Where do I start? My name is Traci. About 15 years ago, I got sick. Really sick. It was the “please say a prayer for Traci as she lays in ICU” kind of sick…and it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me (more on that later). Of course, I would never wish what happened to me happen to anyone else, but in my life, it was the catalyst I needed to make some serious changes. It turns out, the changes I’ve made have helped a lot of people. I’m grateful.
In 2004, I knew I had a passion for nutrition. I loved fitness, too, but nutrition was where it all made sense for me. Unfortunately, with a background in marketing, developing a career around nutrition would be an uphill battle.
What’s a girl to do? This girl decided to go back to school. I owe everything in my life to healthy eating, so the longer road was worth it for me.
For years, especially when I was younger, I had no sense of nutrition. I based everything on what a food label told me. If a label said something was “fat free” or “low calorie” or “diet”…I would eat it. Even if it didn’t taste good. And let’s be honest – most food products that have words like those on the label rarely taste good.
I can’t really fault anyone for growing up in a house with a lot of garbage for food. This is how most people I knew ate in the ’80s. Not everything in my kitchen growing up was processed. My mom cooked as often as she could when she wasn’t working. And my grandmother would come over to our house every Wednesday to make a huge, delicious meal (she is an amazing cook). But it was the other 80% of the time that really started wrecking my body. The 80% when I was at school, hanging out with friends, or just roaming my kitchen for stuff…that’s what shut me down. Quite frankly, I think that’s what still shuts a lot of us down…too many of use are just waiting for the axe to fall.
Messed Up Eating, At Its Finest
In my teen years, I developed an eating disorder. I would say this was my proverbial nail in the coffin, compounded by years of unhealthy eating, that resulted in me getting sick. I was bulimic…for far too long. I didn’t even know what an eating disorder was when things started going south, but I knew it was a problem. I could write for days about how difficult it was for me for much of that part of my life, and how much I struggled with kicking this incredibly addictive behavior…but that’s for another time. For anyone who’s ever personally been affected by an eating disorder, I hope you’ve been able to find a path to normal eating. If you know someone who has an eating disorder (girls and boys, women and men), be patient and understanding. It’s not easy and no one wants to live with an eating disorder. It’s a tough habit to break that needs a lot of support.
Fast forward to my early 20s, after college, after grad school, and I’m suddenly and over-achieving corporate-driven workaholic. Where did that come from?
I was single, living with a roommate from school and making the most out of my time…I guess. I also worked out A LOT. Eventually, I became a group fitness instructor. This was great. Now I was paid to workout. Life was good. At least on the outside. I still ate the same “diet” garbage I had been eating for years, still had a raging eating disorder, and worked a lot. This was the epitome of messy on the inside, neat and tidy on the outside.
Despite the fact that I didn’t need to lose weight (bulimics often look of average weight), I wanted to shed five vanity pounds, because…I still can’t figure that out. It was a relentless cycle of overexercising, crappy food and eating disorders. Hot mess!
The House of Cards Falls
Two things happened. They’re related, but completely separate health issues. Here goes.
One day in early/mid-October, I was feeling especially tired. My head hurt A LOT and I couldn’t figure out why. Nothing helped. I really didn’t go to the doctor, aside from an annual appointment, but I made a call to see if I could get in as soon as possible. Magically, an appointment was available that day. I went in and my doctor agreed, after looking at me, that something was wrong. I was sent to a lab for a CT scan, and went home. Later that night, around 6:00pm, I got a call from the doctor to come in the next day. With fingers needling over his forehead, and a puzzled look on his face – he said, “you had a stroke.”
I wish I had more time to reflect on that with you, but this bio is turning into Gone with the Wind, and this story is only getting going. So I started seeing doctors about this. Obviously (and very fortunately), it wasn’t terribly debilitating. I had to modify my life. I got about two months into my life modifications, which were only going so-so, when…
One morning I woke up, and did a big good morning stretch. With my hands over my head, I felt something pulling under my left arm. I felt under my left armpit. There was a lump. Crap!
At this point, I lived in another city, far from where I grew up. The doctor I had seen for my head was really good, but I wanted to see someone closer to home for what was happening under my arm. I was going home for Christmas the next week, so I tried to keep calm. After all, it could be nothing.
From the day I discovered the lump to the day I went home, I started feeling off. Really off. I didn’t have a fever, I wasn’t experiencing any aches or pains…nothing hurt except for my arm.
Two days before Christmas, my roommate and I loaded up her car to drive home. My arm hurt, but I was laughing and excited about getting home for the holidays. From the time we started driving to the time I walked in the front door of my family home, I had a fever of 104, I could no longer move my arm, and I felt like…well i felt like I was in big trouble.
My mother, who worked in surgery at level one trauma hospital in Milwaukee, nearby where I grew up, looked at my arm and quickly suggested it was an infected lymph node…or an ingrown hair. I call my mother “the minimizer”…
I laid in bed for about a day, and the pain grew to intolerable levels. I was vomiting constantly, spiking high fevers – and praying. This had to end.
At 4am the next morning, I walked into my parents’ bedroom and told them I needed to go to the hospital. I was taken to our local community hospital where a doctor, seemingly irritated to be dealing with me at that early hour, suggested “come back after Christmas to have the area lanced.” I was retaining fluid in my arm, and it was now the size of my thigh. She gave me a bag of Vicodin and sent me on my way. Just before I left the hospital, I heard a nurse say, “Are you sure you want to send her home?” After all, I had a 104 degree fever and continued to vomit, all right in front of this doctor. Back home I went.
This is the point where I really thought it was lights out for me. I can’t begin to explain the type of pain I was feeling. From this point on, all I really remember is laying in a bed or on the couch, until I was visibly yellow. At this point, my mother took me directly to her hospital and requested a vascular surgeon she worked with regularly.
For the first time, my entire arm and back were thoroughly examined. A few of the last words I remember hearing my doctor say were “I think this is necrotizing fasciitis – the flesh eating bacteria.”
As I write this today, I have the use of both hands and both arms. Nothing needed amputation. I am grateful. The surgeries were awful, but affected only my left side in a few places, most noticeably under my arm (I had my lymph nodes removed from front to back). Apparently the Strep-A bacteria, made its way into a paper cut on the middle finger of my left hand. A paper cut. Before this all happened, I saw that the paper cut wasn’t really healing, but didn’t think to call attention to it – and certainly not go on antibiotics.
This very long story has brought me to where I am today. My immune system had given me a huge kick in the ass, and I felt it. The first thing I did was change the way I ate. My relationship with diet soda, low fat processed foods and artificial sweeteners was over. It was a breakup 15 years in the making. Amazingly, as my diet cleaned up, so did my attitude toward life in general. I balanced my workouts, I took time for myself and (quite important for me), while I never saw a therapist or counselor after I was sick, I was free from the eating disorder that had plagued me for so long.
I saw what was really important to me, and I began pursuing it.
Today I am married and have three healthy children. We don’t talk about diets, we don’t count calories and we definitely don’t jump on the scale.
I work in nutrition. Talk about nutrition. Write about nutrition.
I love food. I love cooking. I love experimenting with food and cooking.
More than anything, I love feeling healthy. And this is why I do what I do.