Monday, November 23, 2009

Matter of hearts

There was a time when this weather-beaten "ancient mariner" (were I a seaman, that is), was a pretty tough and lean lad complete with the hungry look and all (permission, Mr. Shakespeare) to whom a five-mile cross-country run or more was no big deal even without so much as a familiarization peek at the track. Oh the exuberance of those halcyon days of youth and fun, for though I was not exactly a strapping Malayan hunk, there seemed to be no peak too high nor any physical feat too insurmountable for me to tackle.

Like many other teenagers of my day, I was seldom physically idle. There were simply too many abandoned TOL farms scattered just outside Kluang town along the unassuming Kluang-Renggam road to be ignored, so the little explorer in me and my kind had a whale of a time reaping the bounty, courtesy of the toil of anonymous farmhands of the Malayan Emergency era.

Health-wise, only minor complaints unsettled my rhythm now and then and such setbacks were easily taken care of by the trusty "Aspro" tablets dispensed by who else if not the ubiquitous "sinseh" perennially clad in his "Pagoda" tee and his rather precariously string pajama-like striped bottom.

My late mother though, often complained of little chest pains that again and again saw home administered "Kaki Tiga" and such similar remedies besides getting regular calls from a benevolent and if somewhat well-rounded "bomoh" with his helpful prescription of clean water that had gone through a "tangkal" session and poured out of an odd-shaped green bottle which made me think only of Aladdin or the Arabian Nights.

Gunung Lambak, the highest peak in Kluang did not deter me and my clan of Fourth Formers in our class of '58. All the climbers, our very obliging class master included went through the exercise very lightheartedly. This was not long after Kluang was declared a "white area" (no more communist threats). Many of us were shod only in the famous "Bata Jumper" school shoes but nevertheless merrily reported back to school to school the following Sunday none the worse for our 1000 for ascent or so.

Once, as a temporary teacher my fumbling ways got me my head cracked at a rugby game and to backtrack slightly, was once completely knocked out cold, the foolhardiness of trying to clear a "hurdle" which actually was a rigid structure meant to keep away unwelcome jaywalkers at our humble quarters. I feel headfirst onto the side of a little drain and they thought they had lost me. I was, without doubt, in my most boisterous teen years then.

I participated in about all the rough and tumble activities the life of a typical youth of the time offered. Gifted with such brimming health, could I be faulted for taking things in my stride in the easy-going manner so much like the make-belief cowpokes whose invincibility as exaggerated in my favourite screen Westerns we never questioned.

Though I was no indispensable star, the two-year stint as a trainee teacher at the Malayan Teachers' College at Pantai Valley, gave me the opportunity to thoroughly enjoy the facilities provided for enthusiasts of football, athletics, sepak takraw, and got my adrenalin flowing furiously at the rugby green.

The years piled on. Little nagging chest pains were brushed aside as troublesome "angin" of one kind or another. It's not for nothing that the all-curing "minyak angin" was created. Not that I avoided the doctor altogether. No. In fact I was once asked if I had not been imagining things in view of my otherwise active ways. It was the same with my mother who finally succumbed to old age and other unclear complications. Pain or no, she plodded on, busy raising my siblings and I and often working late into the nights on her hand-operated sewing machine rushing to finish orders for baju melayu and those aromatic Malay goodies especially during the Raya seasons year after year.

I was well into my fifties and moving slowly if a bit rather reluctantly towards retirement when together with a couple of colleagues, we braved the elements for a three-day Endau-Rompin jungle bash just for the experience. We took them all, the uncompromising weather, blood-sucking leeches, long slow trekking and wonderfully drenching (for the most part voluntarily sought) and a near run-out of ration due to poor planning. No one complained.

The pristine park then offered none of the creature comforts enjoyed by later day "campers" snugly cocooned in dry dormitories and even chalets, full board, mind you. No pain, but so much to gain in appreciating God's gift to us the weaklings.

I was my usual self, reasonably fit, a good eater but mindful of my sugar intake. So it came as a big surprise really when it was revealed upon my 62nd year of "lodging" in this uncertain world that all had not been too well with my brave heart for a good number of years already.

Now the haze is cleared somewhat and I am only speaking as a layman at best. The screen at the cardiologist did not lie. Partial blockage, that was it.

For things slowly begin to fall into place. That explains those mild stabbings in the chest - too mild to be of any concern really. Then there were those late evening and early night profuse sweatings way back in the sixties, those oh-so-stubborn coughings that persisted for nearly a month at times and of late, the drastic weight loss that's very obvious just by looking at my shrinking waistline.

Surprisingly, repeated health screenings (a service requirement over the years in my working days), plus the different tests to undergo two accompanying hernia operations gave no indication of any heart ailment ever.

Nicotine effect? Not likely for I gave up those supposedly macho-boosting sticks 20 years ago. Even then I could only be counted on among those "social inhalers".

A bypass looming? I am only familiar with those irritating ones at our PLUS highways.

For now, que sera sera.

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