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All of my life I have been unable to take full doses of any medication because I am so utterly sensitive to absolutely everything. For example: if I need some deep sleep 6.25 mg of Benadryl knocks me out for 9 hours. (For those of you keeping track that is 1/4 of a pill for 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep.) Ampligen and I could only coexist at 50 mg.  I believe I have mentioned before how I have all of my doctors trained – they know to look up toddler-sized doses and they pick pills that are choppable. Until now.  Apparently my rheumatologist has found one unyielding component of me that requires maximum doses in a triple combination. My immune system. Who knew? I certainly didn’t. I always thought I was sickly. And I am, but in a different manner than I thought. Even though I catch colds and flus, (and everything else I come into contact with) and though I have fevers and a sore throat daily  my immune system is not weak. Just misguided. It is guiding the best and the biggest immune missiles it can at me. Why worry about a cold when there are so many other problems? Perhaps my immune system has some repressed component of self-loathing.  To make a long story short if the strength of The Avengers team could be combined, quantified and then transferred into an immune system – that immune system would be mine.

While there has been a few cases that I have read about where ME/CFS has been vastly helped by Methotrexate I have not found this to be the case with me. So far I have seen good improvement in pain reduction, inflammation reduction and in energy boost, but since my current baseline is somewhere between “shoot me now” and “don’t waste a bullet I’ll be dead by morning” a good improvement has only moved me to the category of struggling which – to quote one of my favorite films – is “like trying only without succeeding.” I usually have a pain reduction / energy boost which lasts about 3 days after the MTX injection.

To try to move me further along the path to health Mr. Rheumy has now added in 20 mg of Arava daily. Arava (as I have recently learned through Dr. Google) is an immunomodulatory drug with anti-inflammatory properties. If this triple combination of Plaquenil, Methotrexate and Arava fails to slow down the war within me – then biologics will be the next step.  Until then – immune system Avengers Assemble!  Or, rather – disperse! And bring me some Shawarma!

 

Sophie

**A quick note about the title of this blog. While I no longer meet the official criteria for defining CFS/ME because my fatigue can be explained by another factor other than ME – I believe that there is likely some overlap of symptoms, features and possibly the etiology of autoimmune and neuroimmune diseases that is not yet fully understood. Therefore, I will continue to seek help from my ME doctor as well as continued treatments for ME for the foreseeable future. After all, I still feel awful no matter what ICD-9 codes are attached to my name.**

As many of you are aware I have been following the trail of a possible rheumatic illness for the past 21 years. I have been more especially on the hunt since exiting the Ampligen 511 Trial earlier this year when my end of study labs revealed a positive ANA and also several other abnormal autoantibodies. After a plethora of lab draws and subsequent conformational labs I can now say that I do indeed have an autoimmune disease. Probably. Welcome to the wonderful world of autoimmune diseases.

My appointment with the new rheumatologist was a smashing success. The waiting room time was minimal (under 30 minutes) and he spent two hours and 15 minutes with me discussing my entire medical history. We covered every scrap of information that was faxed over by my ME doctor and all the interlinked computerized records of the past decade. He asked every question I was hoping he would ask; he addressed every question I threw at him with competence and proficiency; he ordered every additional test I was hoping for; and as icing on the proverbial cake he was really super-duper nice. Add to all that the fact that we have mutual friends and it was a simply dreamy appointment. I hoped and prayed that the appointment would go well, but that appointment was above and beyond anything I was hoping for.

The new rheumatologist has given me a new temporary label of UCTD (Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease). I expect to remain under the UCTD umbrella for at least the next month. The new rheumatologist explained yesterday he needed an ICD-9 code that would allow him to run additional tests without having to get prior authorizations for every little detail. So for the next month I will again have all the prior lab tests drawn (fifth time). I will also undergo a series of really fun-sounding exams to determine if I have sustained any organ damage. If there is organ damage I can expect further testing to follow to figure out the extent thereof. My next several weeks have just become booked solid. Once all the tests are in the new rheumatologist (hereafter refered to as Mr. Rheumy because that name is infinitely cooler than ‘the new rheumatologist’) will give me a definitive diagnosis, prognosis etc.

Mr. Rheumy did feel strongly that I do have a real (ie: not drug induced) autoimmune disease. Due to this he has put me on Plaquenil (HydroxyChloroQuine / HCQ), Celebrex and Medrol. (I politely refused the Medrol since steroids and I do not mix. He explained that he never forces anyone to take steroids unless the steroids are needed to save the organs. That works for me.) I am seeing Mr. Rheumy next on July 3rd.

In the meantime I literally have places to go and technicians to see.

It is strange to relate the title of this blog ‘Saying Goodbye to CFS’ made me sad. I have been under the umbrella of the disease-of-a-thousand-names since I was seven. When I speak with fellow CFS/ME sufferers there is a camaraderie, an understanding and an ease that I have come to rely on.

When you say “brain fog,” I understand you.

When I say, “I am so tired!” you know what I mean.

The hardest part for me (so far – give me time and I am sure I can come up with something harder to deal with) has been wondering how long have I been harboring an autoimmune disease? And more to the point, I suppose, what would life have been like if I had found it at age 8? Or 12? Or 17? Or, or, or? Now it may be that this autoimmune disease was smouldering in the background and it was just waiting to spring to life. However, if that is the case, why do I have the same symptoms and problems that I did back in 1989? Why do I feel exactly the same as I did when I was eight? Maybe CFS/ME really is autoimmune. Who knows? I sure don’t.

So far the only consolation to a life lost I have been able to come up with is this –  and I ask you to read the following with an open mind.

Don’t stop looking once you have an answer. Keep looking for new treatments and new avenues of disease. I fit the ICC criteria until yesterday when I suddenly didn’t anymore. If one person can find a road to better health because they took a second look or a third look or a 50th look at their disease then what I have lived through will be worth it.

 

Why, you may ask, am I asking you to take another look at your disease when I know you have fought for so long to get a diagnosis? Why when you have in your possession that truly precious ICD-9 code that means you are not crazy, or an attention seeker or (my personal favorite) a drug-seeker? Why do I ask you to reevaluate the fact that you have a neuroimmune illness that is debilitating even on the best of days? Because at 4:00 am this morning I woke up and wondered “what if?”

I have had the best medical care available in the USA. The majority of this care over the past two decades has been private pay, with top doctors in every specialty.  I have had more tests run than just about everyone I know. I have had the ANA screening and ANA panel so often I am surprised that the lab technicians don’t recognize my blood on sight. I have had spinal taps, MRIs, CTs, pulmonary workups, cardiology work ups, neurology work ups, endocrinology workups, gastroenterology workups and every other specialty you can think of a number of times over the past two decades. Added to this is the fact that the team of doctors who have been looking after me genuinely care about what happens to me because they good doctors. They are good people. And they want me to get better. If the best specialists in the country couldn’t find an autoimmune disease in me for 21 years, isn’t it just possible that I am not the only one?

Take a second look at your diagnosis. If not for yourself, then for me.

Sophie

I think I have finally hit another bench mark of health. For the past three weeks I have actually been able to depend on my body. I am learning to feel the difference between when a little push will set me back and when a little push is all I need to get quite a lot done.

Most weeks I am out of the house nearly every day. And when I do go out I make several stops. I am finally able to compile a list of things that need doing (within reason) and do them all in a single trip out and about. About one-quarter of the time I am able to return from shopping and do household business such as: making dinner or doing some cleaning.

Side effects vary from infusion to infusion. For example if I have done nothing but rest prior to the day of infusion I can expect to feel almost normal (except for some additional pain, nausea and tiredness) post-infusion. If, however, I have had a busy day prior to infusion I can expect to be flattened by every major side effect I have listed in prior posts within two hours of finishing my Ampligen. I really try to mitigate my activity on the days preceding infusion. I don’t always succeed, but at least I try.

I have successfully ‘re-upped’ with Hemispherx and I am moving into my second six month period. (That said my six month anniversary won’t actually occur until December 7th.)

I am still on my dose of 50 mg Ampligen twice weekly. It seems to do the job just fine for me personally.

I am looking forward to the holiday season this year more than I have in a long while. I’ll actually be able to participate in all (or at least most) of the family activities.  Compared to past years of being bedridden, sick and saying “you go on without me” this year is going to be glorious.

I hope your holidays are wonderful.

Sophie

 

–Ampligen Week #20 —

A note on flu-season and Ampligen:

After much discussion with my doctor, I decided that receiving my usual small dose of a flu shot would be beneficial to me. I have had flu shots every year of my life. With my newfound activity levels my chances of exposure are now fairly high. I took a 1/3 dose of the shot – which is standard procedure for me and has been so for about the past five years. I reacted much as I did last year and the year before. Since everything went well I will have a second 1/3 dose sometime in the new-year (also standard procedure for me). The rest of the family got their usual yearly dosing (more to protect me than for their own immunity). So far, half of them have had a fairly strong reaction to the shot and half have had almost no reaction. So it remains to be seen (in our family) whether this year will be a violent flu year or not. You should always check with your physician to determine what vaccinations are right for you and your family.  

 This week has been very busy. I am crossing my fingers that busy is my new normal. After Tuesday’s infusion I decided to take it easy. I made a batch of cookies because apparently, though I do not consider baking to be a personal strength, my family really has missed my cookies.

 Wednesday I took the dogs for a moderately brisk 20 minute walk and then got 1/3 of a dose of a flu shot. Thought my arm was a bit stiff I still managed a rousing game of fetch for 20 minutes after dinner. Thursday I did two loads of laundry and a bit of fall cleaning projects. Even after my shot and two loads of laundry I still managed a short walk (15 minutes) with the dogs and had company over.  

  My doctor suggested that I skip Friday’s infusion since I would be assaulting my body with a flu shot. I awakened Friday morning with a fixed determination to sort out my closet. Not an easy task – especially since this particular chore has been put off for several years. I should explain that my entire wardrobe consists of pajamas, old jeans, sweats and t-shirts. Or should I say consisted of. Yes, after cleaning out my closet I actually went for some retail therapy for the first time in three or four years. My goodness, how styles have changed since last I set foot in a mall! I hit three stores in two malls. After all this I still had energy to walk the dogs for 20 minutes and stop off at the grocery store. Then I came home and made dinner. Saturday was almost a carbon copy of Friday except it was shoes I chased after. I left my heart in the mall inside a box with a pair of ivory stilettos. After a decade of house slippers and flats I have not got the muscle (or balance!) to step out in five inch heels yet.

 Lest I ruin my streak of energy I took quite a lot of time to rest on Sunday. I walked the dogs for 25 minutes, but nothing other than that besides a long nap and a peaceful Sunday.

 So far, today has consisted of a trip to the library and walking the dogs. However, there were a few things that I left at the mall which I just might have to go back for.

 All in all it has been a fun week. I don’t remember the last time I went out just for the fun of it. Maybe, just maybe I have really turned the corner.

 Wishing you all the same –

 

Sophie

I am amazed that it has been over four months since my first infusion. Time seems to have both stopped and raced forward. Newton said, “Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably, without relation to anything external.” Obviously, Newton never took Ampligen.
 
Over the past two weeks I have been able to manage my side effects better. Some of the side effects seem to be lessening in intensity (except for that blasted nausea). I still have a sore throat, fatigue, sleepiness, anemia, tender lymph nodes, chills, dry mouth, restlessness, dizziness, muscle twitches, migraines, headaches, unusual and or vivid dreams, changes in food intolerances, muscle weakness, muscle aches, joint pain, back pain, flu-like symptoms,  mouth sores, transient visual disturbances and the occasional bout of ringing in the ears.
 
My general current holding pattern is thus: active for a few short hours on Sunday and Monday. Get flattened faster than a sumo wrestler plopped on Jupiter by Ampligen Tuesday and Wednesday. Start to crawl out of the sickness by Thursday. Get flattened by ‘Ampligen gravity’ (again) on Friday and Saturday. Rinse and repeat.  I have been able to do a few more small things around the house on “sick” days. I managed a bit of cooking. I did a load of laundry. I made it through 1/2 of a church service.
 
I suppose only hindsight will prove whether the next two months will be described as tempus fugit or tempus retrocedit. In the meantime, I have some apple trees to sit under.  
  
 
 Sophie
 
 

Many years ago a young woman accompanied a small wagon train as it travelled north. The travellers were about 40 miles from their destination when an early winter blizzard unleashed its full fury on the travellers.  What started as a clear pathway with well-worn wagon wheel grooves swiftly changed into snow drifts over four feet high.  The young woman kept pushing forward through the ever-increasing drifts. As she moved forward to her horror she realized that she could no longer hear the sound of the horses and mules straining in their harnesses above the wind. Unable to see or hear her fellow travellers she continued moving forward in the hopes that by moving forward she would not fall prey to hypothermia. She soon became exhausted by the effort of swimming through snow. Alone, freezing and afraid she paused and uttered a heartfelt prayer for deliverance.

Suddenly a man on a large horse appeared and scooped her up into the saddle. He gave the horse his head and the three carefully made their way to the wagons which had circled to wait out the storm. The man delivered the woman to the travellers and then disappeared back into the blizzard.

I have been fortunate enough in my lifetime to witness a blizzard in the exact location where this young woman became lost. The snow swirled and stung my face. Ice formed on my woolen gloves. I wore polar-fleece and a snow-suit and I was still cold. It is hard to imagine surviving in an ankle-length dress and thin leather shoes. Yet, she did.

What I find most impressive about this story is its parallel to modern life. How often I have started on a path that was well-worn and relatively clear only to find that just a short distance from my destination a seemingly impenetrable obstruction blocks my path, hides the trail and stops my progress. I am tempted to lie down in my proverbial snow drift and let hypothermia of the soul freeze my progress. 

While several times in the past week I have felt the urge to drop off the Ampligen I have persisted in the hopes that by moving forward I will end up where I need to be. I was rewarded with a token day of energy yesterday. I was able to walk the dogs for 15 minutes and shop (albeit briefly) in three stores. I am not dead today nor am I in increased pain. I have stayed at the 50 mg level infused over one hour this past week. I am still optimistic, but I am also learning to be a little more celebratory over the small victories. Making my lunch, visiting with a friend and being able to walk a little more may not be the same thing as running a marathon, but for now I’ll take what I can get. Now, if only the nausea would lighten up…

Sophie

Nobody likes to read a story or see a film where there is no adventure, no intrigue and where nothing really ever happens. The trouble is that when it comes to our own adventures and intrigues the temptation is to want them to be tame and convenient. We are human, therefore we yearn for the proverbial ‘happily ever after’ right after the ‘once upon a time.’ It seems to be all too easy to forget that life, as in stories, has a middle section. This middle bit, while interesting to a reader, is usually very unpleasant for the character going through it. So it is with our own personal stories. The “middle bit” is usually very unpleasant. 

This past week was a series of those “middle bit” days. If I were a character in a novel it would have been an interesting read. Living through it was just plain horrid. I have been more sick for the past week than I have ever been. In 21+ years of being sick, I have never been as violently ill as I was the past week. What I don’t know is why. (My best guess is that the stress of the prior week in addition to the cumulative effect of Ampligen over the past 3 months produced a perfect storm.) All my lymph nodes went crazier on Monday night than ever before. From my head to my knees lumps of varying sizes popped up. The most frightening thing that happened though is that my tonsils and lymph nodes of my head and neck swelled up so much that I felt like I was trying to suck air into my lungs through a straw. My fever shot up to 102 and hovered there day after day. The pain would have been unbearable had I not been terrified of dying from lack of oxygen.

I skipped the Tuesday infusion and had my dose reduced to 50 mg on Friday. I upped the infusion time to one hour. So far, I have been less sick. My family honestly thought I was going to die this past week. The family has now set up a schedule whereby I am never alone. They have also instituted an emergency plan of what to do in case my airway disappears again. Having medical professionals in the family can certainly be a boon to survival. 

Despite all these things that have happened to me I still believe in Ampligen. I want it to be approved and available. Getting my body to cooperate with Ampligen is the real twist in this story.    

While I am less sure of how everything is going to work out, I am more sure that everything will work out just as it is supposed to. In the meantime, I am counting my blessings and focusing on the last sentence in the last chapter of my personal story book – “and she lived happily ever after.”    

Sophie

Sometimes you have the feeling that because you are doing something that is incredibly hard, stressful and more important than anything you have yet attempted in life, that somehow in someway life will allow you to focus simply on your target. That feeling is usually a false flag.

Like a pirate ship sailing under a banner of peace – life sails up beside you and overwhelms your defenses. If you survive the attack you are left to wonder why the heck you didn’t see the approach. 

That was what the last week has been like for me. The combination of physical and emotional stress of the past week overwhelmed the benefits I had been steadily gaining. I have been knocked right back into feeling like I am in my first week of Ampligen. To be honest, even if I was a healthy, well person I would probably be feeling like this. I hope I never have to live through another week like this one ever, ever again.

I managed to pick up a few new side effects as well. It is possible that my body just couldn’t cope with the stress. I may actually be sick, but who knows? When you feel this crappy it is difficult to differentiate between causes and effects.

I seem to have developed a rather bad case of pleurisy. Between trying to breathe as lightly as possible and struggling to find a comfortable position for my ribcage I could just scream. I can’t take my pain medications or my Claritin. The pain medications (except for Tylenol) depress my breathing further. The Claritin dries my mucosal secretions out (I know… TMI) making it harder to breathe too. Hypoxic-Blue is just not my color.

Between the pain, the usual infusion symptoms, the new breathing problems and the events of the week I feel on the verge of total physical, emotional and mental collapse.

Fortunately I don’t wave white flags.  

Sophie

 

Twelve weeks down…many, many more to go.  To compare where I was three months ago to what I am up to now click here: https://theglassmountain.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/my-baseline-and-me-part-2/

Sophie’s Typical Week: 08/28/11

Sunday:

I am up by 7:30 am. I still only make it to church about 50% of the time.  (This is mainly due to the fact that I cannot bear going to church looking like a slob. Since I will only go to church showered, hair done and looking pink and primped, it may be a while before the percentage of Sunday church attendance rises.)  I return home and take a one hour rest. I will do a couple hours of computer work (emails, blog etc.) and then help with either dinner or dessert preparation about 70% of the time. I take the dogs out for a 30-50 minute play session (fetch, obedience, agility etc.). I will watch some tv and then work on an art project or sometimes speak to a friend until about 10:00 pm. Then it is off to bed.

Monday:

I wake up around 7:30 am and watch the news, do a bit of reading and then a few minutes of exercise. The exercise is usually 5-7 minutes of walking at about two miles / hour. I usually manage to repeat this exercise twice more in the day. I try to get an hour or so of work in on the computer before lunch. I have managed to make myself lunch about once per week. After lunch I take a one hour rest. Following that I go out into the world. I make one or two stops totalling about one and a half hours. I come home do some more things around the house (very basic things, like dusting a room or brushing a dog). After that it is dinner, tv and bed.

Tuesday:

I  am up at 7:30 am and I usually try to work in a brief walk before leaving for my infusion. With my infusion time and drive time I usually do not arrive back home until mid-afternoon by which time I am more than ready for a nap. Out of the past three weeks, 50% of the time I have made a stop at a store on my way home from and infusion. I am usually wiped out for the rest of Tuesday. I get to bed by 10:30 pm and sleep fairly well (excepting the nightmares, of course.)

Wednesday:

Wednesday mornings are a total wash-out. By Wednesday afternoon I am usually able to check email from the couch (as opposed to the bed) and by Wednesday evening I am usually just a touch below my new baseline.

Thursday:

Is much like Monday, except about 70% of the time I end up with energy to do something additional such as baking a batch of cookies or perhaps something more ambitious like making soup. I have been able to have a few friends over and because of the infusion schedule I usually receive company on Thursdays. While I am quite tired after visiting, I am able to do it even though I have already been out of the house earlier in the day.  

Friday:

A copy of Tuesday.

Saturday:

Is a copy of Thursday (minus the company).

 

To the casual observer my week may appear very similar to what I was experiencing three months ago, but I can feel a difference and see a difference. Having been virtually housebound for the past several months and suddenly being able to go out two to three times a week seems miraculous to me. Going out is the biggest change, but what has made the most difference so far is the little things. Just staying alive seems easier. (Except for infusion related living – that is an entirely different story.)  

I no longer just sit on the couch and watch endless hours of television. I can now sit in a regular chair for a couple of hours at a time. I have been able to consistently play with my dogs. I can now walk through a store for 40 minutes without thinking “I’m gonna die!” I can read again (and more importantly understand what I have read and remember it.) I am able to write this blog more easily. There seem to be a hundred little things that are just easier to accomplish. I am not blazing through life, but at least I can literally stand up and you have to be able stand before you can run.

Sophie

I am making progress. I hit two major milestones thanks to Ampligen this week. The first is that I managed to go out to more than one store in a single trip. I made it through three stores in one day! I was out for two hours. I did come home and feel less than stellar, but I did it. With a nap and some Tylenol I was able to have a normal evening without too much increased pain. I was even able to play fetch with the dogs after dinner.

 The other milestone was I was able to make it to church. I didn’t stay for the entire service, but it was the first time I have been in a very long time.  I came home tired, but after a nap and some lunch I have been able to get to work on this blog entry. Pulitzer worthy it is not, but hopefully it is at least coherent!

The bone pain has reduced in severity and duration. I usually have bone pain for about 24 hours after every infusion. 

Nausea is still my constant companion. Occasionally his buddy, the Technicolor yawn, will spend a few hours with me.  

My hair follicles still burn as if each individual hair is on fire, but only for about 24 hours after each infusion (as opposed to constantly when I began the Ampligen). The chemical burning feeling seems to be directly related to Ampligen infusions and hair loss. The more a section of my head burns, the more hair will fall out from that section of scalp.

The main side effect I have had to learn to cope with this week is dreams. What happens when your brain has been wrapped in a velvet cloak of fog for more than two decades? What dreams begin to awaken when the cloak begins to be lifted? And more importantly what the heck can I do about it? 

I know that I have mentioned vivid dreams before in connection with Ampligen, but I never knew dreams could perfectly mimic life right down to the smells and tastes. Dreams are supposed to be images, sounds, sensations, emotions and thoughts experienced while sleeping, but this is almost like living another life. And that life is horrible and frightening beyond imagination.  

Let me make perfectly clear that I do not enjoy violent or scary movies, tv shows or books. If the ending of a book or movie can’t be summed up by the tagline “and they all lived happily ever after,” I usually refuse to have anything to do with it. I haven’t had a tragic or scary real life either. Yet, I have awakened the whole household almost every night this week. I have awakened them with sobs of wrenching despair and piercing screams emanating from sheer terror. Why did I dream things that broke my heart beyond repair? How in the world did I end up running for my life, screaming in terror and soaked in cold sweat? I am not safe whenever I shut my eyes. Dreams stalk my nights and my naps.    

As an added bonus it is nearly impossible to awaken me from one of these new kinds of dreams. When I do awaken, either by being shaken awake by a family member or screaming myself awake I cannot shake off the dreams. I fall asleep and go right back into dreaming where I left off. It is awful to be unable to escape.   

So far I have not found anything to relieve or change the dreams. I can only hope and pray the intensity of these dreams will stop soon. If not for my sake, then for the sake of the other poor, sleepless souls that have to live with me.  

Any suggestions for those of us trapped in Nightmare Land?

Sophie

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