There comes a time in every man’s life when he realizes he’s not, in fact, immortal. It’s up to you whether you run from it, or learn from it.
One Monday evening, just a few weeks past my 47th birthday, I found myself in the grips of . . . something. Whatever that something was, it was causing a low-grade fever, an arc of burning within my upper abdomen, and a resting heart rate that I unscientifically clocked at around 120 beats per minute.
My family medical history being a tapestry woven with a variety of gastrointestinal maladies – from ulcers to colon cancer to something called Barrett’s, which, to my understanding, is a condition whereby your stomach essentially tries to eat your esophagus – my wife insisted I get to an emergency room and I dutifully complied.
The ER doctor didn’t buy the ulcer theory I had presented to the intake nurse and he was quite concerned this was distress of a coronary nature. I’m an overweight guy over 40 experiencing upper abdominal discomfort and a rapid heart rate. And it was a Monday – a prime day for heart attacks, apparently. On went the EKG sensors, out went a few vials of my blood for testing, and then off I was whisked for chest x-rays and a thoracic CT scan.
Turns out we were both wrong. What I had was a virus in the gut that was causing the fever. The fever was causing the rapid heart rate. The combination of all that was redlining my stress level and that was causing severe gastritis.
“You need to talk to your primary care physician about stress,” the ER doctor advised shortly before my discharge, “and maybe a cardiologist.” Some people just can’t handle being wrong.
I visited with my doctor the following day. Mercifully, he found my ticker to be just fine, but he did give me a few directives concerning stress management.
Naturally, exercise was part of the prescription. Fine. I’ve only been hearing that since I was ten. And then came the 1-2 punch that roiled the tumult in my gut, which had finally begun to subside.
“You should also cut out caffeine and reduce your alcohol intake. Welcome to your late 40s!”
I thought I had already cut caffeine when I dropped down to 2-3 cups of coffee per day. That was a far cry from the 2 (or more) pots of the stuff I was sucking down daily in the early 90s when I was in law school.
And how the hell was I supposed to reduce stress AND alcohol? Isn’t that akin to fighting a forest fire by cutting back on the use of water?
But doctor’s orders are doctor’s orders and I was willing to consider whatever it would take to prevent another ER visit with Dr. You’re Probably in Cardiac Arrest, Fatty.
Now, I’m no stranger to decaf. It’s an acceptable beverage to enjoy . . . before bed. And the mere thought of decaf takes me back to dining out during my early ‘70s childhood when my grandfather would order a Sanka after dinner. The server would bring forth a saucer laden with little orange foil packets of freeze-dried “coffee” accompanied by a bulbous beaker-looking thing (which is called a “Hottle,” by the way) filled with boiling water. The mixing of the Sanka took on a ceremonial tone when executed by the old guy.
Consigned to a decaffeinated life, I’ve decided to bring a little of that ceremony back (especially since I can’t bring my grandfather back – he’s been gone over 25 years.)
I buy the best, darkest decaf I can find and I prepare each cup using the pour-over method. The resulting brew is intense, surprisingly flavorful, and worthy of savoring over the morning paper. Who knew? Decaf!
My morning coffee has gone from an accelerant to a device that gets me to slow down and savor the time before I have to jump into the office for a full day of work and whatever comes after.
As for booze, my doctor’s key word was reduce. I can still enjoy my beloved vodka gimlet, just not my beloved vodka gimlets. When cocktail hour beckons, I find myself slowing down and savoring, and if I’m still thirsty once the lime wedge meets the bottom of the glass, I can always splash some Rose’s Lime Juice into an icy tumbler of club soda which, if one squints just right, almost looks like I’m sporting a gin and tonic.
It’s been a couple of months now since that harrowing night in the ER. Am I stress-free? Of course not. But I do find myself more relaxed and willing to take the time to enjoy what I’m pouring into my body. And if it further postpones the time when my late grandfather and I are together again (no offense, Paw Paw – wherever you are) well . . . I can live with that.