Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Appendectomy Experience

Last week, my body threw me for a huge surprise. On Friday night, I had a blind date with a surgeon who took out my inflamed appendix; it was a date we hadn't scheduled, but decided on at the last minute.

You see, out of the blue on Thursday afternoon after I ate lunch, I started experiencing intense abdominal pain. It was located in my stomach area, and not my intestines, so I just thought it was indigestion. I've had gut issues in the past, so this just seemed like no big deal.

The pain persisted, but I had a client at the gym after work, and trained her despite the pain. Prior to training her, I thought I just needed to move around to get the pain out (thinking it was gas or something), so I did some light cardio and some body weight exercises (chin-ups, dips, pushups, and core exercises). This probably wasn't a good idea considering what was really going on inside me.

After the training session, I returned home to eat dinner at 7pm. My tummy still hurt, but I thought I just needed food in it to make it feel better. After dinner, I was still in a lot of pain, so I just ended up laying on the couch curled up in the fetal position and watched my favorite TV show, House MD (I have it on DVD so I don't have to waste time on commercials). After two hours of watching that (which I never do...), I still didn't feel any better. By that point it was time to get ready for bed, so thinking it was still gas, I popped a few Tums antacids, and tried to sleep.

The whole night I tossed and turned in pain. It was brutal. Something just wasn't right at all. By 3am of no sleep at all, I took a few Advil and just hoped that would work. It didn't. Thankfully I didn't have to work on Friday, or my day would have been horrible.

I didn't want to drive to the Emergency room in case it was just gas or something, so I waited until my Dr's office opened at 8:30am. I didn't have an appt, but when I showed up at the office, I was pale as a ghost and so nauseaus that I thought I was going to show everyone what I ate for dinner last night. The nurses let me wait in the bathroom until the Dr was ready because I started to lose control. All I wanted to do was to get out what was inside of me, but nothing was coming up; I didn't drink or eat since dinner that night, so my stomach was empty, even though it felt like it was full.

My Dr finally checked me out and sent me to the local hospital to get blood work and a CT scan. I had my blood drawn first and the results showed an elevated WBC (white blood cell count). I'm surprised I even made it through the blood draw though since I was so nauseuous and weak. Then, went over to the CT area and they made me drink the contrast solution. Upon the first swallow, it stayed down for about 10mins then all came right back up. They nurses sent me over to the ER in a wheel-chair to get anti-nasuea meds so I could drink the contrast. While in the ER I vomitted more and was in the most pain I've ever felt... it was all over my abdomen. They gave me a pain killer and anti-nasuea meds, but I still couldn't drink. The first pain killer did nothing. They then hooked me up to an IV bc I was so dehydrated and then gave me morphine. At that point, I could finally drink and did so until it was all in. This all took about 5 hrs and then I went in for the CT.

The CT scan showed that my appendix was inflamed. By 7pm I was in for surgery for the removal and they confirmed the appendicitis (because, even with a CT, they're really not sure if it's appendicitis, but they go in anyways). I woke up for surgery shaking a lot from the anesthesia, so they gave me more drugs and something to calm me. I still felt terrible though, and just wished the pain would go away.

The nurses then wheeled me over to my hospital room for the night and I attempted to get comfortable. My roommate was a 100yr old woman who broke her leg (seriously, she was 100, born in 1908) and all she did throughout the night was moan and talk in her sleep. I was kind of creepy and I wished I had earplugs. I know that sounds insensitive, but I was in pain too and just wanted to sleep.

In the morning, a food tray came to my bed and since I was allowed to eat it, I did (I had one boiled egg, one egg white, and a plain box of cheerios, with a cup of Green tea [not bad for hospital food]). I thought the food would calm my sour stomach, but it didn't that much. I still felt bloated, in pain and totally gross. The surgeon finally came to visit me just before lunch and told me that the surgery went well and I could leave the hospital whenever I wanted. He told me I could eat a normal diet, and I should stay home all week to relax. At that point, I was still incredibly bloated, my guts seemed like they were dead, and all I wanted to do was be normal. He said that was the usual response to the surgery and I'd be fine.

Well, I left the hospital that afternoon. I wasn't totally better, but knew laying in that bed wasn't going to do me any good.

Over the next few days, I have been working on my recovery and learning more about why this happened. I learned that appendicitis is very common for people 10-30 (I'm 29), and there is no definitive cause. For some people, it gets inflamed because of parasites or bacteria, where others, it gets blocked with stool and then gets infected. Either way, there's no common cause.

Then, for recovery, I've been trying to move around as much as possible. I can't work out (obviously), but I have been walking and cleaning my house a lot... (it's sparkling right now).

For supplements, I've been taking 5g of glutamine 4 times a day. Glutamine is an amino acid that is used preferentially by the gut, especially during times of stress. Then, taking plenty of probiotics (the friendly bacteria that live in your gut), to replenish the bacteria that were killed with the antibiotics they gave me during surgery. For pain, I've been taking Arnica, a homeopathic medicine. And for food, I've been eating a balance of healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. I'm trying to eat the right balance of fiber to keep me moving, but because my intestines have lost some of their function (they're not contracting like their supposed to), I don't want too much fiber.

I've also revisited what I was doing with my diet prior to the incident and am trying to determine if what I was eating was right for me or not. I've decided to go back to Eating for My Blood Type, since I wasn't doing that before, but used to at one point. I'm a Type A blood (and personality...), so I'm not supposed to eat red meat, tomatoes, processed grains (duh), oranges, bananas, green peppers, vinegar or spicy foods (which I was eating before the surgery). I should eat some fish and chicken, lots of soy, nuts, beans, veggies, grains and fruits. However, I'm allergic to soy and nuts, so I have to obviously not eat those.

In other areas of my life, I'm really on the ball. I see a homeopath two to four times a month, I take probiotics daily, I've had my stool checked for parasites, I don't take birth control, I don't drink, smoke or do any drugs, and I exercise regularly. My cortisol and thyroid levels are normal (they used to be out of wack, but I'm better now), and I take time to relax and rest due to all the insanity in my life.

I'm not sure if I'll understand why I had to have my appendix taken out and why my body is like a a very complicated puzzle, but I chalk up all my experiences as positive ones. I'm one of those people that learn from personal experience, rather than association. It's not always easy, but it's what I'm all about. I don't mind, but these surgeries are not always the funnest things.

I'm not going to let this get me down (too much that is... there were a few bad days there), and I'm going to get my dissertation done on time.

If anyone has any insight on this topic, I'd love to hear it. I've consulted with a few very knowledgable people, and I am happy with the information.

To learn more about appendicitis, see this great page by the National Digestive Diseases Website.

I hope everyone is healthy and well. If you have pain in your gut, like I did, don't wait to figure it out... it's not pleasant if the appendix bursts from what I hear.

Be well, Cass

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Speak out about our dietary guidelines now!

Tomorrow is the last day you can submit comments to be considered by the "panel of experts" developing the 2010 guidelines. You can attach supporting documents/ research in a ZIP file as well.

We can't complain about policy if we don't seize all available opportunities to make a change!

It will take you less than 3 minutes to do this.

If you don't feel like posting here you can visit the USDA page itself.
Link to the USDA comments page:

Speak out while you can! Let's make change!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Recycle because the world needs it. Lessons from Wall-E

If you haven't seen the Disney Pixar movie, Wall-E, you should really check it out. Watch it a few times and you'll really get the important environmental message this movie is trying to convey. It's a big one hidden by some adorable characters, but totally worth understanding.

The movie is about a sensitive trash compactor robot named Wall-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter•Earth-class), who was left on Earth after the planet had become so toxic that humans could no longer survive on it. He and his many robot companions were part of "project cleanup," spearheaded by the corporate bigheads at the Buy n Large corporation. While robots scoured the Earth, humans were supposed to live in vacation-liner luxury on a BnL ship near a lovely purple nebula, and then return when the mess was all taken care of.

Unfortunately, as the years passed, things have gone a bit wrong. The humans are now on year 700 of their space vacation, and Wall-E lives a lonely existence on a planet covered in skyscraper-high spirals of garbage he's built. He spends his days with a little cockroach pal, compacting trash and collecting intriguing bits of garbage.

Through Wall-E's eyes, we see what humanity has become. Low space gravity over many generations and centuries of time has turned humans into boneless blobs who scoot around on antigravity chairs, constantly eat and drink BnL fast food products, and are waited on hand-and-foot by robots. They're all constantly plugged into the internet, doing everything in virtual reality and obeying every command to "consume" that's piped over the BnL ship's loudspeakers. This almost seems too close to current reality as we watch our nation today do practically the same thing; become obese by being less active and consuming more and more terrible food.

One of the terrifically interesting subtexts of Wall-E is that our hero robot has survived over 700 years by recycling. By gathering up pieces of useful garbage and storing it in his garbage truck home, Wall-E always manages to have spare parts that he can use to repair himself. Through this message, we can assume that Wall-E and his robot counterparts are more suited to take care of the planet because they had no need to create more waste, but, rather have to reuse it to survive. The humans, however, have only become more deeply programmed over the years. They eventually return to Earth less capable of taking care of it than when they left. They learned nothing other than to be consumers and to produce more waste.

Although some people feel this movie is dark and degrading to humans, it does give us a smack-in-the-face about what could actually happen if we don’t do something about all the waste we create each day.

If you think about it, we’re constantly bombarded with messages to buy the new latest gadget, whether it be a new Blue-ray player, or a plasma TV, even if our current DVD or tube-TV is still in good working order. With these new purchases comes more trash; sure we could give it away to someone else, but then where does it go from there? Usually to some landfill to rot in the middle of the ocean. Gross.

Even locally, recycling still hasn’t caught on like it should. For example, in my current dietetic rotation, I’m working in School Food Service. While here, I’ve observed what kids eat each day (whether from the cafeteria or not), and what they throw away. I’ve been absolutely disturbed by two things: 1) The amount of food kids throw away, and 2) The lack of recycling by the kids and school administration.

For example, I stood by the garbage cans in the cafeteria at lunch while kids threw away entire lunches of un-opened yogurt cups, un-touched turkey sandwiches and packages of pretzels, and half-full containers of water and milk. I couldn’t believe that kids were doing this! Don’t they care how much this food costs? Apparently the parents don’t know about what’s going on, because if they did, they wouldn’t waste their money. Well, I wouldn’t at least.

Rather than throwing all this food away to go pile up in landfills, the school should start a composting program. At least some of the food could be turned back into soil rather than just go to waste.

Then, with recyclable bottles, cans and paper bags, they just go straight in the trash too. The kids just don’t rather that instead these items could be turned into a new product that someone else could use.

Due to my frustration, I meet with the school administration in an attempt to correct this situation. The assistant principle told me that the custodians just don’t have the time to help recycle, and so, they wouldn’t reinforce this important message, even though there are bins in the school and a recycling program within the town. There is a school environmental club that was supposed to be responsible for taking the recyclables to the bins outside, but for some reason they stopped doing it. So now, the recycling just gets thrown in the trash.

The elementary school in this school system is the only one to have an intricate composting program, but that’s only because 10 adult volunteers have taken this upon themselves. Without them, nothing would happen.

Today we have no excuse to not recycle or even compost scrap food (or unwanted food in the case of the students). We need to do this to prevent our world from becoming something that needs a Wall-E to clean up. We also need to do it for our children and our children’s children. Otherwise, they might end up like the obese blobs vacationing in space that we learned about in the Disney movie.

On this day where American has sworn in a new president, we need to take responsibility for our environment. Take a lesson from Wall-E: We have to recycle, we should compost as much as possible and we just need to learn how to produce less waste. Believe in change and make it happen. If we don’t, we’ll have nothing left to pollute.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A nice thank you from a Perfect Body Diet dieter

Today I received this nice email from a woman following Women's Health Perfect Body Diet. I thought I'd share it all with you:

Dear Cassandra,

I was at the book store two weeks ago and came across your book, The Perfect Body Diet, which I almost didn't pick up, but it was sitting next to the book I was going to buy so I picked up and started browsing. With the name I expected to be the typical newest diet craze/fad, but then I started reading different sections and was pleasantly surprised by how you explained everything so reasonably and logically. I left the bookstore with your book and not the one I thought I was going to buy.

I read PBD cover to cover in one night and it is now covered in post-its with all of my calculations, goals, and notes. I did the protein and carb tests but in the mean time also started aplying what I had learned before I had even tried the recipes or used the sample meal plan. Without even really trying I've already lost 5 poundsin the last week! I'm not sure how but the scale just keeps dropping and I love it.

I have had to tweak some of the recipes to make them gluten free since I am gluten intolerent but it's been really fun and fairly easy to adapt.

I know I'm just starting but I have a feeling I will be using your book as reference for many years to come.

Thank you for writing such a wonderful, straight forward, and sane book.


Monday, January 12, 2009

What would you say to the USDA? Low-carbers speak out.

If you had the chance to modify the dietary recommendations for Americans and really target weight loss, what would you say?

Specifically, for those who have experience with a low-carbohydrate lifestyle in any level or intensity, what thoughts would you share with the people who write the dietary recommendations? How would you help the "experts" write the dietary recommendations so others could follow a low-carb lifestyle successfully?

The reason I ask is because the Nutrition and Metabolism Society is looking for as many of these recommendations and experiences possible in order to publish them in a scientific publication and share them with the 2010 dietary guidelines panel of experts.

The hope is to help them come up with dietary guidelines that will help people looking for recommendations when following a low-carbohydrate diet.

If you have anything to share, please post your reply here in the comments. I will share these with the NMS Society and your voice will be heard.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy 2009! Resolutions? No, just goals.

Happy New Year Everyone!

I hope everyone is recovering from a late night of whatever you did to celebrate the coming of a new year. For myself, I spent it with friends and many good games of Guitar Hero (I'm almost ashamed to admit that... but that's what we did).

Many people use the new year to bring about change. We call these our resolutions, and while many people don't stick to them, they are meant to improve ourselves in one way or another. So, they're not totally silly.

For myself, I've really never made a resolution list. Instead, I use New Years day to reflect on what I've accomplished in the past year, and then make plans for the upcoming year. It's my goal list with mostly things I want to get done, rather than things I want to change about myself. I believe that if there's something you want to change (like your weight or your habits), you just do it some way or another, and you don't need a "resolution" to make it happen.

So, here I'll share with you some of the things I accomplished in 2008, and then what I plan for 2009:

In 2008:
  • My two books, New Rules of Lifting for Women, and Women's Health Perfect Body Diet were released back to back. With this came many interviews (radio, web, etc), a T.V. satellite tour and other book promotions.
  • I started and finished the second part of my dissertation study and then went on to complete all the blood analysis and calculations. (I did a human feeding study in which I cooked all foods for my subjects for two 6-week periods... it was a lot of work).
  • In February, I got my own dog: Tazz (the spazz), who I love with all my heart. He also keeps my feet warm when I sleep (because he sleeps at the foot of the bed).
  • I took my CSCS exam and passed (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist).
  • I travelled across the country to attend some great scientific conferences including ISSFAL, ISSN, and the American Dietetic Association annual meeting.
  • I was awarded a placement with UMass Amherst to complete my one-year dietetic internship (which I'm currently half way through).
  • I planned, created and designed my wedding to marry the love of my life: Justin Pribanic on August 2, in Huntington Vermont. Despite the rain, the day was absolutely gorgeous and there was fun to be had by all (even for our three dogs who attended).
  • I started my own bootcamp class, which I teach every Sunday morning.
  • In October I spoke at the 2008 Charles Staley Summit in Phoenix AZ on the topic of women specific nutrition.
  • I completed my own Greencard application (without the help of a $3,000 attorney), so I can stay in the US as a permanent resident once I'm done my degree. (I'm Canadian, and just because you marry an American does not automatically mean you're an American too).
  • In December I finally started writing my dissertation paper to complete my PhD work at UConn. My goal is a May 2009 graduation. So far, writing about science is killing my back and widening my back side... but that's the way these things go (at least I have colleagues going through the same thing to empathize with).
  • Finally, on my birthday, I took an organic gardening course at UConn, so I can grow my own vegetables next spring instead of buying them (which helps save the planet that much more).

There's been more, but those are the major talking points for now. I think I've done pretty good with myself considering that with wedding and a PhD, others would have just choose one over the other (instead of both at the same time...).

For 2009, these are the goals I have in mind:

#1. Finish my dissertation, defend my thesis and get my PhD. FINALLY.

#2. Lose the weight I've gained from sitting on my butt writing my dissertation with the help of my secret weapon, glucomannan, and a lot of exercise. Then, enter a bench-only powerlifting competition with the goal of 155lbs.

#3. Go on a honeymoon with my husband after I graduate from my dietetic internship at the end of June (we didn't honeymoon after our wedding because there was not enough time -or money-). We're thinking Maui, or Eastern Canada (just depends on our budget, once again).

#4. Obtain a job as either a post-doc, assistant professor, high-level Registered Dietitian, writer with Men's Health magazine (I love them) and pay off my student debt (thank goodness I've won a lot of scholarships, so it's not that bad considering I've been in school for 12 years!).

#4. Work in a strength and conditioning facility (maybe with Mike Boyle or Jeff Oliver, etc) to polish my abilities as a CSCS.

#5. Write a book with my good friend Jonathan Fass. (we have it started already.... but are not revealing the details just yet).

#6. Do a seminar tour with Jonathan, Mike Ormsbee and Eric Cressey.

#7. Plant, maintain and harvest my organic garden of tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce and squash.

#8. Take and pass the exam to become a Registered Dietitian.

#9. Complete the renovations on my house (new kitchen!!!!).

#10. Change the look and format of my website.

#11. And finally.... Celebrate my 30th birthday in style.

I've shared my goals for this upcoming year. What are your goals for 2009? I'd love to hear about them, so please share them here. Or at least, just write them down and stick them to your wall so you're reminded about them everyday.

Best wishes for a great 2009. Love, Cassandra