Posts from the ‘Health’ Category

ASF’s The Coronary Chronicles – Act One: It’s HRH’s fault…

Seriously, a heart attack? Seriously?

Seriously, a heart attack? Seriously?

I had a heart attack.

And as I think on it,  I don’t blame genetics, or an elevated cholesterol count. I am not mad at the few extra pounds I am packing or my penchant for BBQ and red meat, or tasty craft beers.

I blame the Royal Family for my heart attack. Them and the Royal Canadian Signals Corps…

As it happens, on a crisp, cool Friday afternoon when I should have been hoisting a few pints with my brothers-in-arm, I wasn’t.

Yes, Your Royal Highness, they were hoping you would join them for a pint..

Yes, Your Royal Highness, they were hoping you would join them for a pint..

The Worshippers of Mercury – the Spawn of the Sappers – had invited Her Royal Highness Princess Anne to Kingston to celebrate some kind of antenna raising or something. And on the very night when I should have been enjoying the comforting oak panelling and leather of the Keg Room, quaffing Paulaner and munching on potato chips and popcorn, recalling my exploits as a young dashing Sapper officer in faraway places, I wasn’t.

All because HRH was dining in the Officers’ Mess later that evening there was no Happy Hour.  Mesdames et messieurs, la messe des officiers, elle est fermée.

Merde.

I suppose I could have gone elsewhere to imbibe. But I didn’t. I wanted the moral high ground and I did not need a pint really. So, I decided that I would take my faithful furry companion for a little joggle on the trails around the house and make room for a little weekend living.

And that’s when my royal pains really signalled their intent…and again, if I had  been to the mess, I would never had have an heart attack. If P then Q. (And for those that know, a small homage to Dr Ramkeesoon…)

Anyway, the run started nicely enough, confident strides, and an occasional stop to let Lola sniff the glandular calling cards left on the path by her canine neighbours. But after a steady 1500m, things went awry. I was no longer loping and enjoying. The run was harder than I thought it should be – even though I knew it had been a slog of a week. I was not enjoying it like I usually do. This time there was discomfort.

Not in my chest and not in my stomach, but in between.

In my diaphragm and lower sternum.

There was unhappiness around that barrier that protects me from the Scoville tsunami after a particularly challenging jambalaya or vindaloo. The barrier that says, “Hey man, smarten up! That capsaicin ain’t coming this way, but it sure is gonna sting coming out the other end.”

But I couldn’t really place it, I mean it’s not as if  it was like a finger at an awkward angle or a compound fracture. So, I sort of ignored it. Because that’s what guys do: “sort-of-do” stuff and “sort-of-ignore” stuff.

But after a few minutes, the discomfort moved from “this-is-just-a-shit-run-so-get-over-it-and-suck-it-up” to feeling funny. Not ha-ha funny. Funny in a “somebody-gonna-get-hurt-real- bad” kind of way. So, after slowing down, and then stopping all together, I did a mental inventory of the classic heart attack symptoms.

Now, let’s be clear. That I did an assessment in itself was an uncharacteristically mature reaction from me …nothing like the 18, 25, 35, or maybe even 45 year-old me – the one who would tell the rugby physiotherapist to add another layer of athletic tape on the disjointed pinkie, or tell his wife that a doctor is irrelevant as it has happened before and it would heal – eventually. You know the guy; the kind who would run a half-marathon with a pulled groin. (By the way, “ran” is bit of an optimistic term…)

And in hindsight, I think with that action,I have finally arrived at that age where I actually might be paying attention to my body’s flashing lights and warning indicators. I think Maslow called it “Stage 5A: Waking-the-F*ck-Up-ilization” which gladly is just mercifully short of Self-Actualization – which in this instance, unfortunately, would be reached with the exclamation of, “Oh, shit! That was a heart attack! Aaaaaaaaarghhh!”, clutching my chest as my essence headed towards the light.

I remember how, way back in 2007, I thought I was an Old Bull. Back then I felt as if I was tempering the actions of those young officers under my command. But really, I was still just a young bull myself – an older, young bull – but still a Young Bull.  But last week, on that Friday afternoon amongst the fading leaves and naked branches, as I forced myself to execute this self-triage, while bathed in the sickly unease that maybe I had jogged a step too far, I realised I may have finally earned entry into the Old Bull Club.

Sadly, however, the only cow in the lower pasture was me…

I did the run through of all the symptoms I remembered:

  • Sharp pain in the left arm – nope.
  • Radial pain in the back – nugatory.
  • Shortness of Breath – nada. All systems check.
  • Clamminess, sweating? Who knew, I had just “run”, and it was cool out.
  • And I just did a half marathon four weeks ago – really…you can’t be serious!!!

I then started rationalising. No, it couldn’t be heart attack. There just weren’t enough symptoms. But then again, it just wasn’t right.

It was not as if Sweet Daddy Siki was sitting on my chest, but it sure wasn’t that loose rack of man-boobies that it always was before. So I wimped out, screwed the run and

http://news.usask.ca/archived_ocn/09-sept-18/images/wrestling2.jpg

Bring it on Sweet Daddy!

walked the short way home (all the while carrying a plastic bag full of Lola’s doggy doo – because that is what responsible pet owners do). I fed the dog her little princess meal of Caeser’s (dog food, not cocktails) and Royal Canin – and then I thought briefly of making dinner.

And then it got weird, time sort of became elastic. I stood in my kitchen – staring at some Italian sausage that was supposed to form part of a delicious pasta for me and my beloved – and I thought to myself, I don’t feel well.  I don’t remember if it was a minute, or twenty…

And I debated with myself. There was no way I wanted to spend 8 hours in Emergency on a Friday Night, waiting for some Attending to tell me it was nothing but an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato….more gravy than grave. “Take your antacids and stool softener – don’t forget the fibre and drink lots of water. Cure thyself, kind Sir!”  I was not keen on that idea.

But then I looked at the other possible outcomes. What if it was having a heart attack? Did I want to laying in a heap on the kitchen floor, hoping that my dog would dial 911.

“911, Emergency, can I help you?”

What' s the number for 911?

What’ s the number for 911, again?

“Grrrrr woof, woof, woof. Bark, woof!”

“Right, got the address Lassie, your Master. Stuck in the well out back?…Oh sorry, heart attack on the kitchen floor? We’ll send an ambulance right over!”

Just the thought of my wife finding me on the floor, all useless and damaged in a puddle of sweat, foaming at the mouth, was enough to convince me that being told “it was nothing” was worth it. So I sent the text that tried to downplay and diffuse what I knew could only be received with panic.

“Feel funny. Going to hospital. Tightness in my chest. Can’t shake it.”

And so I drove myself to the hospital. Now, as an aside, I think there is a common law of relativity, alongside Einstein’s E=MC2 that:

Quantity(Red Lights, Assholes, and Sunday Drivers) ∝ Urgency (desire or need to reach the destination quickly) 2

I cannot believe how bad drivers are – the 30kph in the 50km zone, the light is not yellow yet, dammit! But even in a heightened state of concern, I was a courteous Canadian. Only three honks to get people moving when they were dillying instead of dallying. But I digress, car driving habits would take a whole blog in itself, and I am supposed to keep my heart rate down. So moving on…

Now, after parking the car in the lot that is far, far away from Emergency – because I knew my car would be staying where it was for an indefinite period, and I did not want to create any parking turmoil as that would be rude –  I walked the 300m to Emergency, plunked myself down at the Registration and said, “ I think I am in cardiac distress.”

Prompt attention.  Use that if you want to be seen quickly; but be prepared to stay for a while.

Paperwork started at quick time. And my wife arrived moments later, having had her Relative Physics moment of Asshole Drivers Theory en route. And after looking at her face and her demeanour, at that moment I was not so sure who was having the heart attack. Leaving her to finish off my registration, I walked into the very, very full emergency ward.

I stripped off all my top layers of running gear – in the public hallway – and put on the very fashionable, useful, and most modesty-protecting hospital gown. And after showing all my ink, and middle-aged man hairy back to the lovely elderly couple who shared hallway accommodations with me, I was given my supper – two orange flavoured baby aspirins . Surprisingly, those bad boys taste just as lovely as they did when I was a kid. Some blood was taken and then I lay me down to await the medical onslaught, amidst the cacophony of paramedics wheeling in drug overdoses, car accidents, university RUFFI victims, and the generally unlucky – it was a great way to relax my heart rate and share some tender moments as I contemplated life with the person who is closest to me.

And then, my wife and I waited.

End of Act I…

Later.

ASF

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1 January 2013

january-1

Hung over this morning? If so, sorry…if not, you must be either very young or getting older!!

new_year_hangover_800w_600hFunny how we fixate on New Year’s.  The night before, we are partying with friends and family – eating and drinking as if there will be no tomorrow. And for some, perhaps the morning of 1 January does feel like the end of the world.  No worries – they’ll feel better on 2 January!

1 January.. Important to us, but not such a significant day in the Chinese or Islāmic or the Indian calendars, or the Ethiopian, Assyrian, Persian and Hebrew ones (there’s more than just the Gregorian and Julian calendars…poke around  Wiki List of calendars – there’s over 46 in use now, and a few dozen archaic and chinese_astrologyproposed calendar formats out there. Just don’t go all Mayan on us…)

But, courtesy the Gregorian Calendar and its benefactor Pope Greg the 8th … 1 January is the day that starts off  our new year and a new beginning for those in the “Western World”.

Forget the trouble, strife and anxiety of 2012…anything is possible and everything can be altered for the good in 2013.

Really, I don’t think it is that simple. If it was, I’d be thinner, healthier, richer, smarter, more productive, more organised, better focused than I am now – the perfect role model to whoever cared.

But, life is not like that.

The omnipresent New Year’s Resolutions have never worked for me. I do not believe that my resolve is any stronger on 1 January than it was on 31 December, or than it will be on 1 July or 9 October. Taking stock of the number of people who fade away from the cardio room ar the Gym by mid January, I’d say that sentiment is fairly universal.

ch-new-year-resolution

Personally, I have made very few resolutions on New Year’s Day.  I quit smoking, (the last time), on a March 29th  – okay  maybe the end /beginning of the fiscal year – but not really a New Year’s Day. And many other of my life defining decisions have been made on any number of Gregorian dates – I have not waited until the new calendar was placed on the refrigerator.

But 1 January feels important. It is the day that marks a clean sheet, a new start. And more importantly, new promise.

And that We, full of our positive energy from a happy Christmas, full of kinship and food and spirits, wish to spread our recent joy across into the new year. A time when focus all our well-wishes and optimism in the hope that it will make everyone’s lives better. When we hope that everyone has a happy, and healthy, and prosperous new year. That everyone gets a chance to realise their dreams, to succeed in the face of challenges, to feel secure and safe; to be free of fear, of worry, of pain, of anger, of disappointment, of distress, frustration, disillusionment, regret, panic, and apprehension.

And in this time of relaxation and repose, of reflection and thought – and before we return to our routine and obligations and livelihoods – it is the time of year to hope for lofty dreams. To hope that this is the year that people of different faiths show more tolerance andunderstanding so that their children

Tutu and Dalai Lamacan grow without seeing violence and hate as the only options. That this is the year that we figure out how to feed and water a growing population without wasting our resources or damaging our planet. That this is a year that we challenge and defeat a number of afflictions and diseases and syndromes that result in needless deaths – deaths that are either violent and unforeseen, or lingering and inevitable.

I know we all wish that for each other throughout the year – not just on 1 January.  But what better time to say it…then when we are all thinking of everybody?

And while the road may be rocky – with the help of friends and family, it is never impassable. I wish everybody a very happy 2013 – one of challenges and growth, of joy, love, fulfillment and fun.

Later,

ASF

The Canadian Army Run – way more than just a run….

This past weekend I participated in the Canadian Army Run.  Now, way back in February when I signed up for the run, I was full of good intentions to train hard and hopefully come close to meeting my personal best.  At least that it what I thought 7 months ago…that I could match a time that was achieved when I was eight years younger, 20lbs lighter and whole lot less arthritic.  (Roll eyes now…)

I started training and for three months I was doing really well. Speed work, hill work, endurance runs… I did everything that John Stanton recommended and I was feeling powerful.

But then life got in the way.

First the debilitating pinched nerve – the one I blogged about in May – then a house hunting trip from UK to Canada, and then a full-fledged move which included 30+ days in a hotel.  The latter was the killer: restaurants and beer and fried eggs and the occasional work out.  Any half-marathon discipline was wiped out by waves of stress-related hedonism! Time ticked away and I consoled myself that I had two months, then a month, then three weeks…blah blah blah.

And as 23 September loomed closer, the sinking feeling of “Man…this is gonna hurt. Hurt real bad!” started growing momentum. And while I wore the badge of “I am running the 21.3km Army Run”, I was a bit worried that I was going to embarrass myself and not finish. Instead of eagerness and impatience, there was a bit of unease and anxiety. And occasionally, I would think that the easy thing to do was to forgo the whole experience and take a “pass”. Everybody would understand that I was “not ready”.

But I couldn’t.  And with the exact same logic, neither could my wife. We said we would, so we had to.

So Sue and I sucked it up and headed off to Ottawa to do our bit.  To finish what we set out to do and to complete our respective 5k and 21k.

And during, and after, our respective runs, we both wondered what the heck we were worried about.  For among the 17,000 runners in both events, there was no thought of failure, no thoughts of poor performances, no winners and no losers.  It was a celebration: a celebration of an institution and its values.  Of taking on a challenge and sharing in everyone’s victory. Of cheering on everyone and applauding their commitment – whether they were Olympic calibre athletes or novices who wanted to show their support by taking on a huge challenge.

And mostly, it was humbling.  It was humbling to watch the disabled and the injured soldiers and fellow citizens take on the same challenge as us.  And honestly, nobody cared how fast they were. It was simply sobering to watch a triple amputee, injured in an IED attack, walking on two prosthetic legs holding a cane in his good hand. I can only describe it as awe-inspiring. It talks to the human condition – the drive and spirit that make us do things that we thought we could never do.  It put all of our challenges and worries into perspective.

And alongside this multitude of marvellous, amazing individuals, ordinary Canadians of all

His Excllency the Governor General particpates in the Canadian Army Run 5k

shapes and sizes, colours and creeds, ran, or jogged, or walked, defeating their own internal demons to make it across the finish line. And while their challenges may not have been as mountainous as the disabled and hurt, their victories are no less significant.

And after it all, the array of emotions that faces displayed were incredible.  Happiness, relief, tears, incredulity…the full gamut.  And why not?  It was a wonderful day full of personal bests and personal victories – of completing what you may not have thought was possible. And as I look at the pictures friends have posted, and the comments that they and all the people who care for them have made, I know that everyone feels the same.  It was so worth it!

And I feel a wisp of shame that I thought about avoiding it because I was not “ready”.  Because if I had not done it, I would not have been rejuvenated by the remarkable role models and spectrum of positive emotions throughout the course, and the valuable lessons it taught me.

No one cared if I ran slowly. No one mocked me for my slower finishing time. It was simply a celebration of what I, and We, achieved.  How we achieved the “objective”.  That we were a team focused on the same goal.  And that, in a nutshell, is how I would describe the Army and the Canadian Forces. How perfect is that?

So, if you have not attempted the Army run – 5k or 21k – join the thousands that have done it and will return for another year. It is a reawakening and a nice demonstration of what is right about sport and personal endeavour. Despite your fears and worries, you can do it just like others did.

See you on the course next year!

Go Army!

Later,

ASF

Aaahhh…patchouli, incense, and pan flutes…

I need another massage. For those in the gutter, stop smirking.  I do not mean the flashing neon light, happy-ending kind of “massage” that some might pay dearly for. All I can say of those, to quote Sgt Schultz, is  – “I know nothing…”.  What I am blogging about is a therapeutic, deep-tissue massage…a good, but painful treatment delivered in a candle-lit a room that smells of sandalwood and lemon-grass and lavender, with soft mellow, soul-healing music playing in the background.  Sadly, my last one was over two weeks ago…

Now, please do not imagine that I have always taken a massage regularly. Truthfully, I have never really been the kind of guy to pamper myself.  Pampering usually meant an extra pint at Happy Hour, or using the ottoman (that is a foot stool, tuffet, hassock or pouffe, for you non-Canadianswhile watching a major sporting event on the big screen, or springing for the full-size Bucket instead of the 9-piece meal. Back then, for me the word “pampering” brought up images of extravagance, frivolity, femininity.  And because many guys are from the “Real men do not eat Quiche” school of thought (like I was), they think that any guy who likes massages should start carrying a satchel and wearing a purple scarf (sorry – a bit of a poke at my FB friends :)

Way back in my youth (by that I mean 2007 and before), I guess I was a “quiche-hater” too (an analogy only…I like “egg and bacon” pie).  Like most guys, my bar of soap served as body cleanser, hair shampoo and shaving cream. Lotion was a lubricant…and only came in those little bottles you stole from the hotel room.  And all my laundry was a nice uniform hue of pinky-grey.

Exfoliation, marjoram, conditioner, scented candles, nail file…not in my vocabulary.  Suicide chicken wings, armpit farts, rugby, torque wrenches, happy hour …now you’re talking my language.

But then I changed.  Maybe I realised that I did not give a hoot that some guys think that pink shirts are for women only.  I like pink shirts….a very attractive woman once told me they complement my skin tone – and that was good enough for me.  And also, maybe I discovered that my skin hurt most of the time because it needed some moisturizer.  I then realised that maybe, just maybe, you can pamper yourself while maintaining your cojones.

Mind you, the transition was not easy. In the late 90s during a tour in Bosnia, I had tried a massage once during leave in Budapest…but it was an old-school, barely post-communist era, rub-down in a room with all the warmth of a tiled operating theatre.  I was unclothed and feeling vulnerable – and though the skilled mature masseur managed to convert tense, knotted muscles into limp pasta – I was not comfortable with the “intimacy” of being manipulated by a sweaty middle-aged Hungarian man.  Seriously, the only people to touch me like that before were the Numbers 4, 5 and 8 in the Scrum – and my wife.  I would have preferred Ross and the wooden spoons.  And since I was afraid, to quote George Costanza, of “embarrassing movement” in similar circumstances in the future,  I gave up on the massages.

But, the turning point came after a New Brunswick half-marathon – this one marked by a wee lack of training, and some serious drinking the night before.  Post-joggle, I was sore…very sore – in body and mind.  So I went for a massage.  And it was not one of those analgesic/liniment/chinese tiger balm torture sessions you get from the team physio after the mandatory 15-minute soak in the ice-filled tub.  Nope…it was a pan flute-fuelled soothing, calm session in a candle-lit room that smelled of incense and patchouli.  Oh Em Gee!  What a difference!  The rub down was fantastic.  The heated, scented oil applied expertly by a skilled massage therapist was unbelievable.  Tension and pain bled way with each pass.  By the end of the hour-long full body massage, I was boneless; a large lump of formless flesh on a massage table lying in a puddle of sleep drool – I was not sure of the time, the day, or the year.  I do not think I could even remember my name – and even if I could, I did not have the motor coordination to say it without sounding like I had been to the dentist.   There was no hurt, no stiffness…and almost no consciousness. After this surreal experience, I was hooked.

And so, with that resonating in my mind, and some coaxing from my wife, I then dipped a toe into the world of pampering.  Not figuratively, but literally – I mean that I tried a pedicure.

Now, I have given a foot rub once or twice before – sometimes willingly, sometimes grudgingly, but always clumsily – and even with my crude technique, I have listened to the “oohs and aahs” the effort has generated.

Toung the feet…a sign of respect to an elder…called upasangrahan

But I never understood the allure. Maybe because, in an East Indian way, I am uncomfortable with someone touching my feet. (In India, touching the feet is how you show respect to someone (usually older); so having someone touch my feet seemed a tad elitist.)  But looking at the complete expression of ecstasy on my wife’s face during a foot rub, I gave in.  And then the light turned on.  I got it.  A warm water wash, the soothing kneading touch with a revitalising, minty balm on the arches, the heels, the toes, and the balls (…of my feet, filth-mongers, of my feet), and I suddenly realised that I had fallen down the rabbit hole.  My feet had dragged me into the abyss – head first.

And it got me thinking, why is it that men don’t do that sort of thing as a matter of course?  Why are massages and manicures and pedicures and hot stones and reflexology, all considered to be too feminine? All un-manly things unbefitting a manly-man? I mean, really, no one sex should have a monopoly on feeling good – it should be a unisex sort of thing.  Why shouldn’t men stand up for equal rights and have massages and pedicures.  They are awesome.

Now the heresy.  So I suggest that maybe it is time to shed the tough guy image, and think about experiencing those products and services and treatments that can take care of your skin and soul and stuff.  Lads…I think I can read your minds, “Clint never would have used those kind of products.” Maybe…but seriously, have you looked at his face recently?  Maybe he should have.  (And honestly, I am sure he has had more than his fair share of shiatsu…and he probably asked for Chuck Norris’s personal masseuse.)

So while many of you may not be quite ready to put your wallet and Kleenex and cell phone and iPod and Bosch Headphones and pen and notebook and kindle and newspaper and chewing gum and eye drops in a Satchel as you walk around town, maybe you will sign up for a full body massage. Go with your wife, or your girlfriend (but if you are a Player, don’t try to take both at the same time).

To quote Morpheus, “You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”  Trust me.  Take the red pill and go for the massage.

Enjoy another kind of happy ending!

Later,

ASF

I don’t want bushy eyebrows…

I have a pinched nerve in my shoulder.  My left shoulder.  It is so painful that I had to eventually go in to the doctor…of my own accord…without my wife asking me to. All you married people out there – You know that is bad.

And how did I injure myself you ask? Rugby? Hockey? Soccer?  Nope. Nope. Nope. I aggravated it on a soft hotel bed, using pillows that were too hard.  How lame is that?  And over the last two weeks, I have made it worse by spending 8+ hours a day at work in a non-ergonomic work station. I can’t believe I used those words –  ergonomic work station. Even lamer.

But before the doc diagnosed it as a pinched nerve, I was the typical man.  Yep…I self-diagnosed using my years of medical training (countless hours watching ER and Doogie Howser and House, MD)  and writing it off as too much pumping iron, or perhaps the onset of osteoarthritis from an earlier dislocation.  But a couple of weeks of continued pain in the left arm and shoulder, an inability to sleep in my favourite position, and soon I was on the Internet, checking my symptoms on the various medical pages.  There I was, clicking on pages and links that no young man would ever look at…and because it was my left arm that was ‘a-paining’, I was directed to myocardial infarctions, cardiac distress, cholesterol levels (with a lengthy diversion onto the benefits of a high fibre diet courtesy a well-placed hyperlink).  I then moved from there, distracted by Lance Armstrong’s personal sruggle, and starting reading about testicular cancer and prostates and PSA tests. And then it was a simple leap (of  just a few centimetres, really) to learning more about bowel issues and other topics that are just TMI for this blog.

Then I was struck by a thought:  How did I get here? When did I start giving a crap about things like that (no pun intended)?  What has happened to me? And…more importantly…what is happening to my body?  As I edge closer to the half century mark, so many things are changing – and many are unflattering and just plain annoying.  I miss the resilience and endurance I used to have when younger.

I mean, I still love spicy food and curries and jalapeno peppers and hot sauce and wasabi. But, my stomach lining and my diaphragm,  do not. The mild splash of stomach acid weeping into places it shouldn’t weep is just so sad.  No more asking for the Five Alarm CheektowagaIrv Weinstein” Nachos, the “Weep-at-the-aroma-only” suicide wings, theTabasco and Tequila fuelled Prairie Chicken.

Now it’s, “No, not the cheeky vindaloo, Sir.  I’ll have the mild korma, please”.  And, things that were in the old man aisle at Shoppers’ are now an occasional buy – Pepto, Tums, Gavsicon, Maalox.   My new catchphrase to the young and fool-hardy, the ones who have the asbestos-lined stomachs is, “If it burns on the way in, it’ll burn on the way out!”  Most don’t care – they are young and will heal quickly – but it makes me feel wise.  Like the old bull who walks down the hill.  The old bull who rations his chili pepper that is…

And what happened to the full night’s sleep?  That seems to have disappeared along with the hair. Caffeine after dinner is simply inviting the” kiss of death” for the Sandman. And if you have suffered a sleepless night, you will know that insomnia is insidious. Night time is much too quiet, much too long, and too full of bad TV infomercials, to spend awake thinking about all those little things that are in the recesses of your mind – things like did I put enough into my RSPs, why is my shoulder hurting, are the kids happy, should I buy snow tires?  Don’t small problems just grow bigger in the dark?   I do not enjoy that aspect of getting older.

And to add to the insult, just as the diaphragm weakens in the face of the acid onslaught, the nocturnal bladder seems just as frail in the face of the evening peppermint tea or just-before-bed glass of water ( I have learned this unfortunate reality is called nocturia, and is way too common). If I am lucky, I make my mid-night bathroom run at 2am or 3am, allowing for a delicious second “nap” before the alarm buzzes.  If I am unlucky, I do the porcelain shuffle fifteen minutes before I have to get up.  And I hate that…I fight it savagely.  I play mind games and struggle to deny that “too full” feeling like I am in a sleeping bag in a tent in the middle of a wet night. It would all be better if I could just fall back asleep and my bladder could wait until it is time to get up…but there is no cooperation. I might steal a few more ZZZZs, but they are always interrupted by the dream involving a waterfall or rain or a babbling brook.  Muscles that were once taut and resilient are older and less robust (Note to Self: read up on kegles for men…).  I hate the mid-sleep pee, especially since sleep seems to be a rare commodity.

Another sign of the age apocalypse hit me when I was at the barbers’ in Kingston (the Wilstassier was a little too long for the Gillette Mach 3).  At the end of the Zero, the barber asked me if I wanted my ears and eyebrows trimmed.  Excuse me?  What did you say?  Who am I? Dumbledore … Oscar the Grouch…my Dad?  And after a quick glance in the mirror, I relented.  Sadly, I now realise that I am part of the fuzzy-ear, bushy-eyebrow crowd (we won’t mention those unruly nose-hairs). I will need to include this new grooming ritual with the rest of my old man routine of belly lint and toenail clipping and corn medicine and Gold Bond anti-itch powder.  Soon it’ll be sock garters, the suspenders and belt combo, the trousers’ waistband pulled up to the nipples, the love of pastel colours, and the blue-plate special at Denny’s. Though my body may be heading that way, in my brain I am not ready yet – not in the slightest.

The shoulder is annoying, and I will need a physio or massage therapist to work out the issue.  And as I am wiser, I will actually do all the prescribed therapy. I will use the big stretchy rubber ribbons and the 5lb weights and I will stretch.  I will do it because if I don’t, my body will not forgive me. And, I will eventually run out of ibuprofen.

And that leads me to the tragic bit.  Though I really know better, and realise that it is not wise, I will continue to emulate the life I lived when I was 20. But eventually (like the next day) I will have to cash the cheque I wrote earlier.  And while I am not ready to give up the spicy food yet, and I still enjoy my evening tipple, and I will still hobble onto the rugby pitch for an Old Boys’ or alumni game – everything must come in moderation. That is what old people do. They act sensibly.

But I hope that as in the past,  a wee, tiny, little bit of me will rebel and on occasion  quote Oscar Wilde: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”  And because I am man, and still want to frolic in the fields with the young bulls, I will follow that siren call.

But until then, please excuse me. My beverage just kicked in.  I have to go use the restroom…

Later,

ASF

Hey, sweetie, is the oven the thing under the dials – or is that the stove?

When I was growing up, our house was a classic traditional division of labour.  While both my folks worked, my Mom was all about “cooking and cleaning” and my Dad was all about playing with the kids and fixing and repairing stuff. At the end of each work day, I remember Dad  walking through the door and after the requisite hugs, asking my Mom, “What’s for eating?!”

If I had to choose who did a better job, I would have to say that Mom won – there was only so much Dad could do with adjustable pliers, WD40, duct tape (gaffer tape for those in UK and Western Canada!) and Plumber’s Goop. But wow, did my Dad ever teach me to shovel snow and mow grass!

Throughout my early years and into my first marriage, I followed the same path. Grass, snow, garbage, leaves, plugged toilets, lightbulbs.  And if I tried to climb out of the glass cellar?…let’s put it this way, perhaps it is only men who can really appreciate that white has many shades of grey and pink.

But after being on my own for a while, I realised that I had to learn how to become a domestic demi-god out of necessity – I couldn’t afford to buy new underpants every week. But, perhaps  the pivotal moments centred on the fact that my apartment did not come with a full length urinal – I learned things like sitting on the toilet makes less mess and is a much more accurate method in the dark (for my new middle-aged tradition of 3 o’clock in the morning toilet breaks). The result, amazingly a less “gag-inducing” WC that was easier to clean every week (and a much cleaner bath mat –  just kidding – those around-the-toilet mats are so gross. Like carpeted bathrooms.) Why did I have to figure this out myself – why did no one ever teach me stuff like this…?

Now while I do not relish the cleaning aspect of the domestic routine, there is one that I wish I had picked up when I was younger.

How to cook.

Now Like most XYs, aside from the ancient male ritual of grilling meat on fire, making super-sized Dagwood sandwiches, and griddling up some chocolate chip pancakes on Sundays or after sleepovers, I was not really a whiz at food preparation.  If you couldn’t BBQ it or fry it, it wasn’t my lane or part of my skill set.  And how silly is that…because, I love to eat.

So there I was in my 40s before I realised that cooking was actually kind of cool and therapeutic.  Now for those of you who think that cooking is not very masculine…tell that to the Galloping Gourmet, Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver or Wolfgang Puck (okay maybe not Wolfang…)

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not into the Heston Blumenthalian “molecular gastronomy” or “snail-egg and bacon” ice cream kind of experience; and I hate finicky recipes – so I am not a Julia Childs fan (unless you count Meryl Streep’s Julia Childs who exclaimed that “fresh-from-the-boiling-water cannelloni was ‘hotter than a stiff …’ – well you can guess the rest.  And yes, I thought ‘ Julie and Julia’ was a pretty good movie – there I said it. Move on.)

But after developing some basic kitchen skills, I now believe it is fairly easy for a guy to do more than pierce the plastic film and push reheat.  I now think a guy should know his way around a handy-chopper, chopping board, garlic press and crock-pot just as well as he knows his way around a five-speed manual transmission, X-Box console, Mach III, or IKEA Allen Key (…if you do not know the difference between a Paring knife and a Santoku, you might be doing the culinary equivalent of taking your penalty shots with a goalie stick – you will probably get the job done, but man are you making it tough!)

I wasn’t always a Happy Cooker.  I was thrown into the deep end – all of a sudden – as I became responsible for feeding myself and “mini-me one and two” on occasion.  Approaching cooking like an Engineer, I said to myself, “Self, there must be an easy method to learn how to cook.” Hmmm…it was a sticky wicket.  (Sidebar – My kids will tell you about the hilarity of my early efforts – they still do not believe that meat and exotic fruit belong in the same dish. We call it the “Ugly Chicken Mango Quesadilla” incident. So much for my Pork Loin and Lychees…)  But to get back on topic –  a quick look at Cooking Schools yielded that you could shell out anywhere from $1K to $50K if you wanted to.  Who can afford that  – unless looking to make it big on Iron Chef?

So, I learned – through one book and the Internet. (Yes, I was just as surprised to learn the internet is good for more than just porn, boys…)

The book was the Joy of Cooking (and it’s on line site is http://www.thejoykitchen.com/) – note I wrote Joy of Cooking.  I’d have to say that the pictures are not as good as the ones in the other “Joy” self-help book (sorry no image for that one…not many fans of the ‘European look‘).  JoC is an old-fashioned book, containing over 4500 solid and time-tested recipes. Most importantly, it taught me the simple things that were instinct to some, but that were completely foreign to me. Like, how long do you bake a potato? What temperature do you roast a chicken at? What is in spaghetti sauce? Or, what the heck is tarragon? MInd you,  I don’t use all the techniques in the book, but when I am really lost, Irma Bombauer sets me on the right path.

As for the web, there are so many good sites, but a few of my favorites are:

There is one more tool that I have used since the start of 2012 – the Monthly Meal Plan, courtesy of, and as explained by, my friend Laura – author of www.happycanadianhome.com . Her meal plan concept has sure made life easier – no more six o’clock panic combing the fridge and pantry for meal ideas, no more rotting vegetables in the crisper at week’s end, and great eating every night – it is the greatest “mise en place”. Take a peek over at http://www.happycanadianhome.com/2012/01/making-meal-plan.html

I have to say that for me, cooking equals Zen.  Like painting, or playing the guitar, or the daily run, cooking relaxes me…and I feel great satisfaction in recreating a recipe – especially when eating it! The good thing is that eventually you develop enough confidence to use your new-found skills and talents and break away from the recipe book. You have then snatched the pebble, grasshopper.

But, if snatching the pebble is just too much work…just aim small – to quote Kris Kringle, “Just put one foot in front of the other.” Take a chance and break away from take-out “Chicky-in-the Basket Bork Bork Bork” eaten over the sink (c’mon, admit it…every guy has done that). Try something simple – like the time-honoured cheap and easy cooking techniques.  It’s a great start, too.

Happy cooking!

Later,

ASF

The Battle of the Bulge…and I am not talking about the Ardennes Forest.

January is now at a close, and the Resolute have dropped like flies.  In early 2012, I was unable to find a cardio machine to literally “save my life” (having to settle more than once for the “hand pedal thingy” – what is that thing called anyway?) and now, you can fire a 10kg medicine ball straight across the cardio room without hitting a person. Where did they all go? Where did all the dreams and good intentions go?  I think they, like the people, are up in smoke – just follow the trail of discarded Nicoderm patches.

I am back in the gym because, like the tides my weight, goes up and down… it is a never-ending see-saw battle.  For most of my life it has been a constant … like Beer and BBQ… and a couple of times I have wrestled The Beast to the ground, only to have it bounce off the canvas and put me in double-arm headlock. But just like Mickey Rourke, I am not about to give up (forget the ending bit…it did not go well for Randy “The Ram”…)

After maximising my mass potential in 2004 and being confused for Fat Albert (which was totally absurd, because our haircuts were so different), I managed to shed so much weight during a 9 month program – which I affectionately call the “Vodka and Smokes” diet – that acquaintances were afraid to ask me about it in case I was seriously ill.  I realised it was getting out of hand after one of my friends finally said, “Eat a sandwich, fer crissakes, you look like a Kenyan marathoner.” And that “blessing” from a friend started the pendulum in the opposite direction. Old habits die hard, and after a couple years, most of the lost mass is back.  I am what fellow Punjabis would colloquially call, “healthy!” So here I go again, on the health kick to shed a few kilos and get back on the happy track.

As I do when I embark on something hard, I ask myself, “Why?” In this case, why is it that we so readily pursue the concept of an “ideal weight”?

Cynically, I do not believe it is not as simple as “losing weight means getting healthier” which means improving our chances of living longer; I don’t buy that as our overriding aim.  Pessimistically, I think we are just a “wee tad” vainer than that – maybe it is a bit of “keeping up with the Joneses” or improving our own self-esteem.  Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that we – as a society – are obsessed with body image.

Sometimes I think, why can’t we be like the Europeans…go the beaches in Italy or Germany or Spain and you’ll see that the men all have a damn the chorizos and full speed ahead attitude. No self-esteem issues there, just confident men enjoying their “girthiness”. Instead we North Americans get hooked up on the notions of health and fitness that are sold to us by the glossies and the infomercials. And we end up pursuing the body that nobody can achieve (don’t believe me, follow this link about how Photoshop creates the unachievablefrom the desireable…or better yet, this one about our fake celebrities!)

The fact is obvious.  I don’t care how hard you work – unless you have a full-time trainer, a chef, a gym and 16 hours a day to work out, it just can’t be done.

Even the “ancient” Gerard Butler and the other Spartans had the benefit of a specific vomit-inducing workout regime that was more suited to a Russian Labour Camp than a working person’s lifestyle (and maybe, just maybe, a little CGI assistance?)  But even with the Draconian Regime, they still took time to get there. There are no quick fixes.  Well, I suppose if you are willing to upgrade muscle mass in exchange for a one-inch penis and shrunken testicles (or whatever the female equivalent is) , you could “steroid-up”. But really, self-injecting stuff to make horses and bulls bigger is just too stupid – I think I’d rather go back to smoking and feeling my “mitties” bounce.

Yet, even more absurdly, we make snap decisions about people based on how bony or fleshy they are.  (There is a technical paper on ingrained biases here if you are interested).  Sadly, there is prejudiced-thinking everywhere –  skinny people are more disciplined, smarter, more reliable, happier than those of us who are packing a few dozen of extra pounds. I mean just look at Keith Richards, Amy Winehouse or Kate Moss – aren’t they proof that theory is correct?  All kidding aside, maybe it is those misleading ideals that drives us. We do it because others will think better of us. And I know that is wrong.

But, really though, how did I get to this point?  Tectonically. Glacially. Imperceptibly.   I will admit that I may have used my non-smoking status as a crutch –  as I joke, “ I stopped smoking 10 kilos ago”. But you can only hide behind the “I’m-better-off-eating-a-dozen-Kripsy-Kremes-than-having-a-smoke” excuses for so long (evidently 3 years).  Casting aside all the smoke screens and justifications, it is simple…I gained weight because I love food and drink.

I know that overeating is bad, but gosh, most food just tastes so damned good.  I mean, even after watching “Super Size Me”, I didn’t feel all grossed out and shocked…no I actually wanted a double quarter-pounder with cheese – a greasy one, all warm and hot!  But I do not eat those anymore; not because the food does not taste good, it is the best tasting plastic out there…but rather because I am afraid of food that bacteria won’t even touch.  But, evenwith Mickey D’s and the King and the Colonel and the Little Red Haired girl on the verboten list, there is still so much good stuff still out there…pulled pork, chicken wings, pineapple-upside down cake, flammenkuchen, burgers, mulled wine, jam, kielbasa,  perogies, sausage, weissen bier, gnocchi…the list goes on forever. It is so bloody hard to be good!

So the equation is uneven…I love food and I don’t love working out. (Now don’t get me wrong. I love sports – but there is a purpose to sports: to score, to tackle, to WIN!)  Grunting and groaning and sweating and straining, of your own accord, takes a special type of auto-masochism or heightened narcissism – you REALLY, REALLY have to want it.  Or you can’t fit into your jeans anymore – even your most trusty comfortable pair.  When you get to this stage – when the “relaxed” fits are rejecting you –  YOU REALLY WANT IT.

So, I like all others, have jumped on the bandwagon to fit back into my old clothes.  Why?  Because it looks like someone replaced my full length mirror with one of those fun-house ones, and I my last visit to buy a suit was like watching a three mirror horror show.  And in the end it is not because I think others will label me as unreliable or lazy, it is because looking in the mirror makes me unhappy. I do not like it.

In order to undo almost three years of sticky toffee puddings with custard, massive full English breakfasts, portions of fish and chips large enough to choke a horse, and good ol’ late night donair kebabs – all washed down by lashings of full headed locally brewed ales, I have to work hard.  Plus, as I am sure many of you know, working hard and denying yourself all those things that taste good is a bitch.

And that is the crux of it – you have to work hard. No other crap works. The TV is full of miracle cures and plans and programs and diets. Some tell you to eat no carbs, others say grain only, some say to cut out fat, others say eat fish only, some say eat many small meals, others say eat only one or two…there are so many different plans. And we really do not ask “Which one is right?” We ask, “Which is fastest? Which is easiest?”  And I don’t think that is the way we should do it. Unless you’re going for liposuction and teflon abs, plan on a long campaign – that at times will just plain suck.

So, as I embark on another round of self-flagellation, I won’t attempt whole scale change and promise to get skinny and keep the weight off forever.    I won’t aim for skinny this time…I’ll simply aim for “happy”.   Happy is more than good enough, and “happy vice skinny” lets me fit in a few goodies around the foundation of high fibre, low fat meals and runs and workouts.  As a friend once said, “Everything in moderation, including  moderation.”  I will not worry about the “mits” or the “flabs” or the “love handles”, and forget about the Speedo. I will just aim to fit well into my good jeans; but, I will leave those comfortable ones in the closet for the unplanned, but expected, down turns.

So enjoyable eating to all of you. And to those of us who are still plugging along on the New Year Resolutions, good on ya’!  Hope it goes well and you end up happy too!

Later,

ASF