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Can't We Do Better at Prevention?

Saturday, August 04, 2018

What a whirlwind week.

Last Friday, early in the AM, my mom said she noticed my dad was clutching his chest and short of breath. She called the ambulance, but my dad insisted he was fine and to just drive him to the hospital.

Well, that was a mistake because he had a minor heart attack. We were extremely lucky that he didn't have a major event because he wouldn't have survived.

At first, I was really angry at traditional Western medicine. We are really great in the world at heart and cancer treatment, but really bad at prevention. We view it as an eventuality. Treat the symptoms, wait for the heart attack, then perform invasive measures.

Unfortunately for my dad, he was very lucky in some ways and very unlucky in others. He has 3 blocked veins in his arteries, a completely blocked carotid artery, and a partially blocked secondary carotid artery. The doctors felt he was too risky for bypass surgery, and gave him an option for a stent. Normally stents might be a routine and relatively safe, but in his case, they had to move past an artery that is 75% blocked in order to reach the one that was 99% blocked. They said that he was higher than average risk, but it was the only choice remaining. They would not do bypass, and he wasn't responding to medicine alone.

I am so grateful to the surgeons and nurses who operated on my dad. The procedure wasn't without risk given his other complications, and they did a miraculous job. I'm just struggling with why there were so many problems that seem to slip past screening. It's not like my dad hasn't been to the doctor recently. He goes a couple times a month for the past few decades.

I just brought him home today, and I went through his pantry and threw out a lot of unhealthy foods. Mostly stuff that is really high in sodium, high fructose corn syrup and processed crap. He said he is willing to make a change. I hope so. I really think this is a train that cannot stop at this point. We can throw more coal in and make it go faster, or we can try to slow it. But the train isn't stopping. We all want that to be as long as it can be. Through it all, my dad was just so determined. He wants to live. He's still sharp of mind, and as soon as his heart started getting blood flow again, it seemed to respond. Color returned to his face, and his blood pressure looked really good. As a muscle, his heart is so strong. It just his arteries that are failing him.

This type of damage doesn't occur within 6 month, or even a couple of years. This is decades. In some cases, damage can be reversed. But poor diet and lack of exercise will take its toll. The surgeon said she wasn't willing to perform the surgery because his lungs performed so badly, it wasn't an option. Exercise is what keeps your lungs strong, and he stopped walking even to the mailbox years ago. She said his overall risk of something going wrong on the operating table was 58%.

I can't stress enough that if you are well enough to change your habits and your health, you should do it now. No matter your age. Once you have a major problem, it is harder to reverse it, especially as you age. It's something we all realize sometimes at some point we're not invincible anymore. We don't rebound like we used to in 20s and 30s. Past 40, we will live with our consequences sooner and later.

I'm most worried about my dad's lack of motivation for exercise. The doctor has ordered cardiac rehab and 5 minutes of walking per day. He began giving excuses about how his back hurt, and I wasn't having it. I've known people with spinal cord injuries who wished they had the problems he has. I told him if his back hurt so badly he can't walk, then I'll get him a wheelchair. Otherwise, he can get up and walk. Sorry to be harsh, but I've always been more on the tough love side.

All of us have an expiration date. None of us know when. None of us can stop it. The best we can do is to extend it, and the worst is to shorten it. We cannot control genetics. We cannot change our expiration switch. We can control our lifestyles: nutrition and exercise. Those last two things determine our options. Traditional medicine is really great about medicating our symptoms, and critical care, but it is really bad about helping us avoid the train wrecks in the first place.

I saw my dad's cardiologist cycling into work one morning. I noticed his extremely lean, muscular calves. All of the cardiologists were very lean, despite working very long hours and demanding schedules. I guess if you work with sick hearts all day, every year, you figure out how to eat right and get enough exercise. With the situation, I didn't get my regular exercise, but I took the stairs instead of the elevator when visiting my dad everyday. My tracker said I climbed an average of 14 floors per day. I couldn't help but feel a little bit of pride that I could climb 14 floors a day, and my mountain bike rides were more challenging. There was a time when I couldn't climb one flight without feeling like I ran a marathon. I ate salads in my dad's room. I couldn't be a good example of how he should be eating if I was downing burgers and pizza in his cardiac ward just because it was convenient.

I just realized that being able to walk, having the choice to exercise in some way, and eating well, is all a gift. It is a choice we can make every day, every minute when we're healthy. Someday, we will not be healthy. Someday, we'll wonder, what could I have done better? Is this something I could have avoided?

Prevention is so hard because it's a gamble. If we could look in a crystal ball and know for certain, "If I don't do abc, then this event xyz won't happen in 40 years", I guarantee 99.999% of us would do it. It would be so easy. But it's not easy.

β€œIt is easy to be wise after the event.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes

But can we be our own crystal balls and be wise before then? Can we not already tell what train wreck is coming? Isn't that why we all came here to begin with?
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Just now reading this - I'm glad that your dad is doing better.

    We can't lay all the blame on Western medicine for being good at remedies when things go wrong, but not working to prevent these things from happening. There is an old saying - "it takes two to tango" - that would seem to apply here. No matter how much the medical industry publicizes how to prevent these heath problems there are several more factors in play.

    1) They must be communicating with a willing audience. I find a lot of skepticism when I tell doctors that I follow their recommendations. I assume that is because a big majority of their patients don't.

    2) Advertising... How often can you sit through a tv program without one of the pharmaceutical companies pushing a "sure cure" for whatever ails you. Snake oil, anyone?

    3) More advertising -- If you don't see a pharmaceutical ad, you are pretty certain to see an ad for some fast food deal. Bigger is better, more food for your buck, etc.

    4) Our impatience with everything. We need instant gratification and live in the current moment. Who cares what MIGHT happen down the road?

    5) The nutritional education that we all receive, including doctors, is sadly lacking in general.

    6) I'm sure there are others that I have missed.

    Until we as consumers demand healthy food instead of instant/fast food, things won't change in the food department. Every time I go grocery shopping there seems to be a new flavor of cracker to buy, but try to find a good whole wheat one...

    And until we get up off our butts and get moving, our society's health as a whole is not going to improve.

    Whew!!! I think something in your blog must have hit a nerve today - I hereby relinquish my soapbox!!

    Have a great week!

    811 days ago
    First of all I am so very sorry about what happened to your dad. How very scary for you, your mom and anyone else in your family. I am so happy to hear that the surgeon was able to do such a great job and your dad is home and healing.

    Second, what an important message you have here. I think I am going to make my husband read this. He is eating better because I mostly buy just healthy foods, although he does still need his chips with lunch. At least I can say he's only taking about 1/2 serving and he doesn't go back for more. But he really does need to get more exercise. He'll walk every now and then but it's certainly not consistent!

    I also agree with you about the health care industry in America. Give drugs to take away the symptoms but don't teach the people how to take care of themselves. My own doctor is amazed at how much weight I've lost and how much healthier I've become - but I had to do it all on my own. So far I've gotten off my cholesterol medication and next I'm working at reducing or eliminating my blood pressure pills! One day at a time but I'm making progress!
    818 days ago
    One of the best blogs I have ever read.....and I have read a whole lot of them.

    818 days ago
    Thanks for sharing your story!!
    818 days ago
  • EVANS1848
    Thanks for sharing, I have had two valve replacement the last one in 2016 along with lung problems. Can not have hip replacement because of my heart.
    818 days ago
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