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Monday, March 26, 2012

If Not One Thing, Then Another -- Part 1

We treated Lily to a peanut butter cookie
for being so brave when getting her blood
drawn. We had no idea it would be her last.
It's been a busy few weeks in our household. In making good on our New Year's resolutions to focus on health this year, I made appointments for physicals for everyone in the home. You already know the results of mine. To sum up the results of everyone else's, let's start by saying medical insurance is a good thing. The upside of a PPO is that you get to see any doctor you want. The downside is you can pay anywhere between 20 percent and 50 percent of the services rendered. Still, 50 percent is better than 100 percent; and 100 percent is what you pay when you don't have insurance at all.

For our family, the hits in the health department just keep coming. With all we pay out of pocket for health-care expenses, I hope someone somewhere is putting their kids through college.

First, let's be clear on one thing. Our daughter is beautiful and healthy. She had a routine check-up for her second birthday, complete with our doctor's typical assessment of her being "practically perfect in every way."

This time, as we were packing up to leave, I decided to mention food allergies. Here's my sneaky tactic for asking sensitive questions, "Oh, before I forget. Lily has been having some reactions to foods that we can't pin down. That's nothing to worry about, right?" See ... I phrase it like that so the doctor will nod, smile, tell me I am paranoid and send me on my way. Instead, we walked out with a lab slip for blood work.

When the test results arrived by mail, I was not prepared for what we would find. We suspected a milk allergy. Our dairy-loving girl would live on cheese, yogurt and sticks of butter if we allowed it. The half-inch thick document revealed our suspicions to be true. Aside from pineapple, our toddler was indeed allergy to milk and to whey protein. But here's the kicker: She's also allergic to egg whites, potatoes, peanuts, sesame seeds, tomatoes, spinach, cauliflower, and buckwheat. If you're like me, you're looking at that list and thinking, "Potatoes?! Who on Earth is allergic to POTATOES?!" Apparently, our daughter. And from what I read on allergy websites, she's not alone.

The list reads like a who's who of Lily's favorite foods. She devoured eggs daily and eats tomatoes like candy. Her ideal breakfast at the time was egg, banana and a scoop of peanut butter.

My husband and I discussed the results from the perspective of "she's been eating lots of these foods and they haven't killed her yet." But there was one particularly scary restaurant incident where her hand and face blew up like a blow fish that prevented us from being completely lackadaisical about her results. The doctor's advice was simple: Stay away from all listed foods until she's 4; except for peanuts, which is a particularly scary allergy and requires even further precaution.

When we think about it, the allergens make sense. Peanut butter was a recent addition to her diet, and it coincided with the blow fish incident mentioned above. And well, we just aren't fans of Russian Roulette.

The transition hasn't been easy but there have been blessings along the way. Lily has never been a picky eater. She transitioned easily to rice milk. My best friend introduced her to a very tasty brand of soy yogurt. And though she's allergic to a lot, there's a lot Lily can eat. Processed foods have never been a staple in our house, thanks to my post-WLS dietary restrictions, and going dairy-free never killed anyone.

Social eating is difficult. Lily doesn't yet understand that she can't eat certain foods, and other people don't really know what to do with her. So we are all adjusting as best as we can as fast as we can. That's life, right?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Carnie Wilson Has WLS ... Again

I was toying with an "Oops, she did it again," headline but that seemed overly harsh. I've been trying to stay away from this subject for no other reason than everyone else can't seem to leave it alone. I'm not one for jumping on bandwagons, but why not?

In case you missed it, Carnie Wilson has had a second weight-loss surgery and has so far, lost 30 pounds. Since she already had gastric bypass in 1999 (same procedure as me), she didn't have a ton of options to revisit. This time, she chose Lap-Band, an adjustable gastric band that cinches the stomach -- or in Wilson's case, her gastric pouch, to limit the amount of food consumed in one sitting and the speed at which her pouch empties. She says she did it because she needed help; she's publicly struggled to maintain her weight loss, and was on VH1's "Celebrity Fit Club" in 2006. If you're dying to know the details behind her decision to have Lap-Band, you need not wait long. It'll be the topic of the first episode of her upcoming reality show, "Wilson Phillips: Still Holding On," according to USA Today. The episode should air on April 8, on the TV Guide Channel.

So what does this mean? Is this proof gastric-bypass surgery doesn't work? Did it just not work for her? Is it safe? Why would she do it again?

In my opinion, all this means is that Carnie Wilson is a normal human being, and that surgical weight loss (regardless of type) is not a miracle cure for weight loss. It's a tool, and it requires work. And it's proof that no amount of money or fame makes success any easier. We all battle our own demons. Some of us suffer when we eat poorly, and that is enough of a motivator to keep us compliant. Others fall in love with the fitness lifestyle and all it entails. And there are those who seem to effortlessly maintain their weight loss. On the other side of the coin are those who struggle with cross-addictive behavior, depression and even those who regain the weight they lost.

Even when you are going through the process to have bariatric surgery, you don't know where you'll end up. Doctors don't know either. Bariatric programs all over the nation are trying to figure out what makes some post-ops succeed while others flounder.

The fact is that if you need help, you need to get it. That should be a given in all areas of life, but particularly where your health is concerned. If you are morbidly obese and feel you can't do it on your own any more, bariatric surgery may be the tool you need to turn your life around. If you've had bariatric surgery and have not yielded the results you desired, it's not too late. Seek out help in the form of a WLS support group, a psychological professional, a bariatric nutritionist -- whatever help you need, it is out there for you to find.

If all that fails, Carnie Wilson has proven that there are other procedures that can give you a second  chance. It won't be any easier the second time around, though. It will still be work, and the work will still be up to you. But then again, it always was.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

One Down, More to Go

After three consecutive iron treatments, I am officially no longer anemic!

My hemoglobin is 11.7 (Normal is 11.7-15.5), up from 11.2 a month ago. My ferritin level has jumped from 3 to 33 (Normal is 10-154). Much better. Not great, but good. I will take good when I can get it.

So this week, I had my fourth treatment in the spirit of a little more couldn't hurt. And now I get a break. Worst-case scenario, it only lasts a month. Best-case scenario, I won't have to worry about it for six months. Either way, I'm excited.

Now that the anemia battle has been won, we're on to other fights...otherwise known as the Battle of the B's (B1, B6 and B12). I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pumping Iron

Ferrlecit is a fast-infusing iron supplement used to combat anemia related
to iron deficiency. Infusions are often done in chemotherapy centers.
Since my WLS "birthday" labs required further review, I went back to the hematologist who did my first round of iron infusions. Dr. Imtiaz Malik is caring, compassionate and thorough -- not always easy to find among specialists in small valley towns.

Dr. Malik is excited that my tests show some stored iron in my body. He had feared that my previous bowel obstruction would prevent my body from storing iron anymore. He is happy to be wrong. But some stored iron is still not enough stored iron and therefore, another round of iron infusions is necessary. This time around is different, though. We're trying a new type of iron that infuses faster. So instead of being tethered to an IV pole for half a day, I'm in and out in a little over an hour. I still get nauseated with the treatments, and the iron stings while it's infusing -- but those side effects are manageable and only last while I'm getting the infusions.

The challenge is dealing with the side effects that come later. Being lethargic and groggy for 24 hours from the Benadryl that is administered with the iron to prevent allergic reactions is annoying but tolerable. A little extra sleep doesn't do much harm. The hard thing for me, though, is night sweats. Yuck. Nothing worse than being awaken from drug-induced sleep to soaked jammies and sheets.

So what is the upside? Ask my friends. I've been told I'm "the old me," happier, more cheerful, more alert and "with it." Acquaintances comment on the change in my color. I suppose I'm not as pasty as before.

But for me, the benefit is much more than cosmetic or even social. The fact that I don't get killer leg cramps when walking up the stairs means I get to be the one to carry my daughter to her room at night. It means I don't have to make excuses not to play with her because I'm not as easily winded anymore.

So, yes. I am happier. I get to exercise and play with my daughter without feeling like I'm 80 years old. And all that extra oxygen that comes from having enough iron means I don't feel like my head is full of cobwebs. I can carry a simple conversation with minimal effort. Sometimes, I can even hold my own in complex conversations. I don't feel stupid. I don't feel drugged. I feel...human. And I really like the return to humanity.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Ugly Side of Anemia

Anemia is not cool. Sure, it can give you the pasty-pale look that is so trendy in today's vampire-crazed world. But that's really the end of the coolness factor. It doesn't give you super-human strength, and it definitely doesn't make you sparkle. Instead, anemia robs your body of vital oxygen and makes you feel like everything in life takes an extraordinary amount of effort.

Vampires...much sexier than anemics.
We just look blue and gaunt.
Treating anemia can be just as grueling as living without treatment. For most people, anemia is related to low iron. Treating iron-deficiency anemia usually starts with oral supplements. Iron pills work for most people battling anemia. Unfortunately, I am not one of the lucky ones. So instead of taking pills every day, I get to have murky liquid iron injected via IV once a week. Jealous yet? It's about as glamorous as it sounds.

The first time I had infusion therapy was in late 2010. I stopped just short of a 12-week series using Venofer, which looks like Dr. Pepper pumped into your veins. Venofer was not my friend. It takes about four hours to infuse a dose, not including the pre-medication infusion of Benadryl and Zofran -- nor the 45-minute endeavor of trying to find a vein in my arm strong enough to handle the infusion. It felt like hours of my life being sucked away each week.

Then I would go home and deal with side effects. Nausea and fatigue from the drugs would send me straight to bed, where I'd pass out for four to six hours. Then I'd get up, eat a little and remain in a zombie-like state for about 36 hours. In between treatments, I'd suffer night sweats, loss of appetite from the rust-like flavor living in the back of my throat and physical pain from all of the puncture wounds on my arms. That was my life for three months. There were times when my arms were so weak from the punctures that I couldn't even hold my daughter, who was still an infant. The fact that Brian was unemployed at the time was a true blessing.

I had hoped to never go through that again. Unfortunately, my recent labs make it a necessity.