You might have noticed that I have been a little scarce lately. I haven't burned out, run away to join the Foreign Legion, or gotten sick.
Rather, a family member has taken ill. My mother-in-law to be precise. She took ill a couple of weeks ago, experiencing a TIA, falling and injuring her hip—not breaking it thankfully—but winding up in the hospital, where she was in rough shape for several days. She has since been transferred to a short-term nursing home for rehab for a few weeks until she can return home, until the nagging vertigo that stops her from walking on her own, ceases.
My absence was prompted by it being the run-up to school's return for the kids, and taking up the slack for my verrrry worried, and verrry frazzled wife with all the preparation. And all families have issues—especially during crisis times, and my wife's is no exception. They're stressing her out, so I've had to step up—doing more cooking, cleaning and tending to the tasks she'd normallly be doing. Her job is putting her through changes as well, this being an unfortunately busy time there.
So, I've had to operate as her proxy in many ways, including visiting her mom—my mother-in-law—during those times when she cannot break away from work.
And those visits have quite bluntly, laid me low.
The nursing home itself is quite nice. But it is a nursing home. And nursing homes...well...
There is the smell of the place. Of old skin. And sickness. Liniments and medicines, rubber gloves and tubing. Alcohol, urine and tears.
And there are the sights. Of wizened people sitting out front in the blinding sun, blinking at the light while struggling to move their wheelchairs to shade. There was the woman who was quite literally gray of skin, slumped in her wheelchair. Her chest seemed not to move. I watched her for a long minute, fearfully. And then, a loud truck rumbled past, and she slowly opened a rheumy eye and shrugged, signaling life—as it were.
Then in the building, there were worse sights. The people lying in beds with mouths gapped open, eyes ceiling-locked. The old man sitting in the dining room leaned against the window, quietly whimpering like a wounded dog. And the woman...the woman curled on the bed in a corner of the dining hall, contracted in a fetal ball and quivering, with knees to chin, as an attendant held a spoonful of pureéd something to her mouth, cajoling her to eat. She did not.
I've been there six times. Twice with my wife, and four times by myself. And it gnaws at me every time. Mom is fine. Getting better every day. But the place messes with her head. Sparks those thoughts of mortality, which echoes in her talk. She hates the place. You can hear it in her voice, the desperation. The anxiety. Again, the mortality.
Which messes with me, too. It's clichéd, but all I could hear as I slowly walked the halls there, was Roger Daltrey fairly screeching “Hope I die before I get old!”
And lately it seems, too many of us have.
My mind landed on Steve. And the late Jim Capozolla of Rittenhouse. And Lindsay of Majikthise's dad, the latter death which hit me very hard, because I met Lindsay at Steve's funeral, and was struck with how incredibly nice she is, and thought to myself that she must've had good parents. All of these people—gone in a month's span this summer.
I have issues with death. Especially premature death. I had a childhood friend die days after breaking his arm. During the re-set of the break, he was over-anesthetized, suffered brain damage and died shortly therafter.
He was nine. I was eight. Irrational as it may be, thoughts of death have upset me ever since that day.
Those visits to my mother-in-law, those thoughts of Steve, and Jim and Lindsay's dad, and my childhood friend have weighed on my mind heavily, and move me to say simply:
We must take care of ourselves.
That means you, the readers, and us the bloggers, and all of those we hold near and dear. In the end, fuck money, fuck prestige—fuck it all...all we have really, is our health.
I think of Steve often. Every day I post or read this blog. And I think of his health, and how it failed so spectacularly, with him so young. I think of myself a year and a half ago, when I was 45 lbs. heavier. Stress and a sedentary life had thickened me, and sickened me. My cholesterol was stratospheric. Steps tortured me. I suffered from sleep apnea, and my clothes didn't fit anymore.
I looked terrible.
And then one day, I shook the hand of a friend who volunteered at a place along with me. He held my hand for a long while, like he was somehow patching into me—reading me, and then said while looking me dead in my eyes, “You aren't healthy. I can feel it in your pulse. You know what you have to do. Take care of yourself. You're taking years off your life.”
I looked at him for a long while, wanting to say “Aaaah, you're crazy!” But as he gripped my hand, I knew he was right. I was doubly sensitized because at this place he and I worked, there was a “wall of the dead”, featuring memorial pictures of all the people who had worked there who had died over the recent years—a slew of them men, who are the age I am now—early forties, all of them dropped dead from heart attacks.
I took his words seriously. I changed my diet—permanently. Started to exercise again. I began to sleep better—the apnea was disappearing. My knees and ankles and lower back stopped hurting. My mind cleared, I looked younger, and I could get back into clothes I'd bought in the late 90's. The cholesterol drug I was on was discontinued by my doctor. The weight melted away. I'd like to think that I did something to save my life, or at least extend it a little. I know I feel much better.
Look at what Jesse's doing with his bike riding and change in diet. It's a clear, tangible change in life-living that he's made to enhance health, and mental well-being—again, the only things you have when you strip away all the superficial shit. Note that I'm not telling you to eat only legumes and ride a hundred miles (although, it can really only be a good thing) on your Schwinn.
But I am saying...no, imploring you all to take care of yourselves. If it means cutting out the phantom snacks you nibble when nervous, do so.
If it means knocking off noshing heavily off the platters they put out at those long meetings at work, so be it. Snarf the celery, and carrots. Chug the free water. Chug the water, baby.
You can get decent vegetable juices from Jamba Juice—not just the crazy sweet, and rich smoothies. The vegetable juices are great for a power boost after a workout or brisk walk. Might I recommend a carrot, apple and pineapple blend—with a wheatgrass shot mixed in? The wheatgrass is a natural metabolism ramper-upper. If not Jamba (they're so pervasive, and often the only game in town), find a nice health food place and get a juice...or do it yourself at home. One or two juices a week. You'll love how it makes your body feel. You'll want more. And its damned good for you.
Cut the meat portions on your plate down by 40%. Cut the starch just as much. Increase the vegetables to fill the void. Knock down the red meat in general. If you have it five times every ten days, cut it to three. Keep fruit around. Snack on that. You can indulge in your “bad meal” jones once every three weeks—but make it high-quality “bad” food, from someplace really good so you can savor it. And then get your ass back on the wagon!
If you can't run, walk. If there's a place within four or five blocks of you that you usually drive to, and you're getting a small amount of things, or traveling light, walk instead. Since the NYC Transit strike two years ago, I walk a lot more. Not all the way home—8 miles—but many times half the way, hoofing it from Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, and then hopping a train, sometimes reversing the process, walking from central Brooklyn to downtown, and then hopping a train to Manhattan. Good music, and comfy headphones help immeasurably.
If you can't quit smoking—cut down. Once you've cut down, then quit. Get more sleep. Meditate. Manage your stress. Dial the drinking back—I ain't asking you to quit it altogether. :)
Do. What. You. Can. To. Take. Care. Of. Yourselves.
We live in a time when it is easier than ever to take care of ourselves. The access to exercise equipment and good water. Nutritional literacy is higher than it's ever been. Doctors can catch health problems earlier than ever.
We can live better, longer.
I think of those people I see when I visit my mother-in-law, and know we can stave off our bodies breaking down to that level at that age. I think of all of those we've lost so young, and want for the people I care about to live longer.
Let's do that. You and me.
It's been a rough ten days, dealing with these thoughts of mortality. Death I know...can not be avoided. But we can damn sure delay its scythe-handed knock at the door with a little proactive care, and we can make what should be our golden years that much more livable with that same care. That means all of you. Jesse. Hubris. Sara. Me. And the commenters, too. Tanbark, IBW, Jen, John D., mimi, blksista, Drifty, Terri, littlest gator, The Professor and Mary Ann. All of us. I am tired of bad news.
So do it for me. For your families. For yourselves.
That annoying riff from that terrible Starsky and Hutch movie comes to mind—Ben Stiller in that idiotic disguise repeatedly noodging.
“Do it. Do it. Do it.”
Do it, ya'll.