Sunday, February 13, 2011

Getting Healthy and Thinking Positively

Anyone that knows me is aware that I have been through the ringer with my health, and that I do not want to live this way for the rest of my life.  About four years ago I was in a car accident and as a result, I had a spinal fusion of my L4/L5 vertebrae.  After that my life just seemed to just spiral downward.  I had a total of three spinal surgeries, and permanent pain and immobility wasn't what I signed up for in life.  I had many other health issues prior to this, however I had gotten past them and kept moving forward.  I like to be a positive person, I do not like to play the martyr or the victim, but I had been stuck.  Until yesterday.

Yesterday was my birthday and I went to a new primary care doctor.  I haven't been to a doctor for a physical in so many years that I decided to pick a new one for various reasons.  I had been seeing my back doctor, went through extensive physical therapy, but I finally just gave up on going.  I have not taken any pain killers in years, and most people who are in my situation are on heavy duty pain meds, and cannot understand how I can function without them.  I like to live a clean life, I don't drink, I don't smoke, don't do drugs, don't gamble, I mean I think I may be up for sainthood pretty soon here.  As I have not always been such a saint, I decided that mind-altering substances might just not be a good idea for me, as I believe my mind is already naturally altered enough as it is.  So I had taken the route of bypassing pain medications for my back on my own accord.  I had been on them for awhile, especially right after the surgery of course, but then I stopped taking them.  Darvocet was the one pain med I tried to take as it was considered to be one of the least addictive medications on the market, but although it relieved the pain, it seriously messed me up mentally.  I just stopped taking it and that was it.  No coincidence, Darvocet was recently pulled from the market by the FDA due to so many negative side effects, including suicides and deaths. Yes, taking that medication brought me to an ugly space and I said, "I will have the pain please, and maybe an Aleve."  Still no way to live. 

After being in so much pain for so many years, it has done a number on me, mentally and physically.  Lumbar spinal fusion surgeries are probably the worst pain inducers out there.  It involves spinal nerve endings in the central part of your body where most of your movement takes place.  Those spinal nerve endings are a whole other world of sensitive.  It doesn't help much when people comment and say things such as, "I would never have had a spinal fusion", as they don't realize that for many patients, this is the only choice given their specific circumstances.  Truly, some people get overnight medical degrees and insert their opinion where they would be better off inserting their foot.  There are also "the competitors" that have it so much worse, and in so many different ways.  This is not a "competition" I want to "win", really it is not.  So the pain can be bad, and when I am literally on my last nerve, insensitivity and ignorant comments are the last things I have patience for.  I think the worst though are the people who are somewhat close to me that just don't get it at all.  They aren't able to see what is going on with me, and they don't understand that I can barely function.  They also don't understand how it is that I am stuck where I am.  So back to the getting healthy and getting positive part ;)

I had been living life in limbo as I call it, up until yesterday.  I had many people say to me, "What a bummer, going to the doctor on your birthday."  Normally I would agree.  However for me, living in limbo for this long has caused other medical conditions to crop up, worsen other physical symptoms and caused even more pain, thus creating a vicious cycle of decline.  I have recently had a medical condition unrelated to my back turn into a near emergency situation over the past several months. This is the sole reason I made a doctor appointment in the first place, it was either that or I would be sitting in an ER for hours, get admitted to the hospital, and then that one situation would be focused on. 

This doctor, this person, was wonderful.  I started talking to him about what brought me to see him, extensive bleeding which is what I had believed to be a recurrence of cancer that I had been treated for years ago at Mass General's Women's Oncology Center.  After my last surgery at MGH, my margins had been cleared, the carcinoma in situ was gone and I moved on.  I went for follow up appointments for years, however as I mentioned all of my health concerns went to the wayside while in my "limbo" status.  Of course neglecting follow up on any health-related condition could only have a negative result on something, somewhere along the line.  As bad as this has been symptom-wise, I truly believe everything happens for a reason.

The doctor stopped me in my tracks and asked me a lot of questions, tons of questions, about me.   He took it very seriously why I was there, but he stepped back and looked at the whole picture.  Until now, I have had doctors treating me based on specific ailments and symptoms.  They were all very good physicians, however this was the very first doctor to look at Sharon, me, the person.  Instead of a multitude of referrals and appointments, this man, this person himself, took the time to start in the middle with who I was, what I was all about, and how the hell did I get here to this point.  Yes, primary care doctors are supposed to be gatekeepers, the center of one's health care, etc. but PCPs are too few and far between, and the majority of them admit they have to rush through patients just to get everybody seen.  It really isn't their fault, it's the law of supply and demand, and they can only do so much.  That said, my emergency situation gave me a red flag for a doctor to focus on me more than anyone else who just came in for a routine visit.  Divine intervention I might add...

And so we began.  The root of the problem was that I was this person in a lot of pain, enough to the point of it paralyzing my ability to think straight and take care of myself the way I needed to be taken care of.  I am going to see my back doctor at MGH on Wednesday for better pain management.  There is nothing wrong with taking medications, as prescribed, for pain so bad that it stops a person from existing.  This has been going on for so long, and I truly wasn't able to see straight about what was happening to my life.  I am also going back to MGH for the original symptoms that got me here.  By the time I called yesterday, their offices were closed, so I will call first thing on Monday morning and make an appointment.  This situation in and of itself has made me very weak, anemic and dizzy.  I have also been getting sick a lot, and he called in a prescription for an anti-nausea medication.  I've been popping iron pills and multivitamins to get me by until I can be seen, which I know will be quickly.  I may also have to have an endoscopy done as there is a blockage in my esophagus, but I'm taking things one by one here.

Next up, seeing straight on my mental and physical condition.  So much happens to a person's head when one gets in a vicious physical spiral like this.  I need to take care of that and get myself back.  Physical activity helps the mind, and on we go about mind and body medicine.  Being in this limbo state meant not eating right and living a very sedentary lifestyle without enough exercise.  Getting on the scale was a wake up call, although I knew around "where" I was at on the scale.  Take weight gain, little to no metabolism from pain and inactivity, and loving to cook for my family and there is trouble.  I have just begun eating good foods in the right portions.  It's so easy to sit in front of the computer even and snack.  The celery I am eating right now is an acquired taste, I promise it's not that bad since I've been withdrawing off of all of the salts, sugars and carbs.  Plus I am eating healthy meals now, I'm not starving here, no fad diet crap, no quickie weight loss stuff, Dr. Atkins, Jenny Craig, The South Beach Diet, The Revere Beach Diet and all that other BS.  It's all about eating right and getting enough exercise, you know, like we've all heard about our whole lives.  The doctor also wants me to carry a pedometer every where I go and get to a point where I am walking 10,000 steps a day.  I thought, "I have no clue how much 10,000 steps is?"  He smiled and told me that most people don't.  Obviously I will work up to this, and after pain management and other issues get resolved, but a good site I found shows how much walking this really is and how it works: The Walking Site.  I admit to bucking the doctor on this a little.  "Doc, I used to run 13 miles a day and trained for the Boston Marathon.  I weighed 100 lbs soaking wet and had the lowest BMI there was!  Walking?  Come on, I need to hit the gym, I need to hit the ground running."  Very cheesy confession time:  I was an aerobics instructor for employees after work at a corporation when I was in my 20s.  Yes, leg warmers, boom box, and I was AFAA certified.  (I couldn't effing make this up).  So my ego took a shot when he said kindly that I am in my mid 40s now (ack!) and that I am not in the physical condition I once was (double ack!).  I also realize that I am starting this slowly in conjunction with the more serious medical issue I went in with, as well as working on pain management. The main thing is that I am doing this with my doctor and checking in with him in six weeks.

I have a plan in place to improve and get better now.  I can actively start doing something, changing how I eat and literally taking baby steps to improve my health.  I can really only go up from here, and I feel that I can. As far as what transpires with my back, or whatever my results are from other things beyond my control, I do know I am doing my best, and I do know my doc's got my back.  Someone is looking out for me now so that I can look out for myself.  Also no matter what the results of tests are, weight loss and muscle strengthening can only help my back, build my immune system against any negative cells, and most importantly give me the spark back that I used to have in my life, the hope.  Once I have that back, the rest really is in God's hands, and that's where I let it go.  

Techie Side Note

Lastly ... yes, there is an app for all of this!!  I live for apps, and it is free in the Android Market as well as the Apple Store.  The doctor told me that I know how to eat right and not to focus too much on the details.  He's right, and we can't live our lives measuring everything to the tiniest gram.  We pretty much know that the hot fudge sundae with the works is a no-go, and a salmon fillet with steamed veggies is a good choice. 

For me however, it helps me to keep track of what I eat.  Especially when I can whip out my Android, download the My Fitness Pal app and jot down what I ate and get an idea of fat grams and calories.  It also has a bar code scanner, so I can run the bar code of that Progresso soup can I just ate.  That part does make life easier.  Also, My Fitness Pal has been featured on NBC, the Today Show, USA Today and a lot of other media sites.  Using this in conjunction with the online website it really makes things easy.  I can track food, exercise, and weight and it is very EASY to use.  Again, my doctor recommended keeping track of what I eat, weighing myself once a week and wearing the pedometer all of the time.  I just find this to be helpful to me personally to organize it all, and I am more cognitively aware of what I am eating, doing, exercising if that app is always there, and it is, as my phone has become an appendage ...