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The Reckoning, part 7

9 Apr

As I continue with my recovery I realize it’s highly essential to continue the tale of woe that was October 2011. Where I left you last, I was just moved to a single corner room in the hospital, after I was almost discharged.

About half a week in, my mother finally made it out from Ohio. It was so relieving to have her there, both as a mom and an advocate. She would bring me non-hospital food and endorse me eating treats that I knew I shouldn’t be eating. But that’s what mom’s are for, right? They want to see you happy, if only while you’re chewing.

I had a hankering for a strawberry milkshake. It probably won’t take a genius to figure out that’s not a good idea for someone like me. But mama to the rescue! She bought me one from the Mickey D’s down the street. It was really tasty, I won’t lie. Even though I had looked up the ingredients and knew what I was getting myself into.

Oh the humanity...

In my new digs, I had new symptoms. The main one being gas. But when I say gas, I don’t mean farting. I WISH I meant farting. I mean trapped air; imagine one of those metal tanks of helium filling a mylar balloon, causing my stomach to expand to the point that the pain kept me from eating anything at all.

I’m not sure if it was the dairy, corn syrup or what, but it was agony. The first episode of this was for the 16 or so hours after blasted milkshake.

A weird phenomenon that happens with UC flares is that your digestion actually lulls. You’d think with frequent D that everything’s just running though you like a river. Not so, friends! It’s more like:

Minute 1: You’re pulling your hair out in a gridlocked traffic jam

Minute 2: You’re racing down the Autobahn, gripping the steering wheel for dear life

Very abrupt. So the gas was bad because, when I wasn’t on the toilet, nothing could escape.

Also, for the sake of transparency, when you do fart during a UC flare, the smell will honest-to-god kill a puppy. So, in the rare event that I was able to break wind, it was necessary to shield my innocent guests from Armageddon.

This otherworldly stomach pain hit at least every other morning. At 7a the residents did their rounds and they’d press on my belly with cold fingers and too firm of a touch.

If it seemed bad, I was sent down for x-rays. One time my least-favorite attending physician told me he saw the films, that I had some hole in my intestine, all hell broke loose and I might need surgery. All this dumped on me at once, without my mother advocate there – probably no coincidence as I’m 100% sure he was scared of her. Yet for how dire it all was, I didn’t hear anything about it for another 6 hours.

The surgeon who periodically checked in with me told me later that my attending had misread the films, there were no issues there.

The same surgeon came back to visit a few more times. I thought that was rather un-surgeon like, considering our first meeting he explained to me the cholestomy procedure I might need, and I since had no questions for him. I got to know him over the days and I was able to make the connection. He was a UC patient himself.

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Hallelujah

3 Apr


So it’s been a few since my last post. As a general update I AM IN REMISSION.

Jesus has risen!

Seriously though, a modified SCD diet has been doing me wonders. For the past few days I’ve not had any cramps, they’ve steadily decreased over the past month. Yes, those bastards do take their time. But overall my bathroom habits have returned to normal, have been for at least 2-3 weeks. It is sheer bliss.

Also, I am officially off cyclosporin, pictured below.

Pretty much true to size

Yes, they look like horse suppositories, but I actually took 3 of these twice a day with meals by mouth, chased with Zofran to suppress the nausea they caused. I’m dabbling with cutting out Asacol and Imuran as well. Don’t tell my doc, but (fingers crossed) I don’t think I need any meds anymore. As long as I stay grain/dairy/refined sugar free, I’m 95% confident I will be healthy.

Over the course of this past month, I have slowly introduced more ingestables.

Fruits

At around 1 month, I started to introduce raw fruit (outside of bananas). Be advised if you’re sensie to sugar, bananas are chocked full of them, so maybe start with half of one in the first few weeks of the diet. For a while the only fruit I was eating was raw bananas, cooked apples and cooked peaches. When I started to expand, I did so mostly with little chunks from fruit salad.

Just loving life
Any antioxidant berry I went really slow with, I wouldn’t eat blueberry skin for a while. Yes, I looked like a weirdo, eating one blueberry at a time, slyly spitting out each wrapper. But antioxidants are unusually hard to digest, so take ya time.

Now I have fruit smoothies pretty often, or a couple dried dates as a treat.

Dried fruits have been surprisingly well tolerated, I started with dried mango at around 5 weeks.

There was no noticeable effects, even when I ate more than my fair share. I think I’m going to switch to freeze dried fruit as it has a different but still awesome texture that’s less heavy and contains MUCH less sugar. I’ve noticed that an increase in fruits/honey in my diet causes breakouts, a little reminder that, even with SCD-allowed sugar, there is still such a thing as too much.

Veggies

I started with pureed carrots. Sauteed spinach was one of the first things I expanded to at around 4 weeks. Diced Eggplant sauteed with mushrooms was found to be super easy on my system as well. For the next two weeks I didn’t really discriminate, I would eat most veggies as long as they were cooked thoroughly. I had my first salad at around 6 weeks. At about 7 weeks I introduced cabbage – the MegaGod of difficult veggies.

I was probably polish in a past life.


I sliced it super thin and partially sauteed it with butter then covered to steam it until it became super soft. No problems, to my delight! I just bought brussel sprouts, so here goes nothing.

In general I still haven’t roasted many veggies, simply because steaming/sauteeing locks in more water to soften the veggies, making them easier to digest.

At this point (I’m almost 2 months into it) I’m able to tolerate all fruits and vegetables.

Not to be a General Mills Cereal commercial or anything, but I love me some Fiber.

Fats

I’ve been slowly able to introduce nuts. Mostly in lara bar form, as they’re softened by the surrounding dry fruit. I might make a loaf of my banana bread (bottom of the page here) soon, but I usually eat too much of it at once…

Avocado is my number one contributor to healing. It’s my favorite food and has been there for me when I can’t indulge in any other way. Luckily tomatoes have been ok for about a month, so I’m often making a guacamole or a chunky avocado salad for dinner and just living the dream. I just wish I lived in CA where the taste/price ratio was much higher.

I’ve also gained a huge appreciation for cooking with coconut oil. I used to just use it to make homemade chocolate and occasionally stir fry – but any frying with coconut oil is DELICIOUS. SLightly sweet, amazing. I made tilapia files, eggs, even almond flour-crusted porkchops. It always comes out amazing.



A version of the SCD diet called the GAPS diet promotes the use of fats, and I think in my case they’ve certainly helped. I’m not sure if it’s good to ingest too much fat at the early stage of the diet (I’m told they’re harder to digest), but the only time I had a problem was when I deep fried with 50/50 canola and coconut oil.

Also if you are frying and drinking alcohol, don’t combine them. That’s bad news bears. I advise to stick to sauteeing/pan frying if cooking with oils, and choose butter, olive oil, or better yet coconut oil (much more heat resistant) rather than canola or veggie oil.

Another thing awesome about the GAPS diet is that it allows you to fool around with cocoa powder and peanut butter. I don’t know if I’m ready for either, but I’m salivating at the idea. I found a GAPS friendly recipe for peanut butter banana cups using coconut oil. Click the image to check it out:

Peanut butter banana cups. Do these not look AMAZING?!

Also, folks over at Our Nourishing Roots have finally found a way to make a GAPS compliant, honey-sweetened chocolate. There’s also a recipe for chocolate peanut butter cups. Yum-a-lum.

Peanut Butter cups made using GAPS honey sweetened chocolate. Oh mama.



Alcohol

SCD-guru Elaine (Breaking the Vicious Cycle) says vodka is ok in small amounts. I’ve found that soda water still causes me a little bit of turbulence, but I was able to tolerate a vodka soda after about 1 1/2 mo on the diet.

She also says that and very dry (0 – 4g sugar/L) wine is ok. Can I just say it’s ridiculously hard to get a quantitative amount of the sugar content of wines? I checked with a knowledgeable Whole Foods staffer and was surprised at the thoroughness of his response.

His answer? French Bordeaux blends have the least sugar content, specifically blends that are dominated by Cabernet Savignon or Merlot grapes.

No-nos: He specifically warned against ANYTHING from California, most Spanish and Argentinian wines, though he did say *potentially* Northern Italian blends might be ok.

I did a little Wiki research, and French Merlot is slightly sweeter than Cab, and left bank Bordeaux blends tend to be Cab Dominant, whereas right bank Bordeaux blends are Merlot dominant. So I’ve been sticking to French Bordeaux blends from Medoc, and it’s been gravy.

Pretty sure this particular bottle costs $150. But you can get Bordeaux Medocs for as cheap as $10.



I recently had my first episode of day drinking in two years, and so far no detrimental effects. It feels good to be a wreckless 20-something again. On the weekend at least.

Caffeine

Coffee was introduced at about 1 and 1/2 months, and unsweetened is better than sweetened with honey.

All in all, it’s a process. As with anything, I try not to get carried away. But damn, does it feel good.

Sweet Nectar of the Gods… Sugar is the Enemy

14 Mar

I grew up a relatively poor kid. The community pool was my babysitter each summer. I’d spend early mornings carefully pouring pennies into little maroon sleeves and use the 50 cent rolls to buy skittles at the pool snack stand. They loved me there. I was the weird 5th grader who obviously made a run to the bank between the mushroom fountain and snack hut. Once I even bought a $10 gift basket from the drug store with coins. Unrolled coins. It was all I could scrounge up from home; foraging for my own allowance.

As you might expect, I have a fondness for super cheap candy and processed desserts.

I have a big soft spot in my heart for gummi orange slices. Just the notion of them takes me back to simpler times. Dad picked them because they had a good “pricepoint”.

Slow Pokes and Blow Pops were my back ups when I was on a budget.

Consuming popular 1950's candy in the 1990's... Hipster and I didn't even know it.



And if I needed a little enriched wheat with my sugar, I opted often for a Little Debby Snack. My favorites include Nutty Bars, Oatmeal Cream Pies, their after-midnight version Fudge Rounds, hell I even liked the brownies. Little Debby got me.

I wonder how many quarters I spent on these between the ages of 4 and 14.

If you can eat these, God help you, try out the recipe linked to the photo.

Fudge Rounds - the illegitimate cousin of the Oatmeal Cream Pie.


My all time favorite treat was the Hostess Pie. If you’ve ever done an Iron Man, this I think is a suitable reward. Filled with generic fruit pie filling, the crust is was makes these things great. It’s a super dense enriched-bleached-wheat haven covered with a light confectioners glaze. The ends are crimped sealed so that each corner is a trifecta of dough that gives you the densest, most delectable bite of anything I’d ever encountered. At least, that was my impression as an eight year old.

"Cherry" Pie

At 480 calories a pop and chocked full of sugar and saturated fat, these things are so unhealthy that even if I *could* eat one I would not. I’d be overwhelmed at the sweetness let alone the nutrition facts. But it does speak to our culture. Many kids, when left to their own devices, would choose a snack like this. Many still do. In their purest, most innocent form, kids will choose sensory pleasure, read: sugar high. We learn to masque this behavior later in life with refined $5 pints of gelato and the like, but the truth is still there. Many of us undeniably have a sweet tooth.

Nevermind the nation, it was literally killing my body. So I’ve opted to consume some less-terrible sugar. Ones in fruit, nuts and honey. Like my very own gluten free banana bread!

Pictured with carrots

Gluten Free Guilt Free Banana Bread
(SCD compliant, to have after ~2 mo on the diet)

2 ripe bananas
1/2 cup honey
3 large eggs*
slighty less than 3 cups almond meal*, **
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice (I usually don’t measure the spices, so this is a rough estimate)
1/2 tbsp butter or coconut oil to grease a bread loaf pan, or if making in a muffin tin omit butter and use liners.

optional: chopped walnuts or pecans, chocolate chips, whatever you fancy!

*if you want to make this recipe vegan, increase to 3 bananas and add 1/2 cup of applesauce. Haven’t tried this option yet but it should work fine.

**almond meal is sold at Trader Joe’s for relatively cheap.

***can sub 1 cup of almond meal with 1 cup of shredded carrots

Preheat oven to 350F.
Grease bread loaf pan with butter, I usually use a paper towel to smear it evenly on the surface, making sure to go all the way up both sides and get in the corners.
Combine dry ingredients in a bowl large enough to hold everything – almond meal, salt, baking soda, and spices. Mix and adjust spices to taste if needed.
Whisk the eggs in another smaller bowl.
Mash the bananas with a fork in another small bowl.
Mix eggs, honey and bananas in with dry ingredients. Batter should be the consistency of cake batter, or slightly runnier – this is why I use less than 3 cups. The wetter the batter the moister the loaf.
Add any other saucy ingredients you’d like to add some chunk factor.
Pour batter into greased pan. If using a muffin tin, you can pour the batter relatively high (~3/4 of the way at least) with no worries of it overflowing as it bakes.
Bake at 350F
if using a loaf pan, bake for 50 minutes total. At 30 minutes, pull out and cover with aluminum foil for the remainder of the time. The top will brown pretty intensely but it ends up tasting awesome.
if using a muffin pan, bake at 350 for about 20 – 25 min total.
Enjoy!

“Are you sure it’s not all in your head?”

5 Mar

“The first wealth is health.” – Emerson

You tell it, son. Ever since I read The Secret a few years back, those are the two words I occasionally remember to chant in my head. Health and wealth, health and wealth.


Rhonda Byrne, the author of The Secret, suggests imagining yourself as an energetic transmitter of the things you want. I imagine myself as a big radio tower, sending thoughts of what I want out to the world. I was advised, however, that *anything* you think of will be transmitted out as something you want to attract, so I try to keep thoughts about debt, singlehood and ASPCA commercials to a minimum.

I’m your average 20-something college grad who paid for school myself. Out of curiosity, I signed up on Mint.com and found

My net worth = a whopping -$60,000.

It actually feels good saying that. Debt is just a number, right ladies?!

I didn’t even go to grad school, mind you. I just had to get that swanky biomedical engineering degree at a private university. It ain’t no thing though; if you are lucky enough to earn an income, it’s easy to put things like student loans in the back of your mind. Direct deposit paycheck in, auto debit loan payment out – like the money was never even there. Blind faith it’ll all work itself out someday, even if the break-even point is in 2030.

The health piece, on the other hand, is harder to be so confident about. With every cramp storms a flurry of questions: “what was it? What WAS it?! The bananna, the smoothie? Were the carrots not soft enough? That one felt a little crunchy… I shouldn’t have trusted my teeth to puree it enough… stupid, stupid, STUPID.” It’s an anxious person’s playground.

And of course we never know the answer. That’s the beauty of all of this. Who knows what could have caused it. Sometimes, I swear to God, I have a cramp free moment where I’m thinking “Man, don’t I feel great when those blasted blasters aren’t here” and then BOOM, immediate onset. Dear ole Rhonda Byrne would say just the thought brought it on.

Which might be partially true. The gut has its own neural network, first described in 1921 as the “enteric nervous system”, which secretes neurotransmitters such as serotonin on its own. Like everything else in the body, it’s connected to the brain’s neurological system too. An October 2011 article in the NY times discusses the question of which comes first in GI disorders: the actual pathology or the neurological psychology?

Anyone who has a GI condition knows that mentality plays into it 110%. And that’s what this article says.

“Clinicians are finally acknowledging that a lot of dysfunction in GI disorders involves changes in the central nervous system” – Gary M. Mawe, a professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of Vermont.

Here the west, we’re inclined to say “Sorry Charlie, a gut disorder must be triggered by something you ate. External input renders an internal problem. End of story.” But this is valuable information, the gut and the brain could just play into each other in a vicious Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love kind of way. I’d certainly believe it.

If I had to choose, I'd say Kurt represents the Brain and Courtney is the gut.

And with that, I’m done thinking about this shit for today.

I’m the Winner!

23 Feb

It’s with tears of joy that I officially report I am on the mend. It’s been 11 days since being discharged with full strength medication and 10 days on the SCD diet and I am finally able to say I’m getting noticeably better. It’s profound how a lack of pain can translate into such euphoria.

SMILE

I love Kalamazoo, Michigan

15 Dec

What a charming place, really! Kalamazoo and Louisville KY are two places at the top of my list. I’m here visiting one of my good friends from high school. I hesitate to use the term “best friend” because I feel somewhat guilty about ranking those close to me. It’s kind of irreverent, no? I should be so lucky to have more than one good friend; it’s rather rude to assign value beyond that. Talking about friends makes me think of the Whodini song. Being of the generation that I am, I first encountered this track by way of songs that sampled it, namely Nas feat Lauryn Hill “If I Ruled the World” and MF Doom’s “Deep Fried Frenz”. As a disclaimer, the video below is the only one that doesn’t make you wait for an advertisement. As a bonus, the video is also a piece of work in itself. I highly encourage watching it the whole way through. Yes, the boobs are my friend’s.

I’ve always been wary about taking for granted those close to me. When I was a kid, my two younger sisters and I had second “families” that consisted of cartoon characters mostly. You could draft whomever you wanted, the only rule was that we went in turns. Middle sister ‘called’ April from TMNT and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast as her parents. My youngest sister called Anita and Roger from 101 Dalmations as hers. In response, middle sister called all 101 dalmations in her posse. …Clever girl. When it came my time I appointed Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabit to my family, then immediately opted out of the game. It was my opinion that Jessica Rabbit could not be topped, so I simply cashed my chips in early. More importantly though, in my gut I considered it blasphemous to take for granted the family to which you actually belonged. Not enough to opt out of the game entirely, but enough to dip out before I got too deep and my conscience suffered. Yes that’s right folks, I was a properly raised catholic girl. Pseudo-lesbian fascination with a female sexpot followed by self-inflicted lashing.

Good God, how was this movie rated PG.

To be raised well as a wee little catholic, both guilt and fear must be present abound. In general, guilt limited my participation in pretend games. However, playing church was totally my shit. It was a safe route for thine imagination, plus someone has to make use of the remaining Vanilla Wafers – they go stale pretty fast. I was helping the family. Side thought – is church communion gluten free?

Fear was also instilled in my upbringing, albeit unintentionally. We had a ‘picture’ of Jesus in my childhood bedroom that was really just some random bearded man from the 70’s wearing a burlap sack around his head. The caption under the photo was in all white caps “I AM ALWAYS WATCHING OVER YOU” or something to that effect and I won’t lie – the picture scared the be-Jesus out of me. At night the outline of the burlap sack made the silhouette of a ghost. Freaking scary. A Cleveland Browns windsock (yes… you read that correctly) hung from the ceiling in a way that strategically blocked scary real-life Jesus from my view on the bottom bunk. My saving grace, the Cleveland Browns. Though disturbed, I felt too guilty to tell my parents about it. How do you really tell your elders that you find the sight of your Lord and Savior offensive?

Something like this.

So back to my visit. This friend of mine and I shared some ridiculous times together from age 11 to 15. Pretty defining moments in the life of the American pre/teen. We were both tomboys: she petite and funky, I large and mannish. We can laugh about it now that we’re both hot (and grounded). Back then we played instruments, hacky-sacked, ate zebra cakes, shopped the Old Navy men’s section and most importantly made spoof films involving toys, outlandish grossness and the most insane voices you can imagine. It’s been about 3 years since I’ve seen her last, we took the first 15 hours or so to catch up seriously on the major happenings in our lives, after which we promptly fell back into our idiosyncratic intonations.

It made me reflect on the importance of comradery, particularly female comradery. I’ve never been one to be surrounded by a gang of close female friends. Sorority sister I was not; I truly consider many women just too conventional to relate to. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve always rolled with a core one or two-some of femme fatales and left the acquaintances at home. But in times like this, during my recovery, I especially notice how few and, more importantly, far between my female friends are. Someone in a Boston femme group mentioned one of many studies that found people with female siblings are less likely to report such feelings as ‘I am unhappy, sad or depressed’ and ‘I feel like no one loves me.’ It’s theorized that the frequency of communication is what makes the difference. Not the subject or the length of each discussion, but simply the fact it happens more often.

With that – call a girl you love.

The Reckoning – Taste and Smell

4 Dec

So that first week in ye olde hospital was interesting to say the least. Something about being sick or being on prednisone made me super sensitive to smell during that time. Before being admitted, when I was trying to recover on my own at home, Andreas had bought me a monstrous bouquet of flowers. I think it was two or three bouquets combined and he made sure to put a few lillies in them because they are my favorite. At least to look at. I won’t lie, the sickly sweet smell of those flowers made me ill. One evening I turned in a little early and went to lay in bed. Like a sweetheart, he went to grab the bouquet so I’d have something pretty to look at in my periphery. I didn’t want to be a bitch – “your flowers smell disgusting, get them out of my sight”, but I had to finally tell him I couldn’t handle the smell anymore.

The first bouquet from Andreas that sparked a 2 year lilly affair.

When I was first admitted, everyone was being nice and asking me “where to send things”. I was very upfront – here is the address, ” please do NOT send me things that smell.” So my grandparents, being the beautiful caring people they are, sent me a couple of foil balloons, a teddy bear and a box of chocolates. Chocolates, for someone like me who was on a heavily restricted diet at the time, were also a no no. But I won’t lie – I nibbled the hell out of those things. And by nibbled I really mean nibbled; I took a tiny microbite of almost each one. Definitely regretted it later but HEY, you gotta live sometimes.

Living Large, week 1. I deserved to nibble on those chocolates.

On that tip, I don’t consider myself a really disciplined person when it comes to food. Based on what I’ve just written regarding my chocolate nibbling, I don’t expect this to be a shock. I think of my ulcerative colitis as a lesson in psychology – namely self control. According to the Ainslie-Rachlin Model of Self-Control (Ainslie, 1975; Rachlin, 1974), the value of a reward changes in relation to how much time is left before you receive it. The closer one gets to receiving a reward, the more valuable it is, the less self control you have. I read somewhere about a study where young kids, say, 4 year olds were offered either one candy bar today or two candy bars tomorrow, and most often these children chose to receive one candy bar today as it had higher perceivable value; they could just taste it! When six year olds were asked the same question, they most often chose the greater payoff at the expense of waiting a day. So theoretically we build more self control with age.

UC has pretty much screwed that up for me though. Though it’s forced me to cut things out cold turkey – which some might say takes a lot of discipline – but I’m not consistent enough; the lack of normality impedes having well-maintained levels of self-control overall. All my dietary restrictions have increased the value of the reward – the immediate satisfaction of taste. Add to that the fact that it takes 6 – 12 hours to know if a food I eat has actually triggered symptoms, and we have a picture perfect case of chocolate deliciousness now vs. abdominal discomfort later. If I feel pretty good one day and let *something* slip with my diet, chances are that same day I made multiple exceptions. As of late I am predictably hurting the following day, at which point I return to my usual foods. It becomes this pendulum of lenience and strictness, giving in one day and being a hard-ass the next. I can’t help but wonder if this mental aspect of my eating complicates or even worsens the disease itself. Maybe all this internal debate causes me stress, too. Why oh why can’t we all just eat pepperoni bread 24-7 in harmony?

Side note: Fabulous gluten free pepperoni bread recipe. Make sure to sub in white cheeses though, I found swiss and mozzarella together worked well. I don’t know what that crazy lady was thinking fooling around with cheddar.

ANYWAY, back to the flowers. They stunk. Coming away from the hospital experience there are three scents that really make me sick just thinking about them. One is the smell of lillies – pretty much done-zo for me. The second is the smell of the hospital soap in the bathroom. I can’t even show up as an outpatient for labs without smelling that stuff and being immediately transported back to the 7th floor inpatient suite. Third smell is in my bathroom at home – it’s a linden flower soap I had recently purchased on my yoga retreat trip just prior to this epic. It really has a nice smell, but I can’t help but associate it with the feeling of fragility and sickness. I remember one time specifically where I mustered up the strength to stand long enough to shower, then afterward I basically stumbled upstairs to my bedroom and collapsed on the bed, without moving, for a good 20 minutes. I was just lying on one side, staring at my red plastic laundry basket, breathing. It’s crazy how smells can immediately take you back to those places. In the forefront of your cortex is the conscious effort to move on, yet at one whiff your subconscious yanks the leash to pull you back. No, you remember this. This was pivotal in your development and you are not allowed to let it go.