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September 2015

The only constant

Summer is over.  Maybe astronomically speaking it’s not, but it is.  When you close your eyes on August 31, warm windy days and bathing suits and beach towels and eating outside are all packed away by summer faeries and pushed to the back of the closet.  When you open your eyes on September 1, it is fall.

I had an amazing summer.  I could never have imagined that I would have a summer like this again.  I went swimming in the ocean and went to a water park and got sunburnt and walked around in the sunshine. I worked a lot and took the train and ate solid food and exercised.  I still have mast cell disease and it will never go away and no, my GI tract does not work well.  But I feel better in a lot of ways.  I feel better than I thought I would ever feel again.

Last week was a difficult week for me.  I have been pushing it the last few weeks, trying to do more than I probably should.  I started feeling gross again, burny hot skin, really bad nausea, more GI trouble than usual.  I started needing to sleep a lot longer.  It was so defeating.

I crawled into bed one day and lay awake, too tired to sleep, reliving the last several months.  I was scared.  I was scared that this was over.  I was scared that these three months were all I was going to get.  I was scared because it felt like I was finally living again and losing that would be too painful.  Because I was finally entertaining the thought that I could go back to school and travel and have fun without risking ending up in the hospital.

Last Friday, I realized I had a fever.  I was sick because I had a cold or something.  It hadn’t even crossed my mind that it was anything other than mast cell disease.  I slept most of this weekend and am getting better.

It only took a few days for my dreams to turn from school and travelling back to a stable accommodating job with good insurance.  You know.  My fall back dream.  The dream that I will retain the means to treat my myriad health issues and live independently in a clean, safe place.  That dream.  It sounds silly and narrow to people who have never been sick but let me tell you, it’s not silly to me.  Even when I am feeling better, even when I think I could do things I put aside long ago, even when I am embarrassed to admit it, this is my dream.  This is the dream that needs to come true for any other dream to be realized.

I like my life.  I have a great job.  I have an apartment I can afford in a convenient location.  I have a great support system.  I receive excellent health care.  I can walk my dogs at night.  I can pay my bills.  I am lucky.  I am so lucky.  And it feels wrong to risk losing all of these things to pursue another dream that could prevent me from getting the care I need.

So I push these thoughts aside and feel grateful for all that I have.  I focus on living the life I have now and try not to rock the boat.  I don’t make any changes.

There is this idea that by doing nothing, we can preserve our lives just the way they are.  That if we don’t change, we are guaranteeing the future provided by steadily travelling this same road.

It doesn’t work that way.  It never did.  Everything changes.  The only constant is you.

Yesterday I found out about some changes at work that will directly affect me and how I continue to do my job.  Maybe not in a bad way.  I went back to my desk and cried for a few minutes because I’m a crier and I get very attached to people.  Then I got up and got lunch and went back to work.  I was sad and anxious but also a little relieved and excited.

I don’t know the name of this feeling.  But I do know that I could choose to stay here in my little apartment with my job that I love close to my family and friends and doctors.  I could make that choice and it could all change anyway.

And I could make the choice to give all of this up and I could find myself without healthcare or money or a home.  Or I could find that I give it all up and succeed.

It feels like the stakes keep getting higher and higher.   But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

Gastroparesis: Autonomic nervous system and vagus nerve (Part Six)

Gastric emptying is facilitated by neurologic signals through the autonomic nervous system.  The autonomic nervous system controls many of the involuntary functions of the body, such as digestion.  The autonomic nervous system has two components: the parasympathetic nervous system, which manages activities pertaining to digestion, among other things; and the sympathetic nervous system, which mediates the fight-or-flight response.  Normally, upper GI function receives parasympathetic neurologic signals from the vagus nerve.  Sympathetic control is maintained by nerves originating at spinal T5-T10.

The vagus nerve sends signals the enteric neurons, nerve cells in the GI tract, to increase gastric motility.  The vagus nerve does not directly stimulate smooth muscle in the GI tract.  Signals from the vagus nerve help to relax the stomach to allow room for food, contract to move the food to the pyloric sphincter, and relax the pyloric sphincter to pass stomach contents to the small intestine.  These actions occur by coordinating the signals among the enteric neurons (GI nerve cells), interstitial cells of Cajal (which control smooth muscle contraction) and smooth muscle cells.

Normally, food passes through the esophagus and into the portion of the stomach closest to the esophagus.  The pressure of the food in this area causes other parts of the stomach to relax and allow food.  The stomach then contracts to break up food and push it towards the small intestine.

At any part of this process, dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system can inhibit proper digestion and gastric emptying.  Gastroparesis is a frequent complication of conditions affecting autonomic function, like orthostatic intolerance.  In some cases, treatment of the orthostatic intolerance can improve gastroparesis symptoms.

Vagotomy, an outmoded surgical treatment for ulcers that severs the vagus nerve, prevents the stomach from being able to relax to accept food.  It can trigger rapid movement of liquids through the stomach, while not allowing solids to be emptied.   Unintentional damage to the vagus nerve can be occur for a number of other reasons, including surgery or persistent high blood sugar, as in some diabetics.

The tone of the stomach and how much food can fit is controlled by enteric nerve cells that release nitric oxide (NO.)  NO keeps the stomach relaxed.  Interfering with cholinergic signaling can also keep the stomach relaxed, to fit more food.  Medications like opiates and anticholinergics have this effect.

In GP patients, stomach biopsies show that the enteric neurons are not shaped correctly. There are far fewer interstitial cells of Cajal than normal, and those that remain look damaged.  There are less nerve fibers than normal.  83% of GP patients have abnormalities in their stomach biopsies.


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