The Whistle that Woke Me Up

The Whistle that Woke Me Up

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body!

The Whistle that Woke Me Up

When I moved across the country because of my husband’s new job, I left behind sunny Orlando, Florida for overcast Portland, Oregon. I no longer spent my free time swimming and playing tennis. Instead, I sat in front of the computer e-mailing old friends.

Soon my face looked rounder and my pants felt tight. I searched my closet for something to wear and found that half my clothes didn’t fit me anymore. When did I get fat?

The extra weight didn’t go away, and I slowly accepted it as an inevitable part of growing older. After all, my siblings and friends had also gained weight as they aged. I boxed up the clothes I’d outgrown and took them to Goodwill. It was time to give up the fantasy of ever fitting into them again.

The next time I went for a physical, the doctor pointed out that my blood pressure was high. And when he saw my weight, he whistled. Whistled! I felt like crying. It wasn’t my fault! Wasn’t gaining weight just a normal part of midlife?

“Join a gym,” the doctor said.

A gym? Me? It conjured up bad memories of high school. “I can’t afford it,” I said.

“Then walk.”

“But it rains every day!” I protested.

“You won’t melt.”

The truth is I was afraid of getting struck by lightning. But this rude doctor would probably have laughed at me if I told him that.

When my blood work came back, there was more bad news. My LDL was too high and my HDL was too low. My blood sugar was abnormal, too. I had to return to take a glucose fasting test, and the diagnosis came back pre-diabetes.

Was I going to end up like my parents, with prescription bottles lined up on the counter, and several pills a day to keep track of for the rest of my life?

Our local hospital had a health education center that offered free courses on staying healthy. In desperation, I signed up for one. I’d spent most of my adult life caring for my kids. Maybe it was time to start taking care of myself.

I barraged the instructor with questions. How could I lower my blood pressure? Raise my HDL? Stabilize my blood sugar? I listened to a lot of information about cutting down on salt and eating a plant-based diet. But for every medical problem I had, one remedy kept getting mentioned. Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!

My doctor was right. I needed to walk. I quickly got over my fear of lightning when I realized Portland’s skies rarely produced it, unlike the skies in Orlando, which was the lightning capital of the United States. When it rained here, I could carry an umbrella and not feel as if I were holding a miniature lightning rod.

Miles of sidewalks connected my subdivision. I went outside first thing in the morning, before I could invent excuses not to, and just started walking.

“Out for a stroll?” my neighbor asked me.

“A power walk!” I answered. After a few blocks I broke out in a sweat, and then came home and showered.

Every day I went a little farther. I bought a pocket calendar and recorded how long I walked: twenty minutes, twenty-five, thirty. I also stood on the scale every day and then wrote down my weight. Slowly it began to go down.

Gradually I worked up to walking forty-five minutes a day. One morning I saw a woman walking ahead of me and struck up a conversation with her. Her name was Claudette and she lived on the next block. I started phoning her before I went out to ask if she wanted to walk with me. Soon I just met her at her house at eight every morning and we walked together. Walking went faster when we talked. We chatted about our kids and our husbands, about religion and politics. I not only had a walking partner, I had a friend!

Claudette and I were like mailmen. Every day, come rain, sleet or snow, we walked our route. People would smile and wave at us. They probably thought we were crazy. Because I was used to warm Florida winters, I bundled up in a heavy jacket, knit hat, corduroys, thick socks and a scarf over my face. Claudette usually donned just a hoodie. We both wore out several pairs of sneakers.

Walking became a priority. If anything came up that might prevent me from doing it, I always worked around it. I would go out to walk earlier, or walk afterward. If Claudette couldn’t go for some reason, I went anyway. Seven days a week.

Ice was the only thing that still scared me. I didn’t want to slip and fall and break my bones! On really cold mornings the sidewalks in the shade glazed over. Claudette and I had some close calls where we almost fell but caught each other in the nick of time. So I bought a stepper at a garage sale that I could use at home on icy mornings. I also had a Pilates for Dummies tape for backup.

My wedding ring began to slip off. My face looked thinner and my thighs firmer. I would have fit into all the clothes I’d given away! And I felt great. One wonderful benefit of exercise is that it alleviates depression. I didn’t even know that I’d been depressed until I began to feel better.

The next time I went to my doctor, I couldn’t wait for him to ask me how I’d lost twenty pounds. I was ready to tell him how his whistle had woken me up, and how since then I’d dedicated myself to walking. But to my surprise, he didn’t say a word about my weight. He frowned when he looked at my chart and afterward handed me a slip of paper to get blood work.

It was only when I went to the lab for my blood work that I realized my weight loss had made an impact on him.

“The results of your thyroid test should be back in a couple of days,” the nurse said.

My thyroid test? And then it hit me. The doctor attributed my weight loss to an out-of-kilter thyroid! As if I couldn’t have lost this much weight on my own!

Oh, well. It didn’t matter what the doctor thought. My thyroid test came back normal. My LDL was down now, and my HDL was up. My blood sugar was no longer in the pre-diabetic range. I had done it all myself, simply by putting one foot in front of the other.

~ Mary Elizabeth Laufer ~

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