Growing up as a working class boy
If you are wondering why some people ignore medical advice, despite facing obvious risks, then read on.
Nick has never been interested in exercise. He hated sport at school. Nick’s idea of running around is working 12 hour days in an office.
He set up and now runs his own business in the insurance industry. He is very successful, has made good money and spent years teaching 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 is a self made man, a working-class boy made good, and likes to joke, cut through any pretence and stay level headed.
Nick’s father had dropped dead of a heart attack in his seventies. Nick always said his father died because he wanted too.
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, his father smoked. But then everyone from that generation did.
Nick’s father was physically active, working in the garden and walking everywhere. Few people in Nick’s parents generation had a car. In contrast, 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.
Nick remembers his childhood vividly.
‘I still remember my Dad shovelling coal in the morning, so we could have heating when we got up for school. No way did I ever want to do that.’
A hostility towards 'middle class Doctors'
Nick made money and spent it generously. During his thirties and forties, Nick he 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 eventually recovered and dismissed the episode. But he drifted towards exercising even less and ignored his weight gain.Subconsciously Nick knew that exercise brought shortness of breath, so he avoided it.
Subconsciously Nick associated exercise with shortness of breath, and so avoided it.
In his forties Nick was asked to have a blood pressure and cholesterol check, as part of his insurance cover. They both came back high. He was also diagnosed with atrial fibrillation,
The Doctor was a typical man from the wealthy area that Nick had moved into; 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, when he saw Nick’s results.
‘You need to get drunk and get laid’, thought Nick.
He threw the script in the bin as he walked out the door.
The GP only gave Nick’s insurance company minimal details. Nick’s lack of compliance with recommended treatment was never followed up.
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 a new 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.
Nick finally confesses he has a health problem when he can't walk to the front gate without getting short of breath.
One day Nick made a confession to his girlfriend.
‘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 girlfriend immediately called a Doctor. Nick was booked in that day. But this time it was at a public clinic.
His girlfriend had heard his complaints about the wealthy private Doctor.
There are no snobs at this clinic’ his girlfriend assured him. ‘Just a blokey GP. You’ll like him. He tells jokes.’
The GP ordered an ECG. Then straight away 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 public 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.
Nick makes some changes to his lifestyle
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 also realises that integrated electronic health records are essential to improving care. And that some health conditions could be picked up a long time before they reach crisis point.