Three months ago my doctor dropped her latest dietary restriction bombshell: no more animal products at all. Yep, after a year of vegetarianism I had to shift to being vegan. I fought it – tooth and nail – because: dairy. I’d already cut out most of the eggs I ate and all of the shellfish because of their high cholesterol content. But can you fathom a life without butter, or yogurt, or cottage cheese? Or baked goods made with eggs? Yeah, me neither.
As is my nature, I argued with her about why this extreme measure was necessary. My timid, soft-spoken doctor threw the most solid argument there was right back at me. “Your cholesterol is too high and you’re the one who tells me you want to do things naturally without drugs. This is the only way.” Our relationship over the last couple of years has been one filled with negotiation and partnership – aspects I feel necessary for proper treatment but which I fear are rare to find. Over the course of the appointment we came to the following negotiated deal: if I changed my diet and improved my cholesterol numbers she would consider a faster weaning process for the immunosuppression drugs that I can’t wait to stop taking. I’d been focusing on getting through every day of that drug with the mantra “December” repeated over and over. To hear in September that the long-anticipated December didn’t mean what I thought it meant but rather the start of a six month process of lower doses, I was ready to explode with frustration.
I was a woman on a mission. A vegan mission. I read the book she recommended and felt a little better prepared for this difficult and extreme lifestyle. And was happy that it wasn’t what I think of as nazi vegan that she was ordering – where if there is even a hint of butter or eggs involved in the making of a dish you have to reject it – but rather 90% of total calories from plant sources.
And so began the three hardest months ever in terms of eating. I gained weight because more often it was easier to eat nothing at all than try and figure out something that worked, which resulted in the evolutionary response of retaining everything because we’re in a famine. When I did find something that was allowed, it usually was an overabundance of carbs with a side of more carbs. It was hard not to be dejected about food every day. Eating out was a chore and even my patient and supportive husband got frustrated with my attitude on many occasions of attempting to eat out together when I’d pour over the menu only to declare “there’s nothing I can eat here”.
The last month has been like the last stretch of the longest race in history forcing myself to eat within guidelines until I could get my blood work done. Frankly I was convinced I wouldn’t see enough of an improvement to justify this insanity and was willing to succumb to the dreaded addition of cholesterol medication so I could go back to “just” being a vegetarian. God what I wouldn’t give to be able to eat fish again!
And then I saw my numbers…
Triglycerides down 100 points! Total cholesterol down 50 points! An improvement in every category – even when I didn’t eat anywhere near the pristine goals I had been given. (Have you tried to eat every single meal of vegetables when you only shop for groceries once a week? You have to buy in such large quantities and then they spoil before you can eat them so you end up wasting far too much. First-world problems, I know.) Staring at the data that didn’t lie, I couldn’t decide if I was happy or mad. I was beyond ecstatic that my efforts had produced such drastic changes in my blood work. But that also cemented the need and the validity of this damn vegan lifestyle that I don’t want to maintain.
This morning was my appointment with my doctor. Given the success of my efforts from the last three months, I had spent the last two days gearing up for my latest negotiation – being done with immunosuppression. I even skipped taking my morning dose in hopes she would agree and I’d never have to take the damn thing ever again. As it usually happens, I didn’t get exactly what I wanted but somewhere in the middle. We talked about how hard it is to eat well-rounded meals and the drawbacks of being vegan. To my surprise she said she agreed that fish once in a while if I maintained the lack of milk and eggs would be okay. As for the immunosuppressant, instead of a lower dose for three months and then more blood work that she wanted, or the stop taking any of it today that I wanted, we compromised on a half dose for one month and then bi-weekly blood tests for two months to monitor closely whether I stay in remission. It means I don’t have to refill that prescription ever again. What it will cost me out of pocket for lab work after my high deductible resets next month will be more than worth it.
So, I remain a reluctant vegan who does eat fish on occasion and dairy only rarely. Things could definitely be worse! It is hard to believe I’m nearing the very end of this crazy bout of kidney disease. *knock on wood* I hope my kidneys have been fooled into forgetting they have anything wrong with them and remain forgetful long after I stop taking the drugs that created the forgetfulness in the first place. Four more weeks and the real question of what my life looks like long-term can be answered. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some tuna to eat!