Thanks to high blood pressure, I used to do an annual health check. Something in my electro-cardiogram prompted the doctor to send me for a stress-test. In a couple of minutes, I was breathless and nauseated. I was made to get off and sleep on a trolley. A cardiologist was called and I was told I’d need to do a coronary angiography.
I applied for leave and went back two days after. Was I afraid? Yes, because I didn’t know what would be done to me, didn’t know what the outcome would be — it was a fear of the unknown. The room where I was taken had friendly people. Everyone was talking to me, explaining to me what was being done, but the apprehension wouldn’t go away. I was awake throughout the procedure. Thanks to the local anaesthesia, I didn’t feel pain, but there was a sensation of heaviness, and of something warm travelling through the body. That was something called “contrast” that they’d injected. I couldn’t see the monitor, but the doctor kept a running commentary of what he could see. Before I knew it, my leg was ‘free’ of the activity, a sandbag was put around it to make it immobile, I was covered with a sheet, and being wheeled back to my room. There, the cardiologist came and gave me the bad news: I had a single blockage and so I would need further treatment. He thought the condition could be tackled with medicines, that I’d have nothing to worry about.
How it all began
Medicine isn’t an exact science. Although in ninety percent of the cases with a blockage like mine, no surgery or angioplasty is required, I did. [In an angioplasty, a small device is inserted into the artery to open up the blockage.] When I went home, the feeling of impending doom kept me awake in bed. The nausea was still there. In addition, there was a pain in my shoulder. I thought it was because I must have strained some muscle during that stress test and this was an after effect. Then, there was a pain in my jaw. Shucks, I thought, as if all this isn’t enough, a toothache’s coming up. Then there was a mild backache, too. But it was that uncomfortable, insecure feeling that overcame me that was scary. My wife called up the hospital and described what I was going through. The doctor asked me to come over immediately.
I don’t remember anything of the ambulance ride. Apparently, the electrocardiogram that they did in it was wonky. It showed changes that indicated an impending attack. I was sweating a lot. In the Casualty, the physician explained to me that I needed to have a surgery, a coronary arterial bypass graft as it is called in doctor’s vocabulary. And I needed to have it NOW!
I was not involved in the flurry of activity: arranging for blood, money for the deposit, informing family, getting personal stuff from home, and the like. It was late night when I was brought into the hospital, and by the time I was finally taken into the operation theatre, it was early morning.
My post-operative recovery
It was sometime in the ICU that it dawned on me that I’d been given another chance at life. I had escaped death, thanks to modern technology. I felt a deep gratitude towards all the invisible people who did all research, and inventions -— who made this happen. I looked up to the technicians, the nurses, the ward boys, who were doing their jobs correctly, so that I could get better. I felt a heartfelt thanks to the teachers who taught them how to save my life. The post-operative recovery was smooth.
The life after
What has changed in my life? I go to work as before, do the same things.but no longer in the same way. I don’t take anything for granted. My food, my exercise, my medicines, my attitude, is important. Yes, I still get angry; I’m the same person, after all. But I tackle that emotion better. I make time for music and dance programmes, take all the leave I’m entitled to, and am less sullen with the children. I value every breath, every heartbeat, and I no longer think that I’m immortal. My experience didn’t detach me from material things, it made me more organised: I’ve written my will, made nominations in all my bank accounts, updated all my personal financial records and kept my family informed about them. I have learnt to put their needs before mine, and to actively do something about it. I’m still a wee bit afraid of death, but I have one chance at life and I must make most of it, while it lasts.
This narrative was facilitated by Sheela Jaywant, based on her interaction with an individual who went through a coronary artery bypass.