Saturday, December 27, 2008

Two Days After Christmas

I don't think I've ever had a Christmas that was such a mix of nice and just a pile of things that made me feel irritated and resentful and frustrated.

On the nice side... everything got done. Christmas Day was pretty relaxed. My son spent Christmas Eve with his father, and I have to admit that it was actually kind of pleasant to be able to lounge around Christmas morning and not have someone pushing to open presents now now now now. And when he came home, he was delightful... his best self, not so much his surly uncommunicative teenage self. It was nice to see my father, who is not as unwell as my sister thinks. Or at least I don't think so. And Michael actually enjoyed having my father here, which is a rarity. And my big silly present for Michael was very successful and funny. Lots of nice stuff like that.

On the dark side...

1. Physical things large and small continue to plague Michael. Same story. Doesn't get easier.

2. This is, I think, me being stupid and petty and falls into the category of Things Better Let Go. I sent both of my sisters a very special sentimental thing, because I knew they would be missing my mother this Christmas. My sister said, "you always think of the special things." Yeah, I do. Because I
think about other people. But who thinks about me? Most of the time, I am pretty ok with this. It is never a good idea to give anything... gifts, love, time, whatever... expecting something specific in return. Or expecting it in the form that you want it. I really do believe that what goes around comes around, that when you pay it forward, you get it back, one way or another. But the small and sad bit of me would like some of that back now. In a form I could recognize.

Just let it go.

3. Food issues (you knew we'd get there, right?)

We didn't have such a bad Christmas, food-wise, not really. But I have to say, most of it I really could have skipped, and it just makes be wonder when I will learn the following lessons...
  • I really can't have bread in the house. If there's one food that I will just eat beyond all sense, it's good bread. It is better not to have it around at all.
  • Things that I have always thought of as treats are no longer things that I like particularly. We had two indulgence things for Christmas dinner... Yorkshire pudding with the roast beef, and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Both of these things have always ranked high on the favorite foods list for me. My mother used to make Yorkshire pudding only on Christmas (it's a popover-type of thing, if you haven't had it, sort of like a roll with an different and delicious kind of consistency). And when I first traveled to England, I discovered Sticky Toffee Pudding, an insanely delicious dessert if you like caramel-type things, a date cake covered with a toffee sauce, hot, served with cream or custard or ice cream. Not good things, either one of them, from a calorie or carb or just sensible food point of view. We had both. I enjoyed neither. I fed most of both to the dog. (He enjoyed them.) If you eat in a particular way for long enough, your tastes really do change. But it takes a lot longer for your brain to catch up.
  • Eating this way makes me feel like death. It is not worth it. It is not so much about weight and fitness as it is wanting to just feel better.
All in all, I think that this has to be the year that I put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I will finish this year at about the same weight I started. This is not exactly what I'd call a success story, although certainly it could be worse. And I've put in a great deal of time learning to eat (and cook) in a different way. This coming year needs to be the time when I put all the rest of the pieces together and actually get fit again.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mostly Happy Updates...

Somehow the last week or so has gone by in a mad blur. No idea how exactly. But the grades are done, and the tree is up if not completely decorated, and some small parts of the house are sort of clean-ish. I'd be happier if it was about a week until Christmas rather than a couple of days, but that's always the way...

I'd be a LOT happier if the frigid weather + loads of snow + daytime sunshine wasn't causing huge ice dams on my roof. Which in turn drips inside the house by some magical and horrible process, soaking the bedroom carpet, soaking the mudroom, making me really irritated especially since this happened two years ago, so, yeah, I should have done something about it. Hopefully it will warm up later in the week, get rid of the snow, and we'll have a change to do something preventative.

But the great news is that Michael is actually feeling better. I have no idea why, but he's been almost his old self the last couple of days. Which makes me mega-happy... and his weight has gone down 30+ over the last 10 days as the edema in his stomach and legs has reduced (which kind of makes me jealous). He's now at his lowest weight ever. (Well, not EVER, as he keeps reminding me, but in this weight cycle. We'll start posting weight again in the new year.)

My father comes in tomorrow night... it will be a sad Christmas for all of us, with Mom gone, but we're trying. So now I just have to wrap everything plus finish putting together the most complicated practical joke Christmas present that I've ever given anyone... impossible even to explain... and hope that nothing goes awry. Fortunately, my father won't even notice if the house is filthy....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sort of Better News....

On the brighter side... it seems like Michael is feeling a bit better. He's still not doing much, but that's partly because his knees are still unbelievably painful from the Sleep Study Experience From Hell. (I am thinking that he should probably have x-rays, actually, although it's unlikely that there's anything big going on... we see the doctor next week, so we can find out then.) But he seems better. More alert. More himself. A little happier, although impatient as anything and easily discouraged.

One of the worst bits for him is that during all of this, he acquired a huge amount of edema... fluid gain in the abdomen and legs. He's lost so much weight in general that he has a tremendous amount of loose skin on his abdomen, and when all this started, zoom.... it all filled up with fluid. He gained about 30 lbs. in about 2 weeks (while eating almost nothing, I should add). And every doctor has looked at it and gone, hmmmmm, but no one has seemed particularly interested or bothered. But for him, this is a Huge Big Deal. I mean, think about it... overnight you get 30 lbs. just hanging off the bottom of your stomach. Makes it hard and painful to move, and if you're a guy, makes it pretty hard to pee, too, which is probably too much information. But it's this huge catch-22... you have to get rid of the fluid somehow, and that's basically how you have to do it.... but it's a little tricky. And painful and irritating to your skin.

Anyway, 10 of those surplus pounds disappeared in 2 days, and another 2 today! So this is a really good sign. Of course, I've been feeding him all sorts of herbal diuretics and so forth, which is helping, but one way or the other, just seeing that go down is lifting spirits. And his heart rate has been ok, if still a bit high.

So here's hoping that when we see the doctor next week, his iron levels are still up, and maybe he'll actually agree to try the other heart medication.... and things will keep looking up. If the edema keeps going down, he can do some lower-body exercise, which will further help it decrease... so, fingers crossed!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Here Today, Legume Tomorrow....

I just can't talk about any more of the dismal stuff for a while (although I think it's getting better), so for a change, let's have a recipe... and this is a great one.

The basis and inspiration for this recipe is from Jacques Pépin's Fast Food My Way, which is a fantastic cookbook for simple dishes, every one delicious. I've made this for years, and evolved it into a more-or-less low carb dish. But the beauty of it (see below) is that really you can modify the carbs, modify the fat, and still have something that's both easy to put together, quick, nutritious, and just great comfort food. (His recipe is Chickpea Ragout, p. 91, and it's a side dish. Mine is a one-dish meal.)

This is a very forgiving recipe, and thus the proportions are all pretty vague.

Chicken-Chorizo Autumn Stew

  • 1 package boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 6 thighs. Don't use breast because it will dry out.)
  • about 4 inches spicy chorizo (the Spanish style... a hard, pepperoni-like sausage, not the Mexican kind. I prefer the hot kind, which adds a kick, but you can use the regular kind if you prefer)
  • olive oil
  • 1 red onion, roughly diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets (discard any tough stems or dice small)
  • 1 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes (I like the fire-roasted ones.)
  • 1 legume choice... see note below... a can of chickpeas or a package of lima beans or butter beans, etc.
  • choice of optional vegetables: fresh mushrooms, zucchini, fennel, etc.
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • about 1 cup chicken stock
  • finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, if desired
Finely dice the chorizo and cube the chicken thighs. Heat the oil in a (preferably nonstick) large skillet (with a lid!), and sauté the chorizo, onion, garlic, and chicken over high heat until lightly browned. Add all of the rest of the ingredients except the salt and pepper and the parsley, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are done, about 1/2 hour. Season to taste, and sprinkle with fresh parsley if desired.

The prep time is very quick, and then you can pretty much ignore it while you relax and have a glass of wine.

This is a hearty and delicious fall/winter meal. Serves 4-6, depending on portion size and how many vegetables you use. As listed above, with chickpeas and mushrooms, 4 very generous servings.

A note on legumes: the carb content of this dish is almost entirely determined by the choice of legume. You could leave out the legume entirely, and it would be lower carb, but I think that they really add something... so I've tried to just cut the proportion way back. I make this usually with chickpeas, but lima beans are really good, and an alternative might be just a few green peas. (Suggestions welcome!)

A note for the low-fat crowd: We don't pay much attention to fat proportions these days, but I first made this dish when I counted calories, not carbs. If you go very easy on the oil and use about half the chorizo, diced very small, this is a pretty low fat dish as well.

Oh, and if you like your food very spicy-hot, a dash of chili oil is excellent in this (I add this to my bowl, at the end, so that the rest of my family doesn't gasp and run for the water!).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Adding Insult to Injury....

First, a thank you to everyone who commented on my last post... I am having a hard time not feeling unbelievably isolated, so it really helps.

Anyway, in today's update on what's becoming World's Most Dismal Blog... Michael went for this sleep study on Wednesday night. I had called ahead and talked to the scheduler for quite some time about whether he would be ok there... and I'd really thought that this would probably be all right. Which goes to show you just how incredibly wrong you can be. First, the rooms were not set up to be comfortable for anyone, much less someone with mobility issues. No comfortable chair. Nothing you could grab onto. A bed with no headboard and a flimsy frame. And, ok, I know that the idea here is that you go and SLEEP, not that you are in a hotel room, but... first you have to hang around for about two hours before you can sleep, and so it's kind of necessary to be at least a little comfortable. Then, after he was all hooked up and went to bed, the technician came in about every ten minutes because he couldn't get the electrodes working properly. This was pretty much like the hospital experience with the beeping monitor... how can you do a sleep study if the subject doesn't actually get to sleep?

By about 1 or so, he was annoyed as hell, and needed the bathroom, so he sat up and called the technician to unhook him... and then I'm not sure what really happened. I suspect that the frame of the flimsy mattress gave way, but I never saw this, so I have no idea. Next thing he knows, he's on the floor... and he can't get up. It's been a long time since it's been easy for him to get up off the floor, but it's always been possible. However, he's been so incredibly weak lately PLUS he has this 30+ pounds of abdominal edema that's making it hard to move PLUS there was nothing stable to balance on... Anyway, he couldn't get up. He asks the tech people to call the paramedics. They are too concerned about their electrodes to do this. They spend half an hour taking things off him, while he sits on his knees before they will call an ambulance. Eventually the ambulance shows up, can't get him up (I suspect that he had no feeling in his legs at all at this point) and take him to the emergency room... back where we were a few days ago. Eventually he phones me... it's now about 4 a.m.... and I come pick him up.

His knees are beyond painful. And he's shaken up to hell. And angry and discouraged. It's hard to blame him.

And I am trying to figure out what I need to do to take care of both of us. I know that things will get better. But it is a little difficult not to get unbelievably discouraged, especially since he is so clearly miserable. I know that I have to try to take care of myself... but how do you do that when the person you love is so unhappy and so uncomfortable?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Free At Last

Yay, as of 7:30 last night, we have been sprung from the hospital. There is just nothing like 4 days in the hospital to make you appreciate the joys of being home. On top of everything else, by the end, we were so seriously sleep-deprived that it was like some bizarre form of torture... more about that later.

And the end result of all of it... kind of nothing, weirdly enough. Why is Michael severely anemic? No idea. Nothing showed up on any test (no matter how invasive!). Why has he has this whole collection of weird symptoms? No idea. What are we doing next? Well, not much idea about that, either.

He goes for a sleep study on Wednesday night, poor baby... I really wanted to reschedule this, but the doctor convinced us (probably correctly) that it's best to do a sleep study when you're really tired anyway. The last night of hell in the hospital, they hooked him to a CPAP machine (keeps your airways open if you have sleep apnea) but also to a monitor with an alarm that goes off if your oxygen levels drop. Well, every time he really fell asleep, his oxygen levels dropped... and so the alarm kept going off about every 15 minutes, all night. Finally at 5 a.m., we insisted that they take it away and got a whole two hours of sleep before some relentlessly perky nurse woke us up a 7 for absolutely no reason that I could tell (not checking vital signs or anything else, just randomly came in to wake us up?). I have rarely so completely just wanted to swat someone. Anyway, so possibly the sleep study will correctly diagnose his degree of sleep apnea and resolve this, and that might help the heart rate issues.

And we're going to try to get life back together. And get him well. More about that later.

Hey.... if you're following along with this, and you want to do a good deed today, leave me a comment. Just a "I hear you." This has been a very long and grueling thing, this whole autumn and the steady progression of these physical things getting worse for Michael, and I feel pretty alone with all this. So... it would make me feel a little better to know that you were out there.