Why I Am in Long-Term Care

The day 1 prompt for this year’s 31-day writing challenge is “Why”. I immediately thought of the question that keeps popping up in my mind whenever I meet someone new at the care facility: Why am I in long-term care? Today, for example, I met a student doctor who was touring our home. I informed her midway through our conversation that I don’t have an intellectual disability, to which she replied that she could tell. Well, duh! Even when I’m overloaded, like I was at the time, and experiencing pretty bad language problems, I still sound like someone with at least an average IQ.

So why am I in long-term care? To a casual stranger, I could just point to my lack of sight and they’d be satisfied. Not a doctor or even a medical student, I guess. The medical advisor for the funding agency understandably concluded that blindness alone doesn’t warrant 24-hour care. Neither does mild cerebral palsy. And, as regular readers of this blog know, autism, being seen as a psychiatric condition, doesn’t count.

They finally found a way around this situation by saying that my disabilities are intertwined. They are, of course. In multiple disabilities, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. For this reason, the short answer to why I’m in long-term care is because I’m blind and autistic and have mild CP, not because I have any of these alone.

This is the legal answer. The way the funding agency found around the stupidly close-minded look at disabilities the law requires medical advisors to have. The long answer is, of course, that my individual care needs mean I need 24-hour proximity of care.

I have significant executive functioning issues. These cannot be objectified by tests because I’m blind and the tests of executive functioning that are available, are all visual. For this reason, the medical advisor wrongly concluded that I don’t have cognitive impairments. I don’t have an intellectual disability, but that’s not the same.

These executive functioning difficulties make it hard for me to take care of myself. I can do basic self-care activities with reminders and prompting, but then still I often mess up.

People, including my support staff, have used my blindness as an excuse for my difficulty with basic self-care. Of course I can’t see when my clothes are dirty, but if I were just blind, I would be able to prevent the most common causes of my clothes getting dirty. Like, I would be able to prevent myself from drooling over them, or I would be able to find other ways around it.

People also use my blindness as an excuse for my needing proximity of care. If I were just blind though, I would still struggle to know when staff had left the room, but I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by it.

But I’m not just blind. Had I been just blind, I wouldn’t have needed to apply for long-term care. And yet, paradoxically, my care ground is blindness.

I Got Approved for Long-Term Care!

Last Monday, I was so discouraged that I wrote a letter to myself motivating myself to keep going at least till 2021. I was in the process of applying for long-term care and I wasn’t expecting my funding to be approved until 2021. After all, my original application early this year had been denied. My support coordinator appealed for me, but I wasn’t expecting much out of it. The reason I had my hopes focused on 2021 is that by then, mental illness will no longer be excluded as a ground for long-term care, meaning that those with lifelong mental health conditions preventing them from living independently, will qualify.

Of course, I’m not just mentally ill, even if you see autism as a mental health issue (which it isn’t in my opinion). I am blind and have mild cerebral palsy too. I met some people at the CP conference who qualify for long-term care for just CP, even if it’s as mild as mine is. Then again, the rules have gotten stricter and those who lived in group homes or supported housing prior to 2015, qualify much more easily than those who didn’t, like myself. In this sense, my long psychiatric hospitalization works against me.

Two weeks ago, the lawyer in charge of my appeal with the funding agency (I didn’t have my own lawyer) said I probably didn’t qualify for long-term care. The reasons were complicated. From one person, I heard that the physician in charge of making medical recommendations was willing to recommend long-term care but was restricted by law because of my history of mental illness. From another, I heard that I couldn’t get long-term care because the physician couldn’t decide whether my primary disability is blindness, cerebral palsy or autism, so they decided not to qualify me at all. That’s rather weird, because they almost made it look like I would qualify with my exact limitations if only I didn’t have a psychiatric diagnosis on file.

I don’t know how they eventually managed to do it, but late Tuesday afternoon, the lawyer called my support coordinator to inform her I had been approved after all. I am so happy! I qualify based on blindness as my primary disability.

Now I feel weird. I know I should be happy and I am, but I feel also disconnected from myself. In a way, being approved for long-term care is an ending, in that I’ll (unless the laws change) never have to prove that I need 24-hour care again. On the other hand, it’s a beginning, enabling me to start looking for a group home. Because I qualify based on blindness, we may or may not be able to get me into a group home with my current care agency. After all, they primarily serve those with intellecctual disabilities. I prefer this agency though, so we may be looking into tweaking my care profile. If I can’t live with this agency, we’ll check out the two blindness agencies here in the Netherlands. One has housing about an hour’s drive from my current home, while the other agency’s housing is 90 minutes to two hours away. My husband said though to prioritize suitability of the group home rather than proximity to our current home.

I feel pretty distressed about telling my parents. They will be visiting me for my birthday at the end of the month, but I don’t know how far things will have moved along then. I don’t really know when to tell them. It’s okay though, I tell myself. I don’t need their approval.

Premature Birth: Living with “Preemie Syndrome” #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 16 in the #AtoZChallenge. I am feeling very uninspired and unmotivated once again. In fact, when my husband suggested I postpone today’s post to tomorrow and do it on procrastination, that felt tempting for a bit. Instead, I am doing it on the effects of premature birth.

I was born at 26 weeks gestation. This means I was over three months premature. I weighed only 850 grams. I had to be put into an incubator and had to be on the ventilator for six weeks.

I already shared in my B and C posts about the effects of my premature birth on my eyes and brain. Retinopathy of prematurity caused me to go legally blind. A brain bleed, called an intraventricular hemorrhage, caused me to develop hydrocephalus and possible cerebral palsy.

Because some preemies have a ton of hard-to-explain issues that fall under no one particular diagnosis, the members of the PREEMIE-CHILD mailing list coined the term “preemie syndrome”. This is of course not a real syndrome, but it is used to describe the fact that many children who were born prematurely fit into multiple boxes of disability to a certain extent, but may not meet the full criteria. For instance, some children’s motor impairments are too mild to be classified as cerebral palsy. Mine might be.

It is known that preemies are at an increased risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism or ADHD. Then again, some clinicians don’t diagnose these conditions in preemies, as they reason this is somehow a different condition. I am not sure how I feel about this, as I don’t care about the exact syndrome but more about the symptoms. This was exactly what my psychologist told me to do, and then she changed my diagnosis for all kinds of weird reasons. But I digress.

I don’t mean “preemie syndrome” as yet another label to identify myself with. It’s not that simple. It’s just that we tend to fall through the cracks and I want to prevent that.

Cerebral Palsy: And Other Effects of my Brain Injury #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day three in the #AtoZChallenge. I am feeling a little off today, as my support worker canceled our appointment tomorrow and my husband will be home from work late this evening. For this reason, I’m feeling a little unmotivated to write. I hope that forcing myself to write today’s A to Z post anyway will help me snap out of the bad mood. Today, I am sharing about a disability that I have had since infancy, but that I didn’t know much about till a few years ago.

Like I mentioned on Monday, my autism diagnosis got taken away in 2016, because my then psychologist thought my having had a brain bleed as a baby precludes an autism diagnosis. It doesn’t, but it did help me gain some new perspective on my issues. Could I possibly be suffering from the effects of neonatal brain injury?

I asked my parents, starting with the obvious. I have left-sided weakness, affecting both my arm and leg, which I assumed was due to the brain bleed. I had heard of cerebral palsy and had figured out I might have this. I asked my father, but he didn’t answer my question. Possibly, he wasn’t told by the doctors, because my mobility impairment is relatively mild.

I did see a rehabilitation physician and had regular physical therapy until I was around eight. I also needed a cast on my left foot because my achilles tendon was at risk of becoming too short. Later, at age fifteen, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. This isn’t so uncommon that it alone warrants another diagnosis. However, coupled with all the other issues, I put two and two together.

Cerebral palsy, for those who don’t know, is basically a mobility impairment due to a brain injury acquired in utero, at birth or in the first year of life.

I finally went to my GP in 2017 to ask him, again focusing on my mobility impairment. This, after all, is the defining characteristic of cerebral palsy. I was just told I had acquired brain injury.

Still, in late 2018, I joined the national CP charity in my country. When I went to their conference in November, all puzzle pieces fell in place. Not only were my symptoms – not just the walking difficulties – characteristic of CP, but I met people with milder walking difficulties than mine who had been diagnosed as having CP.

There are five different levels of CP, depending on gross motor functioning (ability to walk or otherwise move around). People in level 1 and 2 can walk independently, though those in level 2 require some handheld mobility aids for long distances or on uneven ground. I would probably score as level 1 or maybe 2, but this motor functioning assessment is appropriate for children and adolescents only. There are also several different types of CP, depending on which limbs are affected and how. I probably have spastic hemiplegia, meaning CP affects one side of my body only.

Currently, I am not looking for an official CP diagnosis. I probably had one as a child, so digging up my old records may reveal it, but I’m not in a position to do so at this point. I also wonder what benefit I could gain from this. The support groups for CP on Facebook allow me in based on the facts of my brain injury and resulting mobility impairment. Besides, like my GP said in 2017, a physical or occupational therapist treating me for my brain injury would have to take into account the major disability of my blindness. Maybe, should I ever go into long-term care for the blind, I’ll be able to afford support for this.

A diagnosis of cerebral palsy requires mobility impairments, but a brain injury can have other effects. At the CP conference, the first presentation I attended was on overload. The same cognitive and affective difficulties that people who acquire a brain injury later in life can endure, can affect those with neonatal brain injury. In that sense, my psychologist may’ve been correct that my emotional and cognitive impairmetns are due to that.

#IWSG: Creative Outlets Besides Writing

I have a ton of things I want to write about, but somehow I can’t get myself to actually write. I started trying to use my new Mac Saturday evening. So far, it works but is still a bit hard to use. The WordPress app for Mac isn’t available in the app store, so it is a pain to install. I’m just using my phone now rather than WordPress.com in Safari, because at least I know how to work this.

It’s time again for our Insecure Writer’s Support Group or #IWSG check-in. This month’s question is about creative outlets other than writing.

I must say I”m not terribly creative. I don’t do any artsy things and am no good at music either. No, not all blind people are musically talented! I tried my hand at learning to play the keyboards and guitar for a bit, but didn’t like either. Granted, my guitar lessons were while I was at summer camp in Russia and the instructor spoke Russian and English only. This was before I knew English, so it took me half an hour to figure out what he meant by the “strings”.

If we expand creativity a bit to include crafts, I have tried a ton of them. I started out trying to make cards in 2012, not realizing how inaccessible this craft is to blind people. I should’ve known, since the blindness agency used to offer card making courses but specifically to the partially sighted only.

Then I tried mixed media, which was similarly inaccessible. Then came polymer clay, which should be doable but not by me. I tried to learn to crochet and loom knit too.

Lastly, I tried soap and bath and body product making. I still love that craft and would someday like to pick it up again, but I can’t do it independently. This is when I realized that the problem may not be exclusively with my blindness, but my cerebral palsy affecting my fine motor skills too.

So in short, no, I don’t do any creative things other than write. But I’d love to learn.

CP Conference Last Saturday

So I attended the Netherlands’ national conference day on cerebral palsy on Saturday. Before I went, i was incredibly scared. Would I be able to connect to other people or would I be left on the sidelines all day? Would there be people willing to help me navigate the school building in which the conference was being organized? Would I arrive on time? But my main worry was related to my own diagnosis of cerebral palsy, or rather the lack thereof. You see, I was never told that I have CP by my parents and was too young to understand medical jargon by the time they stopped taking me to specialists. Maybe my parents didn’t even know, as doctors do not always clearly communicate and my parents were mostly looking for reassurance.

My GP also was a bit vague when I asked him last year, citing a probably relatively recent letter saying that I had acquired brain injury. Now I do happen to know that doctors disagree on whether brain injury acquired shortly after birth counts as ABI or a diagnosis of CP or the like should be made instead. So I’m a member of Facebook groups for both CP and ABI. However, ABI is a diagnosis regardless of symptoms and CP requires mobility impairments. I wonder therefore, are my mobility impairments severe enough to count?

I arrived at the school forty minutes before the doors were officially open, but someone took me to a chair anyway and gave me a cup of coffee. Soon, a man I’d been talking to via Facebook messenger arrived too and we sat and chatted some.

Gradually, other people arrived and it was soon time for the official opening speech. This was partly about Steptember, a movement challenge to collect money for research on CP.

Then, a neuropsychology professor spoke about the effects of movement and mental or physical effort on cognition in people with and without CP. It turns out that effort, whether that be mental or physical, strengthens brain connections to the frontal and parietal cortex, which are responsible for higher-order cognitive functions such as planning, organizing and impulse control. He also briefly touched on the effects of music, which can also help strengthen these connections. In short, moving and exerting ourselves as much as we can within the limits of our CP helps our cognitive functions. Of course, past age 30, these brain areas no longer grow and actually decline, but still exerting yourself enables you to learn more effectively regardless of your age.

After this, you could choose to follow a workshop session. The one I followed was on overload. This was a bit of a chaotic workshop, as the presenter allowed for questions while presenting. I am quite familiar with overload, as a person with autism, but I loved to explore it from a CP perspective. I mean, physically I do have some more limitations than those without CP. As a result, walking may give me energy, but it also costs me energy more so than it does non-disabled people. This was rather interesting, because I often tend to sometimes give everything and more of myself physically and other times I tend not to bother. Something the presenter said that really struck a chord was that mental overload can be counteracted by physical activity and vice versa.

In the afternoon, we could also pick a workshop to follow. The one I chose was on nutrition. A registered dietitian had developed nutritional guidelines for children and adults with CP. Topics that were discussed included underweight and overweight. The presenter said that, as a general rule, people with CP need fewer calories than those without CP. The reason is that, even though our movement costs more energy and hence burns more calories, we tend not to move as much.

Another topic that was discussed was swallowing difficulties. Did you know that up to 99% of people with CP, even those with mild CP, have swallowing issues? I didn’t. This was so validating, because I happen to have some rather significant swallowing issues.

Other topics of discussion included reflux, constipation and bone development. There is little research into these, as particularly constipation and osteoporosis are common within the general population anyway.

Overall, I loved this day. It was also very validating. Not only did no-one say I don’t look like someone with CP, but I actually met several people who are at least as mildly affecte as I am.

Confessions of a New Mummy

CP Day

Yesterday, I heard about an event on November 3 that I was immediately interested in. It’s the Dutch national CP day organized by BOSK, the country’s charity for people with physical disabilities.

For those not aware, CP is an abbreviation of cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a movement disorder caused by brain damage sustained in utero, during birth or in a child’s first year of life. In my own case, I had a brain bleed shortly after birth.

The thing is though, I was never told that I have CP. My parents just told me I’m clumsy. I did get adaptations early in life, such as a large tricycle. I also had lots of physical therapy. When I was around nine though, my parent discontinued my specialist appointments. Even when I developed scoliosis in adolescence, they didn’t tell me. Scoliosis is a common consequence of hemiplegic (affecting one side of the body only) CP.

Last year, I asked my GP about it and was told I have acquired brain injury. Usually though, when someone acquires their brain injury in the first year of life, it doesn’t “count” as ABI. Instead, diagnoses are then made based on symptoms, such as CP in the case of movement difficulties.

CP is classified in five levels of severity. Obviously, since I don’t even know whether I was diagnosed with CP as a child, I’m not sure of my level either. I would have to guess I’m probably level 1 or 2, which are the mildest levels.

CP is not progressive and yet in some ways, it is. The brain damage that causes it doesn’t get worse, but adults can experience worsening pain, muscle stiffness and symptoms related to overuse and overcompensation.

On the CP event, there’ll be various workshops for adults with CP and parents of CP children. The morning workshop that most appealed to me, is about overload. I’d love to explore this from an a CP perspective rather than an autism perspective.

In the afternoon, the workshop I’m wanting to attend is on nutrition. A dietitian will speak about nutritional guidelines for people with CP. While CP affects movement in the limbs mostly, it can also impact on one’s gastrointestinal tract, because after all these are muscles too. I suffer with both constipation and reflux, which will be discussed.

Obviously, I still feel a little self-conscious about going due to my uncertainty about my diagnosis. Because I am sure I had a brain bleed in infancy, my main concern in thsi respect is that I’m not “bad enough”. My parents at one point tried to get me into a school for the physically impaired and were told (or so ‘ve heard) that I wasn’t disabled enough. Now of course I don’t mind not being that disabled, but then of course I shouldn’t be going to an event like this.