A journal of healing

Archive for the ‘Psoriatic Arthritis’ Category

A Pissy Situation part one

I have been putting this post off long enough. I wanted to tell a few people to their faces but that does not seem to be happening. I feel like I am about to burst and I need the release my blogging gives me. I have been writing about my life now for over six years and now it is time for me to write about my death. Yes, that is correct. I am coming into a phase that everyone eventually arrives at. It is all a matter of time. Mine has just been defined a little more accurately. This may seem dramatic, and it is. But I am not going to soften this because it will make it easier for others. Nope! This is about me, totally me and what I am feeling.

In 2006 I was diagnose with Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA) and Psoriasis (P). It took over two years for the diagnosis because I am fat. I went from someone who played tournament level tennis three times a week to someone whose hands were claws and could not walk. Everyone blamed the fat for the joint pain. Finally, when my hands curled up, I was sent for tests and to a rheumatologist. Oh boy, did I have inflammation. I did not develop the psoriasis like anyone else and so they misdiagnosed that as well. They said it was a form of hives and it was everywhere. Now, they know what my type of psoriasis I have.

Why did this happen? I truly believe the trauma of going through a life altering situation triggered it. I was going through a divorce after 27 years of a miserable marriage. I had to sell my house as part of the divorce and get my own place, which I did. But then I lost my job the day after I signed the mortgage. It was so terrifying for me. I only had the support of one or two good friends to get me through it. My social life had been based on my husband’s circle.

It was like a cascade of failing health thereafter. About a year after I moved in to my home, I had an episode where I might have had a mini stroke. I went to the hospital and they discovered five blood clots, including one very near my heart. I have written about this before so I won’t at this time. The diagnosis and the whole event probably saved me from the grave fifteen years ago. I have an inherited blood condition called Factor V Leiden. My blood clots too much. My father had it, his mother, and my brother has it. I was fine and have been on a blood thinner ever since. But this led to a gynecological issue which required more medical attention. But for over a year, I would bleed out during my monthly. I almost had to have a transfusion. All of this was over the course of two years.

Meanwhile, my body was revolting with inflammation. There is a strong correlation to stress and inflammation. During these years I met my now husband who moved in with his 13 year old daughter. We both went back to college and we were working a multitude of little jobs to get by. His daughter was not happy and we had to contend with her mother who would not stop interfering. We eventually shipped her off to her mother in California which was the right thing to do.

So back now to 2006: Once I was officially diagnosed with PsA and P, I was put on huge doses of methotrexate, prednisone, and Advil. About a year in, I started to have cranberry colored urine. The doctors said it was from the blood thinner. They did nothing and I stayed on the drugs. Meanwhile, I was putting on weight like crazy. Finally, a blood test revealed that my A1C was 13 and the other labs were indicating some kidney issues. They actually told me to diet. Really? I went from to low blood glucose with an A1C of 5-6 for most of the time since they tested me to 13 and its diet? I finally got to the rheumatologist who said looking at my labs, “did anyone tell you your kidneys crashed?”  They did not.

For the following years I was on just Enbrel for the PsA. They did nothing else. My glucose went back down although not where it was. Everything seemed to be ok. My physical ability was never the same however. Then I started passing kidney stones. I am talking rocks. I passed one so big it made my doctor cringe. I passed over 100 stones. I never went into the hospital. I just suffered on my own. They found five rather large ones in my right kidney and said there was nothing they could do. They were so large, they would never pass. They put me on Allopurinol finally only four years ago to help with the formation and it did help. But the damage was done.

It seems that these kidney issues are not uncommon with someone with PsA. The disease changes your blood chemistry to be more acidic, and uric acid is formed in great quantities. The stones I passed were all uric acid based. Think battery acid for piss. All of this can damage the kidney if left unchecked. I was unchecked for too long.

On top of that issue, about four years ago the Enbrel stopped working. I had to go on something new. I went through eight different highly potent biologicals in an attempt to improve my condition. They all had horrible side effects. The worse was chronic diarrhea. I had it so bad on one drug I could not drive to work without an issue. Work was only 20 minutes away. One morning I had to pull into a park and shit against a building. There was a Sherriff on the other side and if he had gotten out and walked around I would have been arrested. I exploded three times at work, once covering the bathroom that the CEO used. It was intolerable. They all made me sick and they did not help the PsA or P. I was getting covered with splotches and my hair was falling out. I lost  a lot of my mobility and started to need a cane.

In 2016, I was put on Humira. It did nothing for me and I had to use Advil to be able to walk. I was not taking big doses of Advil, but I should have been told to take none. The doctor knew I was taking it. The Humira gave me such issues that I had to see a cardiologist. They found nothing wrong and I finally demanded I stop the Humira. In 2017, I was put on an outrageously expensive shot called Stelara. My world changed immediately. The psoriasis was gone. The PsA was less and I felt like a human being again.

My labs were indicating things were not as rosy as I felt. First my A1C started to climb again. My blood pressure was getting very high. I put on weight, as I did with all the drugs. But the kidney function was declining. In September of 2017 my GFR (which is the measure of output the kidneys are functioning at) was down to 23. I had been there once before when I was passing a huge kidney stone and I got it back up to about 40. The GFR is saying that my kidneys were functioning at about 23%. Not good.

I decided I needed to change my life. I needed to destress. My job had become horrible and intolerable. I did not need it. We had been planning on my retiring anyways in another two years. I took the leap.

The next lab which was a month after I retired my GFR went up two points. I had made the right decision. But I felt like crap. I had little energy. I was short of breath on exertion, which was something I never had before. I was sleeping terribly and constantly tired. My PCP wanted me to see the nephrologist to see what she had to say. It took three months, but I finally got an appointment.

In the beginning of April my labs were God awful. I have enough medical background to know I was in deep doo doo. I had my first meltdown of what will be a series I am sure. My A1C had gone up a lot, and other readings indicated something was going on. Since I was put on the Stelara, my triglycerides were climbing and they were now three times what they were a year ago and at a dangerous level. But the worse part was my kidney GFR went back down 2 points.

I took my husband to the nephrologist appointment because I knew it was not going to be good. It was not good. I really like this doctor and had seen her way back in 2009 when I had my first issue. She told it like it is and what I am going to have to face. It was shocking to tell the truth and to face mortality is the worse feeling in the world.

This is the bottom line: I am facing dialysis. It may be in a year or less, or it may be two years. But it is going to have to happen as I will die otherwise. Once I am on dialysis, the prognosis is five to ten years. That is for someone who is healthy otherwise with no comorbidities. And yes I know, some people live for years and years on dialysis but guess what others don’t. One thing I am not tolerating is Pollyanna like remarks. I will go into more of all this in another post. Bottom line, my life has changed drastically and I have been told what my future holds.

Am I sad? Yes. Am I frightened? I am terrified. But I am going to fight like I have my whole life. Right now the goal is to preserve what kidney function I have. I am drinking sodium citrate twice a day to turn down the acid in my blood. I am taking more insulin. Because my kidneys aren’t functioning well, I am extremely anemic (which is why I am so friggin tired). I am on high doses of iron and vitamin D. I am trying as best as I can to be more physical. And I have had to change my diet drastically. I am going to see a renal dietician next week.

This is the most ironic part of all this: all these years I have been dieting on whole grains and tons of chicken and vegetables, I have been hurting my kidneys. I have to right now avoid potassium at all costs. Who knew my stables of broccoli, Brussel sprouts, darks greens and chicken were the worse things I could be consuming. In the effort to meet everyone else’s standard of looking appropriate, I was poisoning myself.  I will be going into this more as I learn about it. But am I angry about this…well yes I am.

In truth, I am very angry about the whole thing. I went to a renal class already as the nephrologist suggested it would be good for me to know what I am facing. She knows I already have done a lot of research on things but she wants me to get the truth, not the Internet truth. I am actually looking forward to seeing the dietician because for once, it won’t be about being fat. This is one thing I am going to write about because the discrimination of people of size is outrageous in the kidney world.

My life is altered completely. I am not taking crap from anyone. I am going to do what I want without guilt. I don’t think my husband fully understands, but we have talked about it and he is compassionate. That’s all I want right now as I lick my wounds and get my fierce up. I am glad I am retired as I can do as I can when I want. My future will be tethered to a machine, but for now, I am not. And I am going to treasure this time.

 

 

 

 

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What is PsA and P?

Psoriatic Arthritis: PsA is an insidious disease. It is very misunderstood even by the medical community. It is hard to find a specialist who can really guide you. There is no cure and it is progressive. PsA has a partner, Psoriasis or P. They are not mutually exclusive. Each has their own issues and pathology. It is rare to have PsA without P but you can have P without PsA. Both are considered auto-immune diseases and often have other co-morbidities. All this is evidence based information.

And much like other diseases, they are triggered by stress and trauma. If you understand the ACE Study, it all makes sense why diseases like this are becoming more prevalent. It seems lately more and more people are being diagnosed with some form of chronic auto-immune disease. Is it because so many of the baby-boomers are of an age where disease is a common part of life? Or is it because there are more studies done and better research as to causes of crippling diseases in senior citizens.  I think it is both.

I have been involved in two research projects. One was for P and the other for PsA. The one for P was fascinating. They were looking for the correlation of outbreaks on the skin and stress. We were divided into two groups. One was given only exercise and nutritional information and asked to make lifestyle changes. Fortunately, I was chosen to go into the other group. We were going to be trained on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction techniques. MBSR is now a more common approach for people dealing with issues such as pain. Back then, it was pretty new and out there. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the program for people with cancer and pain.

The program was several months long. We met once a week. We talked about our week, our disease, anything we wanted. Then we meditated. Sometimes we did yoga. This was a several years ago. The instructor was the Chief MD in charge of the Oncology Department at the Medical Center. He was very progressive for the times. Now, there is a requirement that all med students take MBSR. Everywhere you look they are courses on Mindfulness and stress reduction of some kind. This is progress. But I live and work for a very large medical center that is also a teaching hospital, a university and a research institute.

But with all that, they still do not know much about PsA and P. We do not have a lot of doctors who are rheumatologist in the area. I am fortunate to have a good one. But even he will admit it is trial and error. And we have had some egregious errors. The course of action is to put the patient on a drug regiment which often includes steroids and progressively stronger biologics. Even the manufactures say there is high risk associated with their drugs. It is also known that they only work for so long and the body becomes immune to the drug. Then you have to start over.

In North America and Europe, between 18 and 42 percent of people with psoriasis, an inflammatory skin disease, also have psoriatic arthritis. In the United States, psoriasis affects about 2.2 percent of the population (7.5 million people), making it the most prevalent autoimmune disease in the US. (http://blog.arthritis.org/psoriatic-arthritis/psoriatic-arthritis-psoriasis/)

Nothing is more terrifying than knowing there is nothing you can really do to stop the progression of a disease that is ravaging your body. And there is nothing more frustrating as seeing the deterioration of your body and your ability to be independent. The medications all have side effects and some of them include cancer.

I have always had this disease. It got much worse when I went through my divorce. I believe the stress triggered the eruption on my skin. Doctors, including a dermatologist, could not diagnose why I had this rash everywhere because it did not look like “normal” psoriasis. It was though. I had always had issues with my joints, but was told it was because I was fat. But when my hands curled into claws and I could not hold on to anything, I finally was sent for testing.

PsA is possibly genetic. I had psoriasis as a baby but they called it eczema back then. You cannot catch PsA and P is not spreadable. There is no cure but you can put it into remission. I have been blessed to do that several times including right now. I have only a few skin lesions.

But from all the drug switching and the use of such powerful drugs, I have diabetes. My pancreas is whooped. My insulin levels are normal in the afternoon, but in the middle of the night they drastically peak. I am on medication now for it that adds a lot of weight….. Makes no sense because as you gain weight, you insulin resistance goes higher. The shot I am for the PsA also puts on weight and also increases your glucose levels significantly. It also causes high blood pressure, which is also not good.

But the main comorbid with PsA is actually coronary issues and kidney issues. The inflammation that causes the P and PsA also attacks the heart, arteries and other organs, especially the kidneys.  So far, I do not have coronary issues. However, my kidneys are in imminent danger of failing. Diabetes also impacts kidneys and so does high blood pressure. It is a circle of what is worse. Much like most auto-immune diseases, you do not die of the disease, but of the comorbidities.

I wrote this blog this morning because of a couple of reasons. One, people need to fight for better testing and more awareness of the PsA and P. The symptoms can vary as much as the way the rash presents itself. Two, we need better treatment that does not cause more issues than the disease. Three, we need more research as to see if there may ever be a cure for PsA and P and further studies related to trauma like the ACE study.