Life or Death

This is the story of how I was involved in a life or death experience.

Some of you know what I do for a living. For those who don’t, I work at a non-profit organisation comprised of programs targeted to different demographics to provide them with assistance, coaching and training to help them find employment. My department is different in that it provides paid work experience to people on welfare that have little to no employment experience – we send them out to perform housekeeping and garden work for seniors and people with disabilities. They receive assistance with daily living; our people gain valuable work experience, as well coaching on job search techniques.  Win-win. It’s a wonderfully fulfilling place to spend my days, even if it is in a rather dodgy end of town – subsequently, we see an enormous variety of people and have all sorts of adventures – but these don’t tend to end up as near-death experiences. Save for one I was directly involved with last week.

We usually start our days with a morning meeting, where we’ll provide job leads and give out assignments for the day. It just so happened that we’d hired five new people that day, each of whom was to be paired up with a worker currently in the program to shadow. Everyone was sent out on assignment as normal, until just after lunch, when we received a phone call from one of the new hires. We’ll call him Mark. We’d sent him out to be trained by one of our best – let’s call him Greg – someone who’s always punctual, always gets excellent ratings from customers, always comes in with a positive attitude and has always been eager to help others. When we received the phone call from Mark saying Greg was “drunk and passed out” in the middle of the afternoon, my initial reaction was one of complete disbelief. After discussing it with a colleague, we decided to drive to his apartment looking for him. We got there – no answer. We phoned him several times – no answer. Going on the assumption that Mark was somehow correct, we hesitantly drove around the area, even popped into a couple of seedy bars, and kept our eyes peeled on the streets – no Greg.

We were heading back to the office when we received a phone call from our boss, with two revelations: firstly, that he was diabetic, and secondly, that Transit had found him passed out on the bus and were holding him at a stop until we arrived before calling 911. We drove up and saw him being what looked like physically restrained, but on closer inspection, turned out to be physically held upright. His eyes were glazed over, he wasn’t responding to questions, couldn’t sit up, and didn’t seem to understand anything. This wasn’t intoxicated; this was something medically very wrong. We got him into the back of the car and drove straight to the hospital. He didn’t know if he’d eaten, stared off into space when asked questions, and said his emergency contact was his father – who’d passed away years ago. He signed a form with a series of circles, and seemed to be passing in and out of consciousness in the wheelchair. We told them we thought his blood sugar was low and that he was diabetic – they tested, and it was at 1.8. When I read that anything below 70 mg/dL is considered too low, my heart skipped a beat. He could have lost his life.

They quickly hooked him up to an IV and within ten or fifteen minutes, he regained complete coherence – but didn’t remember a thing after getting on the bus, which was terribly scary. We stayed with him until he’d had a sandwich and orange juice and seemed very much back to his normal self.  It turned out he hadn’t been able to afford rent and groceries, had paid the rent – and had only eaten a banana for lunch. We ignored our boss’s instructions to just “head home once he was at the hospital, your job is done”, and my colleague and I snuck out to buy him some food for the next few days. We dropped it back off at the hospital, at which point he had just finished some lasagne and was incredibly apologetic – but we were just overwhelmed with relief that he was still alive.

If it hadn’t been for the fact that he was training someone, he would have been travelling alone, and when he started losing coherence and consciousness, people probably would have assumed he was intoxicated, and could have just left him on the street, where he could have died. The thought is terrifying and absolutely heartbreaking. Somehow, we were driving around the exact area he’d been found by people who didn’t just dismiss him – I am so, so grateful – his guardian angel must have been watching over him. The next day, we looked into getting a Medic Alert bracelet for him, and an ID card to carry in his wallet explaining what to do in the event it happens again.

We take so much for granted, sometimes. Eating a meal in the evening, or grabbing a Starbucks in the morning is second nature to so many of us, we don’t even think of being able to do these things worry-free as a blessing.  So many people in our own communities don’t have enough money to make ends meet, or they have a health condition that requires careful monitoring night and day. Yet they face the world with a cheerful spirit and a smile on their face.  None of us had any idea what was going on behind the scenes with Greg – he always showed up with such a positive attitude you’d never expect anything out of the ordinary.  Not disclosing his medical condition almost cost him his life.  Today, even just for a second, please take a moment to count your blessings. Or if you’re struggling with something, don’t be afraid to ask for help – so someone can be there for you if you need it. I know so many of you reading this right now find no greater joy in life than helping others – and by not admitting we may need help sometimes, we deprive others of being able to do the same thing.  Let someone be there for you. Know your friends and family and colleagues, and what to do in case of emergency. Let them know the same about you. Wear your medical ID if you need one (I finally ordered the Medic Alert bracelet I should’ve been wearing for the last couple of decades), and confide in those that love you.  You never know when you might need it.

Skin and Bones

One thing I love about bloggers is their sheer determination to not only get out there and achieve their goals, but also encourage each other along the way to do the same.  Not going to lie: health and fitness don’t play a major part in my life. I’m not saying I’m queen of the couch potatoes, and I do tend to eat healthily and for the most part, and avoid junk food, but I wouldn’t consider myself fit in the slightest. Being part of the blogging community however has inspired me – seeing people run marathons, doing Couch to 30K challenges, shreds and daily yoga has really motivated me to take more of an active role in my own wellbeing. (If you don’t like something, change it, right?)

On top of the good I’m told it will do for my back, being in good shape was also something I wanted to tackle before the wedding (which is only three and a half months away (!!)). In the spring, I bought a used treadmill off the Internet, which, in an effort to prove I was going to suck at exercise, promptly broke within the first few months. In came the pedometer. Which still remains in its packaging. But like a fairy godmother telling me I shall go to the health and fitness ball, I received a magical text a couple of days before I left for England.

I’m moving. You want a free $2,500 treadmill?

Why yes, as a matter of fact, I did! My friend showed up with entourage of Big Strong Men, and delivered a state-of-the-art, gym-quality treadmill to my house complete with spare parts and instruction manual. I gave them $100 out of guilt and gratitude, and we said our goodbyes. Now I had no reason not to start running. Fast-forward to getting back from the trip, when my nose decided it was going to run longer and faster than I ever would, and I ended up being laid up with a fever, chills, dizziness, headache, and a cough worse than a chain smoker’s. Not great for my plans to be the next Kenenisa Bekele. I had, however, been doing a fair bit in terms of being healthier: going to hot yoga for a month (before the Intro Rate turned into the Regular Insanely Expensive Rate), making Green Monsters every morning for breakfast, taking multivitamins, picking up a copy of the 30 Day Shred on DVD, and buying a weighing scale so I could make sure I stayed at a healthy weight.

Which led to my discovery: I wasn’t at a healthy weight. At all. I recently learned that I was medically underweight. A BMI of 20 or lower, I was told, equalled underweight, and a BMI of under 18.5 was considered extremely underweight and possibly malnourished, with several risks including osteoporosis, respiratory/digestive diseases, increased risk of falls or fractures, depression, lethargy, and, at the very top of the list: compromised immune function. My BMI? 18.3.

I didn’t know what to do when I got sick again last week. When I’d got my new position, my boss had told me I had half a sick day left for the rest of the year. Had I really been ill that often? I did some research, and it clicked – maybe my immune system IS compromised by my weight. I couldn’t go in, but I felt terrible – I didn’t have any more sick time, and I was needed with the startup of this new project. Meaning I’d used up all my sick time for the entire year. They were kind enough to keep me on and give me this position, and I felt like I was screwing them over by being off for another two days. I told my boss I’d take it unpaid, or work late for a few weeks, whatever was necessary, but I can’t shake the feeling that I might be seen as one of those people who call in all the time just to get time off, when in reality I was stuck at home feeling worse than I had in years. I’m worried I may lose my job over this.

Sweet got the same bug I did, but it barely affected him at all. A little sniffly and a bit of a cough, and his work and social obligations (on top of his role as Best Caregiver Ever) remained unaffected. I got hit hard, couldn’t swallow even water, alternated between sweating hot and shivering cold, and could barely drag myself out of bed. I can’t afford to keep getting sick, but on the flipside, I don’t want to gain any weight. I’ve always been complimented on being slim, and when you don’t like the way you look physically, it’s something that does make a bit of a difference in feeling better about yourself. Being a smaller framed girl, the slightest bit of weight gain is instantly noticeable, straight to my stomach after a couple of days’ eating bigger meals, and you’d swear I was 4 months pregnant. I don’t want to get bigger, but I do want to get healthier. I can’t afford to keep getting ill and I know these risks are the sorts of thing that only get worse with time. Who knows, maybe it’s contributing to the back pain, too – if I am malnourished, surely it must be more difficult for the muscles to work and regenerate properly?

I don’t know. I’m not sure what to do. So this is where I appeal to all those healthy people out there I read and am inspired by so often: what can I do to get back on track to being a healthy weight without bloating up? Your suggestions would be so very appreciated ❤