Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Medical Maladies

***Disclaimer--this blog post is all about the ups and downs of my medical journey including Crohn's Disease and having to have a hysterectomy.  Information shared is meant to encourage and possibly incite laughter while discussing pretty disgusting, but serious topics.  Those who are faint of heart, or of stomach, probably shouldn't read this post.  My hope is to encourage people who have any of these issues or who know someone who does.***

My sister (Andrea) and me.
My family has a history of crazy medical mishaps.  From accident-prone tendencies to genetic jinxes, we have done our part to keep the doctors, nurses, and hospitals in business.  When I was in 10th grade, I picked up mononucleosis.  Unfortunately, I didn't get it in any flirty, fun way (wink, wink)...nope, my younger, nobler sister went on an mission trip and contracted mono from a water fountain (so believed the doctors).  Growing up, we would share drinks (like taste this milkshake or taste how bad this "suicide" fountain drink is).  Mono looked different on the two of us.  My sister got really sick--she had a combo platter of illnesses that stemmed from mono and landed her in the hospital.  I was listless, lethargic and simply unable to function normally.  She and I both missed a month of school and were on the homebound program where we had a teacher who we not-so-lovingly referred to as Mrs. Lucifer.  After a long recovery, we went back to school and were back to normal...or so we thought.

As a little girl and teen, I had seasonal allergies and had to take four allergy shots once a week.  Every fall and spring, I would have a week where my voice would be Rod Stewart-raspy or completely gone.  When I was in 11th grade, I started having longer stints where my voice would disappear.  I loved to sing--I was in the youth choir at church and chorus in school.  My parents and I started off at my regular doctor who directed us to an ear, nose and throat doctor and allergist.  After a series of tests and procedures from those guys, we were sent to Bowman-Grey Hospital in Winston-Salem.  There, I was under the care of a very entertaining and eccentric doctor (which I, of course, loved!).  I have written posts earlier about the tests, procedures and surgery during that time frame, so if you're up for a laugh and a cringe, scroll back through my blog!  Ultimately, it was discovered that my left vocal cord was completely paralyzed.  I kept losing my voice and developing cysts/polyps/nodules because the right vocal cord was doing the work of both.  The solution was to inject a silicone implant into my left vocal cord to fatten it up so the right vocal cord didn't have as far to work (insert silicone implant joke here...).  After surgery, my voice changed a little, and my singing range shifted; after a long voice rest, I was allowed to start talking and singing again.

During my senior year of high school, I started to experience a new set of medical issues.  I was dealing with a swollen abdomen, severe abdominal pain, fevers, weight loss and rectal bleeding.  Back to the doctor we went.  I underwent another series of tests and procedures including an illustrious colonoscopy when I was 18 years old.  I will never forget that day.  I was the only female going in for the procedure and the only person under the age of 60.  Hence, the recovery room being nothing short of a Saturday Night Live sketch moment where the young lady is surrounded by an orchestra of gassy old men!  I firmly believe in the mindset of finding humor in every situation.  After the colonoscopy and a few overnight emergency visits to the hospital, I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease (more info on this disease here).  The summary of Crohn's Disease is that it is an inflammatory, auto-immune disorder that can materialize anywhere in the GI tract from mouth to anus.  Crohn's can look different on different people.  For me, it was losing my appetite causing rapid weight loss, and when I did eat, I would be sick within at least 20 minutest.  It also meant every time I was in the bathroom (8-12 times a day), I would pass blood in my stools or just blood.  It meant a pain in my gut that would go from feeling a campfire to a herd of buffalo stomping my organs to a vice grip squeezing my insides to a radiating ball of fire moving all over.  I would stay weak.  I would have no energy.  My skin started to feel thin and dry out.  The joints in my hands, hips and legs would throb.  The first round of treatment for me was steroids...you know, the quick fix.  I hated steroids.  I would feel so mean and on edge.  Yes, the symptoms would go away...as longs as I was on the steroids.  Steroids aren't a long-term solution, so I took them while we looked for other medications.  At this stage of the game, there was not a lot of information out there about Crohn's and most medications were still in testing phases...the ones that were available were very expensive.  By this time, I had married my first husband who had joined the Navy.  Thank God for military insurance!  Without that benefit, I highly doubt I could have been on medication.

Crohn's Disease is a chronic illness meaning I will have it until I die.  However, it can go into remission.  Concerning pregnancy, if Crohn's is active when conception happens, it stays active; and vice versa.  With my first pregnancy, I was in remission and had a pretty healthy pregnancy until the premature labor happened.  During my second pregnancy, Crohn's was active.  I was carrying twins with my second pregnancy and ended up losing one of the babies.  I was put on bedrest.  I was having iron injections twice a week.  I was on strong medication.  The third time I conceived, my Crohn's was active, and I miscarried.  Throughout the past 18 years, I have had seasons of health and energy and seasons of pain and lethargy.  I have been on several medications, have done the diet/juicing route, have taken herbal supplements, have removed elements from my diet.  There are foods I have cut out of my life because I know what the result will be if I eat them.  But, when my Crohn's is active, everything I eat or drink or don't eat or drink has the same results.  Over the past 2 years, my Crohn's has set-up in 2 inches of the lower left quadrant of my intestines.  When it is severe, you could actually look at my stomach and see the swelling or touch my belly and feel the knots of ulcers and inflammation.  The level of severity was so major this past year, that I would pass out frequently from blood loss and pain.  I missed work, which I had never done before.  And, I felt as if I was fading.

When I turned 30, I started having issues with menstruation.  I highly doubt that there is any lady out there who has had a great experience with that part of life.  I know so many women who have had crazy pain and struggles with their reproductive system.  After 30, I started having progressively worse months.  Over the last year, I was having a week of bleeding, a week off, another week of bleeding, etc.  For the past year, two weeks out of the month, I would be losing blood from Crohn's and from a period.  When this started, I went to my doctor's office, but my regular doctor was out of the country on a mission trip.  The physician's assistant ordered an intrusive ultrasound of my uterus and ovaries, but basically determined I had suffered a miscarriage.  When the issues persisted, I went back to my regular doctor who ordered another ultrasound where it was determined I may have had a uterine fibroid on the left side of my uterus.  So, birth control pills were prescribed at a higher dosage (as I had been taking them for quite some time).  I waited a couple of months, and checked back in with my regular doctor as nothing had improved.  During this time, I was also seeing a new gastroenterologist who had determined my Crohn's was approaching extreme symptoms and was wanting me to choose a new drug to try from a list of 3 very expensive and quite scary medications.  My regular doctor sent me to a gynecologist who performed yet another internal ultrasound.  While I hated the procedure, I appreciated the doctor who talked with me through the images on the screen.  He was extremely concerned with what he could see but more worried about what he could not see via an ultrasound.  My husband (Brian) and I had already talked about what the options would be, so we were prepared when the gynecologist suggested a hysterectomy.
My husband (Brian) and me.  #1 fan!

At age 36, I went in for a laparoscopic vaginal hysterectomy.  My doctor warned my husband and me that he wasn't sure what all he would have to remove once in surgery.  I was as prepared as I could be.  He (and my regular doctor) were both very concerned about the surgery's effect on my Crohn's.  Where the Crohn's activity was located was dangerously close to where the surgery would have to take place.  The biggest fear for all parties involved was how the Crohn's would react to the surgery--the fear was of a substantial flare-up that could have major ripple effects.  However, we all agreed the surgery was what needed to be done.  I had resolved that Crohn's Disease symptoms will always be a part of my life, but that if we could eliminate the other medical issues, that would be incredibly helpful.  The trade-off would be that the potential for surgical menopause to occur and hormone replacement therapy to begin could happen depending on the level of hysterectomy that was performed.  After the surgery, my husband and I learned that the doctor had to do a total hysterectomy (removal of uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries).  My uterus had fibroids in, on and in the lining of the uterus.  Endometriosis was covering my uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.

I was mentally and emotionally prepared for the hysterectomy.  Brian and I were in agreement, which really helped.  I wasn't prepared for the pain after the surgery.  And, the recovery felt like 6 months rather than 6 weeks!  BUT, I know it was what was right for my health.  Here's the incredible part.  The week before my surgery, we went to the beach with our family.  I was prepared to be sick due to Crohn's; and I was prepared for higher symptoms since we would be enjoying fried seafood goodness.  After 2 years of CONSTANT pain and bleeding profusely every time I went to the bathroom, while at the beach, the symptoms stopped.  And since that week, I have had NO Crohn's symptoms at all.  Now, I'm sure several of you have theories of what happened.  I know the doctors said that should not have happened and that the surgery should have had a negative effect on my Crohn's.  I am a person of great faith.  I am surrounded by people who are like-minded.  I firmly believe that through the power of prayer to the one true God, I was relieved of those symptoms.  I don't know how long that relief will last.  I am a realist and understand what a chronic disease is, but I am extremely grateful to the Lord for giving me a time of physical peace and rest during one of the most physically stressful and traumatizing times of my life.

I don't know what my medical future holds.  I don't know if there is a connection to all of my medical maladies (I do think it's interesting that all of the "big" things show up on the left side of whatever issue).  I don't know how long I'll be well.  I do know that through every medical battle, I have been blessed by faithful family and friends.  I know that the One who created me has a plan for me even though I couldn't tell you what that plan is.  I know that laughter is a great pain reliever.  And, I know I am the most fortunate woman in the world to have the love and support of my husband and our amazing children.  I want to be a light and source of encouragement for others.  If you or someone you love is struggling, hurting, questioning..whatever...please contact me, as I would LOVE to lift you up in prayer!
A BIG part of my supportive family!  BLESSED big time!

Monday, August 7, 2017

VIPKID 1st Class!

Click here to use my referral link to learn more about VIPKID!

Here's a short update about my VIPKID experience.  Last Friday, I sat down and wrote out my availability for VIPKID on my desk calendar, then went through the calendar on the VIPKID website and entered the same information.  All of the training warns that the first month is the most difficult as fas as filling up your calendar.  The more you work and reviews you earn, the more the parents will sign up for your slots.  Over the weekend, I had 6 time slots filled...not too shabby for just starting out.  (Remember, I am being paid per lesson, not hour.  My base pay is $8 with $1 bonus for starting and ending the lesson on time as well as opportunities for other bonuses.)  Payday is between the 10th and 15th, so I will keep you posted on how that works out.  My husband and I are opening a separate account just for the VIPKID transactions for a multitude of reasons, and I am not foreseeing any complications with that.

This morning, I had my first teaching experience.  I have to say, it was fun, easy, and goes by so quickly.  The little boy I worked with was all about the business of learning.  I could tell a parent was close by helping to keep him on task.  But, he was a delight.  The powerpoint lesson was easy to use. I logged in about 30 minutes early to go review the slides and pull out any of my supplemental materials that would be helpful.  Last night, in preparation, I pulled up the link to the lesson on my phone using the VIPKID app, which is very user-friendly.  I went through the slides quickly just to have a heads up.  There is also a tab on the app and the website with feedback from other teachers who have worked with each student.  That is an incredibly helpful tool!  As we went through the lesson, I kept a little notebook to the side and jotted down any notes for the next teacher (example-Student blended words well.  He struggled with the word "playground".  Student chose option 1 for his end of unit task).  During our lesson, there were a few times where the student's audio went out and one time where his camera froze.  I noted those things in the feedback as well.

So far, I am really enjoying and impressed with this experience.  I have been invited to an online certification workshop to expand my opportunities with VIPKID.  I have joined the "Hutong" community where VIPKID staff and teachers dialogue and have fun challenges to complete.  Basically, anything they send to me, I try.  If you are interested in working from home, have a Bachelor's degree and a love for kiddos, then I would definitely encourage you to learn more about VIPKID.  I am happy to answer any questions I can, and I look forward to sharing the journey with you!  (If you want to help me make a little $, use this referral link!)