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Our NEW Normal…

I can’t tell you how many times what is “normal” for our day to day lives has changed due to this terrible disease that has stricken my husband.  But the big dates stand out!

April 2007 – his balance and gait became so unsteady and uneven that he could no longer walk normally or go any distance without fatigue.  Our future trips to some of our favorite places – fairs and amusement parks – now required a wheelchair rental.  And after pushing him around a few times I realized it required a motorized cart rental.

October 2008 – his cognitive issues became too severe for him to continue to work full time or at all.  The short term memory problems and the confusion that had crept in meant he could no longer do the job he had done for years and learning the new skills required to keep up with technology in his field was not possible.  After quitting his job because he confusedly thought he had another one lined up as a contractor (and did not actually have it yet) we spent 6 months trying to get him employment but after each interview he heard nothing and when I quizzed him about how the interviews went it was clear that he was not meant to be employed.  We applied for VA Disability in April 2009.

July 2009 – I lost my job.  Between all the calls and faxes I was receiving to support the VA claim for my husband and the calls I was getting from him sometimes 4-5 times a day because he was home and bored and concerned about what was happening.  Well they decided that I was not suited for the company and let me go.  So now we are both unemployed.  I was able to collect unemployment but at a fraction of what I was making.  Now we had all these bills and no real income.  I decided that since I knew my husband would get VA disability for the rest of his life and it was a sure thing he would be approved that we could cash in his 401K’s to keep us afloat in the interim.  We survived nicely.

November 2009 – VA Disability approved, paid back to April giving us a nice big check.  I am able to drop my husband from my COBRA saving us hundreds each month.  Things are looking up financially anyway.  He was only approved at 90% though and we knew he was unable to work so we claimed Individual Unemployability immediately and waited another 12 months for that to be approved.

April 2010 – my husband’s social worker at the VA Spinal Cord & MS Clinic asked if he received SSDI and I said I didn’t realize he could get both?  She said YES and so began that process, everyone told me to hire a lawyer that no one gets approved the first time.  But I filled out all the paperwork and submitted all the doctors records that we used for the VA claim.  It was pretty cut and dried, he was approved in 3 months time and without having to see a disability doctor at all.  Thankful I didn’t have to pay a lawyer a chunk of that since they paid him back to February 2009, over a year of payments.

November 2010 – Individual Unemployability APPROVED!  Also awarded permanent and total meaning I was eligible to get my health insurance from the VA program called CHAMPVA until I was old enough for Medicaid at age 65.  No more COBRA payments was a huge load off.

June 2012 – in October 2010 I tried going back to work full time.  I got a job doing on the road sales for a local newspaper and even though I hated the job it brought in enough money to really pad our budget and my unemployment was not going to last forever.  Again I received a ton of phone calls but since I was on the road and they were to my cell which was personal my employer was none the wiser about this.  But we live 50 miles from the VA and my husband really could not take himself there.  At first I only worked 4 days a week and so I would arrange my schedule around his appointments to be sure I could drive him every time.  But then in March 2012 they moved me to a different territory and told me the job was now 40 hours, 5 days.  I got my dad to drive him sometimes and we used VA transportation a few times but things just were not going smoothly.  One afternoon when he had been sitting at the VA for 4 hours after his appointment waiting for a van to bring him home and he had called me for the 12th time it felt like I decided it wasn’t working.  I left work to go get him and bring him home and I gave my notice the next day.  My business career was effectively over.

September 2014 – since they put him on a drug holiday in April things had been smooth sailing, until September 7, he stopped being able to walk, he was struggling to talk, his personality changed.  He went from being rather sullen and angry at times due to depression, to seeming rather mellow and happy.  Where before he would get angry when I told him he could not do something and tell me he would do it if he wanted now he just smiled.  When I yelled at him for not using his walker and falling down again, he laughed.  He stopped smoking cold turkey over night and has not shown any signs of withdrawal at all.  He eats what I make and stopped being picky.  Don’t get me wrong it’s nice to not have a grumpy, picky man acting like a child but it’s just not him.  Due to his changes in physical status and the falls, and his cognitive changes and ability to make good choices (like using his walker?) I am unable to leave him home alone.  So if I want to go to work my part time job 2-3 nights a week for 5 hours at a time, I have to get someone to stay home with him.  So far my parents have done it three times and my neighbor once.  I had to give up a part in a show with a local Community Theater as I cannot ask people to sit with him for something as frivolous as rehearsals.  I’m praying hard and often that this is NOT our new normal.

 

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Posted by on September 19, 2014 in Cognitive Loss, Daily Living, History

 

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Today…

Today is a day when I am reminded just how much my husband has lost.  Today I had to help him figure out how a hard drive went into a PC.  Today I had to try and diagnose why his laptop will no longer connect to the internet and when I couldn’t figure it out I had to back up his files and re-install the operating system on his laptop.

Why does this make me sad you might wonder?  Well because in 2007 before the exacerbation that started this whole chain of events my husband was a Computer Network Engineer.  He was a master PC Tech.  He could build a computer from scratch and was a pro at diagnosing networking problems.  Before 2007 I would go to him when I couldn’t figure these things out and people paid him a hefty salary to keep the network for an entire hospital running 24/7.  He was good at it, VERY GOOD.

Today he could not remember how the hard drive fit in the case so he could screw it back together.  Thank GOD he remembered how to plug it all in because I really am no good at hardware at all.  Today he could not diagnose a problem with ipconfig (and neither can I which is why I chose to perform a fresh install of the OS and start over).

In 2007 he was one of an elite group of MCSE Certified Networking Professionals.  Today he can’t even set up his own email.

Life is not fair.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2014 in Cognitive Loss, Daily Living, History

 

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One of the posts that started it all…

This was the post that inspired the name of this blog, six years ago – so much has changed since then but here is a bit of history.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 20, 2008
Married to the MonSter…
Lisa of Brass & Ivory asked me to talk about being the spouse of someone with MS and what it means for my life.

When I met my husband in December of 1997 he was already diagnosed with MS – had been on Avonex for 7 months and had recovered from his first diagnosed MS attack which was a doozy that hospitalized him for about a week. He was handsome, had a runners body still, muscular thighs and six pack abs. I was intimidated by how “in shape” he seemed.

I knew about MS – a close friend of the family had a severe fast progressing case and she went from being fine to being in a wheelchair and then finally to being unable to breathe on her own within a decade. It was pretty scary stuff. I also knew a friend’s mom who sometimes walked with a limp when over tired but was fine most of the time. This was the extent of my knowledge about MS when I met him.

There were those who warned me about getting involved with someone with MS. My family was concerned. Friends worried that I was setting myself up for heartbreak and maybe I was but I fell in love and I took the risk.

My husband has R/R(relapsing remitting) MS – he has had a lot of relapses in the last decade but many times his symptoms would reverse themselves after a course of steroids. So the day he woke up unable to control his left leg at all and had to use a walker just to get around? Well 3 weeks later he was walking like nothing ever happened. For us MS was a day to day reality in his energy level but the real serious stuff was usually a passing inconvenience.

The MS was sometimes at the forefront and a very real reason why he could not do something or go somewhere, but many times it was an excuse too. I don’t want to go I have a headache. No way to prove or disprove that, I take him at his word. Sometimes he would go out in crazy heat to do things he wanted to do knowing it would drain him and other times he’d beg off due to heat when it really wasn’t hot because he just doesn’t want to. I find that MS makes a nice tidy excuse to get out of things and yet I never want to accuse him of that because what if this time I’m wrong?

I have never known my marriage without MS as I said above but I did know it before MS was there in our faces daily changing everything. I miss the times when the MS was something that boiled up occasionally and then went back to a slow simmer. About 2 years ago this labor day he had the start of an exacerbation – he had the steroids to halt it but this time they didn’t work. He had been on Betaserone for nearly 4 years at this point but it no longer seemed to be helping. He was not seeing a specialist and his general neurologist was way out of his element here. But he didn’t admit defeat and send hubby to a specialist, he kept puttering around talking about new possible therapies but not doing anything about it. Finally after almost a year of indecision and inaction on his neurologists part my husband was fed up and asked his primary care physician for a referral back to a specialist. This doctor immediately started the process to get him on Tysabri and took him off Betaserone. He sent him to a physiotherapist to try and regain some of the lost function but it seems that it’s gone for good.

My handsome husband with the runner’s build has lost about 25lbs of muscle over the last decade. His thighs are thin and much weaker, his abs are no longer rippling. He has a drop foot on the left, no balance at all, and a seriously unbalanced and uneven gait. He can only walk a few minutes at a time before he needs to rest and he staggers as he goes. I admire his resolve to not give up and sit down in a chair and just let it go. I also wonder at times WHY he fights so hard – use a chair sometimes it is just to save your strength. But he is a stubborn Italian man and give up is not in his vocabulary.

He has been on Tysabri for 8 months now. His doctor says he is showing improvement in involuntary reactions. I wish he would show improvements in balance and walking ability. He doesn’t feel like he’s getting better. I do think his memory loss is better. For awhile he couldn’t remember from day to day things that happened or people said. And he wouldn’t admit it was him instead accusing the other person of not having told him. This rarely happens these days – if that is the Tysabri I do thank it for that much at least.

I feel like an outsider sometimes. I know more about the disease and treatment than he does because I take the time to educate myself. But no matter how much I know the one thing I can never know is what it feels like, or how it makes him feel. I know how it makes me feel – scared, helpless, alone – and I don’t have the disease.

I love my husband and I HATE what this disease has taken from him and by proxy from me. He is still R/R and there is still a chance he could turn around and start getting better but I fear that the best we can hope from the Tysabri is to stop the disease from taking any more. Because it has already taken so much it just doesn’t seem like enough. I worry that he will cross over and become secondary progressive, if this happens there is no approved treatment and the insurance would no longer pay for Tysabri. At that point it becomes a wait and see game as in “wait until he dies” basically.

For the overwhelming majority of people with MS it is not a life threatening disease. I worry all the time that the man I married is not in the majority. I keep that worry to myself.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2014 in History

 

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In the beginning…

I was clueless.

My husband was diagnosed with MS 6 months before we met.  He told me about it before we even went on our first date.  I thought I knew what I was in for.  I had several friends who had parents with MS and thought I knew what the disease might entail.  MS was a physical disease, it affected muscle control and made someone tire more easily.  I could handle that.  No problem.  By the time I realized just how much MORE MS could be I was emotionally invested and not getting out without major pain. I still had no idea of the cognitive impairment possible or the severity until 7 years into my marriage when my world just fell apart at the seams.

Since 2007 I have delved into a world of confusion, lies, deceit, dementia, impulsivity, disinhibition, lability, depression, anxiety, occasional violent behaviors.  Let me tell you had someone given me a preview of coming attractions when my future husband mentioned he had MS I may have skipped that first date and have had a whole different life.

But there is a reason we don’t know our future, most of us would run screaming for the door.  And given my upbringing, and my personal belief system I will not run screaming now.  I’m in this for the duration, “til death do us part” if you will.

What I hope to do with this blog is be honest, what life can be like when living with someone with MS who is on the entire other end of the spectrum from those I knew 17 years ago when I decided it was okay to date someone with MS.  I don’t want to scare people away from potentially wonderful relationships, but I do wish I’d known all the possibilities back then, perhaps being 27 and optimistic I may have taken the same chance and knowing myself I probably would have.

In the beginning I was naive.

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2014 in History

 

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