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Enjoying Bad Health - 11/16/2020

Many years ago, when I was newly graduated from college and in my first sales job, I had a boss who was full of folksy stories and wisdom. One that I remember vividly was his tale of selling life insurance for Woodmen of the World in Mississippi. He said he had an elderly gentleman client who, every time he was asked, "How are you doing?"would respond pleasantly, "Enjoyin' bad health, jist enjoyin' bad health." My boss and I always had a good laugh about that line. And yet, if you are unfortuntate enough to suffer from chronic illness, it is wise to learn to enjoy it.

I have been in bad health for most of my life. I'm not sure if I was just born with a weak constitution and bad genes, or if some combination of events or stress contributed to my illnesses. I only weighed five pounds, five ounces when I was born, but I was not premature. However, today this would be considered a risky low birth rate, but it wasn't in 1958. Although I was not a sickly baby, when I was five years old I came down with a case of Mononucleosis which I caught from kissing a boy under the desk (he got sick, too). We both missed six weeks of school, and I was left with a chronic case of Epstein-Barr Virus which persists to this day. I was small, but reasonably healthy, throughout elementary school. However, when I was 14, I caught Viral Spinal Meningitis from our local swimming pool. Although I had the worst headache of my life, it wasn't diagnosed until after my family had arrived in Cocoa Beach for a last vacation before school started. I was hospitalized and quarantined for a week, then we drove home, missing our planned trip to Disney World and forcing me to start high school one week late. I remember the doctor telling my parents that I might suffer bad health after this illness, which proved prophetic. I had recurrent headaches and bouts of tonsillitis throughout high school, missing as much as 60 days a year in most of my four years. Fortunately, I was a good student and was allowed to continue in class (they probably would not be so lenient today).

By the time I started college, I had begun to suffer from chronic Urinary Tract Infections. Right before I was scheduled to marry my high-school sweetheart, blood and protein were detected in my urine. I was given a kidney X-ray, but no problems were found, and the wedding proceeded on schedule. However, I was not tested for Lupus, and looking back now I believe this was my first indication of latent Lupus at age 20. I would not get a formal diagnosis until 22 years later. My health was fairly stable until my marriage began to fall apart three years later, and I started experiencing heart palpitations and dizziness. I was told these symptoms were "all in my head," until I started fainting a couple of years later. I was hospitalized for the second time in my life, for five days of extensive testing. I emerged with a diagnosis of Mitral Valve Prolapse and a prescription for a Beta Blocker which I continue to take daily, nearly 40 years later. This helped tremendously, and my health again stabilized until I was in my second year of Vanderbilt's Executive MBA program, about seven years later. I was very stressed and run down from this program, which I completed while I was working a middle-management job at Nortel Networks in Nashville, and in my third semester I got a bad case of viral Bronchitis which took months to clear up.

I moved to the Northeast in February of 1993 after I graduated from Vanderbilt in July of 1992. During my three years in New Jersey, I began experiencing symptoms which I now recognize as signs of Lupus: extreme fatigue, heaviness in arms and legs, and severe pain in my limbs. I went to a doctor, who ran a series of tests, then told me there was "something wrong with my immune system," but he wasn't sure what. There was no mention of Lupus. I got a stress test on my heart; everything was fine, with the Mitral Valve Prolapse controlled effectively by the Beta Blocker. I tried alternative medicine - homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture - with varying degrees of success. I was put on a diet to gain weight, and given a strict regimens of vitamins and minerals to strengthen my constitution. This seemed to help, and I moved to California with a (fairly) clean bill of health. However, my new job was incredibly stressful, and I started working 60-70 hours a week. I began having recurring migraines which caused me to vomit uncontrollably. There weren't as many drugs available for migraine control then as there are now, so I usually just either went to the ER or took Tylenol. I didn't get the migraines under control until over 20 years after my move from New Jersey, when I finally went to a headache specialist. Now, through a combination of diet (avoiding food triggers), pain medication, and anti-nausea meds I am able to live headache-free most of the time, with only an occasional visit to the Urgent Care for a shot of Torodal.

But in 1997, all I knew was that my job was too stressful for me to continue, so I changed companies and went to work for Telcordia Technologies. I loved my job as general manager for their Pacific Region, but it was also very stressful and required frequent cross-country travel, which caused me to have chronic Sinusitis. I finally got that under control using a Neti pot to keep my sinuses hydrated. But as the stress of the job continued unabated, I suffered a recurrence of the fatigue and pain/heaviness in my limbs, and after a little over a year on the job I went out on medical leave. I tried returning to full-time work a little over a year later, as a management consultant for a firm based in Boston. This time, after only a month on the job, I took a bad fall while on business in Boston in early March of 2000, rupturing a disc in my lower back. Within a week, I wasn't able to bear any weight on my legs, and I spent nearly a year in physical therapy. Meanwhile, the specialist I had started seeing when I first went out on medical leave finally administered the test for Lupus, and I got a positive diagnosis in July of 2000. And if that weren't enough, my appendix burst in October of the same year, and I spent four days in the hospital recovering from Sepsis after my surgery! I applied for and received Social Security Disability Insurance on the first try around that same time. I have never been able to return to full-time work since then.

My life after disability consisted of a lot of doctor's visits and trying different therapies to feel better. The ones that worked the best were the procedures on my back (epidurals and ablations) and chiropractic care for my overall body pain. Eventually I had to leave the damp San Francisco Bay Area to live in the relatively drier and warmer climate of LA, and from there to the arid air of Tucson. My health has improved considerably since I moved to Arizona almost four years ago, but I am still only able to work part-time. Although it's better, I still have pain in my limbs and my back, every single day. And I'm still on a strict daily regimen of steroids and other medications and supplements, although keeping weight on is no longer a problem!

So I've been actively struggling with bad health since I was 20 years old. That is 42 years. If I hadn't remembered the advice of my boss' client about "enjoying bad health," I'm not sure if I would still be alive today. But I took that advice to heart, and tried to enjoy my life to the fullest, no matter how bad I felt. I traveled all over the US, both for business and pleasure, visiting all 50 states by the time I was 45 (North Dakota was my last one, in case you were wondering). I learned to snow ski when I was 18 (at Cloudmont, in Alabama), and eight years later went skiing in Austria on my first trip to Europe. Since then, I've visited a total of 24 countries, which includes most of western Europe and every continent except Antarctica (which ironically I had to cancel a planned visit to, due to an acute case of pancreatitis in 2013). I got my first pug when I went out on my first medical leave, and 21 years later I'm on my third and have fully embraced the joys of dog ownership. I started a jazz band in San Francisco, and performed frequently locally for a couple of years. I pursued my childhood dream of acting, part-time, for 16 years. I recorded a CD of five of my original songs, and I wrote a memoir. I'm still writing poems and collecting them for a book. Mostly, though, I've tried to create a happy and healthy environment in which to live.I'm surrounded in my home by beautiful treasures that I've collected on my trips, and I live with a dog who loves me. I try to remember to be grateful every day for all the good that I've been given, offering prayers of thanks on my sunrise daily walk. And I try to live in the beauty of the present moment, because really, that's all we have. That has kept me, for the most part, "enjoying bad health."

#ChronicIllness #Disability #Mononucleosis #Meningitis #RecurrentUTIs #RecurrentMigraines #ChronicSinusitis #RupturedDisc #Appendicitis #Sepsis #Lupus #Homeopathy #Acupuncture #Chiropractic #PugLove #ArizonaIsTheBest #TucsonanByChoice

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