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My Heart Attack – Women’s Heart Disease Symptoms Really Are Different | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

My Heart Attack – Women’s Heart Disease Symptoms Really Are Different

Part of my resting after a major life event involves writing – the story rolls in my head until I write it, and then I can rest.

Twenty years ago, Richard told a coworker, “Mary’s too stubborn to let things stop her. If she were on safari and got hit with an elephant tranquilizer, she would keep going.”

Well, this week, that ended. I had one of those weeks:

  • On Monday, my car’s radiator went out while I was driving on the Lloyd Expressway, and it overheated. It was towed and the radiator was replaced.
  • On Wednesday, I doubled over with back pain and had my son drive me to the emergency room. They diagnosed me with a 4mm kidney stone, put me on meds, and sent me home to let the stone pass. Earlier that day, I read an email from Go Red for Women – on preventing heart disease for women – I had resolved to get healthier over Christmas and start an exercise plan in 2 days On Thursdays, I was cooking a turkey and trimmings lunch for 70 people with a kitchen crew of 4-H leaders as a fundraiser.
  • On Thursday, my son went in to help cook the lunch with 4-H leaders who made a wonderful dinner without my help.
  • On Friday, those meds were making me sick.
  • Saturday, I think part of the stone passed.
  • Sunday morning, for the first time in days, I woke up first thing in the morning pain free. I wondered if the stone had dissolved and I was home free. I was still exhausted and opted not to go to church with my family.

Then, when they got home from church, I had a heart attack.

I had just taken the kidney stone meds when it hit. My first thought was I was having an allergic reaction to the medication. Suddenly, I felt pressure on my chest that radiated outwards. My arms tingled all the way down to my fingers in a way they never had before, and my jaw felt tight. I popped benadryl, as it seemed to me what I felt looked like allergic reactions to medications I had seen.

I called Richard for help and told him to phone a friend. He called the same friend I frantically called the night our home burned 11 years ago. (She also happens to be an emergency room physician.)  “Your symptoms sound like a heart attack,” she told me.

“No,” was my response. I thought – I’m too young, my blood pressure is under control, I eat my vegetables, and I’m too busy for health problems.

In case she was right, I had Richard give me a couple of aspirins to take. I rested for a moment and called her back, telling her, “This is anxiety. It will pass.”

“The only way you will know if it’s a heart attack or not is to go to the emergency room and get an EKG,” she told me.

Richard and I left to go to the emergency room. We didn’t call 911 – we both thought I would get an EKG, and they would pat me on the head and tell me it was nothing but anxiety. Richard called down to our son who was playing video games, “I’m taking your mom to go see a doctor. We’ll be back soon.”

When we got to the emergency room, he dropped me off so he could park the car, and I walked up to the desk where I had staggered in 4 days previously with kidney stone pain. I felt like a chronic emergency room over-user. “I have chest pains,” felt like a silly thing to say to the lady – just like they say in those commercials.

They quickly got me in for an EKG. As soon as the results printed from the EKG, things changed. “We’re moving you now,” the e.r. guy said as he ripped the paper reading off of the machine. A chaplain met Richard as they moved me into a different room. I didn’t know he was a chaplain – he was in a white coat, and he looked like just another medical dude to me. I happened to know the e.r. doc on duty – our kids used to swim together. They told me I was being prepped for a cath.  Richard was told to notify family.

Our daughter was due to begin her first college finals the next morning. Because the doc knew our kids, I told him that and told him I didn’t want her upset or distracted. He told us it was our decision, but if something went wrong she would be angry. I realized that word would quickly spread, and I didn’t want her to hear about it from someone else. Richard called. As they continued prepping me, I spoke with both our kids to tell them I loved them. And I told our daughter, “I will be fine. Don’t worry. Don’t let this distract you from studying tonight – stay focused. I love you, and I’m proud of you.”

This was not a slow process…everyone was working quickly. Then they ran with me on the gurney to the operating room. Richard and the chaplain followed. They told Richard, “Don’t try to keep up with us = we’re going as fast as we can – he’ll get you there.”

I heard Richard say, “watch me.” I knew he was running behind us to keep up. I think but don’t know that he walked into the operating room and they told him to step out.

During the cath, they found an artery was completely blocked, and they put in a stent. I didn’t realize people were conscious during cath procedures. During the procedure, I couldn’t think of words for a prayer, so I just prayed, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Normally, I don’t post health issues on social media. This time, I did; we needed prayer, and I knew from past experiences the power of prayer on medical outcomes.  I’m thankful for the prayers, good wishes, and help of trusted friends who not only helped me but helped my family.

The good news is an echocardiogram the next day showed minimal if any heart damage. We still have other issues to address after first of the year. My daughter did stay focused on her finals. She spent her first night home after finals with me in the hospital. During my hospital stay, first in cardiac ICU and then on a step down unit. In addition to recruiting, my family and I were taught about the lifestyle changes that begin starting now.

Last night, I was released and am glad to be home with my family.

Starting now, my Christmas season this year will be one of Advent – spending the next few weeks in reflection, with my family. The tables will be turned – they will be taking care of me more than I take care of them. My number one priority now is getting healthier and staying that way – following doctor’s orders – so I can savor my kids’ future milestones and grow old with Richard.

That will most likely mean fewer blog updates as well. Often, a blog hits my head and I have to type it so it can leave my head and I can rest. So if God gives me something to write, I’ll do it. Other than that, this is my time to recuperate and savor my family.

This Sunday, whether I’m up to attending Mass or not, we’ll light the third, the pink candle on our Advent wreath. Traditionally, it’s Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice that we’ve reached the halfway point with Advent and are that much closer to Christmas Day. This year, Gaudete’s meaning will be more poignant for me as I rejoice that we can enjoy another Sunday together.

If we sing the traditional Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” the refrain – “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel” will have a special meaning.



One Response to “My Heart Attack – Women’s Heart Disease Symptoms Really Are Different”

  1. Lucia Felty December 13, 2012 at 11:43 am #

    Thanks for some details. I knew by the bits you posted that something major was going on. Glad the stent fixed it and you are recovering. This kind of event puts everything in perspective. Enjoy your loved ones and have a very special Christmas.

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