D(octcor) Day: 6/15/2017

From the minute I woke up, I was very nervous about going to the doctor. What would happen in the visit? What would he tell me? Is there something major wrong with me? Do I really have to do this? Plus, I knew he would tell me the things that I already know about myself that I don’t like to think about.

My doctor is in a building in my old neighborhood. He is actually an LPN and it is a non-profit medical center. They often focus on people who are uninsured, sometimes homeless, sometimes mentally ill and most cannot pay. So, one of the forms presented to me was for me to request financial assistance – I didn’t fill that out because my insurance worked great. So, after finding the place, I walked in the door and went to front desk where I was presented with the big clipboard of forms.

I started filling out the forms and they were the standard fare of personal information and contact info. Then there was the insurance information. Then came the health profile. Some things on these forms really jumped out at me and ratcheted up my anxiety even a bit further:

  • Alcohol habits: I rarely add up how many drinks I have over the course of a week and it was surprising to me when I did.
  • Exercise: I had to report myself as being on the bottom level of the scale for how much exercise I get.
  • Family health history: I don’t know a ton about my family health, but what I do know wasn’t good – diabetes (paired with obesity), cancer (paired with smoking), early death.
  • My health conditions: a lot of the illnesses or conditions that are on the form happen to me occasionally.
  • Depression: when completing the questions about depression, I scored myself higher than I would have liked. But, as I reflect on how I answered, I think I was too pessimistic.

I completed the forms and waited for my turn. The nurse (who I immediately hit it off with) came out and called my name. We walked through the door an immediately stopped at the scale. Here is comes, I bet I am 305-310 pounds based on my lifestyle. I stepped on the scale and….. 325! Holy shit! How in the world did I get to be 325 pounds?! That is very disappointing, frustrating and embarrassing.

We got to the exam room and went through collecting vitals and lots more questions (some overlapping what was on the form). Blood pressure: 120/80, that’s pretty good. Temperature, heart rate – no idea where this landed. Alcohol consumption amount, stress levels, exercise levels, health conditions… the nurse seemed surprised at some of my answers which drove even more anxiety. We wrapped up and she told me that the doctor would be in in a moment.

The doctor came in and we reviewed some of the items that I came to talk about, my answers on the form and to the nurse and he did his own tests – heart, ears, throat, thyroid, etc. Then, we talked through the biggest areas of concern and some actions I should be taking:

  • Weight: number one concern is that I weigh FAR too much and need to begin addressing it quickly. This should be helped by the next 3 concerns / recommendations.
  • Nutrition: I need to start eating better and be more conscious about the calories and nutrients I am taking in.
  • Exercise: doing none, need to find a way to do more.
  • Alcohol: I am drinking too much, an unhealthy amount. It adds tons of extra calories, it slows my metabolism and could bring other health issues. He went as far as to ask whether I thought I needed some counseling to help – that was a shocking question to me! I don’t drink THAT much and I know plenty of people who drink more.
  • Posture: my shoulder and neck posture suck and he guessed that I have been in IT and similar jobs for years, hunched over a computer. I need to find exercises to help fix this and it will eliminate some of my shoulder pains.
  • Work Hours: He asked how many hours I am working each week. I explained that I stopped counting when I moved into my current job because I kind of didn’t want to know. Then, he made me walk him through a typical week and we counted that I worked 60-65 hours per week on average – wow! This was a concern because it is driving the next issue.
  • Stress: a lot of my answers and symptoms (including the digestion problems that brought me in) point to having too much stress. We talked about how prolonged stress can lead to death and a variety of serious medical issues. My acid reflux, which is pretty bad at times, is likely driven by stress and weight.
  • Sleep: my quantity and quality of sleep are both poor. Sleeping an average of 4-5 hours per night is not enough to recharge my body or to get good, rejuvenating sleep. So, the quality of my sleep is poor because of the amount and my weight contributing to snoring and such.

So, that’s all pretty bad. The worst part about this, is that none of the concerns we had discussed so far were things out of my control. They are problems that I have caused for myself over the years and I am the only one to blame.

Next was the big moment, he told me that he was going to want to draw blood to send for lab tests to see if there are other issues we should be addressing. The last time I had blood taken, I was a kid (probably 10-12). They had trouble finding a vein and I almost passed out as they were digging. Pretty traumatic and probably part of the reason I don’t go to doctors.

The nurse came in and brought her vampire kit. She put the band on my arm, stuck the needle in and missed the vein. She then tried again and kind of got it, but the flow was really limited. So, she started working the needle around to get it better. I started sweating, feeling chills, feeling a bit light-headed and she saw it on my face. She immediately stopped and I was ok. So then recommended that I go to the main office location (just 2 miles away) where a phlebotomist could draw the blood instead. You mean I have to go through this again?!

I made a follow-up appointment for 2 weeks out to get the results and headed to the other location. I went in and got right to the phlebotomist and sat in her “office” – more like a closet with a chair in it. She took a look at both arms and identified a vein that looked most accessible – the same one that failed before. But, hey, what the hell, let’s do it! She put the band on my arm, stuck the needle in and bingo! Blood started flowing just fine and it wasn’t all that uncomfortable. Ultimately, she took 6 vials of blood and I felt like a juice box!

I walked out and headed to Starbucks for some food and then stopped by home to fill my wife Liz in on everything. Then off to work. While there, I told my story many times to my friends in the office who all wanted to know how it went. As I was telling the story, a couple of them talked to me about the drinking and it started making me feel like an alcoholic, that made me feel awkward.

What am I going to do about all of this? Doing nothing isn’t really an option unless I want to die early like my dad. I need some time to think….

Sometimes fear forces smart decisions

The week of June 4, 2017 was a scary week for my health and was a turning point for me. At risk of getting whistled for a TMI foul, I will share a high level summary.

First, my uvula (the fleshy spot in the back of your throat) was swollen to 3-4 times its normal size. This was the fourth time in 2 years that I experienced this issue. It is uncomfortable and pretty painful when eating or drinking anything. The cause of this, at least for me, is the combination of acid reflux and snoring. Both are significantly increased when I have drank too much.

As if the uvula wasn’t enough, I was also starting to experience digestive problems that lasted multiple days. This was very unlike me and was pretty scary. I did lots of research online (terrible decision!) and got even more concerned. But, I deduced that the likely causes were stress, no exercise, high alcohol intake or cancer in every part of my body.

My research on my digestive issues got me to start researching my alcohol consumption. I learned that I was in the category of high risk alcohol consumption, more good news for my health.

With all of this looming over me (plus another high stress week), I did something I have only done one other time in my adult life (in 2000)… I made an appointment with a doctor. Yep, 17 years, no doctor visit. And, I am on the board of a nonprofit medical center and should be a client of the center already. But, I have a touch of white coat syndrome and have avoided doctors. I have also been afraid that I would find out that there is a serious problem somewhere and decided that avoidance was better. But, I did it; I made an appointment for 6/15/2017.

Bad choices have consequences

Every once in a while, there is a day when you make very bad choices and it leads you to take a critical look at your life. That day for me was June 2, 2017 – the Friday night of Memorial Day week.

To set the stage, let me talk about the week leading up to that Friday. First off, it was a short week due to the holiday and that often leads to a more stressful experience than normal in my job. Plus, I had just said goodbye to one of the people who worked for me, the fourth resignation in 4 months on a team of 8 people. Making it worse, I identified a significant morale problem in the team that remained. So, I had a pretty rough week that week. To top it off, I had a project blow up and several executives had lost confidence in me and my team’s ability to deliver. Unfortunately, I had 50% of the positions on my team open and very few options to turn things around. So, I was pretty much over the week and left the office at 3.

I went to one of our common local haunts (Black Creek Bistro) and ordered a drink and waited for my wife to join me. I ended up drinking 2 cocktails and 2-3 beers. We closed out, went home to consolidate vehicles and headed off to dinner at another common place for us Columbus Brewing Company, now just called CBC. While there, we decided that we weren’t in the mood for their food, so we’d just drink and go somewhere else for food. So, I had 2 cocktails and 4 beers. Then, we went to get tacos at Local Cantina where I immediately ordered a Magnum PI, which is a double tall margarita and had a beer afterwards. Plus, I ate a couple tacos. Afterwards, we headed home and I grabbed a beer out of the fridge. So, I ended the day having about 11 drinks in 7 hours.

If you are a fan of Hank Williams Jr’s music, you will know the line “the hangovers hurt worse than they used to”. Well, I lived that line the next day. On Saturday morning, though I almost never get hungover, I woke up and felt horrible. I basically got out of bed and laid on the couch until 10:15 and had an appointment to get my hair cut at 11. I went to my appointment and it was a terrible experience. The whole day was pretty much a loss.

So, the whole thing was painful and was something I didn’t want to relive. It kind of got me thinking about my choices, but I wasn’t really motivated to change anything.