The Empire Strikes Back

So my theme for 2021 is A New Hope, which is fitting for me on multiple levels, but here I am in early April feeling like I’m in stuck in The Empire Strikes Back. A month ago I started a new training program designed to help me reach some of my goals, like getting back to being more athletic, running more consistently, and losing the extra weight I’ve gained the past year or two. The new program was exciting, but I quickly found myself experiencing stronger pain in my right leg. I’m assuming that it is nerve pain, because it mostly feels like nerve pain. There have been really bad days and not so bad days, but the bad days have definitely outnumbered the good. When I run, it gets worse. When I do certain exercises, it gets worse. It’s as if my leg has conspired against me and my goals.

The pain has been bad enough that I have caved in and taken several doses of the medication that I absolutely despise, because it is the only drug that provides even a little bit of relief. The side effects hit me within a couple hours of taking the first capsule last Monday, and those side effects linger even when I go a day or two without taking the drug. Headache, brain fog, extreme fatigue, dizziness, shakiness, excess sweating, dry mouth, loss of appetite, insomnia, and nausea. Sounds like a great time, doesn’t it? Yeah, not really, but I am in that desperate place of needing some relief regardless of the cost or effectiveness.

The drug doesn’t exactly ease all the pain; it only reduces some of the burning in my feet. While that is enough of a change to make a difference to me most of the time, it really doesn’t do much for the nerve pain in the rest of my legs, from top of the buttocks down and that is where the right leg is feeling the most pain these days. My pain doctor wanted me to try taking this drug sporadically as needed, even though I knew it wouldn’t truly be helpful and the side effects would still be nasty. Having an appointment with my pain doctor next week, I felt now was a good time to try it out. It went about as expected. Between the pain and the side effects, I have felt terrible all week.

I’m not sure what comes next, but I’m hoping the Return of the Jedi makes an appearance.

The Phantom Zone

Have you ever been in that uncomfortable space bordering on depression and despair, where fatigue is oozing out of every pore and your troubles are so heavy that you know you cannot add one more thing to your load? Have you been there in that place and then had that one more thing placed on your shoulders? That’s where I am right this moment.

My ever-present nerve pain and frequent low back pain have been increasing over the past few weeks. The nerve pain down the right leg has been all over the place but mostly in a very bad place. The burning, throbbing and tingling have been super strong. I discovered an excellent tracking tool at painbc, and it’s been interesting and disappointing to see the negative progression. Of course, the increased pain impacts many areas of life. It affects my sleep, my energy and motivation, my physical ability to run or exercise, do housework or my job. And no matter how much I try to remain positive and strong, it takes a heavy toll emotionally and mentally. It is also extremely exhausting.

Since the pain has been worse, I had been internally debating the merits of medication again. Last time I saw my pain doctor, she suggested taking Duloxetine again when the pain was bad and not necessarily just taking it long-term. At the time I was open to her suggestion, because the pain wasn’t bad enough to go through with it. Now that the pain is bad enough, I wanted any little bit of relief I could get (which from experience I know Duloxetine will give me just a little which is more than any other drug); however, I wasn’t sure the nasty side effects I get from it were worth such a little bit of potential relief. I am still not sure it is worth it, but I took a capsule this morning. Nausea hasn’t hit yet, but the fatigue, headache, and brain fog have rolled in and the dry mouth is just starting. So far, no discernable difference in pain. I don’t know that I can adequate explain just how exhausted and emotional I feel lately, especially today.

And then I got a text from my coach about my squats at the gym today. He said I shouldn’t be afraid to do more reps, that I still had lots of speed left to work with. I read the message and instantly felt crushed and wanted to cry. Now don’t get me wrong…my coach is great and this isn’t intended to be a slam against his character or knowledge! But in that moment, I felt unseen, unheard, and defeated. Part of me wanted to throw in the towel and quit trying. Not because my coach said I could do more, but because I feel like I am trying so hard and getting nowhere. Watching the videos of my squats doesn’t tell the story of what I am feeling in my body at that time. Yes, my squats looked pretty good, but you can’t see the pain shooting down the back of my right leg, the pain tingling through the left leg, the fatigue in every cell of my body, or the grimace of pain on my face. The videos definitely don’t show the pain I am in once I get home and sit or lay down, or the limping as I walk to my car or around the house. Could I push through for a couple more reps each set? Probably. But do I want to be down and out for the rest of the day? Not really. Chronic pain is heavy and just because you can carry it well doesn’t mean you’re not struggling. My coach didn’t do anything wrong; he’s just doing his job and most days I’d accept his message and rise to the challenge. But I’m not in that head space right now.

Weary in the Waves

I suppose it has been a while since I last blogged, twenty-two days to be exact, though only for lack of inspiration and not desire. It’s not as if there hasn’t been points of interest over the past three weeks, but so much of life is also rather mundane and repetitive. I go to work, to the gym, for a run, with an errand or two sprinkled in between laundry and housework. It has now been a year since the pandemic disrupted life locally and provincially, and, even though I know that Covid-19 is real and of concern for many, I am also weary of everything about it.

I miss seeing smiles outside of my house. Even though it moves quickly, I am tired of the need to wait in a long line outside just to get into Costco every few weeks for a package of toilet paper, eggs, Greek yogurt, and butter. I am increasingly irritated by people who give you a 10 foot berth with a suspicious side eye as you pass them on the sidewalk. While I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person, I miss hugs and shaking hands. Pandemic fatigue wasn’t more than the occasional blip on my radar for the longest time, but those blips are pinging rapidly now.

If the pandemic wasn’t heavy enough, the weight of always being in some state of pain only seems to be getting heavier. I like to think I wear that weight well, but it is heavy and sometimes oppressively so. In working towards some goals, I have been reintroduced to some exercises I haven’t done since before herniating a disc and I’m excited about that. However, one of the exercises doesn’t seem to play nicely with the nerves in my right leg. It is so frustrating and disappointing…and painful. Although that particular exercise has now been switched out for another, I am still disappointed. I liked that exercise. I want to be able to do it; it really isn’t that hard and certainly involves no weight. But that’s beside the point.

My mantra of the pain being tolerable is getting as old as the pandemic. Don’t get me wrong, it is still tolerable, but the things we must tolerate can still be heavy and burdensome. I kind of feel like a big rock in a river. I might be firmly planted and at no risk of being swept away with the current, but the relentless beating of water is subtly eroding and shaping me into someone I might not recognize in the future.

The Prescription Paradox

A week ago I walked out of my appointment with my pain doctor with yet another prescription in hand. While the appointment went well, as well as such meetings can I suppose, and we both agreed that there wasn’t much point in pursuing more interventional treatments, my doctor just cannot seem to stop pushing the drugs. This is something that I find quite frustrating, and yet ironically, I did go into this appointment half hoping that she would push some my way once again. And so, I took my prescription to the pharmacy, waited for it to be filled, and then spent the rest of the day figuratively staring at the bottle, questioning and doubting myself. I hemmed and hawed over taking that first capsule for hours (it was to be taken in the evening so I had time to delay) and even talked it out loud to my husband before finally taking it. The next day I told my husband that I wasn’t going to take the medication after all.

I suppose my position might not be easy to understand. Why would I want a drug that might help the constant nerve pain I feel but then not want to take it? The answer isn’t so simple. I hurt all the time, but the pain is often tolerable without any medication. Quite frankly, out of all the medications I have tried, only one has been somewhat effective in reducing my pain and it had multiple, terrible side effects. Many of the medications prescribed for nerve pain are antidepressants. (Please know that I am not dissing the use of antidepressants! They are beneficial for many people and situations.) My experiences with several antidepressants, while not horror stories to be sure, are still not pleasant. I do not feel like myself mentally or emotionally, and I am weary of being the guinea pig. Let’s try this drug. That didn’t work, so let’s try this one. Perhaps an injection here will help. That didn’t work, so we’ll do an injection there. And on and on it has gone for more than three years. These drugs obviously aren’t working for me, so I have no interest in being on them.

And yet…

As often as the nerve pain is tolerable, it is always uncomfortable and unpleasant, and sometimes it is really quite intolerable. Around the end of December and beginning of January, the nerve pain was strong. It was strong enough for me to miss work, which is an exceedingly rare thing for me to do. During those days, I desperately wanted something that might give me some relief. In the days leading up to my most recent pain clinic appointment, the pain was reasonably moderate but I still found myself in some moments wishing for relief, something that could just disrupt the pain signals if only for a while. This is why I took the prescription offered to me. This wasn’t the one drug that had given me some relief with nasty side effects, and how twisted is it that in the really painful moments I want to go back to that. Both the helpful but nasty drug and this current “let’s try this one again” drug are antidepressants, and this is why I ultimately decided not to continue taking it. I am unwilling to go back down the road of feeling mentally and emotionally sluggish and off, not now when I am just starting to feel clear-headed and normal again.

It is true that I am only now feeling like the old me again. Mostly. Sure, there have been glimpses of that girl now and then over the past few years, but the pain and the medications have done a pretty good job of keeping me stuck in a deep, dark basement full of cobwebs. Then adding a case of Covid-19 in January only added to the brain fog and feeling out of sorts well into February. The Covid headache finally cleared a little more than a week ago (but then I did something to a nerve in my neck that has created a lingering but different type of headache), and the last few days I have realized that I feel more energetic and clear-headed than I have in a very long time. There’s no change to the nerve pains and I’m dealing with upper back/neck and low back pain all related (or mostly) to the nerve in the neck thing, so I’m physically not necessarily feeling any better than usual. But it is amazing the difference a clear head can make in how you feel overall! Why would I want to throw that away?

Reset & Refocus

You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”

~Margaret Thatcher

As is the case with many each January, I like to start the new year off with fresh goals and ideas and plans on how to achieve them. There is excitement, hope, and determination mixed with just enough grace and peace to accept the areas where I won’t be quite as successful as I had hoped. I recognize that one month isn’t going to make or break the rest of my year…unless I allow it. But good grief was this January so NOT what I had anticipated! The last few months of 2020 were a little rough and tumble for me mentally, emotionally, and physically, but I felt like things were looking up and getting brighter heading into Christmas. However, back and nerve pain was quite bad over the holiday season into the first week of January, and then I got Covid-19. Although I’m now out of isolation and mostly better, I am not 100% yet, nearly two weeks after ending quarantine. All those good vibes I felt about my goals and resolutions were replaced with a fairly constant headache, brain fog and fatigue. I keep saying it could have been worse, and that is true. We’ve all seen the news stories of people very ill or dying from this virus, even the young and healthy, so I am thankful that my case was pretty mild. It still sucks to find yourself tuckered out and breathing heavy after doing something as simple as meal prep.

I haven’t had the motivation or focus to keep my nutrition on point for most of 2020. There was a lot on my plate between the ever-present nerve pain, a couple of medications with side effects, the pandemic, and other stressors outside of my control. Tracking and managing my food was just not something I wanted to deal with, and so, between my lack of control and medication, I’ve struggled with my weight and I’m disappointed with myself. Heading into January, I was finally ready to get myself back on track and make the changes I knew I needed to make. And then I got Covid. I lost my appetite for several days and then just ate whatever was convenient. Of course, I was also inactive for those three weeks of being sick. Now I’m back at work and the gym but still tired, head hurting and foggy, and easily winded. Bad habits are difficult to break but that doesn’t mean impossible. It takes time and determination. One thing at a time. One choice. One decision. Not beating yourself up when you screw up and not allowing a screw up to keep you from moving forward.

“Give yourself permission to reset, restart, refocus or realign as many times as you feel you need to.”

~Helen Marie

Happy New Year 2.0

I saw a headline the other day about how the pandemic has affected time, or at least something along that line. To be honest, I didn’t bother reading the article, because time often feels strange and the pandemic hasn’t really changed that from my perspective.

“People assume that time is a strict progression from cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibblywobblytimeywimey stuff.”

Doctor Who

And yet here I am on this last day of January wondering how it was possible for one month to feel so incredibly long and drawn out! I am used to finishing a month wondering how it disappeared so quickly, but this first month of 2021 has felt like the month that never ends. I guess being sick and quarantined will do that.

Normal life begins again tomorrow. February 1. This will be my first day at work since January 7, and I’m hoping to get back to the gym this week, too. Of course, I expect this first week back to be long and exhausting, and I shouldn’t be surprised if I have periods of feeling not so great. I mean I shouldn’t be suprised, but, knowing me, I will get caught up in doing what needs to be done and then wonder later why I am feeling rough. My case of Covid-19 was mild, but there are still hangers-on, like some nasal congestion, a cough, and feeling winded, lightheaded, excessively hot or fatigued. While these lingering symptoms or side effects are a little annoying, but I am thankful they are as mild as they are. There are many who get much sicker with this virus, and there are plenty of stories of recovery, even from mild cases, being slow. The moral of the story is that I need to remember to extend some grace to myself.

January was not the month I expected it to be, and my carefully laid plans for it were unable to even get off the ground. Frustrating, yes, but our plans and best intentions sometimes collide with the realities of life. There isn’t much we can do about that, and there is little point in allowing that frustration to undermine the possibilities of tomorrow. When you fall down, you pick yourself up and carry on. That is living! My goals and plans for January can carry over to February and the months that follow. The first month of the year might have been a write-off, but every day is an opportunity to start fresh.

Covid Update

My regional health authority declared me free to end my isolation last Friday. It’s now been just over two weeks since I started feeling sick, and, while I definitely feel much improved since then, I still do not feel 100%. The headache/brain fog is less but still there. Nasal congestion is still present but doesn’t obstruct my breathing. I have a mild cough that makes an appearance sporadically through the day, and a little bit of exertion can leave me feeling too hot, a bit winded, shaky and fatigued. I did end up losing my sense of smell, but I think it might be slowly returning as I could kind of smell my dinner last night. All in all though, I would say that my case of Covid-19 was a mild one. My only real concern at this point is how long these milder symptoms will linger.

I still have no idea where I might have got the virus. Although it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear after contracting the virus, the science shows that the average is 5 to 6 days. When I look at the week prior to the start of my symptoms, I don’t really see a lot of opportunity for exposure, and the week before that was equally uneventful. I worked a total of 5 days within those two weeks, always masked and washing/sanitizing hands. I went to the gym four times in the two weeks, again always masked and sanitizing hands and equipment and never within six feet of anyone else. Aside from work and the gym, my only outings were to a few stores, probably not even a handful, and always masked and so on. We didn’t socialize, and we didn’t eat out. Unless my husband got it from one of his customers, which might be possible but also unlikely as he doesn’t typically spend much time with them, we simply have no idea how we got Covid-19.

The whole experience has been interesting though, and it has certainly illuminated some differences between what we are told through media and what actually happens in real life. My case was milder. My husband’s was a bit worse but still not all that bad. He did need to go to the Emergency department last week, because his breathing did not sound very good during a follow up call from our health authority. The nurse on the phone talked to me and told me to call the hospital to let them know that my husband was coming in and had Covid. So, I called the hospital, got transferred to the ER, and explained the situation to the woman on the other end. Her tone came across as uninterested and annoyed, and she informed me that it was not necessary to call ahead, that all patients are triaged and Covid patients get separated. After a chest x-ray, he was given an antibiotic and sent back home and has improved since then. While the care my husband was given in the ER was pleasant and attentive (or as attentive as it could be due to other factors), I personally found my brief conversation with the ER staff member to be frustrating. Why are people told to call medical facilities in advance if those medical facilities don’t want to receive advance warning?

The whole contact tracing thing feels kind of like a joke, at least from where I am sitting. Maybe it would be different if I had been at a party or had recently returned from some exotic vacation or if I worked in a school or something, but the only questions asked of me that could in any way be considered contact tracing were: Had I recently travelled out of country or had direct contact with someone who had? and Did I have direct contact with someone who had recently tested positive for Covid-19? The only contact tracing is really about who I might have passed the virus to in the two days before my symptoms began. I understand that how I got infected might not be nearly as important as who I might have infected, but there is something about it that just feels a tad off. Maybe it is simply a matter of manpower or perhaps it is pandemic fatigue. I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t even matter.

Body temperature, while not the only factor, is something that my workplace requires us to check before starting our shift. I have no idea how many workplaces have been or still are using temperature checks, but I do know that at least some medical offices perform a temperature check on patients prior to an appointment. This is because a fever is often a sign of illness and, more specifically, Covid-19. Understandable and I have no issues with taking my temperature at work. But here’s the thing…I haven’t had a fever at any point in time over the past two weeks. Quite honestly, I haven’t had a fever for years, but that’s not the point. Everyone is hyper focused on having a fever, yet we know that not everyone has the exact same symptoms or severity and some are asymptomatic. At my job, we have a checklist we go through in addition to taking our temperature, and that makes sense. The checklist asks about other symptoms and contacts that can still wave a warning flag, even if your temperature does not, which is quite unlike my daughter’s experience with an ENT last summer. My daughter’s temperature was taken and was allegedly a little high. Even though she had no other symptoms and no reason to think she was sick, her appointment was instantly cancelled because the receptionist said she had a “fever.” We got home from that appointment and checked her temperature; it was fine. My daughter checked her temperature every day until her rebooked appointment…no fever. Fast forward to a little more than two weeks ago, I could have walked into that ENT office and had an appointment, even though I was in fact already infected with Covid. Does that seem off to you, or is it just me? I have no issue with wanting to ensure someone isn’t sick, but how can you focus on one symptom when that symptom is not always present?

At any rate, I do not return to work until next Monday and I am thankful for that. Today, in this moment, I am feeling pretty decent. The headache is mild and the brain fog has thinned out a bit, at least until I get up to make dinner. Most of my nose-blowing seems to take place in the morning or evening. Same with the cough. So, I’m just going to take this last week to keep resting and healing.

It Could Happen to You

My husband and I are currently in isolation. We both began to feel slightly off last Saturday evening. We didn’t feel great, but we also didn’t feel so bad as to be concerned that we had something more significant than a cold. But these are not ordinary times. My husband decided to get tested for Covid-19 first, since he works in people’s homes and wanted to be sure he was safe. We really thought it would come back negative. It didn’t, so I went for a test that also came back positive.

We have talked with our health authority for contact tracing. Thankfully, I had been off work for several days before I felt unwell, and I had hardly left the house between my last day of work and Saturday. There’s not a lot of contact tracing to do for me! While I am glad that my chances of spreading the virus are extremely low, that doesn’t explain how I got infected myself. I wear a mask at work and in public. My workplace has plenty of protocols for keeping employees and customers safe and healthy. My gym also has safety protocols, and I wear a mask, sanitize, and keep my distance from others while training. Apart from a trip to a grocery store or something, I am not out in public and haven’t been for months and months. My husband jokes that I gave him the virus, while I joke that I probably got it from him as his job puts him in people’s homes. But really, we just don’t know.

As of right now, we’re feeling pretty crappy and yet not too bad. It still feels like a sinus cold. My symptoms are a constant headache unfazed by pain-relievers, some nasal congestion, a mild cough that is only just starting to feel phlegmy, feeling a bit winded and fatigued after even light activity, and some body aches. My husband has mostly the same symptoms, but his headache is not as constant and he has frequent chills. Neither of us has had a fever at any point in time yet, and we both still have the ability to taste and smell. For a few hours today I started to feel slightly more energetic, but that feeling has since passed and I’m back to being a slug in the recliner. It’s difficult to focus too much, so we’re watching a lot of Netflix but choosing brainless stuff instead of shows that require thinking.

The biggest thing right now is to stay at home and take care of ourselves. You know, I am the kind of person who rarely gets sick. I cannot even remember the last time I was sick…probably at least five years ago, if not longer. So, of course, even when I’m doing all the right things, I get Covid.

The Week Written Off

This first full week of 2021 hasn’t exactly gone as planned, and I’m not even talking about world events.

I make myself a ‘to do’ list each week, but this week has been more about surviving than anything else. It’s been a bad week or so for the nerve pains in my legs. In fact, the pain was so bad that I left work early on Wednesday and got my Thursday shift covered. That’s not something I do very often at all, so it speaks to the level of pain I have been in.

As if the nerve pain wasn’t enough, I have also been plagued with extreme headaches for most of the past couple of weeks. They started a few days before Christmas, but the headaches were still kind of low key then. This week they are off the charts and stubbornly resistant to every remedy I throw at them.

I’m fairly certain I do not have Covid. I have no other symptom and no reason to suspect Covid, and the fact that my daughter tested negative last week makes me feel confident that my headaches are not Covid-related, since I was having them before her test and we were in close contact.

However, I cannot explain the headaches, and this isn’t normal for me at all. Sure I get an occasional headache now and then, but nothing like this and not for so long. I’m drinking enough water. There has been no change to my eating or caffeine habits, and I typically don’t have more than a cup or two of coffee a day. Upper back and neck tension is usually the root of any headache I might have, but I don’t feel any tightness or tension there, especially not since I’ve been off work for a few days. The only thing that is sort of different is the increase in nerve pains in my legs, but I cannot quite see how the dots might connect nerve pains in legs to headaches. Regardless, I really do not feel great, even though I am not sick. My head hurts so much that my eyeballs hurt. My low back is grumpy which makes sitting more painful and uncomfortable than usual. The buttocks, legs and feet are raging fires of pain.

HBD and a Stress Test

Today is my 49th birthday. It is currently 2:08pm, and I feel completely exhausted and drained even though I haven’t really done much today. Well, I did go to the gym and worked my legs, so the legs feel like jelly but that’s not why I feel so wiped out and ready for a nap. Nah, it all boils down to a tonne of stress compressed into a 4 hour window and being completely unable to do anything about the situation. Once the situation was resolved, the stress hormones stopped flooding my system, leaving my poor body ready to crash.

Today is also the day that my daughter left for a six months stint in Tanzania, and yes, that was the source of the stress. Or more appropriately, the airlines and Covid were the source of the stress. All the planning and preparations had been double checked, even triple checked, so we walked into the airport this morning expecting smooth sailings. Abby self-checked and tagged her bags before heading to the counter to weigh and send them off to be loaded in the plane. My husband and I stood out of the way and waited. And waited. And waited. Stress began to rise as I watched Abby pull papers out of her bag to show to the agent. Something wasn’t right.

There seemed to be some confusion or issue with Abby’s Covid test which is a requirement for landing in Kenya (where she will spend her first week in Africa). Abby had been told that she needed a negative Covid test within 96 hours of her departure, so she had her test done at the beginning of that window to allow time for receiving the results and any potential snags with the New Year holiday. The airline agent was adamant that the results needed to be within 96 hours of her arrival, which would mean her results were no longer valid and she wouldn’t be allowed to board. Abby showed the email stating the departure requirement. The agent spent some time on the phone with someone. Meanwhile, Abby overheard a passenger at the kiosk next to her, also headed to Kenya and having had her Covid test done on the same day as Abby. This passenger was approved without any issue. So, Abby was given the option to reschedule or talk to another agent. She chose to talk to the same agent who served the other Kenya passenger, and he confirmed that his computer stated the Covid test timing was based on departure and cleared her to fly. Her bags were whisked away, and we said our goodbyes before she passed through security. We thought that was the end of it, and we were wrong.

Literally minutes before boarding, Abby and the other passenger were told that there was in fact a very recent rule change which might impact their Covid tests and being allowed to fly from Vancouver to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt to Nairobi. Their baggage tags were automatically changed, and they were told to check in with Lufthansa once they arrived in Vancouver. Abby called her contact with the organization she is working with, and all we could do was wait.

In all the time since Abby decided to do this internship, I have not been anxious or stressed out…until this morning. After getting home from the gym, I had nothing in particular to do but wait to hear if Abby would be permitted to continue on her journey. It is an uncomfortable place to be waiting and utterly helpless to do anything. Thankfully the flight from here to Vancouver isn’t terribly long, and then I was getting updates via text message and she was good to go! No sooner did I get the good news than the tears I’d managed to avoid all morning finally began to fall, although I think this was more a reaction to the instant drop in internal stress pressure than being sad to have her leave.

Several hours later, Abby is en route to Frankfurt for a pit stop before heading to Nairobi. I haven’t done much of anything else with my day, but I’m going to watch the semi-finals of the World Juniors hockey tournament and enjoy a simple dinner with a slice of tiramisu for my birthday dessert.

Happy birthday to me!