It is September 30. The newspapers had reports of celebrations of World Heart Day that fell the previous day. Of course, there were advertisements from hospitals offering ECG checks for free or at discounted rates. And then the phone rang.

It was my husband, who said he was in a heart specialty hospital. I didn’t sense anything amiss since he accompanies others occasionally. Then he said the doctor wished to speak to me. The doctor did not mince words when he said my husband had had a heart attack and that I was needed immediately to sign the papers to start the treatment. As he talked, Olivia Newton-John was singing ‘Heart Attack….. you are giving me a heart attack’ in the background, adding a theatrical effect.

My husband is one of those, who as teenagers, tried smoking for fun and got hooked. Every smoker promises to quit, but sticks to the cigarette and not the promise. My husband was no exception.

When he went to the terrace to smoke, our son would want to go along. His face would be downcast when his father declined. So I explained the facts about passive smoking. I had become used to my husband’s smoking habit, and had not thought how our son would feel about it. So a few years later, when the eight-year-old held a self-made placard that read, ‘Smoking is not good for health. Appa, quit smoking’, and walked up and down the living room, I was surprised and disturbed. I said a quick and earnest prayer for my husband to quit smoking.

I can’t help but marvel at God’s sense of humour. How was I to know that He would answer my prayer by giving my husband a heart attack! Well, He did and that is how I got that call from the hospital.

The doctor advised surgery, adding that nicotine had corroded blood vessels, leading to blocks. But my husband opted for angioplasty. The conditions were “No smoking” and “Lifelong medication”. Agreeable, except that we did not know about the side-effects.

As an independent professional, my husband was used to keeping awake for long hours. After a couple of days’ rest, he resumed work and came back at 9.30 p.m. the first day. He was not steady on his feet and his speech was slurred. After dinner, he sat in a chair and turned the TV on, as one is not supposed to lie down immediately after dinner. Within seconds, sleep crept over him, and my soulmate was snoring in his straight-backed chair. When I woke him up, asking him to sleep in the bedroom, he sauntered unsteadily to the sit-out. The next day, he did not remember a word of what I had said the previous night. When he went for a walk, he said he could see himself walking ahead. With his ‘out-of-body’ experiences and disorientation, the post-recuperation days were scarier than the hospital days.

“They are drugs after all and there will be side-effects,” the doctor said with a smile. The thought of such a lifelong predicament was unnerving. As my husband was blissfully unaware of his disorientation, it was I who had to change my outlook. So, it became a guessing game, to see what he would do or where he would go when I woke him up and told him to sleep on the bed. If he did as I’d guessed, it would be a ‘thrill’ for me; otherwise, a ‘chill’.

But thankfully, over time, the body adapted itself to the medicine. There is no ‘out-of-body experience’ now. The slurred speech and disorientation happen only when he works more and sleeps less. Of course, there still are funny moments that I could never have guessed — such as raising his hand, opening his mouth and going ‘glug, glug, glug’ when the glass of water is still in my hand. Only the severe actions give me the jitters. World Heart Day is a good reminder to everyone to take stock and to slow down so that the “lub dub” goes on.

(The writer’s email is: jencysamuel@yahoo.co.in)

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