THIS AND THAT: Graduation day without a cap and gown

March 4, 2018 GMT

Friday a week ago was graduation day.

There were no caps and gowns. There was no music. There were no flowery speeches. There were no tearful hugs from family and friends. There were no presents. But I graduated nonetheless.

Friday, Feb. 23, was the day I graduated from the Cardiac Rehab Program operated jointly by Aiken Regional Medical Centers and USC Aiken.

Most graduations are a dividing line from one point in life to the next. They are the demarcation from high school to college (or work) and from college to graduate school (or work). There are graduations from basic training or boot camp in the military that move one from a training status to full-fledged entry into service.

This graduation was the dividing line between shaky health and a new lease on life.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the past four months I arrived shortly after 8 a.m. with a collection of others whose heart ailments led them to the USC Aiken Wellness Center. We attached four leads from a monitor to our chests and torsos, weighed in, had our blood pressure taken and went on a regimen of exercise designed to strengthen ourselves – especially our hearts.

We worked our way up from what now seems a relatively easy routine to something more challenging. We were monitored throughout by a nurse or EMT, cardiologist Dr. Don Pennington and a group of USC Aiken sports and exercise science majors as well as program coordinator Holly Guy.

What started out as 10 minutes on a treadmill at a slow pace on flat terrain turned into a quarter hour on a hilly course and a brisk pace. Other machines, too, started out in easy modes and became more and more difficult. The nature of regular exercise being what it is, those tasks that once seemed difficult soon became simple to do. Ten minutes on an elliptical was once beyond my hope. In the final sessions, it was a breeze.

I worked most closely with my student exercise assistant Jazz Coach. We developed a rapport over the 36 sessions with her encouraging me throughout, watching my heart rate, checking my BP, admonishing me if I tried to do too much and ensuring that I never did too little.

As her last name suggests, Jazz was my coach throughout cardiac rehab. She completes her course of study at USC Aiken in May and will walk across the stage to receive her diploma. Then she hopes to be moving on to a graduate assistant position with a college basketball program. I know she will be a great motivator for young women in the years to come.

She has already shown an ability to coach a much older team of players in the Cardiac Rehab program. Jazz was not alone in helping me and my cohorts make our way through the program. Two other USC Aiken students were there throughout the program. Kaitlyn Moseley and Hannah O’Quinn were there each morning to greet us and help us go through the steps to improved health.

To all those in the Cardiac Rehab program, I give a salute of thanks for guiding me and the many others who they have helped. I entered the program as others were nearing the end of their time. Initially I watched with envy as these patients graduated and went on to resume the normalcy of life. At that point, I still had months to go before my completion.

As my time in the program lengthened and new patients were welcomed, I became the old fellow who had been around for a long time. Thrice a week my days started with a 6:45 wakeup alarm, a shower, yogurt and orange juice for breakfast and a drive to the Wellness Center. A routine is always comforting, and this was no exception.

Now I am on my own. No longer a part of that group, it is up to me to forge ahead and continue this recovery or sit idly by and perhaps encourage another heart attack. My plan is to continue with an exercise program, and to that end I enrolled in the Wellness Center. Its machines that were so ominous when I first went to that gym are now old friends.

Some people dread the thought of exercise, but I am looking forward to hitting the treadmill, the elliptical, the bike and using the weight machines. Graduation doesn’t mean we stop what we’re doing. It’s just a pause between one part of life and the next.

Jeff Wallace is a retired editor of the Aiken Standard.