This Thanksgiving, I’m Grateful to be Alive and Healthy

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to be alive and healthy.

Although I keep a daily gratitude journal where I notate these two gifts, they have taken on a deeper and more profound meaning in the wake of an unexpected event that took place this past September. There’s nothing like being in danger of losing your life to make you appreciate how much you treasure it.

Without delving into the details of why or how it happened, let’s just say I thought was doing something good for my body, based on information presented by a credible source. Little did I know, over a period of six months, with every pill I swallowed I caused incremental harm to my heart, liver, metabolism and other vital bodily organs and functions. Yet, not once did I experience any warning signs — shortness of breath, dizziness, low-energy — that would indicate a storm was brewing.

Then the thyroid storm hit me out of nowhere, like a Category 5 hurricane.

On a spiritual level, I now understand the significance of this life-threatening medical condition’s name. Thyroid storm is highly appropriate, considering that this year has been characterized by upheaval — including the end of a 17-year friendship and the discovery of complex PTSD in someone I love — rather than my intended outcome of “expansion” (though it’s possible expansion will result from these personal challenges).

Were they truly blessings in disguise? I’m keeping an open heart and mind.

If you’ve never endured a thyroid storm, it is a terrifying experience. I’m eternally grateful I wasn’t alone when it happened. Of course, I didn’t know what was wrong the morning I woke up in a dear friend’s guest room after a fitful night’s sleep, barely able to muster the strength to sit up in bed. I’d tossed and turned for eight hours, sweating profusely through my pajamas while shivering with the chills. Could it be the flu? I wondered.

Delirious with fever, my brain and mind contributed to my discomfort by playing an endless loop of the miniseries Rome, which I’d discovered and watched on Amazon Prime over Labor Day weekend. Combined with the thyroid storm’s mental and emotional impact and the authenticity of the miniseries’ portrayal of Roman barbarism in the ancient world, I had endless nightmares about being trapped in that time period, fearing crucifixion or some other excruciating punishment for the crime of being a lowly plebeian or slave.

At first, I didn’t make the connection but about a week before this occurred, I’d completely lost my appetite — an unusual phenomenon for someone who loves to eat (mostly) healthy, satisfying food. For whatever reason (avoidance? fear?), I chalked it up to stress resulting from a difficult, ongoing personal situation, even though my intuition told me otherwise.

The loss of appetite preceded my heart rate’s acceleration to 170 beats per minute.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I convinced myself that these ominous symptoms were the result of the flu or some other weird virus. Once I managed to get out of bed of bed that morning, for some inexplicable reason I decided to take a shower — which I regretted from the second the hot water rained down on me. Still in denial that something was seriously wrong, I raised my arms above my head to wash my hair and almost fainted from the effort.

I got out of the steamy bathroom and collapsed on the bed, where I closed my eyes to find peace and relieve my relentless, pounding headache. Instead, all I saw were bright, pulsating geometric patterns, leading me to believe I must be starting with migraines.

I’d like to say that was enough to ask my friend to take me to the hospital immediately. However, thanks to my irrational desire to avoid inconveniencing her and being a “hypochondriac,” I actually waited another 24 hours ~ a decision that could have killed me, if not for the fact that my body was healthy and strong enough to withstand the punishment.

Did we go directly to the emergency room?

I’d like to answer “yes,” because that’s what any clear-thinking person would have done. Instead, I asked my friend to drive me to the closest walk-in clinic, where I almost fainted twice. I remember trying to sign the signature line on the iPad during registration and begging the receptionist to just let me see the doctor before I collapsed on the floor. That’s when my friend spotted a wheelchair in the waiting room, moved it behind me in the nick of time, and used it to transport me to an examining room.

Initially, we left without a diagnosis and advice to eat well and rest. As I paid for the visit at the reception desk, I came close to fainting again, so they brought me back to see the concerned doctor. He urged us to go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital ASAP because they had limited resources at the clinic. By then I was experiencing tightness in my chest, causing fear of a heart attack. When I arrived at JFK Medical Center, they wasted no time hooking me up to monitors, checking my vitals, and assigning a doctor.

Over the course of eight days, I went from a room in an observation ward, to a regular room, to a private room in the step-down ward (after I spiked a fever of 102.9). Thankfully, there was a sink in my room in the step-down ward, if not a shower (eight days without one was torture). I was also blessed to be cared for by a competent, intelligent, sharp and dedicated young doctor (who could have been a model had she not chosen medicine) with an excellent bedside manner. When my blood results revealed that my TSH was “undetectable,” I asked her what that meant.

“Your body is on a treadmill,” she replied. Then she announced I would no longer be taking the stuff that led to the storm and my uninsured hospital stay.

As expected, my heart rate began to come down. However, the blood work had also indicated that my liver enzymes were in the 400’s (normal is in the 30’s and 40’s). And I continued to spike cyclical, high fevers. Ironically, I never got fevers as a kid, even when I was sick. Experiencing them as an adult was unsettling and scary. While I sweated through multiple hospital gowns, my “extra-thin spaghetti veins” endured countless needle pricks because my thorough medical team was determined to find the cause. (As a side-note, many thanks to all the wonderful lab technicians who treated me with kindness and compassion…even when I wasn’t thrilled to see them walk into my room).

My doctor ordered tests for every infectious disease you can imagine, from Lyme disease to AIDS, but everything kept coming back negative. There was no blood infection, no elevated counts, no presence of a bacterial infection. Yet the fevers kept raging.

In an effort to solve this medical mystery, my primary doctor called in an infectious disease specialist and a gastrointestinal specialist, refusing to send me home with dangerously high fevers without knowing their exact cause and how to eliminate them. Looking back, I’m convinced NOT having insurance was a good thing (even with the avalanche of medical bills coming at me from all directions) because it allowed my doctors to actually practice medicine and act in the best interest of their patient.

It enabled them to run multiple tests including an MRI and biopsy of my liver, an ultrasound of my abdomen, and an echocardiogram of my heart. While being there alone (until my mom and sister arrived by plane) was traumatic and scary, I deeply appreciate the professionalism, dedication and kindness of the men and women who took care of me, from nurses to technicians to transport guys to food service employees.

In the end, I walked away with an intact, healthy liver, as confirmed by the biopsy. There is no permanent damage from the virus that somehow activated in my system and attacked it during the thyroid storm. After a nurse administered just one IV of the anti-viral on a Friday evening, I woke up Saturday morning feeling noticeably better. From that point on, I received three IV’s per day, in one-hour increments.

By the time my mom and sister arrived I wanted out (I missed the feel of the sun and fresh air on my face), but the doctor didn’t release me until the following Monday because she wanted to be certain the fevers were gone for good and the liver enzyme numbers were in a normal range. I am more grateful to my family than I can ever express for dropping everything to jump on a plane to be with me. To think, for the first few days of my hospitalization, I pretended all was well when on the phone with my mom, as did my sister. Neither one of us wanted to worry her, though I kept begging God to let me live because if I died, I knew she would too. It wasn’t until the nurse announced they’d ordered a liver biopsy that I understood it was time to be completely honest.

There’s nothing quite like coming close to death to make you realize the extent to which you want to live. Particularly during those first few days, a mantra played over and over again in my mind: “I want to live,” “I want to live.”

That’s why this Thanksgiving, I am more grateful than ever for the gift of life and health. I thought I appreciated life and health before, but after this experience my gratitude is all-consuming. In fact, I recently bawled my eyes out one morning in profound thankfulness to God and Jesus for allowing me to stay on earth for a while longer. Now, I’m living with renewed purpose, determined to let the Divine Plan unfold.

When I share this story in real life, people often remark that they would love to lose their appetite to rid themselves of those stubborn extra pounds. I tell them no one wants to know what it feels like to look at food with dread, wondering how the heck you’re going to consume it. To clarify, loss of appetite for me did not involve nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains and bloating: it simply meant I could not eat. And it took several weeks to regain my normal appetite.

Am I happy I lost a significant amount of weight? Of course. However, I do not recommend the “thyroid storm diet.” Since it was something I was supposed to experience, I’ll take all the good that resulted from it, including a head start on reaching my fitness goals. I’m determined to go the distance the healthy way from here on out.

Due to the trauma to my body and mind, I took about 30 days off to recover. I’m grateful for my wonderful friend for creating a calm, nurturing environment in her home (complete with the cutest dog ever) to assist in my healing. I’m grateful for the lessons of 2018, no matter how difficult, and look forward to sunnier days in 2019.

What are you grateful for?

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Cover Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Storm Photo by Josep Castells on Unsplash

Stethoscope Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Heart Photo by Saif Memon on Unsplash

 

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Experts In Pink Authors Cindy Papale-Hammontree and Sabrina Hernandez-Cano on Your Book Your Brand Your Business

Please join me on Monday, November 12 at 5 PM Eastern when I welcome Experts In Pink authors Cindy Papale-Hammontree and Sabrina Hernandez-Cano to Your Book Your Brand Your Business. These wonderful clients and friends will discuss their latest book release, which expands upon their 2015 compilation, Miami Breast Cancer Experts, with the inclusion of chapters on new topics like cardiology, dental care, care-giving, and Yoga.

Prominent critics like actress Mariel Hemingway have offered nothing but praise for the authors’ latest effort. Notes Hemingway, “It’s so important to be informed as a woman. Cindy and Sabrina provide a compassionate and detailed look into the impact and most importantly the solutions to empowering yourself when dealing with Breast Cancer. Thank you ladies!“

During the interview, Cindy and Sabrina will elaborate on some important aspects of managing a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, and answer as many questions as time allows from the live chat. To stream the show, visit www.w4cy.com and click on the LISTEN LIVE button on the right sidebar. As always, the show will be archived and available on my iHeart Radio page within a few days of the broadcast.

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Center For Brain Mental Health Service

In my review of Center For Brain Mental Health Service on Facebook, I posted:

I’m incredibly grateful to have discovered the Center for Brain, thanks to conducting internet research on PTSD in an effort to help someone I love. That led to Ted and I attending an informative seminar, where we met the wonderful Michael Cohen and his amazing staff. At that point, I felt skeptical and hopeless about our chances of restoring my fiance, whose PTSD stemmed from early childhood trauma (abuse) and military service. But after listening to Mike’s presentation, chatting with him afterwards, and seeing the remarkable changes in my guy after a few sessions, I’m a believer.

Everyone at the Center for Brain cares deeply about their patients — as evidenced by the welcoming atmosphere and the pride they take in their work. I cannot thank Michael and his staff enough for all that they have done for both of us. I am thankful to have discovered neurofeedback and the Center for Brain and highly recommend them to anyone suffering from PTSD and their caretakers.

I’m looking forward to experiencing neurofeedback myself for better creativity and productivity in my work and business. In the meantime, a heartfelt thank you to everyone there for helping someone I love dearly to reclaim his life. You are THE BEST!

Michael Cohen, Director.

In my review of The Body Keeps The Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, I mentioned someone had recommended the book to me. That person was Michael Cohen of The Center For Brain the evening we attended his free, informational seminar in Jupiter Florida. After his presentation, I told Mike a bit about Ted’s background of horrific child abuse and his combat experiences in the Navy. That’s when Mike recommended Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s book and assured me that neurofeedback would work, along with the caveat that it might be a longer term process, given Ted’s history. Thankfully, Ted remained open to the help and started treatments shortly thereafter. And I went on Amazon.com to order the book at my earliest opportunity. You can read my book review here.

As noted in my Center for Brain review, I cannot recommend them highly enough — especially for people coping with PTSD and those who love and care for them. Without going into detail, it hasn’t been a straight line to transformation since he and I got back together – a la Water Signs – but I can now fully understand the real-life significance of the word “renewal” in the subtitle, because this is has truly been “a story of love and renewal.” I’ve developed more patience and compassion (definitely a good thing!) as I’ve learned what love truly means.

Once I complete some major projects currently in production, I plan to write a nonfiction sequel to Water Signs, which I hope will be helpful for everyone affected by PTSD. Aside from Center For Brain and recovery coach Don Prince (who has been an incredible source of support), the book will also include the spiritual aspect of Ted’s healing journey, thanks to Ima Sumac Watkins and DC Love, whose insights helped me more than I can ever express.

If you live in Florida –  or even outside of the state but are willing to travel to gain relief from a multitude of mental/brain issues, check out Center For Brain.com. And discover for yourself that renewal and healing are truly possible, even for the worst cases of trauma.

 

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