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Monthly Archives: March 2012

How I Went Half-Blind

Not a lot of people know the story of how I completely went blind in one eye, only those with whom I’m close or who were around when it happened. I never talked about it online during the time of the event, or after it happened, but now that we’ve approached the one year mark, I realize it’s something I want to recount, if only for myself.

About a year ago, at the end of March and beginning of April I was renting a room at a house in Lake Elsinore, which I shared with a room mate. My twins were only just over two months old, and I had no transportation of my own. I should also mention that my boys were completely breastfed, and refused to take a bottle, so were completely dependent on me alone for all their sustenance. No one else could have fed them – even if there was someone else willing or available to do it – because the bottle just wasn’t something they knew how to use or would accept, nor did I yet (at this point in time) have stores of expressed milk pumped for them in the event of my not being around, though later this was one of the first things I made sure to do.

So, with all of these factors together it made me reluctant and hesitant to go to the hospital when things started going wrong, because of all the problems it would present. How would I get there?  Could I take the boys in with me? If not, who would watch them? How long would I be there? How would I feed them? What if I needed to be admitted? It went on and on… but I’m jumping ahead.

Let’s start at the beginning.

On March 31st, a Thursday, one year ago today, I woke up and my vision was a little hazy and obscured. I did what anyone would do, I covered each of my eyes in turn to see what was the matter. I covered my right eye and looked out the left, everything was normal. I covered my left eye and looked out the right, and noticed the bottom third of my field of vision in that eye appeared cloudy and gray, blocking everything out in that section. I blinked a couple times. I rubbed my eye a little. I looked again; no change.

For about a week or so preceding this I had occasionally felt a pang in my right eye whenever I cast my vision downward, like a small twinge of a pulled muscle. I assumed that I had pulled something, or strained my eye somehow. Since it only happened occasionally, and only when I looked down, I really didn’t give it too much thought at the time, but now given the fact that my vision was partly obstructed in the same eye, I became a little concerned. I wondered if it was even possible to pull a muscle in your eye, or strain it in such a matter – and if so, how I had done it. I put on my glasses hoping this would ease the strain, and decided to see if my vision would improve throughout the day by trying to rest my eyes as much as possible. By the end of the day it appeared to be the same, so I hoped sleeping on it for the night would help, and went to bed.

The next morning, Friday April 1st, I woke up and my sight was still obscured. I covered my left eye again and peered out of the right side once more and noticed the gray cloudiness seemed to have progressed a little more, now making about half of my sight blocked from the bottom up, completely covering the lower half of my field of vision in that eye. My left eye was still completely fine. At this point I was much more worried than the previous day, and decided I needed to make an appointment to see an optometrist on Monday, and started looking up eye doctors that were covered by my health plan. Most offices were closed on Friday in my area.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. I went to Olive Garden for lunch with my best friend, as it was her birthday, and one of my other best friends went with us as well. I told them about what was happening with my eye, and how I could only still see out of the top half of it, but about how it was concerning me. After they realized I wasn’t joking, they both agreed it was not normal, and I should go in and have it checked out.

Then, everything got worse. When I woke up on the morning of Saturday April 2nd, I could not see out of my right eye at all. Everything was completely black. I couldn’t see out of any part of the eye whatsoever, or even make out shapes or light. It was no longer a grayish cloud covering only part of my sight, but entirely obscured. It made no difference whatsoever whether my eye was open or closed. I could only see out of my left eye.

I panicked. I cried. I feared the worse. I was going blind. I wasn’t going to see my children grow up. I wouldn’t be able to see their cute faces, or watch how they developed as they got older. I wouldn’t know what my own babies looked like. I wallowed in self pity. I let myself freak out, needing the catharsis of the breakdown.

Then I pulled myself back together and took out my laptop. I started searching online for possible causes of losing vision in only one eye. Most of what I found was pretty scary and not very encouraging. I believe I found about six or seven different conditions, almost all of which were not correctable, or could only be fixed if addressed within the first 15 minutes or so after symptoms presented themselves, such as retinal detachment. However, this one didn’t seem to fit, since my vision progressively got worse, with loss of sight from bottom to top, not top to bottom as was noted on the information I found. Then I  discovered one condition that seemed to match what had happened to me more accurately than all the rest – optic neuritis – which was the only one that mentioned it was associated with pain during eye movement, which I had experienced preceding the event whenever I looked downward. It was also the only one where sight would gradually recover completely with proper treatment, returning over a period of a couple weeks after having reached the most severe point of total vision loss in the affected eye.

For the first time I was hopeful again. Not only was it the one that most closely matched my symptoms, it was the one from which complete recovery was not only possible, but typically expected with proper treatment. However, it was also noted in many places that it was oftentimes a precursor to multiple sclerosis, with about 30-40% of all optic neuritis patients later being diagnosed with MS – so that part was still unsettling.

I knew I needed to go to the Emergency Room and have the doctors determine for sure what was wrong with me, but I still had the issue of my two-month-old twin baby boys. I called the ER and asked how long I would have to wait if I came in, and explained the situation. They told me that there was quite a lot of people waiting to be seen, and that it would probably be all day before they would be able to get to me. They then advised me to wait until after 10pm in the evening to come in, because there was usually no wait by that time and I would be able to be seen right away when I came in if I did so after this time. They said if I was going to have to wait all day anyway, it was preferable to do it at home and not have the boys with me in the waiting room all day long. I listened to their advice and took their suggestion. When evening came my room mate drove me to the ER, and waited in the lobby with the boys, watching the babies for me while they took me back to be seen.

The Emergency Room had a rule that only one family member or visitor may be in the back with the patient at a given time, and since there were two babies, they weren’t sure whether I could have the twins with me in my room while I was being examined and tested. However, once it became apparent that it was going to take a while to figure out exactly what was going on with my loss of vision, and how many tests they needed to perform to properly diagnose me, they made an exception for my boys, and let my room mate bring them to me in my room, where they stayed with me throughout the night so I could care for and feed them.

As an aside, I need to note here that my boys were perfect little angels while I was at the hospital, and slept almost the entire time (during the evening) and didn’t fuss or cry at all. That part definitely made everything easier, and the nurses helped watch my slumbering angels whenever they took me to different departments to perform various tests. In fact, the nurses were arguing outside my door about who would get to watch them. Apparently they all wanted to babysit my cutie pies for me. I guess they don’t get healthy little ones in the ER often, and they were all so enamored with how cute the boys were that everyone wanted to be with the babies.

Altogether I was in the ER all night long, from a little after 10pm Saturday night until approximately noon on Sunday. I saw several different doctors and had various nurses during that time. They asked me questions, looked at my eyes, performed blood work, gave me a CAT scan, and did an MRI on my eyes and orbital cavities. After everything was done, they determined I had acute optic neuritis, the same condition I had found that most closely matched in my own online research before coming in, and the one I had been hoping it would turn out to be all along, because it was fixable.

Optic neuritis means my optic nerve was severely swollen, which  is what causes the vision loss. It apparently occurred due to my own immune system mistakenly attacking my own optic nerve. The swollen nerve is treated with high doses of IV administered steroids over a few days, after which the nerve and vision recovers over time. Although it seems to be unknown within the medical community exactly why optic neuritis occurs to begin with, it’s generally thought to be caused by existing auto immune problems that may already be there or are occurring with the patient, and as such, further followup testing to pinpoint the underlying issue is recommended.

Due to the fact that they didn’t want to have to admit me for treatment, because of the difficulties that would be posed caring for the twins, they decided it would be best for me to return to the ER every morning for the next two days for an intensive steroid treatment administered via IV. They gave me my first treatment that same day, and I was to come back again Monday and Tuesday morning for the second and third doses – after which I was just supposed to wait, and my vision was to gradually improve over the next several weeks until it returned completely.

I was also told to follow up with my primary care doctor later that same week, and to be referred to a neurologist and have a second MRI performed, this time doing a full bran scan instead of on just the orbits, to make sure there weren’t any tumors or other possible causes for the problem “just in case.”

I did everything I was told, having all my scans and tests performed, as well as additional blood tests that the neurologist sent me to have done, and in the end two things were determined: 1) I did not have any tumors, and my head scans were all completely clear, and 2) I had markers in my blood tests that indicated I could possibly have either Lupus, or some other autoimmune disease, but there was definitely some type of autoimmune problems going on in my body, and that was probably what caused the issue to begin with.

Believe it or not this second bit of news was actually relieving to me, because I’ve suspected for many years preceding this that I most likely have rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the joints. But since RA is very hard to diagnose, as there’s no specific test for it, but rather it’s a diagnosis of exclusion (when all other possibilities are ruled out) I’ve never had it confirmed by a medical professional. However, every doctor I’ve spoken with in regards to my symptoms seems to agree that it’s most likely the case, though as of yet it has not been “nailed down” so to speak and positively confirmed completely. So, now finding out that it was most likely the RA I’ve always already thought I probably had to begin with that was the source of the whole ordeal, and most likely not something scarier like a precursor to MS, or Lupus (though it is possible, Lupus and RA are very similar) I was a little more at ease.

I still have yet to do follow up testing with a Rheumatologist to have them make the final determination as to whether I have Lupus or RA, and make sure there’s nothing else going on – which was the next step in my diagnosing process when last I left off – because I moved up North and my medical plan changed, so I now have to start the process of referrals and testing over again from the beginning, and many of the doctors I need to see are not located within my area, but this is an ongoing process that will take a while to complete before the doctors are able to give me a firm diagnosis of exactly what is going on with my body.

However, after a few weeks my vision did start returning, with the black obstruction slowly fading back into the grayish cloud over my vision, where I could make out light and shapes again. Then eventually even that began receding where I could start to see out of the upper part of my field of vision again, each day moving a little further down, allowing me to see out of more of my eye, until eventually my sight had returned completely and I could see normally again. Or at least as normally as I ever could. (I’m still near-sighted and need to use glasses at times, but this has always been the case.)

The entire incident was incredibly scary for me, and it also served as an extreme wake-up call as to how suddenly things can go from normal to difficult, and how I needed more of a support network around me to help with the boys and contingency planning in the case of emergencies. In the end everything turned out okay and I was able to work it all out with a little help from friends… but what if it had been different? What would I have done?

What would you do?

It’s hard to think about at times, and many of us never do, because we don’t expect it, but these types of situations can crop up at any time, and happen to anyone. All of a sudden one day you can seem perfectly fine, and the next day some random, obscure medical problem can appear out of seemingly nowhere.

How would you handle it if something similar happened to you? What would happen in your household if you were suddenly forced out of commission one day and had to be admitted to the hospital? What if the problem wasn’t something you would recover from? What types of plans do you have in place in case of sudden or unexpected problems or emergencies?

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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Family, Health & Well Being

 

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Is It Any Wonder?

With tonight’s Mega Millions Lotto jackpot at a record breaking all-time high of $640 million dollars, everyone apparently has lotto fever right now. It seems like over half the posts on Twitter and Facebook over the past couple days have been people wistfully envisioning what they would do with their winnings, and hoping for a lucky win. But who can blame them?

Given the current state of the nation’s economy and poor job market, the lotto offers the dream of instant riches to a large percentage of the population who would otherwise never have a chance of seeing even a tiny fraction of that kind of income in their lifetime. Of course, this has always been what the lottery has potentially offered many would say, but when times are tougher than usual – and have been for quite a while now – is it any wonder that now more than ever a desperate, hopeful mass of people are pumping money into tickets on the slim chance to join the ranks of the mega rich?

In the recent climate of so many protests proclaiming “We are the 99%” it is somewhat ironic that so many are so eager to become part of the 1% they were/are so resentful of to begin with.

It’s the ultimate carrot-on-a-stick. Offer a huge meal to a starving man, and he’ll hardly pass it up. Offer the opportunity for an instant fortune to a struggling population and a weak economy, and of course you’ll start a frenzy. Given the immense size of tonight’s lottery jackpot, even those that never play the lottery are snatching up tickets.

After tonight though, when the smoke clears and the numbers are drawn and everyone (save a handful of lucky winners) has to go back to their regular day to day routine, sans millions, just remember it’s easy to get caught up in the dream of wealth and financial security, but in the end our lives are improved by our own hard work and determination, and our potential for success and happiness is in our own hands, not by the fate of the lotto gods and a few balls dropping from a machine.

How do you feel? Have you gotten caught up in the Mega Millions Lotto fever and bought tickets? Or are you looking to actively improve your financial situation in other, more constructive ways?

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Money

 

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Birthdays On A Budget

So, having just survived both the twin’s first birthday (January 31st) and my daughter’s fifteenth birthday (February 25th) on a limited income, and successfully managing to give them both a special day, I thought I should write an entry on it.

Trying to celebrate any special occasion like a holiday or a birthday when you don’t have a lot of money can be difficult, and it wasn’t easy, but it can be done. Of course planning a little bit ahead and setting money aside a little bit at a time during the preceding months seems like the most obvious solution, but since my children’s birthdays are fairly close together, and right after the Christmas holidays, having three gift-giving occasions three months in a row really tapped me out.

For my kids I planned for their gifts months ahead of time. I put an item on layaway for my daughter in September, so I could spread out the payments and have plenty of time to finish paying for it. For the boys I was able to buy their gift when I was out doing Black Friday shopping before Christmas, so I got a really good price by taking advantage of the huge sales at that time of the year, and just holding on to it for a little longer.

I realize this isn’t the fast, convenient solution everyone wants, but we all know when the important dates are for our family – it’s not something that sneaks up on us – so it can be planned for well in advance. If money is tight, and not spending a lot is important to you, start thinking about these dates three or four months ahead of time. Try to decide what you want to get for your kids well in advance so you can set a little bit of money aside each check so you don’t have to pay for everything in one big chunk during the month of the birthday and break your budget. Since you’re planning well in advance, you can also look for a good sale and save money by purchasing the item(s) you want ahead of time and just holding on to them so you don’t have to pay full price later. If there isn’t any good deals for the items you want, or you can’t take advantage of any sales, then if possible, put the item on layaway so you can pay over time. The key here is to plan ahead, and make sure you’re not stuck at the last minute having to pay for gifts and a party all at the same time.

For the party itself, keep it simple and have it at home or at a local park. Don’t spend a lot on decorations either, they’re really not all that important, and you can buy basic items (like streamers and banners) cheaply at most dollar stores. They even usually have matching party supplies like cups, napkins, and paper plates if you feel the need to get these. I bought streamers, a big birthday banner, a table centerpiece, and 1st birthday candles at the dollar store for the twins party and spent a grand total of $7 on everything, and was able to decorate the entire living room and get that special “party” feel.

For older children go over their guest list with them and invite only the friends they really want to be there, not necessarily every single kid in their class or everyone they know. Making it more personal with a smaller number of friends is actually usually a lot more appealing because they’re spending time with the people they really want to hang out with, versus socializing with a lot of guests that really don’t matter to them as much. By not having a lot of extra guests, you save a little extra money on food and drinks.

If you’re having a party where you’re inviting other parts of your family, consider a potluck so you don’t have to do all the cooking (and shopping) to feed everyone. Relatives usually don’t mind pitching in to help out a little by bringing a dish, plus it can add extra variety to your spread.

You might also want to consider planning your party at a time of day when a meal wouldn’t be expected, like morning time or after lunch, and let everyone know that you’ll only be serving refreshments such as cake and ice cream and beverages, if you can’t afford or don’t want to cook or buy something to feed everyone.

Skip the party bags for guests, these are entirely unnecessary and can add up quite a bit if you’re not careful. Your guests shouldn’t expect to receive something when coming to a party other than a good time, but if you absolutely feel like you have to give out something to the other kids, than consider buying generic cellophane bags (you can get 20-40 for about a dollar at Walmart or your local dollar store) instead of the more expensive party favor bags that usually only have 8-12 in a pack, and then fill them with homemade cookies or some sort of cheap treat that you can buy in bulk or large packages like animal crackers or non-individually wrapped candies. Then just pour a little in the bottom of each bag and tie it off with some ribbon like a little satchel to make it look cute, versus stuffing it to the brim.

Whether you’re having a meal, or just refreshments, plan your menu ahead of time and shop smart. (See money saving tips for grocery shopping here.) Try to keep drinks simple by offering something you can make large quantities of such as punch for the kids and iced tea for the adults instead of soda, or if you must, buy generic and opt for 2-liter bottles and cups instead of individual drinks. If you are serving a meal, go for something you can make a lot of without spending a lot like hot dogs or hamburgers, and don’t feel the need to offer a lot of extra sides or condiments – just get the basics.

Finally, make the birthday cake yourself. Even the most inexperienced cook should be able to follow the basic instructions on the back of a cake mix box. If you’re still worried about it not looking right, try cupcakes instead, and you get the added bonus of them being extremely easy to serve and you don’t have to worry about forks. If you’re a bit more of a skilled baker or feel adventurous in the kitchen, and your kids have their heart set on a novelty cake or a certain theme, you can still try to do it yourself. They sell lots of different types of decorative icing and frosting in various styles, textures, and colors depending on your needs, they even sell prepackaged rolled fondant at many stores if you want that smooth “professional” look, or are trying to make something with a different shape. A little creativity can go a long way.

I made this for my kids:

TARDIS Cake with Rice Krispie Daleks

The cake I made (above) is the TARDIS and two Daleks from the show Doctor Who on the BBC. The Daleks were shaped out of Rice Krispie treats and covered in fondant, the base was chocolate cake with butter cream frosting and food coloring, and the TARDIS was white cake (stacked) covered with fondant. Then I decorated the designs and everything else with icing and edible dyes, and used a few marshmallows for accents. I’d like to note that this was my first time working with fondant, and although the process was a little time consuming from start to finish, it wasn’t that difficult. Altogether I didn’t spend that much money on the components to put this together and make it myself, probably about $10-$15, and since they were all unprepared food items, I was able to pay for everything with food stamps. A more generic, prepared cake from a bakery or store would have cost $20-$30, and a complicated cake like I made would have been a special order from a high end bakery that would have been much, much more expensive – and I would have had to pay cash for either option. Not only did I save money, but I made a one of a kind creation that everyone remembers, and it was an extra special effort that I made for the kids, which I think means much more in the long run.

I’m not saying you have to go to these kinds of lengths, a regular birthday cake with icing that you decorate yourself serves the same purpose, and can usually be made for ingredients that cost less than five dollars. The purpose is simply to show that a regular person is capable of doing much more at home than most people realize, with just a little extra time and effort, and it needn’t be expensive.

In the end, all of my children had nice birthday parties, special cakes, and a nice gift, and with a little planning ahead and smart shopping I was able to do all of it on an extremely limited budget without spending a lot of money, and you can too.

What other party planning tips or advice to you have? How else can you save money on birthdays and special occasions?

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2012 in Budgeting, Family, Holidays, Shopping

 

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