Heart surgery certainly changes eating habits

A few nights ago I found myself in a nutritional quandary: Should I have an apple, a pear or a banana for an evening snack? I was weighing things like fat content, glycemic index (I am a diabetic), fiber content and calorie count when, suddenly, I found myself laughing.

Seven months ago there would have been no debate. It would have been a can of Hormel chili poured over two servings of instant rice with half a loaf of buttered bread and a beer or two.

Nothing like a little open-heart surgery (mine was Jan. 22) to change your dietary habits.

Warnings about healthy living come at you in varying degrees of urgency directly proportional to your age.

"You shouldn't do that, it's bad for your teeth," or "Don't run with those scissors, you could put an eye out," are among the first we hear.

Among the last are things like, "Your next drink will be your last one," or "If you don't stop smoking, don't bother buying season tickets to the Rays' games this season."

That's sort of the way it has gotten with me and healthy eating. It is no longer, "You could stand to lose a few pounds." It is now, "If you keep eating what you are eating in the amounts you are eating it, you are going to die much sooner than you thought you would."

When I first got ill a few months ago, I decided that my chest pains were GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and that strict diet and medications were the answer. I really wanted that to be the answer, because the alternative was heart disease of the sort that is scarier and much more painful, and for which the immediate treatment is much more invasive and expensive.

Finally, one night over dinner, as a doctor friend begged me to get the appropriate cardiac tests and I held firmly to my reflux theory, my wife clinched things by saying, "Why don't we ... just this once … let his Harvard medical degree trump your Google skills?"

Long story slightly shorter? He was right, I was wrong. A long-standing aortic valve problem had gotten worse, and one of my coronary arteries was just about shut down. I had surgery by a skilled surgeon at a great hospital, and I am on the mend.

Or am I?

Among my other problems was recently diagnosed type II diabetes, which I contended existed only when I couldn't starve or exercise myself into a normal blood-sugar level. (Wrong again: Once you are diagnosed a diabetic, you are a diabetic. You can be a better- or worse-controlled diabetic, but you don't do a few extra minutes on the treadmill and call yourself cured.)

The basic problem, however, is that my recent illness and a couple of prior ones have now pretty well established that the inside of most of my arteries probably looks a lot like the insides of an Aloha utilities water line. (Southwest Pasco residents know that is not a good thing.) And while there isn't much one can do to make them better, there are things that can make them get worse more slowly.

I have had to retrain myself (It is a work in progress.) to eat healthily and in the right amounts to cut down on my fat and cholesterol intake, at the same time keeping my blood sugar under control.

In some ways it is easier than I thought; in others, harder.

For the most part I now eschew buffets, fried foods, sweets and foods with high fat content. You just have to learn, eventually, that any dish that starts out with the phrase, "double-bacon cheddar …" is off the list and to run like the devil if anyone throws one of those bowls of gravy, chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes and cheese in your direction.

Sandwiches called "belly busters" and desserts called "death by chocolate" are less funny when holes start to appear in your stomach lining and you find yourself lying in an ICU wondering if you are, in fact, dying and, if so, what part chocolate and all of the things that come with it might have played in that fact.

Where an occasional glass of wine or a cocktail won't kill you, you have to deal with the fact that 15-beer evenings or the social lubrication of eight or nine martinis are now a thing of the past.

I am by no means an expert, although I will be doing a lot of research and seeking expert input. But for now I am operating on a simple rule. Basically we all know every time we raise something to our lips — food, beverage, drugs, cigarettes or cigars — we know whether we should put it in our mouths. If, knowing we shouldn't, we do it anyway, then we have to prepare to deal with the consequences.

People who forego the things they know they should are sometimes justifiably anguished when they get sick. The rest of us lie there and watch the ghosts of thousands of chicken wings, triple-burgers, cigarettes (no matter how long ago it was), doughnuts and burritos march by, and know exactly why we are there.

Trust me folks. It's bad enough feeling sick without feeling stupid at the same time — and Google is a great tool, but it isn't a doctor.

Heart surgery certainly changes eating habits 03/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 14, 2009 12:27pm]

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