Would you drive your car if its brakes were “failing”?

by Carolyn Thomas      @HeartSisters

Imagine your mechanic telling you that your brakes are failing. Would you voluntarily get behind the wheel of that car – and then happily drive it home? Of course you wouldn’t.  Yet right now, as you are reading these words, doctors around the world in a medical office or hospital clinic somewhere out there are casually saying out loud the words “HEART FAILURE” to diagnose people who will leave that place feeling scared to death.   .   Continue reading “Would you drive your car if its brakes were “failing”?”

Two ways to portray heart failure. One of them works.

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  EXAMPLE #1: Sisters and heart failure patients Shaun Rivers (left) and Kimberly Ketter

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

If you were suddenly diagnosed with heart failure, you would first of all be utterly horrified by hearing those words “heart failure” – which brings me to the eternal question: when are cardiologists going to come up with a better name for this common condition in which a person’s heart has trouble pumping blood as well as it should? (See also: “When Doctors Use Words That Hurt“)

I hope that the second thing that happens after you hear those dreadful words is that somebody will immediately show you this beautiful photo (above) of twin sisters Shaun Rivers and Kim Ketter, both nurses from Richmond, Virginia.  They were each diagnosed with heart failure during the same week in 2009 when the twins were just 40 years of age.  

Now compare the twins’ photo (and its accompanying text from the American Heart Association) with something that I hope you will never, ever see upon hearing that frightening diagnosis:
Continue reading “Two ways to portray heart failure. One of them works.”

Kindness in health care: missing in action?

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters 

I don’t remember much of what happened during that fateful visit to the Emergency Department.  I remember the on-call cardiologist saying something to me about my “significant heart disease”. After hearing those words, I felt so stunned that – although I could see his lips moving and could hear sounds coming out of his mouth – he may as well have been speaking Swahili.  (Doctors, please remember this in the future when delivering life-altering diagnoses to your patients!)

What I do vividly remember, however, is a small but profound act of kindness later that day when I was brought to my bed in the CCU (the cardiac intensive care unit). Continue reading “Kindness in health care: missing in action?”

A cardiologist’s advice on how to use this “wonder drug”

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

pillboxThe heart drug called nitroglycerin was once described like this in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation:

“Newer drugs quickly replace older remedies. This has not been the case with nitroglycerin, now in continuous medical use for more than a century.

“Although other applications for it have been found in cardiology, nitroglycerin is the mainstay for affording rapid, indeed almost immediate, pain relief for angina pectoris.

“At a time when the cost of pharmaceuticals is growing out of reach for many, nitroglycerin is still obtainable for pennies and remains one of the best buys in medicine.”     Continue reading “A cardiologist’s advice on how to use this “wonder drug””

When doctors use words that hurt

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Consider hearing the scary diagnosis of “heart failure” tripping lightly from your doctor’s lips as if it were no big deal. Can there be anything more terrifying and demoralizing than hearing that your heart is failing”And the words don’t even  accurately reflect this condition, which actually means that your heart is not pumping blood as well as it should. 

So why did doctors come up with this heart failure name, and what on earth were they thinking when they decided it would be a good idea to actually say these words out loud to Real Live Patients? And is there a better piece of medical jargon they could use instead?   Continue reading “When doctors use words that hurt”