The same week I was about to publish my blog last month, my daughter Cara sent me the following. She said she didn’t have any particular plans for it, she just wanted to get her feelings down on paper, though she thought perhaps at some time she would post it somewhere, with my permission. I found it to be a super piece and asked if I could publish it here. With her permission, here it is…

My extremely hip, cultured (more so than me), fit, optimistic, healthy, and happy, 61-year-old dad contracted an uncommon bacterial infection that resulted in emergency surgery. In lay terms, an infection got into his bloodstream and started to break off into small pieces and travel to his brain (which could have been catastrophic, but thank goodness, wasn’t).

The importance of taking care of yourself through nutrition and exercise was ingrained in him at a young age by my grandparents, and ingrained in me, thanks to him and my mom.

One of the first things he said to me and my mom after surgery, besides calling me the bossy one, was, “We are so lucky”. But, it wasn’t luck. The outcome of his surgery and the progression of his recovery that would follow, was a result of the way he has lived his life and the way he has prioritized his health. I said to him, “Thank you for taking such good care of yourself.”

I am grateful I was able to take a leave from work to help my parents during this time, a time I learned a tremendous amount about myself and life that has forever changed how I live. It also changed the way I see and work with my patients as an Occupational Therapist.

Here are a few things I learned from what he went through, and what we went through as a family.

  1. Never stop speaking up. Not everyone has family/friends who can advocate for them. If you can’t speak up for yourself, who will? But also, always be kind. You don’t know what someone is going through. While my dad was in the hospital, we asked everyone to mask while in close contact with him, to avoid any other sicknesses while we figured out what was going on, and especially when we learned he needed major surgery. Everyone was respectful, but we got pushback from one medical professional. They had their right to not mask, but we knew we had a right to ask as well. As an Occupational Therapist who works in a hospital, sometimes staff members are spread thin, and are going through their own sh*t, as that person may have been on that day. But don’t ever stop speaking up for yourself.
  2. Prioritize excellent health. Go to the doctor yearly, find healthy foods that you love, learn to cook simple meals so you know the ingredients going into it, take your medication as prescribed.
  3. Prioritize exercise, but more importantly find ways to incorporate movement that you love. My dad works out every single morning and plays softball, pickleball and tennis because he loves them. I know that workout classes are best for me, because it is a dedicated time for myself, physically and mentally, and I prefer a structured time where someone is telling me what to do. I started playing pickleball in 2022 and LOVE it; it has been a wonderful way to meet new people, exercise, and learn a new sport. Working out doesn’t have to be a chore, it can be fun!!
  4. Ask for help when something doesn’t feel right. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. We know ourselves and our bodies more than anyone. I am forever grateful my dad asked for help the second he knew something felt off.
  5. Create habits/routines that are attainable and you can stick to. A wise man once told me it takes 21 days to form a habit (hint hint, in David Singer’s book, Six Simple Rules for a Better Life). After surgery, when my dad had strict precautions, including movement, food, exercise, and more, they weren’t life-changing for him. They were temporary adjustments/modifications while his body healed. For example, adding in simple exercises three times a day, for someone who had been logging 10,000+ steps a day for many years, wasn’t a big deal – his amazing routines made maintaining and keeping up with healthy habits stick. I couldn’t stop thinking about how hard these changes would be for someone who didn’t care for themselves the way he has. And I still laugh thinking about how genuinely bummed he was that he wouldn’t be able to eat spinach for three months because it would interfere with a medication he was taking.
  6. A lot of life you can’t control, but focus on what you can There are so many fluky things that life throws at us, but there are so many things we can control to prevent. Some thought my dad was a bit obsessive about exercise all these years. I may have been one of them. But this whole situation could have looked a lot different had my dad not been so disciplined about the things in his life he can control.
  7. The ability to move your body every single day is a privilege. It is also excellent for your health. Find ways that are fun, engaging, and that motivate you, so moving your body is not a chore, and never forget that it is a privilege.

This was the scariest and hardest experience of my life, but I’ve learned so much from it. Life is fragile. Take every day as it comes, focus on prioritizing health/exercise/healthy habits, and spend time with those that mean the most to you. Life is too short not to.