“Refrain from operating a chainsaw after your cardiac procedure”

As I love to keep saying, my Heart Sisters blog readers are the smartest and the funniest and the most resilient women out there – and remember that most of them are living with various levels of heart disease symptoms, all while busy being smart and funny and resilient.
One such reader is Jennifer, who also lives with a thyroid condition called Graves Disease. She wrote the comment below in response to my blog post about women’s heart clinics. Her hospital experience with our known cardiology gender gap is maddeningly common (and yet another powerful argument for opening a women’s heart clinic in every hospital).

For example:
I had a radial (wrist) access angiogram last Thursday. I had to laugh when I was given my hospital discharge papers the next day:   ‘Refrain from operating a lawnmower, motorcycle, chainsaw, or all terrain vehicle’.   I knew this was written for MEN, not women. (However, I had in fact been planning to use a chainsaw and my all terrain vehicle the very next day. . .?)  What would the instructions have said had they been written with WOMEN in mind?   ‘Refrain from vacuuming, and making hamburger patties?'”

Like Jennifer, I’ve had to make two separate trips to the cardiac cath lab to undergo radial access angio procedures, but my own post-op wound care instructions clearly forgot to include those chainsaw warnings.  Just imagine what could have happened had I gone out on my ATV to chop down a bunch of trees with my chainsaw? It could been catastophic. . .  if I owned either of those two things. . . and if I could have even lifted a chainsaw at that time. 

Another reader known as MEO from the UK had her painful coronary microvascular disease symptoms misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia for three whole years before she was finally appropriately diagnosed. Although there’s nothing remotely funny about that story, I did laugh right out loud at her description of her first visit with a new family physician:

“A change of address led to a new GP who was also dismissive. She questioned the accuracy of my pain perception. I wanted to poke her in the eye to see if she perceived that as painful!”

One of my readers who has taken many ambulance trips to her local ER during her years as a heart patient told me of her unusual strategy for picking out what she plans to wear each day:

“While you are getting dressed in the morning, you consider which clothes you wouldn’t be too upset about having cut off you with scissors by the E.R. staff!”

Speaking of getting dressed, my reader C. McKinney would not go to the E.R. in mid-heart attack until she changed her clothes. Here’s why:

“I was trying on my Dr. Seuss ‘Thing One’ Halloween costume the night of my classic-symptom widowmaker heart attack. But I refused to go to the E.R. until I changed out of my costume, reasoning: ‘They won’t take me seriously wearing this!’”

Meanwhile, a heart patient from Australia lives with heart failure, an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) and familial dilated cardiomyopathy. She tells us this story:

My husband swears this groggy conversation actually happened while I was in the in the ICU:

  • Cardiologist: ”And what brought you to hospital?”
  • Me :  “An ambulance.”
  • Cardiologist : “No, why are you here?”
  • Me:  “Isn’t this the Hilton?”
  • Cardiologist to other cardiologist: “We have a live one here!”
  • Me:  “Gosh, I hope so. Let’s try and keep it that way.”

When I was at Mayo Clinic in 2008 (attending the WomenHeart Science and Leadership Symposium for Women With Heart Disease), we were discussing the issue of calling 911 during a heart attack one morning over breakfast (all 45 of us were heart patients, many who had been on more than one emergency ambulance ride to the E.R. over the years). A woman at our table that day was describing experiencing her second heart attack at home, and awaiting the ambulance arrival after her hubby had called 911 for her. Her husband left the room to get their coats, and when he returned, he was alarmed to find his wife gone. He found her in the bathroom, one leg perched up on the toilet seat, shaving her legs!  “I can’t go to the E.R. with these hairy legs!!!” she explained. . .  (And yes, every female heart patient I know would get that!)

Q:  Did anything funny happen to you during your cardiac event?

NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote much more about incidents like these in my book A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). You can ask for this book at your local bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price when you order).

See also:

Finding the funny when the diagnosis isn’t

How life’s worst tragedies turn into great speech material

How humour can help – or hurt – your heart attack recovery

Resilience: it’s hard to feel like a victim when you’re laughing

24 thoughts on ““Refrain from operating a chainsaw after your cardiac procedure”

  1. Awesome!

    I don’t think about what they’ll cut off…but I do think about CHIN HAIRS and EYEBROWS. Please God let someone maintain them if I can’t🙏
    He he…The Hilton. I wish!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I moved from a medium-sized city to a very rural area in a different state, and made the first emergency call there. The EMT’s were kind and professional, and took me through the side door to the ambulance. When coming around to the front of the house, I was surprised by close to the entire town there to check me out!!! I wasn’t cool enough to take a bow, but should have!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Haven’t had a chance to read this blog until today. I’m 5 weeks post-surgery and there’s just so much to do! For example, the handbook I was given for patients recovering from heart surgery lists the following activities as the things I should be able to do now: walk, do light housekeeping, climb stairs, cook meals, have sex …. Have sex? Is that an order? I may have to go out and find it because my exhausted husband doesn’t seem too keen. Oh, and something else amusing; I’m now, officially, a member of the “zipper club” as one wag calls people who’ve had open-heart surgery and its lovely long scar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deborah! Thanks so much for getting in touch. I’ve been thinking about you and your new “zipper club” membership (the club nobody ever wants to join). You’re still in relatively early days yet, no matter what that discharge handbook says. Just go slow and take it easy. People heal at their own pace. I know you will continue to recuperate nicely, and will be back to doing housework (and other activities!) before you know it. You might be interested in re-reading this post on “Learning to Love Your Open Heart Surgery Scar.” Best of luck to you…


      1. Thanks Carolyn. I’m feeling so fortunate that I got through it and am recovering well. I read the scar blog you suggested and I’m one of those who loves her scar. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a badge of honour!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I remember thinking the exact same thing when I got my discharge instructions! I made it clear to my husband that there was no way we would be having sex for the next few weeks at a minimum. Pretty sure a man typed up those instructions.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hello Karen – I’m guessing that even men can have serious concerns about resuming a normal sex life after a cardiac event! Trouble is, every patient is different, every procedure is different, and every couple’s relationship is different! Docs tend not to bring up the subject – I wrote more about that reluctance to have the conversation here.


  4. My cardiac event was during a cardiac catheter procedure to implant an Amplatzer Occluder for my newly diagnosed Atrial Septal Defect. The simple procedure ended up being a little more complicated because the defect was larger than they expected and I woke up from anesthesia mid procedure to argue with my surgeon about the terrible heartburn I was having. He looked surprised to see me awake, sitting up, and demanding Tums. Then pretty frustrated when I didn’t lay back down once he told me it wasn’t heartburn. I was 23 years old and a new mom at the time and woke up very confused as to why my family was standing over my bed crying only to learn it was the unexpected heart attack during the procedure that had them so upset.

    After all the upset passed, my parents had a good time teasing about how I couldn’t be shut up or made to cooperate even with cords in my heart and some major anesthesia.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Traci – I’m imagining that the medical team doing your procedure is still telling the story of that feisty young woman who “sat up, wide awake, demanding Tums”!! Great story – hope you are doing well now…


  5. Laughing is good for you… along with not taking yourself too seriously. I planned to shower around how I was feeling the day I check in to the ER. It just goes to show we often know it is coming but I sure didn’t want to admit it was actually a heart attack. So, I was clean for my three day stay in the hospital. Post-HA, I don’t care what I look like if I need to go to ER, it is NOW!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I brag about my Olympic Gold in Wisecracking with a subspecialty in Gallows Humor. It prevents the MVD from getting the upper hand. And if I can get the medical staff to at least chuckle, it lightens their day, and boy! do they ever appreciate it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lauren – not one but TWO Harleys! I knew that female motorcycle riders would be in touch!! One of my closest girlfriends rode a Silver Wing for many years, so I know you’re out there… 😉


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