Thursday, October 05, 2006

We can rebuild her...

The reason (excuse) my weight loss efforts derailed this summer had a lot to do with the stress I had over my health.

In May I went to Kennywood Park with my husband and daughter. Hubby is a physics teacher and I went as a chaperone for his seniors as they participated in Physics Day at the amusement park. We got daughter out of school for "educational travel," although I don't know how much she actually learned.

Anyway, I was feeling pretty self-confident that day: feeling successful with my weight loss and comfortable in my body. This led me to do something I rarely do -- go on rollercoasters. Besides getting motion sickness very easily, I had this fear of squeezing my big bulk into one of those carts. Or worse, suffering the humiliation of being turned away by the operator (anyone who's read Frances Kuffel's "Passing for Thin" will remember her painful anecdote about this experience). I still won't set foot on the "tilt-a-hurls," because no matter what I weigh, I will get sick as a dog if I get on the spinning rides. But I decided to try the old-fashioned rollercoasters and didn't mind it.

Then I made my mistake. We got in line for Kennywood's new ride, The Exterminator, which is a dank, dark underground ride with rats and dummies in haz mat suits. Hubby, daughter and I got strapped into the cart, which then proceeded to whip us in every direction, including circular spins.

It didn't affect me right away. In fact, it took me months to figure out this was the critical moment. But in the weeks following Kennywood my regular shoulder and neck tenseness progressively got worse. By the beginning of June I was having trouble sleeping because my shoulder ached so much. Then I began to notice that the muscles in my upper arm ached like I had done way too many reps with weights.

But I ignored it. I was gearing up for my very first 5K walk and I was so excited to complete this race. My goal was to finish in less than an hour, and I was thrilled when my final time was about 45 minutes. Two days later, however, the pounding my body took was the final straw: I woke up with my left arm "dead" and my left hand in sharp pain. This scared the bejsus out of me -- while I didn't think I was having a heart attack or stroke, just the fact that I didn't have muscle control made me realize this was serious.

So I went to the doctor, who sent me for an MRI of my neck because she suspected a pinched nerve. The initial diagnosis -- a herniated disc. I was prescribed four weeks of physical therapy and referred to a neurologist. Since I live in the absolute boonies, the only doctor in the area couldn't see me until the end of July, two weeks after the PT ended. So I did the therapy, which brought the strength back in my left arm and reduced a lot of the pain. But I noticed that as those symptoms got better, a different one seemed to be increasing -- tingling and numbness, mostly in the left hand and arm, but sometimes on the right, too.

It wasn't until the neurologist appointment that I discovered the reason why. On top of the herniated disc, I also had bone spurs in the vertebra next to the herniated disc. And the spurs were pressing on my spinal column, which was causing the numbness and tingling. The doctor suggested surgery to remove the disc and vertebra and do a replacement/fusion procedure. He said that while the surgery wasn't absolutely necessary, since my reflexes were still great and I wasn't showing more severe spinal column problems, he would recommend it. In layman's terms, my neck was a ticking bomb -- all it would have taken was a fall or a car accident to have caused major spinal cord injuries.

So of course I opted for surgery. I couldn't stand the thought of walking around with my "doomsday neck." Even though I hate the whole doctor/hospital/surgery experience, this time my phobia was pushed aside by my fear of becoming a quadralpalegic. So on August 23 I had the surgery, called Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion: my disc and vertebra were removed, replaced by donor bone, then fused to my spine with a metal plate and two screws. It took 1 1/2 hours, and I stayed one night in the hospital. For two weeks I wore a neck brace and wasn't allowed to work or drive. After that I started another four weeks of PT, which ends today (hooray).

The funny thing was, at first I was okay with my eating, but that's probably because it was "just" a herniated disc. Once I found out I risked serious spinal cord problems, and add to that my anxieties about the surgery going badly, then I went off the deep end. All the tools I had picked up to quell my emotional needs for food went out the window. No amount of journal writing, meditating or walking was going to make me feel better. I resorted back to my childhood comforts, figuring if I died in the hospital I wanted to make sure I had eaten all my favorite foods before I went (irrational, I know).

What saved me from gaining a ton of weight back was the good habits I had ingrained into my brain the last few years. While I had plenty of slip-ups, the next morning I immediately fell back into my healthy routines. While the old behaviors still hide in the corners of my mind, the new behaviors have definitely taken hold and feel more "normal" to me now. Thank goodness.

Which brings me to yesterday, which went very well. I didn't really have any temptations, so sticking to my planned meals and snacks was easy. The knee continues to feel better (Lord knows I'm not eager for any more surgeries or PT), so this morning I did the 45 minute bike again. This time I used the program installed in the bike which changes the resistance automatically, so today I actually worked up a good sweat.

But the next challenge is coming up: my friend asked me if we're going to a local fall festival on Saturday. This includes the following temptations: warm from the oven homemade bread with butter, fried corn meal mush with maple syrup, hot sausage sandwiches. Then there's the little Mennonite store aross the road from the festival grounds that makes one of my most loved/dreaded treats -- orange iced cinnamon rolls. I will eat and eat at the pan of rolls until I'm sick to my stomach but I can't stop. I have three options: not going at all, going and eating everything in sight, or going and limiting myself to one special treat. Option three sounds great, but option one sounds easier. Still debating on this one...

1 comment:

Lori said...

Hi Andrea!

I wrote a really nice reply to your post the other day and BAM! the machine ate it. But in a nutshell, I really like your blog and the thoughtful way you write and think.

The fall festival sounds very challenging; add the crisp air, it would be hard.

There's also the fourth option...pick two and throw/give half of it away. Maybe you can split it with someone. Easier said than done but it can be done. The other thing is not to walk around and eat; find a place to sit down and really look at what you're eating and how it tastes. I know for me, walking or driving while eating means more food is shoveled in without thought.

Oh, you look so fabulous!