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25

AUGUST, 2015

Poor education
Lack of basic health care monitoring
Sudden heart attack

Nick has never been interested in exercise. He hated sport at school. Nick’s idea of running around is working twelve hour days.

He runs his own business and is very successful. Nick works hard and plays hard. He loves drinking with the boys, and when ever there is an overseas work conference, it turns into a weekend party.

Nick is a working-class boy from the East End of London.

Nick’s father had dropped dead of a heart attack in his seventies. 

When he was young, Nick noticed that his father’s lower legs were very dark. Nick sometimes wondered if his old man had circulation problems. Sure, his father smoked rollies. But everyone from that generation smoked.

Few people in Nick’s parents generation had a car. Everyone walked to and from work or caught public transport. Most people were slim, many were underweight.

Nick on the other hand eats too much, exercises too little, loves loud rock music and drives everywhere.

Nick comes from the invincible ‘baby boomer’ generation. He believes that he escaped his parent’s post-war poverty.

‘You won’t catch me scrimping and scraping’ he’d always say. ‘I want to enjoy the life my parents missed out on.’

I still remember my Dad shovelling coal in the morning, so we could have heating when we got up for school.

Nick made money and spent it generously. During his thirties and forties, Nick worked as a volunteer at a boys holiday program.

The camp ran a lot of physical activities. One day Nick was asked to run along the beach with the kids. Afterwards he collapsed and was so short of breath he couldn’t move. He sat on the beach, alone after all the kids had gone, gasping for air. Nick thought he was going to die.

However he recovered and dismissed the episode. But Nick avoided exercise and his steadily weight rose. 

In his forties Nick went to his GP’s office and had a blood pressure and cholesterol check. They both came back high. The GP was from the eastern suburbs area; slim, articulate, privately educated, a fitness fanatic and self-confident.

Nick hated him at first sight.

‘You need to lose weight and go on anti-cholesterol medication’ the doctor barked.

‘You need to get drunk and get laid’, thought Nick.

He threw the script in the bin as he walked out the door.

By his fifties, Nick was overweight, had managed to quit smoking and never exercised.

He had cut down on the drinking binges with the boys, they were all family men and now had families.

Nick was divorced and starting dating a nurse.

She sized him up and demanded he take an aspirin every day.

‘Don’t argue, just do it’.

Nick complied.

She tried nagging him about his weight, but he told her to shut up. She managed to get him to eat salads some evenings.

One day Nick told his girlfriend he had a confession to make.

‘I’m so short of breath on exertion; I can’t walk to the front gate without stopping to catch my breath. Now don’t make a fuss…’ His nurse girlfriend called a GP and took him to the public clinic that day.

The GP ordered an ECG then immediately called an ambulance. Nick had already had one heart attack and was heading for another one.

Three days later Nick was having Coronary Artery Bypass surgery at a large public hospital.

He was stunned by the speed and efficiency of the health system. ‘I can’t believe how well organised you are’. Nick had always kept up private health insurance, but his nurse girlfriend would not let him go to a private hospital. ‘You need the best care, and that is in the public sector’ she told him.

When he recovered, Nick accepted taking cholesterol pills. And beta-blocker pills, to slow his irregular heart down. He didn’t exercise. But he did stop eating bacon and eggs.

His girlfriend made him go to cardiac rehab.

He read on the internet about heart disease.

And he listened when the surgeon told him that even though the operation was a success, he still had ‘widespread vessel disease’.

Nick is now semi-retired. He goes on regular holidays and enjoys his life. Every day matters, and he knows it.

He realises that some health conditions can be picked up a long time before they reach crisis point.

Wikihospitals 2015.

200,000 heart disease, stroke deaths a year are preventable – Harvard Medical School September 2013.