The 30-day Habit

“They” say that practicing a good habit for 30 days straight makes one more likely to follow the habit for a long time.  If this belief is indeed true, then I have mastered the art of Copaxone injections. Tonight marks exactly a month ago that I started taking the injections with nary a skipped shot (in spite of also having taken at least 2 major trips over that same period of time)!   You may recall that not-so-long-ago, these injections did not come easy for me.

Sometime in mid-December, a night or two before hopping on a plane to spend the holidays with family in Ohio,  I put away the autoinjector and pre-filled syringes rather than toting them along with me.  I was still in the middle of getting a second opinion of my MS diagnosis, and still not sure that the reactions I was experiencing after each Copaxone injection was “normal” or perhaps indicative of an allergic reaction. The best course of action seemed to be to just put it all away for a while.

When I returned home in January, I got a call from my “Copaxone buddy”. The nice folks at Shared Solutions, the company that provides the autoinjector and nurses to help with self-injection training, put me in touch with my “buddy”, who has MS and is a long-time user of Copaxone.  After a long conversation, we had figured out a good plan:  in a few days following that phone conversation, I was scheduled to see Dr. K, my primary neurologist.  The plan was for me to start taking injections again in the couple of days before that office visit, so that I would have something to show Dr. K. and to ask for her advice.  Showing her would be much more informative than just telling her (I did take care to choose injection sites for those couple of days that would be readily accessible, in case I needed to quickly whip them out and say “see here?!”)

But an odd thing happened: after a month+ hiatus of injections, those first couple of injections just didn’t seem to hurt as bad, or to produce an unbearable reaction.  Just a fluke, I thought.  But as I started passing new milestones — a whole straight week of injections, then 2 whole weeks — what became obvious to me was that something was different (in a good way).  My body, it seemed, had suddenly decided to be mostly OK with this daily ritual of self-inflicted abuse.

Now, that’s not to say that the injections are pain-free.  They aren’t.  But instead of the pain lingering for hours and hours (or days) after the injection, the pain lasts for maybe 10-15 minutes.  I seldom experience significant swelling any more, and although the injection sites do seem to itch after a couple of days, by the time that I come back around to that area of my body for another injection, the old site is pretty much healed up and difficult to find.  A vast improvement over the pre-Christmas era.   These improvements have also helped with the psychology of this whole business of purposely jabbing myself with a sharp instrument, that flies in the face of self-preservation instincts: in the pre-holiday era last fall, I would hold the autoinjector against my skin for  long periods of time (sometimes as long as 20 or 30 minutes) before building up the nerve to hit the trigger button, and even then, I would often be trembling with fear.  Although I still have some anxiety, and my hand is still occasionally shaky because of it, I am able to do the deed in a fraction of the former time and without nearly as much overall drama.

Over the past month, I’ve learned a couple of new techniques that I believe have helped.  I have updated this post to include some of those new techniques, in case others might find them helpful.

On this milestone, I raise my glass (syringe) and offer a toast to the researchers who have worked so hard to bring treatment options such as Copaxone to folks like me.  I am fortunate to have access to a drug that may help save the two functions that I value most and worry the most about: vision and cognition.

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