Oh Lord, Please Take This Tremor from Me!

March is National Essential Tremor Awareness Month and throughout the month we will be shining a light on people who have essential tremor. Everyone has a story to tell. We hope that these stories will resonate with others, validating the everyday struggles people with ET feel physically and emotionally. As we shine a light on these individuals, we are shining a light on ET and raising awareness. Please share these stories with others and share your comments and words of encouragement.

By Anna,

I first noticed I had a head tremor when I was approximately 10 years old. I remember people would ask me why I was shaking and I really didn’t know. And at that age, I didn’t seem to care that much as it didn’t happen that often. I actually blamed it on a neighbor pushing me out of a tree when I was around that age. I thought I had jolted something out of position. My dad didn’t have his tremor yet as it only came on for him when he was well into his 60s.

NETA month 2019 Logo

As I got older and into high school, the tremors seemed much more frequent. But as long as I kept moving (didn’t stay still) they weren’t noticeable. So I began vigorously shaking my leg when I sat still, especially in school. I remember my teacher asking my mom if I did drugs. My mom just said “she’s a bit anxious” which also was true. The hardest part was feeling out of control and not really knowing why.

After I graduated and found out I actually had essential tremor I decided to try some different medications to see if I could calm it a bit. I tried gabapentin, topiramate, propranolol and primidone but none of them were worth the side effects they brought on. I even tried Botox injections in my neck but after all the pain and the money, I felt no relief. I started taking antidepressants in my early 30s which helped me deal with the tremors a bit better than without them.

Into my 40s, I found out about Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery and from then on I was on a mission. You see, I was starting to become an introvert. I hated going anywhere where I had to sit still. I had three beautiful children and worked full time at a bank and as long as I could move a bit I could camouflage the shaking. Honestly, I think it was way more pronounced in my own thoughts than it actually was outwardly. But that didn’t matter. To me, I was a freak and I couldn’t stand the thought of people looking at me and either wondering what was wrong or feeling sorry for me. It was really hard to concentrate or focus.

“I can’t count the number of times people asked me if I was cold and I would say yes just because I didn’t want to attempt the ET story and have them feel bad for asking.”

Whenever my bank manager called a meeting, which was almost daily, I literally felt sick to my stomach because I WAS IN THE DREADFUL SITUATION OF TRYING TO SIT STILL AGAIN. And it was actually physically painful because the more I tried to sit still, the harder it was. It was like an internal/external battlefield and all I wanted to do was fall asleep and be still.

The dentist was just as bad or worse. And the time I had a small precancerous spot removed from my forehead was absolutely horrifying because the nurse could not hold me still while the doctor cut me. I even stopped going to church, which I only started in my 30s, but was enjoying. I do remember praying, “Oh Lord, please take this tremor from me!”

Well, in 2006 my prayers were answered! I got my double Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery. It worked! I was over the moon. I had to get my chest opened again in 2011 and 2016 to get new batteries, which as fine. In 2018, I needed new batteries again and I noticed my tremor coming back quite a bit. From 2006 until 2016 whenever I noticed my tremor creeping back, I would just turn up my stimulators and I was pretty much still again. But the downfall in turning them up was that the wires implanted in my brain were so close to my speech center that every time I turned them up it would be a little harder to talk. Unfortunately now, 13 years later, I sound like I have a speech impediment and it is a chore to talk. But don’t get me wrong, I will NEVER regret the surgery and I will take the speech issue over the tremors any day.

Now I’m hoping and praying to get the new focused ultrasound surgery. I am always positively searching for a better quality of life. So my advice to anyone else suffering with ET is: do what feels best for you. The DBS was an absolute godsend for me and gave me 12-13 years and it’s still not bad, but if the new surgery can help my speech and I am eligible, that will be my next quest. I want to live my best life.

My Shaking Made Me Feel Like I Was ‘Going Nuts!’

March is National Essential Tremor Awareness Month and throughout the month we will be shining a light on people who have essential tremor. Everyone has a story to tell. We hope that these stories will resonate with others, validating the everyday struggles people with ET feel physically and emotionally. As we shine a light on these individuals, we are shining a light on ET and raising awareness. Please share these stories with others.

By Jody,

My tremors started when I was 21. My daughter was almost one-year-old when I noticed my head feeling like it was shaking inside but not noticeable to others. I went to my regular doctor and said, “I think I’m going nuts… I feel my head shaking and it’s not stopping.”

My doctor sent me to a neurologist who tested me and I got the diagnosis of tremors. At that time it was just my head shaking; but it went from not noticeable to others to very noticeable within six months. I was prescribed an anti-seizure medication.

NETA month 2019 Logo

Then I also started doing my own research on essential tremor. My mother-in-law saw an older lady in the hospital waiting room one day and noticed she shook just like me. She started talking to her and found out her doctor prescribed Botox injections. So I made an appointment with that doctor who diagnosed me with both essential tremor and muscular dystonia. She prescribed many different medications including muscle relaxers, and most of the medications had bad side effects.

After a few years I started Myobloc injections. Those worked for about nine years. I then went to the Mayo Clinic to explore the option of DBS surgery but decided against it.

I went a few years without seeing a doctor then found another specialist. We again started the process of trying to find a medication that would help relieve my tremors. Today I have exhausted all of the medications out there that they use to treat tremors.

“Over the 20 years of me having this I now have tremors throughout my whole body. My head shakes, shoulders, trunk down to my legs. I do not stop shaking at all.”

I am now doing Botox under an orthopedic specialist. I also see a chiropractor and use CBD oil when the Botox runs out of my system.

I work in an office setting full time and have a cleaning business on the side so I work seven days a week. In my office job we have changed a few things to help me get along easier. I have been at this job for 22 years so they have seen the tremors progress with me as the years have gone by. I use weighted pens and pencils. I have a standing desk now so I can move around as much as I need to. I feel better the more I can move. If I’m not working and just laying around at home I hurt – my muscles hurt, my body hurts. But, I can still move. Some days are harder than others. Writing is getting harder.

I’m amazed at how many people have had this condition their whole life. I sometimes have to remind myself of the people who can’t work or can’t write at all because of their tremors. Mine are bad but others have them much worse than me.

How Does Medicare Cover Essential Tremor?

By Danielle Kunkle Roberts,
Co-Founder of Boomer Benefits

Danielle Kunkle Roberts, Boomer BenefitsEssential Tremor (ET) is a neurological disorder that causes involuntary shaking and trembling. It affects approximately 10 million people in America, according to the International Essential Tremor Foundation, which makes ET the most common neurological disorder.

While not dangerous, the condition can make simple tasks such as tying your shoes or drinking a glass of water more difficult. ET can also get worse over time.

Because ET is more common for people in later adulthood, it’s good to know how Medicare will cover treatment of this disorder.

Medicare Part A Hospital Benefits

Original Medicare is made up of Part A hospital benefits and Part B outpatient benefits. 

Part A covers inpatient hospital stays, skilled nursing facility care, and hospice care. This is the part that would pay most of the expenses related to a hospital stay for deep brain simulation (DBS), which is a common surgery that provides relief from tremors and stiffness.

Medicare Part B Hospital Benefits

Medicare Part B covers outpatient care. This includes doctor visits, preventive care, lab-work, diagnostic testing, emergency care, outpatient surgeries, physical therapy, durable medical equipment and much more.

Part B will pay for your patient visits to your specialist, the necessary neurological exams and lab-work and any outpatient procedures used to control ET symptoms.

One outpatient procedure to treat ET is focused ultrasound treatment. This minimally invasive treatment was approved by the FDA in 2016. It is the first brain disorder treatment to be allowed reimbursement by Medicare Part B. The procedure destroys a small amount of brain tissue that contains nerve cells which are responsible for the tremors.

Earlier this summer Medicare announced benefit coverage for patients in 16 states. Additional states were added this past fall. There are numerous medical centers that now treat patients with Essential Tremor using MR-guided focused ultrasound. A Medicare physician must document why the procedure is reasonable and necessary.

Medicare Part D Drug Benefits

Outpatient medications to help treat your ET symptoms will fall under Part D. Medicare Part D is optional coverage  beneficiaries can purchase to reduce the cost of their prescriptions.

These plans are sold by private insurance companies and each plan has its own premiums, copays, coinsurance, pharmacy network, and drug formulary. Beneficiaries can use Medicare’s Plan Finder Tool to search for the right plan.

Your Medicare Cost-Sharing

As with all insurance coverage, Medicare covers a share and the member also pays a share of their coverage. This is called your cost-sharing and it usually comes in the form of deductibles, copays, and coinsurance.

Part A has a $1364 deductible in 2019, and Part B has a smaller $185 annual deductible. Medicare Part B covers 80% of your outpatient procedures. You are responsible for paying the other 20%.

Fortunately, you can supplement your coverage with either a Medicare supplement policy or a Medicare Advantage plan. Both types of coverage will help to limit your out-of-pocket expenses on the gaps in Medicare.

Beneficiaries can call 1-800-MEDICARE or consult a Medicare insurance broker for guidance in choosing a plan that fits their needs and benefits.

                                                               * * * *

Danielle K. Roberts is a Medicare insurance expert and co-founder at Boomer Benefits, a licensed agency that helps beneficiaries with their supplemental coverage options.

‘It’s the Man Who Overcomes Adversity that is the True Champion’

Each semester, the International Essential Tremor Foundation presents four scholarships to students with essential tremor. The scholarships represent hope for the future, and provide support to these students during a pivotal time in their lives. As part of the scholarship application process, each applicant is asked to write an essay that answers the question, “How has essential tremor affected my life?” The following essay is from one of our fall 2018 scholarship recipients

 

By Robbie Holder,
Georgia Southern University

I do not remember a time when my hands did not noticeably shake. I was diagnosed with essential tremor (ET) at the early age of 14. While I recognized I was not the only Photo of Robert Holder, 2018 IETF Scholarship Recipientperson to experience tremors of this nature, I didn’t know anyone my age who suffered from this diagnosis. My other has ET and her grandmother suffered from it also; therefore, my diagnosis was not unexpected as it is hereditary. Since that time, I have reconciled myself with the knowledge that ET isn’t curable. I have found peace with the fact that I will always have a tremor. I haven’t used my diagnosis as an excuse to quit or avoid certain tasks, but have chosen to work harder in order to succeed.

My mother is an artist and while having a tremor makes it more difficult for her to create art, she doesn’t let it stop her from doing what she loves. She has to intensely focus on the task at hand. She has made adjustments to accomplish daily tasks. Like my mom, I have learned to adapt in order to accomplish tasks that come easily for others. I struggle to open packets, eat with a spoon, peel shrimp, button clothes, brush my teeth and insert contacts. Utilizing both hands, I have more control of my movements.

ET can be frustrating. I enjoy physical activities and working with my hands. My goal is to study exercise science. ET makes it difficult, but not impossible.

I have not let my ET keep me from doing the things I love. I truly believe it’s the little things in life that make a difference. With my family’s help, I built a Little Pantry for my community during my senior year in high school and I continue to run it today. Those in need obtain food and household items without the stigma of being seen as helpless. Others in the community can make a difference by restocking the pantry. Despite the frustrations I encountered during the pantry’s construction, I feel that I have made a difference and continue to do so.

I have been inspired by a quote that I keep close to my heart. It’s by Jock Ewing:

“Any man can win when things go his way. It’s the man who overcomes adversity that is the true champion.”

The challenges I face daily have made an impact on my life. I have to worker harder, persevere when faced with challenges, and find strength from within. These challenges have made me resilient, hard-working and confident. I choose to be strong. I have a desire to succeed and a strong work ethic. I finish what I start and I don’t let anything get in my way.

I know ET will always be a part of my life, but it will not define who I am. I choose to overcome.

*********

Interested in supporting students with ET during their educational journey? Make a donation to the ET scholarship fund online.