Making Lemonade

Making Lemonade

Editor’s note:  The following is a speech given at the Miracle Mile Toastmasters Club on July 13, 2017.

We all experience events which render us vulnerable – as if caught in a vortex, incapable of controlling everything swirling around us. At moments like this we find ourselves thinking, “How will I survive?”

In her book, “Option B,”  Sheryl Sandberg states, “We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events.”  What are the narratives we tell ourselves about the event?  Are we personalizing it – perhaps even blaming ourselves? Do we believe the event is pervasive – that it will affect all areas of our lives? Do we tell ourselves that we will feel like this forever? The negativity of the 3P’s (personalization, pervasiveness and permanence) can impede our ability to recover.

I have 3 stories to tell you. In my first, he is 33 years old, 6’ 11” and a remarkable basketball player.  One of the Heat’s Big Three, he was number 1 in more ways than one.  In 2014, the first sign of a career ending problem – pulmonary emboli were found in his lungs.  Imagine that.  When most people his age are in careers that are just taking off, his was coming to an abrupt end.  The game he loved, that was his passion would continue, but without him.  In May, it was announced that Chris Bosh and The Heat would part ways.  In July, Chris wrote on his website,  (http://www.chrisbosh.com) an extraordinary open letter to Miami.

He spoke of the support he’d received from his family, teammates, coaches, fans and the entire community.  He thanked Miami for welcoming and encouraging him as “we” traveled together on this journey.  While he spoke of his discouragement and “down” moments, he somehow broke through the 3 P’s and made a conscious effort to dwell on all the wonderful moments he had here.

Wow!  Chris Bosh took a bunch lemons and made lemonade.

My second story is about someone who is part of our Miracle Mile family – Susan Racher.  Some of you are aware of her story – some not.  Susan has an MBA in accounting and finance, and is Vice President of the Walter H. Coulter Foundation.  As such she is in charge of the endowment’s investment portfolio and has experience in obtaining grants.  Little did she know that these skills would help her in a larger way.

A few years ago, her son became ill and was hospitalized.  As Susan puts it, “if he had kidney stones there would have been a good deal of support.”  However, her son had a mental illness.  There were support groups for families overwhelmed by other illnesses, but nothing to support families of people with mental illness.  As a family member who was dealing with new problems and concerns, Susan recognized the need to do something and do it NOW.

A friend suggested she get in touch with NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  Unfortunately the organization in Miami was practically non-existent, what she called a “zombie organization.”  Susan started from scratch – at first going to Broward to get better educated and then worked with others to rebuild a new Miami-Dade NAMI organization.  This group is providing support to families throughout Dade County, raising awareness and educating the community.

Susan observed that when the unimaginable happens, we feel like victims,  Working to help others is empowering.  When she was given lemons, she made lemonade, and has helped many people she doesn’t personally know.

My 3rd story is about me.  As most of you know, in January of 2016 I had a heart attack.  I made many lifestyle changes and thought I was doing great.  Almost a year to the date, I was exercising and felt pressure in my jaw.  Since the heart attack presented as intense pain in my jaw, I mentioned it to the staff at cardiac rehab.  Before I knew what was happening my cardiologist had me scheduled for another cardiac catheterization.  The result was an additional stent.  My medical records indicated an occlusion in the LAD (left anterior descending artery, sometimes called the Widow maker).

What a shock!  What did I do wrong?  Whoops, there goes that narrative personalizing the event and blaming myself. Changing that  story wasn’t easy, but with some outside help and persistence I did.  In the last few months, I’ve done more investigation on my specific condition and worked with a number of medical professionals at the Miami Cardiovascular Institute at Baptist Hospital to improve my health.  A couple of weeks ago, I was nominated by the Institute to represent Baptist as an educator for the WomenHeart organization.

What a journey this has become.  It was surprising, then frightening, then depressing, but now enlightening.  It was as if the Universe was waiting for the right moment to give me this opportunity.  I was telling my friend Leisha about this possibility and she said, “You’re just like Susan — taking lemons and making lemonade.

I may not have made the lemonade yet, but I’m working on the recipe.  How cool is that?

My YOLO Plan

My YOLO Plan

Hello everyone.  I’m getting back into the swing of things.   Following is a portion of a speech I gave last week at my Toastmasters Meeting.  Some members had heart health questions and I thought this might answer some of them — perhaps you’ll find it helpful as well.

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When it comes to life as we know it, there’s a paradigm – YOLO – “You Only Live Once.”  Think about that: one chance – one journey.  No instant replay – no do-overs.

Like most of us, I’d like to maximize my life and developed a “YOLO plan.”  Here’s why.  Last year on January 19th, I awoke with intense pain in my jaw.  At first I thought I needed a root canal, but after several minutes the pain dissipated.  Still very tired, I climbed back into bed.

A few hours later, it happened again.  Root canal pain comes on its own — it doesn’t end without a dentist’s intervention.  I concluded this was something else.  I was correct.  I’d had a heart attack.

We’ve all heard stories about a person grabbing his chest or left arm, then collapsing in pain.  Some heart attacks are like that.  However there are more exceptions to that scenario than you’d think.  The first rule of my YOLO plan is, “Listen To Your Body.”  Unexpected pain anywhere from your jaw through your torso could be referred cardiac pain.  Additionally, heart attacks  may come masked as nausea, heartburn, indigestion, fatigue, dizziness, or profuse sweating.

After recovering from the shock of learning I’d had a heart attack, I started educating myself.  Yep!  Number 2 on my YOLO plan was, “Learn all I can about what had happened.”   My first stop was medical records.  I read everything that occurred from the time I entered the ER to the time I was discharged.  If I didn’t understand something, I asked questions or did some research.

Important to my education was learning a heart attack is an event indicating the real problem.  In my case it is CAD or coronary artery disease.  This was like a good news/bad news joke.  The good news is, it’s treatable – the bad news is it doesn’t go away.  Number 3 on the YOLO plan:  Life style changes would be required.  Are any of these things you might consider?

DIET

People ask if I’m on a restricted diet.  There is a line from West Side Story.  One of the “Jets” was explaining why he was a delinquent.  He went to a social worker who said he had been deprived as a youth.  As a consequence he became depraved on account of his being deprived.  Likewise, highly restrictive diets make me depraved!  I ignore fad diets.

I am incredibly fortunate to have a physician who is Board Certified in Obesity Medicine and is knowledgeable in the science of nutrition.  As a result I’ve spent the last year learning about macronutrients, the glycemic index and load.  I have an app that tracks what I eat and shows how macronutrients are balanced in each days meals and snacks.

Of course you must have an idea of how successful your dietary changes are.  I’ve lost more than 20 pounds but that is only one way to measure success.  For a cardiac patient monitoring blood work is critical.  Of particular interest is tracking your cholesterol (both HDL and LDL and the ratio of the 2), your triglycerides, and lipoproteins.

EXERCISE

After the event, I was strongly encouraged to go to Cardiac Rehab and begin an exercise plan.  Cardiac patients are closely monitored and the program includes cardio, weight training and some interval training.  I try to go 3 to 4 times per week.  On beautiful days, I head outside to take a walk.  My hypertension is not a thing of the past but with exercise and medication, it’s under control.

SLEEP

Did you know that sleep deprivation contributes to heart disease?  I’ve discovered that I’m at my best when I get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep.  My internal alarm clock goes off about 5:30 am, so I’m in bed early.

DE-STRESS

One of the most difficult things for a Type A person (like me) to do is to manage stress.   I’ve taken up meditation.  Initially I actually found that stressful.  Ever try to clear your brain of thought?  Pardon the pun, but mine has a mind of its own!

Last month I was doing some cardio at Rehab.  Actually I was “overdoing” some cardio.  As I was exercising, I felt some pressure in my jaw — no pain, just pressure.  I stopped and the feeling went away.  I mentioned it to one of the staff who suggested I contact my cardiologist.  Within a few days, I’d seen my primary doctor, the cardiologist and had a cardiac catheterization with a new stent inserted.

When I had the attack a year ago, a stent was inserted in the Right Coronary Artery.  There was also indication of a slight occlusion in the LAD (left anterior descending artery).  The blockage had grown significantly and it was where the new stent was inserted.  The LAD runs down the front of the heart and is often referred to as the widow maker.  “You Only Live Once.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death in the United States is Heart Disease.  During the last year I’ve become acutely aware of that.  In addition to the life-style changes mentioned above it’s important to:

1. Know your family history.

2. If you smoke – STOP!

3. Get physical exams regularly and check those numbers in your blood tests.

4. If you have hypertension — get it under control.

Of course follow your YOLO plan — educate yourself and above all, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.  Remember it doesn’t have to be an extraordinary event.  It may seem like nothing — pressure in your jaw, or nausea or extreme fatigue. Do not ignore these symptoms

Remember, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE — don’t cut your life short.