At The Heart of the Matter

vintageheartSo in some TV show, a man grips his left arm, makes some kind of inarticulate grunt, and falls down, dead. No question for the viewer what just happened. The man had a massive heart attack. We all know searing chest and arm pain are the symptoms for attacks that kill or nearly do. Guess what–not always for women. Women usually don’t have the classic heart attack symptoms which is why so many of us die unattended. I have been told over the years that nausea and lightheadedness are signs of a heart attack. Given my age, and my mother’s own angina, which is another way of saying blocked arteries, I am at risk for a heart attack. Oh, hell, everyone who is alive is at risk for an attack, especially those who are not exactly exercise nuts and vegetarians. Anyway, once a few years back i felt so awful I called my doctor, a thing I rarely do. She didn’t like the symptoms and I went to the emergency room. That is, I arrived after my mother had changed into appropriate wear, the dogs were fed, lights left on for them, and keys, and purse were located. In that time frame, a whole football stadium could have died of heart attacks. That’s another factoid I learned–do not wait. Do not hesitate to call an ambulance if you believe you are under siege. (turns out I had some kind of virus never specified) Well, some responders didn’t get the memo on women’s heart health. Last Sunday, I had symptoms that corresponded with those I was told could kill you. Yet, I hesitated. Naturally. Because a woman doesn’t want to look silly, a hypochondriac, an hysteric just because she can’t stand without dizziness, nausea, with pressure below the sternum and aching all over. Thing is–that could be any number of problems. Or, it could be death. What do you do? If pain shot down my arm, I damn well would have yelled attack at the top of my tonsils and the husband would have dialed as fast as an iphone can be dialed, or touched. Not having such a definitive symptom, I quietly tried to keep myself upright while googling female heart attack symptoms, hoping that there would be a really crucial one I didn’t possess, to end my fear and speculation so I could go lie down. Instead I read a doctor’s account of her own disregard for symptoms, and her warning–most women go to bed at night feeling ill, and never get up again.  I saw a general list:

Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort

Shortness of breath

Nausea or vomiting


Lightheadedness or dizziness

Unusual fatigue

Intense jaw pain

I checked off number 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6. But, all of those could be a virus again, or nothing, or something, or a heart attack. It kept coming back to the fact that if I don’t find out, I may just find myself at my funeral. I followed the rule, call an ambulance–do not drive yourself–or have someone drive you–they will be too distracted to get both of you there safely. So, I asked the husband to dial, he wasn’t thrilled, in the suburbs an ambulance is as if a carnival just sprung from the asphalt. I didn’t care. I wanted to be monitored immediately. I put on shoes and jacket, stood by the door to wait. Fast, they were fast. One of the first was the guy who informed me vehemently that I wasn’t having a heart attack because I had no severe chest or arm pain. At that point I sat on my front step, too tired to argue and waited for the actual ambulance. I was questioned numerous different times about symptoms, none seemed to please the responders, but they were going to haul me anyway–just not to the hospital I asked to be taken to. My mother had been transported by ambulance to this hospital before, but for some reason this time it was too far for the thing to travel. My choices were a hospital that my mother was also at once-not so great; one in the most crime ridden city in the USA–Camden; or to a infamous hospital in Willingboro that doctors warn their patients to stay away from. Tell them to take you to Mt. Holly they fervently urge. Why? People die a lot at the Willingboro medical facility. My father almost did, but that’s another tale.

The upshot–the husband drives me to the one I wanted, 6 hours full of x-rays, blood pressure, blood tests, cat scan, repeated blood tests, and the conclusion–no attack, probably an inner ear virus. (Great news. The next day, I was called and told the cat scan wasn’t read properly and actually revealed a ‘most likely’ benign tumor. After a 24 hour period of part hysteria, part down right achey sleeping sick, I was subjected to an MRI, told the results would be mailed to my doctor in two days!! went back to sick sleep and hysteria, to be awakened with the unbelievable news–nothing on the MRI–except what was left of my terrified exploding head.)

So, what is my point? And how does this remotely relate to books, bookstores, reading, etc? We all need to educate ourselves about women’s heart issues. And that takes reading books written specifically on that subject. I wanted to find out just how many volumes would give a woman a clear idea of symptoms, and when to act on them, or not. Well, there isn’t any book that I saw that concentrated on the symptoms as much as the prevention. Yes, we all need to try to prevent heart disease. But a nice clear understanding of symptoms, severity, length, location, would be a welcome addition to any person’s library.

Here’s some books I did find:

American Heart Association Complete guide to Women’s Heart Health: The Go Red for Women Way to Well Being and Vitality–I would think this is the must have book–Go Red has a great website full of all there is to know about the disease, including, yeah, symptoms.

Saving Women’s Hearts: How You Can Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease With Natural and Conventional Strategies. by Martha Gulati and Sherry Torkos–From what I can gather from the small info–it’s about preventing the disease and trying to mitigate it–all really good things, but my interest at the moment is more–what the hell does it feel like!

The Women’s Healthy Heart Program: Lifesaving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Heart Disease–by Nieca Goldberg–another prevent and fix

I could go on, but essentially they are all the same–an author’s ideas of how to keep a woman from having an attack, and how to stop her from having another–and I applaud these books, and will need to read them. But I wish there was at least a pamphlet, or book full of case studies of how each individual living heart attack victim’s symptoms presented themselves and how they knew what they had, and how they survived. I can try to prevent the disease as much as possible, or not–who knows which of us does the right things–but all that info will mean nothing if myself and other women haven’t a clue as to what they should be looking for if the time comes when they really need to know.

National Wear Red Day on Feb. 1.