June 25, 2008

From Flab to Fab

Filed under: By Ellen Bittner — Administrator @ 11:32 pm

  By Ellen Bittner

Chapter 3. Using Weights, Losing Weight

Growing up in New York City, I went to school in a pre-Title IX era.  (Title IX, enacted in 1972, was the first comprehensive federal law to prohibit sex discrimination in educational institutions.  Its major impact was on high school and collegiate athletics, providing girls with equal access to physical education and sports activities.)

My high school phys ed classes consisted of calisthenics, which included doing sit-ups while a partner held your feet at your ankles; and exercises with mantras such as “I must, I must, I must increase my bust.”  Folk Dance, Jazz Dance, and Swimming (that’s another chapter) were some of the other courses that were available to women at the time.  Girls who wanted to participate in high school sports could become cheerleaders, which emphasized learning chants and dance routines.  This was also a time when women with muscles were considered “unfeminine” and sweating was thought to be “unladylike” (I still have an aversion to sweat.)

The gyms that I joined in later years were not that much different.  These women’s oriented fitness centers emphasized cardiac fitness (which is very important) over strength training, once again conveying the message that women should avoid developing muscles.  Fitness schedules at these gyms included step classes (beginner, intermediate, & advanced), and aerobics classes (low impact, high impact, dance, and hip hop).  I often felt uncoordinated and became discouraged with all of this choreographed activity.  Keeping up with the instructor and the music in these large group classes was frustrating, and I easily became bored with the repetitive routines.

As I aged, so did my body.  Along with peri-menopause came the usual weight gain and other physical changes associated with this “change of life” phase.  In order to avoid the characteristic loss of bone density and diminish the negative affect of my family’s genetics that I wrote about in Chapter 1, I decided to take action to improve my health and extend my longevity.

I had already tried the large fitness centers and knew they hadn’t worked for me.  I also knew that I wanted a fitness program that would help me counter the loss of bone density & metabolic changes that came along with menopause – a program that would involve resistance training.  I came to the decision that these needs would best be served by a personal trainer.

After doing some research on the internet, I went to visit several one-on-one fitness centers.  I spoke with the trainers there to get a sense of their fitness philosophies and approach.  I also wanted to be sure that the trainer I ultimately chose would take my current physical condition into consideration, and not use a “one size fits all” packaged routine.  When I met with Vadim Vilensky at his Fitness Studio, I explained my goals, and told him that I wanted to be healthy, not become a “weight lifter.”  His slogan “Fitness for the Real World” and his experience working with cardiac patients were contributing factors in my decision to work with him.

Most of the fitness centers that I had visited were full of machines.  But, the walls of Vadim’s studio were lined with resistance bands, free weights, kettle bells, barbells, stability balls, and mats.  There wasn’t a machine in sight.  These objects were all so new to me.  At first, I found all of this apparatus intimidating.  Before long, I realized that my body was the machine, and that I would be using my own body’s weight, strength, flexibility, and stability with the equipment.   Once I learned how to use them properly, I bought my own set of free weights and a stability ball so that I could “practice” what I was learning at home.

It’s been 4 years, and I have become much more comfortable and skilled with the equipment.  I have also become more fit, flexible, and athletic.  In terms of “Fitness for the Real World”, some of the lifestyle changes that I am enjoying are:

Then, I would take an elevator, no matter how short the trip;  Now, I bypass the elevator and routinely use the stairs.

Then, I had difficulty reaching my own feet to tie my laces;  Now, I easily squat down (& get up again) to tie the laces of 4 year olds.

Then, I needed to use a shopping cart to carry even a few shopping bags;  Now, I easily carry several shopping bags, or a case of water, in my hands.

Oh, and the business of not wanting to become a “weight lifter”, there have been times when I’ve considered entering a Power Lifting competition.  Who knows, maybe some day I will.

          To be continued…  


June 3, 2008


Filed under: By Paul Jason — Administrator @ 7:48 pm
   Paul Jason

  Chapter 12:   “Whoops!  We Have a Visitor”
Approximately thirty hours after I left the operating room I was wheeled on a gurney up to the “Intermediate Cardiac Care Unit” on the sixth floor.  Unlike my first visit there (prior to the surgery), I was now placed in a semi-private, as opposed to a private, room.

It was after midnight when I was wheeled into my new room. The overhead lights were out.  The light on the wall behind the bed was turned on and I was assisted from the gurney onto the bed with considerable pain and discomfort. At my request, the nurse brought me a couple of pillows to prop me up in the bed. My IV was checked, I was hooked up to some monitors, the light was turned off and I was left to my own devices.  The hallway lights, peering into the room, created an eerie environment. 

It was a standard type of room that I had been in many times before as a visitor. Upon entering, on the left, was a bathroom.  Beyond the bathroom was the bed reserved for me.  A movable curtain separated that bed from a second, parallel bed, which itself was parallel and adjacent  to the windows. At this time the curtain was drawn, and I could not see who occupied that other bed.  This was probably going to be my roommate for the next couple of days.

The ability to find a comfortable position in which to rest abandoned me and I spent the next couple of hours restless and perspiring. . . perspiring so much that I finally felt impelled to ring for the nurse and to request that my bed sheets and hospital gown be changed.  Whether this was precipitated by the emotional anxiety generated by my relocation from the CCU, or the sheer physical exertion of that transition, was unknown and not particularly important at the time.  The fact that I was wet enough to feel very uncomfortable was enough.

One of the things that you come to recognize after laying on a hospital bed for a short while is that vinyl liners reside immediately beneath the bed linens.  I’m sure they are there for sanitary reasons; however, they also serve as unwanted captors of body heat and are capable of fomenting linen-drenching perspiration in patients whose body temperatures can fluctuate continually for any number of reasons.
Of course the mere changing of bed linens became for me another exercise in pain and discomfort, requiring as it did that I shift myself around the bed to assist in the process.  Nevertheless, having temporarily achieved a drier sense of myself, I managed to fall in and out of sleep repeatedly as the next few hours passed.

Then, all of a sudden, at what I estimated was perhaps four or five o’clock in the morning judging from the quietness of the hallways,  the separation curtain rustled, and a short, squat figure appeared from the far side of it. The figure walked right past the foot of my bed, headed straight for the bathroom, and never even looked at me.

At first, in the dim light, I couldn’t decide whether I had just seen a man or a woman. A woman? I didn’t know they have co-ed hospital rooms.  I mean, I know that many colleges have had co-ed dormitories since my kids went to school.  But, even then, that sometimes means that alternating floors within a dormitory building are designated for girls only and for boys only and, at other times,  that rooms occupied by girls are located on the same floor as rooms occupied by boys.  I never heard of situations where one girl and one boy are assigned to the same room.  Hmmmm.  But, then again, in those college dorms, on those co-ed floors, I also know that some (maybe all) of the bathrooms in the hallways are co-ed.  Hmmmm.   But, I still didn’t think that hospitals have co-ed rooms.  Never heard of it; never saw it. 

The bathroom door opened, the figure trod back in front of my bed, never looking at me, passed to the other side of the curtain and got back in bed.  This time I was convinced – - – it was a woman!

And then another thought hit me.  This person was walking without any difficulty. How could that be?  I was in the ICCU.  I had to presume that all of the other people on this floor have undergone some type of cardiac procedure.  When that happens, you walk around with an IV dangling out of you, or some sort of monitor hanging around your neck, or bent over from the stitches they put in you, or something like that.  But this person had none of those impediments.  What is she doing here?

Before I could ponder the situation much further, I fell asleep again.

I was awakened by soft voices.  As I became coherent, I realized that the voices were coming from the next bed.  I looked towards the bed, but the curtain was still drawn.  However, the sun was starting to filter through the windows and the opaque separation curtain, and I knew that I had made it through the night.

The voices were Spanish voices.  Soon there was rustling again and the short, squat figure appeared, dressed in a bathrobe.  She plodded past my bed without a glance or a word and disappeared into the bathroom.  After some time, she emerged and then disappeared behind the curtain. 

Again, Spanish voices.  Now the curtain rustled a second time.  A man, dressed in a different bathrobe from that worn by the woman, appeared this time.  He glanced at me briefly as he passed my bed, but said nothing.  He, too, entered the bathroom. After a few minutes he  retraced his steps, and went behind the curtain.  It sounded like he got back into bed. Back in bed?  Wait a second . . . I didn’t know they had double beds in here!!  Curiously, as with the woman, there was no IV dangling out of him, and he wasn’t bent over either.  What’s going on here?  Who are these people?

Shortly, a nurse entered the room to check vital signs and the daily hospital routine began.  The woman reappeared from behind the curtain dressed in street clothes and went out into the hall.  Neither the nurse, nor anyone else, as far as I could discern, said anything to her.

The nurse checked the man in the next bed; there was some language difficulty.  He spoke very little English, and she spoke very little Spanish.

When she finished, I fully expected that the curtain would be drawn back so that I could not only see my co-habitant, but so that a little daylight be allowed to shine into my side of the room.  However, my expectations were dashed.  In fact, from the moment I entered that room, until the moment I checked out three and a-half days later, that curtain was never drawn back.

And with good reason. This couple had set up housekeeping in that portion of the room.
I have good reason to believe that the food service department delivered two meals to that bed at every meal.  The woman spent most of each day there, and slept there every night, sharing the bed with the man.  They spoke only Spanish to each other, so I could never understand anything that they said.  They never demonstrated any interest in speaking to me.

I can tell you that no matter how many visitors you have while you are a post-operative patient, there will be many hours in each twenty-four hour day when you will feel alone, isolated and depressed – - – depressed, even if you don’t know it.  Spending those moments in the confines of a private hospital room may provide the sanctuary in which to cope with your inner thoughts and to contemplate the future. But spending those moments within a semi-private room provides the opportunity to share your misery with a fellow human being who is faced with the same feelings of self-doubt.  However, being confined in a semi-private room occupied by three people, as I have described the situation, is demoralizing and demeaning: it lacks the quietude of the first alternative, and robs one patient of the camaraderie inherent in the second.
On my second day in that room,  one of their visitors asked me, in English, how I was doing.  I used the opportunity to pursue my natural curiosity.  It turns out that the man had been admitted to the hospital about two weeks earlier to undergo coronary bypass surgery.  However, he had other neglected health problems which rendered him a high risk candidate until they could be controlled.  Therefore, he had been laying around the hospital receiving some medications, being visited by his primary care physician and other doctors, and waiting to be told that the surgery could be performed.  Thus, his wife had moved in with him.

Also, by the second day in that room, I was starting to use the bathroom.  Now, instead of sharing it with one other patient, I was sharing it, on a full-time basis, with a non-patient as well. The room began to feel, well . . . crowded.

To my surprise, and chagrin, no one on the staff seemed to be concerned about the situation. Not the Administrative Nurse Manager; nor the Associate Administrative Nurse Manager; nor Patient Care Coordinators; nor the Registered Nurses; nor the Licensed Practical Nurses; nor the  Nursing Attendants; nor the Clinical Care Coordinators; nor the Monitor Technicians; nor the  Attending Physicians; nor the Residents; nor the Interns; nor the Physician Assistants; nor the Nurse Practitioners; nor  the  Unit Secretaries; nor the Service Associates; nor the Unit Manager.  No, not even the Registered Dietitian cared.  Nope, not one of them was concerned that three people were co-existing in a semi-private room designed for two patients . . .  and one was a very sick post-operative patient.

And so the old saw addressed to good-doers everywhere was visited upon me: “Let no good deed go unpunished.”  This was my fate. Voluntarily leave the CCU one day early, at the request of my surgeon, and join a menage-a-trois!!

My reaction to this scenario turned from negative to very negative. I felt as though I were trapped  in some fictional tawdry roadside motel of yesteryear, where rooms rented for one wound up being occupied by two, with curtains drawn and  profiles kept low in the hope that no one would say anything. Befitting the administration of the place, as viewed from my vantage point, I decided, right then and there, to dub it “The Motel Monte” and to use that descriptive name as the title of any document I might later generate about my hospital experience.





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