Scary times: living with (but not IN) fear 

by Carolyn Thomas      @HeartSisters

This is my 863rd blog post here on Heart Sisters. That’s a lot of articles.  Almost all of them so far are about women’s heart disease, or translating emerging cardiac research into plain language, or what it’s like for women when we suddenly become heart patients, or when we’re mistakenly told that our heart disease is not heart disease.

Never in the 11 years that I’ve been writing this blog have I felt like I’d run out of All Things Cardiac to write about.  Until today.             .

But this week, today, right now, all I want to write or think or talk about is the Corona virus (COVID19).

In between the pervasive 24/7 news coverage about this pandemic, however, we know that there are still women out there freshly-diagnosed with heart disease, who may be feeling – as I once was – like they’ve been hit by a very large bus.

I hope that these women do find Heart Sisters, and read some of the other 862 articles here that might help them figure out what the heck has just happened to them so that they don’t feel quite so alone.

Here they can learn about practical day to day issues (like this four-part series from cardiac psychologist Dr. Wayne Sotile for newly-diagnosed heart patients and their families, or my three-part series on cardiac pain, or my 8,000 word patient-friendly, jargon-free glossary of confusing terms and abbreviations you may have heard on the cardiac ward, or any of the Living With Heart Disease topics listed on this site.

But for today, I want to tell you something that needs saying:

This Corona virus is real.

It’s happening, it’s not a hoax, it’s not a conspiracy, and we need to ignore everything that non-experts are telling us about this very real health threat.

This is important because we now know that heart patients are particularly at risk – both for catching it, and worse, for becoming seriously ill if we do catch it. While about 80 per cent of all cases will be relatively mild, heart patients who become infected are more likely to be in that group who will be hospitalized in grave condition.

Despite those scary risks, I believe that heart patients (and most other chronically ill patients and their family members) already have one advantage over the general population who have never experienced a health crisis before now. As one of my Twitter friends explained recently:

“Patients already know a lot about being up-ended, about uncertainty, and about living with but not IN fear.”

To stay safe, we first need to ignore the avalanche of nonsense out there, like the preventive tricks you’ve seen on Facebook (gargling salt water, or aiming a hair dryer at your face, or eating raw garlic). Please stop forwarding these to your family and friends. Heart patients are already used to hearing every cure scam out there.

We need to ignore vitamin supplement ads or wellness gurus or unscrupulous chiropractors who try to convince you that spending money on their miracle supplements or treatments or neck adjustments  will magically “boost” your immune system so you won’t catch this virus (some – even worse! – are claiming that they can “cure” the virus if you do test positive). This is false.

There is NO known cure, and if there were, Big Pharma would have already patented it and be making a fortune marketing The Cure.  Heart patients are already used to hearing (and ignoring) scam promises that this (and only this!) particular product, person or prayer will cure our heart disease forever.

We also need to ignore uninformed politicians who issue official statements based on their “hunches”.

Sometimes, celebrities with the letters M.D. after their names need to be ignored, too.  On March 9th, for example, Dr. Mehmet Oz (a cardiac surgeon-turned-embarrassing-TV-ratings huckster), pronounced confidently during an Access Daily interview that the apprehensive 88-year old actor William Shatner should indeed proceed with his plans for an international lecture tour, adding: “He can go anywhere he wants. Do not make decisions based on fear. We’ve gotta live our lives!” )  Mr. Shatner, meanwhile, wisely ignored that boneheaded advice; he announced on his Twitter account that he is now “on lockdown, at home.”)  My general warning: ignore pretty well everything that Dr. Oz says.

Luckily, there are many experienced researchers who are trained experts in the highly specialized infectious disease field who know what they’re talking about because their entire careers have been dedicated to studying them. Please be a smart consumer and pay attention to what science is telling us. Follow those basic public health guidelines. 

During this unprecedented time in our history, we also need to protect ourselves psychologically and mentally. The only thing I can actually control during this crisis, for example, is my own response – especially when I’m feeling scared or overwhelmed. I can take breaks from non-stop COVID-19 news coverage, for example. I can choose to voluntarily self-isolate at home, which is what I’m doing.  For one hour each day, I leave home to walk our quiet neighbourhood streets (a safer choice than my usual seaside path, which started to look more like a crowded parade route than a safe distance place to get exercise and fresh air). I can watch our 4 1/2 year old granddaughter Everly Rose out riding her bike in the back lane behind her home, but I can’t hug or kiss her little face, or get closer than six feet from her. I do make a list of things, big or small, to look forward to each day, especially things that bring me joy (like baking muffins to drop off for elderly neighbours, phoning my family and friends, listening to beautiful music, or watching a funny movie).

Unlike our heart disease diagnoses, this virus will not last forever. Together, we’ve got this. 

Stay safe, my heart sisters.

Mona Lisa image by Sumanley xul, Pixabay

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:   I wrote more about how heart patients manage the inevitable changes brought on by health crises in my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease”.  You can ask for it at your local bookshop, 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 0% off the list price).

Q:  How are you deciding to spend your days at this time?

Other COVID-19 resources I like:

Let’s all be palm trees together” in facing COVID-19

COVID-19: Can facts help to minimize fears?’

CardioSmart (from the American College of Cardiology)

Health Canada 🇨🇦 (includes a COVID-19 self-assessment quiz)

HealthLink BC 🇨🇦 (includes COVID-19 information in English and nine other languages)

16 thoughts on “Scary times: living with (but not IN) fear 

  1. NOTE FROM CAROLYN: This comment has been removed because it was attempting to sell you a miracle cure, almost as if the writer had not bothered to read this post… To learn how you too can have your comment ignored, please visit my Disclaimer page.


  2. i just want to say, Thank you for all you do. If it wasn’t for your readings, posts, and such great compassion for other people, I think I would be going stir crazy.(not kidding)

    I cannot afford your books, which I so wished I could, which you deserve to be acknowledged in so many ways, but I will continue to read all of your stories and posts, via internet.

    Thank you so much again! Please stay safe!!
    Charlene Forker ~ Pennsylvania

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Charlene for your kind words. My book is also available in most public libraries (once they re-open after this virus isolation policy we’re living with!) – so when we are ‘back to normal’, you can check with the local branch in your area. I really appreciate your comment here. Stay safe… ♥


  3. Carolyn, you are awesome, really love this post. You are such a light for all of us, well informed, compassionate, and I learned a lot from your book. BC (Before Coronavirus) I tried to share it with busy doctors, cardiologists,residents, etc.

    I’ve shared with women friends who heard I had heart issues. So, we are each other’s family of support, thanks for bringing the girls together as you do every Sunday. I always look forward to your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for such a nice note, Paula.

      I wonder if we’ll all be using the initials “BC” from here on in… Until now, I used to often say BHA to designate my life “before heart attack” in 2008, because that was surely the most dramatic, life-altering event that had ever happened to me.

      Now this new life-altering event is happening to all of us, everywhere. I do love that image of “bringing the girls together” here every Sunday (and some nice guys, too!) – what a lovely way to look at the whole group of us, right?

      Stay safe… See you next Sunday! ♥


  4. Thanks for focusing on the corona virus after 863 important cardiac posts. I look forward to the 1000th.

    I do think folks with chronic illness have often learned to cope with fear, though it’s a long struggle to learn not to get anxious with each new bit of news…

    I must confess that I read the memes on gargling, and do it now regularly. The Mayo Clinic did find “A randomized study of 400 people during cold and flu season also found that salt water gargling three times a day, with or without a cold actually being felt, reduced respiratory infections up to 40 percent.” I am not going to argue with the Mayo Clinic, and if there is even a 1% it is helpful it’s fine by me.

    And if it is just a placebo effect to make me feel more in control, that is also fine with me.

    How do I qualify for your muffin list?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for weighing in here, Dr. Steve. Re gargling: you’re right! I rarely argue with Mayo! My understanding is that this research looked at infections of the upper respiratory tract (colds and flu) which mostly involve sinuses, throat and airways, while COVID-19 is known to infect the lower respiratory tract, especially the chest and lungs. We just don’t have good quality studies yet on this novel virus. But even if that salt water gargle doesn’t flush out this virus, the placebo effect is real, as you suggest, and if it makes you feel better (during a time when we’re told there’s essentially nothing we can do to control this virus), then go for it! There’s nothing in gargling to harm you, and it might be flushing away those garden-variety cold bugs.

      PS Sadly, Alaska is too far away from Victoria for my homemade muffin delivery service…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am drinking hot darjeeling tea all day long. It is also good for my arteries as a doctor told me by wondering how I could live 37 years with venous bypasses in my heart.

        I am not afraid of a heart attack, but I am afraid of this corona virus.

        I am happy to live in countryside being able to do nordic walking — about 6 km almost every day. My husband and I have no contact to other people. Recommendation is not to go near anybody outside the house. My husband goes for fresh food once a week with a breathing mask. We have about 70 infected persons in this area.

        Why should I not survive this virus, too? I was over 25 times in heart catheter and have got several stents in two of the bypasses, two stents in femoral arteries and two stents in abdominal arteries. I am full of calcifications.

        I wish you all the best Carolyn and all the other heart sisters.

        I can read English articles but writing is more and more difficult. Perhaps my brain arteries are blocked, too.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hello Mirjami – I’m very glad to hear that you’re out there walking in the fresh air. You have – amazingly! – so far survived what so many people do not, so my guess is that you will certainly survive this virus, too. And the fact that you write so well in English suggests your brain arteries are functioning fine!

          Please take care, enjoy your tea, and stay safe! ♥


  5. Bravo, Carolyn! Thank you for your comments on Covid-19. There are so many “Experts” these days touting “Snake Oil” cures. I thought those days belonged to the Wild, wild days in the Old West. But, apparently not!

    I look forward to your posts on Sundays.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely to hear from you, Sharen. It does feel a bit like the wild west out there, doesn’t it? We need to figure out who to trust, but just as importantly, who NOT to trust!

      Hope you are feeling well and staying safe…♥


  6. Thank you from the deepest reaches of my soul that you are my favourite bloggest. New word… it seems bloggest. As my grammar checked my sentence.

    I can really identify with being unable to hug your granddaughter or kiss her cheek. They (her parents) tell her there is a sickness about. That is why she is unable to hug Nanna or have Nanna’s arms engulf her tiny little body.

    I only remember telling my husband many years ago that the government were only wasting $ by paying him to write a pandemic response. He and his colleagues did a very difficult task but when we watched the media finally telling us they were enforcing the plan, someone had listened and actually read words in the manuals removed from shelves. The manuals were no longer gathering dust.

    The training of many people throughout BC was not in vain. The manuals were being reread and shared for the betterment of all. I have had to eat my words! And these words I am pleased to have to “eat.” Please let this pandemic be over soonest.

    The past has to be re-visited and lessons have to be re-learned for the betterment of all mankind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Dorothy – I was moved by the story of your husband’s first hand experience in creating pandemic guidelines. Preparing for that remote possibility must have felt like merely a science fiction notion years ago. But you’re so right, here in BC, our government is taking those recommendations seriously, and also learning from doctors with lived experience of treating this virus in other countries. I’m so grateful to hear Dr. Bonnie Henry’s reassuring voice at her daily briefings with Adrian Dix; even when the news isn’t good, at least we can feel confident that we’re getting comprehensive, informed updates and recommendations.

      Best of luck to you…♥


  7. Thank you, Carolyn, this post is tremendously helpful.

    For some reason I’ve not been receiving emails or having your posts turn up on my Twitter feed. I’ll start checking my bookmarks to find your updates, as your articles are always rich with valuable information and just as vital, emotional support.

    How lovely that you get to watch your granddaughter ride her bicycle. During these days where we’re all feeling so deprived of hugs and close-up visits, being able to be together even 6 feet apart is a blessing.

    With great appreciation, and wishes for continued health and safety for you and your loved ones, 
    Donna Benens

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Donna. If you click on the “follow” button here on the right hand sidebar, you should be re-subscribed to Sunday notifications. I’m glad you found me this morning! You’re so right – I do feel lucky (even from a safe six feet away) to be able to watch her in person, or to hear her call out “I love you!” as she disappears back into her home after her bike ride…

      Stay safe… ♥


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