Sunday, July 17, 2016

Silent Reflux (Cough Cough)

The potato chips, the chocolate, the sweet potato fries--they finally caught up with me. I saw a doctor (!) the other day for a cough I'd had since Memorial Day weekend. We determined it probably wasn't allergies, asthma, or sinus drainage. With a temperature of 97 point something, I didn't have a cold. It was probably silent reflux, since I've had raging reflux before, which I fixed with a low-carb diet.

My diet has been off-track for over a year: stress and anxiety over moving across the country (no permanent job waiting for me, buying a house from 1,000 miles away before selling my other house), complications from a root canal (re-infection requiring industrial strength antibiotics that messed up my stomach and skin). I think the only reason I didn't have silent reflux then was that I wasn't eating enough of anything to affect my stomach. Now that things are getting back to normal, my stress level is down and I'm eating more. And now the carbs are giving me acid reflux, just like before.

A problem I was having on very low carb was scary palpitations. I've had some fluttery feeling eating fairly low carb the past few days, but only when I've exerted myself. The reduced stress might have something to do with it: after having four jobs in six months, I'm starting another one tomorrow that seems like a great fit. (The previous jobs were with my long-term employer from Denver; a job that turned out to be collections, which lasted a day; temping for the Marion County Election Board; and proofing graphic designs at a t-shirt factory, where I felt like a couple of employees I had to work closely with disliked me and didn't care if I knew it.) For nearly a year, my life has had a feeling of being up in the air. It finally feels settled.

Anyway, being a cash patient, and not wanting to go through acid rebound again, I declined prescription-strength acid blockers and got a bottle of Pepcid to take temporarily to let my esophagus heal. I've been stricter about limiting carbs, too. It's only been a few days, but my cough is almost gone. Coffee and nut bars make it come back. Darn! But at least it's easier to diagnose problems now than it was when I first started doing so in 2010.



Sunday, June 5, 2016

Is Your Diet Making You a Fussbudget?

^^I wish he'd offer me some bacon.

This is a post that doesn't apply to my readers, just to readers of other blogs. Not blogs that recommend limiting carbs or avoiding things like wheat or dairy, or show you how to cook, or dissect scientific studies, but blogs that tell you the few things you can eat, because everything else will kill you and destroy the planet. (You also need their book, exercise plan, supplements and $500 juicer to avoid dying.)

These plans are complicated, difficult, expensive, subject to change, and of questionable validity and efficacy, but they have their benefits. There's the not dying part--and saving the world, too. You also get to feel superior, special and catered to. In other words, you get to be a fussbudget.

Robert over at Living Stingy observes that being fussy confers status--or at least the feeling of status. Restaurants, for example, have to try to fill your very special order--that is, if they even serve anything you're "allowed" (see video above).

When you're the fussbudget in the group, you get to pick the restaurant. Same if you're picky about a restaurant's ambience, image, or political correctness of their ads. In other words, you get to control the decisions of the whole group.

So what's wrong with status and control? The mere mortals around you might feel lower status and manipulated--or at least inconvenienced for no good reason. They might not stick around. Any new friends will have to be doormats or people just like you, who'll reinforce your annoying habits.

How to stop being annoying? I hate to say anything against self-diagnosed conditions--people have cured themselves where their doctors failed. Have you cured something, though? Are you at least trying a proposed cure for some condition? Or are you avoiding foods that you've heard are bad without knowing how those conclusions were reached or without reading any counter-arguments? Are you on a special diet for your health, or is your special diet a big part of your identity? If it's the latter, you're apt to be overly concerned about it.

If you really do need a special diet, sum it up in a sentence and make it easy for your companions to work with. I'm low-carb and tell people that as long as I can get some eggs or unbreaded meat, I'm good. (I need a real lunch, not just a salad.) If you have a serious condition like diabetes or a severe allergy, suggest a few places where you can eat without problems. If you don't have a serious condition, if certain foods don't make you sick or send you on a bender, stop being a fussbudget. Just sit down and eat because the mere mortals around you are hungry.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Obamacare Alternatives

It isn't the worst problem to have: to be so healthy you don't need medications or regular medical care. Even so, in the US under Obamacare, you are required to have a medical maintenance plan through a health insurance company. Not traditional insurance that protects you against catastrophes like accidents and serious illnesses, but a maintenance plan that covers, among other things, childbirth, drug and alcohol rehab, and prescription medicines, regardless of whether you need or want any of those things. Scofflaws are subject to the smug-sounding "shared responsibility penalty" regardless of whether they cost anybody anything by giving birth, drying out or needing pills.

Lest anyone think uninsured people are all deadbeats, I for one paid all my dental bills from my bike accident a few years ago that weren't covered by my insurance. So far, those bills have been about $8,000 for braces (not covered), a dental implant (not covered), a tooth extraction and a root canal (the last two only partly covered). Long ago, I was charged full freight and paid cash--my life's savings at the time--for an emergency room visit. I have never dodged any bill that was legitimately charged to me.

So I know the value of being insured against catastrophes; I just don't need a maintenance plan, especially at $400 a month through COBRA (continuing my health insurance through my last regular employer) or $385 a month through Obamacare. That kind of money, even earning just 1% in a savings account, would amount to over $50,000 in ten years. That'll buy a house in Indianapolis. (Four hundred a month will also go a long way here towards a higher-quality diet, safer neighborhood and better schools for your kids--in other words, staying out of the ghetto.) Invested in the stock market over 20 years, assuming 10% annual returns, that's $300,000, or a big chunk of a retirement plan. Healthy people need money to retire on.

What to do? A blog called Self Pay Patient has a few suggestions: short-term insurance, joining a health sharing ministry, and alternate insurance products like accident or critical care insurance. I chose short-term insurance. It covers major medical expenses and some prescriptions after a deductible and cost less than $300 for six months' coverage. It's almost exactly the kind of coverage I used to buy as a student at $50 a month before the great state of Colorado dictated that health insurance had to cover a variety of procedures and medications whether consumers wanted the coverage or not--and regardless of the fact that such insurance was already available for those who wanted to buy it. After changes to the law, I couldn't afford health insurance at $300 a month as a laid-off engineer making a living doing odd jobs. Not if I wanted to buy groceries or keep the utilities on.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Regaining Health after Antibiotics and a Lot of Stress

Readers know I've had a stressful 18 months: family problems, a root canal that took three rounds of antibiotics to clear up, a move across the country, and a job change. My job back in Denver saw me going at ramming speed, spending two hours a day commuting, and dealing with a couple of vile coworkers. House cleaning and repairs took up my weekends and evenings for a few months, my realtor wildly overpriced my house, and I stepped on a nail a few days before I moved. I ate a lot of take-out while my house was for sale and figured I'd get back on track when I got to Indiana.

It's taken five months to get back to normal. My stomach and skin were a mess from the antibiotics--I had cystic acne and just thinking about eating a lot of fat turned my stomach. I couldn't stand for long without a backache. I was so exhausted when I got here that it was a few months before I felt like working full-time again.

Probiotics really helped my skin and stomach. I started taking two per day (Nature's Way Optima) but I've cut back to one a week. I'm eating a lot more home cooking and my stomach feels pretty good again. Getting more sleep has helped in general, too. But the yoga classes I was taking here sometimes left me with aches and pains I didn't go there with.

About a month ago, I took a temp job testing voting machines, which required me to stand all day. Surprise--no back ache! Maybe it's from leading a lower-stress life: ten-minute commute, sufficient sleep, pleasant coworkers, and work that goes at a reasonable pace. And over the past few weeks, I've been taking part in neighborhood cleanups and spent time over the past few days mowing my lawn with a manual mower and weeding my yard and the neighbor's yard. (Their house is for sale and I'd rather attract high-quality neighbors, not people who don't want to do any upkeep.) Surprise--no aches or pains and I feel great!

One good thing about Indianapolis is that if you need exercise, you can just clean up a park or walkway. (Be careful where you go.) There is so much to clean up within a few miles of my house, plus keeping my own property neat and repaired, that I don't see a need for exercise classes. (Aside: want to buy a house in an up-and-coming neighborhood on the cheap--I mean really cheap? Got more time and energy than money?  Homestead an abandoned, historical house here in Indy.)

I've started watching only shows and videos that make me feel good. Watch people who are smart (interviews with Judge Judy, Thomas Sowell), funny (Stephen Colbert, Seinfeld, WKRP in Cincinnati), or go-getters (Better Call Saul, Streets of San Francisco) or can teach you something (Wise Owl tutorials, for example) or otherwise lift your spirit (the guitarist is as good as Eddie Van Halen--who says Japanese musicians aren't passionate?), and the depression box becomes a source of inspiration. Facebook? All I ever hear about it is how depressing and annoying it is. Chat rooms? In my experience, they have too much emotional thinking by what I call "not-willings": people who are very limited in what they're willing to do to improve their lives, then complain about their lack of success. All the otherwise well-done shows where people do rotten things to each other? Pass.

Am I eating clean and avoiding processed foods? Not really. But I'm eating a lot less take-out and more grass-fed beef and free-range eggs and cooking with pastured lard. I'm also eating Quest bars, dark chocolate, take-out French fries, potato chips and meaty, cheesy sandwiches on gluten-free bread from the little co-op where I shop. I avoid nuts--they're worse than wheat for me. I inhaled five slices of pizza at work when I didn't eat enough breakfast--and I didn't regret it. I'm not making a habit of it, though: I still remember how sick I ended up on a high-carb diet several years ago. It doesn't take many meals like that for my stomach to start punishing me for my debauchery. Just being pretty good works for me.

So far, I've been working part time, so I've been able to relax and take care of myself. Going forward, I'm starting a full-time job in a week. There's 15-minute commute and a 30-minute lunch, giving me back two hours a day of my life compared to my job in Denver. Once I'm trained, I'll be working afternoons and nights. In other words, I can sleep as late as I want and run errands when stores and offices aren't busy. I've worked the same shift before and loved it. It's a lot less money than my old job, but with the lower cost of living here, my house being completely paid for and not requiring any significant repairs like the old one, it's more than adequate. I was literally coming home and falling on the bed every day in Denver. It was time for a change.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Groceries from a Food Desert in Indianapolis

Of all the research I did before moving to Indianapolis from Denver (looking at crime maps, flood maps, demographics by neighborhood, tax rates, growth policies, local news, and Google street view over time), none of it suggested I'd have to try to shop in a food desert. Not even when I came here on reconnaissance and shopped at the co-op in the area I was planning to move to did I realize I was in the middle of a food desert. That's right--you can have a grocery store in the middle of a food desert. Here are some groceries I bought at Pogue's Run, a co-op in the food desert just above the word "Indianapolis" in the map in the link above.

Purchased in a food desert: free range eggs, coconut milk, fresh produce, beef and raw cheese from grass-fed cows, and bacon and lard from pastured pigs. I couldn't find real lard even back in trendy, crowded, overpriced Denver. The animal products are all from here in Indiana. Would that everyone lived in such a desert.
The co-op carries cage-free chickens, too, but they're cheaper (and plucked better) at the Kroger down the street. Kroger has grass-fed ground beef and a much bigger selection of produce, gluten-free this and that, and cage-free eggs, but they don't carry beef tongue, heart or liver and their butter doesn't compare to Organic Valley, sold at Pogue's Run. Neither store has a big enough selection of Quest bars.

How is it even possible to compare the finer points of fresh, healthy, top-notch foods from two stores, one of which is in a food desert? It's the way food deserts are defined:

  • 20 percent to 40 percent of residents must make 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level
  • In an urban area, residents must have to travel a mile or more to get to groceries 
  • In a rural area they must have to travel more than 10 miles to get groceries(1)


Note that the definition isn't "There aren't any groceries in food deserts." What it amounts to is a low-income neighborhood. There's the distance thing, but even most poor people have cars.(2) There are cars parked up and down streets with crumbling, abandoned houses. Further, the aforementioned stores are on a bus line with only 20 minutes between stops--a lot handier (and a lot safer around the co-op) than a long walk home loaded down with groceries.

What about Ft. Harrison State Park? It's one big food desert on the map. Of course there aren't any grocery stores there, but do we need them there? If there are people squatting in the park, is someone supposed to build a grocery store for them?

All of this makes me think that good quality groceries aren't  nearly as inaccessible as they're made out to be. If they were, "food deserts" would have an obvious definition: a place where you can't get decent food.

1. "Indianapolis Ranks Worst in the Nation for Food Deserts" by Sara Wittmeyer. Indiana Public Media, May 30, 2014. http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/indianapolis-ranks-worst-nation-food-deserts-67800/
2. "Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts about America's Poor" by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield. The Heritage Foundation, September 11, 2013. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/09/understanding-poverty-in-the-united-states-surprising-facts-about-americas-poor

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Fishing for Depression Patients

I knew last summer when I saw the headline that there had to be a new depression medication out. How? The news was "All Americans Should be Screened for Depression."(1) That's a good idea because, as you know, depression is a menace, affecting tens of millions and leaving many of its victims tired, overweight, prone to heart disease, impotent, blind, and--wait, I'm thinking of diabetes. It might make sense to screen everyone for diabetes. No, the reason for screening everyone for depression, I figured, was that there was a new drug someone was looking to peddle. Sure enough, the FDA approved a depression drug a few weeks earlier.(2)

Some doctors are already screening patients--like me--for depression during routine office visits. My invoice for being seen for a puncture wound included "brief behavioral assessment," which I didn't remember getting. When I called the office about it, they said they gave everyone that assessment through a questionnaire. I do remember filling out a large amount of paperwork.

Some depression drugs have been shown to be no more effective than a placebo and can have serious side effects. Further, it's one more thing for doctors and patients--many in an overburdened system--have to do. This particular drug may even kill you--there's a warning about suicidal thoughts and increased risk of death for certain patients, and weight gain and a sense of restlessness common among people in a study who took the drug. And all they got was a lousy reduction of symptoms. (3)

The article about recommending depression screening made no mention of the other trade-offs involved in adding another step to routine patient visits: more time filling out paperwork for patients, more prescriptions that may or may not do any good, and less time and money for everything else that doctors and patients already have on their plates.

Sources:

  1. "All Americans Should be Screened for Depression, Panel Recommends" by Andrew M. Seaman. Huffington Post, July 8, 2015.
  2. "FDA Approved New Drug, Rexulti, for Depression, Schizophrenia" by Robert Preidt. CBSNews.com. July 13, 2015.
  3. Ibid.