The Man Who Lived

Nat RussoHealth, Weight Loss 12 Comments

How many hours do we sit in front of a keyboard, going over our prose in painstaking detail, tweaking the minutiae of plot, characterization, and setting?

How many hours do we spend doing something about our health and wellness?

I bet the answer to the first question is a larger number. I know it was for me, but that’s no longer the case. 

I’d like to tell you a story about a person who was dying. That person is me.

The Prologue

After growing up as a child who was often bullied, and never quite fit in, I made the decision that my high school years were going to be different. As a teenager I was very active. I became heavily involved in the martial arts (Tang Soo Do), and between the ages of 14 and 19 I trained 3-4 days per week, for an average of 2-3 hours per session. And that didn’t include the copious amount of hours I spent outside of the “dojang” practicing what I had learned. Tang Soo Do was intuitive for me, and it didn’t take long to master new techniques. I had become a perfect mimic, and mimicry is often how one learns physical things. This culminated in a 1st Degree Black Belt at the age of 19. In reality I had earned it at 18, but I didn’t take the test until a month after my 19th birthday.

Inciting Incident

Somehow I got it in my head that I should enter Aeronautical Engineering school. Having Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University practically in my back yard in Prescott, Arizona, certainly helped the decision along.
I knew immediately I was in over my head. But, as I do in all things, when I bite off more than I can chew…I just keep chewing until I break my jaw.
In this case, “chewing” meant devoting myself entirely to my studies, sacrificing everything else that mattered in my life along the way. Tang Soo Do was one of the first things to fall by the wayside. You can’t pass those calculus tests spending 14-20 hours per week in martial arts training! 
Now understand that in order to maintain that sort of workout schedule, burning thousands of calories per day, you need to take in thousands of calories per day. When I was active in Tang Soo Do this wasn’t a problem. I burned everything off and then some!
But when I stopped working out my appetite didn’t change. In a single month I had gained nearly 30 pounds. I ate more and more junk food and worked out less and less. I eventually ended up in a career that involves sitting in front of a keyboard all day. And to make matters worse, most of my hobbies involved sitting in front of a keyboard as well.

The Setback

(aka “The Universe Smacks Me In The Face…with a cheeseburger and a pint of ice cream”)

Flash forward twenty years. Twenty years of fast food, ice cream, and a sedentary lifestyle. 
I started having an odd discomfort in my chest. I wouldn’t call it pain. More of an annoyance, really. It was a dull ache, in no specific location. I could have easily ignored it for weeks, telling myself it was nothing. And I did.
One night before bed I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in the center of my shoulder blades. I thought I had just strained my back so I laid down. The pain worsened. I got up and walked around the house and found that as I walked the pain subsided. But as soon as I would come to a stop, the pain would return. I don’t know how I did it, but somehow I managed to go to bed. I told myself it would pass.
The next morning, at work, I started having that dull ache in my chest again. I finally decided to call the doctor. My doctor has a thriving practice and it can take weeks to get an appointment with him. But when I called I was told someone had just canceled and I could have that time slot if I wanted it. The pain went away almost immediately.
A few hours later, at the doctor’s office, after being pain free for hours, my doctor was about to prescribe some stress medication and cut me loose. But as he was leaving he stopped.
“Something’s bothering me about this,” he said. “It doesn’t feel right. I want to get a quick EKG, if you don’t mind hanging around for a few more minutes.”
I’m not the sort of guy who says “no” to his doctor.
The nurse laid me down on the table, hooked up the leads and turned the machine on. No sooner had she flipped the switch than the pain returned.
When it was over, and the doctor saw the results, he got a look on his face that I hadn’t seen before.
“Mr. Russo,” he said. “Something’s wrong. You need to go to the hospital right away. I’ll call an ambulance.”
That was…most unexpected.
An hour later I was recovering in the ICU after having had a stent implanted in an artery that had become 95% blocked.

Protagonist Rallies Forces and Marches Into Act 3

Change doesn’t happen immediately in many cases. You’d think a near heart attack would have been enough…but it wasn’t. I spent three more years gaining thirty more pounds.
I wasn’t ignorant of the situation. I tried to lose the weight the best way I knew how. I hired a personal trainer and lived in the gym six days per week for about five months. I lost a whopping 15 pounds.
My cardiologist recommended a program they run out of his hospital called “HMR”. It’s a medically supervised program handled by the Endocrinology department. I figured what the hell. I’ll give it a shot.
During the induction physical I discovered I was diabetic…for how long I have no idea, but I wasn’t being treated. My blood sugar was 366 (125 is diabetic, by the way).
Within two weeks I was no longer diabetic. My blood sugar dropped into the 80’s/90’s and hasn’t been measured over 100 since. Now, a year later, I’ve dropped almost 100 pounds.
I still have a way to go…about 20 more pounds will do it. But I survived. I lived.
If parts of this story sound similar to yours, except for the ending, know that you can too. Dropping those extra pounds is more about the mind than the body. I couldn’t do it earlier because I wasn’t ready to do it…mentally. But once I made that mental adjustment everything came along for the ride, with remarkably little effort.
Yes I had to deny myself. But I didn’t look at it that way. I looked at it as choosing something else. Something that would extend my life and allow me to play with my future grand kids.
Yes I had to exercise. But I didn’t choose the same old exercises that were destined to bore me into failure. I found something simple and sustainable that I enjoyed doing: taking walks through my neighborhood and around the neighborhood where I work (where, I soon discovered, we have a beautiful duck pond and hiking trails that I never knew existed until I started exploring!)
There are some aspects of our health that we’re stuck with and will never be able to change. But there are others we can choose to improve.
So, writers, step away from those keyboards! Get up and out! Get your tennis shoes on and just walk your butt through the front door and keep going until you find something interesting. We’re writers, remember? EVERYTHING can be interesting!

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    About Nat Russo

    Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

    Comments 12

    1. Congrats on making such a profound change, Nat! As someone who knew you when you were working toward your blackbelt, it’s no surprise to me that you would recover your health. You’re ability to focus and accomplish great things is something I admired long ago and still do. I agree with your call to action. It’s so important to get up and move! Thanks for sharing your inspiring story! ~ Cheers, Jack

      1. Thanks, Jack! And know that you were one of the people responsible for making my high school years some of the most enjoyable days of my life.

      2. What an awesome and inspiring story, and good advice that I need to take. As a writer who also works a day job at a computer, I spend most of my day in a sedentary, technology-dependent state. Gotta get up, do the yoga and the weights, and take a walk.

      3. It’s so easy to allow the days to become weeks, and the weeks to become months. I’ve repeatedly shocked by how little it takes (in terms of lack of exercise combined with eating the wrong foods) to go back in the wrong direction weight-wise. A couple of slips per week and I’m up 5 pounds. Scary.

        On the bright side, my energy levels are through the roof! I feel better now at 42 than I did at 22. I’ve discovered it’s not so much about intensity in exercise as it is about consistency. Your body just wants you to burn calories, it doesn’t care how you do it 🙂

        Thanks so much for your kind words!

    2. I have your blog posts delivered to my email and always get something from each piece. Today is a wow! Thanks Nat for sharing your story. Brave and generous to do so. Inspiring. I am sitting in front of the keyboard with my smartphone next to me. I did go to the gym today but I now feel moved to do some yoga. Get up and move. Yes!

      1. Carol, thank you so much for your kind words. And thank you for subscribing to the blog! It makes me happy when I hear that people are getting something out of it.

        I try my best to share my experiences along the way, because I know there must be others like me out there who are trying to get their writing careers or hobbies on track.

        If I can ever answer any questions, just let me know!

    3. Well done Nat! What a transformation, (inside and out!). Changes like this take a lot of commitment, discipline, effort and steely grit and as you have rightly identified, weight loss always starts in the mind! When sitting at our keyboards for hours on end, hopefully your honest and powerful story will inspire us all to remember that we were made to move.

      Just imagine how effective it could be if doctors and weight loss clinics gave out copies of real life personal stories like yours instead of sticking to their traditional restrictive methods of weight loss.

      1. Absolutely! I tried all of the other methods, but unless the patient is choosing something proactively, as opposed to giving something up, they’ll never make that mental paradigm shift that needs to take place.

    4. I just saw this post via twitter. I too made a big change this spring, I quit smoking cold turkey at the end of Feb. Due to an athsma attack during a special time I was finished. So I really can relate to your advice. I agree you have to want to change. Congrats, what you have accomplished is impressive and very inspiring.

      1. Thanks, Crystal!

        I think the most important thing I learned from the process is that to make any significant change in your life, you just have to “be ready” for it psychologically. Once your mind is set, the rest will fall into place.

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