I’d like to thank all the driven, intellectually capable, parentally pressured, often self-critical, high-acheiving types who studied endlessly and worked tirelessly (or who have, at the very least, been worked with insufficient allowance for sleep) to advance medical knowledge to the point where it was possible for a mere regular citizen like me to receive ‘the gift of life’ in the form of a stent. This effectively removed the 80% constriction in said artery (the so called ‘widowmaker’). With all my other arteries in seemingly good condition I find my self with ‘new heart’ and a renewed passion for life which, quite frankly, I’d had enough of earlier this year and was eagerly looking forward to its end.
Of course this new found ‘lust for life’ presents new challenges. The challenge of ‘what will I do for a living?’ immediately comes to mind. Sadly there is no miraculous medical technology that can help me with this. I’lll have to think of something myself!
I well realise that at the age of 63 it is way too late to consider a career in medicine – particularly as I was, at best, an average student – and a lazy one at that – so medicine never was an option (and my laziness knows no cure). That said, the one thing I might be able to do is bring recognition to the many medical heroes.
The epithet Dr may have lost some currency in recent years (Is the Internet to blame, or is it perhaps the anti-science Climate Change denialists?) but perhaps the collective ‘we’ need to remember that without these focused intellectuals we might all be dead! It is time to honour the encyclopaedic medical doctorate. Perhaps it is the overgrowth of PhD’s – with their ‘learn more and more about less and less ’til you know everything about nothing’ approach to scaling Academia’s vertiginous heights that has devalued the breadth of knowledge necessary to be an effective Doctor.
I’d like to start by recognising Dr Phillip Stowell – General Practitioner, who, when presented with a mole on my elbow – proffered as possible melanoma (I was seeking confirmation that it might be my ticket out of here!), suggested it was likely nothing but then started: to grill me on my family medical history, to take my blood pressure, and then to prescribe a bunch of blood tests and ambulatory blood pressure logging. All this apparently triggered by his alert observation of my “Frank’s sign” (earlobe crease) an apparently strong marker/indicator of cardiovascular disease (Really! Check it on Wikipedia). On the basis of those initial results he requested I get a “Calcium Score” which I duly did. It came back as 674 which apparently put me in the 90th percentile – I assumed this was a good thing. It wasn’t. He then referred me to a specialist Cardiologist by the name of Dr David Calquhuon. Dr Stowell also said I must cease and desist vigorous exercise.
I got to see Dr Colquhoun a few weeks later (He’s a busy man!). I immediately liked his office as it featured a book with a title along the lines of ‘1000 ways to Die’. I saw that he had the ‘dark humour I find in many of the medical persuasion – a trait I share despite my status as a medical ignoramus . Dr Colquhoun is not only a specialist doctor but also an associate professor at the University of Queensland medical school. He has a doctor’s typical encyclopaedic mind – which in his case seems to run very quickly too (quick enough to follow my grass-hopper-like ‘stream of consciousness’ questioning-style). President of the Queensland branch of the National Heart Foundation of Australia (NHFA), a member of the Scientific Committee of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), a member of the Scientific Committee of the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation (GMRF) and Chair of the Clinical and Preventative Cardiology Council of the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand (CSANZ), Dr Colquhoun is also a Lipidologist (expert in fats and oils) so knows a thing or two about cholesterol and the like. He was, at least initially, somewhat less alarmist – he said that he’s seen and successfully treated people with much higher Calcium Scores! However, he too said I must cease and desists vigorous exercise (or I’d likely drop dead before he’d had chance to fix me). He also booked me some more (expensive) tests – and summoned me for an echo-cardiogram the very next day (which gave him immediate cause to book me in for a ‘stress-echo the following week). That stress echo was followed by another slightly more rigorous one the next day – and the subsequent ordering of an Angiogram that he would perform at the earliest opportunity (about a month later – I guess the facility at the Greenslopes hospital is somewhat busy!).
Following (or rather during) the aforementioned Angiogram the name of Dr Paul Watson was mentioned. Apparently the Angiogram, performed by Dr Colquhuon, identified that I was very much in need of a stent in my LAD (Left Anterior Descending) artery. Dr Watson (no Sherlock, not that Dr Watson) it turns out, is the ‘Interventional Cardiologist’ of choice. A comfortingly confident man of fewer words than Dr Colquhoun, but with the essential decisive demeanour you really want in someone who is going to thread a wire into you heart, push a metal tube along it and inflate a ‘balloon’ inside said tube (stent) to 20 Atmospheres (that about 300 pounds per square inch in the old-money) in order to stretch it into place, pushing aside the arterial blockage and (hopefully) holding it all in place so that it doesn’t become a potential stroke initiator. Anyway, Dr Watson has, like all the above mentioned doctors, studied hard, practised lots and thus created the confidence in his own skills – a confidence his patients will, like me, greatly appreciate.
Anyway, the very next morning after my angiogram, a thankfully painless experience, I was again back in the now familiar operating theatre with the big computer screen. Dr Watson and his team of expert theatre staff quietly got on with it (quickly too) I swear it was less than 5 minutes between me being slid onto the operating table and Dr Watson saying “inflate to 20 Atmospheres”. A few seconds later they re-inflated to 18 atmospheres (presumably to make sure it was in nice’n’tight!). Seconds later still it was all over as the catheter was withdrawn and my wrist was wrapped with an inflatable cuff to stop the red stuff leaking out. The speed and dexterity – the sheer matter of factness of it – is a tremendous tribute to the Doctor’s skill (and to the skills of all involved). Whilst I wouldn’t recommend Cardio-Vascular Disease, I would recommend the experience of having a stent fitted (if needed) by such an expert team – it will put you in awe of: their skills and the immense debt we as individuals (and society) owe to the scientists that have developed such understanding and technology – and in particular to Dr Ulrich Sigwart.
You may also want to consider those early ‘guinea-pig’ patients who were brave enough to risk their bodies on testing these techniques at their inception (around 32 years ago). ‘Thanks’ seems barely adequate.