Find a light

I have been writing stories for a long time. I have been keeping journals since I was six and they are full of them. I always wrote about my actual day to day life in journals but never enjoyed autobiographical writing and didn’t think I was good at it. That’s entertaining now to think about, considering that I have spent the last four years digging out the hardest parts of me to share with the internet. But before I was Lisa from MastAttack, I was Lisa Klimas who wrote fantasy stories full of witches and magic that was intended to be shared with no one.

I don’t write fantasy stories anymore. (Except maybe the ones in my head where I fantasize that I’m not living in this body anymore.) I stopped when I started writing MastAttack; I’m not sure why, exactly. But even though I don’t write in this genre anymore, I am still very prone to seeing my life through the lens of fantasy; particularly, I relate aspects of my life to symbolic elements I used to use in stories. This is pretty obvious for anyone who has been reading for a while; I talk about the sky and stars and the vast endless space beyond this world in a lot of posts. Somehow, despite writing very frankly about my life, in my mind this is still a story about someone else, a fantasy story where anything could be real, and where the protagonist could do anything with the right magic.

The past six weeks have been difficult for me in ways that I could never have imagined. I was hospitalized for CDiff in Florida, and then again for CDiff in Boston shortly after I got home. On the last day of my second admission for CDiff, I found out that someone I love very much is very, very sick. The kind of sick that makes me numb to think about. It seemed like things started to level out with my health. I was pretty beat up but the infection seemed to finally be under control, and I was more available to help out with family things. Things seemed more manageable. Until they weren’t.

Last week, I noticed a very minor skin irritation around my port access site. Very minor. The kind I have had many times before just by virtue of having mast cell disease and having fair skin that marks easily. But I’m very meticulous about my port so I called my home IV nurse to come look at it. She came and agreed that it was probably a mast cell reaction or a very minor skin infection. It wasn’t hot, swollen, or painful. The redness was faint and covered a very small area around the needle site. I had no fever, chills, or other signs of infection. She was so confident that it was just a skin irritation that we accessed the port. I called my PCP for some prophylactic cephalexin in case it was a skin infection and breathed a sigh of relief.

I woke up in the middle of the following night with a fever and a much redder and angrier looking port. I took mast cell premeds and went to the hospital immediately. And even the ER nurses and doctors didn’t think it was a serious infection. It still wasn’t swollen, painful, or hot. (For people wondering why I’m harping on this, the four cardinal signs of infection are tumor (swelling), rubor (redness), calor (heat), and dolor (pain).) But they weren’t taking any chances and we spent an hour finding a peripheral vein to use while we sorted out my port. My white count was elevated but it is always is. They told me that they expected I would be admitted, get a few doses of IV antibiotics through the port, and go home in a day or two with the port.

Things didn’t exactly happen like that. Over the course of the day, I got sicker. I started feeling sicker, and I started having more mast cell activation. My white count went from normal for me level to through the roof in a few hours. I was rushed into an interventional radiology suite where everyone still thought that the port was not really infected. They told me after the first incision that things looked good. Then they took out the port and all hell broke loose.

There was an infection underneath my port, beneath the port and chest wall. One that had been brewing for a while. Suddenly everyone was talking in loud voices and debriding the poorly numbed cavity. I should have asked for anesthesia before the procedure but I had never had an IR procedure that required more than fentanyl and midazolam so it didn’t occur to me until they were literally carving pieces of tissue out of my chest. That is not a mistake I will make again.

I was hospitalized for several more days, including a total of three days without a central line. I blew in the neighborhood of ten peripheral lines and it would have been more if I hadn’t had good nurses who babied them to try and make them last. I get IV benadryl six times a day most of the time and that’s part of why I have a central line. IV Benadryl is really damaging to blood vessels and soft tissue, and my blood vessels are already in pretty rough shape. Getting IV Benadryl through a peripheral vein is miserable. It feels like knives shooting up your arm. I used all my tricks and wrapped my arm up in a hot, wet towel for several minutes before every dose, and we diluted it and pushed it slowly and flushed it slowly, and it was still excruciating every single time.

They put in a PICC line last Monday so I could go home and keep up with my home IV meds and fluids. I came home on IV antibiotics every eight hours for the line infection and oral antibiotics every six hours to hopefully prevent me from getting CDiff again from the other antibiotics.

The catheter tip grew out Staph aureus, meaning I had a staph infection a couple of inches from my heart. I got very lucky that I was treated fast enough that it never become a fulminant bloodstream infection but it came pretty close. Another few hours and this story might have had a very different ending. As it is, I suffered a lot for several days, and left the hospital with a hole in my chest so deep that it is nearly to the chest wall, deep enough that I cannot pack it myself because I cannot see the bottom.

Part of the shock of this situation is that I have had a central line for four years and have never had an infection. I am a maniac about my line and sterilizing it and being meticulous not to contaminate anything. I avoid hospitalization like the plague so that I’m the only one touching my line. When my last port was removed, after three years and three weeks, I was told that it was the longest continually accessed port in a BWH patient never to be infected. In total, I had three central lines (a PICC line and two ports) for three years and eleven months before we found any evidence of infection.

I couldn’t figure out how it got infected, and especially how the infection got behind the port. In retrospect, I think might have been contaminated when it was implanted. I don’t know how else I would have seeded a bacterial infection between the port and chest wall, but not over the port at all. I’ve felt sicker and more activated the last few months and it’s possible I had an infection growing all that time. It’s also possible that this isn’t the case but my instincts feel like this is the explanation. Either way, I’m never going to know for sure.

I came home earlier this week and was very relieved to see my family, my dogs, and my bed. I wasn’t feeling super but I just had a line infection so I wasn’t really expecting to.

Yesterday, I started having a GI bleed bad enough that I called an ambulance. While on the phone with 911, I started having anaphylaxis because that’s just how we do now. I laid down and used an epipen while feeling pretty dejected that I was now going to be admitted to the hospital for the fourth time in six weeks. I have been admitted for a total of 17 days this year. We are only 49 days into 2018.

Last night, I sat in my isolation room and watched it snow from the tenth floor. It was the middle of the night and the world was silent as snow covered every darkness and imperfection below. Not the terrible storm it was rumored to be. Just snow. Snow that is already melting under a clear blue sky and a brilliant and victorious sun. Light always wins.

I know that I am not really the protagonist of a fantasy story and that I’m not really going to slay the dragon that is my poor health. My health is bad. I have largely made peace with that. I want it to be better but I don’t expect it to be. But I also know that for every evil there is a pure good, and that bad things happen to me but the worst things don’t, and that I won’t always feel this way.

I don’t know how I will get through this or how long it will take or what I will lose along the way. I just know that the snow has fled under a brilliant sun and that somewhere, somehow, I will find a light.

Cut out the broken pieces

I was hospitalized for almost a third of January. In the first hours of 2018, I was put into an ambulance and brought to a hospital where I know no one a thousand miles from home. I arrived with a high fever, continuous, forceful vomiting, and colitis symptoms from hell. A couple of days later, I tested positive for CDiff, a severe colon infection that is dangerous and difficult to treat.

Metronidazole calmed the CDiff enough for me to be discharged. I stayed in Florida several more days, unable to get home because of the storm. I was home only a few days before I was once again brought to a hospital by ambulance with severe colitis. The pain was literally blinding. My vision flashed white at the worst points, lightning coming in waves.

I live with serious chronic pain and almost certainly will for the rest of my life. I am not a stranger to pain. This is the worst pain I have ever experienced. I am not a screamer with pain. I was screaming.

The CDiff was no longer being controlled by metronidazole. I was admitted and we started oral vancomycin four times a day.

I have been sick a long time. I think this was the sickest I have ever been.

I also had some strong emotions to contend with, namely that I was angry. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a major problem with my colon. It has been a consistent problem for years and is usually the reason I end up in the hospital. I have had multiple colon surgeries and so many scopes and biopsies that I sincerely can’t remember how many I have had. Lower GI bleeding is part of my baseline. I have to undertake extraordinary interventions to get stool out of my colon. My colon does not work. It performs none of its intended functions.

When I had my last colon surgery, I begged my doctors to take out the whole thing. I begged them because I knew it would never stop being a problem and would never stop sending me to the hospital periodically. They wouldn’t do it. They took some of my colon but they didn’t take all of it and look where we are now. We’re here, in a place that would be impossible to get to but for the fact that my damaged, bleeding, useless colon is still inside my body. A place we could not have gotten to if they had just cut out this broken piece of me. But they didn’t.

The oral vancomycin worked well for me. I medicated heavily to suppress mast cell reactions to the med, which is a known degranulator. After a few days, my symptoms improved significantly, but my pain was still bad. It took another few days to be able to eat anything and to manage my pain without IV meds.

By the end of my hospital stay, I was very ready to go home. I was cautiously optimistic that the oral vancomycin would work well for me and that the worst was behind me. I packed up all my stuff and filled all my prescriptions and waited in my isolation room for my uncle to arrive to pick me up.

A couple of hours before my uncle arrived, I got a phone call. I was walking around the floor and was in a hallway quiet enough that I could hear a conversation on the phone. I had this weird moment of foreboding when I answered the phone. I know it sounds cliché and theatrical but I really did. I sat down in a chair near the elevator bay and answered the phone and my entire life exploded.

As I sat there talking, something inside of me broke. The pain was immediate and crushing. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t think. My entire life changed and it will never change back. The life I had was gone in a moment, ripped away by a dark, whipping current. I blame this broken piece because it started there. Another broken piece that can never be fixed, that will poison me every day of my life. Another broken piece that can never be removed.

There are some realities too horrible to imagine. When you try, your mind just shows the future the way your life is now. Your mind cannot envision a life without certain people because it is so horrible that surely such a life cannot exist.

I have so many things to say but my soul is too tired and worn to speak them. The effort required is too great. Instead I swallow them down. They collect behind my stomach, cleaving to my spine, growing larger and larger with each truth I cannot get out. A broken piece of my own making that can never be cut out.


When I was growing up, my family went camping every weekend from April to October and most of the summer. We had a trailer on a seasonal site in southern New Hampshire. There were tons of kids around my age and our parents were all friends so they often planned group outings for all of us. We went to a few different places but my favorite was Salisbury Beach.

Salisbury Beach in the 90s was the quintessential New England seaside town. There were several arcades across the street from the beach with lots of games to play. There were places to get fried dough. Salisbury Beach also boasted a relic pulled out of times long past: an oceanside amusement park with a wooden roller coaster called Pirate’s Park. Together with an annual trip to the newer Canobie Lake Park, it instilled in me an appreciation for roller coasters. You can’t worry about work or responsibilities when you are screaming and barreling down a steep incline. There are a handful of seconds when you are totally and completely free.

For this reason, I have always found amusement parks to be worthwhile distractions. In the spring of 2016, after a particularly stressful few weeks, I spontaneously booked a trip to Disney World for just me. I wanted to go swimming during the day and go to parks at night and just be by myself and not have to say the words “mast cell” for a week. I hid behind a huge black floppy hat and sunglasses for a few days. And of course, I stopped at all my favorite roller coasters.

Nicole and I have made plans to go to Universal Studios several times. Every time, I have been too sick to go. We planned to go this past Tuesday but I ended up in the hospital with CDiff. We resigned ourselves to the fact that this adventure would have to wait yet again but then the storm hit and my flight was cancelled. I couldn’t get a flight back until tomorrow. So when I seemed to be okay yesterday, we decided that we were going to Universal today. The Mast Cell Amusement Park Team was back in business.

It was cooler today than normal for Florida at this time of year, in the low 60s with a nice breeze. It felt like Boston in the fall and the weather could not have been more perfect for us. We got Express passes to get us to the front of all the lines and we went on every single roller coaster they had. I needed to take huge doses of prednisone today anyway to prepare for my flight tomorrow and I banked on that prednisone managing my symptoms enough to go on rides. I banked right. It was such a great day.

I can hold my disease back with medical intervention enough to do something like this but it is very temporary and never lasts more than four or five hours. As anticipated, I crashed around nightfall. I was already pretty sore when the day started and I am now in significant pain. Tomorrow will be rough. It will take days beyond that to get back to baseline. I don’t care. I made this choice understanding that this is part of the bargain. CDiff and the Bomb Cyclone blew epic craters in my plans. But we were able to pull this off, and that is worth celebrating.

Not every choice you make about your disease will be the right one. I struggle with this. With every wrong choice comes a rising sense of culpability. As if you are somehow complicit in your own disease, that you have caused this and deserve to suffer. As if your decision to eat a cheeseburger or go to an amusement park could possibly be responsible for all of the things inflicted upon you by mast cell disease. You are not that powerful. You do not have that much control. Mast cell disease is not something that you made happen. It is something that happened to you.

There are days when I am sure I have nothing left, that I’m hollow from the absence of all the things I have lost. But there are other days. On some of those days, I have roller coasters.

An open letter to healthcare providers about pain medication

Dear Health Care Providers,

My name is Lisa Klimas. I am a 34 year old research scientist and a subject matter expert in mast cell diseases. I have a rare blood disorder called systemic mastocytosis.

The hallmark of mast cell disease is severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis to things we’re not actually allergic to. Constant mast cell activation can affect every system in the body. Organ damage from inflammation is not unusual. I myself have had significant organ damage, most specifically in my GI tract. Additionally, mast cell reactions and anaphylaxis can occur at any time and without warning. Living with this disease is unpredictable in the extreme.

Mast cell activation under a variety of circumstances has been linked to pain. I have pain. I have bone pain in the legs and pelvis. I have costochondroitis that keeps me awake. I have significant GI pain. My stomach is paralyzed. My colon is heavily damaged and has been operated on twice. I had a colostomy for over two years. My colon has herniated multiple times.

I deal every day with the consequences of this disease. I deal every day with the pain it causes me and will always cause me. Since pain is part of my life, so is pain medication. Since pain medication is part of my life, so is abuse and judgment by providers I don’t know. It is so prevalent and requires so much energy that mistreatment by health care professionals is almost a symptom of this disease.

Every good story has an antagonist. You need someone to root for and someone to despise in order to drive the narrative. This also plays out in real life. Shared disdain provides a reassuring connection to others who share your views. There is always a good guy and a bad guy. And in the story that the healthcare establishment tells itself, patients who need pain meds are the antagonists. We are the bad guys.

Healthcare providers often feel that it is not just allowed, but expected, that patients in need of pain medication are treated as if they were seeking these medications for recreational use. We know those people exist. But we are not those people. We are people who are damaged and hurting. Pain is crushing. It takes so much from you. It takes things from you that you can never get back. For many of us, the only way to control the pain is with narcotics.

We have legitimate medical needs for pain management medications. We do not get high from them. We do not enjoy them. For many of us, pain medication is the difference between functioning and not. We are just trying to live our lives to the best of our ability and pain medication makes that possible.

Please recognize this situation for what it is. Please stop conflating pain patients with drug addicts. We are not scamming you. We are coming to you for help. Please treat us the way you would treat anyone else who came to you for help.

This story you are telling yourself is wrong. We are not your enemies. We are not antagonists. We are people. Help us.


Floods are often used metaphorically. In literature, flooding is a tool that indicates a need for a new start, a beautiful and ethereal destroyer. It’s something everyone can easily envision. We can all relate to the need to breathe and the fear of dark and rising water.

My city is underwater. This flood is not metaphorical; it is real and devastating and historic. There is currently no way to get in or out of my town. Historically high tides are running through the streets. Just a few blocks from my home, people are being rescued from several feet of water by front end loaders. A fire truck had to be towed after getting stuck. Just Revelations level insanity. The craziest shit you’ve ever seen. Except I’m not there to see it.

People who have been following MastAttack for a while will know that I spend a fair amount of time in Florida. Three of my best friends, all of whom have mast cell disease, live in different cities dotting up the gulf coast of the state. Nicole has a horse farm in the middle of nowhere with no wifi and shitty reception. It’s the perfect place to lay low and duck out of life for a bit. I flew down the Wednesday before New Year’s with a return trip booked for yesterday. But I didn’t make that flight and I don’t yet know what flight I will make because I have been dealing with my own Revelations level insanity down here.

Last Saturday, Nicole and I drove from Ocala to Sarasota to visit my dear Kristina and her fantastic parents. On the way, we stopped and got breakfast. I got something I eat regularly without trouble. Thirty minutes after I ate, I knew something was wrong. The situation quickly evolved from GI cramping to excruciating epigastric pain. I took meds and applied Benadryl liberally.

We visited with Kristina and her family all afternoon which was great and not Revelations level insanity. For people who don’t know, Kristina is a mast cell patient who had a stroke in her brainstem in October 2015. The stroke caused Locked In Syndrome, a condition in which the patient is completely aware and cognitively normal but is unable to move or speak.

Kristina’s family was told that she would never recover any function. The good news is that that was a bunch of garbage because she’s regaining function and body control every day. It is an incredibly slow process but she is doing it. She now gets all her nutrition by mouth instead of via G tube. She is stable without IV meds. She is building core strength and working on standing. She communicates by a special computer that will read aloud what she types. She is able to leave the house more now and attends church regularly.

My GI tract was pretty sore when we left Kristina’s house and I realized shortly after that I had a GI bleed. This is not unusual or impressive for me; I bleed more often than I don’t at this point. I figured taking it easy and eating minimal solids for a few days would resolve it. It didn’t.

I woke up on New Year’s Eve feeling very sore but otherwise okay. I went for a walk around the farm. I did some yoga. Nicole and I went to her parents’ place for dinner. By the time dinner rolled around, I was feeling pretty nasty. I went back to the farm to medicate heavily and go to bed.

I had been puking and having diarrhea for a couple of hours before I started to think something was very wrong. I was sure that this was not a reaction and figured I had picked up a stomach bug somewhere. I was shivering and achy and unable to get warm. I called Nicole in the middle of the night and she came over with a thermometer and BP cuff. I had a fever of 102.5.

When you have a central line, every fever is scary. I don’t get them a lot and it really scares the shit out of me when I do. A line infection can be fatal. Even when it’s not, it can takes months to recover from one. I knew I needed to go to a hospital 1000 miles from home where no one knew me. I was scared of a line infection. But I was more scared of being subjected to ineffective care from providers who didn’t understand my disease and wouldn’t listen to me.

I remember getting into the ambulance. I do not remember arriving to the ER. I was super tachy with high blood pressure and a screaming high fever. We all immediately assumed this was sepsis. They didn’t fight me about my mast cell needs which is lucky because I doubt I would have been able to do anything about it anyway. I was hallucinating. The GI symptoms continued when a vengeance. They got my records from Boston and admitted me later that day.

The following day, I tested positive for CDiff, a severe GI infection that is almost always caused by recent hospitalization or recent antibiotic use, neither of which applied to me. I recovered so quickly it was almost shocking. I was discharged last night.

I had to reschedule my flight home because of the hospital admission. I was not healthy enough to travel. Boston was forecast to suffer an unreal storm the following day. In New England, the storm doesn’t always deliver the fury promised by meteorologists. This storm delivered. My flight for tomorrow was cancelled. It looks like I’ll get back to Boston Monday or Tuesday.

I am very paranoid about getting stuck somewhere without adequate medication or supplies. I am so paranoid about it that I have an excel spreadsheet that tells me how much to bring of everything based upon 150% of expected use. Fortunately, this means that I am pretty well stocked and can afford to wait out a few extra days. There are a few things I didn’t pack enough of. After a lot of anxiety and fretting, I have managed to cobble some of it together with the help of local patients. We will to figure out the rest of it tomorrow.

I have struggled with my fear about my disease since the day I was diagnosed. It’s not rational but it’s real. I have literal nightmares about forgetting my medication or supplies when I travel. I have literal nightmares about getting sick far from home and ending up in a strange hospital that doesn’t believe what I tell them.

It used to seem to me that it should get easier to cope with this fear but it never has, at least not for me. I keep waiting and waiting to happen across the moment when I am not afraid. When I can take a full breath. When I don’t feel like I am being pushed into the ground. When something unexpected does not immediately signal emergency. But I never do because there is no moment. That moment does not exist.

I hope my city get its head above water before I get home. I hope I get my own head above water, too.

The push down

I am a very busy person. I sometimes don’t realize how busy I am. I work full time. I study. I write and research for MastAttack. I contribute to care plans and work with patients. I am an involved auntie. I spend a lot of time with my family. And of course, I am sick, and being sick accounts for the majority of my life.

I like making plans. I have always liked making lists and checking things off. These days, I have so much to do that I have to be really organized to get anything done. Everything goes into my planner. I read it every day as soon as I wake up to ground myself and focus. Every task has an assigned completion date and time allotment. If I have ever agreed to answer a question for you at a later time, or to research something, or to do something for you, you are in that planner.

My planner keeps track of everything I do and, often, everything I plan to do, but which I do not complete by the anticipated time. As time goes on, I accumulate more and more outstanding tasks. For the most part, they get completed eventually, but it is sometimes several days or weeks later than intended. Like everything else in my life, my ability to stay on task is fully dependent upon my health. Because my health is unpredictable, everything else in my life becomes unpredictable, too.

For the last several months, I have been trying to buy a home. I have been trying to find a two family home so that my parents could live in one while I live in the other. Initially, it looked like the easiest option would be to level my parents’ house and build a two family on that property. Then we looked at existing two family homes. Then we looked into modifying a single family home to make it two separate apartments. The last eight months has been consumed by this.

Yesterday, we looked at a house that largely met all of our needs. We discussed making an offer and ultimately decided against it. For the most part, the experience of looking for a place to buy has not been particularly upsetting me, but yesterday, it upset me. I’m not sure why. I suddenly felt overcome by the weight of all the emotional things I have tied up in this house hunt.

For a disabled woman, I am in a pretty plum position right now. I work full time for an employer that accommodates and respects me. I can afford to pay my living and medical expenses and have some left over to travel and do fun things. I have excellent insurance. I have tried hard to set myself up as much as I possibly can for the eventuality of becoming unable to work and dependent upon disability benefits. With the exception of traveling, I live pretty frugally. I live in a very small rented apartment. I don’t eat much. I don’t really shop unless I need something specific. Aside from having two dogs who both need healthcare and medication, my health is my only major expense. This has afforded me an enviable financial position for someone as sick as I am.

I am recently coming to grips with the fact that while I am in a good position now, it could all be gone in an instinct. Any instant. Maybe this one right now. Maybe one tomorrow. I could become unable to work immediately. And while I have been able to save some money, it is impossible for me to put aside enough money fast enough for me to not have to worry about it. There’s just not enough time. No matter what I do or how well I plan, my financial situation will inevitably become unstable. This disease has robbed me of the ability to plan for my future.

My fear of instability is largely what has driven my search for a new home this year. I have lived in my current apartment for years. I don’t have any reason to think I’ll need to leave soon. There are things I don’t like about the apartment but it is cheap and meets my needs. But I don’t own this place and that means that the stability of my housing situation is fully dependent upon other people. I don’t have family in a position to take me in. I can’t live in my parents’ house. That means that if I suddenly had to move and couldn’t work, I have no idea where I would even go.

I have this life now with a safe, clean place to live near my support system, good healthcare, and a stable job that allows me to support myself well. But this could all be gone in an instant. I could do everything right, make every decision right, and still end up with nothing. That is almost certainly what will happen.

There are moments when my fear consumes everything. It is my omnipresent companion, the harbinger of a coming plague. It threatens to devour every good thing in my life, to just eat and eat and eat until there’s nothing left.

So what do you do when this life you love will be gone soon? You enjoy it. You use all your strength and you push down this fear and you enjoy it.

I will never be able to save enough money to keep me financially stable and independent. If I spent nothing on anything except my absolute life essentials, it wouldn’t matter. I try to remember this on the days when I book airfare or buy myself a new dress. I do not have to feel guilty that I am not saving every single cent I can when it wouldn’t matter anyway. It is okay to relish being alive. It is okay to have as much fun as I can. It is okay to spend money to be comfortable and happy.

Last night, as I was making notes about projects I plan to complete in 2018, I was inexplicably overcome with this sense of calm. As I looked over my upcoming trips noted in my planner calendar, for the first time in a long time, I felt perfectly at peace. It is okay to spend money to go to Utah and California and Australia. It is okay to use this body for everything it is good for until the time when it is no longer good for anything.

I’m heading to Florida for a week after Christmas to visit my Masto Little Sister, Nicole, and my dear Kristina Brightbill (who is making AMAZING gains). I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.

Colorado heartbeat

I am alive. I haven’t been feeling well. The adrenal crisis really kicked my ass and, if I’m honest, scared the shit out of me. It has taken me longer to recover than I anticipated and have had to focus my meager available energy on work. I didn’t realize how long it had been since I posted. Sorry if I scared anyone.

In the midst of these busy and exhausting last few weeks, I decided to run away from my life for a long weekend in Colorado. Colorado is my happy place. It is so beautiful that words don’t seem worthy to describe it. It is quiet and clean. It represents every amazing thing the earth is capable of. I have visited twelve times and I am always just as awed as I was the first time.

Since 2007, a series of people in my life who don’t know each other have moved to Colorado. It started when my best friend at the time moved to Broomfield from New Hampshire. I visited her several times. Then my uncle and his wife moved to Denver and then Golden. In 2014, one of my best friends, Priscilla, discovered that her masto daughter, who had such frequent severe reactions that she literally could not go outside during the day, didn’t have reactions in Colorado. Pris went back to Texas, packed up her family’s life, and moved to Summit County. It has been three years and her daughter no longer has severe reactions.

Priscilla had not spent much time in Colorado before moving there so there are still a lot of places that I have been in Colorado that she hasn’t. Last time I visited, I took her to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. This time, we went to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, high in the mountains above Boulder. The Stanley is beautiful and interesting in its own right but it is most famous because the Overlook Hotel in the Shining is based upon the Stanley Hotel.

I am a huge horror movie fan and like the connection to the Shining. But that’s not the reason I go to Estes Park again and again. I go because Estes Park is the edge of my personal universe. I feel very much that if I don’t watch my step there that I could just fall into oblivion. I don’t know what it is about Estes Park that affects me so much. I don’t know if it’s because it is nestled in tightly among the peaks of formidable mountains or the remoteness or the quiet. Something about standing on the porch of the Stanley Hotel and looking down at the sparse twinkling lights below makes me feel tiny against the awesomeness of the universe. The whistling of emptiness is palpable as it runs down these peaks and into the valleys below. It is both lonely and heartbreakingly beautiful at once, both somewhere I enjoying being and somewhere I fear being abandoned.

The last several weeks have been difficult for me. Fall is always hard and the adrenal crisis really exacerbated things. I have almost no energy and am so tired that it takes a huge amount of effort to make my brain work. I find myself needing more sleep and I have always needed a lot. I am having a lot of pain and am so sore that I haven’t done yoga in a couple of weeks. I am limiting my activity and keeping my stress level down. Fall and early winter are always hard for me and I know I will feel better in January. I’m biding my time and listening to my body to give it what it needs in the meantime.

If I’m honest, I was not in great shape for travelling when I went to Colorado. Traveling has been mentally taxing for a while because getting on a plane with luggage full of IV fluids and meds and syringes is not easy. This is different. I am not recovering well from the physical strain on top of feeling generally poorly when I left. Travel is hard on my body and I can’t deny that as time it goes, it is getting harder. Each trip takes longer to recover from. I spend most of my time in bed when I arrive.

I had to stop traveling for years because of my health. Every trip I take now feels like a gift. It is frightening to imagine that the physical strain of travel may eventually become insurmountable. I won’t lose travel. I can’t lose travel.

I don’t know long I will be able to travel. Hopefully I have years left. But just now it feels like my body might not allow that. It feels like I’m walking along the edge and if I fall, I will never get myself back.


I was discharged from the hospital last night. I was admitted on Monday after going to the ER. I wasn’t having anaphylaxis. I wasn’t sure exactly what was wrong. But I felt disgusting. I had a pounding headache and bad bone pain in both legs and my pelvic bones. I was exhausted. I was so tachycardic that it made me short of breath. My blood pressure was all over the place. I was miserable. Nothing I did was helping. So I went in.

I am adrenally insufficient. I have been for years, since daily high dose prednisone in 2013/2014. My body doesn’t make cortisol so I have to take daily steroids to compensate. When my body is under physical stress, I have to take more steroids to cover the additional need for stress hormones. If I don’t, it can cause a life threatening situation called an Addisonian crisis. I had a crisis in May 2014 that lasted several days. Since then, I am very careful to monitor my body for signs of low cortisol.

In case it’s not obvious where I’m going with this, I was having an Addisonian crisis. My cortisol level was almost undetectable. It didn’t feel like it has in the past and I have no idea what triggered it. I took some extra steroids and stayed a while to see how much it helped. I sat in my hospital bed all night, headphones in, doing work. Work is rapidly becoming the only thing in my life I can control.

I take a lot of medications. I take handfuls of pills every day. I use IV meds and IV fluids every day. I get weekly and monthly injections. The schedule I have to keep in order to accommodate taking all those meds is insane. I basically take medication every thirty minutes while I’m awake. I have to carefully time my meals and anything I drink. I can only exercise at specific times. I can only shower 1-2 hours after night time meds. I have to be very careful with things like public transportation and going to a crowded place in case I get stuck somewhere.

I professionally develop diagnostics to determine which patients will benefit best from clinical trial therapies. It is easier to develop diagnostics than to manage my health from day to day.

People often ask how I am able to travel and work full time. IV Benadryl is not the entire reason I can do those things but it is a huge part of it. I have been using IV Benadryl at home for almost four years. It has kept me out of the hospital on many occasions. It has prevented many reactions from turning into anaphylaxis. It gives me much more control in emergency situations and has kept me safe in many situations that could otherwise have been catastrophic.

Despite how much this drug has helped me, I literally get anxiety thinking about how much IV Benadryl has helped me. The reason for this is that it is a nightmare getting ahold of it. It is not expensive and it is not a controlled substance. Still, getting this is a weekly stressor. I get all my IV meds, infusions, and line care/nursing through a home infusion company. Despite the fact that they provide me with a supply of everything else I need several days before I need them, they will not do this with Benadryl. My doctor has asked. I have asked. My nursing team has asked. I have asked all the people who can be asked. The pharmacy will not do it. Instead, they insist that they deliver me meds on the day that I will be out of them, meaning that if that order does not arrive as expected, I could be out of medication.

I have been a patient there for four years. My nursing care and line care has been amazing. That’s why I have stayed there. I have had a continuously used central line for all that time. I have never had an infection. The reason I have never had an infection is because I adhere to really extraordinary guidelines pertaining to contamination. If I think there is a tiny chance that something is contaminated, I just throw it away and start over. If a needle slips, or I drop something, or accidentally touch a surface with the syringe, I throw it away. This means that I throw away a vial of Benadryl every few days. I have asked the pharmacy to provide me with a few extra days of meds every few months to cover for this situation. They won’t.

The worst part of this whole situation is that my meticulousness, which is regularly commended by my providers, means that I am already working with less medication than I should be. Compounded with this pharmacy’s actions, I have been left without medication on several occasions.

Someone new at this pharmacy recently decided that they would send me my meds a day early. This seemed like a great plan. I was totally onboard. But I was still nervous that it would get messed up. It also didn’t allow for short term changes or short notice deliveries. Earlier this week, when I was in the ER before being admitted, I had to use my own meds for more frequent dosing because they weren’t getting my meds on time. (This was acknowledged and approved by the ER team – I would never do this unless they were aware and onboard.)

The bottom line is that my pharmacy delivery is going to be a day late again after being assured again today that it would arrive today. Because I had to discard two vials over this past weekend for possible contamination and I needed to use extra on Monday (as directed), I am now out of this med. Again.

I had a legit breakdown tonight when I realized that I was going to be out of this med again. Screaming, hysterically crying, the whole thing. This has been such a struggle for so long over something that is really, really stupid to argue about. No one argues that I don’t need the med. I don’t take more than I am directed, ever. No one argues that I should discard anything that might be contaminated and start over. But no one in any position to authorize something as silly as giving me three or four extra vials a week will do so. So I will be up all night hoping I don’t end up having anaphylaxis and going to the hospital if I have serious symptoms that could potentially become anaphylaxis even if they didn’t start that way.

I am very, very tired of this life. I have lots of good days. But as time as gone on, the bad days have gotten much worse. There is no aspect of living with chronic, life threatening health problems that is not stress. I really want to just rip this port out and stop taking IV meds and stop working and stop fighting every single day. I just want to rest. I want it to be quiet. I don’t want to have to explain myself over and over and beg people who just don’t care to help me.


There is a ruthless truth to chronic illness, one that has taken me years to come to terms with. It is this: that fighting against my illness and the life it gave me is not a successful way to improve it. I cannot overcome this disease. I can only cooperate with it. I have to learn to live with it, have a relationship with it, greet it every morning and say goodnight when I close my eyes at night. It is a part of me that cannot be cut out or ignored. And to have a life with it, a good one, I have to want that life. I can’t fight for a life I don’t want. My insistence upon having a good life with this disease is not a choice. It is a survival mechanism. It an instinct.

I know that this will pass, but there are some days when I don’t want to do this.

I don’t want to fight anymore. I don’t want to be afraid.

And tonight, I don’t want this life.


I took a long, hot shower tonight. Hot showers are my guilty pleasure. The heat and the standing in one place can trigger both mastocytosis and POTS symptoms. I can make myself do a lot of unpleasant things. I will not sacrifice this. I cannot make myself take a lukewarm shower. I just deal with the symptoms.

Tonight, I was in the shower, singing along to Operation Ivy, looking down at my bright red, splotchy legs and purple feet. The purple feet in the shower is a very classic symptom of POTS. It is a symptom I have had every single time I have showered for years. But tonight, it bothered me for some reason. I didn’t want any external confirmation that I was sick. It’s hard when you are literally living inside of an organic shell that reminds you at every impasse that it is deeply, fundamentally flawed. There are days when I don’t even want to look at myself.

I was accused of Munchausen’s Disease shortly before I received my diagnosis in 2012. The doctor told me that I needed to see a psychologist to be evaluated for Munchausen’s because there was nothing organically wrong with me. I called her bluff and went to the eval. An hour into the two hour appointment, the psychiatrist stopped making notes and ended the exam. “You don’t have Munchausen’s,” he said. “If you do, you’re not doing it right.” He wrote an exam note that he didn’t know what was wrong with me but that it wasn’t psychological. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with mast cell disease.

The strangest thing about that situation is that a tiny part of me was hoping that this was all psychological. I hoped that I could receive therapy and feel my feelings and that it would make my health problems go away. It seemed easier than constantly fighting with doctors and getting an endless litany of tests that highlighted problems but never a cause. I was still undiagnosed at that point and I was tired. Very tired. And this little part of me was willing to accept that I was crazy if I could just feel better.

The result of repeatedly being accused of faking or lying or being crazy is that you start to wonder if you are. Even years later, you still feel the impact of those accusations. I was accused of inventing my disease more times than I care to remember. The result is ridiculous: II sometimes wonder if I’m really sick.

It doesn’t matter how much tangible physical evidence I have to prove this fact to myself. It’s like my mind just sort of breaks once in a while and stops accepting that I’m sick. It would be easier for me to accept that I might be crazy than that I will never get better and I will never be healthy again. The idea of forever with this body and these diseases is crushing.

I’m not crazy. This is real. I live under the burden of all the ways my body fails me. I will live with this burden every day for the rest of my life.

I am aching tonight in a way I haven’t in a while. I have bone pain in both legs and pelvic bones. All my long bones are throbbing. I have recently had blistering hives and diffuse bruising again. Last year, those were the first symptoms of vasculitis. In this moment, I don’t think I have vasculitis again, but there’s no way to know except to wait and see what else develops.

The bone pain is keeping me awake. So I’m just sitting here, wishing I were crazy.

Roller coaster

I got my first central line in February 2014. At that point I was at the hospital two or three times a week. Being able to manage my needs at home as much as possible was a welcome relief and so I welcomed the line.

I had a PICC line placed in my left arm about three inches above the elbow. The poor PA who placed it was terrified. She called me the day before to go over the procedure in pinched, staccato notes. She casually mentioned that she was considering doing the placement in the ER since they would have a crash cart nearby. The infusion nurses had regaled her with stories of my reactions and anaphylaxis history. I laughed and then felt bad about it. “Whatever you need to feel comfortable is fine,” I told her. It is the first time I remember a provider being scared of my disease.

The second time I remember a provider being scared of my disease was the following day when a home infusion nurse came to change my dressing. She was much more frightened than the PA had been. She made me hold my epipen while she did the dressing change. “You’re doing fine,” I reassured her, hoping that was true. Comforting trained professionals while they treat me is a special sort of pain, like pulling out a thorn. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place and half the pain is disbelief and feeling ridiculous.

That PICC saw a lot of action. But before I was a mast cell patient, I was an infectious diseases microbiologist, and I wanted that PICC line out. PICC lines are basically a straight shot to infections. I managed to keep my line sterile and my site immaculate and lobbied hard for a port to be placed. In September 2014, the PICC was removed from my arm and a port was placed in my chest.

I wanted a port for a few reasons, but the big reason was because I could manage it completely independently. I expend a lot of energy trying to stay infection free and a big part of that is staying out of the hospital. The PICC line allowed me to give myself meds and fluids but I needed someone else to change the dressing and it was harder to troubleshoot outside of a hospital. With a port, I could access and deaccess the line, change the dressing, and give meds on my own. That meant I only needed to have supplies and myself, and I could bring those just about anywhere. I could also shower more easily, take a real bath, and go swimming with the port. It was an all around win.

In the three years and three weeks that I had it, that port lived quite a life. I took it to my parents’ house and on long walks with my dogs. I took it to work on countless days. I took it to the beach and water parks. I took it to my pool on hot summer evenings. I took it to the hospital for appointments and surgeries and procedures. I took it to my niece’s First Communion. I took it wedding dress shopping with my sister. I took it on many long weekends in New Hampshire. I took it apple picking and trick or treating. I took it Christmas shopping. I took it to my girls’ weekend in Maine. I took it to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. I took it to California. I took it to Disney World. I took it all over Florida. I took it to the blue waters of Tulum and underground rivers and the Mayan Ruins at Coba. I took it on the Star Ferry and on long walks around Hong Kong. I took it to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China.

It wasn’t completely without issues. I had some trouble with my port and a line infection abroad is on my top ten list of things I never want to experience.  But the horrors my mind produced in response to my fear never materialized. I am fortunate to be able to say that my panic attacks have been the scariest things I have experienced with a central line.

My port was my security blanket. It still is. I could travel to all these places because I wasn’t terrified of anaphylaxis. I still took extreme measures to prevent anaphylaxis but I wasn’t paralyzed in fear by the thought of traveling. I had the meds and IV access and could keep myself stable. In an emergency, I could get myself to a decent hospital, and from there, I could get home.

I started having trouble with my port in May. My port had a small reservoir and was difficult to access unless you always put the needle through my skin in the same spot. After years of having a needle continuously penetrating the skin in the exact same spot, scar tissue formed around this spot and the site became indurated. Eventually, the skin at that site became ulcerated and millimeters thin. It was almost to the point that you could see the port through the hole. I developed a literal hole in my chest over my port.

I had a huge amount of anxiety over it. My port allowed me to control so many things about my life and I was really scared about losing that control. I spent a few months trying to get the hole to heal. It did not heal. It ulcerated and got larger.

I had the port replaced at the end of September. They were able to put the new port in the same pocket as the old one with the new line ending in the same blood vessel. They did a fantastic job on the ulcer repair and removed some additional dead tissue. All in all, it went as well possible.

It is staggering to think about how much has changed between the placement of my first central line and my most recent one. It never occurred to me that I would need a permanent central line. I figured I would have it to for a few months and I would get better and it would be removed. It obviously didn’t play out like that.

There have been some very low points. I decompensated a lot. I ended up needing more GI surgery. I transitioned to doing IV meds daily. I needed continuous IV fluids for a while. I’ve had a bunch of procedures, scopes, etc. I lost the ability to eat all solids. I needed several months of medical leave from work.

I’ve had plenty of high points, too. And in the past year, I’ve had a lot of them. Most things considered, I have steadily improved since the spring of this year. I am back to work. I am actively working on MastAttack again. I have been able to adjust my meds a lot as some symptoms have improved. I can eat again, and not just eat, but eat real food. It still takes a lot of work to keep this body functioning but it’s not as much of a constant struggle.

I no longer feel like I’m constantly flirting with anaphylaxis. I haven’t used an epipen in several months. It’s a reality for me that I will never be free of the risk of anaphylaxis. I still keep epipens out in every space in my home. I still carry around four epipens and IV rescue meds at all times. But I’m not waiting for it anymore. I’m not always afraid. That in itself has been unbelievably liberating.

I am working on decreasing my IV meds and IV fluids very, very slowly. My long term goal is to get to a place where I do IV fluids overnight three nights a week and only access as needed for IV rescue meds or procedures. It will likely take years to get to this point, even if I continue to improve. It has been hard because these things have kept me safe for a long time. I think I will never be free of them entirely and that’s okay.

But my relationship with my port is changing. I am very slowly trying to transition to a person who uses my line but who is not completely dependent upon it for safely. Part of this is training my body. Part of this is training my mind to stop catastrophizing and to let go of my anxiety. It’s not obvious yet which part which be the hardest.

I get Xolair every four weeks at my immunologist’s office at the hospital. Last week, his nurse and I were chatting about my recent port placement and decreasing my IV meds. I shared that the idea of not having a continuously accessed port and therefore ready IV access was scary. “Imagine that,” she said as she gave me my injections. “Imagine just accessing a few nights a week. Imagine if you could have it removed!”

I can’t though. I can’t imagine it. I think I will always have a port and will always need some IV support. But the idea that I could only need it to be accessed for three nights a week is mind blowing. A year ago I was passing out if I stood up, my stomach was newly paralyzed, and I couldn’t eat at all. Now I’m back to work full time, working on the courses for MastAttack U, planning international travel for next year and eating chicken pot pies for dinner. Bananas.

As I get more comfortable with this process, the fear is still fresh, but there is now an edge of exhilaration. Like an amazing ride from a high height. A long drop with a safe landing.

A roller coaster.