These days we are all seasoned travellers. We don’t need to listen to basic aircraft announcements because we’ve heard it all before, and even if we haven’t, how hard can it be to escape from an aeroplane that has landed on water? Several thoughtful airlines have relieved staff of the routine where they are habitually ignored by the entire passenger body, by providing a video that never gets offended when completely ignored.
There’s something about the male DNA that means many of us don’t like to read instructions or take instructions but would rather figure it out for ourselves. While that’s all well and good when it comes to working out how to use a remote control, and the biggest potential liability is that we won’t be able to record Top Gear, it’s more of a problem when it comes to health.
There are all kinds of health instructions that are fired at us. Check your cholesterol. Keep your heart healthy. If your family has a history of heart disease, see your doctor. If you’re feeling a strange twinge, see your doctor. If you’re suffering from shortness of breath, see your doctor. Exercise. Cut down on red meat. Don’t step on cracks in the pavement.
It’s easier for many men to ignore these sorts of instructions. Fortunately, nature has created a failsafe mechanism; the Jewish woman. When my father was short of breath a couple of years ago, my clever sister Lauren said, ‘either you organise a doctor’s appointment or I will.’ He did, got a heart check and within days was under the surgeon’s knife for an emergency double heart bypass. Just in time. With the help of superb doctors, he bounced back to full health. Thank you, Lauren.
There are few things more scary than seeing a parent in a state of weakness, especially in hospital.
My mother joked that the doctors must have implanted a second heart because since the operation she could feel a strong pulsing heartbeat lower down in his chest. Except you’re not supposed to feel a heartbeat in the centre of your chest. Apparently that’s a potential indicator of an aneurysm on the aorta, when the main artery leaving the heart is expanding. If it expands too much, and bursts like an over-filled balloon, it’s game over. Some call it the ‘silent killer’. Fortunately, the doctors caught this in time.
I found myself back in the same position of helpless viewer, with daily skype video calls to his hospital room from 3000 miles away. It’s hard being away at times like this, so I jumped on a plane and am writing from London. The Biblical commandment to ‘honour thy father and mother’ has now been upgraded because you even get Airmiles in the process.
Every family has its difficulties, many have things a lot worse, and everybody’s pain is different. But that doesn’t make it easy to watch a parent who is weakened by illness.
My Dad’s most recent challenge was a bout of anaemia that led to the need for a blood infusion and iron tablets. While he was hooked up to the blood bags, which felt strangely appropriate for Halloween, we watched the film ‘Iron Man 2’. Inspiration is everywhere.
I love my Dad. There was always a mystique of awe as I was growing up and watching him perform at certain events. He’d usually be on stage at most community functions, as MC for school fairs, host for quiz suppers, or performing the songs from his former days as a professional folk musician. As an apparently shy 10-year-old I would ask the question ‘wow. That looks fun. Can I ever do that stuff?’ 15 years later, performing in front of 3000 people, I heard the universe gently answer ‘yes! Why not? That’s why I gave you this teacher’.
Nobody likes to be told instructions and it’s easy to ignore our health. We’re busy people. We’ve got emails to check. Get your heart checked, listen to those twinges. In the UK there are a bunch of free health checks on the National Health Service - free cholesterol checks, ultrasound for aneurysms, diabetes tests and free bowel cancer test packs in the post. While you’re at it, if you’re a man between 20-40 then make sure you’re on the ball for testicular cancer checks.
We all have challenging family issues at one time or other but it’s comforting to know that we can at least take some actions to reduce the problems before they happen. May all of your loved ones be granted a refuah shlemah – a complete healing for the body and soul.