- Death & Loss of Life
Are We Obsessed with our Health and What We Eat?
Do some food fads go too far?
Society today seems to have an obsession with healthy eating. I'm not saying this is a bad thing - far from it - but sometimes, it can be taken too far.
How many times do we read about the latest health scare surrounding a particular food - only to read something completely different a few months later?
If we stopped eating and drinking all the items that have been labeled "unhealthy" over the years, our diet would be very limited indeed.
This obsession with eating also begs the question, "Does it really make that much difference if you eat a 'bit of what you fancy' sometimes?"
I'm not suggesting one over-indulges, on a regular basis, on fried food and rich cakes and chocolates, for example, as this can lead to obesity, which has its own health implications. But the odd "treat" once in a while surely does no harm?
Father who lived a healthy lifestyle
My father was someone who ate healthily and sensibly all his life and was always very active. He lived life to the full. But his tale serves to remind me that one never knows what is around the corner.
Richard Evans, my father, was my hero - a true role model who could mend any broken item, solve any problem, resolve any argument and help anyone with anything.
Growing up as one of 13 brothers and sisters during the Second World War - his mother a widow in the days before there was help from the welfare state - prepared him for anything life could throw at him.
As a young man, he met and married my mum and they both worked long and hard to give me and my older brother the best education possible.
Dad always had two jobs and mum had her day job in an office and helped her own mother run a guesthouse in the evenings and at weekends. They both traveled by bicycle, as it was many years before dad could afford the luxury of a car.
But this kept him in good shape and he always looked much younger than his years, never gaining weight or suffering stiff joints.
He always had a balanced and healthy diet, as mum was a great cook and there was always fresh food on the table. Even when approaching retirement from his final job as an aircraft fitter, he still enjoyed cycling around the hangars on site.
And after officially retiring at 65, he could never sit still, starting a local gardening round - enjoying fresh air, an active job and certainly no stress as he enjoyed friendly chats with his mainly elderly customers.
Dad never smoked and rarely drank - perhaps the odd tot of whisky at Christmas and a bottle of "mild" beer in the working men's club on a Friday night.
But on the whole, he was a picture of health and passed for someone in his 50s even when approaching 70.
Dad began to appear breathless
It was at this time, however, that mum first began to worry something was wrong.
Dad seemed short of breath on occasion and whereas his gardening had always been effortless, he suddenly appeared to be more tired than before.
But when asked if he was okay, he would always reply, "Don't be stupid - of course I am!"
He never worried about his health and the times he had visited a doctor could be counted on the fingers of one hand - and only then for something unavoidable, such as when he fell while pruning a tree, breaking his arm.
Even then, he was walking around for some time afterward trying to convince himself it was "nothing" before admitting defeat and going to casualty.
Finally, however, his shortness of breath became a real concern and he had to admit - reluctantly - that he had suffered chest pains on occasion.
"Indigestion, probably," he told us.
But mum had him at the doctor's in a flash - and that same day, within 10 minutes, he was taken, by ambulance, to our local hospital with suspected heart problems.
They kept him in for five days for tests, but still he didn't worry, noting only how "bored" he was and how much he enjoyed the hospital food.
The specialist diagnosed angina, but said it was relatively mild and reassured us there was no risk of a heart attack. His condition was to be monitored over the next few months and he was given medication in the form of a tongue spray if the pain occurred.
Life went on, despite angina
Dad carried on as though nothing had happened, although mum started to worry more, watching his breathing and keeping a check of how many times he was using the spray.
In July 1999, dad celebrated his 70th birthday. We had organised a surprise party for him.
All his surviving siblings - and their own children and grandchildren - gathered for a meal and a party. I had never seen dad so happy and emotional, his eyes filling with tears as we related, after dining, humorous incidents from throughout his life that had us laughing and crying at the same time.
As the new millennium approached, dad's condition worsened. He was given an appointment in January 2000 to go for a test at the hospital that would ascertain whether he needed heart surgery.
He had talked a lot about how he was looking forward to bringing in the New Year. New Year's Eve had always been a big family celebration - although as the older generation passed away, sadly, the younger ones tended to drift off to "do their own thing."
Particularly after his retirement, I also took dad to many theatre shows, as he loved comedy and musicals.
By this time, I had my own house, but would go and collect dad in my car to transport him to the venue.
On November 6, we went to see Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance" - and three days later, when I went to visit my parents, dad and I were singing songs from the show in voices resembling a cat that was crying for its supper, howling with laughter as mum covered her ears in horror.
As I drove off after this happy night, beeping my horn and waving as I disappeared up the street, I had no idea it would be the last time I would ever speak to my father.
A phone call to tell me tragic news...
Two days later - November 11, the anniversary of Armistice Day - I was leaving work at around 5 pm when my phone rang.
It was mum, crying. "Your dad's had a heart attack," she sobbed.
A great wave of nausea enveloped me. "Will he be all right?" I gasped.
"I don't know," mum replied. "I'm waiting for the ambulance."
I tore out of the building and drove home like a bat out of hell - arriving in time to see my dear dad, ashen-faced, being carried on a stretcher into an ambulance, an oxygen mask over his face and tubes and wires attached to his chest and arms.
It drove off, lights flashing and sirens blaring - a sound I cannot bear hearing to this day. Mum had gone in the ambulance, but I followed behind in the car.
It transpired that dad had been gardening all day and as he sat down for dinner at the kitchen table, as mum went to the cooker, he had suffered what doctors later described as a "massive" - and fatal - heart attack.
I never saw him again, as when I arrived at the hospital, he had already gone … ironically just eight weeks before his appointment to check whether he needed a heart bypass.
Mum and I were in terrible shock. Dad seemed to be the fittest 70-year-old we had ever known. We thought he would live to 100.
When we told his gardening customers - many of whom were only a couple of years older than him - their usual response was, "But I thought he was only about 50!"
Nobody knows what's round the corner
Some years after dad died, many of his counterparts - who drank, smoked all their lives, gained weight, had no exercise and ate whatever they pleased - were still going strong well into their 80s.
Yet my father - who had always lived the healthiest lifestyle possible - had suddenly and inexplicably suffered a fatal heart attack.
I do not begrudge them a long life - but merely wish to point out that no one ever knows what is around the corner.
One can follow every piece of available advice on living a healthy lifestyle - yet still fate can play its role in springing a nasty surprise.
Please, enjoy life to the full, try not to worry and be happy - and next time someone tells you that piece of chocolate is bad for your waistline, pop it in your mouth anyway - because a little of what you fancy does you good.