According to the cardiologists I spoke with, often, the first warning sign that something could be wrong with your heart is a heart attack. Sometimes they're fatal, and these days, if you live through it, medical science has come so far that it's likely you will survive and heal. Not so with my father.
While it's still unknown if my father will be restored to full health, there was no warning sign and no heart attack. Just a small blip on the stress test. It took nearly three months for the appointment to come around that explored these results. The doc suggested an exploratory surgery, likely to clean out some minor plaque, possibly to put in a single stent. Instead, it turned out all his major arteries were blocked nearly 100%, and my dad had a quintuple bypass.
How is this possible? He seemed, and felt, healthy. On his 78th birthday the previous weekend, we had toasted and laughed and enjoyed ourselves -- with no hint that he would be having open heart surgery five days later. Sure, he'd been slowing down, but the doctor said it was just his age. They tried a couple pills for various aches and pains, his morning lethargy; but hey, at 78, you're kind of, well... old. You can't expect to feel like you did when you were 50.
Three years ago, at 44, I was feeling, if not old, certainly middle-aged. My knees and back had begun to hurt. Climbing stairs was harder. My grudging willingness to go to the gym had become a bi-weekly battle that I usually lost. Then, inspired by my dear friend, Cheryl, who dropped eight sizes in the six months since I had last seen her, I stopped eating flour and sugar. I stopped drinking. I started weighing and measuring my food.
I won't lie. It was a pain in the a**.Yet over the next six months as my body went from a size 14 to a size 6, I stopped feeling like a middle-aged woman.
One morning in Bali, as I raced back from my hotel room with the welcome packages I had forgotten for our tour guests, I wondered why it was so much harder to climb the stairs than it had been an hour ago. I was put in mind of my last trip -- the stairs had been hard to climb then, too. Suddenly, I realized that I was carrying an extra 15 pound of papers. I used to carry that -- and much more -- inside of my body, every day.
Altogether, I lost 40 pounds. Now I drink again. I eat the occasional piece of chocolate. But I know how much better I feel in this body, how much more I can do.
After my dad's surgery, I watched people walk through the hospital lobby and I saw them through new eyes: Stroke. Heart attack. Colon cancer. Diabetes. Sure, the hospital cafeteria had some good food options. I was able to eat properly while I was there (beef tips with steamed broccoli and sautéed carrots, in case you were wondering). But those were my choices; most of the other food seemed almost designed to put people in the hospital: fried chicken, hamburgers, french fries, oversized chocolate muffins, vending machines featuring such tasty and nutritious snacks as pepperoni & cheese quesadillas. Watching people eat their lunches, I thought that each thing they chose should carry a warning label: eat enough of this and it might kill you.
My dad is a perfect example -- he's eaten a pound of raw hamburger every week for as long as I can remember. I used to watch him consume whole packages of cheese, nibbling away a slice at a time until the wedge was all gone. When I introduced him to my new way of eating a year ago, he lost 15 lbs. in just two weeks (unfair, I grumbled). Delighted to be under 200 lbs. for the first time in over 10 years, he slowly returned to his old way of eating over the next month. Maybe it bought him some time, who knows?
The UN just released a report that the damage from climate change is about to become irreversible. I read an article about it as I sat in the ICU, desperately concerned because of complications from my dad's bypass surgery. I looked over at him and had a flash of insight--we are the world.
My spiritual work has taught me two things that are pertinent:
1. As above, so below (Law of Correspondence)
2. We are all one. (Watch this Ted Talk from a neuroscientist explaining this further.)
Science and Quantum Physics have asserted both lessons. For example, the 20th Century Physicist and agnostic James Hopwood Jeans said, "The universe looks more and more like a great thought rather than a great machine." Even reality as we know it may not be reality, if the Universe proves to be a giant hologram.
My father is nothing if not logical, and he raised me. So, I applied my logic and came to the conclusion that if our bodies warn us in ways that we ignore or are unaware of, perhaps we are doing the same thing with the Earth? Perhaps we are disregarding the harbingers of a heart attack forced on our planet by an excess of human behavior? Just as we cannot binge on potato chips and Krispy Kremes every day and expect to maintain the bodies we had when we were young, we cannot pollute our air and our water, destroy our forests and divest our oceans of all edible fish, and expect our planet to go on as if it still has its equilibrium.
I'm not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV). I'm just a writer who gets to travel. I'm just a writer who gets to travel. I've seen a lot of the world and I hope to see much more. But if I had to diagnose the planet, I would say it's about one order of smothered chili cheese fries topped with crispy bacon away from needing a quintuple bypass. 25% of people who die each year do so from coronary heart disease (costing the US over $108 billion annually). I think the earth will survive, perhaps shaking off most of humanity like a bad case of lice, and leaving the rest to allow the planet to heal itself in peace.
My dad's an atheist, so I don't know if he believes in the Reiki I did over him every day. Or the spiritual lessons I learned about our relationship this last week (which is a whole different story). I pray that he gets better, that this bypass gives him 20 more years instead of the 20 days he might have had before the big one hit. That's all I can do and all I can hope for. For myself, I can eat better (at least most of the time) and get lots of exercise. I just wish I knew what to do for the Earth.