The month that made me
I shared my experience with disordered eating here
but I thought it would be fun to write about the things that went on inside the walls of the Health Sciences Centre in November and December of 2004 after being admitted to the hospital.
Specifically, the professionals I worked with,
The activities I participated in,
What I could and couldn’t do,
My thoughts and feelings on all of it,
And how the experience made me into the person I am today.
Your heart rate is what?
I mentioned in the first article how Mr Gabel saved my life,
But I thought I would mention it again.
We were studying the cardiovascular system in grade 11 biology.
A subject that I absolutely loved and partially formed the basis for what I do today.
We were checking our heart rates.
Everyone was pretty normal…
There was a lot of 70s,
A few fit kids in the 50s and 60s,
The odd unfit person in the 80s,
The rare kid in the 90s,
And then there was one kid in the 30s…..
I remember looking up and seeing my 36 heart rate pulsating on the blackboard.
I was actually quite proud of it.
A lower heart rate means you’re fit, right?
I worked out a ton, so it must be low because of that.
Well, turns out that wasn’t the case.
Turns out it was low because my body was trying to preserve as much energy as possible because of my decreased food intake.
My heart was basically performing the bare minimum in order to survive.
Mr. Gabel knew this and when he combined this knowledge with the gaunt, sunken look of my hollowed-out face, that was enough for him to call my parents.
After school, my parents told me they were taking me to the hospital.
I told them I was fine.
What was the problem?
I exercised a bit,
I was lean,
I still studied hard and carried out my day-to-day functions.
There were no issues here.
This hospital visit was a waste of time.
As we were driving into the hospital,
I figured they would take a couple vitals,
Tell me everything was fine,
Maybe give me a couple meds,
And then I’d be back home that night.
Turns out that wasn’t the case.
I remember getting out of the car and being freezing cold as we walked into the emergency ward of the Health Sciences Centre.
I don’t even know if it was that cold outside but my lack of body fat,
My reduced bodily functions,
And my diminished muscle mass
All made it feel like we had ventured to the arctic circle.
After a short wait, they started taking my vitals,
Doing some blood work,
Taking my weight,
Asking me questions
And assessing my condition.
Well, I wish I knew more,
But they did say that if my blood pressure was any lower,
I would have gone into cardiac arrest.
It was “near death”.
Again, my heart function had gone into survival mode to such an extent that my body was beginning to shut down.
I was running on emergency backup power.
Any more stress and that could have been it for me.
Additionally, my body weight was 49kg…
That’s less than 110lbs.
A 30% drop in my bodyweight.
Put this guy on bed-rest
So, this led to a full lock-down on my movement.
I was to be placed in a bed and permitted little to no activity.
My bodyweight needed to get back up.
It was a matter of life and death at this point.
So, they admitted me into the children’s hospital,
Parked me in a room,
Told me I was not to get up or move at all,
And that if I had to go to the bathroom, I’d have to call the nurse to assist me.
I felt like I was in trouble.
It kind of felt like imprisonment.
I couldn’t move without asking permission?
What the hell?
I was so active.
I walked to and from school.
I walked to work.
I worked out.
I played hockey.
I did track.
How was I supposed to just sit there and do nothing?
This was going to be hell.
My first night
I remember that first night in the hospital.
The beeping sound of displays pierced the air.
The reddish glow in the room.
The movement of nurses in the hall.
It was so foreign to me.
Plus, I was still pissed about not being able to move.
I didn’t sleep at all that night.
The next day, I was wheeled over in a wheelchair to the child psych clinic where I met with a psychologist.
They asked me questions about my weight,
How I felt about my weight,
How I lived my life,
And the types of thoughts I had.
I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa and Obsessive Compulsive tendencies.
Anorexia Nervosa is a form of disordered eating associated with reduced food intake leading to 30% or more reduction in body weight,
Pre-occupations with gaining fat,
And the altered perception of how the body looks.
The second diagnosis was interesting:
These are characterized by obsessions,
Or thoughts that pre-occupy the mind,
And compulsions, actions as a result of those obsessions.
When I heard this, I immediately thought of our pet rabbit, Felix.
Named after my favourite goalie when I was 7 years old – Felix Potvin.
This was actually quite true in that I had the obsessive thought that our rabbit was going to die if I didn’t carry out my rituals (or compulsions).
If I left the house, I had to pet Felix (the rabbit) a certain number of times,
I had to tell him I loved him a certain number of times,
I had to lock the door in a certain way,
I had to turn the door a certain number of times and according to a particular pattern to make sure it was locked.
All to ensure that Felix didn’t die.
This made perfect sense in my mind at the time.
Nonetheless, my obsessive tendencies were likely fueling my anorexic tendencies,
And my anorexic tendencies were likely fueling my obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
It was a vicious cycle.
After being diagnosed, the doctors, counselors and psychologist came up with a plan of action.
This involved getting my weight up with an increased Caloric intake,
Per meal monitoring of my eating,
Daily sessions with the psychologist and counselors,
And, again, as little movement as possible.
The increased Caloric load
Oh my gosh, the food.
I had to eat things I had not eaten in a long time – cakes, muffins, cookies, chocolate milk,
And in quantities that I had never experienced.
The goal was to get my weight up and they weren’t kidding around.
The crazy thing was that I had no issue with this.
I was very motivated to get the hell out of that hospital,
So I ate.
I ate everything I was told to eat.
It was super interesting because I just made the decision right then and there that I would eat and not worry about it.
And really, I didn’t.
There is no doubt that I had pre-occupations with gaining body fat,
But, my desire to get out of that hospital and get back home where I could work out and move drove me to do what I needed to do.
Honestly, eating wasn’t much of an issue when in the hospital.
I knew it was a means to an end.
And I crushed everything in front of me.
One interesting thing about meals times was the monitoring.
I ate breakfast, lunch, and supper and had snacks in the afternoon and evening.
And at every feeding opportunity, I had someone watching me.
Like, literally sitting there and watching me eat.
It was so strange.
But, obviously, they were worried about me hiding food.
Which I never did, I ate every muffin, cookie, carrot, pea and corn kernel they gave me.
Another interesting thing they told me was that it was “normal” to eat cake, cookies, and processed foods.
Now, I am all about eating cake every once and a while,
And I realize that sometimes you get stuck and need to eat something a little more processed than normal,
But, I held the belief that minimally-processed foods, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and smart carbs were the way to better health for me.
I just couldn’t accept that processed cakes and candies eaten daily were the path to health.
So, I quietly ate what I had to,
But, when I was later given the power to start making my own choices,
I always erred on the side of the “healthier” options.
I got weighed every day.
The nurse would come in,
Get me to step on the scale and then read my weight.
If my weight was up, good.
If not, that meant MORE FOOD.
I didn’t really think anything of it at the time.
But this actually messed with my head a little bit.
Many people have food triggers.
Maybe the holidays trigger you to consume more eggnog.
Maybe stress triggers you to binge eat Doritos and Oreos.
Maybe a sad event warrants a tub of Ben and Jerry’s.
Well, today, if I step on the scale and my weight is down,
It triggers me to eat more food.
And even food that I normally wouldn’t seek out….like candies, cookies, ice cream and brownies.
Not that there is anything wrong with these foods,
Today, I just choose to eat things that give me energy and make me more productive and effective at the things I value.
But, for me to want to eat cookies after being light on the scale…
Well, my theory is that this comes from my experience in the hospital.
So, now when my weight is down a bit.
I notice it,
Name what I am feeling,
And then take appropriate action.
I try not to let the trigger control my behaviour.
I want the choices I make to be thoughtful, conscious choices.
Not a choice that results from my brain going on auto-pilot from some event in my day.
Shrink my brain, doc
The counselors and psychologists played a large role in making me the person I am today.
In good ways and bad.
Here’s what I mean.
These people definitely helped open my eyes to the issues at hand,
And made me realize that I did have a problem and how to address it.
But, there was one particular issue that I’ll never forget.
I remember my first meeting with the main psychologist in the child psych clinic.
This guy was a big deal.
Getting into a meeting with him was going to be extraordinary.
So, I prepped to have my mind blown.
Well, I got into the session and he greeted me and proceeded to ask me some questions.
As I started to answer them, I noticed his eyes softening and his eyelids starting to close.
His head even dropped slightly.
He then jolted his head back up and opened his eyes again.
This guy was falling asleep!
I continued on with my answer and again,
His eyes softened,
His eyelids came closer together,
his head dropped to the side,
And then boom,
He jolted back up.
I remember looking at this guy and actually thinking, “am I boring you?”
Which was strange for me because I normally wouldn’t think that.
But, right then and there, I felt no connection whatsoever to the doc and therefore felt no benefit from that session.
I felt like I was just another “case” coming into his office for him to deal with.
I was just his “10 o’clock”
Not an actual person.
But, things happen for you, not to you.
And this experience taught me how shitty it feels to not be heard,
The importance of connection and rapport,
And how I would never make any of our athletes feel like he made me feel.
I can’t even explain why it made me so angry and upset.
But it did.
This is probably why I am so concerned with actively listening to everyone I get to talk to today,
And why I give them my undivided attention.
Also, this is why I value sleep and recovery.
I never want our athletes to come in and feel like I am not engaged,
Or that they are just a number or another appointment.
I want them to feel like they are the star of the show,
And that this session is the highlight of their day.
During my stay at the hospital, I had some free time.
Which was weird for a guy that was always on the move.
So, what did I do?
Well, first off, I planned my training for when I got out of the hospital.
I couldn’t wait to get out and get back into the gym.
I genuinely missed it.
And the thing is that I wanted to use the gym to gain weight.
Just in the right way.
I wanted to gain back the muscle I had lost and more.
So, I read up on training and made my plan for when I got out.
Also, I planned how I would eat to gain muscle when I was out.
Again, I wasn’t worried about the same things as before.
I was genuinely interested in gaining back weight…in the right way.
Another thing I did was a ton of school work.
I was a nerd.
I loved chemistry,
I studied so hard for these courses before being admitted to the hospital and I didn’t want to lose my edge.
So, I studied even more.
I always had a book on me.
In fact, the Manitoba Moose came by and Jimmy Roy asked me if I actually read the book I had on me or if I was just trying to fool people into thinking I was smart.
It was awesome!
That whole visit was actually amazing.
That team was pretty stacked.
Some of the big guns included Ryan Kesler,
It was a ton of fun hanging with those guys in the hospital.
I remember how much it boosted my morale.
This formed the basis for me getting involved with the Special Olympics a couple years later.
Home for Christmas
I was progressing well through the program.
My weight was up.
They determined that my mind was getting into the right place.
And I had a solid support system around me in my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and brother.
So, I was discharged from the hospital a few days before Christmas.
And I was admitted into the disordered eating outpatient program at the child psych clinic which meant that I didn’t have to stay there all the time.
I could go home,
Go to school,
Be with my friends,
Go to the gym,
And come into the city for counseling sessions and follow-up.
I remember walking out of the doors of that hospital on that December day.
I had a long road ahead of me.
But, little did I know the effect that the past month would have on me for the rest of my life.