Spring Cleaning

I’ve had an unexpected walk down memory lane lately.

It started with a long coming snap decision. (Yes, I live for oxymorons.)

After nearly 16 years of being dependant on an internet provider, I switched to a company that won’t force me to fake negotiate my subscription terms every year (i.e., negotiate how much I would get financially screwed) because they’re part of an oligopoly.

I put through an online request and then… realized that it meant I would lose a dedicated mailbox filled with many years worth of accumulated emails (!)

Thankfully, due to a snafu from my new internet company (not exactly the beginning of a beautiful friendship), I was granted 5 extra days (10 instead of 5) to clean it up.

Also thankfully (maybe) I have more time on my hands now, and was able to spend many hours in a row going through them.

It was weird, seeing old emails from lost friends, even some who have passed away. I had to archive work emails (just in case my medical situation became…. complex).

And then there were emails from my only email-friendly relative – my 84-year old dad. Do I flush them all? Keep only the last year? Forward them to my new mailbox or just print them and keep them in a real life box?

Two summers ago I read Hammarskjöld: A Life about the second Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) who’s 1961murder is still unresolved. It’s a huge 760 pages book detailing Hammarskjöld years at the UN and is largely based on his own daily writing and letters with friends and officials. I found the richness of the information enthralling. For most of his life, Hammarskjöld was a simple public servant, who remained unmarried and childless throughout his life (an aspect I found fascinating), but who was also a man with an ever present strong faith in God, a poet, someone who also cherished many deep friendships and professional relationships. The book presented many examples of Hammarskjöld’s writings and correspondence- it made me feel like I got to know so much of the man.

How many paper letters from friends and professional relationships have you accumulated over the years? Do you have any still?

I let go of the paper letters I had accumulated a while back. Even the content of my correspondence with friends has changed now that we write virtually. I don’t really write anything “deep” anymore and when I do, the responses I get are very short, sometimes not even acknowledging what I wrote.

We live fast and a lot of our more private written content has lost meaning. And when we go, the content just stays in the ether… forever? Or until Google deletes the content of inactive accounts? Do they even do that? Does your significant other or a family member have your email passwords? Should they?

How will memoir writers be able to thoroughly research the lives of individuals who impacted this world, if they can no longer have access to their writings? Or if their writings are only transactional and superficial (texts)? Will there even be writings in 20 years or just half texts (no longer named “texts” because they are now only spoken words to an Artificial Intelligence entity… maybe?).

I digress. I know. I was just thinking… and writing… in a medium that can be deleted any minute if I, or others, so decide.

My Quest for Better Health – Part 4

A Sisterhood for Health

My health quest has hit a few bumps over the past weeks. Bumps like nodules on a thyroid found by pure luck. And bumps like the ones on the road that make cars slow down to a crawl, which is a good metaphor of what the medical system is doing to my health recovery process.

Thyroid nodules are almost always benign, so there’s nothing to worry about. What is killing me, is the 8-week wait just to get an appointment for another ultrasound, this one at the hospital. So far, no explanation as to why I need a second ultrasound. The article I linked to above details critical factors affecting ultrasounds so I’m assuming the hospital machine shows more details, but who the heck knows. Don’t you just love it when that happens?

In October, after suffering many different symptoms which could easily be related to my thyroid health, I had an ultrasound to determine what was happening with a swollen lymph node under my jaw.  Since the technician was checking my neck and jaw, I asked if they could check my thyroid gland at the same time. He said no because: “it wasn’t written on the requisition”. Three months later, I had another ultrasound, this time checking the mass on my salivary gland. The technician was a woman in my age bracket and contrary to other technicians, she started the exam by asking me how I was feeling. I told her about my fatigue and my neck feeling swollen all the time so she checked my thyroid along with my salivary gland. And guess what? It wasn’t written on the requisition. 😉

Just before my second ultrasound, I had my 7th blood test in 5 months. The blood technician was also a woman in my age bracket. As we got to talking, she told me she had recently being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, how often in pain she was, how her doctor wasn’t providing her with the help she needed. I told her the only thing helping me with my pain were these exercises. I’ll never know if this bit of information helped, but I tried, and I’m sure she does too.

These experiences reminded me of how often the best health information I’ve heard, came from my women friends and colleagues, and not from medical professionals. If it sounds terrible, it is.

For example, I would never have known that you can get tested for asthma, and the name of these tests without a friend providing me with the information. The Nurse Practitioner and General Practitioner were more than happy to just pimp me asthma medication (yep, I’m still bitter).

I also would not know that contrary to original prescription pills, generic hormone replacement pills can cause painful side effects (as in my friend needing to go to the emergency room painful). She found out from the doctor’s receptionist that it happens more often that prescribing doctors lead you to believe.

I try as much as possible to impart bits of information on my health experiences here and wherever I think it may help.

In honour of International Women’s Day, I encourage you to participate, in your own way, in a Sisterhood for Health.

Feel free to share your experiences here or by email. It may make a difference.

Keeping the Cold Away

I’m looking through my window at the first snowstorm of the year. It’s always so pretty when viewed from a nice warm and dry spot!

It made me want to share the reasonably priced beauty products that help me get through the winter. Due to my health craziness, they’re also all unscented or fragrance free and do not contain ethylhexylglycerin, a preservative which greatly irritates my eyes.

I make efforts to use Canadian products and companies (hence the many Well.ca links), but I draw the line at the lack of effectiveness which is why U.S. companies are also well represented.

Some of My Favourites

Face

Marula and Squalane Oils

Drunk Elephant has a marula oil that retails for CA$50 for 15ml at Sephora Canada, but I use the one from DECIEM The Ordinary retailing at CA$9.90 for 30ml through Well.ca and the company itself. ACURE also offers 30 ml of the oil for CA$22.49 but I haven’t tried it though.

Mixed with my moisturizing lotion, I use the marula oil at night because of its richness (word to the wise, it gave me milia under the eyes so be careful not to overdo it) and squalane oil in the morning, accompanied by one drop of tea tree oil for my rosacea areas. I found out about this trick by listening to this Forever35 podcast featuring Courtney Chiusano.

Lips

I indulge in Clinique Pep-Start Pout Restoring Night Mask before going to bed. It retails for CA$22 at Sephora and in pharmacies. A nice “dupe” for it though is the much cheaper (retails around $7 or$ 8 if I remember correctly) Eucerin Intensive Lip Balm. The tube is less cute, but sometimes small sacrifices need to be made!

When I need less of a goopy feeling on my lips, I love Earth Mama Organics Coconut Smoothie Lip Balm made with coconut oil which melts on your lips and goes for less than CA$5. An American company, Earth Mama also offers a wide range of products for pregnant and nursing ladies.

Before going outside, I just started using the Shea Butter option of Jack Black’s Moisture Therapy Lip Balm SPF25. Not too sticky on the lips, it remains for a while to protect me from the sun as I go out. It’s also reasonably priced at CA$11 for 7 grams.

Cuticles

I had never tried cuticle oil before because I always expected it to be messy, but I was intrigued by the bottle carrying the Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Oil. It includes a small and precise drop dispenser and has really helped my dry cuticles. Sephora Canada still has it on sale at $17, but I like it enough to spring for the full CA$24 if I have no other choice. Plus a little goes a long way.

Eyes

Moisturizing

More and more I need A LOT of hydration under my eyes. My favourites so far are Clinique Pep-Start Eye Cream (CA$33) and the cheaper (you know me by now!) at around CA$25 but often on sale at a pharmacy near you  Hydra C Eye Contour Gel Cream from Marcelle, a Canadian company. I especially like the metal applicator that gives off a cool feeling and find it slightly more moisturizing than the Clinique option for winter.

Decorating

Right now, you can just look at my eyes and they’ll get irritated so I’ve been looking high and low for a gentle as can be mascara, particularly when it’s time to take it off as I wanted to avoid getting specs in my eyes. I had been hearing a lot of good things about the “tube mascara” called Blinc. [Spoiler – it does not turn into tubes around your lashes as I naively thought, it just creates an easily removable coating]. I finally saw a smaller size one at Sephora for CA$19 (full size price is $30 (!)) but when I tried it, all I could see was that my lashes looked like spider webs.

Thanks to my favourite beauty podcast however, I found out that L’Oreal had a similar product called Double Extend Beauty Tubes Mascara. It has drawbacks, like being available only in the Darkest Black colour and being a 2-step process (first you put on the “liquid paper” like primer coat, then the colour coat) but the fact that it doesn’t smudge on its own (try not to rub your eyes though), doesn’t hurt my eyes and can be taken off just by using warm water seals the deal for me. It’s price of CA$14.99 at Well.ca and the fact that as a drugstore brand it can also go on sale regularly does not hurt either.

Body

In a previous post, I discussed my love of the CeraVe® products you can buy at the drugstore or at Well.ca. In winter, I’m particularly fond of the Renewing SA Cream. The beauty podcasters also like Egyptian Cream, but since it’s almost twice as expensive, I have yet to compare them.

Hair

Carina Organics is a North Vancouver, BC based company launched in 1972 which offers an array of unscented bath and beauty products. For my oily hair, I use their Extra Gentle Shampoo and Daily Light Conditioner and particularly like their Leave In Conditioner, which I can use on my damp and/or dry hair. I will also be trying their Daily Moisturizing Shampoo to compare. All of these products are about CA$15 on Well.ca and even cheaper on the company’s site, depending on shipping costs.

Have you already tried some of these products and would like to share your opinions or offer other options? Don’t be shy!l

My Quest for Better Health – Part 3

Nothing defeats you more than illness. Nothing, except for the accompanying insurmountable medical system red tape. (I’m loath to call it “Canadian” system because we have different provincial systems throughout the country and I dearly hope things are better someplace else.)

The more modern you’re work and life environment are, the higher you will fall from into the abyss of the medical system. Well, the patient medical system that is. There is clearly a divide between the medical personnel and the patients.

If you’re a patient at the University Clinic I am registered to, you can only contact your Nurse Practitioner (NP) or doctor by making a phone call. It will be answered by someone on a rotation system. You will then need to provide that person with a summary of your information that he/she will then forward it through an instant messenger system to the recipient. Then it suits them, the doctor or NP will provide information back, and the receptionist will call you to forward it to you. Talk about efficient (not).

Anecdote 1

When it comes to test results, some of the medical personnel (dare I say the younger cohort) will be OK sending you the results by email as my NP does. However, I hadn’t seen my doctor in a while and didn’t remember if she did too so I called the clinic: “Can you tell me if she or her nurse send out emails when tests come back normal?” Answer: “you have to talk to her nurse, we’ll ask her to call you back”. 37 hours later she calls me back telling me:

– “You have to make an appointment with her or go to the walk in clinic.”
– “Can you make that appointment?”
– “No, I can’t. You have to call the general number.”
– “When is she working at the walk in clinic”
– “I don’t know, we don’t even work in the same building
– (…)

I call the general number. The next appointment with the doctor is 6 weeks away. I tell them why I need it and they say: “we’ll put you on a cancellation list, but you can also go to the walk in clinic or make an appointment with an NP”. At this point you may think, “that means there are no issues with your tests, just forget it.” Except I’m still sick and I need answers and to move to the next stage (whatever that is) pronto.

After a week and a half I give up on the “earlier doctor appointment” and make an appointment with the NP. She can’t explain the results of one of my blood tests, because they can only be ordered by a doctor. She does tell me the doctor referred me for an echocardiogram which is a surprise to me. She tells me to call the Cardiovascular Centre to see where it’s at. [I have already blown my cell call minutes since whenever I call the clinic’s general number, I waste a minimum of 15 minutes.] I called. The appointment requested at the end of October is January 3.

When I see my doctor again, I ask if she can send a note to have them move my appointment sooner and she agrees. After waiting three additional weeks, I call again the Cardiovascular Centre again. They see an available slot, but their system is having major issues so she tells me to call back in a few days. I call back in a few days the lady answering is less than agreeable:

– “The message from your doctor says it should be “within weeks and the request was made November 29”.

[I don’t know why it took 10 working days for the doctor’s note to make it to the Centre, but I know January 3 is more than mere weeks away  so I add:

– “But the original request was made October 19.”
– “We received it October 26.”
– ?!?
– “I can give you December 20 at 9:15 am.”

And I then thank her as if she’d given me $500.

Anecdote 2

I’m back from the clinic again today. The 4th time in 7 days. I had gotten a phone message from my doctor’s office. I called back and the woman on the phone read my file and told me that the doctor had filled my insurance form and that I could go in and sign it.

So I went. And… they were unable to locate the nurse who had called me and the form. They did however surprise me by saying they needed a $40 fee for the doctor to have filled the form. A piece of information they had cleverly omitted to tell me when I called to make an appointment, when I showed up in person to ask if I could have an earlier appointment, when I saw the doctor, and when they had me pay $20 for a medical certificate she had filled, or when I returned the nurse’s call an hour earlier.

This is just a few examples of the medical red tape from hell. Can you give us another you ask?

Anecdote 3

This one is more about erroneous information, bad training, inefficient rules, or a combination of all three.

I’ve been scheduled for my first biopsy (an easy needle aspiration one to be performed by my doctor). I’ve never had this procedure so I’m a tad worried. I call the general number (from hell) of the University Clinic where my GP practices to make sure my latest blood test results are forwarded to the specialist. [For some reason, this is not done automatically as my Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist works in private practice and, of course, they don’t share the same system.]

The exchange:

– “We can’t simply forward them to her, we have to get your written authorization”
– (Knowing it’s useless to ask, yet…) “Can I authorize it by email?”
– “No. You can come to the clinic and fill in a form. It takes about a week for a release.”
– “My biopsy is in 3 days”
– “You can go to the walk in clinic and leave with a copy of them you can give your doctor, or come to the clinic, fill the form and then call person X in records to see if she can release them earlier.” [Through the general number, no doubt.]

Thankfully, I had paid for a yearly subscription to the private lab I went to for my tests (they pretty much have a monopoly in my city) and they told me I could generate a report from my blood test results and send it to whomever I wanted to.

During the biopsy appointment, I found out the ENT also had a subscription to the private lab company and she could see them without any transfer on my part.

Anecdote 4

I show up at one of the eight (8) registration desks of a hospital for my biopsy appointment  and they couldn’t find my appointment in the system. How much does bureaucracy affect the brain of poor health employees who are just trying to do their job as best as possible? They told me: “are you sure you haven’t had the biopsy already and this is just a follow up appointment?” Now I know I just wrote a post about being overmedicated but how many drugs do you need to be on to forget you’ve had a BIOPSY?

Anecdote 5

One last “fun” anecdote. Last winter I had a bad throat ache that lasted more than a week so I dragged myself to the walk in clinic. I didn’t have to wait too long, which was great, but… instead of writing a prescription for a special mouth wash (I thought I had thrush from my asthma meds, he thought I had a cold), the NP wrote instead a prescription for a vaginal cream. My millennial pharmacist realizes this and tries to reach the University Clinic to ask them to change the prescription. I could see him choke on the words: “you want me to send you a FAX?!!”.

I followed up with him in person and with the clinic by phone for 2 weeks, until I finally got better, sans mouthwash. [By better I mean no longer having a throat ache, it moved to my ears, my sinuses, my lungs and back again, ergo another trip to the doctor.]

6 weeks later, an annoyed pharmacist called me at home to ask “when are you going to pick that mouthwash up?” Turned out that instead of sending the new prescription to the pharmacy that had asked for a prescription change, they sent it to one I hadn’t used in 5 years.

Next post, I promise, will be more up-beat. Maybe beauty products, or books, or medical lessons learned.

Any preference?

In Sickness and in Health…

A wedding vow.

I’m not sure how many marriages live through the sickness of one partner every year. In spite of vows, we never know how many partners are truly supportive of a sick loved one. And I doubt they make books and movies about it. Nonetheless, this type of support is expected by society.

There are no friendship vows. Hopefully, there is mutual benefit, proximity (virtual or otherwise), shared memories, good food and drink, but no vows.

So when one of the friends get sick there are no social expectations, just a totally free giving thing.

Over the past three months, health wise, I moved from believing I would soon be fine and simply needed rest, to feeling very inconvenienced, to losing hope that I would find a light at the end of my tunnel, to expecting a freight train to run me over any minute.

When I went on sick leave, I lost contact with all my work colleagues, including work friends.  I also lost the professional friends you meet for drinks or lunch. All the people who surround you day in and day out, who make you believe you’re part of a community of support. It’s often easy to think this, being so taken by neverending work duties and challenges.

Then the friends I interacted with every other day, or week, started ghosting me. Maybe they would’ve been fine if I hadn’t started telling them about the realities of my situation, but now that I have and they have to face their own mortality, I’m a chore. What if I start asking them for favours? Or maybe, having been running on fumes for so long, I was myself not there when they needed me the most and they don’t have it in them to give something they didn’t get. I will probably never know. There is no time or this type of indepth conversation when you are caught between mounting work and personal obligations (sick parents, sick kids, relationship challenges, work, work, and more work).

I did experience some pleasant surprises though, like the employee who messaged me through Instagram with good wishes – twice. The former boss, not to keen on sick people who met me for breakfast and gave me good practical advice. The colleague who often felt like a vocal rival, unequivocally and sincerely offered me her support. The friend going through a hard time who still finds time for breakfasts and dinners and still responds to my texts on the same day I send them. The work friend with two kids and an overwhelming job who met with me for drinks because she thinks I’m worth her making the time to do so. The long-time friend who even  living in two cities, pulled in many directions by work and personal obligations, emails me almost every day.

What am I complaining about then you ask?

It’s that in spite of not having made vows, sometimes you develop expectations… And after three months without the constant maelstrom of work that others fight through every day, you have a lot of time to think about them.

My Quest for Better Health – Part 2

Blue Friend, Blue Foe

When I was 14 years old, my grandmother was taken to the hospital due to her increased weakness. We assumed it was her heart, but instead she was told she had been overmedicated by her doctor.

A few years ago, my 76-year old aunt couldn’t remember how to drive to my parents place, a trip she had made for over 50 years. Her daughter is a nurse and she saw right away that my aunt needed to see a geriatrician, and, importantly, had the connections to make it happen. It wasn’t dementia, as we all jump to think when we see someone of that age struggle mentally. No, the meds she was taking were not interacting well with each other and this caused her to become confused. As in, could’ve gotten into a car accident confused.

So I’m going through Iife thinking that overmedication (or polypharmacy) is exclusively an elderly issue.

I’m wrong.

At 49, I’m taking 7 medications daily just to function. Some for my asthma (a bronchial dilator and a corticosteroid), my chronic sinus issues (steroid nasal spray), my environmental allergies (antihistamines), and following a depression, two antidepressants (one which pumped me up too much, one to calm the pumping) and an hormone to stop me from having excruciating periods because in 2018, they still haven’t found a cure for those.

How did I reach what I consider to be an overmedication stage? By desperately clinging to the thought that a medication could make me suffer less and perform better. At work, of course, but also in my life where I was slowing down so much that I could hardly get anything done.

In spite of this, I get sicker and weaker, fighting through six months of what I felt were upper respiratory infection symptoms. These did go away after a bought of antibiotics, but I was still experiencing shortness of breath (in spite of my asthma medication) and major fatigue.

Maybe this stems from food allergies or intolerances I thought. Visits to a nutritionist did not help, they actually made things worse in their own way.

I was living with 30 symptoms of ailments, getting worse and worse. Medical tests were being done so incrementally and over such a lengthy period of time, I did the only thing that I was in control of, and slowly weaned myself off of all of my recent medications.

My reasoning: with so many symptoms, how can I know what is a possible medication side effect, a masking of symptoms of something more acute, which of my medications were actually helping, which ones were not?

Over the past weeks I’ve talked to nurses, doctors, medical technicians about my decision, and not one of them piped up with: ” that could be dangerous” or “what a terrible idea”. Instead I got: “allergists and these off like candy” and “you wanted to have a clean slate” and other non verbal ways of telling me, that it wasn’t a bad idea at all.

No longer taking my strong antihistamines took away my bad headaches for example, and without my revving antidepressant I’m slowly able to sleep restfully again after 2 years. I’m not any stronger physically, but more specific symptoms have risen to the surface (hello, lymph nodes my old friends) and I’ve just finished a more focused battery of tests.

It included a pulmonary function test which confirmed that I didn’t need a bronchodilator. I was told by the technician that they should only be prescribed if your breathing function is 88% or below as they can only improve your breathing by 12%. My breathing rate was 96%. The best it could do was improve it by 4%. Here are it’s possible side effects. I experienced a number of those, for a 4% improvement. I will have a Bronchial Challenge test in two weeks for a more specific diagnosis.

Did the medications mask severe symptoms and delay a diagnosis? Maybe, maybe not. Stay tuned.

My Quest for Better Health – Part 1

I haven’t written anything I wanted to post for a good long time. The biggest reason why, was that I didn’t want to put negative thoughts out there- we have enough of those as it is. Another, was that I like to write about “solved” events so that there’s a beginning, lessons learned, and a nice finale. “Capsule posts” is what I’ve been aiming for – I clearly have watched too many Hollywood movies. Life is not like that at all.

I want to begin by stating that I believe everyone I’ve encountered on this “quest” has had good intentions and none of my words should be seen as directly refuting or disparaging specific individuals, just lousy circumstances.

I’ve been going through the wringer of trying to fix my lack of physical health which has dogged me for over a year, muting my 50th celebrations, putting a damper on my once in a lifetime trip, and making most of my work days utterly draining.

Now I feel like I’m fighting with myself, as well the traditional medical and alternative medicine establishments, in a race to get better. My therapist said I was in “survival mode” and I needed to move to “living” mode. I don’t need to write that it’s easier said than done, do I?

In order to simplify diagnosis, the medical establishment works with boxes. Diagnostic tests are devised

to fit in those boxes. If your ailment cannot be measured within test boxes or discovered in the regular 10-15 minute appointments and you still feel unwell… You’re out of luck.

If you’re a woman going through fertility treatments, pregnancy , recovering from a delivery, or within menopausal age range, there’s a very good chance that whatever ails you will be blamed on that period of your life. If you happen to be older than menopausal age, then everything is linked to your older age. If you keep asking for more diagnostic options, you will be gently guided to the semi-automatic anxiety and/or depression suggestions, akin to the “hysterical” diagnostic of Victorian times.

Don’t just take my work for it, read Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick by Maya Dusenbery.

Maybe I went from sneezing and having a runny nose to colds, to sinus infections, to chronic sinus issues to nausea and headaches, slow digestion, chills and hot flashes, needing recovery time for even 15 minutes of mild exercise, slow kidney function that came and improved to normal range for unknown reasons, and dizzy spells because… It’s all in my head?

I thought I would even out my chances of getting better by also seeing alternative medicine practitioners. I had lovely Reiki and reflexology treatments. Based on traditional Chinese medicine, I will forever believe in acupuncture and reflexology in balancing out your body’s energy.

Contrary to traditional medicine, alternative medicine specialists take a good amount of time to listen to your symptoms and your current life situation and they are always trying to help… for about $100/hour… not always refundable by your insurance. Where I live, you don’t have to spend a penny for traditional medicine appointments (just medication, doctors’ notes, certain vaccines, etc.) but you only get 10-15 minutes and often have to wait weeks for an appointment.

Have you gone through similar experiences? What made them better?

All my best.