April Fools Stroke | No Fooling!

Today is my four year stroke-iversary: no fooling! Every year when this day comes around, I can’t help but to think back to that fateful night and the lessons that it taught me.

April 1st of 2016: I was out for an evening walk with my wife around our neighborhood, as we liked to do. We had just rounded the block, and were preparing to continue down the street on our usual route, when I suddenly started to feel weak and a little dizzy. I sat down on the curb to regain my composure, and we made the decision to turn around and head back for the apartment.

That night, I started to notice a very slight, generalized numbness throughout my entire body. Normally, when you think of a stroke, you think of just one side of your body going numb. Also, this was just a slight tingling, and I thought it would pass, so I didn’t go to the doctor. What a fool!

I think that in the back of my head, I knew that I had had a stroke, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I was 37 years old. I didn’t want to have had a stroke at 37, even though I had already started dialysis 8 months prior. I didn’t want to add another thing to my list of things that would kill me, so I kept it tucked away. My wife and I went out to lunch the next day with a friend of mine, and I noticed that I was slurring my speech a little, but I hid it well enough that no one else noticed.

The day after that (two full days after my stroke), and only after a lot of gentle prodding from my loving wife, I called my dialysis nurse to tell her that the numbness had not gone away. My nurse, Tina, who trained me to perform home dialysis, must have heard something in my voice because she instructed me to go straight to the emergency room.

As I was already a dialysis patient, they quickly got me into the emergent care (that is what I call the emergency room). The doctor was as stumped as I was, as I presented with atypical symptoms. After a panel of labs came back negative, the doctor ordered a CT scan of my brain. The CT was inconclusive, but it looked like there was something there, so he ordered an MRI of my brain.

If you are ever curious about what science fiction construction noises sound like blasted into your ears, go get an MRI of your head. It is unpleasant to put it mildly.

The MRI showed, you guessed it, that I had an ischemic cerebral vascular accident (CVA, also known as as stroke) of my Corpus callosum, which according to Wikipedia, connects “the left and right cerebral hemispheres, enabling communication between them.” According to the doctors, this could account for my feeling numb throughout my entire body.

They admitted me to the hospital, and they ended up keeping me a week for observation, in which time I met with a host of different doctors and had a bunch more tests, including another, longer MRI, which they called an magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA).

The cause of my stroke was that a piece of plaque (artery gunk) had broken away from my arterial wall and made its way up my carotid artery to my brain, which caused a small amount of brain damage. The doctors told me that my carotid artery was 70% blocked from this plaque, which was no doubt a result of years of eating the fattiest pieces of meat I could get my hands on and not exercising.

I immediately cut out all red meat and dairy products (I haven’t eaten any since), and my wife and I switched to only eating lean meats like chicken and fish. I gradually weaned myself off of all meat (it was easy after having a stroke), and I went fully vegan for about two years. I have since brought a limited amount of only the highest quality fish back into my diet. I usually only eat fish once a week, and we buy it and cook it the same day.

What I learned from this experience was if you suspect there is anything unusual going on with your body, go seek medical attention immediately. At least call an advice nurse and try to get some direction. If you don’t have health insurance, find a way, somehow, to get some. Even with health insurance, my hospital stay cost me $500, and I can’t imagine how expensive it would have been were I not insured.

Next, the typical American diet of huge portions of meat with every meal is killing us. A lot of the meat in America is packed with growth hormones so cattle ranchers can get the most bang for their bovine and the most punch in their pork (these are bad, I know). Harangue in their hens? Probably not, but I digress.

Meat makes us fat, makes us get diabetes, fills our arteries with fat, gives us strokes, kills us. I realize that none of this is referenced or researched, but this is what I believe, and this is why I no longer eat cheese or steaks.

It has been helping too! When I first moved up to Oregon, I was tested by the local transplant clinic up here to get on their waiting list for a kidney. When they did an ultrasound of my carotid artery, they found only a 50% blockage. Huzzah! I had decreased my arterial plaque by 20% thanks to vegan eating. That was enough for me to be sold.

I know that a lot of people talk about protein. “How can you get enough protein from plants? Blah, blah, blah…” As a dialysis patient, I get labs drawn every month. As a peritoneal dialysis patient, I lose a lot of protein through treatment, so they check my protein levels every month. It’s a fact! It is also a fact that my protein levels are always ABOVE the desired level. I get more protein than I need! And 99% of it is from plants, and a little from fish.

OK, that is enough of my ranting. Here is a picture of my cat.

Poked and Prodded | Annual Transplant Clinic Testing

Yesterday, I was poked and prodded like an animal in a makeup testing lab. Needles shoved into my arm, blood taken for analysis, batteries of tests performed, radioactive material injected into my blood stream. And what for?

So they can someday give me the internal organ of a dead person.

Every year, I have to undergo a series of testing to ensure that I am still a fit candidate to receive a kidney transplant from Legacy Good Samaritan hospital in Portland, Oregon. They are mostly heart tests, as heart disease is the number one reason for death in kidney patients, and I am happy to report that every test (so far) has shown that my heart is healthy and strong.

The first test of the morning was one that I recieved down in Los Angeles, a nuclear medicine test on my heart. This is where they injected me with a tagging solution of slightly radioactive material (unfortunately not enough to give me super powers) that allows them to take 3D images of my heart. I was then administered a chemical stress test. A chemical was injected to stimulate my heart. It was super trippy (a medical term) to feel like I had just exercised while I was just sitting down. After, they repeated the heart pictures to make sure there were not arteries that were closing up.

To prepare for the test, I had to refrain from caffeine for 24 hours and fast for 8 hours before the test. I normally drink decaf coffee, but I wasn’t allowed to have that. I wasn’t even allowed to have any chocolate! I had to dump out my muesli the morning before, because I had forgotten and added cacao nibs (it’s delicious, you should try it).

When I was first being worked up for the transplant list up at Legacy, they also did an angiogram of my heart. I was a little scared of this for a couple of reason. First, I had a stroke two years before, and at that time the neurologists were worried about performing an angiogram because it could knock off more plaque causing another stroke, which would have sucked! Second, the contrast dye used in the angiogram is detrimental to the kidneys and could have dropped my kidney function even lower.

But after talking to the cardiologist who was to perform the procedure, he assured me that they use as little of the dye as possible, and that they would not be going near my carotid arteries, which is where my stroke came from. Whew! All went well, and they haven’t had to do another angiogram since.

They also always do the following tests:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • EKG
  • Ultrasound of my kidneys
  • Blood work

I then always meet with the kidney team to discuss insurance, am I sane, do I have any live donors, etc…

By the way, if you are interested in being a live donor, please go to the following link: https://www.legacyhealth.org/transplant

Even if you are not interested in being a living donor, I urge you to register as an organ donor. https://www.organdonor.gov/

Help me to get a third kidney!

Rainy Day Thoughts | This One is Kind of a Bummer

It occurs to me that I try to always be positive and show the bright side of life in my blog posts, but the truth is that I don’t feel like that all of the time. I do feel like that most of the time, so I do think that this blog is a good representation of my thoughts at any given time, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t write a blog post when I was feeling blue.

Oh, and happy New Year everyone!

Why is it that my new year is not starting out so happy? Arthritis… I think… or at least my doctor thinks. For the past year or so, I have been getting an excruciating pain in my foot every once in awhile. When I saw my doctor, she said that she thought it was arthritis. The way to know for sure would be to do an X-ray, but she also said that it wouldn’t change the treatment: physical therapy.

I saw a physical therapist a few times, and she gave me a handful of stretches to keep my joints free from the calcification of arthritis. Oops! I kind of slacked off, and eventually forgot about the stretches altogether.

Many people have resolutions to exercise more in a new year. Even though I stopped making resolutions when I found that I wasn’t following through on most of them, I still wanted to start off the new year exercising a lot to help manage my weight and blood pressure. The thing is, I forgot about the stretches that the PT gave me, and the arthritis returned.

So here I am in pain, unable to exercise, and bound to sitting or walking with a cane. I have been popping acetaminophen every 4 to 6 hours, and my lovely wife has been running around getting things for me. I did manage to hobble myself upstairs for lunch and dinner, but I have another restless night to look forward to, tossing and turning, trying to find a position that does not exacerbate the pain in my foot.

I guess the point is that life is not all peaches for me (I am still doing dialysis after all). I sometimes feel like I am in the body of a 70-year-old with all of my health issues, and it can be hard to see the light. But at least I have this blog to write down my thoughts. Maybe I should get a journal, so I am not publicly airing all of my negative thoughts, but I feel that would be cheating myself.

Not that I am planning on promoting this blog post. I will maybe just post it and let people wander across it if they ever come to check out my blog. I don’t think that I will even post this article to my Twitter feed, my least followed of all social media. I guess I just wanted to get some things off my chest.

I Wrote Some Jokes About Dialysis | Stand-Up Comedy

One of the reasons why I wanted to get back into doing comedy was to write jokes about kidney disease, dialysis, and having a stroke. These may seem like morbid topics, but I think the weird medical things that I have been through are pretty funny.

I have been taking classes at the Helium Comedy Academy at Helium Comedy Club in Portland, Oregon. This video was from the graduation show from level 2. Enjoy!

Hey, I'm in This! | The 7th Rule Star Trek Podcast (pt. 2)

Once again, I was recently interviewed by the good people over at The 7th Rule, a Star Trek podcast started by Cirroc Lofton and the late Aron Eisenberg, both of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Below, you can find the episode in which I am interviewed about my interest in Star Trek but also my life as a dialysis patient. Don’t miss this one!

Hey, I'm in This! | The 7th Rule Star Trek Podcast (pt. 1)

I was recently interviewed by the good people over at The 7th Rule, a Star Trek podcast started by Cirroc Lofton and the late Aron Eisenberg, both of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. After we finished filming my episode (which will air tomorrow), we filmed a free for all episode, where they get a bunch of people on the line and ask some silly questions.

Watch the free for all below.

Around the Blog in 30 Days | Pee Jug Day

So here it is, blog number eight in 30 days (1 month). I have officially met the minimum requirement for the Toastmasters speech that I will be giving on December 12th “Write a Compelling Blog.” I don’t know how compelling my blog is, but my mom likes it!

I have blogged in the past, but I have never been compelled to write this many blog posts in one month (maybe that is how it is compelling). The most I did before was one blog post a week, so I want to talk a little about the experience of writing eight posts in a month.

It was hard. But it was also easy. The hardest part was probably remembering to take pictures of things, as I needed pictures for the blog posts featured images. The easy part is just writing the blog. I can pretty much just dump whatever dribble out of my brain and type it up. I have gotten a little experimental with grammar, but nothing too extreme. I have been able to share my experiences with dialysis and comedy, sometimes both at the same time. I have learned a lot about myself from documenting two of the open mic experiences that I have had, and I think that I will continue to use this blog to write down my feelings after going to mics to perform comedy.

Ultimately, I don’t really care about coming up in the comedy world, but I would like to have a career as a public speaker, talking about my experiences being on dialysis. I want to deliver this message with humor, so it doesn’t sound like a lecture (eat right, exercise, and see your doctor regularly), and that is where comedy comes in. Comedy also helps me to gain experience talking in front of strangers. I know everyone in my Toastmasters club, so it is just like talking to a group of friends, but I still get nervous going to mics.

Also, tomorrow is pee jug day, weee! This is one of the four days a year that I will collect my urine for 24 hours, so the doctors can see how much kidney function I still have left. I like to stay at home all day, so that I don’t have to lug around a jug of pee (lug a jug) everywhere I go (which is kind of gross). I will bring the jug to my monthly lab appointment on Monday, so they can play around with it (analyze it).

Crazy/Cool Portland Hike | Black Friday Fun

I guess this blog is just becoming things that I am thinking about, so that’s cool I guess. It kind of makes my blog less of an authority about whatever it is that I want to talk about (dialysis, comedy, other?), but it is my blog after all, and it bares my name, and I think about all sorts of different things, and now I’m just trying to see how many independent clauses I can link together with coordinating conjunctions. I just had the idea to try to go back and use all seven of them in one sentence, but that also seemed like a lot of work, and I am not really in the mood to do that right now.

So anyway, my wife and I went for a hike the other day at one of our (my) favorite spots in Portland (Beaverton actually), Hyland Forest Park. It has no association with the big Forest Park that is within the city limits of Portland proper, but it is a forest, and it is a park. There are trails throughout the park, but wifey and I just like to walk the perimeter to get some exercise. If we walk around one time, it is about a half hour, which is good enough exercise for a wimp like me.

One cool thing for kids (or fun-loving adults like me) about this park is that it has nature play areas, where people can go off-trail and play around with twigs and branches. There are several lean-to shelters built in one of these areas, and there are a few holes that have been dug by previous adventurers.

One time when we were there on a hike, we saw some weird decorated sticks that seemed to be pointing in one direction, and we stumbled across a little girl’s tea party birthday; it was very cute.

The last time we were there, we came across a baby’s pacifier just sitting atop a log, so I snapped the featured image for this article. I thought it was just weird enough to warrant capturing the moment in a photo, and also thought that it was interesting enough to write half of a blog post about.

Weird segue now to talking about black Friday: If you are reading this article, then you probably agree with me that the insanity of black Friday is insane (a weak metaphor to be sure, but I’m tired (maybe not even a metaphor)). But I don’t want to belabor the already tired trope of bagging on black Friday, and instead I want to talk about the good things that I encountered while being out today.

First of all, we did not encounter a lot of traffic on the road. Perhaps a lot of people are traveling for the holiday yesterday, or perhaps all the shoppers are tuckered out from all-night vigils in freezing weather waiting for their favorite stores to open. We also went to the grocery store twice to pick up some random things, and both times, the clerks had no one in line, and were just chatting among themselves when we interrupted them to purchase our wares.

As a side note, even though the stores are crowded on black Friday, I still have had no problem getting on to my favorite online retailers to take advantage of their black Friday deals, so all in all, I think I am becoming a fan of black Friday!

Gratefully Thankful Thanksgiving | Mostly Vegan

OK, here is yet another in a series of thankful Thanksgiving posts about all the things I am grateful for. I truly believe that gratitude should be a part of my daily life, and I try every day to remember to be in the spirit of thankfulness for all of the many blessings that I have in my life.

I am not a religious person, but I strongly believe in a greater power, so I tend to direct my gratitude toward this entity, whether it be god, the universe, source energy, or even the force. I can’t pretend to know what is behind this crazy thing called life, but I know it is there, and I know that it likes gratitude.

Everyday I am thankful for my loving, wonderfully supportive (and easy on the eyes) wife. She is always a comfort to me during tough times, and she raises me up and encourages me in my creative pursuits. I am always and forever grateful that we live in a time of medical technological marvel that we have things like dialysis to help keep me healthy while I wait for a kidney transplant (another medical marvel). I am grateful that I was hired permanent at my job, and that I have great benefits. There are many other things of which I am thankful/grateful for, but right now I want to talk a little about veganism (mostly).

I suppose I shouldn’t go throwing around the word vegan, as I do have some leather shoes, and I don’t go out of my way to ensure that every product that I use doesn’t harm animals. A more accurate term would be (mostly) plant-based. The reason I use the modifier “mostly,” is because I have gone back to eating fish once or twice a week., and I don’t mind fish products in my medications or other foods.

So why did I go back to eating fish? I don’t know that I have a very good answer for that. Fish is delicious (it was the last animal product that I gave up), but that alone wasn’t enough to get me to put it back on my plate. My lovely wife was pressuring me to get it back into my diet because of all the healthy fats, but that alone wasn’t enough either. Probably the main reason was that fish oil is prevalent in different foods, and it became difficult to always avoid it. But really it was a combination of all these things.

I’m not trying to justify eating fish, as I know a lot of hardcore vegans that would probably frown on it, but it works for me, so there. I’m not purposely trying to be antagonistic, but it is coming off that way (sorry/not sorry). I still don’t eat eggs, dairy, or any other meat.

I first decided to move towards a plant based diet because of my stroke in April 2016. At the time, my carotid artery had a 70% blockage of plaque (from cholesterol). After that, I immediately cut out all eggs and dairy from my diet, and I started to limit my consumption of meat, and when I did eat meat, it was only chicken breast or fish. I continued to cut more and more meat out of my diet, working with my dialysis dietician to ensure my nutritional requirements were met, until finally I went out for my last (meat) supper of sushi.

In January of 2018, I had an ultrasound of my carotid artery, and they found there was only a 50% blockage. Plant based foods contain zero cholesterol, so limiting and eventually eliminating animal foods from my diet, significantly decreased my blocked arteries, and I assume my risk for another stroke. I would urge every meat eater to at least try one day off meat a week. Plant foods have plenty of protein. The blood test that shows my protein level remained high, even while I was on a strict plant-based diet. I think it has something to do with the way that different proteins are absorbed by the body, but I recommend talking to an expert (which I am far from being).

For those interested in what is on my Thanksgiving plate, we made the following all plant-based items:

  • Trader Joe’s Turkey-Less Stuffed Roast
  • Double Garlic Mashed Potatoes (my signature recipe)
  • Mushroom Gravy
  • Dressing (my wife’s signature recipe)
  • Cranberry Sauce (from scratch)
  • Green Beans with Candied Pecans and Maple Bacon
  • Olive Ciabatta Bread

It was delicious!

Rough Open Mic | Portland Shanghai Tunnels | Lessons Learned

Last night I took the train into downtown Portland to do a new open mic (to me) at the Shanghai Tunnel bar. It was a cool venue; there is a small upstairs bar, but a much bigger space in the basement that I can only assume (by the name of the bar) used to be a Shanghai tunnel.

Portland has an ugly history when it was a logging community as well as a hub for shipping (on actual ships). Ship captains needed crewmen, and loggers liked to drink, so a bunch of enterprising businessmen (kidnappers) worked with local bars to set up trap doors to take these sturdy men away from their lives and sell them into servitude to the sea captains.

I had the opportunity to take a tour of some of the tunnels that still exist, and the conditions were brutal. The men were stripped of their boots, and broken glass was strewn on the ground. They were kept in tiny cells, and then drugged before being sold to sea captains, where they would be held in service on ships for two years.

Now, I am in no way comparing my experience in this particular tunnel to that of those young men so many years ago, but I did want to talk a little about the rough experience that I had at this particular open mic.

I am new to comedy, and there are a lot of lessons that I still have to learn, and in comedy, one has to learn them the hard way. Stand-up comedy is one of the only art forms that you can’t really practice alone. If I were learning to play the saxophone, I could just wail away (to my roommates’ chagrin) until I got good enough to perform in front of other people. But with stand-up (besides writing jokes and practicing them in front of a mirror) it is a lot about finding a connection with the audience, which I definitely did not do last night.

The audience was mostly younger, and they were quite wild. I noticed a lot of talking during the other comedian’s sets, so I suppose there was some amount of nerves in having to deal with that. My goal for this mic was to hold for laughter after I told my jokes, which I accomplished, so in that sense the mic was a success (I held, but there was not a lot of laughter), but it still feels bad when you write a joke to make people laugh and it is met with silence.

To be fair to myself, I did hear some laughter, mostly from the back of the room (which I couldn’t see), but what bothered me the most was that there was a table of youngs right up front that were whispering and laughing (not at my jokes). They through off my flow, and I was not able to concentrate my attention toward the people who were actually chuckling at my jokes.

After the mic, I started a new thing; I wrote down a list of lessons to take away from this mic. There are probably more as I continue postmortem, but here is what I wrote down on my list:

  • Make sure you aren’t alienating yourself by taking about things the crowd can’t relate to.
  • Don’t dress up for a bar open mic
  • Address loud talkers if they are distracting to the set.

I will write another post about Thanksgiving later today, but time is running out, and I need to get these blog posts done, but I think I might continue to document my journey doing open mics.