by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
April 1, 2008
WHEN A LESSON COMES TOO LATE TO LEARN
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- It's not easy being a "know it all" when the message hits you and you finally realize everybody else was right.
This morning, when a group of us was in the pool, some older, some younger than I, it was so enjoyable and invigorating that I wondered why I hadn't been doing this for the dozen years I've lived in the Golden Isles of Georgia.
No, I always thought, I don't need exercise, I'm an active person.
"Are you active enough to get your heart rate up to 110 beats per minute?"
"Well, no, but I feel fine." I've said that at every routine visit. I wouldn't even be at those checkups if it weren't for my dental hygienist. I went in for a routine dental check and cleaning and she took my blood pressure. "Oh, my," Terry said, "I want you to see your doctor before I work on you."
"Your blood pressure is high and your chart doesn't indicate your being treated for it. It's a silent killer, you know. You don't need symptoms."
Well, that sounded ominous, all right. So, I called the doctor and he worked me in that very afternoon. That was when I stopped being a person and became a patient. Along with the admonition not to use any salt, not any, not even a little bit ... ever, I was given yellow pills in a sample packet and a prescription to fill immediately.
Then one day this past October, I felt strange chest pains. No one was home. I knew I should do something but I wasn't going to dial 9-1-1 and have that ambulance in my driveway since, once again, I felt fine - except for that unusual chest pain.
I drove to a nearby Health Center.
"What? You drove here yourself?" they said, while administering oxygen, dabbing me with a lubricant before affixing the EKG wires to get a clear picture of what was happening to me.
This was just for the immediate diagnosis while from the outer room I could hear the doctor in charge calling for an ambulance to take "a woman presenting with heart failure" to the major hospital.
I heard the call but never thought he was talking about me. It was about me ... heart failure? ... and I was slid (gently so as not to dislodge the oxygen) from one bed on wheels to another narrow enough to slide into the ambulance.
Suffice it to say I was treated, prescribed for, and sent home after four days with further instructions and more pills. This wasn't supposed to happen to me. I'm an active person! Well, this "active person" now has to deal with high cholesterol along with high blood pressure.
So, no more red meat. No more fats of any kinds. I was told to read labels. Look for salt, fats, high fructose, and artificial food coloring and flavoring. I have to count calories and watch my blood pressure. I must limit alcohol and take my medicine at the precise times indicated.
None of this is intended to tell the story of my trek through the health system - which, I'm convinced, could have been prevented if I weren't the aforementioned "know it all." The doctors also ordered me to exercise more. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," I mumbled under my breath. So, in December, I had those pains and I went through the exact same thing again. I felt fine but I was once more in the throws of heart failure.
"Whoa," I said to myself, loud enough to hear it. Again it took them four days to regulate my heart rhythm and once it was done, I took off my oxygen mask and went home. "But," I was admonished before I left, "if the rhythm goes out, blood could pool and cause a clot to break off and go to your heart or brain, causing a stroke or death.
Oh, I don't like the sound of that. I was just getting used to "heart failure." The doctor added - as if it meant nothing - "no more caffeine. It's a stimulant, you know." It's caffeine-free from now on. (Groan)
I'm learning my lesson. I do take my new pills and my new prescriptions and five mornings a week at 8:00 a.m. I gingerly step from the cold air into a somewhat warm, outdoor pool and begin an hour of cardiac exercise which in water takes on a rather weightless feeling. We're like kids at summer camp as we enjoy the company, the splashing aerobics danced to loud music and the added vigor we all crave.
Finally, I learned my lesson. It was a long time coming. Three days a week, following my pool exercise, I now return to the hospital for their Cardiac Rehab Program of monitored exercise with a dozen or more ex-patients who also need to get with the program of living a life of health and vitality. You work against your own rhythms with the exercise equipment telling you how many steps you're taking and how high your heart rate is climbing. Some members of the group have been going for 10 years.
I have always known that diet and exercise combined is necessary for success in weight control and physical fitness. But, I guess I thought it was just for other people. I was just fine. After all, I stopped smoking after 33 years, and it's 25 years since that momentous moment. My lungs were as if I had never smoked; I was home free. But now I know that was only the first lesson.
The entire test is before me now. When I feel like sleeping in, I say: "Get up, get out, get moving." However, allow me to reiterate: I feel fine. I am fine.
Well, except, that is, for a bit of stressful news I heard today. It's quite possible that using my cell phone could cause a brain tumor.
Now that's a clarion call that has a ring to it.
Visit longtime AR Correspondent Constance Daley at her Website. The fourth volume of her columns for AR has just been published.