Tuesday, May 19, 2015

what I learned from a hernia

To anyone with a chronic disease or a major injury, this experience isn't even a blip on the radar, but it was a lesson for me.

I'd been having some intermittent abdominal pain for a few months, but I wasn't really paying attention to it, chalking it up to gas. Eventually I noticed that it was always in the same place. Then came the flu in January. I coughed for two solid weeks. The abdominal pain got worse and bigger. 

Bigger? I could feel a lump above my naval. Lumps aren't a good thing, so I started doing what all smart people do, search the Internet. Not go see a doctor, oh no, the Internet is much smarter than any person with years of training and clinical experience. In this case, the Internet was pretty clear. Time to go find one of those doctor guys with all that training and practice.

I'm 56 years old. Aside from some muscular-skeletal issues that were simple and fixable, I've never had any problems with this body. It's a body I have trusted to perform all the tasks I give it to do. It's seen me through 2 babies, 8 years of martial arts, 10 years of yoga practice, the Couch to 5K running program, thousands of kilometers walked, heavy things carried, masts climbed, sails rigged, etc. In turn, I try to take care of it by getting enough sleep, eating whole foods and washing my hands (dang flu!).

Who would have thought this body has begun to wear out? Certainly not me. 

So, it was off to see the surgeon. It took a few weeks to get the first appointment and get scheduled for surgery when we were both in town. By the time the big day arrived, I was more than ready. The pain had progressed to the point I could no longer get through an hour long yoga class. 

Speaking of pain... I'm a big sissy baby, but I respect and appreciate pain. Pain is the body's language for telling the brain to slow down and move differently. Because I know I need to listen to pain, I'm not a big fan of pain killing drugs. I'd rather whine. But I learned pain wears one out. It's an interesting lesson.

It's been almost 4 weeks since surgery and activities have resumed. Walking was first, since that's a fundamental piece of my life. I can walk for an hour now. I climbed a few walls at the rock gym. I got through my first yoga class.  Running will come.

While the body has it own parameters for functionality, the mind has lots of options for coping with change and unmet expectations. I'd like to say I weathered this with patience, grace and optimism. Instead, I was whiny, frustrated and miserable.

Unexpected was a fundamental feeling of resignation and depression that made my days grey, my art irrelevant, and my weight balloon from beer (ok, some pain killers make sense at the end of the day) consumption. And this was just a hernia - nothing big, complicated, or terminal. 

What I learned was that people who experience life-threatening and/or chronic disease/injuries have a whole lot more to deal with than the change in their bodies. Daily living with pain, uncertainty, loss of movement and the ability to exercise, loss of productivity, fatigue - the list goes on - must be hell. I have great respect for people who can endure health issues with patience, grace and optimism.

I also learned how much our country needs universal, affordable health care. The bill for this little fix-it (before insurance) was $26,000, a fair price for the training, practice and tools required to get it done right. It's unacceptable that there are people for whom hernia surgery is not an option due to cost. It's unacceptable that there are people who can't get help for simple health problems that can lead to bigger health problems. It's unacceptable that people can't get help for bigger problems. 

There are still several states in the U.S. that have not approved the Medicaid Expansion for the Affordable Healthcare Act. I live in one. Do those legislators realize how much the health of our bodies affects our total emotional health: our ability to work, learn, feed ourselves, keep our homes clean, and effectively nurture our families and communities?

I've learned from this experience that healthy bodies are a big deal. Bodies need to be in good working order for our minds to be healthy. Now that I understand just how much I appreciate good health, I want to turn my learning into some actions. Aside from committing to write a few letters to our legislators regarding Medicaid Expansion, I've also decided to get myself back to the blood mobile. It's been longer than I care to admit that I've been "too busy" to donate. I'm O- and don't take any medicines. It's a small thing I can do for people who are sick or injured.

Monday, May 11, 2015

movie review - Fed Up

Food is a big passion of mine. I love to learn about how it grows and how we prepare it. I also understand that the industrialized world has an unhealthy relationship with food. This movie explains it all so well.  It’s just like the lies they told us about tobacco. It’s for the same reasons they told us the lies about tobacco. We’re not overweight because we're lazy and spineless, we’ve been poisoned. For profit.

Watching Fed Up, I learned about the McGovern Report on Nutrition and Human Needs in the late ’60’s when we were concerned about hunger in America and the establishment of the Dietary Goals for the United States. Even while the committee examined hunger, they were also examining the relatively rare, but increasing condition of obesity.  At that time, the committee recommended we eat less fat, less cholesterol, less refined and processed sugars, and more complex carbohydrates and fiber by eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and less high-fat meat, egg, and dairy products.

The meat, dairy, and sugar industries went bananas. They launched into a massive lobbying campaign that caused the McGovern Report to temper it’s language. But Americans had still gotten the word that we shouldn’t eat too much fat. Hell, no one wanted to be fat, just made sense not to eat too much of it, right?

Food processors responded by making thousands of low-fat and fat-free products. To improve the taste once the fat was removed, they added sugar. Simple, right? Harmless, right?

Turns out, sugar is a poison. Our bodies process sugar by streamlining it directly to the liver and overloading the pancreas (complex process you can read about here) and shuttling it off to store directly in fat. We become fat and we get sick. The movie points out the incidence of Type II (Adult) Diabetes in US teenagers in 1980 was 0 (Zero!). Now it is well over 200,000 cases.

The other scary thing I learned was about the condition of metabolically obese normal weight (MONW). This refers to people who are not overweight, but their fat percentage is higher than optimum and they have increased chances of being sickened by the metabolic diseases that stem from too much sugar: diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The movie was very well presented. Even though I was already familiar with much of the information, I still learned some new things and am even more resolved to keep sugar out of my kitchen and my body. It’s in about every processed food you can think of. Back to eating apples for me. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

movie review - Blue Gold

I remember taking a trip from Schenectady NY to Ithaca NY a few years ago with a friend who was a native of New Mexico. The road winds through the small towns of southern central New York. Just outside one of the towns is a roadside spring. These are not uncommon in the Northeast, where the snowfall in the mountains keeps clear water flowing downhill. This spring had a pipe and a small cement basin under the pipe and a paved pull-over for cars.

We’d brought a picnic lunch and some empty jugs. We were not the only car in line. As our friend got out of the car and saw the spring, she was amazed. In New Mexico the water does not flow down the hillsides like a faucet. People were filling jugs to take home. A toddler was tall enough to reach into the basin and he was splashing and playing and drinking from his cupped hands. Our friend was appalled. “It’s safe?” she asked.  “Yes.” we said, “Have some.”

Watching an adult experience her first connection with naturally running water, I was struck by how much I take clean water for granted. I learned much more about water by living with a finite supply while we traveled the US East Coast on our sailboat for 2 years. I know fresh water is scarce in most of the world. I watch the communities where my children live in the Southwest struggle to keep their water supplies adequate during this drought.

Water is kind of important, so when I saw Blue Gold in a list of movies to watch for Earth Day, I wanted to get more of an understanding about the world’s water supplies. 

I had some knowledge about water, having read Written in Water a few years ago, and follow Change the Course updates, but seeing Blue Gold gave me a new piece of of the puzzle that I had completely missed. That piece is understanding the privatization of the world’s water.

In much of the world, the fresh water reserves have been bought up by large corporations. These companies own and operate municipal water utilities all over the globe. Here are the top ten. They are not in business to provide water to people as an unalienable common right, they are in business to make a profit. 

Over and over, the movie showed examples of water taken from it’s origin, away from the area’s inhabitants, to provide profit ventures in other places. Water is taken from lakes and springs to supply bottling plants for water and soft drinks, then sold back to the local residents and shipped overseas. Water is diverted from citizens in Kenya to grow roses for European markets. Water is used to grow alfalfa in the US, which is then shipped to Japan to feed Kobe beef, which is then shipped back to be sold in the US. Couldn’t we have just used that water to grow our own vegetables?

At first glance, these examples just sound ridiculous, a market gone astray, but this is water we’re talking about here. The Stuff of Life. How can we sit by and watch this precious resource be stolen away from communities to sell elsewhere? 

The movie shows actions by some communities that were able to take back their water supplies from corporations. I’ll be following more stories like this one to learn more.