The big question about the big one: What are the symptoms for a woman’s heart attack?
I’m am about 12 weeks into recovery after a mild heart attack. I like to call it a ‘heart reminder’ but it didn’t feel too mellow at the time. It came on me early morning, far from home but at some friends’ house in Cincinnati. I had just flown in the day before as part of my book tour. I experienced a gripping pain across the top of my back and down both arms. The first doctor on the phone suggested a pulled muscle. I was to come see him at 10.
I roamed around the house in my robe for a while, the pain still just sitting there. No better, no worse. Back in the kitchen I decided the feeling was not going to go away. We were off to the emergency room. The doctors at The Christ Hospital wasted no time doing tests that proved to them I needed an angioplasty and a stent put into one artery. But before that, as I lay there, I heard one surgeon tell my friend, “If it is an aorta, we will have to do open heart surgery.”
What? Who me? What am I doing here in this skimpy gown on this hard table? It was a blocked diagonal artery, they discovered. They injected the dye they needed to see their way into the heart and insert the stent. On goofy drugs, I was awake for the procedure. When the surgeon called for balloons, I could only think “party time!” Oh gosh. I might even have said that out loud.
I always thought I had acid reflux pretty bad. It’s not as bad now and a surgeon told me the day after my heart reminder that this was probably related. That could have been a symptom. Some women have pains like mine, some have pain in various extremities. Some feel sick to their stomach or are short of breath. Some throw up. Others are dizzy. Some have no symptoms.
I guess the crux of the matter is that maybe we women should be paying attention to the warning signs before they ever escalate to symptoms. I mean, sure, my doctor in San Francisco did call me and say some part of my cholesterol was looking a little high. Maybe I’d like to come in and discuss it? But he never said I really had to.
Yes, I went on a stressful book tour around the country, talking on the radio and in bookstores for three months. Not sleeping well in hotels and motels. Not eating well in dives and diners. Or, eating rich food and few vegetables in “nice” restaurants. And love that wine. Isn’t it good for your heart? How many glasses? Oh—one huh?
And, of course my half brothers both had heart problems, to say the least. The younger of my older brothers died when he was 45 of a heart attack. The other one did have open heart surgery but his heart was not responsible for his ultimate demise. And they were just half-brothers, right? That heart stuff was on their mother’s side, not our shared father’s side.
I did have one nagging doctor in New Mexico who got me on a high fiber, low fat diet for a while. I lost a lot of weight and started hiking regularly but she demanded that I eat so few calories (1,200 per day) that I would feel weak half-way up the mountain. I abandoned what was probably a pretty good program after a year.
Oh, and let’s not forget my mother’s reward when I was a good girl standing around in the kitchen. She would lop off a pat of butter and hand it to me. My entire adult life, if there was nothing else in my refrigerator, you could always count on butter. No more. And no more wine with the drugs I’m taking, by the way.
I used to laugh about my grandfather who, when he was told in his 70s that he could not smoke cigars any more, moved from doctor to doctor in Kansas City until he found one who said it was fine if he smoked. I used to think that made a lot of sense. Now I don’t. Now I think you can be happy in life without killing yourself off. I got my blind eye fixed a few months ago.