I’m Baaack!

It has been quite awhile since I last posted here. I’ve been posting on my other blog, one devoted to reading and writing, not health, wealth, and all that makes life better than the alternative. But August has been a tough month and has brought me back here, to celebrate what’s better than the alternative.

At the end of July, my husband wasn’t feeling well. I suggested we go to the urgent care clinic closest to our house where he was diagnosed with an infection. Something minor. Something easy to treat. Or so we thought.

He did have an infection. I had had the same infection a few months back, the reason I recognized his symptoms. In my case, a quick test confirmed the infection and a trip to the pharmacy to pick up an antibiotic, followed by a long nap, was all I needed to get better. We expected the same would apply to him.

But he didn’t get better. In fact, he got worse. So much worse that when he saw his primary care physician a week after that trip to urgent care, the doctor sent him straight back to urgent care, this time at the hospital our doctor is associated with.

The doctors there discovered his blood contained a very high level of potassium. They ordered an EKG to see if his heart was in trouble. It wasn’t.

 

But his kidneys were.

After I had hung around the urgent care intake rooms for hours, the doctors and nurses urged me to get something to eat and reassured me they would get him into a room while I was away. They told me to come back once I had eaten.

When I returned, they gave me his room number–Room 15 in the ICU. ICU. That’s Intensive Care Unit. Not exactly what I had expected when they said they would get him into a room.

My first reaction was to wonder if the hospital was so full they could only find space for him in the ICU. That’s the denial phase. He couldn’t be so ill that the staff needed to monitor him 24/7, could he?

It turns out, he was that ill. His kidneys were no longer functioning. The culprit, the doctors were 95% certain, was the antibiotic he was prescribed for that minor infection. The same antibiotic I was prescribed for the same minor infection eight months before.

Apparently, he is allergic to that drug. At any rate, we’re going to consider him to be allergic because we don’t want to repeat the exercise to confirm it.

The first week of August centered around his treatment in the hospital. They did a biopsy of one of his kidneys to rule out more serious causes. You know, like cancer. The doctors said the biopsy results were good, indicating the problem was typical of an allergic reaction. But good is relative.  His kidneys were not functioning. He needed dialysis to help his kidneys do their work. And the kidneys need time to heal.

The next two weeks of August centered around dialysis and follow-up with doctors. Twice a week we made a thirty-minute trip to a dialysis center where we sat in a room for the three to four hours needed to filter his blood through a machine.

Along with dialysis comes a limited diet. Foods with high levels of potassium were not permitted. And you can be sure that everything he wanted to eat, now that his appetite was back, was on the list of foods with high potassium levels. Vegetables were particularly difficult to work into his meals. Vegetables low in potassium are ones that have little color and even less flavor: bean sprouts, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, mushrooms, onions.  And most things he wanted to add for flavor–salt, soy sauce, salsa–are also high in potassium.

At the end of the second week and after four out-patient dialysis sessions, the doctors concluded his kidneys are functioning sufficiently to eliminate the dialysis. But his need for a daily dose of strong medicine to help the kidneys heal will likely remain for several weeks, if not months. One doctor finally used words that made us both sit up and listen. “You’re not ill,” she told my husband. “You are very, very ill.”

He’s no longer on the dialysis diet. Now we’re on the more varied diabetes diet. The drug he needs to treat the kidneys elevates the level of blood glucose, making it necessary for him to watch what he eats as well as to take insulin since most medications to treat diabetes in pill form are not advisable when kidneys are compromised.

Have I learned anything from all of this?

First, I will always step up to the Consultation window at the pharmacy when picking up a new drug. I did when I picked up my husband’s medication and am so glad I did. Not because the pharmacist warned of the side effects my husband experienced. There was no warning. Kidney failure is not a listed side effect on any of the information available about that drug. So I know I didn’t ignore a warning. Had I not taken the time to wait to speak with the pharmacists about the medication, I would have wondered if I should have known to bring him to urgent care again.

And second, I will pay much closer attention to my husband’s complaints when he isn’t feeling well. He doesn’t get sick often. He usually just plunges forward in his usual day if he feels a cold or even the flu coming on. So when he stayed in bed for days at a time, I should have realized he was really not well.

In support of that second lesson, I am happy to point to the fact that married men are healthier and live longer than single men. This Harvard study only hints, in the final paragraph, that wives insisting their husbands see a doctor is a positive factor in the health of men. Personally, I think it’s the main reason.

How to Improve Your Chances to Live Longer

There really IS something that’s better than the alternative – thinking positively about the future. This article detailing a longitudinal study by Yale researchers, reports that the brains of those whose attitudes towards aging were negative showed shrinkage in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is important for memory formation. And the same brains also showed a buildup of protein plaques and twists associated with Alzheimer’s.

Is this another chicken vs the egg example? Well, does it really matter? Even if the correlation is that hippocampus shrinkage and protein plaque buildup come before the negative thoughts, humans can control thoughts. So think positively about what aging brings you. Freedom from working from 9 to 5. Lower costs at matinee movies. Senior discounts at many restaurants. Celebrate! Don’t castigate. Applaud the future. Don’t condemn it.

What do you have to lose?

vaccinations

Our local pharmacy has already started advertising flu shots, offering bonus bargains on the day someone gets vaccinated. It seems early to me; we are still in the hottest months of the year here in San Diego. But better early than later or never.

Vaccinations for the flu, for pneumonia, for shingles can be truly life saving for seniors as the effects of these illnesses are far more serious in later years. According to a report from the Alliance for Aging Research, “[t]he risk of death from pneumonia and influenza, already higher for older adults, skyrockets for the very old: It is nearly 130 times higher in people age 85 and older than in those 45 to 54….”

The likelihood of seniors acquiring shingles increases with age as well. According to a 2013 report from CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, about half of all people who live to be 85 will come down with shingles, an extremely painful skin rash with few treatment options. Ten percent of adults who come down with shingles develop an even longer-lasting form of the disease that may continue for months or even years. If shingles rashes develop on the face, the patient may become blind.

Shingles vaccines are recommended for anyone over the age of 60 and are free for those on Medicare. Yet fewer people have gotten this vaccination than the manufacturer projected when it became available in 2006. Shingles does not spread from person to person, but anyone who has had chicken pox already has the virus that causes shingles.

Those between the recommended age of 60 and 65, the age of Medicare eligibility, may feel the pinch of price since not all insurance companies will cover the $200-$250 vaccination. Further, most doctors do not administer the vaccination in their offices, requiring patients to go to a pharmacy. As soon as I became eligible for Medicare, I asked for the shingles vaccine. I can’t understand why anyone would not. I remember what chicken pox felt like. I don’t want to experience its cousin.

 

a guide to healthy aging for women

Healthy Aging for Women

For more about the infographic, see here.

The infographic above represents the top diseases that affect women as we age as well as strategies to address them. I was surprised to see autoimmune diseases on the chart, and even more surprised that 75% of sufferers of autoimmune diseases are women. I guess I am in good company with my Graves disease diagnosis. The National Institutes of Health website has an informative page with information about the more than 80 different autoimmune diseases, the suspected causes, and available treatments, but there is little known about the triggers that bring on the diseases.

I have my own theory to explain the rise in autoimmune diseases: I believe the change in our diet over the years, especially the increase in processed foods with preservatives and remnants of pesticides and herbicides used to increase crop yield, is playing a significant role.

In 2012, National Public Radio reported on recent research into the good bacteria in our bodies and their role in our health.

The human body contains about 100 trillion cells, but only maybe one in 10 of those cells is actually — human. The rest are from bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms.

“The human we see in the mirror is made up of more microbes than human,” said Lita Proctor of the National Institutes of Health, who’s leading the Human Microbiome Project.

“The definition of a human microbiome is all the microbial microbes that live in and on our bodies but also all the genes — all the metabolic capabilities they bring to supporting human health,” she said.

These microbes aren’t just along for the ride. They’re there for a reason. We have a symbiotic relationship with them — we give them a place to live, and they help keep us alive.

“They belong in and on our bodies; they help support our health; they help digest our food and provide many kinds of protective mechanisms for human health,” Proctor said.

And for the past 75 years, we have been killing off the microbes that used to live in our digestive system through the addition of preservatives that make it possible for us to keep the products on our shelves longer. It makes sense to me that if the preservatives kill off the bacteria the food processors don’t want in their products, then the preservatives will continue to do the same work in my gut.

A July 2014 New York Times article reported on studies by Dr. Martin J. Blaser who concludes that we are losing the variety of microbes that used to be part of each human organism.

Dr. Martin J. Blaser, a specialist in infectious diseases at the New York University School of Medicine and the director of the Human Microbiome Program, has studied the role of bacteria in disease for more than three decades. His research extends well beyond infectious diseases to  autoimmune conditions and other ailments that have been increasing sharply worldwide.

In his new book, “Missing Microbes,” Dr. Blaser links the declining variety within the microbiome to our increased susceptibility to serious, often chronic conditions,  from allergies and celiac disease to Type 1 diabetes and obesity. He and others primarily blame antibiotics for the connection.

I am a convert to the organic food movement. I plan to eat what doesn’t come with preservatives, antibiotics, pesticides, or herbicides in order to get everything my body needs, not a limited selection offered up by food processors. I want grass-fed beef and free range chickens. I want fish from the sea, not from a farm. As I shift my diet, I’ll be looking for improvements in my Graves disease and diabetes. And I’ll pass on my observations, subjective and based on limited data though they may be.

get out of diet prison!

In prison, those things withheld from an by katerha, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  katerha 

A former colleague, Noel Dickover, has just shared his 20-month journey to better health, during which he has lost 100 pounds. But his goal is not tied to a number. His goal is to live a healthier life. That’s my goal, too. Noel’s story inspires me. I no longer care about my weight. Instead, I care about my depression, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, diabetes, and Graves disease diagnoses.

First Noel addresses diets, redefining them as a sure-fire way to gain wait in the long term. He equates being on a diet with being in a psychic prison. My own experience with Jenny Craig eventually brought me to the same conclusion. It only took two years for my weight to soar up again, past what my starting point had been when I joined Jenny Craig.

Noel then takes on exercise programs, pointing out that like diets, they focus on numbers – number of squats, number of reps, number of steps. This leads to overdoing things, which leads to injuries, which leads to failure. My experience exactly.

Noel’s approach has been to make small changes that he could incorporate into his routine. Gradual changes, at the pace his body accepted. Stretching instead of heavy exercises. Many small meals instead of three big meals. Real food instead of processed foods.

Real food. I’ve just started reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. In addition to recipes, Fallon includes descriptions of what processing foods does to the nutritional value. For example:

Extraction: Oils naturally occurring in fruits, nuts and seeds must first be extracted. In the old days this extraction was achieved by slow-moving stone presses. But oils processed in large factories are obtained by crushing the oil-bearing seeds and heating them to 230 degrees Farenheit. The oil is then squeezed out at pressures from 10 to 20 tons per inch, thereby generating more heat. During this process the oils are exposed to damaging light and oxygen. In order to extract the last 10 percent of the oil from crushed seeds, processor treat the pulp with one of a number of solvents – usually hexane. The solvent is then boiled off, although up to 100 parts per million may remain in the oil. Such solvents, themselves toxic, also retain the toxic pesticides adhering to seeds and grains before processing begins.

That description was enough to send me off to the health food store to look for cold pressed oil and organic food.

Noel’s journey followed these principles:

  • Clear direction, but no clear, measurable end point;
  • Heal at your body’s pace;
  • Experiment before deciding;
  • Changes must be enjoyable; and 
  • No restrictions, just better decisions.

Thanks, Noel. I’m right behind you.

purslane

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) by anneheathen, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  anneheathen 

This morning I almost took a photo of my scrambled eggs breakfast to post because I felt smug about including leaves from a weed that continues to sprout up in my yard. That weed is purslane. Then, after eating my breakfast, I opened the San Diego Union Tribune, I found an article in the Food section with the headline “For a Weed, Purslane Is Quite Tasty.”  It is clear what my blog topic today should be.

Our gardener pointed out the weed as he prepared the area outside our fence for planting gazania flowers, a drought-resistant plant we knew wouldn’t take much effort. He mentioned it was edible, a good addition to salads. But I hadn’t expected to find my breakfast option hailed in the newspaper. I also didn’t know it could be purchased in farmers markets.

One of our neighbors calls it water weed because it pops up so quickly whenever it rains. Even with our current water deficit, purslane finds wherever there is any water, and it pops up. Earlier this summer, I stopped considering it a weed and started picking the leaves and adding them to my salads.

During my daily morning walks in the neighborhood, I check out the neighboring yards for purslane. I keep expecting to find some limp, dried patches, especially since the drought means most people aren’t watering their yards as much. But where the grass and other weeds are brittle and brown, purslane leaves are plump and broad.

Purslane, probably of Eurasian origin, grows throughout the United States.

Here are some recipes with purslane.

Enjoy.

zucchini – recipes needed

zucchiniThis week it looks like I’ll be baking and cooking with zucchini. I’ve got the zucchini. I need recipes.

Can anyone help?

That’s what I asked on Sunday and the ideas rolled in.

Sari and Morag gave me suggestions which I tried today (see links in comments below for the recipes). There is still enough zucchini for me to try Nandini’s recipe.

See the photos below of my efforts today.

Zucchini breadSince the first recipe I ever discovered to use up large quantities was for zucchini break, I started by making two loaves. One loaf went into the freezer. Here’s a photo of the other one before I dug in to slice off two pieces which I slathered with butter to go with my first cup of coffee of the day. Here’s the recipe on allrecipes.com.  But I can never leave a recipe alone so I added a half teaspoon of cloves to the flour mixture. And I had to bake the loaves for 10 minutes longer than the recipe stated. I had always thought my oven baked hotter than the temperature setting. I may have to rethink that.

zucchini casseroleNext I tried Morag’s zucchini casserole. I had to make a trip to the grocery store to get what I needed for this recipe and the next one, but as usual, I came home without one of the ingredients – the spring onions. But from my year of living in Romania where the shelves were always full – but of the same thing from top to bottom for widths of about six feet – I’ve learned to improvise. I just added in some chopped onions. Again, I had to bake it longer than the recipe stated, but that may be because I put it into the oven with the third of the recipes I made which probably slowed the baking time of both.

zucchini lasagnaAnd the third recipe was Sari’s zucchini lasagna. Since I couldn’t find riccota cheese at my local grocery store, I picked up cottage cheese instead. But once again, I missed picking up one of the ingredients, this time because I thought I had some in the refrigerator – the mozarella cheese. I substituted Asiago cheese. The baking time for this one was just right. Most of this one will go into the freezer, too.

All three results were delicious.

Thank you Sari and Morag.

If you need more zucchini recipes, here’s a list of 15 I found on the Gimme Some Oven blog.