Lifestyle, Veganism

On My Veganniversary

Good evening friends,

Today for me marks the anniversary of a surprising doctor’s visit. She said, “I wanted to talk to you about your cholesterol. It’s high.”

I was so surprised to hear that at the time. I had been a vegetarian since 2005, the day after I graduated high school. But the truth was, I still ate eggs for breakfast every morning. And cheese with a few meals a week. And put half and half in my coffee.

I asked, “Is there anything I can do?” The doctor, also a vegetarian, suggested a plant based protein powder for breakfast instead of eggs.

I chewed on that information for awhile. And I used the protein powder for awhile. I started to think about why I stopped eating animals in the first place. I thought about how much I had wanted to give up all animal products, but I knew so little in 2005 about what a plant-based lifestyle was.

I made a plan to “eat plant based two meals a day.” That escalated quickly to veganism. Quickly, like within two days. Because, I figured, if I’m going to eat in a way that’s health promoting and reduces suffering in the world (the latter of which eventually far outweighed the former), why only partake 2/3rds of the time? Why only do the best thing most of the time when you can easily and happily do the best thing all the time?

Starting Out

What had stopped me from taking the full leap to veganism in 2005? Lack of education. When I was a kid, in college grocery shopping for the first time, I had no idea legumes could be a cheap and easy staple. I looked at packages of vegan cheese and thought, “That’s so much more expensive than cow milk cheese!” I just didn’t know.

This time, as a 29-year-old woman with a job and an Amazon Prime membership, I knew what I wanted. I did not want a diet full of processed food. I wanted something that would support my active lifestyle and keep me healthy for as long as possible. So I typed in the search engine, “Vegan whole food cookbook.”

(And quickly learned that the term was “Whole foods plant based.”)

I bought an embarrassing number of cookbooks. Some of them were way over my head with the amount of work the recipes required. Some of them called for ingredients that were already in my house! (I gravitated toward those ones.) I liked “Forks Over Knives” for the simplicity in their recipes. I loved “Oh She Glows” because it helped me branch out when I wanted something more impressive.

I read “How Not to Die” by Dr. Michael Greger. Twice. I learned about food that has been shown to be health promoting through science.

I changed what I bought at the grocery store. Beans of some sort are always on the list. Instead of two eggs for breakfast every morning, it was now overnight oats with berries, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, shredded wheat cereal, cinnamon and walnuts. Replaced 1/2 and 1/2 with the soy creamer from Trader Joe’s, easiest switch ever. I warmed back up to grains like rice, quinoa and barley, which I had mistakenly dismissed under the influence of my keto and paleo friends. Nutritional yeast, which I had loved in my days at Humboldt but slowly phased out when my partner expressed a distaste for it, came back with a fierce yellow vengeance. Instead of any oil for cooking, vegetable broth became my jam.

I got better at bringing my lunch to work. Unconsciously I had started relying on a bagel and cream cheese from Starbucks to eat for lunch in between sites. It became easy to bring last night’s leftovers to work because I would throw just about everything in the fridge into my dinners.

I experimented a lot but also had healthful fallbacks. I’ve developed a love for creating food.

My mom and stepdad gave up meat and dairy this summer. I relished in an opportunity to put together a vegan Thanksgiving for them. It was truly the least stressful Thanksgiving I’d ever had.

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My Thanksgiving plate, complete with Tofurky on my husband’s request
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I made a friggen’ vegan pumpkin pie from scratch!

Beyond Plant-Based

Inevitably I ran into the awkward situation of saying I was vegan while wearing leather shoes. They were thick-soled black Mary Janes, shoes that I had bought before I went vegan. Shoes that I wore to work nearly daily. (Extra shame points for being a vegetarian so long and still partaking in this.)

I came to realize there was more to be done in this journey to be less of a burden on the world. I donated my jackets that had down feathers. I switched my leather purse I’d purchased in a thrift store for a nylon bag. I realized it wouldn’t be practical to donate my leather shoes because I needed them for work, so my plan is to use my shoes until they become unusable, and not buy any leather in the future.

I thought about toiletries. I changed to a more ethically produced soap that isn’t tested on animals. I switched to a natural deodorant. I’m still trying to find the right hair products for me, but you can bet when I find the one it will have that starry bunny logo on it.

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This is the logo to look for!

The Hardest Parts

For me, by far the hardest part about going vegan has been my fear of judgement from non-vegans. I try to have a thick skin and stick to my guns and research but I’m a really sensitive person and care about what people think. For that reason, I generally avoid mentioning veganism unless it comes up.

I don’t like when people say sorry for eating meat in front of me. My lifestyle choice doesn’t have to be the source of your sorrow, and now you’ve shined the awkward spotlight on me. I’m still brainstorming better ways to respond to this behavior.

The restaurants in my area are not incredibly vegan-friendly. The one a few towns up that is, sells mostly salads and smoothies. (No thanks, for $8 I can make my own at home, plus 3 more for my friends.) Dining out is a chore and I generally try to avoid it if I can. I much prefer to cook a nice meal for others. I want to open friends’ eyes to the fact that vegan food can be nourishing, filling, and delicious.

After 1 Year

Now I feel like I don’t have to work so hard to navigate this lifestyle. I can put together any kind of meal. I’m not afraid to ask if something is dairy-free. I feel supported by my loved ones and enjoy seeing the changes they have made in their lives, too. I look forward to enjoying a lifetime of veganism. There are still challenges when it comes to people who are less educated about the horrors of factory farming and what it takes to get animal products to the table. I still struggle to find the right words when people sincerely ask me “Why are you vegan?” But I’m working on those things. It’s always a process.

I haven’t followed up with my bloodwork yet. I’d be interested to see if it’s changed since last January.

Thoughts? Questions? Please feel free to share! See you next time.

Stephy

shoulder

My Shoulder Surgery Experience

Here I am, one week after my shoulder surgery. I am doing okay this lovely holiday weekend. More on current events later.

Today is the story of my shoulder surgery experience. To learn about how I got into this mess, click here.

I got a labrum repair and stabilization surgery on my right shoulder. Basically, on top of a painful tear in my cartilage, I also have very, very loose joints. Before the procedure my doctor said that when I was under, he would examine exactly how loose they are. Later he followed up with, “They are very loose.”

Why is this a problem? Because my shoulders slip backwards out of their sockets pretty much any time there is something pushing my arm back. Not such a problem until I started really working in physical therapy and realized I could no longer stretch my pectoral muscles against the wall because my shoulders weren’t staying in place. Plus, maybe someday I’d like to do pull-ups, or fall when running and not have something get torn. I’m only 30 and I should be able to get stronger if I work toward getting stronger.

The more pressing problem to me was the grinding pain of the labral tear, though. I use my arms for everything at work – conducting, ukulele playing, whiteboard writing, throwing instruments at children. The pain needed to go away because the instruments weren’t flying far enough.

So on to the experience. My amazing husband Brian agreed to drive me there. The time to be in Pismo Beach was 5:45am for a 6:30 surgery, so we stumbled out of bed at 5am and began the day. I never knew there was such a thing as a “surgical center,” but that was where my surgery would be taking place. When we got there at 5:39, naturally, the door was locked and I had a very paranoid moment that we were at the wrong place even though it looked just like the picture on the brochure and said “Coastal Surgical Institute” on the door. So we just waited a minute for the door to unlock.

It was quite well decorated inside, very cozy, lots of purple. The nice receptionist signed me in and I only had to wait a little bit. I was taken back to a room with lots of beds separated by purple curtains. The nurse had me stand on a scale that talked. “Sorry, she’s kind of bossy,” she said.

“Please step off,” the scale verbalized in a robotic English accent. I was relieved to see the number wasn’t that bad for me. “At least she’s polite,” I said.

I was brought to my bed where the nurse brought me a gown and offered me socks and a warm blanket, to which of course I said yes. The socks were royal blue with white sticky paw print shapes on one side. “The paws go on the bottom.”

Once I changed, and sat on the bed, and the nurse confirmed that it was indeed my right shoulder they were operating on by writing “YES” on my arm in purple marker, it was time to poke me for the IV. No big deal, I figured. I’ve been poked and attached to an IV before. But for some reason it didn’t work on my wrist, or on the inside of my elbow, so they wrapped my left arm in a warm blanket in an attempt to expand my veins.

While they were doing that, my surgeon came in. “So we’re working on your left shoulder today?” I laughed at this hilarious joke as he initialed my right arm. He had been a lot nicer to me since the first two times I saw him. I felt weirdly self conscious that they were having difficulty finding my vein and I tried to avoid looking by introducing the doctor to my husband.

Somewhere in there the anesthesiologist came in to introduce himself and talk about what he was going to do. It sounded horrifying. The first thing he would do was sedate me, so that didn’t sound so bad. Then at he would administer the nerve block using a long needle to inject stuff into my neck. “We could do this while you’re still awake, or after you’ve gone under,” he said. Guess which option I chose?

When the IV finally got figured out they put the sedative in. They introduced me to a male nurse that would be helping out in my operation. (I never saw him again.) My bed got wheeled into the operating room and I was asked to crawl over to lie on the still bed. Once I did, that’s the last thing I remember.

I woke up back in the comfy bed to voices talking. My husband was there and it was daylight outside. The most amazing sensation was keeping me warm. I found out it was just hot air being blown under the covers. I wanted to live in that. It didn’t take long to remember where I was, but it took awhile to figure out where my arm was because I couldn’t feel it and was afraid to move either side. The nurse offered me a beverage and I asked for water. I sipped on some through a straw and dosed off again.

When I woke up again the nurse suggested something with sugar in it because it can take awhile to wake up otherwise. It had been since dinner the night before that I’d last had anything to eat or drink, after all, and it was now approaching 11 am. So I asked for some ginger ale. That perked me up. Brian said, “It looks like they have to monitor your meanness now.” He was referring to the blood pressure monitor, where at the bottom it read “MEAN: 70.”

I said, “If you were hooked up it would say a thousand.” This is the love we share.

The nerve block had put my arm into phantom limb mode. I really thought I was wiggling my fingers, or that my arm was resting to the side of me, but it was secure next to my body.

I didn’t want to leave the paradise that was the bed with hot air blowing under the blanket, but eventually they asked if I was ready to try and get up. I said fine, if I must.

The nurse helped me get dressed and asked if I had a bra to wear. I said nope, so we put on one of my trusty shark shirts, bad arm first. Then because apparently no bra means also no underwear, she put on my pants without underwear. (Honestly I would have said something but I just didn’t really want to.) I had a giant padded dressing on my shoulder that looked like a football pad under my shirt.

The nurse attempted to fit me into a sling that seemed rather ill-fitting. She looked at the box. “Size large?! No…”

Take two, I got a medium sling. At that point I think my doctor came back and gave quick directions. “Move your arm like this a few times a day. Squeeze the ball a few times a day. Do not put your arm across your body at all!” He smiled as they wheeled me away into the daylight.

My sling is intense. The doctor had described to me in my pre-op that I would have a pillow that keeps my arm facing forward and doesn’t allow it to cross my body. I guess when you get your shoulder stabilized it has to un-learn all the tricks it used to rely on to move normally.

Brian drove me home and built me a pillow throne. I basically slept on and off that day. I was anticipating the nerve block wearing off. I think for me that was the most uncomfortable part of the experience – looking at my fingers, willing them to move and them not moving, poking my arm and not feeling it, but knowing as soon as I started to feel it it would be time for the heavy meds. And anticipating lots of pain. I didn’t actually experience much pain at all, just discomfort from the anesthesia, the meds, and the numbness.

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My cool sling and relaxed demeanor

I had some toast when I got home, and a small amount of leftover soup around dinner time. It was hard to eat when there was so much flavor. I hadn’t anticipated that my heavy soup spicing habits would be an issue.

I went to bed where we built a second pillow throne (including a travel neck pillow!) and I’m fairly certain I slept upright through the night. I had set alarms for drugs, and was able to take them, and they made me feel drowsy enough to fall asleep immediately after. I kind of already miss those days.

The second day was hard. Getting up, eating breakfast, taking the meds. I mostly dosed the day away. I tried to drink water but the anti-nausea meds advised against it because it would cause headaches. The timing of food, pain killer, anti nausea, and water didn’t quite work out. I threw up my dinner that night. My amazing husband waited on me hand and foot – good Bri Bri.

Day 3 was better. I wore different clothes and went for a walk with Brian. He just worked a half day that day. I would have been okay if he’d worked the full day but I really appreciated his company.

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The cats lamenting my greaseball ways

Day 4, Monday the 18th, was my first day out. I got the dressing taken off and got to see my stitches for the first time. The doctor showed me photos of what they did. “It was really easy to see because your joints were so loose.” Thanks doc, I get it.

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I’ve named my labrum Natalie Imbruglia, because she’s torn.

My hair was starting to look like I’d been taking grease baths, so I asked Brian if we could go get it washed. And finally, I felt human again.

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Fresh hair, and fresh snap-up flannel shirt from Costco!

 

So that about sums up my surgery experience. Right now I’m 9 days after and feeling okay. I no longer feel a need to take the narcotic pain meds (though they were amazing for helping me fall asleep). I just take a prescribed anti-inflammatory once every 12 hours. I don’t feel a huge amount of pain at this point in the game. I try to go for at least one or two walks each day, though it’s a little different right now as it’s Christmas weekend. I have started wearing sports bras during the day but still keep my clothes very comfy and 1-arm friendly.

To read about what I did to prepare for this surgery, click here.
To read about my recovery at Day 13, click here.
To read about my recovery at Day 21, click here.

health

What Happened to my Shoulder?

I first noticed the pain while running.

It was on a long run, while training for my second half marathon. The sun was high in the sky and it was longer than a 7-mile run, so I carried a water bottle with me. It just started to sting a little bit in my right shoulder joint as I swung the water bottle. Casually I switched it over to the left side. Oops, I changed hands without noticing. Switch again. Oops, again. (Habits of hand dominance)

Maybe I slept on it wrong, I figured as I continued to do everything in my life that demands right-handed strength. Setting up the tables, chairs and music stands in my classroom. Conducting my band classes. Playing ukulele in my classroom music classes. Taking apart difficult clarinets and tinkering with stuck trumpet valves. Maybe I just need to strengthen it, I thought in my yoga class as I winced a little bit from the pain of pushing into upward dog.

I continued to train for the run and feel my shoulder. It didn’t concern me a huge amount. I finished my half marathon (kind of, that’s another story) on May 13th. I was darn proud of my performance. I started focusing more on yoga. I wanted to appear toned and feel strong for my upcoming wedding July 1st.

Maybe it was the constant crafting, use of a hole puncher, cutting of thick materials…maybe it was the carrying of heavy boxes during wedding decorating, or some crazy combination of all those things that broke my shoulder’s back right around then. I told my chiropractor, “I don’t know what has happened that makes my shoulder so sore. I’ve just been crafting so hard!”

The first morning on my honeymoon in Portland was the most painful. My whole shoulder, arm, and hand were sore. What had I done now that was so different from anything else? Why was I in so much pain suddenly?

I spent four weeks away from home. Honeymoon, music workshops. I attempted one yoga practice. I thought, “It’s been long enough. Maybe my shoulder won’t hurt anymore.” Nope. It was worse. I imagined my arm falling off carrying my heavy double flugel/trumpet case around.

Upon return, early August, I saw my trusty chiro again. I said, “My shoulder is still really sore after all this time. I don’t know what else I can do.”

He referred me to physical therapy, which I started August 28th. The PT was very nice and gave me plenty of strengthening and stretching exercises. About three weeks in he asked me, “How is your shoulder feeling? Better or worse?”

I had to really think about it before I answered. “It feels…the same.” And his very short “What?!” confirmed for me that this was something that needed further resolution. The PT said it was time for a doctor’s visit.

The doctor said, “Well, I think we should have an MRI before we decide what to do.”

Except that even when I did an X-ray as my insurance asked, and even with the detailed note from my PT, the doctor’s office said there wasn’t enough information to grant me an MRI, so she referred me to a specialist after I called back inquiring every week for three weeks.

Then when I called the specialist’s office, they said, “That doctor doesn’t have any open appointments until January. How about this other guy?” (This phrasing is embellished.) An appointment for mid-October. Fine, I wanted this resolved as soon as possible.

So I went in to see the orthopedic specialist and because my arms move really well in general, and my shoulders pop out of joint toward the back all the time and always have since I was a kid, and the very limited things he asked me to do didn’t hurt when he asked if they hurt, I came out with a prescription for a useless muscle relaxer and more PT 3 times per week.

I went back to PT with the prescription and he read it with a face that said “Really?” and he said, “Well, okay.” I cried for hours that night. I couldn’t understand how doing more of the thing that didn’t work was going to help my painful shoulder feel normal again.

And after the third week, the exercises started hurting more than they previously had. I was strong and had great mobility, but the rotator cuff strengthening exercises had been feeling more unbearable even with fewer repetitions. I couldn’t stretch my right pec muscle using the wall without my shoulder popping out to the back. I couldn’t stretch my neck to the side without intense pain.

Then one night, lying in pain trying to go to sleep I started thinking about how much I missed running long distances, except for that one time I fell. My eyes popped open.

THE ONE TIME I FELL.

When did I fall? I fell once when I was running. I had a water bottle with me. The pavement was unexpectedly jagged, I lost my footing, and I landed on my wrist as the water bottle went flying. I wasn’t bleeding, and I didn’t land on my knees, so I got up and kept running.

This explained the whole sensation with the water bottle.

It was before my 10 mile race in April, so I figured the fall had to have been in March or April. Oh my god oh my god oh my god. The pain in my shoulder was real and there was a real event that caused it. I told my PT. Then I told my chiropractor at my monthly appointment. I asked if there was anything he could do, as the specialist just didn’t seem to believe anything was really wrong and I was so tired of being pushed around and living in pain. He said, “This is a 10 minute phone conversation with your insurance company. I can examine your shoulder, and if I think an MRI is necessary, I will make the call.”

So he did the exam. And I had the MRI. And there it was: superior posterior labral tear. Mild osteoarthritis in the A/C joint. (The labrum is the piece of cartilage that surrounds the ball part of the humerous bone. When I read about how a labrum gets torn I kept seeing the phrase “falling on an outstretched hand.”) My pain was real. I wasn’t crazy. There was photographic evidence. I showed the report to my PT. He said, “You might need surgery. Now you know you’re not crazy.”

And the specialist didn’t even know I’d had the test even though the results were sent to him. I was embarrassed to tell him that it took such a long time to remember the event that triggered all of this pain. He said that makes a big difference knowing there was a traumatic event.

But what date was the event? I checked my Runkeeper for the run where my pace got markedly slower on that stretch of road. January. IT HAPPENED IN JANUARY.

So that’s the story. And now I have my surgery set for December 15th to repair the tear. I’m thinking a lot of thoughts about this. Many of them are about work. I don’t know if anyone can learn anything about how this happened to me, but some advice I would give to people who are accident prone is to keep track of what day it is if you fall. And know your advocates. And know your body. Until next time.

Stephanie

Updates! – To read about what I did to prepare for my surgery, click here. To read about my surgery experience, click here.