The (Empty) Bucket List

The Empty Bucket List

My bucket list has a hole in it.

It must be leaking, because everything that was previously in it has dribbled out somewhere.

Let me explain…

Way Back In The Day

So, ever since I was a youngster, I had a plan. There were certain things I wanted to accomplish. My goals were set as early as Junior High. I was going to do some things with my life, and no one was going to get in my way. At some point, I was going to sing the national anthem at a public event. I was going to release an album. Heck, I was even going to collect songwriting royalties. As life went on, I managed to do all of the above.

And, as life went on, I managed to do all of the above.

(I even still have the royalties checks around here somewhere. One for $.06, another for $.03. Hey, a check is a check, right?)

Then, with the downturn in my health in 2004, my goals took on a more morbid tone. Kinda like “Oh, if I had only…” My goals somehow morphed into a “bucket list” – things I wanted to do before I died.

You have to understand, I had health care professionals left and right telling me that I could keel over at any second.  I was universally informed that I would not live to see 50. Between my weight, my high blood pressure, and my uncontrolled seizures, I was a rolling train wreck, just waiting to go off the tracks.  So, I did what any person in my position would do.

I started negotiating.

Suddenly, all of my “goals” were various incarnations of getting healthier.

The “Passive Self-Improvement” List

If I could only get a handle on my health, I figured, then I might actually have a shot at living long enough to do something else interesting.

Like: If I could just lose some weight, I would go back to the gym. (As it was I kept injuring myself every time I tried.)

In exchange for dropping my blood pressure, I would run a 5K.

I would buy a pair of button-fly 501s if I could ever return to a 38-inch waistline.

Heck, I would even finish my novel if I had enough time between seizures to complete a sentence or two.

Then came the twin surgical interventions of my VNS implant and bariatric surgery. Suddenly, the only thing left on my “bucket list” is to live to ’til I am 50.

I am not sure that even qualifies it as a bucket list anymore.

Into The Great Wide Open

So, not a bad problem to have, right?

I show every sign of getting past the half-century mark now. So, ummm…now what?

I am tentatively exploring the idea of planning. You know, having some concept of the next years of my life. Beyond “I would like to only go to the emergency room three times this year.”

So, what do normal people plan for?

Heck if I know. I haven’t been a normal person for quite a while.

But, in the meantime, I’ve got this big, empty bucket with nothing left inside it. Plenty of short-term goals, mind you. But nothing that us writers would call an “over-arching narrative.”

Peering into the future, I literally have no idea what I want to be when I turn 50 in 3 years.

I never thought the problem would come up, see?

I Don’t Want To Grow Up, I’m a Toys-R-Us Kid,

Jeremy

 

 

The 1-Year Follow-up

The 1-Year Follow Up - The results of Bariatric Surgery

You may wonder where I’ve been the last couple days. I spent Monday meeting with my surgeon, finishing up the VNS procedure, and got cleared to start using both arms again. This seems like it would have been the perfect opportunity to publish my next Misdirected post, right?

But I had something else big coming down the road, so decided to wait for the update.

Because yesterday was my 1-year appointment with the folks at DaVita Bariatrics. One year ago yesterday I went under the knife and changed my life forever.

So, how did I do?

The Numbers Don’t Lie

So, let’s review. On July 25, 2016, I weighed 248 pounds. (Down from my all-time high of 302 pounds in February of 2016.) My blood pressure was 145/102. My resting pulse rate was 86. I was on a cocktail of 5 different medications. I slept with a C-PAP every night.

Yesterday I weighed in at 177 pounds. (Up 3 pounds from my previous low of 174.) My blood pressure came in at 118/70. My resting heart rate was 60 beats per minute. I am down to 2 medications (both anti-seizure meds) and stopped using the C-PAP months ago.

Other significant numbers?

In 2016 I had a 50-inch waistline. Today I am at 35 inches and still shrinking.

Last year I could barely manage walking half a mile. Today I can walk at least eight, or run two. (Though still can’t run a full 5K, darn it.)

Last year my BMI topped out at 47.3 (also known as “morbidly obese.”) As of yesterday, I was at 27.7. (“Overweight”, according to the BMI chart.) Given that I would have to get all the way down to 159 pounds to be considered normal by BMI, I think I am just going to settle for “overweight”, thank you very much.

Now, Gimme The Bad News

All of this has had a downside, of course.

As of yesterday, I was diagnosed with both anemia and a B12 deficiency. Neither is as dangerous as the health issues accompanying obesity, but both are going to have to be dealt with nonetheless. Both are potential side effects of the massive dietary changes that go along with bariatric surgery.

I keep shrinking. This may sound like it should be on the “good” side of the equation, but it is a real downer to keep having to buy clothes at thrift stores. Also, I am already down to Men’s Small in shirts. Where the heck do I go from here? Do I start shopping in the kids’ section?

Speaking of my body, I am still dealing with my new covering of loose skin with the texture and consistency of Play-Doh. It is a constant hassle to deal with and has even resulted in me having unexpected surgery for early VNS replacement.  Surgery to have the excess skin removed may or may not be an option. For one thing, it has to be deemed “medically necessary.” For another, I am getting a little tired of surgery at this point.

I am actually more of a slave to my stomach now than I was when I was obese. I have to eat constantly – every 3 hours or so. And everything still needs to be measured, and weighed, and parcelled out. Eating is no longer easy.

And man, do I miss beer.

The Final Verdict

So, considering everything, would I still have the surgery?

Absolutely. I wish I had done it years earlier.

While jogging(!) yesterday, Lor and I were discussing the concept of being in better shape now at 40-ish than at 20-something. In my case, I have never been athletic. I am, quite frankly, in the best physical condition I have ever been in, period. I don’t say “best shape” because, you know, parts of me aren’t great to look at. Aesthetics aside, though, this is certainly the healthiest I have been since developing Epilepsy. By a significant margin.

Bariatric surgery still isn’t a magic pill. It doesn’t change everything for you without effort.

But it certainly gave me the freedom to make (and sustain) changes.

If you are suffering from obesity, and nothing you have tried has worked, consider talking to your loved ones and your doctor about bariatric surgery. It is far from easy. But, in my case, it has allowed me to actually go experience life, rather than sitting on the couch and watching it go by.

And if I can do it, so can you.

Looking Forward To Next Year’s Appointment,

Jeremy

 

 

 

 

The Long Silence, Broken

So, last you heard from me, I was getting ready to go in for VNS replacement surgery. The surgery took place last Friday and was successful. I have been unable to do much writing on the PC without the use of my left arm, so I have been more quiet than normal.

So, what else have I been doing since then?

Oh, not much. Just this:

Ash Falls Sampler Vol I

Malum Non Dormita

Yes, it is true: Evil Never Sleeps. And neither do I, even while supposedly recovering from surgery. Instead, I have been working feverishly with the editorial staff at Fiction Vortex to get our baby to the printers.

That’s right: the printers.

In two weeks, we will be releasing the print version of the Ash Falls Sampler. The lovely, oversized tome contains all five of the first episodes of the current storylines from the Ash Falls Storyverse. Anyone wanting to explore the different “origin stories” for our current tales will have them all in one attractive volume, suitable for bookshelves, coffee tables, and spider-squashing.

Many of you will recognize that this is similar to the NoiseTrade e-book we released a few months back. This tome contains all the material that went out in our NoiseTrade version with a couple of pieces of short fiction to boot! We’ve included Joe Mankowski’s “Rodolfo’s Pizzeria”, as well as my own “Walk in the Shadows”, just as a bonus to those who want to own a physical book to accompany the one on their e-reader.

One-Armed Bandit

And, yes, all our proofs, edits, and revisions took place this last week. While I was recovering from surgery.

How, you ask?

By doing all the work one-handed on my phone. Much to the chagrin of my caregiver and delight of my editor at Fiction Vortex.

Because, how could I not, right?

Everything else came to a screeching halt, really. No studying for my upcoming certification exam. No creation of new blog posts or fiction. Certainly no video gaming.

And not much sleep, either.

But I couldn’t be prouder of the result. All our authors, gathered inside the covers of one (large-ish) manuscript, ready to draw you in to the world of Ash Falls.

The Nuts And Bolts

Now, how does the adoring public go about getting ahold of one of these fabulous manuscripts?

As I said, the book “goes live” as of August 4, 2017. It is retailing at $14.99. For the readers of Misdirected, I am willing to charge a whopping $.01 for shipping, bringing your total to $15.00 even.

Heck, I am even willing to add a signature to “my” section of the book, for those so inclined. Getting sigs from the other authors might be a bit problematic since it would involve tracking them down across the country (and in England, in the case of Mr. Cotterrill.) But I am willing to do my part!

Anyone interested should contact me at jeremycschofield@gmail.com to work out the details. Paypal seems the most likely avenue, to protect both sides of the transaction.

Also, as a reminder, any of you that have been supporting us on Patreon at the $20/month level will get a copy of the book for free, just because you are awesome like that.

One Last Thing…

Oh, yeah, by the way:

We’ll be doing this again in August for the print release of Inheritance!

Inheritance Book Cover

Now, I am not able to discount the Sampler, since mine is not the only name on the cover.

But anyone interested in pre-ordering Inheritance can get it at a pre-publication price of $10+shipping !!

Again, if you are interested, just drop me a line and we will set up the details.

Thanks for supporting Misdirected and my other writings. We’ll catch you all again Real Soon!

Meanwhile, I Am Off To Go Put An Ice Pack On My Shoulder,

Jeremy

VNS: Very uNexpected Surgery

Welcome to this special Wednesday edition of Misdirected!

I know – two days late, right? But I have been busy. Like busy, busy. Like the kind of busy a bee would aspire to if it aspired to be a busy bee.

Holy smoke, how can someone fit that many uses of the letter “b” in three sentences?

Anyway, to draw back the curtain a bit, here is what has been happening since the last time we visited…

A Little Background Music

As most of you know, I suffered from massive, life-changing clusters of seizures from 2004 until 2009. These seizures were so debilitating that I required 24-hour care. Like, diaper-changing kind of care. My parents actually both took early retirement from their professions so they could commit themselves to being my full-time caretakers – presumably for the rest of their lives.

Thanks to a very forward-thinking neurologist, we discovered a potential treatment – the Vagus Nerve Stimulator. It is an implant that is surgically inserted into the chest, with two leads attaching to the vagus nerve in the neck. Every 5 minutes (or so) an electrical impulse gets fired off from the VNS, up the vagus nerve, and into the brain. This impulse somehow regulates the electrical activity of the brain, bringing over-excited neurons back down to a normal state.

It sounded like science fiction to me. At that time, fewer than 10,000 people had this procedure performed on them. But further research performed by my mother seemed to support my neurologist: this thing worked. Especially in cases of “temporal lobe epilepsy with intractable clusters of seizures.”

I will give you three guesses what my official epilepsy diagnosis is.

In March of 2009, I had the implant installed. By the end of the year, I was already no longer suffering from clusters of seizures. I still have seizures, but they are no longer day- or week-long events. I have a seizure, I recover, I move on. And I have an almost normal life.

Almost.

The Price of Loose Skin

Now, the VNS is installed at the top of the left breast, almost directly above the heart. This gives the implant a steady shelf to operate from and gives the leads emerging from it an almost straight shot up into the neck to attach to the vagus nerve.

So, the human breast is a muscle (the pectoralis major) covered by a sheath of fat and skin. (This is true even for men, boys.) A pocket is carved into the tissue on top of pectoralis, the implant is installed on top of the muscle, and the whole thing is sewn back up. Within a year you have a lump on your chest underneath a fairly impressive looking scar. 8 years later, the scar isn’t even that noticeable.

Now, you did notice what I said the covering of your breast is, right? Skin and fat.

You know, the kind of fat I just lost about 120 pounds of thanks to my bariatric surgery last year?

So, what happens when you remove the material making up the majority of the pocket that your VNS sits in?

This:

VNS Sideways
No, the VNS is NOT supposed to be able to do that.

When I woke up one morning a couple months ago to find that my VNS had turned completely sideways and was popped up under my skin like a circus tent, my immediate thought was “Maybe I should see a doctor about that.”

So, I demonstrated the problem to my neurologist last month. He turned a very unusual color, swallowed hard, and immediately started making phone calls.

And, so, here we are – with me scheduled for VNS replacement on Friday. This week has been spent getting blood tests, meeting anesthesiologists, etc. All the normal precursors to surgery.

A Week On My Back

Now, it isn’t as bad as all that. A VNS is a battery-powered device, which means I was going to have to get it replaced sooner or later anyway. Usually at around the 10-year mark, which is only 2 years from now. So, in one respect, I am just advancing the timeline by a couple of years.

On the other hand, this is happening right in the middle of one of the busiest periods of my life. My novel is getting ready to be published. I am scheduled for my Personal Trainer certification exam next month. I have my 1-year bariatric follow-up appointment in 12 days!

Just at the time I am wanting to spend every day at the gym to make sure I am in the best shape possible, I am going to have to spend about a week on my back.

This does give me a chance to really sit around and study for the exam, so that is good. I also have a lot of Fiction Vortex correspondence and reading to catch up on. But, seriously, I am faced with the possibility that I may go in for my one-year follow-up no longer at my lowest weight.

I am torn between irony and embarrassment, really.

Someone (probably me) will let everyone know how the surgery turns out, either on Friday or Saturday. I expect no issues or complications – the procedure itself takes less than an hour. We should be back to our normal publication schedule on Monday.

After all, I will have nothing else to do, right?

I Am Spending My Life In Waiting Rooms,

Jeremy

“Skinny Is A Side Effect” Redux

Happy Independence Day to all our American readers. If you are celebrating the 4th of July, hug or shake the hand of a veteran. Your preference.

I have been reviewing my publication history for Misdirected while outlining my next book. In doing so, I have discovered some…changes in my outlook from last year to this year. My former annoyance with my obesity still rings true. The combined fear and hopefulness regarding the potential outcome of the surgery still feels real to me.

But what is different is my absolute conviction, a year ago, that my physical appearance wasn’t going to matter at the end of the process. Looking at my recent posts, I can see that turned out to not be true at all. Which makes me wonder:

Exactly when did I get so vain?

Mirror, Mirror

Now, understand what vanity means here.

I do not gaze in the mirror every morning and think “Damn, I’m hot.”

No, actually, exactly the opposite.

I look at sagging skin. I fixate on scrawny arms and legs. I stare jealously at big, muscular guys at the gym and can only think that I won’t ever look like them.

I have become a body nazi, sitting in judgment upon a population of one: me.

This after I swore up and down that all I cared about was Non-Scale Victories. That I was “Not Waiting To Turn Into Brad Pitt.”

Sigh.

Taking A Step Back

So, let’s take a look at what has happened instead.

For years I suffered from sleep apnea.

Today I can’t remember the last time I used a C-PAP.

A year ago my resting blood pressure was about 140/100 with medication.

Today it is sitting at 112/75, and I haven’t taken a blood pressure med for literally a year.

Once upon a time, I could barely walk to the end of my block and back.

Last week I walked 6 miles in one day and could have done more.

So, why the sudden concern about my looks, for goodness sake?

You Can’t Miss What You Never Had

So, here’s where things get weird. Being obese never bothered me from the perspective of my self-esteem. I have always looked at myself as being…umm…less than attractive. So, being overweight didn’t really impact me very much, in that regard.

But nowadays I keep seeing these amazing before and after photos of my fellow bariatric patients. And the “after” shots seem to always look like supermodels.

Hell, I am living with a supermodel nowadays.

And I am…well, I am back to looking normal. Just with a whole lot of extra skin.

I know it shouldn’t be important to me. I ran a 5K. I will be climbing Sandia Peak later this summer. I am out being active almost every single day – doing things I couldn’t do while I was obese. The way I look while I am doing these things should not matter.

But, somehow, it suddenly does.

Pushing Beyond The External

If I was advising someone in my position, I would tell them that they were already beautiful. I would say that true beauty comes from within. That the world should not judge a person on the basis of their physical appearance.

I now know that person would be thinking that I was full of shit.

Despite that, I need to make the effort to get over my sudden onset of self-esteem anxiety.

A few months back I made the commitment that I would stop using the term “fat” here on Misdirected. I have been largely successful, and I think that Misdirected is better because of it.

So, I will start doing the same thing with myself.

Every time I have a negative thought about my appearance, I resolve to match it with a positive self-affirmation.

I may look in the mirror and think “my arms look terrible.” I will match that with “Yes, but my hands now write a blog that speaks to hundreds of people.”

The thought may cross my mind that I am covered in loose skin. I must learn to match that with something like “The skin is empty because I have extended my lifespan by losing the fat that used to fill it.”

Every time I wish I looked different, I should immediately go do something that I used to wish I could do, but could not due to my obesity. I should still make personal wishes come true. Just different ones.

I will have to teach myself to start being focused on being healthy, and stop being obsessed with being skinny.

After all, skinny is (only) a side effect.

Glad I Can Air This Out,

Jeremy