I am angry. Truth be told I am livid. For almost twenty years I have worked toward a healthy lifestyle. I run, bike swim, lift weights and basically stay active a good portion of each and every day. I don’t smoke, don’t drink and though I love food, I try not to over indulge. I do all of these things because I want to live to a ripe old age in the healthiest way possible. I don’t want to spend days on end in the hospital. I don’t want to cough and hack my way through my old age. I don’t want to suffer with diabetes or cancer or heart disease. And really, when it comes down to it, living a healthy lifestyle, though it is work, it is also fun. I enjoy my life.
Since I started blogging about my running life a couple of years back, I have been honored with emails from friends, family and even strangers who have told me I inspire them to get moving and to take better care of themselves. At first I thought this was just something people felt obligated to say but then I started watching. I started seeing signs of the influence one healthy life could have on another. I watched friends and family and strangers as they started working out, running and even entering races.
But every couple of months, I receive a call from my 60 year old mother, with another complaint about her health. After years of smoking, eating poorly, and getting very little exercise, her lifestyle has caught up with her. Her ailments run the gamut but ultimately ends in congestive heart failure. She has been told to stop smoking. She has been told that the heart issues would dissipate with a proper, low fat, low sodium diet. She has been told to exercise. But she doesn’t do it and no amount of cajoling from her doctors or her children makes a difference.
Last night I received a call from my sister. I could feel the steam emanating from her ears through the phone. My mother had just called her.
“I think I may be having a heart attack,” she said to my sister.
“Well, Mom, do you want me to call 911 or should I come and take you to the hospital myself?” My sister asked with as much patience as possible.
“No, I want you to go pick up a pizza from Dominoes. Then go to Subway and pick up a salad and bring that over to Aunt Joyce’s. I promised her we would have dinner with her. And then, we can go to the hospital.”
My sister may be the most patient person I know but this was too much. She insisted that they go to the hospital, my mother refused. My sister lost her temper but my mother wouldn’t budge. My sister cried and still my mother wouldn’t budge. In the end, she gave up and did what my mother asked.
When they finally reached the hospital, my mother was in full blown congestive heart failure. She had to be admitted. Her first question? You might think it would have something to do with her diagnosis or her treatment but, you would be wrong. No, she wanted to know where she could go to smoke. When the doctor told her there is no smoking on the premises at all she pitched a temper tantrum that would have put my two year old to shame.
As I sit here in my kitchen, seething because so much of this could have been avoided, she lies in a hospital room with dye running through her heart. While I sit here waiting to hear whether she will have to have surgery, whether her body can even handle surgery, she lies there waiting for her next cigarette. I sit here wondering how it is I can influence others to lead a healthy lifestyle, while my mother, who I love with all my heart takes nothing from my example and instead of lying in that hospital bed trying to plan out how to get better, she waits for someone to take care of it for her.
So, yes, I am angry but I am also sad, because though I can help my mom through this crisis, there is sure to be another and another down the road. I am sad because I can lead by example but she has to make a choice to follow and if her history is any indication of her future, I know the choice she will make.