Rhia almost left 8 years ago

Rhia drinking a hot chocolate at Starbucks, age 20

8 years ago, Rhia spent Easter in the hospital, hooked up to IV’s and undergoing too many tests, because she had almost died. Two weeks earlier she’d had the flu, but even when the virus ran its course and the fever vanished, her body didn’t recover. She slept all the time, could barely speak, and her eyes became blank and unseeing. Then she started choking on water. We rushed her to Stanford Children’s Hospital and they admitted her for Metabolic Distress.

It took a couple of days to stabilize her and a full week before she could go home. It was during that time we got an official diagnosis for the cause of her disabilities: Mitochondrial Disease. Her doctor’s had suspected it was “Mito” but until she was hospitalized they weren’t certain. They still weren’t; the tests came back negative but all the symptoms pointed to Mito. The possible causes of her ataxia and degenerative neurological symptoms had been narrowed to the spectrum of Mitochondrial Disease.

But what did that actually mean for Rhia and her health? Would she recover from her medical crisis?

They let her go home when she could swallow water and other liquids again. She still couldn’t eat food, so she was referred to a Speech Therapist to relearn how to swallow again. If she didn’t recover, she would need a feeding tube. Time would tell…

Later, we were told if she reached the age of 20 it would be a miracle. She was 16.

8 years have passed and Rhia is still here. She turns 24 next month, and thankfully she did learn to eat food again. And she’s still walking, although I swear she’s walking because of tenacity, not strength and coordination. She never fully recovered her energy and strength from 8 years ago, but she and I learned to manage her new “normal” and find ways to cope with her increased fatigue. Some days are great; she sings and laughs and loves exploring her new city. Other days she can hardly hold a crayon in her hand. She’ll sit and stare into space as if all her energy is needed to stay upright. It can switch back and forth every hour.

We roll with it because this is a part of Rhia. No matter what, she keeps smiling and I keep trying. Both of us get frustrated sometimes, but we both find a reason to laugh. It’s impossible to stay sad for long around Rhia.

Rhia smiling, wearing glasses, and drawing with a large marker.

How long will she stay here with us? No one knows. Her doctors are amazed and thrilled to see her thriving as well as she is. Who is this remarkable person who keeps surpassing everyone’s expectations? She is my daughter and I am so proud of her.

Thank you for these extra 8 years. I treasure them all. And I will treasure all the years we still have together.

Just because you have MediCal doesn’t mean you can have a doctor

We were told it would take 4 weeks to transfer Rhia’s MediCal from one county to the new one. It took 4 months. A government shut-down slowed the transfer down even more. Plus, there was a huge backlog at the State level from so many people applying for MediCal through the Affordable Care Act. So, four months later, Rhia’s MediCal was approved and we were ready to find a doctor.

Just because you have MediCal doesn’t mean you can have a doctor.

Every clinic I called said they were no longer accepting MediCal patients; they had all reached their quota by February.

Great!

I asked the first two clinics if they were accepting new patients and they said yes. We started the intake process but as soon as I got to the insurance part, the answer was, “Oh… we’re not accepting new MediCal patients.” After that, I started the conversation asking if they were taking MEDI CAL patients. Two more clinics said no.

Finally, the fifth clinic said they were accepting MediCal. And, miracle of miracles they had an appointment open in only 2 weeks! I grabbed it, wrote it down, hung up the phone and burst into tears.

Everything was on hold waiting for a doctor. We needed a doctor to sign the forms so she could start her day-program, but that couldn’t happen until MediCal cleared. While we were waiting I was out hunting for a day program with an opening, so now she’s on two waiting lists. Thankfully one program had an opening in December and they were kind enough to hold the spot for her.

Since December! (Thank you, thank you, thank you…)

Access. The doctors are excellent here, but not everyone has access. How many more openings are there for MediCal patients? Did the clinic that accepted my daughter eventually say no to the people who called afterwards? How many people with disabilities are hunting for a doctor right now?

Is it weird I’m happy the doctor found something wrong?

Rhiannon had a Nerve Conduction Test last week. I assumed she would freak out, yell, cry, and punch someone (hopefully not the doctor).

Instead, Rhia sat quietly and allowed the doctor to connect the electrodes to her skin in strategic places. Then she held her step-dad’s hand while a small jolt of electricity was sent along the nerve paths. “That feels funny,” she said with a giggle. The electric surge increased in power, but all she did was stare at the doctor and say, “That feels very funny!”

Next came the acupuncture needles. This must be when she kicks someone, I thought. But the doctor was quick and the needles were very tiny. There was only one moment when Rhia glared at him because she figured out he was poking her with a needle. The entire test was done in less than 20 minutes.

And this time, the doctor actually found something wrong.

Do you know how many times Rhia has undergone tests? How often the doctor was certain he had found the answer to the cause of Rhia’s illness, only to have that test come back negative? Blood work and muscle biopsies have all come back good; no sign of illness or impairment. Even the genetic tests have returned inconclusive. What is causing Rhia’s ataxia and increasing fatigue? Why does her cerebellum keep shrinking? Why is her vision worse? Why did she lose her hearing?

I think the doctors are as frustrated as I.

But the Nerve Conduction Test found something! Her central nervous system appears intact, but the nerves that go out to her muscles are overactive. Even when she is sitting quietly, those nerves are firing like crazy. There’s too much “noise” in the muscles. Why? Not sure. But this test finally confirmed the cause of Rhia’s constant tremor.

When the doctor explained the “noisy” results of the test, I smiled., feeling a rush of relief. He found something! He actually found something! Look at the computer screen. You can hear the static of her muscles firing from too much nerve stimulation.

Rhia’s body is never calm; no wonder she’s exhausted.

Later, I bought myself a big box of Godiva chocolate to celebrate. Is it weird I’m happy the neurologist found something wrong? If you’ve been chasing answers like we have, you’d understand. After 20 years of negative tests, it was a relief someone found a clue at last.