Monday, July 21, 2008

No More Water Slides?

Last week I took my daughter and two of her friends to the Six FlagsHurricane Harbor” water park in Largo, Maryland. One of the perks of being a parent is getting to act like a kid every once awhile. I’ve found that water parks generally afford that opportunity.

One of the rides the girls wanted to go on was called the Tornado. This ride entails lugging a four person raft up a 75 foot stair tower and then plunging down a chute into what resembles a giant funnel laying on its side.

It was a blast! The girls had fun and I had fun.

At the end, however, as I went back to retrieve the flip flops I left at the foot of the slide, I noticed this sign. I guess I should have read it beforehand.Hmmm. I wonder what they infer by “heart conditions?”

Prior to my cardiac event I never gave a second thought to signs like this. Now I’m supposed to pay them heed?

I don’t think so. Not this heart attack guy anyway. The way I see it, the most stressful part of this ride is lugging the raft up the steps. As long as I keep myself in shape, I figure I can continue to enjoy the rides.

And that’s the thing; I am in better shape than most men my age. Still, I get friends who come up to me with a look of concern and say “how are you doing?”

I always respond, “I’m doin great, how’re you doin?”

Oh yeah, by the way, this was my first and last visit to Six Flags. The whole time we were there not one single staff person smiled. Most were sullen. It was not a happy place.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Good Food Gone Bad

Number 7
I sometimes wonder if I have been put on a “list” of people who’ve had heart attacks. I am referring to the kind of list that direct mailers use like people who own cats or people who subscribe to The New Republic. In the last few months I have noticed that I seem to be getting more mail from firms or organizations that deal with health, or more specifically, heart health.

A few weeks ago I received just such a mailing from the
Nutrition Action Healthletter. This particular mailing caught my eye with a headline that read “We Name Names!”

Now I wasn’t sure whose name they were naming and why but I suspected it had something to do with bad food choices. My suspicion was correct.

Why is it that all bad food is so freaking good?

That was certainly the case with this list. There wasn’t one item on the ten item bad food list that didn’t sound delicious.

Okay, maybe I could pass on the
Pepperidge Farm Roasted White Meat Chicken Pot Pie. I’ve never been a big pot pie guy anyway. That was number one on the list.

On the other hand, number four was
Dove Ice Cream. With half a cup serving containing 300 calories and an average of 11 grams of saturated fat, the Nutrition Action Healthletter says it “will fill your heart all right…but not with love.”

And who only eats half a cup of ice cream anyway?

How about a
Chipolte Chicken Burrito?

How bad can chicken beans and rice be?

How about a whopping 950 calories and 2,900 mg of sodium, and that’s only if you are trying to be good by passing on the sour cream and cheese. With those two ingredients added it tops out at 1,180 calories and 19 grams of saturated fat. The newsletter succinctly sums it up with, “Yikes!”

The newsletter isn’t all about what you can’t eat though. It does offer another list of “Ten Super Foods” for our consideration. The problem is that most of them don’t sound very super to me unless you happen to have a thing for sweet potatoes (number one) and kale (number 10).

So here’s the deal my fellow cardiac challenged readers. You can save yourself the ten bucks it costs for a subscription to this newsletter by just remembering this simple tenet; if it sounds delicious it’s probably bad.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Heart Scan Scam

I can easily imagine one of those “good news bad news” jokes coming out of this.

Doctor: I have some good news and bad news.
Patient: What’s the good news?
Doctor: The results from your heart scan look great.
Patient: That’s fantastic. What’s the bad news?
Doctor: As a result of all the radiation from the heart scan you now have cancer.

This past Sunday, the front page of The New York Times featured a story entitled “Weighing the Cost of a CT’s Scan’s Look Inside the Heart.” According to the story, these CT (computed tomography) scans “expose patients to large doses of radiation, equivalent to at least several hundred X-rays, creating a small but real cancer risk.”

And here’s the thing, the benefits of these scans is somewhat dubious. The article claims that these CT heart scans "have never been proved in large medical studies to be better than older or cheaper tests.”

That hasn’t stopped some docs from prescribing them for their patients though. In the past year alone over 150,000 people have been given CT scans for their heart.

So why would a doc prescribe a test that may expose his patient to a cancer risk?

The answer is quite simple. Many of the docs prescribing these scans hold an ownership position in the equipment being used. A CT scanner costs around a million bucks so a doc would need to perform around 3,000 scans to pay back his or her investment.

It’s not just the docs either. Hospitals that have invested in CT heart scanners are also motivated to recoup their investment.

It kind of reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Elbert Hubbard. “When a fellow says, “it ain’t the money but the principal of the thing,” it’s the money.”

Monday, June 23, 2008

Humor & Heart Disease

I ran across the perfect survey for this blog. It is a humor and heart disease survey on the University of Maryland Medical Center website. The survey, originally published in November of 2000, helps you determine how well your individual sense of humor will help protect you from heart disease. The survey comes from a study conducted by the university that found that laughter may in fact be good medicine.

“People with heart disease were less likely to recognize humor or use it to get out of uncomfortable situations. They generally laughed less, even in positive situations and they displayed more anger and hostility.

"The ability to laugh -- either naturally or as learned behavior may have important implications in societies such as the U.S. where heart disease remains the number one killer," says Dr. Miller. "We know that exercising, not smoking and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list." Dr. Miller says it may be possible to incorporate laugher into our daily activities, just as we do with other heart-healthy activities, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.”

Okay, my only problem with this survey is that it insinuates that we folks with heart disease may have a diminished sense of humor. I take issue with that. Even as I was laying in the emergency room the night of my heart attack, my humor was still intact.

In any event, you can take the survey by clicking here.

My score was 58.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Tim Russert Story

Many people have Tim Russert stories. Most of those who tell their stories knew Russert, much better than me. I only got to know him one late spring night and early morning, in June of 1997 in Cleveland when we drank beers and told stories until four o’clock in the morning under a tent on a suburban college campus.

The occasion of this gathering was sort of a reunion within a reunion. Five of us were back on the campus of John Carroll University for our college class reunions. Russert and Mark Pacelli were back for their 25th reunion and Bill Gagliano, Stan Mambort and I were back for our 20th. We shared common bond beyond just being fellow alumni; we were all members of the same fraternity, The University Club.

In the early to mid seventies, The University Club, or U-Club as it was commonly referred to, was chartered to be the “student host organization for the university” which was liberally interpreted to meaning that we were responsible for putting on rock concerts in the gymnasium. It was in this capacity that Bill, Stan and I first actually met Russert. We had all heard of him before of course. He was a legend in the U-Club even back then.

It was 1975 and we were in our sophomore year at John Carroll. Though he graduated John Carroll in 1972, Russert was still in Cleveland attending law school at Cleveland Marshall School of Law. With his connections in the U-Club, he ended up brokering a deal with another fraternity brother, Hal Becker who was then a senior at JCU, to bring Bruce Springsteen to the 2,000 seat gymnasium at John Carroll. This was well before Bruce Springsteen reached his peak of fame. Evidently Russerts brief foray into rock concert promotion helped pay his way through law school.

At least that’s what he told us that night. He also told us that years later he became friends with Springsteen and shared the story of the John Carroll concert with him and thanked him for helping to pay for his law degree. Both had by then decidedly grown in national recognition.

In fact, by the late spring of 1997, as we sat laughing and knocking back beers until the wee hours of Saturday morning, Russert had already been hosting Meet the Press for six years. Ironically, the one topic that was not discussed that evening was politics. We shared stories of our escapades during our years at John Carroll and reminisced about common friends and experiences. I seem to recall that we only agreed to go bed when we ran out of beer.

Over the years I’ve told this story several times to different people. When I’d see Russert on TV I’d often point out to anyone listening that we were fraternity brothers. If anyone probed a little more and asked if I knew him, I would invariably tell the story of the beer drinking bull session under the tent. When asked what he was I like, I always told them that he was the real deal; a regular good guy.

Last Friday, when I heard the news of his sudden death, the memory of that evening came back again and with it came immense gratitude for having had that opportunity to get to know my fellow fraternity brother a little better.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Golf In Heaven

Two avid golfers are out on the links on beautiful spring day. While waiting for a foursome in front of them to finish up, one turns to the other and asks “Hey Roger, do you think there is golf in heaven?”

“I dunno,” Roger replies, “but if one of us gets there first and finds out, he should make an effort to communicate to the one still living and let them know.”

“It’s a deal,” Sam tells him and they continue their round of golf.

Two months later Sam suddenly drops dead from a heart attack, a few days after the funeral he comes to Roger in a dream.

“Hey Roger, I have some good news and bad news. The good news is that there is golf in heaven and the courses are unbelievable and you can play a different one everyday.”

“Jeez,” Roger dreams, “what could possibly be the bad news?”

Sam picks up Rogers thoughts and replies, “You have a tee time at 8:30 tomorrow morning.”

I heard this joke at my gym this morning. My personal trainer, an irascible Irishman named Tim Gallagher, told me the joke after we discussed the statistic I read on the Newsweek website that 850 people a day die in America from sudden heart attacks. That is more than breast cancer, lung cancer, stroke and AIDS combined.

I told Tim, who also happens to have a family history of heart disease, that it would probably be a good idea to make sure all of your affairs are in order since you never know when you could get one of those last minute tee times.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Checking In

Shortly before I began my cardiac rehab program I told my cardiologist that I planned to run in a 10K race this spring.

“You might have to wait another year for that,” he gently replied.

Nothing doing. I was determined to be a model cardiac rehab patient and get myself back in shape quickly, as long as it was within the bounds of the nurse directed program.

Okay, I wasn’t exactly a model patient. I skipped most of the “education” sessions. I attended a few but soon I grew uncomfortable sitting in a small crowded room watching a videotape for thirty minutes. I am much too restless for that regime.

On the other hand, as far as the exercise portion of the program was concerned, I was focused like an athlete training for a big game. The nurses soon caught on to my determination and they supported and encouraged me as long as I kept within their prescribed limits.

The result was that at the end of the 36 sessions I was ready to get back to my old exercise regimen and I was even more determined to participate in the race that was now about two and a half months away.

To make a long story short, I completed the 10K race in just under an hour. I was elated to say the least.

I was also thankful. I truly believe that the nurses in the cardiac rehab program were instrumental in making that happen. To thank them I bought a large box of Godiva chocolates and stuck my marked up race bid in the bag with them and dropped back by Howard County General Hospital to deliver them. It was a small but heartfelt gesture.