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Corned Beef and Closed Valves

February 2, 2018

A few weeks ago, my father, aunt, and I went for lunch at a deli across from the Cleveland Clinic. It’s hard to resist a good delicatessen and my 79-year-old aunt chose the corned beef sandwich with onion rings. I stared at the humongous stack, wondering if it measured six or eight inches high. Why does a good deli pile its corned beef and pastrami so high they can’t fit into a normal mouth? I wondered why people eat foods with the most calories, saturated fat, and salt, even when they realize they can clog the cleanest arteries.

Yet it was my aunt’s last meal before her open heart surgery scheduled the next morning. How could I make her feel guilty for enjoying her scrumptious sandwich? I know what it feels like to crave something you shouldn’t eat. I’ve often felt the tug of war between what I want and what I know I should eat.

In the trip from Detroit to Cleveland, I saw where the what-you-want world takes you. I came on Sunday with my dad and aunt, a widow after my uncle died ten years ago. She spent two full days enduring echocardiograms, pulmonary and vascular tests, chest x-rays and meetings with nurses, anesthesiologists, and meeting her surgeon who was scheduled to replace her 85% closed aortic valve with a cow’s valve. She was at the Cleveland Clinic because her primary coronary doctor said that if she were his mother, he’d send her to this world-renowned surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, ranked by many as the finest heart health center in the world.

We met with the doctor Wednesday after he’d performed his fourth open heart surgery that day. He looked exhausted, his pure white hair disheveled, his long white coat stained with blood. My aunt had a quadruple bypass 11 years earlier but he said he’d done many valve replacements for patients scarred from previous bypass. He admitted 5% don’t survive surgery but if the operation wasn’t done soon, the valve would probably close and death would inevitably follow.

That week and next, I observed overweight people waiting for surgery. We hear stories about huge portions and the great “value” of food at many popular restaurants. When we left the deli, I noticed the huge slices of cheesecake and brownies in a glass-encased area under the counter. I wondered how much saturated fat and sugar were in each massive serving, realizing we treat our bodies like edible pleasure palaces and then suffer the consequences later.

The devastating consequences are showing. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported in their latest survey that 31.1% of men are now considered obese, up from 27.4% in 2000 while 33% of women are rated obese. Even more alarming is that 33.6% of children and teens, ages 2 to 19, were overweight or at risk of becoming so in 2004, up from 28.2% in 2000. It looks like sugared sodas, chips, super-sized burgers, tacos, loaded lattes, buttered popcorn, and full-fat ice cream layered with candies are taking their toll on our kids. And the foods we love are certainly killing us.

I am rated obese, still 40 pounds higher than my “normal weight.” I joined Weight Watchers about two months ago and finally feel in control of my eating urges. I’ve been trying to eat healthy, watching my portions and choices. I’m not following all the guidelines but I’ve lost fifteen pounds so far and feel lighter and more energetic.

My Weight Watchers instructor has lost 90 pounds. He watched his dad die after he’d reached 400 pounds and doesn’t want to keep up the family heritage. He wants to live for his wife and four kids. Like him, I don’t want to find myself in a hospital, struck from a heart attack, needing open heart surgery. I know I’ve had years of calorie abuse but I’m now fighting my own weight war and won’t give up. It’s time to get serious. I’m almost 50 and want to be alive a few more years for my wife and three children.

My aunt spent over two weeks in Cleveland and survived the surgery. She still has diabetes and high blood pressure but is thankfully alive. And hopefully, she’ll live to the same age as her mother, 96.

I feel more motivated than ever to lose weight and keep it off. We owe it to ourselves, our friends, and families to try to be healthy. We shouldn’t feel guilty when sampling a sliver of chocolate brownie or a few slices of pastrami. But when we eat whole corned beef sandwiches with large slices of cheesecake, we’re only fooling ourselves.

We need to keep our valves and arteries open, the blood flowing, if not for us, for our parents, spouses, and kids. We must keep them away from the hospital bed, holding our hands, hoping we’ll survive the knives that cut our chests open, praying our hearts will still beat when the doctor’s finished.


From Five Fathers

Copyright 2006

By Arnie Goldman

BookSurge, LLC

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