How to Find Out What You’re Made Of

MIA

I’ve been pretty much completely missing in action from the internet this year. I haven’t made a post on this blog in a very long time. I haven’t made a blog entry at www.myfitnesspal.com in something like 8 months either. I haven’t been tweeting, or plussing, or pinning, or even sharing much on Facebook.  I’ve never been a particularly active person in terms of writing content for others or sharing existing content across the internet, but to stop everything online for the better part of 8 months is unusual, even for me. So what was going on?
 
I was discovering what I was made of.

Some Context

Frank Herbert’s seminal work Dune had a profound impact on me when I read it at the tender age of 14. While I didn’t appreciate the full scope of the book’s (and later books’) meaning until adulthood, the book was key in shaping me into the person I am today. Early in the book, young Paul Atreides is being tested by the Bene Gesserit sisterhood. His hand is placed in a pain-inducing box, and he will be killed if he removes it. He feels pain beyond anything imaginable; as though his hand is being burned off completely. He passes the test and is shocked to find his hand intact afterwards. “The pain,” he says, and is cut off by the woman who tested him. “A human can override any nerve in the body,” she tells him. Her lesson is that humans can elect what to feel and are not slaves to their biochemistry and instinct the same way animals are.
 
That lesson resonated strongly with me, and it’s something that I came to appreciate the truth of more than ever over the last 7 months.
 
Heather (aka H4rpy on myfitnesspal) and I have been changing our lives over the past two years. Her write-up of the past few months spells the tale out far better than I could. Do yourself a favor and read it (and marvel at the strength and courage of this incredible woman), then pick this post back up.
 
 
I’ll attempt to summarize, but she really tells it better than I ever could.
 
If you didn’t read Heather’s write-up, you should. If you don’t want to, here’s my version. Hers is better.

Trial By Fire

 Heather has been infertile her entire life. This isn’t an especially big deal for us as children have never really been something we felt we needed in our life together. Over the last couple of years, she’s changed her lifestyle (and I’ve changed mine at the same time) for the better. We both eat properly, exercise frequently, and have lost significant amounts of weight.
 
This January, I told Heather about my intention to ride in the Dehydrator, a bike ride with various ride lengths that’s hosted here in Duncan, OK every July. I wanted to ride at least the 25 mile course, but was hoping to do the 50 miler. I was surprised that Heather expressed interest in doing the ride with me as well. We decided the 25 mile course would be a good goal for us, since she doesn’t have as much riding time as I do and would need more conditioning to get ready.
 
In February, she noticed a big lump in her abdomen. Heather has always had a number of small uterine fibroid tumors so small lumps were nothing out of the ordinary. This wasn’t small, and more concerning, it moved from day to day; sometimes up to 12 inches. One morning it would be down near the top of her pelvis, then next morning, 3 inches above her belly button. We knew something new was wrong, so we scheduled an appointment as soon as possible, which was about a month away.
 
As the days turned into weeks, Heather’s condition began to deteriorate. She was in a significant amount of pain and was rapidly losing endurance. She had to stop going to the gym in late February. She couldn’t go to the store on her own in early March. By early April, she could barely work anymore because she couldn’t sit up long enough to accomplish anything meaningful at the computer.
 
We went to the appointment and were referred to another doctor, who saw us a week or two later. Heather had to undergo a battery of tests, including a CT scan. I looked over her CT scan when we got home since it was going to take a day or two to get all the results, and I immediately saw the cause of the problem. I have no medical training, but I do have a pretty solid understanding of basic human anatomy. None of her organs were in the right place. Where her spleen, stomach, intestines, and reproductive system should have been was a solid mass of grey matter. On a CT scan, that means solid tissue.  Heather had something in her somewhere between the size of a large bowling ball and a small tire. I could even see where one of the lobes of it was pressing on her spine in the exact place she had herniated one of her discs a couple of years before. The conclusion seemed obvious to me- immediate hysterectomy.
 
When we saw the doctor, everything she said backed up what we’d seen. Heather had to have a hysterectomy as soon as possible. The largest fibroid was 26 centimeters in diameter. It had numerous brothers and sisters nearly as large.
 
Heather underwent the next set of examinations and tests to rule out any complications before surgery- tests for cancer, infection, etc. The day after those tests, I was on an unscheduled trip out of town for work for the day (my job often carries me around to various parts of the state) when she got a panicked phone call from the doctor.
 
She was pregnant.

She was totally infertile, but she was pregnant. There are any number of possible reasons, but we both feel pretty strongly that her new, healthy lifestyle was the catalyst. The cause doesn’t matter. She was pregnant.

She drove to the hospital (I can’t put into words how I hate myself for not being there to take her) and I left the work site immediately to meet her there. The ultrasound confirmed that she was indeed pregnant, and also that she was hopelessly riddled with fibroids, all of which were growing in overdrive due to the increased blood and nutrient supply that were supposed to be nurturing our unexpected child.
 
Unfortunately, she was also bleeding.

Trial By Thermonuclear Fire

She started on the way to the hospital and it got worse each hour. The pain mounted until she could only sit with a glazed expression on her face, fighting to hold herself together. Heather and our child fought for life, but there was never any hope of going full term. A bit over a week later, our family of three was two again.
 
We were, of course, crushed. I can’t really express the feeling. I don’t think anyone can. I think trying to would fail to do it justice, so I won’t.
 
This is where Dune comes in. I wanted to scream and rage and kick and yell about the unjustness of it all. I wanted Heather to stop hurting, to be able to smile more, to be able to cry less. I knew that what I wanted didn’t enter into the equation, and that screaming, raging, kicking, yelling, and crying would do precisely nothing to make her feel better. My focus became laser pointed: I would do anything and everything I could to make it easier for her to endure what she was going through. Doing so would help me to keep the stress and grief at bay.
 
This was when I began to feel the strain. Work had been insanely busy for the first four months of the year and wasn’t winding down. The financial strain of making sure we were going to be okay with all of the medical expenses was daunting. The stress of watching and fearing for Heather was beginning to wear me down. One night I was thinking about all that had happened so far, and I remembered that section of Dune. I thought about the fact that there was a deeper lesson to be learned.
 
Animals react to what they are given, or to what is done to them. A true Human doesn’t choose to disregard their reaction. They choose how to react to what has happened.

I decided that I was going to see for myself what I was made of.

The Power of Choice

I had been doing most of the house duties already, but I endeavored to be more diligent with them. I tried to find things that needed doing so that I could do them before she asked. If she didn’t have to ask, she didn’t have to worry about it.  I spent every free moment on the weekends tearing apart our flower beds and building huge new raised beds and containers for her, then planted a multi-level flower display and a small but robust vegetable garden for her. It felt good to nurture things, and I’m sure it was a subconscious need on both our parts to watch something grow under our care, if only to reassure ourselves that we would have been good parents to our little bundle.
 
Her surgery was finally scheduled in mid-May, and it went off without a hitch. She followed her doctor’s orders to the letter, walked when she was supposed to, and we got to leave the hospital after only two days.
 
Heather spent the following weeks at home with me. I finally got to take off work for a bit to help her recover, so we both got to rest a little. We sat in her new garden, which had just started to bloom. We ate fresh tomatoes and green onions from the vegetable beds. We watched the birds raise their young and teach them to use the feeders we set up. I biked, and I spent time in the work shop, building and tinkering. Our love for one another, always strong, somehow grew stronger still.
 
Heather’s six week post-operative appointment came and went in June with flying colors. The doctor pronounced her fully recovered, and gave her the official blessing to carefully begin working out again. I knew our chances of riding together in the Dehydrator were slim to none. We had a month to go and she hadn’t ridden a bike in well over half a year. I hadn’t ridden more than ten miles at a time in five months.
 
The day after her release, we went to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, hiked up a hill with our bikes, and rode around one of the scenic loops of the park. Heather did this with a twelve-inch incision in her belly that was barely healed. She spoke cautiously of wanting to do the Dehydrator, even if only the 10 mile.
 
I bought her a new bike for her birthday a bit early, and we did a few training rides to see if it was possible.
 
On the 26th of July, Heather and I completed the 2014 Dehydrator. She was 11 weeks out of surgery. It had been a bit under four months since we found out she was pregnant, and then found out that she wasn’t pregnant.
 
So I got to spend the last six months or so finding out what I’m made of.

The Power of Fusion (Or When Two Become One)

 Heather tells me often how glad she is for my strength. She’s glad that I was there to do all the small things around the house. She’s glad I built a garden for her. She’s glad I pushed her to ride. She’s glad I went to every appointment with her. She’s glad I stayed in the hospital with her. She’s glad I stayed up all night to make sure she slept. She’s glad I cooked her what she wanted and took her out to eat when she wanted. She’s glad I was there, waiting on her hand and foot, watching and hovering like an overprotective mother hen.
 
She says these things as though they were hard for me. Not doing them would have been far harder. It would have been far harder to let her endure in silence, to know she was crying alone at night without an arm around her.
 
I found out what I’m made of.
 
I’m made silver and glass. The strength that Heather says she’s so proud of me for showing is just a reflection of the strength she’s shown me every single day of our life together.
 
 
To all of you who helped us through our tests this year, whether you knew you were helping us or not: thank you.
 
We love you.
 
–B
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Missing Posts

I don’t know what happened at Blogger HQ over the last while, but my old blog disappeared. It’s a bit of a shame since a lot of that was content I’d written and never posted anywhere else, but it was probably pretty self-indulgent anyway.

I re-posted the blogs I’d written over at MyFitnessPal.com over the last year since they provide some small context for what I’ll put up here going forward.

Feed Shark ping website
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700 Grams of Suck

Parental Guidance Warning
This post describes lady innards and includes occasional profanities. Both are necessary to the story. If you’re not okay with that sort of thing, you might want to take your eyeballs elsewhere. If you are okay with that sort of thing, well, read on.

The Lump
Early this February I happened to notice a weird lump in my lower abdomen. I’ve always had a lumpy lower abdomen and have suspected fibroids for years, but this lump was new. My first thought was, “Hmm, that doesn’t go there.” Brian agreed with me, so I called for an appointment to have it checked out. Schedules being what they are, that appointment was approximately a month away. I happened to have a checkup with my primary doctor the week before that appointment, so I mentioned the lump to him. His reaction was funny, but kind of horrifying.

Doc: *poke, poke, big eyes* “Oh my, this is HUGE.”
Me: “I thought so.”
My Brain: “NO SHIT, SHERLOCK! I wasn’t making it up!”
Doc: “When most people come in saying they have a lump, there’s nothing there. That is just…wow.”

He figured it was a ginormous uterine fibroid tumor and sent me for a CT scan a couple of days later. The CT came back showing multiple fibroids, so they referred me to an OB/GYN. By this time my stomach had grown dramatically, pain and fatigue were constant, and I was beginning to waddle. We had to wait a week for the referral and another two weeks for that appointment. Much crabbiness ensued, but we finally made it.

The OB/GYN doc’s reaction to my belly was even more entertaining (mind you, I had grown pretty immense since the primary doc visit and looked about seven months pregnant). She turned to the nurse and said, “I’ve never seen one like this.” The nurse said, “Me neither!” The big fibroid, which I had by this point named Fizzgig, measured 26 cm. He appeared to have quite a few minions, some of which rivaled him in size. I had told the doc the whole works had to come out pronto, and she wholeheartedly agreed with me, so we began the testing procedures to get that show on the road. Hysterectomy, here we come! And then…

Surprise!
The tests had been Wednesday and Thursday. We had another appointment the following Tuesday to get those wrapped up and the surgery scheduled. Friday afternoon, I was curled up with my tablet researching hysterectomy procedures when the phone rang. It was the OB/GYN doc! Not her nurse, but her. I thought, “Uh-oh.” She called on her cell from the hospital because the tests had come back and we had, to put it mildly, an unexpected complication. I was pregnant. She needed me to come right in to the hospital for an ultrasound and blood test to see how far along we were.

I hung up and immediately called Brian, who was working out of town that day. He was calm, steady, and perfect, leaving right then to come meet me at the hospital. I, however, was having a museum-quality meltdown. As far as I knew, I’d been infertile all my life, so possible pregnancy never entered my mind while all this swelly tiredy painy insanity was going on. Freaking out wasn’t going to help, though, so I pulled it together and drove the 45 minutes to the hospital my doc uses.

That drive was surreal. My brain was split between putting together all the pieces that I’d missed (fatigue, boobs, eating like a mastodon) and planning to move to a better house somewhere with really good schools for this kid. Total panic had transmuted into a general sense of “what the crap?!” by the time I hit the parking lot. It was an improvement. Being me, I ran to the bathroom before going to registration (hey, it had been almost an hour), and discovered a new problem. I had started to bleed.

The very nice ultrasound tech told me I had too many fibroids to count. They were inside, outside, even within the muscle wall. My uterus had been overrun. She had a hard time finding our little surprise hitchhiker in all that mess, but find it she did. I still have the picture. We were at twelve weeks, five days. I told the tech about the bleeding, which I knew didn’t bode well. She replied that I was very high risk and sent me off for a blood draw. That was it until the follow-up on Tuesday.

Brian met me at the hospital and drove us home. He wasn’t as surprised as I was because he had seen the signs and mentioned the possibility, but hadn’t pushed the issue. We speculated about what had happened. Maybe the exercise and improved diet over the previous six months had managed to equalize my hormone production, opening the door. I think this is the case, but we’ll never know for sure. We were so proud of our kid for being able to implant in such an inhospitable environment at all, let alone actually grow for over three months. What a badass bun, taking over a faulty oven like that. Given those circumstances, we decided to dub the baby Bunzilla until we knew which gender we were expecting. Even terrified, I began to feel weirdly happy.

Loss
However, I had been hurting more and more as the day went on. By the time we got home I couldn’t even sit up straight due to gargantuan cramps and energy drain. Thus began the most awful days of my life to date. The pain was horrendous, only made worse by knowing what was happening. The doc said that we never would have made it to term; Fizzgig and his army of resource-sucking invaders were taking up too much room. Making it as far as we did was a bit of a miracle, but there was nothing anyone could do. We lost our baby the third week of April.

The loss only cemented my conviction to go ahead with the surgery, which we scheduled for mid-May. Aside from the varied and dire health risks of another pregnancy, I did not want us to go through that again. The invaders were still there and would just expand to crowd out the next bun. No. I was so angry at my uterus for being a treacherous, defective jerk that I wanted to personally punt it into the incinerator after surgery. By this point I couldn’t stay up long enough to work and couldn’t walk for more than a few minutes at a time. My entire life was on hold.

Most of my focus from then on was getting to other side of surgery and recovering. My brain wasn’t letting me think much about the loss and I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. I still hate talking about it because it makes me cry, which pisses me off, and then we’re right back where we started. Defense mechanism, I guess. It was like this:

Emotions: “Hey, we should deal with this.”
Brain: “Get away from her, you bitch!”
Me: “I totally can’t hear you guys and am focusing elsewhere.”

Surgery
Eventually, the lot of us made it to Surgery Day. Brian, who had heroically gone to every appointment with me, drove us to the hospital for check-in on a Friday morning. I was nervous and a little excited knowing we wouldn’t be blindsided again and that the monthly hells of the last 32 years were about to end. Also, the last few weeks had given the invaders time to shrink, so we were looking at a smaller horizontal incision instead of a vertical chainsaw scar going up my entire torso. Bonus.

The surgery went very well and the hospital was great other than the staff forgetting to tell Brian when I was in my room, which forced him to go hunting for me. The nurses were all very sweet and kept telling me I was “itty bitty” (not gonna lie, I got a kick out of that). This was the first time I’ve been in the hospital since I was ten, so it was an interesting experience. Lessons learned: morphine doesn’t work so great and makes me itch, Zofran is amazing, and cafeteria cheeseburgers taste really good when you haven’t eaten in 32 hours. Also, Cream of Wheat is still grossbuckets.

The doc cruised by Saturday to tell us that the treacherous uterus weighted 700 grams and was utterly enormous. For perspective, normal uteri weigh between 30 and 70 grams. Yeah. Even my fibroids had fibroids. Everything else looked great, though. Due to following all directions and walking when allowed, I got to go home Sunday morning, which was three days ahead of schedule. Being held together by superglue made me slightly twitchy, but getting to sleep in my own bed and really be on the road to recovery felt fantastic.

Brian
I can’t say enough about how wonderful Brian has been over the past few months. He was there when I needed him, taking care of me and everything else, making sure I had no extra crap to worry about. He went to every appointment, stayed at the hospital with me, cooked (best mac and cheese on the planet), cleaned, and built me the most gorgeous garden in town to sit in during recovery. He walks with me every day and is the most patient, supportive coach for getting back into the exercise routines. When I tell you he’s my hero, I am not kidding. While this is just as hard on him, he’s had the strength to carry both of us. He is the absolute best and I’m more aware now than ever how lucky I am to have found him.

Recovery
Recovery has been pretty textbook. No major complications have cropped up, so we’ve only dealt with the usual cases of super-tireds and weird aches. Sadly, my appetite did not diminish. I’ve had a few hormone trips to Crazytown giving me insomnia, but nothing major, and those are just because my ovaries are like, “Hurr durr, we forgot how to ove.” It’s getting better.

Physically, I improve every day and have kept exercising as much as possible. Regaining my strength is the new focus, and it helps me deal with the grief. My brain has started letting me think about everything and it’s hard not to get mad at myself for missing the signs of pregnancy. Knowing sooner wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but we would’ve had more time to enjoy Bunzilla.

Honestly, we had never planned or wanted to have kids. As far as we knew it wasn’t in the cards for us, but our perspectives changed when this happened and we keenly feel the loss of this one. I really feel like we were thrown into a soul forge and came out utterly changed: heartbroken, definitely, but a thousand times stronger. We’re grateful for the brief opportunity we had to be parents and the knowledge of what might have been.

So, that’s what’s up. Soon I’ll be back to boring you with talk of weight routines and the macronutrient profiles of my chili recipe. This post just needed to happen.

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