Post by Sharon
I hope to chronicle some shifts in my life and priorities following an ER visit in mid December.
Like most Americans, I was rushing about to get my situation secure. I raced around like a crazy person, publishing 2 dozen books in 10 years, running two blogs, studying stocks for trading, researching, trying to sell equipment in the horrible economy of the oil and gas industry, and being a caregiver 24/7.
By December, I had no choice but to start an exhaustive job search to get regular income. Facets of my career(s) involved industries greatly affected by the China flu. Perhaps this common consequence should be referred to henceforth as The China Syndrome.
Exhausted with very heavy housework, making meals from scratch, still writing posts daily for two blogs, researching for my expedition team, and looking for a job in a market in which I had excellent talents, but little exposure to necessary modern skills, I had come to a place of little sleep, almost no water, zero exercise other than housework, and nerves shot.
I woke up at 4 am one night, having taken a decongestant, being dehydrated and exhausted. I had only slept a few hours. When I sat up, things felt off kilter and tilted. I got up to walk and my arms and legs were strangely noodle-like and wobbly/jerky.
I was used to ignoring my body so I could get through my days, but I had the feeling I might be having a stroke. I took two baby aspirin and called 911.
My BP was in the 200s over 100s. They took me to the hospital. In the transport ambulance, I kept thinking I was dying. My life didn't flash before me, but I did think about how I wish I were seeing the faces of loved ones around me. I didn't want to leave them abruptly without one last goodbye and the comfort of not being alone.
It's those things you think in your head when you believe you're dying that puts an auto-reset in your head.
My first regret was not surrounding myself with my supportive friends and family more and the second regret was assuming my body could run on autopilot no matter what I challenged it with. Yes, I have the DNA of vikings and a strong constitution, but I am still mortal.
In retrospect, I wish I didn't have to get in that health crisis to shift my priorities. I wish when I wasn't sleeping, wasn't taking care of myself, and putting everything first that I had figured that out so that I didn't need to be transported to a hospital and risking my very life. But sometimes we need it spelled out for us and the trek to the hospital definitely did that.
Luckily, they hooked me up to an IV and gave me a few bags of fluids and the doctor explained that once the decongestant effects were out of my body and the fluids were replacing my concentrated blood, I should be back to normal. Sure enough, the BP lowered itself back down to normal and they were able to release me.
I felt a second blessing when the doctor reviewed my labs and EKG and told me that my heart is great and my labs were exceptional except my sugar was kind of high. The one thing I could count on was a low cholesterol, great ratios, and a troponin of 0.
I have a family of heart disease - dad died of a heart attack (obese and stressful sedentary life on the road eating bad foods and super high cholesterol), mom had a heart attack and stroke simultaneously (chain smoker with hypertension) both sisters had silent heart attacks (one morbidly obese, one smoker), big brother had a major heart attack at 70.
I didn't seem to be quite the same as them, though. Many issues they had from gallbladder removal to gout and rheumatism I had completely evaded.
Every one of them was exceedingly sedentary their entire lives whereas I was very athletic with hiking, gymnastics, tennis, basketball, diving, swimming, freestyle rollerskating, skateboarding, and more. I also tended to like rather Scandinavian diet which I was introduced to by my father from Norway. I liked fatty fish and sardines, crispy multigrain flatbread, hard cheeses, muesli, and as I grew a lot of veggies all my life, I was a huge produce consumer. I didn't smoke. I didn't do drugs (even avoided over the counter Tylenol at all costs). I was pretty much adhering to a lifestyle that built a great vascular system, good eating preferences, and healthy consumption of micronutrients.
One thing I do know about DNA is that if you live a bad lifestyle, you know what diseases you are likely to acquire that other family members had. For instance, in my large family (including aunts/uncles/cousins by the dozens), if one smoked they got emphysema, but zero lung cancer. So, I knew if I smoked, I would smother to death. But I also knew that DNA has other secrets, like those who led a healthy lifestyle made it way into their 90s (my family is quite older than me so this says a lot, as those people were born in the 1920s).
I always say something good comes from something bad. Growing up, there was a lot of disruption and drama in the family as my sibs were born in the 1940s and 1950s, and I was the baby from the 1960s.
It seemed my sibs were not handling the teenaged 1960s well. So, in order to deal with the drama, I went outside and exercised and pushed myself at sports to be better each time. For each basket I shot on the court and each backhand I swung with a tennis racquet, I was expressing my helplessness and frustration.
I had been a super athlete into my teens and had built a great heart muscle and as an adult I did heavy house and yard work. As a single woman again, a few years ago was running on the elliptical at 32 minutes for 5 miles. Another thing I know about the positive side of DNA is my very Scandinavian genes seem to make me a long-haul exerciser. I can get on the elliptical and go for hours. I'm not a sprinter. I'm a marathoner.
I am a tall 5'8" but overweight (by BMI) woman in her 50s that had known better days but figured she was strong enough all her life to take on more and more and more burden.
When I came home from the ER, I realized a few things - I was bullying and scaring myself daily about my financial outcome and the pandemic, and trying to make up for lost time after decades in a marriage where I held myself back. I also had neglected my physical completely. I had given up health care expenses and had been solo flying my body through the 50s without knowing what might be lurking. And, I was finding no joy in life because it was one hill climb after another.
Given what I believed to be a second chance to learn how to live a healthy and happy life, I immediately removed salt, fast food, soda, beer, and sugary items from my diet.
I also have included daily exercise so that I can continue to build my strong heart. I do stretches before bedtime and have a nice solid sleep. I say "no" a LOT more to adding on more tasks. I take time each day to pray, to play in the garden which brings me great joy, to oil paint, photograph, read books, listen to music, and sit in the sun and get vitamin D.
I forced myself to take some time off. Real time off, that meant backing off social media, setting cell phone aside, having some inward journey time, and some time to appreciate life. It became apparent that the constant communication via computer and cell phone had me jumping around to answer this and that and look up this and that and the result is a sense of urgency, muscle tightening, shallow breathing, and even downright resentment lurking beneath.
I waited until 2013 to get a cell phone because I didn't want to be like a doctor on-call all the time. I liked the old days when folks left a message on your machine or things were done by mail. Getting on the internet was like jumping onto the Autoban on a motorcycle.
To relax, I watched videos of dogs doing funny things and laughed. I watched Christmas romance movies to get misty about family and bonding in small town communities. I picked up my paintbrush and graced a canvas with my vision of the world. I stalked the garden every day for long periods of time for both vitamin D and to plot the springtime planting.
That refocus put me in the here and now, to be present where my feet were instead of present in the virtual ether called the World Wide Web.
The most important take-aways were that I shifted out of using a whip and unforgiving taskmaster inner dialogue to motivate myself to using a coaxing carrot, patience, and proud encouragement.
It is my hope that, with this new forgiving and encouraging attitude, some lifestyle changes, and reprioritizing my life, that outcomes will reveal that the ER visit was the best thing to ever happen to me because it forced me to see what was down the road if I continued to push and neglect myself.
The journey I'm undertaking I will be documenting so I can share it in a video and reveal how every aspect of life has changed with my emergency. Julie is also joining me on a lifestyle change to be optimal health for all the things we have ahead that we want to do.
My mentor died a few months back from emphysema and before he passed he warned me, "it doesn't matter how much money you make, it's worth nothing without your health to enjoy it."
His words really struck me because as we entered into the retirement years, we should be voyaging out to see new places, do new things, live our dreams, enjoy our hobbies, but many of us are nothing more than diseased and worn out shells from having ignored the signs and putting everything else first to the point of hypertension, heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and more.
I am 58 and Julie is 62 and the both of us plan to be partaking of the groovy new life without health being a limiting factor.
You don't take a long car journey without an oil change and checkup. The vehicle is critical to getting you where you want to go!
If you make a resolution this year for health, just remember, it took years of neglect and bad decisions to get to a disease and it will take concerted effort to turn it around.
Remind yourself daily of the life you want, the things you want to do. Do you want to spend the best part of your life as a free adult sitting in a doctor's lobby or do you want to spend it hiking an historic trail?
I've always had a life of what I won't do's - I won't do drugs. I won't speed on the highway. I won't ride in a car without a seat belt... So, I decided to continue that theme with lifestyle changes. I don't do sugar. I don't do salty fast foods. I don't do caffeine. I don't sit too long. Life is easier when you know what you won't do, that leaves the rest of the field wide open.
Our message has always been, it's never too late for change. Go chase a dream. Go see another country. Go write a book. Go pick up a childhood hobby or musical instrument. And, it's never too late for your health!