W&WP September 2004


Who Is Looking Out for You?

Don't put off that health check up; what you don't know might hurt you.

By Tom Dossenbach


Most of us are so busy that there doesn't seem to be enough time in each day to accomplish those things we deem important in our work and in our personal lives. In my case, I struggle to find time to spend with my wife, children or grandson. If you are like most people, you tend to neglect one of the most important responsibilities in your life.

This month, I want to get really personal and discuss an urgent issue that each of us must face. If I can get my message through to just one of you, I will be happy.

A Wake-Up Call

On July 7, I had to do something most of us would rather skip - go see the doctor. The reason for which I had to waste that time seemed silly to me. I needed a prescription renewed and my doctor insisted on seeing me before writing another. So, what could I do?

My appointment was at 2:30 p.m. I finally saw the doctor at 5:30. Yes, I sat in the waiting room for three hours! When I finally got to see my doctor, I was slightly irritated to say the least. Here is basically how it went:

"How are things going, Tom?"

"Fine," I replied.

"Any problems?"

"Not really."

"Still traveling a lot?"

"Yep. Maybe too much."

After a little more small talk and a quick review of the old prescription, he wrote a new one and stood to shake my hand and leave to see someone else who had been waiting three hours to see him.

"OK, Tom. Is there anything else?"

"Well," I stammered, as I felt something unexpectedly tugging at me to speak, "there is one small thing. It's no big deal, but I have been increasingly bothered of late with indigestion during my daily two-mile walk."

He sat down with a serious look on his face and proceeded to pepper me with questions about my condition. A few days later I had open-heart surgery for five bypasses!

During my three-hour wait to see the doctor, I had been wondering if I should mention the "indigestion" issue. I had experienced it for years when I walked for exercise. Was it getting any worse? Would I make a fool of myself by mentioning it?

Boy, am I glad I brought it up. My doctor did not let me sidetrack him as he insisted on a catherization right away. To my total astonishment, I had two arteries with 95 percent blockages, two that were 75 percent blocked and a 50 percent blockage of the left main coronary artery.

Who's Looking After You?

I was lucky - or blessed - however you want to view it. I have no heart damage and had no heart attack. But, what if I had not mentioned my symptoms to the doctor? What if I had experienced a heart attack during one of my travels? Could I have survived one while in Ho Chi Min City or deep in the Amazon rain forest?

While I am no macho guy, I've always considered myself healthy, vigorous and capable of taking on anyone in tennis and certainly anything this industry could throw my way. Boy, was I wrong about my health!

How do you feel about your health? Are you too busy to find out how good or bad it really is? Do you have a complete physical each year? (This is just not a guy thing, ladies, I'm talking to you, too.)

If you are like most in our industry, you live as if you were stuck on a merry-go-round, not knowing where you are really going. During these times of fury and uncertainty, who is looking out for you and your health? I hope today that you will get off your merry-go-round and do some serious reflection as you continue to read.

It's Your Responsibility

No one else can look after your health but you! If you don't, you will surely lose it. The responsibility for your own health is yours and yours alone. It is neither the doctor's responsibility nor that of your spouse or friends.

In my case, I only casually mentioned my "indigestion" to my wife, but she wasn't experiencing it - I was. I had it checked out about eight years ago, but the stress tests showed nothing. I could have had it re-checked many times over the past few years but didn't even mention it to a doctor until July 7. I just hung on to my merry-go-round -going round and round and round.

If you don't think you owe it to yourself, you owe it to your family and to your company to put your health at the top of your list of priorities.

What You Can Do

You have heard about heart disease risk factors. Do you have any of them? Do you take them seriously? I'm no doctor, but I would like to share 12 risk factors that I have learned about during my surgery and recuperation:

* Do you still smoke?

* Do you have high or moderately high blood pressure?

* Are you over 45?

* Are you diabetic?

* Have any of your family members had heart disease?

* Do you avoid regular, vigorous exercise?

* Are you overweight?

* Is your cholesterol too high?

* Do you add salt to your meals?

* Do you live and/or work under constant stress?

* Do you eat junk food?

* Do you get very little R&R?

Be honest and decide what the answers to these questions are. For every question you answer with a "yes," you are closer to major health and heart problems. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. The good news is that you can reduce your risk of this disease - even after a heart attack.

I hope I have gotten your attention. I'm going to be fine - but the odds were against me. Let my experience be a wake-up call to you as it belatedly has been to me!

My desire is that you take the state of your health more seriously than I did and do something proactive - now - while you have time. See your doctor regularly and change your lifestyle so you don't cut it as close as I did.

Seven weeks after undergoing open-heart surgery, Tom Dossenbach delivered the keynote speech at the Wood Finishing Conference 2004 in Atlanta.


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