Like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, I have just been given a glimpse of what my life could be like if I don't finally get my eating habits under control.
Last weekend I landed in the Emergency Room with chest pains. It was not my first trip to the rodeo. I've had "episodes" a few times in the past year, but usually by the time I get to see my regular doctor, the pain has passed. Each time I half heartedly promise Dr. G (who is clearly frustrated with me) to lose weight and follow up with the cardiologist. I make resolutions like it's New Years Eve and swear to myself that THIS TIME I will get my act together, lose weight and lower my risk factors for heart attack and stroke.
However, this past weekend the worried, adorable faces of my husband & two young sons drove me to the ER after experiencing 36 hours of burning, stabbing pain right on top of my heart. This time I was truly scared that I'd waited too long and played Russian Roulette with my health one too many times.
While I was waiting for my bed to be ready, I stared my future right in the face. I was sitting on the gurney looking directly at a woman who was hovering around 400 pounds (a weight which I am now able to recognize, thanks to all of those "Extreme Weight Loss" shows).
My heart broke for her. Although she wore an oxygen mask and had a green oxygen tank sitting next to her, she was still audibly gasping for breath. I surreptitiously glanced up as five big, strapping men struggled to move her from a wheelchair to the bed.
A few hours later, as I was waiting my turn for the X-Ray tech, I could hear someone struggling to get into a position where they could take the obligatory ER chest X-rays. They had to roll her from the stretcher, onto the X-ray table and it was not easy for anyone involved. When the patient came out of the room, I realized it was the same woman I'd watched being hoisted into bed. I sat face to face with her, in our respective gurneys, each in our own quiet Hell.
I tried hard not to stare, because I didn't want her to think I was judging her. I truly wasn't. I silently prayed that she gets whatever physical and emotional healing she needs. But I wanted to make sure that her image was burned permanently into my brain. Because there but for the Grace of God, go I.
I've been thinking about her all week. Wondering how she's feeling. Wondering how she got to that place in her life. And mostly, when I've been tempted to make an unwise decision (skip my workout? Eat cookies for dinner?) I've been remembering the pained look on her face, the way the tubes from the oxygen mask tangled around her, the rolls in the skin of her arms and legs, the classic hallmarks of diabetes and heart disease written all over her body. She was my "Ghost of Christmas Future", warning me of the dangers of food addiction instead of monetary greed.
We could actually re-enact all of A Christmas Carol with any number of vices substituting for monetary greed. Whether our addiction is food, alcohol, drugs, gambling or too much Facebooking, it affects our lives in the past, present and future. If we don't change our ways, we all travel down roads that end in sadness.
Whoever the lady in the blue muu muu was, I'm grateful that we crossed paths. Her image (and the memory of my own miserable 8 hours in the ER) are keeping me on the straight and narrow. I finally saw the cardiologist this week. I dragged myself out of bed at 5:00 am to exercise. I made better choices most of the time.