Emily M. DeArdo

writer

post-transplant

Thirty-six or sixty-six?

health, transplantEmily DeArdoComment
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AKA: I’m getting too old for this. :-p

So for the last two weeks I’ve been on levaquin, a drug that my docs use to help with any infections I get—sinus infections, lung infections, etc. It’s our first line drug. But it’s not most people’s first line drug, because…they’re normal. :)

Me being me, I already take a fair amount of prophylactic (aka: drugs to keep me from getting sick) antibiotics. Since I’m always on those, when I do get an infection (which last happened during 2016), I have to go for harder core meds. It’s either cipro (which treats anthrax! Yay!), or levaquin.

These are in a class of drugs with a reaaaallly long name, but they have some fun side effects. (sarcasm font!) Cipro messes with my stomach; levaquin messes with my sleep. So when my ENT prescribed levaquin after seeing the start of a sinus infection, I resigned myself to alternating between Zzzquill and Tylenol PM for the next two weeks.

Well, this time, and in the “I’m getting too old for this” category, I’m having issues with my tendons, which is also a side effect of these meds. This is better than joint issues in one area only it isn’t nearly as painful. However, it is annoying because I don’t know how far I can force my body to go without a tendon rupturing (which does NOT sound fun). So far, my left knee, my right elbow, and my right wrist have been the most affected. Essentially, they’re just really sore, and I can’t do much. I can’t knit, which is driving me crazy, and it’s even hard for me to hold books, so I’m reading on my iPad (which thankfully I have). I’m essentially a lump on the couch.

Now, this irritates me to no end, because I do not LIKE being a lump. And I can’t even SLEEP or nap, because of the insomnia side effect. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

Anyway, getting too old for this. :-P But at least my sinuses are better! And I’m getting to read a lot of Harry Potter.

More skin cancers!

health, transplantEmily DeArdo2 Comments

As I’ve written about before, I’m really susceptible to skin cancer. Not just because I’m fair, but because of the meds I’m on. The anti-rejection meds I take make me 10 times more likely than the general population to get skin cancer. So even though I am vigilant about sunscreen, and always have been, now I have to be even more vigilant.

Unfortunately, I can’t stop taking the meds. And I can’t—or won’t—live in a burqa. So, that means that no matter how vigilant I am, I’m going to get more. Most likely. But, upped prevention also works; when I swim, I cover my hair with one of these, and so far, my scalp hasn’t had any issues again. (Make sure you find the one with SPF in the fabric!)

It’s cute, right? Right? :-p

It’s cute, right? Right? :-p

The two I have at the moment are, thankfully, easy to treat. One of them is on my tricep, and it’s superficial, so we’re treating it with a special cream. It’s twice a day, for twenty one days, so it’s not a bad course, especially not compared to the IV courses I’ve done that are that long (or longer). I don’t have an IV in, and I’m free to bathe when I want. :) So this is cake.

The second one is on my right ear, on the top curve. FORTUNATELY this is also pretty superficial, so we’re just going to scrape it and laser it off. This is easy, but it does require a lot of waiting room time, because you have to wait three hours between scrape and laser. So, that means books to read!

But enough about me—let’s talk about you. Please, if you haven’t, go to a dermatologist and get a full body check. If you’re a normal person you probably only need to do this yearly. But please do it. The grandfather of a dear friend has skin cancer and it’s metastasized. Skin cancer kills people.

Wear sunscreen. Cover up. Get your skin checked. For the love of God, do not lay out! It’s terrible for your skin, and your vanity. ;-) You want to look younger longer? Don’t tan.

So, that’s this week’s medical adventure.



Thirteen

CF, family, essays, organ donation, transplantEmily DeArdoComment

The annual transplant anniversary post tends to change, in form and shape, every year. This year, a lot has happened: 

Catholic 101 was published in November (buy it here--on sale until Friday!) 

My brother got married

(c) Erica Kay Photography , http://ericakayphotography.com/home

(c) Erica Kay Photography , http://ericakayphotography.com/home

 

My sister got engaged

Melanie and Jason (her fiance) leaving Bryan and Sarah's wedding (c) Erica Kay Photography, http://ericakayphotography.com/home

Melanie and Jason (her fiance) leaving Bryan and Sarah's wedding (c) Erica Kay Photography, http://ericakayphotography.com/home

I saw the Stanley Cup with my parents

I went back to Williamsburg and Duck 

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I started writing and editing for Take Up & Read. 

I celebrated my grandma's 88th birthday with my family

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I knit my first shawl. 

 

None of these things would've happened without my donor. 

It can be tempting to look at life in terms of productivity, what we do,  and I'm not trying to list my productivity. Look at what I've done! Rather, it's more like, these are things I never would've done, enjoyed, even conceived of, thirteen years ago. These are things that never would've happened. 

I would've missed my brother's wedding. 

I never would've met my new future brother-in-law and sister-in-law. 

13 birthdays, Christmases, holidays....all those things would've passed without me. 

In general, women post-transplant don't do as well as men. There isn't a lot of data, period, on women who have survived a transplant longer than 10 years. I'm in new territory here. 

I try not to think about that. 

Instead, these things I get to do are gifts, even when life is sort of sucky, because life is never totally perfect. I mean, things are overcome, yes--but just because something is overcome doesn't mean that everything is suddenly perfect. It doesn't work that way. 

Someone said, life is full of suffering, but it is also full of the overcoming of it. 

And that about sums it up. 

Thirteen years of overcoming is pretty good. 

With the cousins on my mom's side at my brother's wedding. This is not all of them, btw! 

With the cousins on my mom's side at my brother's wedding. This is not all of them, btw! 

To be an organ donor, go to donatelife.net/register

Stop waiting around

CF, essays, transplantEmily DeArdoComment
Trivia night victors! 

Trivia night victors! 

Guys. Stop waiting to do things. 
I see this a lot with transplant people--or people with CF--but also with people who are just nice, normal people. 
"Oh, I'll wait until later to do that."
"Oh, someday...."
"Oh, it's just not right right now."
Guys. 
If you want to go to school, go. 
If you want to learn something, learn it.
If you want to bake cookies all day, do it at least once.
If you want to learn Spanish, sign up for Duolingo. 
STOP WAITING.
Stop saying, Oh, when this happens. 
Nuh uh. 
DO IT NOW.
Yeah, sometimes it's not plausible. I get that. Sometimes you have to save money. I get that too. 
But then DO IT. Save the money. Make it happen. Dedicate yourself to it. 
Don't wait. 
Don't use your body as an excuse not to do things. "Oh, I have crappy lung function, I can't go to school, I can't work, I can't do anything by lie here and watch Netflix."
I've been there. Before my transplant, I slept for 13 hours a day. Seriously. If not more. When I was "awake", I was sort of zombie-fied. And that's what happens when you're close to death. 
But EVEN THEN--I went to work. I went out. I saw my family and friends.
Yes, when life changes, more opportunities can open up. 
But you will lose your life waiting around for things to happen. 
So STOP IT. 
Learn the things. Do the things. LIVE YOUR LIFE. Even if you're almost dead, you can STILL LIVE YOUR LIFE while you have it.

Invisible Disabilities and the Workforce

CF, health, hearing loss, politics, essaysEmily DeArdoComment
Fun medical equipment from the 1980s....

Fun medical equipment from the 1980s....

Take a look at the picture of me on the sidebar. (If you're reading this in email, click through.) 

What do you see?

I'm not asking for an assessment of my physical attractiveness, or lack thereof. But if you just looked at that picture,  you would think, yes. She looks like a pretty typical 30ish woman.

This is what you'd be missing: 

*You can't see my cochlear implant, tucked behind my left ear. I don't wear any hearing devices in my right ear, and there's only about 20% natural hearing left there. 

*The scar on my forehead? You can see that, but you probably don't know it's from a skin cancer removal. You also can't see the bald patch on the back of my head, from another one. Skin cancer is 10x more common in post-transplant people, because of our immunosuppression. It's not because I'm fair. (And I'm religious about sun protection, anyway). 

*You can't see that I've got about 52% lung function--which for me is good. That's great! But for normal people, if it's lower than 70%, there's probably an issue. For me, 70% is a dream I will never see again, after hitting it in 1997. So imagine working without one lung. That's me all the time--and that's GREAT. I LOVE IT! 

*You can't see the burn on my right arm, which is left over from transplant surgery. Third degree burn. Skin graft. It's rendered my right arm usable--thank God I still have it!--but it doesn't have complete function like it used to. (Knitting probably helps, though, in making it stronger.) The skin is very, very delicate. It tears easily. So I can't do a lot of manual labor with this arm--and this is my dominant arm. If you were looking at me, you'd notice, but you wouldn't have all that information. 

*Oh, and I'm anemic. I always have been. Part of the paleness. :) But that affects my stamina, too. I'm used to it, now, but there are times when I need red meat and sleep--Moreso than the average bear.

 

I'm telling you all this because invisible disabilities have been in the news lately, as a part of the new Medicaid standards the administration is considering. I look pretty "able bodied", but I'm not--as any physical exam would show. I can't use a telephone--I use FaceTime, but not a real phone. If you call me, I can't understand you. You will sound like Charlie Brown's teacher. Being immunocompromised means if I get sick, there could be a hospital stay in my future. You get the flu, you stay home. I get the flu, I can end up in the hospital. I need to be more circumspect about where I go, especially during flu season. And honestly, I need to take care of my body. That means giving it enough sleep, among other things.  

So, looking at me, you can't see these issues. But they're there. And when you compare me to an average 35 year old woman, it becomes apparent. Invisible disabilities are real. Ask anyone who has arthritis, for example. Or diabetes. Or epilepsy (which I had as a kid). They're not to be taken lightly. Just because someone looks able-bodied, doesn't mean she is able-bodied. 

As a society, we need to be cognizant of that. I'm not making policy suggestions, here, but we need to be aware that there are serious disabilities that people cannot see, and that can impact ability to work. For example, I look fine. But you don't want me to be your receptionist, or ask me to carry heavy things or fix machinery on a regular (or even semi-regular) basis. And of course, I see many more doctors than average people. I see my transplant doctor every four months--I see my ENT every four months. I see my dermatologist very frequently, and I have days where I'm out having Mohs surgery, or having things removed--that takes time. I can have surgeries scheduled at the drop of a hat. Any employers who hires me needs to be aware of those things, and needs to be flexible about them. If they're not, then I'm in trouble. And my employer won't be happy, no matter how great my work is, or how intelligent I am. Without that understanding and flexibility, a job will be hard for both of us. 

I want to provide this as food for thought, when you read about invisible disabilities, or work requirements. It's not wanting to work--it's things that make working difficult, for both employer and employee. 

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Having said that, though, I don't think a person with a disability or a chronic illness should automatically go the SSDI/Medicaid route. Here's why. 

I think that being "normal", as much as you can, is good for self-image, self-esteem, and general mental health. I know that one of my biggest drivers growing up was that I was not going to be babied. I was going to be normal. That meant, doing my homework. Going to school. Taking exams. Etc. If I needed accommodation, I asked for it, but it was low-key. I finished high school. I went to college. And after college, I got a job. 

I knew that I would need a job with good insurance. So yes, if you have medical issues, that means you have to consider jobs with good benefits. It doesn't mean you can go off and join a non-profit that doesn't provide good medical coverage, OK? You have to be reasonable and logical. I wrote more about this here

I do not think it is a good idea for people with CF to sit around at home and bewail their state. First off, that would have driven me insane. Really. When I had to be home for four months post-transplant, after about month three, I was going stir-crazy. I have to have things to do. 

But--there comes a time, when yes, you can't work anymore. This happened with my friend Sage. When she was listed for transplant, she had to leave her job and apply for SSDI. That does happen. It's part of life. But I don't think--and we talked about this often, so I know we agreed here--that she wouldn't wanted to sit at home, either. 

Maybe you do. OK. But my feeling is, if you can contribute, contribute. BUT that requires having an employer that is flexible and that is willing to work with you. And I had that--until I didn't. Once that goes away, then life can get very difficult, and then it might be time for SSDI/Medicaid/whatever. If that time comes, then go for it. That's when people on the government side need to realize that we might look pretty able-bodied. But we're not. 

And also, when it comes to the Medicaid/SSDI system, a lot of the time, they're not talking disability like I have a disability. They're talking about worker's comp sort of stuff. Like, back problems. Problems with limbs, or standing for eight hours, and movement. The system isn't really designed for people who have chronic issues that aren't movement/skeletally based.  That is frustrating, because what I have is what I have. I'm never going to get my hearing back. My lung function may go a little higher, but this is pretty much as good as it gets. I'm never going to get better skin on my skin graft. So the government side of this needs to realize that some disabilities don't get better. They might stay stable--or they might radically get worse--but "better" is not going to happen.  

I know that before I had to deal with all this, I had no idea that any of this was true. So I think it's worth it to share these thoughts with people, so you can realize that when government talks about "disability", there are levels, and there are degrees.