Why we ignore serious symptoms

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

Before my heart attack, I spent almost two decades as a distance runner. Many of the elite marathoners I knew (and certainly the one I happened to live with!) obsessed mercilessly on every detail, every hill, every split time of every race, but not so much on the daily joys of just running itself. It was the destination, not the journey, that seemed to matter to so many of these elite athletes – especially during race season.

The members of my own running group could never be accused of being elite runners.

Our motto: “No course too short, no pace too slow.”  But over those decades, whenever my group was in training for a specific road race looming on the calendar, I could watch myself being somehow sucked into that seductive groupthink trap of running even when I was sick, running when I was injured, running because it’s Tuesday and Tuesdays meant hill work, running with an ankle or knee taped and hurting.

Getting to a more important destination (the race) became bigger to me than paying attention to those less important messages (don’t run today). In fact, I learned from other runners to deliberately mistrust whatever my lazy-ass self was trying to say.  I learned to ignore the messages my own body was sending me. Continue reading “Why we ignore serious symptoms”

The cure myth

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

So a bunch of us, all heart disease survivors, were enjoying breakfast together one morning in Rochester, Minnesota. One of the women at our table looked up from her coffee and announced that, yes, even though she had survived a heart attack and subsequent open heart surgery, she didn’t really have heart disease anymore “you know, like the rest of you do.”

I looked at her and replied, in my most charitable tone:

“Honey, nobody gets invited to attend the WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium for Women With Heart Disease here at Mayo Clinic unless they actually have, you know, heart disease.”  Continue reading “The cure myth”

Looking good for your doctor’s appointment: oui ou non?


by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

I remember that moment very clearly. I was sitting in my kitchen, staring at the wall clock. At the time, I was in the throes of a dark and debilitating depression following my heart attack, struggling with frightening daily cardiac issues that had resulted in being ordered off work on extended medical leave while my cardiologists tried to solve the mystery. I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor that morning, and at that moment, I was having a very hard time trying to decide whether or not I should wash my hair.

Normally, shower/hair-washing is just part of my regular daily routine – not something to be decided at all. But on this day, some part of me knew that this might be the third or fourth or maybe even the fifth day in a row I’d gone without bothering to shower, and maybe I shouldn’t let my doctor see me like this. 

Wouldn’t want her to see how bad things had become for me. Wouldn’t want her to see me without my perfect pasted-on happy smile/make-up/clothes/hair. Continue reading “Looking good for your doctor’s appointment: oui ou non?”

Can denial ever be a good thing for heart patients?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

When my little green car started making a funny PING! noise recently, I tried to talk myself out of what I was hearing.  “I don’t think it’s quite as bad as it sounded yesterday . . .”  And when my heart attack symptoms became more and more debilitating, I tried to talk myself out of them, too.

And besides, hadn’t the E.R. doctor emphatically diagnosed those symptoms (central chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain down my left arm) as merely acid reflux just two weeks earlier? In both cases, I guess I was being unrealistically hopeful. But as writer Margaret Weis once warned:

“Hope is the denial of reality.”

Denial has a bad name. To be “in denial” – whether it’s about a niggling noise coming from under the hood or about something as serious as a health crisis – is to be called foolhardy or just plain stubborn. But in some cases, according to Mayo Clinic expertsa little denial may actually be a good thing. Being in denial for a short period can even be a healthy coping mechanism, giving us time to adjust to a painful or stressful issue.   Continue reading “Can denial ever be a good thing for heart patients?”

How we adapt after a heart attack may depend on what we believe this diagnosis means

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

There are at least 12 commonly used measurement tools available to the medical profession that look at how patients navigate “the search for meaning in chronic illness”. Clinical tools like the Psychosocial Adjustment To Illness Inventory or the Meaning of Illness Questionnaire have been used on cancer and AIDS patients, as well as others living with chronic disease. But research, including this study, found that limiting factors in the success of these 12 tools included “the infrequent use of some of the instruments clinically or in research.”

I can’t help but wonder why these readily available assessment tools are not being administered routinely to patients who have been freshly diagnosed with heart disease – a serious medical crisis that begs to be examined for its influence on our “psychosocial adjustment” to it. I only learned about these tools two years after my own heart attack.

This lack of medical attention to the profound psychological impact of a cardiac event is disturbing. As Dr. Gilles Dupuis of the Université du Québec and the Montréal Heart Institute reported in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, post-traumatic stress disorder following heart attack is a largely under-diagnosed and unrecognized phenomenon that can actually put survivors at risk of another attack. Continue reading “How we adapt after a heart attack may depend on what we believe this diagnosis means”