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 12 hour days.
He runs’s his own business in the insurance industry. He is very successful, has made money and taught younger staff, starting up in the industry. Nick also plays hard. He loves drinking with the boys, and when ever there is an overseas work conference, it was a four-day party.
Nick was a working-class boy made good, and liked to celebrate his successes.
Nick’s father had dropped dead of a heart attack in his seventies. Nick always said his father died because he wanted too. His life with Nick’s mother was not always easy. Growing up, Nick had noticed that his father’s lower legs were very dark. Nick sometimes wondered if his old man had circulation problems. Sure, he smoked. But then everyone from that generation did.
His father was physically active, working in the garden and walking everywhere. Few people in Nick’s parents generation had a car. Where as Nick is a typical baby boomer. He eats too much, exercises too little, loves loud rock music and drives everywhere. Nick comes from the invincible generation. He believes that he escaped his parent’s post-war poverty. ‘You won’t catch me scrimping and scraping to raise a herd of children’ he’d say.
“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 disadvantaged school program. They 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 for an hour. He thought he was going to die. Nick recovered and dismissed the episode. But he drifted towards exercising even less and ignoring his weight gain. Subconsciously Nick associated exercise with shortness of breath, and so avoided it.
In his forties Nick ended up at a GP’s office and was asked to have a blood pressure and cholesterol check. They both came back high. The GP was a typical man from his 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 ordered. You need to get drunk and get laid, thought Nick. He threw the script in the bin as he walked out the door.
As an insurance man, Nick had life and income protection insurance. He had been ordered to have a medical in his twenties, as part of the application process. The doctor had diagnosed an irregular heartbeat. However, he had told Nick not to worry, that this was not uncommon. The GP did not share medical records with the insurance company and did not know about this diagnosis. Likewise the insurance company did not share medical records with Nick’s GP and did not know about his weight gain, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
By his fifties, Nick was overweight, had quit smoking and rarely exercised. He didn’t go on as many drinking binges with the boys, they were all family men and had settled down. By now Nick was divorced, had no children and had a girlfriend. She was a nurse. As soon as they had started going out, she demanded he take an aspirin every day. ‘Don’t argue, just do it’. He 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.
‘I’ve got something to tell you. 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 immediately. Nick was booked in that day. But this time it was at a public clinic. ‘No snobs’ his girlfriend assured him. ‘Just a bloke GP’.
The GP ordered an ECG. Then called an ambulance. Nick had already had one heart attack and was heading for another one. Three days later he was having Coronary Artery Bypass Grafts times three at a large public hospital. Nick 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 said.
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. The surgeon told him plainly 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. When he sees people in the media complain about the public health system he thinks they are crazy. He realises that electronic health records are essential to coordinate and integrate medical records. And that some health conditions could be picked up a long time before they reach crisis point.