Life after coffee (and other acidic stuff)

In another life, I might have looked at the title of this blog post and said, “There is no such thing as life after coffee!” But following last week’s big medical procedure, which confirmed I have gastritis and inflamed pockets on my esophagus, I have to make some serious lifestyle changes if I want to be around and well for another 60 years.

Want, all the time!

Esophagitis and gastritis mean I need to dodge acidic foods and beverages for the rest of my life. Tomato sauce, alcohol, and coffee could burn a hole in my stomach and/or throat, so I have to consume them much less frequently. Booze on the weekends is fine, but I had to knock my routine of enjoying 1-2 beers over dinner and TV with my boyfriend each night. From Monday to Thursday, it’s milk and water for me. While he sips that Stone IPA we both love so much, I must hold back, at least until Friday rolls around and I have the following morning to recover if necessary. When I do have a drink, I can’t go overboard. It’s not such a tragedy. The taste of alcohol can be awful, warm beer may as well be urine, and don’t even get me started on hangovers. Coffee, however, was slightly more challenging to give up.

The thing is, coffee isn’t totally forbidden. I just can’t be the girl who downs 2-3 cups per morning anymore, and you know what? It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I didn’t experience withdrawal migraines, and I’m sure my teeth will look whiter and thank me long-term.

My boyfriend and I used to have a morning ritual of drinking espresso and reading the news on our iPads before getting to work. Now he’s the only one using the espresso machine, but that affords me some extra time to clean up before heading out for the day. Coffee dates with old friends are going to be sad since I can never order a regular cup of joe without feeling immense anxiety about what it could do to my stomach, but I think I have a system in place that will work.

Watered down coffee  = good for me
Watered down coffee = good for me

I’ve started revisiting hot chocolate, a childhood favorite, and drinking tea, which is soothing on the throat and calms me down. In my case, gastritis came about in part due to stress, so anything to keep me sane is a win. When I do have entire cups of coffee, I add sugar and creamer, but I haven’t made a cup for myself in weeks, to be honest. I go to Starbucks for Pumpkin Spice Lattes (ha.ha.) or regular Vanilla Lattes for something with a little more flavor. It hasn’t been so bad.

Earlier this year, my boyfriend and I went on a pizza binge for several weeks. We ordered the Meat Jesus and White Pizza all the time, and it really slowed us down. We eventually chose to practice healthier habits, and now we only order pizza once every two months or so. I can have pizza and tomato sauce every month or two, but not regularly. The acid is just too hard on my stomach.

Intelligentsia Venice CAWhen I was diagnosed with gastritis in September, I got really upset when the doctor advised me to stay away from beer and coffee, two major parts of my life. I’ve since learned it’s not the end of the world to have dietary limitations. I’ve gotten thinner since making changes as well. So small, in fact, that my skinny jeans are too baggy now. The intention was never to shed weight. I just wanted to feel better, and so far it’s working. It’s nice to have room to pack on more pounds during the holidays. I’m definitely in a better place to do that now.

Bottom line? Food doesn’t have to run your life, and if it’s one of the best parts of your life, that means it’s time to pursue other interests. I used to think I’d rather die young and have lived fully, but after getting so serious with my boyfriend and knowing he’s the person I’m going to be with until the very end, I’ve realized Ian is a huge incentive for me to be around as long as possible, and in good condition at that. I want to have a family and, unlike my late father, watch my children graduate high school, marry, and prosper in the real world. My dad was unable to do that for me because his health failed him too early. I will not let mine fail me. So sorry coffee and beer, but our relationship isn’t a priority anymore.


Why I’m getting 4 checkups in 2 weeks (don’t worry, I’m fine!)

dad44Next month marks the 8-year anniversary of my dad’s passing, and as some of you know, he died less than 6 months after being diagnosed with liver disease. I always dread the approach of May 12, mostly because certain folks seem to want me to fall apart when all I want to do is think of something else and not conjure up old feelings or engage in a pointless sobfest. That’s harsh, but I have no interest in being sad for the sake of being sad. Just because an anniversary comes up doesn’t mean I’m going to squander an entire day to drown in sorrow. It doesn’t help me in any way.

That said, I’d be lying if I claimed what happened to him doesn’t color the way I live my own life. He got sick partly because he made poor health choices, and listening to the advice of medical professionals could have given him some extra years with me. He could have met my amazing boyfriend and been there for my wedding. He could have been a wonderful grandfather to my future kids, and it kills me to know he’ll be nothing more than a redheaded guy in digital photos to them. Things might have turned out differently had he eaten better, exercised, and prioritized his health, but by the time he identified his problem, it was too late to fix.

One might think I’d be a health nut to avoid my dad’s tragic fate. Following his death in 2006, I certainly was. It was also my first year of college, and while my roommate and her sorority friends were out drinking at Anything But Clothes parties, I was reading the student newspaper in our dorm, obsessing over whatever widespread illness was being reported in the Health section. At the beginning of second semester, I saw an article about a student getting MRSA from the university’s gym equipment, and the listed symptom was having patchy, red skin. Sure enough, I’d been to the rec center and noticed some red spots by my ankles, so I rushed to the student health center that week and begged to be examined. The nurse took one look at me and said I was fine. She cursed the paper for instilling unnecessary fear in readers, but I’m fairly certain I was the only one crazy enough to actually go to the doctor after reading a 300-word clip on MRSA by a novice journalist.

I also had some unusual stomach issues during that time, so I spent much of my first year at UA visiting doctors all over Arizona. I saw a couple

At my uncle's wedding party in 2005
At my uncle’s wedding party in 2005

specialists in Tucson and also traveled up to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale on a few occasions. It turned out I was in good shape and didn’t have what my father suffered from, but behaving like a hypochondriac and worrying about sicknesses I didn’t actually have ruined the first year of college for me. What should have been a fun time before the workload got insane revolved around hospital appointments, invasive procedures, and making small talk with sickly old people in waiting rooms. I should have been socializing on campus and growing into my adult self, but instead I was sobbing on the phone to my concerned mom and saying I didn’t want to end up like dad.

I was burned out by my fears towards the end of freshman year, so in fall 2007, I chose to take a break from doctors and enjoy college like a teenager should. I’d previously gone to a jaw specialist for my severe TMJ, but the bi-weekly physical therapy became exhausting, time-consuming, and pricey, not just for me but my family as well. I was ready for a break, which I’ve indulged until this week.

It’s been about seven years since I last addressed my jaw problems and visited a primary physician. I see a lady doctor every year, and as you can probably gather, this isn’t a lovely experience. Seeing a doctor is never something to look forward to, but taking care of one’s health is essential to life.

This conversation came up with my boyfriend two days ago, when I admitted I hadn’t had a physical since middle school. The last time I went in for one, I was 13. That was half my life ago, a fact he rightfully deemed unacceptable.

“It’s bad enough that women have to get annual pap smears,” I said, “but physicals too? Hell no. I really hate how they force me to repeat my problems over and over again to nurses and various doctors. It just makes me feel worse about whatever’s going on.”

“Laura, no one is forcing you to do anything,” he said. “It’s your life, and it’s a privilege to be able to go to a doctor. I want you around a long time.”

He was spot on, and I’m not simply living for myself and my relatives anymore. I have him to live for, and if I’m going to schedule a slew of checkups at once, I’ll do it for him.

I’m just afraid to meet with all the doctors I’m planning on seeing in the next week because I can’t take the negative. After watching a parent die for nearly half a year, I can’t take another doctor telling me that my TMJ/TMD is “severe” and awful, I can’t take another doctor telling me to stop being such a nervous person and chill out, I can’t take another conversation about how my love for junk food might make me feel crummy and lethargic at times. I’m not thrilled about the uncomfortable chats of the next 14 days, but like Ian said, this is my life, and it’s better to know about all of the things that might need fixing than remain blissfully ignorant until the damage becomes irreparable.

We’ll see if I can stomach the physical on Thursday, but that’s only the beginning. Next week I’m seeing an eye doctor as well as a TMJ/TMD specialist, who will surely spout something along the lines of, “Holy crap, your jaw clicks too much and it’s destroying your cartilage.” Like my late dad, I’m not in perfect health, but it’s time to acknowledge that in a smart, non-obsessive manner, and I see no harm in meeting with them a few times a year. Without my health, I’m nothing, and I won’t let my body suffer because my mind can’t deal with reality.

At Stanford hospital with my mom. He was texting me while this photo was being taken!
At Stanford hospital with my mom. He was texting me while this photo was being taken!

Please don’t tell me I broke another toe tripping into something

My best buddy and I getting pedicures in D.C. summer 2011
My best buddy and I getting pedicures in D.C. summer 2011

Remember that time 100 years ago (and by 100 years ago, I mean two summers ago) when I broke one of my toes on a walk home from the D.C. metro? For one, it’s crazy to think about how much has happened since that disastrous night. Two years, three jobs (!!!), three apartments, and countless adventures and misadventures later, I’m in New York, not stuffy D.C. My toe has never been the same since that particular clumsy moment (every time I get a pedicure, the lady doing my feet always asks why one of my toes is swollen and wiggly), and I may have just damaged another one (or three).

Earlier this evening, I stubbed my right pinky toe into the edge of my couch. It was so painful, I lost my vision for a few seconds before toppling over. Now my foot is numb and it hurts to walk. Knowing my luck (and lack of coordination), I’ll have broken or at least sprained all my toes before the end of my life. My mom broke all her toes in the early 90s, and you better believe they’re ridiculously sensitive to this day. I could say the moral of the story is to be more careful, but there’s no way I can avoid running into things or stumbling over myself, which tends to happen a lot in the good weather. It’s the only downside to summer and spring, I suppose 🙂

Hopefully this doesn’t affect my charity walk on Saturday. I don’t want to miss out on it!

Two doctor’s appointments in a day to learn everything checks out fine

Several years go, I confessed to a doctor that I feared everything associated with her profession: The sterile waiting room, pre-appointment paperwork, sitting on a long sheet of rough tissue paper in the doctor’s office as I wait for her to pop in and give me the verdict, the florescent lighting, and half-baked landscape paintings on the wall. She said I was probably more afraid of what I’d hear than actually seeing a doctor and added that she would always rather know what is wrong with her than sit around trying to figure out the problem herself.

Her approach is the best way to go, and it’s the one I forced myself to take today. This morning, I went to two much-needed doctor’s appointments only to learn that I’m basically okay. At 9:00 a.m., I saw a hand surgeon in the upper west side to check out my finger pain. When I was at home in California two months ago, I leaped from the couch to answer my ringing cell phone and had a collision with my kitchen table. As I wrote in a Tea to Friends blog post, I basically had a one-way fist fight with the table…and the wooden Thomas Kinkade table won. My pinky has been hurting ever since, so I had the doctor take a look today.

Though the receptionist was quite chatty and asked me several questions about my thoughts on the Oscars ceremony, the doctor had zero bedside manner, which I was fine without, as I wanted to skip out on the fluff and see how much damage I’d done to myself. As it turns out, I merely sprained my finger, which will heal in time. I just have to be careful opening jars and holding doors. Lately I’ve had to pull open doors with my left hand, as the right simply can’t hold much weight right now. I remember doors being a major problem when I broke my toe as well. It’s amazing how hard crossing a threshold can be. My finger will improve once the weather warms up, so there’s nothing to fret about, but like my little toe, I may feel the pain in my pinky bone for a long time.

Of course, I prepared for the worst last week when I published my blog entry on being terrified of doctors. A commentator said that untreated finger damage can potentially be so harmful that doctors must break the bones to reset them, and that certainly wasn’t what I’d had in mind. The image of Kathy Bates swinging a giant hammer at Paul Sheldon’s already embattled legs in “Misery” swam through my head, but I knew deep down I wouldn’t reach this point.

I walked out of the appointment okay and with the knowledge that I have “supple joints for a lady” and that “most women have loose joints.” I still have no clue what the doctor meant by that, but I assume it’s a compliment? Am I wrong? Doctors-in-training, explain.

My next appointment was with the eye doctor, whom I informed upfront that I fainted at my last exam. He laughed and said that’s somewhat common and that he’s usually able to predict which patients will and will not pass out during their visits.

“So what kind of person gives off fainting vibes?”

“Typically young women your age, and occasionally guys in that age group as well,” he said.

Luckily I didn’t experience the Vasovagal response this time. When I became nervous during the startling eye puff test for glaucoma, I thought of Crystal, my good friend who is in optometry school and assures me on a regular basis that I need to give my eyes more credit. They’re resilient and not as fragile as many make them out to be. Crystal offered to accompany me to my last appointment, but didn’t get the chance to talk me through it because I chickened out the day before. She was here in spirit today.

The good news is I don’t need glasses. My vision is near perfect, but I squint a lot, so the doctor said it’s really up to me whether I invest in anything extra. I’ve actually been squinting nonstop since childhood, and if it hasn’t blinded me by now, I don’t think it ever will, although it could explain some of the migraines I get. Crystal’s mom noticed my squinting in fifth grade, when I’d strain my eyes to look at their living room TV, but eye doctors told me back then that I had excellent vision. Thankfully, they’ve pretty much maintained their strength over the years, and the doctor said I’m almost to the point where he’d advise against getting a prescription, so I’m going to think it over. That said, I’m going to take better care of my eyes in other ways. No more staring at my laptop for hours on end or working in the dark.

Even though I walked out of both appointments totally fine, it’s nice to receive that confirmation from doctors rather than just from myself. Hopefully I won’t have to step into another doctor’s office for at least six months.

Save one for the morning

Certain phrases and myths stay with you forever. When I worked at a movie theater in high school, my dad warned me not to eat too much popcorn on the job.

“Are you worried I’ll gain weight?” I said, glancing down at my size zero Abercrombie and Fitch Boyfriend jeans.

“No, but cernals can bring on appendicitis,” he said.

Though I question this theory, the possibility of writhing on the floor with appendicitis surfaces whenever I buy cinema popcorn. There’s nothing I fear more than appendicitis, as I’ve heard it’s more painful than childbirth and deadly if attended to at the wrong time.

I keep this in mind every time I step into a theater, my nostrils flooded with the smell of butter (or partially hydrogenated soybean oil, to be exact).  Though tempted by the salty snack on each trip, I almost always remember my father’s remarks and decide against purchasing the treat.

This is one of the few things I’ve never forgotten over the years. Another piece of advice is alcohol-related. One night last summer, my roommate Anna and I got tipsy at a bar. When my face becomes numb, I know I’ve had too much to drink. At 10:00 p.m., I reached that point and said carbs would sober me up and soak up all the cranberry vodkas in my stomach.

“Nope, the poison is already in your bloodstream,” Anna said. “Food will do nothing to change that.”

Whenever I go out with friends, I remember what Anna told me. Eat heartily before bar hopping, not immediately after. No one wants to see projectile Shake Shack on the metro ride home (you’re the best, Joey!)

Most recently, my colleague Matt Lewis (also known as The Daily Caller’s resident professor) said something that will surely stick with me for the rest of my life. A few weeks ago, I confessed to falling short on punchy, creative story ideas and articles. For writers, inspiration dry spells are major downers. I work regardless of inspiration, but my greatest stories are products of passion and interest.

That’s why Matt Lewis advises going home with at least one idea for the following work day.

“If you’re stumped, always save one of your ideas for the next day,” he said.

I’ll live by this guideline whenever possible, and luckily some of my best ideas spring up on me in the afternoon, so I’ll have something to work with the next day.

Last night, I arrived back in D.C., where it’s gloomy and ugly! I even miss the summer humidity, which went away about a week ago. Most of all, I miss the California dry heat.

During my final days at home, I went to Peets Coffee and Coffee Cat to taste something other than Starbucks:

Hot chocolate
Iced mocha from Peets Coffee

Though I often complain that D.C. could benefit from non-chain coffee shops, my friends have recommended some cafes with great vibes and character:

1. Kramerbooks – Located in the heart of DuPont Circle, Kramerbooks is a nice break from the stifling political atmosphere of D.C. You can purchases books, meals, and of course coffee, but won’t have wifi access. My buddy Vishal says the lack of Internet availability enables him to catch up on his reading, so Kramerbooks is perfect for that.

2. Ebenezers – My friend Aubrey suggested this Capitol Hill coffeehouse, which offers fair trade products. I’ll be sure to explore the shop in the coming weeks, when the weather cools down and I’ll be in search of a hot chocolate.

3. Busboys & Poets – To be fair, this is more a restaurant than coffeehouse, but I enjoy the environment, books, bar area, and food. It hosts lots of book signings and is a good spot to meet authors.

4. Baked & Wired – This is first and foremost a cupcake store (and the best one in all of D.C. – including over-crowded Georgetown Cupcake – at that), but a soothing place to sit down with coffee, go online, read, and interact with those around you. They sell coffee and have free wifi, so that’s a plus. You just have to get there early enough to snag a seat by a wall plug if you anticipate losing computer battery power.

This morning, my Boston nana called the office number to check in on me. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from her. For years, we’ve exchanged several letters a month, so she was concerned not to receive anything from me last week. I explained that I’ve been traveling and getting situated in my new apartment, but felt guilty for blowing her off. I’m hoping to make it up to her by going up to Boston for Thanksgiving in two months.

That’s another update: I won’t be going back to California for that holiday. I mean, I was just home, and airfares are so pricey these days. Plus, I’d like to score a week-long vacation for Christmas, so I’ll have to sacrifice Thanksgiving flying time in that case. This will be the first Thanksgiving I spend away from my mother and one of the first I go through without my brother Kevin, who has cooked the entire feast himself for us the past few years. I’ll send good wishes to everyone in California and return the following month for an even better celebration.

If you checked out my last blog post on memory lane and sorting through old journals, you’re aware that I was a pretty goofy child. Along with reading bizarre 4th grade diary entries about Furbies, rotten classmates, and fair-weather friends, I found a compilation of kudos that Ms. Hancock made her students write back in 1997.

We had to come up with a compliment for each classmate, so when Ms. Hancock was done collecting our warm fuzzies, she handed us each a sheet of paper filled with the nice things people said about us. Among the kind words said about me were:

“I think your funny.”

“I think you’re nice and funny when you play with Crystal T.”

“I like you because you’re smart and don’t talk.”

“I’m grateful for myself because I’m funny with my pens” (I wrote this and have no clue what it’s supposed to mean).

“I admire her Math skills” (Before turning this in to the instructor, Crystal showed it to me and we laughed together. Because we were good friends, Crystal and I had an agreement. She sometimes let me copy her times tables answers and division solutions if I stayed quiet in class. Of all the people in my life, Crystal knows most how awful at Math I am and always have been. In this four-line sentence, she was being facetious).

“You make me laugh all the time and have the best stories.”

Fourteen years later, I received more positive feedback at work. This afternoon, Vince the homepage editor said much of the office missed me during my vacation. Though flattered, my first instinct was to ask, “why?”

I haven’t been in the highest spirits lately. You hear that from me often, but I’ve been especially morose lately because I’m concerned about the upcoming election, approaching winter season, and year ahead. I still miss the summer 2011 interns, all of whom cracked me up every ten minutes, got me out of the office, and fostered my young spirit. I’m hoping the next twelve months are much easier than my first full year in D.C. Luckily I have lots of friends in the area, so I’m counting on them to pull me out of my hibernation mode should I barricade myself in my room to stay out of the cold. They’ll keep my social life afloat, at least on weekends.

My Summer in Paris: I Can Anticipate Sleep & Food

The Associated Press just reported that the French eat and sleep more than any other wealthy world nation. I’m spending seven weeks in France this summer, so while I’m glad I won’t be sleep deprived as I am in the United States, I hope not to gain weight from all the eating:

The average French person sleeps almost nine hours every night, more than an hour longer than the average Japanese and Korean.

Despite their siesta habit, Spaniards rank only third in the poll after Americans, who sleep more than 8.5 hours.

Do Americans really sleep that much every night? There’s no way in Hell I’ve ever slept that much, and after being in college for three years, I don’t think my body allows me to sleep longer than seven hours a night.

And while more and more French people grab a bite at fast-food chains these days or wolf down a sandwich at their desk, they still spend more than two hours a day eating.

“Italian men have nearly 80 minutes a day of leisure more than women. Much of the additional work of Italian women is apparently spent cleaning the house,” the OECD said in a statement.

All this leisure time sounds nice for a month, tops, and nothing more.