Febreze, Special Sauce & Spinal Injection #7

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I had my 7th dose of Spinraza this week. You’d think I’d be a pro at this by now— but, unfortunately, receiving a complex lumbar puncture isn’t something you can train for… unlike a marathon or a really competitive game of backgammon. I actually don’t even know how to play backgammon, but it sounds like something that sophisticated people would do. Like playing bridge. Or committing white collar crimes.

Anyway, when you have a wonky and complex anatomy like mine, each injection is its own story. Its own event. A prior injection can’t, in any way, predict the outcome of the next. Just because one injection was easy, that doesn’t mean that the next can’t be a fucking disaster. I’m sure if you’re the parent of a toddler you will completely understand this concept. After all, while your child may behave on one trip to Target, that doesn’t mean that the next time he won’t pull an entire display of Febreze on top of his head.

As I shared on this blog previously, my last injection was a challenge. So, I went into this treatment with open eyes, and the reasonable expectation that there could be copious tears at some point in the day. (Just hopefully not the doctor’s.)

Anyway, the drive to Palo Alto was decidedly uneventful— the sky shifting from Central Valley smoke and haze, to a Bay Area overcast. But, as we got off the bridge and arrived to the Neuroscience Center, the morning sun opened up and a cool, slightly crisp (dare I say, even fall-like?!?) air met my skin. If you know me, you’d know how much I love the autumn. So, I tried not to let this omen get my hopes up for how the day would turn out. I told myself, “Elizabette, calm down. There’s still plenty of time for you to be the kid with the Febreze on their head.

While waiting for the procedure, a research associate came and asked me if they could save the spinal fluid they collect from me for scientific purposes. I clearly like science, so I signed the paper and said YES. After all, it’s not like I am going to take my spinal fluid home and put it in a jar by my bed. That would be creepy. Besides, I have no room for it on my nightstand, anyway. That’s where I keep all my photos of George Clooney.

By this point, I really started to have to pee. As I have to hydrate a lot in the days before the injection, my bladder was holding a crap ton of urine. When I say that, I’m actually not kidding. Lucky for me, I think I was given the bladder of a much larger primate. Like a gorilla. Or Tom Hanks from A League of Their Own. You know that scene in the movie where he takes a drunken piss in the locker room urinal? And his pee goes on for over a minute? Yeah, I can totally do that.

Anyway, I was secretly hoping that the research associate would hurry up and go away so that I could get to the point of the morning where I got to use the restroom. If she didn’t skedaddle when she did, I would have probably signed away my own pancreas just to get her to leave. I think I could have found a way to make due without it.

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that, so I was able to go empty my mega-bladder in fairly short order before being taken back to the procedure room. After I was laid on the table, on my left side, the doctors began taking measurements on my back— to try to locate the ONE open spot in my spine. The only part that isn’t obstructed by the two scoliosis rods nestled along my vertebrae. They fired quick x-rays to line up their needle approach.

Watching the big fluoroscopy machine as it swiveled and swung around me, gathering images, and listening to the doctors strategize on their game plan, I started to feel a rumble in my stomach. Even though it was only 10am, lunch was beginning to sound really good to me.

Thinking about food is one of my favorite things to do. In fact, I daresay I like it even more than pumpkin spice lattes and making jokes about Donald Trump. And that should say a lot since I like those things VERY much.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, at this point, my mind began to wander. So consumed by the thought of food, I didn’t notice the giant needle slide into my spine and the sting of the lidocaine that numbed the passage. Instead, I imagined the In N Out Burger that I suddenly wanted to eat. And the stack of smothered “animal style” fries that I would get along the side. Over the scent of hospital antiseptic, I could taste that damn special sauce that I love so much.

It wasn’t long before I started drooling on the sterile pillow. I wish I could say that I made this last bit up, but I didn’t. I literally left a puddle on the light blue fabric. It was kind of gross.

Anyway, so distracted by my thoughts, I gave a jolt when the needle penetrated into my spinal canal and a zing of cold sensation flew down my right hip. Immediately afterward, the attending doctor proudly announced, “Here it is” as my spinal fluid dribbled out of the needle— evidence of the procedure’s success. They collected some fluid (for their aforementioned research purposes) and then injected in the Spinraza.

Seconds later, the procedure was done and the needle was out. Dazed by the speed with which it had all happened and still in a haze of pickles and grilled onions, I asked, “Wait, how long have I been here??

The nurse laughed, “Only about 20 minutes. This is a record time!

I was thrilled. I was definitely NOT going to be the kid with Febreze on their head this time. My stomach grumbled loudly, again, sensing that lunchtime was suddenly going to be a whole lot sooner than usual.

They helped me off the procedure table, and as they wheeled my bed back to my room, the nurse asked, “So, what are you going to do with the rest of your day?

It was the question I had been waiting to answer.

I’m going to In N Out!

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The World’s Slowest Confetti-Maker

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Tearing a folded piece of paper is not something that most people put much thought into. In fact, folks probably do it all the time without thinking of the physical effort that such a motion takes. Especially if it’s thick computer paper— the fancy kind that you can only buy at an office store. The tangible, professional-grade that big banks, mega-corporations and white-collar criminals use right before fucking over a bunch of middle-class homeowners. Or stealing the identities of poor old people that don’t know that Windows isn’t just something that you cover with drapes.

For those of us with SMA, tearing a folded piece of paper may actually be hard… if not impossible. Prior to beginning my Spinraza treatments, it was a task that I had not been able to do in a very long time. Not even the thinner type of paper that you buy at the dollar store. The kind they sell next to the cheap neon highlighters that smell like meth.

But, this ability is tested during the very-important PT assessments that measure my progress with Spinraza. While it seems an odd thing to test, it’s actually a good measure of hand strength and changes in grip. I’ve had two assessments so far, and I could not complete this particular task on either try— which royally pissed me off. As I’ve demonstrated before, I’m not the kind of person that does well with failure. If there’s an exam, I had better get an A. And if I don’t, I will not be happy about it and I will work myself into a damn tizzy to score better the next time. If you know me at all, you’ll understand that this is not an exaggeration. In fact, you’ve probably also worried that at some point I’m going to give myself an ulcer.

Next month, I will undergo another full PT assessment, which means that I will be confronted with that piece of paper. And, I really don’t want to fail that task once again. I don’t want to be a sad loser like the Mets or Hillary Clinton. So, yesterday, I began to practice this task. Fiendishly. Surprisingly, after about seven minutes, I achieved victory. I tore that damned piece of paper in half. And then, about twelve minutes later, I did it again. I was so happy that it didn’t seem to matter that I was sweating through my Secret Powder Fresh deodorant.

Today, in the time it took to watch two episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, I tore a piece of paper FIVE FUCKING TIMES. If you don’t believe me, here’s a picture of the paper:

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If you’re wondering how long it actually took me in real-time (not Netflix-time), it was about 30 minutes. So, roughly six minutes per tear in the paper. Although, I did two of the tears in less than 30 seconds— which, interestingly enough, is the same duration of President Trump’s attention-span.

I’ve got several more weeks to prepare for my next assessment, so wish me luck. Maybe, if I keep at it, I will no longer be the world’s slowest confetti-maker.

A girl can dream…

Hitler, Nazis and Strudels — Oh My!

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As I’ve said on this blog, and… really, to anyone in my real life that will listen, I love history. It really doesn’t matter the era or the type, I adore it all. I love learning about it… reading about it… I even love swimming in it until my fingers get all wrinkled.

Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I doubt anyone would watch me swim in anything, even history. Given my pasty skin and weak body, I’d be that one albino seal who can’t swim and gets rejected by their mother to flail on the beach and get eaten by a polar bear.

World War II is a particular favorite of mine, not because I have any affinity for genocide or dictators with mustaches, but because it’s an era in history that was so wide in scope that it affected nearly everyone on the planet— in some way or another. Even Switzerland, which had promised to stay neutral during the conflict, still managed to get ahead by selling Saint Bernards, lots of holey cheese, and hoarding money in their banks that everyone liked to pretend hadn’t been stolen from the Jews.

My own family was affected by WWII, also. My father was born in a remote, mountainous village in the Basque region of southern France during the Nazi Occupation. While my poor grandmother was pushing my dad out of her vagina, there were German soldiers literally downstairs in her kitchen. I suppose it was important for them to determine if the people scurrying in and out of the house were spies… or just old ladies with clean towels and hot water.

As much as I like true stories, sometimes I read alternative WWII history books and novels because it freaks me out. Just imagining a world where the Nazis won the war is enough to give me a giant case of the heebie-jeebies. After all, if Adolf Hitler had achieved his aim, folks like me wouldn’t even exist.

Many people don’t know this part of WWII history, but the earliest victims of Hitler’s genocide were the disabled. By 1933, the Nazis mandated the forced sterilization of all disabled persons— whom they considered “life unworthy of life” and “useless eaters.” This plan made perfect sense to the German people, yet, it didn’t seem to matter that their own leader looked like a penis with a comb-over.

This policy helped to set the stage for the beginning of 1939, when the Nazis began to murder… oh, excuse me, they called it “euthanize”… all the disabled babies, children and adults in their budding empire. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff were required to report all their disabled patients to the government. The younger at diagnosis, the better. It’s more effective to hone your death tactics on victims that can’t fight back or wipe their own ass.

Once Nazi officials received a report of a disabled person, they’d send staff to the home. Using glowing descriptions of their caring facilities, they’d coerce the families into sending their disabled loved ones to their special hospitals for treatment.

I imagine these conversations sounded something like this:

“Hello, Mr. Schneider. We’ve got a brand new medicine that we’d like your son to try. It’s amazing… transformative.”

“Really? What is it?”

“It’s sort of a gas… an… an inhaler, if you will. It’s called Zyklon-B. It’s like… penicillin… only better.”

“Oh, wow. How much will it cost? I— I don’t have much money.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Schneider. It’s totally free.”

“Thank you so much.”

“Oh, don’t thank me… You can thank the Führer for this generosity. By the way, does your son like strudel?”

Then, after some time had gone by, they’d send the family a letter notifying them of the death of their child or relative. Sometimes it would include a box of cremated remains since the Nazis loved dispersing ashes even more than the Catholic Church on Ash Wednesday.

These letters to the families always included a fictitious, yet, somewhat believable, cause-of-death. Like pneumonia… or fever… or choked on a cherry strudel.

To be honest, choking on a cherry strudel sounds like something that I would totally do. Yes, I love baked goods that much. So, unfortunately, my family would have probably believed it if a Nazi doctor had told them that’s how I met my maker.

Their scheme worked remarkably well for years. While some families grew suspicious, on the whole, most people believed what they were told. And the Nazis were outstanding propagandists. They had laid the groundwork for years ahead of time— making it known that these undesirables were better off dead, anyway. This made it less likely that anyone would go seeking answers.

As you can imagine, I am thankful, everyday, that Hitler’s grand-plan eventually fell apart. Not only for myself, but also for my grandmother that had to contend with German soldiers worried about the contents of her uterus.

But, while the man, himself, may be dead, Hitler’s philosophies do still live on. May they never rise up again, though. Because, if they do, I might need some cherry strudel.

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August Awareness and Lots of Stretchy Pants

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August is known for many things. Even though most summer vacations are ending, it’s still a month when the heat is blistering and the yucky air has that palpable, tangible quality… like an dog’s fart. Also, schools open this month and all the pumpkin spice food products will begin to appear in stores.

If you think it’s too early for it, you aren’t alone. Even though I have a well-developed love for pumpkin spiced lattes, I don’t want to drink one while it’s still 100 degrees outside. I don’t care if there’s a chance that my sweat could smell like an autumnal wonderland. It’s still not worth it.

August is also Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month. The month that celebrates and brings awareness to the 1 in 10,000 babies born (including me!) with a really peculiar— and often deadly— genetic glitch called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). While the condition is rare, 1 in 50 people running around this earth are actually genetic carriers. But, since it’s a recessive condition, it takes two of these carriers getting together to produce a child with SMA. Even then, only 25% of children of those unions will even have the condition.

If you are confused by this scientific explanation of recessive genetics, you weren’t fortunate enough to have had the late Mr. Eugene Field as a biology teacher at Patterson High School. I feel sorry for you if you missed out on his amazing greatness. I guess you’ll have to make due with looking it up on Wikipedia, instead.

Anyway, until very recently, a diagnosis of SMA was practically a death sentence. While advancements in medical care have allowed many of us to beat the odds and thrive long into adulthood, there was really nothing science could do to treat the condition itself. But, that is changing. For the past year, I’ve been receiving a gene-splicing treatment called Spinraza that boosts my production of a protein that my body is lacking. I’ve written extensively about my treatment journey on this blog. I’m happy to report that more treatments for SMA are on the horizon in the coming years, too.

Awareness months, like this one for SMA, serve an important purpose. They garner attention to the cause and provide a catalyst for fundraising. Many other medical conditions and diseases have their own awareness months, too. I’m sure many of you have taken part in such events. And that’s fantastic. After all, these are vital tools for generating donations for research. But, while raising money for a “cure” is very important, we mustn’t forget that we have to also support those living with these conditions, too.

We have to make sure that there are services and infrastructures available to help those currently living and fighting these conditions— and their families. As someone on the other side of this, I must say that I occasionally cringe a little when I see so many fundraising efforts with simple, pithy titles about running and walking for cures. Sometimes I feel like they miss the point. After all, before we can get to the moment when someone could possibly be “cured,” there will be a lot more time spent with the person needing support and helpful resources.

Let’s be honest, from a practical point-of-view, a “Walk for a Cure” isn’t really going to do a patient much good if they don’t have a way to get to their doctor appointments. Let alone if they don’t have personal care assistance in their homes or even nutritious food on their table.

And, I don’t mean to be a killjoy, but you know that 5k Run for Cure you did last year? The one where you wore those new $85 running pants from Lululemon? Yeah, that run is probably not going to help that rural woman in Kansas afford the pharmacy copay on the anti-nausea pills that she needs during chemo.

I don’t mean to imply that these fundraising efforts are useless. Nothing could be further from the truth. These events and funds are incredibly important. So, keep on running in your crazy expensive stretchy pants. But, while you’re doing it, remember that there’s more that we can do.

Awareness means more than a “cure.” It’s about living in community— together. Helping each other. Whether it’s August, or any other month of the year.

Until then, Happy August… and happy running.

xoxo

Happy Spinrazaversary to Me!

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One year ago, today, I had my very first spinal injection of Spinraza— the first-ever FDA approved treatment for my disability, Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). Life was a lot different one year ago. First of all, I was worth a hell of a lot less money at that point. My spinal fluid didn’t have 6 vials of super-sonic, super-expensive Spinraza floating around inside of it. You know, the way the miniaturized Dennis Quaid floated through Martin Short’s body in the 80s movie, Innerspace? One year ago, I was a body that was decidedly pre-bionic. Dennis Quaid’s tiny spaceship would not fly out of my nose if I sneezed. Now, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if my boogers had diamonds inside. Yes, I’m that pricey now.

As I have shared here previously, it was a long, hard-fought battle to gain access to this drug, and I’m lucky to have a spectacular medical team at Stanford Neuroscience that helped to make this possible. I wish I could say that all adults with SMA have such outstanding advocates for care as I do. But, we still have a long way to go to make this current treatment, and all the upcoming treatments coming down the pharmaceutical pipeline, available and accessible to all those living with my rare, genetic condition.

But, my Spinraza journey didn’t end at the point of that lumbar puncture needle one year ago today. Rather, it really had just begun. Given the complexities of getting the long needle through my crooked, and fused anatomy, each injection since that July day has been a tiny battle of wills. A mental and physical game where I prepare like a seasoned warrior. A soldier that knows that the upcoming battle could be a smooth victory just as easily as it could be a giant shit show. You know, like a Trump/Putin press conference?

However, these hardships (and there have been many!) have been worth it. In the 365 days since that magic vial’s liquid have begun to do their work, I have had measurable improvements. Given that this neuromuscular disability is progressive, even merely slowing or halting the natural deterioration is a victory. To have improvements, like I have seen, is more than I could have hoped to achieve. Especially as an adult with SMA. I had never thought I’d live to see a treatment that could help me. It’s hard to mentally process… to put your brain around. You know, just like it’s hard to process pickle-flavored ice cream, self-driving cars, and why the hell we Americans can’t figure out the metric system.

I look forward to what the future holds for my Spinraza journey, yet, I eagerly anticipate what medical science has in-store for those of us, of all ages, with SMA. I’ve heard that there are more treatments currently in the trial and research phase. Perhaps, one day, I will have additional cause to celebrate.

Until then, if I sneeze, please excuse the diamonds.

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All The Things That Sizzle

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Summer is now officially here. For the next three-odd months, we’ll have plenty of time for backyard barbecues, fresh locally-grown produce, and oodles of opportunities to get a sunburn. I am one of the lucky ones that gets burned by simply thinking about the sun. For example, just reading an article in National Geographic about solar radiation is enough for me to get a second-degree burn. I wish this wasn’t just hyperbole.

While my pasty, sensitive skin is a major reason why I dislike the summer, the heat we experience in Patterson is the primary source of my disdain. It gets crazy-hot here. And, for someone in a wheelchair like me, it’s just not pleasant. Frankly, it majorly blows. My black-seated electric wheelchair is like a damn beacon for heat— the summer sizzle zeroes down upon me like a missile. You know, like one of those nuclear warheads that Kim Jong Un promises to get rid of but everyone knows that he never will? Yeah, just like that.

The wheelchair also traps heat—once it enters the perimeter of my seat, it just doesn’t fucking leave. It’s like living in one of those Insta-Pot pressure cookers that everyone has been raving about for months. If I’m in my wheelchair out in 100° weather, it won’t be long before my ass turns into a perfectly-cooked pork tenderloin. I wish this was an exaggeration, too.

Despite all my negativity about this season (of which I have a lot, as you can tell!), there are some redeeming things about this time of year. First of all, I like that cold and flu bugs go into hibernation in the summer. As I’m a germaphobe, this is a big relief. I fear getting sick the same way that some people fear a giant asteroid hitting the Earth at 25,000 miles an hour. And, no, I’m not being dramatic. If you’ve been following my writing at all, you shouldn’t be surprised by this statement. So, YAY to summer! It’s definitely wonderful that at this time of year I don’t have to worry about catching the flu while shopping for laundry detergent. It makes the idea of having clean clothes way more enticing.

While this is a major reason I tolerate the heat of the summer, the biggest redeeming factor of this season? All the yummy local produce that becomes available. We are so fortunate to live in one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the world. Our markets burst with wonderful things to eat. So, take advantage of it. Buy locally-grown produce when you can. Visit farmer’s markets. Enjoy all the things that truly put Patterson, and this region, on the map.

It will make these long summer days all the more tolerable.

So, stay cool, stay healthy, and happy summer!

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