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.

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.

bliss point?

I used to be able to eat anything I wanted when I wanted to. Every now and then, I read some promise that I can do so again by following just one wierd trick. I know that isn’t going to work. Nothing is ever that easy. But I love to find evidence that weight gain isn’t my fault. Like this article describing the bliss point that food labs and scientists seek.

http://www.nextavenue.org/blog/why-were-addicted-unhealthy-snacks

An excerpt:

We’re fundamentally responsible for our own decisions, healthy or not. But in ways many of us don’t appreciate, the companies that produce our favorite snacks are using science and a deep knowledge of our vulnerabilities to get us to eat more than we intend, sometimes even fooling us into thinking we’re making healthy decisions.

I am looking for solutions, not shortcuts. And since I was recently advised that my blood sugar and A1C tests split on whether I meet the diagnosis for diabetes – my blood sugar levels are too high, but my A1C test is below the threshold – eating right and getting exercise every day is more important.

My nutritionist advised that the exercise doesn’t have to be sweat-inducing in intensity, so I can live with her advice that I get in at least 30 minutes a day. But turning down all the food temptations is a much bigger challenge. It isn’t just that I have a loving husband who feels it is his job to offer me something he knows I like several times a day. It is that developing a habit takes consistent effort. Some resources say that consistent effort must continue for at least three to four weeks. I can see that developing the habit of doing something new, like getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day will take a month or more to form. But getting rid of a habit – like eating whatever I like when someone offers it to me – isn’t so easy to get rid of.

So I did more research. According to PsyBlog, the much touted 21-28 day timeframe is much underestimated. In a study that followed individuals who attempted to establish a new simple habit – drinking a glass of water each day – the average length of time required was 66 days. That’s the average. In some cases it took as long as 254 days for the behavior to become automatic, i.e., for someone to perform the action without thinking about it. That same study had a kernel of good news, however, in that skipping a day now and then didn’t appear to be detrimental in the long run. I will keep that in mind so that if I slip up one day and don’t get that 30-minute walk in, or accept that one treat out of the half-dozen my husband has offered me, I can stave off the feeling of guilt or failure.

My nutritionist told me the story of one of her patients who arrived for the first session seriously overweight and then arrived one year later having lost much of that excess weight and much better blood sugar test results. She asked the patient how she had done it. The response was that she followed the nutritionist-provided diet six days a week and then on the seventh day she took her mother out for dinner and had whatever she wanted to eat. That plan gave her something to look forward to each week, a reward for sticking with the plan the rest of the week. That’s a success story I can emulate.