McHenry County Opinion

Oliver: When it’s time to pay the piper, is it possible to stave off the inevitable?

Like a lot of people, I ate whatever I wanted when I was younger. I knew the piper someday might have to be paid for my penchant for fried foods, cheese and fries.

My husband, Tony, and I worked the night shift in the newsroom, and it was easier to get something from one of the nearby fast-food restaurants than it was to cook something and bring it for dinner.

We’d mix it up among the pizza joints, Chinese takeout and burger spots. Then for dessert, we’d eat doughnuts or ice cream concretes. Oh, so delicious.

Not surprisingly, we both packed on a few more pounds than we cared to admit.

The piper came for Tony first. When he went to his primary doctor, he was told his cholesterol was high and he needed to consider going on medication to bring it down.

We decided we’d try to alter our diet a bit and see if we could get his numbers down without medication.

By this time, Tony no longer was working in the newsroom, so we were able to eat more meals at home. He started cooking, since he liked to do that, and I happily ate whatever he made.

Although we were eating healthier, it probably wouldn’t have been considered healthy.

When he was tested again, his numbers hadn’t improved enough to avoid the medication.

Meanwhile, I was in a phase where I wasn’t getting my cholesterol checked regularly. Perhaps I was just a little afraid of what I’d find out.

The COVID-19 pandemic really brought home to me the need to take better care of myself. If something were to happen to me, who would take care of Tony?

That reality drove me back to my primary doc to get back into a yearly routine. Part of that is getting my cholesterol checked.

Part of my strategy was to not do anything special in the run-up to the test to get an accurate picture of what my level would be without any intervention.

However, one of my friends brought over some amazing restaurant Italian food. I couldn’t let that go to waste, could I? And another friend wanted to get together and we ordered takeout, which I don’t usually do.

My grand plan backfired spectacularly when I came back with a cholesterol level of 250 and a recommendation that I too go on the cholesterol-lowering drug.

Again, I asked for time to see if I could do something to change things.

Although I was supposed to go back in a few months for a recheck, life got in the way. And by that, I mean an emergency trip to a cardiologist, who was none too happy with my cholesterol level.

I had been out shoveling snow and didn’t feel well afterward. My cholesterol level and the chest discomfort I was experiencing probably had a lot to do with my being sent to the emergency room.

One stress test later, and my heart was cleared. However, if I needed to be “scared straight,” this might have done the trick.

These days, I’m diligent about eating breakfast, something I never used to do before. I swapped out my daily fried egg sandwich at lunch for more fruits and vegetables. For dinner, I’ve worked hard to find tasty dishes that also are healthy. As hard as that might sound, it really is possible.

This also has benefited my dear Tony. When he stopped being able to cook because of his Alzheimer’s disease, I had to find things I was willing to cook.

After many months of me manning the stove, we’ve hit on a number of winners. When we’re home, we eat a lot healthier than we ever did in the past.

When we’re out, which these days isn’t all that often, we eat whatever we want. However, I still find myself making smarter choices than I did in the past.

Was all the effort worth it? My cholesterol number dropped by more than 40 points when I was tested recently. No drugs for me.

I still have more work to do, this time to add consistent exercise. But now I have some success on which to build.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.