I turned 51 about a week ago. My health is not bad, overall. There are areas that I need to work on and areas where the damage is done but in general, I’m in pretty good health. So why am I scared all the time?
Part of it is my family history. My father died of an apparent heart attack in his late-50s. His father died of cancer in his early 50s. Neither one lived long enough to see their grandchildren. That sound like a good reason for me to be scared but I don’t show any signs of having the same health problems they did. My Dad had his first heart attack when I was just 10 or 11 years old. He would have been in his 30s at the time. Later in life he had Angina and other problems.
My heart is healthy. Because of the paranoia of various Doctors I’ve had enough stress tests, Cardiac Catheterizations and Echo Cardiograms over the last few years to be sure of that. My resting pulse rate is around 60. My blood pressure runs on the low side of the normal range. My Triglycerides, Cholesterol, etc are all good with the exception that my good cholesterol level is a bit low. That’s all on the good side of the ledger.
On the bad side is the following: I’ve around 120-140 pounds overweight. I have Stage 4a Venous Insufficiency in my legs. I’m 51. That’s it. That’s all I have to be worried about.
Now, oddly enough, both the weight and the vein problem are both taken care of in part by getting off my fat ass and exercising…which I’ve started doing. I’m currently up to 55 minutes a day on the treadmill and plan to increase that to an hour. I’ve also dropped my portion size at meals to where it should be instead of … well, too much. And I’ve cut WAY back on snacks. In addition, I’ve started wearing compression stockings (support hose to old farts like me) to help with the circulation in my legs. And before I forget, one of the best ways to increase your good cholesterol is to watch your diet and exercise.
So why am I scared all the time. I went blithely through the first 50 years of my life without being scared about my health. Maybe it was BECAUSE my cholesterol levels, pulse rate and blood pressure were all good in spite of me sitting around all the time eating too much and exercising almost none at all. I don’t know.
What I do know is that about a year ago I went to the ER because of a pulled muscle. We had been to a family get-together in August and I had overdone helping with the cleanup. I pulled a muscle. When it still hurt after a week or more Tami told me to either get in to see our Doctor TODAY or go to the ER. I couldn’t get an appointment with Doc so into the ER I went…and ended up spending the night in Cardiac Intensive Care. Did I mention that the muscle I pulled was in my chest?
After being monitored overnight and put on a treadmill and given an Echo Cardiogram in the morning they determined that my heart was just fine. However, the very nice Cardiologist told me that even though it was nothing to worry about this time, if I continued like I was, it would be next time. That conversation planted the seeds of my fear.
Like all such things, it took a while to grow to noticeable proportions. By December, I was feeling uneasy about my health. I needed to exercise and drop weight so I bought a treadmill…which sat and collected dust. I made a couple of false starts with it but just couldn’t seem to keep going on it.
Then I started having panic attacks. The fear had been growing more and more and was now noticeable. I started having phantom pains in my chest and legs. I knew I wasn’t having a heart attack but what your mind tells you in a quiet voice can be completely overshadowed by what your gut is screaming at you in mindless panic. So back to the Doctor I went.
Doc prescribed Paxil and Xanax. The Xanax was fine for what he termed ‘Breakthrough’ panic attacks. The Paxil was to be taken daily and I hated it. Paxil may have evened me out a bit but the side effects were terrible. It was making me so tired that I had trouble functioning. He told me to try them out for a couple of months and then come back to see how things were going. We’d re-evaluate then.
Two months later I was back in his office where I told him that I wanted to stop taking both drugs. I had determined that part of the problem was stress from work where I was letting a moderately poisonous coworker get on my nerves. This was true, by the way. It wasn’t a made up bit of BS. Once I figured out what I was doing, I was able to get rid of that particular stresser by the ‘Mind over Matter’ technique – I don’t mind because she doesn’t matter.
Anyway, I stopped with the anxiety meds without any real problems. But while I was there, I asked him about some skin mottling on my lower legs. I had thought it was a skin tone thing – purely cosmetic – which is why I was surprised when he prescribed Compression Stockings and had me make an appointment with a Vascular Specialist. He also scheduled me for an Ultrasound test for the veins in my legs.
If you’ve read my other postings you’ll recall me relating how my wife almost died because of clots that broke away from a larger clot in her legs and went to her lungs. The Doctor who caught it and treated her told us that another 24 hours and she most likely would have died. So, just as I’m getting to the point where I’ve put the fear behind me it attacks from a different quarter. What fun!
The Ultrasound didn’t find any clots in my legs (Thank you, God!) but the Vascular Specialist took one look at my feet and calves and said I was almost a text book picture of Stage 4A Vascular Insufficiency. The mottling I had seen was hyper-pigmentation brought on by the veins in my legs not returning blood to the rest of my body the way they were supposed to. The rest of the diagnosis was a good news/bad news kind of thing. Good news – Vascular Insufficiency is not life threatening in and of itself and it is treatable. Bad news – it’s kind of like diabetes – once you have it you have it for life. It’s treatable, not curable. It’s also not reversible except in rare circumstances. And while it isn’t life threatening, if it’s left untreated it opens you up to stuff that is…like clots in your legs (remember my wife?).
So here I am scared again. But this time, I’m fighting back. I’m wearing my compression stockings all the time. The Vascular Specialist told me that unless I’m lying with my feet at the same level or higher than my heart, I should have them on. I’m also exercising. The treadmill is no longer gathering dust. I started off with 10 minutes a day twice a week. The next week I went to 10 minutes a day three days a week. After doing that for a couple of weeks to let my body get used to exercising I changed it to five days a week. Then I started adding five minutes each week and this week I’m up to 55 minutes. I’ve also dropped about 15 pounds and plan to drop more…slowly…the same way I put it on.
I’m doing something else, too. I’m writing about it. I’ve found that laying it all out on paper (or whatever) drags it out into the light and robs it of much of its power. Fear grows but it grows in the dark. It dies or at least atrophies in the light.
And I’m doing one final thing. The most important and most effective thing I can do. I’m praying. Asking God to help me face my fear and to stand beside me has gotten me through more than I can tell over the years. He’s helped me face my fears about being a good husband, about being a good father, about letting my boys go to stand on their own, about losing my parents. Without his help I’d never have made it this far. With his help I can face anything. To quote Mick Dundee, “Me and God, we be mates!”
So there it all is. The cause of my fear dragged out into the light to shrivel and die. I don’t expect it to go easily but go it will. I refuse to live in fear. As the Bene Gessirit say,
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
But I’ll amend that last line to read
Only God and I will remain.