My 50th birthday was back in June, and I didn’t complete my 50by50 list, although there are a bunch more subitems that are done that I just haven’t blogged about yet. I’m counting this one though as 50ish.
What this post is not about
So let’s cut to the chase. I’m fat. Yes, there I’ve said it so others don’t have to. That’s not an invite to telling me your latest advice or what your Aunt Martha did to lose weight or any number of other things people like to say when people talk or don’t talk about their weight. I’ll be frank, this post isn’t about my weight as I never talk about it. And I do mean never.
For example: in the entire history of my relationship with Andrea, 16.5 years and counting, we have only talked about my weight in relation to some specific health-related issue (like my knees were sore, or a back adjustment), perhaps a dozen times in total. While I am generally open to talking about anything from gross events or experiences all the way up to extreme emotional intimacy, I generally do not discuss two topics with anyone other than my wife — sex life and weight — and both for the same reason. It seems to me to be the most intimate parts of life for anyone to discuss. That is not a normative statement. I don’t care if others talk about their weight, although I think discussing your sex life in front of anyone other than partners or potential partners is in bad taste.
If you lose 10 pounds, I will not compliment you. Not spontaneously. If you raise it as a goal you were trying to accomplish and you succeeded, I will congratulate you. But I feel uncomfortable doing so in any sense beyond the generic of accomplishing a goal. Why not? Because I would not chastise you if the reverse were true i.e. for gaining 10 pounds. I would not say you look terrible, I would not say you must feel a lot less healthy. Yet if you lose it, people feel comfortable saying the inverse. Going back to my previous paragraph, it would be like complimenting someone on which position they say they enjoy during sex — it’s too intimate, and really it’s nobody’s business, in my view.
I know a few people right now who are reading this and thinking, “Oh, you don’t mean me, I only say it because I’m worried about your health.” No, I do mean you. All of you. It is not your business, so why would you think, spontaneously, that it was okay to comment on it? Does that mean I get to comment on things about you that I think are bad? Like how much wine you drink or how snobby you can be or your romantic choices? No? Then, pardon my french, you should probably shut the fuck up unless invited to comment on something like that. And know that I will likely never invite you to advise me on that topic. (* That’s not entirely accurate. I asked my wife about an Epicure plan she did that she was happy with, and a friend at work recently accomplished a big goal so I was asking him how he did it. Somewhere around twice in about 50 years of life. Just saying.) For me, it is a lot like commenting on a woman being pregnant if you don’t know she is.
And, as an aside, or maybe not, just because I’m male doesn’t make me immune to body shaming concerns, and thanks, I can see my weight and how I look any day of the week. I don’t need to be reminded when I’m spending time with friends. I’m extremely body conscious in certain situations. Like swimming. I rarely have enough internal “don’t give a shit” energy to force myself to swim when other people are around that I know. At a beach in the middle of nowhere, I don’t care; although I might be self-conscious still, it won’t stop me from going swimming. However, at the cottage with family, I’ll likely swim only when not many other people are around, and if I do, even then I’ll wear my rash guard in to hide my whale carcass a little bit. A mental shield. So, to be clear, that’s NOT what this post is about. But I promised myself that I will be brutally honest when talking about myself on this blog, or there’s no point in writing it, and I want to flag this upfront so people don’t get confused about what the post is actually about.
A stress test
Because of my weight, or more pointedly, a recent increase due to my using my BiPap machine (lucky me, I’m part of the small percentage that gains weight instead of losing it with the use of a PAP machine), it was a good time to schedule a stress test and just see if there is anything going on, partly related to family history and partly my own history. I would also say though that part of my desire to check in, do health checkups, etc. is related to turning 50, and part of it is looking ahead to retirement — what health investments do I need to be making now to ensure I have the health I need in my retirement to support the lifestyle I want?
We scheduled the stress test for the Riverside Hospital, and everything was a go. At least, it was a go logistically. Mentally, not so much. Sure, I’m committed to doing the tests, but truthfully I hate hospitals. I know, hospitals are generally never popular with anyone outside of the medical profession anyway, but my experience with hospitals is mostly negative — my dad (from seeing him in bed with tubes and stuff when he was about my age and various hospitalizations up to the end, where he was silent, sleeping, unconscious); my mom (a year of uncertainty leading to palliative care); and the first two traumatic years with Jacob and our constant visits to the Ottawa General and CHEO before things evened out for him.
It’s not really a fear, just a hatred, and I coupled this with not being sure what to expect for the actual stress test experience. I’m winded more easily than I used to be (still not asking for comments), and my cardio capacity has been reduced of late. Plus I wasn’t sure if I would have to run or just on the treadmill, or use the breathing tube to measure oxygen use (often seen for athletes). Neither would be good experiences for me, with my bad knees and claustrophobic feelings of tubes, combined with a huge gag reflex. At least I didn’t have to drink chalk dust. But I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it. Not to mention I’ve heard stories of people having heart attacks during the test, which to my mind, is the definition of stress.
On the comedic side, if you want to know if I’m stressed, just ask! Check! Having a stress test is stressing me out! Check! Oh, you mean physical heart stress. Well, pooh.
A couple of days before, I get the confirmation from the hospital, with an added note — stop taking any blood pressure medicines that are beta blockers. I don’t know a beta blocker from a football blocker, so I trundled off to the pharmacist to be sure. Yeah, I could have googled, but if I missed something, I would feel stupid. So the pharmacist confirmed neither of my blood pressure meds — amlodipine and hydrochlorothorazide — are beta blockers . Nor my reflux med. Great, good to go. Nothing to stop taking. Dun, dun, dun.
I get there, figure out (wrongly) where to park, find out as I get close to the main building I picked practically the farthest lot from the door, but that is good for my health, right? Meh. We do the check-in, finish my blood pressure pre-tests, and my numbers show I am jacked with nervousness. It drops to regular after a bit, but that’s normal for me, and not unexpected when you put me in a hospital. I make a short preventative trip to the washroom, head back to the waiting room, and the it is on to the test.
First question — did I stop my BP meds? Yes, ma’am. No beta blockers for me. What about calcium-based pills? Wait, what?
Oh, yeah, apparently I was not supposed to take beta blockers OR calcium-based pills i.e. the amlodipine. It basically lowers my BP which makes it easier for the heart to work or something, which means during the stress test, it’s going to be harder to raise it up to my target of 144 bpm, the magical rate of 80% of max.
Umm, someone should have told me that info when they told me about the beta blockers, but okay, now what? Well, we can do the test anyway, it will just be a bit harder. Riiiiiight, because I was looking forward to it being harder.
I get free manscaping of my chest as she promises me I’ll thank her when they remove the sensor pads later. As an aside, I do thank her. And it itches as it grows back in and feels weird, I must say. Those who do it willingly elsewhere? Add that as a third topic not to be discussed with non-partners.
On to the treadmill I go, the doctor okays me to start and disappears, and the tech starts me up. I can stabilize myself lightly on the hand rails, which is good, as my balance isn’t great, as long as I don’t “grab” which will reduce the stress and lower my heart rate. Keep all the weight on my legs. No problem. A simple walk up a hill.
We increase the rate, and then again. My heart rate is NOT going where it needs to go. And I’m starting to puff. We’re only 3-4 minutes in, but my heart rate is stuck at 75% and not very active beyond that, but meanwhile I feel like my breathing is going to cause me to black out. And she wants me to not only hit 80% but to sustain it for another 5-6 minutes after that? No way can I do that. I’m dying and feeling like I’m going to lose balance and fall. And they want me to run? Nope.
I have to stop. I’m embarrassed, but too focused on breathing to care. My vitals are fine, no panic indicators, but my head is pounding and I know my BP is jacked again. I sit down, relax, calm myself, and it goes back to normal.
I can come back again with no amlodipine, or we can do a medication-based test over at Ottawa General (not sure the particulars, but seems kind of like jacking my heart rate with adrenaline for a sustained period). There are apparently a couple of different ways to do it, I’ll have to talk to my regular doctor, but that’s it. I’m done for that part of the day.
But I’m not really done
Sure, I had an #EpicFail on the stress test, partly just me (probably 90%) and partly the meds (10%) that threw it off a bit, but I’ll deal. I really just wanted the all-clear to start a more aggressive exercise routine but I’ll have to start slower while we wait to test the higher range later.
As I’m driving home, I confess I’m not feeling great. My whole body feels “off”. Like I have some sort of low-grade infection everywhere. As I hit Baseline Road, I get a series of little twinges in my chest. Not for long, just short little pinches. On both sides of my chest, underneath my sternum. I reposition, it goes away. I’ve had positional stuff before, but never on both sides. I get home and do a bit of yoga and my back cracks in three places. Oh, that explains the discomfort. Everything goes back into place, and I feel fine. Hmmm. Nothing like being hyper aware to make you hyper paranoid.
Anyway, in the meantime, I also did some bloodwork on the way home that was pending for a month or so. Three days later, I get a call from the doctor on my voicemail saying my bloodwork has anomalies in it and I should come see her. It sounds like “come soon”, but the next available appointment isn’t until October 18th by which time I figure they should have the test results and advice re: the stress test too. Oh boy, oh bliss, oh joyful bliss.
I take the appointment but advise them to check with the doctor if the 18th is too far away. Apparently it is, and they want me sooner. Thursday is apparently soon enough, so I go tomorrow. I’ve narrowed the likelihood down to one of four likely issues based on what they wanted to test for and what I asked them to add. We’ll see if any of the four are right and how serious the “anomalies” are. My rough guesses in order of severity:
- There might be signs of an infection…I feel like my two other wisdom teeth are trying very hard to grow in, and my ears and throat have been messed up the last few weeks, including the day of the blood test (it feels like I’m swallowing glass), but I don’t feel it is particularly “urgent” with everything else going on right now;
- My body might be showing signs of inching closer to diabetes thresholds, which they always test me for given my family history and my weight, but the test comes back negative generally except for occasional anomalies in the bloodwork — but when they poke further, it comes back clean;
- My cholesterol levels, or thyroid, or something similar have spiked, but I suspect if so, it is again temporary; and,
- The big potential scary one is last on my list, as I asked them to check some of my protein levels. A couple of my lymph nodes around my neck have seemed more swollen of late; if my wisdom teeth aren’t active, then my tonsils are going wonky; my cluster headaches have increased (maybe just due to my increased weight); I’ve had a bit more cramping, gas and bloating of late; and as I noted, I’m having a bit more breathlessness / winded than normal (also likely weight-related). Almost all of those symptoms point to other things as more likely causes, but what the heck, I had them check my protein levels since we were doing the blood work anyway.
And while the appointment tomorrow is nice to have scheduled, I fully expect that any anomalies they found in the bloodwork will just result in more tests, so I won’t necessarily get answers tomorrow. Just another step in the process.
That’s it. It’s not a pretty story, and I don’t have an ending yet. But I like to be honest about my sharing my experiences, where I can. Basically, in the end, I don’t have the body I need to do some of the things in retirement that I want to do, so I’m upping my maintenance regime. I just wished it didn’t stress me out so much, only intending the pun slightly. But I did get to try free manscaping, so there’s that.