The Mommy Rush

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Archive for the category “Health / Fitness”

2012: My Year of Balance and Knowing the Fish

Yesterday morning I visited the Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland and was truly inspired. I decided to finally visit this landmark in my hometown for 2 reasons, 1) the rain had let up and the weather was somewhat conducive to a walk in a garden, and 2) it was FREE! As a way to generate local interest in the Chinese culture and to prepare for the Chinese New Year celebration later this month, they have opened their doors for the Great Eight Free Days, because, as you may know, eight is a very lucky number in Chinese culture.

In anticipation of the visit, I expected to see some beautiful plants, architecture and design and to learn a thing or two about the garden. But what I left with was so much more. I was fortunate enough to arrive just as a tour was beginning, and there was just one other person in the tour so I pretty much had a personal tour from a very knowledgeable ‘Chino-phile’ (his word, not mine) and come to find out he is a published author of two books about Taoist principles, The Tao of Now, and the philosophy of tea, The Hut Beneath the Pine: Tea Poems.

What struck me most about the experience was how much the Taoist principles on which the garden design is based would resonate so strongly with me and where I am in my life.  The first pavilion we stopped in is known as the Knowing the Fish Pavilion and as we stepped into the square pavilion that overlooked the fish pond that spans the garden, Dan, our tour guide told the story of the two ancient philosophers, that the pavilion is named for.

One day Chuang Tzu and a friend were walking by a river.

“Look at the fish swimming about,” said Chuang Tzu, “They are really enjoying themselves.”

“You are not a fish,” replied the friend, “So you can’t truly know that they are enjoying themselves.”

“You are not me,” said Chuang Tzu. “So how do you know that I do not know that the fish are enjoying themselves?”  

The moral of the story is that the fish are in their element, so they must be at peace. And when one is at peace, they are happy.  Then it follows that if one is in their element, they must be happy.  Chuang Tzu saw the fish in their element and knew that they were happy. 

This year, I’ve committed to live with intention, to stay within my element, and to ensure every moment that passes is spent in alignment with my values and within my element,  and more specifically to capture these moments here on The Mommy Rush.  But what are those values and where is my element?  These questions have been on my mind over the last 3 month ever since I left my full-time, very demanding position as a product manager for educational publisher, Learning.com

It’s funny the way life works, isn’t it? I think back to my life at the beginning of last Summer, and I remember feeling like my stress level was at its max and that if I were given one more thing to deal with, life would fall apart.  And then the news, the surgery, and my view of life shifted dramatically.  I recieved my wake-up call and I decided to re-evaluate what I was put here to do.

Reflection

Even before our family medical crisis, my inner voice was very quietly whispering that I needed a change, but it wasn’t until I had to face such a difficult challenge, that I realized what this meant.  I was off-track.  I was spending my very precious time on earth, on work and things that were out of alignment with my true purpose, my true spirit.  So, at the end of September, when my company began evaluating budget reduction options, I made it known that I was open to a change.  And on September 30, I parted ways with my full-time employer and since then I’ve been reflecting on what it is I was meant to do with my time on earth.  After several weeks of reflection there was at least one thing that I knew for sure, that, until now, I was not living life with any intention and I was not really living.

Living Fully

What does this really mean? Living Fully?  This was a big question that I knew would take a while to answer and so instead of jumping to my next project, I began to take note of moments when I felt like I was ‘in my element’; when I was enjoying what I was doing, learning a lesson, or creating a memory.  These moments were my clues to developing a list of values that define how I want to spend 2012.  In order to live in my element, like the fish in the pond, I’ve decided I will only spend my time and energy on activities that fall within my list of values.  As a means of simplifying the list, I’ve summarized each in one word and have described below what each means to me and what it will mean in 2012. 

  1. Purpose: In 2012, I will live with intention and accept my obligation to serve my purpose.  As recently as 6 months ago, if you were to ask me to describe my purpose, I would have had no problem.  This year, I would like to be less rigid about what this purpose is and to live each day within my present purpose.  Each day, I’ll ask myself, ‘what can I do today to live my life with intention, within the framework of my list of values?’  I imagine this year, I’ll continue to reflect on this concept and with any luck by next year, my purpose will be clear to me and all those around me.
  2. WisdomWhen I began to reflect on what types of activities make me feel most alive, one activity rose to the top of the list as very important to me: lifelong learning.  Not from an educator perspective, even though my career is focused on encouraging students to embrace lifelong learning, but rather a desire to learn for learning’s sake.  As a voracious reader, I want to be more purposeful about applying the lessons I learn from reading and from life itself.
  3. Connection:  It’s no secret that I value my family to no end.  Though my offspring are often the source of my craziness, they are also the source of the majority of my joy – capturing this joy was the original intent of this blog!  I also heavily value my relationships, with my husband, my immediate and extended family, and longtime and recent friendships.  This year I will dedicate my efforts to developing these connections and allowing them to enrich my life.
  4. Spirit:  It is hard to put into words how critical inspiration is for me; when I am inspired there is no stopping me.  However, when I’ve lost my inspiration, or have allowed my spirit to be depleted, I find myself trying to dig my way out of a deep ditch – which often involves a day at the spa or a solitary retreat.  This year, I will make a conscious effort to feed my spirit, to avoid the need to retreat from life to recharge.  I’ve heard the term “Sharpen the Saw”, and that is my goal, this year.
  5. Journey:  I have a deep and significant desire to travel the world, to experience life in different parts of the world.  This year, I will design my life to include opportunities to make regular journeys that enrich my life, whether they are international adventures or local field trips to expand my horizons and to continue my quest for wisdom.  Yesterday’s visit to the Lan Su Chinese Garden is a perfect example of a local journey that has impacted me through inspiration and exploration.  More and more of these journeys, this year!
  6. Energy When I began to think about when I feel most alive, I most certainly know that eating healthy and being fit are important not only for my physical health, but for my mental health as well.  When I look back at 2011, I’m pleased that I managed to accomplish at least one goal I had for the year – to lose much of the weight I’d hung onto since my last 2 pregnancies.  I accomplished this through a simple routine of adding 2-3 easy runs to my week.  As a lifelong runner, this baby step in improving my health and fitness did wonders for my mental fitness as well.  This year, I will continue with this routine and consciously care for my energy levels through the health and fitness of my body.
  7. Simplicity:  This concept of simplification has been calling to me for some time.  2011 found me taking some steps to purge our home from unnecessary clutter.  However, there is so much more to do, and I’ve learned that the effort towards simplicity requires a wholehearted dedication to a simple living mindset.  This year, I am committed to living simply, mainly to make room, literally and figuratively, for the many new experiences and joys I plan to focus on, in the near future. 
  8. Nourishment This value comes from my love of good food and the process of preparing good food from whole foods, something I love, but with a busy household and demanding career, rarely have had the time to incorporate into our lives.  This year, I will pay close attention to how we nourish our bodies with food, and will focus and reflect on the meals and foods our whole family puts into our bodies.  In addition, I will allow myself to explore, enjoy, and learn about the foods and drinks that I absolutely  love: wine, tea, chocolate, and cheese.

Balance

To sum up my focus for 2012, I’ve decided to focus on BALANCE, which was a key principle used in the design of the Lan Su Chinese Garden.  Balance, depicted through the concepts of Yin and Yang are infused throughout the garden, as well as the philosophy of the Tao.  I will maintain Balance; of work and life, energy and spirit, wisdom and simplicity.   I will maintain Balance and through Balance I will Know the Fish.

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God will never give you more than you can handle! (or “It could’ve been worse!”)

I’m not sure I would have had another opportunity to learn about how fragile our health is without experiencing the events of the last 3 months…

It was almost 3 months ago that we first learned of my husband J’s heart condition and if that were all the medical issues we had to deal with, we would have had our hands filled. Looking back on everything that’s happened, I’m reminded of a quote I regularly share with friends and family when they face what seems insurmountable crises in their lives. Except now it is me that I’m counseling.

“God will never give you more than you can handle.”

Well, it seems He has some unbelievable faith in J, in me, and in our family unit. If you aren’t yet up to speed on the initial situation, I encourage you to read up and come back another day – to read the rest of this may be more than you can handle in one sitting.

For the rest of you, I apologize for the delay in the online update. I have spent most of my time keeping a busy household running and maintaining sanity during a very trying time in our lives. I finally feel comfortable sharing all that has happened, considering J just had his follow-up appointment with his surgeon yesterday, that has cleared him to return to what the rest of us would consider ‘normal life’ – i.e. driving, working, exercise with limits, etc. I am truly amazed at the determination J has shown in recovery from his procedure and medical complications.

As it turns out, there are many risks that come with undergoing open heart surgery to replace a defective valve. Even before the procedure, in addition to the risk of aortic rupture or dissection from the aneurysm, because of the condition of J’s valve, he was at increased risk of a heart infection, endocarditis, which is extremely rare in the general population, but not so rare with defective or mechanical valves. Endocarditis presents with symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, and overall fatigue, all symptoms that J began to recognize almost immediately after his diagnosis. The primary symptom, fever, is one that will prevent any surgeon from operating on a patient, barring an emergent situation. And so, we spent 3 weeks waiting for J’s low grade fever to break. During this time, we spent 4 nights in the ER and J had too many tests to count, trying to get to the bottom of the origin of the symptoms. Fortunately, endocarditis was ruled out early, but on October 24, when J finally was cleared to have his surgery, we still did not have an explanation for the fever and ill feeling; we all (doctors included) chalked it up to a seasonal flu-like virus and braced ourselves for a very trying recovery.

J was wheeled into the OR on the Monday morning, October 24, and that afternoon, his surgeon met me in the waiting room at Providence St. Vincent Heart and Vascular Institute to report that the procedure went exactly as planned and that J was recovering well in the ICU. The next 2 days were a struggle for J, but a relief to me to see him on his way to recovery. I remember laughing as he reported his fantasy football reports coming out of his morphine fog, and then when he continually referred to his amazing nurse, Erika, as Nurse Jackie. It seemed even in the toughest times, J kept his sense of humor.

Unfortunately, the relief was short-lived. The day after the surgery, J reported a strange feeling, or non-feeling in his left leg. After 2 days of continued numbness, J’s surgeon called in a neurologist who ordered an MRI and confirmed that he had suffered a minor stroke during the surgery.

To say that this was a blow is an understatement! But for the purposes of brevity, I’ll say that J dealt with the news with amazing courage; I agreed wholeheartedly with his resolving statement that day, “Well, it could’ve been worse.” I have no doubt his determination was somewhat due the reassuring words from the wonderful doctors, nurses, physical therapists and specialists who reinforced their belief that J would recover all of the functionality of his leg. This began J’s mission to relearn how to walk and to build up his strength to get out of the hospital.

We were thrilled when J was released on Saturday following the surgery – day 6 post-op – just in time for him to watch the USC/Stanford football game on his own flat screen TV. (He informed his surgeon of this goal even before he entered the OR and he did it!) And so began the slow path to recovery at home that included walking, breathing, tracking medications and appointments with specialists. All was looking well until 2 weeks post-op when J recognized his resting heart rate was elevated, between 110 and 130bpm . His cardiologist requested he come in that day for an EKG and immediately referred him to have an Echocardiogram to check for pericardial effusion, or fluid buildup around the heart, another common complication of open heart surgery. This condition when severe would cause elevated heart rate and could ultimately damage the heart function left untreated. (As if we didn’t have enough to worry about…) The echocardiogram showed only slight effusion which did not concern Dr. Beckerman, though he recommended J come in for a follow-up echo in 2 weeks. His reassurance was only slightly helpful, until 2 days later when J reported his fever had returned along with his difficulty breathing.

Long story short, J’s cardiologist referred us to an infectious disease specialist to get to the bottom of the fever of unknown origin (FUO). He was honest in saying he had no other explanation for the symptom and felt it was critical that we get to the bottom of it. It was a week and a half later when Dr. Cameron Cover discovered that J had a rare strain of the Epstien-Barr virus – aka “Mono”. It turns out he likely contracted the virus while we were in Mexico 5 months prior and was fighting it throughout the whole episode of dealing with his heart condition. Looking back, J remembers the original reason he went in for the physical was because of feeling run-down and tired, classic symptoms of mono, but because he was dealing with a rare strain, the traditional mono spot and blood cultures were unable to pick it up.

At the end of the day, I am so relieved to at least be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. J is still very tired and by no means back to where he was prior to the surgery. But having witnessed his metamorphosis over the last 12 weeks, I can only be truly amazed at the state of medicine today! We are so lucky to have access to truly the top doctors in the Portland area, arguably in the country. I’ve listed the doctors we’ve worked with in case any of you are in the situation of needing a particular medical specialist.

Dr. Jamie Beckerman, Cardiologist

Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, Cardio-Thoracic Surgeon

Dr. Ted Lowenkopf, Neurologist

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Thanks to all of you for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers! It certainly is appreciated…

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have left.

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have left.” – Scott Dolezal

I read this quote in a magazine I flipped through yesterday in the waiting room of one of the leading cardio-thoracic surgeons in Portland, Oregon and it sums up perfectly the lesson I am still learning from the events leading up to today.

It is less than 2 weeks  from the day our family boarded the emotional roller coaster that I have come to know as our current reality. On Friday, September 9, I came home from work to find my 38 year-old husband (J) laying down on our bed staring blankly at the ceiling.  This in itself is not something to be concerned about considering we both work fairly demanding jobs and often just need time to decompress at the end of a day or week.

Nonetheless, it did warrant a check-in so I asked if anything was wrong.

“I’m just a little freaked out about something.  Last week, at my physical, Dr. Lam (my new hero!) suggested I get an echo-cardiogram, which was this morning.  It turns out they found something… well 2 things actually.”

And that’s how it all began… for me at least.  For J, I can’t even begin to imagine what was going through his brain that day, but I think he was in a state of shock and disbelief.  Truth be told, he is still dealing with the emotions that come with facing your own mortality.  By then, he had already spoken to a cardiologist from our clinic about the diagnosis, and though he couldn’t articulate the clinical terms to me, what I learned that day is that he had a defective heart valve which had caused swelling of the heart.

So much has happened since that Friday, and we now at least have a better picture of what we are facing in terms of treatment and proper diagnosis.  It turns out that J was born with a condition called Bicuspid Aortic Valve (BAV), which means that the valve that controls blood flow from the heart to the aorta has only 2 cusps, whereas this valve is typically a tricuspid (or 3 cusp) valve.  This condition is fairly rare (<2% of the population) and in and of itself is not a concern.  Except when it is not diagnosed and monitored from childhood.  In our case, J and his family had no idea he had this condition and because of this, his heart has been compensating for his entire 38 years of life.  Common scenarios for BAV include valve regurgitation, and aortic stenosis or aneurysm.  In our case, we’re 2 for 3 – J has severe aortic regurgitation and a 5 cm aortic aneurysm – both of which have put him down a path that requires… gulp… open heart surgery.

Pause… I want to be sure that everyone who reads this understands that, while extremely serious, neither condition is uncommon, incurable, or emergent. Which means there is not only a clear path to fixing the situation (a cure), but because it was found in time, we have the time to make informed decisions about how to correct it.  (J’s new cardiologist, Dr. Beckerman suggested we send his primary care physician, Dr. Summer Lam, a very nice Christmas card, this year, because she likely saved his life!)   Valve replacements are procedures that are done everyday and in a patient of his age, have a near perfect survival rate, nearing 99%.  But it doesn’t make it any less scary, for J, for me, or for any of the family and friends who care about him.

And so, for the last 2 weeks, we (most of J’s immediate family and I) have been madly learning as much as we can about BAV, aortic aneurysm, and the procedures necessary to correct them, because we are facing some very big decisions in the coming days – timing of surgery, choosing a surgeon, valve replacement type, etc.  As I sat in Dr. Storm Floten’s waiting room yesterday, I happened to pick up a copy of Heart Insight Magazine, whose cover story was about a 19 year old boy, who had already survived 4 heart surgeries. Though our situation is not even close to that in Scott Dolezal’s story, I drew a little inspiration from his closing quote, which is exactly what is keeping us all moving forward, right now.

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have left.”

That’s my Lesson #2, in my advice to a younger me.  And likely the theme of any posts in my near future…

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