Let me preface this by saying three things; First, I’m uncomfortable sharing deeply personal information. Second, this is not written in search of sympathy nor attention. Third, it’s unapologetically long.
I am writing this because I shared my story with a friend and he said our conversation was going to change the way he looked at his day. If it perhaps does the same for you, then it’s worth the share.
I’m a relatively healthy, middle-aged guy that works out, likes a steak and a cocktail and prefers brown food (fried) to anything colorful (vegetables). While I once smoked, it was over half a lifetime ago and is a non-factor in my health.
On my birthday in July, I worked a half day and came home early as my wife had planned a wonderful dinner, complete with my annual treat of her red velvet cake. As I walked through the house I stopped and told her I didn’t feel well. Just a non-specific thing with a little sharp pain in my chest. You know the one; It gets your attention for a minute and then you burp and laugh at the fact that you even gave it a thought. She told me to relax and unwind as she prepared to fire up the grill. A hand-crafted old fashioned to kick things off, followed by filet mignon, a sea-salt crusted baked potato, roasted corn on the cob (OK, some color is good) and all the “fixings”. And of course, the red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. My momentary uneasiness had melted into smiles, laughter and a wonderful evening.
The following day, the same feeling swept over me, only this time it was accompanied by pain in my jaw and some mild discomfort in my left arm. I popped a couple of baby aspirin and went out to do a quick errand. I stopped by a “doc in a box” to see if I could get an EKG to put my mind to rest (as opposed to doing what I really should have done in the first place). While the results were normal other symptoms were not, so we headed to the ER.
Poked, prodded, x-rayed and inspected, I was told an overnight stay was appropriate. The next day a battery of tests were done, capped off with a treadmill stress test. 9.5 minutes into it and at a 15% incline, the cardiologist asked if I ran marathons. Hardly. But, apparently many people in my age group don’t make it anywhere near that long as they attempt to hit their max heart rate. He said that my cardiac fitness was outstanding, that my blood sugar was elevated but otherwise I was to be sent home. While back in the room preparing to leave I had another bout of minor chest pain. This time, they popped a nitro tab under my tongue and we’re off for a CT of my heart.
My timing was on point, as had I not experienced that “episode” in my room, I’d have just been on my merry way back home for more cake and perhaps another old fashioned.
By this time it was late and I was told that I was spending another night. The cardiologist would be by in the morning.
My wife showed up bright and early to be there when the cardiologist would most certainly me that (hopefully) it was all in my head and I should go home and enjoy my Sunday. It didn’t quite work out that way.
The doctor walked into the room, stood there without batting an eye and bluntly said, “you have coronary artery disease”.
My wife’s face was ashen, exposing a mix of shock and fear. I told the doctor that he would have to repeat himself and go into detail because “she’s going to need to absorb all of this information.”
But what about that heart of a runner? The 9.5 minutes on the treadmill? The hour that I can nail on the elliptical at home? This didn’t make sense.
After he told us that the damage was widespread he narrowed the focus to the Left Anterior Descending artery, commonly known as the “widow maker”. This one was the one responsible for most deaths from cardiac events. The icing on the cake (sugar-free and non-fat, of course) was that the narrowing was due to “soft” plaque. We learned that “soft” plaque is more likely to slough off and cause stroke and heart attack. “Hard” plaque is the better of the two and responds more favorably to angioplasty and stents to open and retain flow in the passageways. The same treatment on the “soft” type is a higher risk because of the flaking and traveling throughout the bloodstream.
The cardiologist described the cocktail of meds that I would be on as they work to quell further damage and blockage of the LAD. He also told me of the significant lifestyle change on which I was about to embark.
Finally, he explained to me that my “heart of a runner” and my cardiovascular conditioning was what had kept me alive. His counsel was to continue exactly what I was doing; 5-7 days per week for an hour of work on an elliptical machine.
Armed with a folder full of prescriptions and our heads full of fear and questions, we headed home with a quick stop at CVS to spend some quality time with our new best friends in the pharmacy.
For the next week, my wife wouldn’t tear herself away from the Internet (oh, Lord) and books. She needed to save me. Feed me the right things. Support me in every way she could. Zero cholesterol. Low fat. Little to no saturated fats. Cheese is gone. Fried food is gone. Red meat is gone. So, I guess the habit of lining up Triscuits and adorning them with hard salami and cheese made for a bad snack.
An interesting dietary point here; if you’re not eating fats, it’s a damned chore to eat enough to support life! I eat smallish meals all day and really can’t eat more, yet I struggle to net 1,500 calories a day after a workout. Great for weight loss I suppose, but wow.
(Just moments ago, my son-in-law and grandson met the Pizza Hut driver at the door and paid him for their dinner. I flipped him the bird. He knows the truth…I miss him dearly.)
About a week into this new way of living, I was going through my pictures on my phone and was somehow surprised that all the pictures I’d posted of outstanding food and drink had perhaps contributed to today’s issue. Nope, I wasn’t eating well. Wait, I was eating VERY well, just not healthy.
So, here we are 6 weeks past my birthday and what have I learned?
First, I learned that I only thought I knew everything about my wife. I didn’t. Not even close. The level of caring, compassion and love that I’d seen from her for nearly 15 years was just the surface.
I’ve learned that TODAY is the day. Today is the day to embrace and live to its fullest.
I’ve learned that while allowing everything into my life on this day, that I need to continue with my sights on tomorrow. Put in the hard work to be strong, healthy, have the amount of money it takes to be fully engaged in life, not in the circuses that surround life.
I’ve learned that social media can be a cesspool and often is. While my livelihood somewhat depends on it, it’s sometimes ugly. Idiots hide behind keyboards. The ones that claim to know so much frankly are lucky to tie their own shoes.
I’ve learned to not care if I get the approval of others. If you truly care about me, you’ll care for me even when you don’t approve. If you don’t, I don’t have time in my life for you. I am blessed with amazing family and friends and I love them all.
I’ve learned that a healthy lifestyle doesn’t suck if your goal is to live long and truly enjoy the gifts with which you’ve been blessed.
I’ve learned to use a different measuring stick for my success.
I’ve learned that I was right about the people that I thought sucked in my life. They do suck, yet I made excuses for them to others, my family and myself. No mas.
I’ve learned that second opinions matter when it comes to your health and legal matters. Question everything, become informed and do your best with that information.
I’ve learned that the Mayo Clinic is the medical version of badass.
I’ve learned that people waste a lot of money sending me offers for life insurance these days. Just stop and save a tree.
I’ve learned that I actually own four 10mm sockets and they’re all part of their respective sets. I’ll be damned.
I’ve learned that new friends are around every corner if you are honest with them, allow them into your life and expect nothing.
I’ve learned that millennials are proof positive that parents can and do fail.
I’ve learned that people are stunned at true customer service. On one hand. that allows me to continue to build a thriving business. On the other, it is a shame that people’s expectations have been forced to be so low. It ain’t lip-service, kids. You must walk the walk.
I’ve learned that peanut butter is really, really bad for you. Dammit.
I’ve learned that not drinking alcohol was as easy as quitting smoking was for me some 35 years ago. That said, smoking made me stink and feel like crap. Ketel One with Maytag blue cheese stuffed olives makes me chill and feel just fine. Guess which one I will partake of in moderation in the future.
I’ve learned that you can just say “I quit” when you’re the President of the HOA and not feel guilty about it. At all. It’s called de-stressing your life. I wasn’t your employee, people. I was a volunteer. Treat those remaining with respect. Nobody owes you squat.
I’ve learned that “whole grain” on the label doesn’t mean squat.
I’ve learned that somehow, through some chemical miracle, Morningstar Farms developed a meatless corndog that is the next best thing to getting one from the booth at the county fair. Of course, whatever those chemicals are will probably kill me, too, but I’ll go to my Maker with a belly full of delicious corndogs.
I’ve learned that in mid-life, you can actually need to buy smaller clothes instead of larger ones. I understand that this is a rite of passage for those 80+ years of age, but it’s kinda cool now. Down 15 in 6 weeks while trying to stuff myself and no Keto diet (you do know that crap will ultimately kill you, right?)
I’ve learned (confirmed) that my wife is addicted to Costco and Amazon. I’m guessing her trips to Costco will be shorter now. She’s playing along with my diet which means she can no longer visit the little old ladies holding court at every intersection in the store as they hawk their samples of cranberry-infused goat cheese.
I’ve learned that, in general, people in the south truly are gracious and respectful.
I’ve learned that Music Choice on cable kicks Sirius/XM’s ass in every possible way. Mobile apps allow me to stream my Xfinity Music Choice at the office, in the car/truck or whatever. Better music and none of the gawd-awful audio (lack of) quality that curses satellite delivered music.
I’ve learned that most politicians are morons because they assume we are the same.
I’ve learned that 576 is a really freaking high triglyceride level. By the way, I have historically been in the 75-90 range.
I’ve also learned that when it’s that high, they can’t even compute the LDL side of your cholesterol level. I always felt like being in that 190 to 210 total range was OK because my HDL/LDL ratio was awesome due to elevated HDL from working out a lot. That only works to a point. Yup, 576 is WAY high.
I’ve learned that sometimes genetics suck.
You know why I’ve learned all this in the past 6 weeks? Because I’ve learned to fully embrace TODAY. To get up in the morning and take the time to sit in a chair for about 15 minutes and just absorb it all. The sounds, the smells, the feel of the air as it surrounds me. I know, sounds a little zen, huh? I suppose it is.
I allow myself the time to more completely realize the good that is in my life. I was heading to a doctor’s appointment yesterday morning and had to take a road that is riddled with construction traffic and backups. Six weeks ago I would have let it bother me. It did yesterday, for about 5 seconds. Then I smiled and turned up the music and went along for the ride with Creedence.
TODAY. It’s important. I know you’ve heard it a thousand times…”there’s no guarantee of tomorrow”. Yeah, while that’s true, we all have to prepare for tomorrow, even if it’s one day at a time.
Tell someone you care about them. Tell your loved ones something they may not know about you! LISTEN to others. LIVE the day, don’t just let it go by. And remember to plan for tomorrow. For if we don’t, we’ll run out of “todays”.
Thanks for reading.