A sudden awakening at stupid o’clock. Feeling panicky. Heart racing. Struggling to breathe.
Something was wrong.
She sat up in bed, a tingling feeling of pins and needles running down her left arm.
Her husband lay sound asleep on the bed beside her. Flat on his back. Head back. Mouth open. Snoring loud enough to shake the windows. A trickle of drool staining the collar of his pyjamas.
As she reached out to wake him, her chest tightened, feeling like it was gripped in a vice. She fell out of bed. Toppled the nightstand. Smashed a lamp. Landed, already unconscious, on the floor.
45 minutes later, her husband’s alarm went off. Time to wake up. Face the brand new day.
Staggering bleary-eyed on autopilot into the bathroom for his daily “triple s” routine.
Only noticing his prone wife on the bedroom floor when he returned to get dressed.
A momentary panic, and conflicting emotions. Relief that she was still breathing. Alarm when she failed to respond to conversation or gently trying to shake her awake.
Ambulance called. Help was on the way.
At this point in the story, our protagonists could be living anywhere in any developed country. Possessing access to an ambulance service, electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing.
However, at this point, their choice of rustic rural living location begins to have real life or death consequences. Implicitly accepted, but not anticipated. Predictable, yet unforeseen.
The ambulance crew arrived within minutes. Sirens blaring. Lights flashing. Skidding to a dramatic stop.
Heart monitor attached.
But there was a problem.
The family home had been frequently extended over the years. Expanded to accommodate a growing number of children, then later, visits from a tribe of grandchildren. Resulting in a rabbit warren layout of awkward angles and inconvenient corners. The ambulance crew were unable to get their wheeled gurney anywhere near the bedroom. The patient would need to be stretchered outside.
Which revealed a second problem. A big one.
She was obese. Morbidly so.
The culmination of a lifetime of unhealthy choices. Limited dietary options. Poor education. Inadequate exercise, as everything in their rural locale was a drive away from home.
Her living location was a choice. So too was each meal. Each portion size. Each bite. Each commute.
No judgement, just demonstrable cause and effect.
Decades worth of lifestyle choices compounding to yield this most unfortunate of outcomes.
The ambulance crew called for reinforcements.
Two more crews were dispatched from neighbouring towns. Even with six able bodies, plus the husband, they unable to pass the heavily loaded stretcher through all the doorways to the outside.
The fire brigade was called for. More sirens and flashing lights to wake up the neighbours.
While they waited, the heart monitor suddenly went berserk. Well-trained ambulance officers sprang into action. The husband winced as his wife’s favourite nightie was cut open. Defibrillator paddles zapping her prone body with sudden jolts of electricity.
The heart monitor calmed down once more. If only it was so easy to calm the husband.
Two hours after the first heart attack, backlit by the early dawn light, eight strong men carried the stretcher bearing the unconscious and now nearly naked patient towards a waiting ambulance.
The worried husband went to join them, but was turned away.
No family in the ambulance.
No visitors at the hospital.
In times like these, the patient goes it alone.
Siren blaring, the ambulance raced for the local hospital, only for the dispatcher to wave them away en route. It was a small hospital, only 20 beds, ill-equipped to deal with patients of her ample proportions or complex medical needs.
The driver headed for the highway, bound for a larger regional hospital located an hour’s drive away.
Medical staff at the regional hospital swiftly got the patient stabilised before making the call that she needed to be moved to intensive care. A medical capability the regional hospital did not possess.
A vigorous debate took place over the best way to transport the patient to the nearest hospital with an available ICU bed, a couple of hundred kilometres away. The fastest route was via helicopter, but her vast weight exceeded the safe carrying limit of the medevac helicopter.
She was loaded back in the ambulance, which retraced its path to the highway for the long drive ahead.
Nearly six hours after her first heart attack, the patient was safely under the care of specialist doctors and ICU nurses. The lengthy delays in accessing the required medical care almost costing her life.
A bit over a week later she was discharged, wearing a hospital issue nightgown and a shiny new pacemaker. Her husband waited outside, ready to chauffeur her home.
On the journey, she incredulously recounted some of the dietary, lifestyle, and physical fitness advice she had received while in hospital. Many of the recommended foods were not available in their town, nor were the swimming pool or exercise facilities it had been recommended she start to use.
It was a half-hour commute each way to the closest pool.
A 90 minute round trip was required to visit the nearest large supermarket or fresh fruit and vegetable store.
Each was possible.
Each required advance planning and incurred non-trivial transportation costs.
Facilities that many of us take for granted simply did not exist in their idyllic rural village, located far away from the busy fast-paced life of the big city.
A hidden cost of their low cost of living locale.
A choice made long ago. One with long-tailed consequences.
Recently the outside of the house I live in was painted. An attempt to restore some faded grandeur to an ageing mass-produced period house, located on a long street full of identical-looking buildings.
Part of the colour scheme is white. The rest is an unfortunate shade of brown.
Not a fashion choice.
Nor a personal preference.
A century ago, the colour scheme was determined by whatever paint the developer had been able to procure large quantities of at lowest cost.
Today, that colour scheme is forever preserved under the neighbourhood’s conservation area status.
Proof once more that humans unthinkingly celebrate things that are old, rather than things that are good.
Within a couple of days, that shiny white paint was covered in a fine layer of black dust. Resembling the fingerprint powder liberally used by police forensic technicians when investigating serious crimes.
By week’s end, the white paint no longer looked shiny or new. Coated in yet more black dust.
A reminder that the quality of the air we breathe every day is a product of our choice of living location. So too is the quality of sleep, for those who living near a busy road or beneath an airport flight path.
As I examined the soot-covered white surfaces, an Amazon van cruised to a stop at the curb. Moments later I received a parcel containing a last-minute purchase I had ordered late the previous evening. Across the road, a uniformed driver unloaded a home-delivery grocery order for one of my elderly neighbours. Meanwhile, my son sat on the doorstep watching Tiktok videos on his phone via the 4G mobile data network.
Access to services is another product of our choice of living location. Facilities I take for granted. These were all services the obese wife and her husband may have read about, but living where they do, they are unlikely to experience them first hand.
I remember a trip to Bermuda many years ago, where I chatted to the proprietor of a small store near my hotel. She had patiently explained to another customer that virtually everything sold on the island had to be imported from the mainland. A process that had a six-week run-up. The spontaneous gift the customer wanted to purchase today needed to have been planned out over a month ago.
As tourists, all we saw was the beautiful views, idyllic location, and relaxed lifestyle. We were oblivious to the “real life” realities faced by the locals. Relentless mould. Accommodation options constrained by the very finite supply, changing the equation from the luxury of choice we enjoy in the big city to having to accept whatever happened to be available at the time it was required.
That night I found myself idly playing around with a couple of online “where can I live?” toys provided by property portals.
Each asked the users to begin their search by nominating one or more anchor points. Perhaps the address of their workplace, school, or loved ones.
This was followed by the modes of transport they were willing to use and the maximum commute they were willing to endure.
Only then did the tools ask for the traditional property search criteria: budget, bedroom and bathroom numbers, type of dwelling, and access to features like car parking or gardens.
The results displayed were what you would expect. An area of the map highlighting where properties matching the supplied criteria could be found. Little pins indicated potentially suitable homes for sale or rent within that area. Some tools also displayed a diminishing trail of satellite circles along the main commuter train lines, centered around stations further out that also met the search criteria.
What I found fascinating about the process was the question of anchor points. Having to think about, identify, and nominate those few addresses that above all else determine the outcome of where we choose to live.
How many of us consciously think about or choose our living location in such a way?
Come to think of it, how many of us live in a locale we have consciously chosen? As opposed to drifting along in the currents of fate, letting an employer’s choice of job location or an already established loved one determine those anchor points for us?
That gave me pause.
Growing up on the other side of the world, my imaginings of London were driven by postcard tourist attractions, the Monopoly board game, and old episodes of The Bill.
The neighbourhood I currently live in is one I had never heard of until less than a decade ago.
A location bourne out of compromise. Trading off qualitative aspects such as school catchment areas and public transport links, against quantitative factors like cash flow and value for money.
As is so often the case, a result that ticked most of the boxes, yet made few of the decision-makers happy. Human nature focussing on the few things we don’t have, rather than the many things we do have.
The obese wife and her husband had consciously chosen their anchor points. Long ago making the decision to uproot their lives and transplant to an idyllic rural locale. Trading access to services and proximity to family for a beautiful view and greatly reduced cost of living.
A decision that made sense while life followed the happy path, free from drama and the unexpected. Now, as age and cumulative health concerns start to catch up with them, the downsides of their remote existence were beginning to outweigh the benefits.
The Bermudian shopkeeper living in an island paradise would have readily traded places with many of the tourists who frequented her store. Swapping the hidden realities of raising her young family on the proceeds of her struggling small business, while living in a country with one of the world’s highest costs of living. Wanting more opportunities for her children than an island with a population the size of a medium sized commuter town could provide.
What are your anchor points? Are they time bound, or an anchor for life?
Were they of your own making, or did circumstance and family ties make the decision for you?
For me, these questions provided an interesting perspective on living locations. One I hadn’t considered before.