The history that saved me


“Almost” had a heart attack last week. As part of my annual medical the hospital arranges for an Electrocardiogram (ECG) as well as appropriate blood tests and the like, but I had managed to miss my ECG appointment. Never fear, the happy and efficient staff in the Check-up department, rescheduled the ECG for me, and I was all present at 8 a.m. on the Thursday.

After the ECG trace was completed, the sheet is sent to our Cardiology department, where one of our cardiologists reviews the tracing and sends the results down to the Check-up department.

All that went like clockwork, other than the fact there was a slight irregularity in the trace from one of the leads. Was this an impending heart attack? At that point I changed from being Dr. Iain, into patient Iain and an appointment was made for me with the Heart Center.

Now I won’t say that I was totally unworried by all this. After all, until me, no male member of my family had ever seen his 57th birthday, and all croaked with cardiac conditions. Was I next for the cardiac high jump?

I sat down with Dr. Prinya, one of our cardiologists, who asked me the standard questions covering was I a smoker (no), any chest pains, shortness of breath, swelling feet and legs, how much exercise did I do etc., and all my answers were the “correct” ones.

Dr. Prinya then scrolled up my history on his computer and all the blood tests from the past few years were very satisfactory.

He then brought up all my ECG’s for the past eight years and smiled. The slight irregularity was there in the previous readings, and had remained unchanged since 2006. The slight irregularity was not significant. The celestial invitation was not in the post.

The records from the past eight years had saved me from having exercise stress tests, angiograms, echocardiograms and more. That ability to be able to look back made it such that I could look forward too!

So where does all that leave you?

True story. A friend of the family has a brother who is diabetic and a nephew who is diabetic. The condition runs in the family, so obviously my family friend knows what his blood sugar is as well. But he doesn’t. No history which can show when (or if) the blood sugar starts to rise. No record of his blood circulation to the legs. No record of the condition of the blood vessels in the eye. No annual records of his blood pressure. Nothing!

Of course he has had good intentions to go and have a check-up, but other things just seem to get in the way. As they say, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

No, a good strong medical history is worth its weight in gold (or perhaps worth its weight in medicines you are not going to need)!

Look at this very simple fact – the longer you leave a medical problem in your system, the harder it is to cure it, but if you can nip it in the bud, it is easier. And even better, when you know there is a family history of some condition, being aware and watchful on that annual basis you will very easily be able to control it, and diabetes is a classic example.

Once again, looking into your medical crystal ball, unfortunately everything is exacerbated by smoking. Not just lung cancer, but all cancers, blocked arteries, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, the list is almost endless. The worst thing you can do for your future is to smoke cigarettes. The best thing you can do for your future (life and health) is to stop smoking. I can’t emphasize that enough.

Going back to the start of this week’s message, it is not too late to start getting your medical history in order. Every two years if you are under 20 and do not smoke. Every year after the age of 40. The hospital has some bargain priced check-up packages generally available during December. Try and stay out of trouble till then!