Monthly Archives: May 2017

An Open Letter to Rev. Franklin Graham from a “Small Church” Pastor

When Christianity is getting a bad name from people who call themselves Christian – without bothering to follow Christ – we all live in a hateful, more dangerous world.

Trinity's Portico

Dear Frank

Can I call you Frank? This is just pastor to pastor. Feel free to call me Peter. Anyway, I have to say I was flattered when I learned that your Decision America Tour took a detour off the beaten path to call upon us “small community churches.” We are nothing if not small. We seat 30-40 on a good Sunday. And we are a century old fixture of our small community. Most often we are overlooked and overshadowed by mega-churches and politically influential religious voices like your own. We don’t hold a candle to an auditorium filled with the music of a one hundred voice choir led by professional musicians. We probably will never be recognized in any nationally syndicated media. After all, we don’t do anything really “newsworthy.” We just preach the good news of Jesus Christ; love one another the best we can (which sometimes isn’t…

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Guest post: patience, boredom, and personal choice in dealing with them

Woman floating in turquoise water. Text: Attitude makes all the differenceWE MAY BE ABLE TO CHOOSE HOW TO RESPOND

Even when we don’t get to choose what happens.

My friend Gay Lyon responded thoughtfully to my whines about patience and boredom, and has kindly allowed me to share her words.

Gay, you’ve thought so much out. I haven’t gone there, because this is actually the first time in which it has hit me like this. I was always able to try to do something, and then that something would wipe me out, and I’d be too exhausted to do something for a while. Repeat.


Gay Lyon on Boredom, Patience, and how she deals with them – better than I do

Maybe there are people who are naturally patient, but I have my doubts. I’m inclined to believe that patience is developed by having no choice. I’ve spent a lot of time the past several years waiting to recover from a crash similar to yours, for days, weeks, months, at a time. I’m on month 5 of this current one. I’ve learned a certain amount of patience, because there’s not a darned thing I can do to hurry it along, and fretting only prolongs it.

In terms of boredom, it’s a question of what to do when you can’t do anything, isn’t it? I can tell you some of the things I do, but I don’t know that you’ll like it, because if anyone had said anything similar to me before I was forced to come up with them myself, I would have thought it sounded preachy and would have wanted to slap them.

My whole life before becoming sick was about DOing. Prolonged periods of having both brain and body conked out have forced me to reflect on simply BEing. Who am I, what am I, if I am not defined by what I do? Do I, does any human being, have any intrinsic worth outside of what we do? Are there ways in which a life which isn’t a life of service can have value? I have no answers to offer, but thinking about it is a way to occupy yourself when you are lying there staring at the ceiling.

Give thanks for boredom, because when I’m feeling really, really sick, I’m not bored, I’m just miserable. Boredom is a sign I’m starting to feel better.

I have to admit, I’m not often bored anymore. I was bored a lot more the first few years I was sick. Most of the time now, I’m too busy to be bored. Not because I do so much, but because I do everything so slowly that getting through the activities of daily living doesn’t leave a lot of time left over.

Another thing which I do when I can’t do anything else is pay attention. Be very observant. Look out the window. Really look. Look at the leaves on that tree; how many colors are there on one leaf? What shape is it? In what pattern do they grow on the branches? Is the top side different from the bottom? Can you see the veining? Applying that level of observation to everything around you fills up a lot of time.

And once you have observed it, as a writer, how would you describe it? Just thinking about how you would put it into words can help hone your craft.

You can apply the same type of observation to your internal self, too. For instance, what is this experience you identify as “boredom”? How does it actually feel? Is there a physical sensation connected to it? Where does it come from? Do you attach a positive or negative value to it, and if so, is that valid?

It’s a cliché to say that although you may not be able change your circumstances, you can change how you react to them. But I believe it’s true that misery comes from the longing for things to be other than what they are. I try to overcome that by actively looking for what’s good (the bright side, if you will) in my situation; things I can be thankful for. The bleaker your current situation, the more challenging that effort becomes.

My whole life, one of my greatest joys has been learning new things. So I ask myself, what can I learn from this? Or what have I already learned, without noticing it?

I hope your time having to rest both your body and your brain is short enough that your question becomes moot. But if not, maybe these thoughts will give you something to do in the meantime.


I’m trying, Gay. It does not come naturally.

Patience is a virtue I don’t possess

Water drops. Text: How to survive Boredom. Not very well. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtWHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH MY TIME?

I apologize to God every day for the time I’ve been given and have wasted.

I’m not a big believer in just letting time float by, which makes this akin to the sin of laziness.

I don’t mind hard work – never have – and always intended to work hard my whole life, to use my time wisely, and to help others: family, friends, community, nation.

I always felt, when I was young, that I could work my way out of any dead end, find a way to proceed from where I was to where I wanted to go.

I trusted that there was a purpose for me, and I tried to discern that purpose. Since I seemed to be able to handle math and science better than my peers, I determined I would be a physicist. After that, the PhD seemed a useful next step – I would do research. There was a paucity of women in hard science, so that must be my goal in life, what I was meant to do, and I enjoyed it a lot of the time, too.

It turned out I liked programming computers, and I preferred doing so with a worthwhile use for all that power: scientific computing in between the experimentalists and the theorists in my chosen field fit perfectly as a home.

Even when I got sick, I found ways to make myself useful, and that gave shape to what was left of my life: kids, husband, home – the energy went there. Instead of spending time and energy getting kids to school at the same time with a lunch, we homeschooled, and the science was poured into projects and fairs, competitions and internships.

As the kids needed me less, I taught myself to write fiction, poured into writing what I could spare.

Healing? Feels like a complete waste of time.

In a week it will be three months since they finally figured out what was wrong and installed the magic third stent in the right place. It’s been longer since the beginning of the whole thing, much longer if you add the three months of coughing that started last Nov. 1.

I am trying hard to be grateful for being alive: while there’s life, there’s hope.

But this status right now, waiting to see if I will even get back to that very basic writing level I had over half a year ago, having days go by without producing anything, week after week after week, feels not like healing, but like waste.

I can force myself to do a few things when they’re critical – but the ones I need to do with a bit of a brain are on the list of things piling up by the day.

And I can’t force myself to write fiction. It is a higher ability which can be encouraged but not ordered, and it had disappeared completely as of over a month ago, with the zombie brain that came from the last, unnecessary, drug: clopidogrel – generic Plavix. I stopped taking it two weeks ago, and it took ten days before I could say it was letting go of its grip.

I’m not back yet. All my schedules and timings are off. It takes me far longer to have the brain click on – and it stays on for a very short time, and then clicks back off.

So I wait, and another day goes by with nothing to show.

Exercise? A joke.

My online CFS friends tell me it can be four months before I will even see the beginning effects of my tiny bit of exercise. The exercise? Eight minutes, three times a week, of deliberately sub-aerobic recumbent rowing motion for arms or legs, in four 2-min. bursts, separated by 4-min. rests. Even I can’t see how that will add up to anything in four months, since I can’t increase it, as I barely tolerate it now. It will be two months in a week.

Without the clopidogrel, there is no huge pain surge after the exercise. But there is also only the slightest hint that I will be able to increase the intensity. I’m grateful for the eight minutes – but it is pitiful.

I do my exercise – missed one day because I got too much walking to be functional later – because it is the one thing I’m doing which the doctor told me to do. I was trying to exercise before I found out one of my arteries (I don’t believe the other stents were necessary) was almost blocked, and it hadn’t been going well, for what now looks like obvious reasons. So I will keep that one up, hope for improvement, and be prepared for it to take a long time.

I haven’t tried a bike ride yet – I could do that before, but I have a residual ‘vertical instability’ feeling from the drugs, and I’m not sure I’m safe yet.

Which still leaves me with 17 hours a day to ‘use’

And during which I’m still tireder than I was before, which makes no sense to me since supposedly I have better blood flow!

I have been bored out of my gourd. I can’t read – that uses energy I haven’t had. I can only watch a bit of TV in the evening – two shows, and I’m tired. From watching the friggin TV! I can’t do useful things – no energy. Though I’ve managed a couple of weeding sessions, sitting on the ground for a couple of hours getting those pesky strawberries and onions out – losing the complete next day because I did too much SITTING. Honestly – it’s appalling.

So what HAVE I been doing?

Writing. The journals for every day since I got out of the hospital now include 62,000 words; and the auxiliary material – drugs, stents, papers – another 36,000. About 5% of that is time stamps; the rest is a good size novel. Boring and repetitious, but it has allowed me to see patterns, which identified the side effects – and the consequences of drug changes. I haven’t had the energy to report the side effects to the FDA – a huge item on my to do list.

Reading. I forced myself to read that bunch of scientific papers (okay, SKIM, not read, looking for the necessary parts – because things were getting worse by the day in the side effects department, and I needed to get off drugs). Unbelievably exhausting – but I found what I needed – thank you, Dr. Google and online medical papers.

Blogging. I think I’ve put out around ten posts of about 1500 words each, turning some of that journaling into semi-coherent pieces of description of one or another topic in those journals.

Surfing. THERE IS NOTHING TO READ ON THE INTERNET. I don’t know where most of the content went, but it seems WAY down from when I started educating myself on self-publishing back in 2012. Several prominent bloggers then have either stopped posting, or have cut way back.

Games. No, don’t get excited – I haven’t had the brainpower for real games. Sudoku and Drench, a simple flash game, things I can play rather mindlessly (even the hard Sudokus which I use to gauge mental speed); very occasionally Bee Cells on my Color Nook – the only thing I sometimes charge it up to take somewhere (I can’t leave it charged – no ability to stop playing).

Sleeping. Night runs 6-7 interrupted hours; and I’m still aiming for 3-5 half-hour naps during which my brain dumps the junk (I call it ‘mental dialysis’ – used to work much better). I meditate during the naps, keep the heart rate and blood pressure down, calm myself, get through.

Sitting. Here, at the computer, waiting each day for my brain to come back. Getting an hour once a week up until quite recently. Now I’m up to an hour every second or third day. Note that it takes me 5-6 hours to GET that hour, and involves rituals having to do with Diet Coke, food, naps, and what I’m allowed to do while there is any possibility the brain might visit that day (mostly that surfing, and the leaving of comments if there’s ANYTHING I can contribute to a discussion).

Can’t: listen to music – it hurts my ears. Do anything artistic, even coloring in a coloring book, because it seems both boring and pointless. Embroider. Sew. Clean. Work on getting this house ready for market when my assistant is here a few hours a week. Talk to people – phone, video, or in person are exhausting. Leave the house – I think I’m up to once or twice a week, and pay for it, and most of them have been visits to the you-know-whos.

There IS no solution that comes from without

I don’t need pity. Suggestions are pretty useless in the present conditions, though they have been lovely from people showing concern.

All I can do is HOPE that this extremely slow process – doing what I can, exercising my 8 min. three times a week, continuing to eat carefully so it doesn’t set off the new gut instabilities and I lose a bit of weight (good for heart and joints), praying, not giving up – will result in something positive.

I got that hour of ‘brain on’ today – and finished a scene I started six weeks ago. It isn’t me, it isn’t writer’s block – the instant the brain is on, I head for the WIP (work in progress) and get started. It isn’t depression keeping me from writing (though I’m rather depressed about the situation, it’s just that, situational). And it isn’t even dealing with the post-traumatic stress – I’ve done that, I’m doing that, and without the drugs in my system some of the more hallucinatory effects have disappeared (which proves they’ve never been me in the first place).

I can’t even eat chocolate! I tried a couple of times, made two tablespoonfuls of chocolate chips last an hour – and then was hit with a rapid heart rate and elevated temperature period afterward, each time, that has made me very skittish.

I feel like Job in the Old Testament – hopeful, yet subject to boils and all other disasters. My trust in the Almightly hasn’t wavered (much), but I sure wish I could ask Him a lot of questions.

As I said, PATIENCE is a virtue I don’t have.

I’m being forced to pretend. Got it. I don’t need to disturb my poor friends and family any more than I’ve already done.

If I’ve missed something obvious, please feel free. Pray. I don’t see what else to do.


Thank you for letting me vent. I will be happy to listen to YOU vent.

And yes, I’m still grateful to be alive, however pointless it seems right now. It CAN get a LOT worse. But then boredom wouldn’t really be the problem any more – survival would.

Celebrate May 12 International ME/CFS AWARENESS Day

Landscape with sea and mountains; Text: I may never see this in person, because I can't spare the energy. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtWITH A BOOST IN EMPATHY

I wasn’t going to do a post today – what’s the point of celebrating ANOTHER year passing with no real progress?

Mostly I keep quietly to myself, don’t leave home, try to write. Try mainly not to be a bigger burden to my family than I already am, by not being able to carry my share of the normal load of the wife and mother and daughter. I lost the ability to carry the load of the working person so long ago that it seems fictional.

But we never live only for ourselves

And even if I’m already too old to take advantage of the cure and treatment when they come – because they WILL come – I’m here to do the one thing I can still do for others: raise awareness. Raise empathy, sympathy, understanding.

Make the world a slightly better place by pointing out such obvious things as that the person who parked in the handicapped spot MAY have an invisible disability – and your mind should go there FIRST before judging, because it gets so awfully exhausting to be judged able-bodied when you know that after a short while in that store you will barely be able to make it home. And you usually don’t even go.

Fiction is one of the BEST ways to get through the barriers we set up to protect our hearts and minds

If not THE best.

Think of what Black Beauty, On The Beach, Uncle Tom’s Cabin – and countless novels through the ages that have not only SHOWN it like it IS, but have made the reading of that story so compelling that the reader becomes educated while being entertained. And I use ‘entertained’ here in the sense of the reader’s attention staying with the story until the end, even far into the night.

After she FINISHED, one of my reviewers said,

I honestly don’t know how to explain the grip this book had on me from the first. I couldn’t stop reading it, and I wanted it never to end.

When I mentioned on Goodreads that I don’t have many borrows from Kindle Unlimited (KU), so I sometimes get the pleasure of watching Pride’s Children be read in a single day, 0-984 KENP*, my reader identified herself, and said,

“Hi Alicia, I think that would have been me, because that’s exactly what I did yesterday.

You write superbly, and while I appreciate you’ll have readers hungry for more, the care and attention to detail you’ve lavished on Pride’s Children makes me willing not to harangue you about the next book. I was a bit concerned about the depth of emotion experienced by your reviewers – I tend to keep my reading on the light side these days – but I needed something absorbing yesterday and Pride’s Children delivered in spades.”

FICTION has that CAPACITY, of engaging deeply and not letting go until the author is finished with you.

And reading is different. It’s really not the same as binge watching House of Cards. You can distance yourself from HoC. You don’t become Francis Underwood (I hope).

Things you can do – free or low cost – to painlessly develop empathy:

So this is, after all the above, my Call to Action for May 12, International ME/CFS Awareness Day:

One of the things you cannot avoid if you read Pride’s Children is becoming sensitized to the plight of millions worldwide who are victims of ME/CFS. Because you live, for a short while, with what they cannot escape. (PS It’s also an epic love story)

In honor of developing that empathy, it’s a good day/month to:

  • Ask me for an electronic review copy (review optional)
  • Read the beginning sample on GoodReads or on Amazon
  • Read the copy you already have and were meaning to one day
  • Read some reviews and ask yourself if it’s your kind of book
  • Write the review you had toyed with the idea of writing
  • Buy a copy on Amazon in ebook or print
  • Lend a friend your copy, or recommend they get one
  • Borrow Pride’s Children from KU

But be aware it may change you.


I’d love to hear what you do.


*KENP = Kindle Enhanced Normalized Pages (the way Amazon counts ebook pages, which have no actual size)

Progress of a sort is better than none

Baby plant. Text: We have survived the winter. The goal has not changed. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtThis is a stub to my Pride’s Children site.

I felt the progress report on Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD is more appropriate on the books’ site.

I continue to appreciate the support and cheering words in response to my last series of posts about me, which, though necessary, have been navel-gazing as I plowed through the events of the past few months.

I may be whistling in the dark, but what else can we do? I am a religious person with free will. If I can, I will finish the planned trilogy of Pride’s Children.

Dealing with stress after medical trauma

Painting and drawing tools. Text: Have the tools? Now do the WORK. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

ACKNOWLEDGING DAMAGE

Damage comes in many forms in the aftermath of a medically traumatic event to self or loved one.

Humans are fragile.

The point of no return is frighteningly close.

Way too many people I know have lost a parent permanently over a stupidity: the hospital ER staff didn’t consider Mom was dehydrated – until her kidneys were permanently damaged.

Inappropriate drugs in the hospital pushed Dad over the edge.

Cousin Larry went in for routine optional back surgery – at 70 – and didn’t come out. I am a couple of years younger only, and facing possible ‘routine optional back surgery’ to be able to walk properly.

The hospital gave a friend access to infections somehow, and he almost died after a routine biopsy.

I could EASILY not have made it: the 95% blockage causing the chest pain was missed TWICE by the ‘gold standard’ cardiac catheterization, and I was actually sent home as ‘fine’ the first time, to spend six days dealing with chest pain I had been assured was NON-CARDIAC.

Life is short and hard, and we all die at the end, but sudden death – and near misses – wreak havoc with one’s sense of self.

And most of the above happened to people I know in very recent memory, so you can say I’ve been more than usually primed/skittish/on edge. I was chronically ill, but okay because I could write, albeit slowly.

Fear must be conquered over and over again

I’m going to keep this short (ha!), and just put right here this afternoon’s fear thoughts. Maybe they – or the process of getting them out – will resonate with someone:


FROM THE FEAR JOURNALS: May 4, 2017 at 1:40 PM

PTS takes what it takes – I had to spend some time on it because I’m not just snapping back as hoped for.

Am I really that afraid to try to write, given the lame effort I produced on drugs?

I am.

I am afraid of having lost it somehow during this bad half-year, or just the bad three months past.

Fear. Common ordinary fear.

Ouch!

I don’t have enough of a following for them to read my writing if it isn’t great.

Ouch!

I wouldn’t WANT them to read my writing if it isn’t great.

Ouch!

What has taken a hit is my self-image as a great writer.

Ouch.

And the sad part is that I would never do that to someone else. Ouch.

Ego/fear. Takes something like this to shake you up again, because that self-confidence is a trifle fragile.

Or because talent is. Even with hard work, great writers lose it. The Peter Blatty example – Dimiter, which I found unreadable – is always before me (though I should reread The Exorcist – maybe I was less discriminating when I found it so gripping. Ouch.).

Common ordinary fear.

Which is fixed by work. If you’re lucky.

And now I can try to do the work again, and I am immensely grateful.

Even though I haven’t succeeded yet, and am getting frantic.

AFTER-EFFECT: It is taking me a lot longer to get the brain to the functional stage the way I used to, and some days there is no click, and THAT is the after-effect: time delay.

THAT is the drugs and getting them out of my body and the damage there still is.

Additional slowness – to a system that was marginal at best.

I refuse to consider that it may take a year to get ‘me’ back.

But it may take a few more days for everything to come back, for the damage to be repaired.

And I’m still afraid that the residual effects might be permanent: lots more prep – and much less functional time.

And I’m FAR tireder than I think I SHOULD be.

Silly me: where do I think all this effort came from?

Even good stress – defending my choice – is exhausting. None of it is cost free to people like me.

There’s never been any slack, which is why I excoriate myself when I think I’ve wasted time, like today, by not just gritting my teeth and getting back to work. Made it worse When I know I can’t write with that low an energy level.

And [my assistant] is coming, and the other front patch needs weeding, and…


Things are what they are

And none of us expect sympathy or pity for whatever life throws at us and we are forced to handle.

I don’t.

This is part of dealing with the Post-medical-trauma-stress: realizing that it didn’t just add its own bits, but it REACTIVATED all the fears about myself and my writing that I had dealt with/shoved under a rock.

Because that’s what stress does.

It is so hard to let more days go by without getting anything any writing of fiction done.

At least I did my exercises in the morning, and I got out in the afternoon. Both may contribute to eventual improvement.

I’m still working on it. [I’d rest even more if I thought it would help.] Obstinate type.

Comments always welcome – thanks for all the support as I put myself back together.

How to make impossible health decisions

 Plant, desk lamp, laptop on desk. Text: Who gets to decide your life? Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

GATHER ALL YE FACTORS

I’m trying very hard to make a rational decision on an important medical consideration with a brain that is being kept from thinking by the drug supposedly required to keep my new stents from causing me problems themselves.*

Why? Because the side effects are not only bad, but getting worse daily.

THE PROBLEM

What’s at stake?

Possibly life vs. being a thinking being.

What is a clear statement of the problem?

The drug clopidogrel (generic Plavix) has side effects which are making this writer’s life impossible to live: I can’t think, ergo I can’t write. And since writing is the only thing left in my life that I can do, this is a very big deal. Pain levels are hugely larger: I have acquired a chronic headache, and my pain control meds for CFS don’t work properly. Taking extra over-the-counter drugs is a problem for bleeding and long-term liver damage, and they are not really helping.

Timing considerations?

They want me to take the clopidogrel for 10 more months at a minimum.

I haven’t had enough energy + brainpower to write fiction since April 8; I started the drug in question (clopidogrel) on March 23 when the previous anti-platelet drug sent me to the ER with a huge BP spike (the BP had been increasing, hockey stick exponentially, for several days at that point).

Complicating factors

Chronic health conditions already in place: ME/CFS, twenty-seven years duration; severely limited mobility, due to botched back surgery ten years ago.

Clopidogrel has the side effect, among others, of bleeding; being on it increases my risk of stroke; since I’m also taking Celebrex and OTC NSAIDS, the risks are additive.

Due to the CFS, my body is highly intolerant of most meds; they started two BP meds and a cholesterol lowering statin at the same time as the Effient (anti-platelet); the side effects were ferocious. I dumped them all, except for the Effient, within three weeks of getting the stents.

When switched to clopidogrel, it took about two weeks for the side effects to build (typical for this drug), and three weeks for me to figure that out (typical for this brain on these drugs).

Alternatives?

Effient – which raised my blood pressure to high enough levels for me to end up at the ER five weeks after starting it; and Brillinta – which has its own whole host of potential side effects; the doctor said her patients on it complain fiercely of the side effect of shortness of breath.

NOTE: I have not yet tried Brillinta; would probably face a similar decision in whatever time it takes for its side effects to become intolerable.

Fish oil has some anti-platelet effect; I have taken it with no problem in the past.

Resources for making the decision:

Doctor’s recommendations – never stop clopidogrel for any reason. No concern about or help with side effects.

Online scientific papers exploring the drug and the possible complications both of taking it AND of not taking it.

Severely limited human brain – having zombie side effects from said clopidogrel while trying to make a decision.

Vague information in papers of the effectiveness – and dose – of fish oil.

Previous experience making difficult decisions:

While I was doing my PhD in Nuclear Engineering (plasma physics) at the U. Wisconsin-Madison, the only woman in my cohort, I would tell myself that I was under such stress it was impossible to make good decisions; that making a good decision on whether to quit the program and do something else with my life was too important to be made unless I did it well; and that I would have to be finished with the PhD before it would be possible for me to make a decision NOT to finish it. (With the complication that I planned to apply to the astronaut program, and KNEW NASA would never consider me if I dropped out of a PhD program.)

I am happy I finished. I got my chance at NASA, though one of my eyes missed their cutoff, and they had candidates without that limitation to choose from so did not make exceptions. But I made it to Houston, almost made the cutoff, and will always treasure that.

Difficult MEDICAL decision: I was 24. I started running. I developed bursitis in my right hip. Doctors at University of Wisconsin hospitals wanted to operate on my hip. That sounded crazy to me, so I got myself out of there, found an orthopedist who specialized in sports medicine (yeah, me, the total non-athlete), explained I had just started ‘running.’ He told me no guarantees, but built me orthotics – and that was all I needed for running for many years.

Difficult MEDICAL decision: After back surgery in 2007, I couldn’t walk properly, and had a fair amount of pain. The same surgeons who made this possible wanted to operate again, would not guarantee any improvement, only ‘keeping things from deteriorating further,’ and I walked out of there, learned to deal with the pain with yoga and stretching and strengthening exercises (THEN lost weight). In 2014, another round of the same – two more orthopedic surgeons – with the exact same words: ‘less than 50% chance of walking properly, but prevent further deterioration.’ Have not taken them up on their ludicrous offer; if I’m going to put myself through the hell of another 6-12 months recovering from back surgery, it’s going to be for someone who knows what he/she is doing enough to give me MUCH better odds of walking again. I don’t want even more scar tissue back there when I find the right surgeon. I’m not necessarily saying these are GOOD decisions, but they were certainly the right decision for THOSE doctors. I try again periodically, but there is little energy to work with.


THE GOAL

Simple: I wanted to go off the anti-platelet drugs, and I wanted to know how much risk I would assume by doing so, if such were known.

This is what is meant by ‘Informed consent.’

[NOTE: this is not my job, calculating risks, but it freaked the cardiologist out even to be asked. You would have thought I was intending to jump out of a plane with no parachute, and I was warned of immediate massive heart attacks and told anecdotes about same in people who were so foolish as to stop their anti-platelet ‘therapy’ and ended up immediately back in the hospital.]


THE DECISION PROCESS

*NOTE: I started this post when I had not made the decisions I’m talking about. WITH ZOMBIE BRAIN.

On inspection, I find it awkward and rough, and have decided NOT to change what I wrote precisely because that is the way most of us have to face these decisions: not in the comfort of hindsight, but right in the middle of the fray, with everything going on, with side effects rampant, and the doctor’s ‘advice’ ringing in our ears – and OFTEN without any actual DATA. The ‘recommendations’ created by a panel of medical experts are only as useful as the specificity they include; if they don’t take into account your gender, age, previous medical condition, and the particular side effects, they are USELESS for you in making an INFORMED DECISION.

So what did I do to acquire all the information to make the best decision?

I read. Probably a hundred scientific papers on:

  • Short- and long-term dual anti-platelet therapy (DAPT)
  • Anti-platelet drugs
  • Drug-eluting stents (DES), especially the second generation ones such as the ones I’ve had implanted
  • Discontinuation reasons and side effects

I also read about:

  • Cardiac rehab
  • Heart attacks in women and differences (heartily recommend Heart Sisters blog)

I consulted my online groups:

  • CFS Support group
  • CFS Exercise with a heart rate monitor group
  • and comments on my blog posts

I read the journals I have been maintaining since stent installation – I have over 60,000 of my own words recorded, side effects and observations and BP readings and drug history. (Okay – 10% of that is the automatic time stamp from Scrivener – everything has one.)

It was done with ZOMBIE BRAIN; my notes are erratic, and all over the place, when I want to find something I thought I had made a copy of.

Most researchers did NOT study the cohort of people who dropped out of their studies on the effectiveness of these drugs and stents. I find that medical malpractice: they had data, didn’t analyze it and/or didn’t publish it.

Once patterns started emerging, I was more focused, and could look for specific papers.

A specific link led the way: Medtronic, in 2013, announced that its new second-generation stent had ‘No Stent Thrombosis Seen When Plavix and Aspirin Stopped Early.‘ They actually STUDIED the people who stopped taking the drug for various reasons; out of a 5000 people study, ONE THOUSAND did so. The conclusion – not much difference in results, as long as the DAPT was maintained for the first month (during which it was hypothesized that the stents hadn’t finished their new inner layer of epithelial cells in the cases that had problems – or were not placed correctly – or some such).


THE DECISION

My decision – not to take clopidogrel any more, NOR ANY OTHER ANTI-PLATELET DRUG, after I’d already taken Effient for 5 weeks and clopidogrel for a month after that:

April 25, 2017 at 11:21 PM
Nervous – who wouldn’t be.
TAKING FISH OIL 1200 MG. CAPSULE WITH NIGHT PILLS, INCLUDING BABY ASPIRIN, BUT NOT CLOPIDOGREL.

[Note: fish oil has mild anti-platelet and BP lowering effects – I’ve taken it before with no problems; don’t remember why I stopped. Sympathetic magic?]

From what I had found and read, I expected a small – if any – additional risk factor. In the papers which were against taking this or any risks, the few numbers available often indicated a tiny ABSOLUTE risk increment (1.2% to 1.8%) blown up to look horrible by being quoted, based on the risks of taking the stuff, as a FIFTY PERCENT larger risk [RELATIVE risk: 1.2% plus 50%(1.2%) = 1.8% risk IS a 50% larger risk – the statistics are correct and insignificant and inflammatory – cf. How to Lie with Statistics, a wonderful little book for non-scientists and non-mathematicians.]

I assumed that risk knowingly, and in consultation with my life partner.


THE ANTICLIMAX (of course)

AFTER I had made my agonized (and much discussed with spouse) decision, I found the paper I SHOULD have been pointed to in the manufacturer’s information on the stents in the family of second generation DES called XIENCE, and by the doctors:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3706013/
ISRN Cardiol. 2013; 2013: 748736.
Published online 2013 Jun 23. doi:  10.1155/2013/748736
PMCID: PMC3706013
Risk Factors for Coronary Drug-Eluting Stent Thrombosis: Influence of Procedural, Patient, Lesion, and Stent Related Factors and Dual Antiplatelet Therapy
Krishnankutty Sudhir, 1 , 2 ,* James B. Hermiller, 3 Joanne M. Ferguson, 1 and Charles A. Simonton 1

NOTE THAT THE VERY TITLE MAKES IT UNLIKELY TO COME UP IN CASUAL SEARCHES. Title doesn’t even mention the brand of stents, nor does the title imply there will be far-reaching recommendations at the end about DAPT.

The relevant parts of the conclusions (ST is stent thrombosis, literally, the stent clogging up, a very rare but potentially fatal complication – see Sec. 8 of paper for details):

9. Conclusions
ST represents a major complication of DES implants, usually leading to either cardiac death or MI. Preclinical studies have shown that inflammation, parastrut fibrin, and endothelial coverage vary between stents, and more biocompatible polymers in newer DES may have improved endothelial coverage and thus less ST. The risk of ST in an individual patient is related to numerous factors that include patient and lesion complexity, suboptimal stent deployment, adherence to and duration of dual antiplatelet therapy, and stent type and design (see Table 1). There is emerging evidence that second-generation stents, particularly XIENCE V, have significantly lower ST rates compared to first generation stents. Various components of the newer DES… may all contribute synergistically to the preclinical and clinical evidence of enhanced safety. …Treatment with DAPT for a year is currently the standard of care for DES, but more potent antiplatelet agents such as prasugrel and ticagrelor may be beneficial in high-risk patients. DAPT interruption appears safe beyond 30 days in standard risk patients and beyond 6 months in an all-comers population that received the XIENCE V DES. The optimal duration of DAPT for DES is unknown; recent data indicate that short-term therapy may well be sufficient for real-world patients treated with XIENCE, a finding that should be systematically confirmed in large-scale randomized controlled trials.

Weasel wording in various places reminds us that these things – stents AND DAPT – are very big business (in 2011, Plavix was the second largest drug in the WORLD, bringing in 9 BILLION dollars for its creator; even now that generics are available, these are still very remunerative drugs), and researchers have to mind their ps and qs until recommendations change for the medical boards – if they ever do.

Bleeding risk due to DAPT not mentioned in this paper, but it is, of course, larger with clopidogrel than without. And one of the main problems of long-term DAPT.


THE AFTERMATH

I have NOT changed my decision, but finding this paper – on the very XIENCE stents I have in my arteries – really took a lot of the residual stress (stress is bad for cardiac patients; stress kills) out of my life.

I’m not saying I will not have an ‘adverse effect.’ No one can guarantee that. I’m saying that my INCREASED risk is negligible to zero, and now doesn’t include the component of BLEEDING that is the bane of long-term DAPT, and since I’m also terrified of strokes, and believe I may be at an increase risk of those because of my pain meds, that has ALSO reduced my stress.

For normal people, clopidogrel is out of their systems in 5.5 days. I’m not normal (my liver seems to process things very slowly, possibly why I have so many side effects), but it’s been that long now, and the first thing to go was the back pain, and the exaggeratedly painful flares after exercise (my EIGHT pitiful minutes of cardiac rehab three times a week set off days of unmanageable pain). I still haven’t heard back from the doctor’s office about my request for pain med prescriptions and advice on OTC amount limits. My next appointment is scheduled in three months. I guess I could call back, but maybe I’ll just wait until July. My husband knows what I did.

The brain may be coming back (this latter part of this post is far more coherent, I think) – I had a short period yesterday in which I was able to read my notes about where I am in Chapters 22 and 23 of Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, and sketch out a few dialogue exchanges. Rough when I reread them, possibly usable. I hope I was not on clopidogrel long enough to do actual damage.

This is part of me working through my Post-Traumatic Stress – writing and talking about things, and resuming control of my life where possible.

I am STILL grateful to be alive. I am STILL not happy with any of the process.

I would have willingly assumed a reasonable additional risk, as the side effects were escalating, and I had no desire to go through every anti-platelet drug in their arsenal to try the more esoteric ones. But I have the very strong feeling I have assumed NONE.


My thanks to Stencil for providing the ability – and a nice clean interface – to make the graphics I use for many of these posts. I’m using a free account, but would use them in a flash if I needed more than the 10 free images a month.


Keep me stress-free – recommend my fiction.

I couldn’t put a tenth of what I found into this post; please ask any questions you have.