When I saw her walking toward my table, her face was familiar, but it took me a long moment to place where I’d known her.
I hadn’t seen Dana for about six months. I didn’t know her well, but I used to talk with her casually when she worked at a restaurant where I go a lot. She left quit that job earlier this year and she hadn’t crossed my mind until tonight.
At first, I couldn’t even remember her name, but I exchanged empty pleasantries with her anyway. I asked how she had been, but it was mostly just a polite question to which I expected a simple answer, but her answer wasn’t simple.
She told me that she left this job for a job at another restaurant. As she was getting ready for her second day of work at the new place, she felt something happen inside her body. She knew it was serious but she didn’t know quite what was going on.
Dana went to an emergency room and found out she had just suffered a stroke. She hasn’t been able to return to work since then.
I thought Dana was close to 65 years old, so maybe her working life was being cut just a slight bit short. I was mistaken, though. She’s only 46 years old.
For the next 15 minutes, Dana gave me a long litany of her health problems. She’s overweight. She smokes and drinks alcohol heavily. And she has recently been diagnosed with three bulging disks in her back.
The bulging disks in her back are pinching a nerve and she needs a procedure that has a chance to change that without invasive surgery. As a result of the stroke, her left hand constantly feels as though it’s going to sleep and it feels as though needles are pricking that hand all the time.
She can’t stand for long. Even when she washes her own dishes at home, she has to sit on a stool because her left leg is weak after the stroke. And she has to see a pain doctor because of constant pain which comes with the back problems.
She’s also unemployed because she can’t work, but she was turned down for federal disability payments. She’s meeting with an attorney this week to talk about fighting that. And now that the federal government has “made health insurance affordable,” her insurance costs $691 a month — which she’s about to have to drop since she’s eaten through her savings.
She told me about taking a cot back to Walmart to get her money back — simply because it was the only thing she owned that was new enough to return. She needed the cot, but she needed the money even more — because she didn’t have another way to buy food.
When I had my gallbladder removed about 10 months ago, it seemed like a big deal to me. It was an annoyance and it was frustrating to be forced to change what I eat (and how much I can eat). There’s a part of me that felt a little sorry for myself.
But as I listened to Dana, I felt as though I had nothing to complain about. I’m in really excellent health, especially for someone who has abused his body so much over the last 10 years or so by eating so horribly and letting myself get overweight.
Talking with Dana, I felt as though she was another warning to me. I’ve always believed that I’m going to live to a ripe old age, but how I treat my body is going to determine just how long that is. For many years, I’ve had the odd notion that I would live to 120 years old. I know that sounds like an odd premonition, but there’s no reason I can’t live a long time — especially with advances in medicine — if I’ll simply take care of myself.
My only health struggle continues to be my diet. When I eat a ketogenic diet, I’m healthier and happier. I wish I had never learned to use bad foods — sugar, mostly — as substitutes for emotional needs that are missing.
I don’t want to be like Dana. I don’t want her health problems. I don’t want to have a lifestyle that makes me look 20 years older than I am. I want to take care of myself — so I can be healthy and happy.
It’s unlikely that I’ll see Dana again, but I’m thankful she ran into me tonight. She reminds me how important it is for me to get my emotional needs met and then to take care of myself physically.
I’m grateful for the health I have. Sometimes I don’t remember just how lucky I am.