Posted in Developmental disability, Developmental disability service system, disability rights, HCBS, medical, Self-advocacy

Best hashtag ever: #GetYourBellyOut

#GetYourBellyOut is the best hashtag ever,

I’d better backtrack.

I had an ISA meeting.  That’s Individual Support Agreement.  At the last second, they brought a Surprise Administrator.  That is what I am calling the lady who showed up at the door to the meeting even though I’d been told that the only people present would be Laura (my DPA and soon to be adoptive mother) and my two case managers.  Surprise Administrator (SA for short) was someone who works in the Howard Center administration.  Surprise because they didn’t tell me she’d be at my ISA meeting until she was at m

The ISA is Vermont’s version of a person-centered plan.  It, of course, just like in other states, does not have to be either a plan or person-centered to qualify as a person-centered plan.  The meeting was certainly not very person-centered.  It degenerated into a shouting match mostly.  And a lot of it was the Surprise Administrator telling me that I was off-topic.  At my own ISA meeting.  When attempting to explain my ISA goals.  Which were “off-topic” because they didn’t like

So it was good that there was a moment of comic relief in all that because otherwise it was just a shitshow that went nowhere productive.

This moment of comic relief came at an unexpected time.

I had defined my first goal as survival.

I meant it.

I actually had specific, concrete actions I wanted taken in order to get to that goal, but the Surprise Administrator was busy telling us that this was impossible.

So at some point an exchange very close to the following took place between Laura and the Surprise Administrator:

Surprise Administrator: Survival isn’t a goal.
Laura: Yeah it is!
Surprise Administrator: It’s a vague goal.
Laura: What’s vague about it? If her heart keeps beating…
Surprise Administrator: Yeah but some people define survival differently than others, like some people define it as being hooked to all kinds of tubes and vents and stuff.
Me: (silently but firmly pull shirt up to show two feeding tubes and an ostomy bag)
Surprise Administrator: OH MY GOD I DON’T NEED TO SEE THAT PUT YOUR SHIRT BACK ON RIGHT NOW!

After the amount of sheer bullshit that went on in that meeting, I can’t even try to make myself feel bad about the amount of giddy, giggly, juvenile pleasure I got out of that incident.  Especially given how sleep-deprived I was at the time.

So later on I discovered the best Twitter hashtag ever: #GetYourBellyOut.

It’s the complete opposite of the Surprise Administrator’s hashtag, which I imagine would be #PutYourShirtOnMel.

The idea is people with ostomy bags are supposed to pull up our shirts, take selfies, and post the pics on Twitter under the hashtag #GetYourBellyOut.

It was started by a guy with a colostomy.  The point is to reduce shame and stigma around colostomies, ostomy bags, stomas in general, etc.  It’s mostly about colostomies but can apply to anyone with similar things.  My ostomy bag goes over a healing jejunostomy stoma after the tube was removed, and I’ll continue to need an ostomy bag to catch the bile until it heals.  Which could be months.

So this is the picture I posted to #GetYourBellyOut:                                               

#GetYourBellyOut

Which is basically, in the above picture, roughly the same sight the “PUT YOUR SHIRT BACK ON” comment was inspired by.

I’m just… highly amused there’s a hashtag for exactly what I did spontaneously out of frustration.

Anyway here’s a Get Your Belly Out website for Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.  I don’t have either of those things, but I love their website picture, which is a bunch of bare bellies with stomas and ostomy bags! 

STOMA BELLIES!

I’m a huge fan of anything that makes people realize that bags, tubes, holes in weird places on the human body, and the like are a normal part of life for a lot of people. And not a cause for excessive bellyaching (oh come on, I had to say it) about having to see it…

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Posted in Death & Mortality Series

Medicalizing eating and drinking is more sinister than it sounds.

In my last post, I discussed the way food and water are medicalized when you get them through a feeding tube.  But the way I discussed it could’ve given the wrong impression.  I discussed it mostly in terms of its emotional effects.  The way it changes your relationship to food.  The absurdity of having to argue with doctors about how much water you’re allowed to drink.  When you have no medical reason for fluid restriction or any other actual excuse for them to act like they have a right to control something so basic.  The importance of eating food that you enjoy, even if you’re eating it through a tube.  The importance of food being emotional, sensory, cultural, all kinds of things besides medical.

Mel eating by holding an orange feeding syringe with an olive-green soup mixture going into a J-tube on hir belly.
Eating.  This is one way that I eat. That’s soup made from putting beans and vegetables (black beans, butternut squash, spinach, and guacamole, I think — possibly with some soy sauce and Sriracha) in a blender.  I’m eating it with syringes because there’s a clog in the line on my feeding bag, or I’d be eating it with a feeding pump.  Either way, it’s just eating, not medical treatment.  Food is not medical treatment no matter how the food gets into your body.

But in all of that discussion, I never discussed the most sinister part of food and water being considered medical.

When food and water become medical treatments, they become optional.  They become something you can refuse.  They become something a doctor, or an ethics committee (what an Orwellian name, given the way they so frequently treat disabled people), can decide is futile or unnecessary or medically inadvisable or something else along those lines.

In other words, when food and water become a medical treatment, then it becomes much easier to kill you by withholding them.

I filled out a living will awhile back.  Living wills are disturbing in all kinds of ways that most people don’t appreciate.  Most people see living wills as a wonderful way for people to indicate their future choices about medical treatments.  Most people don’t see the ways they’re set up to make it much easier to choose death than to choose life with a disability.  And to subtly nudge you in that general direction.  They’re not the value-neutral documents most people assume they are.  They already have values built into them that may not be the same values as the person filling them out.

I could obviously go on at quite some length about living wills. I’m not going to do it here though.  I want to talk about something very specific.

The structure of the living will I filled out basically went like this:  “If you needed this treatment in order to survive, would you want to die?”  The part that goes this treatment starts out with fairly noninvasive stuff.  And progresses through a series of medical treatments, in order from what the creators of the document consider least drastic to most drastic.

Anyway, the first treatment I remember having to answer questions about was a feeding tube.  Which does make sense within their structure:  Feeding tubes are pretty noninvasive and completely reversible.

But it disturbs me.

It disturbs me that a feeding tube is considered something you should have to decide whether to live or die about.

It disturbs me that food and water are medical.

Because that’s where it all starts.

Where food and water are medical.

Mouth Magazine reported once on a woman who’d had a stroke.  She had a living will saying she wouldn’t want continued medical treatment if she had brain damage.  She changed her mind once she had brain damage.  She wasn’t considered competent to change her mind.  They decided food and water were medical treatments — in her case, she didn’t even need a feeding tube.  She tried desperately to get food and water, but they prevented her from doing so, saying they were honoring her wishes and that she was incompetent to make her own decisions.

Mouth Magazine had this to say about itself at one point:

During the last ten years, it is fair to say, Mouth has lowered the level of discourse on the subject of the helping system. About time, too.

Mouth brings the conversation down to street level, where well-intentioned “special” programs wreak havoc in the lives of ordinary people. People talk about calling a spade a spade. We call Jack Kevorkian a serial killer. And when maggots outnumber nurses’ aides at what others call a “care facility,” we call it a hellhole. We say it out loud: if special education is so darned special, every kid in every school ought to have the benefit of it.

About Mouth Magazine

In that spirit, I will call what they did to that woman exactly what it was:  murder.

All the bullshit about honoring her wishes is bullshit.  She clearly wanted to be alive.  To declare someone incompetent to decide they want to survive, to declare someone incompetent to fucking change their mind… that’s some high-order bullshit.  Dangerous bullshit.  Deadly, murderous bullshit.

And this bullshit, and this kind of murder, happens daily.  One person I know who worked in the medical system said the disturbing thing to her was that she was complicit in at least one murder without being aware of it.  Because of the ways they warp your thinking to make it seem like something, anything is going on other than the intentional killing of another human being.

Except it is the intentional killing of another human being.

And often, it starts with the medicalization of food and water.

Food and water are not medical treatments.

Food and water don’t become medical treatments just because they take an unusual route into your body.

A feeding tube is just like having another mouth.  It’s just that the mouth is located in an odd spot.  That’s all it is.  It’s a mouth that opens directly into your stomach or your intestine, instead of going down your esophagus first.  (Then there’s NG and NJ tubes, which do go down your esophagus, but they’re still just another slightly unusual route for food to take into your body.)

There is nothing about a feeding tube that truly makes food and water medical treatments.

There is nothing about disability, including brain damage, that truly makes food and water medical treatments.

This reclassification exists in part to make it easier to kill us.  Not that every single person who medicalizes food and water has that in mind.  But that’s part of the point behind the reasoning’s existence.  And even when it’s not initially intended that way.  Anyone who wants to use it that way can easily just pick up the situation and use it in exactly that way.  Once food and water become a medical treatment, starvation and dehydration become withholding medical treatment rather than starving or dehydrating someone.

You can’t even have an honest conversation about the issues involved here, when everything’s replaced with a medical euphemism.  Because we’re actually talking about murder (the intentional killing of another human being) and suicide (someone intentionally killing themselves).  And you can debate the ethics of murder or suicide in various circumstances till the cows come home.  But you can’t even hold the debate in an honest or straightforward fashion when murder and suicide or even just killing are replaced with withholding medical treatment.

And when food and water are only considered medical treatment for a certain class of person (usually some subgroup of disabled people), I call that deadly ableism.  

So medicalizing food and water is never just an annoyance or nuisance.  It’s like a weapon:  Someone can absentmindedly carry it into a room and leave it lying around for some reason that has nothing to do with killing.  But then someone else can pick it up and seriously injure or kill you with it.  So it’s never not sinister, disturbing, and dangerous. 

And that’s important to always keep in mind:  Once something fundamental to survival is considered medical treatment, it can always be withheld much more easily without raising many eyebrows.  Hell, people who advocate withholding it can paint themselves as champions of your human rights rather than people trying to prevent you from exercising your human right to, well, food and water.  It makes it way easier to turn everything on its head without anyone noticing what’s going on.

Mel with headphones on, smiling and holding up a green coffee mug of kombucha with a feeding syringe sticking out of it.
Drinking kombucha and listening to country music doesn’t become a medical treatment just because a feeding tube and syringe are involved.

This post is part of my Death & Mortality Series.  Please read my introduction to my Death & Mortality series if you can, to understand the context I write this in.  Thank you.

Posted in medical, Speech

A (sorta) funny emergency speech story…

This post is part of a series of posts on the topic of speech.  Please read the first post in the series, New Blog Topic: Speech, to give you some idea of the backstory here.  99% of the time I’m completely unable to use speech as a primary mode of communication, and that is still true.  But this speech blog topic is about both my baseline level of speech these days, and an emergency speech mode that sometimes makes me fluent without any conscious control over the process. 

…well it’s funny when viewed from a certain perspective, and in hindsight mostly.  And it illustrates a serious problem of inconvenience with emergency speech.  It also happens to be the shortest period of emergency speech I’ve ever had1.

So one day I decided to go to the farmer’s market. Someone would drive me there and I’d walk home. I didn’t take a lot of mobility or communication equipment I really could’ve used.  I wasn’t expecting to need it.  Mistake.

A bunch of booths at the Burlington Farmer's Market in City Hall Park, Burlington, Vermont.
The Burlington, Vermont farmer’s market. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. In California, farmer’s markets as I knew them were roadside stands where fresh produce was sold cheaply and mostly poor people (including the farmworkers) shopped there because it was cheaper than the grocery store. That is… so far from what a farmer’s market is around here that I found myself quite surprised by it all. I did find some amusement though — there were Anaheim sweet peppers with no spiciness to them at all, not even a tingle, labeled with a spiciness warning. And even the best hot sauce I could find wasn’t that hot. It made me realize how Californian my food tastes are.

Anyway, I tried to walk around a very long line at one of the booths, and hit a slippery patch of mud. I took one of the most spectacular falls I’ve ever taken.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen someoone W-sit. I’m hypermobile and such a posture comes naturally to me. (It’s considered horrible for you but if your joints are loose it’s a very stabilizing sort of posture.) Normally, W-sitting looks kinda like this:

wsitting_850px_10-600x600.jpg

So just imagine that I’m lying flat on my back and my legs are kind of in that W-position except somehow they’re folded so they’re underneath my back, and you’ll get the general idea.  I’m at that point in excruciating pain.

So I yell — with total clarity and fluency and no trouble at all making myself understood, nor any pre-planning to what I was going to say — “WILL SOMEONE PLEASE HELP GET MY LEGS OUT FROM UNDER ME!?

And someone runs over and does it.

The sharpest of the pain vanishes instantly.

And then I can’t talk anymore.

And at that point there’s paramedics, and a lot of information I have to give them, and talking would be really convenient at that point.  But nope.  No fluent speech available.  Barely any non-fluent speech available.  And I’ve got several broken ribs and two sprained ankles.  (They concentrated so much on the ankles that none of us even noticed the ribs until later after I’d got home.  Fortunately(?) because I have osteoporosis, I’m used to broken ribs and knew what to do.)

It ended up okay, but this is a good example of the way that emergency speech is largely outside my control.  And how it doesn’t always have a lot of rhyme or reason in terms of convenience — it would’ve been nice if it stuck around for the paramedics, but it didn’t.  My brain has a mind of its own when it comes to the occasions it decides fluency is gonna happen.

I don’t remember exactly when this happened, other than that it was the same summer I was in the ICU, after my ICU-acquired emergency speech2 had gone away.  I also remember that they actualy discovered the many healed broken ribs, along with a stable stress fracture to my T12 vertebra, the December after this.  They’d been doing a lung x-ray and my lungs were fine but other things were clearly not.  So this would’ve been the summer of 2016, I just figured out by checking some records.

But… yeah.  Apparently my brain decides when fluency is medically necessary, and it doesn’t always agree with me on the matter…


1 Understand I haven’t had this happen that many times. But the amount of time I’ve had it stay on more or less consistently has ranged from seconds to a few months. Right now I’m in a very weird period where it’s trying to stay on longer than it ought to due to a huge amount of medical crap happening, and the speech trying to turn on even past the point it can sustain itself… it’s causing all kinds of mayhem in the process. And by mayhem I mean actually dangerous to me.

2 This speech had been longer-lived than just a sentence, and lasted my entire ICU stay and then a little after I got out of the hospital. It began sometime in between when I had a long series of seizures, and when I stopped breathing. The existence of speech was actually one of the factors that caused people to call 911.

Posted in Death & Mortality Series

“Are you at peace with your decision?”

This post is part of my Death & Mortality Series.  Please read my introduction to my Death & Mortality series if you can, to understand the context I write this in.  Thank you.

What do you imagine is happening when you see this scene:

I am lying in a hospital bed, very ill with aspiration pneumonia and starvation.  I have a visitor from out of state, someone who recently lost her father to pneumonia and wants to see me just in case.  A doctor walks in.

This is a teaching hospital, so he’s not alone. He’s followed into the room by a line of assorted med students, residents, and the like.  I call them ducklings, because they followt he main doctor around in a line.  Someone online said “Not ducklings, doclings.”  So now they’re doclings.

So the pulmonologist — not my pulmonologist, just a pulmonologist — walks into my room followed by a gaggle of doclings, who fan out around my bed.  And the first thing out of his mouth is a solemn, “Are you at peace with your decision?”

I say yes.

He repeats his question, “Are you at peace with your decision?”

I say yes.

This keeps happening until he solemnly leads the doclingsgout

What would you assume was going on there?

Because I’d assume that I’d chosen to end my medical treatment and go home and die, or something along those lines.

But that’s not what he was doing.

His question was about whether I’d be at peace with getting the feeding tube that ultimately saved my life.

Guess what, doctor?

I’ve had feeding tubes for six or seven years now.

I’ve had my share of complications.  Infections, abscesses, a tube wrapping around my intestine.

I.  Still.  Want.  My.  Tubes.

My tubes are life, not death.  When you get a feeding tube, nobody should ever treat it as if you’ve just chosen to die.  But they do.

For my 38th birthday dinner, I had soup:  Sweet Pea (sweet peas) and Super Greens (spinach, broccoli, green peas, and coconut).

Mel eating green soup through hir J-tube.

Then I had kombucha.

Photo on 8-16-18 at 1.25 AM #2

I enjoyed all of it.

And I’d never have reached the age of 38 without my feeding tubes.

So the answer to the question is still the following:

Yes, but your question and the way you’re asking it could get someone killed.

Stop treating people choosing to live as if we’ve chosen to die.

Posted in Being human, joy, medical, music

Who am I when I can’t do…?

Mel wearing headphones with shadows falling over parts of hir face.
Mel wearing headphones with shadows falling over parts of hir face.

I hate being reduced to a pile of medical problems.

I don’t care what guise it comes under, either. I’m not your intriguing case. I’m not a two-dimensional prop in your medical detective story. Or your medical melodrama about brave people who buck the system and discover the truth. Or your very private psychodramas you want to act out with me as little more then a living doll.  And that includes “positive” versions of originally medical ideas — if you reduce me to any diagnosis, no matter how positive you think you’ve changed it into, you’re still reducing me down to something I’m not comfortable being reduced down to. It’s why I’m not comfortable with communities that’ve basically grown out of a single medical label, no matter how they believe they’ve transformed it.  At any rate, if you want to reduce me to medical crap, whether you think it’s good or bad — I’m not fucking interested. If you reduce me or my life to medical issues you’ll rapidly find yourself being ignored or tolerated at best.

But sometimes it seems like things close in, and all there is time and energy to think about is the next medical thing. And I start wondering, is this all there is to me? Is my life just one medical crisis to the next and holding myself together with strings and baling wire in the meantime? You don’t want to know the sanitary conditions I’m living in right now, the compromises I’ve been forced to make for survival. If you’re physically disabled you probably have some idea either from your own life or that of your friends. The shit we do to survive and live free at the same time. It’s criminal that we’re forced to live this way. I have an elderly family member I probably inherited my congenital myasthenia from, they describe crawling around the house when they can’t walk, and can’t get up off the floor, and you don’t want to know how they drive a car sometimes. They’ve coded before, I worry about it happening far from help next time.

Anyway, eventually the world closes in and all you can think about is medical shit. Explaining it to people over and over again. Doing medical shit you need to do to survive. And it feels like there’s nothing left, nothing left to you, everything’s gone.

It’s scary.

And it doesn’t help when that’s essentially how lots of people see you. As just a pile of flesh with a lot of medical problems. You start to go crazy. You start to wonder if there ever was anything more to who you are. Medical shit can fuck with your head in huge ways.

The medical way of seeing us is incomplete. It doesn’t include the things that make us people. Those core things that really matter. So if this shit gets into your head, you can’t see those things about yourself either.

The important parts of the world never go away. They are literally everywhere, embedded in everything. Including us. When we can’t feel them or perceive them, it’s always because something is blocking our view. Not because they’ve gone anywhere.

It’s easy to get caught up in the bullshit we are fed, too. Like that we aren’t real people, not the kind that matter, unless we can make a contribution that fits in with capitalism. Like something that pays money. And people with lots of medical shit that takes over our lives to this extent are seldom fully employed. So that can eat at us too, that knowledge that whatever we contribute to the world will never be good enough to count.

But we do contribute valuable things to the world. Just existing is its own contribution, but people contribute more than our existence. Each one of us is uniquely positioned to make very specific contributions to society, whether we are trying to or not, whether we are aware of it or not. Real contributions often go unnoticed even by the people making them.

And we get so caught up on what we do, that things get unpleasant when all we can do is whatever it takes medically to ensure our continued survival. Who am I when this is all I can do?

At first I fall back on connections to place, people, family, culture. I am a child of Redwood Terrace. I am an Okie and a Minnesota Swede. I am a Californian. The landscape of California, from the cliffs and ocean of the Monterey Bay to the bare yellow grass hills with oak trees, to the redwoods of San Mateo County and Santa Cruz County to the converted swamp / desert / farmland of the San Joaquin Valley to the paved-over orchards of Silicon Valley, these things are burned into my DNA almost, they go in so deep. The graves of my recent ancestors, in Shafter and Wasco cemeteries, places likely to become uninhabitable soon. My father’s grave in the Siskiyous. All the objects my father gave me that point like a giant beacon to who he was, who he is now that he’s merged with love and become something different.

These things are important. Connections are important. And no matter how difficult and dysfunctional our families get, family is always a part of you, a connection you can’t sever, part of who you are. I try to remember my grandfather’s violin, to remind me family is family and the worst things about it can still yield surprising moments of love and beauty.

I’m still the bleakest optimist I know. I can look into a pile of shit and find something worthwhile, but I still don’t shy away from it being a pile of shit. This confuses people. I continue to believe this skill will become vital to the survival of lots of people in the world today, though. Discounting the good or pretending the bad isn’t there will lead to disaster.

Anyway, family, culture, place, they all provide a firmer foundation than what you can do at any given moment. No matter how messed up that family, culture, or place is. But there’s something far more basic and far more important:

You are a small piece of the world. A very particular small piece of the world. You have a place, that’s specific to you and who you are. Everything from your best qualities to your worst faults are part of this. You are connected to everything and everyone else. Who you are and what you do, matters. You are always, always connected to the deepest parts of reality. They are a part of you, you are a part of them. You may not be able to feel that at any given time, but all that means is something’s obscuring your view. This is always there.

You are always so fucking much more than a set of categories, shitty circumstances, or ideas. And more than a set of medical problems or any other kind of problems. You are exactly no more and no less than a tiny expression of the deepest and most beautiful parts of the world.

And if we have anything we are meant to do, it’s to express that the most clearly with the least bullshit obscuring it as we can, which may be the most difficult thing in the world to do, but also the most important. But that’s not something we can or should be constantly freaking out about. Just something to keep in mind.

And sometimes the hardest times bring out the most depth of beauty in the world in weird and unexpected ways. Other times they’re just hard. But the world is a strange place. And you do have an exact and important place within it that nobody else can fill, no matter what anyone tells you, even yourself.This little piece of the world is who you are no matter what you can or can’t do. And this little piece of the world may be little but it’s also important.

I was writing this post, it’s taken me days. And I came across the perfect song to express part of what I’m talking about. I’m a huge Grace Vanderwaal fan for reasons. And she wrote this song that’s about those amazing parts of the world we can just forget are there entirely. And — those amazing parts of the world — we are a part of them, they are a part of us, and that’s who we really are, who we remain, regardless of what we can or can’t do at any given time.

So here’s the music video then the lyrics:

Sit right here, chillin’, level low
Close your eyes and just let it flow
Right next to me I hear your heart beat, beat
When the dial turns up and the music starts playing
We don’t realize in this society
Doesn’t matter how your hair looks or what they are thinking
Just, just what we are finding

Tap your foot and listen in
Ignore the world, let the music cave in
Close your phone and breathe in the air
You’ll soon realize that there’s something that is
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh (hey)
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

The whole crowd seems to like me now
‘Cause they think I’m cool but back when I was in school
They found it very easy to hate me
Funny how always these times are changing
Back then it was so easy to shatter
But now in the end it doesn’t really matter

Tap your foot and listen in
Ignore the world, let the music cave in
Close your phone and breathe in the air
You’ll soon realize that there’s something that is
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh (hey)
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

All of the talk, and the talk from ya
Won’t even matter when the lights come up
All of the talk, and the talk from ya, hey
Open your eyes and just wake up
Do all the things that will matter to ya
Open your eyes and just wake up, woah

Tap your foot and listen in
Ignore the world, let the music cave in
Close your phone and breathe in the air
You’ll soon realize that there’s something that is
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this

You’ll soon realize that there’s something that is
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
So much more than this
It is what it is
So much more than this
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

Wow, that kid has more kitten wisdom packed into her than you normally see in a child.  She reminds me so much of Igor, right down to the ability to unfailingly be exactly who she is, even when she doesn’t appear to know.  (Kitten wisdom is what I call the kind of wisdom that often comes with youth rather than the kind that sometimes grows with age.  And Igor and Grace Vanderwaal have a ton of it.  And remind me of each other in ways I can’t articulate.  Also some of her dancing in that video is perfect.)  And I love that she writes songs about being a child her age rather than just singing artificially weird children’s songs written by adults, or just adult songs.  It’s weird, though, that this should be unusual enough to comment on.

Mel wearing headphones.
Mel wearing headphones again.

Anyway, that place that’s so much more than this is always right here.  And we are always so much more than this, so much more than we’re told we are, so much more than a role or a category or a collection of frigging problems and labels and crap.  Because we’re not separated from that place, ever, we just sometimes feel like we are.  But it’s always there, and we’re always part of it.  The stuff that makes us think we’re not, is all confusion and illusion of various sorts.

redwood terrace fungus 01
A tree with moss and fungus in Redwood Terrace photographed by my best friend.

Posted in medical, Uncategorized

Hippie food

So I’ve been struggling to keep my potassium at normal levels even with supplements.  I’m losing fluid continuously out a hole that has to wait a long time to close naturally.  Combined with the fact I had cellulitis and ended up on antibiotics (yeah this surgery has sucked donkey balls with the complications, it was a simple surgery that went awry in a million ways) which did… things… to my digestion, I’d been losing so many fluids I went alkaline and all my electrolytes ended up askew because of that.  Even after the antibiotics stopped, still losing lots of fluids, still going alkaline.  (I have other risk factors for that but never actually go alkaline except when losing a lot of fluid.)

So my potassium was going low and staying low.  Not as low as it’s been in the past.  No stopping breathing, no seizures, no lab results marked “LL” for super-low instead of low, nobody telling me it’s critically low like at my last hospitalization.  But low potassium is too low potassium, and even with supplements it wasn’t staying up.

The nutritionst learned I like to go to the cafeteria and grab things like V8 to get some nutrients that aren’t in my tubefeeds.  She thought this is great.  (She seemed thrilled to have a patient whose main food craving is vegetables.  She must not get that a lot.)  Anyway she told me that they wanted to see if adding food sources of potassium would help me in addition to the supplements  So she gave me a list of high-potassium foods, which happened to mostly be foods I was already getting.  She also said I should try kombucha as a probiotic because it’s easier on my guts and on my tube than yogurt.  I’d never heard of kombucha but it is easier to digest and it smells good.

And she also gave me this nifty pass that allows me to buy anything in the cafeteria for free as long as I am a patient here!

Photo on 7-26-18 at 2.37 PM
My free food cafeteria pass!

So I go in there and the highest-potassium food in the cafeteria is coconut water.  Which comes in the most ridiculous hippie-oriented packaging.  So I’ve been stocking up on coconut water, kombucha, V8, and whatever other random liquids they have that are on her list.  But mostly coconut water because it has the highest potassium.

And it works, my potassium is up.

But I feel ridculous someimes with my cafeteria tray filled to bursing with hippie food:

Photo on 7-26-18 at 2.36 PM #2
Kombucha, coconut water, and V8. The kombucha and the coconut water feel like I’m eating hippie food.

But my potassium is up and indeed this morning my electrolytes were totally within normal range for the first time since I got here.  So the hippie food works!

So I guess I will be eating  lot of hippie food for a while.  If the hydration and potassium help keep me out of alkalosis, I’ll eat damn near anything.

But the hippie food… wow.  My friend wanted to go to the gift shop and get me some kind of stereotypical hippie items to go with my new food preferenes, but she couldn’t find any tie-dyed scarves or anything so she gave up.  She has been attempting to tell me that my plan to eventually create a prebiotic and diabetes-friendly vegetarian diet using regular food (i’m high risk for diabetes because steroids and my tubefeed diet is not good for that, and the prebiotics help prevent c diff which I’ve gotten already this year and am high risk for, meamwhile vegetarian because easier to hang in feed bags without worrying about rapid spoilage) proves that I have been a closet hippie all along who believes in natural organic everything and thinks my food choices make me one with the earth and karma and all sorts of ridiculousness.  (She gets very elaborate with her teasing but it’s all friendly.)

But in this case the hippie food is working, so I’ll put up with any jokes.  I find it kind of funny myself.

SERIOUSLY look at the packaging on that coconut water…

Posted in Death & Mortality Series, Developmental disability service system

When powerful people don’t care if you live or die…

umbridgewithteajpg
Dolores Umbridge might be the ultimate representation of Nice Lady Therapists at their utter worst…

This post is part of my Death & Mortality Series.  Please read my introduction to my Death & Mortality series if you can, to understand the context I write this in.  Thank you.

Not all of my thoughts on death and mortality are purely personal.  Although this is certainly born out by personal experience, this is much more in the ethical/political realm than my personal relationships with Death itself.  And is just as important to the whole picture of how I approach death and mortality, and one reason I’ve been so reluctant to post my actual experiences of Death being a benevolent and friendly force.

If you are disabled.  If you are cognitively disabled.  If you are developmentally disabled.  There are people who literally do not care one way or the other if you live or die.  And there are people who actually kind of wish you’d die — some more fervently than others.  And there are people in positions of power who will either fail to act in ways they would normally act, or actively push things a little more in the direction of your death (sometimes obviously, sometimes more passively with plausible deniability).  And to be unaware of this is to be unaware of serious danger.

These people can work in the medical profession.  Many do.

These people can work in agencies that are supposed to give you support.  Many do.

These people can work in any major position of power over you.  Many do.

And I’m not talking about serial killers, although they take full advantage of some of these situations in all kinds of ways.  I’m talking about people who mostly think of themselves as kind of normal.

But they can still kill you with apathy, indifference, and even varying degrees of malice.

My developmental disability agency just announced to me last night things that confirmed the warnings I had been receiving from friends that this kind of thing was at work right now.  They want me suddenly doing things I have never been able to do even at my physically healthiest (and they have ample documentation of my inability to do these things), things they have been doing for me for thirteen years without incident until my DPA filed a medical neglect complaint against them.

This is part of an attempt to railroad me into a service model (which requires moving out of my own home and would not get me any better care) that they prefer for me.

This is part of retaliation for filing the complaint, before which there was no talk of railroading me into this service model.

But they know.  Perfectly well.  That I was struggling to stay alive and stay out of the hospital with the amount of services I was getting.  (I have had recent unexpected cascade-effect complications from a surgery and have been going alkalotic at the drop of a hat.  Long story.  But it’s taken everything I have and every skill I have to stay out of the hospital and alive as long as I have, and I’ve been back in the hospital since Friday.)  And they knew that the reduction in services caused by a staff vacation/staff shortage contributed to my ending back up in the hospital.  They knew all this.

Then they sent me a letter saying I am no longer entitled to have anything done for me, that I must physically participate in everything.

They know, in detail, that this is not possible for me.  They know, in detail, that this would be dangerous for me on multiple levels even without a severe, acute health crisis.  They have documentation of every single reason in more detail than they probably care to know, that even moving my body through the motions is physically dangerous to me.

They know these things.

So the only conclusion I can reach when they insist that these things happen anyway, is that whether I live or die doesn’t matter to them.

The fun part is if I do die, I’m sick enough they’ll probably get away with it even if they’re very culpable in the events leading to it.

But my friends have been telling me I might not live out the year the way this agency has been treating me, when I probably would otherwise.

When I say I accept death, it does not mean I accept THIS.  This isn’t death that just happens.  This is some toxic combination of apathy and malice, and the worst part is I don’t know precisely where it’s coming from.  But people have warned me about it just before this happened.  And when I spoke to medical professionals about it, they told me this kind of thing is very real and something to always keep in mind.

So this is happening.  Now.  I am in the hospital.  And I got a letter that started out with a basic “Sorry you’re in the hospital” thing and then a “But we’re gonna try to make you do shit that’d probably kill you or land you back in the hospital to try” thing.  Which makes the “Sorry you’re in the hospital” part feel completely phony.

I was starting to feel a little better and look forward to going home sometime soon, maybe not as soon as I’d like, but soon.  But I can’t go home to being expected to physically do crap I couldn’t safely do on my best day.

And I can’t stress how much someone at some level is perfectly aware what this means that they are asking this of me just now.

And that they don’t care the risks to me (even if they think it’ll just push me into accepting their bullshit program) tells me they really don’t care deep down if I live or die.  Because people who care if you live or die don’t dangle you over a cliff (or even pretend to do so) to get you to do what they want, even if they think they have a good hold on you.  Ever.

And the fun thing is even if you see this, and even if those around you see this, and you see the patterns enough to know what’s happening, you can’t necessarily tell who precisely they are.  They may be someone you never meet directly.  But people who explicitly range from apathetic to malicious abour your continued existence are out there.  And unfortunately in our culture of familial and caregiver benevolence, nobody who hasn’t seen it for themselves wants to believe it, even though it’s something well beyond commonplace.

So you can’t always just point to an Umbridge.  Even if there’s an Umbridge, or a small army of Umbridges.  (Umbridge got into this post because someone referred to this, after reading the letters, as “Dolores Umbridge-level fuckery”.)

And for the record, accepting death as a whole does not mean I accept this kind of death for an instant.  If I die because I’m expected to do crap I’ve never been able to do and is now physically dangerous for me to even be walked through the motions of, that’s not just dying because I’d die anyway.  And there’s a huge difference.  And I hope I don’t have to explain that difference to anyone.  I’ve long said that dying because I’d die anyway is fine with me, but dying out of someone’s apathy or stupidity or malice will leave me the world’s most pissed-off ghost.  If I had any intention of being a ghost, which I don’t (not sure it’s possible but very sure that trying would be destructive).  But you get the idea.

Posted in Death & Mortality Series

I saw Death another time.

Yesterday.

She made her usual offers, silently.

Silently, I said not yet.

Silently, she turned away.

She is patient. She can wait forever. This happens often.

[Originally written sometime last week or the week before. In between two hospitalizations involving alkalosis.]

This post is part of my Death & Mortality Series.  Please read my introduction to my Death & Mortality series if you can, to understand the context I write this in.  Thank you.

A woman sits next to a grim reaper in a laundromat, both reading books looking bored.
When your relationship with Death becomes this casual…

Posted in Being human, Developmental disability service system

Please quit telling me to ‘calm down’ when I give urgent information or ask questions.

I’m going to lead with a quote from Jim Sinclair and discuss it:

Most autistic people who are capable of formulating questions have frequently experienced the following scenario: We ask for information that we need in order to prepare ourselves for a new experience. Instead of answering our questions, NT people tell us that we don’t need to ask these questions at all. We just need to relax and stop being so anxious. The fact is that being able to ask questions, and getting clear answers to our questions, and thus knowing what to expect, are often the very things autistic people need in order to be able to relax and not be anxious. Asking a lot of questions about the details of a situation is usually not a “maladaptive behavior” that increases an autistic person’s anxiety. More often it’s an adaptive strategy that an autistic person is using to reduce anxiety or to prevent being in an anxiety-provoking situation in the first place. It’s very important for us to have thorough explanations and ample opportunities to ask questions.

Jim Sinclair, Cultural Commentary: Being Autistic Together

So first off be aware this quote is from a specific context.  It’s an extremely long article on specific experiences of autistic people’s self-created communities and cultural values.  So if your first impulse is to think “But it’s not only autistic people who’d encounter this,” you’d be totally right.  But you’d also be missing the fact that it’s quoted out of context from an article that is about autistic people, so it’s gonna mention autistic people explicitly.  Just like an article by and about transgendered people is gonna mention transgendered people explicitly.  It doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to anyone else in the world.

Anyway, I mostly agree with Jim.  My only disagreement is the role xe puts on anxiety in the first place, when I often encounter this in situations where anxiety is not even a factor.  When it is a factor, it works exactly how xe says it works.  But it’s not always a part of things in the first place, and then people just drag anxiety into it as if you must be anxious because they think you are.

Example of something that had absolutely nothing to do with anxiety:

I go into the emergency room around 8:30 pm one night to be seen for cellulitis.  I’ve been told (I later find it’s untrue) that I’m not allowed to bring meds from home to the ER.  I know that I’m likely to still be there at 11 pm, when I am due a dose of hydrocortisone that is extremely time-sensitive: I can’t survive without hydrocortisone and my body makes absolutely no cortisol.  I know that this hospital doesn’t have liquid hydrocortisone that can go through a J-tube,and that the pharmacy has to make a suspension by hand, and that this takes time.  So I know they’re gonna need advance notice if I’m going to get this medication on time.

So after describing the infection, I mention to the triage nurse that this is gonna be a serious issue if the med gets missed or delayed, so they probably want to prepare for the situation in advance.  I ask if this is something they can do and be aware of so I’ll actually get the meds.  I’m doing this in front of an on-call staff person who doesn’t really know me that well.

The on-call staff person immediately starts all the crap they’re taught about calming me down, redirecting me, making sure I don’t have any anxiety, and telling me not to think about the hydrocortisone.  I get pissed off and tell him it’s important.  He tries to “de-escalate” me.  It goes round and round and round.

Mel attempting to look calm.
Do I appear chill enough yet to have a conversation without being told to calm down every time I say something!?!?! WTF.

The time gets nearer, and I am now back in an ER room, it’s approaching 11.  So I’m without information about whether they’re working on this, and want to make sure it’s actually happening.  So when the doctors and nurses are back there I’m talking to them about it.

And the staff person is saying it’s not eleven yet so I need to stop ‘worrying’ (preparing people in advance for something that needs to be on time and takes time to do, especially in a busy emergency room when I’m not there for adrenal insufficiency) until it’s actually eleven at which point we can address this.

And any time I seem annoyed with him, or concerned, or even try to discuss the matter, he says it’s anxiety and I just need to calm down and not think about it and everything will work out fine.

Everything did work out fine, but only because I did prepare them in advance, so they had time to write the orders and get the suspension manufactured in their pharmacy and delivered to them by eleven.

I also learned you are allowed to bring meds into the ER, that night.

But anyway, that’s a good example of where there was no anxiety at all involved.  I was not trying to alleviate anxiety by giving information and asking questions, I was trying to get something practical done that required advance planning.

I might have ended up anxious if there were signs they weren’t listening to me.  But in that case calming down wouldn’t have been relevant, what would’ve been relevant would be finding effective ways to advocate for what I needed.  Which generally requires talking about something, not pretending it’s all gonna be okay.

Doing what the staff person said in that situation wouldn’t have just been anxiety-provoking, it would’ve been physically dangerous to me.  

Often the information I am asking for, when I ask questions, is a similar situation:  I need the information in order to make an informed decision about something important.  Other people may not know why I need that particular information, but I need that information.  Without the information, I can’t make the decisions I need to make.  And the decisions may be, and often are, important medical decisions.

And I’m often deliberately left in the dark.  People give me as little information as possible.  And when I ask for information, it’s treated as an emotional issue:  Frustration, anxiety, pushiness, stubbornness, whatever.  When if you just give me the information, I generally know what to do.  And people are always trying to fix my emotions (as if they need fixing) instead of just giving me the information I need.

Quite often, anxiety won’t even arise until you withhold information from me.  And then anxiety is just the by-product of a situation that will go away once I have the information.  But even so, I’m not usually asking questions to make anxiety go away — even if it does make anxiety go away to get the answers.  I’m asking questions to get information that I need for a practical purpose.  Anxiety, if it happens, or goes away, is just a by-product of the situation, not the focus of the situation.

There is no faster way to cause me some combination of anxiety, anger, rage, fury, and frustration, though, than to try to fix my emotions rather than try to give me information.  This goes double if you try to fix them by manipulation that you think is subtle.  It’s not.  I know what redirection is.  I know what it means when you accuse me of ‘escalating’ — as if you have no part in making the situation worse.  I know what all of your jargon is and what you have been taught to do about ‘situations’ like this one.

And the best possible thing you can do is give me all the information I need, including information I don’t have access to, or assist me in obtaining the information I need, as quickly and thoroughly as possible.  Be on my side, don’t sit there trying to calm me down.  And certainly don’t tell me to take a deep breath and calm down, focus on something else, watch television with you, or some other random crap.

And by the way, the respectful way to approach a discussion about whether I have anxiety I want calming down from, is to ask.  And ask in a way that makes clear you will accept any answer, not in a way that makes it clear that you expect me to say “Yes, I am making myself anxious by thinking about this and need to take my mind off it” or something.

And then if I do say yes, then you can ask me if I want help finding strategies to do so.  And then you can ask me about whether any particular strategy works.  You don’t just apply strategies at me or shove them down my throat.

It’s really not that hard to be respectful.

But it’s very easy not to be respectful.

It’s not respectful to jump in and assume that I’m making myself anxious and want you to help me calm down.  Or that I’m making myself anxious and need you to help me calm down whether I want you to or not.

It’s not respectful to jump in and start manipulating me into calming down.  By manipulating, I mean all the things you have been taught about how to calm people down without telling them that’s your actual intent.  Like distraction, redirection, and other things that rely on the person not knowing what you’re trying to do.  Anything where you’re not being open and explicit about your intent to calm the person down, and anything that uses covert force, is manipulation.

Staff manipulate clients more than clients manipulate staff, but clients get called manipulative for doing ordinary people things that have no manipulative intent whatsoever.  So it might surprise you to hear these things described as manipulative.  But they’re manipulative.  (Clients do manipulate staff sometimes, but we generally do it because we have to in ways you may sometimes have trouble understanding.  Staff are taught to habitually manipulate clients, it’s very hard to be staff and not manipulate clients.)

Just about every strategy for changing someone’s behavior and feelings without them knowing is maniplative by nature.  That’s what manipulation is.  Many strategies for changing people’s behavior with them knowing is manipulative.  All behavior modification is by defintion manipulative whether it’s obvious behavior mod or subtle behavior mod.

Manipulative is not always bad but it is always an exercise of power.  Staff manipulating clients is especially dangerous at the best of times, because of the direction the power flows.  It should not be something you just pull out of your pocket every time you think someone needs to calm down.

It also helps not to be afraid of other people having and showing emotions other than happy shiny ones.  Sometimes people get stressed out, pissed off, freaked out, upset, and all-around discombobulated.  Sometimes people show it.  It doesn’t always need to be fixed and tidied away to accommodate your discomfort.  And often it’s a sign something is going wrong — like not having enough information, or not being listened to, or not getting the chance to give the right information to the right people — not a random thing a person is just feeling for no reason that needs to be brought under control before you even understand it.  These are perfectly natural reactions, you don’t have to manage them for us at the first sign we’re less than 100% chill.

Attempts to manipulate me into calming down will nearly always backfire because I can spot the manipulation a mile away and will get pissed off.  If you don’t want that result, don’t manipulate me.  Treat me with respect instead.  It’ll get you far.

 

 

Posted in medical, Problems and solutions

I definitely stand with the local nurses union.

Mel wearing a button put out by the nurse's union at UVM Medical Center. It reads, "Put Patients First!" and in small print, "Vermont Federation of Nurses & Other Health Professionals AFT-VT".
Mel wearing a button put out by the nurse’s union at UVM Medical Center. It reads, “Put Patients First!” and in small print, Vermont Federation of Nurses & Other Health Professionals AFT-VT.

I was in the hospital for a month recently.  I was able to see the conditions that nurses were working under.  It was bad.  I am 100% behind their efforts to fight for their rights, which were gearing up even while I was hospitalized:  Nurses were carrying signs through the halls, going places with them, wearing buttons, talking about things.  This has been prolonged and their signs are now all over town.

Earlier this month, Seven Days VT published an article called Nurses, UVM Medical Center Remain At Odds Over Contract which said:

Amidst a tense contract bargaining negotiation, nurses at the University of Vermont Medical Center announced at a press conference Friday morning that they had filed a complaint against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board. The nurses allege twenty labor violations, including unlawful unilateral changes to staffing grids and unlawful ordering of employees to remove union buttons.

[…]

Julie MacMillan, a registered nurse and the union’s lead negotiator, said the nurses feel the community should be aware of the problems at the hospital. She said in past negotiation cycles, when the hospital was not in as good financial standing, nurses took cost of living adjustments so that they could keep serving the community. But now, as the hospital reaps enormous contract margins, she said the nurses have had enough. MacMillan said the union has been inspired by the successes of other labor movements across the country.

I hope they meet all of their goals.  The conditions they’re expected to work under are ridiculous.  They are right:  This is a safety issue, both for nurses and for patients.  I constantly saw nurses having to fight just to do their jobs under the amount of work they were expected to do.  All the ones I saw were trying very hard to help all their patients, and couldn’t.  One said she spends half her time on the job not doing nursing care, but ironing out problems caused by the hospital bureaucracy.  Watching her, I believe it.

And the conditions really are dangerous to patients — I was frequently in danger not because of malice or indifference, but because they were having to spread themselves too thin.  Which results in things like not noticing I take seizure medications.  Or one situation where I could no longer perform a small but vitally important medical task I normally do for myself, a nurse offered to do it for me, and I had to explain to her that I greatly appreciated the offer but that there was no way she had the time or resources necessary to do it.  Most of the dangers I faced from the hospital this time were tied in some way to short staffing, not to anything malicious on the part of the staff.  Who went out of their way to help as many patients as they could as thoroughly as they could, but nobody’s superhuman, and the long hours and lack of sufficient staffing take a serious toll.  Nonetheless, people were being their own small, quiet versions of Vasili Arkhopov every day — following their consciences even when it might be easier not to, and profoundly affecting, even saving, lives as a result.

Which is why there are signs everywhere that read NURSES FOR SAFE STAFFING and the like.

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Nurses carrying signs, one reads “Safe staffing saves lives!”

Safe, if you’re wondering, means patients don’t risk death or serious harm from the lack of adequate staffing.  The nurses I met this stay were almost all amazing, dedicated, and trying their hardest.  But without enough of them, without the resources to do their jobs, that’s just not enough.

I really, really hope their negotiations succeed.