THE AUTHOR

Ian Casselberry is a freelance writer, currently based in Asheville, NC. He is an editor at The Comeback and Awful Announcing

Previously, he has been a contributing writer for Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew, MLive.com and SB Nation. In addition, he was a lead baseball writer for Bleacher Report. 

You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook, where he craves your attention.

He still plans to write that novel someday. 

("Pearls Before Swine" © 2005 Stephan Pastis)
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Entries in health (4)

Tuesday
Nov112014

My new low-carb life

So do you want me to write more about my health and recovery from surgery? Is that what you're telling me? I really appreciate the response I've gotten from you here and on Facebook, especially the comments to my most recent post, which provided some very useful information.

Last time around, I wrote about being diagnosed with diabetes while recovering from surgery. My wound healing was the short-term problem. Getting my blood sugar down and making some major lifestyle changes was the long-term issue. 

When I came home from the hospital, I was taking insulin — a lot of it. Keep that blood sugar down. And have stuff around in case it gets too low: fruit juice, regular pop, peanut butter crackers, glucose tablets, etc. Four times a day: prick the finger, check the blood sugar, take the shot. Pay close attention to what's on that plate: A protein, a starch, vegetables, and maybe some fruit or a cup of milk. I was actually told I needed to eat more carbohydrates than I had before to help keep my blood sugar at a safe level.

That was my routine for a couple of weeks, while I continued to recover from surgery. I was getting used to being a pincushion, though the finger-pricking was never fun. (It wasn't bad or painful. I'm just kind of a wuss.)

Checking blood sugar and taking insulin made going out to eat difficult, but maybe that was a good thing. I was probably doing that too often anyway, and maybe it was a big contributor to my condition. The one time I did go out, we had a table in the back corner of a restaurant but a waitress still saw me take a shot in the back of my arm. I can only imagine what that looked like. Maybe she thought nothing of it. I was mortified.

Overall, I thought the eating part was going well. Portion control has always been an problem for me, and watching everything carefully — with the help and support of my family, who have been amazing and indispensable — was helping with that. I wasn't losing weight, maybe a pound or two. But more importantly, I wasn't gaining as my body was adjusting to this new way of life. I was told that if everything went well, I could eventually get off insulin, and that was the goal. 

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Then I saw an endocrinologist, and most of this went out the window. My sister is a Pharm. D. who works with many diabetic patients, and she advised me to reduce the amount of insulin I was taking. So I was already on that path, but the nurse practitioner I saw wanted me to push it much further.

More specifically, she wanted me to lose weight — as much as I could. And that probably wasn't going to happen with what I'd been doing for the past couple weeks, especially if I couldn't exercise while my surgical wound was still healing. 

So I was told to adopt a strict low-carb diet, inspired by Gary Taubes and Dr. Eric Westman at Duke University. OK, no problem: I knew I should cut down on bread, rice and pasta anyway. I tried to eat less of that stuff while lifting weights and attempting to get in better shape. Although I certainly had my moments of weakness with a good artisan bread or pigging out on Italian or Asian food. I love noodles, man. 

Oh, but there was so much more. This ketogenic diet called for no sugar and no starch. Say goodbye to that oatmeal I thought I was eating for a healthy breakfast. And all the fresh fruit that, again, I thought was part of my healthy diet. No fruit — period. Sweet potatoes were another thing I believed I should be part of a healthy routine. Not here. Potatoes, peas and corn were all not part of the plan. No beans (which also meant no hummus). No milk, though a little bit of cheese (and cream) was still allowed.

No carbs, no carbs, no carbs. Or very few carbs. Like less than 20 grams per day. That's a slice of bread, folks.

But I could eat all the meat I wanted, along with leafy and cruciferous vegetables. That didn't sound so bad. I do enjoy meat, and have been kind of a nut about trying to eat a lot of protein while weight training. And eggs? I could live on eggs. The most difficult part of becoming a vegetarian (or vegan) to me would be giving up eggs.

And I like vegetables. Gimme a salad or some broccoli. Or some asparagus. Cabbage? Brussel sprouts? Love 'em. Olives? Hey there. Avocados? Why, yes. I was worried tomatoes might not be kosher because of the sugar, but they are on the list. Oh, baby. I can still eat tomatoes, which means tomato sauce. And chili (with no beans, of course). 

I've even begun eating a couple of things I previously would have stayed away from because they seem unhealthy, but they have no carbs so they're allowed. Pepperoni, for example. Pork rinds have become a go-to snack (and decent bread crumb substitute in meat loaf and meatballs). Maybe not the best thing to take into a movie theater, though. (Unless it's Interstellar with BIG, LOUD SOUND.)

And sometimes, the highlight of my evening is a cup of sugar-free Jell-O with whipped cream on top. You want to hear someone yell out in surprise and delight? Tell him or her that they can squirt some whipped cream from a can (not Cool Whip) on top of sugar-free Jell-O when they've been fixating on not being able to eat anything sweet anymore. (It's one of the highlights of Dr. Westman explaining this diet to his patients.) 

I'm now into week four of this low-carb (no-carb?) regimen, and I adapt more each day. It's especially encouraging to see some rather immediate results in terms of weight loss, which is the whole reason for this in the first place. Targeting weight loss has drastically reduced my need for insulin, and I'm eager to see where I am by the end of the year. 

There are days when I feel like I would fight someone for a slice of toast with breakfast or I'm a little tired of eggs and some berries or grapefruit seem to be a nice alternative. But that's only at the beginning of the day. The rest of day is fine. I don't miss rice, pasta or starchy vegetables. 

Deep down, I know I should have been eating this way for a long time. I've wanted to, but could never really commit to it. But now I have to. I don't know how long I'll have to stick with this, but it does get easier every day. And I'm eager to see the results once I can start working out again (with much more cardio, instead of mostly lifting weights). 

And I'll keep writing about this stuff, since it seems to have gotten a nice response from friends and followers. I'm not about to become a health or fitness blogger, but hey — if I wrote about those things semi-regularly, at least that would update this blog. But I'm not going to be posting any photos of weight loss or anything like that. No one needs to see shirtless before-and-after photos of me, and I sure as hell don't want to take them. But if this yields some results I'm proud of, who knows? 

So onward and upward. (Or downward, when it comes to my weight.) Thank you again the support and feedback. Anything you choose to share in the comments is welcome. 

Wednesday
Oct292014

As healthy as I wanna be? Not even close

First, I want to thank everyone who read my last blog post about undergoing surgery and reached out to express sympathies through Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. Even the sports talk radio hosts I talk to each week had kind words to say on the air, which was surprising and touching. 

I'm doing really well with my recovery. My wound vac came off a couple of weeks ago, far sooner than I ever would have imagined. But my surgical wound has been healing so well that there was no longer a need for it. I'm grateful that I was able to get that machine, however. Not just to accelerate the healing process, but to save us from what would've been a torturous, grueling 2-3 times a day ritual of changing those dressings. 

I thought I'd have to carry that thing around, hooked up to me, for at least another month. I'd actually gotten used to being connected to the device all the time, having to remember I was attached whenever getting up to flip a light switch or what-not. Since I was basically toting a purse with tubes running out of it, I'd get a few curious looks in public.

The worst was a woman at CVS who saw it and said — a bit too loudly, I thought — "WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?" Really? She hadn't seen worse or stranger with all the elderly people passing through? Or maybe they all go back to the pharmacy, while the front counter deals with people buying candy, chips and pop. 

Anyway, that's the only mildly uncomfortable situation I can recall, so the entire experience couldn't have been that bad. I briefly felt some separation anxiety when the wound vac was taken off, but the freedom of being able to move around and not lug that thing everywhere (or deal with the tubes while showering) quickly made up for that. 

Now, I'm dealing with the longer-term ramifications of what happened to me.

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The infection I developed grew out of control because my blood sugar was extremely high. The A1C test taken at the hospital revealed a blood sugar level twice as high as what's considered healthy. Part of the reason I stayed in the hospital for four days — in addition to my surgical recovery, obviously — was because my blood sugar had to be constantly monitored and brought down to manageable levels before I could go home. 

My name is Ian Casselberry, and I am a diabetic.

(No, I did not have to watch this in the hospital, though I was asked to watch several videos on learning to live with diabetes and taking insulin. They get you while you're bedridden, man.)

I knew there was a pretty good chance of this, since my mother was diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic a few years ago. Being overweight certainly made me more likely. But since I didn't have health insurance, I never went to a doctor to get that checked. Plus, I was always afraid of what the answer would be. 

I figured if I exercised and ate right, the problem would take care of itself. And maybe it did, up to a point. I really don't know how long this thing was cooking in me. But over the past five years, I've exercised pretty regularly. During the past year, I feel like I re-dedicated myself to it and was seeing some very positive results.

However, I really wasn't losing that much weight. And I know I wasn't watching what I ate as carefully as I should have. Summer has so many temptations with fruits, pies and ice cream. There were various times when I tried to cut down on my carbohydrates and concentrate more on eating protein, vegetables and fruit, but I never truly committed to it for more than a couple of weeks. 

From what the diabetes education team at Asheville's Mission Hospital later told me, it probably wouldn't have mattered if I changed my diet or not. My weight and extra belly fat made me more susceptible to insulin resistance. My mother comes from a region of the world — Southeast Asia, particularly the Phillippines — where the rate of diabetes is high, which could have been another influencing factor. But it was mostly the weight. And that shouldn't really surprise anyone (though I was probably in some denial).

Once my surgical wound healed and I was able to exercise again, I was going to have to change how I worked out. Previously, I emphasized weight training, trying to get stronger and bigger. I did cardio mostly just to warm up. That would have to change and become a far larger part of my daily and weekly routine.

And of course, I would have to change the way I ate. But how about I devote the next blog entry to that, since this one is going on a bit long and I don't want anyone to feel like they're reading a Russian novel. So I'll have the rest of the story in my next post. Thanks for checking in. Part 2 of this whole thing will be up very soon.

Thursday
Oct092014

Surgery? Hospital? Me? Life can change so quickly

Two weeks ago, I needed surgery and ended up staying in the hospital for four days.

I've often told myself how lucky I was to have never been in the hospital, especially considering all the time I've spent in hospitals with the various health problems my father had before he died and the surgery my mother required two years ago. Hell, I've never even experienced anything like a broken bone.

But that all suddenly changed for me a couple of weeks ago, with the events happening so fast I almost didn't have time to think about what was happening. 

So why did I need surgery? You'll have to trust me when I say you probably don't want me to get into specifics. Let me just put it this way: I developed an infection in an area of the body where no man wants anything to go wrong. Any doctor or nurse who's read my chart, been filled on the procedure I needed or helped with post-op care immediately says, "I'm sorry," and has an deep look of sympathy. 

What began as a curiosity quickly became a major issue that needed attention. I went to a doctor, underwent several tests and was promptly told I needed emergency surgery. The consequences of that didn't fully hit me right away. This looked like a probably outpatient procedure and I'd probably be home later in the evening. 

The seriousness of what was happening finally got through when the doctor visited me in the surgery prep room and told me there was apparently a misunderstanding in what was communicated to me. I was going to be in the hospital for a few days. Whoa. This wasn't just some outpatient thing. 

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That's when some fear began to set in. I was there during my father's two heart surgeries. I was there when my mother had her own issues with an infection. Both of my grandparents died in hospitals. Each time, I thought to myself, "I hope I never have to go through anything like that."

By "that," I mean the surgery, of course. Getting poked with all the tubes that need to go in. Being wheeled into the operating room. Having the oxygen mask placed over my face. Waking up in the recovery room, wondering what the hell just happened and coughing because that breathing tube has been pulled out. Seeing the worry on my mother and sister's face as I'm taken back to my room. 

But I also mean just staying in a hospital. Being in a bed all day and hooked up to IVs. Peeing in a catheter or canister. Eating bland, terrible food. Getting woken up every two hours to take some medication or have something checked. Taking short walks with baby steps down a long corridor, holding an IV stand in one hand, and hopefully someone else's hand with the other. And making sure the back of that hospital gown is tied together. 

I'd been able to avoid all that throughout my life, though I dreaded that those experiences would be in my future if I didn't lose weight and improve my overall health. Now, here I was. Part of what happened was a freak occurrence, but it was fueled by not being as healthy as I thought I was. I exercise every day — pretty hard, if I may say so — and believed I was eating right. I was right on one of those two. 

Had the surgery been my only issue, I might have been released from the hospital in a day or two once the right antibiotic was found and the infection was under control. But everything else had to be monitored too: Blood pressure, blood sugar, etc. I wasn't going to be the same person when I went back home. Or at least I needed to make damn sure I wasn't from here on out. 

For now, I have to carry a wound vac around with me, essentially carrying it in a pouch while a tube is attached to the dressing. I have no idea if people are staring at me in public, but it feels like some might be. Maybe they're just wondering why that guy is carrying a purse.

Basically, I've become the old people that live around me and I often poked fun at. My days are filled with doctor and clinic visits, some of which take more out of me than I ever would have expected. I'm taking several medications and need to follow a tight schedule. I need to be driven around while on pain medication. 

It's been incredibly touching and humbling to realize that so many people are willing and able to help me. The hospital, care managers and providers have been incredible in working with me to make sure I get what I need to recover and can pay the bills that are about to pile up. Famlly and friends have willingly put their busy lives on hold to spend time with me, stock up on groceries and supplies and drive me where needed. I'm a walking charity case. As many times as I've said "thank you," it just doesn't feel like enough. It isn't enough. 

I also realize how ncredibly fortunate I am that my work and life allow me to do what's necessary to get better. I don't have to get back to an office right away. I can do my work while lying in bed, which is currently the only position that feels comfortable for more than a half hour. I can plan my day around follow-up doctor and wound care visits. 

Those dressing changes are not fun, by the way, especially when they're in an area you typically keep concealed. It's a painful and embarrassing experience, three times a week. But vanity went out the window about two weeks ago. It's amazing what you can become accustomed to in a very short time. Sure, everyone come over and have a look down there. Even the young nursing student! Hopefully, this doesn't emotionally scar her for life.

During those nights when it was just me in a dark hospital room (and I could stay awake), I told myself that this was a good thing for me. Even though I went under the knife, I was incredibly lucky because it could have been so much worse. I could still avoid what I've feared for so long. This was a new chance for me, a reset that allowed me to make things right and actually become the person I thought I was being.

Obviously, I was kidding myself about my health and that put me in the hospital. But now, I can change all that. I have to. 

Tuesday
Sep012009

My Kind of Nutrition Writer

So I've been reading a lot of nutritional and healthy living types of columns over the past couple of months, trying my best to eat right with the exercise I've been doing.  But some of it makes me feel a bit unmanly.  I mean, have you ever read any of Ellie Krieger's stuff?  She has some good eating and cooking tips, but her motivational advice gets you in touch with your softer side.

"Your bedtime routine might mean taking a warm bath or curling up with a favorite book for a few minutes."

"Incorporating a short bout of play into your day — by doing any activity that is fun for you — is one kind of "minivacation" from the demands of your daily life."

"Today I want you to think about the relationships you have with people outside your family — your friends, co-workers, neighbors, and others you have daily contact with."

That last one was fantastic, by the way.  I hit the weights really hard after thinking about people.  People.  Ugh.

But last week, I think I found the food/health/nutrition columnist for me: The Washington Post's Jennifer LaRue Huget.  Why's that?  Because she knows where my head is.  When writing about the benefits of corn and the... cleansing features it offers, she just got right down to it:

Insoluble fiber, which our bodies can't digest, scrapes the sludge out of our gastrointestinal tracts. Those big kernels are like snowplows, scooping stuff up as they move through your intestines. When the kernels leave your body, so does a lot of material your body doesn't need.

Which brings me to corn poop. You'd be hard-pressed to find evidence with your naked eye of any other grain's having moved through your system intact. But with corn, it's all too clear.

Any writer who works "corn poop" into her article is a winner with me.  Like I said, this woman knows where my head is at.  Nothing tells you more about a food's effect on you than what you might find the next day. 

As if I didn't already need a reason to eat corn at this time of year, when you can pick up a whole bunch of Michigan sweet corn at the market for mere cents.