An anniversary, of sorts
Today is the one-year anniversary of “the first day of the rest of my life.” One year ago today, I asked my Twitter followers to recommend a good Urgent Care facility in Oxnard since the “gall bladder problems” I’d been experiencing for five days prior just weren’t getting any better. That tweet led to a phone conversation with a good friend, who dropped everything to drive me to the ER while another friend (a former EMT) convinced me that my knowledge of anatomy did indeed suck and that I was having an appendicitis attack, not a gallstone incident. One ruptured appendix later, I ended up with surgery, a fever that wouldn’t go away, a week-long hospital stay, a C. diff. (a really bad, really contagious infection) scare, a month of terrible gastro-intestinal issues while recuperating at home and $40,000 in medical bills. (Thankfully, Grif’s medical insurance covered a good portion of that expense, but we are still struggling to pay off the last $8,000 of it.) It was the lowest point of pretty horrible year, but it gave me the impetus I needed to finally take control of my health and get my life back on track.
In early November 2011, I weighed almost 240 pounds. I was taking prescription medication for metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes), hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, and severe pre-menopausal symptoms, and I was self-medicating with OTC and herbal supplements for symptoms of depression and GERD. My blood pressure was high enough to need medication, but I convinced my doctor to let me try to bring my weight down first so I wouldn’t have to take another prescription medication (even with insurance, the co-pays were really expensive!). I had had plantar fasciitis in both feet earlier in the year, but it was steadily improving enough that I had (foolishly?) committed to walking in the Tinkerbell Half-Marathon in January 2012 and had worked up to being able to walk five miles without stopping. All in all, I thought I was a pretty typical 46-year-old stay-at-home mom with a family history of obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol and depression. When my abdominal pain started, I attributed it to the artichoke with lemon butter I’d had for lunch. As the pain got worse over the next few days (and moved from the middle of my stomach to my right side), I convinced myself that it was just a gallstone that needed to pass (I’d self-diagnosed gall bladder issues in the past). Besides, I wasn’t throwing up, I wasn’t jaundiced (signs of gall bladder problems that need medical attention) and I certainly didn’t want to go sit in the ER waiting room for hours only to be told that I had the stomach flu and should go home to rest (been there, done that). Nope, I was determined to tough it out, not over-react and not be a wuss. Besides, we couldn’t really afford for me to get on another prescription medication and with Grif at work, what would I do with my kid while I was in the ER anyway?
As I look back on it now, I can’t believe how stupid I was, but at the time, all those excuses seemed perfectly rational and logical. The funny thing about true medical emergencies, though, is that they usually don’t just go away or get better if you wait them out. I am so thankful for Lynn and Tina, who wouldn’t take no for an answer and got me to the ER and into surgery. I truly believe I would’ve laid in my bed and died if they had not intervened despite my stubbornness and gotten me the medical help I needed.
Last year, I wrote a long post about my adventures in the ER waiting room, the actual surgery and recovery, the hospital stay and the first few weeks at home. Without going into a lot of detail here, let’s just say that it sucked, it was much worse than I anticipated and it was much harder than delivering and recovering from my C-section child birth 10+ years ago. However, when I realized I was indeed going to recover and live to fight another day, I made the decision to actually live and fight, and that has made all the difference.
I don’t think I’m much different than anyone else and I certainly don’t feel like a superhero or that I’m any more special than the next gal, but when I was lying in the hospital wondering if I was going to die (and feeling so bad that death didn’t seem like a bad option at that moment), I called upon every deity I could name and I made a decision to live. I didn’t want to feel like that any more and I wanted to get better. Yes, it was partly because I love my husband and son and wanted to spend more time with them, and it was partly because I have many dear friends and family members who were sending me lots of love and support, but in all honesty I decided to live and to get better for me. I decided I didn’t want to feel bad anymore, physically, mentally or emotionally. I wanted to get better.
So, where are we now, exactly one year from my “re-birthday” (as Heather would say)? Well, I’ve lost about 40 pounds, so I’m about halfway to my goal weight (according to the medical charts). What’s more significant to me, though, is that I’ve dropped 2-3 clothes sizes and my body has gotten smaller and stronger. I can do a few push ups, I can almost do a real pull up, I can walk up a flight of stairs or a hill without struggling, I can reach the floor when I bend over to stretch, I can sleep 2-3 hours at a stretch without waking up in pain. The most exciting improvement, though, is that my blood pressure is down to a manageable level and I’ve been able to stop taking my cholesterol medication, my hypothyroidism medication, my metabolic syndrome medication, and my hormone replacement therapy medication. My depression and GERD have subsided dramatically and my plantar fasciitis is pretty much gone except for the occasional twinge in my left heel. When I first committed to doing the Tinkerbell Half-Marathon, I was barely able to walk a mile without stopping. Today, I am able to run two miles without stopping and am training to walk/run my second and third half-marathons in December and January.
So, what’s the take-away here? For me, it hasn’t been any one specific diet, workout tool, exercise plan, guru or nutritional supplement. I haven’t been perfect at it and I still have a ways to go. I guess the reason I’m getting better every day is because I want to get better and I made a decision to get better. I try to use the old 12-Step technique of “one day/hour/minute at a time” and rather than looking at what I can’t do (I can never have another soda!) or what I have to do (I have to work out every day for the rest of my life!), I try to focus on what I can do right now. I can’t predict the future and I certainly can’t eat and workout perfectly for the rest of my life, but I can choose to eat one cookie instead of two today, and I can choose to go for a walk or a run today instead of playing Bingo on Facebook.
If someone were to ask me for advice on how to get started on the road to “getting better,” I’d tell them to start where you are with what you’ve got and to do one thing every day. Don’t get hung up on what other people can do and don’t beat yourself up trying to live up to past glories. If you can only walk one block today without stopping, then walk that one block and don’t beat yourself up because you can’t walk two blocks yet. If you’re craving potato chips, opt for a handful rather than the entire bag, and don’t feel guilty about it. Success, for me, isn’t about the big, grand, lofty goals and deadlines. It’s about the little decisions I make every day, all day long, that add up to make a big difference.