When I was a little girl in the 1950s, my parents were stingy with praise and magnanimous with criticism. To be otherwise would result in a child developing a “swelled head”, which, as all parents knew back then, would be the worst possible thing that could ever happen to any child.
“She really thinks she’s a SOMEBODY!” was a phrase delivered with withering contempt by my mother in describing any person whose sense of self-esteem seemed even remotely healthy.
Duly inspired by CBC Wiretap’s“How To Age Gracefully” (a delightful farewell video letter to their radio fans, e.g. an 8-year old’s wise advice to a 7-year old), I’m sending this letter to my pre-2008 self. Since my “widowmaker” heart attack that year, and subsequent ongoing cardiac issues, I’ve learned a thing or two about living with a chronic and progressive illness that I wish I’d known BHA (before heart attack). I think I would have been a nicer and smarter and healthier person had I known these things long ago. So in no particular order, here’s my best advice to a long-ago me: Continue reading “A letter to my pre-heart attack self”→
For more than 30 years, Dr. Wayne Sotile was the director of psychological services for Wake Forest University’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program. Which is to say that he’s spent a lot of time with heart patients and their families. In 2008, while recuperating from my own heart attack, I discovered his must-read book called Thriving With Heart Disease. That title, by the way, has always bugged my Alaskan friend Dr. Stephen Parker (a cardiac psychologist and himself a heart attack survivor) who once made this comment about the book’s title:
“Just as soon as I can gather myself together, I am planning on writing a book called ‘Thriving After I Lost All My Body Parts’…”
I used to offer to sell to my non-Ukrainian friends the guest list from our big Ukrainian wedding. Imagine 450 names, all of whom were raised in a wonderful Slavic culture that knows what to do when hard times strike. No sooner do they hear of a friend or neighbour’s problems (like a family tragedy or a serious health crisis) – and they start pitching in to help. Such support often starts with baking, cooking and getting the casserole dishes lined up on the kitchen counter for imminent delivery to the freshly-stricken person’s fridge. Researchers know that having social support like this from others following a heart attack (or any serious health crisis) helps not only with physical recuperation, but also with emotional and psychological recovery, too. Yet virtually all published health research on the important quality-of-life issue of social support so far has been done on men.
Here’s my theory: few health crises in life are as traumatic as surviving a cardiac event. I developed this theory while I was busy having my own heart attack in the spring of 2008.
For starters, cardiac symptoms often come out of the blue (in fact, almost two-thirds of women who die of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms.(1) Having a heart attack can feel so unimaginably terrifying that almost all of us try desperately to dismiss or denycardiac symptoms. And according to a report published in Global Heart, the journal of the World Heart Federation,women are twice as likely to die within one year even if they do survive a heart attackcompared to our male counterparts.(2)
So if – and each of these is still, sadly, a great big fat IF for too many women – we survive the actual cardiac event, and if we are near a hospital that’s able to provide an experienced team of cardiologists/cardiovascular surgeons/cardiac nurses, and if we are correctly diagnosed, and if we receive timely and appropriate treatment, and if the resulting damage to our oxygen-deprived heart muscle is not too severe, we get to finally go home, safe and sound.