Niel Vuolo on the head injury that may have indirectly saved his life.
This past August my wife, kids and I were at a playground, soaking in the sun and playing in the sprinklers. We got a call from my mother-in-law, some relatives who were in town to visit my father-in-law (as he was spending his final days in a hospice), had purchased some cabinets for her kitchen. They needed help bringing them into the house. I was drafted to spend a very hot humid afternoon carrying cabinets up and down the flights of stairs. This, surprisingly, turned out to be a potentially lifesaving event.
After the park, I dropped my wife and son at Target, while my daughter slept in her car seat. I drove up to my in-laws home and parked in the driveway. I went inside and brought down some cabinets without incident. It was very hot, and my sunglasses slipped off my sweaty head. My wife’s elderly uncle and I carried the largest piece down through the cellar doors. Without my glasses I was flying a little blind, but that was okay. Once we got it in, I rushed back up as someone was trying to get past my car. I misjudged the height of the ceiling and SMASHED my head into it. I let out a loud expletive as I clutched my head. Instantly, it was swelling and my hands were covered with my own blood. My wife’s aunt brought me an icepack and I put it on. Sort of in shock, I jumped into my car and went to pick up my wife and son.
By this time I couldn’t wear my baseball cap because of the growing bruise. She suggested that I go to the hospital. Not wanting to accrue the expense or show weakness, I tried to dissuade her and said I’d have a buddy who is a FDNY EMS take a look. I walked over to his house and as he opened the door, he didn’t see the bruise or anything, but asked if I was feeling okay. I said that I was a little light-headed and showed him the bruise. Just like that, we were headed to the emergency room.
Luckily, we got fast tracked into the triage department. While there they took my blood pressure, and it was astronomically high. I was coming in at 190 over 110 (normal is 120 over 80). All of a sudden, the throbbing bruise on my head was the the least of anyone’s worries.
I was given some meds to lower the BP and after an hour or so it lowered to the 170s, but that is still well above the normal range. For reference, the Mayo Clinic classifies BPs over 140 as Hypertensive. All of a sudden, flashing through my mind were thoughts about my kids at home, and how I can’t let them grow up without a dad.
Having grown up without a father myself (he passed away when I was five years old), it was not a situation I wanted my kids to deal with for the rest of their lives. Granted, my father was in his early sixties when he died, and I am in my late thirties – it freaked me out nonetheless. A doctor came to inspect my head, and I had a CT scan. I was okay, just a bad scrape and bruise, nothing to worry about, but I should take the prescription he gave me and see my personal doctor.
By the time I got to see my new doctor, my father-in-law had passed away and we were all scrambling to get the arrangements together. My BP was still high, but the doctor told me that I needed to get more active and eat better, along with a second prescription.
My friends, whom up to that time would spend late nights (after kids and wives went to sleep) watching TV and eating deli sandwiches , unilaterally decided to change our lifestyles. We downloaded the My Fitness Pal app for our phones. We weighed in and started taking long walks at night. That first night we walked for almost two hours, and every day we kept going. Our small group walks at least an hour a day at least five times a week, though usually it’s more. It doesn’t seem like working out; it’s like hanging out with your buddies, but doing something good for yourself.
I recently went back to the doctor for a check-up. My BP had dropped dramatically to 130 over 90, all of my cholesterol numbers were down by significant amounts and I have dropped 12 pounds. Honestly, it feels amazing. And the benefits are real and contagious. Clothes fit better, I look and feel better, but I know that I am a long way from my goal. My wife is also on board with my new lifestyle. We are eating healthier, lighter meals at home, my wife is taking Zumba classes at church, and we joined a gym. Hopefully, we are going to be around for each other for a long time.
I love sugary iced tea and snacks. When I want that kind of treat, I take it, but knowing full well that I will have to work those calories off. And that kind of responsibility is what my new healthier lifestyle is all about.
This article originally ran at NYC Dads Group.
Niel Vuolo is many things, a stay at home dad to two awesome kids, a writer, and a lifelong Mets fan from Queens, NY. You can read more about him and his adventures on his blog, Great Moments in Bad Parenting, and on Twitter, @GMIBadParenting