Friday, August 26, 2011

At Least a Year and a Half, Maybe Five

My ongoing breathing problems may have found a solution this week. Not a quick solution, but maybe a real one for a change. The Laryngopharyngeal Reflux turned out to be a bust. The acid blockers and the elevating the head of the bed did just as much nothing for me as asthma inhalers. Aerie is glad that we're back to a level bed with no more toe-bashing going on.

So the next step was allergy testing, which I did on Wednesday. Thumper came with me. Once he was thoroughly reassured that he would not, in fact, be getting a shot himself, he was cool. He watched Monster House on the portable DVD player while I sat still and itched. I got 38 allergens scratch-tested on my forearms, 2 "control" injections on my left shoulder, and 38 allergen injections on my right upper arm. When the tech lined up all the bottles and needles on the counter in preparation for my injections, Thumper said, "Wow! I think that's 52,000 shots!" I thought he'd be more impressed with my machismo in getting 40 injections without crying, but he was more interested in watching Bones get lured into the house by his long lost childhood kite, then eaten.

The end result of all those sharp pointy things with goopy allergens dripping menacingly off their tips was that I am allergic to 14 different grasses, trees, and molds that span the entire seasonal cycle, which is why my symptoms are more or less constant. Cedar and one of the molds were the big winners. I'm glad that "cat" didn't swell up at all. If it had been a cat allergy, I'm not sure what the solution would be. Hold off on breathing freely until our two current kitties passed on, I guess, which might be awhile since the most recent addition is only two years old. Anyway, bygones, as Fish used to say, and it's entirely Aerie's fault that I know that.

The course of treatment, since I've worked through every over-the-counter allergy medication available to no avail, is allergy shots. Weekly allergy shots. For possibly three to five years. They tell me, though, that if I haven't seen any improvement after a year and a half, I can pretty much stop because it isn't going to work. Apparently they mix up a cocktail of all 14 of my allergens in small doses, and inject it into me in gradually increasing doses over a long period of time in order to desensitize me and reduce the severity of my body's reaction to those allergens. They usually max out a shot at 12 allergens, but since I'm barely above that, they're going to give 14 a shot, so to speak. I had to get an EpiPen, in case I react badly to the injection. When I picked it up from the pharmacy, I asked the pharmacist how to use it, and she said, "Uh, there's a trainer in there. You pretty much just stab it into your leg." I hope the instructions included are a little more specific.

Since this is all based on the Central Texas panel of common allergens, I guess I'll never be able to move again. That's OK with me, though, because Austin is the coolest. Excepting, of course, the 108 degree weather in which I'll be working outdoors tomorrow. That's not the coolest. But, you know, cost-benefit.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What We Do

Thumper and I went to the Circus today. It's a whole different perspective experiencing it as an audience member instead of chatting with the workers behind the scenes. It was the 140th showing of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and what struck me most was how little the show has changed over the years. What has changed, at least since last year, is how much it engaged Thumper.

From the beginning of the "All-Access Pre-Show" where audience members can go down onto the arena floor and get close some of the acts, his head was on a swivel, yelling, "Woah!" and "Wow!" and "Did you see that?" He loved a clown act where we on one side of the ring were to cheer for one clown and those on the other side were to cheer for the other as they engaged in a silly race and other shenanigans. He especially loved that we were supposed to boo the other guy, too. And the old gag where the bucket of water turns out to somehow, magically, be full of confetti rather than water? Stunning! He even picked up a piece of the confetti and examined it for awhile, I suppose to see if he could figure out how it changed to paper from water.

His favorite parts were, of course, the snow cone (in the souvenir cup: $12) and the toy (plastic cannon that shoots a rubber man about 3 feet: $14) and the popcorn (no souvenirs: only $3), but he also was truly amazed by each of the acts, including acrobats and high-wire acts and a strong man ("Dad, can you lift weights like THAT??") and a guy who walked on fire and jumped up and down on broken glass ("OUCH!!"). He yelled, "Look, real tigers!" when the tiger tamer came out, but he quickly lost interest in it, and who can blame him? It was slow, and interminable, with the tamer mumbling in some foreign language while tigers did tricks that didn't look very impressive to a 4-year-old, who perhaps didn't quite understand the premise of a tiger taming act. And when you do understand the premise, it's just kind of sad and shabby and mean: "Look how I can make these once terrifying and ferocious killers do small, petty, and degrading tricks!"

Anyway, he made it almost through the entire 1-hour first act before deciding he was done, which is about 50 minutes longer than last year. And when you consider the 90 minutes of pre-show activities, that's really more like two and a half hours, which is pretty good for a 4-year-old.

I was smart enough to bring his toothbrush, toothpaste, and pajamas, anticipating that he would zonk out in the car on the way home, which he did. When I told him we were going to brush his teeth, he said, "No, that's silly! You're just kidding!" When I put the paste on the brush and told him to open, he anxiously said, "But there's no where to spit!" When I told him to lean way out of the car and spit on the street, he did it, but he said, "This is just crazy!"

My favorite part, though, was walking back to our car, when we chased each other's shadows, trying to step on them. Earlier, when we were in line for popcorn, he wandered away to chat with a couple other kids about their toy selections, so I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back, explaining that he had to stick by me because there were so many people, he could easily get lost. When we were walking to the car he said, "You know, if I got lost, I'd be really, really upset if I couldn't see you." I replied, "I'd be really upset, too, but I won't let that happen. You don't have to worry." "Yeah," he said, "but if you and Mama both got lost, we'd never find our way home." I answered, "But we know where we live, right? No problem!" "Yeah," he said, "No problem. When we get into trouble, we get out again, right? That's just what we do."

Yeah, little man, that's what we do. God, I love that kid. I really needed tonight to help me remember that.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Abstinence Makes the Calorie Count Grow Smaller

I tried the Paleo Diet awhile back, hoping it would reveal that my respiratory difficulties are the result of a wheat or dairy allergy. After a couple of months of strict adherence (except for the alcohol and caffeine) it hadn't helped my breathing, so I let it go. I moved on to various asthma medications, a systematic trial of every allergy medication available over-the-counter, and a couple of months of daily neti pot use, all with no effect on my breathing problems.

I went to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist, who upon hearing my tale of woe, immediately zeroed in on Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR), declaring it the most common of all digestive disorders, and put me on a regimen of 2 acid blockers. He also told me to elevate the head of my bed, which didn't make Aerie happy since she keeps bashing her toes on the cinder blocks I used to achieve that effect.

I go back to see the ENT guy next week, and I want to be able to tell him that I actually did what every doctor says first for every ailment: cut out the alcohol and caffeine. I will also be telling him that the acid blockers did exactly what every other remedy I've tried so far has done: absolutely nothing.

So I suspect I'll be back where I was with my personal care physician many months ago: allergies, despite the fact that no allergy medication helps. When I go back to the ENT guy, I'll also be getting those allergy tests where they scratch your skin with a jillion different allergens to see what causes you to swell up. Hopefully a solution will present itself.

But all of that was to tell you that I'm not drinking alcohol or caffeine, and I'm back on the Paleo Diet. Paleo may not have cured my lungs, but since it eliminates grains and dairy, it's an easy way to remember to skip empty calories, like crackers, pretzels, cheese, ice cream, etc. I've thought of food before as taste and belly filler, figuring nutrition would take care of itself, but now I'm trying to remember to make every calorie worth something, with a high nutrition-per-calorie ratio, with lean protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc. and not just empty calories that do nothing for me beyond the few minutes it takes me to consume them. Also, the ENT guy said that alcohol and caffeine can both exacerbate the LPR, so I'm trying to make sure the booze and cola and coffee and Rockstars aren't cancelling out the acid blockers.

The added bonus is, of course, that I'm consuming far fewer calories. Last time I was on Paleo, I wasn't counting calories, so I hadn't realized what I realize now that I'm tracking my meals on without the booze, I'm struggling to meet my daily recommended allowance of calories. Three meals a day, I eat giant plates of food, with spinach and peppers and cucumbers and strawberries and peaches and broccoli and cauliflower and mushrooms and chicken breast and fish fillets and turkey breast, etc., plus a couple of snacks each day, and I can't come close to the 2300 calories myfitnesspal wants me to eat. On the weight loss front, this is a good thing, as I've dropped 2 pounds in 2 days, but long-term, I don't want my body to go into starvation mode. Though there is a school of thought that a reduced calorie diet is the surest path to longevity.

When I was on a Weight Watchers plan, I loved that it was so easy to stay under my points goal for the day, because it left me plenty of drankin' calories left over, but now that I'm not drinking them up, I feel like I should be using them in a healthy manner. But I'm not hungry, and I don't think I could possibly pack in another giant plateful, and to hit my 2300, I'd have to jam in two more giant platefuls anyway.

So I guess I'll keep on for awhile, see how I feel, see if the elimination of two of my few remaining vices helps my breathing, and see if 1200 or 1400 calories per day drives me into an early grave or helps me live forever.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Get Smells Stuck In My Nose

The internet tells me that I have cysts, or brain tumors, or who knows what else. Never consult the internet for medical advice.

Seriously: I get smells stuck in my nose. It's been happening for a couple of years now. Some time during the course of each day, there will be a smell that catches my attention, then it will come back again and again and again throughout the day. It's not, I think, in my hair, or on my skin, or in my clothes. I can shower and change clothes, and it will still be there. Often it's the meal that they're serving for Meals on Wheels. I'll smell fried chicken all day long.

A couple of months ago, I accidentally left a bag of frozen chicken breasts in the trunk of my car. In the Texas heat, in a little less than 36 hours, it went from frozen to rotten. The smell has lingered despite every effort I've made to clean the trunk. Some days, even far from the car, even after Aerie has said that the car doesn't smell bad, that horrible, rotten chicken stench will stay with me, all day long.

Sometimes it's the dead skunk we drove past. Sometimes it's the compost pile or the trash can. I think it's not always an actual smell, because I can sniff, drawing air across my olfactory nerves, and it doesn't provoke a response. It's often not so much a smell as a feeling. Or a memory. Well, not a memory; it's a real, physical sensation. But not always so much a scent like holding an onion to my nose and breathing deeply. It's just sort of there, even if I'm not breathing in. It's there, in my nose.

There's no telling what scent will stick. I've tried countering an offensive smell with a strong, pleasant smell, to no avail. And it doesn't go away with any predictability. Only sleeping and waking up seems to reset my brain or nose or whatever it is that holds on to the smells.

So do I have a brain tumor, or cysts in my sinuses, or what? This is kind of starting to freak me out. I guess I should mention this to the ENT doctor I'm seeing for my respiratory/allergy problems.

I acknowledge that I may just be crazy.
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