Fifteen Days: Data and Diagnoses

My doctor beamed at me. “I feel like if we keep you in, we’ll discover something new about your body every week!”

but we’ll get there…

Happy holidays everyone!

Believe it or not, I’m finally home. I didn’t quite take up residence on node 3, floor 6 south of the Pacific Campus of CPMC, though there were times it may have looked that way.

I wore four bracelets for two weeks.

I wore four bracelets for two weeks.

Staying in the hospital for a relatively long time can be uncomfortable and exhausting. There’s no place like home, and the Ozian adage applies when you’re sick too. Even for someone capable of generally sleeping through noise, like I am (particularly notable feats include sleeping through my friends partying in a hotel room with music and a hospital blood draw), the hospital can make it difficult to get a full night’s sleep. While I am technically capable of sleeping through vitals checks and blood draws (especially through my handy PICC line, where I don’t even need to get poked), it becomes a much more difficult pursuit when the nurses and aides have to turn on the light, re-position me to get the correct arm (blood had to be drawn through the PICC arm and blood pressure couldn’t be taken on the PICC arm), take my vitals three times to make sure they’re really that low, etc. It could also be difficult to return to sleep after the early morning check up, including vitals and blood draws, as it would be just close enough (4:30-5:30 usually) to when I would wake up naturally to cause problems. Add in the occasional early morning admission or inconsiderate roommate (4 a. m. is not the time to watch TV on full blast or call everyone in your address book to complain about your bowels!) and sleep could feel elusive. On top of that, I was often in need of more sleep than usual because I was exhausted from various procedures and just from being sick. I did take naps, but there’s nothing like my own bed for a good night’s rest.

And then there’s claustrophobia. I spent almost all of the fifteen days on the sixth floor, with a few sojourns to GI Lab (fifth floor) and radiology/nuclear medicine (second floor.) I didn’t step foot outside the entire time. Believe me when I say that the walk from the hospital entrance to the curb where my dad had the car felt fantastic. Fresh air truly is a wonderful thing. Being cooped up like that could make you go a little bit crazy.

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It was also hard being 3.5 hours from home. My parents had to stay in a hotel and we hadn’t realized how long the stay would end up being. You don’t quite have your regular support network when you’re that far from home. (Though I fully acknowledge that I am incredibly lucky to have such a good motility center only a few hours from home! I’ve gotten to know a number of people who have to travel across states or even oceans in order to get the appropriate medical care for their condition!)

There are always the views...and there were far better ones when I went on my blood clot preventing walks around the floor!

There are always the views…and there were far better ones when I went on my blood clot preventing walks around the floor!

All of the inconveniences of the hospital stay pale in comparison to what I got out of it, though.

When I left off in my last post, I think I’d just had my gastric emptying study. I didn’t know my exact emptying time, but I knew that it had looked and felt pretty delayed. On Monday I received news of the precise time: 54% of my simple meal remained in my stomach after four hours. Normal is considered to be under 10%. This kind of delay is indicative of pretty considerable gastroparesis.

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Radioactive eggs actually become yummy when you haven’t had anything to eat by mouth in weeks. Yes, I enjoyed eating the meal for the emptying study…at least until the pain and reflux started!

Saturday morning, I wrote an update here, but I don’t think I said much about my cardiac issues other than to mention that my heart rate was having problems. Well, first of all, the good news: my QT interval reverts to normal when I have a good electrolyte balance and avoid even the most mildly prolonging of  medications. If I take even “less prolonging” medications, my QTc (corrected interval that accounts for heart rate) gets out of whack. Basically, this means I have to be very careful about what medications I take and there are pretty much no anti-emetics (drugs for nausea) or pro-kinetics (drugs that improve motility) that I can take. That’s less of a sacrifice than it might be because none of the anti-emetics really work on me, unless I get enough of a combination that they just put me to sleep. I talked about this with a couple of my doctors and it’s because my vomiting really isn’t nausea-mediated. For a lot of people, the loop goes nausea -> vomiting -> nausea but for me it’s vomiting -> nausea -> vomiting.  If I take drugs that remove nausea from the equation, I may temporarily feel more comfortable, even falsely optimistic, but that soon goes away when I begin vomiting again. I also don’t always have nausea even when I am vomiting. Weird, I know, but it helps explain the lack of efficacy!

More of an ongoing dilemma has been my heart rate. I was put on telemetry (heart monitoring) and a beta blocker because of my long QT at the beginning of the first week. While on the monitor, everyone began to notice that my heart rate would spike considerably at different points through the day. Several times when I got up to go to the bathroom, for example, nurses would race in to ask what was wrong and then tell me my heart rate had gone up. “Oh,” I would say, “I guess it feels a little fast.” I figured it was going up by ten, maybe twenty at most, since I didn’t even feel lightheaded, didn’t see black, didn’t collapse — all things I’ve done in the past with orthostatic intolerance.

My heart rate was reaching into the 160s and 170s when I stood up. Even with the beta blocker.

Some of the telemetry that helped us figure that out.

Some of the telemetry that helped us figure that out.

At about 3 a. m. Saturday morning, a nurse woke me up, with some difficulty. She (or he? my exact memories of that time are a bit blurry) explained that she had to take my blood pressure again. It was 75/33. She said that that was the third time it was in that range and she called the night hospitalist. He came in and talked to me for a minute before looking at my file and putting in a few orders: a pill to bring up my blood pressure, extra fluids, blood cultures to check for a line infection, an IV broad spectrum antibiotic, and discontinuation of the beta blockers until the cardiologist could review my case. (As an aside, the tiny pill I swallowed to bring up my blood pressure is the last thing I kept down.)  Don’t worry — I wasn’t septic and I didn’t have an infection. But I wasn’t able to ever really get my blood pressure up high enough to take the beta blocker again. (It’s very normal for me, when relaxed, to run around 100/60, and when I didn’t get massive amounts of saline I was often in the 90s, so I didn’t have all that much room to spare!)

I’ve talked to no fewer than four cardiologists since that point, and everyone agrees that as long as I’m mostly asymptomatic with my tachycardia, no more beta blockers and lots of fluids. My heart rate continued to spike into the 160s or so when I stood and continue around the 140s when I stayed standing up. My resting heart rate was typically in the 80s or so during the day, often dipping into the 50s at night, so I had a lot of variation. Some of this may just be deconditioning, so everyone has encouraged me to keep standing/walking in the hope that will help with this in the future. (When I first went on telemetry, concerned nurses originally made me stay in bed. This meant I got heparin shots to prevent blood clots. I’d rather walk, for a lot of different reasons.) The electrophysiologist I saw in the hospital told me that it’s common to have issues with regulation of heart rate and blood pressure if you also have gastroparesis/motility issues because they all involve the autonomic nervous system. The only weird thing is that I’m asymptomatic, but I’ll take that kind of weirdness! So, for now, I just have postural tachycardia, rather than Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.

My cardiology fellow brought me this guy. She was amazing, both as a doctor and a person, and felt badly about my being inpatient over the holidays. Isn't he the cutest?!

My cardiology fellow brought me this guy. She was amazing, both as a doctor and a person, and felt badly about my being inpatient over the holidays. Isn’t he the cutest?!

Back to the star of this show: my stomach! On Monday, I had yet another EGD (upper endoscopy), this time with a pyloric manometry. The pylorus is the valve that separates the stomach from the small bowel and allows the passage of food. Some people with gastroparesis have a pyloric spasm that contributes to their delay in emptying food from their stomachs. For those people, injecting Botox into the pylorus can help. When I went in for the procedure, my doctor said that she would inject Botox if my pylorus had that kind of problem. It turned out that it didn’t, so that ruled that option out.

Also on Monday, I received a diagnosis of idiopathic gastroparesis. While some gastroparesis stems from diabetic neuropathy, and a tiny percentage comes from autoimmune disorders like scleroderma, much of it is idiopathic. That sounds crazy until you realize that, as my favorite hospitalist Dr. Cheng explained to me, much of medicine is idiopathic. We don’t know what causes most cancer or heart disease, for example, even if scientists have identified some risk factors.

Through all of last week (and all of my stay, really), plans and ideas continually changed. Some of you undoubtedly saw my Facebook updates to that effect. Originally, there was some talk of my receiving a J-tube (surgical feeding tube into the small bowel) and a Gastric Electrical Stimulator (pacemaker for the stomach) in the same surgery within a few days. Then, there was talk of a temporary stimulator to do a trial since we didn’t know that the stimulator would work in my case, since my motility is so weird. Then, in part because the holidays were coming up, my doctors decided to wait to do the temporary stimulator until after the first and to have a surgical J-tube placed last week. While in my small bowel, the idea was to take a full muscle biopsy (which is only possible during surgery) to check for some weird muscular diseases since I’ve had other neuromuscular symptoms. I talked to the surgical resident who would be on the surgery with one of the minimally invasive surgeons Tuesday night and she said that the surgery would probably be Thursday or Friday since I wasn’t on the schedule for Wednesday. Then she came back later that evening and said that I was going to have surgery on Wednesday and it would be some time after 2:30. Then she came in early Wednesday morning and said that actually it would be sometime that morning. See what I mean by a roller coaster? And that pales in comparison to what’s coming.

Wednesday morning, not long before I was set to head down for surgery, Dr. Cheng came in to tell me that he, Dr. Shetler, and Dr. Snape had been talking and they decided not to have a surgical j-tube placed just yet. The muscle biopsy was too risky for a shot in the dark and any time you operate on the intestines, you run the risk of creating or exacerbating a motility problem. Since they planned for me to come back in just a couple weeks for a stimulator trial, and nobody could say if I would need a feeding tube long term. And everyone thinks that it’s basically a miracle that I haven’t had abdominal surgery at this point and nobody really wants to be the first one to mess that up.

So this happened:

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You may not quite see, but I’m smiling and giving a thumbs up in the second picture. (Thumbs up rock! They basically kept me going through the stay!) I had yet another nasal tube placed at bedside, before being sent down to interventional radiology to have it advanced into my jejunum. Dr. Shetler (my main GI) came by to talk to us about the new plan right as transport arrived to take me down to IR. She said she’d come back but she talked to my parents for a few minutes as I was being wheeled away. The last thing I heard her say as I was being wheeled away was that we were running out of options and if the stimulator didn’t work, we’d be out.

Not. An. Option.

I got down to IR and the nurse assisting the radiologist was the same one I’d had for both my last NJ placement at CPMC and for my Upper GI. She remembered my problems with latex! 😀 I figured out that I was particularly memorable because I was basically the youngest one in the hospital (it only takes patients over 18 and 19 year olds are a notoriously healthy bunch…and still handled through children’s hospitals in a lot of cases.) Also, the tubes help.

The radiologist came in and got to work. He had no trouble advancing it through the pyloric sphincter, but he started to run into problems in my duodenum, which is the first section of the small bowel. He started asking me some questions about my medical history, which I was able to answer. (The nurse was impressed by how much I remembered — a good memory can really come in handy in these kind of situations!) He told me that the first part of my duodenum was baggy and loose like my stomach and then it suddenly became normal right after the part he was having difficulty getting the tube through. He started injecting contrast, which he did several times, and he asked if I’d had an abdominal CT. When I said that I’d had one the previous week, he sent the nurse to pull it up on the computer. He got the tube into my jejunum, then went to look at it. When he came back, he asked me if I’d ever heard of SMA Syndrome.

“Superior Mesenteric Artery,” I said, “I don’t know a lot about it.” I didn’t. I’d come across a few references previously, and they didn’t make it sound good. There’s no good reason for me to have even remembered what it stood for, but I did.

He showed me the x-rays and explained that when he sees a young, thin girl with failure to thrive and gastroparesis-like symptoms and a baggy duodenum that suddenly gets normal, he has a pretty high suspicion of SMA syndrome. He said they see about two cases a year at CPMC, always with my kind of symptoms and body type. He said that my CT does indeed show the characteristically narrowed angle.

What happens with SMA Syndrome is that the eponymous artery, which crosses over the duodenum, ends up compressing the duodenum to the point of partial or even full obstruction. Normally, there should be a pad of visceral fat protecting the duodenum, but sometimes that pad disappears. It’s controversial whether it can be a primary issue or whether it has to be secondary. While at first my doctors kicked around the idea of it being primary, nobody seems to be very convinced by that and the general thought is that some kind of motility issue caused weight loss, which caused SMA, which caused further motility issues and weight loss, which made the SMA worse….They keep emphasizing that my case is complicated for a reason!

The radiologist brought in my parents and showed up the abdominal CT and explained some more about SMA Syndrome. He explained that while everyone’s concern with body habit is about people being overweight, being underweight can be even more dangerous. Losing fifteen or twenty pounds from an already thin frame just isn’t good. He showed me some maneuvers to try if I were able to eat to see if they would help allow for the passage of food through the obstruction. My mom asked him if this meant that I would be able to eat normally once the SMA is fixed and he hesitated, before saying that it would probably take some retraining.

When I got back up to my room, my GI came back by. She hadn’t heard from the radiologist yet, but when I mentioned SMA, it was like a light bulb went off. She said that it could explain my symptoms. It even explains how I haven’t thrown up my NJ tube, despite some serious vomiting — the SMA pinned it in place. When she came back after checking the scans, and the hospitalist also reviewed them, we all came up with a plan of attack: try to put on weight with the tube feeding and see if that resolves the SMA. If it does, we’ll see how many of my symptoms remain and treat accordingly (considering the stimulator if we absolutely have to.) If it doesn’t, then the we’ll have to consider some scarier options (really major surgery, basically.) Hopefully, it won’t even begin to come to that. For a lot of people, restoring the visceral fat does the trick, and I very much hope that I’ll be one of them!

(At this point, I should probably say that if you’ve Googled SMA and seen the crazy high mortality rate, that’s only because it goes undiagnosed so much. When it’s diagnosed and treated accurately, there’s not much of a mortality rate.)

This hasn’t been an easy diagnosis to receive, but we have a plan going forward and something to explain my symptoms and their severity. Over the last few days of my hospital stay, we figured out a formula that I could tolerate through my tube (fourth time’s the charm!) and I’ve been sent home with that and saline/potassium/dextrose infusions through my PICC line. I have a lot of really smart doctors who are thinking things through and each day we get closer to a resolution. I’m stable now and while my situation isn’t entirely tenable in the long term, we have time. My doctors have collected a lot of data and stabilizing me has given them time to go through it and think about it some more.

I've got a PICC, so it's all good.

I’ve got a PICC, so it’s all good.

Saturday was a nice and distracting day. I started a better formula, took a shower, had a great visit from my friend Genny who was back in the Bay for the holidays, and got to go through a pole-free walk because my pumps were broken.

091Versus carrying around these kinds of things…

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And while I came into the hospital in a wheelchair, I left walking.

READY FOR ANYTHING!

READY FOR ANYTHING! And again, with the thumbs up!

I mean it when I say ready for anything. I won’t let a little SMA or gastroparesis get me down!

And a new feature, started at the suggestion of my uncle: foods I’m currently craving! Chocolate (expect to see that always), chocolate fudge, French toast, Atlantic salmon, garlic bread, roasted carrots, ice water.

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So much for regular updates….

I don’t have a “too busy” excuse (obviously), just a not quite feeling up to it one.

Unfortunately, the switch to Peptamen wasn’t quite the miracle cure I hoped for. There are definitely some improvements — less gas, a less obnoxious smell of the formula itself, I’m able to get more calories in. (And they should be more easily absorbed.) All good stuff, don’t get me wrong. But the big ones — abdominal pain and discomfort, diarrhea, and nausea — are still around and at this point, they seem to be more symptoms of whatever I have going on rather than side effects of the treatment.

(Feel free to skip this next part if you’re squeamish.)

On Friday and Saturday, while things weren’t perfect, I actually thought that the Peptamen was beginning to make a difference. On Sunday, I quickly realized that wasn’t the case. Without going into too too much information, let’s just say that my body pretty much decided to put itself through a couple of colonoscopy preps. It’s a lot of fun Googling your symptoms and having the only thing that comes up be Cholera. (Note: I don’t have Cholera. I live in California, thank you very much. And the volume was only bad by normal standards; it didn’t reach Choleric heights, only appearance.) For a while I couldn’t even rehydrate through my tube without it being counter productive. I also had a lot of pain and when I touched my abdomen in certain places, I could feel things moving beneath my skin.

I made it through an echocardiogram on Monday! My cardiologist in San Francisco wanted one done but said that I could have it done locally so that I didn’t have to make a long drive for a relatively simple test.

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Talk about an amazing test! The images of my heart absolutely mesmerized me. I watched the entire time. Amazing to see all of my chambers and valves like that! I don’t know nearly enough about the anatomy and physiology of my heart (until recently it hadn’t been an issue), but the tech was great at explaining everything to me. He was also really cool to talk to because he went through heart surgery when he was my age and could relate to being “too young” for dealing with health issues. He said that going through what he did convinced him to switch to the medical field. 🙂

The pain made it almost impossible to sleep on Monday night (I was up every hour) and feeding left me in enough agony that I turned the pump off for several hours on Tuesday, although the diarrhea had abated. After much dithering (not helped by being strung out from pain and exhaustion), I went ahead and called my doctors. I left a message for my gastroenterologist on her nurse’s voicemail asking what I should do if this recurred. I felt badly about calling, because I worried that it was too insignificant of an issue to be hassling the doctor about, but I went ahead and left the message anyway.

Wednesday was worse again, though not as bad as Monday and Sunday, and I felt a bit better overall because I’d taken Phenargan the previous night and managed to sleep for 11.5 hours. I figure that I must have really needed that rest. I kept the feeding on most of the day, except when my dear friend Joey decided to do this:

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Every five seconds. For forty-five minutes. At which point I turned it off, because I’d only gotten 2 milliliters of formula. (I was running it at 40 mls/hour.) My mom called Walgreens Infusion the company sent out a replacement. Paul delivered the pump that afternoon (he and I are becoming great friends.) It looks exactly the same and is also called Joey.

I was still in some pain, though not as bad, and having diarrhea when I got a call late Wednesday afternoon. Dr. Shetler had gotten the message from her nurse and was calling me back. She asked how I was doing and was particularly alarmed by the way that water seemed to make my diarrhea worse rather than better (which I guess makes it less likely that it’s a complication of the tube feeding.) She was pretty concerned about the developments and said that she had been reviewing my file. She said that I never seemed to have had a work up for Crohn’s disease and asked if that were right and if I’d ever had a colonoscopy or swallowed a giant pill camera. I told her I hadn’t. It seems we skipped straight to the motility testing and while I do have a motility problem (tachygastria), Dr. Shetler said she didn’t think that it explained the severity of my symptoms. It’s kind of ironic, because I’m on a couple of support groups for motility issues (I just joined The Gutsy Teen Lounge and it’s fabulous) and everyone seems to go through months or even years of testing for things like Crohn’s before their doctors even think of things like Gastroparesis or Cyclic Vomiting or Chronic Pseudo-Obstruction. There’s a really high level of awareness of these kinds of issues in this area, which is great, but it means that it may turn out that we jumped into that area too soon. I’m not sure that I think Crohn’s is all that likely — I don’t have a fever or anything and while some of my ethnic background predisposes me I don’t have any direct family history of it — but I think it’s a really good thing to check out. And just intuitively, it makes some sense that the issues with my stomach could be a self defense mechanism on the part of my body (trying to shield my intestines from things they don’t like.) I do know a number of people with Crohn’s, and even more who have a relative with it, so if by some chance I have it, I’d have lots of people to ask questions!

Then we talked about how to do the work up for Crohn’s and everything else I need. Dr. Shetler said that I need a surgically placed J-tube (that’s a tube that goes straight through the skin of my abdomen into my small bowel, rather than going through my nose like my current one.) I’ve already had nasal tubes for some time now and they’re really not good for you or sustainable long term. I’ve also been told that once you get beyond the recovery period from the surgery, the J-tube actually ends up being more comfortable. I’d like that!

Cassandra (my current and third NJ tube) may be gone soon!

Cassandra (my current and third NJ tube) may be gone soon!

I also need to have an antroduodenal manometry to see if and how my small intestine is working. (It could be that I have two motility disorders after all.) And to check for Crohn’s, I’ll need a colonoscopy and a capsule endoscopy (I’ll swallow a big pill camera.) If you’d told me a year ago that I’d need a colonoscopy at age twenty, I’d be seriously traumatized. Right now, while I don’t relish the thought, I’m kind of okay with it. A bit nervous, sure, because it involves going under anesthesia  (at least if I don’t want to become known as The Versed Girl at another hospital) and it’s a semi-invasive test and all that, but I have those concerns about upper endoscopies too. (And the one during the antroduodenal manometry will be my third since June!!! That’s crazy to me.)

The long and short of it is that Dr. Shetler doesn’t think I can safely do all of this as an outpatient. Prepping for a colonoscopy isn’t easy on the body at the best of times, but with mine it could be particularly damaging. Trying to do all these tests and procedures over the next month as an outpatient could well result in my losing another ten pounds, which I can’t even remotely afford to lose off of my already too low weight. Add in how complicated it is to arrange all of these when I don’t live in the area and my needs for follow ups with my neurologist and cardiologist and it all means that I’m going to need to be admitted to deal with all of this. I’m just not stable enough to continue otherwise.

I’m waiting for a call right now to work out the last of the details, but I’m probably going in Sunday morning. It was originally supposed to be last night, but we convinced Dr. Shetler and her scheduler to wait a few days so that I can go to an important family event on Saturday. I’m not sure how long I’m going to be in — nobody’s given me any details about that yet — but given how much I have to have done, I presume it’s going to be at least four nights and it could well be more, depending on how things are scheduled and how much time is needed between procedures. It could be through the end of the week.

I’ve never had a hospital stay like this before.  The longest I’ve ever stayed has been two nights and I’ve usually only stayed one night or even just 12 hours or so. Those have also always been admissions to get me stable (which I guess this kind of is, but in a longer range sort of way) where the point was to get me out as soon as possible. They’ve also been at a hospital walking distance from home, rather than 3-4 hours away. Anyone have any suggestions on what to bring or have on hand? Would it be weird if I brought my own blanket? Ideas for what to do while in there? Words of reassurance on surviving colonoscopy prep? (At least I’ll presumably get the stuff through my tube and not have to taste it…though I’m a bit concerned that I’ll overreact to it, given what happened on Sunday and Monday. I guess that’s why I’ll do it in the place where they can do IV fluids if necessary.) General hospital stay survival tips? Estimates of a reasonable number of books to take? (Hahaha, like that’s going to happen…if it appears to, it’s only because I’m cheating and loading up my Kindle like crazy.)

A huge HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my amazing friend Dorothy!!!! Wish I could celebrate it with you girl!!

Jordothy, right around the last time we were within 3000 miles of each other. :(

Jordothy, right around the last time we were within 3000 miles of each other. 😦

So Much to Be Thankful For

After six months and too many doctors to list (believe me, I tried)…

I have a (at least partial) diagnosis:

Tachygastria

After many, many inconclusive tests, I found out the results of my electrogastrogram on Tuesday. Apparently, my stomach muscles contract too strongly and violently 25% of the time before I eat and 50% of the time after. This results in the nerves and muscles only being able to work together 9-12% of the time, which is “extremely low” in the words of my doctor. I’m still beginning to understand exactly what this all means, and I have a lot of questions to ask my doctor the next time I see her, but it basically amounts to my having a gastric dysrhythmia. You know how you can have a cardiac dysrhythmia, where your heart beats in an irregular pattern? It seems as though my stomach “beats” in an irregular pattern.

(I should probably clarify something at this point: my friend Janna sent me this link about a woman’s experience with tachygastria. It seems as though some doctors use tachygastria to refer not to an electrical rhythm viewed on an EGG, but rapid gastric emptying. Rapid gastric emptying is also called dumping syndrome. This isn’t what I have, except when my small bowel decides it wants to play at this because of feeding tube intolerance. My stomach empties in a normal amount of time — 7% of solids remain at 4 hours, and 48% of liquids at 1 hour. However, the kind of tachygastria I have is seen in the majority of patients with gastroparesis, the condition where your stomach empties slowly and that the doctors initially thought I had back in June/July. So, while my stomach empties normally, there are a lot of similarities in what I’m dealing with and what someone with gastroparesis deals with and the treatments overlap.)

Heading down and excited to get answers!

The big question, of course, is how to treat this. There are some medications to try that calm and reorganize the nerves. They also help with the pain and discomfort — despite the results of my Barostat, the EGG did show some visceral hypersensitivity. (I’m not sure if this is because I have it intermittently or if it’s because the overactive nerves are in my small intestine instead of stomach or…?) The only problem is that most of these drugs have cardiac side effects…including QT prolongation. My EKG showed a prolonged QT interval, which may have just been the result of some of the meds I was on. But it may also have been why I often got a funny feeling in my chest after getting IV Zofran (previously chalked up to the medicine taking its effect or the impact of rehydration, etc. since I don’t exactly look like a cardiac patient), why my heart monitor went crazy moments before I started vomiting after my last endoscopy/Barostat, why I had palpitations from a non-QT prolonging med with cardiac side effects….When I told Dr. Shetler about my reaction to the medicine B. at the beginning of my appointment, she immediately excused herself to call a cardiologist friend for a consult. The cardiologist said she would need to see me before determining whether I can take any of those medications. If not, there’s another medication we can try — it’s one originally developed for seizures — but we may need to get neuro clearance for that one.

There’s also a chance that my stomach will reset and go back to normal on its own at some point. It might just need more time. We don’t know what caused the tachygastria, but a viral cause seems pretty reasonable. (It’s not exactly rare for viral gastroenteritis to cause things like gastroparesis, for example.) Dr. Shetler said it might be six months or a year if this happens, though. We’ll definitely be trying things in the meanwhile!

If nothing else works, this condition does qualify me for placement of the Gastric Electrical Stimulator. It’s basically a pacemaker for the stomach, to replace/aid the stomach’s own natural one. Placing it is a major, and not uncomplicated, surgery, though, and it leaves a device in you permanently. Dr. Shetler said that while Cal Pacific is one of the places that has pioneered the use of this device and has done a relatively large number of these procedures (170 in the last 10 years), they don’t like to place them in younger patients. It’s a worst case scenario, but it’s nice to know that the possibility exists if it becomes absolutely necessary. (There’s also the possibility of a temporary stimulator, which my doctor thinks I would be a good candidate for if it came to that. In that case, they place the stimulator endoscopically and keep you in the hospital for a week or two to see how it’s working. BUT in addition to telling you how a permanent one would work, just that short placement can reset your stomach’s electrical currents for months, years, or even forever! That would require getting insurance and NIH approval, though, so not sure how likely….

I’m incredibly grateful to finally have some answers, to finally have a test that reflected how sick I am. I really don’t want to be ungrateful, but there’s a certain point at which negative test results aren’t quite good news. It would have been easier to treat H Pylori ulcers or celiac or SIBO than to remain in mystery diagnosis land. Granted, there are things I think about how lucky I am not to have literally every day — cancer is the big one. But the uncertainty has been baffling. My doctors have been cognizant of how ill I’ve been and haven’t questioned it — malingerers don’t throw up through cocktails of IV anti-emetics or lose weight despite tube feedings — but it’s still nice to see data. And it’s an incredible relief to have some direction to go in, to have a PLAN. It may take a while yet, but  I’m going to get better and have a long and healthy and productive life. The worst case scenarios with all of this may include some not-so-brilliant effects, but they don’t preclude that, which is the most important thing.

Also, my increased stomach pain/cramping/diarrhea are probably from not tolerating the tube feeding very well. Jevity is one of  the more difficult to handle formulas, apparently. I’m supposed to be switching to Peptamen. Of course, despite getting all the calls in last Wednesday and getting orders from my pcp and all that, I still haven’t switched. Insurance has to approve it, which can take up to five working days, and there was the holiday….I understand that everyone needs holidays and vacations and weekends and whatnot, but I find it kind of frustrating that this delays getting my formula when it’s my only consistent source of nutrition. Anyway, I’ve still been getting Jevity, but hopefully we’ll get a call from the infusion company later today and I’ll be able to switch to Peptamen tonight!

I also saw the neuromuscuar specialist for several hours before that appointment (probably some kind of periodic paralysis, but nothing too troubling), ended up in the ER with a clogged tube that had to be replaced, and had a cardiology appointment (this EKG was good but I’m going to have another test and monitoring if I start the meds.) For the sake of getting this post up some time this century, I’ll try to write about those later.

Binge Reading?

Since Friday evening….

Gene Stratton-Porter, A Girl Of the Limberlost

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Breaking my “rule” about books about book clubs and sewing circles and knitting societies…this book is nothing like the typical, Jane Austen Book Club-type one of those. Instead, it’s a lyrically written novel with a charming, sweet, wholesome story about endearing and wonderfully good characters. Oh, and I SO want to get well and travel to Guernsey!)

Edith Nesbit, The Enchanted Castle (revisiting childhood courtesy of Girlebooks.)

Jean Webster, Dear Enemy (I loved Daddy-Long-Legs as a little girl and never knew it had a sequel! The romance, of course, is entirely obvious from the beginning, but it’s still a fun story!)

Catherine Asaro, Sunrise Alley (Which one of these things is not quite like the others?)

Jaclyn Moriarty, The Life Murder of Bindy MacKenzie (One of my favorite YA books! Clever, amusing, and well written.)

Jean Webster, Daddy-Long-Legs (Well, I had to follow up with a return to the original, didn’t I?)

Plus the first half of Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins and Paul Strathern’s The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior.

I do this sometimes: I binge read. Others binge drink or binge eat (no disrespect intended to the seriousness of those conditions.) I consume book after book in ridiculous quantities. The crazy thing? This was really only a sort of borderline episode — I’ll sometimes literally not move while devouring book after book immediately after another, doing little else. (Those tended to occur at the end of a stressful semester.) This weekend, I actually spent quite a bit of time listening to audiobooks, crocheting, watching TV, listening to music, talking with my parents, dealing with medical stuff, etc.

I fully recognize I’m a little bit strange….

I’ve also crocheted three scarves this week. Much better than sitting around and being miserable, right? 🙂 Cause, yeah, this weekend? Nothing down by mouth. Difficulty tolerating the tube feeding, including experiencing the joys of “dumping syndrome-like effects.” (Look it up. It sucks.) Having every single listed side effect of my medicine except constipation and anaphylactic shock (but including heart papitations.) Throwing up stomach juices after bolusing water into my small intestine. BUT I’ve been able to read lots of lovely books! 🙂

I’ve stocked up on some audiobooks from the library for the upcoming drives to and from San Francisco: Macbeth, Huck Finn, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Radio gets tiresome when you’re doing this many drives.

Oh and the good news: in addition to my appointment on Tuesday with Dr. Shetler (neurogastroenterologist), I got in to see the neurologist she recommended! I’ll be seeing him(?) two hours after my appointment with her! It should be a good day — answers from the Electrogastrogram last week and a real start on figuring out my paralysis attacks!

What Doesn’t Kill You (Makes You Stronger)

It’s a cheesy pop song, but the sentiment is always a helpful one to keep in mind, and I’ve been listening to this over and over. (I’ve been listening to quite a bit of music lately, as it’s nice to have some other sounds to cover up the whirring of my Kangaroo Joey pump.)

I’ve been writing about my experiences with this illness quite a bit lately, something that a number of family members and friends have encouraged. It provides a record and a way to organize my thoughts and express my feelings. And between my blog and my journal entries, it might become something. It’s perhaps hubristic to  think it at this point, but maybe I’ll write a book about my experience someday. (Writing books seems to be one disease that I have a clear family history of, anyway.)

Here are some (lightly edited) selections from my journal:

11/12/12 (at Cal Pacific, before and after my appointment)

It’s funny, going into this appointment knowing it won’t provide complete answers. At least this way I won’t be disappointed. More progress on the search is always good.

***

I counted and this is my fifth time here, and the fourth in two weeks. Pretty “good” considering we don’t live here.

***

In the waiting room at Dr. Shetler’s office now. It’s funny how they always have you fill out the symptoms sheet — I’m not sure if you’re supposed to put them for currently or in general or ever…? Presumably it would be currently (thought that begs the question of how currently), but it includes symptoms like “ever refused for a blood donation.” I did a sort of mix, I guess. (It’s not like I’ve had a latex reaction since Thursday, but I circled latex sensitivity anyway.)

I feel like I spend about half my life in waiting rooms and I’m still not quite sure what to do in them. Writing a private journal is a kind of odd answer, I suppose, but it’s working. I thought about crochet but I want to be able to get up quickly when they call me. I always feel awkward if the nurse has to wait.

The waiting room has quite a few people, but is quiet. I can hear my pump whir clearly. I think that’s a reason I’ve been playing so much music, and loudly for me. It still bothers me to hear the whirring during the day for some reason, even if I sleep through it easily. I hope the noise doesn’t bother anyone else too much. It’s not very loud, especially for those not right beside me. There’s nothing I can do about it, after all.

Wearing and carrying such a visible sign puts you on edge. You wait for someone to ask what it is. You wait for the stares, especially from children and elderly ladies. And you wait for someone to challenge your carrying a backpack into a store or to question “but you don’t look sick!” — those haven’t come yet, at least, and the latter actually arises far less with the tube than without. There are lots of different kinds of waiting when you’re sick, I’ve discovered, and they extend well beyond the eponymous room.

***

11/13/12 CPMC Pacific Campus GI Lab Waiting Room

So, to sum up yesterday’s appointment:

  • My weight is down a little more = bad (Knew that….)
  • I definitely have a long QT interval
  • Which means I can’t take even more meds…
  • Including ZOFRAN!
  • Also all TCAs and Erithromyacin (Explanatory note: non-GI meds that are used for quirky neurogastroenterological and motility issues, somewhat experimentally)
  • (But if we get desperate, I can go to a cardiologist to see if I can get clearance)
  • I am going to start B. (a med we’re using sort of experimentally) slowly tomorrow
  • I’m supposed to call Thursday’s morning to let her know how it’s going. (Did that)
  • (“You know you’re very sensitive to drugs when….”)
  • Stillsobaffling
  • I need an EGG to see how the electrical currents of my stomach are off…
  • (because they must be)
  • ….so we can see if they match any known patterns…
  • …and how those were treated.
  • She wants to see me more frequently, ie next week. (Tuesday)
  • And for me to have gained TWO pounds by then. (That’s going to be tough unless I start keeping, you know, actual food down.)
  • I’m supposed to try small volumes of food 3x day.
  • Then the idea is to try to work to where I only need the tube for night feeds…
  • …and then not at all!
  • Next week we’ll decide about an antroduodenal manometry test (which is not the same as the Barostat I had, though similar) to check my small bowel function
  • But my response to feedings doesn’t necessarily seem to fit with CIP (Chronic Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction)
  • (The loose stools are normal)
  • And she’s concerned about radiation exposure
  • (Since I’ve already had quite a bit of it)
  • She’s reluctant to expose me to more if it’s not necessary
  • So, basically, I’m pretty baffling
  • But there are still things we can try
  • We didn’t talk about the paralysis
  • But I think we will next week
  • If only because I plan to bring it up
  • Since that is till in play and needs to be addressed

***

We saw Dr. Shetler as we checked in. She asked how last night went and we told her not fabulously — hard/projectile vomiting followed by an hour of paralysis. Oh, because, yeah, another one of those last night. We think they’re more likely to happen after exhausting days, which yesterday was.

***

It’s funny, but it’s increasingly seeming like it’s not so much that they’re going to find out that I have Disease X or Syndrome Y as that they’re going to discover some new disease in me. And then invent a treatment for me. (I have confidence that they will.)

***

Home

I have no idea how the test went. I watched the little squiggly lines move around – and they certainly moved a lot when I got nauseated — but I have no idea what they mean. Hopefully they do mean something and I’ll find out next week.

(Oh, and I threw up the Glucerna they gave me. Typical.)

***

11/14/12 Home

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Ostensibly, most of today was good. After all, I didn’t start vomiting until after dinner, keeping in breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack p. o. (by mouth), all while tolerating (again, ostensibly) 50(!) ml/hour.

My intake:

1 bowl hot rice cereal (1/4 cup dry cereal cooked in 3/4 cup almond milk; maybe about a tablespoon of maple syrup)

3 TJ’s rice pancakes with raspberry jam.

1 small (6 oz?) bowl pureed soup + 1 rice cake

Jevity 1.2 at 50 ml per hour.

(Hey, look, I’m being all food blogger-y and listing what I ate all day! Sorry no photos, I’m sure you all are just dying to see an SLR shot of Jevity.)

Today was officially the day I started trying some “treatment.” I took 5 mg. B. 30 minutes before breakfast. I kept breakfast down, but I had a stomach ache after — not sure if it were the B. or volume or bolused water or…?

Rest of the morning was uneventful in GI terms.

While I ate breakfast, Mom got a phone call from Dr. Shetler. She talked to a neurologist friend of hers, because she is v. concerned about the paralysis, and he thinks they sound like seizure activity. She asked what kind of neuro care I was getting here (Mom said basically none) so Dr. S. said she was happy to refer me to a doc at CPMC. I got a call later from Pat the nurse at the motility office and she told me they were trying to get me in next week and would let me know on Friday.

I take this all as good news/bad news. Or rather, reassuring news/scary news. I have wondered all along about the projectile vomiting and pointed out that I feel weird before the paralysis sets in — before the vomiting, even, I sometimes have visual changes.

***

So. Dinner. It was a different pureed soup, this time a bit thicker, with more meat and veggies. The texture felt very heavy and filling — my stomach must have shrunken by now — and it was really too much for me to handle. It managed to be unappetizing despite a nice flavor. I didn’t even make it through half a bowl, though I really tried. I felt the need to “wash” the feel a bit and wanted more kcal and taste. I tried about 2 oz. of my dad’s root beer, well stirred to get any bubbles out. It was quite nice as something different.

Went to watch TV in the living room. I started throwing up. Okay, no one’s shocked, especially as I hadn’t been hungry for dinner. Then I started getting bad lower abdominal cramping and had to hurry into the bathroom. Considerably amounts of diarrhea (sorry if this is TMI! but I guess if it is, probably so is the rest of my health-related writing) — not just unformed stool, but progressively more and more watery, like with a virus, food poisoning, etc. Okay. Detached from the pump (couldn’t take it with the cramping.) It continued. Vomited more, got just to stomach juices at some point. According to plan, we got some rehydration in via the tube, but I could only tolerate so much.

***

11/15/12, home

427 ml overnight. Also, I threw up overnight. (Looks — and tasted — like bile.) It took forever to get back to sleep and I had some bizarre dreams.

More diarrhea this morning. And I feel like even more is coming. I’m currently disconnected, but I’ll have to reconnect in a short while. It’s not as bad as throwing up all the time, but the volume is a bit…troubling.

Weight is down. OMG, I have to gain 2.6 pounds by TUESDAY! Hopefully some of yesterday’s loss is just water/hydration loss from last night. This is a new all-time low (for being a grown up and this height and all.) Not good at all…I’m not sure how to reverse things and go in the other direction unless I’m able to eat more (and absorb it.) I don’t know what I’d do without the tube right now.

***

The big question is whether the B. is causing, or aggravating, any of the diarrhea. I’ts certainly not a common side effect from what I’ve seen, but I’m also using it in a weird way for a weird thing…and I just have weird reactions to drugs in general. I guess we’ll talk about this on Tuesday + I have to call the office to check in in a little bit.

—-

So, yeah, it adds up to quite a bit!

In case anyone’s curious, this is my tube and backpack set up. The tube goes from my jejunum (small intestine) up and out my nose and then connects to a line leading to a pump and feed bag in a backpack.

 

In bookish news, I’ve been reading the Montmaray Journals. I think I first saw them mentioned by Claire. A delightfully literate (without being mousy) heroine, princesses who actually do things, fictional royalty and fictional European countries,  late 1930s/1940s in Britain, London, aristocratic Bolsheviks, and siding with the Republic in the Spanish Civil War = right up my alley! I finished the third and final book, The FitzOsbornes At War, last night and am a bit sad to be through the series. I’ll just have to reread!

Grey’s Anatomy has an episode about a patient with Cyclic Vomiting tonight. I don’t usually watch the show, but I’m excited to see it. It should be great for awareness! You should all watch!

NJ Tube 2: Electric Bluegaloo

From my hospital room at CPMC. See the shiny blue tip?

Um. Suffice it to say that my testing and follow-up appointment on Thursday did not go miraculously well.

Last time I posted, I talked a bit about how I hadn’t been keeping much down following my (pretty uneventful) endoscopy/Barostat/manometry last week. Well, instead of getting better, it got worse. Wednesday I started throwing up in the morning after waking up feeling welling and trying a bit of juice and a (white, low fiber) mini bagel. I kept throwing up through most of the morning. We were set to drive down to San Francisco that afternoon at about one, after my dad finished teaching, which we did. Luckily, I’d stopped throwing up by that point. A while into the drive (it was more than half way — probably about two hours out of what turned out to be a three-ish hour drive), I was feeling better and even a bit hungry. I tried some water and crackers…and spent the rest of the drive throwing up. It got worse that night. For the past week, I had been getting a significant portion of my hydration in at night. I would wake up in the middle of the night several times with my stomach hurting and drink a bit of water before falling back asleep. I probably got about 12 ounces in each night — probably a third or more of my total on the good days. Wednesday night, it didn’t work that way. Instead, I woke up to throw up each time, therefore losing water/hydration through the night.

Thursday morning I had the last of my series of tests: the hydrogen breath test to check for Small Bowel Bacteria Overgrowth.

Waiting for it to begin. I wasn’t feeling fabulously well by this point….

I had to drink 8 oz. of a lactulose and water solution. I threw up about two ounces of it, but the nurse said that the test would still work as long as she re-calculated things to account for the smaller amount of the solution. Basically, this test consisted of my blowing into a bag once before I drank the solution and then every fifteen minutes after drinking for three hours. In between, I played around on my phone, crocheted some, and — to be honest — kind of faded. My mouth kept getting drier and my tongue rufflier as it swelled (a sign of dehydration) and I felt weaker. The test started at 8:00 a. m. and my follow-up appointment was at 11:30 at a different CPMC “campus” 1.4 miles away, so the timing was tight, particularly as I was pretty unsteady walking to and from the car.

I got checked in and was called pretty quickly into the exam room. A nurse took my vitals and my weight — the latter of which was down several pounds from the weight they had from only one week before when I had my endoscopy. Dr. Shetler came in and pretty immediately said that she was probably going to send me to the ER after the appointment. (And when she got my orthostatic blood pressure, that changed to definitely.) She was very concerned about my weight and said that I was extremely underweight and my weight was going in the wrong direction. (Well, I certainly knew that last one!) She decided to have the ER place an NJ tube for now (more on that later) and that we needed to talk seriously about having a surgically placed J-tube. Probably for the next three months.

If you had told me in July that I would be facing a likely J-tube — and surgery to put it in place — I would have been horrified. (If you had told me in May, I think I would have scoffed.) But now? Honestly, I’m pretty resigned to it. I’m not maintaining nutrition consistently on my own. I could say that I was maintaining my weight after getting the last NJ tube out, and if you looked at my weights at doctors’ office visits, you would think that was the case. (Hey, there was even one visit, at 7:30 p. m. after dinner and wearing a heavy sweater and shoes where I looked like I was up.) And I was and I wasn’t. Because there were at least three times where my weight dipped down three or so pounds (which is huge for me) and those set backs meant that I could never make any progress forward. And now this last week (and a half, now)? It’s been one giant slide downhill…one that I simply can’t afford. This isn’t a nice problem to have, like some might view unintended weight loss. This is staring down surgery, this is eating via some kind of a tube, this is part of my digestive tract failing me. And so if a J-tube can help? And is better for longer-term use than the NJ? Bring it on.

We also talked about the test results. Here’s a quick summary:

I don’t have…

  • Any kind of esophogeal problem (presumably including GERD, Eosinophilic Eosophagitis, Rumination Syndrome, etc.)
  • Gastroparesis or delayed stomach emptying
  • H. Pylori or other stomach “bugs”
  • Celiac Disease
  • Ulcers (including Crohn’s, I think)
  • Small Bowel Bacteria Overgrowth
  • Visceral Hypersensitivity
  • Much of a problem with my stomach muscles relaxing to accept food (I threw up during this part of the test before all data was collected, so it’s possible that there’s a slight malfunction and my doctor plans to treat accordingly, but before I threw up everything was going well and after when they gave me Imitrex my muscles relaxed beautifully, so it doesn’t seem like it can explain things.)

There’s a certain point at which negative test results stop being good news.

What about Cyclic Vomiting, as I’ve been talking about, you might ask? Dr. Shetler mentioned that while, in some ways, I look like a cylic vomiter, my “episodes” are happening way, way, way too frequently/close together for that to really fit.

She said that she wanted to see me again on Monday to start running more tests and doing some drug trials. She talked about starting me on one medication, which helps the stomach relax, and another, which is used for a whole bunch of different neurogastroenterological issues, including cyclic vomiting/migraine prophylaxis and visceral hypersensitivity and some motility issues. We talked about side effects a bit — the first one is pretty safe and the second can have some cardiac(!) side effects, so she said she’d have the ER do an EKG. It can also make people in my age group suicidal(!), so she asked me some screening questions, but she thought I’d be okay since I don’t have a history of depression or suicidal tendencies and I have super involved parents who can monitor. I’m not sure exactly which tests I’ll have — something about an electrogastrogram (“It won’t give a diagnosis, but it will give more data”) and some kind of small intestine studies. (I’m not sure if those are imaging or motility or….?)

She did a quick exam of my abdomen and didn’t really find anything, except that I was too thin. I told her that I thought I might be constipated because (sorry if this is TMI!) I’d been having a little bit of watery stool I thought might be leaking around an impaction, but she said she thought it was just that I hadn’t, you know, eaten. (She was right, as it turned out. Reasons not to Google your symptoms?) She then called a wheelchair to take me from the outpatient clinic over to the ER, which was on the same campus. It turned out to be my transport guy from last week! He took me down underground and in through the back of the ER.

In the ER, they drew a bunch of blood, got me started on IV fluids, and gave me Zofran. My ER doctor was a really cool guy, who was great at dealing with the crazy situation I was in — they couldn’t decide whether or not to admit me for the night and were having a ton of problems getting the stuff done that they needed to. I got hooked up to an EKG (my first ever, we realized) and then a couple of nurses came to put an NG (yes, nasogastric) tube in me. I couldn’t figure out why they were doing it until after it was done and they hooked me up to a suction thing — they were decompressing my stomach (taking out air and stomach juices and such) so that it felt better. They tried going in through my right nostril first and stopped when it started bleeding. They got it in my left nostril much more easily — and told me that  those tube placements were there least favorite thing to do, though I handled it relatively well. The ER doctor came back and explained that they were trying to get me into interventional radiology for an NJ tube placement, since they couldn’t send me home with the relatively unsecured NG tube that I couldn’t be fed through and they’d know within the hour.

I got in and went to get the lovely tube you see in the top picture. The interventional radiologist and the tech were arguing about how to take the tape securing my NG tube off. I, ah, solved the dilemma by reaching up and ripping off the tape. Hey, it’s not like I haven’t done this before! The NJ tube placement went super smoothly this time and only took a couple of minutes (I think my pyloric valve was more cooperative on Thursday than it was back in August. Plus, they used an even thinner tube.) I actually kept smiling through the procedure. The intervention radiologist said that it was clear that this wasn’t my first time and that he was sorry about that but that I handled it incredibly well.

Back in the ER, I got my EKG results. So, after aaaaaaall the negative GI tests, do you know what I got a “positive” result for? Yep, the EKG. Apparently I have some kind of slight arrhythmia that’s just barely significant enough that I might not be able to take the medication that I was going to be prescribed and that might help. 😦 (It’s also possible that I might be able to take it and just have frequent EKG monitoring…I don’t know yet, I’m sure it’s going to be part of my discussion tomorrow.) Kind of frustrating.

Long story short, I ended up getting admitted for the night because they couldn’t get me a pump to use with my NJ tube and I was still throwing up and they couldn’t send me home unable to eat or drink. I moved upstairs and got some more IV fluids and Zofran and a visit from the hospitalist who specializes in GI patients. (But is not a GI doctor…clear as mud?) We went through my whole history, starting from when I was eleven (we’re getting pretty good at that) and listing the things I’ve been tested for and all of that. Oh, and all the drugs I’ve tried and had bad reactions to. (Seriously, we’re basically anti-emetic experts at this point. To date: Domperidone, Scopalmine, Reglan, Dramamine, Phenargan, Zofran, Ativan…With bad reactions to Domperidone, Scopalmine, Benadryl, and semi-bad to Reglan….) My dad asked if she had any suggestions on what it could be. Her answer: “By the time you’ve reached the neurogastroenterologists, internal medicine usually can’t do much.” 😦 She did order a heavy metal panel of bloodwork for the next morning and suggest possibly a brain MRI to Dr. Shetler.

View from my room — my roommate very kindly let me come over to look and take a picture.

The next morning, I met with the morning hospitalist who told us that the case managers were still working on getting me a pump. Disadvantages of living in a non-urban area: there’s only one infusion company and it’s the “slow” one and it has shortish hours in our area. But thankfully it came through in the end and got me a new Kangaroo Joey at 6:30 on Friday evening. A registered dietitian also came by. She was pretty awesome. 🙂 We explained that I’d had a hard time tolerating feeds greater than 50-55 milliliters per hour and found it impossible to handle feeds at 70 milliliters an hour. Since I had done well with Jevity 1.2 in the past, and they prefer to keep you on a formula if you tolerate it, she figured out a calculation that would work with those limits. It does mean 24 (or pretty close to that) feeding if I’m not getting much in by mouth. (Plus an additional shot of Beneprotein, either by mouth or in the pump.) She also calculated fluid needs, which was really helpful — when we did 24 hour feeding before, we had no idea what to do as far as fluid. This time, I have a snazzy backpack from the infusion company so I’m not confined to where I can push my IV pole around during the day. 🙂

ALL THE hospital bracelets. and yes, they gave me two allergy ones….

I was discharged in the early afternoon and we hurried home (through increased traffic, sigh) to meet the pump. I started tube feeding Friday night and I’ve been continuing it since (with breaks for showers and to change bags, etc.) I even went out briefly with the bag yesterday afternoon, but mostly I’m taking it easy. I’m doing some clear liquids — Jello, white grape juice, and chicken broth with Beneprotein. (Each can has 32 scoops and my primary care doctor — whom I guess the CPMC docs contacted to write the prescription — wrote it for 99 refills. Love her, though I certainly hope I don’t need supplemental feeding that long!) I’m not really sure if I’m supposed to advance my diet further and I had a bit of upset last night, so I’m sticking to that for now. I might try some pureed soup later today….Probably a good idea since my weight is down further….:(

When it comes down to it, I’m still waiting for answers. If anyone has them, I’ll certainly take them!

Scope Me Baby, One More Time

(Hey, it’s better than Schlag mich Baby, noch einmal, right? Right? A little bit at least?)

I made it through the first round of testing in San Francisco! I survived my second endoscopy, without any crazy improbable drug reactions!

Like I posted before, I had my gastric emptying study on Wednesday. I ate the radioactive eggs and drank the nuclear water and it all left me stomach in a timely fashion according to the estimates. We don’t have official numbers from the radiologist yet, but my gastroenterologist said they looked good, though were subject to change. And I didn’t throw up during the test, which is the key thing.

In a way, we didn’t really learn much from that test. I’d had one before in Chico, though it hadn’t measured liquids, and it looks like the numbers are going to end up right around the same as they did in that test. But we will have ruled something really important out: gastroparesis. A girl in my town had gastroparesis and she ended up having to get botox shots in her stomach (in Ohio, because she was under 18 and not many places treat it) and at CPMC they insert pacemakers into people’s stomachs for gastroparesis. At least cyclic vomiting is usually treated without surgery. (I’ve already unsuccessfully tried the main drugs they use to treat gastroparesis, with bad side effects and not much difference in my stomach.) What I did learn is that I really need to be realistic about what I plan to do in the hospital during long tests or when I’m sick. I.E. don’t bring 800-page books about crazy English toffs. During the half hour, hour, and two hour long breaks, I wandered around a bit, went to the cafeteria with my parents to get food (though that got old because I couldn’t eat and the smells were making me hungry), and sat around in the lobby flipping through magazines and looking at websites on my phone. It’s not easy to concentrate when there are lots of people talking and you’re nervous and everything. This time, when I’m going down, I’m going to bring some audiobooks on my iPod and a crocheting project and some other low-energy-requirement entertainment.

At least CPMC has some amazing views.

 

The shot I wish I had gotten was when a transport guy wheeled me around a corner on Thursday and I saw the Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and a huge swath of the city from the sixth floor of the hospital (which is on top of a steep, very San Francisco hill. Um, how do people run in that city?!)

The test was done by noonish, so we headed back to our hotel room. We were staying in an apartment-style suite so we had a kitchen and everything, which was incredibly convenient for me considering that I can eat about three things. I was able to bring my own eggs and bread and crackers and turkey and juice and such and eat some of my meals there. That helped. I then rested for most of the afternoon — the test and the drive down the day before had taken a lot out of me.

Unfortunately, Wednesday evening I got sick after dinner. It definitely wasn’t the food, because I just had grilled chicken and cous cous and I’d had the exact same thing (same sauce, from the same place) the night before and been fine. Unfortunately, my stomach does not seem to allow me to go more than a couple days without staging an uprising…It was not fun, especially being in an unfamiliar place and knowing I had a procedure the next morning. I took solace in the fact that I would undoubtedly be getting an IV the next morning and I could get them to put a liter in while they were at it. And IV Zofran. I do not turn down IV Zofran.

The next morning I arrived at CPMC bright and early at six o’clock in the morning. I got checked in in the Stanford Building, which is a sort of annex off the main hospital. The weird thing was that when I checked in, the receptionist told me I owed almost 2000 dollars!!! They had not informed me of that when I pre-registered over the phone. (It turned out that it was just because insurance doesn’t automatically cover anesthesia for this kind of procedure — it normally only pays for Versed — unless it’s medically necessary and it had to review the medical necessity of my having monitored anesthesia care. Luckily, we got a letter a couple days ago saying that it had been approved. Documented adverse reaction to Versed = pretty obvious medical necessity for something else.) I seriously have no idea how people manage if they don’t have insurance — or even how many people manage with it.

I got taken back to a bed to change into the typical massive gown. They’re actually really awkward to tie when they get to a certain size. Once I was changed, my parents came in and a nurse came to start my IV. She had a lot of fun typing in my drug allergies, particularly when we told her Tega-Derm, which is the stuff they use to cover IVs normally. She said it was the only thing the hospital had. We even told her all the alternatives we have on a list my mom now carries to all these kinds of things, but the nurse said they didn’t have any. She ended up basically just putting on about ten layers of tape.

A transport guy rolled my bed up the sixth floor GI lab in the hospital, thus rendering my previous mine freak out about not having the procedure in the hospital utterly pointless. I met my new nurse, Aletha, who was with me the whole day and absolutely amazing. She went over exactly what would happen to me during the procedure (endoscopy, inserting a catheter with a balloon into my stomach, and then several hours of testing after I woke up.) Part of the testing would involve my having to drink a can of Ensure, so we warned her that I have a slight (i.e. consistent) tendency to throw up every time I drink Ensure…or even just smell it because it’s going into my NJtube. She said she’d give me some Zofran before I had to do that part of the test to see if we could stop it. She also asked when I last threw up and when I told her it was the night before, she said she’d give me a liter after the procedure. 🙂 (My rule: if you’re going to put an IV in me, you’d better at least give me a liter. I’m looking at you, Enloe ER.)

I talked with both Dr. Shetler (who I swear has the best bedside manner ever — she was incredibly reassuring) and the anesthesiologist before the endoscopy. The anesthesiologist was a little concerned by my previous drug reactions and my weird paralytic episodes since. (My first exposure to him was hearing him exclaim, as reading my chart, “An adverse reaction to BENADRYL?!” That was reassuring. Also, I heard Dr. Shetler explaining periodic paralysis to him.) But once we’d explained what had happened in the past, he decided to give me Propafol and monitor me closely. In fact, even after I came out of the endoscopy, he kept checking in on me to make sure I hadn’t gone paralytic or anything.

I went into the room where they’d do the endoscopy and I think Dr. Shetler could tell that I was nervous (my systolic blood pressure was in the 120s, which, yeah, doesn’t happen so much.) Like I said before, she was incredibly reassuring and a great calming presence. She also told me I could have my mom in for the post-endoscopy testing. I heard her explaining to someone that they don’t usually let adult patients have someone in with them, but that it’s good to do it for the young ones like they do for the pediatric patients. I thought that was really nice of her.  The anesthesiologist came and gave me Propafol, I felt really weird for a minute, and then I was out.

When I woke up, I had a big tube in my throat and taped to the inside of my cheek. Aletha said most patients gag a lot at this point and they have to give them a med to stop them from doing so (so that they don’t disrupt the balloon.) I didn’t, for which I credit my NJ tube experience. After six weeks of that, you get pretty used to having a tube in your throat. I guess the experience is good for something after all. (Well, that and the whole, you know, medical stabilization thing.)

You can’t actually see the tube here. Or the EKG wires. And my oxygen nose thing is out. I felt like I had so much plastic coming out of me….Sorry about the sad face, I think I was in pain at this point.

We started with a part of the test where the balloon inflated with air and I was supposed to say whether my stomach hurt, felt nauseated, or felt full at various points. It was the part of the test designed to test for visceral hypersensitivity, I believe. It only hurt at the very end, when the balloon was the most fully expanded. I’m not sure if that means the test was positive or negative? I guess I’ll find out Thursday.

For the next hour or two, I just had to lie on my back while the test registered things. (Really specific, yeah. Sorry. I’m doing the best I can considering that I’m not even 100% sure which test I had or what it’s called.) I got some Zofran at a certain point both because I felt sick and to prepare for the Ensure.

My throat also hurt quite a bit — much like having the NJ tube newly in — and when I first tried sip the Ensure, I had a really hard time swallowing. However, unlike when I got the NJ in and just ended up sitting there crying and not really eating, I got pain medication. Aletha had to talk me into it a bit — I’m not a huge fan of meds, in case you couldn’t tell — but I have to say it was really, really worth it. Fentanyl didn’t even make me feel all that funny and it took away the pain. After it kicked in, I went back to the Ensure and got the whole can down. I had a good feeling, because with the oxygen blowing into my nostrils, I didn’t smell it as much. I didn’t even feel nauseated.

I stayed lying there for a few minutes until I suddenly felt funny. My heart monitor started beeping like crazy and the top EKG line went all wonky and my heart rate pretty much doubled. Then, all of a sudden and without any real nausea, I threw up all over my chest and hospital gown. I couldn’t sit up and my mom had gone to look at the EKG, so there wasn’t anything else I could do. She came back over and gave me a bag and I kept throwing up. (Side note: while I generally find CPMC a pretty fantastic place, their GI lab seriously needs to get better, um, receptacles. Big basins > little blue bags that don’t hold very much and have narrow entry points. You’d think a GI lab would understand these thing!) Aletha came back and gave me a shot of intramuscular Phenargan. I just kept apologizing because I felt really badly and worried that I’d messed up the study results by throwing up, but everyone kept reassuring me that there was nothing  I could have done. I mean, I’d even taken Zofran an hour before! IV Zofran. I got another half a liter at this point, just to ward off dehydration.

For the final part of the study, I got a shot of Imitrex, which is actually an anti-migraine medication, but apparently it does something interesting to your stomach muscles. Shortly after that I fell asleep. I got a nice nap in before Aletha woke me up and told me that the test was done. She said that Dr. Shetler said it looked like they got enough data in from before I threw up, so hopefully that worked out. She gave me a last hit of IV Zofran for the road and wished me well. She was very sweet and a great nurse throughout the whole thing. 🙂

The discharge instructions were pretty easy, and undoubtedly recognizable to anyone who’s had an endoscopy: no driving or signing contracts for a day, go to the ER if you throw up blood, advance diet as tolerated. Pretty straightforward, huh?

Yeah. About that last one.

Unfortunately, since Friday, when I came back to Chico, I haven’t really been tolerating very much. I’m in that awkward stage where I’m keeping down just enough food and drink to stay minimally hydrated but I can’t handle much. I’ve also been pretty exhausted — I slept a ton on Friday, and in the days that followed I’ve just lacked energy. I cannot wait for some answers and treatment to stop this horrible…cycle? Disease? Whatever you want to call it. But I’m hopeful that I’ll be getting the answers I seek very, very soon. 🙂 One more test and my followup on Thursday! I’ll keep you all updated!

Oh, and if you’re an American and live where the polls are still open and haven’t yet, GO VOTE!