“School’s in!” every day for heart patients

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Annette is a 42-year old Pennsylvania artist, teacher and mother of two kidlets (10 and 6 years of age). In August of 2010, after returning home from a run, she suffered her first cardiac symptoms: “a tired I never felt before along with shortness of breath, chest tightness/pain, low blood pressure and low heart rate.”  Since then, she’s been volleyballed about by cardiologists, an infectious disease specialist and a rheumatologist – until finally arriving at the diagnosis of Coronary Microvascular Dysfunction.

Annette’s now being treated for this small vessel disease by specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and considers this diagnosis to be her “major health issue.” She admits:

“It feels like life as I am used to is a memory. So I am trying to use my time to learn the practice of meditation and use the time (during the day when I have energy) wisely.”

I’m sharing this recent back-to-school essay from Annette today – with her kind permission:  

”     School’s In! – EVERY Day!

“I saw an adorable photo of an owl and his heart shaped face. It reminds me of how wise you need to be about your heart and health in general. Where does this enlightenment come from?

“You need to be aware every day of all you do.

“Over time, you become wise on how to respond to your body’s reactions. This is true in every aspect of living. You must be aware of body, mind and spirit.

“In chronic illness, you need to be extra sharp on the things that work and do not. It is only through time that you know yourself well. You learn to expect certain symptoms or repercussions from an action or non-action.

“Yes, in life there are still unpredictable things, perhaps this is why the learning never ends. Things change. Your response to situations, emotions, medications and how you treat yourself is rarely a static event. What should not change is your eyes and ears being open to anything new or important, and then shifting focus to adjust.

The diagnosis is just the beginning. You must keep learning.

“Work hard and never settle for mediocre when you know you can do better. It IS challenging. It IS sometimes late nights cramming, pop quizzes and lots of research papers. Be sure to make the time for recess. Play when you can to recharge and jump back in.

“I know . . . when is the longer holiday from this? Sorry. No real break from learning in life. Every day asks you to participate. You will gain discernment and feel more in control from the knowledge of your past experiences. Build on them. They are good tools to help you deal with this never ending fight.

Life is in session whether you are up and moving, in bed and healing or able to do some of both. It is in all of the good and bad and even the so-so.

“Oh, wow! Look at the time. Class has begun!

“May every day teach you what you need to make the next one better or hold on until it can be.  As Mahatma Gandhi said:

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

“Love and light all around!”


NOTE FROM CAROLYN:  I wrote more about common cardiac meds (and managing side effects) in my book  A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease“.  You can ask for it at bookstores (please support your local independent bookseller!) or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon – or order it directly from my publisher Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).

Q:  Do you share Annette’s patient experience with lifelong learning?

See also:

Annette’s helpful Facebook page about Coronary Microvascular Dysfunction

Annette’s guest post called Is Your Bra Too Tight” – A Poem For Heart Patients”

Misdiagnosed: women’s coronary microvascular and spasm pain

Coronary Microvascular Disease: a “trash basket diagnosis”?

What is causing my chest pain?

How women can have heart attacks without having any blocked arteries

8 thoughts on ““School’s in!” every day for heart patients

  1. I think it was one of the best essays I have seen in quite a while, it snapped me out of a “damper” mood I was in this morning.

    Kids wanting homemade waffles for breakfast, business phone cranking up at 6:00AM (What the?… Oh.. different time zone). I wish I could drink coffee.. I would have a cup right now. The new pup ate the what?! The vacuum cleaner just shot fire out at me! MOM! The toilet just “threw up”, Did you order? Did you buy?, Did you pick up? Did you remember to do?…. AHHHHH!

    Then, I walked out on my sanitary (my deck). I waited for tears.. none came. I waited for chest pain… nope. I looked at my big slobbering great dane puppy that smiled at me, while eating my favorite sandal.

    It was at that moment that I knew I was blessed. My kids love my waffles and appreciate me making them in the mornings before school. My clients are still calling to place orders. The toilet was just a minor malfunction and all those people needing me for something… really need me. The Dog? He has the prettiest smile I have ever seen on anything or anybody… he smiles with mouth, eyes and ears.. it’s beautiful. I will miss the shoes though… they went with everything.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. AMEN, Annette!!

    Being open to new strategies regardless of their origin is part of the challenge of this particular dx and part of the wonder. There is much to learn from those who’ve travelled these illness and life paths before us. And some days just showing up to class is all I can do.



    1. I agree with you, JG – in fact, learning from those “who’ve travelled these illness and life paths before us” is likely the best way to feel both less isolated and more informed.


      1. You are both so right… where I would be? I think about how I would be left floundering on my own had I never found a network – It is a scary thought! If I had no support from others in the same boat, it would be so very disheartening. Banning together, gaining clarity and sharing how we deal with heart disease, is the best proactive thing we can do on so many days when the answers aren’t so easy.

        I so often feel I am Horshack with my hand up…. “oohh oooh…” Then nothing intelligent comes out! Glad I have others in class with me. 🙂 We must keep on poking.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ha! That Horshack image is a good one – particularly when we are not called on, or aren’t quite sure what to say even if Mr Kotter acknowledges us! Thanks Annette for writing such a good essay here for us.

          PS Just saw an interesting comment from cardiologist Dr. Noel Bairey-Merz about coronary microvascular dysfunction in a related article called “Myocardial Infarction Re-Defined” from the American College of Cardiology’s “In Touch” blog:

          “Because women are relatively more likely to suffer from plaque erosion and distal coronary embolism compared to relatively higher rates of plaque rupture and proximal thrombosis in men, consideration of evidence of microvascular dysfunction at coronary angiography evidenced by slow flow (high TIMI frame count) or at pathology by microvascular thrombus should be considered as well. Because a majority of patients with microvascular coronary dysfunction have atherosclerosis evidenced by intra-coronary vascular ultrasound (IVUS), attention to both the epicardial and microvascular coronary arteries provide the best assessment.”


          1. Will certainly read that article Carolyn! It is important for many to understand the different ways we present that may not be the typical thing to look for. It can be so covert. It is even a concern, that indeed we may spasm microvascularly and it can show or not… tricky, tricky is this in seeing what it can do.

            An interested person whose wife has MVD said to me, (he was thinking abstractly) “In a fish tank, there is a balance of nitrates and ammonia that is kept in check by certain bacteria. These bacteria are considered good and necessary to the balance of life in the tank and without them all life would die. Is it possible for a similar bacteria to be introduced and live in the human body that targets the nitrates you ladies need for your hearts?”

            I also wonder if there could be a lack of a natural bacteria to help this along. Where on the ladder rung does this take a bad turn? You wonder what the culprit is in all of this… we need abstract and open thinking to find the etiology and tackle this trickle down effect that debilitates too many of us.

            School is most definitely IN! 🙂 I just hope the research can further the management for all of us daily- in every form of heart disease!

            Liked by 1 person

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