Empathy 101: how to sound like you give a damn

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

During the first follow-up appointment with my (now former) family doctor a few weeks after surviving a heart attack, I noticed something unsettling right away. First, she seemed utterly preoccupied with her own possible part in missing some magical sign that I’d been at risk for this surprising cardiac event. She reviewed lab test after lab test while I sat there watching her claw through a thick file (no electronic charts there!) of my lipid and blood pressure results going back years. It struck me that this follow-up visit was somehow all about her – not about ME at all!

Hey! Remember me? The one who actually had the frickety-frackin’ heart attack?   Continue reading “Empathy 101: how to sound like you give a damn”

When are cardiologists going to start talking about depression?

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

I can vividly remember those early days and weeks at home after surviving a heart attack, especially that cold creeping anxiety around how I “should” be feeling. I had just survived what many do not: what doctors still call the “widow maker” heart attack. (By the way, note the gender semantics there, please: doctors are not calling this the widower maker”).

I was now resting comfortably, both of my darling kidlets had flown back home to be with their Mum, our home was filled with flowers, get-well cards and casseroles delivered by the daily line-up of concerned friends, family, neighbours and co-workers.

So why was I feeling so bleak inside, and even worse, now feeling guilty for all that bleakness?  Continue reading “When are cardiologists going to start talking about depression?”

How a woman’s heart is different from a man’s

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

In many ways, the fact that my cardiac treadmill stress test results appeared “normal” was not a surprise, despite my textbook heart attack symptoms of crushing chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain radiating down my left arm. What we now know is that single-vessel heart disease, which is more common in women than in men, may be less likely to be picked up at all on a treadmill test.

Even though my left anterior descending coronary artery was 95% blocked, this didn’t show up. Similarly, for other women non-obstructive heart disease (again, more common in women) is harder to identify given our existing diagnostics. Women are more likely to suffer from coronary microvascular disease affecting the smallest blood vessels of the heart. And spasm conditions like Prinzmetal’s variant angina are difficult to catch at the best of times, but women can be just as dead after a heart attack caused by undiagnosed Prinzmetal’s as they would be due to fully-occluded coronary arteries.   Continue reading “How a woman’s heart is different from a man’s”

How does it really feel to have a heart attack? Women survivors answer that question

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

Having a heart attack felt nothing like I thought it would feel.   For one thing, unlike sudden cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops beating and you stop breathing, during my heart attack (myocardial infarction), my heart continued beating, and I was walking, talking and conscious throughout despite horrific symptoms – so how could I possibly be having a heart attack?

Like most women, I’d never really thought about my heart – except maybe when running up that killer Quadra Street hill with my running group. Heart disease kills six times more women than breast cancer each year (in fact, it kills more women than all forms of cancer combined).  And since 1984, heart disease kills more women than men annually.

Women need to know all the potential symptoms of a heart attack – both typical and atypical and seek medical help if these symptoms do hit.  So I asked some survivors to share their very first symptoms. Their heart attack stories may surprise you:

Read their stories

Deep thoughts about death and heart disease

red poppies

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

This week, I’ve been reading Yale Medical School professor Dr. Sherwin Nuland’s amazing book How We Die – which is not nearly as grim as it sounds.  In fact, it’s an endlessly fascinating read. For heart attack survivors, the concept of death can become more interesting than we ever imagined it to be.

We live in a death-denying society. People don’t want to think about death, much less talk about it. As Dr. Nuland writes, death to most of us occurs “in sterile seclusion cloaked in euphemism and taboo”. We don’t even like using the ‘D’ word. Instead of ‘dying’, we prefer to “pass on”, or “pass away” or “go to be with Jesus”. Continue reading “Deep thoughts about death and heart disease”