Heart of a Southern Woman

A snapshot of life one blog post at a time.

“H” –Heart Attack! My Personal Story.

13 Comments

source: time.com

source: time.com

“You’re having a heart attack!” my doctor said, and my response was…”You’re kidding, right? You’ve got to be kidding?” I must have repeated that phrase a hundred times in the next week as my whole life turned upside down!  
I was 50 years old, and had two silent heart attacks in a brief period of time. I had no idea, I felt nothing that I considered an imminent threat.  That was 16 years ago, and it took me right out of my life as I knew it! 
Looking back, I missed or ignored a lot of incidents/symptoms  that should have sent me running to my doctor. About a month before my doctor told me I was having a heart attack, I had several unexplainable experiences. Except, I was diabetic, and I chalked the episodes up to low blood sugar, never checking to see if that was true. Twice during that month before, I was doing my weekly grocery shopping and found I couldn’t get all the way around the store. I felt dizzy, nauseated, and out of breath–like I was going to faint. Once I was at the register checking out, and I had to ask the check-out person to call my husband to come get me (we lived five minutes away) because I felt so sick. She called for me while I sat down. (before cell phones) He came and took me home where I had something to eat (low blood sugar?) and took a nap. When I awoke, I was feeling better. A couple of weeks later, it happened again at the same grocery store, only this time, I left my basket half-way around the store, and walked out to the car and sat until I felt like I could drive home. Then it happened again in a fast food restaurant where I had stopped for lunch. I got so weak feeling, i had to give the counter person a note with my phone number asking them to call Max to come get me. At work, I couldn’t seem to regulate my temperature–I was always so hot I couldn’t stand it, but I thought I must be entering menopause.  I had these coughing spells, with no sign of a cold or anything. I’d cough so hard and so long, I’d have to leave therapy groups and even individual sessions, very disruptive to the process!  In hind sight, yes, i was an idiot not to go to the doctor. But I was only 50, a professional psychotherapist and an active volunteer. With one daughter in college, and one a junior in high school, I was too young to be seriously ill.  (Denial, Denial, Denial) 
But I was worried enough to talk to the nurse at work about it. She scared me with tales of people having heart attacks while driving and killing themselves and other people. My mother, a diabetic also, had her first heart attack at age 50, duh, that should have been a clue!  I had always thought my life was so much less stressful than hers, I’d never thought it would happen to me!
On the way home from work that evening, I decided, on the spur of the moment, to pull into an urgent care center close to my house.  We lived in a very small town. The doctor checked me over and gave me an EKG, which surprised me. then he looked into my eyes, and said, “I’m calling an ambulance, I think you’re having a heart attack.”  
Shock hardly describes my reaction, and I was full of rationalizations, denial, and bargaining!  “Can’t I just go home and pack a bag, and get my husband to carry me to the hospital? It’s just five minutes away, I’ll be fine I’m sure.”  When he said no, he’d call my husband to meet me at the hospital, I said again, “You’ve got to be kidding!” LOL, some people are so hard-headed, I never thought I was! 
We went to the hospital and they did all kinds of tests then a heart catheterization, my first of 15 to come! My doctor, a cardiologist called in, explained that, depending upon what they found when they did the cath, they wanted me to give them permission to place stents in my heart, or to do a bypass. “You’ve got to be kidding.” I was very erudite!  But I gave permission. 
After the cath, they said there was nothing they could do for me, that I had advanced coronary artery disease, and that they were calling a helicopter to life flight me to a large teaching hospital, at Duke University, about 3 hours away! I know you are sick of hearing about my stupidity, normally I’m not like that I swear, but here came another, “You’re kidding , you’ve got to be kidding!”  Did I really think that? No, I was just totally incredulous! 
I arrived at Duke about 4am I remember. A team of doctors, nurses, and technicians surrounded me!  No one in my family was even there yet, I was scared. I could feel my heart fluttering, I had never noticed that before, and they took me right into the cardiac cath lab. 
This story would be and might be, a book in itself one day. I surely can’t tell you all of it right here. I was in and out of the hospital constantly for the next six months. I was diagnosed with stage four coronary artery disease, inoperable, my LAD was 99% blocked, my coronary arteries were “withered” I was told, due to my diabetes, and they said I needed a transplant to live more than five years! Oh, and by the way, you can’t go back to work, not now anyway, maybe not ever.  
Shock and depression set in! I wanted to die, I didn’t want to be a burden to my husband and asked him for a divorce! He refused to leave me. I felt guilty that my daughters were so upset, one left college her freshman year to come home and help care for me. One changed her wedding plans. We had to sell our lovely house, our home, because we’d lost half our income. We decided  to move back nearer to Duke. What an upheaval. 
How is it that I am here 16 years later? I did not have a transplant for many reasons, I did have some experimental, open heart surgery that researchers later determined was probably not helpful.  I take like 15 prescription drugs a day, to slow my heart rate, to keep my platelets from sticking together to form a clot,  to lower my blood pressure, to lower my cholesterol, for the diabetes, for my thyroid, yada, yada, yada. They think the medicinal regimen has saved my life.  I think they are right, but I also felt the prayers of the many, many people and groups who lifted me up, I know it is a large part of the reason I am still here.  I’m not sure just why I am still here, I thought I’d found my path as a therapist, but now my genealogical research and my relatively new writing  have given me new directions. The depression lifted, with medicine and with the support of family and friends, I lifted my head and looked around, and started a “new normal”–very unlike my old life,  but a good life in many, many ways. As I roll around my neighborhood, often with a grandchild perched on the arm of my power wheelchair, sometimes singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” at the top of our lungs, I am thankful for all the many, many, blessings in my life. 
 
 
 

Author: Helen Holshouser

Old enough to enjoy life, I am a Red Hatter, grandmother, gardener, and amateur genealogist. I am a retired clinical psychologist, master's level, who is disabled with heart disease, but having fun with family and friends. Married over 40 years, I have two grown daughters and three grandchildren. I have learned that grandchildren provide a joy one never knew existed---writing feeds my soul, gardening is therapy, and genealogy research makes me feel like a detective!

13 thoughts on ““H” –Heart Attack! My Personal Story.

  1. I am so happy you are still here. You have such a voice. I can’t believe everything you’ve been through! Bravo for not giving up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. At 50? That is so very hard to believe. I am so glad you are enjoying your new normal.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Helen, I’m left feeling breathless by your ride. No wonder you were so shocked by the whole experience and also suffered from depression afterwards. Something so life changing is hard to adjust to, but here you are 16 years later, rocking your new normal. I love that you use the exact term we use in my BC support group. For some, getting back to how it was before is really important, for those who can’t, a new life to give you joy and contentment is critical. Oh & I loved the way you repeated that mantra “you’ve got to be kidding” in your post … it was making me laugh despite my knowing how serious the situation was. Go you! :o)

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  4. I’m glad you’re still here. I love your blog and read it regularly. I know about a “new normal” — I found that after my gastroparesis diagnosis.

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  5. Dear Lauren, thank you! Your comment means a lot to me!

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  6. Scarlett, yes, a month after my 50th, it all fell apart! But life is good now, different, but good. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  7. Dear Debs, i’m so glad you laughed, i hoped that would happen! And thanks for sharing about your BC group and the difference between trying to go back to where we were and finding and enjoying a new normal, so important. Thank you for “getting it”– and for being involved.

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  8. Dear jo, thank you so very much for reading and sharing!I have a good friend who has gastroperesis. I am so sorry for both of you!i hope you find your silver lining as well!

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  9. My life is good. It’s different, but it’s good. Thankfully, I haven’t got the throwing up 30 times a day/feeding tubes variety; my main symptoms are more pain than I knew I could deal with before (but I do) and gastro symptoms that should not be spoken of in polite company, when flaring, and an extremely weird diet pretty much all the time (varying degrees of weird whether flaring or not). I have supportive friends and family, a very good man, and a flexible job — and genealogy! I also have Pinterest Boards of GP-friendly (& GP & GF – friendly) recipes if your friend gets bored and is looking for something new (& isn’t on a g-tube). This is one – https://www.pinterest.com/1015h/gp-friendly-recipes-to-try/

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  10. 16 years! I am sure the medicine and the prayers helped, but I bet your great inner strength had a lot to due with those 16 years. Just think of all the great family history you have discovered. Generations of your family will be very thankful for that. So what are you going to do for the next 16 years?

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  11. Awesome post !! I am 47 yo…two kids 16 and 18..and hubby practically another teen at 49 yo. I LOOK normal..so many people question why I am no longer practicing ( Family Practice PA-C) and cannot believe I am on disability to support my family now. Never did I think I’d be here either. Not me…no I’d never be that “train-wreck” patient..with a long list of chief complaints, polypharmacy, and on opiod RX for angina. Well..I learned my lesson, took me a notch or two down..and I always considered myself a compassionate empathetic clinician !! I have non-obstructive CAD..and the elusive issues of severe coronary artery vasospasms, coronary endothelial dysfunction , and coronary MICRO vascular disease. The one where most docs send you to the psychiatrist and consider you are a malingering patient. Got Emory cardios attention though when I coded in 2012..during a acetylcholine challenge cath. Retired early in 2012 after working PT three years ill..and trying to hide it. Has tremendously affected our WHOLE family too. However , as author above points out..I have a new perspective on life..and appreciative of things I may of missed before. Glad I got a second chance. Lots of time resting-stuck at home..can’t really exercise as triggers my angina-spasms..even walking thru my house sometimes ..so diet and meds..and learning/ACCEPTING my career was not WHO I am and neither is this cardiac illness. Leraning to be content with where I am..a long process..but got it now that is gonna be OK. Rambling now..but thanks to blogs like this that remind me I am not doing this alone.

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  12. Dear Charles, I think my earlier response to you somehow disappeared! I know I wrote one! LOL You are so right! all the family experiences, all the genealogy..all the new friends and family…I had no idea the blessings waiting for me! Sometimes we think our lives are over, and new adventures lie just around the corner! your friendship has been one of those blessings! Thank you!

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  13. Dear Kim Chatman, , thanks for sharing, and I am so sorry you’ve had to travel through this particular path! When I was first sick, I kept thinking of all the psychiatrists I had heard lecture re. “histrionic females”. I hated to think I’d be judged that way either…like you said, because we “look” normal. Like you, I am plagued by angina. It is sad, but good to know we are not alone–I greatly appreciate your sharing. Did you by chance see the blogpost that just came out–one of my favorites–addressing just what you said about family–I think you might like it! http://myheartsisters.org/2015/04/12/heart-disease-in-the-family/

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