AS I enter middle-age (not to be confused with the "Middle-Earth" of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings), I am constantly reminded of the fact that unlike my teenage, twenties and even early to mid-thirties, I can no longer eat what I like and burn it off in the flurry of everyday activity with a bit of exercise. The reminders have mostly come from my family, some concerned friends (and church members), and of course my clothes.
Most recently, though, my own body has begun to send me signals; or started ringing its alarm bells.
We joke about our "Pacific dimensions" but the reality is that NCDs, non-communicable diseases, are taking its toll on the Fijian population. NCDs make no differentiation between gender, race, social status or political preference. In fact NCDs are the result of our own indulgence and negligence.
A few years ago, I was reduced to tears when still in my mid-thirties my doctor told me that I was suffering from high-blood pressure. I knew it was my own fault. Long hours of work in the ministry; late nights in discussions around the tanoa — important discussions but late nights around the tanoa mean high kava consumption and late night dinners, and lack of rest; and missing my daily sessions at the National Aquatic Centre (I went from swimming 3kms a day to 3kms a week if I was lucky); had taken its toll. Fortunately with medication, a change in diet, resumption of regular exercise and moderation of kava intake my blood pressure normalised and I was able to stop medication. This also meant that I could resume being a blood donor.
I have always been careful of my sugar intake as my family has a history of diabetes. My late father suffered from diabetes and I have always felt that this NCD stole him from us — he never had the chance to get to know my children. According to recent statistics, Fiji has the second highest mortality rate from diabetes. It has the highest mortality rate for circulatory diseases.
However my preoccupation with steering clear of diabetes (and perhaps high blood pressure) led me to ignore other NCDs. It wasn't until trying on an old suit that I realised that I was not only overweight but probably would be considered obese. However given the option between controlling what and when we eat and how we live and getting bigger clothes, sometimes we just opt for the extra-large clothes.
The festive season — also known as the "glad to be back home in the land of kakana dina" season has taken its toll on my body. Last weekend, I noticed the big toe on my foot was giving me some pain. Given that we live in a small and somewhat crowded house, I immediately thought that I had bumped it against something, or the like. However by Sunday the pain had become intolerable and I took myself to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital, convinced I had fractured my toe.
Although the medical staff were very busy, I was attended to in an efficient and professional manner. As busy as he was dealing with "real" emergencies, one of the two doctors at the Accident and Emergency unit examined my foot, checked my X-rays and informed me that I had a slight case of gouty-arthritis. (If this was a slight case, I have a renewed empathy for those with severe gout.)
I had a rude awakening from my imagined state of health and the reality check I just received. Granted my sugar and blood pressure levels were excellent, I had never in a million years imagined that I would have gout.
Living in South Korea for the past year and a half, I have been fortunate to have a very healthy diet. Seoul is also full of parks, nature trails, bike trails, walking trails and most of them and most neighbourhoods have outdoor exercise machines, sit-up benches etc. During my time at university, I made good use of the trails leading up the mountain behind our campus.
However, coming home during this semester break, I broke all my good habits and indulged too readily in the rich food we have during the festive season. Lesson learned the hard way.
Fortunately, this was my first incidence of gout, I've promised myself that it will be my last.
I remember a television advertisement in which the late former president and Tui Nayau, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara ended a promotional spot on healthy living by taking a swing with golf club and saying, "Health is Wealth". I suppose our current President, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau continues to exemplify this by his early morning walks.
Good health and wellness are supposed to be our natural state. As a Christian, I recall the words of Jesus who said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).
Perhaps we need to change our perception of abundance from the abundance of food on the table, the abundance of fast-food, junk food, tinned (rather than fresh) food and genetically modified food to the abundance of healthy food, exercise and healthy living — being in a state wellness — that we should enjoy.
Food for thought.
"Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity"
* Reverend JS Bhagwan is a Masters in Theology Student at the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.