The Joy of Not Eating

Seriously. The title isn’t a joke. Clever, maybe, but not a joke. It’s related to my lung disease, one few doctors truly understand, even many pulmonologists. It’s also related to the 2015 stumble I must correct in 2016.

Because many have heard the background before I’ll keep it brief. I suffer from Chronic Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (HP). I can, to a degree, control it, but there’s no cure. In my case inhaled bacteria caused an infection. The resulting incorrect diagnosis damaged my lungs and lowered my maximum lung capacity to 67%. A different doctor caught the mistake while I was in the ICU, performed a bronchoscope, and corrected the diagnosis.

One side effect is undesired weight loss.

I wonder how many people just thought, I wish I had that problem? Yeah, I get it. Been there, actually. I’d have thought no different as little as seven years ago. Still, underweight side effects are real, like increased susceptibility to cold, a boney frame that makes hard surfaces uncomfortable, and, of course, wasting away to nothing.

In 2015 I lost 18 pounds while forcing food I didn’t want into my stomach. Now, if I do everything right and don’t have any setbacks it’ll take at least a couple of years to put that back on.

The reasons for the weight loss?

Diminished lung capacity, a problem in its own right, causes the body to burn calories at a terrific rate. For instance, I’m sitting as I write this, but breathing as most would while walking at a moderate pace. Further, damaged, scarred lungs, as in destroyed alveoli, are less pliable and require more effort to respond when stressed. Too, preparing a meal can become a daunting task when more tired.

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Oximeter measures oxygen saturation and heart rate. Photo: CA Hawthorne

Coupled with the lung damage is the HP. When it’s chronic the lungs are always producing a thick, sticky mucus that coats the lungs and inhibits oxygen retention. Rapid breathing and mucus creation dehydrate and create the need to consume a lot of water (normally a trick to lose weight). Further, moving the mucus out with weak lungs is difficult (there’s a device that helps), yet some mucus is always creeping up.

It doesn’t do much for the appetite.

And therein lies the primary problem: little desire to eat. At the store, my purchases reflect my remembering when I wanted to eat. The kitchen is stocked with food bought because it sounded good—until faced with making and eating it.

The biggest treat I can give myself is a day without eating. A day with no pressure. A day when I don’t have to force food down my throat. A day when I’m spared having to face gagging at the thought of a meal I should want, but don’t. An opportunity to experience the joys of not eating.

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Acapella device to help dislodge mucus. Photo: CA Hawthorne

Losing weight through the winter is typical, but pneumonia in the spring caused a downward spiral that required months to overcome. Then came fire season. In 2014 it lasted a few days, but last year it lasted a month and was worse. After, poor weather restricted the time available to walk outside (a moderate walk helps stretch the lungs and stimulate appetite).

Now, it’s 2016 and time to reverse the spiral.

Please don’t feel sorry for me. I’m more fortunate than most with a lung disease. When I was at National Jewish Health (respiratory hospital) in Denver in 2010 I saw what true tragedy looked like. It broke my heart and put my disease in a new context.

I’ve not used oxygen since 2013 and I’m grateful for each day that remains the case. No tank to pull around. No cannula to dry out the nose and nasal passages. No long tube snaking through the apartment and tangling on furniture. No concentrator generating endless noise.

I’m also thankful for every person who helped save me in 2010 and made my freedom possible today.

No, please save your sympathy for those suffering more severe lung issues and remember it isn’t always a disease possessing outward signs. Each thin person you see resting may actually be fighting for their next breath.

4 Replies to “The Joy of Not Eating”

  1. Pingback: The Joy of Not Eating | Christina Anne Hawthorne

    • Thanks, Sara. As I say, at least I can get out. I can go on short hikes when the lungs are behaving as long as the hike is relatively level. I can walk along the river when the weather is favorable. On the other hand, when I was in Denver I saw children who couldn’t breathe unfiltered air. Their lives were spent in what amounted to portable tents or bubbles. No child should have to suffer that. At least I had 50 years with good lungs. I don’t have great financial resources so instead I blog on the topic a couple of times per year to raise awareness.

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