Tuesday, April 05, 2005

my cousin damon's wake up call

i went to see my cousin damon f. yesterday. he had a heart attack a few days ago. he said he ate a powdered donut and then all of a sudden it felt like a car was sitting on his chest. reaching for a phone and calling 911 was unthinkable. it was very difficult to breathe and he was more than a little disoriented. luckily, he was at work -- he's a mechanic that fixes fire trucks -- so everyone around him knew what to do. if he were asleep while this happened, someone would have found his body, much in the same way that he found his mother some time ago. in a matter of minutes, he was sequestered in a hospital in elmhurst, queens. he's in his early 40's. two kids, one baby-mama, no marriages. unlike a lot of people i know, i consider that to be quite young.

by the time i found out about all this via my mother in atlanta, he had already had an angioplasty. i called him to see how he was doing, to sort of soften the blow of having to enter his hospital room and see him incapacitated or something just as strange. i didn't know what to expect. and i couldn't remember what happened with my father's heart attack. i was so little then. i remember my aunts coming to visit all at once. at the time, we used to call them "the aunts" -- like they were one big entity. and at the time, they were: aunt mattimae, aunt rosalie, aunt annalee (also called aunt suzie), aunt cb, aunt ulalee and aunt eloise. now i know that they were there because they thought my father was going to die. but God had other plans. i distinctly remember that they were so freaked out that our house was surrounded by trees, they'd put bedsheets up to the windows at night, so no one could look in. they were afraid that a bear would come out of the woods and eat us. they went back to brooklyn and told everyone that we lived in the middle of a park. that's the only way that they could accurately describe our house and the grass and trees and sky that surrounded us. (yeesh.) i remember thinking that brooklyn must've been a really horrible place in comparison, if that's the best description they could come up with.

would my cousin be able to talk? would he look the same? would he be able to sit up straight? would i spend the afternoon spoon-feeding him strained peas or something as equally unappetizing? whaddya know -- he answered the phone like he was at home and everything was peachy. the next thing i knew, he was explaining it all -- from the way they wheeled him in to the details of exactly how the surgery worked as an alternative to cutting him wide open like they used to -- in this really breezy laconic way that was a little unnerving for someone who'd come that close to seeing Jesus face-to-face. then again, maybe that's the only way you can talk about something that serious.

i didn't know where i was going, so i left really early to give myself plenty of time to get lost. cousin damon gave me excellent directions, so i got there in short order. once i bobbed and weaved my way through security and made it past the front desk of the cardiac unit, i found him propped up in bed, watching bad daytime tv and looking more than a little grateful. he was really upbeat for someone who's heart rate clocked in at 141 over 110 (he's 5'8" and 210 lbs. oh, boy...) how did this happen?

easy. he's been eating nothing but mcdonald's and kfc and wendy's and anything else he could drive through, for years and years and years. when i asked him if he'd ever heard of the documentary supersize me, his face went blank. i don't know if i have the heart to give him a copy. he's got to see it, just to fully understand what he's been doing to his body.

we had a nice long talk. i gave him a book on good nutrition and stayed long enough to watch him try to eat That Food they brought in. as i rode the subway back to west harlem, i gave myself a flash assessment: i don't drink, i don't smoke cigarettes or pot and i don't do drugs recreationally. actually, i never got into alcohol or cigarettes or pot in college like everyone else did. i was way too broke to pay for that stuff. trying to feed myself every day was pricey enough. (yes, i'm that much of a tightwad.) i'm in the gym almost every day, lifting weights and running. i eat a lot of fresh fruits and fresh vegetables. i avoid things that are fatty and things that are fried. i don't eat fast food. my heart rate is 120 over 8o. i see my ob/gyn 4x a year and she says i'm as healthy as an ox. i moisturize myself into oblivion whenever i bathe.

here's the kicker: according to realage.com, i'm 26.

i don't know how to help my cousin if he won't help himself. at the end of the day, people do what they want to do, no matter what anyone tells them. all the talk in the world won't keep him away from burger king.

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