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Two big factors that can impact a patient’s loss of ‘self’

8 Jan

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

When California sociologist Dr. Kathy Charmaz studied the subject of suffering among those living with chronic illness, she identified an element of suffering that is often overlooked by health care providers.(1)  As she explained her findings:

“A fundamental form of that suffering is the loss of self in chronically ill persons who observe their former self-images crumbling away without the simultaneous development of equally valued new ones.

“The experiences and meanings upon which these ill persons had built former positive self-images are no longer available to them.”

Dr. Charmaz also found that this profound sense of having lost the “self” you used to be before being diagnosed is generally the result of both external and internal influences on how we view ourselves.  Continue reading

How these doctors have saved thousands of women

6 Nov

by Carolyn Thomas

A guest post by Dr. Annabelle Santos Volgman, McMullan-Eybel Chair for Excellence in Clinical Cardiology, Professor of Medicine, Rush College of Medicine, and Medical Director, Rush Heart Center for Women, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL; and Marissa Bergman, Associate Editor, Today’s Chicago Woman

“2013 was the first year since 1984 that fewer women died of heart disease than men(1)—despite being viewed as solely a man’s health issue. This decline was the result of the tireless work of a small group of women who have dedicated their lives to eradicating this misunderstanding and unequal treatment of women’s heart disease. Continue reading

Do NOT drive yourself to the E.R. in mid-heart attack!

23 Oct

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by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

I don’t know why this even needs saying, but apparently it does. People talking about heart patients with severe chest pain (or offering advice to heart patients with severe chest pain, or speaking onstage at Stanford University’s annual Medicine X conference showing this slide about heart patients with severe chest pain) must never and I do mean NEVER even hint that patients should drive themselves to hospital while experiencing “severe chest pain” unless you are “too dizzy to drive yourself”. 

REALITY UPDATE: I am posting this slide as a warning to others about giving bad advice, not to offer an opinion on hospitals that engage in patient communication tools. 

Continue reading

Does your hospital have a Women’s Heart Clinic yet? If not, why not?

16 Oct

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

teacup-heartFocused Cardiovascular Care for Women is the name of an important report about women’s heart health published in February of this year. One of the report’s highlights (or lowlights!) was that very few if any hospitals actually offered focused cardiac care specifically for women before the year 2000.(1) One reason for this may have been that, as the report’s authors explained, “the concept of Women’s Heart Clinics was met with hesitation from many cardiologists.”

Yes, you read that right, ladies. Until recently, even the very idea of establishing a heart clinic devoted to the unique realities of the female body was not warmly welcomed by the very physicians you’d think would be most supportive.  Continue reading

Denial and its deadly role in surviving a heart attack

2 Oct

by Carolyn Thomas      @HeartSisters

Dr. John Leach is one of the world’s leading experts on survival psychology. He likes to tell a story about London’s tragic King’s Cross underground station fire in 1987.(1) As the fire spread, trains kept on arriving in the station, and hurried commuters headed right into the disaster. Officials unwittingly directed passengers onto escalators that carried them straight into the flames. Many commuters followed their routines despite the smoke and fire, almost oblivious to the crush of people trying to escape – some actually in flames! Thirty-one people perished in the King’s Cross fire, and incredibly, the Underground staff never sprayed a single fire extinguisher or spilled a drop of water on the fire.

Dr. Leach, who teaches at Lancaster University, has a name for this phenomenon. It’s called the incredulity response. He explains that people simply don’t believe what they’re seeing. So they go about their business, engaging in what’s known as normalcy bias which is incredibly powerful and sometimes even hazardous. People can act as if everything is okay, and they underestimate the seriousness of danger. Some experts call this analysis paralysis.

What he’s describing is precisely how I felt while undergoing two weeks of increasingly debilitating cardiac symptoms before being finally hospitalized. Although all signs clearly pointed to a heart attack – crushing chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain radiating down my left arm – I seemed fatalistically determined to go about my life acting as if everything was fine, just fine until – when symptoms became truly unbearable – I finally returned to the Emergency Department that had sent me home two weeks earlier with an acid reflux misdiagnosis. Continue reading

In praise of solitude after a heart attack

18 Sep

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters


“Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.”

This wise counsel is from Dr. Ester Buchholz, author of The Call of Solitude.  She describes solitude like this as “meaningful alone-time” – a powerful need and a necessary tonic in today’s rapid-fire world. Indeed, she maintains that solitude “actually allows us to connect to others in a far richer way”.

She likely didn’t write that as specific advice for those of us living with heart disease, but it struck me when I read her words that, although they are probably very true for all women, they are especially applicable to heart patients.

Indeed, maybe our heart health would actually improve if we were more determined to carve out more ‘me-time’ during the average day.  Continue reading