Monthly Archives: October 2013

The “E”s

At Cardiac Rehabilitation, we were taught that many of the key factors that impact the workload on a Heart with an “E”… Exercise, Environment, Emotion, Eating… (I’m sure there were others, but I can’t remember them… please feel free to chip in!).

Many of the “E”s are impacted by travel to foreign lands… strange place, unusual climate, different food, etc.  As a result, I think going on a family holiday is a big step in the Cardiac Rehab journey.

A holiday obviously offers an opportunity for some Rest and Relaxation, away from the hassle of day to day life at home / work.  For me, it provides a chance to diversify my exercise routine and build on the base I’ve laid down.  However, I think it offers something more important.  I think it offers the opportunity to embed the change that we’ve been through over the past few months.  I say “we”, this definitely applies for me, but in a small way I think it’ll apply for Louise and the girls too.

The whole, “living with Heart Disease” thing was somewhat sprung on us.  We didn’t have any time to prepare.  One day we were “normal”, the next we were not.  In some way, leaving home as a “Survivor”, being away for a couple of weeks, and then returning a “Survivor” makes it more official, normal.  A little bit like moving house… you need a break of routine to really make it feel like home.

The Magic Kingdom… not sure my Heart could have taken the fireworks and the emotion of the whole thing!

Our holiday plans over the summer were severely impacted by my Heart Attack.  The plan had been to visit Florida and enjoy some of the theme parks we have all heard so much about… you could call it a “once in a lifetime” trip… but when you’ve got growing children, they all are aren’t they!

We decided that a long haul flight, the heat and humidity, the thrills and spills of rollercoasters, driving in a strange place, and the good old American cuisine probably wouldn’t be the best recuperation-aid five weeks after my Heart Attack.  So we spent the summer at home, making the best of what Scotland has to offer.

As it turned out, it had quite a lot to offer.  We enjoyed one of the best summers for many years, I certainly can’t remember a better one since I’ve been living in Sunny Scotland (and I’ve been there for over 17 year).

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The main pool and hotel complex. Always strangely deserted.

To compensate, we decided to book a “special” trip over the October School Holiday (Now!).  The girls get two weeks off, so it’s enough time to get away… and really get away!  We are in Rhodes enjoying a healthy holiday of sun, relaxation and exercise (in that order).

The “E”s have played quite a major factor so far:

The Environment is much warmer than back at home.  The average temperature so far has been in the high 20 degree Celsius range.  It’s felt hot!  Perfect for lazing around and doing nothing very much!

The Environment impacts everything.  It takes time for your body to acclimatise.  Quite how and when it’ll make a noticeable difference is unknown, until it does!  So, in the short term at least, this provides a need for a certain level of caution.

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The lounging pool. Beautiful, but treacherously chilly!

We have access to several Outdoor Pools and the Mediterranean Sea (I’m sure it used to be an Ocean when I was growing up!).  Both can best be described “refreshing”.  Again, perfect for a cool down if you’ve been lazing around in the sun, but they’re a little too bracing for my liking.  I’ve never particularly enjoyed swimming in cold water, but I suspect a fast immersion in any of these could be the last thing I do!  Definitely to be avoided!

There are guided Mountain Bike rides twice a day.  Definitely for me!  The temperature plays a key factors in these too, as well as the terrain over which we ride (I know this doesn’t start with an “E”!).  Being on the competitive end of competitive, the key thing for me is to ride at my own pace, to not worry about what everyone else is doing, and to listen to my body (and my heart rate monitor!).  My body has definitely reacted differently.  I guess I have to learn my limits again given the new conditions.

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Dad’s pool… before the kids have woken up at least!

Given I can’t swim in the outside pools, the Indoor Pool has become “Dad’s Pool”.  Unfortunately there are some other guests that might also lay claim to it, so I have to pick my times carefully!  It’s not big, probably 10m in length, but it’s enough for me to practice my breathing. If it really were mine I’d keep the temperature a few degrees cooler, and get some fresh air circulating in the room.  It is as close to a sauna as I’m willing to get right now!  Hopefully it’ll serve its purpose.

We’re in a great place to chill out, relax and enjoy a break.  There is a lot to do.  I just need to make sure I don’t overdo it!

Your life in their hands

Some jobs are more important than others.  In some roles, the occupants are expected to keep up with continual innovation.  They are often presented with new concepts, need to learn new words to describe bleeding-edge ideas and stay abreast of technological developments. If they snooze, they lose.  The consequences are almost unthinkable.

I came face to face with some such professionals this morning.

We place important parts of our lives in their hands on a regular basis.  We rely on their discipline and professionalism to prepare precise combinations of chemical ingredients to meet our exacting requirements.  The result of their work plays a critical role in the day to day well-being of so many people. One mistake can have disastrous consequences, wreaking chaos on our carefully planned lives.

Yes, the role of Barista is a critical one!

Precision is everything!

I have to admit that I’ve struggled to stay up to date with developments on the coffee front.  Before my Heart Attack I used to enjoy a Black Americano, or the occasional Skinny Latte (if I needed some extra sustenance), but that’s as far as my not-so adventurous coffee tastes took me. I’ve subsequently been off the caffeine, and as a result, the attraction of Coffee Shops has diminished considerably.

I do enjoy the taste of coffee, and my penchant for a sprinkling of Brown Sugar makes for a warm, comforting, occasional sweet treat, but the other benefits are a thing of the past. I think my body is still fooled into the idea of receiving a caffeine “hit” when I drink coffee but disappointingly it never arrives. It has become more of a comforting bedtime drink for me now rather than the shot in the arm, pick me up it used to reliably be.  It used to get my day started, and get it back on track when I started to flag. I think coffee may actually have negative implications nowadays, with the net effect of making me more rather than less tired.

Having had an early start this morning (early morning airport check-in), we headed for a coffee to perk us up. Perhaps it was because we were at an airport, but the array of exotic coffee orders from the eclectic clientele seemed even wider than usual. I have to admit, I have no idea what pumpkin has to do with coffee, and I thought I had always been drinking “wet” coffee, I had no idea that I would need specifically request it!  I’m still coming to terms with the various syrups on offer.  It’s amazing what you can get nowadays!

Adventurously, I ordered my new “usual”, a Decaf Americano.

I have to be careful not to stand up too fast!

Shortly afterwards, I had a dizzy spell. This happens to me on a fairly regular basis. It’s one of the side effects of the medication I’m on – low blood pressure reduces the strain on my heart, but also means I need to be careful not to stand up too fast. The dizzy spell I had this morning was the worst one I’ve had for a long while. I was trying to focus on the Departure Board, but just felt myself wobbling.  Hopefully no one was looking or saw me rocking backwards and forwards. Fortunately I managed to stay upright. Falling over would have been embarrassing to say the least!

Having recovered, I started to wonder why I was feeling particularly dizzy today… Was it the early morning? The result of a broken nights sleep? Or perhaps something I’d eaten.

What would the impact of a slug of caffeine be after so long without it? Had the Barista unintentionally spiked my coffee by confusing my order?

Given I recovered fairly quickly, I suspect it was entirely my fault.  The event has, however, made me realise what an important role the various people that work in Restaurants, Cafes, Coffee Shops and Bars have in our lives.  They have my utmost respect… but I will be watching to make sure my Virgin Mary doesn’t become a bit more Bloody than I’m expecting while I’m away!

Man versus Brownie

You may be disappointed to hear that this isn’t an epic tale of one man’s battle to resist the temptation of a tasty chocolate treat; an exhibition of self-discipline and restraint to resist the lure of the sweet, warm cake, deliciously gooey in the middle with just a hint of nuttiness… It’s not that exciting I’m afraid.  No, this evening I had my first swimming lesson.

Tasty… but not on the menu today.

I didn’t really know what to expect.  Having signed up several weeks ago, all had gone quiet.  I assumed I was on a list, participating in a local authority lottery… my number would probably never come up!  Well, last week it did.  I received an SMS message.  8 pm on Wednesday.  My exercise horizons were about to be broadened.

Bovril… or Chicken Soup?

I learned to swim as a child.  We used to have regular family trips to the (not so) local pool, splash around for a while before getting changed and having a cup of Bovril and a Bag of Crisps from the vending machine.

I have been able to look after myself in and around water for as long as I can remember, but I would never describe myself as a swimmer.  Exercise in my youth was almost entirely gained on solid ground.

More recent attempts to swim for fitness have consisted of rather inefficient thrashing around with the occasional, slightly panic-stricken gasping for breath.  So, I decided that if I am to include swimming in my new exercise regime, I should do it properly and have some lessons.  Hopefully this will get me to the point where I have the technique and confidence to make it a beneficial, and perhaps even enjoyable, pursuit.

Cute… but best avoided!

So this evening I arrived at the local pool feeling a little self-conscious and a little more nervous.  These feelings were exacerbated by the pack of Brownies, lining up two by two,  preparing to enter the pool.  So much for my quiet, low key introduction back to water!

It was the first time I’m been in a pool since my Heart Attack, so even submerging myself for the first time was slightly nerve-racking.  I had been warned to watch out for pressure changes… I might feel “strange”.  Fortunately I felt fine, I was able to crack on with the “swimming” unencumbered.

All I had to do was steal the occasional breath and avoid bobbing Brownies (both easier said than done!).  Heaven only knows what badge they were practicing for, but it all seemed rather chaotic.  Avoiding them was more of a feature of the evening than I could have ever anticipated.  As far as I’m aware, we all came away unscathed, but definitely more by luck than by judgement!  I’d like to say that Man won… but let’s call it an honourable draw.

No Bovril or Crisps for me this evening.  Just a nice cup of decaf tea.  How times change!

Holiday preparations

While I have always enjoyed holidays, I haven’t always looked forward to them as much as I perhaps should have.  For some people, the planning, booking, anticipation and preparation are as much part of the holiday as the holiday itself.  I am not one of those people.

For me, the thought of holidays used to feel like a hassle.  An extra complication in my life that I could do without.  The fact that the complication was self-inflected compounded the issue.  The preparation required to be away from the office for a couple of weeks, and the subsequent “catching up” always felt like they added to an already hectic, often stressful situation.

Really not my idea of fun!

At work I often had lengthy periods of extensive travel.  I would spend too much time at airports, on planes or alone, eating Club Sandwiches in hotel rooms.  There were many elements of a holiday trip that were reminiscent of business trips.  Worse, I was likely to be surrounded by holiday-makers and the inefficiencies of Charter flights and Packaged Tour Guides!

I used to deal with the negatives by ignoring the fact that I was going on holiday until the last possible moment.  I would rely on last minute preparations and, in event of emergency, the Credit Card to dig me out of holes.

Really not my idea of fun!

To make things worse, I have never enjoyed packing / unpacking / re-packing – I used to get around this by living out of a suitcase.  On occasion this would last for weeks after I had returned from holiday.  My clothes returned to their proper homes as they are worn, washed and put away (not a quick cycle!).

When I was a kid, I used to hate missing school.  As a result, there was more to being ill than the sickness… I hated it!  I always used to feel like I was missing out on something.  It felt like the day I missed would be the day when some critical, life-changing knowledge would be imparted.  As a result I would be forever at a disadvantage.   I guess it used to feel like missing work had similar implications, on some level I would forever pay for lost opportunities as a result of not showing up.  After all, they do say that 90% of success is showing up!

As I say, I have always enjoyed holidays once they’ve (and we’ve) actually arrived.  In particular, we’ve had some fantastic holidays over the past few years.  We’ve created some really special family memories in some fantastic locations.  They are really restorative to us all individually as well as a family.  I’m relieved to say that I’ve never been quite so stubborn and narrow-minded as to think they weren’t a good thing.

My general feelings about holidays have softened considerably over time.  Nowadays I look forward to getting away.  To switching off and winding down.  I’ve even been known to leave my work phone at home, introducing “emergency contact only”!

Our resort in Rhodes. It looks nice and quiet!

“Why”, I hear you saying, “is he rattling on about holidays?”.  Well, on Friday we’re off to Rhodes (Greece) for a couple of weeks in the sun.  It’s a substitute holiday for the Florida Trip we had to cancel because of my Heart Attack in the summer (the long haul flight, high temperatures, Amusement Parks and lifestyle really weren’t favourable for a new member of the Heart Attack Survivor’s Club!).  We’re all looking forward to some sun, relaxation and healthy living.  The 15 day forecast promises temperatures in the mid-20’s C.

Anyway, as I’m looking forward to the trip, my preparations started today with a trawl of potential reading material on Amazon.  I’m quite excited about my choices – a variety of educational, trivial and thought provoking titles to keep me occupied.

Having got the “long lead” preparations out of the way, I guess I should start thinking about packing.  I do however still have almost a week before we go… so that can wait for another day!

It was twenty years ago today…

Twenty years ago today… I started out on the first steps in professional life.

imagesCA28Y0P1Dressed in my new suit and shiny shoes, I made my way from Clapham to White City on the London Underground. I suspect I may have had some sort of briefcase with me, filled with joining instructions, forms and maps.  I definitely had the wide eyed stare of someone who really had no idea what they were letting themselves in for.

The journey was traumatic.  The timings uncertain.  There was no way I could be late on my first day.  I suspect I was early… very early.  I think I also did the trip the previous day, just to be sure of where I was going.

I was keen, naïve, young, Impressionable and ambitious.  My new life extended in front of me.

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Jordan was the king in ’93!

It was a very memorable date for me, and not just because I started proper work:

A new group of graduates started at the company I worked for every couple of weeks.  The initial assignment was 6 weeks training; 3 in London (home for me) and 3 in a training centre just outside Chicago.  It was 6 weeks of burning the candle at both ends, of working hard and playing harder, of adrenalin and caffeine, alcohol and coffee, of team-work and competition.  Exciting times!

Best of all, we got paid for it!!!

For the first few years, we became known by the date of our start group.  We were brothers in arms, linked by the bonds forged over the first few weeks.  People in the group immediately before us or after us might as well have worked for a different company.  I was part of the 4th October 1993 Start Group.

The memories are vivid, but it seems such a long time ago.

Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t stay in touch with any of my Start Group colleagues.  The regular get-togethers only lasted a few months for me.  I found new friends, formed new bonds, took on new, bigger challenges.

I’d like to think I’ve recently come to the end of a cycle and started another.  Where will this one lead?

I’d like a “Man Salad”

I’ve found eating out tricky since I’ve been watching what I eat.  I want to eat healthily.  I want to eat a varied diet.  I want to eat well.  However, one of the big challenges is that despite this, I still have a man’s appetite.

Deep Fried Cheese & Chips. Tasty, but not the healthiest option!

My menu options are extremely limited in many of the places we go out to eat.  I guess people offer what sells. For example, it’s surprisingly common to find deep fried cheese and chips as the (what I would expect to be “healthy”) vegetarian option!

I realise I’m overly strict on myself with my menu selections (some might argue I’m getting close to the point of obsession).  I am definitely being more strict than I need to be (technically I can eat anything, just not loads of the wrong stuff).  In my defence, I feel like I’m on a roll and I’d like to stick to it.  It seems to be doing me good, so why change it?

Since the Heart Attack, I’ve generally favoured Sushi joints for socialising as I get a good selection of food that I know hasn’t got lots of hidden bad stuff in it.  This does however result in tricky stand-off when I eat with someone who’s allergic to seafood!  I have also discovered that teenage kids can only take so much fish!  So going out starts to become an issue.

Not what I had in mind!

The menu restrictions often result in me ordering some sort of salad (dressing on the side).  The good thing is that I like salad ingredients, some of them a lot.  The bad thing is that my hunger is rarely fully satisfied.  Why?  Just because you order salad doesn’t mean you have the appetite of a tortoise.

I think the logic must go along the lines of:

  • People who order salads are watching what they eat …
  • People who watch what they eat want to lose weight…
  • People who want to lose weight need to eat less…
  • To help them eat less we’ll give them a smaller portion…
  • Therefore, people who order salads get smaller portions!!!

No!!!  What I really want is a “Man Salad”.

Some places “get it” (see last night’s example below), most don’t.

Man's Salad

That’s what I call a salad. Nicely loaded on a large plate.
Substantially more than a nibble!

How nice would it be for an order to go along the lines of:

Waiter / Waitress:  “… and for you sir?”
Me:  “I’d like a Salmon Salad please.  Can you bring the dressing on the side.”
Waiter / Waitress:  “Certainly sir.  And, how hungry are you?”
Me:  “Oh, I’m hungry.”
Waiter / Waitress:  “Then we shall prepare you a proper salad sir.  A man’s salad.  Would you like a larger table?”