Whenever I talk about my quintuple bypass, the story ends with the actual surgery. I wake up, have all these realizations, and everyone sings Kumbaya.
I don’t go into the aftermath, which can be kind of a downer. There were nightmares, raging moments of self-doubt, and the belief that my chest, which felt like it was stuffed full of broken glass, would crack back open at any minute. To say it was rough would be an understatement.
Luckily, they give you pain killers. It’s like your reward for going through hell and the silver lining to all your heartache. When you’re hopped up on Percocet or something similar, every movie is a masterpiece. Every conversation is an enlightening discussion. When people ask how you’re feeling, you can quote Denis Leary and exclaim, “I’m high as a kite and my teeth are green. Merry f**king Christmas!”
Pain killers have many major drawbacks, though, and one that directly affected me early. They turn you into a walking bowl of oatmeal. You can’t accomplish much and, what you do, you forget. That happened to me a lot in the weeks following my hospital stay. My wake-up call came when I submitted my then-weekly column for Impact Wrestling on Spike TV and devoted an entire paragraph to Mickie James’s emotional Women’s Championship win. The only problem? That never happened – neither the win nor the match. Perhaps a bigger problem? The column was approved and posted for over three hours before someone working there realized and took it down. In my defense, I was all jacked up on pain killers. I don’t know what their excuse was.
This was only a few months after the bypass and the pills I had been taking were all prescribed. Still, I had pushed the limits of my allotted refills and learned that my cardiologist had mysteriously left the practice. I had to see his partner and attempt to score some more.
Right off the bat, he wasn’t having it. In fact, he was questioning why I was still getting refills to begin with. It seemed like my outgoing doctor had a bit of a bad rep around the office nowadays and I was paying the price. I brought up the pain I felt in my chest (which was totally real) and how the pain killers were the only things that helped (which was totally true).
Go to the gym.
What? That was his advice? What a dip. Screw you – “go to the gym”. You go to the gym, jackass.What a dismissive attitude towards my very real pain. I decided to try a different route and cite my traumatic surgery. I was just too bummed out to deal with harsh realities. Help me out, doc. What can you do?
Again – gym. Go to the gym.
By now, I was pretty pissed. For starters, it was obvious that this dude never went to the gym. He was built like Fred Flintstone. He asked me to give it a week of exercise and then, if nothing changes, he would send me to a pain management specialist. Yabba dabba doo. I walked out of the office that day without any prescriptions at all.
Also, I got a parking ticket.
So needless to say, my return home was not happy. From the moment I awoke from surgery, I had completely changed my diet. My vital signs were all fantastic. I was well on the road to wellness. Dr. Flintstone didn’t know pebbles from bam-bam and he’s gonna tell me what’s what? No. In fact, I would show him. I declared to my wife that I would go to the damn gym every day for a week. Then, I would march back into Bedrock and proudly announce that I was still in pain, just to prove a point. I had never been so excited to be in pain in all my life.
So, tapping into my obsessive personality, I went to the gym. Every day for seven days, I forced myself to ride the exercise bike for at least 30 minutes and did a series of weights afterwards. With each rep, I seethed with anger.
It went like that. I was sure that by the end, I would be ready to crawl in begging for some more happy pills to make me happy. When that day came, though, I didn’t do that at all. It was just what I feared from the start.
I felt a lot better. My chest, while still hurting, felt stronger than before. In fact, the rush I got from exercising was the exact opposite feeling I had when I was taking any medication to mask the pain. I was alert rather than oatmeal. In the end, the Dippy Doc was right and I’ve kept with it since that day. It’s become part of who I am.
Since 2012, I’ve made sure to keep my food heart healthy as it relates to sodium and cholesterol. Pretentious label aside, I’m also a pescitarian with sushi being the last thing that keeps me from going full vegan. It’s not the type of thing I talk about or try to recruit people for. It’s simply how I choose to eat. I don’t care what you eat. Your health issues may differ from mine. In my case, the mental image of all the grease and fat clogging my arteries – no matter how exaggerated in my own mind – was enough to chase me away from certain foods forever.
I’m an all or nothing person. I know that. After I left the hospital, people would lean in close and whisper, “Well, you can have steak sometimes, right?” Nope. I don’t work that way. Sometimes turns into most times then all times. Next thing I know, I’m swimming in bacon. It’s just how I operate.
I also ride my exercise bike for 30 minutes every day – no matter what. Holidays, birthdays, any days – I ride that bike. It’s just become part of who I am and, lately, is one of the few times I get to take time out just for myself and play video games. I snap a picture whenever the odometer hits a major number and imagine all the places I could have biked to if the wheels were real. That thought can be especially comforting on days when the kids are throwing toys at me.
I’m not trying to impress people. I’m not trying to look better. I’m just trying to feel better and succeeding. One day I decided that this is something I do and now I do it. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Will it help me live longer? Probably. But if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, will I regret doing it? Not at all.
You don’t need some major moment to get into shape. Not every story is inspiring. I wish I could tell you how I ran a marathon to save an orphanage or that my commitment to wellness was a dying wish granted to a relative. It’s not. It was done out of spite and resentment – spite and resentment that positively changed my life forever. I haven’t looked back since.