Baseball and my MS

It’s no real secret that I am a huge baseball fan. I’m in school to be a sports writer, and for Christmas the better half bought me Padres season tickets (not that I expected full season, but that’s what we have).

It was a strange coincidence that my first MS attack manifested while I was at the last game I would attend last season. It wasn’t the last game because I got sick, but it was the last game because that was what I had planned. It was a Friday game and the final home game would be played that Sunday. I attended a lot of games last season.

However, I just realized an even stranger coincidence. At least, I think it is. October 9 was the day I went to the ER where I was finally given some reprieve from the unending questions of why I was blind. Exactly six months later I will be at the Padres home opener for the 2013 season.

I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate six full months of fighting this thing.

When I started my Rebif treatment I experienced side effects that wore me down and effectively left me couch-bound on every shot night. I was useless. I felt horrible that the better half and I had just started dating and we were spending the majority of our nights sitting on my couch while I was unable to move my body (how I WISH that were an exaggeration).

Finally, my doctor realized these side effects were not worth what the medicine was supposed to be doing. Research shows that taking 22mcg is equally as effective as taking 44mcg. He lowered my dosage because he felt that I still needed to live my life. I mean, jeez, I am only 27; I want to make as much as I can out of my useful years.

Once I began taking 22mcg I became a more productive member of the world (not that I had quit working or going to school, but that was about all I could do). The side effects were still harsh, but less so than prior. So I gave myself a deadline. My body would be allowed to react however it wishes until the home opener. I set this rule back in February, before I realized the six month coincidence.

It’s not necessarily fate or kismet, but it’s a happy coincidence for me. It seems that baseball keeps appearing to be my saving grace from something that, at the very least, nearly continuously occupies my mind.

Sometimes, it’s a struggle

On Tuesday I will officially be admitting that I am disabled. But I still refuse to believe it.

Excuse me while I share a moment of weakness.

For me, this has been the hardest part of having MS. I don’t look disabled, and I certainly don’t act disabled. But according to the world- or at least my school- I am disabled.

Before I was sick I didn’t often ask for help. I’ve now found myself asking for it more often than I am comfortable with. I hate asking for help. I hate admitting that I need help.

On Tuesday I will be going to the disability resource center on campus to have it permanently on file that I have a disability. It’s not that I need anything from them, but it is just in case.

You see, two weeks ago I was in the hospital again. My neurologist is calling what happened a “neurological event,” but it’s things like this that really get in the way of my life. In short, what happened was that I went blind in my left eye (my bad eye) and then my entire mouth was tingly and numb- including my teeth, which sounds SO weird. Apparently, I’m supposed to ignore these events (because THAT will be easy).

As a result of the 16 hours I spent in the hospital that night, I missed work, I missed an appointment I was supposed to have that morning and I’ve missed school twice so far due to follow-ups. This is the kind of thing where I need someone behind me to say, ‘yes, this was a legitimate reason to miss’- teacher’s aren’t always understanding (mine have been so far. I may not be as lucky next time).

But apparently it’s not just to my school that I need to admit I am disabled.

As I was writing this I got a call from the patient assistance program with the medication I am taking for my MS.

When this whole thing began, I didn’t have insurance. I never really needed it; I was very rarely sick. When I went blind and we were told that there might be something wrong in my brain, my mom and I decided that it didn’t matter and we needed to go to the hospital- we would figure out what to do about the bills later. This led to (and even this is hard for me to admit) my applying for county medical services.

It’s a pain, but there is no way on my salary that I could have afford the, at least, $25,000 in hospital bills I had just from the first two visits. I haven’t had many problems with them as far as my MS treatment goes- until about 10 days ago.

I was informed by my pharmacy that my insurance denied my refill. After tons of calls, I found out that they will only cover 30 days of the treatment in one lifetime.. because THAT makes sense. We managed to get one more month approved on emergency because when we found out, I only had one shot left.

I’ve been waiting to hear from this program for a few days because they cover the treatment. So when the lady called today, I rehashed this whole story to her. After answering her questions about my financial state and personal situation her words were: “I strongly suggest you apply for medicaid.”

Basically, she made it sound as if they were going to deny me.

It’s not just the thought that I am going to be denied, but the word- medicaid. To be 27 years old and get told that you, basically, have to apply for something usually reserved for the elderly or the seriously disabled? It felt like she was telling me that I was incapable of taking care of myself. Once again, I’m being forced to admit that 1) I’m disabled, 2) I need help.

Oh, and she continuously used the word “indigent.” I teach kids all the time about word connotation. That word has a negative connotation. Look up the synonyms on the merriam-webster website and you’ll find words like: beggared, beggarly, destitute, dirt-poor and penniless.

Let’s be clear on one thing: I am none of those things. I wanted to scream at her. I work. In fact, I work a lot (in case you don’t know, I work for the juvenile court schools). I have a position that does not offer insurance or full-time work. But 1)I love it and 2) It allows me to go to school. Oh, did I forget to mention that I am also a full-time student and the managing/ copy editor for my school’s paper?

The thing is, the medicine I am on costs just under $4500 per month! Almost no one could afford that. It doesn’t make me a “beggar” or as she preferred, “indigent.” It makes me normal, it makes me a college student.

But, I guess it goes back to that needing help thing. I know it was her job, and it was probably a part of her script, but it hurt. It just reminded me even more that I am disabled and I need help.

How things change in the matter of just a year

Every New Year I always wonder about the difference a year makes. Sometimes things haven’t changed much, and other times things have changed quite a bit. I think it’s safe to say the my life is virtually unrecognizable to the life I was leading a year ago. At the very least, I definitely would not have guessed the ways my life has changed this year.

Some people get pregnant and have a baby, some people meet someone and get married, and some people move hundreds of miles all within the course of a year. It’s funny, but any of those things would have made a lot more sense to me than the changes that took place in my life this last year.

A year ago I impulsively applied to the Cronkite School at ASU. I was planning to move there this past summer. A year ago I had it all planned out. When I was rejected from ASU, I figured God had a reason and I decided to forget it and move forward.

Halfway through the year, I shifted my plans and applied to UT Austin. I was planning to move there if I was accepted or not. I had a plan. I was getting out of this place. Once again, God had other plans for my life.

Little did I know His plans were far larger than anything I could have possibly imagined.

Only after life had started to drastically change did I find out that I was rejected from UT (due to a terrible miscalculation from the admissions staff). Still, I told my mom that this wasn’t going to stop me. Maybe I should have listened to what God was trying to tell me.

It was three months ago that I collapsed after what would be the final 2012 game I would attend at Petco Park. I swore I was drugged (I still feel REALLY bad about mentally accusing someone of that). Three months ago that my optic neuritis started to rear its ugly head.

Apparently, life only needs a few moments to drastically change.

In the span of those three months I have lost my eyesight, gained it back, made (technically) three ER trips, earned myself a “team” of doctors, had a spinal tap, and gained the permanent label of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Actually, it was in just over two months that all of this happened. Sort of mind-blowing, isn’t it?

I’m actually quite content with my diagnosis and my current situation (however, my new favorite hashtag to use on Twitter is #MSsucks). It’s like I’ve said, it could be so much worse. I’m seriously grateful that in those three months I have found out just how many people are willing to stand behind me and help me through all of this. I’ve actually spent a considerable amount of time wondering what kind of person would even bother to deal with me now that I technically have a brain disorder. I knew my parents wouldn’t really get much of a choice, but I wasn’t sure who else would. I shouldn’t have even wondered. I have some amazing people in my life.

Since the official diagnosis I have started the Rebif treatment. This last Friday I finished the first two weeks of the treatment- 8.8 mcg per shot, three times per week. It wasn’t too bad. The first shot was entertaining. I nearly passed out from holding my breath. I then learned my lesson to not hold my breath the entire time. Perhaps this is why I fainted during the spinal tap? Hmm..

Today I started the second dose- 22 mcg per shot, again three times per week. So far I feel mostly fine, and I realize I am lucky for that. I just hope it can keep up this way. If it’s this easy, then MS really has no idea who it is up against. But here’s a hint for it: MS has messed with the wrong girl. It will not be the reason for the life changes taking place in 2013.

What I know, what it means, and why this is actually a good thing

What I know:

I had a spinal tap on Monday. Let’s discuss how fun that was. Actually, it wasn’t bad except for the part where I fainted. It didn’t even hurt, so I’m not sure why exactly I fainted. It was after the first numbing needle went in. I got lightheaded and next thing I knew I was on the floor. I efficiently freaked my dad out; my mom was too chicken to go back with me.

The reason they use a spinal tap in the diagnosis of MS is for two reasons 1) Check for any viruses that I may have that could have caused this (things like Lyme Disease). 2) To check for the protein products that myelin (the protective covering for nerves in the brain- what is being attacked in the brain of an MS patient) breaks down into when it is attacked

They also did a blood test that day to check for anything else that it could possibly be (pretty sure this is the same blood test I had the first night in the hospital).

My neurologist called me on Thursday to tell me that it is definitely multiple sclerosis. I have a real diagnosis.

What this means:

She reminded me that it looks like I have had several clinically silent attacks. What this means is I have more lesions (so many that I’ve lost count; my chart says “multiple), but they are all located in areas of my brain not affecting life.

The lesions on this scan are the easiest to see

The lesions on this scan are the easiest to see

She told me that I didn’t have to start treatment right now if I didn’t want to. I can wait until my next attack.

That’s not me. I chose to start treatment as soon as I can. With the history of silent attacks, I don’t want to wait until my next obvious attack in a few years and have had 6 or 7 silent ones. The lesion volume will be higher, the attack could be worse and the disease will be further progressed. I would rather take something that may potentially lower the volume of lesions and potentially delay even the next silent attack.

Attack early and fight hard.

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I was given a third medication option by the neurologist who did my spinal tap. It’s an injection 3 times/week. I’m not excited about that part (except I have a wonderful friend who has volunteered to do it for me once in a while). I am, however, ready for this journey; there is a reason I have this. I don’t know what it is, but I’m eager to find out.

Why this is actually a good thing:

I keep getting funny looks when I say this is a good thing. It sounds ridiculous at first, I know.

Had the spinal fluid not contained the protein or a virus, we wouldn’t be here. We would have to start all over again to try to figure out what the heck is wrong. As okay with everything as I have been, I’m kind of over being poked and prodded every week (the upside of that is my pain receptors are dying a quick death and I am now able to fall asleep when I get my eyebrows waxed).

We had a plan before I even had the spinal tap. I knew what I was going to do. The future may have been unknown, but at least I knew how I was going to attack it. Without a diagnosis, I had no plan. Now that I have a diagnosis, the future at least has a path I can follow.

The other reason this is a good thing is that I realize this could be so much worse. Going into UCSD that first day, I had no idea what to expect. Then they started talking brain tumors. No matter how disappointed I get that life is turning out like this, I will ALWAYS remind myself of that first night when they thought it might be a tumor; I’m lucky to have MS.