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Focusing on My Own Health

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Focusing on My Own Health By Elizabeth Shean

Mom had a big health scare the other day.

I came home from grocery shopping to discover she was unable to speak a coherent sentence. She was very animated and trying to tell me something, but all that came out of her mouth was gibberish.

"Liver curtains get me on on over...OH!" she said.

I immediately dialed 9-1-1.

My initial thought, of course, was that Mom probably was having a stroke. I put her through the FAST protocol for stroke evaluation, and she was able to perform all of the tasks except for speech. But I wasn't taking any chances.

After nearly 14 hours in the emergency room, Mom was diagnosed with a mini-stroke and a urinary tract infection. She went home with prescriptions for antibiotics and baby aspirins.

This health scare made me reevaluate my own health. Like many caregivers, I'm sure, I spend so much time dealing with my mom's health issues that I tend to ignore my own. But the truth is I don't exercise enough, I often eat poorly and I too frequently drink wine in the evening. It's a recipe for disaster, and I ask myself what would happen to Mom if something happened to me?

I used to be a relatively fit and athletic person. I exercised every day. I love walking and hiking, and my dog, Mitzi, can't get enough leash time. But over the past year, I've hardly exercised at all because it's awfully hard to carve out an extra 20 or 30 minutes to do so. And, of course, my professional life as a writer is very sedentary.

I also used to eat a very healthy diet, but that has gone down the drain from living with a woman who not only loves ice cream and other sweets but pressures me to eat them, too. Oh, and did I mention hot dogs, potato chips and processed foods of all kinds? I mean, my willpower only goes so far.

Nonetheless, over the past couple of weeks I decided to stop making excuses and get myself back on track. I purchased a wrist band to track my steps and buzz me with reminders to stand up from my desk and move. I spent one Sunday afternoon doing a top-to-bottom evaluation of my eating habits and then made a menu plan for the coming week that included lots of fresh vegetables, fruits and lean meats. I listed separate options for Mom, so if she insists on that hot dog then she can have it—while I eat something healthy. Lastly, I didn't buy any more wine after I finished the last bottle.

So far, I feel much better, physically and mentally. I'm sleeping great, probably due to getting fresh air, sunshine and exercise for at least a few minutes a day. (I aim for 10 minutes of daily exercise, which may not sound like much, but the point is it's doable.) My stress level actually feels lower when I treat it with nutritious foods and exercise than when I reach for chips and candy. I don't miss the evening glass of wine. My mental focus seems much better.

And you know what? I don't feel guilty about any of this. Yes, I had to retool my schedule to a tiny degree to "find" about one extra hour a day for cooking and exercise. This takes time away from Mom. But I'm fine with that because I know she benefits from a healthy me. That's the most important thing.


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