Fragile Things

I’ll get right to it – I’ve been unwell. It’s kind of my fault, but not entirely. Here’s what happened:

At the end of April, I got a group of five bottle-feeders. They came to me with names of bathroom supplies, like plunger and toothbrush. Michael and I renamed them as characters from the musical “Guys and Dolls.” We have Rusty, Nathan, Adelaide, Benny and Sky. Except for a brief bout with an eye infection and maybe some minor cold symptoms, they have been in good health.

Not long after I took the “Guys and Dolls” kittens, the shelter called and asked if I would take a mom and kittens. They said she had a few surrogate kittens, and they were worried she’d dry up before the kittens were done nursing. They wanted to place the kittens in a home where the foster parent could bottle-feed if necessary. The other kittens were weaning at the time, so I said I’d take them, too.

When I got to the shelter, I learned that the mom cat actually had two more litters mixed in with hers for a total of eight kittens. Well, no wonder they worried she’d go dry – there were too many kittens. We named the kittens Pillow (because the mom, Cinnamon, used him as such), Gingham, Velvet, Linen, Lester (Dr B named him) Esther, Cotton and Satin.

 (Click to enlarge)

When they got home, I learned that Cinnamon just wasn’t really into the whole eating thing. I had to hand feed her for the first few days, but after some time she started to eat on her own, so long as it was Fancy Feast and not something good for her like Wellness. I didn’t care what she ate, so long as she just ate food: she did have eight kittens to feed, after all. I suspect she had a cold that she was hiding (as cats are wont to do), because within a few days several of the kittens developed eye infections and cold symptoms. As some of them began to lose weight, I began supplemental feeding. I took some of the healthier kittens with me to run errands while mom tended to the sicker ones. It didn’t really matter.

First Pillow died. He started to lose weight, and then later when I would visit the kittens, I’d find his nose would be plugged closed with snot. I started thinking about taking him in for euthanasia, but then I found him cold and stiff a few hours later. Nature made the decision for me. A few days later I took Linen and Gingham into the shelter because I thought Linen needed to be put down (for the same cold that Pillow had) and I wanted them to look at Gingham’s eye. The shelter agreed about Linen. They also put Gingham down because the eye that had swollen and gotten crusted shut had actually ruptured. She was too small to do surgery to remove the eye, and the condition is very painful. Two days later, Velvet met the same fate as Pillow and Linen. It was just so sad.

In light of what was happening with the kittens, I began thinking about my own situation. I had gotten tired of taking over 30 pills a day, so I started skipping doses. One morning, I woke up and felt a really strong resentment toward all the pills, so I took the day off. The resentful feeling lasted a few more days, so I just stopped taking them all together. I kept on the thyroid meds, but that was pretty much it. It’s just that with all the kittens dying, I thought about Nature’s wisdom. There were eight kittens living in the exact same circumstances. Four got really sick, and four did not. The ones who died were just weak, and interfering on my part would only have prolonged the suffering – in fact, it did prolong poor Pillow’s suffering. I thought about how I was taking that large number of prescriptions and supplements, and that my energy level was not improving. I want to be in such a position that I can go back to school and get a job. Staying home for an extended time is nice sometimes, but not when you don’t have the option to stop doing it. I felt the reward just wasn’t big enough for all the work I was putting in. So I quit.

A week later, I was definitely feeling the effects of my decision. Every day I got a little more fatigued, until finally getting out of bed was a real struggle. I mentioned that I had stopped the supplements to one of the girls at the front desk at Dr B’s practice, and she encouraged me to talk to him about that. She agreed that the number of pills I took was unwieldy, but maybe I should see what was strictly necessary and stick to that. After thinking it through, I decided that it was indeed best to be up front with the doctor and let him know what happened. I wasn’t prepared for what happened after.

Dr B got a little upset that I had stopped. Not because I wouldn’t be purchasing supplements from his office, as some who criticized his chiropractic practice had suggested. He was upset because he felt that we had gotten into a situation where he cared about my outcome more than I did. After a prolonged period of disagreement and a small “fight” that I would really rather not detail, I learned that Dr B was a much better doctor than I had realized. I mean, yes, I realized that his style was very different from other doctors I had seen, and I kept seeing him for that reason. He wasn’t content to say, “Well, I can’t find anything wrong, so you’re fine.” If I wasn’t well, then he wanted to keep looking for the reason. But what I learned from the situation is that he actually cares – he wasn’t just checking off boxes so he could say he did his job regardless of the outcome. I learned that he doesn’t stop thinking about me when I leave the office; in fact, he said that he thinks about my situation every day. Even though I wanted to give up, he didn’t want to. In my experience, every other doctor I’ve ever had was ready to move on long before I was.

To be honest, I have no reasons of my own to continue treating my chronic fatigue. I have lost hope that I will have a future in which I won’t be tethered to pills and doctor’s appointments. I am pretty sure that I will never be able to stick to a reasonable sleep schedule in which I get up in the morning and sleep at night. I’ll never be able to hold a job because my health just isn’t reliable. I can’t enjoy a vacation because I have to sleep so much. It takes a lot of caffeine to make it through a day. When the caffeine doesn’t work, I have to move on to pseudoephedrine. I felt like that was Nature’s way of telling me that I am just not viable, like all the kittens who died recently.

I spoke to a few friends during my crisis, and one was able to give me a reason not to quit treating my condition. She pointed out that despite what I might hope for, this condition might not kill me. In fact, it may just disable me to the point where I lose my agency, my ability to make decisions for myself. I value that, at least, and I am moving toward getting back on the track I was on, with all 30+ pills/day. I won’t lie – it’s hard to motivate myself to keep trying. My reserves are gone. I’ve been fighting fatigue for over ten years, and all I’ve gotten is worse. It’s at a critical point now, and I’m not sure it will ever improve. Somehow, between my friend’s reminder that I could find myself seriously disabled and my doctor’s personal interest in the situation (I really hate to disappoint people whom I admire), that’s going to have to get me through.

While I was off the supplements, some pretty scary symptoms emerged. At first, I stopped being able to feel the right side of my face, just like after the stroke-like event I had in February. It’s like when you’ve been to the dentist and had a filling – I can tell that there is something touching me from the pressure, but my ability to really “feel” it is gone. In a few days, the numbness started spreading in to my ear, and I actually started having hearing trouble, like I had my hand over my ears. The numbness also started to spread to the left side of my face.

Even after I restarted the supplements, new symptoms emerged. I went out for coffee with a friend, and when I went to the bathroom, I noticed I had swelling around my neck. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was swollen in the distinct shape of my thyroid gland. I wasn’t too terribly worried about it, but to be fair, I’ve lost the ability to judge what is a serious issue and what isn’t. I err on the side of dismissing things, largely because I don’t want to be seen as a hypochondriac. I read a book (Life Disrupted) in which the author mentioned that people who have chronic disease tend to ignore what could be serious symptoms, in part because they are so used to being sick. She said that it’s important to try to step outside yourself and imagine how a healthy person would see the situation – I’ve tried to take that to heart. When I showed the swollen thyroid to my friend and she freaked out, I considered the bit of wisdom I had obtained from the book and listened to her. I called Dr B and the allopathic nurse practitioner (C) that day.

The nurse practitioner took blood samples and scheduled me for an ultrasound. She and Dr B were both under the impression that this was just a flare-up of the Hashimoto’s disease, and the blood tests would show abnormal thyroid hormone levels as well as an increase in antibodies. Well, the tests all came back normal. In fact, the antibodies were lower than they have been most of my life (they were 40% of what they were when I was checked four years after my diagnosis).  The ultrasound revealed a small nodule, but it was only concerning enough to C to make her want to monitor it yearly. Again, major symptoms with no explanation. It’s infuriating. Honestly, I kind of wish she said I had cancer so that we could do something about it. Not that I want to have cancer, I just want an answer. I want to be able to do something about this.

I have managed to get some knitting done since my last blog post. Admittedly, it’s hard to focus now, and the work is intermittent, but it happens. I finished a few projects.

Gwendolyn:

 

I made her from a large cone of angora fiber I got from Art Fibers many years ago, before I moved from San Francisco. The thing is, she sheds. Pink bunny fur all over everything. I still love this shawl, though, and I deal with the fur. Just like a kitten.

I also cast on and finished these fingerless gloves for my sister-in-law.

I made them from some merino/tencel yarn I spun in 2008. Alicia really liked the yarn, and who better to give it to?

I’m also designing a shawl. I don’t have pictures of it yet because I want to have some people test knit the pattern. I plan on working on it when I have focus, but charting lace is kind of fiddly. My version of the shawl is going to be a wedding ring shawl. It’s made out of 1-ply cobweb weight yarn. The idea is that the knitting is delicate enough to pull the whole shawl through a wedding ring. I will try to have at least teaser pictures soon.

That’s what I’ve got for now. I can’t promise when I’ll update again, but I will. I have to take Nathan and Rusty back to the shelter today because they just made weight. I need to unload kittens. I suspect that I will have to take another long break from fostering because of my health, but we’ll see. I hope my condition doesn’t take away everything…

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3 thoughts on “Fragile Things

  1. Barbara,
    Somewhere on the news last week I heard that they might believe that they found a virus that leads to chronic fatigue and they accidentally created it in a lab and it has been accidentally passed on to people. Do some (yes more) research. PB

    • It’s been a suspicion for a long time that chronic fatigue is viral. Usually, it seems to be something in the herpes family, like Epstein-Barr (mono) or chicken pox. Nothing would surprise me at this point.

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