It was supposed to be a simple, painless manoeuvre.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, one of America’s top cardiothoracic surgeons, author and popular daytime television host is explaining what went wrong. But this wasn’t a patient in need of a bypass. It was his dad’s much loved 1970 Porsche 911.
“The week I got my licence I got in the car and I wanted to move it to the back of the driveway,” he explains. “The driveway had a hill, a cliff at the back, so I decided that instead of doing it by getting the keys I would just push the car and I’d quickly jump inside of it.
“So I pushed the car, I jumped inside but of course those cars the steering wheel locked and the brakes didn’t work; I went off the cliff with the car without even turning it on.”
Luckily for the surprised 16-year-old, the car became wedged on a tree; a back wheel teetering off the edge. Oz was unscathed, the Porsche suffered some minor damage, and without even starting the engine, he recorded his first automobile accident.
Viewers of The Dr. Oz Show and readers of his books and columns (he co-authors the medical advice column The YouDocs in The Star) are familiar with his humourous, no- holds-barred style. From illustrating the effects of heart disease by displaying a grossly enlarged human heart to forthright discussions about orgasms the man Oprah dubbed “America’s doctor” has never shied away from a tough topic.
And when it came to the hanging Porsche, there was no hiding what happened.
“He was so angry when he came outside,” Oz says, recalling his father, Dr. Mustafa Oz’s reaction at the time. A Turkish immigrant who came the U.S. on a medical scholarship had high expectations for his three children, of whom Mehmet was the oldest.
“At least if I’d been driving the car I could have made an excuse. But it was the classic beginner mistake he called it. But it was more than a beginner mistake,” he says, adding he’s still teased about the incident to this day.
A decade later, he bought his first car: a 1986 Toyota Tercel. Like many young medical residents, Oz, who was finishing a joint MD / MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and The Wharton School and entering a medical residency program at Columbia University (he did his undergrad at Harvard) was busy with his studies and rarely made it home for family visits.
With a $5,000 loan from his dad, the deal was he would drive back home to Wilmington, Delaware every once in a while for a visit.
“That was the tax of me coming home. Actually that was a big part of the negotiation that I would come home — I would never go home — so if he got me a car, I would drive home.”
Married in his senior year of medical school to wife Lisa, Oz says the car also made it easier to ferry around his then pregnant wife.
He was grateful for the practical, albeit humble, ride.
“It was a very reliable car. It was a very simple car,” he enthuses of the econobox.
“We bought it new. They were really inexpensive. There was nothing special in it. I was really careful about the gas mileage. I adored that car.”
With an even more humble set of wheels for his campus commute — a bike — Oz says he got a reasonable amount of use out of the Tercel despite long hours of study.
Oz’s message is simple: eat right, exercise and live longer. Even small changes carry a big health benefit.
And though cars have contributed to North Americans’ sedentary lifestyle, he says there are options; at least in dense urban centres.
“I live in New Jersey right now and I rode my bike into Manhattan to go to work for much of my residency when I was training in cardiac surgery. I only started driving when I had to get to the hospital fast for big cases. I just didn’t have the flexibility to ride a bike,” he says.
“I lived in Toronto for a little bit when I was training and I have a little experience in your great city and it’s the same thing: for much of the downtown you are able to move around without a car.”
For those who are stuck in a car, driving (and being a passenger) doesn’t have to entail a passive experience. Brain exercises, posture workouts and parking slightly further away to ensure a walk are just some health strategies.
Oz has been discussing with his sister Seval, a new business development manager with Google who is working on their driverless car project.
“A driverless car, the fact that it could take you where you need to go and reduce the chance of accidents even if you are perfectly healthy is a really great idea,” he says.
For an aging population and people with disabilities the benefits of a driverless car could be groundbreaking.
But despite all the technological advances on the horizon it’s clear the romantic aspect of tooling around in his father’s Porsche as a teen remains a cherished memory.
“Whenever I had an excuse to drive I would get in it and drive it around and I loved it,” he says fondly of the somewhat temperamental ride. “ … and the purr, the sound of the motor when you turned it on was cool.”
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