Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hospital Experience #8: Personal Responsibility and Honesty

This is the eighth in a series of posts on a recent experience at Ochsner Hospital - having a cardiac catheter ablation procedure to correct a heart arrhythmia. These posts describe and reflect on various aspects of the hospital experience.

This post continues my reflections from my earlier posts, especially Hospital Experiences #1 through #5. In this eighth post, I will consider what these experiences teach about personal responsibility and honesty. To make full sense of this post, it will help to have read the earlier ones.

In reflecting on my recent hospital experience and other related experiences, I notice that it is necessary to take personal responsibility for and to be honest about myself in these areas:

  • My choices and their consequences
  • My feelings and my needs


The reason I have high blood pressure is that I have spent the last several years engaging in very poor eating and exercise habits. I could blame this on Hurricane Katrina and my subsequent move to North Carolina, along with the attendant stress of loss and change, but the truth is that I chose what to put in my mouth and how much or how little to move my body.

I over-indulgenced in fatty and sugary foods: fried foods, lots of butter, cream, cake, pie, chocolate truffles. I ate lots of these things. I ate frequently. I kept telling myself that I would reform my eating habits - always giving myself a future starting date for the reforms and always postponing that date. This allowed me to justify eating even more fatty and sugary foods, since I would be eliminating these foods "soon." Of course, I never did let "soon" arrive.

I also became physically lazy. I did not exercise. I led a sedentary life. I did start taking long daily mountain walks during my last year in North Carolina (2008-2009), and these made a difference in eliminating the arthritis pain in my hip, but they were not enough to counter the effects of my continued food indulgence. I also discontinued these walks upon my return to New Orleans in May 2009. Back in New Orleans, I began riding my bicycle and I have always taken stairs frequently, but this is minor compared to the exercise I needed.

I believe it is M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled who says that an action and its consequences are two ends of the same stick. If you choose to pick up the stick, you get both ends - the consequences come right along with the action. You can't pick up one without the other.

Two consequences of my unhealthy eating and exercise choices were a thirty-pound weight gain and high blood pressure. Possibly also the heart arrhythmia, although the doctor insists that heart arrhythmias are not a result of food and exercise choices.

I wonder, though. It does seem to me that a heart which is disciplined by regular aerobic exercise would not be so prone to create arrhythmias - whereas a heart whose owner does not give it that discipline would soon get bored and start amusing itself by creating interesting little speedy beats and delayed beats and syncopated beats - cute little (abnormal) rhythms to add some spice.

In any case, the motivation to change came with my visit to the emergency room at the end of March, when I became scared because my heart was beating oddly. That ER visit was a strong motivator.

Since then, I have lost twenty pounds. I did this by choosing different behavior - an eating plan high in fresh fruit and fresh or lightly steamed vegetables, along with such other foods as chicken, fish, beans, brown rice, nuts, low-fat cheese, low-fat yogurt, boiled egg, and an occasional square of dark chocolate. I also occasionally have something more indulgent, but limited in content and amount, such as a scoop of gelato rather than a three-scoop banana split with chocolate fudge sauce and whipped cream, or a small slice of key lime pie rather than a huge slice of seven-layer chocolate suicide cake. I keep myself well hydrated. I have also resumed daily walking - power walking.

The consequences of my new behavior choices include a twenty-pound weight loss thus far, a noticeable lessening of strain on my knees, elimination of the hip pain (which had returned), a greater agility of movement, and an overall greater sense of bodily well-being.


My panic in the procedure room shows me that it is far better to simply acknowledge the feelings that I actually do have rather than strive for an unattainable ideal feeling state, especially when my feelings are almost guaranteed to produce problematic behavior, which - in the case of the procedure room panic - included hyperventilating, trembling, jerking around, struggling, and crying out. It would have been better to acknowledge the panic rather than try to act brave. Acting brave was simply beyond my capabilities. The doctor, the medical team, and I would all have had a far more pleasant experience, had I simply and emphatically stated that I was on the verge of panic and that I needed a sedative before anything was done to me in the procedure room.

Similarly, I could have avoided the unpleasant interchange with Nurse Dreadful and the vein-search fiasco by simply and emphatically stating that I was getting irritated and upset and that I needed to take a break from the vein search, calm down, and then try again with someone else.

There is no use in trying to be calm or relaxed or brave when I am irritated or tense or panicked. Honestly stating my feelings and my needs in an adult way is far more likely to produce favorable results than is the more childish behavior of actually having a panic attack or a temper tantrum or a sulky attitude. We may be able to say that my panic in the procedure room had instinctual roots, but my behavior with Nurse Dreadful was definitely childish.

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