A Self-Leadership Experience to Better Health
Updated May 5, 2014
A couple of years have passed since I wrote this post about my experience with a knee that went south on me and that was aimed at being replaced with a piece of titanium. My update is that not only do I still have the same knees with which I was born but I’m in better shape and health, and weigh less before I eliminated cane sugar and its derivatives from my diet.
Ironically, the media has recently latched on to the sugar issue, which is a good thing. First it was trans fats and then sodium. Sugar is now in the cross hairs of the medical community. Sugar is literally a killer. And it’s very difficult to fully eliminate it from your diet unless you have an incentive, which I do: I have a strong immune response to cane sugar (palm sugar’s fine, as is honey and maple syrup). Just a trace amount of sugar in a salad dressing, as I discovered last week at a family event, causes me great discomfort in my right knee for a few days.
Read about my story below. Perhaps it will serve as a catalyst for you to empower yourself to make a difference in your well-being. Be sure to try out my two power recipes.
And by the way, I spent the winter snowshoeing every day with my Lab, Max, and now am tearing up the roads on my new bike. It’s all about self-empowerment
I was feeling a pinching feeling in the right side of my right knee while walking Max. It was winter time (2011), and it was becoming annoying to walk on slippery sidewalks while contending with what was becoming a nuisance pain. In the back of my mind I was thinking, “Oh crap, not another knee problem.” I’d already had meniscus surgery for my left knee a few years previously. I didn’t need another knee problem.
The pain got worse as spring approached. Even mountain biking was not enjoyable, so I decided I better get my knee checked out in May. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get in to see the surgeon who had fixed my left knee; I had to be screened by one of his sports medicine doctors, who requested a MRI.
When I returned to see this dude, who was 10 years my junior, he quickly went over the MRI results and said that I was into a knee replacement very soon. He then tried to sell me on what’s called visco supplementation, a series of injections in the knee for which the total treatment costs between $350 and $500 in Canada, depending on the brand you choose.
I remember driving home feeling really bummed out. “Crap, I’m only 55 and I’m into a knee replacement?” I recalled my (now) 93 year-old mom who had two knee replacement surgeries when she was in her early and mid-eighties.
Sue and I were planning a big trip in June to drive through New England to her parents’ home in Saint John, New Brunswick. We’ve always loved walking along the Atlantic Ocean’s beaches, and this trip was to be no exception. In Rockland, Maine (a state we adore) we walked out one mile on the breakwater to the lighthouse. Man, what an experience. But by the time we got back to shore I was limping quite badly. My knee hurt like heck.
Our trip continued, but I wasn’t terribly happy with Mr. Right Knee.
When we got home a couple of weeks later, I was in bad shape. My physiotherapist, Luis, a terrific guy who was a former soccer player from Columbia, did his best to treat me. I went for two more bike rides, but it had become a chore. Just after my 56th birthday, on the cusp of Canada Day, I felt and heard a snap as I was walking down the stairs at our home. Fast forward to the ER.
I’ve separated both my shoulders, back in high school playing sports, and mangled my left knee, but the pain I experienced this time was something new. Xrays, a second MRI. It seemed to be some meniscus issues and arthritis, according to another knee surgeon.
The rest of the summer was a write-off. I did finally connect with the surgeon who had repaired my left knee, who said, “Yeah, I can fit you in at the end of August for a meniscus repair.”
But as the fall progressed post-op, my knee wasn’t healing as my left one had. I had swelling, pain and continued limping. When I went back to see the surgeon two months later he seemed totally disinterested in me, actually bored. His only reaction was, “You have stage-three arthritis in the medial condyle.” (Stage four is bone-on-bone.) “You’re a good candidate for a half- knee replacement.” Where had I heard those words before?
The rest of the fall and winter were complete write-offs. I couldn’t walk outside, especially with snow and ice. Sue and I couldn’t snowshoe. And poor Max, our six year-old Lab, couldn’t understand what was going on.
JIM’S POWER BREAKFAST
20 minutes before eating, squeeze a fresh lime (or lemon) in 4 to 6 ounces of water and drink straight up. (This contributes to a healthy ph balance)
1/3 cup whole rolled oats and filtered water (wheat-free oats if you’re gluten intolerant)
(Cook for appropriate time in microwave or on stove)
Once cooked, add:
1 tablespoon Canadian maple syrup (got to be Canadian, eh!)
3 heaping tablespoons of walnuts, almonds, raw sunflower and pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons fresh blueberries
Naturally sweetened cranberries
Unsweetened almond milk
Follow with 10 ounces of OJ or AJ with your preferred supplements
In December I was getting fed up, so I went to see another sports med doc who requisitioned a third MRI. He was a decent guy who seemed to want to help. He referred me to one of the area’s top knee surgeons, Dr. Geoff (first names used only in this post)). But while I was waiting (two months), I started reading and reading and reading about arthritis. And then an idea popped into my head.
I should see a Naturopathic Doctor (ND, for short). NDs, based on what I had read, were highly educated in Canada, requiring four years of study at The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto. In the United States, the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges represents these learning institutions.
As I delved into my research on arthritis I realized that nutrition played a key part. I Googled NDs in my community and found one, Dr. Seth.
By the time I met with him I felt that I was on to something. After completing an extensive questionnaire and sharing my story with Dr. Seth, he had some suggestions. First, I needed to do a food elimination diet to determine what food groups might be aggravating my arthritis. Second, if I was ready to spring for $250, I could do a blood test that would identify which, if any, of 96 food groups were contributing to inflammation in my right knee (due to my body’s immune reaction).
To make a long story short, my Achilles heel is cane sugar and its derivatives. I scored on the border between medium and high. All the other food group reactions were non-existent or very low in terms of their impact on my arthritis. Many people, for example, experience significant improvement in their arthritis when they eliminate gluten from their diets.
JIM’S POWER SUPPER
Asparagus, broccoli, carrots, red pepper, snow peas, green beans and cauliflower
Stir fry using organic coconut oil (Virgin coconut oil has a scent. Olive oil should not be used at higher heats)
Serve with quinoa mixed with diced raw vegetables. Top with your favorite non-fat, low-sodium dressing.
For a heartier meal, include baked salmon or chicken
For dessert: loose green tea
Here’s where I get perplexed and frustrated. Over 18 months, I saw three knee surgeons, three sports medicine MDs and my family doctor. None of them had any clue on the link between nutrition and arthritis. When I brought up this issue with several of them, the response I received was either a look like I was from another planet or of complete ignorance. When I mentioned that I had seen a ND, I got more strange looks.
I did finally succumb to getting visco supplementation injections last February by a sports med doctor I’ve known for several years; however, the only result I noticed was a lighter wallet. I also experimented with arthritis supplements for nine months but in the end don’t feel they helped me.
It pisses me off that not only did I spend needless months trying to find a solution to my problem but that I helped contribute to Canada’s escalating Medicare costs. Luckily, I discovered through my own initiative and with the help of a ND what was aggravating my knee. I can’t change that my knee’s getting close to the end of its useful life. However, rather than get a knee replacement at the young age of 57, I can hopefully hold off for many years.
The top surgeon who I saw two months ago for a follow-up consult was open-minded enough to encourage me to keep doing what I’m doing. Dr. Geoff’s a pretty cool guy, and a master surgeon. He wasn’t informed on the nutrition-arthritis aspect; however, he said that by managing my knee I can hopefully just have ONE knee replacement in my lifetime instead of two or three (currently, knee replacements last 15-20 years). Remember, my mom’s 93 and my dad lived to 89.
And after 15 months of not being able to ride my mountain bike, I got back on it in late September and have been blasting down Ottawa’s beautiful trails. So far so good. It’s wonderful to be able to once again fill my lungs with clean air while riding through the woods.
That’s my self-empowerment leadership story. I can state categorically that if I hadn’t self-initiated and followed my intuition a year ago that I’d have a hunk of steel attached to my knee. I feel lucky. Really lucky.
Sure, going out to eat can be a pain in the ass, since I have to ensure I don’t eat anything derived from cane sugar. Otherwise, I ache for four to five days afterwards. The biggest bonus is that I lost a lot of much needed weight, with no effort. Plus, my pancreas is saying every day, “Thank you, Jim!”
Sugar is a curse. It’s killing us slowly as a society. I’ve become incredibly much more aware of what I put into my body. Yeah, I’m no purist. But I’ve come a long way over the past year.
It’s all about self-empowerment and self-leadership. We choose to make decisions, with each one having certain consequences, good or bad. I try to ensure that the net result of my decisions is on the good side.
I hope my story has maybe helped you in your personal wellbeing journey, sparking you to do some research and exploration.
A real leader faces the music, even when he doesn’t like the tune.
Photos by Sue Butler (Jim walking Max and on the Rockland Breakwater)
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