Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I sing the body eclectic

I earned my second “diploma” recently, but it wasn’t the kind of accolade that I wished had come my way. It was my second 12-week swim through cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at the Medical Center of Plano, following my March 3 heart attack. So when I finished the monitored portion, they presented me a certificate of completion and had me do a victory lap in a cap and gown.
The normal music would have been “Pomp and Circumstance,” but, ever the constant rebel, I substituted Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” No boat shall go unrocked, I say.
Again, I owe my life and bettering health to the women who guide that facility – nurses Elaine, Carole, Tea, Denise, Jeanne, Lynn, Michelle and Suzanne. To state that these ladies are “patient” with a variety of patients and temperaments would be a major understatement. It requires the strength of Hercules and patience of Job to fulfill the requirements, which they all possess.
When I first underwent the rehab process, back in 2002, I was trying to mesh those minutes (more than 90 of them each outing) with a long work schedule and three-hour commute. It didn’t mix so I chose maintaining health to any need to … eat.
As a backup plan, I investigated local health clubs to see what was offered to a recovering heart patient like me. The answer quickly came: very little. The lowlight was a visit to a place whose name I won’t reveal, but the initials are 24 Hour Fitness.
I was greeted less than eagerly by a sales representative, in his gym shorts and too-tight golf shirt, and when he asked me what I wanted to “get out” of a membership, I answered honestly, “To stay alive.”
He seems puzzled with my response. “No really, what goals do you have?”
I repeated, “To stay alive; I just had bypass surgery and I want to maintain a level of wellness through an exercise program that fits my work schedule.”
Then I knew I was in trouble when he said, “Bypass what?”
The young man then furrowed his brow and retorted, “I just don’t think this is the right place for you.” Stunned, I looked around and saw the reason why. I looked “wrong” for this joint. I was big, fat, old and unhealthy appearing. Most of the occupants were taut, trim, firm and far too healthy for the general population to stomach. Women looked like triathletes and the men all looked like they would start for the NFL or NBA.
I looked like the guy in the 40th row who had eaten most of the hot dogs in the concession stand.
Those of us in the rehab gym at MCL don’t have that problem. Many look exactly like … ME! – older, feeling the same aches and pains I do on a daily basis and who move just as slow and deliberate from station to station as I do. I just feel more at ease when self-consciousness is removed from the equation, and I can concentrate on the task of getting healthier.
Sadly, there are also young people present, far too youthful to conceive that they would be subject to such severe cardiac problems as to land them in the same place as me. It only shows that anyone (lack of age is NOT a deterrent) can be subject to such illness and maladies.
Which is why I won’t quit the regimen and why I will be a loyal customer-inhabitant of that rehabilitation center. Because I like the birds there that flock together.
Finally, in one defiant act – to thumb my nose at the aging process – I’ve decided to forego regular hair trims (at my age and my rate of badness, “trim” is about all I can manage) and see if, for the second time in my life, I can sprout a ponytail. The first attempt came after my divorce, again as a sign of rebellion against the system, and lasted more than a year until my daughters, not yet into double digits in age, stealthly braided my hair to make me look like Heidi. I marched myself to the barber the next day.
This time I am aiming for one of those gray post-pirate visages, with bushy beard to match.
After all, that boat STILL needs to be rocked – regardless of my age, size or appearance.

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