My Bodybuilding to Fitness Journey

“Every man wants to be bigger than dad…”

From the Pumping Iron song – Written by Michael Small and performed by Joey Ward

In some ways this is an easy entry for me to write, in other ways it’s difficult. I started out thinking that I would write a blog about my journey to a 350 pound (160 kg) bench press and how you could achieve one, too (short answer: go to http://www.timinvermont.com/fitness/benchpgm.htm and follow the program there. It may take a few rounds, but you’ll gain a lot of strength and a lot of size each time). But, I got to looking at old records and started to reflect on my progress over the years. This reminiscing led me to a basic question about myself: am I now or was I ever an actual bodybuilder?

Let’s review the evidence…

First Impressions

If you looked at me today or at any point in my life your answer to the question “is Dave a bodybuilder” would be a pretty emphatic “no.” Sure, I have some size and statistically speaking there are very few men my age who can lift as much as I can in the weight room (see my blog How Much Can the Average Man Bench Press for details and to find out how you compare). But I’m clearly much too fat to be a bodybuilder in the popular sense, my waist and hips are too wide, etc., etc. At best you might think I’ve done some power lifting in my past. But I’m no Arnold. Heck, I’m not even a Richard Simmons. But in the broader sense of the term? Maybe…

The Early Years

Skinny me!
Not so skinny me.

If you look into my past it’s clear that exercise and weightlifting in particular have been part of my life for a long time. I actually started lifting in high school using my dad’s 110 pound plastic barbell set purchased at Montgomery Wards (we called it “monkey” Wards back in the day – what a laugh that was…eh, I guess you had to be alive then). Believe it or not at that time my school did not have a proper weight room. There was a Universal Gym that lived in a store room just off the gym by the custodial office but frankly, even though I was on the on the track team, I was too intimidated the “jocks” to actually use it myself.

Despite my self image of being fat (probably a blog post in and of itself) I was a skinny teen and not even remotely considered a jock – though I did finally letter in track my junior year. The earliest records I have indicated that I had average sized 13 inch (33 cm) arms in my twenties and benched about 90 pounds (40 kg) for reps during a typical workout. My 39 inch (99 cm) was barely larger than my 37 inch (94 cm) waist.

Not surprisingly, my goal back in my teens and twenties was simple: get bigger.

And not just a little bigger, I wanted to be huge with 22 inch (56 cm) arms and to be barely able to fit into a XXXL shirt. I wanted to look like the guys on the magazine covers – Arnold, Big Lou Ferrigno, Dave Draper, and a host of others. This quest for size, by the way, had nothing to do with attracting girls. I think it was for what may be a more common reason – I didn’t want to be small or perceived as weak. I also wanted to be satisfied with what I saw in the mirror. Narcissism isn’t just for politicians.

Reality vs Expectations

The picture is small and grainy – early digital photography – but I like the look of that tricep!

So in my younger years I had bought fairly heavily into the myth that anyone could achieve a Mr. Olympia physique. The myth that the secret to size and strength was to take the right supplement, do the specific workout that Mr. Current Trophy Winner did, curl the weight with you pinky pointing up, and so on and so forth. Do these things and the muscle would come. In my naivety I didn’t realize that to achieve a champion bodybuilder’s physique took a lot more dedication than I had, to the point of making it your life, extraordinary genetics, and chemical assistance well beyond a second scoop of creatine before your workout.

So, predictably, I wasn’t very successful in those early years. At least in terms of my progress matching my expectations. However, even without having someone to guide me in the gym and to follow me around slapping pizza out of my hands, I did start to make progress. My trial and error method of training, my research skills, and overall desire to make a change did serve me better than I thought. I had the tools to at least get closer to my goal – but I kept getting in my own way so to speak. There was also, of course, my health issues. Primarily Crohn’s Disease.

Adversity, Attitude, and the Middle Years

Big, but needed more definition.

As I mentioned earlier I had issues maintaining a consistent workout. Some were due to allowing conflicts to get in the way of my training (I’m looking at you theatre), but others were of a more serious health nature. The first being Crohn’s which is often a debilitating inflammatory bowel disease. People who are afflicted with Crohn’s can suffer from severe pain, nutritional deficiencies, and more than 75% of us end up with surgery (I’m one of the 75% in fact).

Because of Crohn’s I lost all the meager gains I had made in my early twenties during a serious and long term episode. I went from 180 pounds (82 kg) down to about 130 pounds (59 kg). I didn’t mind the sub-thirty inch (76 cm) waist. But it came with 10 inch (25 cm) arms – flexed – and no abs. To be fair, I never had abs. Even as a skinny teen I didn’t have them. They just hadn’t been invented yet.

During those two years or so before my Crohn’s came under some level of control I had trouble just getting through the day and maintaining a job let alone work out. I was having trouble eating enough food to stay alive let alone gain mass.

But, the day finally came that my appetite returned and so did my efforts in the gym. I have to admit that I actually hit my bodybuilding stride in my thirties and forties. In fact it was in my forties that I started getting compliments and comments about the size of my arms. Fun fact, today my forearm is actually bigger than my upper arm was when I first started lifting (it pays to keep records folks).

It was also in my mid forties that my strength reached it’s peak – unfortunately, so did my weight but that’s another story. It took a few decades but my 60 pound (27 kg) bench press soared to 350 pounds (not quite 160 kg) one time max rep. I stress “one time.” Only once, I never tried again, but I still claim it.

Today – A New Attitude?

Before and after my ileostomy reversal.

In the past 3 or 4 years began what I called my period of rapid decline. Not because I was having less successful workouts. But because suddenly multiple health crises started popping up.

First came the Deep Vein Thrombosis (blood clot in my leg). This was followed by the news a few months later that at some point earlier in the year I had suffered a heart attack which permanently decreased the function of my heart. Then Crohn’s decided to have another swat at my which led to a perforated bowel and an ileostomy bag for a long 6 months or so. During which time I contracted Norovirus which put me into kidney failure (see Wash Your Hands People for details).

But even after all the above, I still returned to lifting. The desire to want to be bigger and stronger has not abated over the years, but I have added a new dimension to my training.

A long time ago a personal trainer, who was a competitive bodybuilder, told me that you should never mistake bodybuilding for fitness. Bodybuilding, in the competitive world at least, is all about looks. In fact, many of the practices that professional and amateur competitors do to prepare for a contest can be harmful if not dangerous to the body. Water depletion, calorie restriction, and this is before any discussion of drugs is considered.

In my younger days, if I had the dedication and drive to be competitive, I might have followed that same unhealthy path in the quest to get big, look better and to win trophies. But today, now that the realization of how precious and rare good health actually is has become evident to me, I have changed my training. Sure, I still lift and want to have muscle to flex, but I now also work on cardio and fat loss. It may be too little, too late, but here we are.

Advice to Youth or Lessons Learned

The take-aways of my journey are simple. If you want to be a competitive bodybuilder that’s your choice and there’s nothing wrong with it. But understand that it is a lifestyle and one that will take you away from other things in life. Leisure time, outside activities, and possibly relationships. I may be over stating this as there are happy pro-bodybuilders. But they sacrificed along the way.

Here’s a few more tidbits of things I’ve learned over time:

  • To thine own self be true. When I first started training bodybuilding was an oddity. In fact, coaches were still actively discouraging weight training because they worried that their athletes would become “muscle-bound.” So to large degree the idea of lifting to get bigger and stronger was frowned upon. Today there is no such stigma and it’s almost expected that everyone will lift weights at some point. Just be sure that you understand your motivations for doing so. Is it to get stronger? Look better? Get bigger? Staying focused on your goal will guide your training.
  • Remember – you are doing this for you. No one else. Your goals are your goals and you don’t have to justify the why’s of them to anyone but your self. Keep that in mind when you are asked why you work out so much, watch your diet so closely, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Likewise, don’t think that you know it all. There’s a world of information on bodybuilding out there. Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding is still essential reading, too. I actually shared a hose one summer with a grad student who was clearly an experienced lifter and we never once talked about training. A missed opportunity for sure and I’m betting one of many.
  • Nutrition is key. Trust me on this, you can’t supplement your way past a bad diet. Speaking of supplements, you probably need fewer than you think (I know I’ll get some flack on this point). Some extra protein when you can’t get all your meals in, maybe some creatine but that’s about it. Especially when you are just starting out. In any case, get your diet straight first. Then you can experiment with supplements – but I bet you’ll find that you can get very far without them.
  • Your heart is your most important muscle. I know that it’s hard to think about heart health and keeping your body fat low when you are in your teens and twenties and your metabolism is firing at full speed. No one asks about your blood oxygen levels at the beach after all. But believe me, one day without warning your metabolism will suddenly slow down and instead of being that skinny guy with a natural six-pack you’ll be that fat guy with a full keg! You’ll have trouble walking up stairs, and a couple of squats will really make you sweat. You can avoid almost all of this with a little walking and running each day. Cardio – it’s not just for heart patients. It helps keep you from becoming one, too.
  • Be kind. Some day down the road when a gym newbie asks you for a spot or advice, give it. Remember where you started. Also, humor that old guy in the gym who tells you that he used to lift 350 pounds. If you keep working out and stay healthy someday that old guy will be you.
Posing in the “playroom”

There is no point of regretting the past, but I do wish that I was more focused on my training early on. However, I am happy with where my current training is taking me. Even with my prime training years behind me (I have to admit it) I still make gains. Granted, my challenges are different now. I don’t try to lift all the weights. I now have goals that involve running longer distances – or any distance – and I find I’ve become more of a cheerleader for others as they begin their own bodybuilding or fitness journeys. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. Done right, bodybuilding and weight lifting can be a life long activity.

So, Are You a Bodybuilder or Nah, Brah*?

Oh, that’s right I forgot we started with that question. I have to admit that even today, when I’ve had to begrudgingly modify my training style to focus more on cardio and cut back on the heavy weights, that I still have that old mindset of bigger and stronger is better. My training partner can confirm that I spend a little too much time flexing in the mirror and trying to find just the right light to make by biceps “pop” when I flex. I enjoy the feel of the weight as I push and pull it. I look forward to the “pump” as the workout progresses and the endorphins kick in and that feeling when even though you’re tired it feels like you could lift a Mack Truck off your chest and conquer the world. I like seeing new veins emerge and when muscle definition starts to show through the layer of fat (diet ladies and gentlemen). I enjoy trying out new exercises and figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t.

So yeah, I may not be good at it and you’ll never see me on stage in a pair of posing briefs with way too much self-tanner covering every inch of my body, but I think it’s time to admit that I am a bodybuilder. Proud of it, too.

Are you one? Leave your thoughts in the comments and let’s discuss!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

*P.S. – I promise never to use “brah” in a header again.

Fitness Quest: 2020 A Year in Review

Well, I’ve been away from this blog for far too long! I’m sure that both my fans have been wondering what I’ve been up to fitness-wise so here it is: not much.

I don’t have to tell anyone that 2020 was, at best, a weird year. For me the biggest adjustment was working mostly from home and I acknowledge that I’m fortunate to be able to do this. The other big adjustment was not being able to travel as I normally would. So you might think with all of this unscheduled free time being given to me because my normal after work activities being halted, especially community theatre as the biggest “time hog,” that my focus on fitness would have skyrocketed and that by now I’m a mass of lean, mean, old man muscle. Well, not so much.

The toys.

Gyms closing didn’t help but that wasn’t the real issue. My biggest issue was adjusting to cooking at home. Which, if done right, is the way we should all go. However, I found that when confronted with a full refrigerator and pantry all day I tended to “graze” all day in addition to my regular meals. So like so many others my weight creeped up during the past nine-months but went way up starting about July according to my fitbit. I think the combination of eating all day and the loss of my regular cardio classes just finally caught up with me despite my regular walks. I also suffered a mysterious shoulder injury in September so my lifting was impacted. My bench press in particular. I did manage to continue weight workouts with the personal trainer in his home gym and with my brother-in-law in his. The spring, summer, and early fall saw me taking regular walks with my sister mostly every night. But the extra fat has refused to budge.

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

So, in an effort to make a change I’ve given into the marketing and am trying Noom. I have plenty of suggestions on how to improve the product which might be worthy of another blog entry after a few more weeks, but so far so good. It’s helped to remind me of things I already knew and I’m down about four (4) pounds so far (almost 2 kg).

Things I did discover while cooking for myself this past year – I do like a fairly wide variety of foods. The heart healthy Mediterranean diet is interesting and not that hard to make. Vegetables and fruits are filling and also tasty. Don’t get me wrong, hamburgers and fries are still a big portion of my diet (too big) but I do see the way and the light. Plus one of my new past-times is looking through cookbooks and thinking to myself “I can make that.”

The biggest news – I got through 2020 without a major health crisis! No ER visits, no surgeries. The Stelara I take to control my Crohn’s seems to be working and my gastroenterologist says that there is no sign of the disease. This means that, for the moment at least, I should be able to become as fit as my middle-aged body will let me. Yes, I still have a damaged heart from a previous heart attack. Yes, my kidneys are still below optimal function from my bout with Norovirus last year (did you forget that their are still other viruses out there waiting to get you? Keep washing your hands and covering your faces folks – thanks) but overall I’m stable and healthy. Minus a few occasional aches and pains. Also, I find it ironic that I can lift a small car off my chest if necessary (a very small car) but have trouble getting up off the floor. It’d be funny if it weren’t so true.

So, I’m done with 2020 and ready to move on to 2021. I can’t control what the world may have in store for me, but I can sure as heck control how I react to it and my own small corner of it.

Onward!

Giving Thanks

Last year on Thanksgiving I hit my head while playing kick ball with my cousins (yeah, we’re not exactly the Kennedys). This led to me having an EKG and the discovery that sometime in the past that I had a heart attack, which led to changing my Crohn’s medication for fear it was effecting my heart function, which led to a bowel perforation and my current ostomy.

So what am I thankful this year? Just being alive and able to celebrate another Thanksgiving with loved ones!

Which may be as much as any of us should be thankful for.

Onward!

Fitness Quest: Memories as Motivation

So, the other day I was in a bit of a funk. Unusual for me as I’m normally pretty chipper these days (ha – I make myself giggle), but like everyone else I can get a good case of the “woe is me” and “life stinks” going on. This particular case was about the usual these days: “why can’t I lift this (insert heavy object name here)? I could last year. Easily!” or “can’t I bench more than that?” or “why does it hurt when I bend?” or my perennial favorite, “how come my shirt sleeves seem to have so much room in them?” (sleeve gapitis – it’s a real thing, Google it. Seriously.) All in all, I had a serious lack of motivation and started looking back to the “good old days” through pictures and social media posts.

What I found depressed me further. Here’s me goofing off after trying to climb one of Colorado’s 14,000 footers:

colorado

Here I am running a 5K:

rose run

Here I am looking possibly as buff as I ever have:

buff dave

Here I am about to go surfing for gosh sake:

surfing

And the coup de grâce, here’s the weight I was benching just a year ago. 255 for reps and sets:

255

All the makings of a good sob fest and longing for the glory years. Are they gone? Am I a has been? Has age finally caught up with me? Questions I’m sure most of us have asked ourselves and if you haven’t, you will.

But, you know what? I decided instead of wallowing in self-pity that I was going to use these images to motivate me.

My lungs and legs are still good. I can climb mountains. Maybe not summit, but I didn’t do that before anyway. I was climbing in Idaho just this past summer (well after my heart rehab).

I can still run a 5K and did just this past July. I bet I can beat my time next year!

I’m increasing weight in my bench each week. I can keep going and bench even more than I did a year ago!

And as far as looking buff – well, modesty prevents me from saying so judge for yourself:

dave gym (2)

Surfing? Sorry, that was a one and done! Fun, but there are sharks out in the ocean.

The best is yet to come.

Onward!

#oldguyslifttoo – Consarn It!

Those of you who follow me on other social media (yeah, both of you) may have noticed that I usually tag any remotely fitness related post first with #oldguyslifttoo. Though it clearly hasn’t caught on I’m trying to make a point with that hashtag.

Youth and Fitness

It doesn’t take much observation to realize that in our culture and society fitness and athletic activities are the province of the young. In mo and t pro sports you’re finished before 40. A quick look through Instagram and you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, of posts, pictures, selfies, swolfies, and not so random flexing poses of young men (and a few women) in front of bathroom mirrors. Each who seems fully dedicated to their particular workout, diet and intent on spreading their knowledge and enthusiasm to the world. Or at least get a date. Maybe both, I’m not sure, and I’m not criticizing this in the least. If it motivates anyone towards physical fitness I’m for it. Heck, if I had the abs and biceps of some of these guys I’d be right there in front of my mirror with my phone snapping a picture too.

Old = Inactive?

But, you don’t see so much from older people. Go to a gym, again filled with folks under 40. Now I’m sure that there are a lot of reasons for this. The usual being other priorities. Career, family, etc. But, these reasons don’t explain all the middle-age men and women out there who have just stopped moving. The kids are out of the house, but instead of using the time gained from no longer running mom’s transit service they have doubled down on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the like. Then complain that they hurt all the time or don’t have energy.

Time for a Change

It’s time to change this folks. The benefits of daily exercise are well documented. Both men and women at any age can increase strength and improve quality of life with a moderate program of walking and weightlifting. Barring an underlying medical condition (and hey, I’m pooping into a plastic bag as I type this so I know about underlying conditions) you can stall father time. You may never have 20 inch arms or buns of steel again but you can keep your bones strong and muscles firm well into old age.

Which, for all you teens out there, doesn’t start at 30.

So, I’m proud to be an old guy who lifts, too. I hope you’ll join me.

And whoknows, maybe senior citizen swolfies will catch on too!

Onward!

Dave

Why We Lift: The Psychology of Working Out

So as some of you may know, if you read my other blogs such as Talking to Strangers, that for some time now I’ve been working on breaking through my introverted nature and have tried to talk to someone new each day. Usually a simple smile and a quick hello, but many times actual conversations. Over the years I’ve met a lot of interesting people this way and discussed many things. Because of my interest in fitness more than a fair share of these conversations involved working out, nutrition, and the like. I’ve talked about working out with several people who are experts in their chosen sport and/or activity: triathletes, marathon runners, bodybuilders, surfers, Division I football players (okay, one),  Division I softball players (helps when your niece is one), casual lifters,

adventure athlete athletic daylight
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

mountain climbers, rock climbers, and a rugby player (who, by the way, was nothing like the stereotypical Rugby guy. He was friendly, personable – and I later learned through social media has a great sense of humor – and was not only well muscled but well proportioned. More like a physique model or competitor, not the burly “Bluto” type usually associated with the sport). Most of these people, started exercising because they participated in a sport in high school or wanted to prove something to themselves – the latter being especially true of the marathoners and triathletes.

But, there is a subset who work out – and by working out I mean lift weights – for a wide variety of reasons. Because of my own interest in weight lifting I want to focus on these men. Why the men? Well, one reason is that despite my reaction when seeing a mouse scurry across the room I am a man. The second is that from my experience very few women lift weights. Which is a shame because the benefits of lifting weights is well

man lifting barbell
Photo by Isabella Mendes on Pexels.com

documented for both men and women. As high school or college athletes, many women have lifted, but for some reason later in life they stop (as do most men I suppose). Some are afraid of looking like Schwarzenegger I suppose, which isn’t going to happen without chemical assistance and even if it does wide shoulders are making a comeback in women’s wear. Or, just as likely, their focus shifts to losing weight and running becomes the activity of choice.

So, why do guys start lifting and/or keep lifting long after their high school football days? My conversations reveal many reasons:

  1. He started lifting for a sport and discovered that he liked it more than the sport he was originally training for.
  2. He wanted to gain weight to avoid being bullied and/or intimidated by other guys.
  3. He wanted to be bigger and stronger than his older brother (a surprising number of men fall into this group).
  4. He started lifting with his older brother, father or another male member of the family and got hooked on both the weightlifting and camaraderie.
  5. His younger brother started lifting and he didn’t want him to get bigger and stronger than he was.
  6. He wanted to just better when he took his shirt off and have a reason to flex.
  7. He saw a muscular man as a kid and was impressed enough to want to look like that when he grew up (either in person or in a comic book or on television, etc.)
  8. He was a big kid and found that he liked getting bigger and staying stronger than his peers.

You’ll notice that among all the above reasons the classic, “to get the girl” doesn’t make the list. I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone who started lifting to attract girls! Impress other guys, you bet, but not women. It seems to me that to most men that attracting the attention of the ladies is a side benefit of looking better – if that’s his goal to start with.

affection blur close up couple
Photo by Rosie Ann on Pexels.com

Personally, I fall mostly into group 7, fell a bit into number 4 when my dad bought a weight set, and now just have gotten hooked on being stronger, bigger, and the “pump.” Obviously, though I’ve had superficial desire and have gotten stronger over the years (until my surgery this summer) I haven’t had the discipline to achieve the look of a bodybuilder. Darn diet and flat bicep peak!

By the way, and if you spend anytime on social media I think you’ll agree with me on this, there seems to be a whole new group who workout just to show off to strangers (a subset of group 6). Guys who don’t participate in sports but can’t wait to flex in front of a camera to try and gain followers on Instagram. Many seem to fancy themselves models, some are just trying to build their personal training business, but others just seem to like it when people like their photos and follow them. I’m guilty of following quite a few of these guys myself because of my habit of following back anyone who follows me. In fact, one of my favorite activities on Instagram is to use new hashtags just to see who starts to

man wearing gray tank top
Photo by mahmood sufiyan on Pexels.com

follow me. Use hashtags like #bodybuilding #weightlifting #exercise and you’ll get a dozen new likes and several more followers. Some are trying to sell their personal training packages, but most just seem to want followers. I know that some are hoping to get rich by monetizing their Instagram account and have discovered that flexing their biceps gets them followers and likes, but I can’t believe it’s true of every guy whose posed in front of his bathroom mirror.

To be fair, I might be a little harsh – if not hypocritical – on my description of this group. After all, there’s a certain amount of vanity and narcissism in participating on social media to begin with isn’t there? I mean does anyone really care what we had for dinner or how often we workout? But I think I’m right even if it’s a fine line between the guy who is genuinely tracking his progress and motivating himself and others versus the guy trolling for “likes” and fans. The former usually has before pictures and candid shots doing other things. The latter is never seen without the proper lighting and would never admit that he was once the proverbial 98 pound weakling (maybe he never was?). But, as so often I do, I digress.

Anyway, these are my observations. Am I right about these categories or way off base? Why do you workout? I’d love to hear from folks (at least those of you who read through the whole thing).

Onward!

Crohn’s Update: It Finally Happened – Surgery!

“Mr. Wahr, Mr. Wahr? Do you know what’s happening?” the young med student who just woke me at 4:00 A.M. asked me.

“I think so,” I replied. I had come in to the University of Michigan Hospital less than 24 hours earlier with abdominal pains that didn’t feel like a normal Crohn’s attack. Something was off so after much hemming and hawing I finally decided that given my heart history I really couldn’t take the chance that something was really wrong. Especially since the pains had started the day before and weren’t lessening as was the usual pattern with my Crohn’s, “but why don’t you tell me.”

She looked at me with sympathetic eyes and said, “you’re going in for emergency surgery. A surgeon will be in shortly to explain.”  Surgery? I had certainly anticipated this. In the Emergency Department they had determined that I had what they called a “micro fissure” of the fistula in my ileum. But, at least at that time, they didn’t think I needed surgery within 12 hours. So I had been moved to a room for observation.

Almost as soon as she finished her sentence a young man appeared at my bedside – why are all doctors so young now? –  in a polite, but firm tone he said, “Mr. Wahr, I’m sorry but you need to sign some forms to authorize surgery. Here, here, and here.”

“Surgery?” I asked.

“Yes, we can’t get your fever under control. Our only choice is to go in and remove the cause of the infection. Otherwise your prognosis…we’ll it isn’t good,” he said in a quiet, somber tone. I understood what he was telling me and started signing the forms.

“I need to tell you of all the possibilities of having this surgery,” and he listed off the usual complications and issues and then added, “and you may end up with a stoma.” By this time another surgeon had joined the growing group at my bedside. She seemed to be in charge.

“May end up with a stoma?” I asked, “how likely is that?” The new surgeon answered, ” well, we never go in planning to create a stoma, but until we go in I can’t say for sure. They’s be coming to move you to surgery in a few minutes.”

The doctors disappeared and my nurse appeared to start prepping me for moving to pre-op. As she moved my IV bags the transport team came in. “We’re going to take you down to surgery now,” the nurse said. I grabbed my phone and sent a quick text to my brother. If something happened during surgery, I wanted someone in my family to know what happened while they slept.

In pre-op I was greeted by even more medical staff. One of the anesthesiologists started to ask me a slew of questions, a woman who identified herself as a nurse held my hand and spoke to me in a comforting manner, then I heard doors open, multiple footsteps and could feel the group around me stiffen a little.

“Mr. Wahr, I’m the faculty surgeon overseeing your operation. Here’s what’s happening. The fissure you have is worse than we thought. The contents of your bowels are emptying into your abdominal cavity, causing infection. If we don’t go in and stop this, we won’t be able to bring the infection under control. The outcome will not be positive. Do you understand?” I nodded that I did. “We’ll remove the damaged areas of your intestine and when you wake up you will have a stoma. Do you know what this is?”

“Yes,” I replied, “but it sounds better than the alternative.”

“It is,” the surgeon replied. “You’ll be going into surgery now.” And with that they began to wheel me to the operating room. I noticed the time on a clock. It was not even 5:00 A.M. They were not wasting any time which told me all I needed to know about the seriousness of my situation.

A quick trip down the hall, during which I mostly observed the ceiling, and we were in the operating room. A white, sterile looking space filled with equipment and a woman sitting in the corner covered with a blanket around her shoulders. Part of the anesthesiology team perhaps? I’ll never know. A quick transfer from my bed to the “table” and the voice of the anesthesiologists who spoke to me earlier. “Are we ready? Okay, here we go.” A mask was put on my face and just as I was wondering if this was it and would I ever wake up, everything went black.

Next thing I knew, I heard a disembodied voice asking me questions, “Mr. Wahr, can you tell me where you are?”

“U of M Hospital, I’m having surgery.”

“Very good, everything went well. You’re going to a room now.”

I continued to drift in and out of consciousness for an unknown amount of time. It was about 10:00 A.M. when I finally seemed to actually wake up. I said a silent prayer thanking God for letting me wake up and yet another doctor came into my room. This, I would later learn, was the “attending” doctor for the intensive care unit I was in.

“Mr. Wahr? How are you doing?” he asked.

“I guess fine. Considering.”

“Yes, I understand. The good news is that the surgery went well. You do have a stoma, but the infection and fever are gone and you should make a full recovery. You were lucky,” he paused to consider his words carefully, “this was the kind of thing that people die from.”

“So I hear.”

He went on to tell me a little more about the surgery and that the surgeon would be in later to check on me (as he did each day I was at the hospital). He then left me with the nurse so I could settle in.

Thus begins my newest adventure with Crohn’s. In a way I always suspected that this day was in my future – yet it was still a surprise when it happened. Many Crohn’s patients end up in surgery and with stomas. I’ve managed to avoid it for more than 30 years so in that sense I’ve been fortunate. And there is the possibility that in 6 months or so, presuming that the Crohn’s is under control, that I could be “hooked back up” so that my colon can be useful again. So, all in all, I’m handling the situation pretty well.

My current concerns while I recuperate and adjust to life with an appliance attached to my side (which does get changed every three to four days): 1) dehydration – most of the water for the body is absorbed by the colon. It will take time for my small intestine to realize it needs to pick up the slack; 2) weight loss – even though my appetite is good, food is still passing through my intestine too quickly. As a result, I’ve been slowly losing weight (almost a pound a day). Something a lot of folks dream of, but be careful what you wish for. When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s I dropped down to about 140 pounds from my then previous weight of 180 pounds before being stabilized. I sure don’t want to be that thin again. Plus, all the weight seems to be disappearing from my chest and shoulders and thighs. Not my belly where I really don’t need it. Muscle loss is certain at this point. There goes the last 30 years of training down the drain; 3) infection, which I’ve avoided so far, always a risk after surgery but especially for someone with a weakened immune system; 4) controlling the Crohn’s. My past medical regimen didn’t prevent the fissure which is an indication that the treatments weren’t working. The interesting thing now is that my Crohn’s has historically been localized to the ileum. Now that my ileum, about a meter’s worth of small intestine, is gone the question is will my Crohn’s flare up somewhere else?

That’s it in a nutshell. I’m managing to deal with the appliance pretty well so far with only a couple mishaps (one in the doctor’s office) and I’m looking forward to returning to work soon.

Of course, I’ll keep blogging about my experience in the hopes of helping someone else with the same or similar situation. There’s always hope folks and we are all in this together.

On a side note, I had an interesting experience that was repeated with three nurses as they prepared to give me an injection in the back of my arm. It went something like this:

“Left or right arm?” the nurse asks.

“Doesn’t matter. Left.” I reply.

“Okay,” takes my arm to prepare the injection site. Stops and says, “oh, I’m not sure what this is. Is there a tumor in your arm? Or is that your tricep?”

“I hope it’s my tricep.”

“Yes, I guess it is. Not used to seeing a tricep like this. Very impressive.”

Now, I can’t be sure if the comment – from three different nurses – means I have an oddly shaped tricep or if they just don’t expect a relatively well developed tricep on a…ahem…mature man (though I think it’s looking pretty puny right now). I’ll go with the latter as it makes me feel better about myself. You have to look for the positive in every situation after all.

Onward!

Not a Tumor

Sodium, Sodium Everywhere and Not a Bite to Eat

Question: which do you think has less sodium, a medium order of McDonald’s French Fries or a small salad?

Answer: It depends. Are you going to put dressing on that salad? If so, the fries win. In fact, the fries win even if you go up to large size and small fries can win if you are looking at overall fats, too!

Surprised? Don’t be. Since discovering that I had a heart attack sometime in the past, I’ve been working harder than ever to get my diet in line. I was already doing pretty good in keeping my fats low and started cooking for myself and am getting a little more “Mediterranean” in my eating and food choices each week (more fish, more veggies, less sugar). So, I thought it was time to take the next step and reduce my sodium intake.

Ha!

I now understand the trials and tribulations of people with high blood pressure. Sodium is in everything that is even slightly processed. Fast food, sit down restaurants, frozen food, soups, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables (but not always), baked goods, lunch meat, you name it and I bet it’s got more sodium than you would think.

Fat free means “added salt.” Pizzas should be called sodium pies. Surprisingly, things that taste salty, like potato chips, may have less sodium than a small can of spring peas.

According to the American Heart Association we should be eating no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, 1,500 if you have high blood pressure. But, the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg each day (more at the AHA website)! And I know from MyFitnessPal that I’m somewhere north of that figure on any given day. How much is 2,300 mg of sodium? About 1 teaspoon of salt per day.

Now in my case, I do not have high blood pressure and my heart attack does not appear to have been caused due to any dietary issues (arteries, with the exception of the one where the damage occurred are clear and “beautiful” according to my cardiologist). It’s likely, in fact, that the heart attack occurred due to my Crohn’s. And, I could choose to side with some of the research out there which suggests that if you don’t have high blood pressure sodium intake isn’t really an issue. However, with one big strike against me, I don’t think I should risk a second. So, I’m going to keep doing my best to get my diet in line and that means lowering my sodium intake.

Now should we talk about the amount of potassium in salt substitutes and the effect that has on someone taking ACE inhibitors?

The struggle continues.

Onward!

Fitness Quest: October 2017 and Olympic Goals

A little late on my update for last month – but it’s been a busy week so this update will flow into the first part of November as well:

Crohn’s Update: things are going very well with my Crohn’s. I’ve had only one or two days where I got off to a slow start do to the disease. I believe that being regular with my vitamin regimen, staying active as possible, keeping up with my weight training, and watching my diet are all helping. If I feel better over all, my Crohn’s stays quiet.

Workouts: progress continues! I’m gaining strength, slowly but surely, and stamina. My arms are a little larger, my chest is larger, my shoulders more defined, my waist is shrinking, and my weight is decreasing.

I did spend the first week of November in Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor Resort no less (one of America’s true luxury resorts) at a business conference (NACAS – where I was inducted as the board President). Though I suffered early on a brief attack of altitude sickness, several gallons of water and many deep breaths later I was feeling positively energized in the thin mountain air. So good that by the end of my stay I was lifting weights in the fitness center each night – including 250 on the bench for three reps. Twenty five more pounds than at home – it was on a machine though so it didn’t require as much use of the stabilizing muscles as a “true” bench press. Still felt good though!

Cardio: most of the month was ho-hum in this area. Being in a play (mentioned in the last post) did slow me down somewhat. However, one the play was finished I was able to step things back up so to speak. Also, as I mentioned above,  I took a trip to Colorado Springs. Nothing like a stay in the thin mountain air, hikes up a couple of hills (and 224 steps to the top of Seven Falls and another 185 to the Eagles Landing) and walking all over a spread out resort (the Broadmoor) and conference center to get those steps in!

Nutrition: I’m doing pretty well in this department. I hit my protein goals most days and stay below my carb goals. Fats, still an issue, but getting better. I’m finding some supplementation with protein drinks is really helping. I’m making my own smoothies starting this week as well. Now that my weight is down, I’m considering adding a few more calories per day to see if I can spur some additional muscle growth without adding fat. A challenge for anyone – let alone a middle age man with a history of being fat prone. But, if you don’t experiment you don’t learn, right?

Other Cool Things this Month: the biggest cool think I did this month was visit the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs as part of the aforementioned conference. Here I got to meet several Olympic and Paralympic athletes and I’ll post more about that later. But what a thrill it was to participate in an Olympic Flame lighting ceremony and meet so many athletes. If I needed any more motivation to keep working out, I got it that night. I may never have the body of a gymnast – the shoulders and biceps on those guys – but I can keep pushing my own personal limits.

And so can you.

Onward!

20171107_205842
Olympic gymnast Sam Mikulak having fun with a fan.

Fitness Quest: September 2017

A busy month for me as it turns out that was pretty good all in all despite getting back some iffy blood tests from my doctor on Monday. Nothing terribly serious, but we’ve got a couple things to watch regarding my liver enzymes as they spiked which is an indication of liver damage which is one of the side effects from my medication. So far no word on an ultra-sound to check things out, so I’ll follow-up. The numbers aren’t very high above the normal range. Everything else was pretty good though except for my iron and vitamin D levels. So back to the supplements. Ugh.

Crohn’s Update: In addition to the above, I’m actually feeling pretty good these days. I have energy it seems – which may be in part to the iron, vitamin B and other supplements. But I’m not complaining. Still not “normal” by most people’s standards, especially in the bathroom if you get my drift, but pretty darn close I think (i.e. no accidents or emergencies in a long time). Met with my new gastroenterologist and like her a lot. Very good doctor/patient rapport and she did her homework on my case before coming seeing me!

Workouts: I got all my weight workouts in despite a tough rehearsal schedule for the show I’m in (It Came from Mars at the Toledo Rep). This included two on Thursday, one before rehearsal in the gym (shoulders and back) and one after rehearsal with my brother-in-law (chest). In the past week I’ve been feeling particularly good. I’m waking up better in the morning and getting my daily push-ups (up to 30 per set) and concentration curls (gotta build that biceps peak) each morning.

Results are coming with my weight training, though slower than I’d like (naturally). My arms – the left one at least – are back over 16 inches cold and I think look a lot better (more defined – they are also harder it seems). Probably more importantly, I’m getting more reps in per set with my bench and increasing weight in other lifts. Not at my strongest yet, but not bad for an old man (8 reps at 225 for three sets currently). The goal is still 25 continuous reps at 225. Getting there slowly – thought my brother-in-law and training partner is getting stronger by the workout lately. 

Speaking of who, he unintentionally provided some big motivation this week. During our Sunday workout it was pretty obvious that he had his “swole” on – as in his short sleeve shirt was stretched to its max. Turns out he’s gone through a recent growth spurt sometime in the last three months, if not in the last couple weeks, especially in his arms and chest.  He now leads our “arms race” by a little more than an inch and is still growing. It’s a mystery to me why after several months of essentially the same workout he grew, though I’ve read somewhere that muscle growth occurs in spurts and isn’t a straight line gain kind of thing. He thinks it’s just from being consistent which is true as we’ve rarely missed a workout in the past year or so, I think maybe he adjusted his diet somehow or perhaps unbeknownst to us he was “belted by gamma rays*” though he isn’t turning green. However, instead of being jealous (okay, maybe a little) as I may have been when we were younger, I’m finding myself motivated to hit it harder in the gym and other workouts to catch up. Or at the very least, not fall farther behind. So even though we shouldn’t judge or compare ourselves to others, a little competition between friends is a great motivator it seems.

jacobsladder-3-full

Cardio: thanks to my sister, I’m really stepping up my step game (pun intended). She’s been pushing a weekly “workweek hustle” on Fitbit and gotten several others to join in. I used to think I walked a lot during the day but now, whew! I’m also working harder to keep up with her.

Discovered a new cardio device at the College gym called “Jacob’s Ladder” (here’s their website – I’m not reimbursed for this endorsement btw) If you haven’t used one of the things and have the opportunity to do so – DO IT! One of the toughest cardio workouts I’ve ever had and it also works the arms and legs at the same time.

Nutrition: I met my protein goals most days this week, thanks to Muscle Milk and protein bars (again, not an endorsement – research all supplements before using). I’m surprised at how difficult this is. Especially without increasing fats, which unfortunately, I have not mastered. However, I have cut down on my carbs including simple sugars considerably. Turns out you can live quite well without french fries. Who knew?

Other Cool Things this Month: got an unexpected and random compliment on my triceps; had a pleasant conversation with a cashier about Fitbits – the young ladies really like the leather band it seems 😉; and had another good conversation about working out in general late in the week with another friend. 

All in all a surprisingly motivating week.

Onward!

*obscure reference to lyrics from a Marvel cartoon show in the 1960s. Bonus points if you know which one and just saying “Hulk” doesn’t count.

More bonus points if you know where the featured image is from.