It used to be that “heart month” meant the time for celebrating Valentine’s Day. The last few years everyone has jumped on the bandwagon for National Heart Month, and, for women’s health … now we have “National Wear Red Day” (this year it is Friday, February 5th). The media gathers statistics about the heart and will wow you with them – they wow me for sure. Here’s one for you: more women die of heart attacks than breast cancer. I didn’t know that fact and was surprised to hear it. Here’s another one: the American Heart Association says heart disease and strokes kill approximately one woman every 80 seconds. Now, that’s scary for sure.
My grandmother, Minnie Goddard, who is pictured above, was one such woman – in fact we buried her thirty years ago today. My grandmother slowed down a lot her last few years – she spent most of her time taking afternoon naps, usually during her soaps. At night though, she had a ritual – one that the family would tease her about. Her bedtime ritual was to have a small glass of cherry cordial from the decanter she kept on her nightstand. “Down the hatch” she’d say, then she’d put the empty glass on the nightstand, snuggle down under her blankets and soon was fast asleep. Her cardiologist prescribed the wine as a Rx for a good night’s sleep, and she liked its instant effect because she could sleep soundly without hearing the thump of her heart reverberating on the mattress.
Eight of my grandmother’s siblings died from heart disease, all before her, and, in her 80th year, my grandmother joined them. It was the morning after the Challenger disaster … she woke up to searing chest pain, called out for my aunt, but she died of a massive heart attack enroute to St. Joe’s. My mother remarked dryly “well the last day of her life she missed all her soaps due to the Challenger incident” so the anniversary of the disaster usually strikes a poignant note for me.
My mom, had her own share of heart problems, in addition to her orthopedic woes and the occasional flare-ups of cellulitis. I’d take her to see the GP quarterly and accompany her into the examining room because the doc was soft spoken and Mom was deaf in one ear. I’d listen to ensure we wouldn’t miss anything he said. He’d routinely run heart tests on her because she had an irregular heartbeat and it caused “flutters” sometimes, so nitroglycerin was one of her many pills he prescribed for her. He’d always ask Mom how many “heart episodes” she’d had since the last time. The answer was usually “five or six” … that worried me. After the first time she gave him that answer, coming home in the car I turned to her and said “you didn’t tell me about them”, and I was chastised for asking and told if I mentioned it again, I would stay in the waiting room going forward. So, I never brought the subject up again, but plenty of times, in the still of the night, I’d see her mini flashlight go on, with a faint beam shooting across the hall into my room. Then I’d hear the narrow wooden drawer of her nightstand slowly creak open and the rattle of tiny nitro pills as one was fished out of the bottle. Soon the drawer was shut again, and the nitro pill placed under her tongue to work its magic. After the pill dissolved, the flashlight was shut off. I was ever-mindful of how quickly the pills disappeared, and the frequency of the refills which I picked up at CVS with the regular prescription meds. Nope … we never spoke about it again, and, it was not heart issues that caused my mom’s death, but sepsis from a perforated bowel.
At age 40, I decided to be proactive about the family heart problems and had a complete set of heart and stress tests performed ; even a Holter monitor was strapped on for the weekend. My “ticker tapes” came back perfect and I passed with flying colors.
So, it appeared the heart issues had skipped a generation – at least from that set of tests taken nearly twenty years ago.
After my mom passed away on January 31, 2010, I decided there would be no more fast food for me, much as I liked it. We had gotten way too comfortable with cruisin’ through the line at Little Caesar’s for a $5.00 pizza … just a five-minute wait for piping hot pizza versus having it at home; and, there were those chicken nuggets and fries deals for a buck apiece that sure beat dragging all the stuff out of the oven to put in a tray of nuggets and fries or French bread pizza, then cleaning up afterward.
Since then I’ve eaten much healthier and become a poster child for Michelle Obama as to produce. I let this quote from Hippocrates be my mantra: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Now that it is officially “heart month”, you’ll hear all kinds of tips on keeping yourself heart healthy, like “spend at least thirty minutes a day, five days a week doing moderate exercise” for example. That works for me – I walked my four miles this morning. As to healthy eating, well I get a gold star for that too, BUT, some sound bites from the radio this morning included Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz at a rally telling school kids that when his wife Heidi is First Lady “French fries are coming back to the cafeteria” – so much for Michelle Obama’s school lunch menus; meanwhile, Burger King is touting its “Extra Long Buttery Cheeseburger”, a double-cheeseburger on a hoagie roll with buttery garlic sauce.
No! No! No!
I thought we were eating healthier to keep from plugging up our arteries?
I knew my sedentary lifestyle, once I started working from home in 2011, was not healthy. Long hours staring at the laptop screen, just moving around the kitchen and up and down the hall and a little yardwork. So, I embarked on a walking regimen in the Fall of 2011. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, and, that led to this walking blog, probably the second best thing I’ve done just for me.
A year ago today, in conjunction with “heart month” I decided to give up red meat – I can’t say that I miss it, though every so often I’ll dream about a large onion bun, piled sky-high with roast beef and dripping with slaw and dressing, a concoction much like Edward X. Delaney, the detective in Lawrence Sanders’ “Deadly Sins” series, might enjoy, but, alas, I now make do with turkey on a whole grain bagel with light mustard instead.
I’ve eaten so much turkey this past year, sometimes I feel that I’ll open my mouth one day and a gobble will come tumbling out instead of words.
But, that’s okay – it’s for the cause.