Friday, July 25, 2014

My Olive Thief

Much to my parents' horror, I adopted a cat my junior year of college. He and his two brothers were found in the wall of the welding lab in our university with eyes and ears just barely open. The welding class decided to name the three boys after the three most common types of welding: Mig, Tig, and S.M.A.W. (Shielded Metal Arc Welding). Mig was the most pathetic of the three. He was barely able to squeak a meow. But the moment I heard his squeak, I knew he was my cat. That was a little over three years ago.

How could I say no to this face?! Tig and SMAW are sleeping on either side of him.
Photo from March 2011.
Feel free to label me as a crazy cat lady, but I miss him terribly while living in Malaysia. This fur ball has the ability to act as my cortisol detection cat. Animals are able to detect things that humans cannot. Service animals are no longer just "seeing eye dogs." There are many documented cases of dogs being used to warn of seizures, to help manage diabetes, to lesson PTSD symptoms and even help ease anxiety.

Mig lived with a friend from college while I was in Malaysia.
She was showing him pictures of me while I was gone.
Photo from June 2014.
It took me a while to realize that I had a cortisol detection cat. His entire persona changes when I am low on cortisol. I would come home from work just barely functioning. All I could do was collapse on the couch and try to not fall asleep. I was nervous that if I fell asleep I might not wake up. During these times, Mig would stay glued to my side.

Cannot move from couch.
Photo from Jan 2013.
On weekends, Mig would not let me sleep in. With Adrenal Insufficiency, the most critical dose of HC is that first morning dose. It must be taken around the same time every single day. A thirty minute delay in that first dose could mark the difference between a good or a horrible day. I was struggling so much late 2012 and early 2013 that I could barely make it out of bed.

You will not sleep in. But it's for your health. Promise.
Photo from Aug 2013.
Mig knew that something was not right on weekends. He would jump onto my bed and begin licking my face. I would angrily kick him off the bed. He would cautiously return, creeping back on the bed and refusing to leave me alone until I got up and went to my medicine cabinet. Around twenty minutes after I swallowed my medicine, Mig would relax. He could sense that I was no longer in a danger zone.

He jumped up onto my shoulders and would not get down until I swallowed HC.
Photo from Feb 2013.
The name Olive Thief stems from the fact that this cat loves black olives as much as I do. My body struggles with retaining sodium. To counteract this, I take fludrocortisone and eat copious amounts of salt. From a very young age, I shocked people with my ability to down black olives and even drink their brine. I now have to fight Mig for my olives.

Olives. Must. Have. Those. Olives.
Photo from July 2013.
He is a critical part of my team, helping me remain Clearly Alive.

Do you have a story with your pet and your disease? Please share it below!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Chef Rock

It is incredibly difficult to eat gluten free in Malaysia. I do not expect everyone to understand the phrase "gluten free," so I explain "no wheat, no barley, no bread, nothing fried, and no soya sauce." I then hope for the best. Even if the staff speaks good English, most have no concept of food ingredients and would rather inform me that "bread tastes good" and I should "eat more bread." Needless to say, my husband has cooked a lot for me these past few months.

Look at all the beautiful pastries that I cannot eat.
Our extended stay hotel provides breakfast every morning. The first morning, I was extremely discouraged. I was nervous that my breakfast for the next six months would be eggs, just eggs, and sometimes just badly cooked hotel eggs with a side of fruit.

They will cycle out fruit. Some fruit I definitely like more than others.
Luckily, I married an extroverted husband. He has no problems starting conversations with strangers. I dread it. I absolutely dread informing people about my gluten intolerance. Honestly, I do not even mention my Adrenal Insufficiency even though I view that as more important than my gluten intolerance. It takes so many spoons to try to communicate, "no bread." I do not have the energy to explain  the implications of "no cortisol."

"Let me use the cheese tongs for the bread so that I can leave bread crumbs all over the cheese."
Side note: I'm so thankful I'm not celiac. I'd be constantly sick living here.
One day at breakfast (after I had already left for work), my husband began chatting with the head chef.

Chef Rock, with soup he prepared especially for my husband.
No, this is not gluten free.
My husband discovered that Chef Rock understands gluten free! One of the first things he told my husband was, "Oh... she can hardly eat anything here! I'm so sorry."

The potato wedges are theoretically gluten free...
except for the pieces of white bread at the bottom.
On days I have less options at breakfast, Chef Rock will bring a plate of fruit from the kitchen.

A special fruit plate, just for me. I love the oranges here.
Once a month, our hotel hosts a "residents night" with free food. However, most of it I cannot eat. Chef Rock will prepare a special plate of food for me. His generosity allows me to attend the event.

Do you see the size of that omelet?! It fed me for three meals.
Chef Rock sent my husband up with this on a day I couldn't make it to breakfast.
A few times, I have been too sick or fatigued to make it down for breakfast. During those times, Chef Rock would create a breakfast box and send it back to my room to be hand delivered by my husband.

"Where's your wife?" "She's sick this morning." "Ok, take this to her!"
Chef Rock takes really good care of me. He's one of the more awesome people we've met in Malaysia.

He got made fun of for serving me black olives, tomatoes, oranges, french fries, and a "chicken chop."
I thought the meal tasted amazing! This was at a residents night.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Hong Kong

I used the Malaysian holiday of Wesak to venture to Hong Kong. I was graciously hosted by Wendy, who was diagnosed with Addison's Disease in 2012. Until Wendy picked me up from the airport, she had never met another living with Primary Adrenal Insufficiency in person. Knowing that you are not alone in your journey is powerful.

Katie, Theo, Wendy, and I at before we went to the Night Market.
We discussed the differences in health care between America, Hong Kong, the UK, and Malaysia. Each country definitely has good and bad. In the end, we realized that we just need one kind and compassionate doctor that is willing to work with us and understands that treatment for Adrenal Insufficiency cannot be purely textbook.

We discussed how we can gain insight with how well we are doing by noticing how our animals behave around us. Both Max and Mig (my olive thief cat) are able to detect when our cortisol levels begin to drop. This has helped me out numerous times when living alone. I know of others within the Adrenal Insufficiency community that have seen similar behavior with their rabbits and dogs.

I found a wig! And a cat named Max!
Max clearly did not share the same level of excitement as me.
Although we live with this disease, we do not need to manage it in isolation. I rely greatly on trusted family and friends, and even my cat to help me when I begin to fade. I communicate daily with others in the Adrenal Insufficiency community to share experiences and learn. We do not need to walk this journey alone.

If you do feel alone in your journey, send me a facebook message so I can connect you with a thriving online support group. May we all fight daily to remain Clearly Alive.

One of my purchases from the night market.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Wedding Cake Predicament

We could not have a traditional wedding cake. Traditional wedding cakes have gluten. I no longer eat gluten. Gluten free cakes can taste bad. I did not want a bad tasting wedding cake. Thus, we had a predicament.

Photo by Rebekah Sampson Photography.
Our caterer was providing a sheet cake for our guests at the reception. However, we did not know what to do for our individual cake. My mom and I had previously decided to use Cakepops 101 as favors for our guests. We asked Kim if she would be willing to also make a smaller gluten free cake specifically for me.

Photo by Rebekah Sampson Photography.
When my husband and I met with her two months before the wedding, she confessed to us that she had never made a gluten free cake before. I told her I was not the stereotypical bride. I did not have a long list of requirements and expectations. That would steal too many spoons. I just had one request for our cake: Make a chocolate gluten free cake that tastes good.

Photo by Rebekah Sampson Photography.
For those of y'all that live in the gluten free world with me, you understand what I mean. "Gluten Free" can be synonymous with "Cardboard Crap." I did not care what my cake looked like. I just wanted it to taste good.

Photo by Rebekah Sampson Photography.
Kim did an absolutely amazing job! Not only was our cake absolutely delicious, it was also so simple and beautiful. I was able to share it with our other gluten free guests who agreed that this was one of the best tasting cakes they every had.

Photo by Rebekah Sampson Photography.
He was concentrating so hard because he didn't want to mess up our cake.
Later during our reception, my husband was having such a good time dancing that he actually knocked over our cake! I look up from my conversation to see a group of people huddled around the cake table and my husband worrying if I would be upset. Of course I was not upset! The fact that my own husband knocked over our wedding cake was hilarious! Between the two of us, he is definitely more of the life of the party.

Photo by Rebekah Sampson Photography.
Don't worry! The cake was salvaged.
Due to our immediate departure to Malaysia after the wedding, my husband and I did not even try to save a piece of our cake in the freezer to eat on our one year anniversary. Oh no. As soon as we got the left overs from my parents, we stuffed our faces. Forget one year, that cake lasted for three days. We took the final bites on the airplane leaving Arizona ready to start our next adventure on the other side of the world!