Monday, May 24, 2004

The Heart of the Matter

I had a disturbing dose of reality forced down my throat this past weekend. My eldest brother, who lives in the nearby state of my birth, called to say that he would be in town with his wife and to attend a wedding which happened to be at a church only a couple miles from my house. He wanted to get together for breakfast. I was excited at the notion, especially since it just came up rather out of the blue, and we see each other so rarely.

The next thing he said was even more random, and not nearly as pleasant, "Also, I think you should know, I'm going in for heart bypass surgery next Wednesday."

*My* heart stopped.

The man is only 57 years old, and although the possibility wasn't that much of a shocker (he's been a life-long junkfood junkie) — we knew he had begun developing some heart problems a couple years ago — but he's been on medication, had dropped his cholesterol by 150+ points, and, we had assumed, was getting better. But as he explained to me when I met him for breakfast on Sunday, he still feels "like I have a cinder block strapped to my chest all the time." He can't exercise, is obviously restricted at work, and was told that he could either "live with it" (ie: do nothing more and hope you don't have a coronary the next time you bend down to tie your shoes), or go under the knife. So he's opting for the knife.

Besides the fact that he's my big brother and I love him and all the normal stuff, the other angle which is obviously disconcerting about all this is the alarming pattern rearing its u-jigally head: The family history. Unbeknownst to me until my conversation with him Sunday, high cholesterol and heart disease runs rampant thru my family. My grandmother on my Dad's side died in her mid-50s from a heart attack. Her husband, my grandfather, died of emphesema and had high blood pressure. But having known that both were smokers however, I'd never given much thought to there being any hereditary implications toward the rest of us, but my brother assured me that there are — and they're becoming more apparent as time passes.

This will be the second bypass surgery in my immediate family in the past three years — yep, you guessed it — my Dad, at age 79 two years ago, had a mild heart attack and subsequently, a QUINTUPLE bypass after having no previous symptoms. Thankfully he is now fully recovered and quite healthy, thank you.

But the pattern is obvious.

Almost coincidentally, just last month I went in for my annual physical and found that, while "ahead of the curve" for my age overall physically, my cholesterol was higher than it should be (220), and given my family history, the doc immediately put me on Lipitor 40's to try and knock it down below 200. I've got 2 pills left and go back to see him in 10 days, so we'll see how well it worked.

I'm trying to get back into a pattern of excercise and out of my Winter-Hockey Season-Jack-in-the-Box-3-times-a-week pattern which I suspect is what got my cholesterol up in the first place.

How the next 6-9 months play out and the effect of diet and exercise on my cholesterol numbers could go a long way in determining how much my life may either do a swift about-face, or allow me to maintain a similar (but hopefully less oblivious) existence for the rest of my days. I'm resigned to the fact that I may be in for some significant changes. I hope not, but am prepared to do whatever it takes NOT to become my brother in another decade or so.
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