Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Weighty issue

Back in January I was looking forward to the impending warmer weather so that I could get out and walk my five miles per day. I've done this annually for about five or six years now.

Part of this routine is the promise that I'll lose a few pounds.

And it's a promise that has worked so well in the past.

Then, in February, I turned 60. Ho hum, just another birthday. I just didn't realize then that I was on the rapid transit downhill slide. Within weeks of my birthday I learned my heart was in atrial fibrillation and that for the first time in my life, I would have to be on medication. A beta blocker for the heart, a statin for the cholesterol, and both, plus aspirin, to diminish my risk of stroke.

Pills for everything. I suddenly felt like a song from Jefferson Airplane (see here).


But when the weather warmed up, I started walking in all earnestness, sometimes putting in 25-30 miles per week.

And, since March, I have lost exactly ... five pounds. It doesn't seem to matter anymore what I do. I can walk five miles, sometimes six. I eat salads for lunch. The formula that had worked so well for me in the past — burn more calories than you consume — seems to be mocking me now.

I even asked my doctor about this during my latest check-up a few weeks ago. All my numbers were good, except for my weight.

I asked him if being on medication for the first time in my life has somehow affected my metabolism.

"Good question," he said. "But I think the only real number that has affected your metabolism is 60," he said, then clarifying, "Being 60."

Uh-oh. I'm doomed. I asked if he had any suggestions. We talked about things like creating lean muscle mass, which probably would require bouts of weightlifting. Hmm. Maybe not. I'm 60, dag gummit, I'm not lifting anything.

My latest strategy is to keep walking. I think all my walking over the years has actually kept my heart in decent shape except for the rogue atrium that apparently beats to its own rhythm. But I can still cut back on more calories, and watch the type of calories I do consume. Soooo, no more eating after 7 p.m. And when I do eat, more chicken, turkey, peanut butter, bananas, raisins, blue berries...

I think I can feel that sixth pound slipping away right now.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Vintage bomber was a casual acquaintance

The Liberty Belle was an acquaintance of mine.

She was a vintage B-17, and she and her sisters were produced in the tens of thousands to help save the world for democracy during World War II.

A few years ago, if memory serves, the Liberty Foundation brought the Liberty Belle to the Lexington Airport just in time for the Barbecue Festival, and I was determined that I was going to fly in her. But circumstances worked against me: the weather was bad on the late October afternoon set for the media flight, and when we were rescheduled for the next day, mechanical problems (a loose tail wheel, I think) kept her grounded. Well, I never did get to fly with her, but I did get to taxi on the runway with her.

Sitting pretty in a piece of history.
That memory will have to be good enough, and I fell in love with her, as I knew I would.

I also got to crawl all over her and had Dispatch photo-grapher Donnie Roberts snap a picture of me striking my Jimmy Stewart pose while I was peering out the cockpit from the pilot's seat.

She was a beautiful plane, almost artful to the discerning eye, with soft, graceful lines that camouflaged her ultimate hardscrabble purpose — she was a warrior, after all, and a bomber at that.

So Monday afternoon, when I heard the television tell me that a vintage World War II plane had crashed in a cornfield outside of Chicago, I rushed into the room to catch the news.

There she was, her fuselage burned beyond repair, remnants of her wings, engines and tail lying broken on the ground. The good news is that all those on board survived and apparently walked away from the crash. But it was a sad sight to see (here).

I figured the Liberty Belle still did her job today, though. B-17s were reportedly beloved by their crews for the planes' seemingly uncanny ability to come back home with unbelievable battle damage that likely would have brought down other aircraft (see here). Perceived survivability was an essential ingredient in the folklore of the B-17. Survivability apparently came into play today. Nearly 70 years later, you have to think: what a plane.

There are only few of these B-17s left, maybe 12 or 13 that are still flyable, and perhaps 53 or so that are not flying but hamming it up in museums.

There's a part of me that wonders whether or not the Liberty Belle still can be restored. Most of my friends are walking around reconstructed without their original parts these days, so why can't the Liberty Belle? But I suspect she is beyond repair.

So, I'll just heave a heavy sigh and be thankful for the time we had together.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Getting right with the numbers

I had my first follow-up blood work done earlier this week since I was originally diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (or, essentially, unbridled unrhythmic heart flutter in one of my heart's atrium chambers) back in March.

I wasn't that concerned because up until my doctor's visit on Tuesday, everything seemed to be going well.

But when the doctor came into the examination room with his laptop, I found myself catching a quick breath. He could be showing me anything. Please, Lord, not another stay in the hospital. I promise I'll be good... (That's a promise, unfortunately, that I seem to break daily. I'll try again tomorrow. Sigh)

Well, my blood sugar, as it turned out, was 91. Not sure what that number actually means, but if it's hanging somewhere around 100, I'm told it's pretty good.

My blood pressure was something like 120 over 67, which is excellent. Then came a bunch of stuff about my liver and kidneys that needed a doctor's translation skills, but essentially he told me all those numbers were well within the acceptable parameters and I was looking good.

Then he turned the page. Up came the cholesterol numbers.

He looked at the page for a moment, shook his head slightly, and looked at the page again.

"Your cholesterol..," he said, and let the rest of the sentence hang unborn in the air, like a pregnant pause, shaking his head again.

Oh crap. Three months of Lipitor down the drain. "Not good, huh?" I said.

"When we did your blood work three months ago, your cholesterol was 266," said the doc. "Now it's 130. That's excellent. Your good cholesterol, which has never been an issue, was 57, but the bad cholesterol has dropped something like 63 percent. That's wonderful."

"Wow," I said to myself, trying not to to jump out of my chair and start tap dancing. I hope I smiled, but I was probably wearing my goofy face, the one where my right eye looks at my nose and saliva dribbles down the left side of my chin. My tongue may or may not be in my mouth at this point.

"Does this mean I can go off the Lipitor?" I asked.

Whoa, Bucky. Not so fast. My big issue with the statin is that it costs about $5 per tablet, so a month's supply runs about $150 without co-pays or health insurance. "That's pretty tough for me when it's hard enough to fill up my gas tank," I told him.

Well, he explained that Lipitor is probably the most studied and researched of all the statins, that it not only helps control cholesterol but apparently offers benefits for the liver as well. "Plus, we know you tolerate it well without any side effects. On top of that, Lipitor is supposed to go generic this month, which means competition will eventually drive down the cost. So until the price goes down, here's three months of Liptor that should bridge the gap," he said, handing me a bag of office samples. "Will that help?"

The heck with tap dancing, I almost started to do the Lambada. "I guess so," I said. Free Lipitor. $450 worth. Imagine that.

The blood work numbers, of course, are nice to know, although I suppose I could still keel over at any moment. Who, after all, has a guarantee? But if I do, it's nice to know that I died relatively healthy.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Oodles of kudos for North softball

Sometimes transformative moments come at the most unexpected times.

North Davidson's softball team was on the verge of elimination from the 4-A state championship Friday at the Walnut Creek Softball Complex in Raleigh. The Knights, the defending state champions who already had lost the first game of the double elimination tournament 6-2 to Alexander Central, were trailing Clayton 2-1 going into the bottom of the seventh inning of the elimination game.

But Paige Wall opened the inning with a triple and then scored on a wild pitch to tie the game. North went on to win 3-2 in a nine-inning heart-stopper. Wow.

In fact, North ultimately came tantalizingly close to defending its title, winning two more games Saturday before surrendering a pair of runs in the top of the seventh inning to lose to Alexander Central 3-2 in the championship game.

If someone had told me a week ago that North would even be back in Raleigh for the tournament, I would have looked a him with a skeptical eye. The Knights had graduated 10 players from a year ago, including MVP pitcher Hannah Alexander. In fact, the Knights had just two starters back from last season, outfielder Jessica Plemmons and first baseman Robyn Stanek. This kind of lack of playoff experience usually doesn't bode well for a team's chance to repeat as champion.

So back to the transformative moment. Although I retired from writing for The Dispatch nearly five years ago, I still help out when the two-man sports staff is stretched thin. And it gets stretched like an old rubber band when two teams — North Davidson and Central Davidson — make it to Raleigh about the time American Legion baseball gets cranked up.

So I was in Raleigh Friday night to cover North. And when the Knights lost to AC after committing four jittery errors in the opening game, I thought to myself, "Yep. Too young. Too bad. At least they had a nice run to get here."

I thought that again when it looked as though Clayton was going to send the Knights packing. But everything changed the instant Wall slapped her clutch triple to right center. From that moment on, it seemed the Knights gained confidence, experience and poise, and did it pitch by pitch.

They had transformed themselves into a championship calibre team right there, right at the do-or-die junction of its season. If North should win the title next year, I dare say they can point to the bottom of the seventh inning against Clayton this season as the turn-around moment.

All of this also begs another question: given North's relative youth and inexperience (and yet North still pushed AC into a second championship game), does this become coach Mike Lambros's best coaching effort to date?

I vote yes. Lambros, who picked up his 700th career victory back in April, characteristically will point to the girls, or to his very able coaching staff, as the reason for the team's success.

But I want to suggest that Lambros, who sometimes gets criticized for overcoaching (even from himself), or for having too much pepper in the pot, probably doesn't get recognized enough for locating the pivotal nuances in the game, or in his players, that can make the difference between winning or losing. Coaching is more than X's and O's, of course. It's also a sensory experience that includes a feel for the moment, along with intuition and common sense.

Lambros, I think, has all that. North, the only school where's he's ever coached (something I respect and value) is lucky to have him.

And I can't wait until next year.