Wellness Wednesday – Bloodwork

I’ve had so much bloodwork and other testing in the last month! Unfortunately, we’ve had no answers from any of it. I can tell you that I’m sick of needles at the moment, though.

Allergy+ testing
In late March, I had nine vials of blood drawn to run 28 tests for my allergist. I got the results back in early April. First, let’s just say that I was relieved to find I’m not allergic to my cats. There was some concern that I might have developed an allergy! Second, it turns out that I’m not allergic to any of the pollens and other common irritants they tested me for. Third, I tested negative for mast cell activation syndrome and other hive-related diseases. Yay! In fact, the only thing these tests showed is that I have almost no protection against the 23 strains of strep-pneumonia that are now vaccinated against. This makes me susceptible to sinus infections and bronchitis – I get bacterial bronchitis every time I get a cold! – and so I needed a strep-pneumonia vaccine. (Which I got. And that thing HURT in the days that followed. In fact, even though it’s been three weeks, there’s still a dark spot on my arm where the vaccine lump swelled.)

That vaccine won’t stop the hives, though. It’s purely to keep me from having to get on antibiotics several times a year for bronchitis, sinus infections, and other chronic problems of that kind. My allergist believed that I was still having the same hive attack that came from all my antibiotics/probiotics (since mast cell attacks take 120 days to go away on their own), so she prescribed me another round of steroids. Unfortunately, the hives returned within days of the treatment, so I’m obviously still being exposed to whatever is causing the problem. I’m back to square one and waiting to meet with the doctor again. At this point, it’s been four months of continuous hives and fatigue, and I’m so very tired. 😦

Note: Bloodwork isn’t as accurate as skin testing for allergies, but since I’m on antihistamines, skin-testing isn’t possible. So there’s still a small possibility that I’m allergic to my cats or some other common irritant. However, I’m told it’s unlikely, and that it would be very mild.

Women’s Exam
Everything came out normal. Woohoo! My ob/gyn is concerned about the hives, though. She’s the one who sent me to the allergist I’m seeing, and she says that hives can be an early indicator of an emerging auto-immune disorder. The last time I was tested for a bunch of auto-immune disorders was autumn 2015, so anything’s possible. I see her again in three months for my two-yearly hormone panels (related to PCOS), and I guess it’s possible we’ll explore further testing then.

Check-up
My primary care doc does full-panel bloodwork twice a year, and I came due mid-April. I was particularly interested to see how this panel went because a lot has changed in the last six months. The two big things that come to mind are the four months of chronic hives/inflammation, and the switch to a higher carb diet about a month before the tests. I also wondered how the tests might be skewed by the fact that I’d just gotten off a steroid round two days beforehand.

On the plus side: My fasting glucose dropped from the low 90s (over the last two years of tests) to 72, my cholesterol (previously on the high end of normal) dropped to levels I haven’t seen since I was much thinner, and my LDL cholesterol is normal for the first time ever (even lower than when I was at my thinnest/fittest). My HDL cholesterol is back up to normal too, probably because I reincorporated some wine into my diet. Additionally, I track several liver measurements because of my high-iron blood disorder, and both of those decreased dramatically as well.

Neutrally: My A1C (long term marker of insulin fluctuation, as an indicator for diabetes) remained exactly where it always is, on the high end of normal.

On the downside: My triglycerides are back up, probably because I’ve had an increase in sugar consumption with the increase in carbs. I’ve also had an increase in some numbers I watch for my iron disorder (hemoglobin, hematocrit) and both are slightly too high again. These two are always borderline, though, and I have a feeling they were influenced by the steroid use, as the steroids cause dehydration which in turn causes elevation of those two numbers. Last, my TSH (thyroid) increased to the highest it’s ever tested (3.6) which is still technically considered normal but probably has a lot to do with the chronic fatigue I’ve been feeling.

So generally, I saw a significant increase in two numbers, but dramatic improvements in several other measures. I had my follow-up with the doctor yesterday, and we had a lot to talk about: chronic fatigue/inflammation, four months of hives, eight years of insomnia, five years of depression, and sixteen months of smell loss/distortion. Clearly, something is very, very wrong, and I need someone to figure out what the hell is going on now. I need someone to really listen to me and not just blame all this on my weight or age. Unfortunately, my doctor has gotten so busy and overbooked that he no longer spends time talking to his patients. I remember having actual conversations with him a few years back. Yesterday’s appointment was the new typical: five minutes with two other strangers in the room and my doctor cutting me off mid-sentence every time I tried to talk. In the end, he prescribed an antidepressant and a prescription-strength antihistamine, then said he’d see me again in a month. And even though I said the insomnia and anosmia were the most pressing, longterm issues, he didn’t even bother to address them. This, of course, just contributes to my frustration, and I’m just about at the point of looking for a new doctor. Again.

Square 1. I seem to live here these days.

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What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

When Alice wakes up from a fall and knock on the head, she doesn’t know where she is or what’s happening. In her mind, she’s 29, in love with her husband, and a few months into her first pregnancy. In reality, she’s 39, a mother of three, and going through a very nasty divorce.

First: This is the first book I’ve read in months that I was fully invested in and couldn’t stop reading. That felt good.

Second: Alice’s situation is closely related to one of my worst fears. As a teen, I once read a book about a girl who went into a coma around the age of 13 and didn’t wake up for four years. She had no memory of those four years of course, and everything around her had changed, including her body. I used to have nightmares about this situation – falling asleep and waking up to find so much of the world altered. Not knowing, not remembering, is a terrifying thing. With Alice’s situation, there was always the assurance that eventually, her memory would return, so it’s not quite as scary. The “in the meantime” moments, however, were difficult. Even though I loved the book, it was hard to read with my personal fear.

Third: The best part of this book involves spoilers, so you’ll want to stop reading if you don’t want to know them. The whole setup of this book is that Alice spends the days after her fall acting like her 29-year-old self. She doesn’t know her children, she doesn’t remember her friends, she doesn’t recognized her changed body. And especially, she doesn’t understand the change in her relationships from the last ten years. Slowly, she pushes people to tell her things that happened with friends and family and her husband, Nick. She pushes him to talk to her as well, trying to get him to come back to her and for them to be a family again. As the days pass, Nick softens little by little, and he tells her some of things that they fought over and how trivial things got between them. When Alice’s memory inevitably returns, she gets a new perspective on the things he told her, and the quotes cut down to the core. Some examples:

Of course she’d told Gina she was pregnant with Olivia before she told Nick. Nick was in the UK for two weeks. He only called twice.

and:

It was not “cherries.” It was half a fruit platter. A beautifully presented fruit platter she’d spent the morning making to take to his mother’s place. She was rushing around trying to get the children dressed and instead of helping, he was reading the paper and happily eating his way through the fruit platter, as if Alice were the hired help.

All throughout Alice’s amnesia, the idea is presented that in her missing ten years, she became a bitter, nasty wife who took advantage of her husband’s time and money, and who treated him like an afterthought and a perpetual money machine. Alice didn’t like the person she’d become. And when her memory comes back, her bitterness and nastiness and anger all slot into place. Nick didn’t help with the children, didn’t pay attention to her concerns, didn’t listen to her, didn’t involve himself in family affairs, didn’t notice her or the things happening around him. He was career-driven and content to have her take care of 100% of the house, kids, school, and daily life of the family. And then complained about being treated unfairly when she wasn’t happy.

I’ve rarely read about the dissolution of a marriage (not involving infidelity etc) that has been captured so well in all its nuances. The way Moriarty was able to turn perspective like that was brilliant. The book was equal parts satisfying, distressing, painful, and nostalgic. It’s by far my favorite of Moriarty’s that I’ve read so far.

Additionally, the book goes into other deep topics, from infertility and miscarriage to friendships that become lifelines, from the way negative emotions can unintentionally get tied up in your relationships with your children to the tricky navigation of dating post-separation. It also asks the question – if you lost ten years of your life, what would you want your ten-years-younger self to know? And what would she tell you if she could see what you’d become? I finished the book a week ago, and I still haven’t gotten the question out of my mind. That right there, even without all the rest, marks the novel as a great one.

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Sunday Coffee – In the last two weeks…

…Jason and I attended a Clue movie party at Alamo Drafthouse! Clue was one of my childhood favorites and I’ve literally seen it hundreds of times. (Funny story: When I was nine/ten years old, I spent over a year writing the dialogue for Clue down in a “script” from memory in my spare time. This is how much I loved that movie. I also forced my poor sister to do this with me, ha!) We were so excited when we discovered the movie party and snatched up tickets right away. At the movie, we got a random character card (I got Miss Scarlet, Jason got Mrs White), a party popper, a mini flashlight, and a foam weapon – all for use during parts of the movie. There was singing and dancing and movie-quoting (“Flames…flames…on the side of my face…”), and I bought a special Miss Scarlet mixed drink just to get the commemorative glass. It was one of the best movie experiences I’ve had in quite some time. Next month, they’re having a Three Amigos movie party, and we might just have to attend! (And by “might,” I mean that I’ve already purchased tickets.)

…Morrigan had his senior trip, during which he lost his glasses. The bus department for the school district found them (or so they thought) and tried to give him this pair with polka dots and a tiny frame. Ha! So he spent a week without them, poor guy, until the next available appointment at his optometrist. He also had to do his DOD physical and visual evaluations without glasses, sigh. The good news is that our optometrist is awesome and he was able to get us the new frames same-day, so at least there wasn’t a several-week wait for shipping!

…Morrigan attended prom with his girlfriend Eliya (who is affectionately nicknamed Henry in our house ever since our Super Bowl party back in February). (And look! He has glasses! He didn’t have to do pictures without them!) He made her a Texas wildflower corsage and the two of them went to a nearby local restaurant called Pesto’s. I guess they don’t get a lot of prom guests there, and I’m not sure exactly what moved their waitress, but the waitress decided to pay for their meal for them. (As it turned out, a lot of the prom couples had their meals paid for them at different restaurants, I’ve heard, which is so nice of people!) Morrigan in turn left her a $20 tip. Then the two came by the house so they could take photos in the garden, and then it was off to prom, where they had a lovely time.

…we got a massive amount of work done on the garden. Some miscommunications in plans meant that one of the projects grew a lot larger than expected, so we couldn’t finish by today’s brunch, but we now have an unexpected side deck and new front fence, plus planters to finish off the side of the yard. Pictures to come after we finish connecting the porch and deck, and have the entire yard finished.

…I took more blood tests and got more results. More on that soon. Also: I’m really tired of blood draws. I’d like to not do that again for awhile.

…I began sanding down the banisters in our stairwell. I have no idea why the previous homeowners used the wrong kind of paint and put it on so thickly that it peels off, but it’s an easy project that costs just about nothing to fix. We have a whole list of house projects that are low-cost and will make the house much nicer, and I’m trying to work my way through the few that I’m capable of doing (or helping with, at least).

…we prepped the house and food for an Easter brunch that we’re hosting later this morning for extended family. This involved making scones and cake and brisket and bread and multiple kinds of breakfast taco filling and asparagus quiche and of course Easter eggs, in addition to extensive cleaning, yard stuff, and generally prepping the house for up to 15 guests. And on that note, I’m posting this in the wee early morning hours because guests will start arriving in four hours and there’s still some prep work to do! Y’all have a happy Easter!!

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The True Queen, by Zen Cho (audio)

From Goodreads: When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic. If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she’s drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was going to read this book. It had been years since Sorcerer to the Crown came out, and while I liked it a lot, I didn’t remember much about it. I certainly didn’t remember a story that needed to be continued into this sequel. This is very possibly because the sequel isn’t really a sequel. It’s a related story that takes place in the same world several years later. It’s completely standalone. I considered going back to reread Sorcerer first, and in the end, decided not to because of my recently reading slump. I didn’t need to. Nothing was difficult to follow, and the primary characters were new to this book. I was hooked right away, and I think I actually enjoyed this one more than Sorcerer, particularly because there was so much more exploration of non-British magic/culture.

As usual, Jenny Sterlin did a fabulous job reading the audio, which helped me to engage with the story more than I think I would have in my current mind-frame. I don’t know how well the story will stick with me longer term, but it was a fun, quick listen and I’m glad that I gave it a chance.

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Kid Gloves, by Lucy Knisley

In this graphic memoir, Knisley discusses her trials in getting pregnant, including discussion of miscarriage and fertility treatment, and then her trials during her pregnancy, labor, and delivery. It’s both a memoir on a specific topic, and a historical look at the way pregnancy and women’s health in general has been treated over time.

Once again, Knisley doesn’t disappoint. This was a fantastic book that was frank, open, and painfully honest at times. There was so much I related to, even though there was much that she went through that I have no experience with. The best thing I’ve found in Knisley’s books is just how real she is, and how she manages to convey, both with art and writing, a sense of exactly who she is and of her experiences. Honestly, I don’t have much more to say other than I loved every second of this book, as I do many of her books. I look forward to the next one.

(Although I admit, it was a little disconcerting to read through Knisley’s interactions with a dismissive doctor that ignored all her signs of preeclampsia, and how she nearly died because of that, mere minutes before receiving texts from my sister – who’s 30 weeks pregnant – about extremely high blood pressure and her doctor’s concerns. But at least her doctor is listening, and she’s progressing well with very careful monitoring, so that’s good!)

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Sunday Coffee – Garden

Our front yard is almost complete. A little over a year ago, we began to dig up and terrace our front yard. Our property is on a hill and there had been a lot of erosion. One of our trees was on a hill and listing toward the street, and we didn’t want it to eventually collapse as erosion uncovered roots. (This happened to our neighbors a week after we moved into this house.) The project started small, with the simple idea of building up the land around the tree with a retaining wall, but it quickly became apparent that the entire yard was going to need to be tiered to prevent further erosion and also drainage damage to the foundation. From March til May last year, things went smoothly…but of course the explosion of our house last summer and the need to completely renovate and repair half the rooms in the house took precedence for months. And as soon as that was done, our plumbing exploded and half the yard had to be dug up. This basically meant that we were starting almost from scratch in October.

Six months ago, only a quarter of the yard was still finished. Over the last six months, we’ve accomplished a lot in the little time that we had (basically like two weekends a month):

  • re-landscaped the driveway side of the yard (the part that was completely dug up)
  • built a walkway from sidewalk to porch
  • cut down the two invasive chinaberry trees (not to mention the ongoing battle to weed millions of chinaberry seedlings that to this day continue to spring forth)
  • chainsawed out major roots coming from the chinaberry tree stumps
  • built and buried a drainage system from driveway to the backyard, to keep erosion to a minimum
  • relaid the flagstone terrace
  • put in turfstone in two sections of the yard to keep the ground level
  • built brick and stone levels down to the lowest corner of the yard
  • build an extension to the tiny porch so there’s a seating area out there now
  • replanted half the yard
  • built up borders around the rock wall for easier lawn maintenance for our neighbors (rough rock is not great for mowers!)
  • added wind chimes
  • dug up and poured cement for deck posts in the side yard, where we’re currently in the progress of building a small flat deck area for our trash, recycling, and compost bins (in progress)

(Pano pics are weird, but it was the best way to capture it all. Click to enlarge)

The goal is to be done by next Sunday, when my extended family is coming over for Easter brunch. We may not get there, but a lot has been done and our yard is absolutely lovely. We did our homework well, choosing an array of local, native plants that require little water, stand up to our crazy summer heat, and thrive in the most ridiculous “soil” ever (basically sand and bricks and rocks with a little dirt mixed in). Our yard is fully xeriscaped and much better for the environment than a traditional lawn, and better yet, it’s not just a cactus rock garden. When we started talking about xeriscaping the lawn, that was the first thing that came to mind. It’s what people tend to do around here, because succulents are just about the only plants they know that thrive in our weather. But research taught us that this was simply not the case. We have a cool garden full of green and silver and purple plants, creeping vines that are starting to drape down our rock wall, beautiful pale purple flowers that attract butterflies for much of the year, and so much more. We’ve let the clover grow in to fill spaces, and some of the plants we chose have thrived so well that we’re actually having to cut them back to give other plants space!

(view from the street)

Honestly, a year ago I could never imagine myself out in the lawn, pulling up weeds with my bare hands and knowing the names of every plant in my yard. I’ve never liked nature! I despise grass. (Seeing photos of bare feet in grass is like a nightmare to me. Really.) But sitting out on my new porch, listening to the wind chimes and watching the butterflies, feeling the breeze even though it’s 95 degrees outside, feeling the temperature drop twenty degrees between the street and our very cool garden – those things have just become priceless. Every time I see new growth, I’m excited and amazed. I keep going out with my camera to take photos of new things! Seriously, I could never have imagined this. And even though I know we can’t tackle it all yet, I can’t wait until we can plan out our back yard and turn it into a wonderful place as well. It has so much potential. My brain is full of garden ideas!

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Death in Provence, by Serena Kent (audio)

Penelope Kite retires to Provence, where she’s just bought her dream home…only when she arrives, she finds a dead body in her pool, a nosy estate agent, a devilishly handsome politician, and a very unhelpful police force. Because no one else is doing things right, Penelope decides to take solving this mystery into her own hands.

This was a cozy mystery set in lush Provence, which is something I thought I’d really enjoy. My experience was mixed, however. Some of it was just my slump/mood as I listened to the audiobook. It was only ten hours long, but it took me almost six weeks to listen to it. I kept getting bored, and that may or may not have been the fault of book. There were times when I really liked all the description and quiet pace, and times when I just wanted the story to get on with it. I loved the ending and how things wrapped up, and I loved that I really got to know so many of the characters over the course of the novel. But at the same time, I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the next book in the series.

(On a completely unrelated note, I was very tickled that the town of Gignac was mentioned several times during this book. I was unable to visit my family namesake town while I was living in France twenty years ago, so I love any time I come across the (very rare) mention of it!)

Performance: This audiobook was read by Antonia Beamish, who did a good job with all the various accents. She also read the French sections perfectly!

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