…by Anura Guruge
Given my family history, my build and my diet (and I used to be strictly carnivorous until I stopped being a teen), I have, since my late 20s, been considered ‘a heart attack waiting to happen‘. Saw my first cardiologist in 1990 when I was 37. I have a cousin, two years older than me, who had his first (of many) heart attacks at 35. My cholesterol, given that I was relatively ‘young’, was just borderline, around 220 I think. I told the doctor I would get it down in a year. Those days, in my youthful exuberance, no mountain was high enough. Eight years earlier, when my weight when past 200 lbs, I had made some major changes to my life. I had stopped eating meals on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – just eating one green apple and a small (and I really do mean small) piece of cheese. On those days that I didn’t eat, I also used to run 7 miles — at around 6.5 – 7 minutes a mile. I dropped my weight from 200 to 135 lbs in 6 months. You could count all my ribs. I then allowed my weight to build up to 165. So reducing cholesterol was a challenge in that same league. I eliminated milk and lived on hummus for a year. It kind of became a joke. I would even order hummus when I went out for dinner on business. I dropped my cholesterol to 140.
But, I had to continue seeing a cardiologist. In 1998 I lucked out. I was living in the Lakes Region and was sent to a new Tamil cardiologist from India, Dr. Venkat Nethala, who practiced in Laconia. Those days, and even now, there aren’t too many ‘Indians’ per se in Laconia. Dr. Nethala who was new to the area was delighted to see another brown guy. We became friends and started socializing. I was 45. All my vitals were borderline. Dr. Nethala made a momentus decision. He said he was putting me on Lipitor and two blood pressure medications as a preventive measure. His words were: ‘Anu, you will thank me for this when you are in your late 50s‘. Thank YOU, Dr. Nethala. It was a pain to have to take a handful of pills, plus the aspirin, each night. But, Dr. Nethala was right. I do thank him. So I have been on Lipitor for 14 years — with one short break when I tried another, cheaper statin and didn’t like (psychosomatically or otherwise). Dr. Hanlon, pictured above, told the insurance company that I had to have Lipitor.
Dr. Nethala is now in Maine, close to the Canadian border. I miss him. I have always maintained that Indian or Sri Lanka TRAINED doctors are superior to most — given the fierce competition they have to edure to get into medical school in the first place and then stay there till they qualify. Only the best of the best make it through the system. Indian or Sri Lankan doctors who went to school here don’t have the same ‘touch’ as those that got their M.D. from a school in the sub-continent (and in a few instances Britain). Yes, I had an uncle (mother’s brother) who was a doctor and 4 cousins (all from my mother’s side) who are doctors — all of whom became doctors in Sri Lanka, though one practices in the U.S. and the other in Australia.
When Dr. Nethala abandoned us (he was also our general practitioner) I had to find another cardiologist to get all of my heart medications. Decided to go to Catholic Medical given their reputation. I was allocated Dr. Hanlon.
He is a very NICE doctor. I like him. Two years ago, as part of my intake, I had to do a stress, echo cardiogram and EKG. It came out OK. Given that I still do run, most days, mainly up a steep hill, doctors have told me that I am kind of giving myself my own personal stress test each time I slog up that hill.
I try very hard to avoid seeing doctors and getting tests done. I prefer not to know what is wrong with me. Last August Dr. Hanlon’s staff, who are excellent, started calling me up saying I had to schedule my annual checkup. I pushed back and pushed back until December. In December I went to see him after also getting my blood work done. I was OK — for a change. So there was nothing much we had to discuss. But, given that I was ‘owed’ 20 minutes I enganged him in a conversation as to what else I could do. He told me that he and many of his colleagues at Catholic Medical had started taking GROUND flax seed for heart health.
I had heard of Flax Seed. Deanna had flax seed in the fridge. Deanna took flax seed. But, she didn’t GRIND IT first. So, as soon as I got home I ground some flax seed in a coffee grinder. Since then I have been taking a tablespoon (or two or three) of ground flax seed every day — some in my mandatory, nightly yogurt, the rest dissolved in water with my nightly teaspoon of Metamucil. I like the grittiness of the flax seed. I don’t know if it is doing me any good. It doesn’t seem to be doing me much harm and it is not expensive. So we will wait and see. I just thought I would share with you those words of wisdom from Dr. Hanlon because he strikes me as been very competent.