Monday, October 29, 2012
"Clearly doctor," I replied. "Cairo is now officially killing me."
It is no longer simply a metaphor. I knew Cairo was frustrating, annoying, often agitating - but deadly?
I went to see the school nurse two weeks ago. My daughter had contracted a strange, but not particularly dangerous virus called hand, foot, and mouth disease (not the cow one). She had a sore throat, low fever, and a nasty rash on her hands and feet. The disease is quite contagious. So she was at home, supposedly resting while the virus ran its course. I went to work, but I wasn't feeling so hot myself - run down, depressed, exhausted. The nurse looked at me and told me to sit down. She wanted to take my blood pressure. It was high. She told me to come back and have it checked the next day.
The next day it was still high. And the next. Appointments were made. Blood work was ordered. Damn, I hate needles.
She sent me to the doctor; the same doctor who nine months ago told me that I was surprisingly healthy and would be even healthier if I drank red wine, cooked with olive oil, exercised more, and dropped a few kilos. I have been remarkably compliant in matters of red wine and olive oil consumption.
Apparently that wasn't enough.
It seems that both my blood pressure and cholesterol have moved up the charts from, "Drink red wine and try to get a little more exercise," to, "Take these pills every day for the rest of your life and dramatically change your lifestyle."
"So, have you been eating a large amount of beef?"
"No. Not really. I do eat entirely too much bread." Ironically, my pork consumption has also increased while living in Egypt. There is this great little Coptic store nearby that sells hand cut bacon. Also, I tend to binge on sausage and ham when we go for Friday morning brunches at the US embassy club house. It has been a delicious way to feel slightly subversive, a scrumptious and subtle protest against my life in Cairo. Now my bad cholesterol is up, good cholesterol down. I suppose Allah always gets the last laugh.
"What do you do to relax? Do you exercise much?"
"Mostly I brood and sweat as if I were exercising without actually doing any excercise. Do those count?"
It is hard for me to relax here, hard to exercise. My favorite things to do are to walk and swim. The streets are loud and chaotic, a little dangerous and uncomfortable for strolling. Swimming, the kind I like to do, is out of the question. Though I feel a sense of peace when I am near the Nile, I am rarely tempted to jump in for a swim.
In Texas I was stressed. My job was actually more insane and I was a regular at at least half a dozen local TexMex joints. I probably should have been in much worse shape than I am now. But in Texas I had outlets. I could walk for hours without hearing a single car horn, without quickly jumping out of the way of a careening taxi.
But things are looking up. Perhaps I needed a jolt to help me break some of my bad habits. I have replaced the daily lemon squishies and thick, melted mozerella sandwiches with raw veggies and cool, refreshing water. Breakfast now consists of only one (albeit large and strong) cup of coffee and a small bowl of muesli with honey. I am taking my pills. The doctor says that if I can get this under control quickly, I may not even need to take the dreaded pills forever. I have already lost some weight, my pants loosening after just two weeks.
But I know what really kept me relatively sane and healthy before I came to Cairo, and what will restore me upon my return home. It was the river that washed away the daily madness. I realize now that I am destined to be one of those crazy old people who wake up at the crack of dawn in any kind of weather, pull my swim trunks up too high, mount an old cruiser bike, and peddle down to the place where water magically pours from the ground. I will pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and serenly dive into the cold, inviting river that seems to make everything in this crazy life just a little better.