Tag Archives: health

Paradigm shifting books, part 1: Back Sense, by Ronald D. Siegel, Michael H. Urdang, and Douglas R. Johnson

To kick off 2018, I will be writing a series of posts about books that have radically shifted the way I look at the world. A forewarning: this post will contain a personal (and long) story of my struggle with back pain. 

I don’t remember ever thinking about my back until I injured it. As a high school cross-country and track runner, I’d been sidelined by all manner of leg and ankle injuries, including a stress fracture in my femur, but had never once had an issue with my back. And then, in the summer of 2010, I started having back pain. I’d joined a gym that provided free personal training sessions, and my trainer was intent on having me do CrossFit exercises, including Olympic weightlifting moves like deadlifts and snatches. One day, I was doing deadlifts when I started to feel a persistent ache in my lower back. I alerted the trainer, but he told me to keep going. So I did. A week later, I moved to Brazil for a six-month stint in my law firm’s São Paulo office, and found myself consumed by lower back pain. What started off as constant achiness in my lower back soon spread to my pelvis, and I worried that I had some sort of reproductive system ailment, like endometriosis. I made an appointment with a rheumatologist and, after several MRIs, it was determined that I didn’t have endometriosis: I had a herniated disk in my lower back, between the L4 and L5 vertebrae.

The day I found out that something was structurally wrong with my back was the day I started thinking of myself as a person with a Bad Back. And, in keeping with my expectations, my back has been a source of pain, both physical and psychological, ever since. In the seven and a half years since my initial diagnosis of a herniated disk, I’ve had ups and downs with my back pain. There have been long stretches of relative painlessness, in which I’ve been able to run, swim, bike, and practice yoga. But there have also been periods when I’ve had to curtail some of my activity because of pain. But until this past year, I was always able to remain active, even if I couldn’t do all of the things I wanted to do, like run longer distances or bend myself into certain poses in yoga.

The lowest of my low points, however, started last year when I was pregnant with Ewan. At 34 weeks pregnant, I sprained my sacroiliac joint (the joint connecting the sacrum with the pelvis) and for the last six weeks of the pregnancy, could not easily walk or climb stairs. The pain was searing, almost electric, unlike any backache I’d had before. I couldn’t pick up Lucia or do any physical activity. It was really, really hard. After I gave birth, the sharp pain went away and I was able to resume running and swimming. But then, in the spring of 2017, the pain started up again and I decided to seek the advice of medical professionals.

After many MRIs and x-rays, it was determined that I had seven (SEVEN) bulging disks in my back and neck, plus spondylolisthesis (a “slipped” vertebra), plus scoliosis. In other words, the experts told me, my back was fundamentally messed up and I might not be able to fix it. One physical therapist listened to my diagnoses, glanced at my MRI report, and told me that we could try to fix the issue through physical therapy, but it was likely I’d need to get surgery. And, she added, if I got surgery, I’d probably need to keep getting surgeries since they wouldn’t permanently eradicate my pain. I sought advice from three different physical therapists, a chiropractor, an orthopedic surgeon, and a physiatrist. They all had different, confusing advice. Some told me not to bend forward. Others told me not to bend backward. Several told me to avoid picking up or carrying my children. Some told me to swim. Others told me that swimming could severely injure me.

I tried everything to get better. I got a cortisone shot in my lower spine. I went to physical therapy twice a week. I bought back braces and ice packs. Nothing helped. In fact, things got worse. By the summer, I’d started to have traveling paresthesia: my arms and legs would go numb and tingly and I’d become lightheaded. It was frightening. Sometimes it would be my right leg and left arm, other times my left arm and right foot, or both arms, or both legs. My chiropractor became concerned that I might have multiple sclerosis, and ordered MRIs of my brain, cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine. I spent three hours in an enclosed MRI machine, wondering if I would eventually end up in a wheelchair.

As it turns out, I didn’t have MS, or anything noticeably wrong with my nervous system or brain. A neurologist and an infectious disease doctor both gave me a clean bill of health. But I still felt awful.

I was so miserable, Al and my parents gently encouraged me to seek therapy. On my first session with my therapist, she handed me the book Back Sense and asked if I’d be open to trying it. I said sure — I had nothing to lose — and read it in one day. As soon as I read it, my pain started to lessen and my entire attitude shifted. A few months later, I am free of all neurological symptoms and can do many physical activities that I was sure I’d never be able to do again.

The premise of Back Sense is simple: what you think is causing your back pain is probably not causing your back pain. That is, most of the “structural” issues that people with Bad Backs are told are to blame for their pain are not actually the culprit. The real culprit is stress. In a certain type of person (and I am one of them), stress manifests as tense muscles in the back. The more stressed you become, the tenser the back muscles become, and the greater your pain. The way that you alleviate the pain is to practice mindfulness. You might still have some back pain, the authors point out, but that’s okay. Some muscle soreness in the back is normal and tolerable, and is not to be feared. And, most importantly, you must remain physically active. Inactivity will only make your pain worse.

I was initially resistant as I read Back Sense. I was convinced that its premise could not apply to my situation, given all of the many and competing structural issues I had in my back. However, the authors handily provide an index that lists many back conditions and explains why each is probably not to blame for back pain. This index includes bulging disks and spondylolisthesis. The authors point out that 60% of people with no back pain whatsoever have a disk abnormality (such as a bulge). I found this incredibly eye-opening. If there are so many people out there walking around with my exact condition and no pain, something else must be going on.

The more I thought about the mind-body connection, and how I was dealing with (or not dealing with) stress, the more things started to make sense to me. Months after reading the book and resuming my physical activity (and my normal life), I can look back on my low point this summer and see that almost all of the anguish I was experiencing was psychosomatic. It was real pain, and was actually happening in my body. But most of it was caused by my brain, not by any structural abnormality in my back. The most telling thing, to me, is that the horrible neurological symptoms I was experiencing — tingly, numb arms and legs and spells of lightheadedness — went away entirely and have not returned since I started cognitive behavioral therapy and read this book.

I highly recommend Back Sense to anyone with chronic back pain who is feeling hopeless. It is truly a paradigm shifting book, in that I now see my back — and thus myself — in an entirely new light. I no longer think of myself as someone with a Bad Back. I think of myself as someone who occasionally experiences back pain (and that’s okay). If you’re thinking that this book won’t apply to you and your specific back issues, it might not — but it probably will.

(One caveat: the authors do not address one spinal issue that I do have, which is sacroiliac (“SI”) joint dysfunction. This injury is very common in pregnant and postpartum women, and SI joint sprains, in particular, are very common among women in their second (or later) pregnancy. My non-alarmist physical therapist told me that the SI joint stays loose for up to two years after giving birth. When I’m having a bad back day, I’m now able to tell whether it’s generalized lower back achiness (which indicates muscle tension caused by stress) or localized pain in my SI joint. Even though the book does not address this particular injury, its framework has allowed me to take my SI joint twinges on board and not panic about them. Some back discomfort, I remind myself, is normal. My back is tough. This will be okay.)



(Cook) book review: Everyday Detox, by Megan Gilmore

As someone who’s naturally suspicious of the word “detox” outside of the context of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, I was a bit trepidatious when I first received Megan Gilmore’s cookbook, Everyday Detox. I think “detox” — as in, clearing one’s body of “toxins” — is one of those woo-woo concepts that doesn’t actually have any basis in science, and my hackles go up when people talk about “detox diets,” because what does that even mean? But, in paging through Gilmore’s book, I saw that there was a whole chapter devoted to “liquid nourishment,” and, being a smoothie fanatic, I couldn’t resist trying some of her recipes right away, pseudoscience or no! (Also, to be fair, Gilmore explains her “detox” philosophy in the beginning of her book by saying that she’s in favor of consuming fresh, whole foods, rather than packaged foods that are “loaded with preservatives and chemicals,” which is reasonable, and not what I typically associate with the word “detox”).


A creature of habit, I make almost the exact same smoothie for lunch every day, which I like, but I needed to shake things up (pun very much intended!). I cracked open Everyday Detox and started with the Chocolate Chia Shake, which is gluten free, dairy free, soy free, egg free, and vegan (none of which are dietary requirements for me, but nice to know). This recipe did require a trip to the local fancy grocery store to purchase chia seeds and raw cacao nibs, but, as it turns out, the investment was totally worth it because this sucker was DELICIOUS. Even my mother, a professed hater of dates, liked this shake, and one of its main ingredients is dates. That’s how good it was! Emboldened, I moved on to the Banana Nut Protein Shake, which knocked my socks off. Despite involving several handfuls of spinach and two tablespoons of hemp hearts (?), it was rich and tasty and satisfying. I loved every sip.

I haven’t yet had a chance to try any of the non-liquid recipes in the book. I will admit that the names of some of the dishes have me a little gun-shy (whenever I see a recipe for “rice,” in quotation marks, I get nervous), but given how phenomenal the two recipes I’ve tried so far have been, I think I need to put my skepticism aside and try more of the ideas in Everyday Detox. I’m looking forward to giving the Peppermint Fudge Bars a whirl, and the Salt And Vinegar Brussels Sprouts also sound delicious. Overall, I’d recommend this book for those looking for healthy, fresh meal ideas who aren’t put off by a few hemp hearts here and there.


Stephanie’s favorite things

Remember how Oprah, before she became a full-time life coach for Lindsay Lohan, or whatever, used to have a show? And on that show, once a year, she’d tell everyone her “favorite things,” which were, without fail, utterly impractical, frivolous, and (it almost goes without saying) delightful? Oprah’s favorite things would be, like, “handcarved wooden boxes from Nepal in which to store your energy crystals,” and “handmade planter repurposed from thousand-year old Viking ship dredged from bottom of ocean,” and “handwoven, six-foot cashmere scarves sold by sentient, ethically raised goats,” and suchlike. But most people can’t afford to buy Oprah’s ridick favorite things (unless, of course, they sell the free car they got from Oprah), so I decided to write a list of favorite things for the rest of us. Yes, I’m not a known tastemaker like Oprah, but I do have a collection of Pinterest boards that I personally “curated” (read: clicked on stuff while watching TV), and that should count for something.

Below, you’ll find a very short and very incomplete list of a few products that make my life better and don’t cost very much. Thus, I snatch these products up at any and every opportunity. Some of them may be irrelevant to your life. Others you may find offensive (see item no. 1: dirty hippie deodorant). But maybe — just maybe — your life will change after reading this list. And that’s the goal here: changing lives.



1. Bionsen natural deodorant. Here’s a fun little secret about me: in some areas of my life, I’m a dirty hippie. And I mean that sort of literally. I don’t wear deodorant. There, I said it! Well, let me qualify that: I don’t wear deodorant that actually works. I read somewhere once, I think, that deodorant causes Alzheimers (the aluminum, and all), and ever since then, on the basis of something I think I read once, I’ve avoided regular deodorant. I gave up my beloved Lady Mitchum in favor of “natural” deodorants that not only didn’t work, but in some cases, actually made me smell worse. Then, one fine day while living in London, I discovered Bionsen. I’ve only ever seen this stuff in the UK, but you can definitely also get it on eBay. It claims to be made from “Japanese spa minerals,” whatever that means, and while that’s almost certainly a load of crap, it actually WORKS. Okay, let me qualify again. It works better than any other natural deodorant I’ve tried, except for maybe Malin & Goetz eucalyptus deodorant, but that stuff is twice as expensive (and it makes you smell like the Stanford campus, which, now that I think about it, is not necessarily a bad thing). So, if you, like me, are a secret dirty hippie who does not actually want to smell dirty, and also doesn’t want to pay $18 for one measly stick, look into Bionsen. When I was in London Heathrow Airport recently, I went into Boots and bought, like, six things of it. It’s that good.

2. L’Oreal Magic Skin Beautifier BB Cream. I used to think this stuff was only available in Europe because I got it in an airport in Germany, and it was called L’Oreal “Nude Magique,” and the label was in French, but guess what? It’s just called L’Oreal Magic here in the old U.S. of A, and it IS (magic, that is). It’s white, and slightly gritty, and it matches the shade of your face when you put it on, AS IF BY MAGIC. I have tried so many BB creams over the last couple of years that my behavior is teetering on the border of clinically insane. For years, I couldn’t stop myself from buying BB creams and trying them, thinking each time that THIS BB cream would be the one that would actually beautify my skin and make me look vaguely Japanese, but until L’Oreal Magic, I searched in vain. And listen, my skin is still blemish-prone and just Irish enough to include a healthy dose of rosacea, but this stuff does a really good job at making me look like I’m not a mutant cross between a sixteen year-old with acne and an old Irish person with a drinking problem. Sometimes I even wear it instead of foundation. I know! Go buy some; it’s not expensive, and it works.

3. Body Shop White Musk. If you’re at all like me, you’ve worn a lot of perfumes in your day. My first perfume was Gap Day, and it smelled like dish soap. My second perfume, a vast improvement, was Body Shop White Musk. Don’t let the name (and its offputting inclusion of the word “musk”) throw you off. This stuff smells so good, even after all these years. It’s light, fresh, and classic. When I was in South Africa, I stocked up on it, because I feel like I never see it in Body Shops here in the US, but turns out, that was unnecessary, because you can buy it online. Oh, well.

4. Maybelline Baby Lips lip balm. Again, please don’t be put off by the horrifying name. My husband actually shudders every time he sees the label or hears it advertised, but whatever, I love this stuff. I wear the “Cherry Me” color and it’s amazing. It’s bright enough to suffice for lipstick, but it also moisturizes. I carry one in every purse (which is doable since each stick of Baby Lips only costs a couple of bucks). Buy it in drug stores.


1. Teapigs licorice-peppermint tea. I once wrote a blog post about how I only drink Irish-style tea, with milk. Then I stopped drinking milk, and I realized I no longer enjoyed my regular Red Rose tea, and was forced, against my will, to branch out. I dipped a cautious toe into the waters of infusions, and ended up realizing that chamomile was not SO bad (but I still stand by my earlier contention that Earl Grey is the Devil’s work). Then, when I was in London, my sweet friend Yan Yan brought me a little baggie full of Teapigs licorice-peppermint tea and told me to try it. It took me a few weeks to drum up the courage to brew a cup, but once I did, I never looked back. I would now happily drink five cups of this stuff a day. It manages to be sweet, warming, and refreshing, all at the same time. I’ve tried other licorice-mint teas in the US, but nothing is as good as Teapigs. You can get it online but it takes a while (because it ships from the UK). Otherwise, it’s probably worth flying to England for.


2. My one-cup coffee filter. I have a variety of coffeemakers in my house because, when people come over, it is much easier to brew a pot of coffee or pop a few pods into the ol’ Keurig than to make coffee my way, which is by brewing one, single, perfect cup. But ever since my dear friend Karen gave me a single-cup coffee filter holder in college, I’ve never made coffee for myself any other way. It’s cheap, it keeps me to one cup of coffee a day, and it tastes amazing. A filter cup costs $5.00. Buy one.

3. Quest Bars. Okay, these are kinda pricey, even when you order them bulk online (yes, I do that), but they’re SO GOOD and they’re full of protein. Since I travel a lot these days, going wherever Al happens to be working and living out of hotel rooms with him, it helps to not have to leave the hotel to get breakfast every day or, worse, pay for room service. So I travel with Quest Bars. They are filling and yummy and gluten-free, and I don’t feel like I just inhaled a cup of sugar after having eaten one. Al thinks the best flavor is cookies ‘n cream, but I’m a fan of the chocolate chip cookie dough. He says tomato, I say to-mah-to, etc. (Note: I don’t actually say to-mah-to).

4. PB2. Oh, hey, did you hear that I’ve gotten into smoothies recently? Well, I have. And what’s better than a smoothie with a ton of peanut butter in it, amirite?? But, being a peanut butter addict, I knew that if I purchased actual peanut butter and brought it into my house, it would be gone (into my stomach) within a day or two, so I decided to mitigate the damage and give PB2 a whirl. It’s this weird, dehydrated peanut stuff that tastes exactly like peanut butter but supposedly only has a quarter of the fat and calories. It might be sorcery. (I’m kind of okay with that). I dump this stuff into smoothies and it even makes KALE taste better. KALE.


*A note about this category: I have such horrible circulation that keeping my hands and feet from falling off is a major challenge every winter (and spring… and fall). So when I find products that actually help me in my quest not to become an amputee, I take note.

1. K-Bell fleece leggings. This winter, when I was in Bangor, Maine, visiting family, the temperatures were so low, stepping outside felt like journeying into outer space. Al’s thoughtful stepmom, seeing that I was not at all prepared for the winter, gave me a pair of K-Bell fleece-lined leggings for Christmas, and they changed my life. They’re leggings…. lined with fleece. That is all you need to know. I own four pairs.

2. Timberland boots. These were another recent Maine discovery. Let me tell you: these boots are the real deal. You can stomp through snow drifts in them or wear them to the bar and feel sort of edgy, OR BOTH. They are unbelievably warm, and this is coming from a woman with notoriously terrible circulation. My feet DO NOT GET COLD in these. For anyone who has ever hung out with me during the winter (or, in fact, any time during the year), this should be endorsement enough. In case you need more endorsement, please see rapper Timbaland.

Timberland boots and a homemade hat

Timberland boots and a homemade hat

Well, that’s all I got for now. If you’re a TV producer looking to give me my own lifestyle show in which I dole out more advice about how not to smell terrible and what to put in smoothies, shoot me an email. Let’s talk.


Road races

There’s something so invigorating about running a road race. I ran my first road race, a 5K, when I was twelve and a newly minted member of the Derby Middle School track team. After that, I was hooked. In the intervening two decades, I’ve run more road races than I can count or remember, although a few stick out in my mind as particularly memorable. There were the races I’d do every year with my cross-country team: the Howell Melon Run in the summer and the Birmingham Jingle Bell Run in the winter. There were the random one-off races in strange places; I seem to recall a 5K that largely took place in a series of iced-over shopping mall parking lots. There were the inevitable disasters: for example, the time I stopped to pee during a race and realized I was crouched in my friend’s backyard, which happened to be along the race course; or the time I missed a turn and cut off a good half mile of a course and thought I had set an astonishing new PR. Then there are the wack-tastic races I’ve run, like the Bay to Breakers, which is not for the faint-hearted, in any respect. Road races are the best.

Three years ago, I herniated a disc in my back, and my running habit — and thus, my road racing — had to be curtailed. Running made my back hurt, you see, and I was lucky if I’d run one road race a year, if that. Two years ago, on a whim, I signed up for a 15K race and felt great while running it, but my back screamed at me for the entire week afterwards. And so for the last two years, I stopped running races completely. So sad. But a few months ago, fed up with my wonky back, I went to a physical therapist here in London (the amazing Richard Game at Physio on the River — the man’s a miracle worker!) and he set my back straight (literally). Now, I can’t run every day, but I can run a few days a week, and it’s incredible.

Carried away by the spirit of my newly regained running ability, I signed up for a 10K race a couple of weeks ago. The race was yesterday morning, and it went really well. I hadn’t run more than five miles in years — literally, years — because I was afraid of hurting my back, but yesterday my back felt fine running the race and, more importantly, afterwards.

Regent's Park 10K

Regent’s Park 10K

What was so great about running this first race in years was that it reminded me of all the road races I used to run — it felt like stepping right back into what I used to love about doing road races. After all, no matter where you are, there are certain common elements to any road race that make you feel at home. One of those elements is an old man with a megaphone who’s in charge of herding participants and shooting the (proverbial) start-gun. I love these old men because they remind me of the guys who used to run my middle and high-school track meets: former coaches and teachers who care about kids and care about running and want to spend their Saturday morning standing in a dewy field yelling into a megaphone. Those old men are the best. Road races wouldn’t be the same without them.

Now that I’m back on the running train a few days a week, I’m eager to sign up for more races in the new year. Anyone interested? Perks include a goodie bag with an energy bar and/or a banana, an old man with a megaphone, and a sense of accomplishment. Email me.

Adventures in healthcare

Today was interesting!

Remember that thing on my hand? It got worse.

Then, last night, I developed a gross rash all over my chest, neck, and face that looked like a collection of bug bites/zits.  My whole face and chest itched like crazy.  And then I woke up this morning with my bottom lip swollen up. Not cute.

So, as is my custom, I took a trip to the hospital to see what was going on.  Honestly, I don’t really count a country as truly lived in if I haven’t gone to the hospital at least once.  In every other country in which I’ve spent significant time (except Cuba, dang it!), I’ve gone to the hospital.  It’s just what I do.  It’s my thing.

A brief reminiscence: in Brazil, I went to the hospital multiple times for multiple issues (herniated disc, blood-work); in Argentina, I visited an eye hospital; in Chile, I had to see a dermatologist because an ill-advised navel piercing had become infected and then, a few months later, just to make sure I really had a feel for the Chilean healthcare system, I had to go to the emergency room for rabies shots after being bitten by a stray dog; in Mexico, as a child on vacation with my family, I got pneumonia, and then, when I returned in college, I had recently sliced off a large portion of my finger so had to go to the doctor to get my bandages changed and get antibiotics to prevent infection.  There are probably other incidents I’m forgetting/blocking out, but let’s just say I’m no stranger to developing world emergency waiting rooms.

Today, given the fact that at least one part of my face was swollen (never a good thing), I decided to play it safe and go to the Morningside Clinic in Joburg to see what was ailing me.  And, it turns out, they had no idea.  The nurse and the doctor thought the rash looked like chicken pox, except I’ve already had chicken pox, and I don’t have a fever or other signs of illness (except for a small sore throat this morning). They took bloodwork and ruled out any viral infections. Everything came back completely normal. Hooray?

I took this sneaky sideways picture at the hospital, to prove I was there.

So, after four hours, I was discharged with a prescription for an anti-itch/anti-boil-carbuncle-and-other-disgusting-skin-ailments cream, and turned away.  So now I’m sitting here with this stuff slathered all over my face, debating how long I need to leave it on before I can go to the gym.  On the other hand, I also sort of don’t want to leave the house because I look like Quasimodo’s acne-ridden female cousin. I took a photo of myself to post here but it was too shocking, so you’ll just have to use your imaginations.

So, I’m relieved that I don’t have any sort of pox (chicken, guinea-fowl, or otherwise) because we’re going to Cape Town tomorrow to stay with a family with small children, and I wouldn’t want to have to cancel our trip.  I guess I can deal with just looking gross, although I am worried that I might scare the kids.

Anyway, the good thing about this experience was that I was pleasantly surprised by how easy things are here, healthcare-wise.  Our insurance covered most of the hospital visit and all of the medicine.  There weren’t complicated forms to fill out.  Things were pretty straightforward.  Way to go, South Africa.

Okay, back to my bell-tower.  Happy almost Thanksgiving, everyone.

Web MD

Can someone reassure me that this, whatever this is, will not kill me?

Since I don’t have the patience to wait for any qualified advice, against my better judgment, which is already somewhat questionable, I just went on WebMD to check my symptoms, which are mainly: 1) unidentifiable weird bite/sting thing on my hand, 2) slight pain emanating from said bite/sting thing.

The WebMD symptom checker questions alone scared the bejeezus out of me.

One of said terrifying questions: “Have you been bitten, stung, or had contact with a poisonous spider, scorpion, or puss caterpillar?” First of all, how would I know if I’ve been stung by a poisonous spider, scorpion, or puss caterpillar? Isn’t that WebMD’s job, to tell me if I have been stung by a poisonous spider, scorpion, or puss caterpillar? And also, PUSS CATERPILLAR?

Another probing question: “Do you have a blister, painful sore, or purple discoloration at the site of a bite or sting?” Well, yes – I mean, this thing looks pretty blistery, and it hurts. So I clicked on the “yes” button, which brought me to another series of questions, one of which was: “Have you had a blister, painful sore, or purple discoloration at the site of a bite or sting for 24 hours, but you do not have any other symptoms of illness?”  I think so? Has it been 24 hours? I don’t know! Probably? I clicked “yes.”   I was shocked by the results.

For once in my life, WebMD told me that I “may wait to see if the symptoms improve over the next 24 hours.”

Wait, what now? “Wait to see if the symptoms improve?” Does. Not. Compute.

LITERALLY every other time I’ve had even the tiniest twinge of illness or pain, WebMD has told me I’m dying.  It has either flat out said, “You’re dying,” or it’s said something like, “You’re probably dying, but call an ambulance and rush to the emergency room just in case some talented doctor there can work magic and pull your quickly dwindling life from the jaws of death.”

Now that WebMD’s telling me I “may wait” to see how things develop, I don’t trust it.  I don’t trust it one bit.

I should make it clear here that I know better than to go on Web MD, but I just have no self control.  I have a long history of diagnosing myself with diseases that I don’t have (various types of cancer, immune disorders, tropical diseases, and psychiatric illnesses, to name a few), under the terribly off base and alarmist guidance of WebMD.  The problem is, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. And I’m always open to suggestion.

The worst part of my WebMD addiction is that on the rare occasions where I have actually been seriously ill, and WebMD should have been like, “Red alert, red alert, get thee to a healthcare provider,” it’s led me completely and totally astray.  For example: remember that time I had typhoid fever?  So, I was feeling horrible – sweating, shivering, no appetite, piercing headache, body aches, weakness, and joint pain.  I felt like crap on a cracker, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t the flu, because, for one thing, I wasn’t coughing and, for another, the flu has never made me lose my appetite before (I’m a hearty one).  So I went on WebMD to see what other terrible illness I could have been suffering from.  I put in my symptoms and WebMD diagnosed me as suffering from – wait for it! – pregnancy.

I re-entered my symptoms, omitting certain things each time, rephrasing, tweaking, and every time the results popped up: pregnant, pregnant, pregnant.  When I dragged myself into my nurse practitioner’s office the next day, white as a ghost, sweaty, and barely able to hold myself upright, I croaked, “I’m concerned that I may be pregnant.”  She looked at me like I was insane in the membrane and then said, “Yeah, pregnancy doesn’t look like this.”  (Unless you’re having Rosemary’s Baby, I guess). I was relieved. Because if being pregnant feels like being deathly ill with typhoid fever, I ain’t never having kids.

Anyway. I should know better than to trust WebMD but I’m addicted to it.  Checking WebMD compulsively is in itself a sickness. I wonder if WebMD has that particular disorder in its catalog of horrors. I’m scared to find out.  I don’t want to diagnose myself with anything else for today.

Pilates – kinda

Another milestone achieved today: I attended my first exercise class in South Africa.  For me, attending an exercise class in another country is always an exciting and nerve-wracking experience and, therefore, a rite of passage into a new culture.  I’ve written before about the vastly different spinning experiences I’ve had in different countries and about gym culture in Latin America.  But Africa’s a whole new ballgame, and so I wasn’t sure what to expect from the 9:30 am Pilates class at my local gym, Planet Fitness.

When I got to the classroom, I grabbed a mat and set it out near the back of the room, away from the instructor’s platform, because only hotshots sit right up front on their first day.  As I waited for the instructor to show up, I checked out the fifteen or so other women in the class.  Most were middle-aged, slightly pudgy, and white, but there were a few exceptions, including a girl who was a dead ringer for a brunette Taylor Swift.  I may have stared at her a little too long while trying to figure out if she was, in fact, Taylor Swift in disguise.  I mean, she was wearing GLASSES for Pete’s sake.  Lamest disguise ever.

The instructor, whose upright carriage and floaty hand movements suggested that she was a former dancer, led the class through a series of movements that was not, in fact, Pilates, but her accent was so charming that I didn’t even mind.  These South Africans and their accents, I’m telling you.  I didn’t question it when she told us to do a downward facing dog and then bend our knees and hover them over the floor, because her accent was so pleasant to listen to.  But yeah, that’s not Pilates.

To be fair, SOME portion of the class did involve movements that I recognized as Pilates, like rolling like a ball and leg circles.  But most of it was just gentle stretching with some yoga moves thrown in.  Ah, well.  I’ve had MUCH weirder Pilates experiences. Ain’t no thang.

The obvious question now: I wonder what the gym’s spinning (or, as it would be pronounced here, “spunning”) classes will be like?