I’ll never forget the night my dad died. All I have to is close my eyes and I can recall every detail and emotion: the shock, the fear, the despair. The random, nonsensical absurdity and the cold, hard certainty of the experience. It happened on the evening of my brother’s 14th birthday, which just so happened to fall on the start of Thanksgiving weekend that year.
The Leafs had just wrapped up another loss in the ongoing Battle of Ontario, and we were preparing to watch a couple of movies we had picked up at the video store. I remember glancing at the clock (9:50 p.m.), then glancing over at my dad; he had his eyes closed.
He worked alternating shifts and had been suffering from a minor case of sleep apnea for a couple of years by this point; he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long time, so I assumed that he had just nodded off again. Unfortunately, this time was different. I tried to stir him; nothing. He didn’t open his eyes, speak, or offer any response.He just kept making this horrible, wet, sucking noise that I’ll never be able to get out of my head for as long as I live.
(My aunt told me a few days later that the sound meant that his lungs had started to collapse).
Next thing I know, I’m on the telephone going into a panic, screaming at my mom and the paramedics to do something, anything. But no, it was far too late. Just like that, my dad was gone; like someone had flipped a switch; alive than dead, lights are on, lights are off (permanently). What the hell happened? How could my dad just be…gone?
No freak accident, no drunk driver or mugger to blame and seek vengeance on like Spiderman and Batman. No big speeches, tearful goodbyes or melodramatic music; real life is hardly so kind and simple as that.
Two days later I got my explanation: blocked heart artery; his heart gave up on him after trying to pull double duty for too long. That wasn’t all I found out. He had suffered a small heart attack back in 2003; never told me. It was a cruel betrayal. He’d shared everything with me, but not this?
But you want to know what the darkly ironic cherry on top of the sundae of suck that is the biggest tragedy in my life? You really wanna know?
I had gone to the doctor seven months earlier for a check-up. I had been suffering brief, mild chest pains off and on over the last two years and wanted to know if something was wrong with me. Turns out the doc had been examining the wrong guy.
If I don’t change my behavior soon, if a lot of people my age and younger don’t change their behaviors soon, we are going end up like my dad: embalmed, placed in a box, then buried in a wall before our time should’ve been done. And our families will suffer as I have suffered. This essay will be my attempt to prevent that future from coming to pass.
I don’t think anybody in this day and age, not my dad, not my neighbors, not anyone I pass on the street, should die of heart failure, at any time. When you consider how much we currently know about the human body, what it takes to keep it running smoothly, and how easy it is to access this knowledge, we should not be facing a literal obesity epidemic; the AMA just classified obesity as a disease last year. Despite what the schools try to teach us, the problem continues to grow
We have lost so many talented people to heart disease: John Candy, Lou Costello, Hugh Everett, Douglas Adams, James Gandolfini, Ian Fleming and George Carlin are just a few that I can recall off the top of my head. Amazing lives that ended way too early; so much potential lost forever.
I’m not sure whether growing up poor inclines people towards unhealthy behavior. My dad and I consumed a lot of junk food because (obviously) it’s a cheap, quick meal. We also ate a lot of the Italian staples: bread, pizza, pasta, and lots of meat. My dad was a smoker and he drank quite a bit; not as bad as his dad; my grandfather had been a very heavy smoker and drinker. The kind of guy who would put liquor in his morning coffee and go through at least a pack of cigarettes a day. When it comes to those particular bad habits, I’m proud to say that I’ve broken the cycle; I very rarely drink alcohol, and I’ve never smoked in my life.
However, the facts remain that my hobbies and poor diet can kill me in the long run just as easily as one too many trips to the bar or nicotine can; I’m only 27, I should be at my physical peak, yet all I do now is constantly worry about heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, aneurisms, high blood pressure, and pancreatic cancer; all serious conditions which have been linked to obesity and lack of proper nutrition
It is very hard to break out of any self-destructive behavior, no matter how illogical it is; every time I eat a chocolate bar, it is like a whole different kind of oral sex; very pleasurable and very addictive in its own way. I think in order to change things around, we might have to start staging interventions and offering counselling sessions for people who overeat, or go to McDonald’s four times a week. We do the same for cocaine and heroine addicts, why not this? Because we’re killing ourselves very, very slowly?
I’m pleading with anyone that suffers from morbid obesity, or anyone who reads this that doesn’t exercise regularly, to start going to the gym ASAP. I myself can’t right now; I’m a “starving” writer who’s just started to find his bearings. I take short walks around the block, and have stopped drinking pop; small steps, but at least I’m headed in the right direction.
I’m not asking you to become as ripped as an ’80’s action star. Just three hours of exercise a week should do it.
The last words I ever said to my dad were “Do you want to watch the movie now or later?”. I never got the chance to say goodbye. Please take care of yourselves, don’t take any chances whatsoever.
Once my generation passes the age of 30 and our metabolisms start to slow down, we will be fast approaching a point of no return. Our cousins, sons, daughters and younger siblings have far more time to turn things around than our parents, grandparents aunts and uncles do.