Day 22 (previously hidden)

So things are going well thus far…as of Friday, I am down 19 pounds. My GP and cardiologist are good with both my diet and my surgery, though they both need to officially sign off on it. My heart could be better, but it’s not as bad as I thought it might be, and I don’t have that worry anymore…for now.

I actually had a consult with the surgeon today along with my case manager. There is still a lot of work to be done before this surgery can be done…lots of hoops to jump through to satisfy the insurance company. But I guess they want to make sure I’m serious about this. And I am.

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Day 6 (previously hidden)

In day 6 of a lifestyle change, a part of me is feeling the best I’ve felt in a long time. On the scale this morning, I am down almost 14 pounds, which is great. I haven’t had a soda since the 18th and no caffeine since the 19th. I do miss tea, but I will start looking for decaffeinated varieties. We hung out with friends last night and I did not do as well as I could have, but it could have been a lot worse.

Unfortunately, there have been some issues this week…we will call them growing pains. I knew that stopping caffeine cold turkey could cause problems, but I was already into day 2 of a migraine when I stopped. The migraine was gone by Thursday…It had started on Sunday.

Then there was the general feeling of malaise…I knew that would happen too. That was mostly gone by Wednesday, but still lingers.

I’ve reduced my caloric intake by about 1/2…and my body is still getting used to that. Some of the cravings have been pretty intense, but I’ve been able to hold most of them off with healthier food choices, small portions or water.

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Day 2 (previously hidden)

I was expecting more at my appointment with the dietitian yesterday. There are some major changes underway: more protein in my diet, fewer carbs, fewer empty calories and no caffeine. But a lot of the info we discussed was stuff I already know. That’s been part of my struggle with losing weight…I know what it is that I need to do, but I simply cannot seem to do it.

Giving up caffeine is not as difficult as it might seem. I’ve been trying to get rid of soda for a while now, and I don’t drink a lot of coffee as it is. Unfortunately, I am very sensitive to caffeine withdrawal. Fortunately, I’ve already had a migraine since yesterday, so it seemed like the perfect day to stop consuming caffeine for good.

This morning, I found myself having some second thoughts and freaking out a bit. One of the other things I will have to give up is beer. Now while I enjoy beer, I simply don’t drink it all that much. So giving it up really isn’t that big of a deal. But it made me start thinking about things that are going to have to change…and a lot of things ARE going to have to change. I started getting panicky and even teared up for a minute. Should I consider the gastric sleeve instead? Maybe the changes there won’t seem so draconian. Or maybe I should try avoiding surgery, and give weight load a real good push without the knife.

I calmed myself down and put it out of my head for a little bit. After I got to work, I did some quick research on the three common methods of surgery. I had already done research, but couldn’t remember all the specific details. What I learned this morning is that all three procedures require the same kinds of dietary changes. I also learned that they all will allow me to enjoy a lot of delicious food after surgery, along with wine.

And let’s be real here: I have done a lot of damage to my body with awful food…physically, mentally, financially. I am at a point where I believe a drastic change is necessary in order to regain control of my health…my life. And if I have to say goodbye to some things and/or make some sacrifices in order to heal myself, well…it’s gotta be done.

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The first baby step (previously hidden)

So I wrote this not long after my initial post about the surgery. In reality, the costs have been a bit higher than I originally thought, factoring in visits to my other doctors and the endoscopy I had to have in April. Still worth every penny though.

My insurance will cover bariatric surgery…it looks like I will pay 20% out of pocket, which will be about $2500. Well worth it, IMO. My insurance also requires that I do a 90-day supervised diet along with getting a psychological exam before surgery. I go to the surgery office to meet with a dietitian later today (Monday) about the diet. I have no idea what the diet will entail, but it will be followed.

My first appointment with the surgical staff is on February 9th. I assume that I qualify for the surgery…otherwise they would not have scheduled me for either appointment. I’m scared, but also…just ready to go…ready to do this.

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I like roller coasters, but I’m ready for this ride to end. (Previously hidden)

I wrote this the day before I went for my first appointment at the Bariatric Center

I have been fat as long as I can remember. I wasn’t horribly overweight as a little kid, but I knew I was…because I got made fun of. Not a lot, but enough. I was always a bit of an oddball kid, not to mention a sensitive soul…then to be fat on top of it…oh joy!

I’ve gone through a variety of weight-loss plans, starting in 7th grade. I lost about 20 pounds then. I think at the time I weighed about 150 pounds. That diet lasted about a year…then I fell off the wagon. It wasn’t overly restrictive…I just lost the discipline to eat properly, I guess.

In the spring of 1994–my senior year of high school, I joined Weight Watchers. At this point, I weighed 264 pounds. Again, I didn’t feel it was restrictive…I just had to learn how to eat better. I lost 74 pounds in 5 months. During my first year of college, I gained about 20 of it back, which I would say is not too shabby. A year later, it all went to hell.

Shortly after moving to Washington, DC in 1999, I had dropped about 20 pounds, mainly due to walking a lot and being on my own. I was probably at 290 before I moved out there and was back down to about 270.

I first hit 300 around 2003…by early 2005, I was at 340. I went through a variety of “mystery” illnesses in 2004, but also quit smoking in May that year, after smoking 2 packs a day for almost 9 years. I think I gained about 20 pounds after I quit smoking, but then again, I was eating out of control at that point.

In the first days of 2005, I was diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy: an enlarged heart with no idea how it happened. I suspect it was due to a chipped tooth that I let sit untreated. After going on a variety of medications, my doctor put me in a cardiac rehabilitation program to help strengthen my heart and to help me lose weight. I went on short-term disability from work in early March of that year. When I started rehab, I was at 336.

After…10 weeks of rehab? I was at 313, walking 6 miles a day through the parks and streets of Philadelphia. Even though my world was going through great change in the spring of 2005–my fiancee of 6 years and I had split and I was in the process of relocating back home to St. Louis–I felt the best I had in many years. After returning home, I was able to keep up the routine…for a while anyway.

I made various attempts at eating right and exercising over the next 2 years…the next 5 years. I was around 360 or so when I got married in 2007. I was at 440 when my divorce started in 2010…and that’s pretty much where I’ve been ever since.

I used to take pride in the fact that I was pretty flexible and could move well for a big guy…and was fairly healthy for a big guy. All that has disappeared over the past 10 years. Of course, I am now approaching my 40th birthday as well, so things start to fall apart naturally as well.

At 39, in addition to my cardiomyopathy, I take blood pressure and cholesterol meds. I don’t have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, but they helped ease the pressure on my heart and reduce the risk of a heart attack, respectively. I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2010, and started taking medication for it last year. I’ve had acid reflux and allergies for years and have taken medications for them since I was in college. I’ve had anxiety issues probably all my life, and have taken medicine regularly now since 2004. There are also migraines that I’ve had off and on since I was a kid, and have been taking medicine for regularly since last year…the medicine is also supposed to have the side-effect of controlling my appetite, and it seems to do that.

Then there are the various side issues…occasional gout attacks that last for weeks that sometimes require steroids. The back pain that gets so bad that I need to use painkillers. The anxiety that gets so overwhelming that only a Xanax seems to calm me down. Skin issues so bad that I have permanent scarring from scratching and picking scabs.

And then of course, my reclusiveness. My fear of going places because the chair might not hold me…I may not fit in a booth…I’m going to look like shit, even though my clothes fit me fine…I can’t handle being outside for too long, so I wind up spending time in cooler places by myself, looking antisocial…my general shame at letting myself get to this point.

I KNOW what I need to do to get healthy…I KNOW what kind of diet will help me. I KNOW that exercise is good for me and I should do it. I KNOW these things. And yet I don’t seem to have the willpower or strength to do it more often than not.

I have tried to avoid any talk about weight-loss surgery. I don’t knock anyone that has had it done, but I felt like that was an absolute last step…I didn’t think I was at that point. I had seen a few friends have complications with it and didn’t want to deal with those kinds of risks. But I will admit that I was jealous of the success that people were having with it.

About a year ago, my doctor asked me if I wanted to go to an information seminar about bariatric surgery…I was open to that, just to see what the options were and to see if things had changed. Unfortunately, Michelle’s insurance did not cover it at the time, so I saw no point in going. I was actually pretty frustrated about it…it was the first time I had ever considered the surgery, and now it wasn’t even really an option. About 3 months ago, Michelle started looking into it, as her insurance was now going to cover it. Quite frankly, I was mad at her. I didn’t feel like she had done enough to where she should be considering surgery. (Yeah…like I have a right to make such a call. I’m such a dick.) I knew that my insurance with KU covered it already, but still wasn’t feeling right about the surgery. I felt like I was being pressured by Michelle about it, even though no pressure was really being applied. Just being a caring wife and looking out for herself as well. (Again, I’m such a dick.)

So we went to the seminar presentation at The Bariatric Center of Kansas City. Look, it’s a sales pitch…they want you to buy what they’re selling. But I was impressed by their success rates and accolades…and they were honest about the “after” process. I knew Michelle was seriously considering it, and I was not going to let her get it before me.

Yeah…that’s originally how I made the decision. I don’t know why my wife is married to me. But obviously that rationale was replaced by serious deliberation…actually, I didn’t need to give it that much deliberation–something big has to happen. I am falling apart and have been fearful of dying young for the past couple years. It’s like knowing what you need to do to get out of debt, but there’s just so much debt that bankruptcy is the most reasonable option. I don’t think the surgery is going to be the end-all-be-all…but a major lifestyle change has been a long time coming. I want to be healthy, but I’m so overwhelmed at this point that something major needs to be done.

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Watch how you Lyft

If you live in St. Louis or Kansas City, you have probably heard about the ride-sharing service Lyft. It has a lot of fans…and a lot of enemies. Me? Well, I guess I’m in the middle.

The basic premise of Lyft is this: I want a ride somewhere. I have the Lyft app and have already created a profile. I request a ride on the app, and someone with a nice car with a pink fuzzy mustache adorned to the front picks me up. I’ve already paid for the ride through the app. The driver and I fistbump and enjoy our ride together. And then I am dropped off and we go our separate ways.

Some of you will probably say, “That sounds like a taxi, without the taxi,” and I would agree with you to a point. Umar Lee is a St. Louis cabdriver that lays out a very detailed response to his thoughts on the service. I think he goes overboard, but I understand his frustration.

I was supposed to be a “founding driver” for Lyft here in Kansas City, and supported Lyft for the following reasons:

1. I am a legitimate businessman with a legitimate business license. This will be a part-time job for me for now…my 3rd job/client. But maybe it will grow to be something great.

2. I have been fingerprinted, background checked, bonded, yadda yadda yadda more times than I care to count. I’d be happy to go through it again for a regulatory commission. Of course, they could easily pull my MVR and background…and they’d find that it is spotless.

3. The taxicab industry in this country is a hot mess, IMO. The drivers are at the low-end of the totem pole. I understand why they are concerned and frustrated…but I think they need to focus their frustration in a different direction.

4. How often do you hear people say, “Oh, I love taking taxis.”? There seems to be a general dislike of them…the condition, the drivers, the pricing, etc.

5. I hate the 1099’ing of our country…but it is the current direction we are headed. If you want to get ahead, you have to fight for yourself. I’m simply trying to find new and legitimate ways to make money. Obsolescence is a bitch…but you have to adapt or die.

6. I go into the worst parts of Kansas City every day and did the same when I worked in St. Louis doing delivery and courier work. I’ll go wherever someone wants to go.

But Lyft isn’t helping its case…and this is why I cannot drive for them:

1. For Lyft to say that they are not a transportation provider at all is dubious. Do I think they should be held to the same setup as taxi services? No. But before you make inroads into a city with a bunch of drivers with pink mustaches on their cars, you should probably touch base with city officials.

2. There is currently a restraining order in St. Louis against Lyft, and their type of service is expressly forbidden by law in Kansas City. Yet they are still doing business in both cities. Look…I’m all about fighting the system, but I am a legitimate business owner. The last thing I need is a citation from the police for operating illegally.

I think Lyft’s concept is cool and I wish them luck and success…but they need to rethink how they operate behind the scenes. Did I mention that I have a Masters degree in Business Management? *hint, hint*

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Wiping the Multitude

My family and I were on our way home from St. Louis on a Saturday night. It was sleeting the entire way home and we were supposed to get bad snow back in Kansas City. But we legitimately needed toilet paper…we were down to one or two rolls at home and didn’t know if we’d be stuck inside Sunday and Monday. So we bought a cheapie 4-roll pack at a Flying J truck stop near Warrenton.

We didn’t have to buy more toilet paper until the following Friday…I’d like to think of that 4-pack as wiping the multitude.

(C) 2014 Terry L Blastenbrei Jr

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The Eternal Tree

The gold and brown flies past me at 75 miles per hour, but a lonely tree sits in a field near Alma. It’s the only tree around so it sticks out in the landscape. One would think it’s dead, and it probably is. But as you get closer to it, that may not be the case…at least in a spiritual sense: two large branches spring forth from the trunk, as if it is raising its arms to Heaven to receive The Lord. It has died, but will never die…its physical remains like a memorial to be visited and respected by the future.

(c) 2014 Terry L Blastenbrei Jr

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Hiking another comeback trail

You ever feel like you’ve gone uphill so many times that you’re like, “Whatever…bring it!”?

After going through a roller coaster health-wise in 2004, I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart) in early 2005. Without going into boring detail, my heart function was about 64% of normal. So I went on a variety of medications, entered a cardiac rehab program, went on disability for 3 months and dropped about 30 pounds. My heart was functioning normally again within a year and I dropped the last of my meds related to the condition about a year ago.

I got the results of my latest echocardiogram on February 14th…they were not totally awful, but were not so good either. My heart function is about 80% of what it should be. Obviously, I was not pleased with these results; however, these results were due to poor lifestyle choices I made. I have no one to blame but myself, and I take full responsibility for what has happened. I knew that something was off because I was always so tired…like I was when I was first diagnosed in ’05. I was getting 10 or more hours of sleep a night and was still tired every morning.

I had already planned a trip to Springfield, MO and Memphis for that weekend, so I decided that I would splurge and get right that Monday, the 17th of February. I REALLY overdid it that weekend…I ate so much food…most of it probably unhealthy. And I paid for it on Sunday with a killer migraine that was probably due to not being properly hydrated. I don’t know how I made it back to KC hurting that bad.

(NOTE: This was NOT alcohol-related…I drank absolutely no alcohol that weekend.)

Starting out Monday was surprisingly easy. I didn’t really miss the soda and I ate pretty well. Living most of your day on the road can destroy your body…but I try to eat reasonably, eating lots of fruit and drinking lots of water.

Throughout the millions of attempts I’ve made to live a healthier lifestyle, the 2nd day of the attempt is almost always the hardest. This time was no different, but I was prepared. Lots of fruits and water again…and I felt like I had gotten over a hump by the end of the day.

And so here we are at day 7…I’ve let loose a little this weekend, but nothing too crazy. I’ve had no soda for a week now, which is a HUGE accomplishment for me. With today’s weigh-in, I’m down 1.6 pounds since I last weighed myself, which was on February 12th. I really should have weighed myself last Monday, because I’m pretty sure I added some pounds with my weekend down South. I’ve also reduced my caffeine consumption…probably by about 75%. Too much caffeine is not good for my heart, and I’m so horribly sensitive to it as it is…it was time to bring it down.

More to come…


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The new van

So here she is:

2013-12-21 09.15.40 HDR

Our unnamed new van is a 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan SE. This is the 2nd new vehicle I have owned, and the first time I’ve owned a new vehicle in a current model year.

Why a minivan? Well, the work I am doing was simply outgrowing the Impala…there were days when all my deliveries simply wouldn’t fit. 65 boxes in a full-sized car that doesn’t have fold-down rear seats…it was like playing Tetris. We owned a full-size van for 5 months, but with our business diversifying, we needed a vehicle that could haul people too. The liability insurance on the 21-year-old cargo van was also more expensive than full coverage insurance on the Impala (and the Grand Caravan).

2013-12-21 09.15.19 HDR

I wasn’t really concerned about any stigmas attached to owning a minivan, though I did look at a variety of vehicles. In the end, the Grand Caravan simply offered the most bang for the buck. It has power, gets good gas mileage, the price was right and it has the space I need for people and cargo:

2013-12-21 09.24.38 HDR

The Stow ‘n Go seats may have been what fully convinced me. If you don’t need them, you fold them into their bins for a flat load space. If you use the seats, you then have deep storage spaces. The things people come up with…

2013-12-21 09.16.05 HDR

I also chose one with a hands-free package that includes a year of SiriusXM. Those will be very nice additions given how much time I spend in the car.

2014 is shaping up to be another big year business-wise…bring it on!!!

EDIT: I failed to mention how awesome the folks at Schram Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Manhattan are. I hate new car dealerships, but these guys were straightforward with me from day one. Their website is not a hot mess, the prices listed are straight MSRP and they list the incentives available for each vehicle without trying to slip them into the actual price. The whole process was laid back…it was merely a matter of Michelle and I pulling the trigger. Ryan, Brady and Josh were great…highly recommended.

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