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Cardiac Diary – too many notes

October 23, 2023

I have far too much time on my hands at the moment. This might seem odd, given that a heart attack a couple of weeks ago reminded me how little time – potentially – remains.

When I got home this week it was after exhortations to take it easy for a while, to let the heart recover – and blah blah blah.

What this means in practice is that all my usual physical activities – wood-chopping, marathons, municipal dump runs in which I single-handedly flip huge pieces of furniture into skips, restoring the house to order every time our grandson comes to stay – are off limits. I’m even told off for lifting a shopping bag out of the car (which, incidentally, my wife maintains I’m not allowed to drive, though I think there’s an ulterior motive – she claims to be terrified by my driving).

The result is both positive and negative. Even though I feel quite capable of doing all the things I’ve just mentioned, I now have an excuse not to do stuff which requires me to get off my backside. This is good for a while, until I remember that each hour of inactivity turns my well-honed body into a teeny bit more like a lump of jelly. Which of course shortens my life.

So I’m going to have to fill the activity gap with walking, which I find ineffably boring. But my normal outdoor regime consists of three or four rounds of golf a week, which is quite a lot more walking than might be sensible right now. Swimming is a possibility, but I much prefer outdoor swimming, which limits options in this part of the world given that the water’s likely to be freezing, laden with sewage or swollen with toxic floodwater.

But right now I’m in a bit of a hiatus. I’m being told what’s not safe to do, but not what’s safe. I hope to get some expert advice this week that will set me straight. The only guidance I’ve had thus far from the medical profession came from my local GP surgery. One of the doctors, who is not known for his empathy, suggested that I should start by walking short distances using a stick. This without asking me about my normal level of fitness and how fit I actually felt right now.

My gast was flabbered. A STICK? He’s suggesting I use a bloody stick! The assumption seems to be that I’m a cardiac cripple, shuffling around the house, wheezing from armchair to armchair and requiring assistance to get up the stairs at might. Not yet, mate. Not never hopefully. I may be in my early seventies but that shouldn’t imply an advanced level of decrepitude, as any number of my vigorous peers would testify.

Anyway, I have inactive hours to fill. I was warned that the aftermath of a heart attack often results in feeling low, depressed even. This is not the case for me, or at least not yet. But I do find my mind working slightly differently. I ask myself strange questions about silly things. Such as why we don’t leave the Loch Ness Monster, if it exists, alone? For what purpose do we obsessively try to prove its existence? To shove the poor thing into an aquarium or turn the loch into a real-life Jurassic Park?

And then I get to thinking about a real-life conundrum that might have faced me when I lay in a state of semi-collapse in Leicester Square. Two police officers were hovering, ready to try and resuscitate me if need be. One told me that he had done resuscitation on eighteen collapsed members of public in his career. Unfortunately fifteen of them died. The other guy had worked on three and they all survived. If I had the choice, who would I have asked to thump my chest? Not being a probability theorist, I probably have chosen the latter because of his 100% record. But would I have been right? Would it not have been better to go for the more experienced guy, given that the officer with a perfect score was more likely to fail with each successive attempt, whereas the guy who lost fifteen people had probably learned from the experience. Definitely grounds for phoning a friend. Unfortunately Daniel Kahneman isn’t a friend, so I’ll have to re-read Thinking, Fast and Slow.

I’m getting quite irritated by newspaper columnists whom I read regularly and usually find moderately entertaining. I pass over news articles I would normally read because I know what they’re going to say and they’ll be the same old bollocks. Same with politicians like our Minister of Education, who tells us that she’s going to introduce service levels to be imposed on teachers. Have these idiots learned nothing about the futility of decades of targets, quotas and service levels? Don’t they realise that quality can’t be defined by numbers, any more than that the beauty of a bird in flight can’t be captured by the measurement of beak, wing and claw?

Most difficult of all, as I sit in silent contemplation at times when otherwise I’d be out doing stuff, is Israel, Palestine and Hamas. I’ve written plenty in my time about the Middle East, yet I now find myself speechless. I have no appetite for pious homilies. Only a deep sense of pain and helplessness that there’s nothing I can say or do that might make the slightest difference to any of the benighted souls caught up in the conflict. Instead, I read lots of stuff, appalled at the suffering, the viciousness, the perversion of values and the emotional lightning storms accompanying the crisis. And then, bleeding heart liberal that I am, I’m appalled at myself for looking elsewhere when similar stuff happens in other parts of the world. Rohingya, South Sudan, Congo, Kashmir, Mexican narco wars and so on. And, of course, Ukraine, to which I do pay much attention.

Too many notes. As the Emperor Joseph said in Peter Schaffer’s play Amadeus: “you see, my dear Mozart, there are only so many notes that the human ear can hear”, or at least that’s what I remember from my lines when I played His Majesty in a production of Amadeus many decades ago.

Anyway, as the old ticker tries to return to its usual state of robustness, I shall fill the activity void with the occasional post on the subject of cardiac rehab and other topics, much as I did during the COVID lockdown. If you’re not bored to death by these ramblings, do keep reading!

  1. Gillian permalink

    About defibrillators . . . doesn’t matter much who’s working it, so long as they don’t electrocute you. What I retain from the training I had when one was installed in my village is “anything you do is beter than doing nothing”. Survival stats from Google indicate that speed of application is more important than skill of operator. Glad you survived without needing to be shocked

    • Not sure if they were talking about chest massage or defib. They did have a defib on hand if needed. But yes, I’m glad it didn’t come to that. S

  2. STH permalink

    Sorry to hear about your recent travails, Steve. Have you considered listening to podcasts as you walk? The Rest is Politics (or History), Empire, etc. Might be right up your street. Anyway, get well soon. S

  3. Doug Langmead permalink

    Steve, from your self-description, you may need the stick to beat off the advances of elderly women seeking company !

    In getting over a moderate stroke seven years ago I used to get up before dawn and walk for 40 minutes to an hour or so, mostly up and down the recently completed Dubai Canal promenade. I was rewarded with a complete return to previous levels of fitness and sporting prowess, along with a portfolio of some truly glorious photographs of sunrises, fog, landscapes and architecture.

    Its easy once you start and you will really notice the improvement.

    • Hi Doug, sorry I missed this. Yes, I’m sure you’re right. The field behind my garden isn’t quite as alluring as the Dubai promenade, but I’m doing it every day. In a couple of weeks I’m on a 6-week NHS rehab programme in a gym. I have a cross-trainer at home, which I’m not allowed to use for various reasons. Never mind. Patience is a virtue that I’ll have to learn in my advanced years! S

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