Not For The Weak-Hearted
Being a hypochondriac isn’t easy. You have to live with the constant fear of contracting life-threatening, existence-altering, highly contagious and at times exotic diseases that you may have gotten just by crossing paths with the wrong person. Yes, the life of the hypochondriac is highly volatile – one minute you’re happily eating at a lovely restaurant, and another minute you’re filled with dread at the mention of a word that takes you back to last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy, where Meredith’s fling comes to hospital with penile dysfunction which was ultimately the result of a previously undetected tumour. Anyone could have that tumour and not know. Not that this particular problem will affect me. But still. That’s the whole point. Because I don’t have a penis, I may never get to know if I have a tumour!
Yes, I’m getting to the point. So it was with a lot of interest that I sat down to watch CNN-IBN’s weekend “flagship health and lifestyle show”, Living It Up, which “is back to take a close look at health issues which shadow the young urban India today”. Anchored by different youngsters each time, the first episode I saw was a special on heart diseases. Yawn! Who wants to know? I’m too young, and anyway I’m a woman. We don’t get heart attacks.
But no! What was meant to be just a simple TV-critiquing exercise for me turned into a horror movie chronicling the lives of two people who had had heart attacks by the age of 32. It took you through a Masterchef-style recounting of both persons’ tales, right from recreating a birthday party with a very prominent 28 candle on it and then informing the petrified viewer that it was the day after this party that Sumit Sharma had a massive heart attack. Massive. He recounts the agony, “I never thought that I could get a heart attack. It was so painful. I was not in my control”.
The show even recreated the whole rushing to the hospital situation with ambulance lights and sirens blaring; Sumit being wheeled out to the ward; the doctors trying to revive him. (Scary music was a natural accompaniment). A common editing style, but effective. I’m glued to my chair and strain my eyes to see if it was Sumit himself who was on the stretcher in this recreation. Would he have volunteered to do that? Wouldn’t that be hugely traumatic for him? He could have another heart attack if he was made to relive (re-almost die) the moment. I decide that the producers of the show would have more sense than that, and after this happy ending we move on to case number two.
Rohini’s case is even worse. She’s a WOMAN! And she was 32 when she had her heart attack. And what’s worse, even though she was a medical professional (a manager) working at Medanta, she didn’t recognise the symptoms of a heart attack when she had one. And this time it’s definitely her in the recreation. Brave girl. I wipe the sweat off my brow as a slight pain starts to creep up my left arm.
The anchor then goes on to tell us (supplemented by a doctor’s chilling byte that he sees 2-3 women every month coming in with full-blown heart attacks) that heart attacks are becoming more and more common in young people. My eyes dart to my three-year-old and I imagine him without his mother. I silently curse Rajdeep. Was this his idea of fun weekend television?
The show seems to know where I want to go, and now not only do we know the symptoms but also the reasons why so many young people are getting heart attacks. Stress, bad eating habits, less sleep, smoking, hypertension, obesity, and even early menopause (Great. Now I have to get yet another check-up). Even Shikha Sharma makes an appearance to give her dietary advice. The anchor sits at her office desk, (whoa, that kinda looks like my office desk!), points to the junk food she is gobbling and then goes to the refrigerator and holds up all the unlikely suspects that could be responsible for the disease. Wait, that looks like my fridge. Why in hell should tomato ketchup cause heart attacks? The pain in my arm grows more intense and now my breath is coming in gasps.
After detailed graphical representation of what happens to your heart, the ad-break comes and the anchor reads my mind again. We will now learn how to avoid heart attacks. Phew!
The rest of the show was a big yawn. Questions from “young people”. Shikha Sharma recipes. And a foreign trainer (with strange shoes that look like feet) showing us exercises.
The second episode I saw was on the harmful effects of cellphone tower radiation on health, which has been getting quite a bit of press lately.
It was horrible. I mean it was nice in the TV sense, but horrible in the emotional sense. Reading about people’s pain in the papers and having them choke with emotion on screen is quite different. The producers know it and exploit it to great effect. There was story after story after story of people getting cancer and tumours because of cellphone towers. Though after watching the show you’re supposed to decide for yourself whether cellphone towers are harmful or not, before the episode was over I could already feel some of the effects of radiation on my body.
An absurd question-answer format followed (I think they were trying to be creative) where the questioner would call up the doctor for answers and the producers recorded both sides of the conversation. A bit weird, but by then I was so traumatised by the radiation that was probably around me that I wasn’t paying much attention to the format of the show.
What the show did offer (and I was surprised because I’ve never heard of this stuff) are things that you can do to avoid radiation – anti-radiation curtains, wallpapers, lockets etc.
Despite the trauma it caused me, Living It Up, I feel has succeeded in what it started out to do – making youngsters aware of the dangers to their health in an educative and interesting way. It has definitely alerted me to the several threats looming in my life. I go and lie down on my bed trying to breathe evenly, thinking of all those late nights, drinking, smoking, cellphone towers, cellphone conversations, junk food, radiation, stressful days…My phone is held tightly in my hands, ready to press 911. Then I remember the radiation from mobile phones. Crap. I chuck it in the bedside drawer and pray the landline is working.
Yup. Being a hypochondriac is not easy.
Living It Up airs on Saturday at 12:30 and 5:30 pm, and Sunday at 9:30 am and 3:30 pm on CNN-IBN.
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