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

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

A heart patient’s positive attitude: a “crazy, crazy idea”?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

I blame genetics – and three decades spent working in public relations – for generally making me one of those smiley, glass-half-full, annoyingly über-positive personalities much of the time. Not even horrific symptoms during my heart attack could alter the weak happy face that seemed freakishly pasted on throughout that ordeal.

It’s as if I were channeling Elizabeth Banks classic character in her short yet brilliant film Just A Little Heart Attack – in which she attempts to smile brightly despite textbook cardiac symptoms, and even good-naturedly taunts her concerned family:

“Do I look like the kind of person who’s having a HEART ATTACK?”

Don’t make a fuss. Chin up. Don’t worry, be happy. Just get on with it. I’m fine, just fine.

Trouble is: people like me who sport a perma-smiley face may not be “fine”. Not at all. And I now believe that feeling obliged to pretend we are what we’re not can be both physically and psychologically damaging.   Continue reading “A heart patient’s positive attitude: a “crazy, crazy idea”?”

Is it post-heart attack depression – or just feeling sad?

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

One of the small joys of having launched this site is discovering by happy accident the wisdom of other writers – even when they’re writing on unrelated topics not remotely connected to my favourite subject which is, of course, women and our heart health. For example, I happened upon a link to Sandra Pawula‘s lovely blog called Always Well Within. Sandra teaches mindfulness meditation, and she lives in Hawai’i (note her correct spelling).

She also has a hubby and three cats. I don’t even know this woman, but I like her already.  And while scanning through her beautiful site, I was stopped cold by an article she called: Why Sadness is the Key to True Happiness“.   Continue reading “Is it post-heart attack depression – or just feeling sad?”

The new country called Heart Disease

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

My doctor recently compared my uneasy adjustment since suffering a heart attack to being like a stressful move to a foreign country.

I used to be pretty comfortable in my old country, pre-heart attack. I was healthy, active, accomplished, outgoing, and a former distance runner. I had a wonderful family and a whack of close friends, a meaningful career I really loved, a crazy-cute cat, a condo renovated top to bottom in a charming leafy neighbourhood of the most beautiful city in Canada – and a busy, happy, regular life.

Then on May 6, 2008, I was hospitalized with a myocardial infarction – what doctors still call the “widowmaker” heart attack.

And that was the day I moved far, far away to a different country.  Continue reading “The new country called Heart Disease”

Learning to live with heart disease: the fourth stage of heart attack recovery

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

Let’s consider today the last of The Four Stages of Heart Illness as outlined by Dr. Wayne Sotile, a cardiac psychologist from North Carolina and author of the highly recommended book called Thriving With Heart Disease.  This book is a helpful guide for both survivors and their families on “how to heal and reclaim your lives”.

One important way to do this is to review the heart patient’s journey through a series of four “separate, identifiable stages” that may help you know what to expect along this journey.  (Links to the first three stages can be found at the bottom of this post).

Stage 4:  Learning to Live With Heart DiseasePatient and family have accepted the diagnosis and committed themselves to living with the illness, not in spite of it.

Dr. Sotile reminds us that most survivors take between 6-12 months to get somewhat comfortable with their new, heart-healthy way of life (that may not mean totally comfortable, but on the way to comfortable).

But even after that first year, you won’t be completely adjusted to your new way of life. As heart disease lasts a lifetime, so does its adjustment period for both patients and their families.

It’s a big transition to your new normal. Remember that a large part of the transition is learning to talk to the people you love and live with about what you’re going through, what you feel for one another, and what life is really about.  Continue reading “Learning to live with heart disease: the fourth stage of heart attack recovery”