Exhaustion: the ‘leaky emotion’ of chronic illness

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Like most of you, I’ve experienced my fair share of garden variety pain over the years (caused, in my case, by things like a ruptured appendix, broken bones, knee surgery, or popping out two babies the old-fashioned way).

But none of those even came close to the chronic pain of refractory angina caused by my current diagnosis of inoperable coronary microvascular disease (MVD).  The chest pain caused by this disorder of the heart’s smallest blood vessels is episodic, intense, frightening and resembles what my “widow maker” heart attack symptoms felt like in 2008. Except this kind of pain happens almost every day.  It’s generally well-managed most days by meds (including my trusty nitro spray) and the non-drug, non-invasive TENS therapy recommended by my cardiologist as well as my pain specialist at our Regional Pain Clinic.  But sometimes, it’s alarming enough that I clutch my chest and wonder:

“Is this something? Is it nothing? Should I call 911? Is today the day I’m having another heart attack?”

As you already know if you live with chronic pain like this, pain can literally change your personality. If it’s chest pain, it can also make you feel anxious and worried in a way that having pain from knee surgery never can. No wonder pain is so utterly exhausting!
Continue reading “Exhaustion: the ‘leaky emotion’ of chronic illness”

Do you want the truth, or do you want “Fine, thank you”?

Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

One beautiful afternoon last fall, I was walking my daughter home from her downtown office at the end of her workday. I love these mother-daughter walks of ours. We used to do them quite often (before Larissa recently delivered my darling grandbaby Everly Rose and started her extended maternity leave).

She’d phone me just as she was about to leave work, and we’d each start walking from opposite ends of Rockland Avenue (a long leafy ramble that starts downtown near her office and finishes up near our respective homes in Oak Bay Village). We’d meet up about halfway to walk the rest of the way home together. In this fashion, we each got an hour’s brisk walk into our day, but best of all, we got to chat all the way home.

But this one afternoon, while we were walking along Rockland, I felt the familiar yet ominous crush of chest pain as we walked, that frightening kind of angina that seems to get worse with every step.  After trying my best to ignore these symptoms at first, I finally had to stop her while she was in mid-sentence, fishing in my bag for nitro spray as I lurched towards a nearby stone bench to sit down. Continue reading “Do you want the truth, or do you want “Fine, thank you”?”

When you know more than your doctors about your diagnosis

by Carolyn Thomas   @HeartSisters

One of my blog readers needlessly suffered debilitating cardiac symptoms for a number of years before she was finally correctly diagnosed (thanks to a second opinion) with coronary microvascular disease (MVD). During those years, she’d read everything she could get her hands on in a desperate effort to solve this mystery. But when she asked her own physician if MVD might be the culprit, he dismissed this diagnostic possibility, adding that he “didn’t believe” in coronary microvascular disease.

Didn’t believe in it?!

Please note, darling readers, that we’re not talking about the Tooth Fairy here.

We’re talking about a woman living with a cardiac condition that’s been well-studied (as in, peer-reviewed studies done by respected heart researchers and published in actual real-life medical journals).

Continue reading “When you know more than your doctors about your diagnosis”

“I rang the bell again. No one came.”

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

There are a number of big issues that leaped out at me about the hospital story you’re about to read.  Let’s see how many of them you observe, too – and how many could have been prevented.  This story is told by Ann, an Australian heart patient whose cardiac journey began in 2007 when she was 51 years old. But over the years since then, she has continued to suffer debilitating cardiac symptoms almost every day.

Her symptoms include not just chest pain, but pain throughout her upper back, jaw, shoulder, neck or arm, occasionally with severe shortness of breath. Despite taking a fistful of daily heart meds and wearing a nitro patch to help manage pain, Ann is rarely able to sleep through an entire night without being awoken by these symptoms. And here’s why . . .
Continue reading ““I rang the bell again. No one came.””

Heart attacks: “Men explode, but women erode”

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥ @HeartSisters

heart-460546_1280Los Angeles cardiologist Dr. Noel Bairey Merz believes that the biggest issue facing women heart patients is that as a society we have been programmed to think of heart disease as a man’s problem. During a presentation in Australia last year, she told her audience:

“The fatty build-up of plaque in a coronary artery causing a heart attack will usually rupture or ‘explode’ in men.

“But in women, it will often be a much smaller, more subtle event, caused by ‘erosion’, not explosion. 

“Often their symptoms may throw doctors off track to the wrong diagnosis, and in many cases, women won’t even know they have had a heart attack until it’s too late.”   .

Continue reading “Heart attacks: “Men explode, but women erode””

Chest pain while running uphill

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

 Part 3 of a 3-part series about pain

runningMy initial heart attack symptoms struck me right out of the blue.  I was out for a brisk walk early one beautiful Monday morning around 6 a.m. when suddenly, I experienced a pain smack in the centre of my chest. It felt like a cross between crushing heaviness and a severe burning sensation that gradually extended right up my chest into my lower throat. My left arm began to hurt. I also felt like I was going to vomit, and I started sweating far more profusely than my walking pace warranted.

But a strange realization about my heart attack symptoms hit me much later, long after I was hospitalized for what doctors still call the “widowmaker” heart attack 

This was not the first time in my life I’d felt the chest pain symptoms I experienced on that spring morning.
Continue reading “Chest pain while running uphill”