Wednesday, March 14, 2012
An Affair of the Heart
Wow, has it really been two weeks since I posted last? Time is flying by, and so many things have been going on lately I almost don't know where to start.
The weekend prior to last, I began to experience some very odd pain in my chest, neck...everywhere really, but it began to focus in my chest. It was, it is, difficult to describe. Crunching aspirin helped it, and I did not do anything about it like going to see a doctor.
Let the Jeff Spicoli 'You DICK!' comments begin.
On that Monday, the pain had REALLY centralized in the left area of my chest, in the heart region, and was in my left arm it felt like a tube was jammed up and down my arm. Very weird. At that point, after describing the symptoms to my Mom, she said I should go to the hospital, like now, I asked my Mother-in-Law to make arrangements to pick Bennett up from school and if she could take me to the ER.
Both of them echoed the same sentiment. Don't mess around. Call 9-1-1. So I did.
By the time the EMTs arrived, the pain had diminished, but they insisted that I go to the hospital anyway. Had to. So I went in. Tests were run, I stayed overnight. The following day I took a high intensity stress test. My heart was fine. In fact, they pushed me on the stress test to the maximum level.
One of the techs asked, while I was running full speed, 'Can you handle this?'
To which I replied (barely) 'My heart feels fine. My ass and my legs feel like they are gonna fall off!!!'
The end result is that I learned I do not currently have a heart problem. At least none that those tests or blood work revealed. Is it possible I have some plaque build-up in my arteries? I think it is LIKELY that I have some plaque build-up in my arteries. I have treated my body like shit for all of my adult life. But it is not affecting the blood flow in my heart at present.
The lipid panel was quite revealing, however. I mentioned a while back that I had changed my diet. I have eliminated meat and dairy from my diet and started a plant-based, organic lifestyle with an elimination of as many processed, pre-packaged foods as I could possibly handle.
Most people say 'I can't imagine doing that.' Trust me. While it is not an easy thing to do, it is easier than you might think, and when you read what I am about to tell you, it might just make you think twice before you pull into the drive-through if you are having any issues with your health.
Prior to my tonsillectomy, I had to have a History and Physical in order to be cleared for surgery. When this happened, the head nurse (hee hee...'head' nurse) called me and was, frankly, alarmed at my results. My Triglycerides were around 620 or so. She was stunned. Let's just say that she said 'I've never seen a number this high. Are you sure you fasted?'
My overall Cholesterol was nearly 380. My LDL Cholesterol was around 260. That's the bad kind.
They put me on a non-statin pill called Lovaza. Essentially Fish Oil. And I promised to lose weight and change my diet. Of course I did neither with any real commitment, but I did a LITTLE bit.
I coasted, as I am often prone to do. I was cavalier. And when it came time to have my blood tested a second time, for a wellness review for our insurance, I got another set of numbers. SO, shortly before I started this new lifestyle of food consumption my numbers looked like this:
Total Cholesterol: 342
LDL Cholesterol: 207
HDL Cholesterol: 35
Now, let's talk turkey. Or in this case, lack thereof.
I had to finally admit to myself that I had ballooned into a soft, sloth-like creature who had lost his way. No...biggie.
Once I did that, the rest was kind of...easy, actually. The trick was to stop lying to myself. Having the Disability Card in your Life Deck makes that easy sometimes, and I don't mean to offend anybody who struggles with their life, especially when the crushing weight of all that assaults you and being the parent of a child with a disability gets to be too much. If anybody in this digital domain is guilty of letting this life get them down, it is me. I have struggled, and I will continue to struggle.
My point here is that I believe, at least for me, that it has been easier, at times, to hide behind the new pain Bennett has brought into my life. And nobody could blame me for it. Though it is a fine line. Perspective is always everything. I often feel shame sometimes when I look around at those who have had it 'worse' than I have yet (well, technically, kids who have it worse than Bennett) and yet the parents are so much more together than me. But that, as always, is a whole nutha topic, because who defines 'better' or 'worse'?
But, the real point here is that on MY journey, in OUR story, I'm always learning, always open, always trying to be cognizant of my own shortcomings and proud of my accomplishments when it comes to my life and my family. In this case, I had a major, major shortcoming, a fatal flaw, and it had to be corrected. No more excuses, no more bullshit. I was backed into a corner that I prepared for myself and I had one option.
So when I say that it was 'easy' to make the transition to a plant-based diet, I say that with a ton of asterisks attached. I lived a life prior and had some hardships prior that MADE it a no-brainer. I had two choices before me.
Do it...or die young.
Is that REALLY a choice? Would it be a choice to you?
It was not a choice when faced with the prospect of quitting smoking. It will not be a choice with whatever I find out about what I believe to be a serious compression in my spinal column or some other more serious ailment causing this tremendous pain in my body that will require a lot of effort to correct.
I will have the same resolve with whatever it turns out to be as I have about anything else these days, because as all the shitty toxins of junk food and pre-packaged garbage have been leaving me I have to tell you one thing that is unquestionable. My mind has never felt more clear. I was drinking Iced Tea all day. That's gone now. I was drinking artificial sweetener in my coffee every morning. Gone. Just black now. I sometimes don't bother with a second cup.
My ADHD medication? Which is essentially legalized Cocaine? I started a wean this week. I just do not need it. I'm also weaning several other medications, and you know how many I was on and how much that bothered me.
I'm already at half my usual Xanax dose. I do not feel any more stressed at all. Not in the least.
The drug for my Hypothyroidism? My levels were only slightly off, so I asked the doctors for more time. I wanted a chance to show that I could improve it, because I think I was taking it wrong. SO I isolated it by an hour and a half from EVERYTHING else I put in my body. I think that will be the trick. No increases.
The goal here is not to ADD MEDICATIONS, the goal here is to eliminate them, if not completely, then nearly to the point of as close to zero as possible. And I think that is achievable.
Initially, in that hospital room, the cardiologists had come in, after seeing my numbers on the lipid panel that THEY had run, and their plan was to add two medications to my life. I said 'Please, before you do that, give me a chance to talk to you. You say my heart seems OK, right? Well, let me tell you what I have been doing over the past couple of weeks, and let me tell you what my numbers USED to be.'
I did. I told them about the change in eating habits. I told them about the plan to add in exercise, but the fear of doing it because of this pain, and I didn't want to stress my heart if it is a heart problem, or aggravate a herniated disc or a possible peripheral neuropathy or something along those lines if it is that kind of thing. But I wanted to be absolutely clear that I am attacking this thing full-on, with total commitment, but I wanted to do it in a NATURAL WAY, and then I told them about my numbers that I mentioned above.
They at first almost didn't believe it, or at least they were shell-shocked. But I said 'Look, please have my doc's office fax them over. Confer with each other and come back. I'm not going anywhere. Then make your decision. I'll abide by whatever you decide. But all I am asking is for you to look at the data and think about it.'
They left to get the info and do all that stuff. A while later they came back.
No new prescriptions. Not only that, they wanted to tell me how impressed they were with me. They don't get patients in here like me often, they said, and they thought it was very important to make sure I knew just how unique it really was. They didn't have to do that, because we all knew it. All you had to do is look around the unit. During our discussions, an extremely obese man in the room next door was arguing with a nurse about why he could not have hot dogs for lunch.
In the heart wing of a hospital. And yet, sadly, the nurses at the nurses station, later that morning, were ordering a pizza. So where does it end?
I was so...relieved, when the cardio docs left. No meds, I had not had a heart attack. All in all a good day. Yeah, I am in a bit of excruciating agony over the pain I am having, but one step at a time.
The numbers from the hospital? You ready? This was after just TEN DAYS on a plant-based lifestyle change.
Total Cholesterol: 201
LDL Cholesterol: 114
HDL Cholesterol: 31
They are all fantastic results to achieve in ten days time. Well, except for the last one, but I can get that up through exercise. And I will. The pain is not an excuse. Anyone with nerve pain or disc pain will tell you. It is very, very real. And scary. When your arms and legs and hands and feet go numb or start tingling and burning and then stab you...you get freaked.
But I will deal with that.
As far as weight, it is melting away, as are the years of mileage on my face. As of this weekend I was about to break the 200 barrier, a barrier I have not broken since back in 2005 when I worked for Palisades. That's significant. ESPECIALLY since I ballooned up to nearly TWO-HUNDRED AND FIFTY-SEVEN about a month after Bennett's surgery. It was a low point in my life, that much is certain. I got back down into the 220's last year, but still..I was in the 180's when I got married, I was in the 170's when I was courting, and I was in the 160's in college.
But as I write this, I am wearing clothes I have not worn in years. Of course I am typing standing up to relieve pressure on my back, and that SUCKS, but I still feel better in every OTHER way than I have in a long, long, long time. ;)
And you just can't beat that.