I have an uncle who I love dearly. He is a wonderful person who treats everyone with respect and humility. He likes to make people laugh at his jokes. Everyone enjoys his company. He has two kids; a son and a daughter. The son is doing his O’ levels and the daughter is about to finish her BBA. Whenever we meet I chide him about his one bad habit – chain smoking. Like a broken record I tell him about the increased risk of heart and lung disease. He, of course, in his usual jolly ways, laughs off all my warnings.
Last year on a routine September morning, my uncle had a heart attack. He had been getting dressed for work when he felt that ominous chest pain. All of a sudden he was breathless and his chest started to feel tight. His wife saw him as he fell to the floor gasping for air. She screamed in panic, and before too long he was being rushed to the hospital. He was fortunate to make it in time. He ended up having bypass surgery, and lived to tell about it.
Many are not so lucky.
I think a lot of people can relate. Virtually everyone knows someone who has heart disease. Just about everyone has lost someone to a heart attack. By some estimates heart disease accounts for almost a third of all deaths in our society. This is an incredibly high toll, and it is entirely within our powers to reduce it.
It is a myth that heart disease affects only old, rich men. The fact of the matter is that heart disease does not discriminate. Women are just as likely as men to have heart disease. Heart disease can and does affect young people. And of course, illness does not care how much money you have in your pocket
The level of awareness about heart disease is a lot higher today than it was just twenty years ago. People are more aware about the risks of a high cholesterol level. They know smoking is not good for them. They know being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. Unfortunately this heightened awareness has not been accompanied by a decline in heart disease. In fact the incidence of heart disease is higher than ever before.
More than awareness and education, I believe it is a matter of attitude. As a society we tend to be cavalier about everything. We like to pretend that we are immune to consequence. Whatever happens to someone else, it won’t happen to us. And whatever we do to our body, it won’t eventually break down. Unfortunately this attitude fuels some of most self-destructive habits.
This reckless attitude towards smoking led to my uncle’s first heart attack, and I am sad to say that it will cost him his life, for he has not learnt from his painful experience. In fact, instead of finally quitting once and for all, he has resumed smoking! He believes that now that he has ‘new pipes’ supplying the heart, he won’t have another heart attack for a long time to come.
I don’t even know what to say anymore.