Category Archives: Health

Diet Coke Divorce

As Kevin was transitioning out of the hospital after his hip surgery, the doctor and nurses were adamant in their advice about his medicines. “Don’t be a hero,” they warned. “Trust me, you want to stay ahead of the pain. Keep taking your pills.” Apparently, it is easy to keep misery at bay, but very difficult to reign the big raging bull of suffering back into the pen if it gets out of control. Sure enough, Kev stayed on the pills until he was out of the danger zone, and was able to stop the meds without consequence.

I suspect that I may have to do something similar as I enter into my 11th attempt to terminate my 34-year relationship with Diet Coke. For those never hooked on this drug, you need to know that calling it a beverage is truly inappropriate. When I am on good terms with the substance, I call it the “Nectar of the gods”. When we are struggling, it is the “Devil’s nectar”. Either way, I’ve known for years that it is beyond bad for me, and that one day my addiction would have to be faced. Researching this struggle on the internet only makes my impending journey that much more daunting.

Dr. Edward Group explains in his 2015 article Why is Diet Soda Addictive , he labels my nectar a “toxic cocktail of chemicals” that  tricks the reward centers of the brain into thinking it is going to get something awesome, then denies it that pleasure, which compounds the cravings. As if that weren’t cruel enough, diet sodas have been associated with cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and brain lesions. It makes you gain weight, causes emotional disorders and puts you at risk for more than 92 side effects that the FDA knows about.

All of these negative consequences are spit in the wind, though, for those of us who ache for the carbonated poison. I read a blog about a woman who carried cans of it in her purse, in the event that it was not available where ever she may be going. I could easily relate to this and can admit to doing the same. As I caved into my yearning during the other times I attempted to quit, I rationalized my actions with thoughts like, “well, it may hurt my health but it makes life so much better!” or “Diet Coke= Happiness” or “I work hard, I deserve this boost to my day.” Really any thought just this side of “life just isn’t worth living without it” has likely contributed to my process of justification.
For those not addicted to it, or who have never been addicted to anything, cannot understand that it is more difficult than just setting down the bottle. Besides the stimulation to the reward center of the brain, there are the crippling side effects of detoxifying the body, including migraines that hurt so much you will want to strap on some lead weights and go out for a swim. I read one blogger’s experience, Elisa Zied, who said she even misses “the companionship with Diet Coke,” admitting that it “sounds silly”, but it became that much a part of her life. She associated the soda with the joy she experienced while drinking it with certain favorite foods or how it helped during stressful moments in her workday.

I guess that about brings us up to speed with my personal plight, one that I calculate has cost me $37, 230 as a conservative estimate over the past few decades. The last significant amount of product I consumed was 24 hours ago. I’ve been nursing this 12-ounce bottle today like it contains arsenic (which it might as well). I feel like someone who has been told they are about to be hit by a bus, but who does not know when it will strike. I am waiting for the pain to creep up on me, stealthy and powerful, conjuring up memories of past arduous attempts to forego the juice. I’d like to tell you that I will report to you what it feels like, as that is my intention. But either I will be able to follow the advice of Kevin’s doctors and “stay ahead of the pain”, or I will be in too much agony to articulate the experience.


I will circle back in another post to explain why I am doing this, why I am so certain of my victory, and the carrot I receive at the end of the race. In the meantime, please pray for me. I announced my intentions on Facebook and it looks like I have some supporters and encouragers out there. I have a co-worker who is going to quit with me, and she has agreed to be my “battle buddy”. Success for this divorce will take a village, and I fear that Kevin and my co-workers may suffer the most. I forgot to mention that other withdrawal symptoms include “raging temper, anxiety and extreme fatigue.” Let the games begin.



Final Moments of Grace

Michelle wasn’t quite a co-worker to me, nor was she really a friend, but maybe she was something in between. She did seem more significant than just someone who did my job at another dealership. After Mr. Hudson hired her for his new Toyota store, he asked me to drive to Columbia to serve as her mentor, since a Customer Service Manager was still an unusual position in the car business. Michelle and I hit it off during training, which wasn’t surprising, since everyone got along well with Michelle. She had the kind of sweet disposition that was both endearing and sincere. I knew immediately that she would do a remarkable job, one that she re-titled Client Relations, and she did. It wasn’t long before Mr. Hudson and the Toyota team leaned on her for almost everything.

Michelle was very young, very pretty and recently married. One could easily get the sense that her life was just beginning, and that it would be amazing. You could easily picture her staying at her job for years, even as she had children and continued life as a wife and mother. Her potential was limitless, both personally and professionally.She was a devout Christian, but she was inspiring to others as much for her unwavering niceness as for her unwavering faith.

Since I am telling you so much about her potential, you’ve probably already guessed that this is a tragic story and not an uplifting one. At about the same time that we all decided that we loved this girl, she revealed her breast cancer diagnosis. Since I was in a different city and not as close to her as the many Jim Hudson employees who surrounded her, I was not in the loop on her medical journey, but received random updates. I do know that it didn’t take long before I was hearing that she was too sick from the chemo and radiation to work full days. Her sporadic, part-time schedule soon was too much for her, and the dealership figured out a way to keep her job and her office waiting for her, despite reports of her continuously failing strength.

I would continue to hear bits and pieces of her battle, which always sounded to me like a medical nightmare. The strategy of her doctors was one of extreme, aggressive therapies, and in vain attempts to kill cancer in one part of her body, the medical team soon faced collateral damage in other parts, including a compromised immune system and a spiral of devastating side effects. I heard so many reports of her declining health that it was not a shock when the corporate HR Manager called to tell me that Michelle had passed away. Young, vibrant, sweet Michelle, newly married and blossoming in her new career, had died.

I’m not sure why I felt so sure in that moment that the treatments did more to kill her than the cancer itself. I am not a health care professional, I don’t have an interest in science and I have an aversion to doctors and hospitals. I just had a hunch that somewhere along the line, the medical practitioners created more suffering than they ameliorated. Perhaps she was always going to die, but I couldn’t help but think that they deprived her of some significant quality of life, especially at the end, when reports from her visitors detailed how brave she was despite the appalling physical decline.

I’m sure the seeds of these thoughts where germinating when I discovered a book called The Emperor of All Maladies, touted as a definitive biography of cancer. Despite the lengthy, science and history-filled 608 pages, I read it as voraciously as if it were a suspense novel. Each chapter confirmed my suspicions regarding the dangers of traditional cancer therapies, and the arrogance which caused the industry to hold on to treatments long after the research indicated that they were counter-intuitive and counter-productive. I was already distrusting of Western medicine prior to reading the book; afterwards, I was convinced that I would rather perish quickly than to suffer in the hands of doctors who obstinately adhered to these frightening and dubious paths.


Knowing these experiences, you might now understand my fascination with the latest book to admit some flaws in our current healthcare protocol, entitled Being Mortal. In this shorter work (282 pages), Dr. Atul Gawande admits that there is a need for a perspective shift in the industry. I like how this reviewer articulates the book:

“We have come to medicalize aging, frailty, and death, treating them as if they were just one more clinical problem to overcome. However, it is not only medicine that is needed…but life – a life with meaning, a life as rich and full as possible under the circumstances. Being Mortal is not only wise and deeply moving, it is an essential and insightful book for our times, as one would expect from Atul Gawande, one of our finest physician writers.” – Oliver Sacks

I was so impressed with Gawande’s work, that I did something I’ve only done a few times in my life: complete the book, close it shut, consider it, and then re-open it to begin reading it again at page one. There is so much in the book which is significant and thoughtful, that I daresay it occured to me that everyone should be required to read it.


The timing of stumbling upon this masterpiece is intriguing. I was helping my husband through his recovery from hip surgery, while managing the house and my job. This 6-week ordeal was not that difficult, but it was all-consuming, and it caused me some trepidation for the future. If I was this exhausted during a short-term, minor surgery recuperation, how I would fare as a caretaker for him if the issue was more serious? I developed new respect for family members who are caring for individuals with more oppressive health needs, especially when there might be financial struggles, as well. I doubted my own character in such circumstances.

This was my state as I stood in the Target book department, slightly tired and depressed and fully prepared to salve my melancholy with personal purchases. Suffice it to say, I was tossing stuff in the red cart with little regard for my long-lost budget. I went to the non-fiction section and started grabbing any hardback book that wasn’t focused on diet or cooking. I would read the first page, and if it grabbed me, I added it to the cart. My selection of Being Mortal stunned me even as I dropped it in. Surely, this depressing-looking book was ill-advised in my current state? It sat on my nightstand for 2 weeks before I opened it. Once I did, though, I was hooked. It is a testament to Gawande’s writing style and personal approach to an otherwise icky subject that I kept reading it, daily, until I finished, and began again.

The other item of note in the timing of this book discovery is my approaching 50th birthday next month. At this time in my life, it is inevitable that I will be soon facing these very real issues, either again with my sweet Kevin or with myself, or my aging parents. I feel grateful to have stumbled upon this masterpiece, as I now feel so much better, armed with some knowledge and perspective which will surely inform decisions affecting the quality of life for those I love.

Although the book speaks much of mortality as it pertains to the aging process, it also touches on decisions for those suffering from difficult ailments such as cancer.There is too much pressure on the healthcare consumer and their loved ones to make overwhelming decisions while mired in the emotions stirred up by the potential outcomes. Having a few helpful “focus questions” and some insight into the experiences of others can surely offer comfort in those stressful times.

I cannot say that either of these books would have helped or changed Michelle’s path, or that of her family. I attended her funeral in Columbia, where Mr. Hudson spoke of her heartwarming, gentle ways and steadfast faith. As recently as last year, one of her co-workers took me to her former office in the Toyota store and encouraged me to have a moment of silent remembrance of her there. We hugged, and cried, still painfully and acutely aware of the lost potential of her life.  In that moment I knew that I must aspire to her brand of kindness, her character in adversity, and finally, no matter what challenges may be in the future for me or my loved ones, that I am able to maintain what she had all along:grace.

The Magic Bullet

The only thing I like less than being sick is talking about it. I don’t like others to regale me with details of their bodily woes, and I am committed to not over-sharing stories of my symptoms. (except with Kevin- he has to hear every gory description.) So let me start by qualifying this blog as one that is not about illness. It is about the cure, the fix, the answer-the magic bullet.

I don’t get sick often, normally every other year for 3 days. Sore throat, fever, cough, runny nose, bla bla bla, then I gradually get better by taking it easy and staying hydrated. Within a week, I am back to normal, and usually only miss a day or less at work. I pride myself on not missing much work for illness and for my ability to plow on through despite the minor inconveniences of congestion and aches. I have bragged more than once that “if I were bleeding out of my eyes, I would slap on a bandaid and show up for work.” I offer as further proof of my steel constitution the fact that I don’t have a regular doctor, and have not sought medical treatment outside of a thrown back in over 25 years, when I went to the infirmary at college. I’m a health insurance company’s ideal customer. Always pay but never use.

It was only a matter of time before this ego-based bravado was destined to spiral into an unhappy ending. A bragger must always eat their own words in the end. I had mine forced back in my mouth rather unceremoniously this week when my normal 3-day illness morphed into a 10-day cluster. I was at a slight disadvantage on day 1, which happened to be the day of our big holiday party, forcing me to crank out a 15-hour shift with a fever. I assumed that if I left work early the following day and rested over the weekend, I would be rock-n-roll back-to-normal by Monday.

Monday came, and there was no rock-n-roll. Symptoms clung to me like the smell of stale beer in a college-town bar. I tried to band-aid through each day with new fixes- if I just hydrate with Fresca and Gatorade, I’ll be fine. If I just NyQuil at night so I can sleep, I’ll wake refreshed. If I ramp up on citrus fruits, I will get back on track. The coughing got worse; I often erupted into outbursts so violent that I frightened and disgusted my co-workers in equal measure. My appearance at work each day was deteriorating. My voice was a crackly, raspy mess, when it showed up at all.

On day 6, I googled my symptoms, as any doctor-averse sick person would, and signed up for every possible therapy to help what I was now describing as “glue in the lungs”. Kev bought me every kind of herbal tea, fruit and OTC cold medicine that internet posters swore by. I consumed them all, and the glue just laughed in my face. I turned the entire master bathroom into a peppermint sauna, with tea bags in the garden tub, hot shower on full blast, and me on the floor with damp washcloths inhaling deeply, desperately trying to get the glue to surrender its stubborn ransom on my ability to breathe.

The time for the white flag came later that evening, sitting among a symphony of discarded treatments, after each one had in turn betrayed my hope that it would be a magic bullet of healing. I worried I might even have pneumonia and tried to calculate how I was going to find the time to shop for Christmas when I couldn’t even make it 10 minutes without coughing myself into piercing headaches. Kevin, who always lets me come to inevitable conclusions on my own schedule, concurred that it was time to break my 25-year-no-doctor streak.

The doctor visit was like everyone always describes them: 2 hours of waiting followed by 5 minutes of assessment, ending with a prescription. I did not have pneumonia. I did not have glue in the lungs. She offered a steroid pill and a narcotic to help me sleep. She said that the steroid will feel like a “magic bullet”, but that the effect was only temporary. She said all I really needed was to let the body heal once and for all, allowing the immune system to do its job. The true hero, she said in her heavily accented voice, was sleep. The one medicine I had not fully embraced in the past 10 days would be the real magic bullet.

I think it’s time for a nap.