Drawing my way out of the doldrums

My first mainly sedentary week has been hard mentally. I wish so much that I could go for a hike or run, but just walking around the grocery store makes my hip throb with pain, so that is not going to be a reality any time soon. I went swimming at the gym and did an upper-body weight workout. Both of those activities went okay, but it feels like all the amazing  progress I made working out with my personal trainer is going to slip away.

When sadness and anxiety start to take over and I can’t deal with the stress using exercise, I often turn to my nature journal to lift my spirits. Somewhere in those moments when I am looking closely at the pattern of veins in a leaf, and my pen is moving over paper recording what I see, my mind finds peace. Expect to see many drawings in the weeks ahead!

 

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Good news: no more crutches!

For the past three days, I have been nervously awaiting my appointment with an orthopedic surgeon to find out about the injury I mentioned in my last blog post. I am so used to going to the doctor for digestive- and colon-related issues. It felt a bit unsettling to go in for something entirely new like a bone problem. And I was even more anxious because the pain had gotten a little worse over the past couple of days. It had been especially intense at night — even keeping me awake for several hours.

At the clinic, the orthopedic surgeon looked at my x-rays and examined the area of my injury. He thought the stress fracture was small enough that I could ditch the crutches (unless I was having pain) and just take it easy. He said soon I could try some light exercise such as swimming or maybe easy biking, and to listen to my body and stop something if it causes any discomfort. However, because I have been experiencing the worsening pain at night, he wants me to get an MRI in 7-10 days to rule out a few things that could be more serious.

I was so ecstatic as I walked out of the doctor’s office sans crutches. I have a huge appreciation for those who have dealt with them for long periods of time. Using crutches is incredibly tiring, and it was difficult to rely on others to constantly carry my stuff or bring me things. It is next to impossible to have anything in your hands with crutches. My coworkers joked that they were going to get me a cowbell to ring every time I needed help. Thanks goodness I won’t be needing that.

Bye bye crutches!

So I am relieved with the circumstances for now and will cross my fingers that nothing strange shows up on the MRI. I know I will still have to cancel some activities in the upcoming month or so as I heal up, but I am confident that the plans I made for later in the summer will stay intact even if I have to tone them down a notch.

For this weekend, sitting in the grass with my sketchbook still sounds just about right.

A disappointing setback

In my last post I wrote: Sitting in the stadium on my 40th birthday, I realized that I still had no idea what was around the corner. Well, today I witnessed how true this statement indeed is.

In mid-March, I started to experience some mild hip pain. It came out of nowhere during one of my most sedentary weeks. I hadn’t been running or hiking much and had mainly been swimming, doing Zumba and doing the workouts my trainer had recommended. I had gone snowboarding a few days prior, but had not pushed it because it was icy and I did not want to fall. I really don’t remember if I took any tumbles on that day–if I did they were insignificant. I thought maybe I had just stressed a hip muscle doing side planks at the gym. In a few days the pain was gone and I did my 5K run. My hip was sore enough to limp after the race, but the next day the joint felt perfectly fine. I took it easy for the next six days doing one aerobics class, yoga, stretches, core work and light weights. The next weekend I was feeling good enough to go on a five-mile trail run, but found that my hip hurt again afterwards. Due to my history of prednisone use and the osteopenia it caused, I decided to schedule an appointment in a week’s time with my doctor to have the hip looked at. I just wanted to be sure nothing strange was going on. I had also been dealing with some knee pain in the opposite leg and figured I would get that looked at too.

In the week or so waiting for my appointment, the hip pain completely disappeared. I went for a mellow three-mile trail run with no soreness afterwards. In fact, thinking whatever had been bugging me had healed up, I even considered cancelling my appointment. As luck would have it, a really busy work load last week left me too exhausted to head to the gym much except for some short core and upper body workouts.

On Monday, I finally got in to see the doctor, and she decided to order some x-rays. At the time she thought it would be okay to stick with my workouts until the results came back the next day as long as I didn’t do anything crazy. I was actually heading to Zumba class when her call must have come in telling me the results of the x-ray. Due to a glitch in my cell phone service, the message she left did not show up on my phone. It was only when I got to work the next morning and saw messages on my work phone and then finally showing up on my cell phone that I got a panicked feeling. I knew if the x-rays had shown nothing, she would not be trying to reach me so many times.

My stomach knotted up as I dialed in to get the various messages. As I heard my doctor’s words, that knot traveled up into my throat and turned into a lump: the x-rays showed a pelvic fracture. She told me to get some crutches as soon as possible and to put no weight on my left leg until I could get in to see an orthopedist later in the week. I cringed when I thought of all the jumping I had done in Zumba the night before… and all the other workouts I had done in the weeks since the subtle pain had begun. And then the tears came as I thought of all the plans that this news so swiftly destroyed and all the progress it had immediately halted. I knew this injury would take a lot of time to heal. My mind raced to all the unknowns and I found myself swallowed by that familiar feeling of being overwhelmed.

As the day went on, I started to feel better once the shock of the situation wore off. My coworkers gave me hugs and made me tea to make me feel better. I called Doug and my Dad on the phone and they managed to cheer me up. I also found out more specifics from my doctor. The fracture is small. It is in the front of my pelvis near the symphysis pubis. Though I really won’t know anything until I see the orthopedist on Friday, from what I gather from the tiny amount of research I have done is that these injuries heal with rest and refraining from weighting the leg during the recovery time. Then there will likely be rehab exercises.

Already my mind is gearing up to get me through this. Now that the tears are out, it is reminding me of all the things I can do like draw, and write and watch the beauty around me even if while sitting under a tree instead of hiking down a trail. In my last post, I also wrote that uncertainty is okay. And you know what? It is. I will find the strength to get through this challenge just as I did during my healing period after ostomy surgery.

Turning 40

I couldn’t stop smiling as I sat in the stands at Coors Field. I was attending a Colorado Rockies game for my 40th birthday, and the evening had been amazing so far. Planning to ride our bikes to the stadium (to avoid traffic and the parking fee), Doug and I had parked our car about a mile away.  Just as we were about to unload our bikes from the roof rack, a massive storm blew in and we watched lighting streak across the Denver skyline as hail pummeled our car. Once the storm ended, we jumped on our bikes and cruised downtown, breathing in the wonderful spring smell of rain-soaked ground and blossoming trees.

We arrived at the stadium an hour early, so we stopped to enjoy drinks at the Irish pub next door. I was halfway done with my Strongbow Cider when the waitress surprised me with a free birthday shot. I have no idea what was in the fruity purple concoction, but she assured me it didn’t have gluten in it, so down the hatch it went. This was a little more than I would normally drink on a mostly empty stomach with my ostomy, but hey, it was my birthday. Time to throw caution to the wind. My stomach wasn’t empty for long. As soon as we walked over to the stadium, I indulged in one of my favorite treats. I hardly ever eat hamburgers due to having celiac disease (and the fact that they are not that healthy), but Coors Field has a special gluten-free concession stand. Soon I was in my seat, huge burger in hand and eagerly anticipating the game.

Nature even provided some pre-game entertainment for my birthday. Perched on the balcony railing above me, a male house finch was singing his heart out. Over and over he belted out his melodious tune, and I kept thinking that there had to be a female baseball-fan-of-a-finch listening somewhere in the stands. I hope he finds her. There are certainly many great places to tuck a nest in the stadium and then the pair can watch every home game as they raise the next generation of Rockies-loving finches.

If this amazing start to my birthday evening wasn’t great enough, things got even better. The Rockies were clobbering the opposing team in one of the best games I had the pleasure of watching. In between watching unbelievable plays, my mind cycled through memories of being at the stadium so many times before.

It was on a previous visit to Coors Field that my final UC flare first made itself known. I am sure many IBDers know the feeling of thinking they have finally found the magic bullet of probiotics, diet and medication to keep their illness in control, only to have their body fail them yet again. It was during a night similar to this one that I was having fun watching the Rockies when one such disappointing moment came. I got up to use the restroom during the 7th inning stretch and noticed a tiny speck of blood from my intestines on the toilet paper. My heart sank. I left the bathroom and tried to focus on the rest of the game, but all I could think about was the fact that my four-month remission was over and my UC was back. At the time, I had no idea that those initial specks of blood would turn into the massive flare that would cost me my colon. When I look back at my photos from that evening, I see a woman who is blissfully unaware of the major life change that is about to happen. If you would have told me that night that I would have an ostomy a few months later, I would have said you were out of your mind.

Sitting in the stadium on my 40th birthday, I realized that I still had no idea what was around the corner. But if there is one thing I have learned in my 39th year, it is that this uncertainty is okay. Tomorrow would be on its way soon enough, but right now I was enjoying watching the players slide into bases and hearing Doug yell GO TODD at the top of his lungs every time Todd Helton was up to bat. Right now I was having fun singing Take Me out to the Ball Game and seeing the people around me laughing and goofing around with their friends and family. Right now I was smiling as I blew out the candle in my birthday cupcake and made my wish for the year. Right now I was happy that my ostomy had allowed me all these moments.

For me, turning 40 wasn’t something to be sad about. It wasn’t about all the things that I hadn’t done or about goals not yet achieved. Turning 40 was about celebrating all the things I had done. It was about lightning and skyscrapers, house finches on balconies, bike rides through puddles, baseball players getting out of pickles and every other great memory I have from that day and all of those before.

Vanilla Blush ostomy underwear review

A few readers have suggested recently that I write about some of the products I use. I thought this was a great idea. Though everyone is a bit different in what products they prefer for their ostomy, writing posts on this subject would still help introduce people to some of the available products.

Just as I was thinking of doing this, Vanilla Blush, a wonderful ostomy lingerie company based in England, sent me some of their underwear to try out. The underwear they provided were the Grace and Beth styles, and those are the two models I’m reviewing here. Though this review describes their women’s styles, Vanilla Blush makes undergarments for men as well.

Right after receiving the underwear, I tried both styles out for everyday wear. Most of the time, I wear regular low-rise underwear and just let my pouch flop over the top of it because this is what I find to be comfy. If I am going to wear ostomy underwear, it must be as comfortable as my regular panties. After trying out the Vanilla Blush undergarments, I am so impressed! These undergarments feel great and are not too tight or restrictive. The fitting chart on the website is accurate, and the size I requested based on my measurements fit perfectly. One of the things I love most about these underwear is that they are not unnecessarily high-waisted.  They are exactly the right height to cover my pouch from bottom to top with no extra fabric. I love how I can see my belly button with the Vanilla Blush underwear.

The "Beth" underwear conceals my pouch from top-to-bottom without being too high-waisted. I love the sparkly fabric too!

The white “Grace” style is made out of a 93% cotton and 7% spandex fabric that feels very soft and is a perfect weight. The black “Beth” style is made out of a polyester/elastane fabric that is stretchy and comfortable. It also has some pretty sparkly threads on the front. Both styles have an inner pocket to hold a pouch. I happen to not use the pockets in any of my ostomy underwear or wraps. Due to the lower placement of my stoma, pockets tend to cause my pouch to bunch up more than if I just let my pouch hang freely in the underwear. Still, I don’t mind that the pocket is there. By not using it, I actually have a nice double layer of fabric over my pouch which covers it nicely. Whether you use the pocket or not, the underwear fit beautifully.

The Vanilla Blush underwear also holds my pouch in place and conceals it well, even under my tightest pair of low-rise jeans. The part of the underwear that sticks out above the waist band of my jeans is very flattering. If my shirt rode up as I went about my day, and the top of the undies were inadvertently exposed, I wouldn’t care. The bow and trim make them super cute!

The underwear work great under my low-rise jeans. They look so nice it doesn't matter if they stick out above the waistband.
The Vanilla Blush underwear hold my pouch against my body so that it is invisible under my most form-fitting jeans and T-shirts.

I knew I loved these underwear for day-to-day wear, but how would they perform during an outdoor adventure? I decided to give them a try during a day of rock climbing at the North Table Mountain climbing area in my home town.

As I hiked up the trail to the crag, the underwear didn’t ride up or bind and felt pleasant to wear.  The temperatures were really cooking on the south-facing cliffs, but the underwear was cool and breathed well.

Heading up the trail to the rock climbing area, the underwear are not restrictive and are cool in the hot temperatures.

When I do any strenuous activity, such as climbing, I always wear a six-inch-wide Nu Hope hernia prevention belt. Over this, I usually wear a pair of ostomy underwear to hold it in place. If I don’t, the hernia belt tends to ride up to the narrow part of my waist and does not provide the support I need. One thing I was a bit concerned about was whether these underwear would work with my hernia prevention belt since they have a lower rise than the ones I usually wear. Any ostomy briefs I wear for my outdoor activities must fit over the hernia belt.

When I put the Vanilla Blush underwear on, an inch of the belt stuck out at the top. However, this was not a problem. They still held my hernia belt in place wonderfully through the whole afternoon of climbing. It never shifted once, even when doing high steps and stems on the rock and hanging in my harness as I was being lowered on the rope.

Even though my six-inch-wide hernia prevention belt sticks out above the undies, they still held it in place well.
The underwear were comfortable while climbing...
...and lowering in my harness.

As late afternoon approached, I realized I had one more workout to complete. I bid my climbing partners farewell and drove over to the gym to do the core and upper body weight routine that was on my schedule for the day. I have been really disciplined in doing the workouts recommended by my personal trainer and only miss them if absolutely necessary. I knew I could still squeeze them in before the facility closed. As I did planks, stability ball work and lifted weights, the Vanilla Blush underwear continued to feel great.

Finally, it was time to head home. When I got there, I took off my hernia prevention belt and climbing pants and threw my jeans back on. From trail to cliff, and from gym to jeans, the Vanilla Blush underwear performed just as I had hoped they would.