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.

Taking care of myself

I’ve been doing too much.

My first month back at work I was barreling along pretty well. But as I entered the second month of full time work, I started fading. There were days that I just couldn’t sit in front of the computer and get anything done. I was listless and tired.

My employer provides one big pot of time off (referred to as Paid Time Off or PTO) to be used for vacationing or as “sick days.” It bothered me that I used much more of that time being “sick” last year: taking hours and days off to go to doctors, recover from repeated bouts of diverticulitis, treat my eye condition, and then deal with my renegade ovarian cyst. I really, really wanted to not repeat the pattern this year and to actually fit in more days off for fun stuff, but the pattern so far has been to continue using PTO for wellness-related stuff. OK, so be it.

Why hadn’t it occurred to me that I need more than the six weeks I was given for short term disability to recover? I had several organs and many, many adhesions removed, plus a few other major organs shifted around inside me. Not only that, but I’ve had hormones that affect the functioning of my brain, heart, and other major bodily systems permanently altered in an abrupt fashion.

I was doing some volunteer work last Saturday and was talking with another volunteer during our four-hour commitment when I had the realization that I’ve been pushing myself much too hard. I don’t recall how it came up in conversation, but I mentioned that I’d had surgery three months ago. She commented how that was not very long ago and she was surprised that I was so active. Hmmm.

The previous day, I had been unloading some groceries from the car when the neighbors next door asked how I was doing. The husband commented that it usually takes a full year to recover from surgery. Hmmm.

On Monday of this week I told the volunteer coordinator that I had to back off doing so much. I feel bad about not being more helpful to this group, but I need more rest and recovery time. I also contacted my local gynecologist about making yet another adjustment to my estrogen dosage.

After the surgery, I was started on a very low dose estrogen replacement in the form of a patch. Trying to figure out what works for my particular body chemistry takes time, and these past three months I’ve been trying different brands and dosages of estrogen patches. Over that time, I’ve had problems getting a good night’s rest due to hot flashes and disrupted sleep. I’ve also had just bone-deep tiredness and issues with fuzzy thinking.

I think (I hope!) that I’ve found the sweet spot with the patch dosage I just started last Monday. Previously, I would have reduced fatigue for the first two days after applying the patch, but on the following two days I would feel my energy flagging and my sleep disruptions would get worse. I would just have to limp along until my next patch change. On this new dosage I’m feeling more mentally alert and energetic, and my sleep disruptions have been minimal. I’m due to change my patch again today, yet I still feel pretty good. *Fingers crossed* this continues to work out for me.

 

Slogging along

Life is just a series of ups and downs, with a lot of steady slogging in between. I’m in a slog phase now.

Good things happening

Some friends visited last weekend. This particular couple and I have been friends for several years. We first met when I lived in Chicago and they lived a few hours away in a rural area. They were hosting a podcast with a lot of great information about running a hobby farm while they also held down full time tech jobs. At the time we started building a friendship, I was married. In the intervening years, while I got divorced and eventually moved to the Bay Area, they remained a couple and moved to a different country. They’ve now moved back…to the Bay Area! We’ve been able to maintain our friendship and we had a very good time last weekend.

The relationship with the BF (I’m going to refer to him by his first initial, M, to make it easier for me going forward) is going well and growing. So far we’ve spent every weekend together and I’m continuing to get good vibes from him.

Despite my odd (for the west coast) need to leave social settings around 8 PM most of the time so I can get adequate rest for work the next day, I’m still able to fit in an hour or two of evening fun things like knitting group and volunteering. I had dinner at a friend’s house one day this week. She’s someone I met through knitting group and we’ve been connecting very well and spending some time together outside of knitting group occasionally. So, I continue to strengthen my social networks, while sticking to my budget.

Budgeting is going well, too. Yes, I’ve overspent in some categories in previous months, but I’m making adjustments, as needed. That means I’m either spending less in other areas, or being more realistic in my monthly spend. For example, my pet expenses have been much higher than in past years due to Hannah dog having a few minor health issues last year, some training expenses, and increases in pet care expenses since I don’t have a housemate or partner to care for her when I go on business trips. I’m able to afford it, but I need to make my budget reflect that line item more accurately.

I think my budgeting is also being helped by spending time with people who are also focused on optimizing their spending. My friend from knitting is not in a lucrative career so she doesn’t want to go out and spend money, and M is also a frugal person. M and I tend to cook at home and stay in, rather than going out for meals and drinks. This helps me stay on track towards my savings goals. 🙂

Bad things happening

Mom ended up in the hospital with pneumonia the week before last. She’s prone to respiratory infections because she has (poorly controlled) asthma. Usually that means she gets bronchitis at least once a year, but this time it was pneumonia. I spoke to her the day after she was admitted and she sounded OK. Now that she’s been out for over a week she seems to have lost ground. She’s listless, her throat hurts, and she’s chipped a tooth somehow. With both the throat and tooth bothering her, it’s uncomfortable for her to talk, but in even the brief moment I was connected to her today she sounded like she was drifting away.

Stepfather had to take her to the pulmonologist yesterday for a scheduled check up, and the doc was concerned about how much water she is retaining in her legs. He ordered a diuretic and said she should get some sort of cardio test, but he didn’t order it himself for some reason and Mom’s primary care doc refused to order it. Or so says stepfather, at least.

So, we continue to have challenges with coordinating Mom’s care. She can no longer provide any sort of input or background to us, other than to tell us how she feels at the time she is asked. Stepfather can’t fill the gaps, nor can sister. While sister spends a lot of time on the phone trying to fill in the details that stepfather can’t seem to grasp, and takes time off work to bring Mom to specialists, it’s still not enough. I can’t see how I can provide any help here other than to dutifully send money every month. I have taken on some phone calls myself, but when it comes to scheduling things on Mom’s behalf, I can’t help there.

Besides, I have quite a bit on my plate just taking care of myself right now. I’m back at work full time and it seems like I’m tired all the time. It may be because my body is still recovering from surgery, or it may be that my hormones are still not adequately controlled, or it could be both of these things. I’ve found myself climbing into bed before 8 PM some nights because I’m just too tired even to sit on the couch and watch TV.

I think this sense of overwhelm may be why I’ve been so cranky about Mom care. I’m having a hard enough time just taking care of myself these days.

Just today I’ve started a new estrogen patch that I hope will bring me some renewed energy. And it is Friday, so I can sleep past 6 AM tomorrow. Hurray! As long as Hannah dog doesn’t wake me up, that is. 😉