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February 6, 2013

The angina monologue

Seven years ago this week, I got my life back after quadruple bypass surgery. By all medical accounts, it was a miracle I survived hours of angina with 90 percent blockages before I went to a hospital. The whole ordeal is detailed in “Death trumps death” (LEO, July 27, 2011).

Drowning in bills, uninsured and terrified of incurring massive debts, I played a perilous game of keep-away from the ER as I tossed and turned in bed — until Don McLean’s “American Pie” started playing in my head. This’ll be the day that I die was my brain’s unmistakable message. I wasn’t entirely in denial. Though I’ve never felt unloved, I had felt so bad for so long that I was conflicted as to whether my life was worth living.

I’m here to proclaim, exuberantly, that it is — after seven years of good luck. I say good luck because I’m not a model heart patient. But the lessons I’ve learned are worth sharing. First and foremost, denial is the deadliest sin. Listen to your symptoms. A body in distress is like the face of a friend who wants to tell you about your wardrobe malfunction but isn’t sure how. It’s up to you to discover what’s wrong.

Sometimes the body takes over. A 1997 accident left me deprived of blood and in shock. In the ambulance, an EMT placed a mask over my face. Without instruction, I huffed oxygen with abandon. Recently, a sick friend indulged a bizarre urge to disgorge herself from bed and dance. She later learned her lungs were waterlogged. Diagnosed and treated for atrial fibrillation, she immediately stopped smoking and lost her appetite for other guilty pleasures.

Heeding our intuition protects our mental health as well. When I was sick, my boundary system disintegrated. I trusted untrustworthy people. While recovering from surgery, I realized that damaged people had damaged me. Even without them, I was socially over-extended.

Trimming the fat, interpersonally and physically, is a healthful pursuit. Fat is stressful. And stress is deadly. I’m proud to report I no longer eat bacon like Doritos. And I’ve discovered that yogurt is the ideal substitute for mayonnaise. I’ve always liked culture — and I now I like cultures.

“The Vitamin D Solution,” a book by Dr. Michael F. Holick, has changed my life. Research shows that nearly 70 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient. According to promotional blurbs on the cover, “besides eating well and exercising,” getting more Vitamin D via sun or supplements may be “the single most important thing you can do to improve your health and save yourself from many chronic diseases …”

Getting more sleep is also a top priority because a body at rest repairs itself and a rested mind functions better.

I’ve also become a dental-health enthusiast because studies correlate it with overall physical (and heart) health. A close relative brushes her teeth so often that I had to ask if she was cheating on me.

Diet-wise, I live by a single-page publication of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. On the front, it lists “10 Super Foods … Better Health,” which include 1) sweet potatoes, 2) mangoes, 3) unsweetened Greek yogurt, 4) broccoli, 5) wild salmon, 6) crispbreads, 7) garbanzo beans, 8) watermelon, 9) butternut squash and 10) leafy greens.

On the opposite side, the headline “We Name Names!” affirms that premature death can be delicious. It cites 1) Marie Callender’s saturated fat-laden chicken pot pie as “artery crust,” 2) The Oliver Garden’s Tour of Italy as a “triple bypass,” 3) Campbell’s condensed soup as “salt’s on!” 4) Chipotle’s chicken burrito as “tortilla terror,” 5) The Cheesecake Factory’s chocolate tower truffle as “factory reject,” 6) Pillsbury Grands! Cinnabon cinnamon roll with icing as “burial grands,” 7) Land O’Lakes trans-fatty margarine as “transgression,” 8) Starbucks white chocolate mocha as “Starbucks on steroids,” 9) Haagen-Dazs as “extreme ice cream,” and 10) Cold Stone Creamery’s Oh Fudge! shake as “stone cold.”

My lifestyle is less stressful because I’m not the procrastinator I used to be. I filed my taxes last weekend — shortly after my income statements arrived. I was living below my means years before financial phenom Suze Orman advised America to save or suffer. But I’m more frugal and less materialistic than ever.

I’m still too sedentary and watch too much TV. But I’m working toward a belated new year’s resolution to limit my viewership. Perhaps after “Uncle Arthur week” on “Bewitched.”