To whom it may concern. . .
Congratulations! You have been selected to be the host for heart disease. You will begin to experience many or all of these symptoms — and may even deal with several of them all at the same time.
- Pain! We are equal opportunity destroyers, therefore we will choose many places for you to experience pain. We have even devised many different types of pain, but we’ll throw in some nitroglycerin to keep your mind off the pain temporarily. We are continually improving our repertoire of pain categories, so expect updates.
- Mental confusion: This can be accompanied by embarrassment, memory loss, shortness of breath, poor co-ordination, inability to concentrate, and sensations of confusion or even having somehow lost your sense of self. We try to simulate the experience of riding a never-ending roller coaster to satisfy your adventurous spirit. No safety harnesses required, and you have no choice of when the coaster ride starts, ends, or how fast it goes.
- Extreme fatigue: Now remember, this is not just feeling tired. We will suddenly pull your plug, so to speak, and you will have no energy at all. Even dressing or taking a shower may be too daunting a task for you to complete. And because we like surprises, we will not give you any advance warning, so you could be in the middle of the grocery store, at work, or chatting with your friends over lunch.
- And speaking of feeling tired, we’ll make sure that in the early days when you’re trying desperately to make sense out of a diagnosis that makes no sense, we’ll supply plenty of opportunities to experience the situational depression that we like to offer all freshly-diagnosed heart patients. We’ll affect your ability to sleep, to plan for your future, to care about the things you used to care about, to understand the swirling emotions of heart disease. Depression and anxiety will become your new best buds!
In addition to the symptoms above, we also want to eliminate some things from your previously crowded life. Here are a few of the things which will be taken away from you now that you have been chosen to have a chronic and progressive condition:
- the willingness to be a martyr by always putting yourself last, and to say YES to everything anybody asks you to do even when you don’t want to/can’t do it
- the ability to complete any task which requires more than 10 minutes of concentration; multi-step activities or long-term projects will take 2-3 times longer then average
- the ability to have a ‘normal’ social life.
- the ability to work all that unpaid overtime, go into the office on weekends, and accumulate sick days to earn the perfect attendance bonus
As indicated previously, this condition is in constant flux and more symptoms will be added as we deem necessary. There is no warranty guarantee, technical support, or customer service available.
Your Heart Disease
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Dear Heart Disease,
I would like to clarify that, while you may wreak havoc on my body, and likely even confuse my mind, you cannot have my soul, my hope or my love. There are, in fact, a number of things that you have given me, things I never could have experienced had you not come to possess my body.
You have given me:
- the ability to tell the difference between acquaintances and true friends
- appreciation for my awesome family
- the resolve to turn my own curiosity into a step in helping others
- the wisdom to seek professional help when I needed help
- expertise and knowledge about a complex condition
- renewed interest in slowing down and smelling the roses
- more compassion for others who are suffering
- increased knowledge of my own body and health
- a reason to eat better, exercise and take care of myself
- reasons to rest when I need it
- gratitude for the kind, smart and committed physicians who help to care for me, and for the fact that I live where I do (Canada!) where I can enjoy world-class affordable cardiac care (especially because I know that not all women can say this)
You will not find me to be an agreeable host. On bad days, I will take care of myself. I will try not to whine. On the good days, I will try not to be smug, or act like improvements are due to any special skills. I will learn to take advantage of and savour the precious moments, especially spending time with our darling grandbaby, Everly Rose – who I honestly never thought I’d live to see.
You have thrown some obstacles into my life, but I have learned a lot so far about getting over them or around them – and also learning to adjust to those that, frankly, just won’t budge. In fact, while I am figuring these obstacles out, I may just stop for a moment to reflect upon this mountain I am climbing, plant a few seeds, relax – and then continue on.
I will learn from this experience and try to help others.
Carolyn Thomas, HEART SISTERS, April 29, 2018
This post first appeared on Heart Sisters on July 21, 2009. I wrote lots more about life as a heart patient in my book “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease“ (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017).
Q: If you wrote a letter to the diagnosis you live with, what would you tell it?