Managing in a new home

Well, what a palaver moving home is when you are chronically ill eh?

It all started so many months ago with packing well in advance so that I could do a little bit each day during my paced daily activity. The pacing is such a crucial part of my pain management so I can’t go overdoing it as then I risk sending my nervous system back into it’s old amplifying ways. But then there’s all the viewings of potential houses, sometimes Magic Dude was at work and I had to drive myself to viewings and take pictures to show him. It all adds up and takes its toll. And it takes its toll for a long time afterwards. Trouble is it doesn’t stop there of course.

We tried to buy a place and had to pull out when we found out there were potential structural problems so we found ourselves back at square one again. Our buyer hung on (and on) (for months) and we eventually found another place, won the bid and then it took ages to actually get through all the paperwork and reach the incredibly stressful moving day. It was all so well organised by us to best manage my health issues but the handing over of the keys was out of our control. Our lovely removal guys were sat outside the new place for hoouurs waiting for us to call them and let them know that we’d finally been given the keys and were on our way. In the end it was so late in the day that they called in a couple of extra guys at no extra cost just to get unloaded in time. They were awesome. But yikes, what a day!

As I now have immune responses to loads of different things Magic Dude and I cracked on with my second paced activity of the day removing the bedroom carpet, under which was a layer of lino and under that was a layer of disintegrating black spongy stuff. It was a messy job so we wore facemasks and got on with filling up rubbish bags and cleaning the uncovered floorboards. Windows open to air it out. Mattress made up on the floor. Eeeeeevrything else shoved into the extension because we foolishly thought we’d be decorating everywhere pretty soon, haha. Silly us!

We have got loads done, though.

First things first… the health stuff:

New boiler because I need to be warm to help manage my pain levels.
– we were lucky to get a government grant via a local environmental charity and after taking some info'(including Magic Dude’s income) we were awarded an additional grant from one of the charity’s other schemes as well. The government ‘Green Deal’ has finished now but it’s always worth checking with any local teams or charities to see what’s available as they receive grants from elsewhere too. Your local council should know who in the area you could contact to ask about this stuff.

Boiler

Loft and wall cavity insulation for the same reason. If I’m not warm I’m in more pain. Simple as.
– we had the work done by energy company EDF as per advice from our local environment team. Many energy companies in the UK offer schemes like this but EDF are unusual in that they are the only one currently offering this service to disabled people who used to work. If you receive contribution-based disability benefits you are not included in many schemes available. Purportedly this is because contributions based disability ESA (for those of us who happened to have been able to work at some point in the past) is more than the income based version but for me personally the addition of about £3 doesn’t make enough of a difference for this to make sense. Yes, I know, whether we used to be more ‘able’ makes no difference to our current state of disability or the help we need now, but hey, the rules are created by non-disabled people and they are politicians who don’t get stuff. What can I say?!

Both these schemes for the boiler and the insulation were brilliant. I am so truly thankful for their assistance I have no words to describe it.

Security.
– also recommended to us by our local environment team was a charity called the Blue Lamp Trust which covers England & Wales. It’s a security charity of which many employees are ex-policeman and so they really know their stuff. They help a lot of domestic violence victims as well as disabled and elderly folk. I’m home alone and non-functional most of the time so I had highlighted a security concern and said I’d appreciate some input and advice. What I actually got was lots of really good security advice on all fronts and even more than that… including two new smoke alarms, a door chain, a door bolt, three different planned fire routes for us to get out in the event of a fire, tips on how to handle cold callers (in person and on the phone), he would have given us a carbon monoxide detector as well if we hadn’t have already gone and bought one, and even some tips for avoiding identity theft. In addition to all that he was an absolutely lovely chap who used to police our area so knew it really well and he didn’t even complain when I made him a bad cup of tea!

Blue Lamp Trust

So (for England and Wales) if you’re one of my fellow disabled or if you know anyone vulnerable (including victims of domestic violence) who would like to feel safer at home I can recommend contacting the Blue Lamp Trust through their Bobby Scheme.

Other than that it’s been typical do-er upper work!

We bought a place with the space I needed as I’m stuck at home unable to work. At the old house we had no space so if I wanted to try to do anything I lost most of my activity time to setting things up and then putting them all away again so I couldn’t actually get much done in between at all. Now we have more space so I can (eventually – once we get the boxes unpacked) set things up then just leave it where it is for next time. Reducing my set-up/put-away time and increasing my quality of life. Hurrah!

To get that space we had to get a do-er upper though. Houses ready to live in were too small and houses with space were in need of er, most things! So we bought a place that was well under our budget so we’d have some money to get it liveable, but we still couldn’t have done this without the help of the crucial grants. Thanks to the grants covering the boiler and insulation we had the money to get the dangerous old 1950s rubber wiring replaced throughout, get the two-level floor (with a steep ramp between the two where a wall had once been removed) amended to one level to stop me from tripping over it when I’m struggling with symptoms and a new kitchen (because we had to rip the very old one out to get the floor levelled).

Ta-dah! Money gone! So now we’re on to good old fashioned home DIY (‘Do It Yourself’).

Gosh I’d love to sleep in a bed! And have somewhere to put my clothes. And not have eeeeeverything re-covered in dust each day! But we’re getting there. Albeit slowly.

Cooking in kitchen

Our kitchen after the floor had been levelled

It’s been nearly four months since we moved in. It’s great to no longer be cooking on the camping stove and I’m chuffed to not have to wash the dishes in the bath any more although I am still washing my hair in the kitchen sink when I can stand up long enough! The shed now has a roof (storage space to reduce the amount of crap in the house!) and we’ve re-purposed the old kitchen units to go in there. I’m pretty chuffed with how that plan came together. Poor Magic Dude was so terribly down about living in such a building site so I arranged a surprise for him – his bestest mate and my lovely bruv came round one day whilst he was at work and we sorted out most of the shed roof. I say ‘we’, but that’s pretty cheeky as I couldn’t do much of course.

He was in shock for several hours after he came home and found what had been happening in his absence but eventually he started nudging me from time to time and then grinning at me! I had hoped it would help him out of the doldrums but the effect was way bigger than that as he got really enthusiastic again and threw himself at the remaining shed jobs with gusto. It was flipping wonderful for us three to be able to help him so much with a plan so ‘simple’.

Shed roof

One very holey shed roof!

I say ‘simple’. None of us had done anything like that before. We researched it thoroughly and then kinda made it up as we went along. 😉

After much removing of carpets, fire-hazard ceiling tiles, wallpaper, filling of holes and cracks, sanding of well, everything… we are fiiinally about to be able to paint some base coats on a few walls. In fact Magic Dude is doing exactly that as I edit this and I want to go and see but can’t get up, waaah! I’ll get to see it later though. And we still have the dyeing and varnishing of the upstairs floorboards to do (another thoroughly researched but totally new endeavour)!

So we’re getting there.

Slowly.

And my pain levels are worse because anything extra throws them out. I work hard to pace my daily activity but have found it easy to get too involved and overdo my morning physio so I then do less for my evening physio to balance it out. This then means that I’m doing different activities to usual and training my body to be more flexible on how my daily activity is grouped when it really is much more sensible to only vary one thing at a time. Still, I’ve done pretty well restricting my activity to the crucial paced time per day overall during all this change, tradesmen noise and long list of stuff that needs doing.

Magic Dude has now driven me to a few Tai Chi classes whilst he’s been off work to try and help me normalise my paced activity a little more. I’m learning a new and challenging style (Chen) so that’s a good distraction to think about between paced physios. And when thinking isn’t distraction enough to help me cope with the pain I resort to immersing my senses in Lord of the Rings Online for a while.

Me, decorating

Sometimes I’m able to help out a bit during my daily paced physio time

So, I guess to sum up: I’ve moved home, I live in perpetual dust, I’m trying to convince my lower torso get involved in Chen style Tai Chi and I’m nearly out of the dangerous tunnels of Moria! 😉

xx

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CRPS Awareness photo challenge: time

Photo challenge: The biggest roadblock in my life other than pain.

Time.

Suzy's photo challenge, 2015, day 16

 

 

I have limited activity per day re pain management.

I have limited activity, functionality, independence per day re the worst of the Dysautonomia symptoms.

I have limited ability to think, process and get brain stuff done because when I use my brain I can only do so for a while. Then it falls over and stops functioning and I’m blooming useless until it recoups. How long that takes depends on multiple variables.

With pain management and brain time it is the unexpected opposite… use it and I lose it. Every time. Though there’s no guarantee that I’ll have any type of functionality at any given time either .

So time when I’m able to think and do is so precious because of its rarity and fleetingness.

x

CRPS Awareness photo challenge: flames and ice

Today’s photo challenge is to post something which includes flames, as they are often used to symbolise the burning pain experienced in CRPS. As I created the firey flaming CRPS awareness ribbon the other day I have put together another couple of info’ posters using that but I have made a point of adding in something else so that more of us CRPSers feel represented.

Many of us experience a different kind of burning. An icy burning. Sometimes it occurs as part of the CRPS doing it’s thing in our affected areas and sometimes it is triggered by an external source (for example I have to wear gloves to get anything out of the freezer coz it burns so much). (Wow, that’s not a good font to write about burning in, it looks like it says ‘bums’, oh dear)!

Of course there’s not really a ‘one or the other’ scenario. Despite recent research rumblings about ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ CRPS as either potential subtypes or as a way of referring to acute and chronic CRPS, many of us experience both the hot and cold burning. So for a large percentage of CRPSers the hot and cold representations are a truer representation of our personal experience with the condition.

Anyway, I have created two more info posters using exactly the same info’ but with an additional cold theme. One with an iceberg, and one with a background pattern of the icy frost that forms on glass. Here’s hoping you like them.

 

Firey ribbon, iceberg, graded background, info poster

 

Flaming ribbon on iced glass info poster

 

I’ll add them to the Fbk blog page as well so that if you feel they are useful to share they are at least easily accessible.

Much love from me,

x

CRPS Awareness photo challenge: my firey flaming CRPS ribbon

Day 25: to design something with the awareness ribbon on it.

I already created something simple earlier this month (which I haven’t got round to posting yet because I was running behind on the challenges) so I got stuck into the challenge this time creating a CRPS orange ribbon from a pic of fire as fire is often used as a symbol of the CRPS burning pain. Although there is also the icy burning pain as well as the deep bone pain and more, but the flames are a recognisable shorthand symbol in the community of CRPSers and their carers.

I’m uncharacteristically proud of my flaming ribbon creation! X-) It turned out better than I thought it might. So I went on to cteate this shareable poster from it. Hope ya like it. 🙂

Flaming ribbon info poster- photoshop saved

Whaddya think? Will it do?

I really enjoyed creating this. 🙂

x

CRPS Awareness photo challenge: regained

Suzy's photo challenge, 2015, day 11

Something I never thought I’d do again.

A bit tricky for me as if I find I can’t do something any more I don’t think “that’s it, I’ll never do that again”, – I accept that I can’t do that for now but I don’t write everything off entirely. That would be a very defeatist approach which I avoid because that’s enough to make anyone prone to depression. Besides, this neuro condition is all about change. Some changes can be positive. So there’s nothing important that I’ve written off that it turns out I can now do again during physio time. Except for… grating cheese and rolling pastry!

Heh!

The important things that I had to accept as written off are few but sadly they still stand.

But at least I can grate cheese again, right?!

x

CRPS Awareness photo challenge: happy

Something that makes me happy even though I’m in pain: nature aka The Great Outdoors.

Suzy's photo challenge, 2015, day 4

 

Also, cute babies and smiling dogs feature on the list as well! X-)

CRPS Awareness photo challenge: a pain aid

ScreenShot00170

(source: a screenshot of the loading page on my laptop)

Role Playing Games (RPGs) are helpfully immersive and so make a brilliant pain distraction tool. These are more helpful if they don’t have lots of decision making in them as people with chronic illnesses make lots more decisions throughout each day and so run out of neurotransmitter chemicals far quicker. Fortunately most modern games allow roaming and choice, so we can choose game activities that can help to distract us without having to deplete our brain even more.

My recovery game is the Lord of the Rings Online.

x

Losses and hope

There’s a photo challenge running this month for CRPS awareness. Yep, Nervember has come around again and I’m sporting my orange awareness ribbon on my bag and have matching ribbon lacing my knee-high boots just to make it stand out more. Every year I’ll get asked about it and that’s the whole point. Raising awareness amongst people who wouldn’t come across the information otherwise. 🙂

One of the challenges is to post a poem or quote which describes the losses I have experienced as a result of CRPS impacting my life. And the very next day the challenge was to post a picture about hope.

The losses challenge resulted in me just writing from the heart, that bit was natural. The hard bit has been making myself post it.

The list of losses are initially from way back (I’ve come a long way in knowledge, pain management and personal growth these 16+ years) and the last loss is just 5 years ago (please don’t worry – I’m coping. The last line is less severe these days as I have worked to find new meaning in who I am. I am still grieving, but also living again).

Losing so much as a result of an acquired turn of health is enough to make anyone depressed but CRPS is known in the USA as ‘the suicide disease’ because without diagnosis there is no treatment, no support and crucially no understanding for a patient who has mystery pain which doesn’t make sense. People just want out. It’s too much. Too relentless. Often with no answers.

But loss of neurological function is different. It’s terrifying when you find out what’s happening but before that it’s just confusing. Everything is confusing. Basic conversations become really difficult because you just end up guessing all the time. And then you try to reply with something which hopefully is on the right lines to make some sort of sense. The likelihood of misunderstandings beginning and continuing is frustratingly high when we’re going through this.

Loss of family is so common for CRPS patients that it is surprising (but wonderful) when we meet a fellow patient who hasn’t.

It’s so hard to rise to the awareness month challenge and post this. I don’t like to focus on the old losses and I still struggle daily with the latest one. Egads! Okay,
here goes…

Suzy's photo challenge, 2015, Day 6

 

And because I can’t end this post on that note, here is the post about how I eventually managed to find myself and start to re-build my life:

The way forward for me after the greatest loss was to find who I am at my core. I had to anyway because loss of family meant a large part of my identity was no longer there. So I had to rebuild with me at the centre instead. It felt very alien to do so, and was rather like a rollercoaster ride but it was worth it.

Knowing who we really are at our core is one thing but having our identity built on that alone is quite another and it allows us to live that core openly and comfortably every day which results in a sense of peace and a kind of improved emotional suspension system which smoothes out the bumps. When we are truly ourselves resistance falls away. We can just be, because when our identity is rebuilt on who we truly are (instead of where we come from, who our family is, what others think of us, what we do/did for a living, societal role expectations and so on) there is no resistance. There is just us. Other’s opinions may affect our emotions but our sense of self is no longer affected by them. And from that point life kinda opens up. 

Suzy's photo challenge, 2015, Day 7

 

xxx

 

 

Send in the clowns

Well here we are again. Well done people, you’ve traversed another year. Whatever you’ve been through this year, the ups, the downs, the wibbles, you’ve been awesome. You’ve hung in there and here you are now reading about my own little adventure new years eve.

I went out today to run some errands. It made me realise how long it’s been since I drove myself into town for a physio’. I was actually a bit nervous about going so far from the house on my own with no-one to meet there ‘just in case’. But it was a successful trip. The festive market has gone so there’s more pedestrian space, and the multitude of shoppers has thinned back down to a more usual amount so I didn’t have to wait in any long queues, hurrah!

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Christmas lights

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I bought some Christmas cards for next year (I know, organised eh?! hehe), a notebook for my upcoming free online course on medical neuroscience and some beer for Magic Dude to swig at midnight tonight to see in the new year with me. But I also grabbed some unexpected additions: some cute lights to hang from the mantle piece and a reindeer decoration for the Christmas tree. Oh, and obviously I needed a Batman biro with multiple colour options. And a glittery travel mug. Obviously. 😉

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New Years Eve buying

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Living with chronic illness does tend to be a bit of a circus at times so new years eve is often pretty hard for many of my fellow patients out there. We tend to find the laughs, silliness and smiles where we can but some times are harder than others. Which is why I want to share this…. I fell about laughing when I finally saw this following little ditty last night which may become my theme tune for 2015….

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Imagine leaving a doctors appointment where we’ve seen a practitioner particularly lacking in knowledge specific to our conditions – what a circus. What better to cheer us up than to sing quietly to ourselves as we leave…”dah-dah-daddle-uh-da-dah-dah Circus…”! By the time I get to the bit about polka-dots I expect I’ll be chuckling. We’re stronger than we think.

Sending best wishes for the new year to you all,

Love from me

x

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P.S. Here’s a version in multiple languages. Just because. 😉

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CRPS and flu vaccinations

Please note: this article, and the meta-research mentioned within it,
is only discussing flu vaccines

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The question of flu vaccinations in particular has come up recently. This is a very individual decision based on our very individual bodies. Current CRPS research is looking at the subtypes of CRPS, so sweeping statements about all CRPSers are inappropriate. For example, some people experience CRPS spread whilst others do not, some people have other immune issues and/or autonomic dysfunction whilst others either do not or experience few symptoms of these. I could go on, but you get the point – we are not the same simply because we have the same condition.

Everything needs to be considered for our individual body, with our particular array of conditions and symptoms. What is okay for one patient may be problematic for another.

This means that sweeping statements are something to be very cynical about. If someone says all CRPS patients should get the flu vaccine there will be some patients for whom it’s not appropriate. Similarly, if someone says that all patients should avoid the flu vaccine then there are patients who would have benefited who are consequently put at risk. So the first rule of thumb is to steer clear of the sweeping statements.

What you need is facts – so that you can consider your own personal situation in light of the information. You need to be able to make an informed decision.

The difficulty when looking for facts is that most of what we find online is influenced by opinion and to sift through the science you’d need to trawl through many medical journals, (preferably the smaller ones as the big journals tend to publish more of the research funded by pharmaceutical companies which means lots of bias, and don’t forget what I’ve said before about negative data not getting published, too). But helpfully (or unhelpfully depending on how you look at it!) an independent systematic review found that there is no really clear evidence for or against flu vaccines (Jefferson et al, meta-analysis, 2010).

So to make a decision about whether we should have the flu vaccine or not then we should focus on how it works and how that might function inside our particular body.

file0001208028901(picture source)

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A bit about vaccines:

A  vaccine is merely a weakened or dead version of the virus. The flu vaccine has always been a dead version but I have heard from a pharmacist that very recently this has changed as some are weakened rather than dead – so if your body needs you to be sure which your doctor is offering just ask in advance.

They work because our immune system learns from the experience of the weakened or dead version so that it is prepared if we are later subjected to the same strain of the actual virus itself.

The manufacture of vaccines for seasonal illnesses like flu has to begin ahead of time to enable the manufacture of enough vaccine. So the experts have to predict which strains of the virus are going to be the most problematic several months in advance. This of course means that there is room for error, even the experts can’t always predict the next haute couture in flu viruses that far in advance. So there can be strains of the virus around which the vaccines don’t cover.

Ultimately a vaccine allows the human body to have a swifter and harsher response to the strain(s) of virus it protects against. Which is good for us in general terms because immune issues are part of having CRPS (and for one subtype of CRPS may be the foundational factor), but as general terms is not enough when it comes to chronic illness – always look at your own personal health issues to make a decision appropriate to you and your body.

 

One common area of discussion among patients results from experiences of becoming ill after having a vaccination. There are several ways you can become ill after vaccination:

– The vaccine reduces your chances of catching the strain(s) of flu in the vaccine. So the potential for illness if you are subjected to these strains at some point is still there depending on various factors (including the state of your individual immune system).

– It is still possible to catch a different strain of the flu virus which wasn’t included in the vaccine, especially as your immune system will be busy dealing with the vaccine at the time.

Many people think the vaccine itself can cause illness which is not the case as the flu virus in the vaccine is most commonly dead. However, as I mentioned above, there are some flu vaccines which now involve weakened versions of the virus and I feel I should include a caveat here simply because the human body is a complex critter and I have had enough encounters with patients with rare diseases and immune issues to know never to say never! But yes, really, if you got ill after having a dead vaccine the greatest likelihood is that your immune system was rather busy and that you caught a different strain that the vaccine didn’t cover.

Also bear in mind that the vaccination can cause some symptoms reminiscent of the illness for a day or two as the immune system learns about it inside your body.

Plus those of us with chronic illness continuously hanging onto bearable health by our fingertips can become more susceptible to illness during this period.

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Each year new strains of the virus have developed, so a new vaccine for the new strains of flu is created to help protect our bodies against them. This is why we are called in to our doctors’ surgery for a vaccine each autumn.

Sick person

(picture source)

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The vaccine positive: Reduced chances of getting flu. The key word is ‘reduced’, it’s pretty vague because different research has come up with different statistics on how well the vaccine works.

There are various aspects to this, we each have different bodies with our own immune system, does our body tackle this stuff well or not? Is this likely to work for us as an individual? Have the experts’ educated guesses been as good as usual about which strains are going to be the big problems this coming winter? We have to weigh up both sides and decide what’s best for each of us.

Personal vaccine positives: vary for each of us because getting or not getting flu is just the beginning in our chronic illness vaccine considerations. Being what we CRPSers tend to playfully call ‘normal ill’ means that our pain management regime is severely disrupted. We cannot maintain our usual paced daily activity which means that a pain flare is pretty much inevitable. What that means will vary for each of us, and even more so once we start taking our other related conditions (comorbidities) into account because being ill often has a detrimental affect on those, too. So what would be a week of flu for an otherwise healthy person becomes weeks or months of extreme hideousness for us chronically ill folks as we a) work through the flu itself and then b) work through the longer task of trying to get our health back to the level it was before we got ‘normal ill’ on top of our chronically ill which screwed up our delicate balance needed to manage our health as best we can. (Grr)!

We each have to weigh up potential injection-event pros and repercussive cons against the potential mega-flare that will result from having to get through a bout of flu on top of everything else. CRPS patients of any age fall into the ‘at risk’ from flu category courtesy of our compromised immune systems alone, before we even get started ticking off other stuff on the ‘at risk’ list and yet some patients out there could have good reasons to avoid the injection event. Sweeping statements do not apply.

For me personally I avoided the flu vaccine for years and every year I got ill and spent pretty much the entire winter trying to claw my way back to some semblance of functionality again. So I finally tried it (back in 2010) to see how it worked for me, and in my case it was a positive experience. Actually it was a reeaally positive experience because I’ve not had the flu since. Wowsers! Now that I know that, it’s a no-brainer for me! I cannot face the mega-flare that results from me getting flu. I have been through that delightful experience many times and each time it took me weeks, and sometimes months, to get back on track. Horrific doesn’t really cover it. So having tried both sides I now know that I personally would much rather have the vaccine to give me a greater chance of dodging the flu and instead incur a mere few days of potential flu-like symptoms as my body gets trained in kicking the butt of this years virus strain. I’ve had completely transformed winters since I started having the vaccine each autumn. But that’s me personally. You have a different body, a different set of symptoms, a different set of conditions. What works for me or for anyone else is irrelevant, you need to think about what works for you.

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So when people warn CRPSers against vaccinations what are they referring to?

Some of us have bodies which do not favour even such small invasive procedures as one needle. Good general advice is to to have the flu shot in an area unaffected by CRPS. If you are still unsure then discuss the potential difference of using a smaller children’s (paediatric) needle and whether that may be worth a try.

Perfectly healthy people can experience soreness in the area of the injection site so the potential for soreness is there anyway, and possibly amplified pain if our autonomic nervous system is playing up about it.

Elle and the Auto Gnome, notebook

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There are also some basic things to take into account:

If you have any allergies then these should be discussed with your medical team beforehand to assess how appropriate it is for you. There is also a standard list of questions that the nurse should run through with you beforehand, particularly ‘are you allergic to eggs?’.

If you’ve had a reaction to the flu vaccine in the past it is likely you will be advised not to have it again.

If you have an extremely poor immune system you will also need to discuss it with your medical team as you may be advised against the flu vaccine

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Each of us has a good idea about what our own bodies can handle. We know ourselves best. We live inside these bodies of ours and we know what is likely to set off a flare, and if so how bad it could be, and whether we are prepared to go through with that. For me personally, vaccination is well worth the positive outcome I experience from it, but we each have to make our own decisions.

x