I have had Cushing’s for two years. I have been to Mayo Clinic four times in the last two years, and just recently was accepted and seen at the National Institue of Health’s Rare Disease Program in Bethesda, Maryland. I am from Michigan.
I am 34 years old-a RN, BSN who had worked for ten years happily as a nurse-then I became quite ill due to my Interstitial Cystitis-my Urologist put me in the hopstial-I came out of the hospital after five days, and ten days post hospitalization I awoke with severe joint pain, pitting edema, night sweats, fever, Short of Breath, I had a seizure the next day…..I had only been 135 puonds-very active, worked out-played the clarinet in my church orchestra weekly for three services.
After this illness-I was put on steroids to decrease the joint swelling-turns out I was exposed to Legionella disease during the hospital stay and most likely contracted it after taking a shower at the hospital. My world has been turned upside down since then…I was gaining 10-12 pounds of fluid WEEKLY…finally when I went to Mayo Clinic my first visit in 11/07, they felt the Cushing’s was related to the steroid’s I was on-which was not a high dose, to try and decrease all the swelling-no one thought could pin point why I had so much fluid retention-this was about four months from when I first became ill and I know was 195 pounds!
I returned again to Mayo 1/08 and then again 4/08….in April of 2008 it was an urgent visit-I had been passing out DAILY in my condo in Grand Rapids, MI-two hours from my family-my friends would find me-or I’d wake up fallen on the floor, etc-my internist had me come immediately to Mayo-I was set up with a leading Endocrinologist at Mayo and within 24 hours I was diagnosed with Cushing’s Syndrome and Adrenal Insufficiency-my Urine Cortisol and ACTH stim test were awful. I was put on Replacement Hydrocortisone (At this point I had been off ALL steroids for five months-but continued to gain fluid-I was now 240pounds…they did a tissue biopsy-when they cut into my skin fluid came running out-they-at Mayo had NEVER seen anything like this!).
After returning from Mayo-(my father took me for the ten hour drive each time, we would be there about 8 days-he was such a rock for me as I had always been the independent child in the family…now I needed help-and that was hard to accept). I forgot to mention at this point I was developing many skin rashes, my hands looked like they had been chemically burned all the way up to my elbows….I had allergy/PATCH testing done-found out I was literally allergic to almost everything in the environment-All preservatives in medicine, formaldehyde, lanoline, rubber, adhesive, all chemicals, fragerances-even toothpaste, makeup, it was unreal!
Five days after returning home-I ended up in the hospital in GR-I had a secondary cellulitis/bacterial infection with fever on my hands and arms-I was put on IV antibidics …unfortunately the “hospitalist” I was assigned (In Michigan your internist doesn’t round on you-you are assigned a hospitalist to take care of your inpatient care)…anyways-he didn’t believe I needed to triple my steroid dose when ill-so he refused-I fell into a coma that day! Thankfully one of my good friends, also a RN, came to visit when all th staff was trying to awake me-and my friend said, “my God-she’s in an adrenal crisis!” Once they got the Cortisol in me I was okay. But that was terrifying-I could hear everything the nurses, and medical staff was s aying and I couldn’t talk, blink, move anything-I had tried to call my internist before I slipped into the coma-but I couldn’t talk-I remember hearing the receptionist-but I coudln’t talk-they found my cell phone on the floor where I had dropped it.
it has been a hard road-i returned to Mayo 11/08……at this point I was 300 pounds-they did a full body CT, MRI’s of knee’s, etc-all my tissue is full of fluid-they honestly wre not sure what to do-they just hoped that by tryijng to wean down on the steroids my body would start making aCTH and “Cortisol-I brought intormation on the Rare disease Program at the NIH-my internist at Mayo and in Grand Rapids, MI referred me-I also sent a letter with photo’s. I kept a photo journal from the beginning of my journey-taking photo’s of my striae, abdomen, buffalo hump, arms, legs, abdomen, and SEVERE fluid retention – I took these photo’s monthly so the doctor’s could see how this progressed-this was one of the most helpful things I did.
Thousands are referred to the Rare Disease Program-only 50-100 are accepted. I was accepted. My father and I flew out to the NIH May 17th and returned May 22nd. They paid for our travel, all hospital charges, and lodging for my father at the Safra Lodge there on the NIH campus.
I met the guru of Cortisol-Dr. Nieman-she was incredible. It was an amazing experience to be there-like Mayo-their philosophy is “we are here for the patient” unlike many doctor’s I had run into in Grand Rapids-I’m sure many can relate to some doctor’s that don’t even have ten minutes for you-here and at Mayo then spend 1-2 hours with you-you are their priority. It’s refreshing.
They changed my replacement steroids from Prednisone to Hydrocortisone, I’ve slowly been weaning-but I’m stuck at 10mg in the am, 5mg at 2pm, and 5 mg at 6pm. I also had many other consults while there.
Currently I have a WONDERFUL internist in Grand Rapids-I had to change doctors 2/08-I had been with a family practice doctor and this was just way out of his expertise, I also have a wonderful Urologist, Dr. Casamento whom has been my urologist for over ten years-he has been SO kind and helps me handle my Interstitial Cystitis.
Other than that I have transferred my care to Univ. of Michigan. I have the Chief of Endocrinology at U of M as my Endocrinologist-he is awesome-so intelligent-and he works with the NIH and my internist to help formulate a plan.
I also have a wonderful Rheumatolgosit at U of M- I have a lot of damage to my knee’s-and as I said-my weight is now at 300 pounds-they say over 50% is fluid-and you can tell-my skin is SO taught, nothing is flabby….I’ve been on so many diuretics-nothing helps-next step is to see nephrology at U of M.
They Cushing’s Syndrome symptoms are hard to deal with-you have to learn to adapt-the abdomen, the buffalo hukp, the stria-I look just like the diagram on your website-I had to cut my hair very short as I was sweating ALL the time-another bad side effect. I have had to go from being able to live in my third floor condo-to moving home to my parents-I can’t do stairs anymore-I do PT exercises daily at their home-I have to use a walker at all times, I also have to sleep upright-as my abdomen is SO distended if I like even at a 45 degree angle I feel like I’m suffocating. I PRAY for a miracle-the NIH and Mayo had NEVER seen someone with such severe symptoms of Cushing’s. They now are not sure if I have primary or secondary adrenal insufficiency.
In the meantime I have some major damage and arthritis in my spine/knee’s ankles-but I’m not a surgical candidate per my ortho doc….he’s just doesn’t know how to help me.
I think the hardest things for me are just ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living) shower, even using the bathroom, hygeine, etc….and still not allowing anyone to help me-I’m stubborn that way-but the worse the abdomen distends, the worse the fluid gets-the harder it is for me.
Thankfully I have so much loving support from family and friends-but qualify of life is so low. I no longer get out of the home-it’s too hard-and the stares I get from people, and the laughs because of the Cushing’s is hard….I had been getting my groceries using an Amgio cart-but now that I’m living with my parents they take care of that.
Thankfully I had no problem getting disability-but COBRA and my medical bills have taken my entire savings. My church family even pays every other COBRA-but at 540.00 a month-plus all my other bills/mortgage, etc-it’s been a devestation financially.
I wish everyone with Cushing’s the best of luck-just know you are NOT alone. My faith has sustained me in hard times-I can’t imagine not having faith to get throgh this.