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

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

  1. Pingback: Art and Illness Project
  2. 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. Pingback: Lorraine Gradwell
    1. 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.


  4. 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

  5. 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

    1. 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.


  6. 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

  7. 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

    1. 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.


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