Saturday, August 19, 2017

All clear: Getting good news on an otherwise ordinary Friday

Fridays are usually pretty tame at work. But I wasn't really looking forward to the meeting with my doctor late in the afternoon.

You see, no matter what the occasion, I approach it like there will be bad news. If it comes, I'm prepared. If it's good news, I'm even more happy about it. It makes for a pretty weird personality, I know.

I had double pulmonary embolism back in February. Mortality rate for such an occurrence range between 30 and 75 percent, depending on which website you're looking at. For the record, I looked at all of them when I was in ICU.

For the millions who don't read my blog, I made a quick initial recovery and was discharged three days early.

Marching orders
The first order of business was seeing my new doc. For the first time, I have a doctor I really like. I will say, however, that she tends to operate on the way safe side of medicine. More about that in a bit.

The first thing she told me? "I'm going to be your new best friend." Cool.

I'd be in every two weeks for updates. The first order of business was a blood test to make sure the blood thinners were working. She also told me to start walking for exercise. Ten minutes a day, no hills.

When she told me I could only drink one beer a week, I bristled. She said, "It's either that or dying," she said.

"That's no way to live, Doc," I said, contemplating life without what Ben Franklin called "proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. The Eliquis website says I can have two a day.

Dr. Toney explained that because alcohol thins the blood, if I had a couple of beers on a day in which the blood thinner was working very well and was in a car wreck that caused internal bleeding, I would bleed out before anyone could help me. My contention is that a long-shot confluence of events involving physiology and bad timing on the road would have to occur.

When we got the results, Dr. Toney was amazed. I could increase walking time to 20 minutes and come back in six weeks. And she scheduled my first appointment with a wellness coach named Tiffany. Of course her name is Tiffany. What else could it be? Rain... Heather... Sienna...

Anyway, she's fantastic, too. We meet every two to three weeks. She's both a sounding board and information source. Most of all, she serves as a point of accountability for me. These two, along with a slick little piece of technology, bear a great deal of the credit for my success.

The losing battle
Fitbit kind of changed the approach. Gamification works for me. Seeing the stars pop up and turn green drives me on a daily basis. I use the app to track calories and macronutrients. (There's a sentence I never thought I'd write. Or say.)

In the past, I've had success at the gym. I improved cardio output and packed on muscle, but I didn't lose a lot of weight. And that was simply because I didn't change my attitude about food.

But that was then and this is now.

One one of my sessions with Tiffany, she actually told me to eat more. As a fat guy, I've never been told that. Her concern is that if I'm not eating enough, my body will go into survival mode and the weight will shed more slowly.

And it's not like I'm starving myself. I get plenty to eat and I'm not depriving myself of much.

Over time, I've been able to increase physical therapy from 20 to 40 minutes, then to 60 a day. I wasn't cleared to swim or lift weights, though, till we were sure my lungs are clear of clots. I've been walking an hour a day, six days a week. It's therapeutic for the mind as well as the body. Way more beneficial than I ever thought. And it doesn't cost a thing, except a new pair of shoes.

I've also started meditating. (Yet another sentence I never thought I'd say.) No, I'm not turning into a hippie transcendentalist or anything of the sort. I started doing deep breathing exercises to help my lungs and realized I felt more focused. I don't do it every day, but I think I should.

The results
I just got the results from my six-month follow-up CT scan. The lungs are completely clear. My heart is in good shape. Dr. Toney said she was glad the pulmonary embolism happened when it did because something even more dire could have taken me out.

In six months, I've lost 56 pounds. My blood pressure is down to normal levels, about 130/70. Twenty more pounds, Doc said, and I'll probably come off the blood pressure medication. My oxygen level hangs around 96 percent. And my resting heart rate is in the mid 60s.

The most important thing I'd like to get across is this: If I can do it, anyone can. Yes, It's a lifestyle change. And it's not that hard. Yes, it takes a little time, but it's worth it. I feel so much better. And I'm not planning on quitting any time soon. I know I've still got a ways to go.

The biggest challenge is to just get started. Don't let a major event be the catalyst. I took small steps out of necessity, but with physical restrictions lifted, more options are available. And I'll keep walking, too. It's what got me started, after all.