Over the years, I put my body through a lot. I mean A LOT.
Sure, I kept fit by going to the gym and running. I was a full-time rugby player for two years and trained three hours a day, five days a week. I played a match on Saturday mornings and then really let loose at night.
Even when I quit rugby and joined the workforce, I continued to push my body to the extremes. Working long hours in the office, trying to forget those long hours in the bars, and trying to work off those long hours in the gym while living on a diet of a lot of fast food and not much sleep.
In the 1980s, I was transferred to the Middle East where I probably thought, subconsciously perhaps, that my body might get a break. The Middle East was my first exposure to the Buffett culture. A culture that I embraced with enthusiasm while continuing to deal with the pressure and stress of a high-powered job that now required at least four flights a week, sometimes more, to destinations across the Arabian Peninsula.
It wasn’t a deliberate attempt to abuse my body. I just felt that I was ten foot tall, bulletproof, and invincible. I lived like this for thirty years, and it was inevitable that at some stage, something would give. And something did give. My heart.
By that time, I was living in Kuala Lumpur – the bustling, high energy capital of Malaysia. It was a Sunday, and I was in a mall, doing what so many of us from all backgrounds do in malls on a Sunday – early lunch or brunch in the food court followed by a movie and lots of popcorn. After that, going for cake and coffee before heading home, collapsing on the sofa, and falling asleep in front of the television.
Only this time I didn’t get to the sofa. I didn’t have time because as I left the mall, I had a heart attack. Not a massive one but a heart attack that was my body saying, “Enough with this lifestyle. Give me a rest.”
I woke up in a hospital in the centre of Kuala Lumpur. At first, I thought I was in a hotel. The nicely sized single-bed room was elegantly furnished with opulent touches. There was a flat screen TV on the wall and big windows. Then I saw the equipment and the pieces started to come together.
Soon after, a nurse walked in with a big smile. She was pleasant, confident, firm, and immediately reminded me of my mother, who was a nurse. Instantly, I knew I could rely on her.
We chatted as she busied herself around the equipment. However, when I asked about my condition, she explained that it would be better if I saved my questions for the doctor looking after me. As she left, she told me she would inform him I was awake and that he would be here within half an hour.
Sure enough, my doctor walked in 30 minutes later. Tall, with the confident walk of a doctor. He introduced himself and explained my situation. He came across as knowledgeable yet far from patronising. In fact, his bedside manner was impeccable. I asked numerous questions, many of them probably rather unimportant and annoying to him, but not once did he appear impatient.
Even when my wife walked in and asked similar questions, he answered all of them patiently, ensuring we both understood what had happened.
He spent a great deal of time learning about my lifestyle to understand what had led me to this situation. Once he had this data, he explained what had happened and the most likely causes. More importantly, he told what I needed to do to ensure it didn’t happen again.
When explaining the way forward, he outlined the options and consequences of each option. His focus seemed to be on what he considered to be the best option for me in my situation. This personalisation struck a chord. It was all about me, not about the hospital.
Not once did I feel pressured to purchase a procedure just because the hospital would make money out of it. Once I’d heard everything, I had to make a decision. I asked the doctor what he recommended and why.
I took his advice, and while the thought of going through an operation is always stressful, I felt confident that I was in good hands. I left the hospital a week later feeling like I had made new friends, and not being in the hospital! I go back every three months for check-ups and to monitor my heart.
Every time I return, I am treated more like a guest than a patient. What impresses me is that the doctor spends as much time on me now as he did the first time I went to the hospital, even though I’ve made a complete recovery and am unlikely to be a significant source of income to the hospital.
I believe that I made that recovery because of the attitude of the hospital. I genuinely feel that since the very first day, my health has been the focus and not what the hospital can get out of me. In other words, it’s not about them, it’s about me.
Malaysia might not be perfect, but their healthcare system is exemplary. They made the recovery process so much more palatable and the prospect of visiting the hospital for ongoing check-ups acceptable.
If I ever leave Malaysia, everything in my file is in English too, making it easy for the next physician I visit to understand everything about my condition.
*The author of this article is a British expatriate living in Malaysia who is currently doing check-ups with a heart hospital in Kuala Lumpur.
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