Breaking a difficult addiction

Lip balm. Yep – lip balm. I first started using little pots of Carmex lip balm in high school when I started to have enough disposable income for little luxuries like that, and I’ve used lip balm of one form or another ever since. I still recall a conversation with my brother in law many years ago about it, and about how he doesn’t use it after having fought through his lip’s addiction to it. At the time I thought, well, it is odd how so many people including me are addicted to it, but…why stop? And I didn’t, until this month.

At a recent physical I asked my doctor about a little growth on the edge of my lip which had slowly been expanding. I had thought it was some kind of cold sore, and had been treating it accordingly, but instead of getting better it had been getting worse. It took her half a second to diagnose it as a case of the harmless “Perioral dermatitis,” and she prescribed a prescription ointment and the use of any acne cream with salicylic acid in it. A couple of weeks of that combination and it was all cleared up. Meantime I had read a bit about possible causes, and a few studies drew a relationship between paraffin, lip balms, and outbreaks of this, so as a precaution I dumped the lip balm when I started the medications.

A month later and me and my lips are still here. It was a little tough the first week but since then, I rarely even think about it. They do occasionally get dry, especially after eating salty foods, and then I crave the lip balm, but I’ve done fine without it so at least for now, I’m sticking with it. There are plenty of lip balms without paraffin, but I figure if I can do without, why do with? I’ll check back in if I end up caving in when winter comes and things get tougher on the lips.

So a guy walks into the Doctor’s office….

…and the Doctor says ‘holy crap these bloodwork numbers are bad, and what’s this new thing your liver is doing. What’s going on with your body?’ The guy says ‘way to make me freak out, doc, off the cuff, I dunno?’ They chat, and conclude that the fact the guy had a kid and hadn’t been able to exercise as regularly as he had been for the past 10 years, coupled with maybe a little complacency about his health, are the likeliest contributing factors. The doc tells him he has to go on 101 different pills, and the guy says let me try to fix this before we go there. The doc gives him 3 months.

The guy is me. That happened 4 months ago. As of a couple of weeks ago I’m officially back on track, with bloodwork that’s almost back to the levels I had been seeing for the past 10 years. As of last night, I’ve also officially lost 20 pounds. I had let myself get up to 190 this winter, which is 15 pounds over what I had settled on as my acceptable body weight, and 25 pounds over my ideal of 165. I’ve only been at my ideal twice in my adult life – I was there for most of college, and I got there a few months after I was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years ago. I’m going to get there again within the next month or so. We’ll see if I can keep it there this time. I’ve changed my approach. Broadly assessed, this is still low carb to take care of the blood sugar issues, but I’ve been counting calories this time. It takes a bit more work in terms of data entry, and it’s a less satisfying eating experience (I used to eat until I was full so long as there were not too many carbs – now I’m eating controlled portions), but in other ways it’s kind of easier – some months into this, I have a fair handle on what portions work. I also have some new tools which I’ll touch on in another post, but a teaser: the Fitbit is a pretty awesome little device and associated web service.

A related aside – 10 years ago when initially diagnosed, I went on a collection of medications that made me feel unwell. This helped motivate me to find other solutions. One of those solutions was Niacin instead of other cholesterol control agents. I pushed for that approach in part because of concern for my liver – I was 35 when diagnosed and couldn’t imagine a healthy liver still in me 10 or 20 years down the line with the regimen of medications they were proposing to put me on for the rest of my life. Now it looks like maybe it was the Niacin fucking with my liver, and more recent research suggest a connection between Niacin, alcohol, and permanent liver damage.

!!!

3 months ago I was completely freaked out by this, and metaphorically shaking my fist at a universe that would put me in this position (ok, so it was me, not the universe, but me acting on the best information I could find, so let me blame it on the universe). Now I’m somewhat less worried since the liver numbers came back down, but I’m also taking half as much Niacin and 1/3 less alcohol (2 drink maximum for me. Before this, weekends I was commonly hitting 3 and it wasn’t unusual for me to have a 4th). Oh, and the Doctor is still pushing for me to go on a Statin, so in another way, I’ve come completely full circle. Where I go next I haven’t sorted out yet.

Bad news about Soolin

Sorry for the gruesome photo. As you can see, Soolin had surgery this week. During her annual physical a few weeks ago, a sample of one of the three peanut sized tumors she had on her back came up suspicious. That got sent to a lab, and those results led to an immediate surgical procedure to remove them. I was in shock when I picked her up – these things were very small, and I was expecting little 1 or 2 inch incisions, not these 7-8″ Frankenstein’s monster scars. The good news is 2 of the tumors were right next to each other so she has only 2 scars, not 3. She’s also handling the recovery much better than the last surgery she had.

The bad news is this was cancer – a mast cell tumor to be precise. Her chances seem decent, so I’m hopeful. Only one of the three came back as definite cancer, and the one was stage 2, which is better than stage 3. For now, we watch to see if she gets any more tumors or if the cancerous one grows back.

All in though I feel terrible for her and pretty sad. She’s only 7 and already having all these bad health issues. She still has her happy demeanor and still wants to play, but now all I do is worry that some other shoe is about to drop for her. Here’s hoping this is the last of her troubles. She has another week of forced inactivity then her stitches come out and she can return to her normal lifestyle.

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Soolin update

Sadly, Soolin’s real 7th birthday gift was to undergo surgery to remove a fatty deposit which had been growing at an alarming rate over the last several years. We first noticed it three years ago when it was a small golf ball-sized lump in her armpit. By March this year at her checkup it was mango+ sized, and when they finally removed it Monday last week it was three pounds and about the size of a football sliced in half.

If I could do it over again I would have asked them to remove it last year, because when they removed it they discovered it had infiltrated the muscles under her arm and were not able to entirely excise it. Still, they took ~3 pounds and the overwhelming majority out. The hope now is that it won’t recur. The infiltration of the muscle works against this unfortunately, but the odds aren’t terrible (~40% is what google tells me) and even if it does, hopefully it will grow at a slower pace.

By and large her recovery from the surgery has been messy and unpleasant for her but relatively smooth. She has staples along an incision that runs from her armpit to her navel, and she had two drains installed which protected her from too much fluid collecting in the void left by the excised tumor. I had to apply hot compresses twice a day to the region and keep her dressed in a tshirt to help corral the bleeding. Her first day she barely moved and was in obvious discomfort (and on painkillers to help with it) but by the second day she was starting to perk up and move about, and seemed even better on the third day. Unfortunately she had a relapse possibly caused by us letting her go for too long of a walk that began on the 4th day and had her bleeding fairly heavily at times and again becoming immobile with discomfort. This lasted a couple of days. She had her drains removed last night and seems to be doing well – she tried to roll around in the leaves this morning when I took her out, throughout it all her appetite has been strong, and she’s starting to show signs of her normal playfulness. I’m fairly optimistic at this point. She’s still leaking from the areas where the drains were, but the flow is significantly less.

So…could have been better, but could have been much much worse, so all things considered I’m thankful that it’s looking good, and she handled it well throughout. I’ll post a few pics to the gallery with the warning that a couple of them might be disturbing.

How the brain mediates perception

There was a great piece in a recent New Yorker that had a journalist following a brilliant young neuroscientist around chatting about his varied interests and research. The piece covered a lot of ground and there were a number of really great observations and insights into how the brain mediates perception. I’d long known that the system processes latency (signals in your nerves take time to travel from the point of reception to the brain – it takes longer for a pain signal to reach your brain from your toe than from your cheek for example) by mediating your sense of time so that things appear to happen instantly when in fact they don’t. Turns out this is just the tip of the iceberg – the brain edits more out than I knew. The piece offered a great little experiment you can conduct to see evidence of your brain doing this. Imagine you were watching someone else look into a mirror,  and that person was looking at their eyes, changing their focus from their left eye to their right eye repeatedly. You would see their eyes move as they changed focus. You can film yourself doing this and see it happen. Now go look in a mirror. Look from your right eye to your left eye repeatedly. You will never see your eyes move. They do move. Your brain just filters it out of your conscious perception, presumably as extraneous detail, much as it does with the majority of sensory input you experience as you move through the world. On the one hand, banal, right? On the other, it’s a bit mind blowing to think about how you’re walking around with this subconscious editorial process constantly firing on all cylinders. Why don’t I get to make these choices! (a possible answer is that some people can, or have an altered editorial filter. We call them insane). Anyway, fascinating stuff and I loved the simple little test you can do to see this in action.

Giving up smoking gave me diabetes?

I’ve been sitting on this link for like a year as my site lay fallow. Slowly working my way through the backlog of material. Check out this blurb on the BBC site about a study which demonstrated a high correlation between folks quitting smoking and then developing type 2 diabtese. The timeline and circumstances match my own experience. Pretty freaky (if ultimately fruitless) to ponder what might have been. Even if it’s true, I’m good with where I ended up. Rather try and manage diabetes than fight lung cancer or heart disease ultimately.

The ectasy and the agony

So let me just get this out of the way – my golden retriever Soolin is the greatest dog ever. Today’s proof is here:

my dog Soolin leaping into the pool

this despite the fact that she’s got arthritic hips so creaky she sometimes has trouble making it up stairs, and a fat deposit under her front right armpit that causes her gait to be way out of whack*. So you get the full picture, here’s her sticking the landing:

spalasssh!

and paddling immediately on over to retrieve the tennis ball:

paddling over to her ball

so, that’s the good news. My dog is fricking cool and possessed of an indomitable will to enjoy herself. The bad news? She pays the price:

This is after it had healed a bit. It got her on both sides, her neck, and her back.

She got hotspots so badly on her cheeks that we had to pay the vet to shave her for us – she wouldn’t let us near them because they were so uncomfortable. She was diagnosed with a yeast infection in both ears at the same time. All told she’s on two oral medications, some goop that goes in her ears twice a day, and a topical spray that goes on the wounds 3 times a day.

My poor, fabulous, glorious Soolin. There’s no stopping her no matter the consequences.

*(she’s going in for surgery to have that removed sometime in the next month or so)

Near death experience with Nori

Fortunately this story has a happy ending, but it was sad and trying to live through. Sunday afternoon Nori, our 5 year old black lab, threw up extensively in front of Susan and I, and there was troubling stuff in it – mashed potatoes, chicken bones, and other food stuff we couldn’t identify. None of it came from us or our property – she had crept off somewhere, found it, and eaten it, and it made her really sick. Nori’s very food focused thanks to her experiences as a pup living through abandonment during hurricane Katrina, and when she wouldn’t eat her supper that night Susan and I were both mildly troubled. When she wouldn’t eat her breakfast in the morning, and wouldn’t go to the bathroom, I knew something was really wrong and after some debate Susan took her off to the vet. They immediately referred her to the animal hospital.

The hospital’s first guess was a possible blockage of her innards, most likely by chicken bone. Fortunately shortly after they admitted her she got violently ill from the rear, and at the time they thought this was a great sign and that she would soon be on the mend. They x-rayed her and found nothing foreign in her, which was a relief and another good sign.

Unfortunately by Tuesday she hadn’t really improved, and they decided to keep her for observation. She wasn’t eating, and she was still throwing up and leaking from her rear constantly. By this point they concluded she had a bacterial infection of some sort. We were worried but not terribly so.

Wednesday morning Nori ate a little bit and so by lunchtime they concluded it was safe to take her home. Susan picked her up and spent the afternoon watching her, and it wasn’t pretty. She wouldn’t eat, she was still constantly and pretty much uncontrollably leaking from the rear, she was in significant pain that was causing her to constantly pant and quake, and she was completely distressed emotionally. This was really really hard to see and absolutely heartbreaking. She was looking for comfort and spent her time trying to literally crawl under our clothing and huddle against our skin, shivering in pain and staring up at us with pleading eyes. The closest I’ve come to crying in years was that night, looking into her eyes and feeling helpless. At this point I was beginning to think she would die, and the following morning was worse – while she did seem to sleep that night, when she woke up she wouldn’t eat anything, and after drinking a little water she threw it up all over Susan. We called the hospital and they had us bring her back.

This time they did an ultrasound and again found no blockage. They concluded their initial diagnosis was still the likeliest explanation, she was just sicker than we thought, but the ultrasound did pick up fluid in her abdominal cavity. Apparently this is not unusual with bad digestive infections, but it’s also a sign of certain cancers, so they sent a sample to the lab. Meanwhile she went back on the IV and Susan and I sat on pins and needles, getting an update from the doctors every 6 hours or so.

Thursday was status quo until the evening when Nori finally ate something after 4 days of eating basically nothing, which was a great sign, and Friday morning she ate again. They decided if she ate around lunchtime we could come get her, and after she did I went up late afternoon and got her.

It was like night and day. While she had clearly lost a fair bit of weight, and has a shaved belly and rear end (a rear end that looked ridiculous when I first got her – it was literally as red as a baboons ass), she is back to her peppy self – no more pleading eyes, a not infrequent grin to share, energy to bounce around the house and, most importantly for Nori, beg us for food 😉

So – she’s not entirely out of the woods (5 days of a diet of small portions of rice and boiled meat, a bunch of different medications, low activity), but things are definitely looking good. The lab results came back and there was no sign of cancer. Our fingers crossed that she comes through this just fine and with no lasting side effects, except perhaps more of an aversion to food from the trash/wherever the hell she found those mashed potatoes and chicken.

As a side note, we do wish we had health insurance on the dogs. This was expensive, owe $2k and we’re not quite done yet. I’d spend the money again without thinking twice, but man, it still hurts the wallet. This has been the most expensive month of my life, what with a new house, appliances, a tractor, and this being the capper. I told Susan we’re going to rent Nori out as a ‘companion’ to the neighborhood dogs to help pay for all of this l-)

New Year’s resolutions

I’m a bit behind, granted. I have a good excuse – came down with pneumonia and it really knocked the stuffing out of me. I’m just starting to feel myself again after fighting this off for three weeks, and I’m still fighting a cough and dealing with fatigue issues. Anyway, I made two resolutions this year: To get back on track with my diet and exercise regimen, and to follow an example I set myself several years ago with my buying habits.

The diet and exercise resolution has turned out to be easy thanks to the bout of pneumonia. My weight had been creeping up and by this fall I was over 180 for the first time in a number of years, something I had begun to worry about. Stomach issues and a generally slacker attitude to exercise had me off my regimen for almost all of the summer and fall, so I figured, time for a new years resolution to address it. Pressures off now though – I’m down under 170 for the first time in at least 4-5 years. I just need to keep it off. As soon as my stamina is back it’s back on the exercise regimen, possibly adding in running, which I haven’t done regularly since I left Maine.

The second resolution is inspired by a successful resolution from years ago. At that time I had gotten addicted to buying books off of Abe books, ebay, and Amazon, and my to-read pile was growing faster than my read pile was decreasing. I resolved to only buy a book after I had finished at least one, and to generally focus on bringing down the number of books in the to-read pile. It worked. I still have a huge to-read pile (>20 books) but it no longer grows and it’s no longer close to 100 books. This year I’m applying these principles to videogames, because my to-play pile is like 15 games at this point and maybe higher. I’ve resolved to not buy a new game unless I finish one, and to focus on finishing off games I’ve left partially completed. I have this terrible habit of starting whatever new game I acquire, playing it obsessively for a week or two until the next game comes, then moving on, rarely finishing anything. No more! I’m working my way through games at a rapid clip, and not opening anything still in the shrinkwrap until I knock games off the list. So far it’s working – I’ve finished 4-5 games since the year began, and this was with me unable to play games for two weeks thanks to the pneumonia.

I’m such a hopeless nerd.

I’ve also put myself on a budget. Mint.com rocks for helping you see where you spend your money. I spend too much of mine on games, and that’s stopping as well.

Anyway, to sum up a rambling post, figure on a lot of  ‘Game finished’ posts from me, especially over the next couple of months, as I focus on a game at a time instead of flitting from game to game.