Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Night Owl/Stem Cells/Resilient Amoeba

5/26/2010 01:18am

Nocturnalism is only a problem if everyone else in the world is not nocturnal.

I meant to write this blog yesterday afternoon. I knew what I wanted to write - not at that exact moment- but I knew it was there in my head somewhere. I'd thought about it before, and I just needed to concentrate and find it and get it all out. I tried to sit up at the computer, but after two minutes or so I was lying on the couch and all I could think about was how warm the sun was. I tried again to write this morning but that didn't happen. Then I was really going to write this evening but I couldn't, I couldn't do anything. Now that it's 1 am and my head is clear and I'm able to write I can blame my failed attempts on one of two things: brain fog, or nocturnalism.

I think there was a time I thought nocturnalism was my whole problem. I thought it was just my unfortunate natural rhythm, and how would everyone else feel if they were supposed to sleep all day and work all night? Probably the way I did.

In college after I'd gotten enough studying done, I'd still stay up all night looking up things that interested me in LexisNexis, and one thing that interested me was nocturnalism, which sadly is not a really a word but should be. I remember reading an article by a woman who had been trying to write a book, and one day she realized the only way she'd ever get it done was to give into her natural tendency to be nocturnal. Once she "gave in", She went from barely writing a paragraph a day to writing pages and pages through the night. She woke up in time for dinner with her family, started writing when they went to bed, had breakfast with them, and went to bed again after they left for school. I wondered if that was the only way I would ever get anything done in my life. My noctural friend and I fantasized about a college where we could take classes from 5pm-5am.

Lately I've been laying the blame for my "day-night reversal" totally on the CFS. It's a typical symptom, it's a sign of impending adrenal collapse, etc. But the other day when I was repeating to my dad what my acupuncturist had promised me, about "naturally feeling more alert during the day and more like sleeping at night as I got better", when I was complaining about my nocturnal tendencies, Dad laughed and reminded me that the tendency never went away for him. We're both congenital night owls. Laying awake in bed has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I used to make up lots of games to try and fall asleep. I counted slowly in my head up to the thousands. I read hiding under the blankets with a flashlight. I thought of this today when a friend told me she was thinking of trying melatonin. (I've tried it, didn't do anything.) She said that two different families she babysat for gave it to their little boys. Kids today! Why can't they hide and read like we did back in my day, instead of bothering their parents with their awakeness so much that they are forced to drug them? ("Awakeness" also needs to be made a word.)

I definitely get the feeling I should be ashamed for my nocturnalism, that it's abnormal and immoral and unproductive. I feel guilty staying up to write this, despite the fact I couldn't sleep anyway no matter how hard I "tried". And what about "morning people"? Life was always so much kinder to them, particularly in middle school when the bus came at six am. I remember telling my friends how I kept getting to the bus stop later and later because it was getting harder and harder to wake up in the morning. One girl said, "Really? As soon as I open my eyes in the morning I want to get out of bed. I don't get it - wanting to stay in bed when you're not asleep anymore?" It was a critical moment for me, realizing that there were people like this out there, and that I hated them.

"Dr. Byron M. Hyde, a physician who studies CFS in Ottawa, Canada, has suggested that major sleep disturbance may be one of the very first symptoms of CFS to develop."*

That's my segue from the sleep problems part of this blog to the CFS part.

I've decided to put off the stem cell decision for awhile. I'm going to make an appointment to see Dr. Cheney again in October. Then it will have been one year of treatment with cell signaling factors (CSF's). My echo terrain map showed improvement in April, after six months, so maybe it will be close to normal in another six. And in the mean time maybe I will start feeling "functional improvement."

From Dr. Cheney's 2008 article:

Through the first six months of therapy, there was no significant improvement in functional measures (KPS) but some notable changes were seen in both echocardiography (drop in IVRT, p < 0.00006) and in impedance cardiography (rise in stroke volume, p < 0.00004). However, during the next six months, notable improvement was reported by some patients attributable, by most participants, to the heart/mesenchyme porcine extract.

There was a time when I thought that I might as well shoot myself up with placental stem cells, I'm already lathering up twice a day with CSF's from bison. But it's not the same thing. Dr. Cheney has really done a good job making the case for his confidence in the safety of the stem cell transfusions, but I'm still going to wait. My dad read the rest of Stem Cells for Dummies for me (I'll get to it soon) and he said "On a scale of +/-1-10 I went from + 5 in favor to -8 against using Stem Cells for CFS."

The main impression I got from talking to him is that it's still a highly experimental treatment and there's a lot that isn't known about stem cells. I'd already decided to put off my decision before he told me this though. I'm not ready. I need more information, and if there isn't any, I need to more time to mull over what I've got, though I'm well aware I shouldn't mull too long. My one year CSF anniversary seemed like a good deadline.

I think Dr. Cheney is going to make the human derived CSF's available soon. HPE- Human placental extract. They're from the same source as the stem cells you'd get in Panama, but it's not the cells themselves, just the signaling factors. Not sure what exactly that means, except that it probably won't work as well as stem cells, but I know at least one patient on the trial has made a huge improvment on the echo cardiogram, although without any "clinical improvement." But that might come in time.

In the words of CFSpatientadvocate:

In regards to this last item Dr. Cheney related his enthusiasm about a new gel that he has made from afterbirth material. Citing studies on hamsters, Cheney described a process where non-stem cell material is extracted from stem cells and injected back into the hamsters, curing them as if it were stem cells. Dr. Cheney has made a similar gel from human afterbirth that gets a very strong reaction on his Echo machine, much stronger than any existing CSF. He is very excited about this.

I do wonder if I am being too cautious, especially when I see other people I know a lot more willing and ready for stem cells than I am. But I just don't want to do it if I don't have to and I'm hoping, maybe naively that if I keep up with the CSF's, the human CSF's, acupuncture, herbs, rest, pilates (which is supposed to strengthen the immune system) the the right diet, and even the right attitude, I can get well without stem cells. I've also been a little more open minded about ARV's and I've been reading At this point though I think I'd still try stem cells before ARV's, but who knows.

If there is a real chance to be healthy again, I will not let it pass me by.

Some long awaited test results:

Mold: On the ERMI scale of 1 to 4, 1 being safe 4 being dangerous. My apartment got a 1.9. I'm in the moderate zone. So I don't think I'll be moving...

Amoeba: I tested "equivocal" twice by saliva. Then I did two weeks on the really strong antibiotic Alinia, which I am still recovering from, GI-wise. Guess what? My test for parasites went from equivocal to positive! How did that happen? For now the doctor is saying maybe we tested too soon and I should do the test again. He's sending me a kit. If it's not negative this time I don't think I'm going to do the antibiotic again. My digestion has actually been pretty decent.

Thyroid: Still don't know if I have tertiary thyroid syndrome. My blood test (TSH, T3, T4) results were in the normal range but it's the urine test results I am waiting for.

Most annoying symptom lately: Burning sensation in the back of my throat that is making me want to constantly drink massive amounts of water.

*Neenyah Ostrom, America's Biggest Cover-Up: 50 More Things Everyone Should Know About The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Epidemic And Its Link to AIDS

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Remember, insomnia is only a problem if you have a job or a reason to live."

I've been busy. Sure, people with CFS can be busy. When you need 12 hours of sleep each night, if you have one thing to do, then that day, you are busy.

As part of my quest for perfect health and immortality I thought it was about time I started exercising. Nothing aerobic of course, but something to at least "get moving" and "circulate the lymph" and maybe even reverse "the downward spiral of deconditioning" I'd been in ever since I was pretty much bed-ridden those six months.

I put it off for awhile because I wanted to find the perfect physical therapist or personal trainer, and a few months ago I did. Except she's not actually a physical therapist or a personal trainer; as she would say, "Animals have trainers, people have teachers."

Last week I had three hour and a half sessions. I plan on doing three this week too. I almost didn't make it this morning for my 2:00 appointment. I was still in bed at 1:30 when she called and asked if I could come at 2:30 instead. "Sure, no problem."

Her studio is right in my neighborhood, it's like a eight minute drive, (though if this wasn't LA it'd be a three minute drive) any longer and I could never keep it up. But the coolest thing about her is that she had CFS. I was skeptical at first, but I believe her now. I think she was skeptical of me too. We'd both met people who like to say they have CFS when they don't really.

She's largely recovered now, after 20 years. She works, takes long walks, takes out her own trash, cooks, shops, but still is careful not to take on too much. She attributes her recovery mostly to juice fasting. She wants me to get into it eventually, but I'm wary. I could say she is an inspiration, "If she recovered than so can I!" etc, but that's not how my mind works.

I did make it to my session today. It really feels good to be exercising again. Sometimes it feels like I'm working really hard, holding a lunge for so long my legs are shaking and I want to cry, but I've never been sore yet, so we aren't working too hard. We haven't pushed my limits, at least for my muscles.

I'm afraid I'm pushing some kind of limit though. It's 5:00am, I'm awake, and I feel fine. No desire to sleep at all. I wish I felt this good during the day. I do actually feel some kind of "energized" after a workout, but it isn't useful energy and it doesn't last long. I'm afraid I'm approaching serious day-night reversal again. I feel like I'm in school and it's the second week of the semester. Insomnia is so much less stressful when you have nowhere to be in the morning. (Or afternoon...) But I've scheduled physical therapy Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and acupuncture Tuesday and Friday. Thursdays and Sundays are my only days off.

I hope I get some sleep tonight, can wake up at noon, brush my teeth, take my medicine, get dressed, eat something, and drive myself to acupuncture, or call and ask a friend to drive me if I'm too brain-dead. Brain-fogged...

I don't want to give up on the workouts yet though. I'm already getting stronger. When I bend down to open the lowest dresser drawer, I stand up again without even thinking about it. There's a lot of little things like this that are tremendously encouraging. I'm hoping eventually it will really help with my upper back and shoulder pain, and maybe some of the pain, tingling and numbness in my arms and legs.

Maybe I should cut back to two times a week, but I'm going to try for three a little longer. This is my chance to really learn something, and thus feel a sense of accomplishment which can translate into satisfaction and happiness. It feels so good to be immersed in something to learn, to have a teacher again.

But it's not worth it if it pushes me back into nocturnalism. Nothing is worse than not being able to wake up morning after morning when you have somewhere you're supposed to be. Already my mornings are getting shorter and shorter. I have a feeling tomorrow I will jump out of bed at the last minute, take my medicine, and run out the door. I'll be a few minutes later, and I'll hate it. I won't shower, I'll feel dirty all day. And then there's a good chance on Wednesday I will wake up just enough to call and say "I'm not going to make it in today," and go right back to sleep until three or four pm. Or I might be too tired to call and just be a no show.

I know this pattern well. It's why I haven't tried to go back to school this year again.

I hate it when it comes to this. But it's either this or be pre-emptive by scheduling nothing, and I can only do that for so long too. There's still a part of me that doesn't know it's sick. It's been through a lot of disappointment.

I used to be able to deal with the day-night reversal a little better. I drank a lot of coffee and red bull, that helped.

I wrote this in early 2007, a few months after I dropped my classes mid-semester for the third time, to describe my "Denocturnalizing" process. I knew something was wrong with me, but I was a few months away from learning about CFS. I wasn't exactly blaming myself anymore, I'd realized by now my sleep problems were not ordinary, were beyond the powers of human discipline, but I still felt a sense of stigma.

Up early? Or up late?

People ask me this a lot even though they must already know the answer. Gas station cashiers ask when I come in at 3am to buy coffee. For all they know I could be up starting on some fabulous road trip, or my job as a morning anchorwoman. For all they know.

The coffee shop down the street opens at 6:30. I was there by 6:50. Apparently they've had espresso-banana smoothies all this time and I never knew it. So I had one this morning for breakfast. They're very good. I'll have to add it to my Map of Excellent Drinks. (The best bubble tea is in Cornell, the best chocolate milk in Syracuse, mocha colas are in Ohio Arabicas, etc.) There was one other person there at that early hour. She was wearing bulky headphones and typing on her laptop. (Non-macintosh)

More people started coming in. By the time I left at 8:30, there were about six people sitting around with coffee and newspapers and laptops. I watc
hed in amazement as they entered and exited, probably on their way to their jobs. I focused particularly on this tall bald man across from me reading the paper. He'd been there at least a good half hour. I wondered, does he do this everymorning? And I imagined myself asking him,

"Do you do this every morning?"

...and the conversation took off in my head,

"Do what?"

"This! Get up early, shower, put on a warm looking cream colored sweater, stop at the coffee shop, drink a red-eye and read the paper for a half an hour before you go to work?"

"Oh. Why, yes I do, more or less."


And then I'd turn to the girl on her laptop,

"Do you do this every morning?"

She takes off her headphones when she sees me speaking to her.

"Excuse me?"

"Sorry. I was just asking, do you do this every morning?"

"Do what?"

"Wake up"

"Yes I do. I get up every morning before I go to my job at the hospital."


"Why? Don't you wake up every morning?"

"Me? Certainly not! I haven't woken up the last four mornings."

"What do you mean you didn't wake up? What did you do?"

"Just kept sleeping right through until the evening. Eventually I would get out of bed, but by then I'd have been merging in and out between consciousness and dreaming for so many hours that you could hardly call it waking up. That certain verb requires the action of the transition from one state of mind to the next to be completed within a half an hour at the most."

"I guess."

"I'm only here because I've been awake all night and need to remain so for the rest of the day."

"Ok well, good luck with that."

And I sleepily journaled this a few months ago. I'd just seen the new Alice in Wonderland:

"Why, there's only one way to get to tomorrow, and that's sleep. Sleep is the only way to get to tomorrow."

"But I didn't sleep at all last night, and here I am."

"Are you?"
Title quote from an old Onion article.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Endless Vacation

I'm supposed to be making a decision right now, aren't I? Something about stem cells?

It really has been on my mind constantly, and at one point I had almost decided: the risk is minimal, the potential benefit is immeasurable, so it isn't a matter of if, but when, and if it's only a matter of when, isn't sooner better than later?

"If not now, when?"

But there's still a part of me that's afraid of the unknown. The unknown being, "Who's cells are these anyway? And does even it matter? Does it? Even a little??" I decided to conquer my fear of the unknown with knowledge. I decided to acquire this knowledge by going to Barnes and Noble and purchasing a copy of Stem Cells for Dummies.*

I've never liked any of the for Dummies books. I don't have a lot of time (energy) to spare so if I'm going to read a book it has to be not only informative but well-written and preferably enjoyable. That has not been my experience with any of the Dummies books. But after googling Google Books and scouring Amazon Listmania I came to the conclusion that this was probably my best bet. There just aren't many books about stem cells out there, at least not in the context I'm looking for. If you want to find a book about embryonic stem cells: ethics, morals, dreams, possibilities, then you have plenty to choose from. But adult stem cells, specifically "cord blood" stem cells, not so much.

I figure I should put some kind of deadline on my decision, like, a month from now, whenever now is. I haven't actually done that yet. June 10th?

So far I have only gotten through the first chapter of Stem Cells for Dummies. That was three days ago. I read it in study mode, pen and highlighter in hand, ready to reread what I didn't understand, to find the most important points.

So far, this is what I've taken to be the most important points:

1. It's funny there's this sudden big fuss! Stem cell research is hardly new!
2. However, we hardly understood anything about how stem cells work at all!
3. All stem cell treatments are highly EXPERIMENTAL and DANGEROUS
4. Beware of "patient testimonials" and "the placebo effect"

I put the book down after the first chapter and haven't returned to it because it made me really sad. It's making me "face reality", and it's depressing.

There's this whole delicate balancing of dichotomy one has to deal with when one is living with chronic illness: on the one hand, life sucks. On the other hand, you have to make the best of it. I worded it broadly like that so that healthy people can relate. The thing is though, I don't think they really can. When you are sick you can never forget the bad part for too long because no matter how long you can go walking around thinking positive and looking on the bright side there will come a day when you are in so much pain you can't get out of bed, you can't think, you can't read, you can't talk, you can't do anything to take your mind off the fact that you are really really sick and may never get better.

You could liken this problem to this article today in The Onion, imagining what it'd be like if the prolific political dissident Noam Chomsky tried to take his mind of things just for one day:

"Sources said Chomsky took what was supposed to be a refreshing drive in the countryside, only to find himself obsessing over the role petroleum plays in the economic and military policies that collude with multinational corporate powers."
"All right, all right," the noted critic and philosopher said, "I'm going back home, writing one—just one—reasoned, scathing essay, and getting it out of my system. But then I'm definitely going back to the park to walk around and just enjoy the nice weather. I'm serious."
"Because there's got to be more to life than the way that wage slavery strips the individual of his or her inherent dignity and personal integrity," Chomsky continued. "Right?"

For a while there I thought I should be miserable all the time. Anger, depression, sadness, they have a purpose - they motivate you to change. But eventually I realized I could be happy and accept my situation without losing the will to keep trying to change it. I've gotten pretty good at fooling myself into thinking my life is not so bad. After all, the world is full of misery, suffering...wage slavery. Why should I be an exception? All and all, life is ok.

But then here I am holding a book that might as well been called Stem Cells for the Desperate. I'm reminded I have a terrible disease and that yes, things are pretty bad. In gleefully thinking ahead to what I would do if I became a "functional cure", wondering which college I would go back to, what I'd major in, I'm forced to remember how sad I was, how much grief I went through, having to give these things up in the first place.

On the night I had the bad insomnia, before I wrote a blog, I wrote a lot of other things including a list of the happiest times of my life. There were no rules for the list except it could only consist of the first things that came to mind. I came up with twelve, paused, thought a little more, and ended up with twenty. Some were single days or events: an awesome road trip, the time in 7th grade I stayed home sick by myself and spent the entire day on the internet. (Sounds totally ordinary and even tedious now but at the time it felt like the biggest, guiltiest most wonderful indulgence of my life.) Most items are longer periods of time: freshman year in high school, freshman year in college, the six months I spent learning guitar, "all of childhood."

When it was done I realized they all fell into two main categories, times I was working really hard and times I was on some kind of "vacation." I also realized that they pretty much stopped after 2004, the last year I was well enough to work a full time job or complete a semester of college. This is what I frantically typed in my hypergraphic state:

Sadly there are no happy times after 2004, except a road trip or two. That’s six years of unhappiness. No offense to the people in my life at this time, it’s not you, it’s the disease. Fleeting moments like awesome concerts (Faint/Fever, Hives, Dandy Warhols, Momus, Divine Comedy, Phillip Glass, Terry Riley), good books (Middlesex, Pride and Prejudice, Strange and Norrell, Outliers...) discovering new favorite bands, listening to good music, the time ____ _____ kissed me on the cheek, don’t make it. Notice those are all passive experiences. They enrich real experiences, but can’t produce real happiness themselves. CFS makes you settle for a life of passive experiences.

Half of these are about working hard, half of them are about play, travel, vacation, relaxing, etc. With CFS you can’t do either. Also notice there is nothing to do with food there, even though I love new food, new restaurants, etc. But I don’t think back to when I used to come home from school and zone out in front of the tv and eat a box of goldfish crackers as a particularly happy time. So even though there’s been some things that you’d think would be on the list...World Cup Trip, Alaska Trip, learning IPA (I almost put that one), they just didn't make it because they occurred after 2004.

Work hard, play hard. I first heard that expression from my Dad my first year in high school. Now I can’t do either. Sleep hard, try hard, see no is hard. Everything in vain. Pain, insomnia, alienation. Denial. Not things that make humans happy. So what have been the happiest times these last five years? I could pick them out, but, they wouldn’t really be happy times, just “happiest” in bad times. I don’t think I’ll ever be happy again unless I can work, learn, and play. All I have now is tiny pieces of these old things. Except the internet, I can spend as much time as I want on the internet, but it’s not a treat anymore, is it?

I came to the conclusion that being unable to work or play, I was living in a kind of purgatory, and the only way I would ever know happiness again was to get healthy enough to work (or go to school) and the only way to do that was with stem cells.

And yet, I'm still not sure. For one thing, there's no guarantee that if I got the transfusion I would be healthy enough to go back to school. There's also no guarantee that even if I feel better enough to go to school for one year, even just part time, that I'd still be healthy the next year. It might wear off. I imagined a life where I was going to school part time in the spring and fall, and instead of spending my summers at internships or abroad, going down to Panama every summer for a reboot, for new DNA, and then spending three months regenerating in my cocoon so I could go back to school in the fall. At that rate, if I didn't do a double major or any extra electives, theoretically I could graduate in six years and it would only cost $60,000 + tuition. Hurray!

I still haven't totally let go though of the myth of stem cells as a magic bullet. Maybe I'd only need one transfusion and I could go back to school full time. Who knows. And if I believe that, then I also have to believe that if I don't rush right out and get them, it means I am afraid of life, that I don't want to go to school, that I don't want to get better.

I know that's nonsense, but, sometimes it's how I think. It's stories like this from Dr. Cheney that make me think this way: The only person who didn't feel any difference from the stem cells was a 56 year old lawyer who was working 60 hour weeks and felt terrible. He wanted to work 60 hour weeks and feel good. (He still had CFS, it's a wide-ranging disease.) When I heard that I did not think, "Whoa, that guy is a workaholic who's being way too risky and using stem cells like they're the fountain of youth." I thought, "Damn, this guy loves life way more than I do."

And then when I found out they were now doing intrathecal transfusions, (transfusions into the spinal column) he said there had been six so far just last week, but there were six people down there now, and when they heard how great the other six felt they all said they wanted intrathecal transfusions too! Who are these people? Don't they know about decision trees???

I can't even think about intrathecal transfusions right now. As I understand it, injections into the bloodstream are pretty safe, your body knows what to do. The brain on the other hand, is stupid. That's why when embryonic stem cells are transplanted in the brain they just multiply and multiply and you get tumors. Is it the same with adult cells? Is it the same when they go into the spinal column? I don't know, and I don't mind waiting a little longer to find out.

I'm always wary of being thought a malingerer. I assume everyone with CFS is. By 2006 I had started and dropped out of three consecutive semesters. However, I had never heard of CFS, I still had no abnormal test results and no other diagnosis than "depression." Also, I wasn't the only kid to ever take a semester off. I knew lots of people who had dropped out mid-semester or planned some time off to goof off or find themselves or whatever it is angsty, young, thoughtful people do. For awhile I thought I was one of them, but by 2006 I had realized there was something really wrong with me even if the doctors couldn't find it yet, that no one else was this tired. It took my friends and family a little longer to come to this realization though. There was one particularly painful instance, when my best friend, who had taken some semesters off herself, but was now pushing through to finish and get her degree, essentially told me that I'd been on vacation long enough, and it was time "to stop fucking around and grow up." Is that what she thought I'd been doing all this time? I told her, rather meekly, that I didn't think of this as "time off", that I thought of it as "sick time." She just rolled her eyes and it was the end of the conversation.

I think it's in Stricken, can't find the exact quote: a teenage boy who gets ME/CFS and is out of school for the whole year. His friends think it must awesome to stay home from school and play video games all the time. "Yeah it's nice, for a month, but not for nine." After nine months, even if he isn't anxious to go back to math class and homework, he at least must be aching to ride his bike around the neighborhood. And then the longer you're sick, the sicker you get...

To anyone who thinks CFS is an endless vacation, I would invite them to think so in the context of the Ramone's song, Endless Vacation. You only need to listen to the first few seconds to get the picture.

*This is not meant to be a review of Stem Cells for Dummies, like I said, I've only read the first chapter and skimmed through the rest. Even though I am disappointed that there just isn't enough of the kind of research I was looking for out there, so far, I actually think this is a really well written and informative book, despite not mentioning Chronic Fatigue Syndrome once in it's 360 pages, like everything else I've read about stem cells.