As for my daily functioning? I am able to work long days, most days, electronically (phone, Skype, email). I don’t have brain fog, but do sometimes have more symptoms after mental exertion. I am limited physically, more so in Santa Fe than Hawaii. I can climb a couple of flights of stairs with some dyspnea, more if needed, if I go slowly. I can usually walk several blocks, but might have some mild PEM if I overdo it, though my exercise tolerance is very variable. I don’t need handicap parking. I have no difficulty lifting groceries, etc. Resistance exercise is easier than anything aerobic. Swimming is easier than walking. Standing still is the hardest. The most physically challenging thing I have to do is negotiating airports and I use the airport wheelchair service for that. Gentle yoga is helpful. Pretty much all of the above is better than before I started arv’s, though as a commenter said, and, as I have said all along, other things happened too, before, during and after. Also my illness historically follows my state of mind (knowing full well how unPC it is to say that out loud). I am also much more tolerant of symptoms than I used to be, and not a very compliant patient, more confounders.
Although the personal questions in the comments of the last blog were asked very rudely, I will try to answer them anyway. I have represented myself as an open book, and I truly am, even though it gets me in trouble, as witnessed by the tone of the questions. Most of this has been said before, but things have changed, and perhaps it needs to be said again, from our current vantage point. So, I’ll give it a go.
I am not trying to persuade anyone to take anything. I share my reasoning, with references, within the limits of my writing ability. I intentionally report before I know the outcome so that it won’t be seen as my pushing a particular protocol. I am in the same boat as everyone else. I don’t know what to do to fix it. I don’t believe that anyone else does either. Arv’s are only one of the treatments I have written about here. I am sharing my thoughts and experiences in real time.
This is a blog. Opinion. If you read it carefully, there are inconsistencies. I even reserve the right to change my opinion from time to time. I try to summarize occasionally, but yes, a “casual” reader might come away with something I didn’t intend. I am not sure what to do about that. I cannot recapitulate the entire blog each time I write. It is an ongoing discussion, not “the truth” at a moment in time. Almost everybody gets that, I think.
I am endlessly surprised that my opinions are so controversial and can evoke such ire. Most of it seems common sense to me. It is incredible, and very telling, that there are actually people that want to restrict my freedom of speech! Why does anyone care if others find my musings useful? I am not telling anyone else what to think. I have said repeatedly that I could be wrong about anything. If I were to say nothing until everything is scientifically validated and I was positive, I would never say anything at all. I am learning as I go, as is everyone. For some peculiar reason, I seem to need to write, and some people find it helpful. The blog is the best I can do, with the limited energy and time I have left, and I am grateful for it. When Ali suggested I write a blog, I didn’t know what a blog was:). The patients who comment and write are very sophisticated and opinionated all on their own, not needing me to tell them what to think. They ask for my thoughts so they can put the information into their own equations, not take it as some kind of truth written in stone. The reflex to restrict what I say so that the poor gullible patients won’t hear it is patronizing. And to the conventional physicians who might be reading, why the sudden concern for our well being? There are many useless things that you are willing to prescribe that are much more dangerous than arv’s.
I have never claimed to be anywhere near “well” and I have said all along that there were confounders with respect to our treatment with arv’s. As noted in the comments, gamma retroviruses replicate by clonal expansion, so we need specific drugs, but transcription of viral proteins and the assembly of new viral particles may be involved in pathogenesis, if the hypothesis is correct. I am endlessly reevaluating everything with new information as it becomes available. I am not in fact a “true believer”. I would love to hear any alternative hypothesis that fits close to as well. Anything at all that might suggest a direction to turn for efficacious treatment. I am dismayed that we are back to having an idiopathic immune disorder, albeit repackaged to sound like good news. Redefining it as a syndrome, yet again.
There is no way to know if arv’s are helping us at this time, as I have said several times. I expected viral load measures and other ways to monitor that didn’t pan out. I did monitor several likely parameters which showed trends, but not convincingly enough to be useful. There are specimens sitting at the WPI that might contain valuable information. I certainly hoped it would be less ambiguous than it turned out to be. But there are others that experienced what we did, apparent cause and effect improvement from starting arv’s (often after an initial mild symptom flare). Some of them have written on this blog. I am NOT saying anyone should take arv’s, and never have, only that they shouldn’t be forbidden. The main problem I have recommending it as an option now, is that because it isn’t being studied, anyone starting will likely find themselves where we are, not knowing what to do for the long haul, and no help coming anytime soon. I actually think it is probably mostly a moot point now; the forces against have essentially won, shut it down for all practical purposes. The important thing isn’t really even arv’s, which at best only help incompletely, but our inability to get any help at all due to the attitude displayed in the reaction we have seen to the idea.
There are many drugs that are used because they work, even though the mechanism is unknown. One would think that for a debilitating disease which affects millions of people, for which there is no meaningful treatment, somebody would want to find out if that might be the case here. The usual way that happens is somebody has a good case, publishes it and then it gets studied. I have reported our experience. The burden of proof is not on me. What if it was a serendipitous discovery for the wrong reasons? The reaction of the medical community to trying arv’s is irrational, as the reactions of the medical community often are, especially when it comes to anything to do with this disease. The reaction of the scientific community is a joke, with no basis for an opinion at all; practicing medicine without a license, understanding nothing of the disease about which they are so opinionated.
Take a look at this paper: Zidovudine in primary Sjögren’s syndrome. Steinfeld. Rheumatology (Oxford). 1999 Sep;38(9):814-7. Did everyone get up in arms about this small clinical trial? Were the authors discredited for trying it? It doesn’t look like anyone followed up on it.
I have shared many personal details here, both physical and emotional. I have been very forthcoming, approaching undressing in public at times, so it is strange to be accused of “hiding”. The problem is that my sharing a list of symptoms that are “better” than before isn’t terribly illuminating, since some things are better or gone and some things aren’t. I even have a couple of new things. Like most ME/CFS patients, my condition changes from day to day and tweeting my moment to moment condition would benefit no one. However, I will try to define the big things.
The most tangible thing that happened to me, seemingly from arv’s, was the near resolution of my chronic malaise. I had it much of the time for 15 years. It went away shortly after starting AZT/Isentress and I almost never have it now. So 90% of the time before, 10% or less now. That alone was life changing for me.
My down periods used to last for 5 days to a week at a time, and now, rarely more than part of a day. The worst moments happen less often.
When I started arv’s, I never slept more than two hours without awakening, and I didn’t dream at all. I now often sleep all night with one or two awakenings and I dream normally. My day to day wellness is linked to the quality of my sleep in a chicken or egg fashion, so this improvement is key.
Painless migraines (scintillating scotoma without headache) and hypertensive crises are much reduced in frequency.
Another “big thing” that happened: I experienced a definite decrease in my peripheral neuropathy pain at one point early into arv’s. However, trying to explain one’s pain to anyone else is an exercise in futility. The pain I have now is worse than pain that almost drove me insane at the beginning of my illness, but my coping skills are very different. Still when the reduction happened, it seemed definite. I am not pain free, but my pain is quite tolerable and does not require pain medicine. Others have also reported less pain on arv’s. Again, I am reporting, not selling. For everyone who thinks they were helped, somebody else thinks they weren’t, but the risks of trying it are pretty minimal with proper monitoring.
I acknowledge that it is possible that all these things happened in spite of, and not because of, arv’s.
A big disappointment for me has been that the abnormal response to big time stressors remains, though it may be attenuated. Impossible to tell.
I can only work part-time face to face, a couple of hours at a time, but I’m OK for many successive days. I could fake it for longer hours than that, but don’t want to do that. My patients travel a long way to see me, and I want it to be useful and special. I am seeing new patients for 4-5 hours on two different days, which is working out well for all concerned. It is a unique, collaborative endeavor. Sick doctor and sick patient. I am limited, but can function fairly reliably, though there are days when it’s tough; however, there are more days when it isn’t.
When I started arv’s, I was unable to speak on the phone, because of auditory processing disturbance. I also had to lie down most of the day, only sitting or standing for a very short time, and I now sit up most of the day. Standing is more difficult some days than others, but there is never a time when I can’t if I need to; that was not always true.
So huge functional change in the last 20 months on arv’s, but improvement started about 6 months before that, with cessation of Lyme and symptom-based treatment. From housebound to functional, but not at all “well”. I have written about the reasons why I abandoned the use of rating scales to evaluate our experiment and don’t want to rehash it again. It is sad that it’s all we have. I am collecting them on my patients, but don’t expect them to be as useful as patients’ subjective reports. Yes, I do believe what my patients tell me.
My illness certainly isn’t gone, though it has lifted, lessened, but it is a relapsing, remitting illness all on its own, making it extremely difficult to assess cause and effect. I have said this over and over again. I am fully aware that many ineffective or harmful treatments have been perpetuated because of this feature of the illness (see my prior blog entries about Lyme Disease treatment). Whenever anyone gets better, they think it’s because of whatever they were doing at the time. I received an email recently from a patient who was housebound for fourteen years and suddenly improved enough to get a life, having changed nothing. I was of course influenced by the fact that there were two of us sharing the same experience; Ali and I had similar experiences with respect to the timing of improvement, though she had no side effects and I did experience a flare of symptoms initially. And for the record, neither of us has a history of placebo responses.
Ali went uphill during her first 6 months or so on arv’s, but had more therapeutic interventions concurrently than I did. The goal was always to get her better, not demonstrate something scientific to others. Her treatments did not prevent her crash when she tried to engage life again a year ago. She is doing well again now, but it is impossible to say if this level of wellness is the same, above or below her last remission. The “crash” didn’t become as serious as prior crashes have been for her. The important thing to her now, I think, is that she is better at this moment, and seems still to be slowly improving. Will it last? She is savoring it while it does.
My baseline was better prior to the events of early July than it is now, though I am not “crashed”. I have been under a great deal of stress, though I am hoping things will calm down a little now, so I can regain what I have lost. There is no way to know if I tolerated the crisis better than I would have without arv’s. I suffered the kinds of losses and persistent stress that have historically set me back in a major way. I stopped Isentress a while back, and am worse. Cause and effect? Who knows, but I don’t want to stay on monotherapy and am afraid to stop Viread, since a couple of patients who were forced to go off have lost gains. I may go back on Isentress. Also thinking about Lexiva (see Li on the sidebar).
I have received several demands for an apology from me to Dr. Peterson. As I said when I mentioned his name for the first time, I have never met him. Making enemies was never my intention, just the inevitable consequence of stating one’s opinions openly and publicly in such a contentious arena. My frustration feels overwhelming sometimes and it comes out in my writing. I hear from patients that love Dr. Peterson, and that does make a difference to me, but it still seems inconceivable that he abandoned the pursuit of a retroviral etiology when he jettisoned the WPI, knowing what he knows about the science and the disease. His teaming up with Konstance Knox to sink the WPI still seems really sleazy to me and his claim that it was to protect patients disingenuous. He could not have known there were problems with the VIP Dx test, or questions of contamination, at the time that he left, so how could he have been “right”. His agenda appears to go beyond figuring out how to treat the disease and help patients. I am not saying that I know precisely what that agenda is. It would seem that everyone who was involved with the WPI was hurt, likely including Dr. Peterson. I only wish that he hadn’t thrown the baby out with the bath water.
I regret any pain that I have caused, but some truths are painful. For me, it is painful to acknowledge how few friends there are worth having in the medical or scientific communities. My referral list for mainland doctors is a very short list. When I think back over the people I have mentioned by name in an angry or personal way, it is a select few that had it coming. My lack of professional decorum, or whatever you want to call it, comes from outrage, and mostly justified. I challenge anyone who has been sick with this disease for any length of time to write their truth and not say some angry things. My writing is also full of hope for the future. It’s just that it is the hope of learning to live well with the disease, rather than to truly vanquish it any time soon.
I really think many have too much confidence in “science”, especially retrovirology, which seems to have an unusual number of landmines scattered across its landscape. Even if Dr. Lipkin were to say tomorrow that he agrees that there are gamma retroviruses infecting ME/CFS patients, it will be a long time before that translates into specific treatment. Compassionate use of existing drugs should be tried and available, especially for the sickest patients. There are possibilities besides arv’s. Lenolidamide? Pentoxyfyllin? Nexavir? Existing drugs. What others? I recently heard of a big time response to Copaxone. Is anyone looking in a systematic way? Really looking? Why does it feel almost subversive to talk about it? The idea that these patients should, or can, wait is indecent. Again, I am not trying to convince anyone to do anything other than consider my ideas. I continue to write because some find it helpful, and I have made many friends, but I have made enemies too, and that gives me pause. I do grow weary of the personal attacks, on top of everything else that has happened recently. I need to focus on my patients, but want to continue to reach out to readers; there is so little information with respect to how and what to consider for treatment in the here and now. Five or ten more years is too late for many of us.
OK. Now I have some actual work to do:).
Today’s song: Can’t Find My Way Home