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:

Triglycerides: 518
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. HUGE.

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.

Triglycerides: 282
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 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.



  1. So I for one would be very interested in what you've been eating in more detail - some of us also need to shift some weight -_-

    Awesomely positive post. Very easy to forget how powerful a factor food is in our physical and mental health.

    Perhaps if you ever get to the stage were you might try yoga...? It's pretty fricken amazing in terms of slowing everything down and steadying your breathing and ultimately making you more flexible/fitter. I know, I know, but I was also a non-believer and my stress levels have dropped and flexi-levels soared. I'm a regular pretzel these days.

  2. I do not poo-poo anything at all these days. And I do intend to give that a try. I do believe in stretching and things of that sort, and Yoga or meditation is something I want to hit as soon as I am able.

    I also want to start featuring some actual foods, if you think it might be interesting. It is my intention, eventually, to get the blogs organized. Problem overall has been one of time. Lately time has just gotten more precious because of becoming the new designated driver for Bennett's therapy at his 'school alternative'. That's 2 hours in the car for me each day (a definite contributor to the spine issue I'm sure) and a time-sucker if there ever was one.

    Short version though is for the first few weeks I have kept it VERY simple. And plain. Boring actually. I had to divorce myself from deriving pleasure from food. That was, to me, step one. So it has been a process of eating a lot of things straight up most of the time, by that I mean straight up medium or long-grain brown rice, veggies, beans, fruits and such. Some whole grain wraps, almond milk, Grape Nuts or Shredded Wheat, or the occasional Clif bar (I am going to try to look for a healthier alternate) in a pinch if I have to grab something on the run...those items are the only real processed things I have been consuming.

    What is most important is what is GONE, know what I mean?

    I also make sure I supplement for now, until I get a better handle on the research, I take a B12, Calcium, Multi-Vitamin and Omega 3 supplement while I am in the early stages here. I feel like I have a ton to learn and don't want to short change myself on certain nutrients.

    It's a lifestyle change, so I am taking it very seriously. I consider it permanent.

  3. I'm super proud of you. I've been considering something similar since I've been adding the pounds and frankly feel gross lately.

  4. Those news numbers are freaking amazing!!!

    my husband sounds like your double! I'm making him read this ASAP!!!

    We both need to get back on track! I was a stick figure until just recently when stress took over and wreaked it's havoc on us. It's easy to let that happen.
    keep up the good work!!!

    And feel free to post some menu plans.... ;)

  5. Good for you, Ken. Those numbers are amazing, and inspiring.

  6. Truly an awesome story and a lesson for all of us. Also really glad to hear it's not your heart! Just based on your success and inspiration, I have been cutting out some of the junk food I eat, although not going whole hog yet like you did.

    Sure hope you can figure out that back pain.

  7. My husband had some troubling numbers when he had his hips done a couple of years ago. I now cook mostly vegetarian and often vegan dinners. We are not strictly veg but I consider us mostly meatless. I get a lot of recipes from I also got one of her books which is pretty useful. Cooking Light's vegetarian cookbook is good too. My husband has managed to lose some weight and we both feel better.

  8. As a dad who was at the gym 5 times a week when his son was born and now, three years later manages to work in a total of zero minutes of excercise a week into my routine, I can relate to letting yourself go. You just inspired more than a blog post with this one sir. Now I've got to start getting up earlier for a walk at least.

    You're an impressive man and father Mr. Lilly, when you set your mind on something, It's as good as done.

  9. Scary, amazing, and inspiring! Heroic even.

  10. Wow. I'm so impressed and not a little envious. You've inspired me. I'm starting tomorrow. I'm serious. Hold me to it.

  11. That's fantastic. I gradually began cleaning up my diet about 18 months ago. I used to be a hardcore junk food junkie...and now I have no cravings whatsoever for the stuff. I've lost 20 pounds with about 10 more to go. The rewards of feeling better and looking better more than make up for missing crap food.

  12. Just read your post about Cliff bars...look for Lara bars. All natural protein bars derived from nuts and fruits.

  13. Phil:
    Thanks, coming from a real honest to goodness man that means a lot. No need to wait...the future is here for you. Next up? Once I figure out if my intestines are gonna spill out? Conquering the tool box. GASP.

    My double? Is he chubby, bald and wordy too?

    As for menu plans, I don't know about that. I believe menu plans are, well, I'll write about what I think about that specifically, but I have started shooting some pictures of some of what I have been eating and I will share some things I have learned and some sources I have been looking at, for sure!

    Ray "AcroRay" Miller:
    Ray, DUDE...nice of you to drop in. I was thinking about you and Bry the other day on a Micronauts board I stumbled on. Good to hear from you.

    Kevin Jordan:
    I hope I can too. It has, as it has been doing, is continuing to morph. There are now strange goings on in the front of my torso, like a hernia itself. Wearing Jen's C-Section get-up to keep myself taut until my appointment. Maybe I have a Kuato in there or something, just dyin' to get out. Hope Mrs. Kevin Jordan is doing well.

    Thanks for the Happy Herbivore link. I'll check that out.

    Meh...there are plenty of things I DON'T do, but thanks, I'll take it!

    Like I said though, wasn't really a CHOICE. ;)

    I challenge you to come up with a good Vegan cake by March 28th, or at least find me a place I can buy one for Jen.

    Awesome, I am looking at the Larabar's right now online. NICE...


    Here, bake your own version of Lara much cheaper! Love this site and its food. So much healthier. Have tried many recipes and love them!

    Peace be the journey



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