I was on a roller coaster today. An emotional roller coaster.
So I’ve been having some health issues as of late. I’m obese. I hate that word, by the way. It’s ugly. It’s straight to the heart about it’s meaning. There’s no way around it. I prefer “fat” to “obese”. Clinical phrases aren’t all that catchy.
I broke down a little in front of a stranger today. He happened to be a doctor, and my daughter was with me, so it was all around embarrassing. And by “break down” I simply mean that a few tears trickled down my cheek while I tried to bite my lip into submission to stop my chin from quivering while I spoke to a lab-coated stranger about my dad dying and how I am on the EXACT same path.
When someone hands you a map and it shows a highlighted route that has pot holes, road construction, missing connectors and all of it ending in a fiery car crash and explosion, it’s common sense that would direct you to another route, right?
Not this old bird, nosiree. Nope, I am going to fly over those potholes and build the roads myself and completely defy all logic and biology to cross the finish line.
… and monkeys might fly out of my butt.
I’m on the same path as my father, give or take a Big Mac or 3, and so far I’ve only minimally tried to change it. Today I spoke to a doctor about possible weight loss surgery. I’ve dabbled into researching the options. None of them were appealing, but I was also under the impression at the time that I wouldn’t ever get ‘there’.
I’m here at higher blood pressure, pre (but probably actually actual) diabetes crossing. The expressway to bypass highway. The thoroughfare to cemetery circle.
I’m desperate not to actually have diabetes. I’m desperate not to have high blood pressure. I’m desperate to save myself for myself. I deserve to watch my kids finish elementary school. They deserve to have me continuing to scream and yell and control them.
You deserve to read all about my success and ability to maintain.
I was speaking to this new doctor today about how my father had insulin-dependent, two shots per day diabetes before 35. He went right ahead and had a mild heart attack in his late 40’s resulting in a QUADRUPLE bypass surgery at 49. 49 years old and he was cut wide open and swapped some leg arteries for heart arteries. I was at the hospital when he woke up. He told his wife, my stepmom, to make sure he was of an acceptable color before letting me in to see him because he remembered how his mother looked when she had her bypass surgery twenty years prior. She was green. My father was a lighter shade of blue. This is not a legacy to brag about. Stepmom deemed him acceptable for me to view. I was a teenager.
I remember walking down the hospital hallway and seeing him. My brothers were also there.
To get an understanding of how this all felt, you have to know who he was, physically. He was a larger than life person. He was 6ft tall, full salt and pepper beard my entire life. He had a booming voice which he used often. He was a talker. He could talk about anything anywhere at anytime and educate you on things you didn’t know you didn’t want to know. It was exhausting as a kid having to stop and listen to the conversations he’d strike up with random people. He was quick to laugh. His smile and laugh shined through that dark beard. His eyes would light up and twinkle when he thought he had you. He never spoke about his weight, but I’d estimate he hovered 20lbs below 400lbs for a lot of my life. I wasted a lot of time being embarrassed by that. To say he was larger than life was an understatement. Nothing about him was understated.
To see him lying in a hospital bed was shocking. To see the amount of blue tubes coming from his body post bypass surgery was unimaginable. His worry, he told my stepmom, was if something were to happen to him, he didn’t want me remembering him in that hospital bed, blue-tinged skin, with tubes coming out of him like some alien lab creation. I wasn’t anything but shocked and thankful he would be ok.
Then came the recovery. He had a “zipper” as he – and most- called it. His incision was big. He had to hug a pillow when he laughed or coughed or sneezed or did anything but just sit. He had his chest cracked open, for christsakes! Looking back, I don’t know that he ever really recovered from that. He certainly didn’t take it for the life-changing wake up call it was supposed to be. He stopped working. He started even more sitting. He literally wore out his couch.
Five years after his bypass surgery, and one stint and angina later, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. He carried nitric oxide around in his shirt pocket to help with his angina. I read all about congestive heart failure and saw somewhere that he probably had about a year to live.
I blocked that. Apparently so did he. He went along his merry way changing nothing about his lifestyle. December 9th, 2001 he died. He had a night where he was unable to sleep. He was freezing cold. When you are pushing 400lbs, you are never cold, by the way. You are always warm or hot. His wife knew once he was cold something was wrong.
But nothing was really ‘wrong’. He was sitting on the ER hospital bed early Sunday December 9th 2001 when he was chatting with the doctors. He began to have some difficulty breathing so they laid him down. The fluid filled his lungs faster than they could evacuate and then his heart stopped. Then he was no longer. He was just a morbidly obese man who died at the age of 55. Gone.
I remember getting to the hospital around 6am when my stepmother relayed this story to me. Up until that point, I thought he was still ok. I didn’t realize what “gone” meant until they pulled the curtain back for me to say goodbye to him.
It was so surreal. Abnormal. Strange. Alien to walk up to him and not have him move. He wasn’t ready for a rib-crushing hug. His arms did not reach out to comfort me. There was no grin showing through his beard. His eyes were closed. His hands were quiet and cold and resting on his belly.
I can’t do this to my kids. I cannot leave a legacy of sickness and seeming nonchalance about myself. They need to know that I love them with all of my heart, so it’s my job to take care of that heart. Whatever issues I have with myself, I cannot do what my dad did to everyone who loved him enough to want him to change his path.
So today I decided to change my path from sick and tired, to healthier and worthy. I know it will be hard and I wont want to comply, but whatever I have to do will be easier than my son and daughter burying their mother from something completely within her control. I love them that much, so I must learn to love myself that much more. I start back at Weight Watchers tomorrow morning. This time I will not stop. This will be my father’s legacy. His preventable and crushingly early death will be how he can still help me. He can still support me by being that constant reminder that yes, it most certainly can all end if I choose to do nothing about it. It happened to his mother, it happened to him, and it can happen to me.