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Health, Post Surgery Update

Content Warning: Lots of talk about Poop and Puke.

Image from MedicalXpress article on gut bacteria.

After nearly three weeks of doing fantastic post-surgery, meeting or exceeding all my healing benchmarks… this week happened.

Some background:

In my twenties, I was lactose intolerant. I did the Lactaid and other digestive thing for a while, then did a full cut for a short period, introducing milk products back very slowly over time. It worked and since then, I’ve been able to eat milk products in moderation—including ice-cream—without any digestive issues. In fact, I found, the whole fat had less impact on me than lower fat options.

Also, my stomach has never gotten along with most artificial sweeteners, but being an at-home cook and generally preferring less-processed type foods, that hasn’t come up much with this exception: If I ever got constipated (not a common thing till perimenopause hit), I could go to Starbucks and get a skinny iced latte of some sort. Problem solved usually within the hour. Small doses didn’t bother me… like a single packet in an iced coffee or tea (as they dissolve more readily than sugar), but more than that… Hello, toilet.

Back to the current post-gastric-surgery life.

After gastric surgery, a person is on a strict, limited diet of high protein and little-to-no carbs or sugars.

And liquid for the first two or three weeks.

So, one must live on a lot of protein shakes with artificial sweeteners. Some milk-based. And broth or “strained cream soups.”

Fortunately, my husband made me a lot of bone broth, which is delicious and high protein. And while I do like many sweet things, I have gotten away from a lot of sweet over the years in my weight loss / attempts at hormone and brain chemical balancing journey. So I was splitting my required intake of liquids and protein with soups and the shakes and food / water additives.

Also, for the majority of post-gastric-surgery patients, constipation is a major concern. In fact, in our orientation preparation meetings, it came up almost as much as unplanned pregnancies (another big thing, albeit with even more significant life changes).

I had absolutely no problem with constipation. I was going easily the day I got home. In this case, artificial sweeteners FTW!  (I hadn’t even begun any dairy yet!)

The second week passed easily, except for the fact this ADHD foodie was BORED, BORED, BORED, BORED with the limited tastes and textures. And, in case you don’t know this about ADHD brains, boredom ticks off all the same chemical triggers as a dangerous situation. The hubby did his best by making me different homemade vegetable juices as were allowed on the diet, which changed some of the flavors, but it was still torture. I was mixing and matching all sorts of stuff to alleviate the dread of boring food. When the doc gave me permission to move forward to the next stage of soft foods, it came as physical relief.

The next stage of soft foods: yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese. All dairy. All low fat. Even the Greek yogurt, which was already naturally lower carb.

I was not thinking of my past food issues; I was just happy I got some change in texture and flavor.

Half a week into this phase, I was getting bored again. For anyone who’s eaten Wooldridge cooking, you absolutely understand why. We cook with flavor, texture, appearance, and diversity on the plate.

So I started mixing and matching… and my portions were going up, which was good and expected.

Then came last Friday… I started off with a little too much coffee in the morning, or so I thought, and that set me off. I had some soup and felt better. But then I had a phone appointment and would be traveling, so… Every. Other. Meal. was portable, which meant it included artificial sweeteners and / or some amount of dairy.

Yyyeeeeeeeaaaaahhhhh…

That was a bad idea.

To explain more of the science behind what was to come of all these things added up, here’s a little bit more information about gut flora. This article is more medical, as is this one, and this one is more in laymen’s terms.

In shorter blog explanation: Food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies—as well as non-food based food allergies—are both affected by and affect the gut flora / gut biome. Long, continued exposure to the allergens or cause of sensitivity / intolerance decrease the “good”* bacteria in the gut. At all times, our body has a mix of healthy/positive/ “good” bacteria and “bad”* bacteria that, if unchecked, can bloom and make us unhealthy. Much like the Force, there needs to be a balance between the two.

Me consuming a lot of artificial sweeteners and then throwing a lot of lowfat dairy on top of that upset that balance. So the “bad” bacteria bloomed and settled in my lower GI track.

And made my life utterly miserable.

I wasn’t keeping in food or water, the two big things necessary post-surgery.  I managed to control the symptoms through two pre-recorded panels for DragonCon, but after that my body was like, “yeah, we’re done.” 

I didn’t want to go to the ER, so I tried as many of my go-to remedies as possible for if I eat bad food or if I’ve got some gastro-intestinal infection. They worked in a limited way. Adding pediatric electrolytes (with REAL sugar) in limited quantities to my water helped me keep the water in. But too much would set me off. And while I could usually keep broth in, even high-protein bone broth wasn’t enough to get me to the protein levels I needed. (60 grams a day.)  I was doing better for a while, but thank goodness a friend told me to still check in with the sugeon, which I’m glad I did then as I ended up on the phone with the surgeon’s office every other day this week….

Shortly after my first call with the surgeon’s team, I got worse and was back to barely keeping water in. But I wasn’t throwing up, so I had hope it would pass.

Well, that changed too, and I was back on the phone and got myself an appointment to give a stool sample. I’ll spare you the details.

In short, the sample confirmed an infection, so antibiotics it was.

If you remember from the last post about my journey toward this surgery, I mentioned the issue of antibiotics and the gut biome… so I was less than thrilled I had to resort to them, but I was in agony. The pain was as bad as when I was in the ER for the kidney infection while I also had the massive fibroid. Only, instead of grinding and pounding, this pain is roiling and feels like being stabbed below the belly button with giant knitting needles. I was spending long swaths of time literally sitting, rocking, and groaning in pain. Unable to do anything else.

When the nurse practitioner warned me that the first antibiotic they’d try was “not readily tolerated by many people,” I quickly learned that was code for “will be the most vile thing you’ve ever let cross your tongue.” Metallic, sour, and bitter, it was all the all the flavor sensations that make a person pucker and gag.

Puckering and gagging is not exactly what someone who’s already trying not to puke needs.

I made it through the first day, then had the Worst Night of all the symptoms. Come morning, I couldn’t finish anything and when I finally tried to take the antibiotic again, my body was like: “Oh. Fuck. No.” And, after a valiant attempt of meditation and deep breathing to fight the urge, I puked up that chalky, disgusting tablet within ten minutes.

I called my surgeon’s office back and got a new antibiotic. Pill one has been consumed and kept in, as has two cooked shrimp.

I keep reminding myself that I did get a fair amount done, and the week wasn’t totally lost: I did my DragonCon panels; I finalized the single document of Wicked Women for layout; I got invited to and submitted to an anthology; I got invited to and filled out the form to mentor on the Writer’s Track for DragonCon; and I wrote some words on my novel.

But the feeling of having lost a week in healing, the feeling of being helpless to the point of asking the Husband-of-Awesome to work from home / drive me places / do stuff I normally do, the still sick and pained feelings—those are still there. And I need to be compassionate to myself about that.

Let it be said, though, The Husband-of-Awesome has WELL earned his title for the next twenty years of marriage!

As an additional note, I have not told a lot of people how sick I’ve been. I always have a hard time doing that, especially if I don’t want to worry folks. But I’ve probably ghosted a few people or not responded because I’ve simply not had the energy. One of my good friends was talking about her daughter blaming herself when a friend ghosted her…and I know I and many of my other friends on the neurodiverse spectrum have those same worries. “What did I do? Did I accidentally hurt someone’s feelings without knowing? Are they mad at me?”

This is very much part of the issue the late, great Robin Williams spoke of when he said, “Every person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

Be kind to others; be kind to yourselves.

Now to go, rest, and continue to heal.

* Bacteria are simple organisms without the concepts of “good” or “bad.” We classify them as such based on how they make us feel / affect our health. As cute as I can imagine the illustration, there’s no bacterium swimming around a stomach with a twirly mustache going “Mwahahaha! Ultimate pain is my ultimate goal!”

** Also, this is not the place to make a stand against artificial sweeteners or dairy products. Neither are inherently bad or good either, and I know plenty of people for whom those products have been boons to their health. Every body has a different set of needs.

I’ve never wanted to end my life… #holdontothelight, #alwayskeepfighting, #akf, #mentalwellness

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I’ve never wanted to end my life.

I’ve been sad, angry, lethargic, overwhelmed to the point of being unable to get out of bed. I would never use “depressed,” though, to describe how I felt. Part of it, I’m sure, is stigma. Another part, however, is knowing my friends who have been depressed – clinically or situationally – and who at one point really did want to end their lives.

I was bullied through a good part of school. In first grade, my best friend told me she was leaving me to hang out with the cooler kids. In fifth and sixth grade, my best friend and I were belittled by teachers and physically threatened by classmates for being different. I became the lead drummer in junior high because I spent every lunch hiding in the band room, practicing so I could avoid the lunchroom where no one would sit with me and I’d gotten shoved and told “Stop following us! We don’t want you around us!” by a group of girls I’d thought were friends. In high school, things changed because there were over 2000 kids, so enough of us outcasts and geeks found each other and made our own group – but we all knew we should never travel alone. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, or if we were Magic the Gathering people or Dungeons and Dragons players, we employed the buddy system and made friends with the librarians who let us stay there rather than the more dangerous realms of lunch rooms and study halls.

Through all that, I never came close to wanting to end my life.

My emotions didn’t go to the dark level I saw in others, so I didn’t want to take that term “depression” from them. I was worried about appropriation before I’d even heard the word “appropriation.” I loved these people, and I respected what they were going through – even when it made me feel helpless. It wasn’t about me feeling helpless; it was about them. People who were hurting the way I’d hurt – only much, much worse.

I’m going to get into a confessional that some people might just consider “woo-woo” or “New Agey” or some other diminutive term that downplays the intense levels humans can connect. This is a #sorrynotsorry moment where I think such people are wrong.

A friend of mine, also a writer – keeping names confidential – and I regularly share how we both are deeply affected by others’ emotion, and how that affects each of us in our writing  and working lives. We remind each other to protect our energies – because if someone is very excited, we get that way. And if someone was hurting, we take on that pain in hopes that it made them hurt less. Often unconsciously. Often to a level where we need time to physically, mentally, and emotionally recover from a particular conversation.

When I started learning about energy work in my adulthood, I’d been told by more than a few people I needed to protect myself better when it came to energy. I did. Somewhat.

Until I didn’t.

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I was visiting another dear friend of mine who was going through an especially difficult time in her life. She was successful, happily married, brilliant in literary gifts as well as science… And for the first time, she was actively thinking of ways she might end her life. She was even planning ways she might do so with as little impact to others as possible – because she didn’t want to hurt anyone. I listened, we held each other, and I just wanted to do something to help.

Perhaps I did. I don’t know. I know she is still alive and at least posting happy things on social media.

I also know that I was more drained than I’d ever been. And a few days later, I was feeling things I’d never felt before.

I didn’t want to kill myself.

But I didn’t want to do anything. I hurt. Everywhere. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt utterly and completely empty, like there was nothing inside and nothing good would ever happen again. My brain was spinning its logic wheels; there was no reason for me to have these emotions. My work and money issues were actually doing well, I was writing a story I really enjoyed, no one I knew was terminally sick or dying or dead…

I was sitting in the car while my husband had run into the store and I was just sobbing uncontrollably.

Not only were there all those negative feelings, but the fact there was no logical reason for me to have those feelings, feelings I’d never felt before, was utterly terrifying.

Fortunately, I do have a wonderfully supportive husband who took how I was feeling very seriously and spent the day doing things with me. He looked online for ways to help “reset the brain” while I napped. Then we went walking in the woods. After that, we visited our long-time friend, apothecary, and “kitchen witch,” who smudged me and suggested foods with garlic, tumeric, and chocolate. My husband drove to all this so I wouldn’t have to, and he listened to me going on and on while he drove.  Then we went home and I took the “day off” and snuggled with him as we binge watched Supernatural.*

The feelings alleviated as the day passed, but not entirely. It was not an immediate fix. Not for a week, maybe two, did I feel even close to my usual self. And the memory still chills my stomach and grips my lungs so I feel I need my asthma inhaler.

Those feelings – the combination of them all at once – that is how I understand depression.  It’s not just one thing. It’s everything all at once at the loudest volume and THE HIGHEST PRESSURE. And no strength to handle it.

I’ve never been diagnosed as clinically depressed. In fact, I even got turned down for a weight study because, during the interview, I had no signs of depression whatsoever.

But it happened to me.

It happened to me, and it can happen to anyone. It could happen to everyone; you don’t need a diagnosis.

Do I know what my other friends with depression know? Certainly not. I know enough about emotions that they are not the same for any two people. And everyone has a different pain threshold. Can I speak for people who suffer clinical depression or any other type of depression? Absolutely not.

But I can say how I felt. And I can share the stories I’m permitted to share. For those who are suffering, you aren’t alone – even if someone might only share a moment or a piece of that pain – someone has felt desperation and depression.  Someone believes what you say you feel. Someone wants to help.

For those who don’t understand, can’t imagine…perhaps my short moment will give you pause, will describe it in a way you can understand and help you empathize. It happened to me; it can happen to anyone; so everyone needs to be aware and everyone should be more compassionate. I hope that adding to this conversation, we can build a better support system and a kinder, more aware culture.

If you are experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts, here are some resources for you. Remember, you’re not alone and people care about you:

http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/#  – 1-800-273-8255

http://suicide.org/suicide-hotlines.html – has a list of numbers for specific states and regions.

http://www.nami.org/ – The National Alliance on Mental Health has a lot of resources you can call for emergency help, to educate yourself,  to find community support, and more.

* When I had my writing colleague who has confided about me about her depression beta read this article, she gave me a lot of great feedback, but one thing she told me was that I needed to detail what I did to get through my depressive episode. I was reticent to do so because I get infuriated at all the “inspirational” posters, memes, messages, etc. that say “You don’t need pills; you just need to walk in the woods.” I want to slap the people who post them because it’s insulting and outright deadly. Period. Long explanation short: Sometimes natural, herbal, cognitive-behavior methods work; sometimes they don’t and medicine does. There are good reasons to take medication and there are good reasons to not take medication. Respect what works for each individual, share information and techniques, but NEVER shame someone or belittle their choices or needs.

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms, and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

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