FMLA Update – Week Two – Five

For the past month of my FMLA leave, I have been trying to balance living in the moment and doing things with friends and family while also taking care of my health.  I’ve begun taking longer walks than I had previously over the past month and even tried some yoga for arthritis.  Though it felt helpful at the time, I woke up in a lot of pain the following morning, so I haven’t felt terribly inspired to try it again.  I have also started to take baths most nights.  The hot water has helped to relieve some of the pain and combined with reading, it helps relax me and allow me to evade the ever persistent painsomnia.

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I have also started to work on puzzles more frequently.  Whether solo or with Alex, they are also a calming activity to use energy towards that helps me focus – especially in days of intense pain.  Since I am not working at the moment, I have been able to put those spoons towards other things – such as visiting with family or doing housework.  Chronic illness has really helped to put things into perspective for me.  I never thought there was going to be a day where folding laundry or emptying/loading the dishwasher would be exciting, but as a Spoonie, I see it as an achievement.

Sometimes, I am still having trouble balancing the number of spoons I use.  It’s not uncommon for me to be in the hospital the week leading up to my infusion.  Because I had energy, I pushed myself too hard the week before my infusion, and though I had fun, I definitely paid for it.  Dinner with former coworkers, dinner with my brother-in-law, his wonderful girlfriend, and her adorable dog, seeing my grandpa for the first time in over a year, hanging out with one of my best friends, and finishing the week with my Entyvio infusion and MTX shot made for a very lazy weekend. 😊  I worked on cross-stitch and dusted off my drawing skills for something my husband and I are working on.  Once I finished the book Big Little Lies, I began the series which is really good so far!  After some rest, I started the next week by having my friend and mentor over for dinner before she moves to start her new venture, which made for a really lovely night.  Later in the week, Alex and I went on a craft date to Joann Fabrics to get materials for a few different projects – he is seriously the perfect person for me!  Since 2+ hours walking around wore me out, I got to start the next day by catching up with one of my other best friends and watching The Bachelorette together over video chat.  She is someone who has always been by my side, and I love that we can still connect, even when we’re not as close location-wise as we once were.

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Medical updates within the past month haven’t been too vast.  I had my first appointment with my new primary doctor – who I learned was originally training to specialize in GI during his residency.  I also made an appointment with a new GI in my hospital system who my primary recommended.  The only other notable update is that once the insurance company processing my Short-Term Disability claim received my files, they decided to look at my records and evaluate my case for both Short-Term and Long-Term at the same time, because they recognize that my conditions – individually and combined – make for a complex case.  I was originally only going to file the LTD paperwork if I need it, but it is nice that I will likely know whether or not that would be approved prior to needing it.  They reached out to my employer for additional information and requested my medical records from both my current GI and my rheumatologist.  They have all of the information they need, and now I am just waiting to hear their decision!

I hope all my fellow spoonies are doing well!

Healthcare Bluebook

In the United States, health care and cost of services can vary between both doctors and facilities.  The most extreme example of this that I have personally witnessed is the cost for both Entyvio and the nurse to infuse it.  I have received Entyvio infusions from four different locations – two hospital outpatient infusion clinics, a doctor’s office, and at home.  The total costs have ranged from $2,500.00, on the low end, to $22,000.00 – for the same drug, with the same premeds, being infused over the same period of time.  The price difference between the two hospitals was even shocking – a delta of $18,500.00.  Thankfully, many biologics and other drugs offer co-pay assistance plans, which have helped a great deal.

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The good news is that you can compare prices for procedures or medications at different facilities to keep from being surprised.  In my role as the benefit administrator for the company I work for, I learned of Healthcare Bluebook during this year’s open enrollment period.  A rep from one of the carriers I work with brought it to my attention.  It allows you to search in your area by either typing in a specific service or by selecting a category such as hospital, physician, imaging, labs, medications, etc.

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Once you search or select a service, the site will give you the low, fair, and high price for the area – 90210, in my example.  Depending on what your searching for, Healthcare Bluebook also offers prices for facilities in the area.

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This post is not endorsed by Healthcare Bluebook in any way, I just wanted to share this helpful resource with my fellow spoonies and warriors!  I hope this helps you navigate the health care system while saving some money in the process! 😊

FMLA – Week One

Week one of my medical leave has been going well.  Though I still feel weak, fatigued, and pained, I can feel myself and my body moving in the right direction.  I tried not to put too much on my plate, focusing mostly on self-care, getting my FMLA and Short-Term Disability paperwork filed, and making appointments.

I had an appointment with my rheumatologist – that Alex came with me to – where we went over my current symptoms and pain levels/locations.  My doctor increased my Cymbalta dose by 20mgs and agreed to fill out my paperwork, and I agreed to go on a walk every day – which I’ve done each day except for today.  The end of last week was filled with calls with my gastroenterologist’s office.  He had just come back from vacation, and the completion of the paperwork was taking longer than I was originally told to anticipate.  The calls back and forth were definitely causing me some stress, which lead to some retail therapy at Target where I added to my personal library collection, picked up a pair of comfortable shoes for the aforementioned walks, and strawberry blonde hair dye because I needed a change.

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On Friday, I made two appointments with specialists at Cleveland Clinic – an IBD specialist and one of the rheumatologists who run the clinic’s Fibromyalgia Management program.  The appointments are both later in the summer, but I am excited to meet with both of these doctors and see what other treatment options or plans are available to increase my quality of life.  I had a few extra spoons that day, so I decided it would be a good chance to dye my hair.  Though I love the color, I unfortunately misjudged my spoon count, and I was down for the rest of the night and into Saturday.

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Throughout the weekend, Alex and I watched both Grey’s Anatomy and Stranger Things while playing Stranger Things Monopoly (another item from my Target shopping spree).  I’ve also started reading Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and continued working on the jigsaw puzzle I was doing, in between naps with my pups.

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Come Monday, my paperwork from my GI was finally ready to be picked up, so I ran that over to work and faxed the Short-Term Disability paperwork over to the carrier.  Between being the benefits admin at the company I work for and being the first to go through the process from the employee side, I want to write a piece on FMLA and Short-Term Disability once I have completed the approval process with the insurance company.  (For now, they have all of the information they need from me.  They will review it and reach out to notify me that I’ve been approved, denied, or that they need additional information.)

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Other than the things mentioned above, I’ve been just trying to get as much rest as possible.  In “week two”, I want to start helping out around the house more or generally trying to be more active.  Not more active than when I was working, because that would not do me any good, but more active than I have been this week.  I do think it was important to take this first week to get a lot of rest, but I want to try and find the balance in this.

A Big Announcement

I realized today is exactly one month since the last blog post that I’ve written.  Everything since has been written by my wonderful, caring husband (for Alex’s Caregiver Corner) who has been helping not only with covering blog posts, but also by being my rock during this hard time.  My health has continued to worsen since I was in the hospital, and I’ve been trying to balance work, family, friends, health, self-care, and The Misadventures of a Spoonie without much success.  This past month has been mostly filled with work, some family time, and interrupted sleep/painsomnia with some eating sprinkled in when food actually sounds good.  (Typically, banana bread with chocolate chips, in case you were wondering! 😉)  Thankfully, I love what I do and the people that I work with, which made the past month much more enjoyable, even though my health wasn’t great.

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Since before I went into the hospital, my husband and I have been discussing the possibility of me using FMLA and Short-Term Disability.  Because I enjoy my job and have workaholic tendencies, I have been putting off this decision, but have reached a point where I know my health will continue to decline if I don’t take this time to heal.  I feel really lucky to have the support system I do in making this decision.  Though it’s been difficult, having the support of Alex, other family members, close friends, my incredible supervisor/mentor, and the C-level team of the company I work for has made the decision easier.  With each person I spoke to and felt supported by, a weight was lifted from my shoulders.

This will be a big shift for me, but I am looking forward to having this leave – which begins next week.  My main focus during this time will be getting second opinions, trying to find additional answers, working with doctors to create a treatment plan that works better than my current one, and all the trial-and-error that comes along with it.  As many of you know how exhausting “doctor shopping” can be—and any travel that comes along with it—I will also be trying to be better at practicing better self-care and listening to my body.  Personally, writing content for The Misadventures of a Spoonie and The Great Bowel Movement is quite cathartic for me.  Being able to express my thoughts, feelings, pain, and experiences through writing helps to keep stress levels down, and I love being able to help others in the process.  Through this blog, I plan to document my experiences of being on FMLA, applying for (and hopefully getting) Short-Term Disability, doctor’s appointments, and any major changes in my diagnosis or care.  Plus, I have a stack of mystery novels to read while resting with my pups.

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Here’s to the next three months!  I’ll be posting again soon. 😊

What Is a Spoonie?

Over the past few posts, I have discussed caring for a spoonie, the stress of social situations, and helping a spoonie. After all this, I think it is important to explain what a spoonie is to those who may not know. Some people might know what a spoonie is already, but for those who do not, a “spoonie” is someone who deals with chronic illness and/or fatigue caused by various illnesses. My wife has ulcerative colitis, fibromylgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and other chronic conditions. These conditions drain her energy and make it hard to get through the day. Those with chronic illness and fatigue tend to use The Spoon Theory to explain their daily struggles.

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The Spoon Theory was created by Christine Miserandino and can be read at https://butyoudontlooksick.com/category/the-spoon-theory/. The basic idea behind The Spoon Theory is that people with chronic conditions only have a limited number of spoons to use in a day. Most healthy people have an unlimited number of spoons to use through out the day, however those with chronic conditions do not have that luxury. The limited number of spoons means that they have to conserve and use their spoons wisely. Everything takes spoons, though some activities take more spoons than others. A good example is getting up for the day. For a healthy person, getting up just means they have to hop out of bed and get ready. For a spoonie, each task takes spoons. Getting out of bed might take one spoon and walking to the bathroom takes another. Do you wash your face in the morning? Well that will take a spoon as well. If you have long hair and need to comb it, then it might take two spoons. Each task, even the simplest, takes spoons.

A spoonie only has a limited number of these spoons throughout the day, and unlike healthy people, spoonies do not recover spoons as the day goes on. If they wake up with only 10 spoons, that is all they have for that day. They may be able to borrow spoons from tomorrow, but that means they will start tomorrow off with fewer spoons. In addition to the limited spoons, their chronic conditions can steal spoons. Lauren might start with 10 spoons, but just dealing with the pain will use 3 spoons for the day. Putting on a happy face and using energy to pass as abled also takes spoons to accomplish. With any luck she will recover some when she sleeps, but even that is not guaranteed.

The Spoon Theory is probably the best way I have ever found to explain the struggles people with chronic illness deal with every day in regards to energy. The idea that once your spoons are gone, then your day is done is scary. I have finally gotten to the point where I can see the spoons being expended, and I know when Lauren is out of spoons, but it took a lot of communication between the two of us to get to this point. This is why spoonies need extra support and understanding. They work hard every day just to get the basics done. If you are caring for a spoonie, read The Spoon Theory and have a conversation with them about their spoons. Pitch in when you care, and take over anything that is not important for them to do. They are dealing with so much already, and they need your support!

De-stressing Family Situations

Hello everyone, Alex here again. Lauren had her infusion today, so I decided to do another edition of Alex’s Caregiver Corner. Today, I want to talk about family and friends, those wonderful crazy people that helped raise you and made you the great person you are. Family and friends can be great, but when you are living with a chronic condition, or if you marry/date someone with a chronic condition, family can be stressful. Even the most well meaning family members can accidentally cause stress. Over the course of meeting, dating, and finally marrying Lauren, I have seen a number of different ways family reacts to chronic conditions.

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First, there is the “My friend cured that with…” aunt. This is the family member who means well and wants to help you get better, but thinks that they have the perfect solution that your doctors refuse to share with you. Normally these people will listen to you and you condition, then come back to you with a homeopathic remedy that worked for their friend. It is not easy to deal with these people. It is obvious that they mean well, but their so called solution will do nothing at best or hurt you at worst. My suggestion to dealing with them is to not get angry and start by explaining the condition you or your significant other has. Help them understand what causing the condition and what you have tried. I have been lucky that when people have made suggestions it was because they lacked an understanding of the difference between IBD and IBS. If they do not listen or if they go Agent Mulder on you and start spewing conspiracy theories about a secret society of gnomes who control the doctors, then change the subject and do not bring up the condition again. It is not worth wasting time on someone who will not listen to you.

The second I’ve run into is the “yes but…” grandpa. This family member can be told about your condition a million times, even witness first had what you or your spouse goes through, but will never understand. They will continuously think that the condition is fake or that they just need to tough it out. Personally, these are the hardest to deal with. In my opinion they can be told a million times the limitations or special diet you need, but still insist that you can eat the giant gluten filled pie with uncooked carrot and then down a big glass of milk. These people just do not want to understand. Be polite, talk to them, but do all you can to avoid there stress and keep your significant other away from them if you can.

The last is my favorite, I call this one the “great saint” mother. This is the person who just understands. They listen to you, provide you with a sounding board, do not over burden you, and are there when you need help or support. The best part is, these people do genuine research to understand you or your spouse’s condition. When you tell them about your lack of spoons, they are happy to step in and take care of things like mowing the lawn, walking the dogs, or just making you a good dinner. When you find friends or family like this hold on tight, they are the best to have around to give you strength and encouragement. They also they come in handy when dealing with the other two.

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Family and friends are wonderful – they are a source of laughter and happiness, and provide a support system when things are tough. However, not all family and friends can be helpful and some can add a great deal of stress. What have you had to deal with in your adventures with chronic conditions?

Brainfog & Painsomnia

Hopefully I can get through this post without losing my train of thought… Brainfog is sometimes my most frustrating symptom.  Consistently loosing words, names, or what I was going to say is worrisome to me – as someone who has been known to be good at remembering details.  It’s something I’m often concerned is going to get worse as I age.

For me, my brainfog is always at its worst when I’m in pain and/or in a flare.  It’s feels like my brain and body only has so much capacity, that everything else becomes a blur.  Typically, pain will lead to painsomnia, which just makes the fog heavier the next day.  Thankfully, I have developed a few coping methods to help me on days where I’m extra foggy.

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Staring out into the fog that fills my brain

Notes, notes, notes!  I take notes everywhere, all the time.  To-do lists keep me on track – I keep my work one on my computer and my personal and blog ones on my phone.  Anytime something pops into my head, I will try to jot it down as soon as I can before it gets lost in the abyss.  If I think of something important that’s work related, I’ll email myself notes.  At work, I have also started asking people to email me if they request something of me in person and I can’t make note of it at the time.  I also take audio recordings during some meetings – especially with fast talkers, as long as it’s okay with them.  I’ve found it also helps to explain fog to family, friends, and coworkers to help them understand.  My husband does what he can to keep me on track when I forget what I’m saying.  Thankfully, with a reminder of what I was talking about, I can usually pick up where I was in the story or conversation.  It gets dangerous when I have thoughts I haven’t yet started to get out, because then no one is there to remind me!

Though the fog can be frustrating, there are ways to help remember, even if you can’t clear the fog.  I hope these tips are as helpful to you as they are to me.

Caring for a Spoonie

As many of you know, Lauren normally writes a post every Tuesday, however this week has been rough.  Because of this, I offered to help and write something for her – creating Alex’s Caregiver Corner, where I will be contributing semi-regular posts. Today’s post is about caring for a spoonie and the adventures (or misadventures) that that can bring. Life with a spoonie is always interesting, as it is hard to predict what will come day-to-day and you must be flexible and understanding.

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Day-to-day life for spoonies, and those that care about them, is an adventure all its own. I do not know what to expect when I wake up every morning. Will today be a bad pain day? Will Lauren have the energy to get out of bed? What will she be able to eat today? These are all questions that go through my head every morning. I try hard to get a routine and make sure I am prepared for anything that comes up. During the week, I will wake up early to take care of the dogs, prepare breakfast, and get everything ready for our days. I work hard to make sure Lauren gets to rest and recover as many spoons as possible for the day. On the weekend, I make sure she can sleep in as late as possible and gets as much rest as possible. I will handle much of the house work, so she can use her spoons on something fun that she enjoys.

When caring for a spoonie, you may find yourself taking on everything out of love. You want to do the best you can to make sure they do not need to worry about anything. This is a noble endeavor, but a futile mission. The fact is, you are one person and can only do so much. You have your own tasks to deal with like a job, yard work, or general house work. Make sure you take time for yourself, as well as care for the person you love. It is a balancing act that can be very challenging, I can say that I have not even found a perfect balance after 3 years. What I have learned is that you need to practice self-care both mentally and physically. Find things you love and make sure you find time for those, sleep in once in a while, spend what time you can with friends, and most importantly reach out for help when you need it. Also, make sure you enjoy the little things, when you can, with the person you love.

A spoonie’s life is not easy. They can miss out on a number of things because they are sick, too weak, or are in pain. It can be just as challenging for a significant other. You can get lost in a cycle of care and recovery that can engulf your life, if you are not careful. Take time to enjoy the small things with the person you love. Lauren and I enjoy baking together, coming up with new sewing projects, watching television shows, or going to a museum. Recently, Lauren and I enjoyed a wonderful day at The Henry Ford Museum where I wheeled her around and we talked about Disney movies while we learned about the animation process for Pixar. I could not imagine a better way to enjoy the day! The two of us needed the time together after a long winter avoiding the flu and colds.

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Meeting Dug & Russell on our honeymoon

My final advice to anyone who cares for and loves a spoonie is to be understanding. You cannot always see the pain or weakness, and you will not always know how to help, but you can be understanding and listen to them. They will tell you what they need and need to know that they can trust you to believe them. Spoonies can be ignored and dismissed by so many, so what they need most from you is your support and understanding. When they are too weak to get out of bed, help them by making breakfast. If they say that they are in pain, they really are in pain. If they tell you that they need to go to the hospital, get your butt in the car and drive them. Most of all, when everyone around them dismisses their pain and symptoms, even doctors, listen to what they are telling you and fight for them. You are their rock and support, the person they rely on to help with day-to-day tasks, and the person who is there when doctors give up.

Caring for a spoonie can be challenging, but it is a labor of love. Lauren is the most important person in my life and caring for and helping her every day is done because I love her more than anything. Even through the all of her illnesses and the days she cannot get out of bed, we still enjoy every second together and share everything. Every day is full of love and laughter. I know on my worst of days, she can make me smile and when she is in terrible pain, I know I can make her laugh and at least make her happier. When we fall for a spoonie, we know what we are getting into, and everything we do is because we love and care about them. They are the most important people to us and need our full support, care, and understanding.

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Paradise Falls at The Science of Pixar Exhibit

#IBDAdvocacyTag

Megan from The Front Butt Youtuber channel started the #IBDAdvocacyTag, so this week I am answering her five questions to help spread awareness & challenge you to answer them too!

What form of IBD do you have?

I have ulcerative colitis – specifically ulcerative pancolitis, meaning my entire colon is affected by the disease.

Why is IBD advocacy important?

IBD advocacy is important in helping to educate others to bring a better understanding.  A great example is with my team at work.  Though my colleagues were supportive off the bat, the more I tell them about IBD, my other diseases, and how the conditions affect me specifically, the more supportive they are.  The more awareness we can provide about IBD, the more understanding people can be.

Awareness and advocacy also can bring advancements in treatments and eventually a cure.  The medicine I am currently on for my ulcerative colitis was not available when I was first diagnosed.  Everyone’s disease is unique to them and the medication that could help someone else could still be in trials or not even thought of yet!  The more IBD patients speak out and participate in studies, the more research will be done leading to better treatments and the closer we will be to a cure.

Describe a socially awkward moment with IBD.

The first story that comes to mind occurred when I was working as a manager at a restaurant on my first shift after being hospitalized.  The General Manager of the restaurant and I were standing at the “seating chart” podium while guests were standing and sitting in the lobby waiting for tables to open up.  Loudly, he begins to ask me about my “irritable” bowel disease and how my “irritable” bowels were.  Super weird conversation since I wasn’t that comfortable with him, only made weirder by the ten other strangers in the lobby.  This was earlier in my disease when I wasn’t as comfortable discussing it as I am now, so I awkwardly let him know that the “I” stands for “inflammatory” and just kind of shrank in size and stature, not saying anything else.  Not my proudest advocacy moment, but it does lead into the next question…

What is a common stigma you run into?

The most common thing I run into is people thinking IBD is the same thing as IBS.  I’ve had people who have/had IBS tell me that theirs improved by eating better and managing stress, and I would be cured if I did that.  Though there can be food triggers or foods to avoid and stress doesn’t do anyone any favors, IBD is so much more than that.  As an autoimmune disease, IBD is our bodies attacking their own (what was at one time) healthy tissue.  When I encounter this misconception, I take the time to explain the differences and share my IBD story.

What do you want other people to know about IBD?

As I said earlier, everyone’s disease is unique and it affects people in different ways.  A treatment that worked for one person might not work for another.  There are different factors that go into everyone’s IBD symptoms and it is not fair to hold everyone to a single standard of what it looks like to have IBD.