A Stroke of Bad Luck
- A Stroke of Bad Luck
Fifty years ago, a young medical student performed
an autopsy on a 9-year-old girl with golden-blonde
hair and a slender athletic body.
As the attending physician during her illness (he was
a second-year medical student at the time), Charles
Attwood was also required to perform a careful dissection
of the internal organs upon his patient's death. A few
years ago, he described to me, firsthand, the pain of holding
her heart in his hands.
What Dr. Attwood found in her coronary artery affected
him greatly, and shaped his future medical career. Bright
yellow thickening of the arterial wall indicated heart
disease. Her artery was clogged with atherosclerotic
placquing from cholesterol.
On Wednesday morning, my dearest friend suffered
a stroke. I spent part of the day with him in the
emergency room at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey
while a CAT scan and other tests were performed.
The Tuesday night before his stroke, he ate the
"steak-special" at Charlie Brown's Restaurant. This was
the 24-ounce New York cut that came from a cow and
was finely marbled with delicious saturated animal fat.
The meal was so good, that he splurged a bit and had
cheesecake for dessert. When indigestion and reflux
threatened to rob him of a good night's sleep, he took
that one reliable medicine which always works to buffer
the acid in his stomach, vanilla ice cream.
During dinner, his stomach immediately went to
work digesting that steak. After dinner, the cheesecake
neutralized the acid in his stomach, preventing that
organ from performing the task it was designed to do.
During his pained act of indigestion, the vanilla ice
cream neutralized the stomach acid once more, and the
contents of his stomach sac emptied into his large
intestine where the remaining food containing three
extra-large doses of saturated fat were absorbed into
I have heard Caldwell Esselstyn, a cardiologist at America's
premiere heart hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, describe
a pint of blood taken from a man who had previously ingested
a similar saturated-fat lunch. An hour after the blood was
drawn from the man's vein, a thick coating of fat had risen
to the top of that pint, and had to be skimmed before the
donor's life fluid could be infused into a recipient. Much
like fatty cream rises to the top of a container of milk
(before homogenization), so too did the saturated animal
fat from the foods he ate coagulate into the arteries and
brain of my friend, the man who suffered his stroke.
He is a warrior, this friend. He lives by that three-pronged
sword otherwise known as a fork. Live by the sword, die by
that sword. The stroke subtracted from the efficiency of many
of those normal daily functions that we take for granted.
His speech is now slurred. His vision is impaired. His gait is
not as lively today as it was on Monday. The doctors do expect
a full recovery. The stroke was a signal from a body under
siege. A body fashioned by the most intelligent of forces,
designed to send a series of signals, first subtle and then
powerful, when things go wrong. Indigestion, discomfort,
strokes, heart attacks. Some signals are soft, and some are
like the crashing of symbols at the conclusion of
Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Each of life's warning
signs are designed to alert the mind of the body to
alter an inefficient or improper behavior.
We as a society eat meat and dairy products because they
taste so good. Because they are so-called comfort foods.
Because the saturated animal fat creates wonderful taste
sensations upon our taste buds. Two out of three of us
who eat such food as our body's fuel will die of a
cardiovascular event such as a stroke or heart attack.
It is never too late to reverse heart disease. Day one
begins with a recognition of gastronomy's cruelest
joke. That which tastes the best, pizza, barbecued
ribs, ice cream, hamburgers, does the most damage.
The choice is to either live a life free of heart
disease, and not spend ten to twenty years dying like
the average American does, or give up those most
delicious hard-to-digest foods, and live a longer,
healthier, and more active, pain-free life in which the
body and mind remain true to the initial design plan.
My friend will improve. He may or may not return to
that same diet which causes strokes to occur. The quality-
of-life decision for him to continue eating delicious
fat-filled foods may result in shortening his life. Some
people say that a meal consisting of steak with ice cream
for dessert is "to die for." In the end, it is up to him
to come to terms with his future.