Beware! The most dangerous time in your life is, when leaving your doctor’s surgery after your annual check-up, being told that you are in perfect health. That’s when you are most likely to drop dead outside on the footpath. GPs do have a remedy for this problem. It is to rush outside and turn the body around to make it look as if the deceased was walking towards the surgery rather than out of it.
This was not quite the pattern I followed when I had my recent heart attack; I waited six days after being told I was ‘in very good nick for a bloke of your age’ before severe chest pains and profuse sweating interrupted a dinner (with some reasonable claret still unconsumed) that served as a political wake for a friend who, unsurprisingly, had spectacularly failed that afternoon to be preselected for a safe Liberal seat.
What to do? Recognising that the local country hospital was about seven minutes’ fast drive away, and that it would take an ambulance at least that time (if one were readily available) to get to me, and then another seven minutes at least to get me to the hospital, I demanded my wife drive me there to save time. Of course it was the wrong answer; as the emergency nurses informed me, in what I could detect was an admonishing tone, that had I suffered a further attack while my wife was driving along a country road, there would be no help available, as she would be in an even greater hurry to get me to hospital. ‘Call for an ambulance; they have the necessary equipment and can warn the emergency room to prepare for your arrival.’ I clearly failed my heart-patient-1 exam.
It may have been this failure that prompted the next indignity, which was to have Mylanta poured down my throat to make sure it wasn’t just a severe case of indigestion. But then the professionalism of the emergency people began to show as tests revealed a real problem. Sent to a hospital 70 kilometres away (living in the country does have some drawbacks) for an angiogram, the need for bypass surgery was established. Then it was off to Sydney’s renowned heart hospital, St Vincent’s private, for a quintuple bypass. What was revolutionary open-heart surgery not so many years ago is now just ‘plumbing’; there’s no relaxing in comfort enjoying (yes, really) the excellent hospital food and recuperating in style with nurses at your beck and call. You’re out in a week or even less if you can climb a full flight of stairs without keeling over.
So after they have removed the tubes sticking out of your chest, given you deep breathing exercises, ensured you have ‘passed stool today’ and dressed the wounds that run all up your left leg (which hurt more than the big zipper in your chest) where they removed the veins they used in the bypasses, it’s back to the country hospital for ‘rehab’. Those of us who graduated with honours from the coronary rehabilitation unit probably never want to see a treadmill again. But for me at least, the end result of the exercise of the miracles of modern medicine (and good nursing) is certainly worth the pain, the sweat and the tears; it’s clearly better than the alternative. At 82, I’m grateful for being given another lease of life.
But at least one element of my life has changed. Just when I’d got back into harness to write my regular columns for the Australian Financial Review, an era ended. When a large body of journalistic talent was encouraged to leave the financially strapped Fairfax organisation on 31 August, regular paid contributions to group publications like my ten-year-stint as an AFR columnist also came to a sudden end. Having been the AFR’s investment editor back in the 1960s, responsible for filling about half the paper, it had been a sentimental reunion when, on my return from five years in New York as Australia’s Consul-General, I was invited to write a regular column after an absence of more than four decades. The 1960s editorship of Max Newton made it a lively place to work, and after he left, taking almost half our staff, to start up the Australian newspaper, those of us who were left still managed to put out a paper by working like beavers.
The inevitably generous Fairfax management were so impressed with our efforts that they declined to replace the departed personnel on the basis that we could clearly manage the way things were — and without the need for added financial rewards. Until it changed for the better relatively recently, for years the political tone of the AFR had tended to follow the Sydney Morning Herald’s chardonnay-socialist position, so my column (alongside occasional excellent editorials) did provide an element of balance; a whimsical but accurate barb was that my column was there to provide a right-wing offset to John Hewson’s.
The big question for me now is whether the absence of a regular deadline will diminish the adrenalin surge required to point fingers at the keyboard. I’ve already noticed that I am no longer reading the newspapers with the same intensity; and I don’t seem to miss the AFR now that I’m saving $3 a day by not buying it. Those copies I have read seem to be relying heavily on syndicated stuff from overseas and presumably ‘free’ articles from business and other representative bodies to fill the op-ed pages. From their financial results, it looks as if the Fairfax organisation really did need to save the $600 a column they had paid
Michael Baume is a former Liberal Senator and Federal MP.