Sunday, August 13, 2017

Hitting Rock Bottom

I think most people know the basic outline of a healthy diet. I say that because most people are capable of describing such a diet when they relate how healthy they eat after lamenting that they can't lose any weight. It's so easy to forget about snacks and ignore grazing behavior that I sometimes think our evolutionary psychology has concocted a conspiracy against us.

The real question, though, is how does one find the motivation (or perhaps courage) to commit to eating for their health and ignoring all the unhealthy urges? Committing to a healthy diet can be as hard as giving up cigarettes or alcohol; perhaps even harder since you can't simply stop eating. How hard would it be for an alcoholic to overcome the addiction if some small amount of alcohol was a daily requirement for life itself?

I wish I could tell you that I just mustered the courage to make the decision and through sheer force of will I found my way. I know a woman who did that and I think she is really amazing. She told me that it took her six months of psyching up to finally pull the trigger. My story, sadly, is not so courageous: it is, on the other hand, humiliating.

On December 5th, 2016 I watched a Youtube video of buses, tow-trucks, and even police cars, all sliding down an icy hill and crashing into each other. I was still laughing about it as I left my home and began my walk to the bus stop. Less than half-way there I slipped on some ice. My legs shot out straight in front of me and I landed hard. I had had some hard landings when I was a skydiver and knew all to well what it was like to get the wind knocked out of me.

I rolled onto my side and just braced for the pain and a few minutes of being unable to breathe. Something wasn't right, though. People started to gather around me. Some lived in the adjacent houses and a few had stopped and gotten out of their vehicles. I could hear them talking but it was hard to understand what they were saying because there was this grotesque noise, like the death rattle of a bear, masking their words. I realized that sound was coming out of me.

I tried to stop making that noise, I tried to laugh a little and tell them I was embarrassed that so many people had seen me fall, and I tried to ignore a growing feeling that something really bad had just happened to me. I wanted to stand up but one woman kept saying I should stay down and wait for the ambulance. Two young men helped me to my feet and I found that I had to really flex my abdominals to get myself upright.

I could still feel my legs and move them so I knew my spine wasn't damaged. I was wrong. My spinal cord wasn't severed but, as I would later learn, my spinal column was damaged. I had been crushed under my own weight. I was so damn fat that a mere slip on the ice was enough for my own weight to crush one of my vertebrae.

I wanted to push through the pain and get to work. I kept saying that I needed to get to my bus. One of the ambulance drivers got under one of my arms to hold me up and said, "Ma'am, your bus has arrived. Let us take you where you need to go." I wanted to say no but I was coming to the realization that I was in dire need of medical aid. As I agreed to go with them I choked up and started crying. I was still crying hours later.

Everyone thought I was crying because I was in pain. In truth, pain makes me yowl like a momma bear looking for her cubs and, as it was, my back was becoming numb; I think I was going into shock. I was crying because I couldn't believe what had become of me. I kept reliving some of the best times in my life, paddling against the current, herringboning my way up a steep hill, or bouldering at the rock climbing gym. That's still who I was in my head, even after nearly doubling my BMI. I kept thinking about those things as I realized I was now a fat old lady who needed an ambulance because of a little slip on the ice.

The ambulance guys, doctors, nurses, x-ray and CAT scan techs were all so compassionate but that made me feel even worse. They didn't see who I remembered being, they saw who I was and that made me feel more naked than when they peeled off my clothes. I was fitted with something called a Jewett brace and given an appointment to have it better fitted a few days later. I kept thinking that I needed to get back to work.

Oddly, the fact that I would be facing some time off of work didn't really sink in until they started putting the cast on my left wrist. Yeah, I broke that too. The tech who put the cast on seemed to find it rather novel that I didn't have a clue how to hold my arm steady for her. She asked me if this was the first time I had ever had a cast and seemed surprised when I said yes.

That reminded me of how terrible my landings were when I was a skydiver. I was very competitive and always wanted to land in the yard at the drop zone rather than having to make the walk of shame from some distant field with my rig all bundled in my arms. To that end, I often made last minute corrections that all too frequently cause me to stall and fall or dive face first into the dirt. In one of my worst landings I bounced, face first, three times across the yard as one jerk yelled, "Heather, either learn how to land or get a contract with a dairy company to do ads for milk." Even with the wind knocked out of me, still laying face down on the lawn, I managed to get one hand up to flip him the middle finger.

That was the me I remembered. I was invincible. I could hit the planet and just bounce without breaking a bone. As the warm plaster hardened on my wrist, however, I realized that my knife hand was out of commission and I was officially not going back to work anytime soon.

Eventually I was ushered into a room with the bone doctor. He was a pleasant fellow but his words were daunting. I should mention that all these conversations were in French, and I had never dealt with doctors in French before so a lot of the words were new to me. I did understand that I had lost 40% of one of my vertebrae and it would have to be monitored to make sure it didn't keep disintegrating. The cast would be on my wrist for about 8 weeks and I might be wearing the Jewett brace for more than 12 weeks.

By the time I was discharged, my head was swirling. Being diagnosed with diabetes seemed like a far better plight than what I was facing. As I got out of the wheel chair, I realized I really had to use my abs to press into the brace to keep myself upright. It should come as no surprise that it had been years since I had done any sit-ups. I stumbled over to the pharmacy, terrified by every patch of ice, to pick up my prescriptions and buy myself a cane.

I didn't know what was going to become of me. I just wanted to get home and gobble some of the morphine and figure out the next few days one at a time. I had known people who said they didn't get healthy until their first heart attack, or until the doctor told them their blood pressure was so high they were going to blow a tube the next time they ate a burger. I had expected my medical crisis to be diabetes. I had no idea what a crushed vertebrae entailed but I hoped I could endure it. Oddly, for the first time in over a decade, I felt the rather estranged feeling of wanting to prevail.

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