Post-Surgery Return (and Self Reflection)

Hi y’all. I’m back, and it was rough. Well, probably most of y’all didn’t miss me, but in case you were wondering, I underwent scoliosis surgery up at Stanford four weeks ago, which required a week-long hospital stay. And, if that weren’t enough, the day after my return home, I landed back in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism resulting from the 9-hour surgery and ensuing inactivity.

old spine

Old spine

I had gone to the ER with shortness of breath, thinking I just needed another blood transfusion—which I did (you lose a lot of blood during these big surgeries). Meanwhile, the acned, pudgy, and young-enough-to-be-my-son ER doc says, “You’re at high risk for a pulmonary embolism, so we need to do a CT scan.”

“I don’t have an embolism,” I assured him. An understandable mistake, I thought, since he was clearly unaware of my ultra-healthy lifestyle of 15K steps a day, three to four hours of weight lifting per week, a diet of fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds, mindfulness practice, and frequent dog walks to the beach, where the air blows clean and cool off the Pacific.

“Nevertheless,” he replied, “we’ll do the scan.”

And before you know it, I was in for another week, where, between horrible and repeated efforts to clean out my colon (already unhappy and sluggish from the long surgery, high doses of iron, narcotic painkillers, and inactivity), nurses plied me with salty broths and fruit juice—which I refused. “I’ll just have water, please,” I wanted to get better and get out of there.

Eventually, colon clean, I underwent the required colonoscopy, which revealed a polyp-free, unbroken surface, clearing me to start on blood thinners.

Yes, blood thinners. I’m still sad and confused as to how this very health-conscious, low-cholesterol, low-fasting-blood-sugar, low-blood-pressure, lean body managed to fall into a situation requiring blood thinners for six months, but it did.

I’ll always wonder where I might have gone wrong. I exercised particular care in the weeks prior to my surgery, eating almost exclusively from my own kitchen. But I do eat an ounce of 85% chocolate a day. Was that it? (There’s lots of saturated fat chocolate.) Also, the day before the surgery, after my Huge Mega Salad with beans and avocado, I succumbed to a Huge Mega Chocolate Chip Muffin from Whole Foods—a very rare but extravagant treat.

new spine

New spine

Is that what pushed me over the edge, from blood pulsing slowly but purposefully up my inert legs to blood pooling and clotting, only to land in my lower right lung?

Most of you reading this will be thinking, “She’s being way too hard on herself.” But I say it’s time we start to take responsibility for our health. That means when something unexpected and unsavory happens, we check to see what we might have done differently to prevent it. Has any one of you ever heard a heart-attack “victim” or colon-cancer survivor (or the physician of such a person) ever attribute the cause of his misfortune to his lifestyle choices?

“Bad genes,” is the rationale I hear most often.

Now, admittedly, I don’t necessarily consider that first-world humanoids faced with an unlimited array of sugar, salt, and fat-laden comestibles are really at choice. I mean, would someone completely in touch with and acting exclusively from their rational faculties really choose to live in a way that almost guaranteed heart disease or cancer?

No, and in fact, most Americans are addicted to food in one way or another, such that their repeated attempts to “eat healthier” fail almost every time. It sucks. And then, feeling completely powerless to change, their minds are forced to rationalize away the failures by shifting the blame to something else over which they have no control (and therefore no responsibility)—their genetic makeup.

Y’all, I’m not saying I’m to blame for this pulmonary embolism. Maybe it was just the luck of the draw. Maybe repeated infusions with Standard American Blood put me at greater risk. I’ll probably never know. Meanwhile, I’m sure not gonna let this setback convince me that eating well doesn’t really matter, so I’m back on the greens!

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