Maybe life isn’t about avoiding the bruises. Maybe, as the saying goes, it’s about collecting the scars to prove that we showed up for it. After all, none of us gets to leave without encountering bumps along the way. When we focus on healthy mind and spirit, we learn from our experiences and overcome.
I live in Prince George, not far from UNBC. Over the years, the UNBC hill has been a convenient go to for exercise. Depending on where you start and where you turn around, the round-trip is a nice 5 – 7km walk. Along the way you’ll be rewarded with a nice view of the City and, on occasion, you’ll catch a glimpse of a moose or a bear. Deer are commonplace, as are foxes and rabbits. ‘The hill’ is one of the things I love about living here.
Last month, I posted a picture of street lamp No 3. If you’re on the way up the hill, you’ll see it on the right, just as the road begins to curve.
Fourteen years ago, this was where I nearly collapsed.
It was an early evening in April 2009. Eager to stretch my legs after a drive from Vernon, I was looking forward to the walk. However, something was wrong from the outset. I didn’t feel ‘right’ and had no energy whatsoever, but I brushed the feelings aside and started on my way. A few moments later, as my partner gave me a good-natured ribbing about being so slow, I stopped at No 3. I was really dizzy and things were feeling very wrong. We returned to the car and drove to UHNBC Emergency.
When they took my pulse at the admissions desk, I was hurried to a bed and swiftly attached machines that monitored my pulse, and blood pressure. Everyone looked confused: my pulse bounced around from 240 to 300 bps yet I wasn’t sweating, nor was I short of breath. I wasn’t in pain and my BP was only slightly elevated. I wasn’t having a heart attack but what was happening?
The next few hours are a blur. At one point, three doctors stood in front of me wearing blank expressions. I was reminded of Japan’s three wise monkeys – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – and wondered who might talk first but none of them offered an opinion. A few hours later, a fourth doctor arrived by himself. He pointed at the heart monitor and my still racing heart and, with a chipper voice, said “Well, at least we know there’s nothing wrong with your heart.” Confused, I asked him to clarify. In the same upbeat voice he explained that he was an electro-cardio specialist on locum from Vancouver, “If your heart wasn't strong, you’d be dead by now.”
Good to know.
I won’t bore you with the medical details that defined the next six-months except to share that after I was cardioverted - a procedure where defibrillators (‘the paddles’) are used to jolt the heart back to a regular cycle – one of the doctors warned that any form of exercise could kill me. I was upset to say the least - to that point in my life I'd always been active and was intent on proving him wrong. I insisted on a second opinion and, after some persistence, was referred to St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
After more tests at St Paul’s, I met with two more specialists. They gave me the green light to exercise. “Go for it!,” one said. “If your body needs to stop during exercise it will tell you, just like it always has, but stay hydrated! Dehydration is the body's enemy.” Over time, as I weaned off the medications, I felt my body return to me. I was excited to start up the hill again.
Why am I sharing this? Simple - I share this because you or someone you know might have experienced a threat to their health recently and I want to offer some encouragement. First and foremost, get the second opinion! Read. Educate yourself. Move forward. It’s your life, live it!
I also share this because, in my personal circle, I know people who have experienced significant threats to their health: stroke, long-covid, concussion, heart attacks, and addiction. Each of them, in their own way, understands what it’s like to have their body abandon them. All have moved forward despite being told how their condition might dictate the rest of their lives.
My friend who experienced a stroke in 2020 worked exceptionally hard – harder than I thought he was capable of – to regain his speech, his gate, and the use of his right hand. He’s skiing again. He’s running again. Lingering symptoms aside, he is happier than I have ever seen him. We celebrated together, last year, when he demonstrated how he could snap his fingers again! It was a great evening.
After being assaulted in September 2015, I was left with a significant concussion and cognitive impairments that lingered for a few years. Most notably, I’d lost my ability to write. So much so that a simple business letter required ten hours or more to complete. Since then, I’ve completed several courses, and an MBA. Now, when I sit down to write, I celebrate. For me, a world without words is an empty one.
My partner is a COVID long-hauler. While you may have your opinions about how COVID started, or who started it, it was real, and I had a front row seat to the memory loss, the brain fog, the fatigue, the loss of smell and taste, and the other symptoms that came, went, and then returned. Through it all, she read voraciously and is now a great resource on the relationship between COVID and the Vagus Nerve and the role the Vagus Nerve plays in good health. While Western medicine has only recently acknowledged this relationship, the most ancient medicinal practitioners knew this long ago. She is back at work now, and thriving.
After two heart attacks, a colleague sold his business. I caught up with him two weeks ago. He now lives on the sunshine coast. I could hear him smile as he excitedly cut our call short to check his crab traps before the tide changed! He is excited about where the next chapter in life will lead him. I am excited for him.
In my circle, are two people who are ‘clean’ after years of addiction. Both are very forthcoming when speaking of their journeys. Both are a wealth of knowledge, not just for addicts and their families but for all those who feel they possess the answer on “how to deal with addiction”. Their optimism is infectious and motivating. Both look forward, not back, and both look forward to what life has to offer them.
The common thread to each of these stories is that not one of these people accepted the opinions of others and gave in. They fought and failed, often silently, and overcame limitations. In their own way, each is stronger and better than ever. In their own way, each is doing their best work. My friend made plans for the next half-marathon while still struggling to stand. I kept writing – swearing and crying until thoughts became paragraphs. My partner investigated and found a pool of wisdom that was thousands of years old, when western practitioners wouldn’t return a phone call. My colleague with the two heart attacks found a way to reinvent his life and is happier for it. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves and for what they’ve lost, my friends manage their addictions daily, and celebrate that they can help others in ways that no one else can.
If you or someone you know is struggling, I invite you to believe! Whether the struggle relates to your personal health, your spirituality, your finances, your personal relationships, or to the health of your business I invite you to believe that the struggle doesn’t have to last. Nor does it have to define the the rest of your days. Resources are available but it all starts with you!
I’m off to walk the hill now. As I do every other time, I’ll pass No 3 and nod “No, not today my friend.” The rest of my life awaits. The rest of your life awaits too. Go out and get it!
Norm Adams, MBA, is a Certified Professional Business Coach with more than 25-years business experience in both Canada and the US. He recommends mixing business with exercise - forego an office meeting this week and go for a walk around the block instead. If you've time, walk the hill over lunch!