Lessons Learned Too Late – Your health is vital

Never take your health for granted.

Although I was never an athlete or played any organized sports, I was always in good shape. Except for when I crashed my dirt-bike and couldn’t do anything for a year, putting on forty pounds in the process and being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, I was always active. When I was much younger I was a drummer in a band and that kept me in good shape, that and lugging equipment around. Before I got my license, living in the country meant I did a lot of miles on my bike.

My early years of marriage were consumed with home renovations and I was always either at my day job, or renovating our house. Over the course of my career, before my break-up, I did spend a lot of time either in my vehicle, travelling to either work or sports events for the kids, or on my butt at the office. I did bike ride with my daughter, Heather, and once in a while we would kick around the soccer ball, but there wasn’t a lot of regular exercise. I did join the racquetball club and played at least once a week. I smoked. I drank. I ate poorly, but I was in okay shape. I took no regular medications and had no health issues.

My really “active” life started at the age of 43, when I moved to the Okanagan. I was determined to make up for lost time in Ontario, working all the time, so I took up pretty well every activity going. I joined the Courtplex and played racquetball regularly. I hiked the mountains. I dirt-biked the mountains with my Dad just about every week-end. I mountain biked. I roller-bladed. I downhill and cross-country skied. I water-skied. I snowmobiled in the Greystokes and around Revelstoke. I was always doing something, including renovating for some girlfriend at one time or another. I worked and played hard, but I felt great. I took a test for lung capacity at the Courtplex and they had to do it over again because they didn’t believe the results. I was in the top three percent of Canadian men even though I smoked. I could play three hours of racquetball on a Sunday morning, then come off the court and light a cigarette. Even my friends who smoked were shocked.

After I was diagnosed with diabetes, life changed a little. I now had to take daily medication. My doctor told me that if I didn’t lose the weight I had gained being off for a year that I would die, plain and simple. It was a wake-up call and I lost the weight in about four months and got active again, this time with even more passion. I remember things like cross-country skiing with Darlene and Norma, both twenty years younger than me, but after I reached the crest of the very long hill, I lit a smoke and waited about ten minutes for them to come over the top, huffing and puffing and cursing me when they saw me smoking. When I took my group out hiking every Sunday I would have to wait for them to catch up, again, many of them much younger than me. When we all went boating together, I was usually the one who wanted to go skiing all the time. I danced at the Corral from nine o’clock ’til closing, several nights a week. I was still in great shape.

Throughout my time in Panama and after I returned to Toronto, my diabetes was pretty well under control. I worked hard renovating in Panama and I walked everywhere, having no car or bike. In Toronto I got a bike and I bladed and biked the trails near my cousin’s place. My cousin fed me too well, but my weight didn’t change too much. When I came to London I still biked and roller-bladed and did some work for my then girlfriend.

This all came to a crashing end when through circumstances I had no money and no meds for six weeks. Although I begged anyone I could think of, from government to charitable organizations, no one would give me my meds and I ended up in the hospital with dangerously high sugar levels. There was a period of five days in December that I slipped in and out of what’s called DKA, finally getting much needed insulin from my doctor. December 16th, my last day of work at Home Depot, was also my last smoke. I had no money for food, let alone cigarettes, so it wasn’t much of a decision. Over the next six months I gained twenty-five pounds. I have acid reflux. My feet are swollen and painful all the time. I developed “frozen shoulder” in my left arm and cannot lift anything. Even the simplest movement is painful. My vision is blurry first thing in the morning. I sleep ridiculous hours. As someone who functioned well on a maximum of seven hours, and who never could “sleep-in” or nap during the day, now I get eight or nine hours at night, and I can nap for several more hours during the day. I laid down yesterday at three for a short nap and woke up at seven o’clock! My nurse says it is a side affect of the insulin I am taking, but I also know I have zero stamina now. I can’t walk more than a few hundred yards before I need a rest. I can’t bend over and tie my shoes. Between my arm and my weight, getting my socks on and off is a challenge. I take a whole mess of drugs, from early morning through bedtime. I hate needles, but I have to take four of them every day for the rest of my life.

So, the lesson here is to stay active, no matter what. Watch your weight and keep it down because, as you age, it gets much harder to keep the weight off. Look around you at all the older fat people. Maintain your ideal weight as long as you can. Don’t deny yourself some good food, but do whatever it takes to stay in shape. Find whatever exercise turns you on and keep at it. You’ll be glad you did. If you do “fall off the wagon” don’t just accept it because it will only get much harder to take the weight back off or get back in shape. The longer you let yourself go, the harder it will be and, like me, you may just get to the point where there is no going back. You will feel like you aged overnight, believe me, I know.