Better to change lifestyle before heart attack strikes than after

The lives of about 153 Australians a day are turned upside down when they have a heart attack.

Dear blokes,

It’s too hard to get you individually so please regard this as my personal letter to you. It’s important.

I’ll start with a question. When did you last go to your GP for a health check?

I hear a collective groan. I know it’s a pain in the various body parts but before you dismiss the question, imagine this.

Imagine your wife or loved one getting a phone call telling her her husband is in an ambulance on the way to the hospital with a suspected heart attack.

Imagine being in the back of the ambulance, paramedics feeding tubes and painkillers into your body.

Imagine your wife or nearest driving in a mental fog, rushing there not knowing what news awaits her.

Imagine your wife or dearest dashing through hospital corridors with the darkest thoughts of life without you going through her mind.

Imagine your partner sitting by your bed to the news that you’ve had a major heart attack.

Then imagine your dearest having to go and collect your son or daughter from school to tell them dad is in hospital: “Collect your books; we should visit dad.”

Imagine how you would feel when your teenage son or daughter approaches your hospital bed in the critical care unit and you’re attached to a dozen wires and machines monitoring your heart’s every beat.

Imagine your child’s thoughts. “How can this be happening to my dad. I thought heart attacks were what old people died of.”

Imagine what you would say to your loved one as you are wheeled into surgery to see what damage there is to your heart. “See you, hun”, “I love you”, “it’s gonna be fine”. She tells you she wants to grow old with you.

Imagine your wife or loved one waiting hours for you to emerge, pacing the ward, buying a coffee at the hospital cafe, calling a friend to keep her company, visiting the chapel. She just waits for news, with the worst thoughts lingering.

Such scenarios happen every day to people who never imagine this would happen to them. In fact the Heart Foundation says it happens to about 153 Australians each day. The foundation helpfully tells us on its website that there is one heart attack every nine minutes.

Imagine you are one of those.

Now imagine you are lucky enough to have survived your attack. You’re told it’s been a warning for you to change your habits, change your lifestyle. Exercise more, get fit, eat properly. Imagine your life changed forever: daily drugs; frequent home visits by a nurse; regular trips to the heart specialist.

I imagine you would think: “I should have gone to the doctor more regularly”, “I should have listened to the warnings” or “I should have kept exercising.”

Anyway, dear blokes, enough of the nagging and doomsday messages from me. I’m sure you get enough of that from your loved ones.

I do love your “she’ll be right” attitude. It’s endearing, uplifting and shows great optimism for life. But she won’t be right if you’re not around.

By the way, my husband had a heart attack last month. He’s OK and I thank the doctors and nurses at the Royal Melbourne Hospital for their care.

Neither he or I could have imagined this ever happening to us. That’s why I’m writing to you.

Best wishes and good health.

Josephine Cafagna is a writer and communications consultant. 

This article was published in The Sunday Age on 12 April 2015

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