When I was a Lieutenant (another common-sounding rank with the Army and hence eligible to be called ‘Lieutenant (I.N.)’ by them (Please read ‘Captain (I.N.), Is It A Rank?’), I once reported with Chest Pain after playing a game of squash racquets. I was in an establishment called INS Agrani (Navy’s Leadership School for Petty Officers), in Coimbatore. I reported to the No. 6 Air Force Hospital there (as I go along, you will see how mine was a totally tri-service experience). I had assumed, with my ignorance-is-bliss-attitude that chest pain was like any other pain; eg, pain in the throat, leg, hip, arm and head. Little did I know that docs, friends and relatives go into a tizzy as soon as you utter the words chest pain. Before you can say anything else, Medical Specialists and Cardiologists take positions around you like fielders in the slips in a cricket match; telling you how you should reduce stress levels, how to put a pillow under your head and how to take life easy and just as it comes.
After I survived the first onslaught by the concerned docs, I was sent on sick leave to my home station Shimla in a medical category so low that one had to be on one’s knees to find the ruddy category.
Anyway, Shimla’s Military Hospital, at that time, didn’t have a qualified cardiologist (apparently people in hill stations have very sturdy hearts) and at the end of my leave I was asked to report to Army Hospital, Delhi Cantt for my re-categorization.
This was the biggest eye-opener experience for me. The Medical Ward was full of officers who had reported with Chest Pain. I learnt that all of them were getting their houses made in NOIDA and reporting with Chest Pain ensured free boarding and lodging in Delhi. The docs in the Army Hospital were following a don’t-trouble-us-and-we-shall-do-likewise policy. Officer-patients at night would tell grateful tales (for me horrid tales in my condition) of how they had stayed there for months without being seen by a doctor.
I made a lot of noise and Colonel D (I better not give the full name), the Cardiologist, agreed to see me on the next day of my reporting to the hospital. In the hospital, I discovered that even Brigadiers and Generals were scared of him and waited patiently outside his clinic cum office for hours altogether. If Colonel D would get annoyed, he could spoil an officer’s otherwise brilliant future by finding something wrong with his ECG or worse, a murmur in his heart.
After being sobered by such tales, I entered his office with trepidation and he asked me to bare the upper part of my body and lie on an examination table behind a screen. One Medical Assistant came and put jelly at various spots on my chest and after that went through the process of attaching the leads of the ECG at the jellied spots. These kept coming off as I breathed in and out; the breathing having become harder with the scare of the procedure and anxiety about the outcome.
Anyway, I maintained my calm with the visions of my Medical Category finally rising to its original lofty height. Just at the time when the MA was going to call Colonel D to have a look at me, some docs entered the room with reams and reams of ECGs.
Colonel D enquired from them if these were the ECGs of a very sick patient Subedar Swaran Singh. Through the slits in the screen I noticed that they all nodded agreement.
Colonel D took the first ECG and said, “I see some improvement from the last one.” At this they gave him more and more ECGs and he nodded encouragingly that the patient’s condition was indeed improving. Finally, when they finished showing him the last one, Col D enquired, “So, how’s the patient now?”
At this, one of them solemnly said, “Sir, the patient died this morning; we are still trying to figure out why.”
My breathing stopped altogether. For once the ECG leads on my chest stood their position and stopped falling off.
Epilogue: I got my category of a healthy young man after undergoing several tests such as TMT and sitting in a Decompression Chamber. I continued having a T-inversion in my ECG all throughout my life and even now. However, I cannot tell you enough how mortified I was that I would have suddenly improved ECG like Swaran Singh, and then conk off without anyone knowing why.
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