Home > health, heart health, open heart surgery, weight control > What Will it Take to Get Your Attention?

What Will it Take to Get Your Attention?

Bob June 2014 vs. June 2015

The same photo taken on June 2014 vs. June 2015.

By Bob Burchfield, Editor
AroundIndy.com, LLC

One year ago today – August 12, 2014 – I had a heart attack, followed by open heart surgery with four bypasses and a mitral valve repair on August 20. According to the heart surgeon, all my arteries were 90-100% blocked.

But thanks to God and the superb skills of Dr. Peter Walts and a team of medical professionals at St. Vincent Heart Center in Carmel, I’ve survived for one more year so far. It’s a miracle, pure and simple.

With Emilio Castillo, May 2000.

Fat Bob with my friend Emilio Castillo, May 2000.

For most of my entire adult life, I was a mess. I ate anything I wanted. I paid no attention to the rules for healthy living. Second and third helpings were routine at meal time. Never read a nutrition label in my life. Even though I got up to 273 some years ago, I thought I was OK. Hey…6’3” and 273? What a healthy guy!

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Here’s the thing. You get up every morning and look into the mirror and you see the same guy. And that guy becomes familiar. You get used to him. And he looks OK to you, so you don’t think much about it, even though you know deep down inside that you are a fat, overweight, out of shape mass of blubber.

So on Tuesday, August 12, 2014, I woke up feeling uneasy. Felt like butterflies dancing across my chest. My feet were swollen. But I didn’t have any of that classic numbness in the arm that they talk about. So what did I do? I got dressed and went to work, like every other red-blooded American male who doesn’t want to admit that anything is wrong. Real men don’t go to the doctor, right?

In fact, I went to work on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday before the R.N. at my employer’s health center insisted that I go see a doctor–and followed up to make sure I kept my word. Barbara Kelly: I love you. You saved my life. As soon as the family doctor saw me, he sent me straight to the cardiologist on Friday, who in turn sent me straight to the St. Vincent Heart Center by ambulance.

When I went into St. Vincent I was around 260. Today I am at 182. That’s -78, if you’re doing the math. I’m 40 pounds less than the day I got married 43+ years ago. I’ve gone from a 44 tight to a 36 waist. Just had my six months’ checkup last Thursday: incredibly, my blood sugar is down from 500 to the 90’s and low 100’s. A1C, HDL, LDL and total cholesterol are all in the normal range, as are all the other blood readings they measured. How did I do it? I’m one stubborn old dude, and I simply got determined to get myself straightened out and do my best to try to improve my health.

Lesson learned? The right motivation makes all the difference.

I thought fat and calories were important. My straight-talking and shoot-from-the-hip cardiologist, Dr. Charles Taylor in Greenfield, has me counting carbs and sodium. Turns out if you watch those two, the other two seem to pretty much take care of themselves for the most part, as far as I can tell. So it’s a max of 30 carbs and 700mg of sodium per meal.

This means that you have to read the nutrition labels on everything. I can’t believe how much sodium there is in everything. For example, those packages of fat-free turkey in the deli section at your grocer are loaded with sodium, as much as 1300mg in a serving, according to some labels I’ve read.

So I’ve discovered that, generally speaking, much of the American food industry is killing us with loads of sodium in its products. That’s what makes it taste good, after all. But you can find an ample supply of low-sodium products if you just read the labels. And you know what? Eventually stuff that you would never have touched, like the unsalted dry roasted peanuts that I snack on almost every day, come to taste pretty darn good.

And I’ve learned that if the dominant color on your plate is green, you’re probably eating fairly healthy.

Treadmill February 2015

Treadmill February 2015

Dr. Taylor said, “If you do aerobic exercise every day for at least 30 minutes, sufficient to break a sweat, you can reasonably expect to live another ten years.” That kind of scared me, because I had a lot more than 10 years in mind. So I’ve been walking on the treadmill.

He said, “I want you to swim.” I said, “To be honest, sir, fat boys are kind of self-conscious about getting into the pool.” He shot back, “Do you want to be dead or embarrassed?” You’ve got to appreciate a guy who doesn’t beat around the bush! So I’ve done some swimming.

But in my personal opinion, although the two obviously work together for your benefit, it seems to me that what you put into your mouth is more important than what you put into your exercise routine. Dr. Taylor is probably going to kick my butt when he reads that statement.

So here is what I have done:

  1. Stopped drinking coffee. The first three questions on the doctor’s questionnaire are (1) Do you smoke? (2) Do you drink? and (3) Do you use caffeine? You mean to tell me that the 3rd most important question on the list is caffeine? Yes. Yes it is. So I quit. Haven’t touched it in a year.
  2. Stopped drinking wine. I got infatuated in 2014 by a particular sweet red wine from one of the local wineries in the Indianapolis area. Bought it by the case. That’s stupid. Wine is loaded with sugar.
  3. Started drinking water. I never drank much water before. My urine was yellow every day; a beautiful golden color often. That’s bad. If your urine is yellow, you aren’t drinking enough water. Now all I drink is 2-3 liters of water every day, or Crystal Light lemonade. No soda, no coffee, no wine, no milk, no Starbucks, etc. I’ve never tasted beer, which has no appeal to me whatsoever, so that isn’t an issue.I found Clear American Water at Wal-Mart. Just $0.98 for two liters. It’s carbonated flavored water (cherry, peach, key lime, strawberry, blueberry, grape, and many other flavors, too). No sodium. No caffeine. No sugar. No calories. All zeros on the nutrition label. It tastes GOOD which makes it easy to drink my water every day. You can find it in – where else? – the soft drink aisle.I took a bottle and showed it to my family doctor and also showed it to my cardiologist. Both said it is OK for me to drink. But please note that it is carbonated and contains aspartame, so you may not be able to drink it depending upon your particular health and medical needs. For example, I know three women who had bariatric surgery; they can’t drink carbonated products.
  4. August 2009

    August 2009

    Stopped eating like a Hampshire pig. Off my list: all-you-can-eat buffets, Italian subs, double cheese pizzas, shrimp po-boys, chocolate, candy bars, bread, pasta, ice cream, bacon double cheeseburgers, red meat, cakes, pies, brownies (I loved brownies!), my beloved banana milk shakes, soft drinks of any kind (diet or not), and my personal favorite: that most classic of Hoosier delicacies, the breaded tenderloin.

So what do I eat?

Breakfast                           

8 ounces of non-fat Activia yogurt (blueberry, strawberry, or peach). Water. Once or twice a month: two scrambled eggs and two slices of turkey bacon.

Mid-morning                    

Fiber One bar. Water.

Lunch                                 

Typically turkey pinwheels and a handful of unsalted dry roasted peanuts. Water.

Mid-afternoon

A handful of raisins or a few chips with Red Gold salsa. Water.

Dinner

Typically grilled chicken and green vegetables (peas, Brussel sprouts, green beans, broccoli—not from a can due to the sodium content in canned products). Water.

It ain’t rocket science, and it ain’t glamorous, but it gets the job done. Portion control is what it’s all about. My plates used to be packed wall-to-wall with food. Now they are half empty at the outset of a meal.

The dietitian at St. Vincent Heart Center drew up a battle plan for me before I was discharged. She told me I could have an occasional quarter pounder or bowl of ice cream if I really want it. But I’ve learned that I can live without it, and I’ve forced myself to stay away from most of the fast food restaurants.

I do have my weekly treat: Every Wednesday evening after work I have a Qdoba Burrito Bowl. No tortilla: tortillas are typically loaded with sodium. Just chicken cubes, black beans, pico de gallo, and guacamole. Tastes good, gives me some flavor, and not too bad from a health standpoint.

Subway Club

Subway Club

Other things I have had over the past year:

  • Hardee’s chicken tenders with a side salad.
  • The very good Cobb Salad at Jim Dandy Restaurant.
  • About once a month I have a 6” club from Subway (yes the 6”, not the 12”), no cheese, just lettuce, tomato and onion.
  • Veggie pizza from Papa Murphy’s. Not too expensive, so I don’t feel guilty about scraping off the toppings, tossing the crust, and just eating the toppings.
  • My other occasional treat is a turkey sandwich from Arby’s (toss the bread).
  • And twice in the past year I’ve had chicken fajitas from El Rodeo or Guadalajara Grill.

The cardiologist told me to eat lots of beans: black beans, pinto beans, red beans, Navy beans, etc. I said, “Pork and beans?” I got a dirty look in return. I always ask the guy at Qdoba for extra black beans.

Five days a week I eat dinner at home. That used to be five days a week I ate fast food at dinner time, often late at night after the university classes I was teaching as an adjunct faculty member. Not good.

I’m not trying to be sanctimonious about it, but now I look around my workplace and I see a hundred people who could seriously benefit from losing, let’s say, 50 pounds each. But I can’t say that to them. It would just make them mad. I know, because it would have made me mad if you had said that to me.

But somehow we’ve got to get the attention of those who are overweight and out of shape and are eating their way to an early grave. And here’s the thing: I really don’t need to say anything to you or anyone else. Because you know if you need to lose weight. Putting it off is just bringing your funeral closer to reality.

Feb. 8, 2015

Feb. 8, 2015 — six months after open heart surgery. Those were the blue jeans I wore in the summer of 2014.

I know now that you’ve got to get motivated for yourself. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: The right motivation makes all the difference. So stop the denial and get yourself motivated.

So what will it take to get your attention?

  • Are you going to wait until you get to the point that I did before you do something about it?
  • Are you going to wait until you have a six-figure hospital bill like me?
  • Are you going to wait until you have incisions and scars all over your body like me?
  • Are you going to wait until you have to do rehab at the hospital three days a week like me?
  • Are you going to wait until you are on a first-name basis with your pharmacist like me? “Hi Bob,” he says when I walk in the door! (14 meds at one point; even with group insurance and co-pays, that’s over $1,000 a year out of pocket.)
  • Are you going to wait until you have to make weekly trips to the lab, like me, for a blood draw to test your Coumadin levels?
  • Or are you just going to wait until it’s too late?

And I don’t want to forget to mention this: When I was doped up on all those meds after getting out of the hospital, there was one in particular that just kicked my ass: Metformin. It made me dizzy. It made me nauseous. I couldn’t keep anything down. I threw up everything I ate. And I lost 37 pounds in 37 days as a result. On Oct. 9, 2014,  I leaned over to pick up my car keys, blacked out, fell full-force onto the sidewalk and broke my collarbone. I’m convinced it was because of all those meds. When they finally took me off Metformin, my head cleared up and I started feeling normal again. Take my word for it: you don’t want to take Metformin if you don’t have to! Another good reason to get healthy.

Finally, for several months, perhaps six or so, my mind would just go blank. I’d be looking at you and having a conversation when everything would just stop. And I couldn’t force myself to think or speak. This would go on for 10-20-30 seconds at a time. The cardiologist told me that this is the after-effects of the anesthesia! I was under anesthesia for about eight hours during my heart surgery.

And here’s the most difficult part of this saga for me: my best friend and mentor for more than 31 years died on May 31, 2015, the day after his 61st birthday—three years younger than me. Heart attack, same as me.

I don’t think he saw it coming; I know I didn’t. As far as I knew he was in good health. We corresponded on Facebook just a couple of days before he died. I made it. He didn’t. That’s really eating at me and making me feel really guilty. I can’t figure out why God kept me and took him. But maybe, if for no other reason, it was to write this blog post.

Do what you have to do to get motivated. Do it for yourself. Do it for your family. Do it for your colleagues and fellow employees (your gigantic hospital bills will affect their group insurance rates).

DO IT BECAUSE IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

April 2015

April 2015

I don’t know how much more time I have on earth. I’ll be 65 in less than two months. So it might be today or tomorrow, might be 10-20 years from now. Whatever the case, I’m going to try to do my best to extend it for as long as possible. I can do this.

You can do this, too. It ain’t rocket science. Eat right. Exercise more. The weight will come off, the numbers will improve, and you will be happier and healthier and live longer. Just remember that what works for me may not work for you. Each person has to find out for himself/herself what works. So talk to your doctor and follow the doctor’s orders. A $20 co-pay for a visit with your doctor is certainly better than a $600,000 hospital bill.

I don’t know what else I can say. If you’ve read this far, will you join me in this endeavor to get healthy and stay that way? Good luck and best wishes in your life journey!

July 2015

July 2015

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  1. Susan Travelstead
    August 12, 2015 at 8:58 am

    Wow, you look great. I am so happy you got the wake up call in time.

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