Entering the hospital, I passed a friend from church who was going home. The first thing she told me was how much she enjoyed these columns. And then she asked why I was at the hospital. I hadn’t had a chance to tell my family, primarily my daughters, at that point, so I evaded the question as well as I could.
Recently, something happened in my life that has changed my perspective on, well, just about everything. I went to see a cardiologist because I was experiencing some chest discomfort. (I was sure it was just heartburn. I was way too young to have heart problems.) By the end of the day I had been admitted to the hospital and was waiting on a heart catheterization and probable stent. After the heart cath, they determined there were blockages and I was going to have to have bypass surgery.
There are so many clichés about events like this. Every one of them makes the writer in me flinch, so I will do my best to avoid them. Still, when you fail a stress test (I told the doctor I’ve always been good at taking tests…) it is definitely a wake-up call. While I don’t plan to completely shift the focus of this column to talking about my heart, I imagine it will come up regularly in the next few months as I work through cardiac rehab and improve my overall health. If you can learn something while I learn it, we both benefit.
For now, I will say, don’t think you are “too young” or “it can’t happen to me, I have no family history.” I am 48 and have no family history of heart disease, either. But I have severe coronary artery blockages and have heard it said several times already that I’m lucky it just didn’t kill me.
Pay attention to the warning signs: Chest pain and discomfort. Shortness of breath, especially on exertion. Pain in the chest after exertion. Decreased ability to exercise or do physical work. I had all of those. In hindsight, I realize I’ve been denying them for several months now.
In a previous life, my job was creating CPR-related training programs and teaching people to be instructors and instructor trainers in CPR. I’ve held the rating of “Master” trainer. I still denied what was going on and justified it away, even though I knew the symptoms backward and forward.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. You might not be as lucky.