American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month.

We get lots of national months, and most of us don’t pay a lot of attention to them. I could be wrong. You might have been really excited for Fair Trade Month back in October. It’s possible.

Generally, I don’t pay much attention either. But this one is different. This past November my step-father succumbed to the heart disease he’d fought for 30 years. A month later was the 21 year anniversary of the massive heart attack that took my father’s life. I got to lose not one, but two fathers to heart disease. So, you can see how the subject might be a bit of a big deal to me.

Fathers teach us lots of things in life. Mine (both in their own way) taught me the hard way not to take my health for granted.

This week I will visit my doctor for my annual physical. I never miss one of those. Why? Because after my father’s death our family physician read his autopsy findings (when you die in the street suddenly at the age of 54 they do an autopsy) he tearfully told me that if my dad had just come in for a regular physical they’d have caught the signs of encroaching arterial blockage and been able to treat him.

I’ll step back from that a moment to lay some hard personal truth on you: Since she was an infant my daughter’s smile has reminded me every day of my dad’s. I know that he would have adored her, and she him. He struggled to find his place as a father, but I think he was built to be a fantastic grandpa. I’ll never know for sure though, and my daughter will never know him. A visit to the doctor once every year would have made that completely different.

My step-dad taught me that being stubborn and willful is as deadly as drinking poison. He had his first open heart surgery at 42. His second surgical intervention came only a few years later and he lived the rest of his life on medications. Why? Because he was stubborn. His doctors told him how to change his diet and that he needed to exercise, but he considered that being bossed around and told what to do. So instead he chose to suffer, quietly, and to die from something that needn’t have killed him.

Marlboro Man

Oh, by the way, this guy died of cancer.

My step-father and father were typical men of their generation. Ego drove them to make stupid choices. To act based upon pride and to try to seem tough and independent. They were both versions of the iconic Marlboro Man… at least in their own minds.

My hope is that I’m setting a different sort of example for my kids. Rather than show them how NOT to live, I’m showing them how to live well, to live long, to be happy and to be healthy.

Take your health seriously folks. Make it a priority. As a good friend put it recently – The next time you’re about to say, “I don’t have time for exercise.” or “I don’t have time to eat properly.” try saying it this way instead – That’s not a priority for me. See how that feels. Does it feel different to frame it that way? I’m willing to bet it does.

I get it. I really do. Going to the doctor for an annual physical is time out of your day that could be spent watching Big Bang Theory or filing a report for your boss at work. Actually, as you can tell, I don’t get it.

Here’s the thing – I bet you take your car in for an oil change at least twice a year. Why is your car more important and more worthy of your time and treasure than you are? What happens to your car if you don’t tend to the preventative maintenance? Could it fail in a catastrophic way and kill you and everyone else in it?

Try this – My father died suddenly, with no warning. What if he’d been driving when he had the heart attack that killed him? Now try this one on for size – What if you have a serious cardiac event while you’re driving your family to the mall? Maybe you don’t give two s*%ts about yourself, but are you ok with killing your family, or maybe someone else’s?

Make your appointment. It’s easy. Do it because there are people out there who are counting on you. Some of them you don’t even know.

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