Category Archives: Health

Just Breathe

So there I was, sitting on a pillow in a quiet room, meditating. Well, trying to meditate. The instructor told us that we may find it hard at first, quieting our busy minds. He was right. We could expect to drift in and out. If something distracts us. Just go back to it. It’s OK.

He knew we all wanted a trick of some sort, a gimmick to push it along. He described that approach as aggressive. Hmm. Forcing your mind to do something is aggressive. That is… interesting.

Now If you’re my age, you hear meditation, and think of the Beatles sitting on a rug with a bearded yogi. Sitars, incense, chanting mantras — you get the idea. So I’m not sure what put the idea in my head to give it a try.

Maybe because the workday routine was rubbing me raw.

Oh, I could have talked to my doctor. That’s the advice you hear in so many drug commercials, and there’s a pill for everything these days.

But instead, I went to Albany’s Shambhala Meditation Center and took an introductory class for $5.

It’s more than a month now, and I’ve come to crave the time out that meditation brings to a busy day. It’s a discipline that will take time to develop, but it seems to be make a difference. It may all be in my head, though I suppose that’s the point.

Quieting the busy mind ain’t easy. Just ask Don Draper.

Pickup or Delivery?

Late one night I was backing up the ambulance at one of our fine local hospitals. Parked near the emergency department entrance was a dark minivan with tinted windows. I wouldn’t have even noticed it — but then a man emerged from a set of doors wheeling a cot. Even in the dim light, it was unmistakable that he was removing a body.

As we unloaded our patient, he was fetching a customer.

OK, they weren’t coming out the same doors we were going in, but it was pretty darn close. If this surprised me, imagine how you’d feel if you were on our stretcher and looked over to see the undertaker picking someone up. Not very encouraging.

Considering how busy these places are, it always surprises me how shabby emergency department entrances can be. Rather than projecting a professional impression, many look more like a place where the hospital brings out its trash. It would go a long way to have them clean and well-lit — and you’re receiving so many patients, why not have someone stationed to meet the ambulance and begin the intake process?

If nothing else, let’s move the mortician access to someplace a little more discrete. I think we all have enough reminders that our last ride is on the way.

From the Heart

Imagine what it must feel like to get another chance after a life-threatening health emergency. It has to be pretty amazing.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares has been very open about discussing his heart surgery in 2016 and the way it changed his life. Stories like this one in the Times Union, in which he tells what it was like to face down a disease that could have killed him. It’s inspiring. Honestly.

But I’ve got to ask a question: is it OK for a public official to appear in a TV commercial endorsing a hospital. I’m asking not because I want to be a wiseass (which is often why I ask questions), but because I’m genuinely unsure. Have a look.

Even a not-for-profit entity is still a business — and if you have any doubt that hospitals are a business, just look at all the competition between them that’s expressed in their advertising. And they do a LOT of advertising.

So, it’s something to ponder. Purists will say that an elected official like the DA should avoid anything that can be interpreted as showing favor. But on the flip side, is there really anything wrong with showing a little heart?

A Breath of Fresh Air

A guy I used to work with believed that toilet smells are hazardous to our health. He’d gesture down the hall to the well-used men’s room. “That first floor bathroom is going to make you sick,” he explained. “When you smell someone’s shit in there, you’re breathing in tiny shit particles,” I nodded in agreement, not because I agreed, but because I didn’t want him to know that I thought he was nuts.

No, I didn’t agree with his particle thesis, but nobody could dispute that the bathroom often smelled revolting. In the interest of full disclosure, I hold the controversial view that people should poop at home, not at the office.

So, one day I decided I’d had enough. Early in the morning, I set up some old sneakers and a pair of jeans in bathroom so it would appear that someone was seated in the stall. During the day, I saw several flustered people go in the bathroom and exit quickly seeing the crapper was occupied. Those needing to use the urinal did so without being subjected to a toxic atmosphere.

Finally, very late in the day, someone peered over the stall door and discovered the ruse. I’m not going to name the person who peeked, and believe me, it’s a name many of you would know.

Some of you will see this as a cruel prank, but is it really crueler than fouling a public space you share with your co-workers? Here’s some advice if you really need to go: take it to another floor.

Doomsday Prepper

Look, when you get to be my age, you’re going to be subjected to all sorts of dire things. Like a colonoscopy.

A colonoscopy, as you probably know, is when they pass a camera inside you and have a look where the sun don’t shine. The good news is that you’re totally out of it during all of this, in fact, moments after sedation, you don’t care what they do to you.

Many people will tell you that preparing for these tests is an odious ordeal. They’re half right.

My prep required a day of non-solid foods capped off by a giant dose of laxatives. The first half, the liquid diet,  was not so bad, but the second half was no walk in the park. In fact, a walk in the park that’s the last thing you should do after taking a giant dose of laxatives.

Here’s my delicious lunch of mango Jell-O and chicken broth. Good stuff.

lunch

And hey! I have some pictures from inside my colon if you’d like to see them. No?

Some of you are saying, “Whoa, Rob! TMI!” Nonsense. This is a routine medical procedure and you’d be crazy not to do it. Colon cancer doesn’t get the sort of high-profile attention as other health risks, perhaps because it’s not a very glamorous region of your body. This is nothing to be squeamish about — and it could save your life.

By the way, hats off to the doctors and nurses who do this all day long.  You think you deal with a lot of assholes all day long?

Run Yourself to Death

The NY Times recently did a great feature called How to Start Running — but for many people, How to Keep Running might be more useful.

I’ve been at it since the early 1990s, never once on a treadmill and almost always before sunrise. It’s not getting better, unless you consider covering shorter distances at a slower pace as somehow better.

I may be long past my peak, but that’s OK.

These days, my runs are tracked on a GPS watch, but back in the day, I scribbled notes in composition books, noting my route, distance and time. Here’s a page from nearly 20 years ago:

Wow, I was really something. Today? Shorter and slower.

Running as a metaphor for life is a well-worn shoe. It’s usually invoked to speak of endurance and perseverance. The value of hard work in achieving a goal. But the sad truth is that it’s also about decline and decay and giving way to age.

But so what? I hope I run on the day I die, even if it’s just for a short distance. Even the most miserable run makes any day better.

In Your Face, Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg made news last week for his run through Tiananmen Square — both for exercising during a period oppressive pollution and the lousy optics of doing so where protesters were slaughtered in 1989. But something else caught my eye: the Facebook founder noted that he’s hit the 100 mile point for 2016.

This is all part of Zuckerberg’s Year of Running health campaign, which challenges participants to reach 365 miles by the end of 2016.Introducing the program, Zuckerberg said, “This is a lot of running, but it’s not a crazy amount.”

Wow! That’s pretty… underwhelming.

Now wait — my running is nothing to brag about, but if I’ve run more miles this year than a fit young man like 31-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, well, what the hell?

Ten years ago — in my 40s — I ran a marathon. Not a fast marathon, not a great marathon, but listen here Facebook boy, I ran 26 miles in one day. No, I can’t do that anymore, but if a fat old man like me (old enough to be your father, I might add) can go out and run three miles before dawn, you can do better than a mile.

So here’s a challenge: you want to motivate me to exercise, how about buying me fifty pairs of Saucony Triumph ISO 2 running shoes? At two pairs per year, that should pretty much last me until I’m too dead to walk around the block, much less run.

But seriously, just kidding: good job with your mile. Maybe we should get you a participation trophy, or something.

OK, that’s it for me. Gotta go see if my Facebook account has been deleted yet.

Wake Up and Smell the Christmas

The whole running thing is not what it used to be. Ten years ago I ran a marathon and today three miles is sometimes a struggle. But you get out there and do it. Why? As the man said when asked why he’s hitting himself with a hammer: because it feels so good when I stop.

Early in the morning when it’s dark, odors are amplified. You can smell the cigarettes people are smoking in their cars. Sometimes their smoking weed, even though it’s 5am.

Skunks, garbage trucks, wood stoves. Wet leaves, cut grass. Sometimes the smell of rain coming. After rain there’s that peculiar odor which I used to think was the smell of worms, but is actually not.

But every year you really know the holidays are here when you smell the Christmas trees. There’s a garden store along my route and every year a tractor-trailer shows up overnight full of evergreens. The store sets the trees up and strings of those bare bulb lights so people can shop at night. Then, for one or two mornings, the area near the store has that smell.

The smell of Christmas.

Catabetic Emergency

maeve“Oh, shit, the cat is dead!”

It was 4am and Maeve was sprawled on the floor. She was cool to the touch and unresponsive. I took this picture to document how she was found — I couldn’t just leave her there until my wife got up — and knelt down in front of her. That’s when I saw that her eyes were open.

We’ve been giving Maeve insulin shots for several years and now she was in trouble, most likely extremely hypoglycemic, and she wouldn’t last long without help.

We called the pet hospital and they advised that we get some sugar into her — just as you would with a human — and their advice was to rub Karo syrup into her gums. So there I am, at 4:30, on the floor with a handful of sticky syrup in one hand and a cat in the other.

She gradually grew more alert, and when I showed her a small plate with a tablespoon of food on it she sat up and ate. Soon she was up on her feet, but a bit shaky; we herded her into the cat carrier for her trip to the vet. It turns out her diabetes was in remission and the insulin was making her blood sugar plunge too low. I’ll be damned.

I’ve told this story to a few people and the wondered if the cat’s physiology may hold some sort of medical secret that reverses diabetes. Actually, it’s not uncommon for diabetes to go away in cats, but wouldn’t that be something? Imagine the side effects listed in the commercial:

Some people may experience an urge to chase mice. Taking this medication could cause you to lick your hands and feet and curl up in someone’s lap…

So, all is well with Maeve the cat. Two days later she’s acting completely normal. You know, by cat standards, of course.