Sunday, October 23, 2005

Rx.. Care of the heart

Those of you who want to prevent a heart-attack or some of you who have already suffered a heart attack but want to prevent the next one, take heart. Your doctor can now prescribe the latest class of statins which, by lowering cholesterol levels, can cut down the risk of heart attack by 30%. The dosage will vary from person to person and will be determined by a simple formula. The doctor will examine your salary slip closely and fix the dosage in such a way that you spend 50% of your salary on the statins. That's the simple formula.

But statins are known to interfere with the functioning of the liver and can also cause muscular atrophy in 0.0005% of the patients. So your doctor, ever alert to business opportunities, will prescribe additional drugs to tone-up the liver, apart from inorganic supplements to make up for the weakening of the muscles. Some of these supplements can increase the toxicity of the blood and can affect the kidneys. So you would be forwarded to a nephrologist who will quickly assess how promising a candidate you are for a kidney transplant . He will also make a mental note to refer a patient with mild urinary infection to your cardiologist for a routine ECG, as a return favour. The entire medical fraternity subscribes to this quid pro quo arrangement.

Back to the heart. Statins also need to be supported by ACE inhibitors which help dilate the blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. Controlled experiments on rats have shown that those rats that were administered ACE inhibitors, lived a week longer than those that went without the drug. Considering that a rat lives for hardly 16 weeks on an average, a week’s extension is significant. What works on a rat must surely work on you ? You are just a scaled-up, biped version.

It is also good to take some anti-coagulants and blood-thinners like aspirin to keep the flow through the vesels as smooth as possible. Alas, aspirin is also known to cause intestinal bleeding and coupled with the fibrous diet prescribed by the thoughtful cardiologist, will induce acidity and flatulence. To tackle these symptoms, your doctor will ask you to take some antacids every day. Antacids can interfere with the absorption of some key nutrients into the system and your doctor will tell you when exactly to have them, before or after a meal. Usually, he will advise you to have them instead of the meal.

The statins, the aspirin and the ACE inhibitors together make a formidable combination and some research indicates that you have a good chance of reducing a 60%- blocked-artery to a 20% blocked one. Too bad that new evidence shows that in a 20%- blocked artery, the chances of the plaque breaking loose, clogging the vessel and causing a heart attack are much higher than in a 60%-blocked artery. Well, you can’t have everything.

About the diet. Don’t gorge yourself on fried food which contain polyunsaturated fat, bad for your heart. Eat plenty of green salads. A word of caution here. It has been observed that salads are quite often washed with contaminated water and can cause severe infection of the stomach. Not to worry. Your clueless gastroenterologist will prescribe some broad-spectrum antibiotics ostensibly to kill the bacteria. These antibiotics will be still protected by patent, and therefore your salary for that month will be used up for the noble cause of amortising a substantial chunk of the R&D expenses of the drug company. The good doctor will also recommend an ultrasound scan of the abdomen partly to rule out cysts and tumours, partly to look for other danger signals , but mainly to earn his 30% commission from the owner of the scan machine.

And get plenty of exercise. Your doctor will advise you that walking is the best way to keep fit.. The considerate doctor will not want you to blow up good money on fancy gym equipment. In fact he will want you to reserve your income, fixed deposit and other savings purely for medical expenses and not to sqaunder it on non-essential needs like food, clothes, petrol, etc.

A final piece of advice. Don’t fret and fume about the doctor’s fees and the expenses on the medicine and the visits to the diagnostic centres. Anxiety over such trivial things can induce high levels of stress and high blood-pressure and can lead to heart attacks.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Dark thoughts of a closet MCP

You should have seen the fuss that my wife made and the tantrums that she threw up when I woke her from a afternoon siesta yesterday and asked for a cup of coffee!

Why she should go ballistic over such a simple request, I could never fathom. It would have taken her hardly a couple of minutes to warm the milk in the gas stove, mix the instant coffee and sugar and serve it to me, along with some chocolate biscuits, as I was on my recliner chair reading a book. Nothing complicated about it. Minimum physical labour involved.

It is not as if she had to slog it out like my multi-tasking grandmother who had to wake up at 3 am everyday, have a cold dip in the Cauvery (cleverly dodging the lurking crocodiles), finish her pooja, run after the cows, pin them down, milk them herself, then grind the coffee seeds, roast them, prepare the decoction, and get the steaming coffee ready for my grandfather at 5 am sharp, before he commenced his morning ablutions. All this, while she continued to prolifically deliver several babies a year.

What make my eyes red, my ears steam and my blood boil are the double standards of women these days.. Last night, when I was engrossed in my favourite episode of “Friends”, wife actually asked me to go down to the shop nearby and get some bread for the kids. To pack lunch for them the next day, she explained. This complete insensitivity for a fellow human-being engaged in an intellectual exercise got my goat. Did she think that this was such a simple errand? The shop is a good 200 metres away – which meant I had to not only walk down to my basement, but had to open the car door with my bare hands, insert the ignition key in the right place, start the car, put it on first gear while applying the clutch, press the accelerator slowly while simultaneously releasing the clutch, play my favourite CD, navigate my way through the maddening traffic, find a parking slot……in other words 15 minutes of agonising, back-breaking, manual labour. Can’t the kids manage without bread for a day? Why can’t they eat cake ?.

Let me narrate one more incident to gain your sympathy. Once, I brought four of my colleagues home for dinner. I grant you that I should have called my wife and given her advance notice, which I omitted to do. Ok, I forgot. So, what? I am only human. To err is human, but to her it was a crime. The screaming and ranting that I had to put up with for a week! All for the merest trifle of mixing a few ingredients and cooking a meal for four, aided by the galaxy of fancy gadgets that is found in the kitchen. Hell, there’s even a device to peel the onions, without bringing a drop of tear to the eye. In contrast, my great-grandma - bless her soul- had to harvest the paddy from the fields, de-husk it, de-stone the rice, collect wooden twigs from the forest, crush the snakes and the scorpions with her bare feet, draw water from the well using counter-weights, pluck the vegetables from the fields, light the stove, cook the rice, remove the starch, feed the first helping to the crows and serve the meal piping-hot to my great-grandpa And she did this every day without a whimper of protest . All my great-grandpa had to do was let out a loud burp and other similar bodily noises after the hearty meal. I tell you, dear readers, that those were halcyon days when men were he-men and women had perfect role clarity.

Now, when I am busy blogging, wife asks me to change a fused bulb in the bathroom instead of wasting my time with my chat-mates. . What lop-sided priorities and what contempt for blogging! First, in these enlightened days, when liberated women commandeer space shuttles, fly solo aircrafts and head large MNCs, one would have thought wife would have by now acquired the elementary intelligence to change a light bulb. No such luck. I must do it, because she is not tall enough to reach the bulb holder. Must I do all the hard work in the house, merely because I am 6”1” tall? Second, does she think blogging is child’s play? Is she aware at all of the depth of knowledge, intensity of research and thoroughness of detail that characterise my blogs

Sigh ! What degeneration of values. We live in decadent times ! Let me go and change that blasted bulb now.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The last male domain....

I confess that I am dismayed by the proliferation of new institutions such as the unisex beauty parlours and family saloons. One, they threaten to drive to extinction that most Malgudian of characters- the local barber. Two, they strike at the very foundation of the last male bastion left. Till recently, the barber shop remained the only place – apart from the Gents Toilet- where ministers, politicians, sportsmen, farmers and businessmen alike were allowed entry,solely on the strength of their being men and to bask in the exclusivity of the surroundings, unspoilt by female presence.

Now I am no misogynist and am all for gender parity, equal space and all that. But there are times when men like to be left alone with the boys and women with the girls. The barber shop provided such a sanctuary to men, while women had their own parlours and spas ,where they were left contentedly alone . This arrangement worked very well for both sexes for centuries and there was absolutely no reason to disturb the status quo ante.

So, I view these new-fangled parlours with utter contempt and remain steadfast in my loyalty to Nataraj, the barber-round-the-corner. Once a month, with unfailing regularity, an inner voice tells me that I must proceed in the direction of the barber shop and I follow its diktat unquestioningly, in a hypnotic trance. There are many mysteries that science has not provided answers for. My monthly sleep-walk to the barber’s is one such puzzle.

Nataraj’s methods are simple but effective. Different strokes for different folks, is his motto. Not only in his cutting technique which has to suit the individual, but also in gauging the customer’s mood and temperament and adopting the appropriate conversational style. I have seen him play various roles – keen listener to a gregarious soul, eager story-teller to the more reclusive, shrewd commentator to the uninformed, astute advisor to ranting teenagers, sharp critic of wayward adolescents ,– moving from one role to the next , as in a rapid slide show, with effortless ease.

Isn’t he worried that these deluxe parlours and saloons started by the MNCS and other corporates would eat into his business ? Nataraj dismisses this suggestion with complete disdain.. “ These places employ smart-looking, over-paid youngsters with fancy titles like hair-stylists, hair-engineers and hair-doctors and think they can steam-roll us into extinction. It is not as simple as that. Customers look for much more than just a hair-cut, when they come here.”.

He continued, “You can send your driver to pick up groceries, to pay your water tax and to get your watch repaired. But do you realize that hair-cut is one of the few activities that you can’t delegate to your driver and you need to physically present yourself at the barber’s shop ? This creates a special and sacred bond between the barber and the barbee. Big industrialists who cannot be accessed at all in their lush offices become my captive listeners when they are seated in this chair. Many of them pour out intimate family secrets to me. Teenagers who can’t confide to their parents find in me a father-figure to let out minute details of their love life. Why, even the DIG of Police is my customer and has shared some vignettes of the interesting crimes that he has been investigating. Such is the clout we wield. Such is the status we enjoy”.

“ Take you, as an example, sir” he went on, “ I have seen you on your morning walk on Boat Club Road, in a pensive mood, probably worried what the day has in store for you, and giving the clear signal that you do not want to be disturbed from your reverie. Yet, here. in my shop, you are completely relaxed and are in a mood to open out and engage in pleasant conversation with me. This is what makes us special and irreplaceable. We are certainly not an endangered species yet. “

I hope these don’t turn out to be famous last words, I thought to myself as I watched Nataraj usher in his next customer making the latter feel that he was ascending a throne for his coronation.

May his tribe survive and flourish.