Jul 29, 2013

The 5 W’s and the H of Getting Up and Moving Your Ass

I was playing a game with myself. I recalled a famous personality of the past to test my memory. The topic of the day was who died from blood clots that went to the heart or brain or lungs. There were many.

David, David, what-his-name. Of course, I got it after a while. I was thinking about David Bloom, the weekend anchor of the Today show.

Although David is dead now--he died at 39 years old, I read that his heart and thoughts belonged to his family. In David’s final communication with his wife, Melanie, he wrote on April 5, 2003, "When the moment comes in my life when you are talking about my last days, I am determined that you and others will say 'he was devoted to his wife and children, he was admired, he gave every ounce of his being for those whom he cared most about… not himself, but God and his family.'

He continued, "My legs have been cramping up, and I really have to stretch them out tonight."
A day later, on April 6, Bloom died from a pulmonary embolism caused by a condition called deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). DVTs can occur when people have certain risk factors like clotting disorders and restricted mobility, like when Bloom was broadcasting from Iraq in the Army tank in which he was traveling.

(I’m going to tie this in soon. Wait a minute, will ya?)

In journalism class, decades ago, we were taught about the 5 W’s and the H: Where, Who, Why, What, When, and How.

“Always include them in the top one or two graphs [paragraphs] at the beginning of an article,” the professor said. 

The professor was right on, but journalism has gotten more creative since then and some journalists start off with an intriguing statement or question like “It was all about the water” or “Two plus equals four, right?” 

But I was a creature of habit when it came to journalism and I mostly started with the 5 W’s and the H, which made me think of sitting in one position as Bloom was, at length vs. standing.

Where: This information comes from one of the best in the world, the Mayo Clinic.  

Who: A group of researchers studied the problem of sitting too long.

Why: They discovered that sitting too long could cause health problems.

What: Sitting too long in one spot in excess of 2 hours could lead to high blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, and/or an excess of fat around the stomach.

When: The research was done in June 2012.

How: Sitting too much could increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

The organized paragraph would go something like this:

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic discovered in June 2012 that sitting too long could cause health problems like a spike in blood sugar, high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, and an abundance of belly fat leading to cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Stroke survivors, if they can stand at all, should stand more. But most survivors, at least the ones I know, seek out the comfort of a chair or sofa.

That’s why I’m going to the gym three times a week—to get off my a** and do something. 

As a writer, I  do a lot of sitting. But I know I should be standing more. So at most every two hours, I go for a break. I don’t mean a potty break because that would involve sitting, too, for women all the time and men half the time. I mean, men don’t have to sit to pee, but women…. You get my drift.

What I meant was, I stand sometimes to take a lengthy phone call. Or I go for a walk, up to the corner and back. Sometimes I stand to watch television if I’m sitting on the sofa too long. If you’re working, get the powers to be to buy a standing desk, or improvise with a high counter.

Bloom needed to stand more and stretch his legs. Maybe he didn't know about DVTs. Even if he did, he didn't think he could die from it. This situation reinforces my mantra, "You never know what's around the corner." Plus, the Army was on a mission. So was Bloom. Rest in peace, David Bloom.

Jul 9, 2013

An Accident Waiting to Happen, aka The Dangerous Treadmill Throws Me for a Loop

2009 was a rotten year for me, and brutish Mike Tyson as well. That was the year I had my stroke. That was also the year Mike Tyson's 4-year-old daughter, Exodus, died from a treadmill cord wrapped around her neck, strangulation style. (Her mother was busy, cleaning in the next room because they couldn't afford a housekeeper. All of Tyson's money now belongs to the IRS, but I digress). The point that Laura Cox made in '09, as a medical writer for ABC news, who informed us of Exodus' death, was that exercise equipment is dangerous.

Take treadmills, for example. Treadmills are risky pieces of equipment. Health club owners have an obligation to inspect their machines and tell members who use them if the treadmill is not in condition to work properly. Typical injuries connected to defective treadmills include back problems, spinal cord injuries, fractured bones, torn ligament and knee injuries, electric shock, facial fractures and lacerations, and traumatic brain damage. If placed too close to a wall or other equipment, a treadmill user may become trapped and the moving treadmill belt can access exposed skin which, in some cases, can require expensive skin grafts and rehabilitation. The problem with the treadmills has gotten so dire, there's attorneys out there who only represent treadmill injuries.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) documents cases, like the 86-year-old woman in Chicago who sued a health club after a treadmill malfunction threw her from the machine and then severed her right foot. How about this one? A 2-year-old boy was brought to the emergency, and he received treatment for a friction burn to his right hand after he got it stuck in a moving home treadmill. His mother, who had been running on the treadmill at the time of the accident, pulled the safety strap, but not in time to prevent the injury. The treadmill in question had safety instructions underneath the machine and were not visible to her.

West Bend Mutual Insurance Company says that adult injuries are "typically caused by deficient knowledge of the functions of the particular machine. From heart monitors to programmable routines, treadmills have become increasingly complex, and several advanced features can make operation overwhelming. When televisions, headphones, and magazines are added to the equation, it’s shocking more accidents don’t occur. Distractions, complexity, and exertion combine to set the stage for a potentially devastating trip and fall exposure." So true.

Here's where I come in. It was yet another day at the gym which, as a stroke survivor, was questionable anyway. But I always have someone nearby while I'm working out on the safe machines. This is my current regimen: The elliptical (safe), the inclined plates for stretching my hamstrings (safe), the treadmill (not so much), and the leg press machine (not safe at all). All my exercises are for the legs because I can't lift my hand independently. I hired a trainer at the gym, whom I liked, but he quit after two weeks of training me, and I got a new one to replace him.

Anyway, after the elliptical for 15 minutes and the inclined plates for 2, which I accomplished by myself because I safely could, I motioned to the trainer for what was supposed to be a 30-minute session including the treadmill, the leg press machine, and some body exercises he thought would be helpful. He was there in an instant because most trainers are usually bored at the gym with nothing to do unless they train somebody. I mean, my trainer was on a 6-hour shift and how long could he occupy himself by doing show-offs things like sit-ups and weight stuff.

I approached the treadmill, with the trainer right next to me, and got onto it by stepping up and transferring my hand from the cane to the side bar. The trainer took the cane off the treadmill pressed the appropriate buttons and I was off at 0.5 miles an hour. Then a few seconds later, I stopped the machine.

I said, "My safety strap isn't on. The last trainer said my safety strap has to be on in order to shut off the treadmill immediately in case I'm in trouble," quoting the last trainer exactly.

"But I've got you," he replied. "And anyway, that safety strap doesn't work sometimes. It pulls away from the treadmill. I've got you," he repeated again. Then he turned the treadmill on again.

I was going for about three minutes with my one hand holding onto the side bar, when I decided the front bar might be better. So I moved my left hand right under the treadmill's console. After thirty seconds, I realized the side bar was more comfortable, and when I moved my hand back again to the side bar, with the "I've got you" trainer right along side of me, something happened.

My feet did a turn around in which they were now facing the wall behind me. The treadmill was still running. And worst of all, I cracked my head on the cross bar. I began to cry. In that defining moment, I wasn't a jock anymore.

"Stop the treadmill," I screamed. "It's still going."

Everybody in the gym came running. Somebody, maybe the trainer, turned off the treadmill after about 15 seconds.

"You should have told me what you were going to do before you did it. It's the first time that I worked with you," remarked the trainer, as if the accident was my fault.

"Gwyneth," who brought me to the gym, showed up at the very moment. She said, "If I was there when it happened, the trainer would lose his [censored] when he made that remark." Gwyneth is a hard ass.

The trainer dragged a chair over to me and asked me to sit in it. He gave me a cup of water and I gave him the worst news.

"Every time I have a fall," I said between sobs, "I need to go to the hospital to have a CT scan, to make sure I'm not bleeding internally. My head is starting to swell up."

The trainer  looked like he was going to throw up. And the owner asked me if I required an ambulance. All I wanted to do was to leave there ASAP, worrying that my brain would burst yet another blood vessel.

I got up from the chair and sat of the bench near the elevator while Gwyneth made a call to the hospital, indicating I was coming soon.

The 10-minute ride to the hospital passed quickly, and I didn't have to wait long before I saw a triage nurse. She took my blood pressure and my temperature and said, "We are kind of crowded so you'll have to wait for the doctor in the hallway. In a gurney, of course." Gwyneth was brought a chair at my request. 

Another nurse came by to check my vitals--again--and a doctor agreed that the CT scan was the best way to tell if there was any internal bleeding. After the CT scan, I returned to the hallway and Gwyneth, and within a half hour, the doctor came over to my gurney and said that there was no bleeding and that my discharge papers would be coming momentarily.

Two hours and I was out. But some questions remain: There are three treadmills at the gym. Why did he have me on the treadmill with a defective strap? Why wasn't the owner told of the defective strap? And why wasn't the trainer's first instinct to turn off the treadmill? I'll never know the answers, and I don't care. Bottom line: the trainer failed. But I'm going back to the gym where I'll use the elliptical and the inclined plates. And the treadmill? Not yet. Not even with a safety strap that works. It's too soon.


After-the-incident note: The owner of the gym, who wasn't told the treadmill safety strap pulled away at times, told me after the fact, even if it did, the treadmill would stop running anyway. Why didn't the trainer know that? And was he not listening to the owner if she said the safety strap stops the treadmill if it pulls out of its socket? Maybe the owner didn't tell the trainer. 

I got lucky.