January 11, 2017

A Line in The Sand

“Patrick, I have to be honest with you. Assuming what you’ve told me about your family history is true, you’re genetically screwed. What I can tell you is that you are officially pre-diabetic now — based on your blood work. Based on your family history, it’s essentially a guarantee that you’ll get diabetes. Which, is manageable. But, you also have this high family history of cardiovascular issues — heart failures and strokes — not to mention your recent high blood pressure readings. And the diabetes will increase your chances of facing those issues sooner rather than later too. So, today, right now, before you leave this office, you’re going to decide how you want the rest of the years of your life to go. You will draw your line in the sand. You will decide if you want to be dealing with this stuff in 5 years, 5 to 10, or 10 to 15. But, if you want to push it back, everything you do from this day forward has to change.”

Last week was my first doctor's physical in 3 years. I had been avoiding it. I kind of knew, in the back of my mind, this was the sort of conversation I’d be having if I went. I really didn’t want to be having it now, either. A recent series of high blood pressure readings tipped the scales and forced my hand. With my family history of idiopathic heart failure, high blood pressure is not something you want to ignore. So, I forced myself (and with much pushing from my wife) to make the appointment.

My doctor is a kind, soft-spoken, and gentle young man. Still a resident but wise beyond his years. I’ve come to like him a lot and get a really good sense of his manner in the two times before I’ve seen him. Once for the high blood pressure check, another for a physical pre-screening and blood work. So, despite his easy way, there was a noticeable determination in what he was saying to me above. It got my attention as intended.

“O.K. Got it. What’s the plan?”, I asked with trepidation.

“You’re going to switch to a pre-diabetic diet. Today. Low-carb. That means mostly good fruits and vegetables. No processed sugars. No processed foods. Very lean meats sparingly. Whole grains. Things like brown rice or whole wheat pasta, but even then very small portions. Much smaller than you’re used to. No cheat days. No exceptions. I’ll send you with some handouts that will help. I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be hard because there will be no slow adjustment. It has to be immediate. You’ll likely be pretty hungry for a few weeks. But, when you feel hungry, drink a big glass of water before you reach for a snack. That’ll help fill you up.”

Sigh

“Also, daily exercise. Every day. No exceptions. Walking for thirty minutes at a bare minimum. You likely will lose some weight, which is good because you need to lose about 20 pounds to get to your ideal weight range. Keep up the meditation you've been doing as keeping your stress levels low will help — especially with the high blood pressure. But, I can tell you that if you make and keep these changes, follow all the rules, your chances of getting full adult-onset diabetes within the next five years will be lowered dramatically and perhaps you’ll be able to push it back 10–15 years. The chances are very high it’ll happen, it’s up to you and the choices you make today when you walk out that door as to when.”

And then the velvet glove...

"You've actually been doing a lot of the right things, from what you've told me. No fast food, cooking at home, getting occasional exercise. You make smarter choices than most. You just need to get even better at all of those right things."

Wow. Heavy stuff. I took it to heart. I’ve completely changed my diet and exercise and meditation schedule by the book since I left that office. It hasn’t been easy but I feel OK — hungry, but OK. On one hand, it kind of sucks. I miss having a batch of warm cookies with my wife the once a week or so we watch a TV show together. Last night, I had a pear and a small handful of nuts instead. I’ve become that guy who stands in the grocery store isle reading the side of every box he picks up. But, on the other hand, I’ve eaten more healthily for the longest period of time I have in my whole life. Which is good and something to celebrate. One of my New Years intentions is to find the positive in every negative.

At first I thought to myself, it’s not every day one is confronted with a choice of such urgency. A life or death choice. A line in the sand that says, definitively, I will change my life in a meaningful way from this moment forward.

But the truth is we do. All of us. No matter the stakes. This moment, any of us can draw a line and from this time forward make a radical, meaningful, and necessary change. We can decide how we want the rest of our lives to go. A decision that irrevocably changes our course through our daily actions.

I had my wake up call. Perhaps, this is yours.