Gerald’s Surprising Cholesterol Discovery
“I was talking to my wife one evening when my left arm started feeling strangely wooden, like it was numb. Then my wife mentioned her sister, Debra, and I thought to myself, ‘Who the heck is she talking about?’
“As soon as I asked my wife, ‘Debra who?’ I knew something was wrong. She looked at me like I’d lost my mind. Then she started asking me questions, and I couldn’t answer any of them. That’s when she said, ‘We’re going to the hospital right now.’ And we did.”
Lucky for Gerald, his wife, Nancy, was familiar with the symptoms of stroke. Her mother had had several TIAs (transient ischemic attacks or ministrokes) before the massive stroke that took her life.
Nancy had been my ally in attempting to get Gerald to quit smoking and cut back on drinking. Unfortunately, we had not had much luck with either. Gerald thought of himself as a “work hard, play hard” kind of guy who was not about to quit his frat-boy lifestyle, even though he was nearly 40 years old.
After decades of late-night partying, hangovers, and struggling to get through the day on a few hours’ sleep and lots of caffeine, Gerald’s chickens came home to roost. The “Debra who?” incident landed him in the hospital, where a concerned emergency room physician treated him and told him to choose between cleaning up his act and getting his affairs in order.
So Gerald and Nancy came to my office a few days later. Gerald, of course, insisted he was much better and that we should all just relax because he was ready to do whatever was necessary to avoid another episode. In fact, he swore he would start his new, healthier living plan the very next day!
Unfortunately, I’ve heard this sort of empty promise before. As soon as the person feels better, they postpone any real lifestyle improvements for tomorrow. Now we all know that “tomorrow” actually means never. But doctors can only do so much. And by now, Nancy was so frustrated with Gerald’s resistance that she was ready to throw in the towel.
Sure enough, after a couple days of mostly talking about the changes he was going to make, Gerald went right back to his old ways, drinking, smoking, and carousing with “the boys.” Then one evening when Nancy returned home from work, she found Gerald in the living room without his usual cocktail, looking pale and shaken. Gerald explained that one of his closest drinking buddies, Al, had a massive heart attack earlier that day and died instantly.
Often, the death of a friend or relative does more to get a patient’s attention than anything I could say. And, in fact, that’s exactly what happened. Gerald finally saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall. “Al’s wife was always after him to shape up, too,” Gerald told me later, when he came to the clinic for classes in weight management and lifestyle improvements. “But we used to laugh it off, like it was all a big joke. Well, now Al’s gone. So I’m going to do what we should have done years ago.”
To his credit, Gerald followed through. He not only lost the extra 60 pounds he was carrying around, but his total cholesterol is now well under 200, with an impressive HDL (good cholesterol) of 55. In addition, blood tests show that Gerald’s inflammation levels are considerably improved. With his markers for heart disease looking better with every visit, Gerald is far less likely to have a second, more serious stroke or a heart attack.
We never know what life has in store for us, but in Gerald’s case, his future is much brighter than it was a couple of years ago.