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by Carole Carson, AARP, September 18, 2008
Months after my dramatic weight loss, I opened my eyes in a hospital, disoriented and looking out on a vista of blue water on the San Francisco Bay. I'd spend the next eight days in critical care in the most distress I’d had since labor and childbirth.
For the past several years, even as I dropped pounds, I'd been having recurring episodes of chest pain. Trips to the local emergency room and various cardiologists' exams assured me I wasn't having heart attacks. But if the problem wasn't my heart, what was it? Why were the attacks more frequent and intense? And why had I suffered a mini-stroke two weeks before? Reduced to being an invalid at home, I had to find out what was causing the symptoms.
Comprehensive tests by a team of specialists finally identified the problem as esophageal spasms rather than anything related to my heart; medicine (a calcium channel blocker) was prescribed and treatment began. With pain receding, I eagerly returned home. Thrilled with a treatable solution to my medical nightmare, I couldn't wait to resume normal life.
On my first day back, I arose before dawn and went downstairs to fix breakfast. Imagine my dismay when I was unable to stand to cook. I waited for my husband to rise, reflecting on assumptions I'd made about fitness while picking at my hand sewing.
Once I was fit, medical problems would disappear, right? I ate carefully, managed my weight at 122 pounds, exercised regularly, eliminated caffeine, and took vitamins and minerals. Because of these efforts, my "bad" cholesterol was low, along with my blood pressure.
So why was I unable to do even the smallest physical tasks?
Reality has a way of teaching even the most stubborn, including me. What I realized that morning was that fitness wasn't a coat of armor that would fend off the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; instead, being strong would help me deal with uncertainty and recover faster.
Facing a medical crisis 60 pounds overweight and with high blood pressure is not a good idea. Being strong helped me get through tests, drugs, and intrusive procedures with a minimum amount of trauma and probably minimized the effects of the transient stroke.
Most happily, today I have no restrictions. Although it wasn't easy, I worked myself back to full strength. And maybe I'll encourage the well-being of others by sharing the difficulties of the journey.
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