Do over

I need a fresh start, a do-over. I had high hopes for landing here in the Bay Area and building a new life. I wanted a life that was based on positivity and taking good care of my body and mind. I wanted to let go of the bad attitudes and habits that had made me feel so down about my life in Chicago.

Shortly after settling in here, I felt like I was on the right track. I was involving myself in active social events like hiking and making friends. I was finding joy in life every day and loving my new town.

Then negative stuff started to intrude. I had a series of health setbacks (diverticulitis #1#2, #3, and #4; hormonal imbalances; a rare eye disease; and, a renegade ovarian cyst). My work changed and I had a whole new team/boss with a different culture to learn. I tried dating, and while I had some good experiences in the early days, after spending more time with each person I realized there were issues that made a relationship unworkable. I let all of this stuff drag me down again and my mood switched from mostly positive to negative.

So I’m declaring a fresh start now. I put myself through two surgeries in the past year because they were necessary to me regaining my health. They are done and I’ve got another month to rest and recover. In that time frame I will also start building better habits for myself. I will get back into meditating and studying mindfulness. I’ll allow myself to dream and free associate about my work and professional life. I may look for a local therapist. I’ll look for more ways to continue building my social network. Dating will not be something I actively seek to do, and I’m not sure what I’d do if I met someone socially that interested me. I guess I’ll deal with it if/when I need to.

Recovery

I’ve been home for a week and am recovering well. Thanks to all my friends far and near, IRL and on the internet who sent positive thoughts and prayers my way!

Surgery went as planned with no complications. The surgeon made only four small incisions to perform to a laparoscopic low anterior resection. The largest incision goes through my belly button and is just over an inch long. Through this vertical incision he was able to remove my sigmoid colon and a portion of the rectum: 10 inches in all. He also removed my appendix, which was a surprise to me since there were no issues with my healthy appendix. The surgeon explained that it was a prudent precaution since I had already had two abdominal surgeries and it would best for me not to have another anytime soon.

I was helped up to walk around the nurse’s station the evening of the surgery, and was encouraged to get up and walk with every daytime shift change. I only needed help the first couple times until all the anesthetic had worn off and I was steadier on my feet.

My pain from the surgery was not as bad as I expected. I was surprised that my abdominal muscles weren’t as sore as they were after my laparoscopic hysterectomy, and getting in and out of bed wasn’t as difficult as I remembered. It just felt like I had some average menstrual cramps. I did make use of the Dilaudid pain pump a few times that first day and evening, but discontinued it by the next day.

The main reason why I stopped using the Dilaudid was because I started having bad headaches and nausea. At first the nurses suggested that was caused by the anesthesia clearing by body, but as the headache and nausea persisted I started being told it may be side effects from the Dilaudid. Whatever the cause, I was regularly asking for the anti-nausea drugs and anything at all they could give me for the terrible headache. By Thursday night, I was sick a couple times and feeling my worst.

While it’s possible that the nurses were correct about the cause of my headache and nausea, I also suspect that my lack of any solid food contributed to my problems. I had been on clear liquids only the day before surgery. The day of surgery I was instructed to drink a small, clear Ensure at 3:30 AM, but was otherwise NPO (nothing by mouth); I wasn’t even allowed ice chips that evening.  On Thursday my meals were all clear liquids. Is it any wonder I was feeling so awful by that time? On Thursday night I dreamed about food: big, green salads, and toast with peanut butter. Nom!

Luckily they brought me solid food on my Friday breakfast tray. I was so happy to eat cream of wheat, scrambled eggs, and toast! Once I got real food, it seemed my recovery accelerated. I was walking the floor several times a day, my vitals were great, and my pain-killer use was orally administered Hydrocodone just a couple of times a day. The doctor even suggested that if I wanted to go home late Friday instead of waiting for Saturday that I could do so, but I declined. My arrangements for getting picked up had been made for Saturday and I just couldn’t switch them. I enjoyed a shower Friday afternoon and was packed up and ready to go Saturday morning.

My sister drove my car to pick me up late Saturday morning and I was back home by noon. Sister has been my care taker for the past week, and that deserves a whole different post.

The only bad experience I had in hospital was with a roommate who was brought in very early Thursday morning. I’m not sure why my room was chosen as the one to get a new admit sent up from the ER, but it was a bad decision for a couple of reasons. That was my first night post-op, and it was a decidedly unfun experience to be woken up at 1 AM as they readied the other bed.

The other patient was an elderly woman who had fallen and broken her hip. She was in a lot of pain and also very distressed, so she was quite vocal. I tried hard to remind myself to be compassionate, but I also regretted forgetting to bring my sleep mask. At least I could drown out most of her moaning and loud talk with my headphones. My doctor wasn’t happy to find out that I had such a loud roommate when he visited me on Thursday. I didn’t even have to say anything specific, just respond that I hadn’t slept well when he asked. He picked up immediately on the problem.

On Thursday afternoon they took the woman away to surgery and put her in the room next door when she was returned to the floor. I felt very bad for her discomfort and situation, but was glad I wasn’t going to have to deal with her or racist husband anymore. (The husband made pretty loud comments about the apparent race of the nurses and assistants more than once. Ugh!)

Countdown

Tomorrow I’m being picked up at 4 AM and heading to the hospital for surgery. Today has been all about prep: cleaning the house, doing laundry, consuming nothing but clear liquids, and taking precautionary antibiotics. Oh, and there was that other type of prep, too. (Yeah. Eww. TMI.)

Over the past month I’ve asked myself if this is really necessary. Do I really need to have a bowel resection for the repeated bouts of diverticulitis or do I have other choices? Although it’s scary to think about having my abdomen opened up (again!) and dealing with the recovery, I still think it’s my best option.

I’ve been doing everything I’m advised to do to avoid yet another bout of diverticulitis, but it keeps happening over and over (and over and over) again. Surgery may seem like a drastic measure, but so is bombing my body multiple times a year with strong antibiotics. And repeatedly missing work at unpredictable intervals due to the pain and fatigue. And not knowing if I’ll be fit to travel for a scheduled business or pleasure trip. And not being able to eat wholesome food and stick to an exercise regime due to getting ill over and over (and over and over) again.

There are no guarantees that surgical intervention will work, but I’ve talked with a few other people who had this surgery and they are doing just fine years later.

Pretty soon I’ll be taking my first shower with the special cleansing wash, putting on freshly laundered PJs, and slipping into bed on freshly laundered sheets. I have one more round of preventative antibiotic tablets to take, as well as a single dose of gabapentin. (Why I need gapapentin, I’m not sure, but it’s prescribed for me, so I’m taking it.)

My alarm is set for 3 AM tomorrow, and I’ll get up and take another shower with the cleansing wash, put on freshly laundered, loose clothing, and head out the door. I expect to be back home on Saturday if all goes well. Wish me luck?

Yet another week

I stumbled through last week and then spent another weekend hanging around the house a lot. I’ve been really tired and lacking in energy lately, so taking naps has become an important part of my weekend.

Saturday morning I managed to make it to the local farmers market to fulfill my volunteer commitment with a local animal rescue charity. Then on Sunday I took Hannah dog out for a walk at a local park and ran a couple of errands.

One of the errands was a visit to store to get some furnishings for the extra bedroom. I took my old neighbor and friend along to get her out of the house for a bit. (She’s reovering from a hip replacement.) I kept yawning and saying how tired I am and this friend told me I should probably see the doctor to get some meds for depression. I think she’s partially right.

I am depressed. I know how to tell the difference between fatigue in my body from medical issues like illness and fatigue from other issues, like anxiety or depression. I’m sure that what I’ve been experiencing is the latter. I’ve also been feeling like I could just start crying at the drop of a hat, but I’m not in a rush to go on meds.

I have strong feelings about SSRIs. In the past I’ve been on two different ones: one for treatment of anxiety and panic attacks, and the other for depression around the time when my marriage was dissolving. Both times I had to deal with side effects that were unwelcome and impacted my health in different ways. So when I say that I’m not up for trying another SSRI right now, that’s based on personal experience.

Besides, I wonder what is so bad about spending time with my feelings. Yes, I’m feeling dejection. Work has taken a really unhappy turn lately, and for the past year I’ve been struggling with a lot of health issues. But I just have to hang in there for a few more weeks.

I’m having surgery on September 21 that should put the diverticulitis issues behind me. There will be a break of at least 6 weeks from work to recover, and I can spend that time healing mentally, too. For now I’m trying to keep moving through the checklist of things that have to be done to prep for my medical leave.

But if anyone is still reading this and has some input on how to slog through a mild depressive episode, please share.

Odds and Ends: Hello Summer! edition

Yeah, I know summer doesn’t actually start until next month, but this coming weekend is the long Memorial Day weekend, and that’s the unofficial start to summer. This weekend is also BottleRock weekend here in Napa, and I’m very happy that a) unlike last year, I have no urgent work projects that prevent me from fully using the weekend pass I bought several months ago, and; b) my health has recovered enough that I can enjoy wine or beer and should be able to find something to eat there (as long as it isn’t too spicy and it’s very high fiber). 🙂

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Speaking of health, I have an appointment with a surgeon on June 1 to talk about surgery to address my recurrent bouts of diverticulitis. I met with a new primary care doctor last week and he seconded the doc that diagnosed this most recent occurrence by saying surgery is something I should seriously consider. I’m not excited about another abdominal surgery this year, but I want my life back. I want to be able to travel for work or pleasure. I want to be able to develop a consistent diet instead of vacillating back and forth between high fiber and low fiber. I want to not have to deal with pain and “bathroom issues” several times a year. I want to not be put on heavy, nasty antibiotics several times a year, too. If I need to have another surgery to have a better than average chance of avoiding all these issues, then I’m game to try.

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Dad asked me for my email address a few weeks ago when I was in Chicagoland and had breakfast with him and stepmother. Somehow he had lost it. Now I regularly get spammed by my dad with stupid chain emails. I never open them, as I can tell just from the subject lines that I don’t want to read them. :-/

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I had an eye exam a few weeks ago and got new frames and a new prescription. Things are still not very clear in my right eye when I’m reading, but it’s OK. I’m sticking with reading ebooks over paper books since I can adjust the type as needed.

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My dog is now 13 years old and it’s upsetting to me that she is starting to show her age in some ways. Last fall she started occasionally vomiting and having diarrhea for seemingly no reason. She woke me up one morning when I heard her vomiting on the bathroom tile floor, and I was scared when I saw there was blood in it. No one seems to know exactly why she has these problems pop up here and there, but I’ve been taking her back and forth to the vet regularly to get her ALT levels measured. This is a blood test they use to measure liver health (not function, per se, but as a marker for potential disease or damage to the liver). Since the values have been abnormal for months she had an ultrasound of her liver yesterday. She has some nodules, but the vet said not to get too worried about it right now. We’ll do another ultrasound in 6 weeks. She also got a bladder infection last fall that took a couple months (and two antibiotics, one very costly) to shake.

She’s on a bunch of supplements now: Vitamin E, fish oil, Cosequin for joint health, probiotics, and a cranberry supplement to ward off another bladder infection. Needless to say, my budget for pet care over the past year has been seriously out of whack. I’m not complaining about being able to afford good care for my dog (I can), just that it’s difficult to budget accurately how much her care is going to cost since there are all these tests and vet visits. I love her fiercely, so I’m not going to scrimp on her care.

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My food budget continues to be a challenge for me. It doesn’t help that I have to restock my pantry with each new bout of diverticulitis. When I’m in the midst of an “attack” I have to be on liquids only for a day or two. While I usually keep broth on hand, I don’t consume fruit juice or gelatin on a regular basis, so I have to buy that. Then I have to buy and consume regular (as opposed to whole grain) pasta and noodles, white rice, white bread, white crackers, canned vegetables and fruit, and ground meat for a few weeks. When I’m able to eat normally again, I go back to eating whole grain products, beans, spices, and crunchy/high fiber veggies like broccoli and cauliflower.

Truthfully, even without the pantry challenges the biggest bite into my food budget is dining out. When I’m well, I eat out at least twice a week and my preferred vendors aren’t cheap, fast food. That means each week I’m spending at least $30 – $40 on dining out. I’m just going to have to bow to reality and adjust my budget to account for this since I’m not willing to give it up right now. I’m not broke or skating close to the edge every month, so there’s no reason to deprive myself. I merely want to get a handle on what my “average” expenses are and make a budget that reflects it.

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April and May were very good money months for me. First of all, April was one of those months where I got three paychecks. Since I’m paid every two weeks, there are always two months out of the year where I get three paychecks: one of these “bonus months” always happens in the spring, and the other in the fall. My monthly budget accounts for only two paychecks per month, so the extra paycheck is always a nice bonus that gets tucked into savings.

I also had a big federal tax refund this year. I know it’s best to engineer your withholding so this doesn’t happen, but this was truly out of my hands. My employer has set up several “legal entities” for risk mitigation purposes, and due to some changes in my team structure that took month 6 months to work out, I was sequentially employed by three different legal entities last year. Each one started my withholding for social security from scratch (as they were legally obligated to do) so I had way too much withheld in this area last year. Between that and an investment loss, I raked in a refund that was greater than the ones I routinely got as a homeowner with a mortgage and business expenses related to my room rentals. Again, this refund was deposited immediately in my savings account.

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Despite having a healthy amount of money to use as a house down payment, I’m still priced out of affording a little house in my preferred neighborhood here in wine country. I’d have to put down much more than 20% to get a monthly payment I could afford without introducing making big changes to my budget (such as cuts to pet care and dining out, for starters). I still keep looking at properties as they pop up, though, so I can remain educated about the market. If I really, really needed to buy something, I could do so in a non-preferred neighborhood or town, but I have no deep need to do so at this time. I’m getting better at cultivating patience in this area. And I’m working on ways to increase my monthly income. But that’s something I should write up in another post.

How are you doing these days?

 

Here we go again

Was my “rumbly tummy” that I experienced a few weeks ago some sort of early warning of what was to come? Maybe so.

I’m dealing with yet another case of diverticulitis. This the fourth case I’ve had in the past year: April 2015, July 2015, and December 2015 were the earlier ones. I knew for sure it was diverticulitis when I kept waking up in pain last Monday night. Luckily, I have plenty of hydrocodone on hand from the last bouts.

When I saw the nurse practitioner Tuesday afternoon and got the diagnosis, I cried. I’m so tired of this. I do everything I’m supposed to do: eat lots of fresh and fibrous veggies, fruit, and whole grains, drink lots of water, and exercise. The last bit had been curtailed due to my December surgery, but I was getting back into hiking again and taking a yoga class. I had just made a yummy batch of banana muffins with oatmeal and walnuts the Sunday before, and here I was unable to eat them.

I know the drill so well by now. Liquids only for the first 24 to 48 hours. I had made sure that Tuesday to consume only water, lemonade, and black coffee. (Guidance on whether coffee is OK is mixed, but it’s mainly the caffeine that is the issue, and I drink half-decaffeinated coffee at home.) On that first day, I went to the hospital lab for my blood draw, then picked up the antibiotics and started taking them.

There are always two antibiotics for some reason. There is some variation in what can be prescribed for the one, but there is always Flagyl. Always. It’s a horrible drug, and is very hard to take three times a day because it makes me nauseated. I can’t tell if the bouts of nausea that sometimes wake me up at night are from the Flagyl or the diverticulitis, but does it really matter?

On the second day, I vomited my meds in the morning. I simply could not keep the evil Flagyl in my stomach while consuming only liquids, so I nibbled on a piece of baguette I had left over from the weekend. I rarely keep food like that in the house since I don’t eat it on a regular basis, but luckily I had entertained the weekend before and had half a loaf left. I had to go back to the doctor’s office to see the doctor and get confirmation of my diagnosis based on my bloodwork. As if there was any doubt.

The internal medicine doctor was almost chipper and friendly as she showed me my lab results (elevated white count and inflammation markers, of course) and she prescribed an anti-nausea med for me. I’ve taken it a few times, but it knocks me out and makes me pretty loopy, so it’s not something I can take regularly, unfortunately.

This particular bout seems worse than the last one in December. Or maybe I’m just still not fully recovered and not up to fighting it as hard. For whatever reason, I don’t feel like I’m healing as quickly as I used to. I still have pain occasionally, especially with certain movements. I’ll turn in my sleep and wake from the pain I’ve caused myself. Or I’ll wake up with nausea and lay there hoping it will pass so I don’t get sick on the bedroom carpet. This morning I drank two cups of peppermint tea before I could even think about trying to put anything (even toast) in my stomach. Then there are the bathroom issues. *sigh*

The doctor asked if I had seen a specialist, and I noted that, ironically, I had a follow up appointment scheduled with the gastroenterologist at the end of the month. We should have a lot to talk about. I can’t take this anymore. I see another abdominal surgery in my future, but first I need to get this infection gone.

A visit home

It’s been great to have my energy back again! The new estrogen patch seems to be working well for me. I’ve been on it for a week solid and I finally feel like I’m firing on all cylinders again.

Sleep is pretty good. I do get hot spells, but they’re manageable. My new routine for the evening is to turn off the heat and open the bedroom window enough to let the cool night air inside. When I get hot, usually just turning back the top quilt is enough to cool me down, and if not I’ll toss off the other two layers (a blanket and top sheet) if needed. I have the fan with remote control in position just in case, but rarely have had to use it. In the morning, the house is usually around 60 F when I get up — which makes for a chilly start to the day — but the thermostat is just outside the bedroom door.

I’m still allowing myself more time to rest and taking on less, too. Despite my new energy, I’m still healing inside. Last Saturday, for example, I had plans to attend a potluck party in the evening. A chance to go on a short hike that morning popped up, but I declined because I didn’t want to totally pack my Saturday. It turned out to be a good call.

However, there are some stressors over which I have little control. A few weeks ago I was urged by sister and stepfather to get back to Chicago soon for a visit with Mom. I had been planning a trip back to Chicago in late June this year to attend sister’s wedding celebration, but they told me not to wait that long.

I had to figure out how to fit a trip back to Chicago in the near term into my budget and schedule, so I went hunting for cheap fares online. I found a flight on Southwest that worked out for my schedule, and not *too* bad on my budget.

I depart on Wednesday, and I plan to spend two days with Mom: Saturday and Monday. Sunday will be a day of rest and relaxing  (I hope!), and the rest of the days are work days. Sadly, I can’t get work to pay for the trip since there is no business need for me to visit Chicago, but at least I won’t have to burn up a lot more PTO, and should retain enough for all the medical stuff I have to schedule in this year.

This trip is really stressing me out, and I’m not entirely sure why. There are plenty of possible reasons. It may be because:

  • I’m dreading seeing my mother. Talking with her weekly I get an idea of how poorly she’s doing, but that’s not the same as experiencing it in person.
  • I’m still mending and not feeling up to the rigors of packing and travel.
  • I’m leaving behind my personal comforts: the new friends I’ve made, my dog, and the little “nest” I’ve been building in the rental house.
  • I’m leaving behind the glorious weather (sunny, warm, lots of greenery and flowers from the plentiful March rain) and heading into a typical Midwest spring. (There was snow in Chicago on Saturday, and it was 70 F there yesterday.)

And, then there is answer E: All of the Above.

The stress is manifesting itself in waking up with a worried mind, and heartburn. I’ve been combating the first by writing down lists of things I need to do. The last one is a new development for me, and I had to pick up some OTC meds at the pharmacy to keep on hand.

I’ve been experimenting with different Bay Area airports over the past year, and this will be my first time flying in/out of Oakland International Airport. It’s both good and bad that the flight leaves Oakland at 6 AM: good because there should be little traffic on the expressway at that time of day, so my drive from Napa should take just over an hour; bad, because it means I need to get up at 4 AM. *gulp*

Part of my time this past weekend was spent online researching how much time to allow for the drive to the airport, what amenities are at the airport, and what amenities are on the flight. I’m a pretty good flyer, but that’s because I prepare for my personal comfort in advance. (Maybe that should be a separate blog post some day.)

M will drive me to the airport and take over house-sitting duties (mainly Hannah care) while I’m gone. On the Chicago end, sister will pick me up at Midway Airport and I’ll stay with her and her guy for a few nights. Come the weekend, I’ll pick up a rental car near their house and drive down to the south suburbs to stay with my friend A for the rest of the visit.

*Fingers crossed* all my prep goes as planned, and that I get a comfy seat on my early morning flight so I can sleep.