Friday, October 7, 2011

Grill for Sale

It has been nearly 5 months since the day that I severely fractured my jaw and acquired my infamous "grill."  When people used to ask me why my jaw was wired shut, I told them it was the result of attempting circus tricks on my triathlon bike.  Unfortunate for me, the pavement won.  People were often pleasantly surprised that I could still find humor in my situation considering that I couldn't eat, talk, or laugh for such a long time.  An attempt to smile would reveal a mouthful of hideous metal and I couldn't leave my apartment without a bag armed with food smoothies, bottle of Ensure as a nutritional back-up, note cards, and my Suture Removal Tray (in case I started choking).  And I was constantly worried that I might run out of "food" and not be able to access nutritional liquids quickly enough.

As the date neared to be freed of my grill, I started joking that I would ask the surgeon to save the wires and metal so I could have a keepsake.  However, I was a bit distracted once I was in the patient's chair and counting down the minutes when the surgeon would be finished dismantling, untwisting, and yanking out parts of my grill.  Upon completion, I promptly left his office and was on a mission to find soft food I could slurp down, before I realized I never did retrieve the small pile of metal that had formerly decorated my mouth.  

But not to fear, as apparently there are "grillz" for sale.  And at a price of $0.75, they are a much better bargain than the $7,500 one I had previously donned (excluding hospital and surgery "installation" costs).  So if I'm ever feeling like I need just a touch more of bling, all I have to do is look for one of these near the candy dispenser machines.

I must admit that I reminisced a bit when I saw this grillz dispenser machine.  And given that I was no longer wired shut, I enjoyed a nice chuckle that such a thing even existed!  If you happen to spot another one of these, please do me a favor - take a picture and purchase a grill for yourself.  And if you really want the full effect, try the liquid diet for a day.  *smile*  

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Triathlon Training in the Motherland

From August 28th thru September 1st, I trained at Idlebreaks, a multi-sport training camp nestled in the countryside of Malaga, Spain.  Founded by 7-time Ironman finisher Andy and his lovely wife Tracy, Idlebreaks has been catering to athletes from around the world for 6 years.  Many of the athletes make repeat visits, and within my first day here, I was convinced I'd have a lifetime experience.

Solo flyers like myself participate in a self-catering program, which includes self-meal preparation either in my apartment's kitchen or the large kitchen by the patio and the choice to set my own schedule.  I lucked out that I chose an off-season time to visit, so other than a couple who was only leisurely exercising and mostly site-seeing, I enjoyed private training sessions.  For groups of 6 or more, Idlebreaks can organize a fully-catered visit including home-cooked meals, prompt laundry service, bike rides with accompanying van support,  on-demand driving service, organized open water swims, masseuse, and an onsite outdoor 25 meter pool, cold recovery tank, and jacuzzi just to name a few features.

My primary goals for this visit included regaining my confidence with cycling and swimming.  Granted I had surprised myself with my PR results at a Half Ironman triathlon race just 6 weeks before, I wanted to plant the seeds for a big training year ahead, and do so without the stress that normally accompanies training in a place like Gotham City.  In just 5 days at Idlebreaks, I witnessed my strength and confidence re-building in my toughest disciplines.  Andy closely observed my techniques and offered some insights to make even the toughest climbs seem thrilling (I didn't say pain-free though!) and tips to help overcome my intimidation of open water swimming.  He and Tracy also created a true haven of their premises, offering amenities to accommodate a tired, sore athlete yearning to soak in relaxation after the day's adventure.

A tradition is to attend bingo night at the local village of Villanueva del Rosario.  Andy said that someone from his camp always wins.  There are 3 rounds and guess who went home with the grand prize of $50 Euros?!  Paid for my massage that afternoon.

I concluded my stay at Idlebreaks on a memorable note with twist of the ankle, a notorious repeat injury of mine, while running through the nearby pueblo.  Not to worry, Andy was quick to respond to my call and rescued me with ice packs in the van.  I trust that he's quite accustomed to these types of calls after catering to so many (stubborn) athletes like myself.

While it was sad to see my time at Idlebreaks come to an end and the bags re-packed for the next stop in my journey of the Motherland - Madrid - I promised Andy and Tracy that I would return, hopefully early next summer with some fellow triathletes in tow who will be training for the inaugural Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August 2012.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Race Report

I wrote the following on July 18th, finding it quite therapeutic to reflect on what seemed like a downright miracle.  At least it will make for a good story when I'm 90 years old (fingers cross I make it that long!), chillin' in my rocking chair, and entertaining my grandchildren. 

Vineman 70.3 
I normally wouldn't write a race report for just a half Ironman race, but the Vineman 70.3 (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) triathlon was a very special race for me this year, as post-bike accident, I thought I would have to forego this race.  Just to recap, bike accident occurred May 10th, surgery on May 13th to wire my jaw shut (i.e. acquisition of my "grill"), then the agonizing wait until my mouth would be freed from all the wires.  4 weeks after surgery, the doc re-set his original 6 week quote to a minimum of 8 weeks, pushing it awfully close to the Vineman race date.  Oh yeah, and there was the small, but important fact that every day I donned my grill, meant one less day of training.

For the 8 weeks I was wired up, my exercise consisted mainly of power walks a few times a week once I had enough energy for anything remotely strenuous, which was about week 3.  At week 6, I did a 60 min session of deep water running followed by core strength training.  I was wiped out for a good 3 days (a special thank you to my dear drill sergeant).  At week 7, I worked up enough mental courage to do a couple run/walk workouts, where my breathing notably sounded like a tea kettle about to go off (imagine running with a sock in your mouth and trying to breathe).

On July 6th I became a free woman (free of my grill that is!) and on July 7th I woke up at 4:45AM and dragged my tri bike onto the subway, pushed it into Central Park (I wasn't taking any chances on the NYC roads), and completed my first outdoor ride post-accident.  I was nervous as hell, watching every cyclist and runner like a hawk to make sure no one came near me.  July 8th thru July 13th consisted of a couple of short swims and runs and one 90 min indoor spin.  I traveled to the Bay Area on July 14th and prayed that Sunday's race wouldn't put me back in the hospital (or worse, force me to wear a grill again).  

Pre-race preparation included the usual routine of registration, test swim, bike ride, and easy run, and expo visit.  The gear at Vineman this year was pretty sweet (this was my 3rd time doing this race).  A fun Friday group dinner and the usual attempt to rest and relax the Sat before the race (I failed miserably at this).  I had re-adjusted my nutrition plan because I couldn’t bite or chew the Luna bars I normally consume during races and was planning on surviving with PowerBar gels and my own concoction of Accelerade with the addition of Soy Protein powder (tasted like berry flavored sand).  My coach mentioned he was very worried this wouldn’t suffice for my very voracious appetite and sent me to the store to buy a sweet potato, peanut butter, and honey, which would be mashed together and squirted into my mouth from a baggie during my ride.  Really?  Really.  

4AM wake-up on Sunday, July 17th race day.  My dad was our dutiful driver to the swim start (this triathlon was a point-to-point race), driving my teammate Lindsay and I to Johnson Beach in Guerneville.  I prepped my T1 gear and went to find my dad to chat for a bit before my 6:45AM wave start.  Unfortunately, I underestimated how long it would take me to push through the crowds and the next thing I knew, they were announcing our upcoming swim start.  Lindsay and I each panicked to get our wetsuits on and dove in with about 20 seconds to tread water before the horn went off.  I had been struggling tremendously in the past year with open water swims and was also worried that my jaw could get jammed by another racer’s elbow or kick.  Survival to the finish line was my only goal in this race, so I let the chaos of swimmers pass me before I slowly began my swim.  I thought of my favorite songs to keep me calm as I swam and enjoyed the feeling of my brand new wetsuit to replace my 5 year old one held together by duct tape.  The swim upstream to the 1000 meter halfway point felt extremely long but alas I reached the pyramid buoy and began my return trip.  The water is famously shallow around this point and I joined the other swimmers who stood up to walk a few strides and take a breather before resuming my strokes.  While the downstream current was fairly light, it was enough to make the second half of the swim much more enjoyable.  Upon reaching the swim finish, I quickly bounded up the mats and before I knew it, my legs flew out in front of me and I landed right on my butt.  With a chuckle, I collected myself back on my feet and proceeded to T1 where I clothed myself for a chilly ride with arm sleeves and gloves.  The exit out of T1 has a short, but treacherous uphill which the race veterans know is worth pushing the bike until the crest to clip in.  I, for one, definitely wanted to avoid another bike accident at all costs and was just fine pushing my bike until I knew I was in a safe zone to become attached to my bike.

I purposely opted to race without a bike computer or Garmin to keep my mind clear and just enjoy the ride.  Thus I used the course’s 18, 28, and 38 mile water stations to provide timing estimates to take in nutrition and hydrate between these water stations.  My first attempt to consume my sweet potato mixture wasn’t very elegant and I can only imagine what the riders behind me must’ve thought when they saw peach colored chunks splatter below me.  I must say the mixture proved quite gentle on my stomach and I looked forward to it in between my consumption of Powergels, salt tablets, and/or Accelerade/Soy Protein drink.  Plenty of riders on their fancy triathlon bikes passed me throughout the course, but I was much more fascinated with the amazing Sonoma wine country scenery.  At approximately mile 30 on Highway 128, I passed what was formerly my grandparents’ house.  As a young child with my cousins, we would frequently visit my grandparents for every major holiday and family birthday.  Now both deceased, this house has become a landmark to my family (the house was sold years ago and its new owners rent it as an extended stay vacation home).  Nonetheless, I swear I felt my grandma waving hi to me as I rode past, wishing me well for Chalk Hill coming up ahead and to reach the finish line safely.

I braced myself for a difficult climb up the infamous Chalk Hill at mile 44, but it came and went with a minimal push.  At approximately mile 50, I saw an athlete on the side of the road and yelled if he needed help.  He asked for a tube.  In a split second decision, I ripped out my entire repair kit with tube, CO2 cartridges, and brand new tire levers from the back of my bike and threw it towards the sidewalk for him to retrieve.  Although I ran the risk of being completely screwed if I ended up with a flat myself before I finished the bike course, I figured he deserved the good karma.  Without looking back, I kept moving forward and soon reached T2, passing the crowds that had started to form to greet the finishers.

Although my hardest events were behind me, I knew a 13.1 mile run would be no easy feat following two months of no real training.  I had made a conscious decision beforehand to incorporate a run/walk technique for this part of the race in hopes this would help my body from completely breaking down – 14 min run and 1 min walk intervals using a basic watch acquired at T2.  I diligently kept this interval regime from start to finish, using the walks to hydrate and to alternate between ingesting salt tablets and PowerGels at each interval.  While I faced cooler temperatures on the run compared to the historic 90-100 degree highs, it was certainly a very warm run.  The rolling hills on this course were also challenging from start to finish combined with minimal shading.  Nonetheless, I hoped I could catch a few folks that had passed me on the ride.  I’m not a sprinter, but I knew my history of being a consistent runner could resurface.  I looked forward to spotting familiar faces on the course and my one-minute walks sure helped make the miles lapse much quicker.  Before I knew it, I passed the 12-mile mark of the run course and started visualizing the finish line.  It seemed so surreal that I could muster a ½ Ironman when just 9 weeks prior I was lying in a hospital bed unable to speak or eat. 

I practically skipped to the finish line once it came into view with 100 meters to go and was greeted by my parents, college friend Stephanie, Uncle Ben, and Cousin Angie after receiving my finisher’s medal.  I knew they had been concerned for me and were quite relieved to see me cross the finish line in one piece.  We spoke for a few minutes across the racer/spectator dividing gate before my cousin handed me her phone with my Aunt Maria from Virginia on the line.  She congratulated me and said she had been tracking me online.

When I completed the same course in 2008 and 2009, my finishing times were 6:12 and 5:57, respectively.  In June 2009, I completed the Hawaii 70.3 triathlon and was very proud of my 5:45 finish.  I knew my transition times were longer in this year’s race given the extra clothing and/or nutrition preparation.  However, I was absolutely stunned when my aunt read my 5:35 finish time.  I had achieved an overall PR as well as a PR in each discipline.

I never dreamt of having such a memorable race, made that much more unforgettable surrounded by close triathlete friends and their supporters.  A special shout out to Alex, Tiffany, Hector, Lindsay, Dave, Stephanie, Ariella, Claire, Carley, and Karen.  It was also great to see the Orlando crew out there – Emily, Don, Leslie, and others.

During 56 Mile Bike


Friday, July 29, 2011


When my surgeon told me at week 4 that he wanted to extend the duration I was wired up from his original quote of 6 weeks to at least 8 weeks, I was quite bummed.  I reminded myself that in the long run, those extra 2 weeks would seem minor, but the idea of donning my grill for even one hour longer than I had expected was enough to put the surgeon on my $hit list (pardon my French), at least for those extra weeks. 
Between week 5 and 6, I resorted to feeding myself with a turkey baster just to speed up the in-take of thicker food smoothies to fuel my body for the daily power walks and progression into pool jogging and basic core exercises.  At week 7, I attempted to “negotiate” with the surgeon to remove the wires and while I wasn’t entirely successful, we did strike a deal.  He removed the bands and allowed me to keep them off during the day, as long as I promised to place them back in at night and at any point if my jaw was in pain.  I was the obedient patient and a grateful one as well, as this gradual freedom at least enabled me to begin spoon feeding myself mushy food.  Overcooked pasta, stews, hummus, mashed vegetables, lentils and yogurt were just among the many foods I consumed.   It was a beautiful thing to begin eating again, even if the food consistency was similar to baby food.  I actually continued to blend certain food to at least a soft, chunky consistency that I could easily swallow without chewing. 
Everyone loved asking me what my first meal would be when I was freed of my grill.  The dream of my “perfect” meal changed on a daily basis from a savory pasta dish to a scrumptious risotto (or even paella!) to a warm piece of French or sourdough bread.  I knew the last of these wouldn’t happen, at least not right away, but considering that sliced bread was not blend-able, my body yearned for that simple starch.
Alas the day of my scheduled grill removal arrived and I scrambled to wrap up work so I could trek across the city to the surgeon’s practice.  On my walk over, I started to wonder how exactly he would remove all of the wires as it appeared that my grill had made a nice little home in my mouth for the past 2 months.  To describe simply, sections of the wires were no longer visible as they’d become buried in my gum line.  The surgeon had assured me this was part of the normal course.  Lovely.
Without going into all the gory details, the removal process was painful and bloody.  Turns out the wires would be clipped in many sections and then untwisted and yanked out individually from my gums.  Don’t ask me how, but my surgeon convinced me not to take any local anesthesia for the process.  I guess he figured if I could handle an Ironman triathlon, this ought to be a walk in the park.  About half way through I started to regret my decision not to scream out for the drugs, but just like a tough race, I began envisioning the sense of relief that would soon bless me.  The seemingly long 30 minute procedure was finally completed and my surgeon tried to humor me – “Don’t look in the mirror right away.  You might faint.  Your gums are nasty and look like a battlefield.”  Priceless.
Instinctively, I skimmed my teeth with my tongue, remembering the cool, smooth feeling I had experienced as a teenager when my braces were first removed.  The extremely tender feeling in my gums this time around though was a quick reminder that a bit more recovery time was still in store.  I shook the surgeon’s hand, thanked him for his great work (and mentally removed him from my $hit list) and asked him how soon I could begin a regime of “real” exercise.  He knew I was chomping at the bit (great metaphor in this case considering my jaw had been wired shut!) and said I could do anything I felt my energy level and strength could handle, but ”just don’t go out and do a triathlon!” 
He didn’t say when though. . .*wink*. 

I was going to come back.

2008 Disney Marathon - Run With a Nearly Broken Ankle

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A la Mexicana

Even with my jaw wired shut, I've been determined to find a way to enjoy the food of my people - Mexican food.  After all, it was the Mexican ointment Vitacilina (thank you Tia Maria!) that saved my face, knees, and hands after this bike accident from hideous, permanent scarring.  I have a commitment to my heritage and will not deprive myself from the food that makes my heart content.

The first of my "Latin smoothies" was not too adventurous - Mexican rice.  Fortunate to have my mom visiting from CA to assist me for a week post-surgery, this was among my first requests (I was too drugged up on 2 medications then to make it myself).  And it was delicious!  One week later, I attended my friend Alex's BBQ and decided I would cook up something using ingredients that I could no longer enjoy and would soon spoil in my fridge - chicken enchiladas.  Yes, I will admit, it was a small torture to cook and smell all the delicious aromas and spices knowing that I couldn't eat my finished product.  But after sitting at the patio table for 15 mins watching others savor the dish, I asked to borrow the blender and with chicken broth and strainer in hand, I blended 2 enchiladas.  Ahh...let me tell you, they hit the spot.

Next came the guacamole smoothie (see recipe in prior blog).  I'll admit that the first round of the guacamole was a tad bit too spicy.  And add the fact that I can't sneeze without pain, I knew I was taking my love for food to the next level and was determined to enjoy every last sip of my guacamole smoothie.  The childhood cravings followed soon thereafter.  Bread or tortillas on their own were out of the question, but beans, eggs, potatoes, and chorizo (Mexican sausage) soon found their way to the blender.  One evening I was so indecisive about wanting to fulfill my craving yet knowing I needed to take in a veggie smoothie, that I made one refried bean smoothie followed by an asparagus and onion smoothie.  Sorry folks, you do what you gotta do to feed the hungry monster.

This week I decided that with limited hours in the day to cook, blend, and strain, I was going to be productive food wise even while I slept.  I dusted off my slow cooker and decided I would cook up carnitas over night.  If I didn't have my "grill," these carnitas would been the base for some darn good tacos to enjoy.  But don't worry, at least while I slept, in my dreams I was enjoying those savory tacos.  On those occasions when I can't even muster the energy to organize a meal for the slow cooker, I do rely on restaurant meals.  A shout out to my friend JC who showed up with Chipotle and Coronas for dinner one night.  One of those burrito bowls was sufficient for two nice sized smoothies and I could just about taste each of the food components - meat, rice, beans, lettuce, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.
If you decide to join me on my blending adventures, here are the recipes for the aforementioned meals:

Mexican Rice Smoothie
- 1 cup of white rice
- 1 can of tomato sauce
- 1/3 cup of finely chopped white or yellow onion
- 1 tbsp of finely chopped garlic (preferably chopped garlic in oil that can be store bought)
- 1 tsp of cumin
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth (preferably warm)
- 2 1/2 cups of water (preferably warm
- 1/4 cup of spicy tomato sauce (optional based on tolerance for spice)
- 3 tbsp olive oil

Place 2 tbsp olive oil into warm sauce pan.  2-3 minutes later add onion and saute until golden.  Add garlic and saute until lightly brown.  Add rice and saute for 10 minutes.  Add tomato sauce (and spicy tomato sauce), 1 cup of chicken broth and let smmer for a few minutes while stirring.  Lastly, add salt, pepper, cumin, and 2 cups of water.  Cook covered for 25-30 minutes  Rice should be very soft once cooked and over half of the liquid would have evaporated with the cooking.  Once cooked, allow rice and cooked broth to cook for a bit.  When ready, place into blender adding the remaining olive oil, water, and chicken broth.

Chicken Enchilada Smoothie
- Packet of chicken breasts
- 1 large white onion
- 3 whole carrots
- 5 peeled garlic cloves
- 1 packet of Mexican-blend shredded cheese
- 1 can of enchilada salsa
- 1 cup cooking oil
- 15-20 corn tortillas
- 1 tsp each of salt, pepper, oregano, and Adobo seasoning

In large pot, boil 5-6 cups of water, sufficient to hold all chicken with plenty of broth.  While water comes to a boil, season chicken with salt, pepper, oregano, and Adobo.  Separately, chop into 1.5 inch large chunks half of the onion and all of the carrots.  As water starts to boil, place onions, carrots, and garlic cloves.  Stir for a few minutes then add seasoned chicken breasts.  Cover and cook for 45 minutes or until chicken is extremely tender and easy to shred.  You may stir occasionally while cooking.

Remove chicken and shred into medium sized bowl.  Strain broth and add 1/2 cup to shredded chicken to maintain tenderness.  Finely chop remaining white onions.  Warm tortillas by microwave or stove.  In medium-sized sauce pan, warm enchilada sauce and 1/2 cup of broth.  Stir and taste, adding more broth to calm sauce spiciness.  Warm a separate saucepan with add 1/4 cup of oil.  Take one warm tortilla and place in saucepan with, lightly coating each side with oil and let extra oil drip off before transferring to saucepan with enchilada sauce.  Coat tortilla and transfer to platter.  Add about 2 tbsp of shredded chicken, a small handful of chopped onion and shredded cheese, and carefully roll enchilada.  Repeat for each enchilada until platter is full, using about 1/4 cup of oil each time for the first coating step.  Cover with remaining shredded cheese and plate platter into oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.  For blending, place two enchiladas with 1 cup of broth in blender.

Refried Bean (Frijoles Fritos) Smoothie
- 1 can of whole pinto or black beans
- 2 tbsp of vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup of sour cream
- 1/2 to 1 cup of water

If you're lucky enough to have time, make the beans from scratch.  

Warm medium-sized sauce pan and add oil, coating pan.  Place homemade or canned beans into oiled sauce pan and bring to a simmer.  With potato masher, mash beans and add 1/2 cup of water if juice from beans begins to dry out.  Transfer mixture to blender, adding sour cream and 1/2 cup water.  Should blend into very smooth mixture easy for slurping thru a straw.

Egg, Potato and Chorizo Smoothie
- 2 eggs beaten
- 1 cup milk
- 1 over-baked potato (or 2 small potatoes)
- 2 inches from chorizo sausage
- 2 tsp of vegetable oil
- 1 cup of water
- Salt & pepper to taste

In small saucepan, warm 1 tsp of oil and add chorizo, cooking over moderate heat.  As chorizo cooks, it will begin to fall apart.  Be careful not to burn the chorizo.  Separately, add milk, salt, and pepper to eggs and beat until mixture is fluffy.  Eggs will cook in 3-5 minutes.  They will maintain a liquid consistency even once cooked.  Place scrambled eggs, potato, chorizo, and water into blender.  Once blended, taste for salt and pepper. 

Chipotle Smoothie
- 1 burrito bowl ordered with desired items
- 2 cup of chicken, beef, or vegetable broth (based on bowl's content)
- 1 cup water

Place half of the burrito bowl contents into blender, 1 cup of broth, and 1/2 cup of water.  Blend and add additional liquid if needed.  One burrito bowl renders plenty for 2 hearty smoothies. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Commonly Asked Questions

Since acquiring my grill, I have received many questions curious to learn what it might be like to live “a day in the life of the jaw wired shut.”
1)      How long will your jaw be wired shut?
My doctor’s original estimate was 6 weeks, with worst case scenario 10 weeks.  Currently, his quote is at least 8 weeks based on healing achieved thus far.  Not all jaw fractures are the same.  Some can be healed with only 2-3 weeks of being wired shut.  In extremely severe cases (i.e. jaw is purposely broken), it could be up to 3 months.  Mine was severely fractured along the upper right side.  Although I landed on the left side of my face when I made impact on the pavement after flipping over my bike, it was the intense impact on one side that put pressure on the opposite side.
2)     Can you talk at all?
Yes and no.  I cannot speak normally as my tightly clenched teeth and locked jaw are unable to move.   However, if I’m in a quiet room and close to the listener, I can be somewhat understood if I speak slowly and with a lot of phonetic emphasis.  It is quite tiring though to hold more than a 5-10 min conversation.  I’ve made some attempts with phone calls, but only a fraction of what I say is actually audible.  It took me nearly 3 weeks to make this progress with “talking.”
3)     Are you able to move your jaw at all?
Nope, the thing is firmly locked down and wired shut.  The idea is that I should NOT be able to move it at all to allow for the fractured bones to heal properly.
4)     Can you stick your tongue out to taste food?
Sorry folks, all of my tasting and drinking has to be thru a straw (see response #3).  But I love to play that prank on people to ask them to let me taste some of their food and it takes them a few seconds to remember that I can’t actually do that!
5)     Are you in a lot of pain?
The pain was most intense for 2-3 days post-surgery then has diminished (then again, I have a high tolerance for pain).   Pain medication was provided  that I used for about a week.  The jaw does ache on a daily basis, usually when I’m fighting off sneezes or yawns.
6)     How many smoothies a day do you drink?
I consume at least 10 smoothies daily.  5 or more of these are food-blended smoothies, where I’m commonly blending chicken, beef, pasta, eggs, potatoes, and vegetables.  The remaining are fruit and yogurt smoothies, milkshakes, and Protein Milks.  I’ve also tried to buy every form of liquid I can find for blending – broths (chicken, beef, and vegetable), milks (normal milk, soymilk, almond milk, Keifer yogurt milk), juices (orange, apple, cranberry, pomegranate, mango, and lemonade) and even nutrition boosted waters like coconut water.  Places like Trader Joes also sell various boxed pureed soups.  Aside from milk, protein is added to smoothies via whey, soy, and hemp protein powders as well as peanut butter, almond butter, and sunflower seed butter. Mango butter, apple butter, and honey have no protein value but are great to add just a hint of sweetness or better yet, help disguise the disgusting taste of my liquid vitamins
7)     Can you brush your teeth?
My main dental hygiene device is a water pic.  I combine this with small Colgate “Wisp” brushes , “Easy Brush Dentek” cleaners, and mouth wash.    
8)     Are you able to travel?
Airplane travel is discouraged because the jaw might experience significant pain at high altitudes which forced me to cancel flights (including one to San Diego - bummer!).  However, as the jaw begins to heal and since I’m accustomed to travel regularly, I’m hoping to make short airplane travel possible in the coming weeks.  Local travel via car or train is do-able, however, many pre-cooked meals, plenty of blending liquids, and the portable blender have to come along.  Access to a kitchen is a must if travel is going to extend more than 6 hours.
9)     What happens if you have difficulties breathing or start choking?
I carry a Suture Removal Stray in case of an emergency.  The contents of this kit include scissors, forceps, and a gauze sponge in case the heavy bands need to be urgently cut to allow air to re-enter the passage way.
10)  Can you still train and do normal exercise?
Unfortunately, my triathlon training came to a screeching halt the day of my bike accident.  To allow the jaw to properly heal, I am to refrain from heavy exercise or activities where I strain my jaw muscles and/or I would require the ability to exhale from my mouth (i.e. swimming).  Also, because of my atypical liquid diet, my energy level is extremely low, making even long walks or an easy spin class very tiring.  I did attempt recently easy pool jogging for 20 mins (hard to keep up this schedule in crowded pools though) and recently picked up power walking. 
11)   How much weight will you lose?
Common weight loss estimates quote 15-20 pounds, depending on length of time that one is limited to liquids.  I’ve lost 8 pounds in 3 weeks (which is significant for a small person like me) and it is likely that my body will shed a few more.  Fingers are crossed that my intake of smoothies every 1-2 hours will stabilize the weight loss. 
12)  Do you have difficulties sleeping?
I am typically a heavy sleeper.  That being said, sleep quality during this period is subpar because I have to sleep on my back with some incline.  My body also craves much more sleep (and even the occasional nap) than it ever has.  Given that I am unable to breathe through my mouth during sleep, I am also very dehydrated in the morning, enough that my lips are often sealed shut and have to be pried open.

13)  Are you able to work?
Yes, however, I am certainly improvising.  Thankfully technology enables me to continue with most of my work tasks via email and Blackberry.  I also carry a notebook everywhere that I go and have support staff to assist me with client calls.  One of the most effective forms of communication is via note cards that I typed up while at home on bed rest.  Given just how many questions I was asked in the few days post-surgery, I typed up notes cards  of responses to questions and even questions I could ask someone to keep a converation going.  My friends or work colleagues were particularly amused by the following ones:

14)  Will you be able to eat normally once your jaw is no longer wired shut?
No.  I was under the impression that once my grill was removed, I would be good as new.  Unfortunately, the severity of my jaw injury combined with its lack of use for an extended period, will require the jaw muscles to re-build their strength and flexibility, a process predicted to take up to 6 months.  Trust me though, I am lining up all those restaurants and foods on my wish list for those post-grill and post-healing days.
And my favorite question – What do I miss most since my jaw has been wired shut?  Here’s the short list.
Top 10 “Misses” of the Jaw Wired Shut:
1)     Eating
2)     Talking
3)     Laughing Out Loud & Smiling
4)     Controlling My Weight
5)     Training & Exercising
6)     Sleeping Well
7)     Brushing My Teeth & Tongue
8)     Sneezing & Coughing Without Pain
9)     Traveling Without Fear of Hunger
10)   Protecting Others (I can’t yell, save someone from drowning, etc.)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Portable Blender

Since having my “grill,” I have worried about either having access to a blender at all times or carrying enough blended nutrition to last me for a good 3-4 hour stretch.  But who says one needs to be limited in travel when the blender can be brought alongside?  Folks we are talking about one of the best tech toys out there – the portable blender.

After some disappointing attempts at restaurants to ask them to blend and strain items from their menu, my supportive friend Alex showed up with up with the “Bosch Mixxo Cordless” – a chargeable, portable blender – at one of our favorite eating spots, Shake Shack.  With beef broth, water, and extra Shack sauce, we successfully blended a Shack Burger (minus cheese to avoid messiness).  We received several puzzled looks from nearby tables and one very curious mother and son stopped by to inquire once they saw me slurping away.  The burger smoothie was enjoyed with a must-have milkshake (I chose neapolitan flavor on this visit).  We opted out of the French Fries, however, I might just bring my own potato smoothie (see prior post) as a burger complement for the next trip.  To round out our culinary tasting adventures, we also visited a nearby food fair and savored blended sorbet.  

While a blended burger may sound rather unappetizing, it can help partially fulfill a meat craving and begin to provide the body with those fatty nutrients that are absent from the more common fruit smoothies.  Every day has been an experiment to see how my energy level sustains or wanes and if I'm consuming enough protein, fat, carbs, and calories to begin to resume a more daily routine.

It is quite common for individuals with a jaw wired shut to lose a minimum of 15 pounds.  Prior to the accident, I was a strong, athletically slender 126-128 pound female, working out 6-7 days a week, and eating 5-6 times per day to fuel my body.  In the 3 ½ weeks since the accident, I've lost a noticeable amount of weight and strength.  While the lack of exercise has certainly led to diminishing muscle strength, the body is simultaneously also processing of all of my meals to be liquid given their lack of solid consistency and “feeding” on my muscle.  Previously, a hearty meal to help repair my body from an endurance training session would have kept me satisfied for 3-4 hours.  Today, a similar meal in liquid form might sustain me for 1-2 hours.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Temporary Freedom

This morning I woke up an extra hour early to cook.  While cooking in the mornings has become part of my normal routine, later that day I would have a follow-up visit with the surgeon and he would temporarily remove my heavy bands.  And I wanted to take full advantage of those precious minutes of freedom to shovel food into my body and give my mouth a proper cleaning.

My food of choice - Red Lentils and Boiled Eggs (separate, of course)

I know, not the most glamorous food.  Trust me, I would've loved to enjoy a nice crisp Caesar salad, delicious juicy steak, and fresh piece of sourdough bread, just to name some favorites.  But I had to think intelligently and make the most of food that I could eat quickly with minimal chewing and high nutritional value.  Smart choice because when those bands came off and I began moving my jaw again, it was still quite painful.  Apparently my jaw kept slipping to one side (wish I could've taken a picture of that!) and we did several practice runs to get the jaw back to its correct alignment before new bands went back on.  This visit was also particularly painful because my "grill" seemed to reject all the bands the doc tried to put on, causing several bands to pop or rip against my gum line (I thought I was going to punch someone each time!).

Still optimistic that I'll be one of the better cases of 6 weeks of being wired up (worse case is 10 weeks).  2 1/2 weeks in so far.  Some of my more notable meals today included:

Oatmeal Smoothie with "Butters" & Vitamins
- 1/2 cup of quick oats
- 2 cups of water
- 1 banana chopped
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 tbsp peanut butter
- 1 tbsp mango butter (can substitute honey)
- 1-2 tbsp liquid vitamins

Add quick oats to boiling water.  Stir constantly and add banana pieces. Cook for 3-4 minutes until oats are tender.  Place milk, peanut butter, mango butter and liquid vitamins into blender.  Add cooked oats with water.  I found that my liquid vitamins tasted repulsive and often killed the taste of the oatmeal (or any smoothie for that matter).  But with the "butters" combo, the taste was nearly 100% disguised.

Guacamole Smoothie
- 2 ripe avocados
- 1 lemon (or 1 tsp of lemon juice)
- 1 medium sized tomato finely chopped
- 1/3 cup of finely chopped white or yellow onion
- 1/4 cup of finely chopped cilantro
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth (best chilled)
- 1/2 cup water
- Salt & paper according to taste
- 1 tsp chilli powder (based on tolerance for spice)

Mash up the avocados completely.  Add lemon juice, pepper, and chilly powder and whip until creamy.  Toss avocado mixture into blender and add remaining ingredients.  Broth usually has sufficient saltiness, however, add salt if needed.  Good source of natural vegetable fat and protein.  

Red Lentil Smoothie
- 1 cup of red lentils
- 3 cups of chicken broth (1 quart box), more if needed
- 1 small onion finely chopped or grated
- 1 tomato chopped
- 1 tbsp garlic minced
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- Salt & paper according to taste
- 1 lime (optional)

If possible, soak the lentils over night.  This will speed up the cooking and soften them further for blending.  Melt butter in saucepan.  Add onions and cook until they are translucent for 4-6 minutes.  Add tomato and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add lentils and coat evenly with mixture, cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add broth and bring to summer.  Continue to stir lentils often.  45-55 minutes of total cooking time.  Sufficient liquid should remain for blending.  Season to taste with lime juice, salt and paper prior to blending.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

3 Week Anniversary

Today marked the 3 week anniversary of my bike accident.  If I would’ve known breakfast that Tuesday morning was going to be the last real meal I ate for the next six to ten weeks, I surely would’ve eaten more than a cup of oatmeal, half a banana, and some PowerBar gel blasts.  Even dinner before had been small because between my evening swim and commute back home on the subway, I did not want to eat anything too heavy before going to bed.

Although my jaw didn't get wired shut until 3 days after the accident, the doctors were evaluating the x-rays taken of different body parts and trying to determine the best course of action for the worst of my injuries - a severely fractured jaw.  I was allowed to drink a few smoothies over those 3 days, each spaced apart more than 12 hours just in case surgery took place and they needed my stomach completely empty for the anesthesia.  I was lucky to have good friends and my aunt provide those smoothies to chug into my famished body whenever I was given a green light.

I'm normally a very easy going person who passionately enjoys eating and exercising (especially in the outdoors...I'm from California).  Being starved while the doctors made up their mind was no fun and I became quietly "cranky" (according to a good friend of mine who made the trek to the first of my hospitals) with each passing hour.  Finally, after countless delays and my third healthcare facility, the surgeon and his team wheeled me into the operating room to perform a closed reduction and stabilization of my mandible fracture (i.e. wire my jaw shut).  They were nice enough to play 2Pac's California Love even though I was only alert for a minute or so before the anesthesia won me over.

The doctor and his nurse had quickly briefed me the day prior to my surgery of the procedure and my limitation to liquids that I could consume through a straw once I was wired up.  Their recommendations of drinking broths and juices lasted about 2 days before I felt so weak that I essentially parked myself in my tiny NYC kitchen with my head in the fridge every other hour searching for food I could blend and slurp down.  My high metabolism from training 6-7 days a week was yearning for fuel and the recommended liquids just weren't cutting it.

Today also marked my first day back at work and it took all of my strength to last 9 hours.  I had worked at home last week so that today would be less daunting.  Granted my job is essentially a chained-to-the-desk kind of job, it was still exhausting as I had hundreds of emails to review and of course continue to feed my starving body.  If there's anything that I've learned thus far is that my "hungry" status from any occasion before pales in comparison to the starving and often famished status I'm often in now.  The firm was nice enough to purchase a heavy duty blender for the office kitchen. I brought in 2 bags of groceries with me to blend for the next 2-3 days.

Among the smoothies that I blended up today were the following:

Sunflower Seed Butter, Banana, & Pear Smoothie
- 2 tbsp sunflower seed butter
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup yogurt of choice (I used vanilla flavored today)
- 1 banana
- 1 pear

Sunflower seed butter is a good alternative if you're allergic to peanuts. I'm not, but I've been using peanut butter in so many things that I opted for variety. I also experimented with pears as there are no seeds to worry about like with berries which I typically have to strain out.

Protein Milk with Berries Smoothie (Multiple Options - Each Makes 2 Smoothies)
Option 1:
- 1 can/bottle of protein milk (MuscleMilk or equivalent)
- 1/2 cup berries of choice (I used strawberries)
- 1 cup plain or flavored yogurt
- 1 cup juice of choice (I used cran-raspberry)

Option 2:

- 1 can/bottle of protein milk (MuscleMilk or equivalent)
- 1 cup berries of choice (I used raspberries)
- 1/2 to 1 cup of coconut water (based on taste preference)
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp flaxseed oil

Canned or bottled protein milks/shakes often taste very pasty. However, they can be a great source of protein that is easily blendable because it is already liquid base. I found canned protein shakes at Trader Joe's that ranged from 20 to 35 grams of protein in one can alone! The additions above are to augment taste and nutrition value. Flaxseed oil is a good source of Omega-3 fatty nutrients for a healthy cardiovascular, circulatory, and immune system. Coconut water further boosts potassium.

Sweet Potato Smoothie
- 1 baked sweet potato
- 1 baked yellow potato
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 tbsp butter
- Salt and pepper to taste

Pretty much your standard mashed potatoes, however, I did some preparation the night before. I overbaked (1 hr+) a bunch of different potatoes to have the option to mix them in the blender. Each potato was smeared with butter (olive oil is an alternative) and foil paper wrapped. I found that wrapping them individually results in softer potatoes that are easier to peel. Also, by baking them, more moisture is conserved versus boiling. Once baked, I refrigerated the potatoes still wrapped in foil into a zip-lock bag for today's use. I heated up the potatoes prior to blending them with the ingredients listed above and the smoothie was perfect to slurp thru a straw.

Seasoned Chicken Smoothie
- 2-3 sauteed chicken breast tenders
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups chicken broth (homemade is best)

Trader Joe's sells seasoned chicken breast tenders which are very handy for quick cooking. Chicken was sauteed in olive oil and cooked in less than 20 mins. I also purchased regular chicken breast tenders which I cooked separately in a huge pot with 6 cups of water, carrots, onion chunks, salt, pepper, and Goya Adobo seasoning (this cooked for 45-60 mins). This allowed me to have more chicken for blending later as well as create a savory stock of chicken broth which I used when I blended the seasoned chicken breast tenders.

In between my food smoothies, I drank 3 big glasses of Kefir Cultured Milk. My breakfast consisted of 2 oatmeal smoothies (will write up my creative recipe later), glass of OJ, and a Starbucks iced chai tea latte w/ a scoop of Whey Protein. Other than water, just about everything has to have some nutritional value. Consumed 4 more smoothies at home post-work and prior to bed.

My mission:
I am a "broken" athlete determined not to lose more weight and strength and to discover ways to fuel my starving body while my jaw is wired shut. Stay tuned for more blending adventures.