Guest Post: Gracie’s Gladiators

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This month’s guest post is written by Nattie. Nattie lives in the Midlands with her husband and two children, Grace and Amelie and her family is the perfect example of the wonder of blended families. Nattie works in with a PR company, specialising in event management. Life for Nattie’s family was turned upside down a few months ago, following Gracie being diagnosed with leukaemia.

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What can I say about Gracie? She’s 10 years old, absolutely gorgeous, funny, kind, intelligent, an animal lover, a fantastic big sister and a lover of hugs and cuddles. Gracie is also a cancer patient.

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Grace at the age of seven, blowing out candles.

Earlier this year, Grace was diagnosed with leukaemia. She had been poorly off and on since the winter and we, along with doctors, thought that it was a lingering viral infection. She was very tired, often coming home from school and falling asleep on the sofa until tea time. On top of this, she was also having a difficult time at school with friendships and she is starting to get anxious about moving to high school in September 2019. Nothing major but Gracie is sensitive and we know from past experiences that she doesn’t deal well with conflict or change, it emotionally drains her.

We were’t too worried. That is until her energy levels dropped further. Her teacher rang us to raise concerns: Grace was falling asleep in school and she wasn’t managing to take part in PE lessons, a lesson that she loved. In general, she was very wobbly and her balance was getting worse. She was sad, something very unlike Grace.

When Grace contracted her fifth cold since January, we felt that enough was enough: our previously healthy little girl was struggling and our instincts knew that something else was going on. We decided to keep her off school for a week. On day three of Grace’s week off school, she had a nose bleed, which would not stop. After the 15 minute marker, I ended up calling paramedics. Gracie was dizzy and faint and as the nose bleed continued, the colour was literally draining out of her. Deep down, I think I knew that I wasn’t calling paramedics just for a nose bleed, there was something bigger going on here.

This view was echoed by the paramedics, who told me, very kindly, that they felt that Grace needed to be in hospital now. Upon arriving, Grace had numerous blood tests and her obs and sats caused the doctors some concern.

After what can only be described as the longest wait I’ve ever endured, a paediatrition told me that I might want to consider calling my husband. I explained that he was due to pick up my younger daughter from school but would be here later. My world shattered a bit when I was told that David needed to be here now. Gracie was also asking for her daddy, in between sleeping and being confused. I rang David and told him to get to the hospital right now and then called on my fantastic friend, Essie, to ask her to collect Amelie from school and look after her until I knew more.

David arrived at the hospital and we were taken into a private room. This was the point where we were told that our beautiful little girl had cancer.

The prognosis was “good” we were told. If a child is going to get cancer, the cancer that Grace was suspected of having was the most easily treated, with high chances of going into remission.

In the space of a day, our lives went from talking about phonics and the girls’ homework, arguing over who was going to clean the guinea pig’s cages, telling the girls to eat their carrots, CBBC programmes and ballet classes to talking about chemotherapy, Hickman lines, Picc lines, steroids, bone marrow, blood transfusions and side effects.

Grace was very muddled when we told her. She understood that she was extremely poorly and would need to stay in hospital to get better. The extreme nature of her treatment plan was lost on her and we made the choice to only tell her what was completely necessary. She asked if her hair would fall out and we told her that it probably would. Grace new about the Little Princess Trust, thanks to Laura cutting her long locks a few years ago and she decided that she wanted to shave her hair ASAP and donate it. Her next question broke us, she asked in a tiny voice if she was going to die.

A ten year old child should not be having to think about their own mortality. David and I explained that all of the doctors and nurses were going to do everything possible to make her better and all she had to think about was fighting as hard as she could.

In the weeks since Grace’s diagnosis, she has had six blood transfusions and two platelet transfusions. She’s had three lots of bone marrow taken, four general anaesthetics, one of which was to place a line into her chest. She’s had more blood tests than I can count. She’s had different sorts of chemo, including having it injected into her spine, which made her very unwell. She’s been on steroids and is on a cocktail of medicines to try and fight this beast. She’s spent time in ICU  with suspected sepsis and has been so so sick. She has spent most of her time in hospital, only having half days at home here and there.

Side effects have included sickness and fevers. Her month and throat have been covered in large ulcers, making eating almost impossible. Grace has had headaches which have made her scream with pain. The combination of treatment and being bed bound has caused serious muscle wastage so now our once energetic and sporty little girl is confined to a wheelchair, on the rare occasions when she manages to get out of bed. The steroids made her angry and emotional, on top of making her sleep deprived and exhausted.

Then there was the hair loss. Nothing prepared us for that, even though we knew it would happen and had talked about it. Grace dealt with it better than us, simply rolling up the hair which had come out during the night and then saying “I think we should shave it because I don’t need my hair right now.” So that’s what we did. Grace has been rocking hats since then.

Amelie is struggling. At the age of seven, it’s a huge change to get used to and due to infection risk, she’s only been able to see Grace a handful of times. Our friends and family have been taking turns to move into the house, to look after Ame, to try and maintain some normality.

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Grace’s hair, ready to be sent off to The Little Princess Trust. Bye bye blonde locks. 

Ame and Grace’s school have been wonderful, fundraising to help us out as a family. Grace’s class write a letter to Grace every week to talk about what they’ve been doing. Even though she’s not at school at the moment, they still want her to feel included. Ame’s teacher, along with teaching assistants are giving her 1-2-1 time every day, to give her the time and space to talk. The nurses at the children’s hospital, where Grace is being treated, are also helping us to support Amelie and are helping her to understand what is happening to her big sister.

I’ll be honest, my reason for writing this is to ask for help. If you can give blood, please give blood. It takes less than an hour and will literally save a life. Prior to Grace becoming ill, I hadn’t ever stopped and considered how important blood donation is. The simple fact is, Grace would not be alive right now if it wasn’t for the wonderful people how have already donated blood and I wish that I could thank every one in person for saving my little girl’s life.

If you can’t donate blood, please consider donating to Rainbow Trust or the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group – two charities which have hugely helped our family.

As a family, we are scared right now. It physically hurts seeing Grace so unwell and it hurts seeing Amelie so sad and confused about what’s happening to her sister. Forcing your child to go through procedures which you know are going to cause pain goes against everything you believe in, as a mother. But the alternative is so much worse. I hate seeing Grace in pain and scared. I hate hearing her cries but I hope that one day, she will understand that it was all necessary to make her better. We know that we have a long journey ahead of us but our unconventional little family will only get stronger during this fight. We are Gracie’s Gladiators and we will not give up the fight.

 

Gastro-what?!

Over the past few months, I’ve talked quite a bit about my latest diagnosis of gastroparesis. A lot of the time, I forget that for most people, medical jargon and understanding over medical conditions isn’t common knowledge, so with that in mind, I thought that I would explain a little bit more about what gastroparesis is and how it affects me in day to day life.

Gastroparesis is a long-term (chronic) condition where the stomach can’t empty itself in the normal way. Food passes through the stomach more slowly than usual: essentially, the digestive system becomes paralysed and in my case, food doesn’t pass through the digestive system at all. It’s thought to be the result of a problem with the nerves and muscles controlling the emptying of the stomach.

Whilst my diagnosis of gastroparesis has come very recently, I have been symptomatic for a number of years but put the symptoms down to EDS or food allergies/intolerances. Symptoms of gastroparesis can vary but include feeling full very quickly when eating, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss or weight gain, bloating, pain and discomfort and heartburn. People can experience weight loss or weight gain, although weight loss is more common. These symptoms can be mild or severe, and tend to come and go.

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On top of the symptoms, there can be some pretty nasty complications as a result of gastroparesis. Dehydration can occur due to repeated vomiting, which can cause hospitalisation, stomach acid can leak out of your stomach and into your gullet, known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), malnutrition can occur as not enough nutrients are being absorbed and people can experience problems with their blood sugar levels.

There isn’t an obvious cause for gastroparesis, although it can be linked to diabetes, complications from gastric surgeries and links to conditions such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

There are various ways in which gastroparesis can be diagnosed. I was diagnosed following an urgent referral to gastroenterology and having a gastric emptying scan using scintigraphy. Put simply, during this test, you eat food containing a small amount of a radioactive substance which can be detected during scans. Gastroparesis is diagnosed if more than 10% of the food is still in your stomach four hours after eating it. Other diagnostic tests can include bariumX-ray and endoscopies.

Gastroparesis can’t usually be cured, but dietary changes and medical treatment can help you control the condition.. I have been advised to follow a FODMAP diet, combined with a diet which is designed for people with gastroparesis. Since February, I have predominantly been on a liquid diet, drinking supplement drinks and eating very bland and simple foods when I’ve felt able to. It’s boring but I don’t miss eating. I miss the idea of food and have, at times, had some weird cravings but when faced with a plate of food, I feel incredibly anxious which in turn, makes the nausea and sickness worse. Catch-22.

Day to day, my symptoms can vary. I can had days where I am sick numerous times and can’t move off the bathroom floor because I feel so ill and exhausted. Equally, I can go two to three days at a time without being sick. However, during those three days, anything that I try to eat, will remain in my stomach undigested, and I will then be very very sick. It’s unpredictable and can make planning anything really difficult. I don’t like leaving the house because I’m scared that I will be sick.

I’m also really really tired, likely to be down to the fact that I am malnourished and I’m not absorbing the necessary nutrients. My hair has been falling out and whilst this has slowed down a bit now, I have been left with bald patches, which I’m self conscious about.

And then there’s the bloating. I have lost a lot of weight since February but I look like I’ve piled weight on because of how bloated I am. Again, this makes me so self conscious. I hate seeing my reflection and do whatever I can to avoid mirrors or reflective surfaces. As much as possible, I live in jeans and baggy jumpers, although now that the weather is getting warmer, this is getting harder.

My treatment at the moment consists of dietary changes and medication. However, there’s no indication that either of these things are working; I’m not seeing my gastro consultant again for a few months and I’m worried that by the time I see him again, things will have deteriorated further. My biggest fear is that I end up in hospital, needing a feeding tube. Unfortunately, this is a likely out-come, and I feel like I’m just waiting for things to get worse in order to get a clearer treatment plan.

Like other invisible conditions, gastroparesis can be really isolating. You don’t realise how much society revolves around food. I’ve missed out of so many social events because they have been food-based activities. My friends get it, but at the moment, the idea of explaining to restaurant staff why I’m not eating is a huddle that I’m not quite ready to face. People also tend to feel awkward if they are eating a meal and I’m not. Nutrition is a chore and scary, knowing that there isn’t a cure makes this hard to deal with. It’s slowly becoming my new normal though and I’m sure I’ll get my fight back soon.

 

 

May Favourites

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Welcome to another monthly favourites post, looking at all the things I’ve been loving in May! I can’t believe how quickly this year is going, I feel a bit rubbish that so far, I’m yet to really achieve anything in 2018, but the additional free time that I have had, has allowed me to discover new things, which I guess is a good thing. As you will have seen by the blog posts that I have been posting this month, May is Ehlers-Danlos Awareness Month, so some of my favourites from this month will be continuing with that theme.

Books

Like last month, I’ve mainly stuck to young adult (YA) fiction this month because I’ve been massively struggling with brain fog, which has affected my ability to concentrate and take in anything where I am required to think.

Last month, I received my first “payment” for writing, in the form of an Amazon voucher. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t massively exciting but I’m pretty proud of myself. After some consideration, I decided to buy myself some books, because you can never have too many books. So, thanks to my Amazon voucher, I discovered Non Pratt, a fab YA author and I have made my way through Second Best Friend, Trouble and Unboxed. Second Best Friend and Unboxed were a pretty easy reads, for me, having only just over 100 pages, so I started and finished them both within the space of one afternoon. Neither of the books were especially stand out, although they were witty in places, but my reason for mentioning them is down to the fact that they are perfect for readers with dyslexia, with yellowed pages and a unique font. Not enough books are published with dyslexia suffers in mind but these books are accessible and age appropriate: struggling with reading does not mean that you should be stuck reading children’s books.

If you’ve read any of my previous monthly favourites blog posts, you’ll know that I am a huge fan of Cat Clarke, so it was a happy coincidence that I stumbled across Non Pratt, as a recommended author for people who love Cat Clarke’s books.

Speaking of Cat Clarke, her latest book We Are Young came out this month resulting in me sending a very excited message to Life of Pippa to inform her. I read the book in one day and I loved it. It’s a close call between We Are Young and Girlhood over my favourite Cat Clarke book. We Are Young was emotional, raw, powerful…I could continue, and I can’t wait until Cat’s next book is out. No pressure Cat!

One of my stand-out books of the year (bold statement, I know) has to be I Am Thunder: And I Won’t Keep Quiet by Muhammad Khan. Put simply: this book was amazing, literally the only fault that I could find with it is that it finished too soon. Despite this book again coming under the YA category of fiction, I honestly feel that everyone needs to read it. Muhammad Khan is a teacher in a British secondary school. He is also Muslim and writes about growing up as a British Muslim in the 21st century, having been inspired by media reports of the three Muslim girls who fled east London to join the so-called Islamic State. I don’t want to go into too much detail over the plot, however I will say that I learnt a great deal from the book and there needs to be more books ASAP by Khan. Go and buy a copy and educate yourselves.

Films/TV

I have finally watched The Greatest Showman, after months and months of wanting to see it. It didn’t disappoint and is now on my mental list of films that I will watch when I’m feeling a bit rubbish.

This month, I feel like I’ve gone back in time to the noughties and am reliving my childhood through films. I’m not ashamed to say that this month I have happily watched The Princess Diaries 1 and 2, Cheaper By The Dozen and Matilda more than once.

Since becoming unwell, I’ve been watching more videos on YouTube to keep me entertained. The Mandeville Sisters are great and I especially like how open they are around disability, mental health and their own body insecurities. The added bonus is that their videos are normally quite short so I don’t lose focus half way through.

Spoonie Favourites

This month, I had been planning on going to my second EDS meet up, held locally to where I live. These groups are run by EDS UK and I honestly cannot recommend them enough. However, my body had other ideas about going to the meeting and I was struck with a bad infection, but I wanted to mention the groups anyway, for people who might be reading this and are unaware of the groups. Living with EDS can be very isolating at times and whilst I’ve “met” plenty of people online with EDS and am very lucky to have my best friend, who also has EDS, the group has allowed me to connect with more people who live close to me. Having EDS is an on-going journey and I think I’ll always be learning about the condition and the best ways of managing it, but ideas and advice are shared in the group meetings and I’ve been given advice and support that I hadn’t considered myself.

At the start of this month, I was officially diagnosed with Gastroparesis. As my list of medical conditions grows and grows, I decided that the time had come for me to purchase some awareness cards, which I can carry around with me, in the event that I should fall ill away from home.

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These  cards are on top of a new medical ID bracelet that I purchased a few weeks ago. Funny story, I was a bit off my face on morphine at the time of buying my ID bracelet,

I didn’t realise that 1) it was an American site and that I was paying in dollars, not pounds, 2) it cost over $80 3) there would be a hefty customs  charge when the bloody thing  arrived in England. Don’t go shopping after taking morphine, kids. Although, as my friend pointed out, I managed to spell everything correctly and write the correct name for myself, so that’s one positive.

Whilst there is still a level of anxiety over leaving the house alone or being with people who don’t have a good understanding over my health, but the combination of the Stickman Communications cards and my ID bracelet has made me feel more at ease, should something ever happen to me.

Odds and Sods

Along with buying books with my Amazon voucher, I also bought a CD. Retro I know, but I prefer to listen to music in the car, as opposed to radio. Since seeing Pitch Perfect 3 in the cinema at the beginning of the year, I have re-discovered my love of The Cranberries, so I bought their greatest hits CD. The result of this is I will drive out of my way on journeys so that I can listen to more of the CD.

Towards the end of last month, I went to stay with my best friend for a few days. She had already introduced me to the wonderful pyjamas at Matalan, so when she suggested that we went on a trip to Matalan, I was not going to refuse. A girl can never have too many pairs of pyjamas. Sadly their pyjama range wasn’t that great but I fell in love with their home wear section and could have bought half the shop, had it not been for my small suitcase and needing to cross London to get back home. The quality of their products is so good and are fairly inexpensive. A quick Google later and I discovered that there’s a Matalan fairly close to me, which I have now visited a couple of times. A definite convert.

It’s been a while since I talked about how much I love The Body Shop, so I should probably rectify that. The Body Shop have recently brought out a new body lotion, which they are calling a body yogurt. I bought the almond flavour, as I’m finding that I’m struggling with sensory overload a bit and the almond scent is very mild and doesn’t invade my nostrils too much. Would definitely recommend.

My final favourite for this month is the general blogging community over on Facebook. Through this community, I have met so many like-minded people, learnt how to develop my blog and writing for an audience and had the space to talk about content and what people want to read about. Big thanks to the people who give up their time to facilitate the groups which allow this to happen.

 

Let’s Talk: Mental Health

May is a busy month when it comes to spreading awareness. On top of it being Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome awareness month, it is also mental health awareness month. May 2018 marks a decade of me suddenly plummeting into a world whereby I am all to aware about mental health and mental illness. and I’ll be honest, I have been dreading it.

In May 2008, a very close friend committed suicide. I’ve spoken about the suicide of Nicola and another friend in another blog post, but given that it’s mental health awareness month and a decade on from Nicola’s death, I wanted to touch on it again.

Nicola and I met at nursery, she was confident, sassy and clever. She took me under her wing and made me feel better about being forced to learn French and German and having to eat quiche for lunch. Her sassiness only grew as she got older, she stood up for what she believed was right and was fiercely loyal and caring to everyone in her life.

I found out that Nicola had died shortly before leaving for school, when I was in year 10. It didn’t seem real, I can remember telling my friend, who I was walking to school with, and there was a level of disbelief from both of us: considering the news that I had just received, I was incredibly calm, stating that Nicola had died as though I was announcing that the sky was blue. My day carried on as normal for a few hours, before I crumpled and the news really hit. It seemed impossible that my sassy and fiery friend was no longer alive.

Nicola hadn’t said anything to anyone in her life which would have given us a clue of how low she was feeling. This remains that hardest thing for me, ten years one, I maintain that I should have seen something, I should have picked up that she wasn’t happy.  I spent weeks and months analysing our saved conversations on instant messenger to see if there was something I had missed. It reached the point where I made myself ill analysing these messages and I convinced myself that I was an awful person for not picking up on subtle changes on Nicola’s behaviour in the weeks leading up to her death.

Prior to Nicola’s death, I am not ashamed to say that I was fairly oblivious to mental illnesses. Yet, all of a sudden, I was thrown into a world where suicide, depression, anxiety and self harm became every day language.

This is where I am going to be really honest. I’m struggling at the moment and in the interests of transparency, I’m admitting that, although I find it hard to. I am open and honest about my mental health: I talk to my GP, therapist and physiotherapist about it and I talk to friends and family. But I normally do the talking after the blip/crisis has passed, not during the moments of feeling rubbish.

A lot of this is probably circumstantial. On top of the on-going issues relating to EDS, gastroparesis etc, I am normal person sick. It’s not the end of world, but it has made things considerably harder and physically, I have felt crap.  Lying in bed with all the time in the world has given more too much time to think. Turns out that being malnourished adds a lot of time to the whole recovery from illness thing. Who knew?

I just feel sad. And it’s okay that I feel sad. I am allowed to feel sad. Three years post-EDS diagnosis and I have more or less got my head around the genetic monster that has invaded my body. It’s still hard, sometimes it’s really hard but I’m used to it. It’s my normal and I am used to dealing with that normal. Throw in gastroparesis to the mix and yet again I am feeling like I have been chewed up by life, vomited back up, chucked around a bit and chewed up again.

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Illness has changed me as a person. I don’t mean that in a philosophical way, I mean it in a literal way. Before I became ill, I was punctual, social, confident and fairly carefree. Now that I am ill the best way that I can describe myself is flaky. I cancel plans more often than following them through, leaving the house alone makes me so anxious because I don’t trust my body and it feels like a military operation if I do manage to walk out of the front door.

I cancel plans because I’m sick, not because I don’t care or value my friends. I hope that my friends understand this, cancelling plans isn’t easy and I will often need to psych myself up to send that text because I hate letting my friends down or making them sad, annoyed or whatever. We are currently half way through May and this year I have missed birthdays, theatre shows, meet ups, planned days out, events and meetings all because I am too sick to leave the house, or I am exhausted, overly anxious or simply without the mental willpower to actual deal with adulting.

I have had enough. I have had enough of this life. I didn’t ask for this. No one asks to be ill but right now, I am struggling with huge and unexpected lifestyle changes that I’m having to go through. I feel so so isolated, more than I can put into words. Which is obviously going to impact on how I’m feeling.

I’m an anxious, sad, tired mess and I want to run away and escape for a while. Although the irony of that is that I’m not well enough to do that. Eye roll. I think the fact that the weather is improving is another factor which makes things harder.   I want to be outside, drinking gin in a pub garden, going for walks by the river, having day trips to the beach or enjoying the countryside around where I live. None of that is possible.

Much like chronic illnesses, you can’t see mental illnesses but it is something becoming more and more prevalent in society, however that isn’t something which is reflected by the government’s mental health strategy.

When given the choice between being right or being kind: choose kind.

R.J. Palacio, Wonder

My message here is simple: be kind to people because not being able to see their suffering does not mean that they are okay. Give your friends a hug because they might really need it. Ask your friends and family how they are and give them the time and space to talk. Text a friend who you haven’t heard from, for a while. Reach out, care and be kind.

 

 

EDS Awareness Month: Stupid Injuries

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Prior to being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, I had a bit of a reputation of being a clumsy child. When I was in secondary school, my mum used to challenge me, at the start of every school term, to try and stay out of the local minor injuries unit and A&E majors and the trauma unit. I never succeeded. My PE teachers would despair each time I sustained a new injury, the school matron was sick of the sight of me and I’m fairly sure that I had my own supply for ice packs, because I went through so many.

Now that I have been diagnosed with EDS, the catalogue of injuries has grown but people are a little bit more understanding, although I do have to remind people that actually, I’m not clumsy, my body is just a bit wonky – I’m more prone to joint dislocations and broken bones – and sometimes, I’m simply very unlucky!

It would be a physical impossibility for me to go into all of my injuries. The nature of EDS means that I suffer from dislocations or subluxations every single day, often by doing nothing. I asked my mum for help when writing this because my memory isn’t the best at the moment. Her reply was “God. I don’t know, Laura, there is. So. Bloody. Much!” Instead, I’m going to explain some of the more memorable injuries that I’ve experienced in my twenty-five and a half years on planet earth. Looking back on my collection of injuries makes me incredibly grateful for the NHS and all of its fabulous staff.

I snapped the tendons in my little finger moving a piece of drama equipment in an after school drama club. I have no idea why, but I swear finger injuries are some of the most painful that I have sustained. This was my first finger injury and I found it pretty traumatic! I showed my friend my very very wonky and misshapen finger, whilst trying not to faint, she got the drama teachers to help and all I can really remember after that is being carried out of the drama studio, with my drama teacher singing songs from Oliver! as I continued trying not to faint. A senior member of staff offered to put my finger back into the joint, which I declined.

My friend dislocated and snapped the tendon in my index finger in a year 11 French lesson. I have talked about this injury in a blog post already and I can confirm that my poor friend is still teased endlessly about putting me in hospital and I still remind her of this injury when I want her to buy the first round of drinks in the pub.

More recently, I snapped the tendon in my index finger again, by picking a towel off the bathroom floor. You can imagine the looks that I received from medical staff in the minor injuries unit when I explained to them how I sustained this injury. Because picking up a towel from the floor is a very very dangerous exercise. The injury was more complicated than initially thought, meaning that I needed my whole hand splinted as it was the main tendon that I snapped, not the tendon at the tip of my finger. On reflection, I’m lucky that it has healed as well as it has done, because the injury wasn’t treated quickly, meaning that surgery was likely. As always, I like to prove people wrong!

A couple of months ago, I caught my little toe in my duvet and it dislocated. Not only did I managed to dislocate my toe, I somehow sustained a hair line fracture in my foot at the same time. I honestly have no idea how this happened.

Last year, I went to see Russell Howard on tour with one of my close friends. He was hilarious, I love that man. And I laughed so much that I dislocated my top rib on the right hand side of my body. It wasn’t especially painful but it put quite a bit of pressure on my lung. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough sense to see my physiotherapist as soon as possible after this happened, so my rib ended up moving and sticking up, underneath my collar bone, which made relocating it difficult.

Speaking of ribs, there was also the perilous massage, that I experienced a few weeks ago. Never. Again.

Three years ago, shortly before my EDS diagnosis, I damaged the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), which runs down the outside of the knee. This resulted in me needing to wear a hefty leg brace for around three months. I’ve had issues with my knee since the age of ten, but this injury wrecked my knee pretty badly and I now need to have on-going physio treatment on my knee to keep it working as well as possible. How did I sustain this injury you ask? I was moving my bed side table [not heavy!].

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On the same theme of The Right Knee, I dislocated my knee, standing up, after sitting weirdly on the floor for a long period of time. From memory, I think I was w-sitting, which is a sitting position which many people with EDS find comfortable. It’s also very bad for the joints!

Shortly after I came out of my knee brace, I went to Portugal with a friend. I decided to make the most of being injury free and we went on a high ropes obstacle course. The end result of me living wildly was that I somehow damaged my shoulder badly and needed surgery in the summer of 2015 to repair the rotator cuff and tighten the muscles, ligaments and tendons to stop my muscle from popping out of the joint.

Last summer, prior to being diagnosed with vasovagal syncope and mild POTS, I fainted whilst walking upstairs and hit my face on the bannister. The following day, I was rushed to A&E with a suspected fracture in my cheek bone and potential damage to my eye. Thankfully all was okay! My poor cat was also squashed during this episode and it stopped him from being my little shadow for a few days. Poor puss.

Linked to me being a little bit fainty: during a PE lesson in my GCSE years at school, we were having to do shuttle runs, starting in press-up position. My body couldn’t cope with the change in gravity, resulting in a blood pressure drop and me falling to the ground, via my shoulder and breaking it. I was banned from shuttle runs after this.

I’ve talked a lot over recent months about on-going gastrointestinal issues and how this has resulted in me being sick numerous a day. This has caused various issues, as you can probably imagine, not least numerous dislocations of my jaw and damage to my “sick muscles” as my physio very scientifically called them.

As I said at the beginning of this post, this is by no means all my injuries, I’ve missed out the broken bones and other operations that I’ve had and I’m sure there are other injuries that I have forgotten about. EDS doesn’t just affect my joints, it is a multi systemic condition, affecting all the connective tissues in my body, from my head to my toes. Life with EDS can be hard and it’s often very misunderstood by people, but when it comes to injuries, I have the attitude of “if I don’t laugh, then I’ll cry.” It helps that my way of dealing with pain is pure hysterical laughter, which can be confusing for the medical staff when they treat me.

If you want more information about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, you can do so here.

 

 

 

 

EDS Awareness Month: A Week in the Life

EDS awareness

 

As part of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Awareness month, I thought I was share a snippet of what my life is like, in the form of a week in the life. This week is pretty average in terms of appointments and I’m not having a flare-up of symptoms, which has allowed me to carry in as normally as possible.

 

Monday

Today is mostly being spent recovering, following a weekend staying with my best friend. It wasn’t a wild weekend, of any sort, but unfortunately, I need a few days to recover after doing something. The travelling, in particular, has taken it out of me a bit and as a result, I am in more pain that normal. My right knee is very swollen, due to a mild dislocation from walking too much. My back is also more painful than usual: coach seating and underground seating isn’t ideal when you have back problems!

A while ago, I got myself a “Please Offer Me A Seat” badge, which is issued from Transport for London. This means that I’m able to ask people for a seat on underground trains when it’s really busy. The badge isn’t always well received: on the surface, I look like a healthy young adult, meaning that I have to tell people that I have a hidden disability. Sometimes, I can’t face having this conversation, so I stand. This makes me feel very dizzy and I am unsteady on my feet as it is. Throwing a moving tube train into the mix means that I resemble Bambi on ice. Eye roll.

Overall, today hasn’t been too bad in terms of dislocations. My fingers have been a bit free-spirited, as has my wrist but nothing too alarming.

Dislocation Count: Two

What: Right wrist and fingers

How: Cleaning my cat’s litter tray and making my bed

 

Tuesday

I have been dreading today. This morning I forced myself to go swimming, following advice from my physiotherapist to try and slowly introduce exercise back into my life, to see if it helps with my motility and general mood. Having endorphins zipping around my body has definitely made me feel a little bit more positive about life. Exercise is also allowing me to reconnect with my body and feel in control, at a time when I feel very out of control. My physio has given me some hydro-therapy exercises to do in the pool as well. with the aim of building my my core muscles and strength – my muscle mass as greatly reduced over the past few months, which has had a knock-on effect on how well I control my EDS symptoms.

This afternoon I had an appointment with gastroenterology. When I last saw my gastroenterologist, I took my Vomit Queen status to a whole new level, so I was aiming low in terms of this appointment: as long as I managed not to be sick, it would be a success.

In terms of managing not to be sick, the appointment was a complete success. In less positive news, I was officially diagnosed with gastroparesis this afternoon. I feel a bit emotionally numb about the diagnosis, it’s basically confirmed something which had been suspected since the beginning of the year but my consultant told me, very simply, that I will never have a normally digestive system again and aiming to live without vomiting is something that is incredibly unlikely. That sucks a bit, but I’m trying to focus on the fact that now I have a formal diagnosis, my medical team can start to formulate a clearer plan in how best to treat me.

Dislocation count: One (I think)

What: Rib(s)

How: Being sick

 

Wednesday

I had an appointment with my therapist over lunch today so we took advantage of the timing and did a supported meal. Well, she had a meal, I had a supplement drink, but that still remained a challenge, as I have hit a bit of a wall in terms of managing my intake through liquid nutrition drinks.

We also talked through my appointment from yesterday and how I’m feeling about what was said. I’m still feeling pretty numb about things, although the overarching feeling is relief more than anything. I suspect that in time, once the reality of the situation has hit home, there will be some tears and swearing. In general though, I’m feeling calm about things.

I went swimming again this morning. Whilst exercise is helping me mentally, I think that I might have overdone it slightly: my shoulder is very painful. I’m trying not to move my arm too much as movement makes the pain worse.

Dislocation count: Two

What: Thumb and toe

How: Picking up a box and walking

 

Thursday

Blood test this morning, to check my inflammation markers, as my last blood tests, run by my GP, showed that my C-reactive protein (CRP) was raised. I think a full blood count will also be checked; I normally have a full blood test every three to four months. As usual, there was a slight issue in finding a vein, I’m 99.9% sure my veins know when they’re able to be stabbed and go into hiding. I’m grateful that the nurses at my GP surgery know me well and remember that I’m a bit of a bleeder.

My aim had been to have a rest day today but that ended up not happening.

Dislocation count: One full and one partial

What: Shoulder and jaw

How: Taking a jumper off and yawning

 

Friday

Back again at my GP surgery, this time for an appointment with my GP. We talked through the medical side of my gastroparesis diagnosis – my consultant wants me to try some different medication, so my GP prescribed that today.

I feel really really tired today, partly because it is so warm at the moment. Not working does have a few benefits though and one of them is being able to sit in the garden and enjoy the rarity that is the sun in Great Britain. Lots of people have asked me how I keep myself entertained as I’m not working. The answer is simple: reading! When I don’t have the concentration levels of read an actual physical book, I listen to audiobooks.

Dislocation count: One

What: Shoulder

How: Taking a jumper off

 

Saturday and Sunday

Very hot again over the weekend. Hot weather is a blessing and a curse when it comes to having a chronic illness, my joints much prefer warmer weather to cold weather but POTS, vasovagal syncope and asthma are not huge fans and I need to be careful that I don’t become dehydrated. Having POTS and vasovagal syncope means that my blood vessels are a bit rubbish when it comes to doing what they should be doing. In simple terms, they are too relaxed and slow at contradicting and dilating, so blood pools in my frets and hands, meaning that my brain doesn’t get enough blood, which makes me feel dizzy and unwell.

On the EDS side of things, whilst my joints are less stiff and painful in warmer weather, I end up swelling up and this causes pressure on joints around my body. I have no idea why this happens, or if this is a common EDS thing…but basically whatever the weather and my body isn’t happy. Eye roll.

The hot weather has also played havoc with my sleep, so I’ll probably be spending next week catching up on my missed sleep over this weekend. People with EDS are likely to have adrenaline issues and that makes it really hard for us to fall asleep and stay asleep. And when we do fall asleep, we are prone to having crazy vivid dreams which feel like reality to us, combine that with being on medication which can cause vivid dreams and nighttime can be an odd time for me! I’ve also struggled with painsomnia over the past few nights. This is insomnia but with added extreme pain, meaning that I am in too much pain to sleep. Great fun.

Dislocation count: Three

What: Jaw (x2) and ribs

Doing what: Being sick

 

I hope this has given you an insight into what life is like with EDS. As I said, this has been a fairly average week for me, if you’ve seen out out and about, I won’t have looked sick, but lots of stuff has been happening that isn’t necessarily visible or obvious unless you know me well. Remember: you don’t have to look a certain way to be unwell!

 

 

EDS Awareness Month: What We Want You to Know

EDS awareness

In case you missed it or it wasn’t overly obvious by the title of this post, May is Ehlers-Danlos Awareness month – a month when all of us zebras come together and celebrate our wonkiness and rareness, whilst spreading the word about what EDS actually is.

Throughout April, I asked people for their help in putting together an awareness article about what EDS actually is, how we felt when we were diagnosed, whether that diagnosis was easy to come by and what we would like people to know. I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has contributed to this, quite simply, it wouldn’t have been possible without you.

Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) are a group of rare inherited conditions that affect connective tissue. Connective tissues provide support in skin, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, internal organs and bones.

The different types of EDS are caused by faults in certain genes that make connective tissue weaker. EDS can affect people in different ways. For some, the condition is relatively mild, while for others their symptoms can be disabling. Some of the rare severe types can be life-threatening.

In total, there are 13 types of EDS:

So that’s the technical side out of the way, this is what we would like you to know about life with EDS.

“When I was diagnosed with EDS, I was overwhelmed and felt this weird combination of relief and disbelief. Here was a legitimate answer to problems I had been having since I was a baby, they weren’t all in my head. It was real. I am a textbook EDS case, but no one had caught it. This showed me how little medical professionals actually knew about my genetic disease. I also couldn’t believe that EDS doesn’t have a cure or a specific treatment. I was overwhelmed with the fact that I would be dealing with these things for forever. I was fifteen when a doctor told me I had EDS, but my definitive diagnosis came when I was sixteen. I became wheelchair bound exactly a year before my definitive diagnosis came, but the word EDS was never even mentioned to me until 8 months after I became dependent on the chair with every doctor telling me that nothing was really wrong. If I had known about this underlying condition, I would have avoided tearing out my joints at such a young age. The major damage came after I was misdiagnosed with conversion disorder by a hospital who refused to do testing or examination and insisted I was crazy. I was put through 6 hours of intensive physical therapy everyday for a month, and left the facility answerless and in a wheelchair, which I have been confined to ever since. 

What I want people to know about EDS is that it may not always be visible, but it’s real. It’s not anything you choose and not your fault. It’s not just a joint problem; it’s an entire body problem with co-morbidities and constant pain. Your life doesn’t have to always revolve around your sickness; you can have friends and family and hobbies. Your illness will affect your life, sure, maybe even every aspect of it. Find doctors that empower you, are knowledgeable about your condition, and are committed to helping you feel better.” Ella

“When I received my diagnosis from my geneticist, he talked for an hour about all the other health issues that can go along with EDS, such as gastrointestinal issues, dysautonomia, heart problems etc. He ended the appointment saying that I was going to be getting care to benefit my quality of life, not curative care. It was crushing to hear that I would deal with this forever. I was SO overwhelmed.

EDS affects everyone differently. It can be severe for some and not for others. Keep in mind that everyone with EDS struggles with different things.” Emma

eds

“The one word that comes to mind about receiving my EDS diagnosis is relief. I was so relieved to finally know what was going on with my body, and I was happy to have proved so many doctors wrong because it wasn’t “all in my head.” At the same time, I was scared because my diagnosis meant I had a progressive, lifelong illness. From the start of my prominent symptoms, it only took me a year to be diagnosed. I am very lucky. However, I have had some symptoms since as long as I can remember because you are born with EDS so technically a diagnosis took 15 years. If I could tell the world anything about EDS, I would say that it’s not just EDS. Stereotypically, EDS affects the skin and joints, but the truth is, our faulty connective tissue is everywhere, and it affects everything. Many of us have debilitating comorbidities. I, for example, have several allergic reactions a day and I get violent shaking from a lack of proper blood flow. And that’s just skimming the surface.” Allie

“As a child, I was always very flexible and my joints cracked a lot but most of my symptoms started three years ago: pain subluxations, strokes, tachycardia, malaise, sleep disorders plus more. If was a relief for me to have a name. Five months laters and it’s a little harder to say that this will be my life.” Ophie.

“I was lucky that I was diagnosed when I was 10. As I was so young the diagnosis didn’t really mean much to me. It meant a lot to my parents though. Before my diagnosis I had been accused of attention seeking, my mum had been accused of having Munchausens   and making me ill. My parents had also been accused of physical abuse because I was always injured. I was then told that I possibly had leukaemia and bone cancer so actually getting a final answer meant the world. A diagnosis also meant that I could finally get some help for the constant pain I was in.

I wish people took EDS more seriously. Just because I look healthy doesn’t mean I am not in agony. I’m also not lazy, my body just won’t let me do certain things” Beth

“When I first got diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome I felt so happy that I cried. That may seem strange to some but for the first time ever my symptoms weren’t “all in my head” and my doctor had an idea of what could help me instead of the usual “I don’t know what else to do” answer. I was diagnosed at the age of 25 but I had many symptoms my whole life that were worsening. I would like people to know that EDS effects more than just joints. It can effect the organs to make them not work properly and can worsen in time if not taken care of.” Amber

“When I was diagnosed, I was so relieved. I finally felt like I wasn’t faking it. It took 16 years to get a diagnosis, I had symptoms as a baby and it just got worse, until I was diagnosed at the age of 16. I would just like people to know that EDS exists. It’s hard to get the people who love you to accept it as a real thing.” Anon

“I started getting symptoms when I was 11 and hit puberty…over 10 years I became more and more unwell with other symptoms, as well as EDS. I was bedridden for months and housebound for years, with the NHS telling me that it was chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. I had various forms of intervention but nothing worked. 

When I was officially diagnosed, I was super relieved just to have a name to what was going on. Having a diagnosis allowed me to create a health plan and feel more positive about things. 

I think that it’s important to raise awareness about EDS and how hard and vague the diagnosis process is. Most of my doctors hadn’t heard of EDS, so I had to educate myself.” Alice

 

dazzle-definition

 

“When I first got diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome I felt so happy that I cried. That may seem strange to some but for the first time ever my symptoms weren’t “all in my head” and my doctor had an idea of what could help me instead of the usual “I don’t know what else to do” answer. I felt heard and my symptoms made sense. I was diagnosed in Oct 2017 at the age of 25 but I had many symptoms my whole life that were worsening. I would like people to know that EDS effects more than just joints. It can effect the organs to make them not work properly and can worsen in time if not taken care of” Amber

“Being told that I have EDS was life changing. Before that, I was constantly accused of pretending to be injured and as a family, we went through a few months of my parents being accused of hurting me. No one believed me when I said that I didn’t know how I was injured. People still find my situation hard to understand but I don’t worry as much now. I want people to know that EDS is real.” Jack

“I was symptomatic for about 3 years before I got hEDS diagnosed. It took 2 more years to find a good team of doctors to treat it and get various other things with it diagnosed. I got really symptomatic at age 18/19 and got diagnosed at age 22. I’ve been symptomatic my entire life though. All I felt was relief and frustration that it was missed for so long. I want people to know that well-managed EDS and co. Isn’t a death sentence. I often barely notice it unless I’m in a flare-I have done a lot of work to get this far. Keep working with your doctors to get a good treatment plan, you can live a good life if it’s well-managed. Also don’t be afraid to get new doctors if you don’t agree with how they are treating you-long term it paid off greatly. You got this!” Kathryn