As I get older, I am constantly finding more reasons to repeat a well-known saying: life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.
As many of you already know from my social media posts, October 11th was a horrible day. I won’t share all the details, but I will say it was just after 10:30 am when life changed in an instant. I was with my parents on Long Island and just walking into a medical building to meet a new doctor for Mom. Holding one of my arms per usual, Dad stopped suddenly and uttered 10 terrifying words: “Laura, I can’t breathe. I think I’m having a heart attack.” He was. The next five or ten minutes were a blur, but if it wasn’t for several fast-acting good Samaritans and an automated external defibrillator provided by a doctor’s office on the first floor of that building we were walking into, those would have been Dad’s last minutes with us.
In the chaos that followed, Dad was taken to Winthrop Hospital in an ambulance, and Mom and I met up with him in the emergency department before he was taken away to have a stent placed in the main artery of his 82-year-old heart. He then spent five days in the ICU. By day three, he was walking around the floor and cracking jokes. Even more miraculous is the fact that Dad’s is one of the rare cases where the heart muscle suffered zero damage. His strength has always overwhelmed me, but never more than in this instance.
Of course, during those five long days, everything stopped except for being with Dad. There was no gym. Normal healthy eating habits were impossible to maintain with so many hours spent in the hospital. And we won’t even talk about sleep. While life was anything but normal, we tried to find some sense of it where we could. That meant following through with my plans to participate in my first Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk on October 14th. Dad told me he’d feel better knowing I finished the four-mile trek. So, I did. James pounded the pavement with me, and we happily joined the sea of pink making waves around Central Park. As with all the Avon39 walks before, I walked in honor of warrior survivors like my Mom and in memory of those who lost their brave battle, including my friend Elizabeth.
A little more than two weeks later, breast cancer awareness month is winding down and Dad continues to make strides including a good follow-up visit with his cardiologist. He has even started in-home physical therapy. As I continue to keep an eye on his progress, I also worry about Mom taking care of herself as we all continue to recuperate from the emotional strain of this unprecedented time.
At the risk of sounding like a cliché, this not-so-typical Motivation Monday post is another reminder about how precious life really is. As a journalist and producer who’s used to meeting and setting deadlines, it’s not always easy to adapt when plans go awry. It’s even harder to accept being powerless. That’s why it’s important to stay on top of the things you can control. Like telling the important people in your life you love them. Pursuing your passions. Not taking one day for granted.
It’s been a hell of month. I wrap up this final October post with a huge thank you to Dad’s cardiologist, and to all the physicians, nurses, aides and entire staff who took care of Dad at Winthrop. We are also beyond grateful for the overwhelming number of prayers and good wishes that continue to come via texts, emails and phone calls from family and friends as far away as Italy and Canada. In addition to keeping Dad’s spirits up, the good vibes have helped Mom and I though the exhausting days, too. Onward we go toward Dad’s full recovery; some rest for Mom; the re-launch of my healthy routine and all the other chances we have to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
I’m not sure where the time has gone, but somehow nearly four years have passed since I turned 40. Since then, I realize I’ve written more than a few posts about some major events in my family. This Motivation Monday post is all about another one.
At the end of this month, my 81-year-old father will retire from practicing internal medicine. After 50 years and change as a physician, I’d say he’s more than earned some time off.
This past Friday, my mom and I were blessed to witness something extraordinary at the office where he treated hundreds of patients of all ages, races and creeds since the late 1960s. His amazing staff – who has become part of our family over all these years – organized a wonderful sendoff. During the couple of weeks leading up to it, Dad kept saying he didn’t expect too many people to show up since the gathering was taking place on a Friday afternoon. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Patients arrived prior to the start time and stayed long after the “official” 3pm wrap up. Dozens of those patients were men and women close to my age, who all started seeing my Dad when they were 17 or 18 years old. Others started their visits with Dad in their 40s, and are now pushing 90 or older. (I met one gentleman who will celebrate his 99th birthday next month.) One couple drove for more than an hour to personally thank my Dad for treating their mother with so much care and compassion for decades up until her passing earlier this year. Some walked from their homes just a few blocks away while others drove many miles to wait in the hallway until there was enough space inside the office to give my Dad a great big hug and wish him well as he starts his adventures of retirement.
Each patient had his or her own unique medical history, but they all shared one common thread. Most of my introductions started with a wide-eyed “Oh, you’re the daughter! I recognize you from all the photos I’ve seen of you and your Mom all these years!” After that, everyone I met said the same exact thing: “I’m going to miss your Dad so much. They just don’t make doctors like him anymore.” So many patients – the Vietnam Veteran who survived a heart attack and the countless men and women who beat some form of cancer because Dad caught it early – told Mom and me time and time again “if it wasn’t for Dr. DeAngelis, I wouldn’t be here today.” Needless to say, more than a few tears welled up in my eyes that afternoon.
I also learned Dad wouldn’t be missed solely because of his knowledge of internal medicine. I heard story after story about about house calls, late night phone conversations and the extra time Dad took during office visits to learn what was happening behind the scenes in so many homes. Because of this, many grew to think of him as a trusted confidant and counselor. Dad never really adapted to the newer “rules” in medicine when it came to the shorter windows of time designated for doctor appointments. I have no doubt until he sees his very last patient a few weeks from now, the time he spends with each of them will go way beyond what the business of medicine now deems appropriate for an office visit.
I offer a heartfelt thank you to each and every patient who took the time to wish Dad a happy retirement. And my heart simply overflows with gratitude for his office staff. I know I speak on behalf of my mom when I say we will be forever grateful to this amazing group of women for taking care of him during all of those long days at the office. Some of the faces changed throughout the years, but they will forever remain a part of our family.
I close with this: I know this is a bittersweet time for my Dad, so I ask all you wonderful readers to keep him in your thoughts and prayers and he gets ready to face a new beginning. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to let the world know how proud I am to call Dr. Gabriel DeAngelis both my father and my friend. Stay tuned for more stories of our adventures together as he starts this new phase of his never-ending journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
I look forward to this all-American holiday every year because it’s a chance to stop and give thanks for all the good things in our lives. What better way to slow down than spending some quality time with family and friends? Of course, a lot of that time ends up being stuffed with food and drink. Between snacking and sitting down for a traditional turkey-with-all-the-trimmings holiday meal, the Calorie Control Council reports the average American will consume more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving Day. So, I thought I’d get these survival tips posted a few days in advance of the calorie-filled holiday ahead:
- Move it! Don’t skimp on the activity this week. Remember, ten minutes of exercise are always better than zero. The bonus is you’ll have the mental boost knowing you made an effort prior to the Turkey Day feast. On Thursday, even if you’re hosting the holiday fun and can’t leave the house, you can pop in an exercise DVD or bang out a Tabata first thing in the morning. Or sneak out for some fresh air and a brisk power walk or abbreviated run. Your gym is open? Great! Try a morning group exercise class or attack some cardio and core work. A few solid planks can make you feel strong before filling your belly with delicious eats.
- Eat breakfast! Be sure to eat something sensible on Thanksgiving morning to kick-start your metabolism. If you’re not feasting until late afternoon, make sure to follow breakfast with a small lunch or sensible snack so you don’t go overboard later. Two ideas: non-fat plain Greek yogurt with a serving of almonds mixed in or a piece of toasted Ezekiel bread topped with a sliced hard-boiled egg and salsa. These protein-rich snacks will keep you feeling full longer than a sugar-infused snack.
- Portion Control: Use a salad or other small dish for your meal. Start with salad or veggies and then add the turkey. Use the remaining space for the potatoes, stuffing and other starches. There simply won’t be as much room left as you’d have on a regular dinner plate.
- Savor the flavor: Eat slowly! If you do clean your plate, wait 10 minutes before going back for round two. This will help you decide if you’re really hungry. If you aren’t, you’ll feel good knowing you had one helping – before moving on to dessert, of course!
- Keep Track of the Libations: This is the perfect day to follow the every-other-drink-is-alcohol plan. Enjoy a glass of wine, beer or cocktail then have a glass of still or sparking water before moving on to the next cocktail.
- Make Doggie Bags! Hosting the holiday feast? Don’t be shy about giving some of the uneaten turkey and trimmings to your guests.
Let me offer my heartfelt wishes for everyone to enjoy a very Happy Thanksgiving! Each year, I’m even more thankful for so many things including my family, my friends, my health and for the support I receive from my “fitfam,” which includes all my loyal readers. One final note: If you end up breaking the calorie bank this Thanksgiving, don’t sweat it. Remember, laughter, good food and even some good wine are all ingredients in many holiday recipes for a happy heart and the soul and part of our ongoing journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!