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The Zebra Mom in the News

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

So this week’s blog is coming a little early because we are flying off to London tomorrow. This week has been very tough on me because my legs have become so weak that I can not stand up without help. I am on day two of a migraine and nausea too. So driving 3 hours up to Dublin and flying to the UK is going to be very hard on me. This will my third trip in a year going over to London for treatment and testing.

This trip I am having autonomic testing and physiotherapy. The children are also going to see their physio on this trip.

The last couple of weeks have been mental though. We have been on three newspapers, another on the way and I have been on the radio too talking about the lack of care in Ireland for patients with EDS. I am also lobbying for medical cannabis to be granted for those with chronic pain. I found out just yesterday that one of the newspaper articles below was read out in the Dail (Irish Government building) during a presentation about medical cannabis. Apparently my story of just wanting to be better for my children moved a lot of people. Medical cannabis could make that a reality.

The Zebra Mom in the News

Article from The Southern Star by Kieran O’Mahony

‘I’m left helpless to ease their pain’ says Clon dad in bid to get UK treatment

Echo photo

A CLONAKILTY man who says it pains him to see his wife and two young children suffer from a cureless condition, has set up a funding page to help them access treatment abroad.

Martin Nevin set up a GoFundMe page for his wife Evie (30) and their two children Alexander (7) and Olivia (2) who suffer from Hypermobile Ehlers Danloe Syndrome (EDS) and Dysautonomia.

The chronic, multi-systemic conditions have left his wife and children susceptible to joint dislocations and chronic pain and fatigue, as well as many other issues which can severely affect their standard of living.

In a poignant post on the page, Martin outlined why he set it up.

‘It pains me to see these three fantastic people suffer, to watch a woman with so much talent restricted from sharing it with the world, to see a boy with the will to climb a mountain withdraw from fatigue and to see the sweetest and the happiest little girl ever cry with agony due to dislocated joints.’

‘I can do nothing but watch their symptoms flare up. I’m left helpless to ease them and that is why I’ve set this page up so my family can get the treatment they need,’ said Martin.

Although the condition is slowly being recognised here, there are no specialists or facilities in the country to help sufferers, leaving the Nevins with no choice but to seek treatment abroad.

‘The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes are a group of connective tissue disorders which cause the body to produce faulty collagen and collagen is the glue that holds our bodies together. We are also affected by Dysautonomia, which means out autonomic systems don’t work properly. While Alexander and Olivia are not very affected by this condition, it does affect me and it can cause me to faint by simply cooking dinner,’ Evie told The Southern Star.

Evie and Martin have been told by the HSE that there are no plans to help patients with EDS in Ireland, so they are looking to London for treatment. ‘It’s a little too late for me now, as my body was neglected for almost 30 years, but the children are lucky to have been diagnosed so early,’ explained Evie. ‘So with help in the UK, we hope that they won’t become as affected as me.’

Evie said she is almost house-bound seven days a week, and she has been unable to work for several years due to her condition.

‘We want to give our children the best possible chance at a normal life and it’s really only now that I am getting tests and treatments for myself.

‘While we look to getting treatment abroad, we’ve been told that the Treatment Abroad Scheme won’t cover the costs to the UK, because our doctors are private consultants and the Cross Border Directive won’t cover our tests because they need to also be available in Ireland, which they are not.’

Evie and Martin also received another big blow with the recent announcement that chronic pain won’t fall under the Medicinal Cannabis Bill.

‘Medicinal Cannabis is often recommended for EDS patients in the US because patients are often resistant to pain medications, particularly opiate-based pain killers,’ added Evie.

Evie herself has been working tirelessly to get this condition recognised in Ireland and has written extensively on this for many newspapers and journals, as well as spearheading a campaign for all EDS sufferers.

The family recently attended the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in London where they met with professors who specialise in EDS and Autonomic Dysfunctions.

‘We have had to break up the trips over to London which is more expensive, so every time we go back they add on other tests and consultancies, so we are going to be fundraising for the foreseeable future.’

The family have set up a Go Fund Me page to raise the vital funds to avail of the treatment in London and they and their friends have already been fundraising by holding events in Clonakilty.

See www.gofundme.com/2befu24c or see ‘The Nevin Family Treatment Fund’ on Facebook.

Interview on C103’s Today show

Play from 56:20 to hear my interview below

 

Article on The Irish Examiner by Sarah Slater

Cork family pleads for help to battle rare illness

A young mother and her two children are battling an illness that is consuming all of their short lives.

Nevin Family

Evie Nevin, aged 30, her son Alexander, 7, and daughter Olivia, 2, have the rare and debilitating condition, hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS).

Although EDS is slowly becoming more widely known in Ireland, there are no specialists or facilities in the country to help people with this condition.

There is no cure for EDS, but with careful management and specialised physiotherapy the quality of living for someone with EDS can be improved.

Most Irish EDS sufferers are referred to Rodney Grahame, consultant rheumatologist at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, London, who has said: “No other disease in the history of modern medicine has been neglected in such a way as EDS.”

Members of the EDS community have campaigned for specialist treatment here, to no avail. They recently learned that there are no plans by the Government or health services to implement any.

Evie, from Clonakilty, Co Cork, is prone to hip and wrist dislocations on almost a weekly basis. She is extremely effected by changes to pressure and can be left bed-ridden with pain from something as small as a rain shower.

I went from getting up at 6.30am and getting home at 9pm working as a journalist in 2012 to being someone just existing in 2013,” she explains.

“I remember being very self-conscious all the time because I rarely had the energy to get dressed and people only really saw me in my pyjamas. I got called lazy a lot. That hurt. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew it wasn’t laziness.

“When Alex was diagnosed my heart broke. I felt so guilty. My genes did this to him but, thankfully, I’ve moved past that now because what’s the point in feeling guilty? He’s lucky that he has been diagnosed so young and that he has an excellent school who support him by providing resource hours, an SNA and movement breaks.

“It was confirmed for me before Olivia was born. I felt her skin and saw the hint of blue in the whites of her eyes when she was born.

“My heart goes out to Martin. He didn’t ask for this at all. When we first met I was still relatively ‘normal’.”

Evie’s husband Martin, 29, has thrown himself into fundraising to get his family the specialist treatment they need, as well as being a videographer. He’s also determined to keep their spirits up.

“I feel like such a burden to him, but he never makes me feel like that,” says Evie. “Even on days when I’m in agony and not so pleasant in my manner, he doesn’t complain. He has never once made me feel bad for being sick or for the kids inheriting my genes. It’s all down to me and my issues.

“He took his ‘in sickness and in health’ vow very seriously! He’s a brilliant dad and husband and treats us when he can so we have things to look forward to. When you’re stuck at home six days out of the week, most weeks, looking at the same four walls, you need something to keep you looking forward.”

For now, the focus is on fundraising, but the Nevins are facing the fact that they may have to emigrate to properly deal with the condition. They have been told they cannot access either the Treatment Abroad Scheme (TAS) or the Cross-Border Directive (CBD).

“The TAS only covers treatments available on the NHS,” says Evie.

“The Hypermobility Unit in St John’s and St Elizabeth’s in London is a private hospital so our consultancies and treatments won’t be covered.

“The CBD will only cover medical issues that are also available here in Ireland and the tests and scans I must have in London are not available in Ireland.”

In a statement, the HSE said: “EDS is treated across Europe by multidisciplinary teams, often led by physiotherapists, with extreme cases being sent to orthopaedic for corrective surgery. EDS is readily treated in Ireland by physiotherapists. There is no specialist centre in Europe or the UK.”

Evie refutes this: “There is no treatment available here, no matter what they say. The people in charge will say rehab in Harold’s Cross is an option, but they are in no way experts and the reviews from my community haven’t filled me with any confidence that they could take care of me and my complex conditions.

“Right now, we are aiming to move abroad somewhere where there is better care and where the air pressures are more stable than Ireland. The kids are becoming affected by the pressure changes too. Both of them wake in pain when we have particularly nasty weather.

“Obviously I can’t blame the Government for the weather, but I do blame them for not setting up a clinic for people with connective tissue disorders.

“We need somewhere with a multi-disciplinary team like in London. We need consultants that communicate with each other. Things slip through the cracks because of the lack of communication and a holistic approach.”

One development that could make a huge difference to the family’s lives is medicinal cannabis. Those with EDS are often resistant to pain medications and they find it difficult to manage their pain. Medical cannabis is recommended for EDS patients in the US.

There is an increasing call by medical support organisations for greater access to medicinal cannabis for patients with debilitating conditions.

A Health Products Regulatory Authority report published last month advised that, if a policy decision is taken to permit cannabis under an access programme, it should be for the treatment of patients with three conditions — spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis; intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy; and severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy that has failed to respond to standard anticonvulsant medications.

“When health minister Simon Harris announced that only three conditions would be approved, none of which are related to chronic pain, I was devastated,” says Evie. “I had been hopeful and excited at the idea of having some normality back in my life.

“Medical cannabis could be seriously life-changing for my family and me. In the US, EDS experts highly recommend cannabis as a form of pain relief as many patients are resistant to painkillers, specifically opiate-based pain medications.

“I have changed pain medications so many times because I’ve become resistant pretty quickly to them. This is now starting to happen with my current medication, Tramadol.

“I’d rather have medical cannabis over my Tramadol because taking 5,000 painkillers a year can have serious repercussions on my body. If I can access cannabis safely and with help from the HSE, I may not develop symptoms of long-term opiate use such as depression, hormonal dysfunction, and respiratory depression, to name just a few.

“I have used cannabis-based products to manage my symptoms. I use a MediPen, which has been helpful for my chronic fatigue, but not for my pain. I have smoked cannabis and I find that, on days when my Tramadol isn’t working, it’s the only thing that helps manage the pain.

“I also find it good for my appetite because I don’t eat a lot when I’m in a lot of pain. I’m so nauseas and I find Tramadol suppresses my appetite sometimes. There are days I’d be lucky to get 800 calories into me. I would like to be able to access cannabis legally so that I can function a bit better in my day-to-day life and be a better mother and wife to my family.”

For now, another round of tests and physiotherapy for Evie, Alexander, and Olivia at St John’s and St Elizabeth hospital in London, as well as flights, accommodation, and private medical consultations in Ireland, mean the young family need to raise in the region of €10,000 for the first trip.

Martin says: “It pains me to see my family suffer. I can do nothing but watch when their symptoms flare up. I’m left helpless.

“So I’m asking the public for their help, as a father and as a husband, to send my family to get the treatment they need. Anything you can spare, even a few euro, will make a massive difference.”

You can find out more on their GoFundMe page, or on Facebook.

The symptoms

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a genetic connective tissue disorder that affects the joints, skin, and blood vessel walls.

Sufferers usually have overly flexible joints and stretchy, fragile skin. This can become a problem if a wound requires stitches.

There are 13 types of The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes and symptoms vary.

Overly flexible joints can result in dislocations and early-onset arthritis. Fragile skin may develop prominent scarring. Those with the vascular disorder are at risk of often-fatal ruptures of major blood vessels. Some organs, such as the uterus and intestines, may also rupture. Pregnancy can increase these risks.

In other forms of the disorder, fainting and low blood pressure occurs because blood vessels stretch. Stomach wall lining is fragile and bowel ruptures can occur. Constipation and other motility (movement) disorders feature, as does gastroparesis (paralysis of stomach; inability to process food).

Excessively loose joints are the hallmark of hypermobility disorder as suffered by Evie, Alexander, and Olivia. Large joints and small joints are affected. Partial and total joint dislocations are common. Many experience chronic limb and joint pain.

ENDS

It has been a crazy couple of weeks and thanks to these journalists, we have reached our first goal of 10,000 Euro! When the Irish Examiner piece came out over 2,000 was raised in that day alone. I am truly blown away by stranger’s generosity and kindness.

Another good thing that came out of all of this is that I have had parents from all over the country ring me to ask for advice regarding their children. Sadly, and also not surprisingly, many families are given diagnosis but then offered no support or solutions. In Ireland we have to fight for every support we get. This is no country for disabled people. The entire health system is lacking in every sector.

Standing up and speaking out does work. You just got to keep chipping away at the block. I truly believe my story has made a difference in regards to awareness and lobbying for medicinal cannabis.

Next on our press list is an article with the Evening Echo. We hope that some more newspapers, radio stations and TV stations get in touch. Not so that we can fundraise, but to raise awareness and give chronic pain patients a voice.

Until next week,

Z.M

 

 

A letter to my fellow chronic illness sufferers.

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

Recently I’ve read posts from fellow chronic illness sufferers about having to endure ignorant comments from strangers and sadly, friends and family about how how hard it must be for those in their life caring for them without their own difficulties being acknowledged. Now, I’m not saying that life for carers isn’t hard. They have it so tough but, what outside observers tend to forget is that there is a vulnerable person, in pain, unable to look after themselves who have feelings of loss, despair, grief and insecurity. Many sufferers are still dealing with the fact that they are not 100% independent. That can be a very difficult pill to swallow.

For those of you who have had to endure such ignorant comments, this letter is for you.

Do you ever have days where you think: “God, I’m such a burden.” or “I need something but I don’t want to ask for help again.”?

I do. All. The. Time.

How many of us have been with friends or family and listen to them go on and on about how wonderful your husband/wife/partner etc is for taking care of you? Most of them will be somewhat diplomatic but, there are times when you are unfortunate enough to endure a conversation with an ignorant friend or stranger.

You know your spouse/partner is wonderful that’s exactly why you are with them in the first place. You don’t need someone to tell you how hard it is for them to put up with your moods that are a result of fatigue, pain and pure unadulterated frustration. You don’t need  them to remind you that you depend on them to help you with tasks that any healthy person could do for themselves.

When someone says: “Isn’t he/she great for looking after you?”

This is what we hear:

“You’re a burden on your husband. You know that, right? If you didn’t have him you would struggle and probably be alone.”

OK, OK. It might sound a bit dramatic but if it’s what you hear almost every time your illness is discussed it grates on you. Words are funny things. When people are already insecure in themselves they can read into things that may not have any ill intent. Chronic illness eats away at our bodies but it also eats away at our minds and self confidence.

You hear how great your partner is more than you hear how great you are for not getting into bed and never coming out of it no matter how much you want to do that sometimes. But that’s the nature of having a chronic illness, isn’t it? People simply don’t get it. Unless you have a life threatening illness, nobody really listens. Chronic illnesses aren’t “sexy” diseases that can be marketed as well as life threatening ones. People don’t get that your symptoms are for as long as you live-there is no cure and there is no looming death sentence.

Yes, it is really hard for caregivers. Especially for parents and partners of people with chronic illnesses. Caregiving can often be a full time job without the pay. But, imagine how hard it is for the person who is being cared for. Having to be cared for can be downright humiliating. You need help getting off the toilet when your hips are giving you trouble, you need to be lifted out of the bath because you’re dizzy. You need help dressing because your so fatigued after having a shower. You need someone to cook and clean for you because you simply can’t. It takes years for people to come to terms with this-if ever.

You shouldn’t have to be considered “really special” to take care of your significant other, isn’t that the whole point of committing to each other? In sickness and in health etc, etc? Isn’t it part and parcel of choosing to have a child or deciding to spend your life with someone?

I have so many friends who are chronically ill who have their husbands/wives/mothers etc acting as their carers. I know they have had to endure ignorant comments from strangers about whether or not they should have children, that they are a burden on their partner and that their partner is “a really, really great guy that puts up with a lot”. But, I know those same people fight every single day to face their illness and a world that is filled with so much ignorance head on. I also know that these people are so appreciative of everything the people in their support system do to make their lives that bit more bearable. I see them declaring their love and appreciation of their caregiver to the world. But I also know that these same people lay next to their partners on the couch or in bed after a really hard day. They look them in the eye and thank them for everything they have done today to help them endure the pain, the fatigue and all the horrible symptoms they put up with every single day.

Of course you should thank them. They didn’t ask for this life either and yet, they do it anyway and without complaining (well, most of the time anyway). Doing something special for your caregiver every now and then is a nice way to show your appreciation. If your significant other is your carer, sometimes the romance can dwindle and the relationship can go from lover to carer. So it is important to do something together that keeps that passion between you going. Even if it’s snuggling up on the couch and having a kissing and cuddling session. It goes both ways, though. Sometimes those needing to be cared for can feel inferior, childlike, useless,unattractive and yes, a burden. We will explore maintaining romantic relationships next week.

So you, reading this. If you’re chronically ill and have a loved one caring for you remember this; you’re not a burden. You didn’t choose to be sick. You take on the biggest task of all. Surviving.

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Life has given you a pretty crappy hand but you’re still here and that should be applauded. You put up with more things in one week than most people deal with in a lifetime. You are good enough. You are not “lucky” to have a parent/partner caring for you. Sure, there are people who wouldn’t be up to the task of looking after a chronically sick loved one but that doesn’t make you any more “lucky”. Luck has nothing to do with it. You fell in love with a good person and they fell in love with you for the same reason. You are not your illness. It does not define who you are-unless you want it to. Being chronically ill does bring out the not so pleasant side of people but it also embellishes all the wonderful traits of you too. You learn to be more compassionate, more appreciative of the little things in life like a walk on the beach or an hour in the playground with your child. You learn to take opportunities-when you can. You learn that saying no is perfectly fine. If you’re not up to it, you don’t do it. Chronic illness takes so much away but it allows us to see the world in a unique way.

Bottom line is your caregiver is a wonderful person but, so are you.

Till next time,

Z.M

x

Being Chronically Ill means..

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

Hope everyone had a nice break over the holiday period and that you’ve recovered from all the travelling, cooking, early mornings and late nights.

In latest news I’m very excited to announce I have been asked to speak at a medical conference in Manchester this coming May. The conference is to educate and raise awareness of Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I am truly honoured to have been asked to address medical professionals from all over the world. It’s a massive responsibility to represent the EDS community and I will do my best to explain the struggles we all face.

Anyway,  I just wrote this piece for a bit of a laugh. I’m not trying to be a negative ninny (in case somebody doesn’t pick up on my sarcastic tone), I will get around to writing part two of my trip to London shortly. I know some of you were eager to read about prices and places to stay etc.

Hope you enjoy my latest blog!

One day of fun=several days of a flare up.

You’ve taken your meds, you’re feeling as well as can be. You put on your glad rags and you make it into the car. Even doing that much your energy levels start to drop and your pain levels start to rise but God damn it, your going to this party. You’ve been staring at the same four walls for weeks now. Even if you have to walk in with a cane or arrive in your wheelchair, you are going to spread your wings and be a social butterfly for one evening.

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You manage to spend an hour or so catching up with friends while listening to how “you look great and you’d never know you were sick by looking at you” when all you wanted to do was forget you were sick for one night. But getting out is worth being someone’s inspiration porn.

You go home and fall into bed. This is where you stay for the next few days only crawling out to use the toilet or to grab a packet of crackers to stop yourself from starving to death.

You have more sets of PJs than actual clothes.

You spend more time at home than you do outside so it’s only natural you’d spend a lot of time in what you’re most comfortable in. While many of us would prefer to get dressed and glammed up to make ourselves feel normal, others just don’t want to waste energy on putting on clothes and make up. A lot of the time you choose between getting dressed or putting on a load of laundry or ya know, eating?

Hey! If these dudes can walk around in their house all day in their PJs, why can’t I?

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Your bed is your best friend and your enemy.

When you’re ill a lot of the time your bedroom becomes your place to escape so that you can rest and recover. Unfortunately you do end up spending a lot of time in bed and sometimes it can be for several days. You can often end up resenting your bed. While the majority of society love their beds, people who are chronically ill associate it with being in pain.

You often develop a less than desirable odour.

When you’ve been in bed for a day or so, you develop a very specific smell. It’s a mix of sweat, anguish and food that you’ve spilled on yourself. Getting up for a shower can be very tough on our bodies. Again, it’s about picking and choosing what you spend your energy on. Bathing or making dinner. The kids have to eat. The smell won’t kill em but starvation probably will.

When you do get round to washing  yourself you feel somewhat human again. But then you have to go lie down.

If someone were to shake you, you’d probably rattle.

You can never just have one chronic illness. No, no, no. There’s always a domino affect. Your main illness causes all sorts of weird and wonderful sub conditions. Consequently you take a whole lotta pills to keep yourself functioning. You’ve got one cupboard in your house that looks like a pharmacy, you have to brace yourself when you open it as more often than not, something falls out. People are always shocked to see it and know that if they get a headache while in your home you’ll have an array of pills to kick that sucker’s ass.

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A successful day for you is getting dressed and actually leaving the house.

Just grabbing whatever has been tossed at the end of your bed and leaving the house to buy food or collect the kids is enough to gush about when your significant comes home from work. Victory is yours!

You get annoyed listening to people crib about having a cold, going to work or having to go to out socialising with their friends even though they are so00 tired.

Many of us can’t work or leave the house when we want so don’t complain and tell us “I know how you feel” because you have a cold. Difference is you’re going to get better. Oh no! You have to go to a Christmas party? My heart bleeds for you.

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You have watched anything worth watching already.

Netflix and chill doesn’t mean the same thing to us. It literally means to binge watch shows while doped up to our eye balls on pain meds. Many of us will tell you we have spent many a day watching OITNB while curled into the foetal position because said meds aren’t working.

Till next time,

Z.M

x

A Simple Guide to The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes

UPDATE: On March 15 2017, criteria and classifications of The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes were updated for the first time in 20 years. In light of this, I will update my guide (with the new information made available) to highlight new diagnostic criteria and classifications. You can read more about the changes here.

Because there are now 13 types of EDS, I have only covered Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (vEDS) and Classical Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (cEDS). If you would like me to do another guide to the rarer types, please comment below or email me. I would be more than happy to oblige!

“You’re suffering from Fibromyalgia!” “You’re depressed!” “You’re imagining it!”

“You’re malingering!” “You’re attention seeking!-”

“No I’m not – I have an Ehlers Danlos Syndrome!”

 The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes (EDS) are a group of conditions that are poorly understood, even by many in the medical professions. It is essentially a defect in the production of collagen, an essential component of connective tissue.

Many articles about EDS contain medical terminology that can be difficult to understand. The purpose of this guide is to put the medical terminology in plain language and help non-affected family and friends understand exactly how EDS affects people and their day-to-day lives. The medical terminology is included in italics. Links to web pages are included throughout the article if you want to conduct your own research.

Why are they called The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes (EDS)?

The name of the condition itself is quite a mouthful! Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (Eylerz-Dan loss Sin-drome) is named after the two physicians, Dr Ehlers and Dr Danlos, who first described this group of connective tissue disorders.

What is EDS?

People with a type of EDS will produce faulty collagen. Collagen is essential for healthy connective tissue, which is found throughout the body supporting and connecting the different types of tissues and organs, including tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, internal organs, bones, the blood and skin.

Imagine a healthy person’s connective tissue as being like regular household glue. People with EDS have collagen that is more like chewing gum; stretchy and not very good at keeping things in place.

What causes EDS?

There are a number of different genes responsible for making collagen and connective tissue, so there are different types of EDS depending on which genes are faulty. There are 13 types of The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes

How did I get a faulty gene?

It is possible that the faulty gene may have been inherited from one parent, or both parents, or not inherited at all. It may be that the defect has occurred in that person for the first time. This happens in 25% of cases.

 How I explained it to my 7-year old son.

A carpenter makes a wooden chair. Instead of using wood glue to place the joints of the chair together, he uses chewing gum. Once finished, the chair looks fine. But, as time goes by and the chair is used, the chewing gum doesn’t work very well at keeping the joints together. Without proper glue the chair can begin to get wobbly. I went on to explain that with proper exercise he could help to strengthen his muscles so that they acted like binding around the joints to help support them.

What does EDS feel like?

Having an EDS feels different from person to person, depending on their type, but many describe it as having a lifelong flu. Have you ever had the flu? Do you remember how painful it was having those aches and pains in the joints and muscles? Do you remember how tired and run down you felt? That’s what it’s like for people with EDS only worse and it never goes away. In addition to the daily aches and pains people with EDS also have to deal with very painful headaches, gut issues and then of course there’s the issue of dislocation. Many EDSers can’t go a day without a joint popping out. It can happen simply by stepping off a footpath or picking up a pot when cooking. A lot of people with EDS are also affected by the weather. When it is damp or when the air pressure changes their pain can increase.

How does EDS affect people?

Because collagen is everywhere in the body, there are hundreds of ways EDS can affect people. Any two people with EDS may have very different signs and symptoms, this includes people with the same type. In som,e the condition is quite mild. For others it can be disabling. Some of the rare severe types can be life-threatening.

One of the problems with diagnosing EDS is that many diseases share the same symptoms. As a result, EDS can be easily confused with other conditions and it may be difficult for doctors to recognise. But there are ways to tell if someone may be affected by EDS and need more thorough investigation. Some of the investigations available are listed later.

The most common symptoms of EDS (hEDS and cEDS) are:

  • “Double jointed” – Hypermobility: joints that are more flexible than normal.
  • Loose, unstable joints that dislocate easily.
  • Clicking joints.
  • Joint and muscle pain

In addition there may be

  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness).
  • Injuring easily.
  • Fragile skin that bruises and tears easily. The skin may also be stretchy.
  • Digestive problems
  • Dizziness and an increased heart rate after standing up. (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome or simply POTS for short)
  • Incontinence of urine in women

Digestion.

If food in the stomach doesn’t move through the body to make its way out it may just sits in the intestines and can cause a feeling of fullness, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, to name just a few symptoms. This condition is known as Gastroparesis. (gas-tro par-eesis).

Nervous System

Another condition than often affects people with EDS is a fault with that part of the nervous system controlling the “automatic” functions of the body; things like blood pressure, breathing, heartbeat, digestion, how hot or cold you feel and the way your organs work and so on. This is called the Autonomic Nervous System. When it doesn’t operate as it should the conditions is called Dysautonomia (Dis-auto-no-me-a). Common symptoms of this are trouble with digestion, dizziness and fainting.

Dysautonomia affecting the heart.

The most common type of Dysautonomia causes dizziness and an increased heart rate after standing up. This condition is called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome or simply, POTS for short.

Some sufferers have fairly mild symptoms and can continue with normal work, school, social and recreational activities. For others, symptoms may be so severe that normal life things like bathing, housework, eating, sitting upright, walking or standing can be very difficult. They may feel dizzy or even faint from doing these things.

What are the symptoms for POTS?

People with POTS experience fatigue (extreme tiredness), headaches, lightheadedness (feeling dizzy), heart palpitations (when their heart beats so hard you can hear and feel it), exercise intolerance (feel ill when exercising), nausea (feeling sick), diminished concentration (hard to concentrate), tremulousness (shaking), syncope (fainting), coldness or pain in the arms, legs, fingers and toes, chest pain and shortness of breath. People with POTS can develop a reddish purple colour in the legs when standing; this is believed to be caused by blood falling down in the body because of weak veins. The colour change subsides upon returning to sitting or lying position.

Can you tell someone has EDS just by looking at them?

The short answer is no. Some may have typically blue sclera (whites of the eyes), they may have translucent skin (see through) and you may even notice how bendy they are. But some people may have some of these things and not have EDS.

Many people with the type of EDS that affects blood vessels (Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome or simply, vEDS) do have some facial characteristics. Notice in the picture below that the people have big eyes, thin nose and lips.

veds_type_poster3_2

Can EDS kill people?

Some people think it can’t but actually, EDS has led to the untimely death of people all over the world. vEDS is considered the most serious form of EDS due to the possibility of the heart or organs tearing.

Many EDSers live a life of constant pain. This pain and misunderstanding from their medical teams, families and friends can make a person feel very sad and alone which can lead to depression and even suicide.

What treatments are available for people with EDS?

Because EDS is considered “rare” there are not many doctors willing to learn about it. Types such as hEDS and cEDS can be somewhat managed through specialised physiotherapy. Joints with weak connective tissue are more likely to dislocate. Exercises to strengthen the muscles around a joint can help stabilize the joint. Your physical therapist might also recommend specific braces to help prevent joint dislocations. Occupational therapy is also useful to help manage everyday life. Pain relief is very important for people with EDS.

EDSers should also be under the care of a Rheumatologist (a doctor who looks after bones and joints), a Cardiologist (heart doctor). There may also be a need for more specialised doctors such as Neurologists (doctors who look after the nervous system) or all of the above plus many, many more. Sometimes operations are required to repair joints that have dislocated frequently and haven’t healed properly.

Do all people with EDS need wheelchairs?

Not everyone will experience EDS the same way, some people can live normal lives and manage very well with physiotherapy and pain relief. Others may need to use wheelchairs or walking sticks to help them get around. Some people with EDS also have Gastroparesis which we discussed earlier and may need to be fed using a tube. Others may only have mild tummy problems. Some people with EDS may have to go to hospital a lot while some may only go to their GP every few months. But, just because one person can live their lives fairly normally, it doesn’t mean they don’t have EDS or that their pain shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Can you catch EDS, POTS or Gastroparesis?

No. EDS and other sub conditions are not contagious. If you know somebody with EDS, don’t be afraid, you’re not going to catch anything from them. So, if you’re avoiding someone with EDS, go make friends with them.

 How can I help someone with EDS?

Be there to listen if they want to talk about it. Some people are afraid to tell you how they feel because they think friends and family don’t want to hear them complain. Ask them how they are and if you can do anything to help them. Doing shopping or household chores can be a huge help and it would be most appreciated. If you’re friend or family member has EDS and can’t access appropriate treatment like here in Ireland, write to your local representatives to tell them about EDS and the lack of care that is available. Help raise awareness in the public by sharing articles or pictures about EDS. Experts believe that EDS is not rare, just rarely diagnosed.

I will update the Diagnostic Criteria for cEDS, hEDS and vEDS in the coming days.

*Special thanks to my Dad who helped me edit this guide.*

Do you think anything else about EDS needs to be explained? Let me know in the comments!

Z.M

x

 

Teaching our children about consent should start in early childhood

The topic of consent is everywhere at the moment, it is an important social issue that affects each and every person, male or female, no matter their age. While I welcome mandatory consent classes on college campuses, I can’t help but wonder whether we are leaving it too late to begin introducing the topic of consent to the young people of Ireland? Let’s face it; the majority of first year college students are already sexually active. Should these mandatory classes be apart of the secondary curriculum? Absolutely. But as parents I feel it is our responsibility to plant the seed much earlier on in life.

I recently watched Louise O’Neill’s documentary Asking for It? If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. After it’s airing, I began scrolling through comment sections on social media to suss out what the Irish public thought of rape culture and the issue of consent.

Sadly, I was unsurprised to see so many people claim that Ireland does not have a rape culture. People were either too fixated on the word “culture” or almost literally sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming to avoid dealing with this very real issue. It’s such an Irish thing to do, to sweep it under the carpet, no need to make anyone uncomfortable. We have a rich history of turning our backs on painful subjects. Just look at the Magdalene Laundry scandal, for instance. Modern day Ireland is repulsed with how women up until very recently were treated by the Church. We are also disgusted that as a society we kept quiet. This attitude reflects what we are seeing today with women being perceived within a Madonna-whore complex. No, “rape culture” does not mean that as a nation we condone rape. Not. At. All. Of course the vast majority of people believe that rape is a heinous crime and those who carry out such acts should be punished to the fullest extent. Consent is consent and using excuses means we will never tackle the real issue head on.

We have a tendency to victim blame, not just about rape but also in many other situations. Just look at Kim Kardashian’s ordeal in Paris, for example. The narrative wasn’t about this traumatic event a human being went through but rather, blaming Kim for showing off her very expensive jewellery on social media. That she was “asking for it to happen.” The same thing happens to victims of sexual assault.

“Well if she’s going out dressed like that…”

“She shouldn’t have walked home alone”.

“How much did she have to drink?”

“Sure wasn’t she mauling the face off him earlier on in the night? What did she expect?”

Excusing a man’s (or woman’s) actions because they were drunk and saying “he/she would never do that normally.”

Every time these words are uttered we undermine the actual issue.

Growing up in Ireland, I could not go with friends for a night out without the following lecture chanted at me like some sort of protection spell:

“Stay with the crowd, don’t wonder off alone. Watch your drink. If someone is buying you a drink, go to the bar with them.”

As a young teenage girl, I had never been exposed to rape. It was something I only knew about from obsessively watching Law and Order: SVU. It was something that happened in far away lands, not here in little ole Ireland. Then again, I did live a fairly sheltered life.

But, as I began going out more, I started to understand why my mother gave me the same speech over and over again, each and every single night out. Even today at 29, a mother of two children, I am still reminded by my mother to do all of those things. Years ago I would have rolled my eyes at mum followed by a “yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, Mum.” Now?  I make sure I don’t walk home alone on the rare night I do go out. Or if I can’t get someone to walk home with me, I call my husband for the 7-minute walk home. A lot can happen in 7 minutes.

I recently had a discussion with an older relative about rape culture and particularly, victim blaming. The conversation went something like this:

“Women have a level of responsibility to protect themselves,” the relative said.

In a perfect world, it would be great for women to feel comfortable enough to walk home alone at night. It has been drilled into our heads so much that we shouldn’t put ourselves in dangerous situations but how about we start telling young men before they go out to respect any girl they potentially hook up with. That no means no and not try a little harder to swoon her into submission.

Sexual abuse is rarely ever about sex, it’s about power. Assault can happen anytime, anywhere and the attacker more often than not is someone familiar to the victim. 93% of perpetrators are familiar to their victims.

I responded to this relative with a question.

“If a man is mugged in the street at night. Do you blame the man or the thugs that mugged him?”

This made my relative stop and think.

A few days later we went to the woods for a stroll and some foraging. We separated for a few minutes. I noticed a white van with no windows pull up near me. I looked around to see how many people were around me and checked the laces on my runners were tied properly. My male relative didn’t acknowledge the van, as in he didn’t think twice about it. Women all over the world are on edge. We always have our defenses up. Will that guy cat calling follow me home? Will I arrive home safely in this taxi?

When scrolling through the comments section under Jennifer Hough’s article about rape culture in Cork one comment stuck out for me.

It went something like this:

There have been no reports of rape over the weekend so I question the author’s claim that she saw this happening.

One in four Irish women have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives. One. In. Four. That’s almost as common as cancer and yet, why don’t we see it in the media more? Victims of assault fear the trauma of reliving their experience during an investigation or fear of being accused of leading the perpetrator on; that they did something to ask for the attack. According to the Rape Crisis Centre Network of Ireland’s (RCC) 2014 statistics 33% of survivors contacted the police about their assault. According to the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report (SAVI), only one in ten sexual crimes are reported in Ireland. Of that one in ten, only 7% secures a conviction. Less than 1% of victims of sexual crime in Ireland get justice.

So, just because we don’t see it in the media everyday, it doesn’t it’s not happening.

Consent is a hot topic and Louise O’Neill’s documentary resulted in the subject being discussed everywhere-amongst friends, on social media and in the news. The end message is we need to teach young men about consent just as we teach women to protect themselves. We are now seeing mandatory classes in collages being taught about consent but should we wait until most young people are already sexually active before we introduce the idea of consent to them?

Just the other day my 7-year-old son was trying to get his 19-month-old sister to give him hugs and kisses. She was shouting no but my son kept trying. At that age of course there was no malice in his actions but something clicked. This is where it begins. I told my son there and then that if his sister didn’t want hugs and kisses and she is shouting no that it meant no and to stop. I want him to understand that now, not when he’s a teenage boy. No means no. We see it all the time, relatives practically forcing children to show them affection. Why are we so pushy for physical affection? Children are not property. We have no right to hit them so why should we force them to hug and kiss us? It is their body. It is their choice. Their feelings about their personal space matter as much as any adult’s.

It all starts in childhood. We need to teach our children that our bodies are our own and nobody, not our parents or siblings have a right to invade our personal space or have forced affection brought on them. Parents often tell their children to let them know if anyone touches them inappropriately. Abuse often starts with uninvited touching, hugging or stroking. If we force affection on a child who clearly doesn’t want it, it can be confusing for them to know when something is inappropriate. Forced affection doesn’t show children we love them, it shows them that we can do as we please with their bodies.

If you don’t believe the idea of consent should be introduced to children just take a look at the figures from the 2014 RCC report:

52% of survivors aged 13 to 17 were subjected to rape

15% of perpetrators were under 18

9% of survivors attending crisis centres in Ireland were children.

Waiting until our children become young adults to discuss consent is too late and the figures reflect this.

Although parents or relatives have no intention of harming a child, nor do they think they are doing anything inappropriate; we are teaching our children that an adult or other person’s want for physical affection is more important than their own comfort and safety. It starts as early as toddlerhood; we are laying the groundwork for behaviours that continue into adult life. Teaching our children that no means no could potentially save them from assault later in life. It could also empower young people to have sex only when they’re ready to.

We don’t see physical interaction amongst children as a problem until it’s too late. They tickle, they force hugs and rarely they mean any harm. But every parent has experienced an occasion where their child has either been subjected to touching they didn’t want or have been the ones to force the affection or tickles. So how can we introduce consent to children without going into too much detail about sexual abuse?

We need to teach our children to ask for permission to touch another person. “Is it okay if I hug you? Or “Can I have a hug?”

This teaches our children to ask for permission and it also teaches them to think about their actions before they do them.

We need to teach our children that consent can be taken away too.

Adults know all too well, especially parents that we have days where we feel “touched out.” Kids have those days too. They may have been very affectionate and willing to accept affection the day before but they are well in their rights to tell someone that they don’t want to be touched today. This maybe confusing for other children so it is vital that we show them that it’s OK to change your mind.

A child should never be forced to show affection to another person.

It is a common occurrence that children are told, “go give Nana a hug” or “give Aunty a kiss”. Children are eager to please so they may oblige but that shouldn’t be the case. No matter how familiar your child is with someone, he/she should feel comfortable enough to say no. Given that 93% of cases involve a person the victim is familiar with, it is important that we validate our children’s feelings and respect their decision. Under no circumstances should you guilt a child into giving you affection. Don’t pretend to cry or be sad. So many of us are guilty of this. I know my husband and I have been guilty of this. Humans need touch, we are social creatures but it isn’t really affection if you force or guilt a child into it is it?

Not saying no doesn’t mean yes.

As discussed, children are eager to please so they may do something they don’t really want to do to please a friend, teacher or family member. You may think your own child has no problem saying no but they may not be so forthcoming with someone other than you. Our children must also learn just because they don’t hear a resounding no that it means they can go ahead with that hug or kiss.

Practice what you preach.

Lead by example. Children imitate what they see in their day-to-day lives. If they see Daddy (or Mommy) force affection on to one another, the idea that it’s OK to do that is solidified. Many couples will force a hug or a kiss a form of tomfoolery and no there is no ill intent but still, it is important for us to show our children that we should respect everyone’s boundaries.

Further reading and helplines:

http://www.rcni.ie/wp-content/uploads/RCNI-National-Stats-2014.pdf

Rape Crisis Centre helpline:

1800 778888

or see the website www.rapecrisishelp.ie.

Until next time,

Z.M.

 

Recipe of the Month (July)-Home Made Big Mac

Our local McDonald’s was only 20 minutes away when I was growing up but I always loved when my mum would make a home made Big Mac at home. The sauce she used was a Marie Rose sauce but I loved the freshness and the effort my mum went to. Since the internet became awash with gross pictures and horror stories about McDonald’s, I have been totally turned off. It’s easily been two years since I sat and ate in a McDonald’s restaurant. Oh, but how I miss that burger sauce. I found a video online about how to make your own Big Mac. It’s the closest recipe I have ever found and it’s delicious!

Ingredients

For the patties:

Minced beef -2 patties per person

Onion salt

For the sauce:

1?2 cup of mayonaise

1 teaspoon of ketchup

2  tablespoons of mustard

1 tablespoon of finely chopped onion

4 teaspoons of Tomato relish

1 teaspoon of sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

What else you’ll need:

Gherkins

Lettuce

Sliced cheddar

Sesame seed burger buns

Baking paper

How to make the Big Mac

Step 1: The patties.

Put the mince beef into a mixing bowl and add a tablespoon of onion salt.

With your hands, work the onion salt into the meat. Then take just less than a handful of mince and roll into a ball. Place it on a chopping board covered with baking paper and flatten the ball into a pattie. Keep in mind that the patties will shrink so make them slightly bigger than the bun. For a true Maccy D’s pattie, flatten the living heck outta it.

Step 2: The “not so” secret sauce.

While the pan is heating up, mix all the ingredients for your sauce. Make sure to mix it well. The only lumps should be from the onion. The colour should be a pale orange.

Step 3: Constructing the burger.

While the burgers are cooking, it’s time to get your garnishes and buns ready. Lightly toast  two bottom buns and a top bun. Once the buns are toasted, put sauce, lettuce and cheese on the bottom bun. On the middle bun place sauce, lettuce and gherkins.

Once the burgers are cooked, place the first patty on the bottom bun and then place the middle bun on top of that. Then, place the second burger on top of the middle bun. Put the top bun on and voila!

burger

Serve with over salted skinny fries for a real McDonald’s experience.

The only difference between this burger and the real Big Mac is how filling it is. I was stuffed! Normally I leave McDonald’s thinking of what to eat next as I’m normally hungry 20 minutes later. Maybe it’s the MSG? I dunno. I plan to play around with the sauce recipe to see if I can make a more nutritious version. If I’m successful, I’ll update this blog so check back in soon to see if I had any joy with that.

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Until next time,

Z.M

x

 

 

 

Household Gadgets for Spoonies-Part 1

What’s a “spoonie”? A spoonie is a person who suffers from a Chronic Illness. It is derived from Spoon Theory. When you are ill every. single. day, you need to decide what’s important. Do I shower or clean the bathroom? Although it might be a no brainer that you obviously choose the shower, for many of us, we have to forgo the shower otherwise the house will look something like this:

hoarder-barbie-dreamhouse-4

Laundry-

When it comes to actually doing the laundry, it can actually be quite tough on the body with all the bending down to grab clothes out of the machine and reaching up to hang them on the washing line. To stop me bending down so much I bought a laundry basket with folding legs. I also bought a device that helps me fold clothes beautifully. I suffer from DCD like symptoms as does my son due to our EDS.

Top tip: Mountains of clothes stacked on chairs around the house? Everytime you do a load of laundry check the sizes, condition and try to remember the last time you wore it. Is it too big or too small? Put it in a bag to pass along to a friend or charity shop. Does it have holes in it? In all honesty, are you going to repair it? Bin it. Have you worn it in the last 6-12 months? If the answer is no, put it in the pass along pile. This will save you doing “the big clear out”.

Cleaning-

This is something everybody hates doing so can you imagine what it’s like for someone who may end up in bed for a week by doing simple cleaning tasks?

Hoovering and mopping the floors is a massive task for spoonies and can often lead to injury. Lugging around hoovers and buckets of water for the mop can often mean I dislocate or pull something. Hence why I don’t do the floors often! We did invest in a steam mop that can also be used to clean surfaces. I do the find the X5 to be a bit heavy so if anyone knows of a lighter model, let me know in the comments! What I particularly like about the steam mop is that you can clean without the use of chemicals.

I haven’t bought one yet but I’m dying to get a cordless hoover from Dyson or a one of those rob hoover/mops. Other spoonies have recommended them to me. Come on, how awesome is this?!

 

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Top tip: Fill one of these guys with 1 part dish soap and 1 part white vinegar. Keep it in the shower and wash down surfaces before you get out of the shower or while you are conditioning your hair. Simples!

If your shower or bath has mould growing around the rubber edges you can soak some cotton pads in bleach and place it on the mouldy areas. Leave them there for a few hours and then wipe clean. The rubber areas will be white again!

Tidying up-

If you have kids and are chronically ill, keeping the house tidy can be a full time job. We live in a two storey house which makes things that bit more difficult. Recently, I bought two little blue baskets. When I am tidying up I go to each room and put things in the basket that don’t belong in that room. Then, as I go from room to room I put the things where they belong. If you have visitors coming around and you need to tidy quickly-just fill up the baskets and leave them to sort later.

Top tip: This one is particularly handy for the little ones. Buy a timer. Each day set it for 5 or 10 minutes-whatever you can manage and for those few minutes do a little cleaning or tidying. It’s amazing what you can get done in such a small amount of time!

timer.jpg

Some other gadgets for cleaning and tidying:

 

Messy in the kitchen? Invest in some stove top protectors 

Dog hair everywhere? Dyson have an attachment you can use to hoover your pet

Slipper mops allow you to clean the floors while you walk to the fridge-or to bed.

A keyboard with storage is handy for extra wires, notes and pens.

I hope some of these tips have been helpful to you. Have any tips/gadgets you want to share? Hit me up in the comments and I’ll add them to Part 2.

Till next time,

Z.M

x

 

Famous, fabulous and flexible

 

Exploring the world of hypermobile celebs.

Cherylee Houston

Corrie’s Cheryl Houston is probably one of the most famous people who suffers from Hypermobility Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Cherylee has done fantastic work raising awareness about the condition through EDS UK. She is Coronation Street’s first full time disabled actress.

National Television Awards, The O2, London, Britain - 22 Jan 2014
Mandatory Credit: Photo by David Fisher/REX Shutterstock (3525294ld) Cherylee Houston National Television Awards, The O2, London, Britain – 22 Jan 2014

 

Gary Turner

Gary ‘Stretch’ Turner can stretch the skin of his stomach to a distended length of 15.8cm or 6.25in due to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

He is even in the new book of Guinness World Records!

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guinness world records best bodies Garry Turner skin guinnessworldrecords.com https://www.facebook.com/GuinnessWorldRecords/timeline

Mylene Klass

UK Singer Myleene often shows off her hyper mobile elbows. She can even play the piano backwards!

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Kelly Osbourne

Various articles state that Kelly suffers from hypermobile hips that frequently pop in and out. Reports even suggest that the fashionista’s hips pop out unexpectedly causing her to fall over. During her stint in Dancing with the Stars she said: ”I’m double-jointed everywhere, I think that’s why I’m so accident prone. Tight jeans and high heels equals one of my hips popping out and my face on the floor. As a result of this curse, I can fall perfectly. I turn it into a dance move.” (Xposé.ie)

Ouch! By the sounds of it, Kelly suffers from a hypermobility syndrome.

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Shakira

The pint sized Columbian singer isn’t shy about showing off her tricks. She can pull her legs over her head which “really freaks people out”.

Shakira-bendy-body-vidm-Main

A Few Honourable Mentions

It is believed although not proven that historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Anne Frank suffered from connective tissue disorder,Marfan Syndrome.

Abraham Lincoln was 6″4. The president’s lanky build, his long, thin face, and his enormous hands and feet, sparked the notion that Lincoln might have had Marfan Syndrome. Geneticists and historians have debated this idea since it was first proposed in the early 1960s.

Abraham_Lincoln_O-116_by_Gardner,_1865-crop

Anne Frank, the famous German diarist who hid in her attic during World War II is believed to have suffered from Ehlers Danlos or some other Connective Tissue Disorder such as Marfan Syndrome. When talking about P.E in her diary, she says:

I’m not allowed to take part because my shoulders and hips tend to get dislocated.

Anne’s facial features also suggested she may have suffered from EDS. Her large eyes, thin nose and lips are common features in EDS sufferers.

Anne-Frank-anne-frank-5856574-502-600

There is a wide belief amongst medical professionals that both Elizabeth Taylor and The King of Pop, Michael Jackson both had EDS.

LIZ-TAYLOR-59-REX_1855246a
Note how bendy the actress’ elbows are.

Dr Diana Driscoll explains in the video below the reasons she believes Liz Taylor had EDS.

Interestingly, Michael and Elizabeth were friends. It is known that Michael suffered from chronic pain and insomnia, both of which are common symptoms of EDS. In addition to his hypermobility, it is possible to assume the late singer battled with the syndrome. Watch below from 16:40. Professor Rodney Grahame, one of world’s leading expert explains why he believes Jackson had Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.

While we have mentioned syndromes such as Marfan and EDS, it is important to note that 10% of the population are hypermobile and will not suffer from pain or complications. Many people with hypermobility live perfectly normal lives, some even use their bendiness to their advantage by taking part in Ballet and Gymnastics.

Have you spotted any bendy celebs? Hit comment and let me know!

Until next time,

Z.M

 

 

 

Review of smartCRUTCH

 

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Christmas 2014 and 6 months pregnant.

This week I’m reviewing smartCRUTCH. These are the very reason I’m affectionately known as Robo Mom by my 6 year old. Every time I use them, AJ makes robotic sound effects. It always makes me and his Daddy giggle. Anybody who has used traditional crutches for an extended period of time, knows how uncomfortable they can become after awhile. So much so, that you are almost tempted to not use them. If you’re like me and you have weak and loose wrists, then traditional crutches often do more damage than good.

I came across smartCRUTCH when someone enquired about them on an Irish EDS FB support group. After doing some research, I put them on my Santa list for Christmas. During my pregnancy, I suffered from severe Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) and was using traditional crutches to get around. My father bought me the crutches for Christmas. Traditional crutches can present numerous problems and therefore are sometimes a hindrance rather than a benefit.

smartCRUTCH are suitable for anyone who needs crutches long term or regularly. They are ideal for people with the following conditions:

Guillain Barre Syndrome.
Hip or knee Replacement.
Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.
Osteo-Arthritis.
Permanent Users.
Achilles Tendon injuries.
Broken Lower limbs, fractures or injuries.
The folks at smartCRUTCH say:

“The unique design of smartCRUTCH spreads the entire load over your whole forearm which absolutely releases the pressure and pain from the hands and wrists.

It is paramount for people with disabilities to be able to use crutches comfortably. Just standing or walking allow for improved bone growth, helping blood circulation, reducing bladder infections and pressure lesions.”

Well? What’s the verdict?

Yes, yes and yes. The smartCRUTCH was a Godsend. Not only were they functional and comfortable, they look more pleasing to the eye than conventional crutches. I chose the purple crutches for myself as they match most of my wardrobe. You have the ability to adjust the height as well as the platform angle position taking more or less load off your forearm. This is done by simply loosing the spline plate and adjusting to your unique position preference. Handle position can also be adjusted to suite the length of your forearm.

They are far more comfortable than any other crutches I have used and let’s face it, they look badass. They come in a wide range of colours and accessories to suit your style and personality.

In addition to their functionality, smartCRUTCH are also very reasonably priced. Mine cost approximately €100.

All in all, the smartCRUTCH is fantastic. Delivery was fairly quick too. I highly recommend them for anyone with long term mobility issues.

Out of 5, I give the smartCRUTCH 5/5.

If you have any products you would like me too review or you would recommend, let me know!

Z.M

x

Me, the Zebra

Burchell's zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) smiling, Tanzania
Burchell’s zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) smiling, Tanzania

I was asked to start a blog by a few fellow zebras to share my experiences of being a mom with a chronic illness. Well, here I am. Before I get into all that though, it is important that you know my backstory, how I got to this point. I’m sure many of you can relate to my story, my journey to diagnosis.

In 2012, I was interning at the Cork Independent newspaper. During my time there I happened to take a liking to writing the health section of the paper. My parents were both nurses and my sister, also worked in healthcare so while I didn’t strictly follow the family tradition, I still had a keen interest in health. That year I decided I was going to enter the European Health Journalism Awards. The theme I chose was rare diseases. So, I contacted the Genetic and Rare Diseases Organisation (GRDO) and asked to be put in touch with a rare disease sufferer. Later that week I interviewed a woman about her disease, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). Little did I know that the answers I has been searching for about my own illness had landed right on my lap.

There is an old saying within the medical profession: ‘When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras’. Dr Woodward, an American professor at the University of Maryland would instruct his medical interns to practice as the phrase suggests. You see, horses are common in Maryland, while zebras would have been relatively rare during the 1940s. So, one would assume that, upon hearing the sound of trotting hooves, that a horse would be the most likely explanation. I however, am a zebra.

My symptoms started as a child but got really bad by the time I was 14. Gradually, my knees began to hurt, especially when it was cold. By 16, it was unbearable. A few years later, the pain spread to my hips and ankles. The joints began to make popping and clicking noises. Frustratingly, blood tests for arthritis and x-rays all came up clear. Then I began to have problems with my stomach and experiencing fatigue. In college, I was vomiting almost everyday for a year and napped frequently. The fatigue hasn’t stopped to this day. A colonoscopy and endoscopy came up clear but my GP said it was irritable bowel syndrome. Some days, my abdomen swells so much, that I look pregnant. After my son was born five years ago, I had no choice but to fight the fatigue. I am not anemic, but as the months have turned into years, the tiredness has become overwhelming. The smallest of chores around the house are exhausting for me. Some days, I don’t even have the energy to get dressed and face the world. People commented on this and called me lazy. Without a diagnosis, I couldn’t give them a credible answer as to why I was sitting in my pajamas in the middle of the afternoon.

I was living in constant pain for years, feeling exhausted every single day and life on a day to day basis was unbearable. I felt as though I was going crazy. All tests, scans and x-rays were coming back negative and my doctors came to the conclusion that I was depressed, that my physical pain was a manifestation of something that was purely emotional.

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Yes, pain and sleep disturbances can be symptoms of depression. Of course by that point, I became depressed. These doctors were the experts and who was I to argue? I was put on nearly every single anti depressant available on the Irish market at one point or another. Still, the pain and fatigue continued, so after eight years taking these pills, day after day, I was numb, floating through life. I felt useless as a mother, wife and friend.

Of course, I did have my good days, especially during the summer when the weather was warm and my joints didn’t hurt as much. For the past two years, the joint pain has spread to affect my hands and wrists, my back and neck too. If I move a certain way, a joint may slide out and back in again. But things changed for me in 2012 when I interviewed that girl. For the purpose of anonymity, we will call her Anna.

Anna has a condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). EDS is a Connective Tissue Disorder. People with the condition produce faulty collagen, which is the glue that holds the body together. In EDS, this ‘glue’ is more like chewing gum and causes the joints to be loose, often resulting in dislocations. However, collagen is present throughout all areas of the body and therefore EDS is a multi-systemic condition with secondary conditions present in most cases. When Anna explained her symptoms, I wondered did I have something similar? I was so touched by her story and felt connected to this young woman that we kept in touch. In the meantime I was put on a public waiting list to see a rheumatologist. But then, in late 2013, I was speaking on the phone and then everything started to go black; I felt hot, my heart was racing, I felt weak. I ran to the bathroom to lie down on the cool floor. This gave me such a fright that I decided I wasn’t prepared to wait two years to see a public consultant. I had to know what was wrong with me. I was going to get answers.

I organised a private appointment with a physiotherapist who confirmed that I was hypermobile. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together. Then I arranged an appointment with a rheumatologist in Cork, with an interest in EDS and Hypermobility Syndrome. Two weeks later, the doctor confirmed that I had Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I cried with relief that finally I could put a name to what I had. After a decade of tests and scans I had taken the reins myself and finally got my diagnosis with just two appointments. The majority of doctors in Ireland are unfamiliar with EDS and there are no specialists available here in Ireland. If there were more awareness and training, I may have been diagnosed much earlier in my life.

After my diagnosis, I began weaning off the anti depressants. That was two and a half years ago and I haven’t looked back since.

I was on a high the day I got my diagnosis, but the next I had to face the harsh reality that I have a rare, lifelong and progressive disease. Luckily, my EDS is quite mild compared to some of my friends and hopefully more awareness will mean better treatment for me, and my fellow zebras in years to come. The biggest help for me through all of this has been Facebook and speaking to other people with EDS. They are enormously supportive and there is a real air of solidarity. Everybody is supportive and no matter how trivial I thought my problems were in comparison, the support has been immense. Hopefully, together, we can raise awareness about this debilitating disease and bring about an improvement in the services available especially for our children.

My son AJ is six years old. In 2014 he was diagnosed with Hypermobility EDS. I had him seen by the Rheumatologist that diagnosed me. AJ bruises very easily and I worried that teachers might question whether he was being abused. Sadly, this is not an uncommon fear amongst the EDS community. Children have been known to be removed from the family home as their parents are suspected of abuse. Thankfully, his school has been extremely supportive, even helping us organise an SNA for him. AJs’ EDS is extremely mild at the moment. But, he struggles in school, especially with concentration and writing. This is common with EDS kids. He has sensory issues, which makes it extra hard for him. His pelvis is also unstable so sitting for long periods is impossible for him. A care plan has been put in place for him in school next year. Alex is a happy child though and has never had a severe injury, as of yet, for this, I am thankful.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with Orthostatic Intolerance and Vasovagal Syncope. I still have a long list of referrals to attend to investigate the array of health issues. There is a question mark over MS, Chiari Malformation, Gastroparesis, to name but a few.

The latest addition to our family is our little Olliepop, our 9 month old daughter. Obviously, she hasn’t received any diagnosis yet. But, deep down, I know she has EDS. Her sclera are extremely blue, a sign of EDS. The Public Health Nurse also noticed how flexible Ollie is, so much so, that she has been referred to physiotherapy. She suffered her first dislocation at just 7 months old. I fear for my little girl and what may happen to her. But, having a parent with the same condition will work to her advantage. She will be believed. She will not go decades wondering what the matter is.

Until next time,

Z.M