When heart patients meet the Black Swan

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

blackswan_johngouldI have a little ritual as soon as I board the ferry from my island home for the one hour and 40 minute sailing  over to the mainland: I make a stop at the magazine rack of the B.C. Ferries gift shop. It has something to do with both the beautifully tactile feel of a new magazine and its clear association in my brain with almost every ferry ride I’ve ever taken through our west coast Gulf Islands.

That, and a pack of Mentos . . .

During last week’s sailing to Vancouver, we had barely settled into our front row seats in the forward lounge with the Mentos and a copy of Psychology Today in hand before I was riveted by editor Kaja Perina‘s third page commentary. She writes about something called the Black Swan, a reference to a 17th century philosophical thought experiment.   Continue reading “When heart patients meet the Black Swan”

Too embarrassed to call 911 during a heart attack?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

When I was sent home from the Emergency Department with a misdiagnosis of acid reflux, I felt horribly embarrassed that I’d made such a fuss over nothing (well, nothing but textbook heart attack symptoms like chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain radiating down my left arm).  It then took me two full weeks of increasingly debilitating cardiac symptoms before I forced myself to return to that same hospital, desperately ill yet still not completely certain this could be heart-related. After all, hadn’t an Emergency physician with the letters M.D. after his name told me quite emphatically:

“This is NOT your heart!”

It was only when my symptoms became truly unbearable that I knew I had to go back to the E.R. This extreme reluctance to get help is what doctors call treatment-seeking delay behaviour, and in the middle of a heart attack, it can be a deadly delay. We already know that the average person in mid-heart attack will wait four hours before getting medical help.  Why? One reason may well be that we’re too simply too embarrassed to attract attention to ourselves during a heart attack.   Continue reading “Too embarrassed to call 911 during a heart attack?”

Does surviving a heart attack make you a better person?

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

Here’s what happens when a PR person (like me, for instance) survives a heart attack, but is no longer well enough to return to work. During extended medical leave, that PR person continues to do just what she knows how to do: she writes, she does public talks, she looks stuff up.  She  launches a blog and gets invited to attend cardiology conferences to speak or to write about the proceedings for her blog readers.

And all around her, people then respond by gushing things like:

“You have taken this catastrophically bad thing and turned it into a wonderfully good thing!”

The late Dr. Jessie Gruman would have likely recognized this not-so-subtle expectation that good patients will somehow take the lemons that life curveballs at them and make deliciously noble lemonade.  Continue reading “Does surviving a heart attack make you a better person?”

Surviving the crisis: the first stage of heart attack recovery

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

How I wish I’d discovered Dr. Wayne Sotile’s wonderful book Thriving With Heart Disease while I was still a patient in our hospital’s Coronary Care Unit following my heart attack.

A large hint: if you or somebody you care about ever experiences a cardiac event, get your hands on a copy of this book before discharge from hospital.

The book’s second chapter is called The Four Stages of Heart Illness. Dr. Sotile, a cardiac psychologist, describes the heart patient’s journey through a series of four “separate, identifiable stages”.

These stages don’t always proceed neatly in sequences, but Dr. Sotile believes that your recovery will have fewer surprises if you are familiar with them and know what to expect.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring each of these four stages along the cardiac journey.

Stage 1:  Surviving The Crisis:  Illness strikes, and patient and family begin the journey.   Continue reading “Surviving the crisis: the first stage of heart attack recovery”