Don’t go there – it’s not worth it

I have been spending a lot of time in the University of Alberta Hospital recently because my mom had a major open-heart surgery. While there, a great number of things have really hit home and caused me to pause and observe. The biggest one of course is that, for as much as this is a great facility with amazing doctors, caring and well-educated nurses etc., you do not want to be here. Ever.

As I walk around the ward and meet nurses and patients on their rounds, or chat with them in the healing gardens, patterns emerge. Almost all of the cardiac patients here are smokers. Many of them are seriously overweight.

I think on some level, we all know this by now, because the stats are everywhere — drop your weight by 20 pounds, reduce your risk of heart attack by 16%. Smokers are four times more likely to develop heart problems etc. We know that smoking increases your risk of a heart attack because it raises your blood pressure, narrows and stiffens the blood vessels that nourish your heart and makes your blood more likely to clot. That is a recipe for a heart attack right there. Add the damage to the lungs and then recovery from the heart attack or surgery is even harder. Being overweight causes fatty deposits on the heart, arteries and other organs, making it harder and harder for blood to flow and for the heart to work.

All of that is fine and good, but who cares? In my experience, it is pushed aside as “That won’t happen to me!” My mom has smoked for 60 years and has always said that the research was a marketing thing, or made up, or whatever. I think she is like most people, myself included, when we do something we know we shouldn’t. We justify it. We discredit the research, we discount the effect, we cite superior genetics, or a stronger disposition than average.

I eat too much junk food once in a while (lately a lot more than I know to be wise), and say to myself; “I will work it off” or “It’s only once in a while”. But I think we kid ourselves. I know I do. I have fallen into some bad habits lately and I have some spectacular reasoning, but it’s all crap. I know I am having too much junk food, not eating when I know I need to and exercising too little for my body. I’m no different than a smoker, drinker, or any other sort of person with a bad habit. I am justifying my habit, ignoring the facts and doing whatever I can, to keep doing what I want, regardless of the consequences.

So I have to wonder — if people (especially smokers) were to spend a day in the ICU, or the Cardiac Recovery ward – would they understand the very real consequences? There are warnings on the cigarette packages, but I don’t think it makes a difference. A friend of mine always buys the smokes that have the warning against smoking during pregnancy, because he cannot get pregnant. (True story).

Watching my mom this past while has been one of the hardest things I have ever witnessed. It’s awful. They took a saw and cut her chest right down the middle, then stretched open her rib cage and then cut up, repaired, patched and worked on her heart in a procedure that took six hours and a room full of people to do. After the surgery she had tubes coming out, wires going in, monitors for everything, over a dozen IV drips plugged into different veins and she was miserable. Anyone would be. On one hand, it is amazing that our technology can do this incredible surgery, and on the other hand, it’s tragic that so many people need it. Fewer people could need this surgery, just by making a simple lifestyle change. (Ok, I know that stopping a bad habit or addiction isn’t ‘simple’, but you get my meaning I hope).

That’s why I say “Don’t go there.” Seriously. It’s terrible. Needing help, oxygen, and an IV tower to get out of bed? Learning to walk? Having to endure all the tests, daily medicines with all sorts of side effects, terrible pain that you cannot imagine, losing every freedom that life has to offer. I don’t think it is a fair trade. We know what we have to do. Let’s do it.

Scott McDermott is a personal trainer and owner of Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake. He can be reached at 403-887-7667 or check out for more information.