Happy Halloween! Or So I Thought...Halloween, My favorite holiday. I always leave work early. I hurry home to make sure I have enough candy, check that the pumpkins are decorated just so...all in time for me to sit back and watch the kids come by. I just love seeing the little ones in their cute costumes...
The evening of October 31, 1999, I did leave work early. If I recall, I started feeling bad around 1:00pm. My left arm was tingling; my head hurt and I felt a little queasy. Nothing too terrible. I just wrote it off as stress. So when my husband called and invited me to lunch at Red Lobster, I jumped at the chance to leave the office and take a break for a while. By 2:15pm, however, we were at the nearby Urgent Care at the insistence of my husband, worry wart that he is. The doctor checked my BP, listened to my heart and said, "Go home and get some rest," and that he was going to make an appointment for me with a cardiologist later that week for a stress test. "No worries," I said, happy to be getting the remainder of the day off, and we headed home.
Fast forward to approximately 8:00pm and I was on my back, lying on the floor of our bathroom in my own vomit, intermittently sobbing and screaming at the top of my lungs. I had never felt such an intense pressure or stabbing pain in my chest like I did that night and I am happy to report I have not experienced either since. I suffer from chronic kidney stones, a side effect from the many medications I take as a result of that evening's event, but even the worse pain they cause pales in comparison to the pain I felt that October night. Yes, I was having a serious heart attack. Not a big deal; people have them every day, especially in this country. But mine was a little unusual - I was 33 years old and had no idea this was coming. You see I'm adopted and have no clue as to my family history in this or any other health-related matters.
Following a quick trip to the hospital and an emergency angioplasty to open my left anterior descending artery, I received a stent and was good to go or so I thought. But here's where the problems really began only I didn't recognize it until only recently. Because I was so young, the cardiologist who performed my surgery took me out of work for 12 weeks as was customary following such a procedure, but he did NOT recommend me as a candidate for cardiac rehab. Cardiac rehabilitation services are SO VERY IMPORTANT following a cardiac or stroke incident, not simply for a patient's physical recovery but for his/her emotional health as well. I was perfectly fine for the first 4 weeks or so. But after that...oh boy, it was like the bottom fell out. My husband never knew after that first month when he would come home from work whether he was coming home to his calm, rational wife or to Sybil. (My apologies to those of you who don't know who Sybil is - the character with multiple personalities - Sybil actually suffers from disassociative identity disorder - from the 1970s TV movie starring the amazingly talented Ms. Sally Field.)
I became seriously depressed and filled with anxiety over my entire life. I began to question my choice of profession, my job, my marriage, God...everything. I started spending money we didn't have on things we didn't need. I had been a 'giver' to my family my entire married life and now I was determined to start doing for 'me.' Was it out of a fear that I could possibly die at any minute? I don't know. Possibly. Probably. I got so stressed that I went to a therapist on my own for help and was diagnosed with PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She helped me a great deal. But it didn't end there. Ever since then I have dealt on and off with depression and anxiety issues that might possibly have been allayed had I participated in a cardiac rehab program back in 1999 when I first had my heart attack. Of course, correlation does not equal causation, but there is definitely an argument to be made for the critical importance of such a program. Learning about and recognizing the onset of both the positive and negative feelings that accompany a heart or stroke event is a normal part of the process. By not participating in a rehab program, I missed out on being able to talk through and experience these feelings with a trained professional right when they were happening, and as such, I truly feel I missed out and have paid the price for it ever since. If you or a family member have experienced such an event, e.g., heart attack, stroke, or similar such occurrence, I definitely encourage you to ask your physician about prescribing such a protocol if he or she has not already done so for you. Don't miss out on the positive and far-reaching impact speaking up can have on your future or the future of a loved one.