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Saturday, April 30, 2011

True Story: My walking miracle

Back in 2007, John retired earlier than we'd ever dared hope for. That freed us to undertake a long-term service project we had thought would be years in the offing. All we had to do was pass the physicals!

I didn't know it, but at that time I was seriously anemic. I knew I didn't have a lot of energy, and though anemia would explain the way I felt, I never considered it as a possibility. Instead I had secretly concluded that I was in the early stages of heart disease. My mom had had it....

All I could think to do, as I prepared for the physical some months off, was to build up my heart function with exercise, specifically with walking. I had had experience before with walking and knew I would experience at least some improvement.

So I began walking the mailboxes.

"Walking the mailboxes" was my name for what Jack did. (See The man who walked back through time.) I had walked the mailboxes with my dog 10 years before, and had ended up walking miles and miles every day, losing weight, and gaining stamina and endurance.

But now we lived in a new area. I didn't want to walk on any busy streets. I looked around our neighborhood: plenty of mailboxes, some quite far apart, some in bunches. Some flat, some hills. I would give it a try!

The first day always seems a bit silly. The first mailbox is our own. Out and back takes a minute or two. But over time the distances start to add up. By the time the day of the physical rolled around, I was walking at my fastest speed something between 2 1/2 and 3 miles at a time, 6 days a week.

I had the physical. Part of the form required a trip to the cardiologist for a stress test. As I sat in her office, I saw a chart on the wall describing various levels of cardiac fitness, bright red at the top, dusky purple at the bottom; bright red - grade A - for great heart function, dusky purple - grade F - for heart failure. I thought to myself, oh please let me a B! I'm too young to be worse than that!

She examined me and set up a date for the nuclear stress test, about a week later. More waiting! I kept walking, going a little farther and a little faster each day.

The test took place on a treadmill. They hooked me up to an IV and measuring devices and so on. They asked me if I was worried about being able to walk on the treadmill. I said no, as long as they started slowly so I could warm up. I put my feet on the belt, they pushed the button, and we were off to the races! Full throttle! I started chugging away, striding out as fast as I could.

Soon I settled into a rhythm. It wasn't particularly hard. I was surprised when they said I could stop or keep going. I said I would keep going. They said to let them know when I'd had enough. After a bit I thought I should just stop. I had no idea how long it would take to taper down and when I'd actually be able to hop off, and I didn't want to fall over dead before the machine let me stop.

No worries! It stopped as fast as it had started. I could have gone on for another minute or two, at least.

They had to inject things and time things and take blood pressure and watch me for several minutes. Finally we were done. I found out then that I wouldn't get the results for another week.

I came back and ended up sitting in the same room waiting for the doctor as before and looking at that red-to-purple chart. Again I hoped I could make the B grade.

Finally the doctor came in, with some papers in hand. She sat down to talk to me. She said, "You passed." I was so relieved! But I had to ask: what level, what grade? How well did I do?

She said, oh, A+ of course. No problems at all.

I was ecstatic. We would be able to do the service project! And I didn't have heart disease! What a huge relief!

It was later that I found out I had serious iron-deficiency anemic. In fact, the anemia almost kept us home from the service project.

That just pointed out how much walking had done for me. I had done the whole 'walking the mailboxes' program with impaired oxygen-carrying capacity due to the anemia. I had passed the stress test with anemia. What would it be like when I got a little iron in my system?

That's another story. This story is about walking and the miraculous things it can do for the body.

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