May 13th, 2011

A Change of Heart

gymI joined a gym today.

It has been 18 months since I last lifted a dumbbell, ran on a treadmill, or attempted anything else to tune my body. In my own defense, I didn’t stop working out because I was lazy; in fact, quite the contrary. Truth is, 18 months ago, my son was born, and, since then, I couldn’t justify spending an hour more away from him than I needed to.

So, over the last year and a half, you could say I became a bit “soft.” Soft around the mid-section; soft in my dietary choices; and soft in my commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Chicken nuggets, macaroni & cheese, donuts, and French fries are so hard to turn down when the precious little hand of your son is feeding them to you, and you see the smile on his face every time you take a “dinosaur bite!”

But, if I have learned anything over the last 6 weeks of working in the ICU and on the Cardiology service, it is that dinosaurs are extinct, and I will be too if I don’t start changing my ways.

Specifically, over the last 2 weeks, I have seen four patients my age (+/- a year or two) who suffered heart attacks and required intervention. Let me be clear here, I saw FOUR patients in a span of 10 days who suffered non-fatal MIs not far from their 32nd birthdays!

One patient I am caring for is a 63-year-old gentleman who also recently suffered a heart attack and subsequently received angioplasty and stent placement. He had no risk factors, no family history, and was not obese. He simply awoke one day with chest pain and decided to get it checked out. Thank goodness he did, because he had near- complete blockage of his left anterior descending artery.

When we rounded on him this morning, he was sitting at his bedside alongside his wife, full of life and with a notebook full of questions. As my attending began to debrief him on the recent events and procedures that were performed, I could see his mind going into overdrive trying to absorb all the information. When it came time for him to ask his questions, he scanned his premade list, took a deep breath, and asked, “How can I prevent this from happening again?”

When I heard this, like a cowboy had jerked on the reigns of a horse, my head perked up. For some reason, this fortunate man’s simple question struck a chord in me. Why should I wait until I am 63 years old and recovering from a heart attack to change my ways? Why should it take an adverse event to convince me that I need to live healthier? I am young and knowledgeable. I need to do it now, if not for me, then for my son and future children. I need to be healthy for them.

When I left work today, I turned over the proverbial leaf.  Instead of heading straight home to sit on the couch and wrestle with my little man, I made a quick stop with longstanding benefits. 

I joined a gym.

9 Responses to “A Change of Heart”

  1. Jittiya says:

    Hello from Thailand
    I’m internist, working in the north of Thailand , Chiangmai. Love to read your writing. A lot of coincidence around here.

  2. Fiona Fogartie MD says:

    Working out has to be something I will do. A criterion is to be out of doors in a warm dry climate, so I relocated to the SW desert with >300 days of warm dry climate. For the past 20 years I have lived
    near mountain trailheads for hiking mountains and canyons. Everything from routine maintenance workouts of 1-2 hours to weekend adventures such as hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the morning and climbing out in the afternoon before dark. I have arranged 3 to 4 free mornings a week for maintenance hiking. Dumbbell work is done on back patio or family room. Also have a Schwinn recumbent exercise cycle in the family room for use if my maintenance schedule is interferred with. It is virtually silent. My husband sits next me to read or we watch TV while I pedal.

  3. Brian Passalacqua, MD says:

    The exercise story rings true for me, too. We know so many reasons why we should exercise and yet it has always been a struggle for me to find the time and “just do it”. No therapy or drug that I have prescribed over the years impresses me as much as the benefits from simple, regular exercise in my patients.

  4. Patricio Torres-Lisboa,MD says:

    Greg, I hope you won´t mind that I pass along your testimony to the residents of this far away med school where I now work in Post Grad with the residents who trip or fall on their way to the coveted status of specialist. Although I am in the mental-spiritual area I deal with physical health troubles as well.
    I will gather opinions and see what comes up.
    Thank you and regards to your family,
    Patricio (age 70)

  5. Jim Winkler MD says:

    I had a similar lapse of exercize when my third daughter was born. “I can’t go for a run now, I have to help with the baby.” 2 1/2 years later I was still using her for a poor excuse and had my own wake up call like yours. It’s been over 20 years since I woke up (and grew up) and I now continue to run 4.2 miles daily 5 days per week. I tell my patients: “I’m not a runner. Runners wear spandex and run in races and subscribe to Runners World magazine. I run because there’s a bear chasing me. It’s a sugar bear (D.M.2)and I want to stay ahead of it.” Hot or cold, rain or shine, like it or not, I run my 4.2 mile trip. I hope you find the determination that this old man has to get going, and don’t stop.

  6. Shaumik says:

    It’s always difficult to find time to exercise with work and family commitments. I cycle to work – it’s a 15 mile round trip every day which helps keep me in shape. It’s quicker than driving, cheaper and better for the environment and for me. I’d recommend it to everyone!

  7. cheung says:

    just a word of caution about exercise which we all are aware of but sometimes forget if we are biased against only trying to prevent heart attack with regular exercise as it is just one of the options of prevention. Control our emotion with psychotherapy is also important to prevent heat attack being triggered by emotion is equally important, so is gradual exercise. Not unoften heart attack can come from unaccustomed exercise.

    Kelvin MBBS

  8. As a preventive cardiologist, I applaud you! The 63 year old gentlemean did have risk factors, but the regular lipid panel generally misses the real story all too often. Checking an advanced lipid panel and Lp(a) can often explain the mystery heart attack patients. Do NOT feel guilty when you go to the gym that you are not with family. Quite the opposite – you will be a healthier, happier, more energetic Dad, and it will make you a better doctor; you will have energy to blow through your day and you will be a great example to your patients.

  9. ปาย says:

    I couldn’t justify spending an hour more away from him than I needed to.

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