Like many people I know, though I enjoy food, both eating it and cooking it, I’ve never given it a LOT of thought. I knew what I liked, I vaguely understood that there were healthy and unhealthy foods available, and thinking about it pretty much stopped there.
Once you’ve experienced a heart attack, food takes on a more technical and detailed face. I’m currently in the process of adjusting myself to eat between 5 and 6 small meals a day in order to stimulate my metabolism and gradually reduce my “steady-state” weight.
I recognize that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the complexity of the relationship between health and diet and I’m torn in hundreds of different directions about what details I should be focusing on. Still, when all is said and done, it invariably boils down to the simple question: What will I eat today?
Apparently, what I’ve been doing lately has been working, in that I’ve officially lost five pounds in the past month, but I still don’t have a sense that I’ve “mastered” this critical health issue.
Butter vs. margarine? Vegetables cooked or raw? Meat or fish? Dairy or soy? I don’t have the answers yet, but, as always, the first step is to start asking the right questions.
Normal’s always been a questionable concept to me. I thoroughly understand its statistical meaning, but have never quite grasped its importance to people in their perception of themselves and those around them.
Nonetheless, having experienced abnormal with visceral certainty for about two years now, I’m almost certain I can see normal on the horizon. And I long for it with all my soul.
It’s been just over 22 months since my life went topsy-turvy and upside-down. It took only an hour of being dead to change the rhythm and tempo of my life forever. Without medicine and the sometimes overworked but often tireless heroes who practice it in hospitals and ambulances, that would have been the end for me. I have a lot to be thankful for in medicine.
But it hasn’t been a stress-free relationship. And the journey has taken its toll on my loved ones as well. I spent 3 months following my heart attack in hospital settings, first in a coma, then in various stages of utter oblivion and confusion as my brain struggled to restore itself. That process, I suspect, will never be complete, but back then, after I was revived from my comatose state, I was lucky if I remembered things for minutes at a time.
Once I had reached the point where I could safely move back home, I did so with an arm-long list of medications I was required to take daily. Even with a generous insurance policy, those meds cost us hundreds of dollars a month we could ill afford. But, in the aftermath of my untimely death, I took them religiously, assuming they were keeping me alive.
Six months later, I was well enough to be back at work, still taking the meds religiously, but doubts regarding their efficacy were growing. I had visited the ER once a month, on average, since leaving the hospital. On every occasion I can remember, the doctors expressed concern and puzzlement over the exact ingredients of the medicine cocktail I had been prescribed.
When I asked my physician about the meds and the repeated hospital visits, he appeared to brush off my concerns as those of an ignorant layperson. Come August of last year and yet another late-night trip to the ER, I decided the meds weren’t working and were, in fact, doing me harm. And I stopped taking them then and there.
So, another year has passed, this one medication-free. I haven’t seen the inside of an ER once in those 12 months, and my family hasn’t been subjected to the stresses and fears that those incidents invariably invoked. I think I’ve made my point in spades that the approach originally taken was flawed.
But hey, life goes on and I’m no more Superman now than I ever was. What got me back into the doctor’s office is boringly trivial and mundane, but that’s a vast improvement over serious and potentially fatal. I contracted a case of athlete’s foot which got me worried about the risk of diabetes which took my father’s life and his mother’s. Now, athlete’s foot has nothing whatsoever to do with diabetes, so far as I know, but my dad lost a couple of toes in his struggle with the disease and it got me thinking…
So, in the interest of protecting myself from diabetes, I decided it was time to return to the doctor and see whether my concerns had any basis in reality. In general, at my age, there are a growing number of things that medicine can prevent and cure, so it seemed foolish to continue to avoid it entirely. However, I was somewhat dreading the visit as I expected to be chastised no end for abandoning my meds wholesale and returned poste-haste to the regimen I could and would no longer sanction.
Fortunately, and much to my surprise, my doctor acknowledged the validity of my concerns and proposed that with the 12-month baseline of absolutely no medications, we could now assess a medication strategy best suited to prevent a recurrence of my original cardiac arrest without the concomitant negative side effects of the original regimen.
This is a program I can get behind 🙂
So, the first step in the process is to get my blood tested to check for key indicators of my cardiac health. I’ve now been fasting for the required 12 hours but will give it a couple more hours to be on the safe side, make sure I’m not wasting time getting a test done that will have to be repeated, then head into the lab to fill multiple tubes with my precious bodily fluid.
Although I stand by my decision to abandon a medical regimen that was simply not working, I’m looking forward to taking what sensible steps I can to prolong the life that I have been lucky enough to have a second chance at.
Today has not been the best of days. Over the past three days I have been trying to work with Canada Post and TD Bank to restore my ability to receive and pay bills through my online bank service. So far, no luck on that front. However, I can access my Canada Post account directly to view the bills that are not viewable from my bank’s interface. So I resolved today to start with paying Toronto Hydro in time to avoid a service disconnect.
I went to the bank to deposit my disability benefit cheque and withdraw the cash needed to pay Toronto Hydro. From there I made my way via the ever-present TTC to 14 Carlton Street, a location at which I had paid bills in years gone by. That service is no longer available there. A concierge directed me to a phone which auto-dialled their billing department. I was informed that Toronto Hydro no longer accepts cash payments, and directed to the nearest Western Union office (in Money Mart) to make my payment. For the privilege of handing over the cash I had obtained for the purpose of paying the bill, I was charged an additional $15. I phoned Toronto Hydro to notify them of the payment and took the opportunity to explain the on-line snafu that had resulted in my late payment.
From there I wandered down to the World’s Biggest Bookstore to pick up the third installment of Jack Whyte’s Templar series. Unfortunately, it won’t be available until sometime in August. So I backtracked a few yards to BMV where I picked up a book and a movie for under $20.
That’s when the odyssey became interesting. My next destination was the Shoppers Drug Mart on Queen’s Quay to pick up my meds for the month. I decided to walk as far as I could handle. As I headed to Bay Street to begin my trek, I became inundated with an unwanted internal cacophony. I evaluated the day I had been having, with particular emphasis on the things I had done wrong and learned I had done wrong in the recent past. I was not happy with myself. I sunk into self-recrimination and concluded I had lost myself. I no longer knew who I was or even who I was supposed to be.
The internal darkness contrasted with the bright light of a steaming hot summer day in the city. As I continued south on Bay Street, I soon encountered the Jazz Festival at City Hall. Which is where the sidewalk on the west side of Bay Street ends. I had forgotten about that. I followed my nose through the Festival booths and stage setup until I found an exit to Queen Street. Throughout it all, the inner darkness and turmoil was warring with the outer light and chaos. By now I had determined that in losing my sense of self I was free to redefine myself.
That prospect still seems daunting and unachievable to me. It took me fifty years to become the man who died last October. I don’t know where to start. It was a semi-random process the first time, influenced by parents and family and friends and enemies and strangers. I can see the theoretical and semantic validity of where my thoughts led me, but I have no idea how to put the theory into practice. And I am a firm believer that dreams without flesh die stillborn. At least now I know one thing about who I am 🙂 Thank you world, for that small gift.
I continued south through the chaos of a long weekend in the making, passing through a gauntlet of panhandlers, Muslim proselytizers and a busking bagpiper. How does anyone ever think clearly in the kaleidoscopic city? I arrived at the underground streetcar stop where I let 3 overflowing cars go by before stepping aboard the fourth and hanging on until arriving at my stop. The chaos and drama of the day continued there, but I am done for now.
I leave you with one last question: How do we know who we are? A year ago I would have considered that a nonsensical question, but that was when I knew who I was.
In the “before times” (before having a heart attack, before spending 6 months recovering from it) I measured my life by different yardsticks than I use now. A good day’s work involved communicating with clients and development teams across the continent and sometimes around the globe. A productive day included creative coding that resulted in web pages that used leading edge technologies and worked consistently and reliably across a wide span of browsers and operating systems. My work was generally viewed by hundreds, if not thousands of people, each and every day.
Nowadays, and for about the past six months, my scope has been much more limited. I’ve reached a point where I work a 4-day week, each session lasts only 2-3 hours, and I’m generally exhausted by the time I return home from the hospital. A good day’s work involves being able to bend my shoulders another 5 degrees further than the last time my progress was measured or having my memory skill rating upgraded from the level of an 8-year-old after repeating tests originally conducted 4 months earlier. My work is viewed by one therapist and reports of my progress might be reviewed by a team of five when they find the time.
These changes can be discouraging, but I keep on keeping on with the firm conviction that I WILL recover from this setback and I AM regaining my faculties and I WILL once again do what I so love to do with my days. And through it all, through the worst that has happened and the best that is yet to come, I have been blessed with the love and caring support of the most remarkable woman it has been my great good fortune to know and love.