I suppose I could've stopped recklessly salting my food a long time ago. And I probably could've been paying more attention to my cholesterol level and blood pressure for the last 10 years, too.
And looking back, I surely could've found more opportunities to exercise on a consistent basis, not just when I had a little time on my hands or summoned some extra motivation when I went on one of those ill-fated and short-lived missions to lose weight.
And the stress that comes with my job - I guess I could've found ways to deal with it better instead of bottling it up every day, assuming it would magically disappear by the time the next day rolled around.
But I didn't do any of this. I ignored my body, I ignored any possible warning signs of trouble, and on Jan. 26, I paid the price.
My body, apparently tired of the abuse, neglect and effects of a horrible diet, fired a warning shot at me that day in the form of a cerebral stroke. OK, stop right there: People, if you think you're too young to suffer a stroke or a heart attack, that they are an "old-person's" affliction, think again. I'm 42, and it happened to me.
The problem with us humans is we don't think about disease and sickness until we have to - until it's too late, until we have no choice. The lucky ones can go through life without ever having to deal with serious health issues, but for the rest of us, we live our lives, salt our food, and sit in front of our computer monitors day in and day out, hardly ever concerning ourselves with what's going on inside our bodies.
If we feel OK, everything, we assume, is OK. That's not OK.
I'm paying attention to my body now because I have to, when all along I should've started doing it years ago because I wanted to. Years of not taking care of myself put me flat on my back in the emergency room and then at Sanford in Sioux Falls, where I was poked, prodded and tested for three days. Years of not watching what I put in my mouth have left me overweight and chalking up big numbers on health tests that you don't want to score big numbers on.
I've spoiled my taste buds without caring about the consequences, and now, because I've painted myself into this corner, I'm doing an extreme makeover on my body.
To start with, I now begin my day by taking six pills. Then I take another one in the afternoon and another before bedtime. Some of these pills you have heard about - you know, the ones advertised on TV that come with all the side effects. I can attest to the side effects. Not fun.
I've also learned how to take my own blood pressure. It's pretty easy to do, and after the first time I did it, I wondered to myself: Why didn't I do this before? Why didn't I teach myself about high blood pressure, even when I've known for some time that I have hypertension?
I'm an idiot, that's why. A 40-something-year-old idiot who walks around like he's 25.
I'm also eating differently. I've said "sayonara" to salt and "ta-ta" to 2 percent milk. Now I eat fruits and vegetables every day and actually read labels at the grocery store. Pass the protein and fiber, please.
I would like to apologize to my body for the last 20 years. I've treated you poorly, I've taken you for granted. I don't blame you for getting back at me a couple weeks ago, I deserved it. And I promise to take better care of you - now and into the future.
As a public service announcement, might I add that you all do the same. It's true what they say: Life IS short, even though it doesn't always seem that way.