I have always thanked God for keeping me away from the operation table of any hospital for the last 72 years of my life. Even on occasions when surgeries were suggested as a solution for specific problems, I managed to escape by using alternate theraphies. That record has been broken.
In spite of the usual illnesses that a person goes through in his life, I have generally led a healthy life, thanks to my never failing morning walks and regular food habits.
During my career in the high stress profession of advertising where one is constantly fighting deadlines, where people make do with junk food at odd hours, I would ensure that I had a quick bite of whatever food I brought from home at the right time. I had never allowed myself to starve for want of time. However, while I don’t have a sweet tooth, throughout my life I have had a fascination for munching ‘bakshanams’ – a variety of fried snacks -the reason for my overweight and the extra girth around my waist! At last I paid a price for my over indulgence with the wrong kind of food!
During the last few months, walking and climbing stairs were becoming stressful. Since I had no pain in the chest I thought it may be related to my over weight. But on the mornings of 16th & 17th December, I could not walk for more than 10 minutes. I felt so tired and breathless that I had to return home without completing the walk. And then it happened!
Around 3.00 am on the morning of 18th December I woke up to find that I was having a series of spasmodic pain, starting from my shoulder, spreading to the left collar bone and reaching my chest, accompanied by severe breathlessness. But there was no sweating. Again I thought it may not be a heart attack. So I did not feel like disturbing my son who stays with me. After struggling with the pain & sleeplessness, I took a tablet of Combiflam which I normally take for any spasmodic pains in the body. Since the pain ceased I went back to sleep. I got up around 5 am and went through my morning chores. While I was feeling normal, my instinct told me that something was not right. I had never experienced the kind of pain I went through a couple of hours earlier. It always used to be a ‘pin -pricking’ pain in the chest, which most of us attribute to gas problem!
So at 7 am sharp I took my car and went to the nearest diagnostic lab and got an ECG done on my own. I took the report from the technician without waiting for the Lab expert`s comments.
When I returned home, my son who was about to leave for office saw the ECG report in my hand and became worried. I told him about what had happened in the night and assured him that there is nothing wrong in the ECG and I will anyway see the family doctor with the report. At 9.30am I drove the car myself to the clinic which is about 5 minutes away from my home. The worried look on the doctor’s face, as he was examining the ECG report, made me realize that something was wrong. He told me that the report indicated the possibility of my having suffered a heart attack and I must see a cardiologist immediately and be prepared to get admitted to a Hospital for a couple of days.
Without getting panicky, I rang up my son and son-in-law from the clinic and drove back home to get ready with a bag containing some essentials for a possible overnight stay at the hospital. Within 20 minutes both my son & son in law arrived and I was rushed to a nearby hospital run by a well known cardiologist. That is when my first experience as an in- patient in a hospital started!
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As soon as we reached the hospital my son rushed with the ECG report to see the doctor, meanwhile my son-in-law helped me get out of the car. In the next few moments I found a ward boy rushing with a wheel chair to the car and asking me to sit in the chair in spite of my telling him that I was well enough to walk in.
“No sir, you have had a heart attack. You are not supposed to walk”. (I did not tell him all that I had done after I had the attack).
I was taken straight into the ICU and after transferring me to a bed, all kinds of monitoring gadgets were connected to my body by three nurses, quickly followed by the duty doctor and the cardiologist himself, physically examining me. After instructing the nurses to give me some medicines and injections they vanished. One of the nurses inserted a tube in my nose. When I asked her what she was doing she told me that it was for the oxygen supply - inspite of my telling her that I had no breathing problem then.
Within five minutes, another ward boy came to my bed and after stripping me to my birthday suit started shaving my whole body, even those portions without any hair. Fortunately he spared my bald head where I still have some hair left about which I am proud! When I asked the ward boy, why he was shaving me, he said the Doctor would tell me. For the first time I was worried that I may be going for a by-pass surgery.
Soon the doctor accompanied by my son came back to my bed and said that since he suspected that I have blocks in my arteries, he would like to do an angio and if necessary do angioplasty so that I could recover fast. The alternative of treating the block with medicines had been rejected by my family, obviously because of the risks and the delay involved. Given a choice I would have preferred the medicine route with lifestyle changes and lived longer.
Since the hospital did not have a fully equipped operation theatre for heart procedures, I was quickly transferred to a stretcher and to an ambulance. A first time experience again! Accompanied by my son and the blaring siren, the Ambulance started speeding on the potholed roads of Chennai reaching a bigger hospital on G N Chetty Road, in about 20 minutes. It is a miracle that I did not have another heart attack, during the bumpy ride!
On reaching the hospital, and after making me wear the hospital uniform, a simple blue open gown, I was rushed to the operating table!
Again a few gadgets were plugged in and my right hand was made numb with some local anesthetic injection.
As I was fully conscious, I asked the doctor, what he was doing. He told me that they had found a 95% block in an important artery leading to the heart and were inserting a stent to open up the block. He mentioned about another 60% block which could be treated with medicines, later.
I was cool as a cat and just simply prayed. I recited all the slokas I knew.
Even before I completed the slokas I was told that the procedure was over and everything was fine. The doctor complimented me for being a good patient (for what, he did not tell me). When I came out of the operating room, I was surrounded by my family, all looking happy & very relieved. They told me that the whole procedure had lasted for just 45 minutes. And I had thought it was over in 5 minutes.
Any way the specialist doctor of the bigger hospital decided to keep me in the ICU for 24 hours, for observation! Another first time experience!
The ICU was a modest one with six beds separated only by curtains. Like they ought to be, they were strict about the policy of ‘no visitor’ inside the ICU. Since I was feeling absolutely normal and was confident of moving around on my own, the enforced confinement to the bed was irritating. I was not allowed to meet my son, who was standing by as an attender outside the ICU, even to give simple instructions / requests. The duty nurse insisted on my passing urine in the mug with a handle, because in the ICU patients are not supposed to walk to the toilet – lest they fall and injure themselves. But the real ordeal was reserved for the next morning.
When I wanted to go to the toilet for doing the big job, the nurse insisted that I use the bed pan placed near the bed. I said I would find it difficult. The nurse refused to relent as she had her instructions. She also told me that the ICU was fitted with a CCTV and her actions were being monitored.
I controlled myself and patiently waited until the doctor came on his rounds. I pleaded with him that since I feel normal and not completely bedridden, I must be allowed to use the toilet. He reluctantly agreed to my request with the proviso that the ward boy would stand outside the toilet while I keep the door unlocked.
Anyway the next twenty four hours passed with the nurses coming to my bed at regular intervals to give me some oral medicine or an injection or conduct some tests.
The next afternoon, I was transferred back to the original hospital in Mandaveli. The ride back in the ambulance was as bumpy as it could be and this time I was worried that the stent might get dislocated and I will be back to square one!
I was again admitted to the ICU in the Mandaveli hospital for observation!!! Unlike the other patients who were immobile, and some of them who were under sedation, I was feeling normal and hence became a source of nuisance to the nurses and the ward boys.
Staying in an ICU as a fully conscious patient can be suffocating and even claustrophobic as you are not allowed to do anything except take complete rest. Apart from the time you are sleeping the rest of the time you are lying on bed staring at the ceiling. And all of us know that an idle mind is the devil`s workshop! When a nurse objected to my listening to music on my Ipod, I objected to her objection telling her that I am only relaxing and the music was soothing. After another 24 hours of the ICU ordeal, I was given the good news that I was being shifted to a private room.
Oh! the feeling of liberation I felt when I occupied the well appointed room fitted with all modern facilities, is something which only a patient who has come out of the ICU will know.
While I was free to do what I liked – to read, see my emails, listen to music or watch the TV, visit the toilet without escort, or simply sleep - a new problem arose. A stream of well meaning relatives and friends started visiting me to enquire about my health, at odd hours. While advising me to take complete rest and take things easy from now on, they continued asking me questions and I had no choice but to answer them. I started feeling exhausted just talking to people.
On the day of the check out, while the nurses refused to accept any tips, a stream of ayahs and ward boys were hovering around my bed expecting something. The ward boy who played the role of the barber on the first day, came to my bed and scratched his head and grinned sheepishly declaring proudly that he was the guy who shaved me on the first day. I asked my son to pay him an extra tip because he had performed a skilled job.
With packed bags and baggage I returned home, sweet home after spending in all six days in hospitals with a stent in my artery, a new lease of life (as the cardiologist has given eight year guarantee for the heart) but minus a few lakhs from my bank account.
It was an expensive first time experience, indeed! And I hope and pray that it is the last such experience in my life!!!
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