As part of our occasional “Dear Carolyn” series of personal patient perspectives shared by my readers, today I’m introducing you to Canadian heart patient, Linda Vardy, a retired high school math teacher. You might expect that Linda’s experience of undergoing triple bypass surgery at age 61 (after being told for almost a year that all of her cardiac test results were “inconclusive”) would be a dominant theme in her story – but that part is for a future post.
I happen to have a pain specialist in my family: my darling 6-year old granddaughter Everly Rose, who studies her assorted owies very seriously. She updates me at each visit on how every scratch, scar or scab is coming along, rating the pain that each injury caused her on the playground, at summer day camp, or while playing with Homie, her cat.
I, on the other hand, am apparently keen on NOT making a fuss, no matter what – yes, even the chest and left arm pain that continued during my own misdiagnosed heart attack.
Nicole Nickerson always knew that she had a significant history of heart disease in her family: her mother had a heart attack at age 30 (due to a congenital heart defect that had been missed at birth), and her father had quadruple bypass surgery at age 40 (likely due to stress and smoking). But it was only after her 25-year old sister died of a heart attack six years ago that Nicole’s heart was checked, too.
People living with chronic illness often discover that they must adapt to changes in what occupational therapists like to call our activities of daily living (ADLs). The basic ADLs typically include eating, bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting, and moving around independently (e.g. getting up off that couch). Even smaller changes occur: for example, I now wear a medical I.D. on my wrist all day. I never leave home without my nitro spray for chronic angina. I count out all my cardiac meds for the week in labeled pill organizers. These represent a few of the many adaptations I’ve learned to make since my cardiac diagnosis.
Today, in this Dear Carolynepisode (our eighth in the occasional series featuring Heart Sisters readers sharing the experiences of becoming a heart patient), we’ll attempt to address a related reader question about adapting.
We know now that childhood trauma is strongly associated with chronic illness later on, including heart disease. As I wrote in a recent blog post about ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences), researchers warn us that scoring 4 or higher on the ACE testcan predict a significantly higher risk of physical or mental illness as an adult. I was stunned when I took the test and saw that my own score was 4; I was well aware of my childhood experiences, of course, but I thought that only marginalized kids from desperately poor families were at high risk – and that wasn’t me! A history of psychological childhood abuse or neglect is not what we expect our doctors to ask us about – but this research suggests that maybe they should start.
One response to that post really hit home for me. Marie (who prefers not to use her real name here) lives with a type of ischemic heart disease calledcoronary microvascular disease (as I do, too). With her kind permission, I’m sharing her childhood story with you as the latest guest post in my regular but very occasional series called “Dear Carolyn“: