Category Archives: GI

What are the odds?

Stress comes in many forms. We are all pretty familiar with at least some sort of stress. Bills, relationships, co-workers, deadlines, loss, fear, injury, worry. We live in a time where many of our stressors are mentally based. They aren’t usually starvation, exposure or mauling. Our bodies are designed for short intense bursts of stress like the later. We aren’t very good at handling the day-in/day-out constant stressors of the 1st world.

I came under an extreme stress starting in mid January which lasted the better part of two months. The circumstance of which I’m still having a hard time coping with, and which was vary rare. Then I got a random GI bug as a late April fools joke which caused me to be on the porcelain throne for 36 hrs. I recovered and went about life for the next two weeks.

The next three months up until now have changed my life. Two weeks after the GI bug, I developed tingling in my feet and legs, which proceeded to work it’s way up my legs and extended to my hands and arms causing weakness and lack of coordination for 3 days until I went to the emergency room. I thought I had pinched a nerve or something after a recent mountain bike fall, but the next day I was diagnosed with Gillian-Barre Syndrome via lumbar puncture. This is a relatively rare condition affecting 1 or 2 in 100,000.

Gillian-Barre Syndrome is an autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakes the myelin sheath, a fatty layer which insulates your nerves, as an invader and destroys it. When the myelin sheath is gone, the signal from your brain cannot reach its destination, which prevents movement causing paralysis. Other sensations were drastically affected as well. Numbness and tingling is a major component, hypersensitivity and pain as well, which doesn’t seem to follow logically, but it’s real. A loss of proprioception was the most disturbing. Not knowing where your feet or hands are in space plays horrible tricks on your mind in the dark when you can’t sleep.

I continued to decline through the first week of an initial treatment called IVIG, and only after the 5th round of the second form of treatment, call plasmapheresis (a blood cleansing machine similar to dialysis), did my decline seem to stop. At that point I was just thankful I didn’t need to go on a ventilator. I was unable to move my legs at all but I could still control my hands a little bit and was able to talk and ask for whatever help I needed. My ability to swallow was mildly affected but I was still able to eat.

After 3 weeks in the acute care part of the hospital, I was moved to the inpatient rehab part of the hospital where I stayed for 4 weeks. I also got an unrelated bout of Bells Palsy while in rehab just for kicks. Thankfully that resolved relatively quickly. I was in the hospital for a total of 49 days, which feels like forever when you’re waiting to get out. I spent half of April and the entirety of May in the hospital. I lost ~20 lbs even though my appetite was ravenous, I ate 6 square meals a day, and I didn’t have much fat to lose. It’s amazing how quickly you lose muscle.

I was sent home in a wheelchair since I was still unable to walk without a lot of assistance and I was scheduled for outpatient therapy 3 times a week. On my first assessment with outpatient therapy, I was able to walk with a walker and leg braces for 36 feet in 6 minutes. After 4 weeks of physical therapy plus my own exercises at home, I was able to walk 596 feet in 6 minutes. After 8 weeks, even further and faster with better balance. Walking only with a hiking pole and no leg braces.

This is dramatic improvement, and I am thrilled. Although I still have difficulty standing with my eyes closed as the proprioception seems to be the slowest in recovering, I can finally tell where my hands and feet are without looking at them which is a big relief. My hands and feet are still weak, but are getting a little stronger every day.

I ask, and get asked, when will I be “back to normal” and still have no answers. “It just takes time” is the most common response. I’ve read that it can take anywhere from “a few weeks, to a few months, or a few years” but it seems like the majority of cases get better after 6 month to 2 years.

I last rode ~12 miles on my mountain bike Sunday, April 9th. I was able to lift a decent amount of weight, run 2-4 miles at a respectable pace and lived a pretty active life. I’ll consider myself “back to normal” when I can at least do 1/2 of what I was doing before, and I’ll call myself 100% when I’m off nerve pain meds and I can do all the activities I used to do. And I will do them again, it’s just a matter of time.

Kombucha!

I know kombucha may not be a new thing to a lot of you. My wife has been drinking it for a few years now as a treat, maybe once or twice a week since it is so expensive. Most of the grocery stores around here (Richmond, VA) sell several different flavors/brands ranging from 3-4 dollars or more. For 12-16 oz, that’s a bit pricey as far as we’re concerned.

A few weeks ago, a local nursery called Sneed’s Nursery had a class about making Kombucha. We had talked about this several times and just never got around to getting the SCOBY, or the supplies, so when this class popped up, we decided now was a good time. We stopped on the way home after the class to pick up a big party size drink dispenser, the kind you usually see filled with tea or lemonade. One with a spigot at the bottom (made from plastic, not metal, I’ll explain more later), is ideal to make for easy bottling/drinking.

The most important thing about making kombucha is the SCOBY. It’s an acronym that stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. Much like the starter or “mother” for sourdough bread, you get a SCOBY from someone who is making their own kombucha. If you don’t know anyone like that, you can either order a SCOBY from places online, or some health food stores have them. Or, you could buy a store bought kombucha and instead of drinking it, you could make up a batch from the purchased drink since it has a small about of the bacteria/yeast colony in it.

What is kombucha? It is fermented tea. It doesn’t taste much like tea at all, as it’s a bit sour and tastes more like vinegar. It is tart and tangy and served cold can be very crisp and refreshing. The store bought versions are usually mixed with some other flavors to help the masses enjoy it. Ginger is a popular addition, as is cranberry and lemon, but you can find it a wide variety of flavors as more people take a liking to it.

“Why would you want to drink kombucha?”, you might ask. Since this is a food/health/wellness blog, and I am obsessed with gut bacteria, you might have guessed that kombucha is a probiotic! Just like yogurt, kefir or kimchi or sauerkraut, it’s full of gut friendly bacteria to help fight off bad bacteria.

If you are interested in making your own, I’ll tell you how I make mine, which is based on the directions given by the lady who taught the class.

Things you’ll need:

A gallon size pot, tea bags, sugar, water, a glass container to ferment the tea, plastic wrap and tightly sealable containers.

A glass container is necessary, don’t skimp and get a plastic or metal container. Plastic will make it taste funny and metal will ruin the SCOBY. Our container has a plastic spigot (painted silvery on the outside) which is fine.

Step 1: Get a SCOBY

Step 2: Brew a gallon of sweet tea. 1 gallon of water, 8 tea bags (they can be green or black or mix and match, not herbal or citrus flavored though), and 1 cup of sugar. White, refined, plain cheap sugar is ideal. It’s easier for the SCOBY to eat. Bring a pot of water to a boil, mix in the sugar until it dissolves, remove from the heat and add your tea bags. Let the tea sit until it is room temperature again. Not lukewarm, not tepid, room temperature, like 75 degrees F. This is important because if the tea is too hot, you will kill the SCOBY.

Step 3: Once your tea is brewed and it’s not hot at all, you pour your tea into a glass  container. kombucha

Step 4: Add the SCOBY.

Step 5: Cover the tea so nothing gets in, but air can get out. Leave it out on the counter/pantry at room temperature. Do not put it in the fridge. We’ve covered ours with saran wrap and poked small holes in it with the tip of a toothpick. You want the holes small enough so dust/mold/fruit flies can’t get in, but CO2 can get out. The SCOBY will produce CO2 and vinegar as by products when the eat the sugar. If you are worried about calorie count or sugar content of kombucha, it is very low because the bacteria and yeast eat practically all the sugar.

Step 6: Wait. Wait until your SCOBY spreads across your entire container, from edge to edge. Depending on how cool or warm you keep your house, this may take a week or two. Once the SCOBY fills the container, it will thicken and continue to grow. The longer it grows, the more vinegary your kombucha will taste.  At this point it is determined by personal preference. You can drink it earlier for less vinegar or wait longer if you’d like. We usually wait about 10-12 days since we like it pretty vinegary.

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Continuing to make Kombucha: the original SCOBY, we’ll call it SCOBY-A you got from a friend/internet/bottle used for batch one will grow a new SCOBY, called SCOBY-B, which is what will grow and fill your container. After it has grown and you have harvested/drunk almost all your Kombucha, you will brew a new batch of sweet tea and will take SCOBY-A out of the container with very clean hands. SCOBY-B remains in the container and you pour your new tea over SCOBY-B. This will then ferment for 1-2 weeks while growing a SCOBY-C and producing your second batch of Kombucha. The cycle repeats and you remove the older SCOBY and let the new SCOBY do it’s magic, always leaving the new SCOBY. The newer SCOBY is always going to be the one at the top of the container.

There is a way to “Double-ferment” the tea, which is were the “tightly sealable containers” come into play and most of the fizz (and tiny bit of alcohol) comes from. Instead of drinking the tea straight from your container with a spigot, you can pour the kombucha into a container you can seal tightly and this is when you can add flavors. You can squeeze the juice out of a small piece of ginger (microplane grater and a garlic press work well here) and add it to the container, along with a small (1 tsp) sugar. This is so the bacteria can have some fresh sugar to eat and produce more CO2. You can add herbal/flavored teas to this container, or any juice that has some sugar instead of the tsp of sugar. Let the double fermenting jars sit out at room temperature for 3-4 days and then put in them in the fridge if you’re not going to drink them immediately. Get creative! Let me know what recipes you come up with!