Jeff and I have not done much hiking the past year to year-and-a-half (or hike blogging). Part of this is due to the hot summer-like temperatures we have had all year round (our beagle and I are both very miserable in heat), and our inability to get up early enough to hike in the cooler morning hours. But mainly it’s because I was always struggling on even the easiest hikes. I would really huff and puff and tucker out. My energy was way down. I always felt exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping well (chronic insomnia), so I woke up exhausted. I’d get really cranky on the trail because I could feel my blood sugar dropping and needed to snack a lot. On our vacation to New Orleans in September, my feet kept swelling (humidity, right?).
We attributed this to many things. The insomnia and exhaustion were due to stress and being overworked (even though my high stress couple of years on a big website redesign project at work wrapped up in January 2013). Overextending myself on volunteer activities. Not regularly walking every morning anymore, so not in good cardio shape (again, due to the exhaustion and lack of sleep). Getting older. I was thin and appeared to be in good healthy condition. It couldn’t be anything serious.
What I didn’t tell my husband were the other symptoms that started regularly kicking in around October, November, and December. My feet and ankles were swelling a lot, almost every day at work. My arms and wrists tingled (I work, live, and breathe on computers…carpal tunnel, right?). My up-close vision got blurry. I experienced gut-wrenching (literally) burning stomach pains on a regular basis, which only went away after eating something. After eating our way through Louisiana and Mississippi for 10 days, my husband gained 10 pounds while I lost weight. Around the holidays, I noticed that I could eat whatever I wanted, in whatever quantity I wanted, and I kept losing weight (this was hard to notice at first, because I’d been back on Weight Watchers for a good year, and had very gradual weight loss). I felt like I was in a constant mental fog, and like I was always moving in slow motion. The past year, my normally bouncy full head of hair changed and thinned out (my hairdresser of 10+ years kept telling me to have my doctor check my thyroid). Everyone thought I had a hyperactive thyroid.
Finally, I went to the doctor. I needed routine checkups anyways (yeah, I hadn’t been to the doc in <ahem> a while). And I was finally scared enough about my symptoms.
On April 10th, I received a diagnosis from my doctor that has changed my life.
I have a very extreme case of Type 2 Diabetes, along with extremely high cholesterol. I would never in a million years think this would be my diagnosis. My doctor was very upset when she went over my lab work with me. My A1C (the main diabetes indicator) was 15! To put that in context, diabetics should be at A1C 7 or lower, and a 13 is considered dangerously high. My doctor said that in 30 years of practicing medicine, she has never had a patient at that level. She couldn’t believe I hadn’t lapsed into a diabetic coma. My cholesterol was sky high (over 400). My resting heart rate was the highest she’d ever encountered. She said I was near cardiac arrest. She said I was at fatally high A1C and cholesterol levels. She said I am the healthiest looking unhealthy person she has ever treated. She said I would die if we did not start lowering these levels fast, and if I did not take my condition seriously.
My doctor prescribed an immediate severely restricted diet along with some medications (not insulin, thank God; she is saving that as a last resort). Doc is big on a holistic approach to health and believes I can drastically improve my health through diet and exercise. No sugar at all. No carbs other than what comes naturally in vegetables and fruit, and a few other very low carb items. Except for oatmeal and bran flakes, which are good for my cholesterol and blood sugar. No pasta, no rice, no potatoes, no bread. No booze! Only 1-1/2 fruits a day (too much fructose will affect my blood sugar). Only almond milk or soy milk (glucose affects blood sugar). Only lean meats and fish. Ditch the fat-free foods touted by Weight Watchers and other diet programs (loaded in sugar). So essentially, lean meats, non-starchy vegetables, and a little bit of fruit.
This diet sucks. It makes me really cranky and sometimes quite down. But, I will be able to add the restricted foods again in moderation once I’m at healthy levels. And I keep reminding myself… it could be much worse… I could have cancer, like some of my friends. I can do this. Being a 15 year Lifetime member of Weight Watchers, I am used to tracking food and restricting bad foods.
If you’re into a low carb, low cholesterol diet, follow our food blog, The Taste Place.
Oh yeah. She wants me to gain weight! On this severely restricted diet! Unlike the stereotypical diabetic, I am thin. At the lowest end of my recommended weight range and BMI…just 106 pounds, and a size 4 (my high school weight). So far, I’ve only been able to put on a pound or two, but take it right back off with exercise.
Now about exercise.
The first few weeks after diagnosis, adjusting to the new medications, I still had no energy. But I had to exercise if I was going to lower my numbers and get healthy. We started walking at our neighborhood park again (Holly Beagle was happy!). At first, I could only do one very slow lap around the park (the seniors with walkers could lap me!). We built up our miles and speed, and now walk every morning before work. My energy suddenly drastically improved. I had more energy than I’d had in one or two years! I felt like a new person. I wanted to hike again…
Six weeks ago, we went on our first hike since Mount Rubidoux in August 2013. Probably only our third or fourth hike in the past year. And I felt great! It was soooo nice to be back out on the trails! I had way more energy than I remember having on hikes in a long long time. Jeff kept commenting that I wasn’t huffing and puffing and struggling like I had on even easy hikes the past couple years. I still don’t handle heat well, but that’s how I’m wired, and that won’t ever change.
We hiked four Saturdays in a row! Like old times. We took last Saturday off to get overdue chores done, but we hiked again today. We’re just doing short distances and easy elevation gain for now while I build up my strength and endurance. But, we’re out there again. Hiking for health, more than ever before. And I have all the confidence that we’ll be able to tackle much tougher hikes by the end of the year. Especially if we hit the trails earlier in the morning. Perhaps then we’ll organize another #SoCalHikingTweetup! Once we can somewhat keep up with everyone.
Which, brings me to one odd side effect of my medications and new health regime. Since going on the meds, I have not been able to sleep past 6 or 6:30am on days off (today, I was awake by 5:00am!). I hate that. I love my sleep! But, it makes for very productive mornings. Now if I could just get Jeff up before 8:30 or 9:00am…
I am nowhere near healthy numbers yet. But my most recent lab results, for my 60 day checkup, showed my A1C dropped to 12.6 (Doc says a “quantum leap” in this timeframe) and cholesterol panel “infinitely better”. It is going to be a long road back to healthy, however our daily walks and our weekend hikes will play a big role in that goal and then in my continued maintenance. My awesome support system of a husband plays a key role in that progress and goal, too.
I refuse to be a diabetic that ends up immobile, with amputations, or on dialysis.
And you know what? Our spectacular trails, parks, and other open spaces look so much better when one has been faced with a near fatal diagnosis, and the chance to live.