“What Was That?” A poem for heart attack survivors

11 May

by Carolyn Thomas

Loyal British reader Lorraine Gradwell responded to a recent post here (Heart Disease Within “The Comfort of Denial) by revealing that its post-heart attack emotional roller coaster message had resonated with her. Like many other women, this 58-year old Manchester mother of two felt frightened and confused after surviving what doctors call a “widow maker” heart attack last fall. And like many other women, her cardiac symptoms (crushing fatigue, light-headedness along with chest, neck, arm and shoulder symptoms) had been initially misdiagnosed as panic attacks

Lorraine explains:

“I had my heart attacks early last October; I didn’t know what was happening and this left me frightened that I could have more. I began a creative writing course the same week and wrote this poem.”  

Unlike most of us, Lorraine is no stranger to life-altering health issues.  She was diagnosed with polio as a little 3-year old, and has spent the past 30 years using a wheelchair.  She’s also the Chief Executive at a not-for-profit agency advocating for disabled employees – a role for which she was awarded the prestigious Member of the British Empire medal two years ago.  When I contacted Lorraine asking for permission to reprint her poem here, she got back to me immediately, adding:

“I was four days in the hospital and came home pretty scared that I’d have another heart attack. Your website was a lifeline for me in the early weeks (well, and still is!) giving me answers, sign-posting, and most importantly reassurance.” 

Thank you, Lorraine – and here’s her heart attack-inspired poem:

What was that?

Listen to your heart. What does it say
When it jumps and flutters and thumps?
What does it mean? Is it bad? Or okay?
Which is it?

Familiar sounds, some fast, some slow,
Each clunk and whoosh and beat.
But now: I think I didn’t know.
Or did I?

Silent damage, death by stealth
An unfelt pain revealed
No hint, no clue about poor health,
Or was there?

My heart attack, my brush with fate –
I’ll know it again they say.
Stripped of disguise, no doubt – but Wait!
Was that another? Was it?

© 2011 Lorraine Gradwell

19 Responses to ““What Was That?” A poem for heart attack survivors”

  1. Kenny October 7, 2018 at 6:19 pm #

    Wow, I had one as well and now two days ago another, thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas October 7, 2018 at 7:00 pm #

      Hi Kenny – TWO heart attacks! What a shock that must have been for you. You’re in very early days still, so take it nice and easy…


  2. Lorraine McCarthy February 28, 2015 at 9:05 pm #

    Inspiring poem, especially for victims of heart attacks. Thanks for posting. I will share with heart survivors.

    Another Lorraine (quadruple bypass surgery~ 2003)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Angela Kerstiens October 11, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    Well said. Thank you for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas October 11, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

      So glad you liked this, Angela. Lorraine’s poem hits the nail right on the head.


  4. John Shockey October 14, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    Touched my heart Carolyn, and put words to what I have tried and failed to for 3 years of hell. Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas October 15, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

      Hope you are doing better now, John. I loved Lorraine’s poem because I think it really captures that “Is this something? Is it nothing? Should I call for help?” paralyzing cycle of anxiety.


  5. Lorraine Gradwell May 30, 2012 at 3:55 am #

    Thanks everyone for your supportive comments – it’s good to know I’m not on my own – and not going crazy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas May 30, 2012 at 5:07 am #

      Lovely to hear from you again, Lorraine. Thanks so much for writing this poem.


  6. Sra. Julia May 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    Lorraine you described beautifully the feelings I have had also. The only thing I could add is the confusing and contradictory explanations from doctors and staff as to what is going on and what that does to your mind and ultimately your health.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas May 12, 2012 at 10:12 am #

      Julia, you’re so right. These “confusing and contradictory explanations” (or misdiagnoses – far worse!) from health care professionals are vastly underrated, in my opinion, as issues that cause great anxiety in patients.


  7. Laurie May 11, 2012 at 6:19 am #

    This poem is itself a lifeline to those of us who have those “what was that?” moments. We aren’t alone, and we aren’t losing our minds. This is such a life-altering event that we have to give ourselves space to grieve and worry and even accept that things will never be the same again. For me, the lesson has been about listening to my body and yet trusting that I am in good hands – a daily struggle.

    Thank you, Lorraine, for expressing all this so beautifully.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas May 11, 2012 at 6:47 am #

      Well said, Laurie. You summed up the reality for so many of us.


  8. Chris Corbit May 11, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    Lorraine’s poem captures that feeling of uncertainty. I have felt it since my heart attack event- also a widow maker. Her line about no hint no clue or was there? – I didn’t pay attention to those clues before my heart attack. I hope I do now or do I ?
    Thanks, Chris

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas May 11, 2012 at 5:59 am #

      I agree – Lorraine somehow captures that “what was that?!” obsession of the heart attack survivor. As Australian cardiac psychologist Len Gould says, “Before a heart event, every chest pain is indigestion; after a heart event, every chest pain is a major heart attack approaching.” Thanks for your comment, Chris.


      • John Shockey October 14, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

        yes, thought my widow maker was indigestion, and was slammed for it in work comp court, made fun of and lost. finally someone understands. (heart and lung bill in FL for first responders)

        Liked by 1 person


  1. Art and Illness Project - May 29, 2015

    […] “What was it?”  by Lorraine Gradwell (https://myheartsisters.org/2012/05/11/lorraine-gradwell-poem/) […]


  2. Lorraine Gradwell - March 21, 2013

    I post this poem today because it’s #WorldPoetryDay: it was featured last May on a wonderful website I found called Heart Sisters, which can be found here.


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