Sharing the lessons along the way…

Never. Stop. Trying.


never stop tryingPerhaps you know this about me by now, but if it needs mentioned, I am a person of action.  If something in my life is not working, I make every effort to put a plan in action to change it.

I bring this up because I am starting to wonder if most of our medical care isn’t contrary to this notion.

Off and on for years, I have asked, “What else can I do about this or about that?”

Often the response I get is, “Nothing.” Or perhaps, “You can try this medication or that medication.”  My all-time favorite is “You can get used to it.”  That one I will never forget because that was about me being wheelchair bound and we know how that turned out.  I never did because I didn’t believe I couldn’t do something about it.

It is rare that I get information from a doctor that allows me to do what I do best—take action.  I have gotten this from physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychotherapists, alternative medicine practitioners, and speech therapists; however, in my lifetime of visiting various medical practitioners.

While I might not always enjoy what the action is (take the intermittent self-catheterization for a prime example), I am willing to take it.  While I don’t get information from the doctor or whomever, I will take action to research it to try to figure it out anyway.

Several months ago, I learned and started doing pelvic floor exercises in an effort to avert the need for the use of the icky catheter.  While it hasn’t prevented that, I know it is helping strengthen my pelvic floor area which is necessary for bladder, bowel, and sexual function.

Neurogenic bladders, neurogenic bowels and such are fairly common with spinal cord injuries and diseases that affect the upper and lower motor neuron pathways.

My illness supposedly has upper motor neuron only involvement, and I will spare you the details of what I have taken upon myself to learn about the relationship between the upper motor neurons and these neurogenic systems.

My point is this:

I am doing just about everything I can possibly do that is within my power.  If it isn’t within my power to take action, I am taking action anyway to change my perception about it.  I am never going to love the catheter.  In fact, I may always think it is icky.  But I can still appreciate its necessity and how little control I have over its new role in my life.


I Put What, Where?!?


In the spirit of really sharing what life is like with a chronic, progressive neurological illness, I felt like this too should be something you should get to know.  It would be my preference that this part of it magically disappears, but that probably isn’t going to be happening.

My last mention of bladder issues was in my last update when the urologist increased my medication.  The increase in medication to help me to urinate was not consistently giving me any relief, so the next step was to go in to have a nurse teach me how to self-cath.  I called last Wednesday, they said to come in that day, and I cried as I hung up the phone.

I really didn’t want to do this.  That was old news, but I didn’t know exactly why until the tears came when I hung up the phone.  More than not wanting to, I didn’t like thinking about what it potentially meant in the big scheme of things.

Just the same, I went, cracked jokes with the 22-year-old nurse who was teaching me, and learned anatomy that I probably should have learned in junior high science classes.  I toted out a large, clear baggie filled with single use catheters, along with my walker and purse back to the car.

Since then, I have gotten the hang of it.  My skill level isn’t matching my comfort level with doing it, however.  I find that each day I am growing more and more resistant to using them.  I don’t like it.  It’s gross.  I don’t know that it ever won’t be icky.  Of course it doesn’t matter how I feel about it, just so long as I do it with some regularity.

No one seems to be talking about this anywhere on the web.  They mention it, but don’t mention anything else—particularly what it is like emotionally to self-cath.  I never hear anyone with my illness talking about it, so it is my hope that someone somewhere might give me just a smidge of validation.

Neurogenic bladders aren’t talked about (some on MS and spinal cord injury sites) despite the fact that these are usually made worse by medications used to treat spasticity and clonus symptoms. I admit, this is not something I really want broadcasted out there on the world wide W myself, but it seems to me that someone needs to start the discussion.


The Tawny About Town

June got so busy that I actually forgot to mention a couple of relatively random, but fun experiences.

While it is only two brief moments of media fame, I wanted to share them with you!

If any of you are local and fans of National Public Radio, you may have heard my friend Marilyn and I share our story with the Story Corp folks.  We recorded our 30 minute story in January and WSUF played all of the local recordings.

You can listen to our three minutes of fame here.


Credit Story Corps

Credit Story Corps

My friends Dawn and Anna founded a non-profit organization called Murals for Mutts several years ago, and both Duke and Amore are on some of those murals that raise monies for other animal rescue charities.  Sadly, one of the murals in St. Petersburg, Florida has to be painted over, so we were on the local news talking about it.  I have one little tiny sound bite, but it was fun anyway! ;-)

Here is that clip:


Tawny St. Pete Pet Project


Duke and Amore’s picture was also used in the Tampa Bay Times Article about the mural the week before the news clip.


Now Leaving Crazy Town

Now Leaving Crazy Town

June has been incredibly busy and full of changes and crazy!

Duke started out the month with a serious back issue that at this point seems relatively well-managed with medications.  What was more interesting was how I handled the crisis initially, then what happened next, then what happened after that.

We were at work when I noticed he was tripping and having a lot more trouble getting his hind legs underneath him.  As the day wore on, it was getting worse, so I scheduled a vet appointment.  Within an hour, I had called the vet back to be worked in directly from work.

The good news was that it was his back.  What I had done in my head was to spiral him into complete organ failure.  Yes, I know.  I had gone to Crazy Town until our veterinarian came in and assessed the situation.  Tears of relief and worry only fell after that.

He was to call in sick for the rest of the week to rest and let the medications take effect.  It was taking a bit longer for the medications to work than I expected, so by midweek, I had explored a new level of Crazy Town.  I knew I had crossed a line toward a larger city.

I was in Crazy Town about work, about Duke, about social security’s repeated attempts to collect twenty-five thousand dollars, tending to my classes, and grappling what to do next.  Even in Crazy Town, I knew everything was going to be ok, but the town was starting to rub off on me, so it was making that idea of “ok” seem farther and farther away.

My friends agreed that I had crossed a line, and I already knew I was crossing it.  I had crossed from Crazy Town into the big city of Maniacal.  Reeling myself in, I started to take some action to get at least back to Crazy Town.

I back-tracked my route into Crazy Town from the city of Maniacal.  Along the way, I found a backup therapy dog to remove some of the pressure for work from Duke.  After several phone calls and several weeks, I scheduled a meeting with a nice (seriously she was) and helpful (really, I am not being sarcastic) woman at social security.  Duke was on the mend and got a good follow-up report from his doctor after having been back to work for over a week.

I was on my way home from Crazy Town after filling out an adoption form for a wonderful program that has rescue greyhounds they train and certify as therapy dogs.

Until, I took a wrong turn at a roundabout (I can never get those right).

I ended up back on the road to the city of Maniacal for a day because the processing of the adoption paperwork was happening too quickly.

Was Duke ready for another dog in the house?  Was I ready for another dog in the house?  This quickly?  What if the dog bumps Duke and injures his back?  I didn’t know how I felt about “replacing” Amore.

Shortly after my wrong turn, a beautiful road sign appeared that got me back on the right road.  I was heading away from the city of Maniacal, and was even almost clear of Crazy Town.

A local greyhound rescue had a perfect dog for me that would go into the other program, then come home in August if I wanted her.

Well, she greeted me at my car with kisses.  When she and Duke were introduced, it was as if they knew each other and she belonged in my house with us.

She started training Friday, I now have a payment arrangement with social security that is do-able as of Thursday, Duke and I have a work plan to moderate his activity and survive the summer heat at work.  The backup therapy dog will be on vacation for a couple of weeks, but when she returns, she will still go once a week, so that Duke gets a day off.

When Ruby gets back home and is adjusted, Duke will show her the ropes at HEP.

I have no plans to revisit Crazy Town or the city of Maniacal.  I wouldn’t recommend either as vacation destinations.

New Family

moment 6-1-14

I want to give you a long overdue physical update on me, so let me see if I have gotten a good enough handle on everything to share it coherently!

First, let me say that overall, I am still happy with my decision to remove the pump, and I am in no way complaining about any part of the symptoms or issues I am about to share with you.

Let me start off with that annoying burning torso that I have spent so much time talking about in previous blogs.  It is still there, still intermittent, still hard to predict and/or manage.  It is less intense and there are days when it isn’t present at all.

The urinary retention issues, which boil down to a neurogenic bladder, were much better as the baclofen dose in the pump was removed and early on when I wasn’t taking any medications that depress my central nervous system.

In order to function upright, I had to start taking those medications to better manage the ridiculous clonus symptoms, which has led to an increase in medications to help me empty my bladder.

It appears that the medications for the clonus relax the bladder, but not the urinary sphincter.  The bladder muscles need to contract to squeeze out the urine and the sphincter needs to relax enough to let it through.  Mine aren’t doing the right things.

If the latest increase in medications doesn’t help consistently enough, I will go back and learn to self-cath.  It sounds awful, but not being able to empty my bladder is far worse.

I am functioning upright with a new (and quite sporty looking) walker, and in small spaces and short distances without a walker, if my legs feel cooperative at the time.  While I am using up energy focusing on raising each leg to make sure I take full steps with my feet off the ground doing this, it is what I am choosing to do for now.

Could I conserve energy by spending some of my time in a wheelchair as the physical therapist suggested?   Absolutely! But I am choosing to arrange my schedule so that there is recuperation time in between activities that require a lot of walking.  So far, I am ok with this arrangement because I do not want my legs to forget.  It has been ok, even with the increase in hours at the Homeless Emergency Project and an additional online class to teach.

While I am driving short distances, I have figured out that I am having difficulty accelerating and sustaining the same speed.  If this gets any worse or I start to feel more uncomfortable, I have already started researching the possibility of adapting my car with hand controls.

The jaw clonus continues to be an issue, so whenever I am home working on my classes or recuperating, I always wear my bite guard.  It seems to be the best solution I can come up with at this time and it will do.

I am thrilled that even with the increase in working hours that I am able to keep my house clean and take care of all of those day-to-day things that are needed.  I am making it a point to get enough sleep and to have enough down time before bed as possible to make that even better.

While there are issues that quite honestly suck, for now, I think I have made those just about as manageable as possible.  Should any of those sucky things get worse, I even have some tentative plans in place for that too.

I have simplified and streamlined just about every area of my life in recent months and am taking all of this as it comes.  This frees up my brain space to be in the moment, which is a wonderful thing.



Reflecting Gratitude


When there are major milestones, events or changes in my life, I am often pausing to reflect.

I enjoy the pauses because they are opportunities to remember that I have much to be grateful for in this life.

The milestones, events or changes don’t even have to be my own for me to pause, as it seems I spend a great deal of time reflecting.  I believe I have shared before that I have always been a very reflective human.  As I get older, I seem to do it more and more.

As my mobility has decreased again, I find that I have the opportunities to do it with greater insight and clarity than when I was busy bustling around trying to make up for what I viewed as lost time.

I find reflection to be a very grounding exercise because I think that in order to appreciate where we are now, we truly must appreciate how we arrived at this particular point in our lives.

The month of May brings with it so many opportunities—both new and old—for contemplation and reflection.

It began with the 13th birthdays of my beloved pups, only one of which is left to celebrate.  The opportunity also came for Duke and I to work with more frequency at the Homeless Emergency Project, and new opportunities in my college teaching life.

These opportunities and birthday celebration was followed by the birthday of my long ago deceased mother, quickly followed by the celebration of mother’s day.

In between mom’s birthday and mother’s day was the anniversary of Duke’s therapy dog certification with Project PUP, and soon it will be his work anniversary at the Homeless Emergency Project (HEP).

Interspersed throughout are events (both positive and negative) and milestones reached by friends, family, coworkers, students, former students, and residents at HEP.  Many of them are also finding themselves reflecting on their own journeys to this very moment in time, and the opportunities that are before them.

My reflections allow me to evaluate my journey in terms of how well I am meeting my own personal goals in the grander scheme of things.

Am I being love to the best of my ability?  Am I being in fear less?  Am I doing all that I can to be the change we all wish to see in the world?  Are my choices consistent with that primary goal?  Am I helping others to find their power?  Am I learning to let go sooner, resist less, and separate past emotional reactions from present situations?  Am I simplifying and streamlining tasks and activities in ways that make the most sense?

While these are all questions I seem to ask with each major decision I make, I have realized that it is also important that I consider them all in even the simpler decisions that come up from day-to-day as well.  That is why I added the simplifying goal for 2014 to the rest.

This month is providing a more thorough evaluation of where I am in my own bigger picture.  I am quite comfortable with what I am seeing as I reflect, and am looking very forward to the opportunities ahead.

May isn’t quite half-way over and all of this reflection has me grounded in so much gratitude.

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