I am starting to learn some tricks of the trade regarding dysautonomia, as I navigate this diagnosis. I went from being unable to function AT ALL, I’m talking not being able to stand, not having control of my bowels or bladder function, not being able to speak without fighting to breathe and my muscles seizing/freezing, etc, to feeling like I’m half human again. Thankfully, my primary knew pretty immediately that I was dealing with dysautonomia. I went in for a tilt test, but with a regular table, so lay and then stand. I couldn’t get through it. So, we started on IV fluid infusions, then florinef. They helped, but it was still bad (if we’re being honest, I’m still really bad, it’s just such an improvement from not being able to speak, not being able to stand, needing my husband’s help to get to the bathroom, and having accidents, that I don’t know how else to articulate it). I tried Midodrine, but it was excruciating. And then started Mestinon, which gave me relief in ways I hadn’t expected, such as alleviating a lot of my GI pain. I still am in bed 95% of the day, and use a walker in the house and wheel chair if I need to go more than a very short distance, but improvement is still exciting. It was sadly short lived, but I’m hoping to eventually start making progress again.
As you well know, if you have dysautonomia, sleep can be elusive. For so, so many reasons. You have to pee pretty much constantly. You are drenched in sweat ALL the time, and at night it’s just incredibly gross and uncomfortable and COLD. You’re cold all the time, and it’s painful (some of that may be my Raynaud’s, though), you have constant cycles of adrenaline spikes, you have random constant cycles of goosebumps, you wake randomly with violent hiccups, and, of course, plain old insomnia. I know, I painted a pretty picture there for you, didn’t I? But there are some things that I find helpful. I always sleep with earplugs. Always. Or else I don’t stand a chance of sleeping. Any sound, even from across the house with doors shut in between, startles me awake. Earplugs help so, so much with this. I also have white noise going, to help eliminate a startle.
I also either put a beach towel down to lay on, or sleep in something absorbent to try to reduce how wet I feel from sweat, and to reduce how wet and cold my bed sheet is when I come back to lay down after using the bathroom in the middle of the night. I often sleep in a sweat shirt gown, and then strip it off when it’s wet and put my robe on and sleep in that. Having a robe or two to grab in the middle of the night when you need to strip off your wet clothes is really handy.
Being bedbound sucks. It just does. And what it does to your body is not pretty. But the back pain makes it just almost too much. You’re so exhausted and you feel like crap and are so dizzy and you cannot get comfortable no matter what. I had a bazillion pillows that I’d arrange precariously trying to make myself a nest that I could get comfortable in. Even pregnancy pillows let me down. Finally, I decided to suck it up, and get a BedLounge. They’re pricey. It was absolutely worth it. Without question. It is infinitely better than any pillow situation. I highly recommend them, but even a less pricey option with a similar idea would likely be really preferable to pillows.
I lost every ounce of my independence. Every ounce of it. And having to ask to have your clothes washed, ask for food, ask for water, ask for electrolyte drinks, etc, is not easy to do. Especially when your partner is working full time and can’t just get you things willy nilly. I didn’t want to interrupt, so I didn’t ask, and then would be all dehydrated. It was a thorn in our sides. We decided to get a water cooler with hot and cold water options, for the bedroom. We put a basket together of my herbal teas, and Nuun tubes, and now I can get my own drinks. It sounds small, but being able to have that independence is a HUGE deal.
Even before things got so dire, I was struggling a lot, and unable to stand in the shower, etc. But what I learned from showering seated is what an energy savings that is. In addition to being a lot safer for me, it also saved way more energy than I knew I could save. I can only shower on needle change day now, so I have to take shallow baths the rest of the week. I could no longer care for my hair, so we cut it short. Due to some pretty impressive cowlicks, short hair for me means having to style it every day. I can’t style it at all. You see the dilemma. This is how bad it was: I said f it, and shaved my head. Never in my life had I EVER thought for a split second I’d shave my head. But when you can’t take care of your hair and start to dread getting up each day, knowing your hair looks awful to you and you hate it and you can’t fix it, shaving your head is a darn good option. No regrets.
There are certain factors that can worsen or exacerbate dysautonomia, and stress is, according to my doctors, the worst. Worse, even, than infection for causing symptoms to flare. My doctor told me I need to find a way to eliminate stress. First of all, I’m an anxious person. Period. It’s who I am. But in addition to that, I have been dealt a ton of really big deal shit, completely aside from my health. Things that I can’t eliminate or get away from, so with that in mind, I have worked to try to eliminate stress as much as possible. It almost seems laughable when applied to my life in general, but especially when you add in global pandemic with nearly 250,000 dead Americans, and leadership trying to enact a coup with nearly half of the country in support of fascism. But, I mean, what can you do? I eliminated ALL social media, including pinterest (save the blog pinterest). I only watch news that is not mainstream and does not feature liars and feckless “leaders.” I started painting, even though I have no talent or skill, because it’s fun. And relaxing. And really good for me. And I can do it in bed. I have started writing letters to loved ones, and sending cards to let them know I’m thinking of them. And I’m actively working to use my phone less.
I wrote a whole post about compression, which you can check out. But in short, compression helps reduce blood pooling, kind of forcing blood to move through the body, greatly decreasing blacking out and dizziness upon standing. I definitely see a difference wearing compression garments.
Recently, after a stretch of several good days in a row, I had a pretty brutal crash. I’m still trying to recover, but my heart rate and oxygen have been all over the place since. My doctor agreed that it would be good to continuously monitor my heart and oxygen, but none of us felt the risk of going to the hospital for a Holter monitor made sense. Hospitals here are at capacity with Covid 19 patients, that’s not a place for someone like me to go unless it’s a true emergency. So, I was on the search for a continuous monitor that is accurate. Based on accuracy testing, I decided that a chest strap would be what makes sense, even though they don’t have continuous oxygen monitoring, but then I found a ring that does both, and is FDA approved, so I ordered one. It will be here this week, and after I’ve worn it a bit and test it again my BP monitor which tells heart rate, and my pulse ox, I’ll update to let you know if I recommend it or not.
UPDATE: I have been using this Wellue O2Ring Wearable Sleep Monitor daily and nightly for over a week now, and can say that I absolutely love it. It is incredibly accurate, and it provides so much insight. I wasn’t really even expecting to learn so much, but I am able to see that I likely never enter REM sleep, I’m up 4-8 times each night, my heart rate spikes 30-50 BMP when I stand from lying down at night, which is more drastic than sitting to standing (usually 20-40 BPM spike. This is WITH medication, daily infusions, and compression. Without, it would be excruciating, I have no doubt). The app provides a condensed report, while the computer program offes a more detailed report. Both offer the raw data, which the ring collects every 4 seconds, in the form of an excel document. All of this is incredibly good and helpful information to present to my doctors. It makes it clear and quantative, versus me trying to explain or guess or piece things together. I highly recommend this ring for anyone in a similar situation. This wouldn’t be good as a fitness tracker, as it would lose connection moving around so much, but for people who need VERY accurate information about their heart rate and oxygen level, this is it.