Tuesday, May 21, 2024

One Man’s Opinion: Why Does It Take A Health Scare To Make Lifestyle Changes?

An old pal of mine sent a text message to let me know he was running late for our meet up. “There in 10. Order a drink,” it said.

“If you say so,” I replied (beer mug emoji). Then I finished the drink I had already ordered. The moment he was late, etiquette dictated that I was free to order an Old Fashioned. After another 10 minutes passed, a lighter, brighter version of my friend crossed the room and shook my hand. It was as though we were in a Hollywood bio-pic. They always hire better-looking people to portray the ordinary ones. Case in point: Watch The Big Short and then Google the real bankers who brought the world to edge of financial disaster. They are more pack of rats than Rat Pack.

“You look great,” I said.

He didn’t say the same of me. No bother.

“I lost 90 pounds after my little health scare,” he said. Air quotes on scare.

I knew what he was talking about. I heard about his little scare over a year ago – myocardial infarction. A heart attack 30 years in the making. It had clearly scared the hell out of his fat cells because they left town in a hurry. “It’s easy to lose weight. Give up booze. Eat healthy. Try to exercise. It melts away,” he said before ordering a salad with chicken on the top, provided it was not fried. Fried foods and red meats were voluntarily off limits he told me. I felt bad about the fried potato crisps that were served alongside my mussels instead of standard frites. But his scare should not affect my lunch choices, I concluded. Or should it?

Across from me was a man who looked the best he had in many years. It took a heart attack, the insertion of stents in his arteries, and a long recovery, but he looked good. I admit I became envious of his newfound willpower and the ease with which he accepted the new rules of living and staving off future attacks. I didn’t envy his brush with death or what he had dismissed as a scare.

In my mind, a scare is when the doctor says, “Sorry. You have an incurable disease and only hours to live.” But then, he turns the chart right-side-up and says, “Oops. Sorry. You’ll be fine.” That is a scare because nothing followed the brief moment of panic. Surviving a heart attack is not a scare. It’s a lucky break. It’s dodging a bullet. It’s ripping off the Grim Reaper. It’s a wake-up call.

Many of us are the product of a generation that grew up on fast, unhealthy foods that should stay in the past. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Steven Labinski.

He told me the hospital offered a wellness course for survivors of cardiac ‘events.’ That’s another misnomer. Events are gatherings sponsored by big companies with deli-meat sandwiches and B-list speakers, not the sudden and painful shutting down of one’s most vital organ.

“That sounds like typical provincial thinking to me,” I said. “Let’s teach people about health and nutrition only after they survive a scare and suffer an event.” He attended all of the weekly courses and found the knowledge and motivation to course-correct his life. But why does it take a scare? Why does it take a near-death event or genuinely scary news about a possible diagnosis to make us accept what healthy people have known for years? Perhaps, it’s the illusion of getting away with something for so long… stop. Still thinking about The Big Short.

I plan to share my friend’s scare. Share the Scare, it will say on the T-shirt, embroidered over the heart. He and I grew up drinking the same Ontario tap water. We were the first generation raised on the “Who’s Who” of experimental processed foods that included marshmallow Fluff, Cheez Whiz, Bugles, Tang, and something bred to be sold as salisbury steak, next to an indistinguishable dessert in our TV Dinners. We have had many of the same proclivities when it comes to the over-consumption of food and wine, and we both suffer the ailments that come with the writing profession. Sitting is the new TV dinner. What can happen to him can happen to me. And that is scary.

Sitting is the new TV dinner. What can happen to him can happen to me. And that is scary.

The threat of a heart attack, or some other scare, ought to be enough to send us scrambling for healthy recipes, cutting back on salt and whisky, exercising daily, and setting a new course. But maybe it’s not. Maybe it needs to be something simpler and more palatable to the male ego. Maybe it’s enough to have an old buddy say, “Wow man. You look great. I’m envious. I wish I had the willpower to stop eating crap, lose some weight, live a healthy life and avoid the things that might lead to myocardial infarction or some other predictable and preventable event.”

What’s not to like about a lighter, brighter version of you?

John Ellis writes about the lighter side of life, money and trying to age well.

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John Ellis
John Ellis
John Ellis is a freelance writer and partner in murmuration, a Toronto-based communication company.