Thursday, April 5, 2007

Taking a Break

While the last two posts have dealt somberly with negative emotions, today I wanted to take a break and just share a few things that happened over the last couple of weeks. I’ll sort through those--the good and the not-so-good—and present them not necessarily in chronological order, but on their effects on me. I’ve already written Part Two of “A Failure of Courage” and I’ll post it in a few days after editing.

As an aside, I received surprising responses regarding Part One. As I wrote it, I thought I was the only one who experienced about which I was writing. I thought that no one would believe me. Yet, people wrote me to say, “Dickie, if you thought you were all alone; think again. We went through the same things.”

I’m finding that what is common in those comments is the age of the people writing them. We all grew up in the 50’s and 60’s of American parents. These parents were of that group of people called by one notable newscaster as “The Greatest Generation.” His premise was that the generation who fought in WWII and Korea realized greatness for going to war and coming back to build a new USA. I ask where the greatness is when so many of their children suffer from low self-esteem.

On to this past week or so…

I thought I was lucky in love until my fiancĂ©e decided to lay down our relationship. To say I suffered a blow would be a massive understatement. Those of you who follow this blog know the depth of my joy at my being considered good enough to marry at my age, diseased and essentially penniless. (I live on Social Security, Medicaid and food stamps, right now.) Although she said her change of heart had nothing to do with me--it was her thoughts and feelings about herself that didn’t permit her to continue on--I still took it as a rejection. I will admit this loss was horrific and the pain more intense than anything I have ever experienced. I will also admit that my eyes finally dried out what with all the tears I shed.

In the end, this was a good thing. I resolved to be her friend, again, returning to a role I had for most of the last two years. In addition, I made a business deal with her that has her billing me monthly for her modeling services. If our feelings do change toward one another, we can still keep the posing going. I will survive and so will she.

That incident behind me, I continued on in my quest to achieve two goals: beat cancer and beat diabetes. I knew that my general health needed improvement in order to be better prepared to handle the two “biggies.” So, I started an exercise program and later added a new eating program that dates back hundreds of thousands of years.

My exercise program began with getting my running shoes on. To bend over and tie them was difficult, like trying to touch one’s toes while sitting down with a basketball in one’s lap. I could hardly tie them tightly because my feet were so swollen; they barely fit. But, once on, I was now free to move across the earth. I began my first week by walking for seven or eight minutes a day; not every day—I was exhausted after just a few sessions. I did get through those days gaining strength each day.

The next week, I doubled my time to 15 minutes a day. Surprisingly, this effort was easier than the first few days. I had strengthened myself so that the 15 minutes went by surprisingly fast. I was still walking in a protected area, a church parking lot, and it was quiet and devoid of traffic on weekdays.

The big change was extending my walking time to a half-hour a day. I was surprised to find I could walk from my place to the local supermarket and back in that time. Since it was open at the early morning hour of my stroll—6:30am—I even went shopping, bringing back my favorite breakfast, bagels, and to my delight at day-old prices. The change I mention was walking along the busy highway instead of a protected area like the church property or even the local neighborhood. The four lane highway carried the combined morning traffic of cars carrying their occupants to work or schools, school buses and huge diesel trucks loaded with containers or construction materials. The noise was horrific. I was very proud of myself for maintaining my new schedule and while I did take a day off or two, I kept on.

While my exercise continued an interesting thing happened. For many months, I suffered from a pain in my left hip that was virtually debilitating. I could hardly sit at my desk, stand or sleep. Getting into my car was like getting into a space craft. I had to edge myself in, hanging on to the door, the roof and the steering wheel until I could reach down and actually pick up and lift my leg onto the driver’s seat. Getting out was a similar ordeal only in reverse. I limped everywhere and couldn’t make sharp turns when I walked.

A Chinese doctor felt my pulse and told me I had arthritis. My primary care guy said my latest x-ray showed I might have cancer in that hip. All I know and care about is that the more I exercised the less pain I experienced. If I missed a day, the pain was mildly evident. If I missed more than two days in a row, I had to take Tylenol to quell the pain. That worked but, another of my goals was to be medicine-free and taking that stuff, while temporarily helpful was moving me away from my goal. So, I resolved to increase my time on the road to one full hour a day.

It was now my fourth week at this exercise game and I was up to one hour a day, a remarkable feat considering just a month or so ago I drove around parking lots looking for spaces really close to store entrances. If I had to walk far from my car, I found I could only do that once or maybe twice a month. Now, to my delight, I was walking far beyond the supermarket entrance along this busy highway, turning around a half-hour out and coming home tired but happy. I was so proud of myself for committing to a goal and achieving it.

About a month ago, just as I was starting my seven minutes a day program, my primary care doctor was berating me for gaining as much weight as I had since leaving the hospital (almost 40 pounds) and for having a blood pressure as dangerously high as I did—190 over 97. I blamed the insulin for the weight gain. I couldn’t possibly be my diet. I was only having one or two fast-food meals a week. I ate prepared salads I bought at the supermarket. I may have added a few pieces of breaded chicken to those salads but, those calories couldn’t have added all that many pounds. Okay, I did have one or two baked potatoes a day but again, the butter, sour cream and bacon bits surely didn’t outweigh the benefits of all the potato’s fiber. And then, a good friend, a vegetarian, re-entered my life and changed everything.

Bob and I worked together in the 80’s on a couple projects, one mine and the other his. I invited him to lecture at a weekend “camp” for our running club about the benefits of a vegan diet for runners. He was (and is) articulate and humorous and his message got to many of us. I remember one of his slides (no PowerPoint then) of the healthy “stool” or dump, something he said we should all aspire to. In a toilet was a stool specimen that filled the surface of the toilet water in a spiral measuring some four feet, coincidentally almost the length of the average adult large intestine. He told of that some African tribes, who eat nothing but roots, fruits, nuts, berries, bark and rocks (just kidding about the rocks) experienced these bowel movements three to four times daily. These people are trim and fit not only because of their diet but because of their daily long walks and the amount of fresh water they drank.

I decided I wanted be just like them so, I started my vegan adventure abut ten days ago because of a few recent, well-written paragraphs from Bob.

I gave my remaining chicken to one of my roommates. I took my food stamps to my closest supermarket and exchanged them for green leafy vegetables and peppers, carrots, tomatoes, onions and garlic. I got some inexpensive salad dressing, too. I started preparing and eating huge salads every day. I added brown rice to my routine, sometimes mixing it with the vegetables and heating up this concoction in the microwave for lunch or dinner. Overnight, it seemed, I started feeling differently—better, actually. And, wouldn’t you know, the “African Stool” happened for me.

Ten days after I adopted the walking and diet regimen, I was in my doctor’s office for my monthly check up. I thought I would be greeted with good health news and went through the various “vitals” measurements.

Weight: nine pounds lost since my last visit about a month ago. Blood pressure: 140 over 77. Sugar count: down from a daily average of 180 to 96—normal. And to what do I attribute these changes you ask?

Let me say I am still on daily insulin so some of the downward spiral in my blood sugar may be due to that. I’m also on a blood pressure (BP) drug to control those numbers. But, let me also add that my BP was always high whenever I went into his office, no matter the possible influence of the drug. I truly believe that the path I’m on is a big part of achieving the goals I espoused earlier: beat cancer and beat diabetes, the double deadlies of mine.

Watch this space for further updates on my progress.