The pretty woman was standing by
herself at the party. “Where is your husband?” I asked, looking around for a
tall slim good looking middle aged man whose bashful smile crinkling his eyes
gave him a Marlborough ad look. I never saw them apart. They made a handsome
couple, their faces often lit with laugher. Her eyes welled up. “He died.” “He
DIED? How?” “Heart Attack,” she said and added,
“Two weeks back on a Saturday
morning. I left him watching the Westerns he loved, went out to do my chores,
came home with his favourite lunch and found him lying with his back to me on
the bed. I told him I had brought lunch. I told not to sleep like that. I told
him it would hurt his neck. I shook him and found he was dead.” I began babbling
groping for things to say, sounding like a pseudo doctor, as if going back in
time was a magic talisman that would bring a sweet human being back from the
dead. “Did he have high cholesterol? Were his arteries blocked? Did he do an
angiogram? When last did he do a stress test?” The pretty woman said “He did
none of those things. He never had any symptoms, you see. He didn’t feel the
need to get the tests done.”
I turned away as did she, to speak
to someone else. It was too late now. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered
the “too late for tests situation.” Every time it happens I am always shocked
because I think people know that everyday five people die of heart attacks in
this country. People know that we have among the highest incidence of heart
disease, cancer, diabetes and hypertension in the entire world. I personally
knew the gentleman who actually left the doctor’s office minutes before he was
due to do a cholesterol test because he felt it was a waste of time. He was dead
two months later, in a car park.
I met the young woman who would
rather die than submit to an HIV/Aids test “in case” she was positive. She died
six months later needlessly, untreated. I visited the older woman who lay in
hospital with an amputated leg because she refused to check her blood sugar
levels or to keep diabetes in check. People know this is all preventable. This
week a doctor that I hold in very high regard told me to go to medical school—a
testy (and understandable) reaction to my recent columns on calling for
accountability in the medical profession which many perceived as an attack.
Another doctor wrote online, in
response to one of my “medical” columns (in between many personal insults) that
it was NOT the Medical board nor the Associations’ job to educate people about
their health. He said it was my job as a journalist to do so. I am taking his
advice but I think everyone is responsible. The Government, doctors, the media,
and most of all, us the patients for our own health. We can’t simply whine about
the terrible system, the shortage of doctors, nurses, and equipment and the
hopeless mismanagement while shoving KFC down our faces. We have rights as
patients but we also have responsibilities, and preventative health care is the
way to go. We shouldn’t be needlessly burdening our hospitals and health centres
because we are eating too much salt, sugar, fat, wheat and meat and failing to
exercise regularly. We can’t blame doctors and nurses for our clogged arteries
after neglecting to eat fruit, nuts, vegetables, peas and beans. We can’t blame
doctors for our overweight children or their rotten teeth if we pack sweet
drinks in their lunch kits. I am not a doctor but a journalist who found tests
we should be doing on the Mayo Clinic Website. Please have a read and ask your
doctor about taking the tests that apply to you.
Blood Sugar Or Blood Glucose Test:
For Whom—Everyone over 35,
irrespective of their family history, should take this test annually. Why—It
indicates whether a person is diabetic or not. Blood Pressure
Test: Type—Measurement of pressure using an instrument. For Whom—Everyone over
30 should take this test once every three months. Why—Any rise or fall in blood
pressure (BP) can indicate the possibility of an ailment. For example, a rise in
blood pressure can indicate the threat of a cardio-vascular ailment. If the test
reveals high BP, a serum creatinine test should also be carried out to detect
whether the kidney has been damaged.
Test: Type—Blood Test
For Whom—Everyone over 35 should
take it annually. Why—It gives an indication of various fat fractions in the
blood like HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol). High LDL levels
could lead to cardio-vascular ailments.
Electrocardiogram (ECG) Test:
Type—An electrical recording of
the heart beat. For Whom—Everyone over 40 should undergo it annually.
Why—It indicates whether the blood
supply to the heart is normal. This could happen due to narrowing of blood
vessels and can lead to ischaemic heart disease (more common among men). This is
a condition when the vessels supplying blood to the heart are blocked partially
or fully due to fat deposits. Postmenopausal women are equally threatened with
the ailment once the protective effect of female hormones is no longer there.
test. For Whom—Women after age of 40, especially those with a family history of
breast cancer, should take it one in two years. Why—It indicates whether the
woman is suffering from breast cancer. Mammograms can detect the problem much
before it can be felt by self breast exam.
Type—Cells are collected from the
cervix, and studied for possible ailments. For Whom—All sexually active women
should take it once in two years. Why—It indicates whether the woman is
suffering from cervical cancer.
For Whom—Women over 50. Why—It
indicates the fragility of the bones and consequently, whether the woman is
suffering from osteoporosis.
Prostate Specific Antigen(PSA):
For Whom—Men over 50. Why—It helps
in detecting cancer of the prostate gland, which is located around the neck of
the urinary bladder. Post-50, the prostate gland in men tends to enlarge. This
growth is generally benign, but in some cases, it could be cancerous.
For Whom—Teenage girls
Why—It shows whether the patient
is anaemic, a common occurrence among the Teenager Girls. At this age, many
girls experience heavy periods, intense stress as they gear up for their first
board examination and anorexia as they become obsessed with their appearance.
These factors trigger anaemia.
Thyroid Hormone (T3,T4 and TSH)
For Whom—Menopausal women (in the
age group of 45-50 years) Why—The tests reveal whether unexplained weight gain
or loss and mood swings—usually labelled as menopausal changes—are due to an
increase or decrease in the secretion of thyroid.
HIV Test: Type—Blood Test
For Whom—Blood donors or
receivers, sexually active individuals, and couples on the threshold of
marriage. Why—To detect whether one is HIV +ve, a condition which could lead to
full blown Aids (a terminal illness).
Hepatitis B Surface
Antigen Test: Type—Blood Test
For Whom—Men and women with a
history of liver problems, sexually active individuals, and couples on threshold
of marriage as Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease. Why—It shows
whether the person is suffering from jaundice or not. Recurrent attacks of
jaundice could lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
It’s not an exhaustive list. It’s
a start and must be combined with a healthy lifestyle. If you don’t already,
begin actively participating in your health. I still wish the husband of the
pretty woman had done a routine cholesterol test. Who knows? He may have been
here at the party, laughing with her like always, if he had.