In 2014, I had a pulmonary embolism. I’ve talked to my friends about that experience. The part I rarely talk about, was that it was my fault and avoidable. I created a perfect storm of conditions that led to that happening to me. Everyone is different and I’m not a medical professional, I just know what happened to me.
Fast forward to today… it’s devastating that anyone is dying from COVID-19. Period. But to learn that Black people in the U.S. are being impacted from and are dying at higher rates from this illness relative to the rest of the population in the U.S. is particularly heartbreaking.
Some of us can accurately list the myriad of reasons why this is the case, pre-pandemic with factors such as environmental injustice, medical bias (alternatively, a valid historical mistrust of doctors), income inequality and lack of access to good food and resources, population density in both the city and house you live in, lack of health insurance, etc… (I recognize that this is an incomplete list.) And most of us know that anything bad that happens in America, will inevitably be worse for communities of color in general.
Elected officials and institutions will have a lot to answer for post-pandemic on how they prepared for and handled this crisis. This post isn’t about that. But what did I do to prepare myself and be in the best position to deal with this? I can’t ask those questions of others and not also of myself.
I follow a reporter on Twitter who made the same points I did in the third paragraph. Except, there was no mention of personal responsibility (at the time I looked at that feed). Someone in the comment section mentioned it, and people descended on that commenter as if the person had cussed out Black baby Jesus — but, I agree with that persons. And look, I get it, some horrible people will twist a discussion about “personal responsibility” as a signal for their own nefarious means or as a way to excuse racism and other institutional failings.
There are unfortunately circumstances that many people find themselves in, beyond their control — I’m not in a position to talk about those people. As a matter of fact, I am truly talking about only me and I hope that I can help someone else.
The issues in the third paragraph aren’t issues that have impacted the choices with my health as far as I know. (I’m leaving space for things that I might not know, which is probably vast.) But I recognize that I have a certain level of privilege, and yet, I still have avoidable health issues. I know better, but I haven’t done better.
My white, Jewish* doctor has been pleading with me for years to lose weight and has been warning me that he was going to put me on high blood pressure medicine. Finally in 2018, he did. He was like… “it would be malpractice for me to not prescribe this medication.” Even though I didn’t want to be on the medicine, I hadn’t done anything to avoid it. My hoping and ignoring the situation just wasn’t cutting it. In mid 2019, he was like… “um, you’re still not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, now take these cholesterol pills. And, if you still don’t get the point, in a few months… you’re gonna add diabetes meds to this.” Ugh, I hit a potential trifecta of things I could’ve prevented.
*(Note: I mentioned my doctor’s background, because he’s been my primary care physician for 10 years and I don’t think he’s racist. I hope he’s not racist. I understand everyone is not fortunate to have access to a doctor on a regular basis or one they feel comfortable talking to.)
But, a lightbulb went on.
And I bet you think it’s because of what my doctor said to me.
The timing of me attempting to get healthier just so happened to synchronize with me meeting I guy I like who is incredibly fit. So yeah, you can probably guess where the rest of the story is going from there… (insert semi-embarrassed face) look, whatever works, right? (I have slightly improved my situation, ‘rona knocked me off course a little but not totally.)
I know how I gained every pound. I think I’m a reasonably smart person at times. BUT… I make poor choices and I’m undisciplined, a bad combination if ever there were one. I like salt, cheesy gooey dippy things, sugar and alcohol. I also really like not working out. Look, that isht sucks. I haven’t reached that “ooooh, exercise endorphins are wonderful” stage. Working out is horrible! I don’t have kids or a second job, so I have the time. I just don’t like to work out. And unhealthy food tastes really good. I eat a lot of take-out and like a 16 year old boy without any guidance. Even now, after I’ve poured thousands of dollars into this trainer (and this hasn’t been my first trainer), I will reward myself with avocado egg rolls, margaritas, a chicken bowl from Chipotle. My weekend cheat meal becomes an entire cheat extended four day weekend.
As a result, of me not taking care of myself the way I should have been, I’m now sitting in my house, located in an urban hot-zone, extra fearful of contracting this illness. And yes, I realize that even seemingly healthy people have also unfortunately been passing away, but by not being as healthy as I could be, I have stacked the cards against myself. This is about more than just washing hands.
I’ve spoken to two friends, in their late 40’s who are heavy smokers. I said, “ya know… this is a respiratory illness… are ya gonna stop smoking?” They both said “no”. Sigh.
Talking to our friends and in our community about personal responsibility should not be controversial and should not cause fights. I have to do better, I just have to. That’s a part of my personal readiness plan. As much as I believe in magical things, this weight is not coming off with a spell. I have to put some work in and make better choices.
There will be other waves of this before a vaccine comes, and we can mitigate the impact by making lifestyle changes. Not only for ‘rona now, but post ‘rona. And lord, getting the vaccine is a whole other discussion. I won’t attempt to suggest the best course of action for anyone, all I know is, I will be getting the vaccine when it becomes available.
Now, excuse me while I have some pandemic Breyer’s butter pecan.
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Thanks for sharing. It needed to be said. I too need to take some personal responsibility for bettering my health. I know better. Let’s see if I do better.