Update: We are killing ourselves

Believe me, you don't want to be wheeled into open heart surgery in your 40s or 50s because of the types of food you choose to eat.

Believe me, you don’t want to be wheeled into open heart surgery in your 40s or 50s because of the types of food you choose to eat.

I saw something in Henry Ford Hospital in December that really disturbed me. I haven’t talked about it except with a few people, but I feel I need to verbalize it. Shout it out to the world even.

Let me set the scene. Many of you know my husband is waiting on, as he puts it, “a new ticker.” His heart is done.  It was working fine one day, and it was done the next. Doctors even have a name for it: “falling off a cliff,” when your heart poops out with little or no warning. In August we got the news that he is suffering from congestive heart failure. By February he was categorized as 1B on the heart transplant list.

It is now October and my husband still has not been one of the lucky ones who has received a heart. He is instead fitted with an LVAD, a left ventricular assist device. It will keep his heart going until he gets a transplanted heart. The LVAD works well, but it is not pleasant or easy. It is a daily adjustment. It is changing the dressing every three days. It is not getting the driveline or the control device wet. It is staying away from static electricity because it could short the power unit. It comes with a lot of inconveniences. Yes, my husband is stronger and he is able to function almost normally again. But does he or anyone want to live the rest of their life tethered to a portable machine? I don’t think so. But here’s the thing:

Last year, my husband was in heart and vascular intensive care for several days while doctors determined his next course of treatment. (This was before his LVAD was implanted.)  After you are discharged from the ICU, cardiologists move you to what is called a heart telemetry floor.  In simple terms, they watch you more closely there than on a normal floor, taking more readings, watching more monitors, paying more attention to your heart and making sure it works like it’s supposed to,

On my husband’s first day on the telemetry floor, I took a walk down the hall, and I was shocked by what I saw.  Room. After. Room. Of black. men. 50-somethings.  60-somethings.  Most overweight. Most likely diabetic.

And they were all suffering from some form of heart disease.  I had to (literally) stop and catch my breath upon seeing so many sick black men.

We are killing ourselves. As responsible black men and women, we have to start taking control of our health.  And I’m speaking right now of our black men, because I know too many who have died, are dying, or are gravely ill because of their own lifestyle choices.  A 50-something father-in-law of an employee died as a result of diabetes last fall.  A male co-worker died of prostate cancer recently.  He was barely 65.  Another well-known black man in this area didn’t believe it when a doctor told him he had high blood pressure, so he ended up with kidney failure as a result. He was in his 40s. I walk down the street and see a black man in a wheelchair with both legs missing, likely the result of gangrene resulting from diabetes.

The scene in the hospital was haunting.  If a black man lives to 65, in our community he is considered an old man.

I started this Web site for women, but we are often the caregivers of these men. How can we change this? And BTW –- if we women don’t start to change our own eating habits, we’re not going to be much better off.

But that post is for another day.

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