Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Interstitial Cystitis and Other Auto-Immune Bullshit

There are things I want to do in life and curling up in my glamping cabin in Carolina with raging Interstitial Cystitis isn't one of them. Traveling is one of my favorite things to do. One thing I worry about when traveling is getting hit with one of the gremlins of my mostly manageable autoimmune problem (Sjogrens Syndrome).

Interstitial Cystitis is the one I worry about when flying. I make sure I get an aisle seat in case I need to get up twenty times an hour. Sitting too long on a hard airplane seat or getting dehydrated can kick off a flare. Normally I use that as an excuse to upgrade my economy seat to one of the cushier comfort seats.

Delta Comfort you rock!

Sometimes I can't swing an upgrade. Don't you hate how money is so damn finite? Me too. When I can't manage it, I suck it up and fly in the hold or wherever, but I go anyway. Because I'm not letting this thing stop me.

I figure I can be miserable anywhere. It might as well be in Greece!

Or Cleveland, or Charlotte, or wherever the muse takes me. Sometimes that is right here at home in the shire. 

Since dehydration can also be brutal, I drink a ridiculous amount of water when traveling. It's ironic because I probably get up as much to wee that water back out as I would when I'm having an I.C. flare. At least it doesn't feel like lava. 

Is that TMI?

We all have bodies. We all have trouble when they malfunction. Talking about my aches and pains bores me. But I have a point here.

When my mother-in-law, Gummy, was struggling with dementia and Alzheimer's, the one reaction that upset me most was when it was treated as something slightly embarrassing. It was bad enough that she felt ashamed of her mental shortcomings, but to have it treated as something other than a horrible medical condition was more than I could stand.

Not talking about Interstitial Cystitis because of flaming bladder spasms or the need to pee doesn't sit well with me. I will speak of embarrassing truths. When a friend with M.S. whispers to me that she can't go out today because she's having an I.C. flare, and that her doctor told her it's the new normal—I will say what's in my heart and experience.

I don't believe that. There's a lot you can do for this problem. 

Sometimes nothing will work. But sometimes dietary changes or simple over-the-counter meds can make a world of difference. 

So if you have Interstitial Cystitis or bladder spasms (or even frequent trips to the loo), and you've seen a doctor and know it's not a UTI, here's a list of what works for me. I hope it helps you!

  • Some baking soda dissolved in water. It can quickly lower the acidity of your urine. That burning feeling usually goes away when I do this. (If it works ask your doctor for sodium bicarbonate tablets. It's easier to travel with. You don't want to carry a vial of white powder into another country.)
  • There's a product called Prelief. It's OTC, but as I've said before it's difficult to find in stores because us I.C. people buy it all. Meds and I don't work well together, but this is as innocuous as Tums. 
  • White Tums. My urologist recommends these. Again it can help lower the acidity of your urine.
  • Marshmallow Root Tea is purported to help line the bladder, soothing those tiny cuts that make acidic foods bother it. You have to drink it daily.
  • According to The Better Bladder book, I.C. might be an allergic reaction that causes inflammation. They recommend Nettle Tea because it's a natural antihistamine. Since Marshmallow Bark didn't work for me, I've been trying it.
  • Thermacare stick-on heat packs are magical. I get the ones for your neck, but I don't put them on my neck. The heat helps relax the pelvic floor muscles. Go ahead and try to wear it through airport security if you need more excitement in your life. (Tip: It might be smarter to put it on after you go through!)
  • A hot bath is excellent too. 
  • Sleep. You have to sleep. 
My last flare was particularly brutal. Stress definitely makes I.C. worse. At least I now know I can fly during a major flare. I can do this miserable thing and still have my amazing life. While it was awful, it was good to know I could handle it. 

For a couple days afterwards I ate mostly alkaline. That meant celery-cucumber smoothies. There are only so many foods high in alkaline. Unfortunately you can't subsist on them for long. That's when Prelief and baking soda come in. 

For me I find that these life hacks work—except those times when nothing works. 

I try to be scientific about this, but I'm not a scientist. With this problem you never really know if something is working, or if the problem was naturally subsiding. But while in the middle of a wicked flare, when it feels like you drank napalm and everything in your pelvic floor is spasm-ing and sharp, if you take a couple Prelief with a drink of blended cucumber and celery and it lessens, I say you're onto something.

My spasms tend to ebb and flow. I have to be very careful about what I eat. Caffeine drinks, chocolate, and red meat are usually on my hell no list. They are brutal for me. Of course I cheat at times. You know those times when you think you've got this figured out, and having two Chai Lattes suddenly seems like it should be okay? Maybe you imagined or assumed that connection the last ten or twenty times you had it.

This is also known as being a slow learner.

The best I've dealt with this problem is when I don't eat flour, sugar, or red meat. After reading more about auto-immune problems and I.C., I decided to go completely gluten-free. It felt like jumping on a bandwagon, but I do know I have a wheat sensitivity that I like to ignore during pancake season. 

The thing I notice when I eat bread and pancakes is that I get tired. It feels like after Thanksgiving dinner. A nap is necessary. 

It's only been a couple of weeks, but being gluten-free combined with Nettle Tea seems to be helping. At least I haven't had hives or rashes, or even an I.C. flare lately. 

Going sugar free is really tough. At least it is if you're a sugar crack-ho like me.

My body objects. The part of my brain in charge of sugar-highs (about 80% of it I think) keeps reminding me where they keep the chocolate at Target, and that summer is made for ice-cream, and life is short, and what about cake?

Day two and four were headache days this past week. I recognize those headaches as the kind I get whenever I detox from sugar. Lots of water and an occasional Advil helps me. 

Kicking the Sugar Demon deserves its own blog. I'll get back to you on how well I'm doing in a month or so.

Today my brain had a lot to do, but it managed to realize that there is no gluten or sugar in certain kinds of chicken wings.

You have to give your sugar-addicted brain credit when credit is due. Despite the headache, it managed to come up with that. Way to go brain! I gave it some wings. So far so good.

Blogging from the mosquito-infested wilderness
Like I said previously, how do you really know what's working and what is coincidence? I just keep at it, tossing in plenty of setbacks and mistakes. But the important part is that I keep going with it. If I can manage to travel with flaming I.C., I think I can handle living my life without sugar and gluten. Again. I mean it this time. Again. 

If your brain has managed to come up with some excellent life hacks when it comes to giving up sugar or gluten, please share! With I.C. I can't have artificial sweeteners at all. So I can't even try to fake my brain out. Not that it'd fall for that. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Giraffes, Free-Range Children, and I Think I Saw Jane Goodall

karfelt, travel, writerly status, writers life, writing, valencia, spain
The Glitter Globe/

Giraffe's have long black tongues they wrap around leafy branches to tug food into their mouths. At least these Spanish giraffes did. Little kids tore bits of greenery from nearby trees and offered them in hopes of coaxing the animals closer. 

We stood on a wooden bridge over the giraffe's habitat and I waited my turn. Feeding the animals isn't just for kids. They shoved and jostled each other, but I waited. Patience is my superpower. Sooner or later the elephants up ahead will catch someone's attention and they'll hurry off.

It took me most of the morning to walk to the Bio-Park from my hotel. I got lost several times. Since I know no Spanish to ask for directions, I just kept walking. Valencia boasts futuristic bridges and buildings. They're sometimes featured in movies set in the future. But most of the town looks like anywhere USA to my eyes.

The animals at the Bio-Park aren't in cages. They're free-ranging mostly, like the children who are now attempting to entice the giraffes into eating clumps of dirt or the littlest one's hair bows. The giraffes aren't falling for it, so the kids head for the elephants.

Patience is an epic superpower.

Circuses and zoos stress me out. I worry about the animals even while admiring them. Here I worried about myself at first. Something brushed the top of my head as I stood by a tree looking at a map of the Bio-Park. Only then did I notice lemurs moving through the trees above me. 

I loved being so close to the animals, but I've lived on the outskirts of where the deer and the antelope play. I have a healthy respect for animal-human boundaries. As humans we sometimes have differing agendas. When I'm hiking and happen across a mama bear and her cubs, or when I'm pushing a stroller and see a bobcat slinking in the yard next to me—I get nervous.

Once I took my kids to one of those drive-thru zoos in Texas. We rolled down the windows because they provided a bucket of food for the animals. They knew the drill and hurried to the car. The giraffes were polite about it. They scoot lower and both nose and tongue are suddenly through the car window. The ostriches weren't polite. I don't think they know how to share. I loved them both, it's incredible to get so close to them, but I also love my kids and quickly surrendered the entire bucket to the most insistent bird.

Sometimes it's better for everyone just to look and move on.

There was no bucket of food to entice the Valencia giraffes, but my persistence paid off and I patted a nose or two. 

The BioParc gorilla habitat is spectacular. It's wide open spaces and a waterfall. The people path goes through a cave-like area. Heavy glass is the only thing separating us from the gorillas here. Several young men stood on my side making gestures at a large male. Sitting stoically he endured for a time, then suddenly raced after smaller gorillas in the habitat and hit them.

Just like people, apparently gorillas take out their frustration on others sometimes.

I wished there were rules posted about not teasing the animals. As I continued through the cave-like area I came upon another window. A huge gorilla lay sprawled on his side alternately placing a foot or hand against the glass. A woman sat on the other side pressing her hand on it against his. 

For a moment I watched, transfixed. I thought, she looks like Jane Goodall. After a moment I snapped a quick photo and went on my way. Cue me a couple years later now, finally going through thirty thousand photos or so of my travels. As I put together a video to share, I saw that gorilla and woman again. Once more I thought, that really does look like Jane Goodall. 

This time I got on google to see what the odds were. To my surprise she's been at the Bio Park in Valencia. So maybe. Here's the video. My Maybe-Jane is at the 1:45 mark. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Either way it was a serendipitous moment for me. For that gorilla too, I think. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Naughty Pet Stories—The Best Kind (When it's Not Your Pet!)

"Today I noticed a wet spot on the rug and thought, no. No, Pika wouldn't do that. She's been house trained for years. She's a lady." 

"What else could it have been?" I asked my friend who'd called.

"Oh, that's what it was! She peed all over the place. My neighbor told me she has this light. You shine it on the rug and it lights up if your pet has wet on the carpet. I'll send you a Snapchat photo of what I saw."

In which Pika is hardcore busted.

The carpet had to be completely replaced. 

Turns out Pika didn't like to piddle in the cold snow.

I've been framed! I need my lawyer!

Snapchat is one of my favorite things. I like it so much that I had to delete it. The number one thing I miss most is the naughty antics of other people's dogs. But I had to get on with my life. 

I adore pet stories. Especially when it's someone else's pet. My BFF and her Jack Russells help me resist driving straight to the pound and filling my backseat with canines. 

I'd like half a dozen hairy barkers please, and a few cats!

Rocket belongs to my bestie and he's one hell of an excellent mouse hunter. Now I appreciate dogs who aren't above mouse hunting. They refuse to let cats corner that market. You wouldn't think I'd be so callous about mice. As a kid I had a pet mouse who lived in a bird cage that dangled from my ceiling. I used to keep the door to the cage open so he could walk along the top of my bedroom curtains. 

There are grand advantages to living with your grandmother.

These days I live in a house in the woods and I do not want mice on my curtains or in my house at all. My own dear and partially rotten dogs were mouse hunters like Rocket. Only they weren't any good at it. I had two. Radar the Brittany Spaniel and Tex the Beagle. They'd race across the yard with noses to the ground, rooting through dead leaves or clumps of grass, or in the winter, snow. 

They'd find mice too. Especially in winter. Sort of. They just never knew they'd found any. Many times I'd stand beside them while they both had their heads buried under snow coughing and snorting, shivering with the thrill of the hunt. Blind to their success as they rooted. The mouse would race out of her ruined home, running across the white snow. Occasionally a bird of prey flying overhead would swoop down and BAM

Tragic really, unless you live in the country and see ticks and plague when you look at mice—rather than pets or Angelina Ballerina. 

"Tex! Radar! Look! Look! They're getting away!" 

But they never looked up. Mostly the mouse would simply move to a new home and birth thousands of rodent babies safe from my dogs. So while technically they were mouse hunters, they sucked a bit in the follow through. 

Rocket didn't suck.

One fine day Rocket's spidey senses alerted him to the unwanted presence of a mouse in the garage. Game on. He whirlwinded through bikes, shovels, rakes, and gave chase. The mouse hid inside a cardboard box. It didn't stand a chance. Snout snapping, Rocket tore his way through the box with a fury known only to little (but enthusiastic) dogs. 

When BFF managed to grab onto Rocket, his enthusiasm had mysteriously vanished. Breathing hard through his nose he hung his head and drooled. Assuming the mouse was inside the jaws of death per usual, she attempted to pry open his mouth and get it out. But Rocket's jaws wouldn't open. His teeth were clenched firmly together. Suddenly he looked woebegone and miserable. 

BFF realized he wasn't clenching his teeth. They were glued shut. The cardboard box had been made of cardboard and glue. Rocket got enough paper fiber and glue in his teeth that it solidified and stuck them together.

Off to the Vet with Rocket.

Don't worry. He was fine, but Rocket's Vet probably owns at least one vehicle thanks to the proceeds of BFF's Jack Russells alone.

Is there a special glue to unstick a dog's teeth? Does that happen often? How many times in a week do you suppose a Vet gets a dog with his teeth glued shut? 

Once I had a high-maintenance Golden Retriever named Max. One day he ate a brand new leather leash and collar with the metal clip and buckle. The Vet had to go in through the wrong end of the dog to get it out. Surprisingly that wasn't as pricey as you'd think.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a Veterinarian. The truth is that the only reason I wanted to be one was so that I would never run out of new dog stories. I'd have made a horrible Vet. There really isn't enough money for me to ever go up through the wrong end of someone's dog. 

Sorry, folks. There's no way to get that leash out. You'll need to put Anubis's affairs in order.

When I was a kid my grandmother had a pet monkey named Gomer. He was the smartest one in the family. No disrespect intended. They're pretty clever people, but I don't think a single one of them is capable of picking open any lock known to man. That monkey had infinite patience when it came to combination locks or those little key locks.  

Returning home we'd find he'd escaped. There'd be toilet paper unrolled and pillows unstuffed, and pretty much anything done to a home that puts joy into the heart of a evil little monkey.

I always called Gomer a Boomerang Monkey because anytime we gave him away, he came back.

If Google and my memory are to be trusted, he was probably really a Capuchin. Think organ grinder monkey. Maybe a bit shorter. Naked. None of us kids were brave enough to attempt putting clothing on that monkey. 

One day he escaped and after terrorizing the house, he apparently got tired. Because he leaned against the bottom of a bed and tied knots in the fringe decorating the edges of the bedspread. Giving it his all he tied knots in that fringe right around his own neck. Lots of knots.

Gomer had to be wrapped in that bedspread and taken to the Vet just like that. Can you imagine the Vet? There is a shrieking monkey wrapped up and tied inside here. Your mission is to free him without losing a finger. I assume they tranquilized him because when Gomer got upset there was a blood sacrifice and he took no prisoners

You cannot reason with a Boomerang Monkey.

Gomer didn't like his cage, and a good deal of the time he didn't have to be in there. We lived next to a park and Gomer adored perching on top the fence and watching the world go by. A monkey on a fence in the Mid-West attracts attention. If people happened upon him they'd usually rush him squealing, "Monkeeey!"

Gomer would lose his mind. If he got off his leash he'd race up a tree. Sometimes he'd pick a tree in the park or one down by the river. I do recall family taking turns at the bottom of a tree trying to coax him down. It could be my imagination that he sat up there flipping us the bird. But it's probably true that he'd learned that much sign language. 

If Gomer couldn't behave himself he'd have to go to timeout in his cage. Once in there he'd sing sweet chirpy monkey songs of repentance. If you fell for that crap and scooted too near his cage he'd grab a couple handfuls of hair and scream monkey shrieks of I have just taken a child hostage, dammit! You best let me out!

Monkeys have wicked canines and a fierce bite. 

Voldemort's followers had the Dark Mark in Harry Potter. My family had monkey scars. Woe to the person holding the monkey's leash when someone ran toward him shouting about the cute monkey.

Gomer would lose his crap. If you didn't let go of that leash, you'd lose some flesh. 

Yet the only time he ever bit me was that one time I sat on top his cage.

Never ever sit on a monkey's cage.

There are absolute truths in life and that is one. I used to tell my kids Gomer stories when they were little. The moral of the story was usually that monkeys don't belong in cages. They belong in the trees of their homelands. But I'd always end my tales with, "Never, ever, sit on a monkey's cage." I think it has served them well in life. 

The only strange pet my kids had was one pet snake. I called him Houdini because no matter what my son did to his cage he'd escape. Snakes don't really bother me, but seeing that thing slithering down the hallway would give me instant hot flashes. 

My son tried everything to make the snake tank Houdini-proof. That ended up causing my strangest conversation with a Vet.

Yes, hello? I'm wondering if you could tell me how to get duct tape off a snake?

One surefire way to piss off a snake is to soak him in water and "gently" peel duct tape off of him. Nothing says I love my kid more than doing stuff like that. 

By the way, I could hear the Vet laughing while they explained
S.R. Karfelt
Author & Monkey Cage Sitter Survivor
what to do. Fortunately my ten-year-old couldn't. The snake was fine too. Naughty pet stories are only good if they have a happy ending for the pet. They don't have to end so well for the kid who sat on the monkey's cage. People need to learn respect, don't they? 

Since I never became a Vet (much to your relief, I'm sure), and I had to give up Snapchat, I'm running dangerously low on naughty pet stories. If you have a good one, this is the place to share it. Let's put some fun content on the internet—even if yours demanded a blood sacrifice too.