Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Ghost of Future Fatness

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.
As Tiny Tim would say..."God Bless Us, Every One!"

Monday, September 2, 2013

Attention All Smokers - I'm Sorry!

Smokers of the world, I owe you a huge, fat, fucking apology.

For  years, I was smug. I couldn't understand why smokers would knowingly  "take 7 minutes off their life" with every cigarette. I  arrogantly smirked at the stupidity of spending  thousands of dollars on a habit that would  eventually kill you.

School drilled the dangers of smoking into my head.  DON'T START the teachers and books would scream.  Smoking  is  a dirty, nasty habit that is almost impossible to quit.

 I watched in horror as family members who started smoking in their teens were barely able to walk at age 65 due to circulation problems in their legs and emphysema.  I would complain that Aunt Jane's house smelled terrible.

Ah, little did I know that the vice I was  addicted to was every bit as evil and insidious  as cigarettes.

My  Mother was my first enabler.  As a teenager, when I would voice a concern over my weight she would try to reassure me by saying  "Honey, it's true, you are  15 pounds overweight, you hate vegetables, you eat  too much sugar... but at least you don't smoke!"

Every visit to the doctor, I proudly answered  NO in capital letters to the obligatory "Have you ever smoked?" question.  I thought if I didn't smoke,  my health must be  OK.

I was wrong.

Now, in 2013, the U.S. is finally waking up and smelling the sugar.  The public  is beginning to get the message that being obese and addicted to junk food is just as dangerous as smoking. (Maybe even more dangerous and destructive, but I'll  leave that for experts to debate)

So to every smoker that  I  gave the stink eye  as you were standing outside, quietly killing yourselves...I'm sorry for judging you.  Frankly, I was doing an equally good job of killing myself, only I was hiding in my car ordering  fries at the drive through.  Being fat seemed more socially acceptable than smoking, since second-hand smoke can kill adjacent non-smokers, but eating a sleeve of Oreos for dinner only hurts myself.

But  the idea that  "Being fat doesn't hurt anyone else" isn't really true either.  The financial toll of America's  food addiction DOES affect everyone. We all pay for it in higher health insurance premiums and higher taxes to cover Medicare and Medicaid clients with diabetes and  heart disease.
My health problems certainly hurt my kids and husband. If I don't feel well, or we have to spend  extra money on medical needs or God forbid something horrible happens to me, my family suffers.  It's no different from second-hand smoke.

I'm now 42 years old, significantly overweight,  with several risk factors for diabetes and heart attacks.  I'm  feeling the physical effects of too many candy bars eaten in my youth.  I've lost sensation  in my right foot.  I've made more than one trip to my doctor and the ER due to chest pains that should have scared me straight. 

I am scared. My eating habits have definitely improved in the past few years, as I've matured and can now see and understand how bad choices affect my health.  I eat more vegetables and much less sugar. But, like all addictions, it is very difficult to go cold turkey and all too easy to slip back into bad habits after starting with an innocuous piece of birthday cake at the office party.  Next thing I know, like a smoker who has been on the patch for 3 weeks only to return to their pack-a-day habit,  I've eaten 1000 calories in a 30 minute binge after a stressful day.

I'm sure the smoker standing next to me on line at the grocery store  is wondering why I'm wasting my money on junk food  that will kill me eventually.  I couldn't agree with him more.