I once heard the head of cardiac surgery at John Hopkins comment that if he had to pick who would live longer between someone who ate healthy, ran marathons and had a father who died of a heart attack before he was fifty, or someone who never exercised, ate what they wanted and had a father who died in his nineties, he would take the one with the good genes every time.
My genes are not the good ones. My grandfather died of a heart attack when my mother was three. I had an uncle who had a bad heart and another who died of a heart attack. I’m not even mentioning my younger brother who had a heart attack last year. My genes started making out their wills the day I was born. My wife is just the opposite. The women in her family rank somewhere between Sequoia trees and vampires on the life expectancy chart.
Since my brother had a heart attack, my wife decided we should have our hearts checked out. (Personally, I think she had her eye on a Spanish villa and a pool boy named Raul, and she wanted to know how long it would be until she could cash in my life insurance.) She assured me that it would be a non-invasive procedure, which means they wouldn’t be shoving anything up anything, so I agreed.
The tests were simple. They rubbed some goop on me and did an ultrasound of the major arteries, and then they did a CT scan of my heart. The results showed a little plaque buildup in two places, but nothing above normal and definitely no blockage. I guess Raul will have to wait a little longer. They had trouble reading my wife’s results. The insides of her arteries shone so brightly they had to wear sunglasses to look at them. The technician said she had never seen arteries coated with Teflon before.
My father had type II diabetes. For the first year after he found out, he was good about following a healthy diet and watching his weight. After that he had the attitude of: I’m not going to let diabetes run my life. He drank regular pop and ate a lot of candy. The last few years of his life he was blind, had no feeling in his hands and feet and couldn’t walk. Diabetes ended up controlling his life far more than giving up pop and candy would have.
I hate exercise. Even in high school I loved to wrestle and hated working out. All that said, up until a few years ago, when my knee started bothering me, I ran four miles every other day and walked the four miles on the off days. I still try to walk thirty to forty-five minutes a day when I would much rather be sitting writing or watching TV. I love cookies. I could put down a dozen soft chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookies at one time when I was younger. I don’t do that anymore. I watch what I eat and try to eat healthy. I’m not a fanatic, but there are a lot of things I have given up. Do I think it will make me live longer? Probably not. I don’t have the genes, but if it gives me one extra year of not being blind and sitting in a wheel chair, it will be worth it. It’s not about length of life; it’s about quality of life.
John Cougar—before he was Mellencamp—had a song that the chorus went:
Oh yeah life goes on,
Long after the thrill of living is gone.
My goal is to never reach that point.
And that concludes today’s lecture boys and girls. I’m still trying to find an easy way to give away a book, and an announcement will be coming shortly.