Getting Creative in Order to Minimize Pain: An Orchard Corset Review

This is my review of the corset that I recently got from Orchard Corset, as well as my thoughts and experience in dealing with the company itself.

Disclaimer: A month or two ago, I contacted Orchard Corset explaining in detail my interest in trying one of their corsets (for the reasons that I write about below), and they very kindly agreed to provide me with one (free of charge), in exchange for my feedback on this particular issues. They also agreed to allow me to document their product and the results—honestly, whether good or bad—for others in similar situations.

So, I want to thank them, as it’s not often that a company is interested in the way in which their product may benefit, or be utilized by, someone with a rare disorder, and I really appreciate the genuine interest they showed. I also appreciate them agreeing to allow me to write an honest review of my experience with it and them on this site.

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As one might imagine, adequately dealing with a disorder that potentially impacts literally every inch of the body in one way or another, can become astonishingly expensive. Proper splinting or bracing with connective tissue disorders can go a long way to helping reinforce faulty tissue and prevent further joint damage. The more something subluxates or dislocates, the more unstable the tissue holding the joint in place becomes, and the more likely it will be to do so in the future. Thus, prevention of this stretching of the tissues—the earlier the better—can be key to keeping the joints stable, and minimizing pain.

Medical braces are extremely expensive however, and depending on where you live, they’re often not included in medical insurance plans. Finger ring splints alone can cost $40.00 per finger, with longer lasting materials potentially increasing the price dramatically from there. Like many other people, I’m unable to afford properly fitted medical braces, despite their potential to help prevent—or at least decrease—endless pain and problems down the line. In particular, I could likely see the most immediate and life-improving difference from this with some of my spine and rib issues. Specifically, a brace like this could help compress and reinforce my very easily dislocated ribs (maybe not the very top ones, but the lower ones that cause the most pain and are the most unstable). It could also help support and straighten my spine, which already has numerous painful, degenerative problems—the worst of which are in the lumbar region. It could also help support my spine enough to largely correct my posture, which is usually very hard to do on my own.

With all of that in mind, I’ve spent the past few years looking at corsets as an alternative, hoping that they might act as a more reasonably priced substitute. Unfortunately, because I live in such a small town I’ve had no choice but to look online, and the first few that I tried were either too cheap and very poorly made or just ill-fitting. Eventually the numerous disappointments started to add up, as did the combined price of them, to the point that I wasn’t able to keep trying.

Recently though, I decided to look again, just for the hell of it. The first company that came up was the aforementioned Orchard Corset. From there, I started to really look into them—so that I wouldn’t end up making a mistake again—and everything that I found suggested that this would be the time that everything worked out. When you’re looking for something online, you’re forced to rely entirely on the information that the company or store that you’re dealing with has provided. On top of that, there are a lot of things that can factor into a corset in particular; finding the right one and using it properly isn’t as simple as looking for clothes. It can feel overwhelming at first for a newcomer like me: trying to find the right type and style, taking your measurements properly, making sure you know how to properly look after it, or even put it on—it’s a lot to take in.

I was immediately impressed when I saw that Orchard Corset has a blog with numerous different categories, where they’ve already answered every question you might ever need or want to ask. In addition, for those who do better with visual or verbal direction, they also have a YouTube channel where they’re on episode 89 of corset Q&A, demonstrating everything from how to accurately get your measurements depending on your unique body type, to whether it’s okay to sleep in your corset (and 87 other things!). They also keep a very open dialogue with their customers (a newer experience for me) and seem very dedicated to what they’re doing, which instills a lot of confidence for someone who’s in relatively uncharted waters as far as personal experience with the subject goes.

Having said all of that, here’s my personal—and honest—experience with the corset itself. To start with, they helped me find the corset that seemed the best suited for the purpose that I wanted it for: the Steel-Boned Longline Underbust Satin Corset w/ Hip Ties (CS-426)—(pictured above). I’ve spent the last month trying it out and getting used to it, which has been a lot less difficult than I was imagining it would be. Aside from the very first day (where it felt, understandably, a bit strange and restricting), I’ve found that I can quite easily wear it for hours at a time (most of the time, pain allowing), which surprised me given the severity of my pain issues. It seems to be made very well and does it’s job perfectly. The material it’s made from has also been easy to wear and hasn’t caused my skin any discomfort thus far, despite how tightly it’s pressed against it, though I do prefer to wear it over a thin shirt in any case. 

Overall I’ve been really happy with the results so far. Obviously my underlying pain issues are still going to be there, but it seems to both compress and help stabilize my lower ribs without being painful, as well as adjusting the alignment of my spine to give it a bit of a break when needed. I’m able to get it on by myself with relative ease which was something that I was initially concerned about. Their recommendation that I try a corset with hip ties has also proven to be an added plus, as it’s allowed for that extra little bit of adjustment. 

In conclusion, I can say definitively—and with ease—that I would recommend anyone else dealing with similar issues, who’s unable to afford custom medical braces, try one of these corsets. I would also happily recommend doing so through Orchard Corset specifically, as they’re by far the best corset company I’ve dealt with in regards to customer service, expertise and the quality of their corsets themselves. I’m really happy that this is an option that’s available in cases like mine and that I was finally able to find one that actually made a positive difference.

Eye and heart updates (again).

With everything that has been going on with my optic discs and brain lately, I never took the opportunity to write about the outcome of my cardiologist and ophthalmologist appointments from last March.

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My cardiologist appointment didn’t go as well as we’d hoped; my aorta had grown a bit since my last visit, which is never the greatest thing to hear, but it was also still quite stable overall. To get a better idea of how quickly it may or may not be progressing—and to maybe start me on treatment with Losartan if necessary—the cardiologist wanted to see me again in 6 months for an MRI. And, the MRI results showed that in those 6 months my aorta hadn’t grown any further, so for the time being it’s still safe to leave it be. I’m due for my next checkup in about 2 months, so we’ll see how things are looking now. I’m quite relieved at the results, and as far as I know my aorta is doing pretty well for someone my age with MFS, so, no complaints there.

As I’ve mentioned before on here (in “It’s hard to go through it again.” and “We always carry on, and sometimes it gets easier.“), the lens in my right eye suddenly shifted early one morning as I was getting out of bed. This was the third time that I’d experienced something like this with my lenses, so I was pretty certain I knew what was going on. It was somewhat devastating at the time because both times this had happened before, I would end up needing surgery soon after, and my vision would never be the same. But, thankfully it was (and is!) still hanging on because of some factors we weren’t aware of.

When we got to my ophthalmologist in Vancouver he told us that my lens was indeed holding on by one suture instead of two, which was why it had shifted and was now relatively (but not completely) loose. What we didn’t know was that during my last lens reattachment surgery, only one suture had come loose, so he only had to replace the one. We had always assumed both had been replaced. So now, the new suture is still stable and hanging on, but the original suture from my lens implant surgery—13 years ago—has finally let go. This can help account for why this lone suture has managed to hang on two years longer than last time—it’s relatively new and strong.

The trouble is, with only one suture holding all of that weight—in combination with the weak tissue from my disorder, trying to support it—we were told that it’s not a matter of if it fully dislocates again, but when. Sometimes it’s hard to sit here waiting for the other shoe to drop, not knowing when we’ll have to rush back to Van for yet another eye surgery and all of the difficulties that entails. But, I was already expecting another eye surgery, and having these extra years in between has been a gift, so the news wasn’t too bad.

My ophthalmologist was (and is) a bit concerned about some of the complications that a loose lens can cause regarding inflammation, hemorrhages and retinal swelling, so,— as long as the lens is hanging on—we’ll have to go back to Van every 6 months to check on all of those things. On a positive note, the lens in my right eye has had both of it’s sutures replaced, so it should be much more stable and less likely to subluxate like this one did, which is an incredible relief.

So, those are my—as per usual—long overdue eye and heart updates. I can’t believe it’s been nearly two years since everything with my lens kicked off. I’m so surprised and grateful that it’s still holding on.

Thanks for reading!
– Katie

Struggling with POTS

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One of the conditions that I’ve been dealing with—that I don’t often talk about—is known as Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, and it frequently co-occurs with the type of connective tissue disorder that I have. What this “syndrome” means is that, though I usually have a healthy resting pulse, when I stand it increases, often dramatically so. The effects that this can have and the list of symptoms that it causes seems near endless—and while my POTS isn’t as debilitating as it is for others, it does make an already difficult disorder sometimes seem an even more monumental task to cope with.

As an example, here is an incomplete overview from Wikipedia on just some of the most common symptoms:
• palpitations
• light-headedness
• chest discomfort
• shortness of breath
• weakness or “heaviness” in the lower legs
• blurred vision
• headache
• decreased concentration
• mental clouding
• extreme fatigue
• nausea
• near-syncope
• difficulty sleeping
• fluctuations in weight, memory
• pallor, or sweating

I experience every single one of those effects—most of them on a daily, continuous basis. And, this is despite the fact that I’m on a high dose of another difficult medication to control it. The medication itself also causes it’s own problems. While it does lessen the amount that my heart rate rises upon standing, it also causes my already low-normal blood pressure to fall quickly—and dramatically—along with it. This, ironically, also causes many of the same symptoms I’m on the medication to treat in the first place. Despite this, the medication seems necessary for the time being because, while it doesn’t prevent a large increase in my heart rate entirely, it does keep it from going as high as it often did without—and prolonged tachycardia (of any kind) can be hard on the heart, particularly with my disorder.

POTS is also a difficult disorder to navigate, as symptoms may be exacerbated with things like: “prolonged sitting, prolonged standing, alcohol, heat, exercise, or eating a large meal“. I seem to have to tip toe around it in order to help keep it controlled, but frustratingly, the path that I need to take to do so often conflicts with the things I’m supposed to do to minimize the effects of some of my other health issues. For instance, nearly every recommendation for helping someone with POTS (like increased salt and fluid intake), is the opposite of what I’m supposed to do to help stabilize my intracranial pressure.

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This was my pulse and blood pressure while sitting down.

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And this was my pulse and blood pressure shortly after, while standing up. My heart rate increased greatly, while my blood pressure fell just as much.

This can be a frightening thing to live with—the possibility of it’s effects worsening, hanging always over your head. That’s something that can be hard to ignore when you’re dealing with such prominent (and at times all-consuming) symptoms. I know that on the whole I’m lucky. I can still walk around normally without a wheelchair and haven’t begun to lose consciousness whenever I stand. That’s something that I absolutely know to appreciate with this syndrome. But—at the same time—dealing with all of the other ways it’s effecting my quality of life on top of a debilitating disorder can be difficult, and exhausting.

The hospital stay: part 2

Continued from yesterday.

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The spinal fluid leak and post-dural puncture headache.

During the lumbar puncture they were instructed to get fluid for diagnostic testing, but also since they were so sure my problems were caused by increased intracranial pressure, to both measure said pressure to prove that theory, and to drain some extra fluid to see if my symptoms improved. But, they were really surprised to find when measuring my pressure that it was well within the normal range. I was confused, surprised, and worried. They were also confused and unsure what to do next, so they decided to drain some fluid anyways just to see if my symptoms improved (something that I also thought was a good idea at the time). Now I should mention that before the LP another big concern of mine was a potential complication that they call Post-dural puncture headache, and the continued leaking of spinal fluid from the puncture site. My connective tissue disorder puts me at a higher risk for this because my tissue is weaker and doesn’t repair or heal itself properly. Within hours of the LP it was clear that I was suffering from exactly that. The pain from the headache if I’d sit or stand up came on quickly, and severely. Likely made worse by the spinal fluid that was already drained during the LP and the fact that it was drained despite my pressure being perfectly normal to begin with.

While most leaks eventually seal themselves and the headaches and other symptoms then resolve, I knew that in my case my tissue likely wouldn’t be able to do so by itself. When this happens they do another spinal injection, called a blood patch, where they inject some of your blood into the area around the puncture site, which triggers an inflammatory response and usually successfully seals the leak. Despite my telling them that my connective tissue disorder would almost certainly make a blood patch necessary, they said that they won’t do blood patches until it’s been a week because by then most leaks have resolved. This brings me to something that I noticed often in the hospital: when mentioning my connective tissue disorder, those who even knew what it was, would act as if it changes nothing in the way that they handle my case. This can be both frustrating and scary because your connective tissue is everywhere, and when it’s weak it has the potential to change nearly everything big and small about how your body reacts to virtually anything that done to it from a procedure to surprisingly medications. For instance, as I observed and pointed out near the end of my hospital stay, my tissue was necessitating the frequent changing of my IVs, because otherwise the IV would fail and my vein would end up inflamed and sore. Up until that point, they’d been trying to leave the IVs in for as long as they would with any patient, and my weaker tissue couldn’t handle it. This happened many times without anyone taking into consideration my disorder, despite me frequently mentioning it.

As for waiting an entire week for a blood patch; the thought was terrifying for me. The pain in my head was nearly unbearable at times, and even laying down didn’t fully resolve it. But what made it worse was that with my chronic pain, particularly my back issues, having to lay flat on my back for very long without being able to change positions is very painful. And now that was the only way I could lay. I couldn’t begin to imagine having to do it for a week, yet there was no other position that I could tolerate from the severe headache.

Pain, vomiting and frustration.

The next morning, I was told that my doctors had decided that they wanted to do an MRI. The MRI didn’t show anything that could be causing the swollen optic discs either. It did show that I had an enlarged pituitary, a sign of intracranial hypo-tension, resulting from the spinal fluid leak and confirming that the severe headache I was experiencing since the hours following my LP were from that. Considering all of the information my doctors in the hospital had on how my ICP hadn’t been increased, was now far too low, and continuously lowering still from the leak, and the fact that I was in that much pain because of it; I still can’t understand why they would ever think that it was a good time or decision to start me on a diuretic in order to further lower my ICP (which can be dangerous!). Given that my first dose of the medication was that evening (after doctor’s rounds) and I wasn’t aware that they were planning on putting me on it and hadn’t been spoken to about it, my nurse essentially gave me the option of either just taking the medication until my doctors could talk to me and authorize them taking me back off of it, or she could write down in my file that I was uncooperative and refusing to take my medication. So, since I’m not a very confrontational person and I was too tired and sick to argue it further, I took the medication, knowing it could likely make a nearly unbearable problem even worse.

Once I saw my doctors the next day they said that they agreed that I shouldn’t begin taking the medication yet (you think?!), with no explanation as to why they didn’t just agree with that in the first place without making me worse off with it instead. My pain was pretty excruciating at this point and I hadn’t really slept much in the past week with everything going on. My mom wasn’t a whole lot better off but she was there for me no matter what, and it was a lifesaver to have someone there to help advocate on your behalf because frighteningly at times, my treatment in the hospital (supposedly one of the best in Canada) was dismal and at times bordering negligent. I was left to deal with the horrible acute pain of everything going on with little more than what I take at home on a daily basis to begin with, and for the first few days because of some mix up with my medication forms, they couldn’t even give me ibuprofen. They eventually, after prodding, started to give me what they called a “headache” cocktail every 8 hours, which I was relieved and hopeful about. The cocktail was an IV anti-nausea medication, followed by an IV drip of an NSAID (ketorolac). I thought maybe I noticed a slight improvement at first but soon – maybe from the still lowering ICP – it wasn’t doing anything but making me sick.

One of the things that they say is incredibly important with a spinal fluid leak is to get plenty of fluids. But by this point the low ICP (and the ketorolac) was making me vomit even just from trying to drink water. Despite being well aware of that, it wasn’t until I told my nurse that I was probably getting dehydrated and should be put on fluids that she said she’d mention it to my doctor. A few hours later they had eventually hooked me up to fluids, and I continued to not be able to eat or drink without throwing up. But still, after 24 hours of not having to urinate once, I was pretty sure that I was still dehydrated, perhaps severely at this point. This was when I found out that the amount of fluids they had put me on was equivalent to about a cup of water a day, which is well under the needed amount for an average person, never mind someone who’s both leaking spinal fluid and continuously vomiting. I told my nurse that I couldn’t drink anything and wasn’t getting enough IV fluids and despite all signs clearly and obviously pointing to that being a major problem, she still seemed unsure about it. So, instead of upping my fluids immediately, instead, to see if that really was the reason that I hadn’t been urinating, she insisted on first scanning my bladder for an obstruction. I had to so strongly point out all of the reasons that dehydration was going to be the problem that I was starting to get weepy and exhausted because I couldn’t understand why I was having to fight for this in the first place. It’s hard to explain how this feels; when you’re in severe pain and unable to move, frequently throwing up, and having to literally argue the importance of the most basic human need (water) to the people who are supposed to be taking care of you. I felt like I was constantly fighting for the simplest things in the hospital.

I want to say here that I’m a very easy going, compliant and non-confrontational person, often to a fault. I have a difficult time sticking up for myself, even when it’s right and needed. I also understand that being a nurse is a very difficult job. They deal with an incredible amount and they do one of the most important and demanding jobs that there are, often without thanks. But, that being said, there’s also a standard of care in hospitals, and it’s frustrating, and frightening when that standard of care is repeatedly not being met, or when the simplest things are made difficult simply because you’re not being thought about as a human being or listened to. It’s an incredibly helpless feeling to be bed bound, and in severe pain, and to have the people with power over you, who are responsible for taking care of you, often failing in the simplest areas of that job. To end up dangerously dehydrated while your in the hospital seems unacceptable to me, particularly when someone is repeatedly pleading with you to do something about it.

There were so many instances in the hospital that made me feel that way. There were days where I was informed that they hadn’t ordered a medication that I was on from the pharmacy yet (spoken as if it were no big deal) and was told that I’d have to miss a dose, and I’d then have to make a point of fighting just to get a medication that I had managed to never miss a single dose of at home. There was also the time that my IV machine kept repeatedly beeping in the middle of the night indicating a problem in the flow of my IV and despite me telling my nurse multiple times that I could feel fluid dripping down my hand, instead of simply looking at it she kept trying to adjust the machine or untangle the cords. Then she’d go away for a few minutes only to have to come back again when it would start beeping. I felt pretty badly for my room-mate that night. When she did finally turn on the big light to check, my IV was leaking blood and fluid down my hand which had been the problem, so now she had to try to do another IV in the middle of the night. Two hours since the first beep, two nurses trying, and 3 IV pokes later the problem was finally resolved when it could have been almost immediately instead.

Unanswered questions, an uncertain diagnosis and it’s connection to my disorder.

My neuro-ophthalmologist was surprised that my ICP hadn’t been high. He was certain that must be the problem because none of the other scans and tests had shown anything else that could be causing the optic disc swelling. He wasn’t entirely sure of what to do to help my eyes at that point, so decided (as mentioned earlier) that the easiest course of action for now would be to put me on a diuretic, just to see if there was any improvement and then to watch me closely in case my vision deteriorated. We decided that the med should wait until my ICP recovered from the spinal fluid leak, and then we would slowly begin the new medication (which can be difficult to tolerate). I felt really frustrated, not at anyone, just at the fact that here I was again, in a difficult medical situation with no clear answer.

Luckily for me, someone with the ILC foundation that I often correspond with and who knows and works with many others with my disorder, as well as with possibly the top neurosurgeon in the world dealing with problems related specifically to our rare disorders, helped me get some answers. I later found out that there is indeed a link between both high and low ICP, and connective tissue disorders such as mine. It seems that for whatever reason (they haven’t been able to figure it out yet), our bodies can’t always regulate our spinal fluid flow and “draining” system properly, which can result in an ICP that can fluctuate between being normal, to too high, to too low. This can cause symptoms like headaches that can come and go, and when the ICP irregularities are prolonged this can cause symptoms like swollen optic discs. And while I’m not happy to have another rare, often unknown side-effect, of an already rare, often unknown disorder, I am glad that I’m not the only one and that there are some answers out there. It made sense as to why my ICP was completely normal when it was measured despite all of the symptoms and signs I’d been experiencing pointing to it being too high before. This problem, whatever the cause, can be difficult to treat, but that was a bridge I would cross once and if I got there.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it but slowly each day dragged on and ultimately passed by. My symptoms briefly improved enough for me to walk up and down the halls outside of my hospital room a few times, holding on to my mom, but they quickly went back to how they had been, picking up new symptoms along the way. I started having problems with my hearing in both ears which I was certain was from the low ICP, but at the time the resident neurologist, who I saw the most during my hospital stay and who tried to do my LP the first time, told me that it was physically impossible (not even just unlikely, but impossible) that my low ICP and my ear problems were related. This scared me because he said it with such certainty, and I was now thinking that either something else was now wrong with me, or that I was losing it and it was just in my head. Frustratingly, we later found out the ear related symptoms I was experience were in fact one of the most common symptoms of low ICP and was absolutely caused by my spinal fluid leak. Which strikes me as the kind of thing that he should know, and if he didn’t know then I wish he would’ve just said so instead of telling me that the thing I know that I’m feeling is actually impossible.

Blood patch and being discharged from the hospital.

Eventually, when it was finally nearing the week mark since my lumbar puncture, it was decided that it was time to do the blood patch to seal the spinal fluid leak. I can’t even begin to explain what an enormous relief that was to hear. I was also a bit afraid, knowing that they’d have to do another spinal injection in the same spot, but without radiology. Luckily for me the anesthesiologists had a much easier time than the neurologists had. It took him three attempts, but he interestingly used the nerve pain it was causing to help him find the right spot. When he brushed a nerve (unfortunately for me) the first time, he asked me which leg I felt it in, and when I said the left, he seemed to move the needle over to the right side, and when I felt the pain again, but this time in my right leg, he moved the needle ever so slightly back to the middle, which worked.

Blood patches are not a guaranteed fix for a spinal fluid leak which scared me. I was told that they work about 80% of the time, but I felt like it was doomed to fail after everything else that had gone wrong. They often work immediately but as much as I wanted to say that it had worked when the doctors asked me, I noticed no improvement whatsoever in the hours following. So, we were told not to give up hope and that it was very important that I lay flat on my back and not move, because that just might get it to work. And eventually, ever so slowly, I started to notice a gradual improvement. By then, I was so desperate to get out of the hospital and so happy that I could see a light at the end of the tunnel, that I played up how well I was already feeling as much as possible and told them I was certain I was good enough to go back to the hotel. Even then I was fully aware that I should have waited at least one more night in the hospital, but that stubbornness kicked in again. I was still in pretty bad shape, and both sitting and standing for too long were still incredibly painful. By the time I exited the taxi and made it to my bed at the hotel it was nearing my limit of tolerance, but every hour I found myself able to sit and stand a little longer each time I tried.

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Saying goodbye to my hospital bed!

We had one last appointment with my ophthalmologist to see how my eye infection was doing, which was also pretty hard to get through pain-wise, but it also signaled the longest that I’d been able to sit and stand since my lumbar puncture, and that I really was on the mend.

Getting home, and how things are a year on.

Before long we were on an airplane home, finally, a few weeks after we’d left. But frustratingly, we were returning with a lot of unanswered questions and uneasiness, on top of the incredible relief. My optic discs weren’t better, and the lack of a concrete, simple explanation for what was going on left us worrying about how or if we’d be able to treat it.

During my hospital stay, because of the trouble we’d had with my IVs, I also ended up with thrombophlebitis which is an “inflammation of the wall of a vein with associated thrombosis”. It was in the hand that 2 (out of 4 or 5) of my IVs had been in, both of which ended up having problems and leaking. The veins on that side of my hand have hardened and were at first red, visibly inflamed and often painful. While this condition can usually be avoided by changing the IV once a week, it seemed that with my fragile tissue even a couple days of an IV in the same spot ends up being too long.

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The residual redness and inflammation in the back of my hand and veins.

All in all, things have been up and down since then. The medication has been very hard to tolerate at times particularly in regards to my P.O.T.S. It takes many of the difficult symptoms of that and exacerbates them, particularly the fatigue and faintness. Often at times it can cause very painful pins and needles in my legs, but as my dose has decreased this symptom has nearly disappeared.

We travel to P.G. to see an ophthalmologist, at first once a month, but since my eyes have been relatively stable, now we go every 2 months. Then we travel back to the neuro-ophthalmologist in Vancouver first every 3 months and now every 4. Sometimes my ICP doesn’t seem to be too high and sometimes there are signs that it is indeed too high again (like a lack of pulsations in the back of the eye caused by increased ICP). The swelling in the optic discs tends to still be there, though this last appointment in Vancouver it was decided things were looking really good so we could try lowering my medication to see how things went. Now I’m waiting for my followup appointment in Prince George to see if lowering my medication caused a worsening of the swelling or pressure.

It was a bit of a difficult and scary year at times. And by the time I finally got home I was covered in bruises and reminders of everything that I had been through. But now, it’s hard to believe that’s how long it’s been since all of that kicked off. I can’t imagine going through any of it without my incredible mom. She was there every single step of the way, no matter how awful she was feeling or how difficult things got. I’m so, so lucky to have that support through things like this.
And, thank you to all of you for sticking around, and to the amazing few who actually made it through this novel of a post (I don’t blame you if you didn’t!).

– Katie ♥

Better late than never.

Apparently the writer of this blog has fallen off of the planet altogether. Or, at least that’s what it may have seemed like after over 18 months of complete radio silence from me.

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Things can change very quickly when you’re living with a chronic, degenerative disorder, and when they do writing updates about it (on the blog you chose to start specifically for that purpose, mind you) can rapidly evolve into a fairly daunting task. My disorder’s rare and complicated and it can drastically change how my body reacts to even the most routine of medical interventions and procedures, so explaining any new developments in it’s progression can often require that I take many branching, long-winded detours into explaining all of the relevant factors involved. So, inevitably I procrastinate writing the update, all the while my illness continues to throw new complications and side effects at me, adding to that ever-expanding list of what needs updating, and so on.

Fortunately for me, in the grand scheme of this thing called life the difficulty with which I maintain this blog – that I elected to do in the first place – is about as trivial an issue as it gets. Still, that’s how it might just end up that before you know it it’s been a year and a half since your last update, instead of the week or two that you had planned on making it to begin with. Good job Katie.

The other reason that I found it difficult to commit to writing was the severity of the effects that my disorder was (and  often still is) having on me over this past year. This was both because it’s difficult to think and write when you’re very ill, but also because this was a dark and frightening time for me and I’d been stubbornly hung up on wanting to write some posts that were lighter in tone after the more serious ones that I’d been churning out since my eye started having problems again. I worried that people may not want to check in anymore if the tone of the blog seemed constantly dark and dire (apparently I figured people would prefer to check in and read absolutely nothing, instead). But, avoiding the worst of my disorder goes against one of the core things that I’d set out to do with this site, which was to write about the reality of my illness. Not how I wish it was, or how I want others to think it is, but how it actually is, even when that means that the tone of my writing will at times be dark and depressing.

In all honesty though, I do apologize for disappearing without so much as a word for such a long time. Luckily for me, the most serious consequences of that would likely have consisted of a simple thought here or there about where the Tissue Tales girl may have gone off to, or whether she’ll ever post again. That being said, I received a number of really kind and much appreciated emails from some of you, who were just checking in or saying hi, and I thank you very much for that. It’s nice to be thought of once in a while and the support that writing here has afforded me from and through all of you guys has been incredible and deeply cherished. There is such a sense of understanding and caring from the individuals and groups that I have been fortunate enough to have been introduced to through this blog, and I do miss it immensely when I’m struggling or away for very long.

So much has gone on since my last proper update that I’ve been wanting to vent about and share with you; starting with what has essentially been the catalyst of everything that’s gone on in the last year – my stay in the hospital – and the complications that lead to it in the first place. That’s the first and lengthiest thing that my update needs to cover, so from here on out I’ll be working on posting that, and afterwards some of the other things that have gone on.

Once I’ve more or less filled in all of the gaps of the past 18 or so months then hopefully I can get back into the routine of blogging regularly again. I have desperately missed this, and all of you, that’s for sure. For those of you that are still here after all this time: thank you so much for sticking around, I really appreciate your patience and continued support. You’re fantastic, as always.

– Katie

There are days.

Broken Flower

There are days in life that have the potential to permanently alter the course of your future for the better; days that could make some of the things that you live with easier from that point onward; days with the ability to get the ball rolling towards some positive, long overdue change. Yes, there are days like that.

But sometimes those days instead end only with missed opportunity; another lengthy appointment with disappointment, and another added mark on your overflowing wall of let downs and discouragements. Those days that, instead of giving you a piece of your life back – no matter how small – end with you being left to go back and suffer endlessly, in the same painful reality, once again feeling defeated and abandoned by the only people with the power to truly make a difference in your life.

The 8 long months leading up to that day passed me by in slow succession: cloaked in a bleak and melancholy air that hung heavy over and all around me. The weeks were almost entirely marked only by the increasingly debilitating and all-consuming pain in my lower spine that brought about the need for that day in the first place. Things were consistently deteriorating right before my eyes, and I was frighteningly often struggling desperately just to pull myself out of bed each day.

While time passed and I waited, I forced my mind not to linger too long or too often on the possibilities of that coming day, which sadly – experience has taught me, over and over – would most likely end in the exact disappointment, frustration and – should I allow it – devastation, that it did. Or, worse than letting my mind focus on the fear of things ending badly, I couldn’t let the hope in. If you have hope it only hurts so much worse when that hope is shattered. I couldn’t take the crippling pain of getting your hopes up and then having them destroyed, on top of everything else.

But, I did get my hopes up a bit – I couldn’t help it, it’s all that I had to prop me up. And so, as hard as I tried not to let it, some hope did manage to find it’s way in. But, I think that was what had carried me these last months through all of the pain: that little bit of hope that maybe someone was about to help find a way to lessen it for the first time, and that maybe this person would finally be the one. My fears about hope ended up being perfectly reasonable in the end – despite not having all that much of it to begin with, it was still a devastating thing to have and then lose.

I’m back at home now, back to my reality, and that day has gone and passed. The pain continues on in the same ever-worsening way that it has for the past 10 years – exactly one half – of my life, while my body continues to fall apart in a constant string of new and unexpected ways. And that day is ever further behind me, without having given me anything to help carry me forward. And now? Sometimes, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to. But yet, somehow I always do.

Sorry it’s been so long again, things have been tough.
Lots of love to you all. ♥

-Katie

A guest post by Destiny

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“My name is Destiny, and I am 20 years old. I love Panda’s. I’m a pretty plain girl…I love the colors black and white! Oh yeah, I’m also dying. Yep, I’m 20, and I am dying. How wonderful, right?”

I was introduced to Destiny’s story and Facebook page a few months ago by a fellow EDS zebra. Destiny is the same age as me and has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type 4 which is the vascular type. This is considered one of the most severe forms of EDS due to the extreme fragility of the blood vessels and organs that it involves, which can lead to the rupture and tearing of many of the body’s major organs and blood vessels. The first thing that I learned about Destiny was that she’s incredibly strong and brave. The second – which you’re about to see for yourself – was that she’s an amazing writer with a gift for helping her readers see things through her eyes. The above paragraph that she wrote, in my opinion, sums up the kind of person she is; despite everything she’s lived and is living through – which is more than anyone should ever have to endure – she’s kind, cheery, funny and optimistic. She’s stoic beyond belief and there’s such a warm bright light within her no matter what she faces. And, she was sweet enough to let me use the following post as a guest post on Tissue Tales.

Enter Destiny:

This day started out just like any other day. She woke up with only 20 minutes to spare, her alarm still ringing in her ears. She gently and quietly climbs down her bed, so as not to wake her slumbering roommates. She goes to the mirror and brushes her hair back into a ponytail when the world spins and tries to go black. Her cold, white hands cling to the futon as her heart pounded and the blood rushed everywhere but her head. The sparkles in front of her eyes began to lessen and the girl, with a face as pale as the moon pops her morning pills, downs a salt packet, and fills her cup with orange pedialite; flashing back to her days as a child, grabs her backpack, stands – slowly this time – and heads off to her first class of the morning. Her hands still shaking and her heart still racing.

She sits in her class with her heavy textbook on the table way in the back row. Listening to all the students talking about the parties of the night before, her mottled hands begin to warm up and she sips some more pedialite. The shaking begins to subside and she prepares herself for the next 2 hours. Her hands begin cramping an hour into the lecture as each second is another second of her body attacking itself. She puts her purple pencil down on her crisp white notebook for a break when suddenly the nausea hits. Deep inside her belly a heat hits her and it travels up to her head, which in turn fills with a pressure words cannot begin to describe. She grasps her desk tightly and tries to take a deep breath only to find her chest was too tight, she couldn’t breathe.

Her frantic green eyes searched around her for what to do. She noticed people were staring and their lips were moving but she couldn’t hear them. A hand on her leg, a feeling, someone can see something is wrong, she reaches for that hand, anything to keep her in the here and now, desperately trying to convey what is happening as she is a prisoner in her own body. She tries to move, and her dry, blue tinged lips try to form words when the pain rips through her chest and the world goes white.

Fast forward a few days later and the girl lies in a hospital bed with an icepack across her chest from a fractured sternum. The CPR done to save her life fractured her porcelain bones. Tears pour from her pale green eyes as she replays the words in her head again and again.”…too sick…medical leave….close call…can’t risk it…focus on yourself and family…you need to withdraw…”. On the bedside table lies a copy of the medical note from her team of doctors, a copy of a form she signed officially withdrawing her from college. On the bedside table lies a copy of all her hopes and dreams completely crushed by a disease no one has ever heard of.

This isn’t my best writing…but it is pieces from my last week in college before I was forced to withdraw due to my medical problems. Looking back, I agree it was the right decision, and I have accepted VEDS won that battle, but it still breaks my heart in half. School was an escape for me…even in Elementary. It was a place I could focus on something besides my disease and my pain. It was a place to express myself and learn who I was. In High school I was in so many activities, the honor roll, and was even teaching a class come senior year. School was my sanctuary…College became a more hectic, scary sanctuary. One that opened my world to limitless opportunities, all of which I wanted at one time…I loved the friends I made, the classes I took and all that I learned…and the main thing being to never give up.

My hopes and dreams are still on that bedside table. The travelling abroad, the tutor program, the German club, community choir, becoming a teacher or a psychologist, specializing in Autism…all of those are still on that table and never will I be able to pick those up, dust them off and hop back in….But with that loss comes growth.

My new dream: to raise awareness for rare diseases. To raise money for research. To find a doctor willing to do research on such a little known condition. To share my story and inspire others. To have my story reach as many people as possible…and eventually I’d like my dream to come true, true to the point that my slogan will no longer be needed. That “Awareness for a Cure” will not need to exist because people will have heard of Ehlers-Danlos type 1,2,3,4… KLS, Dysautonomia and the other rare diseases.

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If you’re as inspired as I am by Destiny and you’d like to let her know you can find her Facebook page here.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Destiny!

A long night.

The last couple of days have been pretty lousy. Sorry, I know I haven’t been blogging anything very positive lately, my body just seems to be going through one of it’s really low points.

I’ve been dealing with some major urinary retention issues which are just miserable, especially during the night. Even when I can hardly go at all I still have to go often, which is a terrible combination. I spent the entire day yesterday thinking I was going to have to go to the hospital again like the last time this happened.

This is how my night went:

12:30 am I go to bed.
1:30 am I’m almost asleep but I have to pee, which I spend the next hour relentlessly trying to do before I actually can – though not very much.
2:30 am I’m back in bed but I can’t fall asleep.
3:30 am I have to pee again which takes me another 35 minutes or so.
4:15 am I’m back in bed but my bladder hurts and I still can’t catch any sleep.
5:30 am I get back up again for another bout of the same.
6:10 am I finally get back into bed and manage to fall into a light sleep.
7:00 am I’m awake again.
8:00 am I give up for a while and try to go pee yet again with more difficulty.
8:30 am I head back to bed but can’t fall asleep and am in a lot of pain.
10:30 am I get up again to try to go pee (for what feels like the millionth time).
10:50 am I get back into bed and still can’t fall asleep.
1:00 pm I finally just give up and pull myself out of bed.

My doctor thinks this is probably from my back. This time we’ve ruled out all of my medications as the primary cause so I’m afraid that it is too. I’m feeling really frustrated and exhausted. My neurologist’s appointment is still so far away and my referral to the urologist to make sure nothing else is causing this seems to have gotten lost on it’s way.

Brittany’s Story

I’m really excited today to feature a guest post by Brittany, an incredible young woman (and fellow Canadian!) who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, in honor of National Pain Awareness Week. I was first connected with her through the amazing Sandy Smeenk of the ILC Foundation and have been lucky to have her in my life ever since. She does a lot for other people living with chronic pain and has been a deeply cherished source of support for me.

Brittany

My name is Brittany Crichton and I am 24 years old, living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and the many other complications and side diseases that come along with it.

It’s hard to say how my pain started because I always remember it being there. I remember people always giving reasons for it like maybe it was from gymnastics, it’s just growing pains, etc. As I talk about the topic of pain with my friends I realize that I can’t remember a day that I’ve woken up and not been in pain, or had my pain level lower then an 8 out of 10. I can’t remember what my life use to be like, and it is sad that this has become the norm for me.

From the age of 18 my symptoms got progressively worse, and at the time we had no idea I had EDS. I went from hospital to hospital, doctor to doctor and had thousands of tests done only to be told they had no idea what was wrong. It was so hard trying to explain to doctors what I was feeling, and for them to brush me off or just send me to another doctor because they did not want to deal with it. Finally, at the age of 22 my family and I made our way down to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota and was finally diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.

It is hard for people to manage my pain because I do not absorb pills like a normal person, so it takes a higher dose to make a dent and nothing makes an impact or is able to take the pain down. It was very hard work but I have finally learned to cope with my pain being at an 8 everyday thanks to physio and my naturalpath. When my pain does escalate that is when I have to go to the hospital to help get it under control.

My life has dramatically changed since I started getting more symptoms and the diagnosis of EDS. The life that I wanted isn’t the life that I can have. I wanted and had my dream career only to have it taken away. I cannot go out and go to a party with my friends without suffering major consequences for it. There are times when I think is this really my life, why am I still here living in a life like this? But then I stop and think, I am glad it is me and not anyone else in my family, or my friends because I know I can handle it.

At first I was seeing all of the negatives that came from this disease, but then I had to look at it from a different angle; look at the amazing people I’ve met from having this disease, people who have the same disease and can relate. I am making a difference in the next generation of children living with chronic pain and rare diseases, and if I didn’t have Ehlers who knows who would be doing those things for these kids. EDS has changed my life but it’s not all bad. That is why I started my own website to show that; yes, even though I’m living with this painful disease, there are good things that can come from all of the bad if you look at it from a different angle.

Peer support is very important and I am getting in contact with people all over the world and it’s amazing. I am so thankful for that, and thankful because I would have never have been in contact with Katie Robertson otherwise.

So remember on those painful days reach out to others who feel the same way and who are going through the same, because we are all here for each other.

Click here to visit Brittany's website.

You can visit Brittany’s website here and follow her journey through her blog here.

What did I get myself into?

Well, I finally got my procrastinating bum in gear and dealt with an enormous amount of things that needed to be done when I seen my doctor. And, as I was dreading, I walked away with an insane amount of tests and appointments.

To start with I need an ultrasound on my kidneys, and also another one specifically on my gallbladder to check on my polyps. I need to go see a urologist out of town for bladder retention problems and find out whether or not there could be something causing it other than my spine. I also need to go back to Vancouver – yet again – to see the orthopedist that we had to cancel on earlier this year when my rib subluxated (we didn’t think I’d be able to handle the appointment because I could hardly move). While we’re in Vancouver we’ll also be seeing a neurologist about diagnosing (or ruling out) several different brain related complications that can arise in tissue disorders like cervical cranial instability and chiari-malformation.

We also need to talk to the neurologist about getting an upright MRI of my spine to check for dural ectasia and tethered cord (my gp isn’t allowed to refer patients for MRI scans). There are only two upright MRIs in Canada, one is in a private clinic in Kamloops that we can’t afford and the other one is in Vancouver but used only for research purposes. We’re hoping that since my disorder is rare that maybe if we talk to the right people I could qualify as research. While we’re in Vancouver we’re going to go see my ophthalmologist to check on my eyes.

My doctor and I talked a bit about my hip problem and how in her opinion since we already know that it’s subluxating and that’s the cause of the pain that she’d rather not order an x-ray on it. I’ve already had and will need so many imaging tests that she figures it’s best not to expose me to more radiation when it can be avoided. Since there’s nothing we can do for my hip right now but treat the pain I agree with her. I’m already leaps and bounds over the recommended doses of radiation so that does seem like a reasonable decision.

I think – and hope – that I remembered all of it. My stress levels always go up when I know I’m going to be seeing so many new doctors and getting poked at so much. That’s part of what sends me into my spells of avoiding my doctor altogether; denial’s much easier that way lol. I am grateful though, that I’m being looked after medically now more than in the past. It’s nice to have a doctor that willingly recognizes the ridiculous amount of avenues that need to be checked over with a disorder like mine.

On another good note, my doctor’s agreed to work and talk with the ILC Foundation when it comes to my care, as well as pass the contacts for the EDS aware doctors they’ve provided us with to the necessary specialists that I see. Thanks a million Sandy!!