Tag Archives: “new normal”

A letter to my pre-heart attack self

22 Aug

Dear Carolyn,

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

Which patients does the “patient voice” represent?

9 Aug

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

There are patients. And then there are patients. 

Let’s consider, for example, two friends of about the same age, same height, same size, same socioeconomic demographic – each one (in an amazingly freakish coincidence) a survivor of a similarly severe heart attack, admitted to the same hospital on the same day. Let’s call these two made-up examples Patient A and Patient B.

Patient A is diagnosed promptly in mid-heart attack, treated appropriately, recovers well, suffers very little if any lasting heart muscle damage, completes a program of supervised cardiac rehabilitation, is surrounded by supportive family and friends, and is happily back at work and hosting Sunday dinners within a few short weeks of recuperation.

Patient B, on the other hand, experiences complications during her hospitalization, recuperation takes far longer than expected, her physician fails to refer her to cardiac rehabilitation, she has little support at home from family, her cardiac symptoms worsen, repeat procedures are required, she suffers longterm debilitating consequences, and is never able to return to work.

Yet despite these profound differences, physicians would still describe both of these women with the same all-inclusive descriptor, “myocardial infarction” (heart attack).  Continue reading

Convalescence: the forgotten phase of illness recovery

8 Jun

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

I love the work of U.K. philosopher Alain de Botton, an explorer of the  ‘philosophy of everyday life.’  He once wrote:

“People can accept you sick or well. What’s lacking is patience for the convalescent.”  

Convalescence. It’s the gradual return to health while you still need time to recover from illness or medical treatment, usually by resting. For patients, it’s that fuzzy grey area in between feeling acutely ill and feeling 100% healthy again. The term comes from the Latin convalescere: to grow fully strong.”

Most garden-variety convalescence is mercifully short. After spending a few days in bed with a flu bug, for example, you might feel a bit weak or shaky for a while. Not exactly sick anymore, but not yet 100%. Other forms of convalescence, however, may take weeks, months or even years of recuperation. And with some chronic and progressive disease diagnoses, everyday life can start feeling like one long endless period of convalescence – with good health merely a dim memory.  The difference: unlike the historical practice of viewing convalescence as a distinctly separate and important stage of illness recovery, today’s convalescents may simply feel like they’re being forced to very quickly adjust to the “new normal” of life. Continue reading

Confessions of a non-compliant patient

17 Feb

by Carolyn Thomas @HeartSisters

Consider this scenario, dear reader:  I’m lying in bed one Sunday evening, settled in to watch 60 Minutes for the next hour. But this Sunday is different from any other Sunday because I’ve had three new things to deal with during the past week that are utterly separate from my laundry list of daily cardiac concerns:

  1. I’ve been having physiotherapy three times a week because I twisted my right knee (same one I had knee surgery on seven years ago).
  2. I’m using a new prescription ointment for a pesky patch of psoriasis on my left elbow.
  3. I’m wearing a brand new acrylic mouth guard to bed every night that my dentist has just made for me to help treat a longstanding jaw alignment problem.

So. Here I am lying in bed that Sunday evening as our story unfolds . . . Continue reading

Dr. Barbara Keddy: “I was pitifully ignorant about heart disease”

23 May

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

heart BehanceI’m very pleased to share this with you, my heart sisters.  It’s essentially the journal of a heart attack. The author is Dr. Barbara Keddy, a teacher of nurses, professor emerita at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and author of the book Women and Fibromyalgia* – a condition that Barbara herself has lived with for over 40 years. Barbara and I first “met” each other online when we both happened to be named recipients of the 2009 Women’s Health Hero awards from Our Bodies Ourselves of Boston that year – she representing the east coast of Canada, and I out here on the west.

I’ve been reading her blog and quoting her wise words ever since (here, here and here, for example). And we’ve been casually emailing back and forth for four years – until one day in January, when I received a terse one-line message from her: she had just survived a heart attack.

Barbara’s experience is unique because she’d already been living with the constant pain of a debilitating chronic illness for decades. What happens when such a person gets hit with the double whammy of a serious heart attack on top of everything else?  Here’s her story, in her own words:  Continue reading