Fractured Facade

"A fathers death...a daughter's life...a sociopath's vendetta...FRACTURED FACADE ...a novel written as memoir. Only $4.99 and available exclusively on Amazon. Kindle Unlimited members read for free! Click here for direct link.


THE VALENTINE'S DAY CURSE -- A Short Story, Free everywhere...except on Amazon (boo! hiss!) where it's $.99 to buy! Click here for direct link! Let them know it's free at these stores and they may price match it! Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books...more to come.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Astrological Chart Compiled in 1988 - Part One


Last week I blogged about a psychic reading I had received in 1988. Today I'd like to share some of the information of the natal horoscope I had completed around the same time. Clearly I was in a state of confusion and turned to the "universe" looking for answers. As I had mentioned in the psychic reading post, I found this 38 page tome in a chest when I was looking for some letters. It was compiled by an organization called Para Research, Inc. This is not like looking in the newspaper for your horoscope on a particular day. I had to provide not only my birth date, but actual time as well as longitude and latitude of my birth. There is so much information in this chart that it could easily become a novella, so I won't be typing every detail; however I will gaze through it and share some of the findings, which may very well encompass a couple of blog posts, depending upon how I feel about sharing them...since I am a Gemini I have been known to change my mind...hee hee.

Anyway, I think it's important to remember that this chart was made in 1988, way before the advent of the internet, cellphones, or many things we now take for granted, but were not around then. 26 years after it was compiled, I am curious to see if this astrological chart is accurate, and how it compares to the psychic reading. If I am going to comment on something I will put it in parenthesis, so here goes...

Sun-Moon Polarity - You were born with the Sun in Gemini and the Moon in Leo. Deep within yourself you are an intellectual being. You are inclined to literature, educational, and clerical work, and to documentary writing tasks of all kinds. (Very true. Most of my early career was started in an office, performing clerical tasks which opened up the gateways to other career endeavors. To this day I perform clerical work at the shop where I am responsible for the office side of the business. Although I may not have formal education past high school, I have taken many educational classes to further my knowledge and career. The documentary writing tasks of all kinds could be both the column I had in a local newspaper, and all the blogs I have written. Blogs were unheard of in 1988.)

Your mind is very changeable, adaptable, alert and aspiring. It is positive and strong. The degree to which you will be able to translate this intellectual potential into positive action depends upon the harmony of your individuality and personality. (Agree, I am my own worst enemy regarding positivity and harmony within myself.)

Internally you come under the influence of the sun in Gemini. This makes you a volatile individual. You need constant motion, whether walking, traveling, or just shifting positions. (Agree, even my leg constantly moves up and down when I'm "still.") You are troubled by the stagnation of all philosophical and religious concepts, because you view life as a dynamic and ever-changing process. Your friends are likely to share these ideas as well as your literary and intellectual interests. At a later stage in life you may join some society or association in order to further your intellectual knowledge. (Lately I have been taking MOOC on-line college classes to further my knowledge.)

The danger is that sometimes you may lose yourself in concepts and theories and become increasingly inactive. (I'm not sure about concepts or theories causing it, but can definitely become inactive if I allow myself to wallow in myself.) More determination could greatly improve your character. (I could be quite lazy sometimes, ie. spend hours watching bad reality tv, etc.) The fact is that your daily activities, which circumstances oblige you to perform, are not completely in agreement with your inner self. (Yes, yes, yes...owning an auto repair shop and having to perform all clerical duties, number crunching, advertising & marketing, dealing with the public I probably would never have anything in common with in a social environment, all in an environment I would never choose to be in, most definitely falls into this statement!) Others see you as a strong, forceful personality. It projects as stronger than you really are, but you do not mind being thought of in this way. Fate always seems to place you in situations in which you must exert authority over others and act with full responsibility. (The preceding sentences are so true it's scary. There's a sign that hangs on my office door, "The Witch Is In" and I proudly display it.  If there's a troublesome customer, friend, or foe, I have no problem calling them out. I have to be/appear strong as all responsibility of family, work, etc. falls squarely on my shoulders. If I go down, we all go down.)

A person under the domination of the moon in Leo could be fortunate in money matters, perhaps in regard to inheritance. (When this was compiled, I laughed at that possibility. It turned out to be true. I may not be rich, but I did inherit some property, etc.) You also seem drawn to all sorts of pleasures and luxuries, even in the cosmetic sense. You appreciate good perfumes, expensive jewelry and fine clothing. (I may be drawn to pleasures and luxuries like my Samsara perfume, nice hotels, a little gambling here and there and fine foods, but I'm not one to want expensive jewelery or fine clothing. I'm more comfortable in a t-shirt with a band on it, yes, even at the age of 54, than some brand name designer clingy clothing. You are open to criticism (no, not really) and you may achieve recognition and fame in life. (Now that I wouldn't mind!)You can express yourself well and do not hesitate to take positions that expose you to the the public. (Agree...many times I have found myself speaking in public, or in large groups and after that initial nerve wracking moment, quickly settle down and usually command the stage.)

You are very susceptible in love and sexual affairs. You will be fortunate with the opposite sex and will prove to be a sincere lover, that is, you will have one affair at a time. (I am sincere, although I can't say the same for the opposite sex, especially when I was younger. I have never cheated on anyone.)

It is very probably that at some point in your life the Moon in Leo will put you in a situation in which art is an important factor. You should try not to be so sensitive to the compliments of criticisms of others. (Wow, that is quite a statement which I need to follow if I assume the art is my writing. I can jump with joy upon receiving an email from someone who compliments my books, or feel like I can jump off a building when I get a one-star review!)

The key to a better integration of your being is to harmonize your more real intellectual nature with your apparently passionate personality. (Excellent advice.)

Famous people born with the sun in Gemini: Queen Victoria, Walt Whitman, Frank Lloyd Wright, Cole Porter, Bob Hope, Jean Paul Sartre, Ian Fleming, John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Igor Stravinsky, Sir Laurene Olivier, Bob Dylan. (Good company, eh?)

So overall I have to say that the first two pages of the compilation of my astrological chart was quite accurate.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

O. Winston Link Museum

O. Winston Link and George Thom with Flash Equipment, New York, NY 1956

I'm sort of embarrassed to admit that it took me ten years to visit the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke. I visited it on Saturday and have to say it is now my favorite museum in Roanoke. I'm a huge fan of black and white photography as well as steam engines so this was right up my alley. His photos are magnificent and the three I'm showing in this blog post were taken from postcards I had bought and believe me they do not do him justice.

Gooseneck Dam on the Maury River with Train No. 2 near Buffalo Forge, Virginia 1956
"It required six full days to set up and complete. To get the flash units across the river a person had to cross on a two-wire span, one for your feet and the higher one for your hands, as there were no boats or bridges nearby. The uptilted strata with water rushing between the plates of rock in the set-up area was so confusing at night that we set up guide ropes to get to the light stands and cameras. It was a great challenge, and a satisfaction to see the negative of the first exposure, without any test, was as it had been calculated to be."
One of my favorites...The sign for Solitude caught Link's eye as soon as he started the N&W project. Link noted that "This place was out in nowhere, and the more I studied the sign, the more alone I felt. I twas eerie to be in total darkness in that place. It was well-named Solitude!" It was also one of the few photos he shot totally by himself with no assistants.
I caught the end of a film on his life and wish I had had the time to see it from the beginning. O. Winston Link was born and raised in Brooklyn. Ahem, yet another talented, creative genius that shares my hometown. Although he was a life-long New Yorker, he said he always felt like he was "home" when he came back to Roanoke. He loved this city, its people, and especially its trains. We are indeed a most fortunate city that he chose us to host his museum when I'm sure he easily could have found a home in Manhattan.

Although photographs are not allowed in the gallery, the yard was opened where the 1218 stood majestically on the tracks. One of his stipulations on having the museum built here was to have the 1218 permanently placed there, and although that was an impossibility as the location is too small for a roundhouse, he was instrumental in Norfolk & Western's decision to restore and donate the locomotive to the city of Roanoke. The 1218 usually stands next to the 611 on the tracks of the Virginia Museum of Transportation which is a couple of blocks away, and the reason my family ended up in Roanoke. My son was a train fanatic and we wound up in Roanoke to visit the museum 20 years ago and ended up staying. Best decision ever. It's definitely worth a visit, especially if you have kids, and even if you don't.

Here's a couple of shots of the yard and a couple more of Downtown Roanoke...

 And just think in a couple of years y'all be able to visit us via Amtrak which is getting a station downtown. Choo Choo, all aboard!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Psychic Reading from 1988

Yesterday I went on a frantic search to find some letters. I thought I knew where I had put them for "safe-keeping" but I was wrong. When I knew I had to come to the end I decided it was time to call in the heavy gun...St. Anthony. For those of you who aren't catholic, St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things. Sometimes the "thing" doesn't have to be a tangible item, but in my case it was. I said the prayer and then went back to my office to clean up the mess I had made. I figured it was a good time to clean out and dispose of papers, etc.

I put on a CD of Gregorian Chants to clear my mind and allowed myself to become an open vessel. Not 15 minutes went by when I found myself standing up and heading to the basement. I went directly to the spare room closet, opened it and reached for a plastic box on the top shelf. I brought it down, opened it, and found what I was looking for. St. Anthony never fails me.

Actually, I found more than I was looking for as I came across many "things" especially writings I haven't seen in years. Two of the most interesting papers were not written by me. One was notes from a reading by a psychic I had visited. The other was a 38 page astrological chart and report completed by Para Research, Inc. in 1988. During that period I was getting to the end of a nasty divorce with my first husband, and had just met someone who would become my second husband. The psychic reading was mostly geared to those personal matters. I'd like to share some of the info from each finding and today I'll start with the psychic to see how accurate she was.

Relationships - "Continue with the divorce and do not marry X. You need to be with yourself in order to know what it is you need and what you do not want to repeat in your relationships. X is a good soul and he's anxious to remain in this country and you would be a means for him to say. You would feel used int he long run in this relationship for you would always question his motives."

I did listen and continued with the divorce. I did not listen and married X. That marriage lasted 7 weeks as I questioned his motives, although he wanted me to move to Copenhagen more than he wanted to stay here.

Creativity - "At this point you are filled with negative energy and you first must clear this away before you can get in touch with your creativity which you have, but you must first meditate to release negative energies. Get yourself a rose quartz crystal and this warmed will help you to open your heart to love energies and eliminate the negativity that is surrounding you. You have a goodness that is deeply locked inside of you. You must release it without fear of being abused and taken advantage of, for this goodness is what is the godliness of your personality and will bring you much joy and peace in your life. You will help many people, but first you are to be with yourself in order to discover yourself and the great potential of your being."

I was very negative during this stage of my life...a divorce will do that to you. I believe I did get the rose quartz which warmed my heart so much that I got married again to X, so it back-fired.

She went on quite a while about how I need to be by myself in order to explore myself. This is a brief passage - "When you are in a relationship you give 100% to the other person and then lose yourself for then you almost do not exist any more.You need to be by yourself in the sense of not committing to one person for when you are alone in this way you can get more in touch with your inner self and find out many things about the talents you possess. And the love for yourself will grow large and when one loves oneself then one loves God for you are god manifested on the earth plane and you have been giving your power away to another soul and this is not correct. So in your lifetime in order to be happy and without depression you need to work only on yourself. Be selfish at this time in your life for it will bring you great understanding for the reason that you came come to this life."

She was right as I had given myself 100% to my first husband who was like a vampire draining my energy. When I realized I was doing the same thing with #2 I stopped, and started to become more "selfish" which wound up in us getting the marriage annulled.

Psychic Healing - "You are a healer. When you get in touch with your kindness and goodness that is found in your presence you will heal many people. You will keep them in touch with themselves by just giving your attention to them. You can't understand at this time what I am telling you but trust that your power is so tremendous that in this energy everything that comes in contact with it is healed."

I didn't understand it at the time, but not long afterwards I did find myself using psalms and the laying of hands on people to help them. They swore it did. I don't know. One time my daughter, who is riddled with numerous exostoses, had a huge one on her wrist which was very serious. She was quite young and they couldn't risk surgery as it was on the growth plate. The specialist was concerned that her arm would stop growing or it would inhibit her from being able to function normally with that hand. We just had to wait it out and see. I prayed, prayed, prayed over her. I went to Mary's Basillica at Regina Pacis Church in Brooklyn and begged Mary to help intercede. I asked Padre Pio for his help, and of course, Jesus as well. I would put holy oil, holy water on her wee little wrist, and just let the energy of light and love flow from the top of my head, through my heart and out my fingertips to her. She would say her wrist would get hot. I had no idea if it would work. Six months later xrays were taken again and the tumor was gone. The specialist scratched his head and had no explanation. I told him about my prayers and he said anything was possible. I loved him for not mocking me and hated when he left town for a better position in another state. My daughter still had scores of tumors so it wasn't as if I was this major healer who could just will away all ills or anything, but I do believe something happened to help her with that particular one.

To this day total strangers will come up to me and begin talking to me out of nowhere. It's like I'm emanating some sort of beacon for the downtrodden and distressed who feel the need to spill their guts to me. I can offer a word here or there, but still don't understand why I attract so many people, living as well as dead, yet have had such a hard time forging meaningful friendships in Roanoke.

Dreams - "Hotel dream is telling you about yourself. It is showing that you are changing. The different hotels is your many-sided personality. You are confused to which way you want to be, who you are in truth alludes you. Going up the elevator and escalators means that your soul is desiring growth to reach the highest plane to connect to truth which is god and this dream shows you clearly how important it is that you do this work to find yourself alone for no one is with you in this hotel and you are the explorer and the exploration is of yourself."

I still have dreams of hotels, elevators and escalators. I usually am by myself. Once again she was telling me to be by myself so I could explore myself. After marriage # 2 failed, that's exactly what I did. I traveled abroad and became "selfish" to do everything I wanted to do. I needed to accomplish this for myself. It took me a while, but I stopped hating myself and understood that the actions of the people I was surrounding myself with were negative to my growth. Once I let all of that go I became happier and my heart was more open. It took a couple of years to follow my heart again and that's when I met husband # 3. He was nothing like the other two. He gave me two beautiful children that I was able to devote myself entirely to because I had already been selfish and experienced everything I needed to in order to be a good mother.

Writing - "You will write and you will be recognized, but not for a long time. In the later years of your life you will write and be successful for you will write from your deepest heart which will be very open in that time."

I guess it did take a long time to be recognized. I did have a column for two years at the local newspaper, but more importantly I believe she was referring to the writing & publishing of my first novel, Fractured Facade which practically killed me. It did come from my deepest broken heart, as did my short story, The Valentine's Day Curse (which you can read for free.) More books to come...

Guides - "You are guided by five guides. You have an angel, your grandmother, an Indian and a soul from a past life that was your husband that lived with you in Rome many years ago. He was a very jolly type that sang and played and never worried over money, and he had such a free spirit that you could not understand him, but he is guiding you now to find your own free spirit. Allow your guudes to come through to teach you for they will. You must trust them. The grandmother of your mother is also a guide."

Interesting. I know I do have a guardian angel because I've gotten out of situations that are unexplainable unless someone "divine" intervened. I did visit Rome two years after this reading and I felt like I was at home. It was amazing. Perhaps that guide is why I was always attracted to musicians and the type that never worried about money, and maybe my grandmother, or my mother's grandmother, was the one that finally opened my eyes to change what I normally went for. The Indian is probably the one that helps me with my spiritual aspects and love of photographing nature.

Conclusion - "Elena, you will have much work to do in this life, but this work can be very ???(can't make out my handwriting!) if you learn about your own power and your connection to the energy of love. You will then have much joy and peace. You are on the path now and this is just your beginning...much adventure ahead. Enjoy!"

Yes, there has been much adventure in my life, and the best parts have always been fueled by the energy of love.

I think I may begin meditating again...

Friday, January 17, 2014

My RA Story- Part 6 - Is It a Miracle?

So, when I went for my follow-up with the new rheumatologist she said, "Okay, I looked at all your tests and I don't know how you are going to take this, but I don't think you have rheumatoid arthritis. Nothing points to it." My reply, "Oh my God, that's what I thought too after looking at all the tests. Could it just be in remission?" "No, if you had it and it was in remission you would still have the markers, which I'm really not seeing." "So, are you saying that I've been on chemotherapy for 3 1/2 years for nothing? And why would my other doctor feel Enbrel was so necessary?" "I can't say. You have some symptoms that could be RA, but based on these numbers I have my doubts." "So what do I have?" And that my friends is the question that still needs to be answered.

First things first is to rule out RA, and getting off Methotrexate is the first step. She decreased my dosage to 4 pills a week for two weeks and then zero after that. She said it would take 8 weeks for the MTX to be totally out of my system. She wanted me to return then to see how my body was handling it, and if I noticed any difference. Well it's been 4 weeks since I popped those pills and I feel absolutely no worse, and yes, maybe even a little better because I'm not so fatigued from them. Or maybe I feel better because she prescribed Meloxican, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, to take as needed. Over the last month, I have taken it 8 times.

She recommended I get arthritis gloves which I found in the form of crafter's gloves which are tight gloves that have the finger tips cut off. I wear them when my hands are aching. She also suggested I get a paraffin wax bath which my husband got me for Christmas. I've used it twice and both times I have scalded my hands. It's literally dipping your hands in hot melted wax a couple of times and then putting plastic over your hands and placing them in mitts for about 15 minutes. The fun part is peeling all the wax off your hands. It reminds me of when I used to put Elmer's Glue on my palms, wait for it to dry, and then peel it off. Only this is more painful. The first time is the worst. Each additional dip isn't as bad as the wax is hardening and getting thicker with each layer to protect your skin. Of course, underneath that first layer your skin might have third degree burns.  There is no regulator on the bath, so it's just freaking hot wax which is almost boiling. I probably should Google the process as I'm probably doing something wrong.

But along with one tablet of Flexeril at night that's it. That's all I've been doing. Altough I'm not pain free, it seems to be more bearable. So now here I am wondering what the hell has happened? You have no idea how much that Methotrexate has fucked me up. And if my spidey sense hadn't alerted me to seek out someone else I could very well be shooting myself up with something even worse. And all these crazy thoughts go through my mind. Have I been taking it all these years for no reason? Did I ever have Rheumatoid Arthritis to begin with? Was I miraculously healed when I went to Padre Pio's Shrine and asked him to heal me, or when I sent in the prayer cards and put that down as one of the intentions besides praying for my loved ones, or maybe when I said this prayer while rubbing his holy oil into my hands and feet...

Padre Pio - I just noticed his gloves are similar to the ones I'm wearing

Most blessed and beloved St. Pio, you were chosen to glorify the crucified Jesus Christ through the visible wounds of the Cross that you bore for 50 years. And like our Lord Jesus, you demonstrate your great love by sharing the many gifts bestowed upon you -- especially the gift of intercession.

Because of your great friendship with the Lord, He responds to your requests and blesses those who you bless.

I now add my prayer to the many offered to you every day by those who seek your help to obtain healings and consolations, earthly and spiritual blessings, and peace for body, mind and soul.

In your caring kindness, bless my loved ones and me, and intercede for this special request...(Here's where you mention your petition.)

In your great love, St Pio, please continue to pray with us and for us. Amen.

I do believe in miracles but was it one, or, was it a misdiagnosis? I don't know. Hopefully I'll know more in a month from now.

By the way, I highly recommend printing out the above prayer in case you know someone who needs it. It can't hurt, and who knows, maybe it might surprise you.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My Rheumatoid Arthritis Story - Part 5

Before I had my follow-up appointment I was notified that test results had been posted to My Chart. My Chart is a service of Carilion where you create an account which allows you to view your medical record. That includes future appointments, tests that are due, test results, and an email option where you can get in touch directly with your doctor. It's a very useful and practical service that certainly beats me having to badger a nurse to please send the results to me as soon as possible.

I started to read the results and began to wonder if perhaps I was reading them wrong. Some of the findings just didn't make sense to me. I am going to share some of them with you now:

Xrays of foot - "3 views of each foot. Preservation of joint spaces and bone density with no evidence of periarticular demineralization or marginal erosion. No definite periarticular soft tissue swelling. No acute fracture or osseous malalignment. No abnormal soft tissue calicifications. Mild right 1st metacarpophalangeal osteoarthrosis."
Impression: No features of an erosive arthropathy in either foot.
Comments from the doctor's office: Your xrays look fine.

Xrays of hand - "3 views of each hand. Preservation of joint spaces and bone density with no evidence of periarticular demineralization or marginal erosion. No definite periarticular soft tissue swelling. No acute fracture or osseous malalignment. No abnormal soft tissue calicifications. Corticated ossicle adjoining the left ulnar styloid process and a subtle corticated irregularity along the ulnar aspect of the distal left diaphysis suggesting old trauma."
Impression: No features of an erosive arthropathy in either foot.
Comments from the doctor's office: Your xrays look fine.

The "old trauma" would probably stem from when I was a pre-teen. I remember slipping and falling on the ice and hurting my left wrist/arm. I swore I had broken it, but nobody believed me. I never went to the doctor for it, and had an Ace Bandage as my therapy. To this day most times I can tell when it's going to rain because it hurts.

Notice how both xrays do not mention rheumatoid arthitis at all, and my foot mentions minor osteo arthritis.

Hepatatic Function Panel - All levels were within normal range except for the ALT which was only slightly elevated. I do not have hepatitis B or C.
Note the comparison of numbers between the two labs as well as the Standard Range each one uses:

Carilion - AST - Mine - 31. Standard Range - 10-42 ALT - Mine 66. Standard Range 10-60
Dr. DoNothing's Clinic - AST -  Mine - 44. Standard Range 15-37 ALT - Mine -106. Standard Range 30-65

There is quite a difference not only between the two labs, but between their Standard Range.

According to the 2010 ACR Classification Criteria for scoring/diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis, the following four tests are used:

Sedimentation Rate - Mine - 12. Standard Range 0-30.

The sedimentation rate (sed rate) blood test measures how quickly red blood cells (erythrocytes) settle in a test tube in one hour. The more red cells that fall to the bottom of the test tube in one hour, the higher the sed rate.

When inflammation is present in the body, certain proteins cause red blood cells to stick together and fall more quickly than normal to the bottom of the tube. These proteins are produced by the liver and the immune system under many abnormal conditions, such as an infection, an autoimmune disease, or cancer.

The normal rate for a woman is 0-20. I have 12.

CCP AB IGG - Mine - less than 2. Reference range: 0.0 to 5.0 Interpretive Table: Low Positive: 5.1 - 14.9. High Positive - more than 15.

Citrulline antibody is an immune protein (antibody) that binds to a non-standard amino acid (citrulline) that is formed by removing amino groups from the natural amino acid, arginine. Citrulline antibodies are measured with a blood test that is analyzed in laboratories.

Research suggests that in the joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, proteins may be changed to citrulline as part of the process that leads to inflammation of the rheumatoid joint. Citrulline antibody has also been referred to as anti-citrulline antibody, anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody, and anti-CCP. A plasma protein that rises in the blood with the inflammation from certain conditions.

My antibody was less than 2, way under the low positive of 5.1 - 14.9.

C-Reactive Protein - Mine - 0.44. Standard Range less than 1.0

C-reactive protein (CRP) is one of the plasma proteins known as acute-phase proteins: proteins whose plasma concentrations increase (or decrease) by 25% or more during inflammatory disorders.

CRP can rise as high as 1000-fold with inflammation. Conditions that commonly lead to marked changes in CRP include infection, trauma, surgery, burns, inflammatory conditions, and advanced cancer.

.44 is less than 1.

And for the main event:

Rheumatoid Factor - Mine is less than 10. Reference range: less than 14. Interpretive Table Low Positive: 15 - 41. High Positive: above 42.

Rheumatoid factor is an antibody that is detectable in the blood of 80% of adults with rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid can be detected in the blood of normal individuals and of those with other autoimmune diseases that are not rheumatoid arthritis.

In people with rheumatoid arthritis, high levels of rheumatoid factor can indicate a tendency toward more aggressive disease and/or a tendency to develop rheumatoid nodules and rheumatoid lung disease.

Normal is under 15. I have less than 10.

Now I don't have a medical degree, and I didn't stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I know how to read. Unless I'm in Opposite World the results of my tests all point that I do NOT have Rheumatoid Arthritis.


Monday, January 13, 2014

My Rheumatoid Arthritis Story - Part 4

I think my breaking point came during my last visit at the end of October when I went to  Dr. DoNothing and had the usual blood drawn only to find out that he neglected to put two of the standard tests requests in. When I received my results and noticed they were missing, I called his nurse who said, "Yeah, I wondered why he didn't put those ones in." Oh, really, you noticed? Then why didn't you ask him? I asked if they could just use the blood I had already given. Of course they couldn't, I would have to go back and pay an additional fee to have my blood drawn. I was pissed and let the nurse know. She said he was putting the order in as we spoke and I could come anytime. Fine. I went later on that afternoon. Guess what? There was no order put in. WTF? I asked to speak to the doctor or nurse and was told both had left for the day. Fuck this shit. The lab woman overheard me, stuck her head out of the door, and said she would draw the blood and put it in, since she remembered me there the week before. I thanked her, but I knew the other two were screwing with me. I also knew I was never going back.

I had an appointment with my family physician the first week of December who listened to my tale of woe and said someone from his office would get back to me that day with a referral for the Carilion specialist. I hoped my doctor had pull and would get me in to see the doctor I was told wasn't taking any more patients. As promised, later that afternoon I did get a call from Carilion to set up an appointment, but it wasn't with the doctor I had hoped. He still wasn't taking any new patients and was going to be out for a couple of months anyway. I was recommended to a new addition to their staff, an Indian doctor who was a female.

None of my doctors are female so this would be a new experience. The first thing I did was Google her name and saw she came from New York City (yay!) and had her residency at Stony Brook University in Long Island, and worked at Columbia University Medical Center. The best doctors I had when I was living in New York were either Indian or Egyptian, so I was already getting a good vibe. She specialized not only in rheumatoid arthritis, but also fibromyalgia and internal medicine. She also presented a study she had performed at last year's 2013 ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting in San Diego entitled, "Oral Calcium Not Linked to Higher Coronary Atherosclerosis Risk in RA." I'm already impressed with her.

I got an appointment pretty quickly for the following week and I liked her right on the spot. She was very easy to talk to. She asked lots of questions, and not a one about getting her car fixed. Although I brought her copies of my blood work from the last visit with Dr. DoNothing, as well as my baseline readings from over 3 years ago, she thought the best course of action was to order the tests she wanted which not only included the usual blood work, but tests for Rheumatoid Factor and since my liver was doing so poorly, hepatitis, which I have never received, as well as xrays of my hands and feet.

She didn't want to prescribe any new medicine or alter what I was presently taking until she saw the test results. She did however, assure me there were definitely other options besides Enbrel and Methotrexate. That's exactly what I was hoping to hear. Was there light at the end of the tunnel, or is that a train coming at me? I didn't know, but I made a follow up appointment for two weeks later.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Rheumatoid Arthritis Story - Part 3

I started asking around for rheumatologist recommendations and everyone kept mentioning a certain doctor at Carilion. I called them and asked for an appointment. I was told said doctor was not taking any new patients and I needed a recommendation before any doctor from Carilion would see me. I became discouraged. My pain was increasing so I called Dr. DoNothing's office and asked if there wasn't anything I could do for it. The nurse said no, my only option was Enbrel. "If a family member of mine was in your situation I would make sure they got on Enbrel."

Why were they pushing Enbrel so much? Even Enbrel's own literature stated that it was only to be used for moderate to severe cases. I really didn't feel like I had a severe case. My husband's aunt has RA and she has a very severe case. She's had many surgeries and you can see the nodules on her. She takes gold. When I was first diagnosed I called her to ask what I could expect. She asked me what "number" I had. I told her 14. 14?! She said that was barely RA...her numbers were up in the 400's! She smoke, she drank, and told me she never let it get in her way. Sure, she had really bad days, and sometimes she didn't want to be around people, but she said that is was okay to feel that way too. I asked her about Enbrel and she said even in her condition she wouldn't risk it.

I started doing more research on Enbrel and everything I read I didn't like. Now that's not to say that it isn't a Godsend for some people, but there was just something about my doctor's insistence that Enbrel was my only option that didn't sit right. I began to wonder if perhaps doctors got some sort of kickback or something so I did a Google search. Lo and behold I found all these articles that Amgen, the maker of Enbrel just recently had to pay $762 million in an illegal drug marketing scam.

From the article: "Amgen also found itself on the wrong side of at least 10 whistleblower lawsuits. “For instance, two former Amgen sales representatives alleged that they were directed by management to promote Enbrel for mild psoriasis even though it had only been approved for more severe forms of the skin condition,” Ankin writes. “Some of the whistleblower lawsuits also included allegations Amgen paid kickbacks to doctors who prescribed the drugs for off-label uses.”

Other articles and blogs were just as disturbing. Amgen reps instructed to poach medical records? What? Even with all the fines, etc. the parent company continues to make money, as stated in this article from October 2012, banking on Enbrel -- "Analyst Steve Brozak of WBB Securities said he's concerned Amgen depends so much on Enbrel, which is in an "exceedingly competitive" market. The drug provides about 25 percent of Amgen's total revenue and one-third of its sales in the U.S., where he expects insurers to start pushing back against the high prices of biologic drugs.

Enbrel and rival medicines such as Remicade and Simponi work by tamping down the immune system to control disorders including rheumatoid arthritis and plaque psoriasis. But they leave people open to infections and possibly unforeseen consequences after long-term use, Brozak said."

Amgen's stock price when that article was written in October 2012 was $89 a it's trading at $116.64. How much does Enbrel cost if you have to use a pen injector prefilled with 50mg, once a week? According to this Consumer Reports $2,690 per month! That's $32,280 per year! I'm not certain how much the insurance would cover. My plan covers 40% so let's go with that number. It would have cost me over almost $19,368. How much did my Methotrexate cost me per year? With insurance $180. If I didn't have insurance it would have been $443.88. If my numbers are close, there's no way I would have been able to afford it anyway.

Now, I'm not saying this particular doctor is getting any sort of kickback or anything, but if he's insisting this is my "only" option I am saying, I will find another doctor for another opinion. It was time to visit my family physician again...

*To be continued...*

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My Rheumatoid Arthtritis Story - Part 2

My tri monthly visits to the rheumy lasted shorter than the time it took me to find a parking space in the lot. The longest time I spent in the clinic was waiting in the waiting room. My "Miss America" moniker disappeared, and any questions I asked him were always poo-pooed. "Don't you think my liver numbers are getting too high?" "They're a little elevated but nothing I would worry about. Think of it this way, even though the speed limit says 25mph you usually go over it, and that's okay." I hoped he didn't tell his newly-licensed daughter that!

I was getting concerned because at the very start of my diagnosis my liver levels were perfect. And keep in mind I've been a drinker my whole life as well as a Tylenol junkie. Those two elements were gone and another element had reared its head...high cholesterol. All of a sudden I had a problem with that, never thinking that maybe the MTX was contributing to it. My family physician put me on Fenofibrate which did bring the numbers way down, so I thought everything was okay. Meanwhile, the same family physician was giving my husband hell because of his liver levels which were half of what mine were! One doctor was reading him the riot act while another one was telling me not to worry about putting the pedal to the medal. I made a note to myself to bring my blood work to the next GP visit.

At the rheumy visits he would look at the blood results from three months ago. I couldn't grasp my head around that so after about a year and a half of looking at old numbers I began to ask him to let me take the blood work a week or so before my office visit so we could look at accurate numbers. He informed me that wasn't the way he did it. He had everything "scheduled" so that wouldn't work. I didn't want to argue so I let it go, for a little while. I did let him know I was still in pain so he told me to take Ibuprofren for it. I also told him that the MTX was wiping me out. I was so fatigued for two days after taking it that I was pretty much useless. He upped the Folic Acid to two pills every day and said that would counteract the tiredness. I told him I had added a bunch of vitamins to my regiment. He laughed and said if I wanted to waste my money that was my choice. Funny dental hygienist informed me that I should not take Ibuprofren with MTX as they interacted. I told the rheumy this and he said only if I use it "a lot." I told him I didn't want to use it at all and asked for something else. He prescribed Meloxican. When I got home I filled it, but before taking it, checked out Medscape's drug interaction site. Guess what? A serious interaction was found! So, no, I did not take it. Now I'm starting to really question my treatment, and have come to accept that there is nothing that I can take to relieve my pain.

On some visits he would squeeze my hands or knees and ask if it hurt. Ummm, yeah, when you squeeze them like that they certainly do hurt. But it was always a hit or miss thing. When he would ask me to gauge the level of discomfort on a scale of 1 to 10 I would say it doesn't work like that. "Today is a good day, I'm not in pain. If you would have seen me last weekend I was in pain. I notice it gets a lot worse with the weather changes." He said that wasn't the case. "The weather has no effect on you." "Umm, I think I know if it does or not, and believe me it does." He didn't believe me. He rarely, if ever and only when I asked him to, would listen to my lungs. I had read on-line that MTX could cause problems with the lungs so I thought that should be part of the routine exam. It wasn't.

And then fate stepped in. After a typical useless exam I had my blood drawn. When the results came in my rheumy who I had begun referring to as Dr. DoNothing happened to be on vacation so the head of the department looked at them. His nurse called and said my liver numbers were way too high and they wanted me to take a repeat test. When I looked at the numbers I laughed to myself as they had been way higher on other occasions. When the numbers came back high again Dr. DoNothing's nurse called and told me to drop the MTX to 5 pills per week instead of 6. I asked if he wanted to see me and she said no, not until the next office visit, 10 weeks away.

Meanwhile, my family doctor had taken me off the Fenofibrate because I showed him my liver numbers and relayed what Dr. DoNothing had said, "They could be be high because of the cholesterol medicine." After being off the cholesterol medicine for 6 months, my family doctor took more blood -- my liver levels were elevated and now my cholesterol was way up there again too. He told me to "watch my diet, avoid sugar, exercise, yada yada yada," but no more pills for now. I asked him what he thought about my treatments for RA, noting my poor numbers, my fatigue, and still painful existence, and he sort of deferred to the rheumy with a shrug of the shoulders as "he was the specialist, and they probably have a different threshold as to how high the levels should get." I told my family doctor I still was unable to sleep well so he prescribed the generic version of Flexeril. I began taking them and finally, finally, was able to sleep again. I also noticed I wasn't in as much pain throughout my muscles.

About two weeks prior to my next rheumy visit I decided I had enough of looking at old numbers and wanted to be able to talk to him face-to-face with current blood work numbers. I called the nurse and after leaving a couple of messages I finally spoke to her and told her I wanted them to put the order in. She said she would talk to the doctor. Well, long story short, and after a heated exchange with the nurse about how ridiculous this process was, he would not budge and refused to allow me to have my blood taken ahead of time. The day before I was to have my appointment I get a call from the office saying he was out of town for the next week and they needed to change my appointment. So much for his "schedule." Fine, I decided I would confront him then.

So I did. His stance was, once again, everything was according to schedule. I brought up how he cancelled my last appointment so the "schedule theory" is a farce. What difference would it make if I went one week prior, especially since many rheumatologists actually test their patients every 8 weeks, not 12 weeks like he does. "Well, there may be other tests I want you to take." "What other tests? It's the same routine every single time. If there are additional tests, I will pay the extra fee to take it." "Well if that's the case then you can come back here after the tests and we can go over them." "So, what you're saying is I should come in for my appointment, go give blood, and then when the results comes in pay another office visit to see you?" "Yes." "No, that's not how it should work. It should work how it works with my family doctor. I take the blood a week before seeing him and then during my visit we go over recent results." "I'm sorry you're not understanding me, that's not the way I do it." Now I'm boiling mad at this point and point out that the last results, read by the department head caused me to drop down on the MTX. How does he rectify that after all those other results where my liver numbers were even higher?

He ignores that statement and instead tells me I'm getting angry for no reason. I apologize and explain I'm Italian and from Brooklyn and if something is on my mind I'm going to let it out, do you understand me? So doctor let me ask you this, "What happened about putting the RA into remission?" He actually smirked and said, "Oh, that's never going to happen." I'm stunned, "You told me the first visit that by treating it aggressively we could put it into remission." "Oh, that's very rare." "So did you tell me that to just give me false hope?" "If you want to look at it that way." "Well, what other way is there? What would happen if I stopped taking the methotrexate?" "With not taking a biologic? You would become deformed, the disease would progress and you'd be in very bad pain. You really need to think about going on Enbrel." "Enbrel? Are you kidding me? You think I'm going to inject myself with a needle? I'd like you to run a test to see how bad the RA is and if it's improved." "Oh, it doesn't work like that." "What do you mean? Can't you get a number to see if the disease is progressing?" "No." "Well, how about taking more xrays. It's been over 3 years. Let's see if there's any more damage." "No, that's not necessary." "So what am I supposed to do?" "If I were you, I would begin taking Enbrel." "Those side effects are worse than the cure!" *Click here for a list of side effects which include Cancer.* "Don't pay attention to those side effects. They have to put that out there if even one person has it happen to them. Think about it and let me know what you want to do. See you in 12 weeks."

I know what I want to do. Never mind that. I know what I need to do...get another opinion. At this point I'm beginning to think Groucho would serve me better...Calling Dr. Marx, Calling Dr. Marx...

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Rheumatoid Arthritis Story - Part 1

I am now entering the third week of not taking Methotrexate, those horrible yellow chemotherapy pills that I had been ingesting for 3 1/2 years. When I was first diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis back in September 2010 the rheumatologist prescribed a heavy dose of prednisone, along with 6 tablets of MTX per week. I despised the prednisone as it made me very moody and packed on 20 additional pounds within 2 months. I didn't know if it was the MTX or the prednisone that was helping reduce the inflammation, but was happy to get the hell off of them. A couple of weeks later the pain returned, but I did not want to go back on the prednisone. I was told the MTX would stop the pain. It didn't. Let me back up a little to when I was first diagnosed...

Weeks prior to going to my family doctor I was having difficulty sleeping, and my whole body ached. It was pain I couldn't quite put my finger on as it radiated throughout the bones and muscles with the strongest throbbing being in my hands and toes. My doctor thought some of the symptoms sounded like RA, but he wasn't sure so he referred me to a specialist. After taking x-rays and blood work the rheumatologist told me I had RA. I was devastated, and confused. The rheumy was very nice and told me not to worry, he could put it into remission by bombarding it with chemotherapy pills. I was aghast at the mere mention of such treatment, but he assured me that was the way to get it under control and into remission. Of course, it came with all sorts of warnings and possible side effects, the worst one in my view, being damage to my liver. I could no longer take Tylenol which was my go-to pain relief medicine, and worse, I could no longer drink alcohol, other than 1-2 glasses of wine per week, on the fourth day after taking the MTX pills. No!!!!!! I would have to be monitored every three months with bloodwork and visits to him.

At first I got along with the rheumy...he was very personable, maybe too personable, as he was always complimenting me, and telling me personal things about himself. I figured since he wasn't from this country maybe that's how the doctors in Ghana interacted with their patients and I was okay with it. Then things started to go sour. It came about once he found out I owned an auto repair shop. He would ask me questions about cars, like I know anything about that. I gave him a card and told him to speak with my husband as he was the mechanic. The rheumy was buying his daughter a car and had so many questions, none of which I could answer.

Anyway, it was one Saturday and he called the shop and my husband happened to be there working on his wood. The auto part of the shop is not opened on the weekends. When this "man" who didn't identify himself called asking for me, my husband got defensive, perhaps thinking it was one of the million telemarketers who call constantly for me, so replied to the tune of something along the lines, "She's not here, what do you want from her?" Knowing him, there might have been a curse word sprinkled in there. The caller then identified himself and said he wanted to bring a car down right then and there to have my husband check out. My husband let him know the shop was not opened but he could bring it in during the week. The caller did not like that as clearly my husband was there so why couldn't he just stop what he was doing and look at the car. I'm sure my husband's answer to him was probably not the most "polite." My husband did call me after the conversation and ask who the hell was this guy as he didn't like his attitude. I got mad at my husband for being so curt with him. My husband responded he was sorry I felt that way but the guy was an asshole. Cut to my next office visit...

The first thing the rheumy asked me was not how I was feeling, but instead stated how nasty my husband was, "What did he think I wanted to date you?" I was taken aback and explained to him about all the telemarketing calls we receive and that was more likely the reason he was abrupt at first. I also told him the shop is not open on weekends, but he could come during the week and that would be fine. He dismissed me with a "I already found someone else, and I bought the car." I responded with a "Okay, great, hope your daughter is happy. Good luck to her." And as far as I was concerned that was that. But, from that day on he wasn't the same to me...

*To Be Continued....*

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Downtown Roanoke

Welcome and Happy New Year to you! You're not going to find any resolutions here. Don't believe in them. Am only going to break them, so why bother? For those regular readers of this blog you may have noticed I've really slacked off with my posts over the last couple of months. Oh, I've got reasons and excuses, but today's not the day to talk about them. Instead, I'd prefer to think of the first day of this year as motivation for the remaining days of the year to get me moving again by igniting and keeping lit my creativity fuse. What better/easier way than with photos?

For Christmas my lovely daughter picked out a new camera for me. I had a couple of "must-have" feature requests such as a long optical zoom, fancy-schmancy effects, easy to use, something small enough to fit in my bicycle pouch, and one that would be comfortable in my ever crippling hands and cheap enough that when I dropped it I wouldn't freak out. She found exactly what I was asking for in the form of an Olympus Stylus SZ-15. In another post I will review it after using it for more than one day.

Yesterday she and I went downtown and it was the first time I was able to explore a little with it. So, without further adieu, here are a couple of shots of my hometown of Roanoke...

The Taubman Museum using the sparkle filter.

This was taken using the optical zoom at its max 24x which I believe is equal to 600mm. Notice the quality has not deteriorated. When I took it I didn't notice the birds on top of the sign.

Fragmented effect

Original shot of Taubman using no effects

Using the Reflection effect. First time I've had a camera with one.

Same position, same subject, same effect, totally different outcome. So far this is my favorite effect.

Again, same subject, different effect.


Unfortunately we had to leave downtown quickly or I would have experimented with many more settings and subjects. I foresee many cool pictures in my future, and some really unique book covers too...