Six months in on lifestyle changes

Six months have now passed since I had my heart attack, although all things considered, it seems like six years ago.

There is a tremendous difference between what I knew then and what I have learned since.

At the time, I was told I had a heart attack. I knew that wasn’t a good thing, but considering the circumstances, I thought it was something minor. In the days and weeks since I have learned what I had was not minor and I am very lucky to be walking around today.

Weight has always been an issue for me, but I had not taken care of the other potential dangers either. While I did take a statin for my cholesterol, I had never been too concerned about my numbers. Things like frying and salt are what make food taste good, so I always assumed the pleasure was worth the risk. Let’s be honest, while asparagus and green peppers are good, they can’t take the place of fried chicken or bacon.

Running or walking seemed like a perfect waste of time and something in which only athletic-type folks participated.

Now, while I am not the perfect post-heart attack patient, I have attempted to incorporate healthier choices into my lifestyle. Turkey has become my go-to protein in most meals. I have learned a variety of ways to cook Brussels sprouts and green beans and a trip to the salad bar (pre-COVID-19) was my definition of eating out.

In many respects it worked out well because of the past few weeks it has been expensive, if not impossible, to purchase beef so healthy vegetables have become an economic bargain. While I have snuck a hamburger to two into my diet and pizza is the ultimate cheat, I have managed to avoid most fried foods, including chicken, which once would have been considered a bridge too far.

But probably more telling of my lifestyle changes is my exercise routines. I finished my rehabilitation at Cass Regional Medical Center, which offers a great program and great people who really seemed to care about my success. Now I have moved on to having to be self-motivated to go work out several days per week. It was more and more of a challenge when all I knew was how many laps of the track at the Community Center equaled a mile or what the treadmill said you were accomplishing. Recently I found the pedometer on my phone and now the daily counts have become more of a challenge. While I used to relish the “all-you-can-eat” lunch buffet, now I try to be more tuned into the “how far can you walk today” buffet.

I must admit I have done far more than I would have guessed and I look for time to get in my walking each day instead of trying to figure out reasons to let it slide. I must say I have surprised myself just how many miles I can walk in a day. I was told by one of my cardiologists that following a heart attack is almost like living with post-traumatic-distress disorder. Suddenly every ache or pain or loss of breath brings sudden certainty that the next cardiac event is about to transpire. Whether working out or lounging, I will admit that ever tweak in my chest or every muscle ache causes me to stop and assess my wellbeing. There is also a great deal of guilt that comes with the PTSD. Is salting those vegetables going to be the last straw which triggers the next attack? If I get fries with that sandwich, will all of my hard work be lost? Adding to the
uncertainty is the Coronavirus because with my heart condition I am considered an at-risk individual.

Those are many of the thoughts of realism which now populate my daily life. While I truly wish I’d never had the heart episode, I am grateful for the medical professionals who helped me walk away and I am grateful for the healthy alternatives I can now try to employ. I now live with the goal of seeing tomorrow and being appreciative of everything I will have the chance to enjoy which could have been lost.