President Zardari is being offered much advice on how to survive, so I decided to put in my two cents worth. In my opinion, the single most important part of survival is good health. When President Zardari was released after having spent almost eight years in jails of different sorts and in different places, he was said to be suffering from a bunch of medical problems that he acquired during his incarceration.
There were reports that he suffered from high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a bad back and possibly narrowing of the arteries of the heart. There were subsequent reports that he might also have suffered from psychological problems. Here I wish to iterate that my only source of information is reports published in the media.
I have never met President Zardari but as far as TV appearances are concerned, he looks in pretty good shape for a 54-year old man. And I am sure that he has good doctors both here and abroad, who take excellent care of him and monitor his condition closely. So, it is not my intention to offer any medical advice but rather advice and comments about what we doctors call ‘lifestyle changes and risk factor modification’.
For starters it is a good thing that based upon what I have read about him, he does not smoke cigarettes and second, was always an active person involved in sports and exercise. Perhaps the latter might have something to do with the troubles he has had with his back. However, before I come to the exercise part I want to dwell a bit on the question of diet in a person reputed to have high blood pressure, high blood sugar and possibly narrowing of the heart arteries.
An important observation I have made over the last year that President Zardari has been in the limelight is that many of his political decisions might indeed be motivated by his desire to modify risk factors for his reported ailments. The first one of course being his relationship with Mian Nawaz Sharif. Everyone knows that Mian sahib is a very gracious host and in true Lahori tradition is always trying to feed his guests food that can induce immediate high cholesterol levels.
A diet of parathas, nihari, siri payas, karahi gosht and that ultimate favourite of mine, brain masala, can in one meal double the cholesterol level and in those susceptible produce an acute ‘coronary event’. It, therefore, made great sense in health terms for President Zardari to draw back on his personal relationship with Mian sahib.
Many years ago I heard that Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto shaheed was a vegetarian. If that was indeed true then perhaps her eating habits might have rubbed off on President Zardari, though during his almost a decade of incarceration he was eating things that were often provided by ‘friends’ and I am sure they were under no circumstances vegetarian.
Now to the matter of exercise, considering his back problems, clearly horseback riding is out. This is good since in the past President Zardari has had problems with polo grounds and polo horses. As an aside, driving from Lahore to Gujranwala on the GT Road is also an extremely bad idea for somebody with a back problem and must be avoided at all costs.
Another form of exercise that is bad for the back is jogging, so it would seem that President Zardari must choose some form of low or non-impact exercise. I am sure that the presidency has a swimming pool and if it does, swimming probably sounds like the best alternative. Since I cannot swim, therefore for me, swallowing, inhaling and getting chlorinated water in your eyes does not seem a pleasant way to pass the time.
The last of the major health problems to consider are the psychological and emotional problems he was reported to have after being released. Frankly, eight odd years of incarceration during which he was reported to have been tortured is no joke. His detractors often claim that he spent most of his jail time in comfortable surroundings. But a loss of freedom is exactly that, a loss of freedom.
The one thing I cannot even imagine is not being there to watch my children grow up, or not being able to take them out to their favourite restaurant every so often or just not being there to hold them in my arms and put them to sleep when they were sick or cranky or upset.
It is clear that President Zardari survived those years with much of his good humour intact but I am sure it left him with some problems that will take time to dissipate. The assassination of his wife and the mother of his children was I am sure an added emotional trauma, the effect of which is difficult for us to imagine.
I have often pondered on why Mr Zardari decided to run for president. The more I think about it, the more it becomes obvious that his primary fear was that he would end up in jail once again if he himself was not president. That is after all what happened every time his political party formed a government at the Centre. Perhaps this was his best survival strategy against incarceration, but it has obviously not been good to him, physically or emotionally.
Finally, much is made of President Zardari and his ‘friends’. One of the important factors in living a healthy life is having friends that are close to you and those that you can depend on. Perhaps all his years of incarceration has made him ever more dependent on his close friends. For people in powerful positions, good friends that are willing to give sincere advice can be a major benefit but they can also become a major liability.
So Mr President, as Mr Spock would say: “Live long and prosper.”
Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at email@example.com