Friday, May 17, 2013

Notes from the Cave

A lot of people have asked me in recent weeks about my cholesterol before my heart attack.  I've been telling people that when I had it checked in 2005 it was high, but I had not had it checked since then.  I couldn't remember what the number actually was.

Last night, I was skimming through my journal and discovered that I had actually written about it back when I had it checked.

To begin with, it was in 2006, not 2005, so it was seven years before my heart attack.  Ironically enough, I had the blood drawn March 20, 2006, and got the results "a few days later," which means that I may have learned about my high cholesterol seven years to the exact day before my heart attack (which was March 23, 2013).

Anyway, I didn't record the individual components (HDL/LDL/triglycerides) but my total number was 268.  Under 200 is the recommended healthy level, and anything over 240 is considered "high cholesterol."  According to the American Heart Association, anyone with cholesterol over 240 is more than twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease than people under 200.

For six weeks after that test, I altered my eating habits, reduced my drinking (actually quit drinking all together because my liver enzymes were high too), and started generally watching what I ate.  I remember the doctor specifically said that, because of my high liver enzymes, he didn't want to put me on cholesterol medicine because it can be hard on the liver.  

I was re-tested in early May of that year and the liver enzymes were back to normal, and my cholesterol had dropped 26 points.  I didn't record the conversation with my doctor, but apparently he was satisfied that my cholesterol was dropping and probably encouraged me to keep eating healthy and to get the cholesterol re-checked the following year.  As far as I remember, no discussion was had again of putting me on cholesterol medicine.

For the next seven years, I never had my cholesterol checked again.  During that period, my eating habits went downhill dramatically and became the nightmare I have previously described, I gained about 40 pounds, I had a second child, I started full time night classes while still working full time during the day, I began smoking, and I developed sleep disturbances, including mild sleep apnea, with abnormal sleep patterns.

I'll never know for sure what my cholesterol was by the time I had my heart attack, but there's little reason to believe it was anything other than through the roof.  If it was nearly 270 in 2006, it was probably 350 by 2013.  Even if it was still "just" 270ish, that's still very high.

I'll be having my cholesterol checked in about a month, and I'm very interested to see what it will be after three months of the healthiest living I've ever done as an adult, plus a high-dose cholesterol medicine.

In other news, I was off yesterday and today because this is my weekend to work.  I'll be going in a 10:30 tonight.  My third shifts are different now that I am healthier and don't smoke.  I used to have no trouble sleeping all day and therefore being alert and ready to go for an all night shift, and it helped that I took a lot of smoke breaks.  I usually also ate a very large meal in the cafeteria.  Now I sleep like a normal person, which means I have trouble sleeping during the day before a third shift, which results in being super tired all night, and of course I don't smoke anymore so I don't have that stimulant to keep me awake.  I also don't consume caffeine or sugary drinks anymore.

The result is that I tend to dread my third shifts now, instead of looking forward to them like I used to, because I know I'll be tired and lethargic.

Last weekend I went to the ER because I was having heart palpitations.  I've had them all along since my heart attack, but it alarmed me because I was having more than usual, and they felt more "intense," so I went to the ER as a precaution.  Blood work and EKG were both fine, but they put me on a 48-hour heart monitor just to be sure.  I wore it until Monday night and returned it Tuesday.  I'm going today to see my cardiologist to get the results.  I didn't really feel like I had many, if any, palpitations while I was on the monitor, so I'm curious to see if I had them and just didn't know it.

At my last weigh-in, which was Wednesday, my weight was down to 226.  That's nearly 30 pounds from my pre-heart attack weight.  Another 30 or so and I'll have reached my goal.

Call Me Nostradamus

In February of 2003, just before the start of the Iraq War, a Gallup poll showed that 93% of Americans believed it was either "certain" or "likely" that Iraq had so-called weapons of mass destruction.  You may recall, of course, that the existence of these WMD's (as they are called) was the primary justification for invading Iraq in the first place.  Unless you live under a rock, you probably also know that, when it was all said and done, no weapons of mass destruction were ever found.

The Iraq War officially began on March 20, 2003.  On March 28, 2003, I wrote a very lengthy entry in my journal, hashing out all my feelings after the first week of the war and talking specifically about the very widespread (at 93%, it was almost universal) belief at the time that Iraq had those pesky WMD's.   

Here's what I wrote: 

Why do I feel like the lone voice of reason in a vacuum of insanity?  Is the whole world insane, or am I the one who is crazy?  It’s an interesting question, and with each passing day, I get further away from knowing the answer...I mean, clearly, there are plenty of anti-war people out there who would agree with every word I've written tonight, but they are a small few.  Is it possible that the vast majority of Americans are just wrong on this count?
Deep down, I believe yes.  And I believe time will back me up on this.  This war is wrong, our reasons for being involved in it our wrong, our justification for it is wrong, and I believe history will show it to have been a big mistake for this country.  I do not believe much, if any, good will come from this war.  Sure, we will probably get rid of Saddam.  But you can’t bomb people into democracy... 
I guess we’ll see in another ten years whether you should call me Nostradamus.  

I don't want to say "I told you so," but....


Tuesday, May 07, 2013

10 Fun Facts About James Madison

James Madison, the 4th President of the United States

1. The oldest of twelve children, James Madison was born in 1751 in Virginia, the son of a prominent and wealthy plantation owner.  Called "Jemmie" by those who knew him, Madison's parents provided him with a classical education from a very young age, and Madison was fluent in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

2. Graduating in 1771 from Princeton University, Madison studied law and theology for another year before returning to his home in Virginia and becoming active in politics.   He became closely allied with Thomas Jefferson and served in the Virginia state legislature in the late 1770's, where he helped author Virginia's laws on religious freedom.  He also served in the Continental Congress during the 1780's.

3. Madison was instrumental in arranging for the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and his so-called "Virginia Plan," which he wrote shortly before the start of the convention, became the basis for the U.S. Constitution.  Among other things, Madison's plan called for three branches of government - executive, legislative, and judicial - two houses of congress, and a system of checks and balances among the branches.

4. Following the Constitutional Convention, Madison played a key role in ensuring its ratification by the states by helping to the author the so-called "Federalist Papers."  These papers were actually a series of articles published in major newspapers addressing questions about the Constitution and how it would work if put into place.

5. After the Constitution was ratified and the new government put into place in early 1789, Madison was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served until 1797.  During his first few months in office, Madison proposed a slate of amendments to the Constitution which became the Bill of Rights.

6. Madison did not marry until the mid-1790's, when he was 43 years old.  His wife, Dolley Payne Todd, was a widow whose first husband and youngest son had died in a Yellow Fever epidemic.  James and Dolley married in 1794.  Despite the fact that Dolley was only in her early 20's at the time of the marriage, and already had given birth twice, she and James never had children.  Dolley's sister was married to a nephew of George Washington.

7. Madison briefly retired from politics at the end of Washington's second term in office, returning to oversee the affairs of his plantation.  When his friend and political colleague Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801, however, Madison returned to Washington, D.C., and became Jefferson's Secretary of State.  In that position, he was instrumental in securing the Louisiana Purchase from France and maintaining neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars that were raging in Europe.

8. Madison was the obvious choice to succeed Jefferson to the presidency in 1808.  With the old Federalist Party of Washington and Adams in ruins, Madison won easily, winning nearly 65% of the popular vote.  His presidency was marked primarily by a growing economy, unity in politics, and the War of 1812, in which Madison and his cabinet was forced to flee Washington from the invading British.  Madison's vice-presidents did not fare well: his first, George Clinton, died in office in 1812, while his second, Elbridge Gerry, died in office in 1814.

9. Madison left office in 1817 and retired to his plantation of Montpelier.  His plantation, however, was in decline and Madison suffered financial troubles for the remainder of his life.  He also became obsessed with his own legacy, going so far as to edit and modify letters, papers, and diaries from earlier in his life, worried about how future generations might view him.

10. Almost 80 years old in 1829, Madison served as a representative to a Virginia convention aimed at amending Virginia's constitution.  It would be his last official duty in politics, though he would continue to publish political papers and support certain causes.  A slave-owner his whole life, he became a supporter of the movement to provide a homeland in Africa for former slaves.  He died at age 85 in 1836, the last of the Founding Fathers.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

10 Fun Facts About John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the United States

1. John Quincy Adams was born in Massachusetts in 1767, the son of John and Abigail Adams.  His namesake and maternal great-grandfather was John Quincy, a colonial British politician and military officer.  Adams' middle name was pronounced "Quinzy."

2. Adams spent much of his childhood in Europe with his father, earning a degree from Leiden University, in the Netherlands, when he was only 14 years old.  After his return to the United States in the mid-1780's, he studied law at Harvard and opened a practice in Boston in 1791.  He was fluent in most of the languages of Europe.

3. Though he initially resisted the urge to follow his father into a life of public service, he reluctantly agreed to serve in several overseas diplomatic posts during the Washington administration, and following those services, he remained in politics for the rest of his life.  Under Washington, he served first as the minister to the Netherlands, and later to Portugal.  During his father's administration in the late 1790's, he served as minister to Prussia.

4. While serving in his father's administration, Adams married Louisa Catherine Johnson.  Louisa's father was an American diplomat in London, and her mother was British.  Louisa and her siblings were all born in Great Britain, making Louisa Adams the only First Lady in U.S. history who was born and raised in a foreign country.  Together they had four children; in 1848, their youngest son, Charles Francis Adams, would run for vice-president with former president Martin Van Buren on the ticket of the Free Soil Party.

5. After his father lost his re-election bid to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, Adams returned from Europe and began practicing law again.  He ran for Congress in 1802 and lost.  Following this, however, the Massachusetts legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate (direct election, by popular vote, of U.S. Senators would not occur until the 17th Amendment was passed in the early 20th century).  Following his term in the Senate, Adams returned again to diplomacy, serving under James Madison as the minister to Russia and later Great Britain.

6. In 1817, Adams became Secretary of State for James Monroe, serving until 1825.  In that office, Adams was instrumental in obtaining Florida from the Spanish, establishing the modern border between Canada and the United States (in the Treaty of 1818), and authoring the influential Monroe Doctrine, which asserted U.S. interests in North and South America against European influence.

7. Adams was nominated for president in 1824, running against three other candidates in an election that is among the most controversial in U.S. history.  When the votes were counted, Andrew Jackson had the most popular votes and electoral votes, but not enough electoral votes to win the presidency (the Constitution requires the winning candidate to have a clear majority of the electoral votes).  As a result, the election was sent to the House of Representatives for a Constitutionally-required run-off election.  Speaker of the House Henry Clay was an opponent of Andrew Jackson and used his influence to sway the House to support Adams.  They elected him on the first ballot and Adams immediately rewarded Clay by making him the new Secretary of State.

8. Andrew Jackson was, needless to say, displeased with the result of the House run-off and accused Adams and Clay of corruption and backroom dealing.  With virtually no electoral mandate to speak of, and the enmity of Jackson's supporters in Congress, Adams' presidency was doomed almost from the start.  He served only one term before being decisively defeated in a rematch against Jackson in 1828.  The two men had become such bitter enemies that Jackson refused to pay the traditional courtesy call to Adams in the final weeks of Adams' term, and Adams did not attend Jackson's inauguration.  

9. Following his term as president, Adams became a respected elder statesman and, in 1830, was elected to the House of Representatives, serving 17 years.  He is the only U.S. president to serve in the House after his presidency.  In 1843, he had a series of photographs taken, making him the earliest-serving president to be photographed.  During his last term in Congress, he served alongside Illinois representative Abraham Lincoln, making him possibly the only man in U.S. history who personally knew George Washington and the other prominent Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln.  

10. Adams collapsed on the floor of Congress during a debate in February 1848 of an apparent stroke.  He died two days later in a room inside the Capitol building.  He was buried next to his parents in Quincy, Massachusetts.