How I Had a Heart Attack and Found Life
A True Story of Resurrecting a Life with Exercise and Diet
Arthur Gatley 31/10/2021
The Journey begins—by Ambulance and Helicopter to an ICU
Rose had turned 69, this feisty Maltese-Cockney put her anxious energy into a kaleidoscope of shape and colour. Her beautiful and complex garden beds surrounded our converted milking shed. A diversity of blossoms, spikey yuccas, fat bellied Queensland bottle trees and a lady-finger banana patch framed our Plaza del BBQ.
It was a modest birthday celebration with few guests, Rose was assertive, so we ate her favourites; barbecued T-bones sizzled beside salty garlic buttered vegetables and a sunburned potato bake, enriched with double cream and a sprinkle of oregano, this was washed down with Coopers beer and Coonawarra ‘Cab Sav’ the meal was rounded-off with a rich Black Forest cake with shiny red cherries on top.
Our visitors left at dusk:
The guests were gone
So Rose and Arty partied on
To disastrous end.
Still delivering crates of chilled dairy products at almost 70 years I took time off work for Rose’s party. One upshot was getting to work at dawn next morning to clean the refrigerated delivery van, beautifully-painted with cows, readying it for Thursday’s local farmer’s market.
After half an hour of toil: ‘Whoa, my indigestion’s painful today, I’m wobbly—serendipitously I took my pulse, 50 BPM and it should’ve been 100—my heart is shutting down!’ I anxiously tapped the orange emergency phone app; that got me a 000 operator, a helicopter ride to Canberra hospital and stents in two severely blocked cardiac arteries. My indestructible life had suddenly changed. Those who’ve survived cardiac infarction, a heart attack, know all about the powerful physiological and psychological impacts.
Refusing to die at 69 years and three quarters, and now being forbidden to drive a truck until authorised, I realised I was knocking on ‘Heavens Door’; facing two options; 1) slowly dwindling into death-after-medication, or 2) taking charge of my cholesterol-ridden body and getting fit enough to die in bed, peacefully, at 90. What to do next? Life had to be stress-free, intellectually satisfying and economically feasible. Becoming an aged pensioner and enrolling in an online degree through OUA satisfied those requirements.
I was now sleeping in my own room, prescribed beta-blockers caused full-coloured and finely detailed audio-visual dreams making me impossible to sleep with.
After around a week of dozing, physical weakness and diverse heart-calming pharmaceuticals I took first steps. Initially I walked maybe 75 metres, the second day 120 metres then, over time, stretched this to four kilometres a day. Four kilometres of testing cross-country trek following an exotic, lushly vegetated trail that snaked through the ancient geology and ecosystems of Gulaga National Park’s ancient rainforest. A confession, my eyes rarely left the Fitbit during those treks.
Being forbidden to drive Rose chauffeured me, instead of I her. I was still eating potato bakes and steaks, but I now had no interest in sex or sharing a bed. This was too much strain on our relationship.
After a year of tension, I moved to Erica and Nic’s farm where I was loved and made very welcome. My hard-working daughter and her similarly afflicted husband had built a successful business; a 300 Ha dairy property with 500 Jersey cows, a cheese factory and a product distribution network. Erica was a cosmic child, prone to wearing odd socks, she changed radically after adolescence and time at University of New England.
Fixing What’s Broken—How I Repaired the Temple of My Body
Being an undergraduate student meant deadlines, which meant I was motivated to find cognitive salvation. Eventually, on moving from an old caravan into a self-contained cabin on the farm, a Phoenix-like resurrection followed a Rogerian ‘unconditional positive regard’. Life was improving, I am now the farm’s chicken wrangler too. Hey, no laughing, it’s a duty of care and there are 50 of them.
Regular check-ups at a nearby clinic meant confessing health sins to a cohort of ‘ anonymous’ physicians. Eventually a bloke wearing a red and white check cowboy shirt, jeans, elastic side boots and a generous beard became my doctor. Paul is a PhD GP, a strategic thinker who told me I was a ‘plaquer’. This pertained to artery-blocking plaque production that had compromised all my blood plumbing; an affliction that killed my father, blamed on high cholesterol levels.
After asking Paul how long a stent might last, I told him I wanted to stay alive longer to see what happens next, he prescribed a major blood analysis. On reading the report he looked up at me and sombrely said; ‘despite your best efforts your liver is … he paused, looked serious then suddenly laughed and said … perfect, hahaha!’. You can’t help liking him, he had me going there.
My cholesterol was a high five millimoles per litre, happily all the other arcanely labelled stuff was normal. As well as walking and not eating killer food anymore I’d started to practice qigong, pronounced chi-gung. A gentle and ancient Chinese martial art using stretching, posture and calm meditation, except when energetically practising the ‘back-fist with angry face’ form. Cholesterol was still higher than the cardiac specialist wanted.
The Wholefood Bandwagon—A non-Technical Explanation
On asking Paul how to de-plaque my blood pipes he told me about eating plant-sourced medicines, phytonutrients. He told me of the health benefits of ingesting chemicals plants use to protect themselves from solar and cosmic radiation, viruses and being eaten by predators. Phyto is Greek for ‘plant’ and nutrient means ‘nourishing’.
Erica was weeding our amazingly colourful vegetable garden when I excitedly told her about phytonutrients. She looked at me as if my cognitive capacity had taken a sudden downward turn. Saying ‘eat the rainbow, Art’ she pointed to multicoloured capsicums, tomatoes, kale, about five different lettuce varieties, red cabbage, silver beet, beetroot, sweet potatoes … and much more.
Why didn’t I know, no one told me, why are older people invisible? A question for another time perhaps.
Erica became a consummate diet wizard, we eat organic-ish farm reared mammal meat and vegies for half the week, the second half’s fare is fish, our own chickens, roasted or in curries, and exotic plant-based dishes of chickpeas, lentils and beans. Vegetable stews and spaghetti with vegetable Bolognese sauce are delicious. These are wholefoods. Admittedly we grate Italian parmesan cheese over ‘vegie spag bol’. Alas, our chicken schnitzel always seemed ‘deep’ fried. We don’t eat deep-fried chicken ‘schnittie’ any more.
Wholefoods are defined in Australia’s Macquarie dictionary as ‘food eaten in as near as possible to the natural state, with the minimum of processing or cooking’. That definition embraces mammal, fowl and fish tissue. These, if organic, have a place in the US/UK’s Wholefood Market (WFM) franchises’ organic-food products mix.
WFMs have health information, prominently displayed, promoting points of difference to supermarket chains by cleverly stimulating good vibes shoppers feel when thinking they’re supporting local farmers. This ‘local farmer’ trope is reinforced by placing anti-GM food pamphlets at points of sale. Alas the WFM franchises don’t yet exist in Australia’s malls. However, some Australian online wholefood sites are quite sophisticated making buying unprocessed food easier.
The Phytonutrient and Wholefood Industry—Positives, Pitfalls and Scams
The phytonutrient fad is growing. Colleen Traver’s article, What are these Phytonutrients Everyone is Talking About, tells readers ‘what you need to know about why phytonutrients matter and what eating them is doing to protect the only *one* body you’ve got’. Phytonutrient eaters end up with reduced weight, improved cardiovascular function, and boosted happiness, according to Optimal Healing Remedies’ article 6 Powerful Phytonutrients: What Are Phytonutrients And Their Health Benefits? The article describes six important phytonutrient groups, where they’re found, and their benefits and contraindications. I highly recommend readers link to these, they’re concise and easily understood phytonutrient primers.
US food academic Zoe Krey alerts consumers to some wholefood traders’ practice of printing inaccurate ingredient labelling to drive sales. Fortunately, Australia’s stringent labelling rules and enforcement practices are stronger than US regulations, which are subject to pressures from Big Food. This is particularly evil; as Krey says ‘consumers believe organic products to be associated with environmentally[sic] practices, they engage in the behavioral pattern referred to as “green consumerism,” a trend in which consumers seek to buy products that are environmentally friendly and sustainable.’ However, as not all Australian manufacturers follow the rules, I recommend taking your reading glasses with you when shopping for ‘health food’, label print can be tiny.
This article is the first of a series aiming to help Australians live longer. My heart attack and relationship breakdown were demoralising but fortunately I am still exercising and studying, unfortunately I’m still a hermit. Changing from a hard-working party animal with little regard to the consequences of my indulgences to a worshipper at the temple of my body was essential for me due to my newfound respect for luck. A heart attack had failed to kill me.
I don’t recommend this extreme path to anybody; it is only because of a wise GP I am writing this today. Dr Paul is very trim, skinny as a rake to be exact. A 60 hour a week GP who, with his partner, preps a week’s plant-based meals at weekends. He practices what he preaches.
Health outcomes for me are; getting told how well I look, almost instant loss of 4 kg, finding vegetable gardening a joy, a heart and liver that work perfectly, increased fitness, I can easily walk two kilometres at five km/h without puffing, qigong has become both a spiritual and musculoskeletal practice and I fit into my 32” waist RM jeans again.
Thanks Rose darlin’, we meant well, we thought it was all nutritious and healthy.
Australian Government Department of Health, 2013. Food Labelling. https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/canteen-mgr-tr1~food-labelling
Clemons, R., 2021. Plant-based eating. CHOICE. https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/meat-fish-and-eggs/meat-substitutes/articles/plant-based-food
Food Frontier. https://www.foodfrontier.org
Gupta, C.& Prakash, D., 2014. Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine 11(3), pp. 151-169. DOI: 10.1515/jcim-2013-0021
Johnston, J., 2008. The Citizen-Consumer Hybrid: Ideological Tensions and the Case of Whole Foods Market. Theory and Society, 37(3), pp. 229-270. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40211036
Krey, Z., 2016. Shopping for Sustainability: Foods Market and the Contradictions of Corporate Organics. DePaul University Honors Program. https://academics.depaul.edu/honors/curriculum/Documents/2016%20Senior%20Theses/Krey,%20Zoe%20Senior%20Thesis%20WQ15-16.pdf
Machado et al., 2020.Ultra-processed food consumption and obesity in the Australian Adult Population. Nutrition and Diabetes 10(39). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41387-020-00141-0
Macquarie Dictionary. https://www.macquariedictionary.com.au
Optimal Healing Remedies, 2021.6 Powerful Phytonutrients: What Are Phytonutrients And Their Health Benefits? https://www.optimalhealingremedies.com/phytonutrients-health-benefits/
Pastor, N., Collado, M., Manzoni, P., 2021. Phytonutrient and Nutraceutical Action against COVID-19:
Current Review of Characteristics and Benefits, Nutrients, 13(464). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7910826/pdf/nutrients-13-00464.pdf
McLeod, S., 2014. Carl Rogers Theory. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-rogers.html
Travers, C., 2021. What are these phytonutrients everyone keeps talking about. Shape. https://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/diet-tips/what-are-phytonutrients-antioxidant-health-benefits
Arthur Gatley, firstname.lastname@example.org, +61428978434