Sunday, October 25, 2020

Affairs Of The Heart

I always travel light. In the third week February 2020 I got off a train with just my light backpack and started climbing the stairs of the foot-over-bridge (FOB) to get to the exit on the first platform. I climbed a few stairs and felt a stinging pain in my chest and a sudden loss of breath and couldn’t climb at the normal speed. I paused for a minute and then climbed the stairs one step at a time while clinging to the railing. This wasn’t like me at all. Normally, I would race up the steps. I finally got to the top of the stairs and the bridge and even as I panted, I thought the walk down the stairs at the other end would be more peaceful. It was nothing like that. Climbing down was just as painful and when I finally got to the platform, I sat down on a chair in the waiting area for about ten minutes. Having rested a bit and caught my breath again, I walked out of the station and took an auto to the hotel.

At the hotel, I flopped on the bed and rested for an hour or so before I got to my morning routines. I dropped all my plans and business meetings and decided to go see a doctor considering this was urgent business. I asked around and found a doctor. It was a clinic with lots of patients being given the same medicines and when the patient complained too much the doc asked his assistant tot give an injection. This was Arvind Kejriwal’s magic clinic. To all the patients the doc advised medicines in numbers. “Give her 64, 86 and 24” and his assistant, in a white jacket, knew what to do. I was wondering if he was really a doctor. Anyway, since my situation was terrible, I had to take the chance. When my turn came, I told the doc what my problem was. He checked my blood pressure and asked the assistant to give some medicines. He charged me 50 rupees and nothing more. I told him blood pressure was not my problem and that it was chest pain and congestion. But it didn’t seem to make any difference to him.

The medicines he gave cost another 300 rupees and I came back wondering if I should take any of it. The next two days I just rested in bed and felt slightly better as long as I didn’t walk or climb stairs. In the meantime, the Corona virus was gently making news while Donald Trump made a two-day visit to India. As soon as Trump departed, I flew back home not wasting more time in Delhi. Back home I again had a problem even walking 100-200 feet. I met my regular doc and told him the problem. He asked me to see my physician for a full check-up. A day later I met the physician and he put me through the ECG and all. He then told me that I had suffered a heart attack during the last few days. A heart-attack? I told him I didn’t feel anything and didn’t clutch my chest and fall to the bed or the ground like they do in Bollywood movies. He laughed and said I didn’t feel the symptoms as my sugar was too high. But in all seriousness, he wrote down his report, some urgent medicines and told me I should urgently see a cardiologist right away without wasting another minute. Urgently as in that evening itself.

It was 8pm in the evening. Where would I go searching for a cardiologist at that hour. I came back home and looked up the hospitals around me. There are plenty of hospitals around me – big ones and good ones. I found one, talked to him and fixed up a meeting for 10am the next day. When I met him, he asked me to narrate the whole story of what happened again. He then decided I needed an ECHO test to assess the condition of my heart. That test is like a sonography of the heart and it didn’t show great results. And that my Left Ventricle Ejection Fraction (LVEF) was as low as 30% as against a normal of 60% in a healthy heart. So, I had a coronary artery disease and would next need an “Angiography” to determine the course of action. I asked the doctor “what if I do nothing” and stick to the oral medicines. He repeated that they won’t know the nature and extent of damage till the angiography.

I had to tell my family and my dearest one to tell was my daughter. But she was abroad and I didn’t want to tell her on the phone or the WA. This was the first week of March and she was returning in a couple of weeks anyway. In between, I was discussing a program with a school and for that I had to travel to Coimbatore. So, while my daughter returned in the second week of March, I went off to Coimbatore for a couple of days in the third week. I returned on the 21st of March and the very next day all flights were shut down due to Covid. A couple of days later, a nation-wide Lockdown was implemented. So, there was total curfew and no movement. This was after a day of Ghanti Bajao and Taali Bajao by Narendra Modi. Life was thrown out of gear and there was no chance to meet anyone or go to any hospital. The Covid threat became so big that hospitals became the most dangerous places to visit. Shops were closed, including medical shops. I was lucky to find one and stock up on my medicines.

I quietly pondered the options available. I had started a project in school leadership in January 2020 and then pursued another school project. However, the lockdown put an end to all economic activities so that was another crisis looming. There was no sales and money was only flowing out. It was indeed a very peculiar situation. I did not tell any of my family members about this heart thing as I didn’t want to alarm them at the time of Covid. I finally told my daughter over WA as she was staying elsewhere. While she was shocked to hear about it, she took it well in her stride. As the lockdowns eased a bit, I said I would like to get a second opinion on all of it before we moved any further. Thus, through my regular doc’s reference I found another cardiologist. My daughter started regularly driving me to this second cardiologist for evaluation and tests and so on. And she pushed me to take the angiography with the same doctor who worked at a major hospital. But as fortune would have it, the doctor was struck with Covid and went out of action.

So we went back to the previous cardiologist at the hospital and had the angiography done. My young daughter took me everywhere for the tests and took notes of whatever the doc said. The angiography showed a lot of blockages. So, the doc recommended another test called the viability test to see whether I should go for an angioplasty or bypass (CABG). This viability test is some kind of nuclear test. They inject you with some radioactive chemical which shows up on the machine that scans you. Its like the regular scanning tunnel. And the tests showed a bypass is viable. The final thing was to do a Covid test as the surgeon and hospital recommended to us wanted a negative report. I took one on September 28 and put out this tweet for the benefit of my friends online:


At first, I was hesitant telling my young daughter about my heart condition and all that wondering whether she will be able to handle it. Far from my thoughts, she played a mature role in taking me for check-ups, driving me around and pushing me to see the doctors. She was not one bit hassled but handled the whole thing with an unflappable sense of going about business. If there were any emotions, she kept them well under check. The hospital had a nice room, with remote-controlled bed and a TV on the wall and on the day I got admitted I was watching movies on my laptop. But the occupation of the room was short-lived as on the next day, October 1, I was taken into the OT early morning and operated upon. My daughter and her mom waited anxiously as they would. The hospital did not allow any other family or friends in the waiting area of the floor. Any multiple bypass surgery does have its risks but that’s what surgeries are all about. I wouldn’t have known a damn thing as I was unconscious and under general anesthesia. It is agonizing for those waiting rather than the patient.

After the surgery, my daughter requested a video-conference with me and though I was unconscious, the surgeon did a quick VC so that she could take a look at me. I did not wake up till the second day after surgery and that too with catheters in my mouth, drains on my body, plastic and wire stuff down my throat through my chest. The first few hours were the worst waking hours. But while I went through those hours patiently, I asked to see my daughter. The nurses refused to allow anyone into the ICU. I threatened to jump off the bed and go out. They finally laughed and got my daughter, all dressed up in green like a hospital staff, to see me. I felt relief and told her I am ok. She gave me my spectacles and after that I went back to sleep again. I was in the ICU 5 days before being released back into a room. One by one the drains and the tapes and the things stuck into my body were being taken out as I slowly recovered in the first stages. That was the end of the adventure.

I was in the room for 3 days after being released from the ICU. My daughter was with me most of the time. We chatted and laughed over lot of things and watched movies together. From pushing me to see doctors, to tests, to getting admitted to the hospital to the surgery, to managing the high expenses – my daughter was a revelation in courage and patience. I reminded her of what I had written a long time ago in one of my posts – “Character does not develop in a crisis; it merely reveals itself”. While I was my normal stoic, undeterred self throughout the 7 months of adventure, my daughter showed character in a crisis that would make any father proud. And I draw the greatest satisfaction and happiness from that. I may have a new lease of life but the medical condition helped discover something more heart than a surgery. That even in a crisis there is someone with character and that is a redeeming fact of life.

Follow the blog on Twitter.


                   PayU (India).              Paypal (International)