So, towards the end of the first session of summer school, I experienced two events. One has tended to make me motivated, while the other has often made me depressed, and each has to do with my health. Good days, bad days and tough breaks now follow....

On the motivated side, my beautiful wife gets cuter every day as she passed the six-month anniversary of gastric bypass surgery. Prior to the surgery, she was diabetic, was on medication for that and high blood pressure, and weighed more than her already-obese husband, despite being nearly seven inches shorter. Here's a shot from May of 2010, before I went to the Galapagos, and six months from my wife's procedure:

Here's a shot from about a month ago. Post-surgery, she has lost over 70 pounds. She is no longer classified as diabetic and has received clearance to reduce much of her meds. She looks great and spends much of her energy shopping.

As I have joked more than once, my medical benefits paid for the surgery but somehow failed to cover the post-operative clothing allowance. And, with each pound lost, and with each round of old garments given to Salvation Army, it became clearer to both of us that there had been a role reversal of a sorts. Simply put, it was time for me to do something about my weight if I wanted to 'keep up with the Jones's', or in this case, her eat-right, feel-good Jones. I was now the ugly duckling and, frankly, no longer a comely accessory.

Well, that initially infuriated me. I am determined not to be the 'weak link' and I am certainly not going to take any crap in that department lying down. So, I told the wife in no uncertain terms that I had something that she doesn't have: will power. I announced that I was now focused, and that I was going to make her eat her words, and that I was going to achieve this weight loss without surgery.

This has not turned out to be anywhere as easy as I thought. When I went to the Galapagos last summer (2010), I left Fresno between 235-240 pounds (I am, charitably, 5'11" in height). The demands of that 10-day excursion (six plain rides, six crossings of the equator, over 500 miles on boat, daily hikes and scuba dives) helped me shave off some poundage quickly and I returned to the states having lost about 10 pounds. Inspired by this, I lost an additional 14-15 pounds pretty quickly and by the end of August (right before school started) I had my weight down to 209 pounds.

And then the Fall 2010 semester began, and I lost my focus. I never put all of the weight back on, and I checked the scale regularly, but I would oscillate from 216-223 over the next eight months. Better than before, but not that changed. My wardrobe was often ill-fitting and tired, and a expensive dress suit that had looked sharp on me in August of 2010 was best left unbuttoned by May of this year. Having said all that, given that I had lost 25 pounds in just three weeks the previous summer, I figured that this year's July resolution would be easily doable.

Uh, no. As you can see from the running chart above, I've gone up-and-down. It's literally taken twice as long to lose half-as much weight. Part of that is aging, part of that is lack of exercise and part of it is....well, the image at the very top of this post.

A few weeks before I began my new regime, I was in an accident, rear-ended by a young woman while I was in the left-hand turn lane at Fresno and Herndon. The back end of my Toyota Tacoma was bent in at a 45-degree angle and the right rear wheel well (try saying that fast, ten times) was deformed. Both the mechanics who worked on my vehicle (over $4,800 in repair costs) and my physics colleagues estimated the collision was in excess of 30 miles per hour. Fortunately, the driver who hit me was driving her mother's vehicle, and her mother had insurance, which paid for the damage to the vehicle.

I felt fine immediately after the accident, which was in the late afternoon on June 29th. Two hours later, however, I began to have ominous symptoms while attempting to compete with my team at the Fresno Pub Quiz. Tingling and numbing in the left hand, soreness in the neck, shooting pains up-and-down the right shoulder and right biceps. In a word, whiplash, and a trip to the doctor the next day.

By the time I was examined, I had determined that the symptoms were more severe depending on whether I was standing or sitting. They tested my reflexes and muscle tone, and came up with a tentative diagnosis of 'cervical radiopathy', which simply means that something in the position of my neck was triggering pain in the left arm and shoulder. They prescribed drugs: a narcotic (Vicodin) for daytime pain and a muscle relaxer (Soma) to help me sleep. They sent me to physical therapy, which did wonders for my neck (the whiplash) but failed to make any headway with the hand tingling or left arm/shoulder pain. After a second visit 45 days later, my primary physician added another drug, requested both X-rays and MRI and referred me and all of this data to a neurosurgeon.

On Wednesday afternoon, August 31st, more than 60 days after the accident, I saw the neurosurgeon....and got bad news. The accident, it seems, had made a previously asymptomatic area of my spine painful. One of my 49-year-old vertebral discs had moved, and as a result the sixth cervical vertebrae (C6) was now impinging a nerve. The recommendation: surgery, specifically a procedure called 'Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion, or ACDF'. You can read more about that here. Or, heck, if it doesn't bother you, you can watch this (relatively low-res) video.

Basically, they cut open your neck, spread the incison to expose a rectangular area above the vertebrae in question, push the other tubes (esophagus and trachea) out of the way and pull out the disc with fancy-schmancy pliers. That part is basically crude: cut, shove and yank. A graft of some material is inserted where the disc used to be, and to hold it all in place, a titanium appliance that looks like the plate on a door lock is screwed into the C5 and C6 vertebrae, two screws apiece, by hand. That part looks reasonably slick. It's relatively-common surgery and patients usually go home the next day, with full recovery taking 2-4 weeks.

I could schedule it after Christmas with minimum disruption of my (two) jobs and the rest of my life, and I have accepted that, ceteris paribus, it will have to be done at some point...if not now, then within the next few years. I have recurrent pain, especially when I sit for any length of time----as, for instance, right now as I'm (owch) typing this blog entry. I would prefer not to have the pain, but I have a pretty high tolerance compared to most people. I would rather not have it if I can avoid it, or just delay it, because a small percentage of those who have this surgery need more than 4 weeks to recover their voice due to brusing of the trachea. There is possibility that the nerve which innervates the larynx (voice box) could be damaged, and the neurosurgeon admitted that vocalists often report a loss of range and flexibility in their voice after surgery.

Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. Pain I would readily accept up to a certain point, in order to avoid or postpone that particular risk. Nevertheless, based on consultation with my neurosurgeon, that may be something that I have to hazard. It will come down to future risk versus present benefit, how much pain I can stand now versus how much more complicated (and clouded in outcome) the procedure would prove at a later date. Obviously, I will have more to say about this later after my next consultation.

So, this is the depressing part, and it's affected my attempt to lose weight. Between the drugs I'm having to take and the fact that I am dealing with a discouraging situation (recurrent pain, possibility of surgery), I've found it much harder to lose weight than in the past. And, while it (ahem) "pains" me to admit it, I am a year older. So, rather than drop 25 pounds in three weeks, it's been much slower.

But...huzzah! Progress is on the horizon, despite all of this negative crap, and it's the real progres that comes from hard work. There is no secret to weight loss. When asked what I do, I simply reply "Deprivation and suffering." That is....you can't eat as much as you're used to, and you need to exercise. Well, I've done both and kept at it despite a depressingly-long "plateau" which you can find in the data below. About a week ago, I did my second 4-mile hike in as many weeks and I finally moved below the 212-214 range in which I'd been yo-yoing. When I hit 209, that was my lowest weight in ten years!! Hurray!

I've persevered since then, hitting 205-point-something this morning. I had another nice long hike on Sunday evening. I've purchased several new shirts and nice new slacks for work. I've set aside my Size 42 belts (which were fraying, anyway) in favor of a Size 38. Just for kicks, I tried on a Size 34 belt today that was too big for our skinniest boy. Whaddaya know, it buckled at the last notch and I wore it very comfortably today on a pair of jean shorts. I may be in a new "plateau" now, or I may be able to keep losing. We shall see. Regardless of whether my new regime yields linear outcomes or no, this new lifestyle is here to stay....because getting my weight down, eating right and exercising are some of the best things I can do to both relieve the stress on my spine and (if needed) optimize my health for surgery.

The take-home message is that I have a significant challenge, but I am feeling better and better about how I am meeting the challenge on a daily basis. So many people are dealing with health problems so much greater than this, so I want to emphasize I am not having a 'pity party.' I thank everyone in advance for support and sympathy, but please know this: my attitude doesn't need adjustment, I'm no longer depressed by the challenge, and I am looking forward to a great year, personally. If it happens to be a year that includes a surgical procedure, then that's just the way it is.