A Tangled Skein

This skein of yarn will be a pair of socks. Soon. It started out as a reasonably well-behaved skein, waiting in my sock yarn cabinet. Yes, my sock yarn has its own space, separate from the regular yarn – I don’t want the other yarn to feel fat. The lace-weight is clearly anorexic and the rest of the yarn just feels sorry for it.

I got this brilliant idea to make a pair of socks for a friend, with the intention of giving one to her on her birthday and one on Christmas (these events are days apart). I have to make two, so they count as two separate presents. I thought the idea might be hilarious, but maybe you have to be a knitter to find humor in that.  She has identical taste to me, and she loves my knitting, but doesn’t knit herself. So, I have no qualms about using my precious Malabrigo yarn to make her a pair of socks. In fact,  I was thrilled to be making these for her so that she may all at once learn the wonder that is Malabrigo and the superiority of hand-knit socks. The plan was just so perfect. Who knows, maybe these socks will inspire her to ask for knitting lessons…

As soon as I had the information I needed to make the socks, I ran upstairs to search for this yarn. I put it on my swift so I could wind it into a ball, but then it started to misbehave. The end tied to my ball winder kept catching in odd ways on the rest of the skein, and at some point the yarn became wrapped around the swift itself. I had to disconnect the swift from my table to get the yarn off, and then I had to commence the task of untangling the skein and winding the ball by hand. This bit is significant because, if all goes well, it takes maybe two minutes to wind a perfectly behaved skein into a ball. The above mess took about twelve hours total of my and Julie L’s time. Despite the fact that it took a lot of my time and that of my friend, the end result will benefit someone else, and that gives me great pleasure.

As soon as this happened, I saw the metaphor of my current life situation in the whole thing. Some people would see this mess and decide it wasn’t worth their time. The yarn would be discarded or given away. Others, like me, see the value behind the surface mess and will patiently pick at the knots until it has all been straightened out again. Not unlike what I’ve been doing with the CFS/ME thing.

I found the website for Dr Cheney (who linked CFS/ME to diastolic cardiomyopathy). He listed some blood tests that he would want a patient coming to him to have completed ahead of time for the sake of speeding up the part where he starts treating her (I say her because CFS/ME predominantly strikes women). I showed this to Dr B, who enthusiastically went along with the idea of running these tests.

We only did a small subset of these tests so far, including the tests for CMV, VIP, MSH, and C4a. CMV is Cytomegalovirus, which is one of the herpes viruses implicated in triggering or occurring opportunistically in CFS/ME. VIP measures the status of part of the autonomic nervous system (specifically for me, it can explain why my circadian rhythms do not exist). MSH measures the status of the hypothalmus (and in my case, would explain my lack of appetite). The first three tests came back abnormal, even by the lab standards: CMV is high, and the others are low. This is good news, because we finally have something we can work on. The particular way these tests are abnormal pointed us toward mold illness. The idea is that for some reason, certain people are really sensitive to the toxins released by mold. I’ve lived in humid environments for most of my life, and I could always tell you if a building had mold in it as soon as I walked in because I would have trouble breathing (and a few other, less prominent symptoms). If mold spores got into my lungs or heart (moist, dark environments are great for fungal growth), well, it would make sense that I would continue to have exposure symptoms despite having being away from mold-infested buildings. So, according to these tests, I have an active CMV infection and mold toxicity – so we’ve found two contributing factors to my illness.

So, a couple of knots untied, right? Well, the C4a test was delayed. If it were high, it would indicate that I was having inflammation due to mold biotoxins. When the results finally came in, they were in the lower third of the normal range, the opposite of what we would have guessed given the previous results. We’ve encountered yet another knot in this tangled yarn.

It is very easy to get frustrated with all of this. When we finally seem to be getting somewhere, I get a test back that tells me I was barking up the wrong tree after all. I know my CFS/ME isn’t from a single cause, but rather the fact that just enough bad things came together at the same time. What gets me through is treating each aspect as we find it. I kind of don’t care that I am either not getting better or only getting marginally better, I just want to feel like I’m still working on it. I keep seeing people posting pictures of the path to success on Facebook, and they look just like the tangled skein of yarn at the top of this page. I guess I have to believe that if I keep untying one knot at a time, eventually I’ll achieve success and untangle the illness.

There has been one bright spot, though. Dr B told me that all the research I’ve done has helped him with some of his other, more difficult to diagnose patients. He wanted me to know that even if I haven’t had a whole lot of success, my work has taught him things that allowed him to better help other patients. Just like the socks, I put in a whole lot of work to benefit someone else. Maybe that’s not so bad.


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