Beware of driving, sitting, or flying with the widow-maker

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday July 30 2014 in Opinion
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Call it a pre-cautionary tale. One for which I have the owner’s permission to relate how close – and stupidly – he came to making a journey unexpectedly longer than planned. He also hoped to share it since so many of us also do as he did: make long journeys, sit too long, without considering the possible consequences of excessive sedentary postures.


And excessive does not mean that you have to be a driver, or a traveler. Oh no! Sitting for long hours without taking any active stance has consequences which are irreversible and deadly. Individuals flying from Europe on nine hour non-stop flights are particularly at risk. However, even if you do not make these long flights, or sit for extended periods at a desk, this tale, so regular in occurrence, might still be for you.


My colleague, of similar age as I, was to attend a family reunion in Florida. The route would begin from Toronto in early July. They would travel west to Pennsylvania, south through the Virginias and the Carolinas to visit with family in Georgia. Then, after several days, they would caravan farther south to Fort Lauderdale. By late July, he would return via New York and New Jersey…all of this before the first long weekend in August to avoid the long border delays coming into Canada. Then, by mid-August, with his spouse, he would travel to Trinidad and Carriacou for several weeks.


Again, such trips were not unusual for his family. They had driven west and north across Canada to the Rockies; and south and west across the U.S. to Texas and California. And why is this point significant? Because while younger, he had made these forays several times, and had done so safely. Now, despite aging considerably, he didn’t think in his mind, what his body already knew: that having become older, he required more effort and time to recover his strength than he’d needed before.


By the way, his plan on hastening by day through the Virginias and Carolinas was not reckless. He wanted to make as much daylight distance travelling between these states to try to avoid the night-time deer, most of them road-kill, you see driving through these states. Interestingly, many of these deer are fleeing, not predators like wolves. They are fleeing hunters, camouflaged with seasonal permits to take venison.


Many people smoke deer meat for personal and commercial uses. Any of these escaping deer frantically running into your vehicle could cause serious injury and death. Recently, one landed in the lap of a woman driving with three children. The impact flattened the roof on her car. Fortunately, neither she nor the children was hurt. Apparently, it had been struck by another vehicle on an overpass above her.


My spouse, travelling several years ago to New York, also bounced one. We were travelling at a modest 100 km/hour. In addition, we hit it, not full-on, but sideways on its rump. It also was not a large animal, and able to race into the undergrowth. Yet, my front right bumper was dented into the front wheel.


So, with plans so well made, how many of us have not been like my colleague? For us, we live life today, but in its yesterdays; meanwhile time forces us into its tomorrows. Thus, common practice does not make perfect. Instead, it gives us an automatic sense of familiarity and a false sense of security. We feel secure with previous processes and efforts which aging might have already changed beyond our recognition…a recognition that sometimes brings consequences which are unexpected and deadly.


Therefore, let’s again take this as a pre-cautionary tale; one in which we might gain some benefits of learning without also paying the harsh consequences. He did suffer consequences. For example, by the second day after arriving in Georgia, he was struck, first with severe pains in his right calf – the leg with which he’d done most of the driving. Thinking this was merely some strain to be expected from the long drive, he rubbed it with a balm and thought little of it.


Was rubbing his leg vigorously a good idea, or bad? Later that night, he was overcome with severe, sharp pains in his left lung. To compensate, he breathed shallowly, but eventually having to inhale deeply, he would gasp from the sharp pains his breathing caused in his lung. This he misdiagnosed as gas pains, and treated it as such. All to no avail. Whether or not he was upright walking around, or prostrate lying down, he was engulfed with fiery pains.


He took a pain-killer. Two. This brought temporary relief. Then, it started all over again, full-blown! Now with the plans for the Florida leg in jeopardy, he decided to return home immediately to seek medical help, and then possibly fly to Florida.


One look at him and the family doctor ordered him into emergency. There, he learned of the widow-maker. Because he had driven so long without resting and exercising, blood had settled, and then congealed in his right leg. From there, clots had broken off, with the possibility of lodging in his heart, his brain, his lungs, etc.


Cat scans and other professional treatments exposed one of these clots in his lung. He was luckier than most, including truckers, long-distance air travelers, couch potatoes, sedentary secretaries, others watching long hours of TV, or playing games. He learned that even if the widow-maker does not kill you, it’ll change what’s left of your life, forever.


In a 2009 article in Women’s Health titled, “How a Sedentary Lifestyle (Sitting Too Much Every Day) Can Seriously Endanger Your Health”, the magazine, specifically referring to women and their risks here, described being sedentary as a new epidemic called, “Sitting Disease”.


The article continued, “Even if you think you are energetic, sitting all day at work is common for most of us. And it’s killing us – literally – by way of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. All this downtime is so unhealthy that it’s given birth to a new area of medical study called inactivity physiology…”


My colleague, in addition to giving his spouse and their family reunion a terrible scare, should not risk flying anywhere for several months. He is at least alive, and able to share the details of his tale, one hopefully pre-cautionary for others of us at similar ages and urges; for others of us with similar risks for diabetes, stroke – and untimely death.

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