Facing My Numbers

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I recently rejoined Weight Watchers. For the foreseeable future, I will be tracking foods on my WW app, avoiding decadent desserts, and limiting my wine intake to a glass or two a week.

I went back, obviously, to lose weight. I have gained 12 pounds since last summer, and 8 pounds just since May when life got really stressful—-when my 9-year old son was diagnosed with a serious blood disorder.

We had taken him to the pediatrician because we noticed prolific bruising and strange red dots all over his body. The doctor looked him over, asked a bunch of questions, and ordered blood to be drawn immediately at the lab across the street. We would get the results by the end of the day. That’s when my anxiety, which had been simmering over the previous weeks as each new bruise appeared, quickly came to a boil; blood tests never come back the same day.

As she suspected, my son’s platelet count was extremely low. At any given time, a typical platelet count falls in the range of 150,000 to 400,000. His platelets were 15,000. Besides that, his red and white blood cell counts were a bit low too. We were instructed to go to Yale the next day for further testing and examination by specialists. 

After three days of sucking a vampire’s bounty of blood from my boy, plus a bone marrow biopsy, we were confronted with our new reality: our son had a disease which prevented his bone marrow from producing the blood cells and platelets he needed to survive. 

It wasn’t news we wanted, but numbers don’t lie. My son’s doctors created a plan, and we breathed a little bit easier: platelet transfusions and red cell transfusions when necessary, plus, a week in the hospital where he would receive high doses of a potent immunosuppressive drug. It would be a rough road ahead, but we were going to treat his disease with the best medical science could offer, while making every effort to maintain the normalcy of his life. 

All of which means a lot of sitting around, watching nurses poke him with needles to check his blood counts or jab him with IVs that transfuse him with the platelets and red blood cells that slide into the danger zone in between visits. During those visits, which can last three to four hours, there are scores of snacks: goldfish crackers, Pirates Booty, graham crackers—-stuff I stopped eating years earlier when I realized that my metabolism wasn’t the same as my toddler’s. But my nerves have gotten the best of me, and the crunch is a satisfying outlet for my anxiety.

After those visits, there is pizza—all the pizza— because that’s what he wants, and we will do anything for him right now, to make up for the hours he has lost on the baseball field and the playground and his beloved sleep-away camp this summer. 

And during our week in the hospital, the food trucks that were lined up outside the hospital provided us with a reason to stretch our legs and get outside for a few minutes each day. The savory, greasy Chinese food, the spicy Korean street bibimbop (a must-try when you are not on Weight Watchers), and Thai chicken on warm beds of basmati rice did nothing to help my expanding waistline. When I complained to friends about how hard it was to be healthy, they admonished me, “Don’t worry about it!  You’ve got a lot on your plate!” Literally, I did. A little too much.   

And since our stint in the hospital, people have been so kind, keeping us well-stocked with our son’s favorites: fresh-baked cookies, M&Ms, peanut butter cups, brownies. And it’s rude not to eat something someone has baked. Or bought. Or tastes good.    

At some point, I made a concerted decision that I didn’t really care about gaining weight. In the face of a serious childhood illness, did it matter what I weighed? Having a sick kid granted me the perspective that there are much more important things than my weight. And if I am being completely honest, I was feeling sorry for myself, echoing my friends’ sentiments that I deserved these treats. So I said yes to fresh bagels and cookies and pies and that extra glass of wine because I was nervous and pissed off and worried, which morphed into a different kind of hunger.  

I purposely hadn’t stepped on the scale. And I know why: I didn’t want to see the number.

I was reminded of a time, back in my twenties when I was living as a single teacher in New York City. I had opened more than a few credit cards so that I could keep up with my banker and lawyer and internet start-up friends: dinners out every night, expensive fundraisers at chic nightclubs, brunch at farm-to-table restaurants. For months, I retrieved my mail, every few days, with a sinking feeling, collecting thick envelopes from credit card companies who were profiting handsomely from all the fun I was having. The envelopes piled up, unopened, on my kitchen table. The prospect of opening them was terrifying; it would mean admitting that I was living miles beyond my means. 

Eventually, I opened them and gawked at some really big, scary numbers. But oddly, as soon as the initial shock wore off, I felt better. Facing the numbers forced me to face reality and come up with a plan: more lunches packed from home, fewer big-ticket events for a couple of months, creating a budget that was more realistic for my tax bracket. After a few months, I was back on track and feeling much more financially healthy.

And I think of how confronting my son’s blood counts when he was first diagnosed forced us to make a plan, helping us feel some control amidst a situation where control is in limited supply.   

I went back to Weight Watchers for the same reasons: to face my numbers and regain the control I had lost over my own body. We are waiting—anxiously, hopefully— for my son’s treatment to work, but besides making sure he takes all his pills every day, there is not much else we can do. 

But I can do this: keep myself healthy by eating well, in moderation, and exercising more. Added bonus: I am setting a good example for my son. 

So each morning, I step on that scale (before breakfast, of course) and look at the number, knowing that if I do so, it won’t careen wildly out of control. I am substituting carrots for crackers and counting my points. Do I deserve a fat Levain* cookie? Sure, but this is not really about what I deserve. It comes down to facing my numbers and making choices that allow me to be my strongest self, which is what I need to be as I forge ahead on this particular journey. 

*Levain: hands-down greatest cookie on the planet. 84th between Amsterdam and Columbus. You’re welcome.

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Lisa is a middle school English teacher who lives with her husband (who she met when she was on a teen tour) and her son (born 2008). Lisa is also a stepmom to three teenagers. She grew up in Trumbull and, after stints in Boston and NYC, is happy to be back in Fairfield County where there is much better parking. She also started her own college essay coaching gig, ACCEPTional Essays, where she helps seniors in high school make their college essays pop out of the pack. She does a lot of volunteer work within her community at her synagogue and various organizations. She loves to play tennis and cook, and she hates doing laundry and anything with mayonnaise. Her quest continues to find the best sushi in Fairfield County.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Lisa M. So sorry to hear the story of your son’s blood disease. I know you will be able to lose the weight you gained, just take one day at a time. Where does your son need to go for his blood transfusions and can he receive direct donations? What blood type is he?
    I just went through six months with my son in law dying while waiting for a liver transplant soI thoroughly understand how stressful you must be. Keep your faith and know it will all work out. My son in law miraculously received a liver and was able to celebrate his youngest son’s 10th birthday with him. God is good and I will pray for you and your son. Theresa W.

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