Some frustrating health issues

23 comments on Some frustrating health issues
4 minutes

I’ve been dealing with some health challenges lately and, well, I’m going to whine about them for a minute. If TMI isn’t your cup of tea, skip this post and come back tomorrow. I’ll have a pretty photograph to share with you.

You might recall my foot surgery in June of 2014. One year post-op I still experienced some pain, to both my and my podiatrist’s surprise and consternation. And then in July I whacked that foot hard into a table leg, breaking the second toe, aggravating the surgery, and setting me back months of healing. It hurt to walk in all of my shoes except my Birkenstock sandals. I threw out most of my old shoes and upgraded to expensive, but very well constructed new ones. My podiatrist had me put an orthotic insert into all of them to build up my arch and correct my overpronation to take pressure off the surgery site and allow healing. I’ve had to stop going barefoot, even around the house; I wear Birkenstock clogs as house shoes. And I’ve cut out all unnecessary walking. I’m finally starting to walk pain-free, but it’s been a very frustrating eighteen months.

In addition, I’ve dealt for years with some digestive issues. A gastroenterologist was surprisingly little help — “you’re eating more fiber, right? Well, that’s all I know to tell you” — despite pain so bad that it was affecting my ability to work. Four years ago I took a chance and went to a pain clinic for it. You would not believe all the things they tried — electrostimulation, antibiotics, even meditation and a version of autogenic training. But it all helped and made this condition manageable.

It should not have surprised me that being ejected from an über-stressful job in June helped even more than all the doctors and their treatments. My discomfort eased by an order of magnitude. All that was left to look at was diet. So I started an elimination diet — and my guts quieted the rest of the way down. As I’ve added various foods back to my diet, I’ve discovered that wheat, almost certainly garlic and onions, and probably legumes (beans, peas, lentils), and certain vegetables (including cauliflower and broccoli) are the main culprits behind my gastro-intestinal distress. What these foods share in common is that they contain oligosaccharides, and my guts apparently can’t process them properly.

Eliminating these foods has been transformational, but it has also turned eating at restaurants into a form of Russian roulette. I can obviously avoid breads and beans because I can see them, but onions and garlic are hidden in so many restaurant dishes. And I eat out pretty frequently, as in my line of work lunch meetings are normal. I avoid Italian and Mexican restaurants entirely now. Fortunately, I can find safe foods at any restaurant with a breakfast menu. And I eat a lot of plain hamburger patties and fries — though those can be seasoned with garlic or onion and often even the kitchen staff doesn’t know it.

Meanwhile, I’m still adding foods back into my diet. There’s some evidence I might have difficulty digesting fructose. If so, goodbye to a whole bunch of fruits (including cherries and plums, which I adore) and anything made with high-fructose corn syrup (which I probably ought to avoid anyway). But I’ll change my diet in whatever ways are necessary to avoid gut pain.

And here’s the kicker in all of this: the pain isn’t the main problem. It’s uncomfortable, but I can usually manage to get through my day. The real problem is that when I’m in pain at night, I can’t sleep through it. The insomnia is worse than the pain.

What this all means is that while I’m figuring all this out I never know when I’m going to tie my guts up in knots and be awake half the night. I suspended the challenges for Christmas, but since the first of the year I’ve felt bad more days than not. I’m determined to push through, though, and learn what I can and can’t eat.

An unintended consequence of this is that my diet has shifted away from proteins and vegetables and toward fats. I keep track of what I eat using an online tool called CRON-O-Meter, and it tells me that lately my diet has contained a whopping 47% fat.

Between a high-fat diet and not being able to walk it off thanks to my stupid foot, I’m gaining weight and all of my pants are too tight.

It’s all been stressful. And if you’ve been following my Driving and Singing series, you know that belting out a tune can really help me vent my stress. Unfortunately, I’ve been having some trouble singing since about Thanksgiving. My throat has been dry and feels “thick.” Sometimes projecting a really big note triggers my gag reflex, of all things! It is so frustrating not to be able to sing out.

I’m determined and diligent. I will push through all of this. But I’m struggling with patience right now.


23 responses to “Some frustrating health issues”

  1. ladyredspecs Avatar

    hey Jim, use Dr Google to find you the FODMAP diet that was developed by Monash University in Melbourne. It really works, I’m walking proof. My blog is full of suitable recipes to help you on the way

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You put your finger right on it: I’m doing an elimination diet around FODMAPs. When I eliminated high-FODMAP foods from my diet, my guts quieted down so much that I discovered I had been living with a low level of pain for years that I didn’t recognize until it disappeared. Amazing what you can get used to. So I know I’m onto something big. I’m in the challenge phase of the diet, and I’m looking for major triggers. This period is bound to be uncomfortable.

      I use the Monash FODMAP app on my iPhone all the time to check whether that thing I’m about to order at a restaurant, or buy at the supermarket, is in or out.

      1. ladyredspecs Avatar

        Sounds like you’re on the right track…

  2. hmunro Avatar

    I’m honestly *amazed* at your patience, Jim, because I had no idea all of this was going on. I’m so sorry; it all really does sound horribly frustrating. But I’m glad to see that you’re feeling determined and diligent in spite of the annoying setbacks. My husband has gone through similar food troubles over the past three years and I can tell you with some confidence that it does get better, once you get everything dialed in and the inflammation settles down. In the meantime I’ll be sending healing thoughts your way.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I remember when your house was destroyed. You displayed much of the same kind of patience, at least through your blog. Because when reality isn’t how you want it to be, the sanest response is acceptance, patience, and diligence! And trying to enjoy whatever good is left, whatever good you can find.

      Yes, it’s the inflammation that is the real problem here. If I ate a sandwich with Italian beef (multiple triggers) I’d be inflamed for a week. And not sleeping. I take ibuprofen and Valerian root to help reduce inflammation when it happens, but I’m working to figure out how to eat so that I trigger inflammation seldom or not at all.

  3. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Hey Jim, I know you live in Indy, and just have to say, I’ve been living down here for 19 months, and I’ve gained 30 pounds. This is a tough area of the country for single people to find healthy food “on the fly”. I either have to alter my whole way of planning meals (including massive amounts of time dedicated to the process), or move back to a city where I can get quick, healthy meals out of neighborhood stores, cafes, and food trucks (as was my past). Interestingly enough, I manage a bunch of people, and even some of my “sub-30’s” who should be impervious to poor food selections at their age, are not fairing too well, I have one who’s going to a specialist because she can’t seem to eat anything any more without being sick! Indiana water? Who knows…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve always lived in Indiana, and the mindset I’ve always had is that if you want really healthy food, you have to make it yourself, and that eating out is more of an occasion. I think it’s a subtle cultural thing here.

  4. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    You have proved to me once again that everyone is dealing with things that the rest of us have no idea about. Isn’t it amazing how we take various parts of our physical selves for granted until something goes wrong.
    I sympathize with your digestive issues. Mine are much more mild than what you describe, but have seen benefit from a probiotic supplement that is supposed to pep up beneficial bacteria in the gut. But last night’s Mexican food may have pushed it too far.

  5. rogers Avatar

    Jim First you need to stop the antibotics. These will mess up your digestion, and your whole body in general. Eat or take garlic pills for invection concerns. Your stomach needs some good old fashion apple cider vinegar. Try braggs organic vinger. You can get it at Krogers in the health food section. Thought i would try to help. God Bless

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The antibiotic was for a time, to stabilize things. There is a particular antibiotic for my condition used for that purpose. It worked wonderfully, and I no longer need it. I have strong reactions to garlic — I will be sick for days if I take it — so it is off the list. I’ve tried the apple cider vinegar before and it didn’t help. :-(

  6. Walter Czyz Avatar
    Walter Czyz

    I’ve had 2 back surgeries and I fully understand chronic pain. I’ve found taking Tylenol PM a couple hours before bed has helped me sleep trough most of the night.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ooh, ouch, there’s not much worse than back pain. I used to use Trazodone for sleep — it worked better than anything else I tried. Maybe I should try it again.

  7. Maureen Sudlow Avatar

    I’ve struggled with that kind of agonising pain as well. I have to watch my diet, but I also got help from a naturopath when the Doctors said they could do nothing. She started me on arsenicum album (sounds drastic doesn’t it) and it really helps. I take some when I feel that pain starting to come on, and often manage to stave it off. Good luck and take care.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve hedged on naturopathy so far, hoping to find a medical or diet solution first — but if changing my diet doesn’t get it, I’ll go all alternative-medicine looking for help. Thanks!

  8. Sam Avatar

    Hi Jim, wow, I’m surprised by this post because it’s a subject near and dear to my heart! I’ve been having digestive issue for years. Over ten years ago a doctor told me I had IBS and I should take more fiber. I just tried, but as a then young man in his early 30s, I don’t think I was ready to fully commit to a strict diet. All the fiber did was give me gas. I would have bad issues with constipation. It went on like this for years. Over the past few years, I quit smoking and did really try to clean myself out with a better diet. This time, eating more veggies, fruits, probiotics, etc, helped and my digestive issues eased. I noticed I also had flare ups during times of great stress and just like you, I was so pleasantly surprised that leaving a stressful job last year did more for my “IBS” than anything else! Great post, there’s more to life than cameras! :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Sam; solidarity, brother. I feel like I’m my own personal science experiment, trying this and that and that and this, easing my discomfort every step of the way.

      1. Sam Avatar

        Thanks Jim, though I’m sorry for your discomfort, nice to know I’m in good company! I like food, but I’ve always said food was not my friend. If I’m not careful with what I eat, it can trigger “issues.” Though it could change at any time, I’m happy to just be at a peaceful medium at the moment.

  9. Schmitt Avatar

    Everyone else is sympathetic about the digestive issues – let me be sympathetic about the foot. I broke my ankle last March and it’s been a long, long road — and at that, I am finally walking nearly normally if with some pain; my brother broke his ankle over ten years ago and developed cellulitis there later. He had a flare-up in November that had him in hospital for two weeks. Scary stuff.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much for commiserating. The tricky thing about healing a foot is that every time you step down with it, you’ve aggravated the surgery/injury. So it just takes a dang long time! Here’s hoping we both avoid cellulitis. My girlfriend’s oldest son got it in both feet last week and was in sheer misery. Fortunately, he went straight to the doctor and whatever the doctor prescribed prevented a hospital stay and he’s now back to work.

  10. urbanhafner Avatar

    Damn, that quite a lot of issues all at once! :/ I hope that’s it for now and you can get a handle on these issues!

    I regularly stub my toes but to date I never broke it. The worst was a toenail peeling off after a few months.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      30 years ago, while working for a delivery service, I dropped a heavy minicomputer on my left big toe. It was black and blue for months, but at least I kept the nail!

  11. sdaven5191 Avatar

    Jim – I know this is a little “late out of the gate” as I like to call it, but I wanted to add my condolences and commiserations on your issues. I am now totally disabled, for life and have been since I was 54 (I’m almost 60 now) from a combination of many personal orthopedic/neurological and cardiac issues that my body cannot work past anymore. I won’t go into the whole thing because it could write another book for you, but leave it to say two spine surgeries with a fusion including rods, screws, and bone grafted out of my hip; a permanent partial disability due to severe right rotator cuff damage unrepairable by a shoulder/sports medicine specialist who tried twice; a knee that is now bone on bone, and results from old fashioned surgery some 40 years back; the last 15 years of my working life spent on my feet (voluntarily and quite happily) working as a Surgical Technologist in ORs which are notorious for their hard concrete based floors; a sudden unexplained appearance of Atrial fibrillation, my heart specialist was unable to explain the source of, and attempted to repair with a risky eight hour surgery. Semi successful at best. My body just could not take it any longer, and went”kaflooey” on me finally. I had so many years and so many legitimate doctors and surgeons records piled up by the time that happened, Social Security Disability didn’t even blink when my lawyer presented my application for benefits. I applied in November and got my letter in January that my benefits would begin the following month. That was several years ago.
    Now, as if I needed more issues, my doctor and I are in the middle of finding out what’s wrong with my gall bladder! Whew!
    Anyway, i wanted to let you know that I can certainly empathize with your diet and digestive issues – when your gut is out of whack, boy, EVRTYTHING is out of whack!! Hoping you have discovered and dealt with the source, and are feeling much better by now!! Best always….

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sorry to read of all the difficulties you face! That your SSD sailed through on the first try is a testament to how serious it is. Yeah, when the digestion isn’t happy, ain’t no part of me happy.

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