back again, a cruise, and dizzy

Last year turning into this one has been interesting for me, to say the least. It was sometimes amazingly wonderful, to say the best, and sometimes pretty lousy, to say the worst. I had a re-occurrence of back issues, followed by an amazing Disney cruise, followed by a bizarre (but familiar to me) case of dizzyness I’m still shaking off the dregs of now. So that was ouch, yay, and ugh, for anyone keeping score.

I had back surgery in 2012. It was, well, mostly successful, but not completely so. An oft-repeated mantra I’ve had to accept is that “the purpose of back surgery is not to fix your back, but to make it better than it was”. You rarely fix backs. Sometimes you make them better. Sometimes you don’t even do that. I’ve had a couple of bad back pain incidents since the surgery, and each one scared the bejeezus out of me. This one made it impossible to sit comfortably — that’s not hard on anyone’s life, right? (Anyone else ever have sciatica? Cringe with me now.) Luckily, I found a great new doctor, a physiatrist who helped me get past the pain and back on my feet, with some drugs, some physical therapy, and some patience. I also got a brand-new MRI that at the very least assured me there’s nothing terribly wrong with my back, just the usual bulges and whatnot everyone has — in other words, this time when a doctor looked at my MRI he didn’t say, “Oh dear god this is terrible”, so that was a step in the right direction.

Back pain Public Service Announcement: we were somewhat startled to realize that each time my back has been bad, since the surgery, it’s been the end of November/beginning of December. Like clockwork. My doctor says this is actually quite common — fall, and the change of seasons, is his busiest time. Moral of this story: go south.

As luck would have it, we had plans to go south, to the Caribbean, to be specific, for a wonderful cruise on the Disney Fantasy — back after having a terrific time on our honeymoon. I can’t say enough good things about the Fantasy. The rooms are spacious, the service is impeccable, the fun is everywhere to be had. A short glimpse of our trip:

The warm weather got my back feeling a thousand percent better on just the first day alone. (The jacuzzi helped too.) We had a terrific time.

But… the moment the cruise was over and we got back on land, something I dreaded happened. After the last cruise I found myself stuck with my sea legs. As the days and weeks went by, I still felt like I was on the ship, swaying back and forth, sometimes almost violently. It wasn’t a pleasant rocking. It wasn’t something that went away after a few days. Several different medicines and several different specialist visits later, we learned I had something called Mal de Débarquement syndrome. It’s super rare. It stinks. There’s no treatment. You just have to wait for it to hopefully subside. Luckily, that time, it did, after a miserable month. (Some people have it a lot longer. Like, even for years.)

Why did I cruise again, if this had happened to me before? Eh, I don’t know. I thought I hadn’t taken the right seasickness meds, I thought it was a fluke, I thought it wouldn’t happen again. But I did everything I could, this time, and it didn’t matter. They don’t know what causes this, but it tends to happen to women in their 40s who get migraines (raises hand) more than anyone else, so apparently I’m the poster child for MdDS. And this time it was worse. We came back from the cruise on January 9. This time it took closer to two months for my symptoms to fade, and they were stronger. Two really miserable months, and I didn’t want to talk about it, or the cruise, or anything much else for most of that time.

Today, though, I’m pretty close to being completely better. I feel like I’m just getting off the ship, in more ways than one. My back is in better shape, the world isn’t tilting precariously, and the snow is melting. So, it’s good to be back, finally. Land ho!

here I go again

funny-scaleOnce upon a time, I decided to lose some weight. I started counting calories, I started exercising. I was tenacious. And it worked. I lost 108 pounds, and it felt terrific. And… I’ve gained it all back. Every single pound, and then some.

What happened? Well, a lot of things. The first answer, and we’ll come back to this: I ate too much. I also stopped exercising, and that, to be fair, wasn’t my fault. After I hurt my back, and then the surgery that followed, the sciatic pain in my leg took away the walking I loved. Outside on Amherst’s bike paths, my mix going on my iPod shuffle, walking sneakers on, workout clothes always with me, I loved to walk. A lot. The treadmill will do in the winter, but walking those paths, or the ones at the museum, that was fulfilling. Sometimes joyous. But it’s not a real possibility now. My leg muscles are tired and weak, and the pain recurs too often and too strongly. So this time I’m focusing on swimming. I’ve never been a great swimmer — I taught myself when I was 11 or so, and I’ve never learned to swim underwater (long story). But I can swim laps, and I can exercise in the pool, and it’s the best thing possible for my back.

But back to the eating too much part. Well, that was all me. Why? I don’t know, why does anyone eat too much? I wanted to, for one. I was home a lot more. I had time on my hands. I like food. It tastes good. I like a big comfy meal that makes me feel warm and fuzzy and full. I like salty things and cheesy things and ice cream. A lot of people do. I like them too much — a lot of people do that too.

I was also happy. I met this guy, as you know, and that worked out pretty well for me. 🙂 And then you’re a couple and you’re going out to eat, and you’re sharing desserts, and you’re happy. I felt loved, and okay, and for the first time in forever, not so insecure. I’m lovable! I’m great the way I am! And there’s some value in just loving who you are and accepting it and so forth. But there’s a line somewhere that I crossed, and now I don’t love who I am. My clothes don’t fit. I don’t fit. I don’t like myself this way. So it’s time to do something about it, again.

For unrelated reasons, I’ve been tested six ways to Sunday by a veritable crew of doctors in the past few months. Enough bloodwork to satisfy a hungry vampire’s thirst. Ultrasounds and sonograms, some of them mighty uncomfortable. A couple of specialists. The upside of all of that is that apparently I’m actually pretty freaking healthy. I get nice numbers on everything, except for an underactive thyroid (and while yes, it’s true, that ain’t helpin’ the number on the scale go down, studies have shown that weight gain due to hypothyroidism is mild — in the 5-20 range, and I got a lot more than that to lose so I’m not hiding behind that). And we’re addressing that with medicine, so here I am, healthy as the proverbial horse, but just overweight. Again.

There were a few false starts this spring — I tried a couple of other diets, but none of them did much for me. And then, after another dismal rendezvous with my friend the scale, I finally conceded that I have to go back to what worked before, and will again, no matter how tedious. Calories, calories, counting calories. I started using MyFitnessPal, and I like it. Since I began last Sunday, I’ve lost 5.2 pounds — as an experienced dieter I know that’s just the initial water-weight jump, but it’s still nice to see that number on the scale going in the right direction.

So, here I go again. Wish me luck. 🙂

Created by MyFitnessPal – Free Calorie Counter

three little birds

Until the age of 32, I wasn’t an anxious person at all. I didn’t worry about anything other than the things anyone worries about — will I fall in love, will I be able to pay my credit card bill, will work suck tomorrow. Normal every day things. Then my mother died suddenly, and I was left with a legacy of anxiety — will something happen to me, too, something I don’t see coming. It’s turned me into a minor hypochondriac, unfortunately. I’m always worried. I’m frequently scared. Sometimes — a lot of the time — over nothing. Unfortunately, not always. Once my gall bladder nearly burst. They fixed that. And then my back pretty much broke. They sort of fixed that.

I had a spinal fusion of the L4-L5 vertebrae in the fall of 2012, after injuring my back in October 2011. In that preceding year I’d tried everything — PT, drugs, a chiropractor, cortisone — and none of it did any good. An MRI showed plain as day that surgery was the only other option. The day the neurosurgeon told me about the surgery, describing the hardware they’d install in my spine, I went out in the car and cried, totally terrified. But we went ahead, and a few months and some insurance hassles later, it was time.

The morning of my surgery, I was terrified. No one likes general anesthesia but each time I’ve had it I’m convinced I won’t wake up again. This time, I tried hard to stay calm that morning, even as I feared the worst. And as we got ready to go to the hospital, I thought of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”. The song ran through my head on the ride there, and as I was admitted and waited to be taken in. Over and over I heard it, and it must have helped because when they took my blood pressure it was surprisingly normal, given my agitated state, and I stayed calm through it all. As they wheeled me to pre-op, and as they put me on the table, I heard those lines —

Rise up this morning
Smile with the rising sun
Three little birds
Each by my doorstep
Singing sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true
Saying, “This is my message to you”
Singing “Don’t worry ’bout a thing
Cause every little thing gonna be all right.”
Singing “Don’t worry ’bout a thing
Cause every little thing gonna be all right.”

A few hours later I woke up and it was over.  The surgery was harder than I’d imagined it would be, and, in the long run, while not quite as entirely successful as I wanted it to be, enough so that I got my life back. My surgeon’s nurse, a kind and tireless person who never turned my calls away no matter how often I asked her the same questions over and over, told me once, “The goal of this surgery is not to fix your back. Nothing can fix it. The goal is to make it better, and to make you feel better.” And it did, and I do. I just don’t feel *completely* better, and that’s just the way it has to be. Sometimes I’m angry about that.

But that’s not what this post is about.

Since the day Dave asked me to marry him, and before, even, he’s always been there for me, taking care of me, and telling me not to worry. When he does that, I don’t stop worrying, of course — it’s not that simple — but he says it all the same, and each time something new scares me or makes me anxious, hearing him tell me it’s going to be okay helps a little bit more.

so, today I got this:

20140620-165724-61044127.jpg

on my shoulder, to always have that reminder with me, to remember the times Dave’s told me it’ll be okay and that it always is. Whatever happens, he says, we’ll work it out, and we always do. Maybe a time will come that I’ll remember that right away before the worry starts. But until then, and even after then, this will always be with me

helping hands

HH3A couple of days ago, I hurt my back. You know, as a side note, once upon a time I foolishly thought having rather serious back surgery would mean that I would stop saying things like “I hurt my back”. Silly me. Especially when the full sentence is, “I hurt my back cuddling kitties on the bed, and lying on my stomach for more than five minutes.”

Anyhow, as a result, I’m mostly down for the count this weekend, resting up with the heating pad and subsisting on Ibuprofen and Lortab. And watching a seemingly endless marathon of Game of Thrones episodes on HBO. I had a few bloodhtirsty dreams last night, as a result. And one about dragons. I’m okay, pain-wise, and I can get around okay if I’m careful. Rest is best, though.

I’m very grateful to have been able to order groceries from Fresh Direct; easy to order, and they should be delivered in an hour or so. It’s handy. We’re not crazy about using them in general; one bad delivery experience out of three so far isn’t good odds. It’s handy, especially on a day like today. Given my druthers, though, I’d rather do the shopping myself.

The worst part is, though, that what I really wish is that we had Wegmans. I mean, obviously, I always wish that. But this weekend especially — because I could do the shopping, if we had Wegmans. I’m up to walking the aisles — sometimes walking is good for my back. But I can’t bend, or lift, or carry. At Wegmans, I wouldn’t have to. I could use a motorized shopping cart, if I wasn’t up to walking. I could ask for help reaching anything — there are always employees everywhere in the aisles, and they’re always happy to help. I could count on the cashier to bag my groceries without comment, which never happens here. I could get the Helping Hands to load them into my car. True, they can’t follow me home, but Dave could bring most things up there, later. Here, there’s no help anywhere in the stores. Finding an employee is near impossible. The other day I stopped in Waldbaums and all of their freezers were broken — the thermometer on the one I was looking at was at 65 degrees — and I spent ten minutes finding anyone who worked there that cared. There’s just no one interested in doing anything above and beyond. That’s not a Long Island thing, though — it’s a non-Wegmans thing. At Wegmans, they don’t think helping their customers out is “above and beyond”. They think it’s the least they can do.

Cosumer Reports just named Wegmans the best supermarket in America, and Forbes says it is one of the best companies for customer service, along with the Apple Store and the Ritz-Carlton. And Fortune Magazine regularly names it as one of the best companies to work for. I guess that’s all for a reason, and I guess that’s why I miss it so much. Mostly, I’d give anything to see one of those orange jackets, because I could use a helping hand.