A New and Unknown Normal – A Coronavirus Story

A family of five is infected with coronavirus, and struggles to manage through a pandemic

Let me start by saying that we’re a family of five, and we all contracted the coronavirus.  My son is diagnosed with schizophrenia and has recently been moving across a spate of jobs, and my youngest daughter has cerebral palsy from an inutero stroke she experienced. My eldest daughter is going to college and works part-time. All of our kids live at home with us. My wife and I work at the same software company. I am a home-based employee and she has been working from home since mid-March when the company announced employees were to work from home going forward.

My son had recently started work in the deli department of a local grocery store, and had a co-worker who tested positive.  I don’t think he understood that he was exposed because although they work closely together, he happened to be off on the day the coworker reported the infection.  Within a week I had developed symptoms that I thought were a bad case of the flu, because how could I possibly have been exposed to the coronavirus? We were being careful about distancing and staying home, and we didn’t know anyone who had been infected.  

My symptoms started on April 17, and by one week later I had already experienced a couple of nights awake trying to breathe because I couldn’t get enough air.  I went in to test for COVID-19 on that day, and after I came back home my son finally mentioned that someone he worked closely with had reported being infected, wasn’t he lucky to have not been there the day it was reported? I really don’t think my son realized that he had already been exposed. My test came back positive the next day. My wife and youngest daughter had started to develop symptoms that were different from mine and from each other.  We all had low grade fevers, aches and whole body exhaustion, but where my breathing was affected, Angela’s heart would race, and Natalie experienced nausea and stomach problems.  My wife, two daughters and son all tested on April 24, and the tests were positive for all but my eldest daughter.  My son was infected, but asymptomatic.  We had been quarantined, now we started self isolation.

On Friday we received a poster drawn by Katie Hut – Natalie’s Special Olympics Partner, BFF and fellow Brooklyn Nine-Nine fan. The Hut family and the Green family are intertwined in lots of ways, and this outreach of kind thoughts was fun and uplifting.

On Saturday evening we received a “heart-attack” where friends came by and taped messages on heart-shaped papers across our front door.  It was overwhelming that there was so much support from our friends (they rightfully call themselves the #Tribe). Tribe members stopped by to drop off a pulse oximeter so we could monitor oxygen levels, and more Tylenol where we had run out. There were messages sent and a doordash account set up for us. A long-time friend and neighbor dropped off groceries from Costco at our door.  Our first dinner drop-off was homemade potato soup with dinner rolls. A gift box was hand delivered for Natalie. My coworkers rallied to plan a couple of shopping trips that were delivered to our home. Another coworker sponsored us to receive Goodr sunglasses through the company’s gratitude initiative (can I hear Carl say “SQQQQQUAAAAWWWKKKKK” (that is I love you in flamingo). There were a lot of social media interactions as well, and it was an outpouring of support that was unexpected and sudden. It was help that we didn’t know we needed, and we were humbled and grateful for the network that reached out.

The next couple of nights were difficult for me – I couldn’t breathe well enough to fall asleep and stayed propped up on the couch at night to focus on breathing. Early Monday morning of April 27 I wasn’t able to keep my O2 levels above 90 so went to the local emergency room and after an evaluation and a chest x-ray, was admitted to the hospital for Acute Hypoxemic Respiratory Failure (a type of ARDS) and pneumonia.  I was in the hospital for 3 days because, as the doctors explained – ARDS typically develops within 10-12 days following initial symptoms, and from then there is a 72-hour window where the patient either maintains, or quickly loses capacity and ends up on a ventilator. Doctor #2’s query about having advanced directives in place was grave.  I’m a 52 year old man who is overweight, with hypertension and diabetes.  It was their decision to keep me in the ICU long enough to ensure I would not be on a ventilator.  Visitors weren’t allowed in the ICU, and my family was at home dealing with their own symptoms. Telling my wife, and texting with my in-laws about this was difficult because I could see and hear the concern in their words and voices. I think they thought I wasn’t coming home.

I was in the hospital for 3 days because, as the doctors explained – ARDS typically develops within 10-12 days following initial symptoms, and from then there is a 72-hour window where the patient either maintains, or quickly loses capacity and ends up on a ventilator.

During my hospital stay I was thanking the staff and complaining about going home.  Each time anyone walked into the room they wore full PPE, and I wore a face mask while they responded to monitors, played with oxygen levels, recorded vitals, took blood, administered shots, gave me oral medication and delivered meals. My blood glucose was high enough that I began receiving injections of insulin to bring numbers down. A salt supplement was added because my bloodwork showed extremely low potassium (hypokalemia), which made everything that I ate taste like salt was poured over it. I received Lovenox as an anticoagulant but stopped taking it when I developed nosebleeds.

There wasn’t much to do in the room except listen to what was going on in the hallway and in rooms next to mine, or text on my phone with people reaching out.  My game to pass time turned into removing the nasal cannula for my oxygen and watching my O2 levels drop on the monitor – my intent was to see the numbers stay above 90 so I could claim I wasn’t getting worse, and good enough to go home. The numbers regularly dipped into the 80’s and 70’s, and would occasionally dip below 90 when I wore the oxygen. There was slow stabilization though. I went from two liters of oxygen to three, then to two, then down to 1 liter of oxygen before going back up to two liters. The good news here is that I wasn’t going down hill completely. On the third day, doctor #4 agreed that if we were able to arrange getting an oxygen concentrator, that I would be able to check out in the afternoon.  I was incredibly happy to send that message to my wife.  While I waited for equipment to be coordinated for me to take home a nurse came in and talked about Convalescent Plasma donations, and explained how someone previously infected with COVID-19 could donate plasma that would be given to an infected patient in critical status. I went home on Wednesday, April 29. Shortly after I left there was a story in the paper about a woman in another IHC hospital who was on a ventilator, who recovered five days after receiving a plasma donation.

Angela had come to pick me up from the hospital. Following my return to home, our afternoon was primarily receiving the oxygen concentrator, along with several air tanks and a CPAP machine.  Although it was good to be home, it was a somber transition to hear the pumps and be connected to a 50-foot tether that I received oxygen from.  In 2008 my father had passed away from Pulmonary Fibrosis, and I was intimately familiar with this equipment. At the time I wondered how long I would require it, and whether this was a turning point in my health and life (that question still does not have an answer).

We’re pretty gushy about the shout-out that SIRSY made for us on their April 30 virtual concert, when they dedicated their song Stand for us (you can subscribe to their YouTube channel here). So much love for these two, and yes they actually made me tear up to come home and see this.

On May 1st, my eldest daughter tested again for coronavirus, and this time was positive.  Consider whether you would have successfully navigated away from four others living in the same home for 14 days without contracting what they carried. According to this article by Erin Bromage PhD, most people get infected in their own home. It is the sustained contact with family members that leads to infection.

Holly at the Salt Lake County Health Department began calling our home on Friday, April 24 to follow up with me initially, but began to track the entire family as we were infected.  Holly tracked our symptoms, provided direction on self isolation, and enquired into our social history to see where she could associate the distribution of the virus.  Her calls were informational, reassuring, and provided guidance from someone who was knowledgeable to talk to.  We correlated disparate updates from cdc.gov, coronavirus.utah.gov and testutah.com so that we could determine safe departure from self-isolation, and discussed the progress of symptoms.  

Recovery is taking place, although slower than hoped for. We have passed the number of days required for self-isolation. Marisa, Angela and Natalie have been cleared by Salt Lake County Health Department. Gabriel took a second COVID test and is now confirmed negative for the virus. Angela’s heartrate is still high. I’m still using the oxygen concentrator, mainly at night and occasionally during the day. We have started to go out to walk the dog, but wear masks outside and maintain physical distance from passers-by.  I have found a new physician who I like, and have completed labs and a wellness check, and am now on a new medication plan. Things are looking better.  

I have a Red Cross Blood appointment on June 1st to donate Convalescent Plasma. My goal is to be off of oxygen before then, and be able to give back so that I can help someone who is more in need.

Some perspective after being impacted by COVID-19: there is a new normal that needs to be carried out in public as we keep the distance and help protect others. Our first wealth is our health as a community, without that we are all grabbing for the same short straw. 

Thoughts Following Coronavirus Exposure

  • Without a community network, self-isolation can be incredibly difficult. We were supported by neighbors, friends, coworkers and healthcare members who delivered groceries, meals, words of encouragement and even medical treatment to our home.
  • Everyone needs a health kit at their home. Start with a reliable thermometer, a pulse oximeter, medicine to manage symptoms (reduce fever, a decongestant and pain relievers), facial masks, and extra batteries for electronic devices.
  • Know what it means to establish an advanced directive, or to have a healthcare proxy for making end-of-life care decisions.
  • If you don’t have an established relationship with a PCP and/or a medical office, consider doing so now. Find out where your insurance is accepted, locate the doctors who are accepting patients, and get yourself in for a wellness check. In the event that you have an emergency you will very likely need to follow up with your primary doctor for status, treatment and releases, which is difficult if you don’t have one in the first place.
  • We’re fortunate to live in an area where grocers have been experimenting with eShop and delivery. Without this we would have been significantly more dependent on others to get basic items.
  • People with mental health issues are particularly impacted. Hygiene issues, difficulty communicating, inability to consistently follow guidance for physical distancing are common reasons why risk of exposure is higher, and this may be compounded by homelessness.
  • After self-isolation, it has been awkward returning to public activities where others do not practice physical distancing, or wear masks. I don’t think people understand how profoundly different this virus is.
  • There is some skepticism from others about infection regarding the seriousness of becoming ill with coronavirus, or doubts of the level of contagion. Again, I don’t understand the conspiracy theorists at all.
  • There is a wariness from both sides due to the lack of a consistent message by leaders, and in some cases for the obvious disregard of medical experts by politicians.
  • Longterm effects of COVID-19 exposure are unknown. Articles like Coronavirus survivors banned from joining the military (militarytimes.com) state that the military has permanent disqualification for anyone with a confirmed history of COVID-19, which raises questions about what long term effects there may be.
Back home in my office

MMM-Peach-Mint® Iced Tea

A suggested govern-mint concoction that combines bitter tears and sour lemons with the sweet, sweet satisfying taste of Mmm-Peach-Mint® Iced Tea. Share at your next partisan political soiree – namely the upcoming Senate trial.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
  • 181-197 tears of partisan republicans
  • 2 right-wing tea bags
  • 1 can of white house swamp peaches, not drained
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup sugar to help all that medicine go down
  • cold, cold ice

Directions
Using a wooden spoon, crush the mint just like you crushed their objections and stalling tactics into a glass pitcher. Add tears and tea bags; cover and let stand in the sun for at least 6 hours of debate.

Meanwhile, combine those swamp peaches, sour lemons and sugar in a blender. Keep it chill, yo.

Remove and discard mint from tea. Stir in peach mixture. Pour over the cold, cold ice your democratic peers just delivered.

Mmm-Peach-Mint tea should be savored. Take your time to relax and fully enjoy it when you knock that drink down.

Of course, if you’re sitting across the aisle and looking for a stronger drink, then consider my recipe for the salt-rimmed Ermahgerdarita®.

Responsible and Accounted Gun Ownership

Like most people, I have been thinking about the balance of rights and responsibilities when it comes to owning a firearm in the United States.  I don’t understand the resistance to what should be common sense around how accessible firearms have become in the United States.  Whether or not you agree on bans for certain types of firearms or components (like bump stocks, high capacity magazines and the like), we can separate that discussion and focus here on accessibility.

My first issue is that gun ownership comes with responsibilities.  This starts by acknowledging how you are capable of owning the gun; meaning that you are of sound mind, and can own and operate the gun legally. You also need to be able to reliably store, transport, carry, operate and maintain what you own.  If you buy a gun, you should anticipate how you will use it, and educate yourself so that you are both informed and aware of its general operation, and be mindful of the consequences of its accessibility and use. You need to learn its use both by instruction and practice, and can certify to it.

My second issue is that accountability matters greatly, and that being accountable for a weapon you own is absolutely a condition of gun ownership.  This means that you are accountable for its accessibility, for its transfer (whether a loan, sale or disposal) and any subsequent consequence of its placement whether under your direct control or not. This is all directly tied back to you, the gun owner.  This means that, as an owner, you maintain appropriate safeguards to ensure that the gun is not generally accessible, that you directly control its use or supervise handling by someone other than yourself. It also means that you report thefts or misplacement. It also means that you recognize liability in transferring ownership to another party.

The consequence of irresponsible gun ownership is within your accountability.  It’s my opinion that a breach of responsibility should have significant legal consequences that could include forfeiture, fines, and prosecution.  If the burden of responsible ownership is too great, then consider why you would be okay with contributing to serious harm or death of a person as a result of your lack of responsibility.

What the 2nd Amendment Says

A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of
a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms
shall not be infringed. – US Bill of Rights, Amendment II

Before we rant about our rights to keep and bear arms, let’s look at the first part of the statement above, specifically “A well regulated Militia being necessary…“.  The second amendment specifically states regulation as a term of the rights granted.  Essentially, if you want the right to something, you bear the cost of responsibility in exercising that right.

***

A Proposal for Responsible and Accounted Gun Ownership

I’m going to continue updating this list, but am publishing so that a conversation can at least be had.  There are reasonable conditions for any gun sold, and these conditions can also be legislated:

Fee-based application with mandatory 48-hour wait period

  • Transfer of ownership ONLY through a licensed firearms dealer, police agency or military (see below).
  • For a private sale, the firearm must be physically verified, and serial checked against national database
  • For a private sale, a government issued ID is required from buyer and from the seller
  • For sale by a licensed firearms dealer, a government issued ID is required from buyer
  • An application to purchase can be filled in online, however the person must present application in-person before the mandatory wait period begins
  • Application can be used to purchase multiple firearms, but all firearms for purchase must be listed on the application
  • A credit check is required to obtain address history
  • Local and Federal background check is required (based on current address/address history). Prior felonies, restraining orders within 2 years, history of physical violence, family altercations, affiliation with hate groups, no-fly registry, etc disqualify
  • HIPAA modification must allow access to mental health records (past 5 years reports of depression, suicidal thoughts, anger management, family counseling are flagged for review). – Courts, Insurance and Providers must report
  • Under age of 25 requires 2 referrals (individual only) who are not family. Exemptions for individuals who are under 25 but have a firearm issued for military service, or for employment in emergency (police, fire or medical) services. Limited or no exceptions.
  • No person can sponsor more than 2 referrals per year

Prior to sale: training required (16 hours) on nationally standardized syllabus with add’l state-specific content.  

I’m adamant this training should NOT come from the NRA. Materials should be vetted and approved by a non-partisan group with no political affiliations or advocacy tied to itself, its members or its governing board. 

  • Firearm components and features
  • Basic operation
  • Review of applicable State and Federal law
  • Review of Private Party restrictions (employee policies, storefront policies, privately owned establishments, etc)
  • Gun Safety (storage, handling, loading and unloading, mis-fires, cleaning)
  • Transportation and carry
  • Range etiquette
  • Minimum 2 hours/100 rounds in practice range

Prior to Sale: Competency-based certification on specific gun is required

  • completed after mandatory training, prior to purchase
  • multi-choice exam based on training syllabus
  • must pass vision test
  • skill based certification must use similar (same or higher) caliber and similar firearm group and similar firing mechanisms
  • skill based certification verifies disassembly, re-assembly, loading, gun safety, range etiquette, firing accuracy and overall ability to properly handle firearm

3-year fee-based renewal of certification required

  • automatic renewal with proof of range activity, certified training or active military service
  • otherwise renewal requires presentation of qualifying gun in addition to vision test and skill-based re-certification

Gun sale must include:

  • lockable case, or
  • lockout system for firearm (cable, trigger guard, etc), or
  • gun safe

Ammunition sale:

  • identification required; sale is tracked

Transfer of ownership ONLY through a licensed firearms dealer, police agency or military

  • Registration of all guns required (guns without serials will be stamped or etched with a unique serial number, or permanently modified/tagged)
  • National database
  • 3 year initial amnesty period for registration. After amnesty period, firearms without registration; or firearms in possession of any person without immediate direct supervision by registered owner or a licensed agent is a violation resulting in forfeiture, tickets and fines
  • buy-back programs must be offered within states and territories. In addition to buy-back, firearms can be offered for re-sale or auction through the buy-back program.

Related Sites and Articles: 

How Raven Stole the Sun – A Tattoo Story

The Initial Design

I had sketched out this design in late 2017 while exploring different elements that represented influences in my life.  If you have ever been asked to create a piece of art that represents who you are, you’ll quickly realize how difficult it becomes to incorporate all of those facets of being into a single statement.

Much of my first design drew elements from growing up in Alaska (the northern lights, Forget-Me-Nots, the raven, beaver tail, and cedars) but also incorporated symbols from Utah (bees and hive, and the Scotch thistle)  where my family has grown and called home for the past two decades.

The Artist

There were several reasons that I wanted to work with will_xx at Blaque Salt Studio, an unmarked studio hidden behind the chairs of a barber shop in downtown Salt Lake City (you can see his most recent artwork posted at his Instagram account).  He’s an amazing artist who I have gotten to know over the past year, and can only say that he and his family are strong positives for me and for my family.  His artwork has exceptional detail that I love, and he is consistently thoughtful and meticulous with the pieces that he creates.  Will’s initial response was to push back and consider narrow my subject matter focus so that a maximum of 3 elements were used. He would then look at how the artwork was to be applied to the natural lines of the body, and produce his version of the art.

One of my personal motifs has been the sun symbol, which represents new opportunity, or a chance to begin again.  The idea has kept me going in some truly difficult times.   

When my father moved our family to Petersburg, Alaska in 1977 – a fishing village on Mitkof island in the southeast panhandle of the state – I was introduced to the story of ‘How Raven Stole the Sun’ – a Tlingit and Haida tale that described how Raven brought light to the world.  Raven’s feathers are singed black from carrying the Sun back into the world. 

A clean version of my tattoo artwork focusing on the raven image.

I brought back this cleaned up version of my raven design to give him a better idea of the elements that I wanted to include in the image.  Keep in mind that this is my style of artwork; although I was using this to convey ideas, I was dependent on Will’s interpretation of my work.

I wanted his detail and realism with the added style elements drawn from Tlingit/Haida art.   This is the revised version that Will presented back.  The artwork was modified to present on my forearm more naturally, with the tattoo facing outward to present the head and sun going away from my body.

The Tattoo Session (August, 2018)

Will’s studio is hidden.  From the storefront you walk through a salon to open a door at the back that reveals his workshop with black walls and a menagerie of lighted displays, collectibles, artwork and anatomical specimens. The work area is lit by vintage bulbs and LED light strings.  A Pandora channel plays a long list of curated music that spans genres.

Will started by presenting a stencil of the revised work, explaining its placement and ensuring that I was okay with the design, its size and how he planned to work the art.  My arm was shaved, the stencil was applied, then Will added some additional revisions before beginning work. Will used disposable cartridge-based needles to apply the ink.

My appointment started just after noon and completed around 6PM, approximately 5 1/2 hours of work with a couple of breaks.

Recovery

The aftercare following the tattoo was pretty simple – wear a surgical bandage over the entire tattoo for 4 days.  After four days the bandage is removed, and a regimen of cleaning and moisturizing begins.

During these first four days liquid will begin to ooze under the bandage that blurs the artwork; this is normal.  Your skin treats the tattoo like a wound as it heals, and will produce plasma to fight off infection. The bandage not only protects the skin but allows your body to begin this healing process.  It may feel like a sunburn (and mine did – especially if I was outside in our 90+ degree weather).  Any itching could be treated with pressure applied over the site or with cool wraps, but not by scratching.

The bandage makes the artwork look like a hot mess after the first day – so I chose to cover up for a couple events that took place where I didn’t want to show my arm in its healing state.  On the fourth day, I was able to remove the bandage and clean the tattoo for the first time. With the bandage gone I began applying Aquaphor to the tattoo – I could tell when I needed to apply more when the dry, hot, itchy feeling returned.

Cleaning the tattoo daily with a mild soap (Cetaphil), and applying lotion  following that has helped significantly to reduce any discomfort associated with the healing process.

The Result (July, 2019)

It’s been 11 months (a little under one year) since I got my tattoo.  The healing period went pretty much as Will described, hairs have re-grown and skin is remarkably normal. The colors and lines of the tattoo are still strong, and I’m quite happy with the work that Will provided.  He is an exceptional artist, and does quality work.

I do plan to have additional artwork done, and will continue to incorporate elements from my original design along with new artwork as I build out the sleeve.

You Are Loved – A Post About Depression, Suicide and Mental Illness

There was a suicide that took place in the neighboring community, at a place where I walk daily. It occurred just before New Years, and was quietly responded to and cleaned up before most of us knew what had happened; all that is left now are some signs that someone made stating “You are loved!”.  A few more signs were placed out yesterday that I’m glad to see.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot because it’s clear that more hearts have broken since this particular one stopped beating.  There is an emptiness that is left behind.  I didn’t know this person but I can feel the rift just the same.

Depression and mental illness affect my family.  Holidays are difficult, and it can be overwhelming.  We often lose sight of the love around us when depression sets in. Even when things are down, it’s important to know that you are loved.

Reach out, and be willing to let others reach out to you. 

Know that you are seen. Know that you are noticed.  Know that there is someone who cares enough to listen so that you can be heard.  Know that you matter.

Crisis Hotlines

  • UNI maintains a CrisisLine and Mobile Outreach team at 801-587-3000, or by going to http://healthcare.utah.edu/uni/crisis
  • Utah County: Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386

Online

Homeless Services

Volunteers of America | Youth Homeless Services – individuals may come to the Youth Resource Center for a shower, to do laundry or get some food. VOA works to build trust and break down barriers that led to homelessness in order to help teens transform their lives.

Anti-bullying

  • PS I Love You Day – wear purple to stand up against bullying, help end depression, and ultimately prevent suicide. The group uses positive messaging and events to remind you that you are special, loved, and that you are never alone.
  • Stand for the Silent – a place for you to talk with others who are willing to listen, accept you and offer their love and advice. A place you are safe to say how you feel without the fear of being judged.
  • The Bully Project: thebullyproject.org
  • Anti-Bullying Pro: back2school.antibullyingpro.com
  • Global Dignity: globaldignity.org

Contact me if you want a free sticker. T-Shirts are sold at amazon.com, with proceeds going to nami.org

Shopping on a Calorie Budget

I have a pretty steady diet of the things that I like to eat when losing weight, so I’m sharing what I buy here along with some simple and fast recipes for on the go. These foods currently supplement the Nutrisystem diet I’m on, but can be used anytime, regardless.

My local Smith’s Market has most of the items I’m listing below. Smith’s is a Kroger market, so depending on where you live, Kroger includes City Market, Dillons, Fred Meyer, Fry’s, King Soopers, QFC, Ralphs, Harris Teeter, Smith’s Food and Drug, and Kroger Supermarkets.

I also recommend Costco for a good portion of items. Costco has a great selection of top-quality produce, and carries the deli-sliced turkey and bacon crumbles I use.  I love coffee, so that also gets purchased here as well.

Shopping List:


Turkey Wrap – 175 cals

  • 1 – Ole Mexican Foods – Xtreme Wellness Tortilla Wrap (50 cals)
  • 104 g – Turkey Breast (100 cals)
  • Pico De Gallo
  • Shredded Lettuce
  • 1 Tbsp – Bolthouse Ranch Yogurt Dressing (25 cals)

Use 1 tortilla wrap – add 104 g (approx 6 slices of deli cut) turkey breast and as much pico de gallo and lettuce as you like.  Add Bolthouse dressing to complete. Roll and eat away.


Morning Egg Wrap – 182/190 cals

  • 1 Large Brown Egg (70 cals)
  • 2 Tbsp Tomatillo Salsa, or Green Enchilada Sauce (10 cals)
  • 52 g Turkey Breast (50 cals), or  14 g Bacon Crumbles (60 cals) (choose one but not both)
  • 1 – Ole Mexican Foods – Xtreme Wellness Tortilla Wrap (50 cals)

Mix the egg and tomatillo salsa in a microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave on high for approximately 50 seconds.  Use a fork to remove the egg and place on tortilla.  Add turkey or bacon crumbles, then wrap and run.


Maple-Caramel Latte,  16 0z – 101 cals

  • 1 cup Simple Truth Organic Fat Free Milk (80 cals)
  • 1 cup Water (as little or as much as desired)
  • 1 Tbsp Instant Coffee (or more if you like strong coffee/rocket fuel)
  • 1 Tbsp Lakanto Maple Flavored Syrup (21 cals)
  • 1 Tbsp Torani Sugar-Free Classic Caramel Syrup

Combine milk and water, then heat on high in a microwave for 1:30 minutes.  Add the instant coffee and syrups.  Mix (I either shake or blend to make it frothy) and pour into your favorite coffee mug.  Perfect for the season and upcoming cooler days.


Lunch Salad – 125/165 cals

  • Taylor Farms Mediterranean Crunch Chopped Salad (salad only – don’t add the feta, pita chips or dressing packets)
  • Cherry Tomatoes, sliced
  • 104 g Turkey Breast (100 cals), or  28 g Bacon Crumbles (120 cals) (choose one but not both)
  • 1-2 Tbsp BoltHouse Yogurt Dressing (25-45 cals)

The key here is to get your veggies in – these aren’t only good for you, but will help to make you feel full.  Add as much salad and tomatoes as you like, but stick to the plan for the rest of the stuff.  Mix in a large salad bowl and get ready to munch down.


Snacks

Any one of these snacks will keep you in the sub 250 calorie range:

  • Yogurt + 1 Med. Apple, 2 Mandarins, or 1 Med Banana
  • 1 Med. Apple + 1 Tbsp Peanut Butter
  • Cherry Tomatoes or Carrots + 2 Tbsp Bolthouse Dressing
  • Kirkland Signature Nut Bar

 

Nutrisystem Again, But Not Again

So a sort of perfect storm occurred, and I’m suddenly subscribed to a Nutrisystem meal plan.  It started when I received a small spot bonus at work, which I initially planned to use for a new cordless hedge trimmer at Lowes.  After that order was initially delayed, then delayed forever, I decided to look around to decide where to spend all that sweet moolah.

A couple of days later, I was shopping at the happiest place on earth where a perfect storm took place.  In front of me was the gift card display, and on a big sign it announced that the Nutrisystem $100 gift cards were on sale for $55 after instant rebate.  My brain started clicking.

Back in 2008 I had enrolled in Nutrisystem and had a lot of success using their meal plan to lose weight.  Say what you will about food-in-a-box diet plans, this one had worked for me.  After losing 30 pounds I  started running and was able to keep losing weight on a normal diet, and eventually got down to 195 (I had started at 265).  By then I had run a couple of marathons and several half-marathons, and was looking good, even if I couldn’t walk down the stairs in the mornings because of all the running.  Whatever. I digress.  Bottom line is that the meal plan worked for me.

Weight loss progression from November 2008 when I was 274 lbs, to April 2010 when I ran the Salt Lake City Marathon and weighed 195 lbs.

So here’s what I was thinking – with my cool spot bonus money combined with the Costco discounted gift cards, I could purchase a 28-day supply of Nutrisystem.  And that’s exactly what I did.

For anyone who has wondered, this is what 4 weeks (24 days) of Nutrisystem food looks like when it arrives

My 4 week update: I’ve lost about 20 pounds (starting weight 264.1 current weight 245.5)

There are several cautions that I want to raise:

  • Nutrisystem has a sneaky penalty for subscribers:  If you purchase a 28-day supply using their discounted subscription pricing, you effectively commit to receiving at least one more order from them, or face having a $125 penalty assessed for cancelling before the second order is processed.  There was no indication of this on the Costco site where I purchased from (you can check the Nutrisystem Terms and Conditions shown for the product here). I realized this as my order was being placed online… and that’s certainly not when you want to learn about a hidden cost.  I was able to mitigate the problem by going back to Costco and purchasing another month’s worth of gift cards.
  • Nutrisystem now advertises and sells what it calls a 28 day plan, but the reality is that you only receive meals for 24 days, not 28.  Why is this, you might ask? The answer is what they call a Flex Meal.  Here’s what they say: “While on Nutrisystem, you’ll get to enjoy flex meals and snacks – one breakfast, one lunch, one dinner and two snacks each week on your own.” That’s an inconvenient way to describe how they short your order for 4 days worth of food on that 28-day meal plan (and yes, they are truly shorting your order, and there is a term for it: shrinkflation. It’s the practice of reducing a product’s size while maintaining its price so that consumers unknowingly pay the same for less – see this BBC Article The Food You Buy Really is Shrinking).
  • Prices for Nutrisystem have gone way, way up and they deliver a lot less at the same time.  Because I was a recurring customer starting in 2008 I have access to the orders I placed then, and can compare them to what I’m purchasing now.  Here’s a comparison:
      Nov 2008: 4 weeks + 1 week free, male $277.99 (no discount)
      Nov 2011: 35 day program, male $259.99 (no discount)
      Aug 2013: 4 weeks + 1 week free, male $259.99 ($65 discount)
      Sep 2017: 4 weeks (technically 24 days), male $384.29 ($133.07 discount)
      Oct 2017: 4 weeks (technically 24 days), male $414.29 ($103.07 discount)
    That “discount” is a complete joke, because their prices have gone from roughly $7.94 per day for meals in 2008 (and only $7.43 per day in 2013), to $17.26 per day for meals in 2017… and that’s not considering what they consider their pre-discounted price.  That’s a 217% increase in cost.
  • Order processing is late; often later than you’d expect. My first recent order took 1 week to process.  My second recent order (keep in mind that it was a subscription/automatic order) was supposed to process 6 days ago. It bugs me just a little bit that a customer service agent told me it was waiting to be picked up by FedEx on Friday, but on the following Monday I receive confirmation that a tracking number was created (still no record of it in the system).  Did the agent lie? How would FedEx pick up an order that still had no shipping label created?  I now have a gap in the Nutrisystem diet because I’ve effectively run out of food from the first order.  Keep in mind that my prior orders in 2008, 2011 and 2013 always processed in one day.  According to their customer service, their official processing and shipping time is (now) 4-10 business days.
  • Customer Service is a soothe-sayer, and they aren’t great at placating.  That problem you’re contacting them about isn’t really a problem; it’s a feature of the program, or it’s their interpretation.  As an example, when I contacted them about the late second order I was told “With the way our auto-delivery system works, we weren’t scheduled to begin processing you(r) order until [order date].” Silly me.  I thought that with the order in their system for weeks, they could actually have planned to ship (or deliver) the order on the date indicated.
  • You have to call to cancel their Auto-Delivery program.  Even though you can order, edit and even delay your order online, the one thing you can’t do is cancel the order… which only makes sense if Nutrisystem plans to talk someone out of cancelling the service. According to the forum support topics How do I cancel my plan? and Can I customize, cancel or delay my auto-delivery order?, you MUST call to cancel the auto-delivery service. The best part? If you already paid and are due a refund, it can take up to 8 weeks to refund your money.

Once the second order finally ships, I’m placing the call to cancel any future auto-delivery with Nutrisystem (update: I’m now waiting to see whether an adjustment comes through from a comment/exchange about the two  orders with the Counseling Support team. This one has me stymied because it doesn’t make sense how the refund was calculated, but it’s to my benefit so I shouldn’t complain). Yes I’ve lost weight;  but the problems of cost/value, bad customer practices and poor customer service are enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth (and I’ll end with that pun).

Nov 5 update: Based on a Nutrisystem email invite to do so, I posted a review on consumeraffairs.com, which you can find here. Nutrisystem has responded, and we’re talking privately following the public exchange.  The product itself is great, however it’s the policies, pricing and t&c’s that I can’t wrap my head around. I truly don’t understand how the price can go up so significantly but see service levels drop so much at the same time, while the terms of placing an order have to be regarded carefully because commitments are required when none existed before. 

Numbers Are Trending Up!

I received a call for the bloodwork I submitted on December 2, and the numbers are (finally) good:

  • Testosterone: 864 (was 91) – target 1100-1500
  • Estradiol: 21 – target under 40

The plan is to go back in on February 14 for another round of pellets, at the same dose.  We will continue monitoring levels for progress.

From my standpoint it’s like a light switch was turned back on.  I can feel the difference (lower stress, less depression) and the dysfunction is gone.  I haven’t started exercising yet but there is a noticeable increase in my energy levels… meaning I need to get out and start running again!

The Burden of the Responsible Man

In my downstairs hallway there is a picture titled “The Burden of the Responsible Man” by James C. Christensen that was purchased several years ago at an artist reception in West Jordan’s Gardner Village.  It’s a great image – the poor man’s face is resigned as he looks at the carrot placed before him by the brimful of people he carries; and the jangling keys on his waist are each a separate responsibility.  The artist has a different take than I do for what the picture portrays.  I bought it as a reminder that sometimes responsibility can overwhelm, and must be let go in order to find balance.

James Christensen’s The Burden of the Responsible Man. I look at this and can see myself.

 

I have a history of being that guy who says yes when asked to do something, often to the detriment of my family or self.  One of my realizations was how I allow my health to suffer by giving too little attention on diet, regular exercise and family or personal time.  I often think about this when I’m up early to work on one thing (when I could be putting on running shoes), or working late (when I should be getting some sleep).  There are causes that I care much about, and I value opportunities to improve things where I find I am able to do so.  But it shouldn’t be at the sacrifice of health and happiness.

Christensen’s view was that burdens were really blessings and challenges necessary for growth. Although I think that true growth is found through acts of selflessness, I also think there is a foundation that must be maintained for personal health and happiness.  For people like me the hard decision is learning to say no to others, because I absolutely hate saying no. I hate feeling like I’m not helping someone, especially when I have been asked to help. But the reality is that I may be denying myself if I don’t.  One of the goals I have is to simplify my life by becoming responsible for less, and that means saying no more often.

It’s also important to make time for myself, and to defend that time.  Get rest, eat right, be active.  That’s my commitment, and it’s going to take one thing I need better control of: how I invest my personal time.

Metaphorically speaking, I’m taking the hat off, and turning in the keys.  And to hell with their carrot.  I’ll get my own.