Thursday, February 15, 2018

As I was being wheeled from the ambulance to the emergency room, my friend looked down and admonished me, “If only you didn’t smoke, you would not be here now.” For a moment, I bought into the blame. Soon, I would find out that the chest pains and shortness of breath were the result of my immune cells killing off red blood cells, inflammation in my heart and fluid in my lungs.

When I got home, I added my own unique version of blame. My condition was my fault because I didn’t take good care of myself. Like many of us, I headed off to the health food store to find a natural way to get better. I bought the book Prescription for Nutritional Healing and hunkered down to make a plan. But there were no answers there for me. I reflected on my life and lifestyle looking for clues, looking for somewhere to lay the blame.

If my condition was not caused by smoking and was not caused by lifestyle, then some relatives surely donated faulty genes. I went hunting in the medical history of the family tree. Nothing.

Why me? What caused this? Could my disease have been prevented? Is the universe punishing me for not being good enough? We try desperately to make sense out of the unfathomable. We can languish in the quicksand of why for the rest of our lives. Struggling in quicksand takes a lot of energy. Sooner or later you can struggle no more. We don’t have energy to spare.

Do your searching and when you are done, let it go. Whether you are ill because of something you did or did not do, whether you inherited bad genes, or whether you believe this is some kind of divine retribution does not matter in the end. You have what you have. I have what I have. What matters is what we do right now.

The question isn’t why, it’s what’s next!

(c) Linda Ruescher 2018 from Life Recycled: Creating a New Normal in the Face of Chronic Illness (to be released April 2018)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

I have yet to run into the person who says, “Goody! I get to take more pills every day for the rest of my life!” If you find that person, introduce me.
• Every pill
• Every treatment
• Every test
• Every medical appointment
…is a reminder that we are sick.

When you are prescribed a new medication do you find yourself reading the caution insert? Do you head over to Google? Do you wonder if you are going to be the lucky one who gets the side effects? I used to mentally rehearse a litany of side effects for each pill I swallowed. This one can cause lymphoma and low platelets. The next one can cause uncontrollable bleeding. The third can cause a bevy of things from diabetes, to cataracts, to thinning bones. I stopped the one that can build up on your retina and make you go blind.

We can change our relationship with medications by changing what we think. I cried when I went on chemotherapy. Years later, in a period of remission, I cried when my doctor considered taking me off chemotherapy! What made the difference? I embraced the good things the medication can do. I replaced the litany of negative side effects with a litany of knowledge and gratitude.

Before taking the first pill, I say this aloud, “I am thankful that I live in a time and place where there are smart doctors and scientists who figured out medicines that can help me."

Old Linda: This pill can cause lymphoma. What if I get lymphoma?
New Linda: This pill allows me to keep my own kidneys and avoid dialysis or a transplant.

Old Linda: This pill can cause blindness.
New Linda: This pill helps prevent flares. If I have my eyes checked I can stop if there are problems.

Old Linda: This pill can cause osteoporosis, cataracts, high blood pressure and more.
New Linda: This pill prevents my spleen from eating my red blood cells. I can monitor side effects.

Old Linda: This pill can cause uncontrolled bleeding.
New Linda: This pill will prevent another blood clot in my lungs. I can check my blood monthly and adjust the dose.

What script will you write for yourself? How will you reframe your relationship with medication?

I embrace my medications with knowledge and gratefulness.

(c) 2018 Linda Ruescher from Life Recycled: Creating a New Normal in the Face of Chronic Illness. Release date April 2018.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The doctor stood at the foot of my hospital bed. After fourteen long days in the hospital I had a diagnosis. He said, “You have lupus. Do you know what that is?” I had no idea. I mumbled something about knowing a lady with lupus. She was tired a lot and had to stay out of the sun. I felt…nothing at all. I was numb. I couldn’t rally a single brain cell to ask a coherent question.

A friend gave me a book, Lupus: The First Year. The book sat, unopened and face down on the table for a month. I could not bring myself to look at the cover much less read anything. I had questions. I wanted to know but was simultaneously terrified to know what my life would be like going forward. By the time I saw the doctor again, I had three burning questions. Will this kill me? Is it progressive? Will I lose my independence? His answer was the same for every question. “We don’t know.”

Chronic illnesses are often unpredictable. Symptoms may come and go. Often, these illnesses take years to diagnose. When we finally have a diagnosis, we think, “Now that there is a name for what’s wrong with me, we can fix it.” But the relief of having a name for what’s wrong fades as we learn that there are seldom answers to our own burning questions.

Fifteen years later, I posted an infographic on my Facebook page. “29 out of 100 patients will die from complications of lupus.” A newly diagnosed person saw that infographic. She berated me for scaring her with that post. I would have been scared too. Ignoring the facts won’t make them go away. You have a chronic illness. Whether you know about it or not, you still have a chronic illness. But in the end, knowing is better than not knowing. Because I know my risks, I can take action to mitigate those risks. You can too.

Even if I am afraid, I will continue to learn about my chronic illness.
(c) Linda Ruescher 2018

From Life Recycled: Creating a New Normal in the Face of Chronic Illness. Release on April 1, 2018.