As I celebrate my 43rd birthday, I am filled with gratitude. COVID-19 has created an opportunity for us to focus on our home and family. While this may be a negative for some (hopefully very few) and is frustrating to those whose loved ones are too far away to see with a reasonable car trip, it can still be a positive opportunity.
I wrote the above, as I later learned, about the time that my colleague was at work and suddenly stopped being able to talk. Thirty-six years old and a runner, father of three, working as the only doctor on site. How cruel can reality sometimes be? With that said, I took the next blog I was writing and meshed the two together as the themes are the same. From last week I wrote:
I had a conversation this week with a friend from Ohio as he sat in a hospital room recovering from multiple injuries from a fall. He is a man who looked after me in the fire department in Canton, where I volunteered (yes, I was a firefighter; most people who worked with me knew that medicine was my true calling). A big man with an even bigger heart who fell from a height while at work at his regular job of 23 years. The fall resulted in multiple fractures. He cannot walk, is understandably in pain, and requires his wife for assistance with the basics of daily functions. These are unfortunate accidents that can happen to any of us. And while we talked about his anticipated recovery and the challenges that come with it, it was other aspects we discussed that I felt more poignant.
At over 400 pounds, the weight loss took time and dedication. No, my friend is not a plant-based eater, and until the time of this phone call, he did not know I was. The specifics of what he ate he did not tell, but exercise by walking up to eight miles a day became a routine for him, which helped him lose 150 pounds! His weight alone is challenging enough, but he had dropped more than 150 pounds while better understanding his depression. Depression, he knows, contributed to his obesity. Because of the pain he was experiencing at the time, we did not extend our conversation into the details of the topic mentioned above. We instead discussed how his wife and family were doing in recent months, as well as reminiscing about the strength of our firefighter community.
He is no longer an active volunteer firefighter; thus, the exertion and stress that come with that profession have not been present in recent years. But it was two familiar faces on the ambulance who took care of him from scene to hospital. The community of people within the fire service has already built a ramp at his house to aid him when he gets home. While I know there is research to support plant-based eating helping with mental health issues, obesity, and other diseases; I do not pretend that it is the be-all treatment of all things. The support of the people around you, those that matter most, are often the driving force. Community is a huge factor in our life. The more we engage our community, the better off we all are.
For firefighters, every third day of their life, they are away from their own families and spend time instead with their professional families. Firehouses are often sensationalized on TV or mocked by others for sitting around the firehouse and washing the apparatuses. But make no mistake, there is camaraderie. You spend a third of your life with people who know you as well as your own family does. For volunteers, it is not much different, though the hours may not be as consistent. I enjoyed sitting and talking with someone I call a friend from my firefighter days after much time between conversations; it was good to pick up where we left off years ago.
And so I return to the present, to my 36-year-old physician colleague who, three days ago, could not speak. When he arrived to work, our co-worker recognized he was showing symptoms of a stroke. He received clot-busting medicine (called “TPA”) with no improvement and was transferred to the large academic center in town. He had a subsequent seizure, needed to be intubated (to be put to sleep and put on a ventilator machine to breath for him). After a few days, he recovered (only complaining of a headache). Our community of doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, and medical techs have formed a meal schedule for his nuclear and extended family. I was fortunate enough to be the first person to deliver food to the family. He was kind in his text in thanks for bringing a “healthy dinner” to his family. Yes, it was vegan and I apologized that my supply of brisket had been exhausted years ago.
The point of all this is another example of the hospital community coming together in short order to look after his nuclear and extended family as they look after him. The world is not fair. What is happening to my friends is not fair. The injustice that has existed for those of color and is now dominating the press is not fair. But the hope of our communities coming together and looking after one another is the positive light in this seemingly dark abyss. I implore us all to be better human beings to each other, starting with our communities.
As I continue the journey into engaging this community with plant-based eating guidance, I hope I will learn more about you as we build our community together.