Monday, March 09, 2009
Have you ever heard of a tragic scenario and thought, "There, but by the grace of God, go I?" Maybe it was of a head-on collision that killed numerous people because a driver was using a cell phone. Or maybe you heard about a child who drowned because the parent got involved with something a looked away for mere minutes. Once I was outside talking to a neighbor in the yard when my seven-year-old decided to "fire" some clay in the microwave. When I walked in the door, the kitchen was filled with smoke. Fortunately, I got there in time before the innocent art project burned the house down. But luck is not always on our side.
In my new career path, I have had an insider's look at the consequences of unhealthy lifestyles. As a cardiovascular sonographer, I use ultrasound to get pictures of the hearts, veins, arteries, and carotids of people of all ages. What I have seen confirms what we have heard from medical reports for years.
Once a man suffered irreparable heart damage from years of alcohol abuse. The muscle of his heart had become so thin and ineffective that it was only pumping at about 15% of what it should have been. His small children had found him unconscious--having lost control of his bladder and bowels, and they were the ones who called 911. I still pray that he somehow was able to get a heart transplant, the only way to extend his life long enough to see those little ones grow up.
You know all that stuff you hear about the dangers of smoking? It's not just lung cancer, but serious heart problems and circulatory problems that result. Did you know that smoking can increase the plaque that builds up in your arteries and lead to heart attacks and stroke? It broke my own heart once to see a patient who was paralyzed from a stroke, lying motionless in a hospital bed. Her eyes responded to sound, but her body could not move, and she could not speak.
Most of us are fighting obesity, some for the sake of appearance and others for the sake of health. Two of my siblings had heart attacks in their forties, and, at the time, it shook me up enough to lose the 125 extra pounds I had been carrying my adult life. It's amazing how easy it is to lose the motivation of fear and to slack off about exercise and healthy eating. A decision of "just this once" can turn right back into an unhealthy lifestyle before you know it. I speak from experience.
I wish everyone could take a look at their own insides and see the sometimes frightening realities that lurk just beneath the surface. Is that fatty meal really worth the piece of plaque that may break off and go straight to the brain, landing you paralyzed for the rest of your life? Is that pack of cigarettes so good that it's worth the risk of leaving your children without you to guide them to adulthood? Is throwing caution to the wind and not taking your diabetes medicine, exercising, and controlling your diet worth losing your legs and your eyesight?
Seeing these realities has hit me much harder than reading about them. I'm writing this blog to remind myself that while life may look like a roll of the dice, we do determine much of our luck by the choices we make along the way. Of course, we all hear of the rare 90-year-old who smoked a pack a day and beat the odds. But much more typical are the innumerable stories of regular folks who thought nothing bad could happen to them.