Medical Procedures: What It’s Like to Have an Echocardiogram (with “Bubble Study”)

Some things are scary.  Like when your healthcare provider refers you for a procedure that involves bubbles injected into your veins and flowing through your heart.

I told my PCM the thought of it kind of freaked me out.  She said it was perfectly safe.  Just a routine procedure.  No big deal.

So I went home and researched the procedure.  I found an article from a reliable source that explained the procedure simply and thoroughly and assured patients that “The bubble study is extremely safe.”

And the rational part of my mind believed them.  But some other, irrational, part of my mind kept thinking of all the TV shows in which the villain kills someone by injecting an air bubble into their IV.  (Medical personnel hate Hollywood for this, by the way.)

I’m not the type to worry about things and get anxious, so I didn’t spend the days between the doctor’s visit and the bubble study obsessing about it.  But I didn’t sleep very well the night before, and I was pretty anxious on the ride to the hospital.  I did breathing exercises to try to relax, and, of course, cracked dark jokes about things Spousal Unit needed to know in case I didn’t survive.  (Not sure Spousal Unit appreciated that.)

What ultimately helped me relax was talking to the tech who performed the bubble injection part of the procedure.  She told me three reasons not to worry:

1) The saline solution is being injected into a vein, not an artery, and therefore there is less risk;

2) The bubbles are very small, and could not block a vein;

3) The bubbles go through your heart to your lungs, and your lungs handle them just like they handle every other gaseous fluid (bubble).  That’s what lungs are made for.

In other words, your body knows what to do with the bubbles, and it’s no big deal.

That’s when the rational part of my mind won, the irrational part of my mind stopped freaking out, and I relaxed.  More breathing exercises helped me release the tension as well.

So, what exactly *is* an echocardiogram?  It’s basically just an ultrasound of your heart.

Most of us have seen an obstetric ultrasound on TV, where the technician looks at a pregnant woman’s fetus in the womb.  The technique for an echocardiogram is pretty much the same – sound waves are used to get images of your heart.

But unlike an obstetric ultrasound, where the woman lies on her back, for a cardiac ultrasound you lie on your left side.  This helps the technician get a better image of your heart.

My technician explained to me that the ultrasound cannot get images through your bones, so they have to manipulate the wand around all the bones in your chest, like your sternum (breastbone) and ribs.  The ultrasound also cannot get images through air, so they have to avoid your lungs as well.

Since your heart is already off-set to the left of your chest, lying on your left side allows the heart to fall a bit further left, away from your sternum.

So, you take off your shirt and put on a hospital gown (open to the front), and the technician attaches some electrodes to your chest with sticky patches so they can monitor the electrical currents of your heart.  (For a good overview of the entire procedure, see this Mayo Clinic article.)  Then you lie down on your left side, and move your left arm up near your head.

The technician lubes up the wand (a.k.a. probe or transducer) and moves it around on your skin until they can get clear images of your heart.  (The gel helps improve the conduction of the sound waves, and makes sure there’s no air between the wand and your skin.)

Since they are dodging your bones and your lungs, the wand can wind up feeling like it’s trying to dig under your ribs as the technician attempts to get the clearest image, which can be a bit uncomfortable.  It’s not really painful, just a bit…insistent.  This is another time when the breathing exercises can come in handy.  Although it was rather uncomfortable a few times, I didn’t have any bruising afterward.

The technician takes a series of images from multiple angles, so they move the wand around and dig it in to new uncomfortable places to get the various images.  This may cause them to re-apply more gel as well.  My technician also asked me to take a deep breath, hold it, and exhale at various points in the procedure.  (She only forgot to tell me to resume breathing once.)

I appreciated that the technician explained to me what she was doing as she was doing it, and didn’t mind me watching the monitor as she was working.  An echocardiogram allows you to see the heart beating, and the heart valves opening and closing, and it’s fascinating to watch.

I particularly enjoyed watching the Doppler portion of the procedure:

The first part of the procedure took about 20-25 minutes, and then it was time for the Bubble Study (a.k.a. saline contrast study).  My PCM ordered a bubble study because she wanted to determine if there was a hole in my heart.

In a normal heart, the bubbles that are injected for the test enter the right side of the heart through the vein and then go through to the lungs and are removed from the bloodstream before the blood circulates to the left side of the heart.  If there is a hole between the right and left sides of the heart, the technician can see the bubbles flow through the hole to the left side, where they don’t belong.

Don’t Panic!  The bubble study is less freaky than it sounds.  Nothing is injected directly into your heart.  (Also, if you do have a hole in your heart, and the bubbles leak though to the left side, it’s ok.  Your body will still process the bubbles safely.)

A second technician came into the room, we had the conversation about bubbles and why they aren’t dangerous, and she inserted an IV line into my right arm (since I still needed to lie on my left side for the procedure). The IV line had a valve, so that the tech could start and stop the flow of the saline contrast solution.

The second tech told me that at several points during the bubble study, I would need to do a valsalva maneuver, but she described it as “the way you would bear down during a bowel movement”.  Well, that’s not the way I learned to do a valsalva maneuver during aerospace physiology, so we had a conversation until I figured out that what they *really* wanted was an anti-G straining maneuver (except they wanted me to hold my breath during the maneuver, and not exhale in a big gust when they told me I could exhale).

With that cleared up, we proceeded with the bubble study.  The first technician would signal that she was ready, the second technician would release a stream of bubbles into the vein near my elbow, and they would tell me when they wanted me to do the straining maneuver.

Then we would watch the stream of bubbles rush into my heart.  The bubbles appear white on the monitor, and they are very obvious.  Sometimes the second tech would massage my arm a bit to help the bubbles flow faster or something.

The saline bubble solution felt a little bit weird when it first went into my arm, but then I didn’t feel it anymore.  The first batch of bubbles felt weird when it entered my heart – my heart seemed to flutter a little bit.  But it didn’t hurt, and I didn’t feel it with the subsequent bubble batches.

We repeated the sequence four or five times, until there was no more saline solution, and the first tech was satisfied that she had all the images she needed.  They were both very impressed with my straining technique. 🙂

Then the second tech removed the IV line, the first tech removed the electrode sticky pads, and they left me to wipe the gel off my chest and get dressed.

The whole procedure took about an hour, and I had no residual effects.  Turns out, the bubble study really *was* no big deal.

Also, since having a hole between the two sides is congenital (something you’re born with), I’ll never have to have this procedure again.  Once they’ve determined whether the hole is there or not, that doesn’t change and you never need to check again.


Tired to the Bone

Tired Dog

I try to be optimistic and proactive about my health.  But some days I’m just tired to the bone.

Last week I had three medical procedures.  One was a new treatment, and two were diagnostic.  It may take days, weeks, or months before we know if the new treatment is having an effect.  So I wait…


The diagnostic procedures revealed that I have been correct for the past 2+ years that there is something wrong with my wrist.

More than two years ago I fell violently on a wet ceramic tile floor.  Ever since, I have been telling doctors and therapists that I have pain and malfunction in four areas: my scapula, my shoulder, my elbow, and my wrist.

Although my doctor ordered x-rays immediately after the fall, once those came back negative for broken bones she refused to send me for additional imaging (MRI/arthrogram).  Nearly one year later, after I had “failed to progress” in physical therapy, my doctor finally sent me for a shoulder MRI/arthrogram, which revealed that my labrum was severely torn and would not heal without surgery.

By that point, nearly one full year after the injury, I was in severe pain and could barely do my job.  Some days I left work early due to the pain, and I wasn’t getting much sleep either.  I could sleep in one position on the couch, surrounded by pillows that held my shoulder in the least-painful position, but if I shifted in my sleep the pain would wake me up.

I was taking a strong NSAID and a narcotic, but that wasn’t enough to control the pain.  I was getting pretty desperate for relief.  For months I requested that my doctor refer me for pain management, but she refused.

Fortunately, once I received the diagnosis of the torn labrum (a.k.a. SLAP tear/SLAP lesion) things happened a little more quickly.

The story of how I selected my orthopedic shoulder surgeon is a saga for another post.  But once I had authorization to receive care from him, I was able to see him a few days later (one month after the MRI).

At this point, I was desperate for relief, and I didn’t care if it cost me my job.  I told the nurse I would take the first available surgery slot, and asked her to look for cancellations.  She found a cancellation for the following week, which gave me just enough time to stop taking all medications, vitamins, and supplements and get them out of my system so they didn’t interfere with the surgery or the recovery.

I told my boss that I was having surgery the next week, and would probably be out for at least 6 weeks since I couldn’t drive with my arm in a sling.  Although I was an hourly worker, and would not get paid while I wasn’t working, they didn’t fire me.  They told me to get the help I needed and come back when I was better.

I had the surgery, and it was successful.  The surgeon discovered that my labrum was completely severed, and he had to trim it, re-attach it, and anchor it to the bone.  However, the biceps tendon was not torn, and the rotator cuff was not damaged either.

Even immediately post-surgery, the pain level was so much lower than before the surgery.  I was able to stop taking narcotics after about two days.

I started physical therapy seven weeks after surgery.  My surgeon wanted to give the labrum plenty of time to reattach to the bone and form a strong connection.

We noticed in physical therapy that I was still having pain and malfunction in the scapula, elbow, and wrist.  My doctor and physical therapist wanted to give it some time, to see whether this would shake out as physical therapy re-trained the muscles to function as they had before the fall.

My surgeon said that if the pain and swelling in my hand and wrist had not gone down in three months, I should probably see an orthopedic wrist surgeon, as I might have a tear in my triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC).

Then a whole lot of life happened.  Moved twice.  Different states. New PCM.  New PCM refused to refer me for MRI/arthrogram of wrist, which was still discolored, swollen, weak, and painful, but did refer me to a new physical therapist.  Physical therapist wanted to try treatment first, but after I “failed to progress” with elbow and wrist function, PT agreed it was time to get diagnostics and see an orthopedic specialist.

Meanwhile, I had finally gotten my VA disability claim processed, and after a seven month wait for an appointment had finally seen a VA PCM.  Since I had not been able to get my Tricare PCM to follow-up on the wrist, I asked my VA PCM to treat it.  She sent me for x-rays immediately following our appointment.  The x-rays showed my ulna was mis-aligned.

Less than two weeks after I saw my VA PCM for the first time, I had EMG and CNS procedures to determine if there was permanent nerve damage in my left arm/hand, and to determine whether the problem was due to a pinched nerve in my neck.

A few days later, I had an appointment at the VA hand clinic.  The x-rays had indicated a problem in my wrist, and the examination at the hand clinic confirmed it, so the hand clinic referred me for a wrist MRI/arthrogram.  FINALLY!

Three weeks later I had the MRI and arthrogram (post pending).  It was more than two years since I had been injured, and more than a year since the shoulder surgery.

The arthrogram revealed not only that I have a TFCC tear, but also that I have a scapholunate (S-L) teartwo torn ligaments in my wrist.

Initially, I was happy to finally have diagnostic evidence to support the injury claims I have been making for the last two-plus years.  And I was excited by the possibility that I could get the ligaments repaired and finally begin to heal.

But today I am just tired to the bone.  I have to find a new orthopedic surgeon in the state where I now live.  Someone I can trust to work on my wrist – a very delicate and complex part of the human body.  Someone in either the Tricare or the VA system.  And I have to get authorization 1) to consult with them and 2) to have surgery, if necessary.

Plus, I still don’t know whether I have a torn ligament or ligaments in my elbow.  My physical therapist thinks that I do.  But I haven’t been able to get Tricare or the VA to send me for diagnostics of my elbow yet.

On a better day, I will conduct more research on orthopedic wrist surgeons, and I will fight to get the referrals and the treatment that I need.  On a better day, I will take positive action to resolve this injury.

But today I am tired.  Today I will rest and regroup, so that I can resume battle recharged and equipped with knowledge.

Bottom Line:  It’s ok to be tired.  We all need rest.  We all need self-care.  Resting does not mean we are weak.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Keep fighting until you get the care you need.  There will be good days and there will be bad days, but you deserve to be heard and to be treated.
  2. You don’t have to go it alone.  Get a Patient Advocate, Case Manager, or lawyer to assist you.
  3. “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.”  I delayed my first round of physical therapy because I was busy with work and school.  If I had “failed” PT sooner, I probably would have gotten my shoulder MRI sooner and my shoulder surgery sooner.  I wish I had made my health more of a priority sooner.  Problems don’t go away when you ignore them.
  4. Learn the administrative procedures.  HMOs typically have set procedures for dealing with illness, injury, etc.  PCMs have to follow the sequence when treating patients.  Even though I knew I needed shoulder surgery, I had to “fail” PT first.  It will do you no good to try to pre-empt procedures – you won’t get authorization to do things out of sequence.  So find out the sequence and get it done so you can get to the end-state you need.
  5. Trust your gut.  Various healthcare providers gave me various ideas on what might be causing my symptoms – only one of them was (partially) correct.  I knew from the beginning that something was wrong with my wrist and that I needed imaging to find out what it was.  You know your body better than anyone else.  If you know something is wrong, keep demanding treatment until it’s fixed to your satisfaction.
  6. Watch out for wet freaking ceramic tile floors!  Or any other slip, trip, or fall hazard – you don’t want to jack yourself up like I did.

Indoor Air Quality – How I Made the Air I Breathe Healthier By Using NASA Research

Some of you may be wondering why I said in my first post that I’d rather have house plants than an air purifier.  I chose house plants because they do not use any energy other than sunlight, and because my research did not convince me that air purifiers were significantly better than houseplants.  Thus, I preferred the cheaper, more natural option.

What I said in the previous post:

To me, [naturopathic self-healing] means utilizing evidence-based natural solutions when possible, such as using house plants to improve the quality of the air in my house, rather than buying an air purifier.

The Spousal Unit and I had talked for years about getting an air purifier.  We thought that putting an air purifier in the bedroom would help us get better sleep.  I had read blogs and websites written by asthmatics and allergy sufferers who highly recommended air purifiers with HEPA filters, and they were pretty persuasive.  The only thing holding me back was the price – $500+ for a one-room HEPA filter air purifier.

“Maybe I could start with something less expensive,” I thought.  “What about those Himalayan salt lamps?”  According to the advertisements, a Himalayan salt lamp “works as an air purifier by emitting negative ions into the air.”  And they retail for $25-$30 for a smaller lamp.  So I did some research.  Unfortunately, I found that Himalayan salt lamps do not emit negative ions in a large enough quantity to have an actual effect on your indoor environment.  For a thorough examination of Himalayan salt lamps, I recommend this post over at A Breath of Reason blog.  Bottom line: they don’t improve air quality.

Ok, what about beeswax candles?  They are also touted as being good for air quality because they release negative ions.  Nope, Skepticcystic over at A Breath of Reason debunked beeswax candles too.  (See this post.)  According to her research, not only do beeswax candles not release stable negative ions, but there is no scientific evidence that beeswax is healthier to burn than other types of wax.  So, although some would argue that you should avoid the phthalates in artificially scented candles, the type of wax  a candle is made of doesn’t appear to make a difference to indoor air quality.  Bottom line: Regardless of what they are made of, burning candles does not improve indoor air quality.

So back to air purifying machines…

For a practical overview of air purifiers, check out this article from ConsumerReports.  For example, ConsumerReports suggests:

“Before you buy an air purifier, try some simple, common-sense steps to reduce indoor air pollution. Begin by vacuuming often, banning smoking indoors, minimizing use of candles and wood fires, and using exhaust fans in kitchen, bath, and laundry areas.”

As the article continues, various claims made by air purifier companies are tested.  ConsumerReports cautions that ozone-producing air purifiers are actually harmful to your health and should be avoided, particularly if you have allergies or breathing problems.  This is confirmed by the American Academy of Asthma Allergy & Immunology:

There is no debate about the negative effect of ozone…with the FDA concluding there is no place for ozone in medical treatment.” (See article here.)

For more information on the pros and cons of air purifiers, read this article from the New York Times, in which Steven Kurutz, an allergy sufferer, tested six popular air purifiers.  Here are a few excerpts from his article:

“For all their high-tech wizardry (some claim to be able to eliminate particles 0.3 microns in size and smaller), air purifiers occupy the same category as faith-based wellness products like nutritional supplements.”


“Over the years, the Federal Trade Commission has taken action against several makers of air purifiers, including brands like Honeywell and Oreck, for unsubstantiated allergy-relief claims or for advertising that their devices removed virtually all impurities from the indoor air people breathed.”

According to ConsumerReports’ deputy home editor, Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, whom Kurutz interviewed for the article,

“The first thing you need to know about an air purifier is that most people don’t need one.”

However, some doctors do recommend air purifiers for their patients, particularly children who suffer from asthma.  So, if you have asthma or allergies (or both), talk to your doctor about whether an air purifier would be beneficial for you.

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology:

There is no definite evidence of filtration clinically benefiting patients with allergic disease, but this may be the result of the studies being of insufficient durations to prove benefit.   The best review of the topic is by Sublett et al in 2010, a report of the Indoor Allergen Committee of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.” (See AAAAI article here.)

The Bottom Line for Air Purifiers: The different things you may be allergic to (dog allergens, cat allergens, mite allergens, mold, pollen, etc.) have different-sized particles.  You will see the most benefit if you select an air purifier that is designed to filter the particle size of the allergen that most affects you.

Conclusion from the Sublett et al report:

“As far as optimal choice of cleaning devices, initial cost and ease of regular maintenance should be considered. Portable room air cleaners with HEPA filters, especially those that filter the breathing zone during sleep, appear to be beneficial.

For the millions of households with forced air HVAC systems, regular maintenance schedules and the use of high-efficiency disposable filters appear to be the best choices.

However, further studies and research in this area are desirable to make more definitive recommendations in the role of air filtration on improving disease outcomes.”

Ok, so I could buy an expensive HEPA filter air purifier for my bedroom, which might help us sleep a bit better.  Are there any other options?

That’s when I remembered that house plants help improve indoor air quality.

Most of us learned in school that plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen (roughly speaking), which is great for humans because we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.  So having plants in the house helps increase the oxygen level in the air and decrease the carbon dioxide level.  But indoor plants can do more than just produce oxygen.

NASA published research in 1989 which demonstrated that house plants help reduce indoor air pollution.  Due to the energy crunch in the 70’s, buildings became more air-tight to reduce energy costs associated with escaping heated or cooled air.  But then occupants began developing health problems, and researchers determined that decreased air flow in buildings led to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the indoor air.

Three of the VOCs NASA focused upon in its research were benzene, tricloroethylene, and formaldehyde.  These chemicals pose various health hazards that range from skin and eye irritation to headaches, asthma, and cancer (pp. 3-5).  Assuming we’d like to avoid these health hazards, what can we do to reduce the levels of these chemicals in our homes?

As NASA points out, “The first and most obvious step in reducing indoor air pollution is to reduce off-gassing from building materials and furnishings before they are allowed to be installed.” (p.2)

The best way to reduce chemical indoor air pollution is to choose lower-VOC or zero-VOC options for furnishings, floorings, and other elements inside your home (wall paint, flooring glues, shower curtains, etc).  That way, you’re bringing less VOCs into your house to begin with.  (There are lots of good articles about this on the web; I encourage you to Google-Fu them.)

In addition to reducing VOCs by using less-toxic cleaning supplies, lower-VOC paint, etc., we figured “If it’s good enough for NASA, it’s good enough for us,” and bought houseplants – lots of houseplants.

Before I bought the plants, I did an online search and found many helpful articles.  This article at has a graphic of various houseplants and the chemicals they filter best.  And since houseplants have not fared well at my house in the past, I also read articles, including this one, on low-maintenance, hardy houseplants.  See this article for a good overview of the benefits of houseplants, including how many you need per room/ per square foot.

In the end, I decided to buy plants that didn’t have runners that would wind up all over the house (I’m looking at you, golden pothos).  I found a local nursery and selected plants for various rooms based on the available sunlight in those rooms, the amount of available space, and what looked good to me.  Be sure to check how big each plant typically grows, so you don’t buy ones that will outgrow the space you bought them for.

For the bedroom, I selected a snake plant (a.k.a. mother-in-law’s-tongue; see picture at top of post) because they are one of the only plants that continue to take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen at night.

So far, it’s been about six months and none of the houseplants has died.  In fact, nearly all of them are thriving.  It’s hard to say whether our indoor air quality has improved, since we don’t have a way to test it.  But at least we know that science is on our side, and we didn’t waste our money on air purification myths like beeswax candles or salt crystal lamps.

CAUTION: Many low-maintenance houseplants are toxic to dogs, cats, and sometimes children if they chew on the plants.  If this is likely to happen in your home, make sure you know which plants are toxic, and put them where pets or children cannot reach them.



Guest Post: A Diet for Everyone


[Here’s another in the series of healthy eating and lifestyle posts from Dave Banko.]

Shortly after I started eating more healthily, another TV program aired called, “50 of the World’s Best and Worst Diets.” Countries were ranked by average lifespans, rates of obesity, and other health issues, then related to their diet and lifestyle. The results are fascinating!

Worst Countries

#50 – Marshall Islands

  • Health – Highest death rate from diabetes
  • Diet – White (refined) rice, tinned [canned] vegetables, and high-fat processed meats

#49 – Russia

  • Health – ¼ of men die before age 55, high rates of liver disease, alcohol poisoning and car accidents
  • Diet – High consumption of Vodka

#44 – Mexico

  • Health – 1/3 of the population is obese
  • Diet – Lots of soft drinks and processed calories, lack of fresh and natural foods

#43 – USA

  • Health – High diabetes and obesity
  • Diet – Super-sized portions with processed food and cheap sweeteners like corn syrup (fructose)

#38 – Australia

  • Health – Fastest growing rate of obesity
  • Diet – Plenty of Meat and Beer!

Best Countries

#13 – South Korea

  • Health – Lowest obesity rate
  • Diet – Lots of fresh fish and lots of vegetables and fermented foods

#10 – Netherlands

  • Health – Tallest people in the world
  • Diet – Lots of milk and milk products!

#8 – France

  • Health – Low levels of cholesterol and heart disease
  • Diet – Red wine, cheese, high saturated fat dishes!

#7 – Kuna Indians

  • Health – Lowest levels of cardiovascular disease and blood pressure
  • Diet – Lots of chocolate (up to 5 cups a day) in combination with plantains, coconuts and fish

#5 – Japan

  • Health – longest life expectancy for women
  • Diet – Rich in vegetables and fish

#3 & 2 – (Greece & Italy)

  • Health – Long life span
  • Diet – Rich in legumes, fruit, vegetables, fish, olive oil, wine, dairy, pasta, whole grain rice, and red meat

#1 – Iceland

  • Health – Longest overall average life span
  • Diet – fish, red meat and dairy from grass-fed animals, and few fruits and vegetables

Why is this important? Diet information is about as confusing as it gets, fat or no fat, all meat or vegetarian, carbs or no carbs. If you look at these best diets in the world, it seems to only add to the confusion.

  • How can the best diet in the world include few fruits & vegetables?
  • How can the French have such low levels of cholesterol and heart disease with a diet loaded with high saturated fat?
  • Who got excited when they saw #7 was high in chocolate?!

The facts are:

  • Icelanders eat the fresh produce from the land and sea with little processing.
  • The French consume rich food, but in small portions and take their time – enjoying life.
  • The Italians eat pasta with every meal, (made from complex carb flour) even when dieting, with lots of fresh, simple ingredients and small portions.

Most of the diet plans out there were put together as something that worked for someone else. But it wasn’t mine, or what I like to eat.

Recipes are helpful, but need to be adapted to what you like to become a healthy eating lifestyle you can sustain.

There are general principles to follow:

  • Avoid or minimize: sugar & sugary products, processed foods, foods with lots of chemicals, and refined foods
  • Reduce portion sizes – This goes without saying as the curse of our own abundance in a super-sized or ‘all you can eat’ culture.

The countries with the worst diets overindulge in less-healthy food and empty calories.

  • Balance & variety – our bodies need lots of different nutrients for health. I’d be wary of any program that eliminates or focuses on any one food group.
  • 80/20 rule – ‘I adhere to the 80/20 rule. I eat healthily 80 per cent of the time, and that leaves me free to eat what I want for the remaining 20 per cent. And those cheat meals taste so much better when they are a treat rather than the norm,Bear Grylls. I follow this myself, relaxing my program on the weekends to have some ice cream, mashed potatoes, or other treats which I avoid during the week.

I’ll share more about the principles and specific techniques in future posts.

For now, pick a balanced program closest to the type of food you generally like to eat, and use it as your starting point. But don’t be afraid to experiment and adapt it to what you like and what works for you.

Until next time!

Dave Banko

P.S. – In case you were interested, here’s the link to the countries in the middle.

[Note from Crew Dog: Looking for a diet starting point, but don’t have time to read all of the “What’s the Right Diet for You?” information?  Start with the guidelines in this article.]


Guest Post: The Journey to Healthy Eating Habits and Weight Loss


[Today we have a guest post from Dave Banko.  Thanks for sharing your inspiring story, Dave!]

My friend, Crew Dog, asked if I’d be a guest blogger, sharing my experience losing over 100 lbs in a year. I was thrilled by the offer and happy to share my experience!

As this is a complex subject, I will be doing a series of posts about various aspects of my journey and specific topics related to healthy eating and weight loss.

Let me preface by saying I’m not a doctor, nutritionist, or health professional of any kind.  I am a veteran, and I have struggled with my weight all my life.

I’m not a person who sits on the couch eating chips or ice cream.   Diabetes runs in my family, so I’ve been careful to avoid sugary food. I have been very active, but injuries over the years have slowed me down.

To put it frankly, I love life and good food!

But my love of food has gradually put on the pounds. On a fairly regular basis, I started another diet to try to lose weight. I tried pills, special recipes, cleansing purges, fiber, meal plans and countless hours in the gym – costing lots of time and money! I’d be good for a little while, maybe lose a few pounds, then something would happen, I’d have to stop and the weight came back plus more.

I even contemplated gastric bypass (and associated) surgeries.

However, when I went for the consultation and heard how strict a diet I would need to follow for the rest of my life, I felt “What’s the point” as it is really the diet I’d have to maintain to lose the weight without surgery.

I reached in excess of 360 lbs.

I felt old. I couldn’t walk far or up stairs. I sweated profusely in a heated room or in a crowd. I developed sleep apnea and needed a CPAP to sleep properly.

Then I was at a Christmas party in December 2014, my feet tangled on some coats, and I fell on my shoulder. I was in severe pain for weeks from such a simple fall.

I know I’m getting older (approaching 50), and the body doesn’t heal as quickly as it did, but I also know I landed with a lot of force and, if I were lighter, it wouldn’t have been so extreme. I determined I was ready to try again after the holidays, but didn’t know what I was going to do differently.

At the beginning of 2015, the stars aligned!

I was in the right frame of mind to start, a friend of mine started a Facebook group of friends to encourage each other to lose weight and adapt a healthier lifestyle, and a program was aired on TV called, ‘What’s the Right Diet for You?’ (referenced in the 9 February post Food, Glorious Food!).

What’s the Right Diet for You? was a 3 part series put together by doctors, nutritionists, and dietitians from Cambridge and Oxford Universities. Rather than prescribing a formula to follow to lose weight, they first addressed why people are overweight, then provided strategies to address the root causes.

This is the first time any program really addressed the root causes, physiologically and mentally, of why we overeat, and put together a comprehensive strategy for a lifestyle of healthy eating, not just a short-term diet. They then supported the strategy with experiments demonstrating the science behind the advice.

I recorded the programs and watched them over and over, adapting the strategies for me, and the pounds starting melting off. I was stunned by the results!

So far, I’ve lost 132 lbs in a little over a year, and have 9 more lbs to go. My target is to reach my military weight.

Unfortunately, I was too embarrassed by the way I looked and had so little confidence of real success that I didn’t take a proper “before” picture. The one in the side-by-side photo above was the best I can find from when I was generally around 350-360 lbs. In the middle is when I reached 100 lbs lost, and the right is 130 lbs lost.

I wish I could provide links for you to watch the programs yourself, but they are no longer available on YouTube. I will try to do justice to the information imparted over a series of blog posts.  If you are where I was in December 2014, get ready.

Rule #1 – This is a healthy eating lifestyle, not a diet!

Accept this now. What I will be sharing is not a short-term diet, but a plan for a long-term healthy eating lifestyle.

[Note from Crew Dog: I hope you will follow along as Dave shares his techniques and experiences with us in a series of guest posts on healthy eating and weight loss. For links and downloads on “What is the Right Diet for You?”, see the previous post Food, Glorious Food.]



Health Hack: Morning Checklist

The military loves checklists.  For some career fields, it feels like there’s a checklist for every action except going to the can/head/toilet. (Number 1 – check.  Number 2 – check.)

For many of us veterans, using checklists has become a deeply ingrained habit pattern.  So why not harness the checklist habit pattern and utilize the checklist tool to create a healthier lifestyle?

Particularly if you have a health condition that affects your memory, thought-process, or motivation, a checklist can be a very helpful aid.  Why not use  checklists as a health life hack? (“Life hacking refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life.”)

Research indicates that it is often beneficial to take positive actions whether or not we “feel like it”.  Since I frequently wake up feeling crappy and either forget to accomplish some or most of my morning routine or just don’t feel like doing it – but I know that my morning routine is good for my health & wellbeing – I have decided to implement a morning checklist.  While it’s easy to destroy my morning routine by gradually skipping more and more days, it’s much more difficult for me to intentionally not accomplish the checklist.  So, for me, routine checklists are an effective life hack.

This is my Morning Checklist:

Morning Health Checklist – One Sick Vet

(Feel free to print it out and use it, or create your own.)

You could also use a daily health journal, a spread sheet, or a chart (like a kid’s chore chart) on the wall or refrigerator or bathroom mirror.  Whatever works for you.  (Anyone know of an app for that?)  The key is to find a way to get yourself to consistently make healthy choices and take healthy actions whether or not you feel like it, or to find a method that helps you remember when you are having difficulty remembering.

What will you do to hack your health today?