In This Edition:
1. The Pleasure of Living without Health Concerns
2. A Lingering Notion
3. Golden Insights
The Pleasure of Living without Health Concerns
This month I have a long, highly personal story to which many of you will easily relate. Five years ago, after recovering from a herniated disk, I began a vigorous walking program. My doctor told me not to run for a while, and it was too cold to start swimming in the lake, so walking seemed to be the perfect exercise. I was able to go on long walks, sometimes 30, 60, 90, or even 120 minutes.
One Wednesday afternoon after work, when I probably should have had a large glass of water before taking off, I left my office and proceeded towards Franklin Street to eventually wind up at the Chapel Hill School of Ballet and meet my daughter who was finishing her class. I had already been walking for 20 or 25 minutes when I decided to go up the hill at Tadzwell Road. It is a steep climb on the order of 30 or 35 degrees. I vigorously preceded up the hill about 450 steps, then made my way down, and finally walked out to Franklin Street.
With about five minutes to go, I was feeling fine. I got to the school, walked in, and took a look at my daughter, who was still in rehearsal, and came back out. On the sidewalk outside the building, I did stretches. In one, I raised both hands up to the sky and then looked up as well. The blood from my arms came rushing down into my head. I felt a warm, distant, foggy sensation, and the next thing I knew, I was on the hard sidewalk, getting up from what had been a fall.
Apparently, for the first time in my life, I had fainted. Since the sidewalk was on a bit of an incline, falling straight down would mean that my right buttocks would hit the concrete first, which it did. I was a little sore, but none the worse for wear. I got up, went inside, and took some water. What a strange situation.
A Lingering Notion
Over the next couple days, my right side hurt, but there was no apparent injury. I was leery of taking vigorous walks and of doing that same stretch. About three days after the event, the most God-awful looking bruise appeared on my right cheek. It started out the size of a ping pong ball, then grew to that of two, then to the size of a fist. Its color changed daily.
At its zenith, the bruise was the size of a softball, tender to touch and terrible to view. Funny, but I didn’t feel that bad, and it wasn’t all that sore. However, I was concerned about the fainting. A week later I was in a bookstore and, looking at some books at the bottom of the shelf, I knelt down. I became light-headed again and had to hold onto the shelf to steady my balance. Now I was worried. I didn’t know when or where that lightheaded feeling would come up again, but I didn’t like it.
Over the next few weeks, the light-headed “pre-faint” feeling kept occurring, just for a second or two. Sometimes it happened when I was seated and stood up quickly, sometimes when I was walking, sometimes when I was simply turning around. All of my internal and external senses were on high alert, and what had probably been normal bodily functions for all of my life now rang out with alarm. My preceptors were on full volume, and I didn’t like it.
I was convinced to take a physical. I hadn’t had one in about ten years and it certainly made sense to do so.
At my exam I met Dr. Dale Beiber, who has since retired from practice. I explained the phenomenon to him. Dr. Beiber, a wise and optimistic man, told me that for all these years I had had the pleasure of living without health concerns, and now, for perhaps the first time, I was confronting them. This single observation proved to be a Godsend for me.
Immediately after that exam, I went back to the vigorous walking and as the lake season began, starting swimming. I swam long and hard and had not one iota of a tremor of light-headedness. For only that brief lapse I had fallen into the trap in which, I guess, so many others become enmeshed – letting whatever ailment that startled them become an intermittent panic button.
I recall the time I had a panic attack on a plane flight, more than 30 years ago. Following the flight, I took a taxi to the George Washington University emergency room. There, a wise physician told me that there was nothing wrong with me, and if I weren’t careful, I could become a “cardiac cripple.” My sister had died a month before and my father eighteen months before that, both of heart attacks. I was simulating, through some deep, empathetic response, the conditions that they had experienced. I was completely healthy, but my mind and body were telling me that something was dreadfully wrong.
So too with the fainting incident. I was as healthy as I could be. The reasons for passing out were abundantly clear. It was at the end of a long work day, and I was a bit dehydrated. I had taken a vigorous walk, which most people at any age would have difficulty completing. I had stretched in a manner that made blood rush to my head. I had tilted my head up, which diminished the functioning of a vital artery. The resulting experience was momentary lapse of consciousness.
The random sensation of light-headedness in the weeks that followed was analogous to the cardiac crippling phenomenon. In both cases, I was perfectly healthy, but allowed my imagination to get the better of my body. The cost of that check up, whatever it was, was a bargain. Meeting with Dr. Beiber freed me to get back into a physical training schedule commensurate with my capabilities and desires.
As I write this now, I am approaching the best shape of my life, even exceeding that of when I was twenty-six — when I could dunk a basketball, run like a deer, and swim forever!