A few weeks ago I got a wakeup call. No, not the 6-o’clock-get-your-lazy-bones-out-of-bed call. This was a phone call from my new doctor to get my cholesterol under control…now. It came as quite a shock, as my cholesterol levels have always tested better-than-optimal in the past, and now this doctor wanted to put me on statins the very day she received my test results.
I’m a person who avoids medications like the Plague. You know the type—a diehard who chose natural childbirth without pain killers because I didn’t want to put any drugs in my body that might impact my babies. [Okay, to be truthful, I’m also a huge wimp when it comes to needles, and I just about passed out when our childbirth class instructor showed us an epidural needle]. I’d rather tough out a headache than take an aspirin. I’m mortified to admit how many medications my daughter has had to take in her lifetime for her health issues, but certain critical situations require that you give in. Not that I acquiesce without a fight and countless hours of research...
Needless to say, I refused the statins until I had a chance to bring my cholesterol down naturally, through regular exercise and dietary changes. I'm not sure why the doctor jumped straight to a prescription; it's possible she was considering the time I devote to my daughter’s care and figured it might be easier for me to commit to simply popping a daily pill. Any of us raising families know how hard it is to fit daily exercise and careful meal planning and cooking into our hectic days. Those of us raising kids with multiple disabilities become especially masterful at putting ourselves last on the priority list. We are so busy taking care of the health needs of our kids that our own fitness routines take a back seat…a dangerous place for the driver to sit!
We’ve all heard the airline safety spiel of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping your child with theirs. In fact, we’ve heard it so many times that the line has become cliché. The premise makes logical sense. Implementing the theory in daily life, however, seems nearly impossible. Our kids’ medical needs (and therapeutic and educational and social and fill-in-whatever-else-fits-your-child needs) loom huge overhead. They direct our days and keep us awake at night. The needs demand so much of our time and energy, there truly isn’t any left over for us to do the things we need to take care of our own health.
But…can we afford not to practice the habits that will keep us in excellent health? I had thought so. I let my habits slide (washed down by a decadent Pumpkin Spice latté grabbed on the way to physical therapy), reasoning that I simply didn’t have time to keep up an exercise routine or healthful eating. It was convenient to ignore the possibility that my health might deteriorate as a result. But when the call came that my cholesterol levels put me at risk of some very serious complications, it hit me with sudden, unexpected force that I had even less time to get sick. This seems obvious but it took a scare like the reality that illness—or worse—could happen to me to jolt me to action.
In the weeks since that phone call, I’ve been faithfully exercising each day and eating a healthful diet. I’m determined to lick this cholesterol without medications. Surprisingly, it hasn’t taken as much time from my schedule as I had believed it would. I just tear myself away from the computer half an hour earlier in the morning to work out. That isn’t so bad. Planning nutritious menus requires a bit of extra time, but cooking healthful meals doesn’t actually take any longer than preparing artery-clogging ones. I find that these healthy patterns give me increased energy in the day and blissfully restful sleep at night. Being more alert and less sluggish allows me to get more done in the same number of hours, so the time spent exercising and planning menus pays for itself…and then some. I find the stress relief of exercise to be a tremendous benefit as we deal with my daughter’s uncontrolled seizures and wade through extremely difficult treatment decisions. The silly thing is I’ve known all these benefits in my head as long as I can remember; why did it take this shock to rattle me into accepting them?
All these benefits from eating right and working out help motivate me to keep up these habits. What was prompted by fear of long-term consequences has turned out to have strong day-to-day rewards as well. I feel much better, have a clearer head and have more stamina to keep up with the daily demands. These perks alone merit continuing the changes in my behavior. And hopefully, when my cholesterol levels are rechecked in another few months, we’ll see a positive impact on these numbers as well.
I realize we are all insanely busy parents, trying to keep up with medical treatments and appointments and therapies and school meetings. Where in your busy lives can you carve out a bit of time to care for the person who cares for your child—yourself? Can you afford not to?