medicine when Paige was still nursing, in the mid-90s. My blood pressure was high during my pregnancy with Eric, and it was the same deal with Paige. The doctors and nurses would make a big deal out of it (rightly) and they’d tell me to lay on the table and try to think relaxing thoughts. Then they would come back later and check it again. That never helped me; it just made me more nervous. I’d dwell on the fact that they were coming back to check it, and if it was high would I get put on bedrest? Would they want to induce labor? I would work myself into a worrying frenzy, and my blood pressure stayed high.

This turned into a major case of White Coat Syndrome, and I still have it today. Every time I set foot in a doctor’s office, I get nervous. Crazy, heart-poundingly nervous. Dave has talked to me about it, tried to help me rationalize it and realize there’s no reason for me to worry, but it’s an instant reaction that I can’t control. Deep breathing, meditation – I do them all in the doctor’s office, and I’m still a nervous wreck.

Well, I was already worked up about simply making the appointment, so when I realized I was actually seeing someone that day I was mentally freaking out. They called me back pretty quickly; I got weighed (not bad), they checked my height (one inch less than I thought I was – I refuse to believe I’m 5’ tall and not 5’1”), then did my blood pressure. 140/84. Looks like I’ll be staying on that medication for a while longer, thanks to my insane doctor office phobia.

Then I had to sit there for a long, long time – at least 30 minutes, maybe more. When I finally saw someone, it was a PA. She listened to my lungs and heart, and entered a 3 month refill for my cholesterol and blood pressure medicine. Then I talked to her about establishing myself as a patient there … and that was it! All that worry for nothing.

I went back to the front desk to talk to them about establishing myself as a patient, and it turns out only one doctor is accepting new patients. It just so happens to be the female FNP I was hoping to get, so that was a bonus. I filled out a form so they could get my medical records from Illinois, and then once she gets them she will look them over and decide whether to accept me as a patient. (I guess if I am a complicated case she won’t take me on.) I’m hoping to hear good news, because I really liked this clinic. I guess they’ll call in a couple weeks, and if she accepts me then I’ll make the appointment for my real first doctor visit.

Of course, I’m already worrying about it.

Doing It One More Time

In one of my posts last month, I mentioned that Dave will be starting treatment again for his Hepatitis C. I’m in a medical frame of mind because I have to find a new doctor this month, so I thought I’d catch everyone up.

I always hate looking for a new doctor. I feel more comfortable with women, so that knocks out a lot of possibilities. I have to guess whether the doctor will have an accent or not (I really, really try to avoid anyone with an accent – my medical stuff is just too important for me to be guessing about what the doctor’s saying). I want someone close by, so that if I’m really sick I don’t have to drive 45 minutes just to get to the doctor’s office. And I don’t know anyone in town to ask for a referral, so I just have to pick a female medical practitioner that works out of a nearby office and has a non-accenty-sounding last name.

I really only need to see the doctor to get my medication refilled (I take medicine for high blood pressure and cholesterol, both of which run in my family). Of course, losing 35 pounds and exercising every day has hopefully made a positive effect on both those things, so my medication may end up getting changed or even discontinued … we’ll see. But I don’t have any chronic health conditions; I just know my medications will run out on Feb. 18th and so I figure I should get a new doctor by the end of this month. I’m not looking forward to it.

Dave has it a little easier because he has to go the VA, and he just gets whatever doctor they assign to him. (Of course, figuring out WHERE to go was the hard part as far as the VA health care system is concerned.) When he went for his new patient visit at the South Bend Clinic, his doctor was really great – very easy to understand, willing to listen to Dave’s concerns and address them appropriately, very friendly and good natured. He’s an FNP, which is fine with us — I’m actually planning to make an appointment with a female FNP at the clinic I’ve been planning to go to (all the MDs are male, and I have had good luck in the past with FNPs).

One of the things he touched on at Dave’s visit in October was his unsuccessful Hep C treatment in 2013. We were surprised to find out that they have new medicine now, just a single pill with no Interferon shot. They seemed really eager to get Dave going on this new treatment, so he made an appointment in November for him to see the liver specialist.

This appointment was so cool. The South Bend location is just a clinic, and the liver specialist works out of Fort Wayne, Indiana which is about two hours south of us. Rather than make us drive to Ft. Wayne, they did a video conference appointment in South Bend (which is less than 30 minutes away). There was a medical technician there, and he set everything up … then we waited for the doctor to join us on the TV screen that was in the room.

Dave was able to understand pretty well – they had the volume turned up and we could see the doctor’s face to read his lips. He asked Dave all kinds of questions, went over his medical history, and then told us about the new treatment. It’s not supposed to have many side effects, at least not compared to the hellish treatment Dave was on in 2013 (Ribavirin and Boceprevir pills daily, plus Interferon shots once a week). Even though Dave didn’t clear the virus, he is still a good candidate for this new treatment.

Then the doctor asked the medical tech to listen to Dave’s heart and lungs. He hooked up a stethoscope somehow so that the doctor could hear the same thing he heard. The doctor told the tech where to place the stethoscope, and told Dave how to breathe (deep breath, hold his breath, etc.) It was really amazing!

I think the new medication is Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) but I don’t know much about it yet. I think Dave will just be taking the one pill, but it’s possible he has to take it with Ribavirin. I do know for sure that he doesn’t have to do the Interferon injections; the Interferon was what really messed up his thyroid and made him so sick last time.

When he went through the treatment in 2013, we had to go to classes to learn about each drug and its side effects. I don’t know if this treatment is that involved, but I don’t think it will be. I do know that we have to drive to Fort Wayne every two weeks to pick up his medication. They’ll give him a two-week supply; then two weeks later we have to drive there again to pick up the next supply, for a total of 12 weeks. I feel that this is a huge pain in the ass – four hours of driving, plus the cost of gas, and wear and tear on the car. But Dave said it’s absolutely worth it to him – he wants to clear this virus once and for all. I’m kind of hoping that after one or two trips, they’ll just have the medicine waiting for him at South Bend for us to pick up. (He doesn’t think this will ever happen.) I remember one of the guys in the classes we took at Hines VA was from a town about an hour and a half away. He was at maybe two of the classes, and then the nurse who was in charge of the program set it up so that he could pick up his meds at the clinic near his house. So I’m thinking maybe someone will take pity on us and do the same, even though it’s a different hospital.

We’ve never been to Fort Wayne, but we’ll be going next month so Dave can have a liver ultrasound – they want the results of this test before he starts his treatment. The doctor was kind enough to take into consideration the unpredictable winter weather we have in this area, and he’s having him wait until March to start treatment. He has another remote video conference appointment with the liver specialist in March (in South Bend) where they’ll go over the results of the ultrasound. And then probably later in March, or in April at the latest, we’ll make the drive to Fort Wayne to meet the liver doctor in person and get Dave’s first two weeks’ worth of medicine.

Hopefully this treatment will work, and I’ll be posting that he’s cleared the virus by the end of 2015!

Allergies, Eyes, Candy (aka Lazy Post Title)

Dave finally had his appointment at the South Bend VA Clinic and folks, we have a winner! We both liked the doctor (actually a FNP) and the clinic itself. Now that’s he’s official there, with a provider and everything, he can go there for minor illnesses and either just walk in (although he may not get to see his regular doctor) or call the day before and make an appointment for the next day. That was our biggest concern.

He does still have to drive the two hours to Fort Wayne, IN if he needs to see a specialist or to go to the VA emergency room. (If he’s having a heart attack or a truly emergent situation, he can go to the hospital here in town and let them know he’s a VA patient.) We are still getting used to the fact that we can’t just drive 45 minutes to a VA hospital like we did in Illinois, but I guess we have to live with it if we want to keep living in this area (which we do). The other option is to eventually buy a house closer to Ann Arbor, which has a really good VA hospital, but then we’d have a 4-1/2 hour drive back to Illinois. No thank you!

Dave was diagnosed with seasonal allergies and now he’s trying allergy medication to see if it helps with his cough. It’s not as bad as it was, so he might be on the right track. It does make sense, since we are surrounded by trees and new plants here.

I saw a new eye doctor on the same day Dave had his VA appointment, and I really like the new place. It’s kind of a pain having to find all new doctors, so it’s a relief to find someone I like right off the bat. Getting my eyes tested makes me feel very vulnerable; I am terribly nearsighted (my prescription in both eyes is -8.50) and when I take off my contacts for the exam, I can only see blurry shapes. I depend a lot on lipreading with new people, so it makes me very nervous when I can’t see. On top of that, the doctor is usually to my side giving me instructions as I look through the various lenses for the test.

I explained my hearing to everyone I had to deal with, and I had NO problem understanding anyone. I know my CI hearing is really good, but I still get nervous when I’m put in an unknown situation where I’m not sure how loudly/slowly someone speaks, if they have an accent, etc.

So I’m testing some new contacts now — I still use and love bifocal contacts, but I’m trying out a stronger prescription for the reading/up close stuff. Otherwise my prescription didn’t change, which was kind of nice. For a week and a half I’m trying out a mid-level bifocal in my left eye and high-level in my right, and then the next week and a half I’m wearing ‘high’ in both eyes. So far I can only really tell a difference when I’m watching TV — the mid level seems to work better. It’s only been a day though, so I’m curious to see if eyes adapt the way ears do when we get new mappings.

When I go back in three weeks, I’ll give my doctor my final choice as far as contacts go and then she’s going to dilate my eyes. When I told her I’d never had them dilated before she was horrified; I guess when you’re as nearsighted as I am, it’s common to have problems that would show up with that test. Of course, I came home and Googled and now I’m terrified she’ll find retinal tears and holes when she does the test. The thought of having procedures done on my eyes makes me feel faint, so I’m trying not to dwell too much on the what-ifs because otherwise I’ll make myself crazy (er, crazier).

Halloween is Friday and alas, Dave is certain we’ll have no little trick-or-treaters at this house. He thinks we’re too far outside of town. On top of that, it’s going to be cold (in the 40s) and possibly rainy, so any kids we might have gotten may choose to stay home. We did buy two bags of candy, just in case. That’s one of the mysteries when you move — how many kids will you get at the new place on Halloween? I suspect we’ll be eating a few M&Ms and Snickers bars on November 1st.

Three Things I Like; One Thing I Don’t

Although I’m calling this post “Three Things I Like; One Thing I Don’t”, I have realized there is one more thing I like … I mean, really like, and that is autumn. It’s here in full swing now and I find myself staring out the window and grinning, while I contemplate all the recipes I can make now without turning our kitchen into a sauna. YAY AUTUMN.

And also, I’m not getting paid to write any of this or getting any perks or anything. These are just some things I’ve been very happy with lately and I wanted to talk about them. And also one thing I wanted to complain about, which is something I try not to do very often, but this really deserves some complaining in my opinion.

Thing I Like #1 is on my mind because we just had it for breakfast, so I’ll start there. It’s this biscuit recipe I got from King Arthur Flour. When I started counting calories last year (can’t believe it’s been a year already), I was appalled at how many calories there are in one homemade biscuit. It’s just so little, you know? How can it be around 150 calories?! So we’d make biscuits and gravy (turkey breakfast sausage, 2% milk) and I’d watch sadly as Dave crumbled four biscuits onto his plate while I tried to stick with one and half, maybe two if they were the smallest ones.

This biscuit recipe just uses two ingredients: cream and self-rising flour. The biscuits are one ounce each, and you use equal amounts of flour and cream so it’s easy to adapt. If you want 12 biscuits (you lucky thing, you) then you use six ounces of flour, six ounces of cream. We made eight this morning (two for me, four for Dave, two left over) so it was four ounces flour, four ounces cream. We use water to wet them. They are delicious and only 70 calories each! They make me happy.

Thing #2 is a girly thing (just a warning for the fellas). I think it’s very cliché to assume that menopause begins at 50, and yet that is just what my body seems to have decided. Right around my 50th birthday, my monthly visitor stopped arriving and I had an annoying new friend, Hot Flash, who rang my doorbell every 15 minutes or so and just would not leave. At first it was kind of funny, and I’d announce it to Dave. “Whew!” I’d pant, reaching for my fan (seriously, a little cloth fan, like what Christina Aguilera always used on The Voice, was my lifesaver), “I’ve got another hot flash! Feel my forehead!” I could see the look of pity on his face every time I turned on the fan/changed into a tank top/mopped my brow.

One day I looked up hot flashes online and saw that they could last for, like, five years or more. I was really and truly getting 5-6 hot flashes every hour, and sweating through my nightgown at night, and it was started to become very much not funny. So I started looking for anything that might minimize them.

I had run out of my Costco multivitamins, and since we aren’t Costco members anymore I was looking for a new brand to replace them. Then I thought, hmmm, maybe there’s a menopause multivitamin? Kill two birds with one stone and all that? And yes, there was. And ladies, it WORKS. For me, anyway. I am completely amazed to be saying this, but I might get one hot flash a day now; sometimes I don’t have any. I started noticing a decrease after about a week, week and a half on the vitamin so it must be a cumulative effect. It’s not some weird voodoo stuff either, it’s just One-A-Day Menopause multivitamins. I take mine at lunch to help minimize the chance of any nighttime hot flashes. Good, good stuff.

Finally, I noticed I was getting dry eyes (also, probably, because of menopause). First I had a bit of a cold and my left eye was all gunky and gross one morning. I thought it would clear up in a week or so, and the morning gunk did just last one day. But it persisted, this feeling of grit in my eye later at night (it was fine in the morning) and my eye would water a lot overnight. After over a month of this, I decided to do a search for a contact lens solution that was better for dry eyes, and I came across Clear Care. It’s more of a deep cleaner, like the enzymatic cleanings I used to have to do years ago. You have to use the special case it comes with, leave the contacts in for at least six hours to neutralize the hydrogen peroxide solution, and never, ever use Clear Care in your eyes. But just two days with this stuff and my eye is back to normal. Amazing!

I fill the case with Clear Care, put the Clear Care bottle away, and then leave a bottle of plain saline solution (not multipurpose solution, just plain saline) on the bathroom counter. That way if I’m tempted to rinse my lenses, I’m not going to burn my eyes out by accidentally using Clear Care. That’s my little tip for you all. But if you’re noticing your contacts are really bothering your eyes by the evening, give this stuff a try. It totally makes a difference for me.

The Thing I Don’t Like, and want to complain about, is the VA healthcare system. At least the VA in this part of Michigan. Dave caught some kind of upper respiratory virus the first week of September, and has been coughing ever since. It’s kind of a pattern with him; it usually turns into bronchitis, sometimes pneumonia. He waited a while, figuring it would go away on its own, but finally he’d had enough. He decided it was time to go to urgent care, get an x-ray and whatever medicine he needed. I knew he had to be feeling really bad because Dave is even worse than I am about going to the doctor.

So we started checking out where the nearest VA hospital was. In Illinois, it was a 40 minute drive to Hines VA but they had an emergency room so he was always seen, even if it involved a bit of a wait. It turns out that there really isn’t a VA hospital nearby; Benton Harbor has a clinic with one doctor and no urgent care, according to what they told Dave. There’s a hospital in Battle Creek, which is 1-1/2 hours away by car. There’s a clinic in South Bend, IN which is the closest to us, but they claim they don’t have a walk-in clinic (although they do have a lab, do x-rays and that sort of thing).

So he held off another day or two, and then he decided to make the long drive to Battle Creek because he was really feeling sick. He insisted that I stay home; he wanted to get on the road really early so he left before I was even awake. I hated that he had to make a three hour round-trip drive but, as he said, it’s free healthcare so he did whatever he had to.

He walked back in that afternoon with empty hands; no medicine, no discharge paperwork. Turns out that they have NO emergency room at the hospital, just what they call an Urgent Care center. But you have to have an appointment to be seen. What the hell?! He got there, was seen by an intake nurse who took his blood pressure and temperature, and was then told it might be a while because he didn’t have an appointment. So he sat out in the waiting room for two hours, before finally getting fed up and leaving. Three hours of driving for that!

One thing they did do was make an appointment for him. For three weeks later, on September 29.

So I was livid, and he was all, “It’s fine, I actually think I’m feeling better,” trying to calm me down. And he did seem better for a couple of days, but then he went back to feeling terrible. So this time he called the South Bend Clinic, which is about 20 minutes from us. Turns out they don’t have a walk-in clinic either, gosh, but they had received his records from Hines (he asked for them to be transferred a week or two prior) and they could make an appointment for him! On October 22, just a little over a month away!

So at this point I’m just freaking out, telling him to go to the walk-in clinic at Walgreens and we’ll pay whatever it costs. But no, he swears that he’s feeling better. In the meantime, I’m despairing because where would we take him if he gets another kidney stone, for instance, and needs to be seen immediately?

So Sept. 29 rolls around and even though he hadn’t planned to keep that appointment (he wants to use the South Bend clinic as his primary care place), he decided to go because he was still coughing. This time I went with. He was seen by an older woman doctor, who just pretty much went over the list of medications that he takes and got them switched from Hines to Battle Creek (they mail his routine medications from the hospital pharmacy). Then she listened to his lungs. And in the process, he had one of his coughing jags.

“Hmmm,” she said dourly, “That sounds like a smoker’s cough. Are you sure you quit smoking?” (He had told her he quit in 1985, which he quite definitely did.) I thought she was joking, but she was serious, kind of bitchy. He confirmed that yes, he quit smoking, and she said, “Well, I don’t hear anything. But if you start to feel bad you can always come back.” And then I was PISSED.

“He DID THAT,” I said calmly, through gritted teeth. “He was here over three weeks ago, really sick, and they sent him away without doing anything for him except to make this appointment.” She just kind of shrugged and said again that she didn’t hear anything that suggested bronchitis or pneumonia, but had he ever used an inhaler? After he explained that he had one but it expired long ago, she did at least prescribe a new one for him. And that was it. He’s supposed to go back in nine months but yeah, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

So now we are waiting for his Oct. 22 appointment in South Bend. Maybe the cough will be gone by then, or maybe it will be worse. Who knows. All I know is, if you live in southwestern Michigan and use the VA for healthcare, you better hope you never need medical attention that same day. Lord knows where you’d get it. (Dave does have good things to say about Ann Arbor’s VA hospital, but that’s a 2-1/2 hour drive from here … it would be shorter to drive back to Hines in Illinois!)

And now, to put a smile back on your face after reading all my crabbing, here’s a fun autumn practical joke:

onionapples

Is anyone mean enough to really do this, I wonder?

(I could not bring myself to do that, but I do think it’s funny. )

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