Wading Barefoot

Rediscovering my barefoot-self

Heart to Heart

“Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” ~ Buddha

 February is Heart Awareness Month and according to The American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women, heart disease remains the number 1 killer of women. Despite this fact women make up only a fraction of cardiovascular related research. I think the most telling statistic is that less than 2 in 10 women know that heart disease is as prevalent as it is.

Bent Fork 2008

Bent Fork 2008

One of the many reasons a women’s symptoms are overlooked as being cardiac related in emergency rooms is the variety of symptomology. Women don’t typically fit into the stereotypical, crushing chest pain radiating down the left arm. This is the clinical picture for men having a heart attack. Women on the other hand can experience the same symptoms but in many other ways and places. For instance, when I first experienced chest pain, in 1990, I thought it was indigestion. As time went on I felt tired and a little winded. I was seen right away in an emergency room. My EKG (Electrocardiogram) was normal and it was presumed that I was experiencing gastritis with anxiety attack. Later that week it happened again and this time I was in the city, not the rural county hospital where I’d been seen before. Surely they could tell the difference between gastritis and angina, right? Not so, I was given to a second year resident who could only see the 30 pounds I’d packed on since my second child and gave me what is referred to as, a GI Cocktail, it consists of Maalox and Lidocaine. It is intended to ease the spasm and reduce the acid in the stomach, thereby decreasing the symptoms, if they were gastric in nature this treatment would have worked wonders. Since it had no effect on the chest pain I was sent home on a bland diet.

I can’t begin to convey to you just how confused, frustrated and eventually furious I became as the years passed and not once was a cardiovascular work-up done. By 1994 I was working at a local hospital and collapsed one night from chest pain and sudden exhaustion. This was my first admission and because my blood work did not indicate I’d had a heart attack, I was sent home this time with a prescription for Xanax. I wondered for years if it could all be caused by anxiety – or, was my anxiety being caused by heart disease?

Many years went by with no let up in symptoms. I foolishly continued to smoke cigarettes like a chimney. I smoked for 33 years and finally, in 2002 I gave up that foul life-ending addiction. I thought I’d dodged a bullet so to speak, but I hadn’t.  In 2003 I changed doctors and opted for a female nurse practitioner. She checked the history and scheduled several tests. One of these revealed a big surprise and a relief at the same time. According to the Thallium scan, it was clear that 2/3rd of the back of my heart was ischemic from the lack of blood flow and it was expected that an angiogram would reveal blocked coronary arteries. As predicted my right coronary artery was 100% blocked, but the remaining arteries were clear. I waited to see if medication could improve it but honestly, I felt like a walking time-bomb, waiting for that event to happen. I wondered if would die; I had young children and I knew that my husband would be a rock for them but couldn’t imagine leaving them.

That event I had come to dread didn’t waste any time. May 2006 I was in a community college taking a few classes when I had the worst pain ever. I (again, foolishly) drove myself to the hospital. I was given another GI cocktail and a discharge to be followed up with my primary care. When I protested I was given a chemical heat pack for my shoulder, which is where my pain was; my right shoulder, jaw and collarbone! I called my nurse practitioner and she sent me for another angiogram right then and there. I wasn’t so prepared for what I was told. It turns out that the event in the emergency room with the heat pack was not my first heart attack; in fact I’d had two. The other thing this angiogram revealed was that in a short 3 years, my left coronary artery had completely blocked as well. Before I knew what was happening I was talking to a cardiovascular surgeon about my by-pass surgery to be scheduled for first thing in the morning!

Ladies, listen closely, you don’t have to repeat the same mistakes I did. I should have changed doctors’ years earlier, when I realized I wasn’t being taken seriously. Because I didn’t have typical symptomology, it was overlooked. Any pain that causes you discomfort in your jaw, shoulder, neck, either arm or chest should be taken seriously. You have to advocate for yourselves, it’s up to you. You can’t wait for a doctor to overlook your physical symptoms and treat your supposed anxiety. For the record, anxiety is one of the symptoms of heart disease.

Not all heart disease or conditions manifest the same and each has their own risk factors. Knowing what you know now can save your life or the life of a woman you know. Listen to your body, your instincts, and your heart; it can save your life.

~Never drive yourself to the hospital if you think you may be having a heart attack, call 911 instead. You stand a far better chance of surviving the trip in an ambulance.

Educate yourselves about heart disease and ask questions. Do Not Be Ignored! There is wonderful information about your heart and other health topics. Got to:


 © Kathleen Ryan-McCullough, 2013

February 9, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wall of Pain

I was in such pain tonight walking Sally that I had to stop where I was and sit in the backyard on the wet lawn because I couldn’t stand any longer. I’m glad it was dark and nobody saw me. Pain has become a huge problem for me over the last few years and tonight I let it get the better of me.

When my body hurts like this there is little else I can do but sit down on the spot, wherever I happen to be. I keep trying to take on this pain and force myself to tolerate it or stretch and work through it, but it outlasts me every time. It is a fierce pain.

Spending a lot of time in pain has changed the way I see myself and my world; it has been a very bitter experience. I’ve always guarded my independence but as time has passed I’ve had to give up more and more of my freedom because of pain. I sold my car in July 2009 and with it went my ability to do anything outside of my walking range, which was about two miles at that time. Today, 2012- I call it a good day when I can walk the 25 yards to the stop sign at the end of my street. On a bad day, I don’t make it outside. Most days are a compromise of the good with the bad. One rather surprising change is that I am more impatient than I used to be- that’s saying quite a lot, trust me.

Something I hadn’t expected from living with pain was the onset of irrational phobias. I’ve always been claustrophobic and I’ve experienced the power of panic attacks; but as I lose control of my own comings and goings I start feeling closed in, cornered like there are actual walls confining me to this ever tightening space. The walls may be invisible but the urgency to break free of the pain is intense and I think it brings on a sense overwhelming anxiety.

Anxiety is something I’ve faced before in my life. In fact, At the age of twenty I had my first panic attack. Now, thirty-three years later I can handle most any public situation you can throw at me. *Okay, I exaggerate, but truly I’ve come very far and I’m proud of the work I’ve done to make this happen. It did not come easy, nor did it come quickly. It took all my effort to stay in the moment, create balance and focus without holding my breath (I discovered that I hold my breath when I’m scared) I learned to meditate through the pain and the anxiety. I learned that during the really hard times, when I’m wiped out with pain or paralyzed by fear that I need to better control my thoughts and focus my breathing. To that end, I created a place In my mind where I would feel serene and calm. It was a sailboat with a wooden mast. At anchor, the rocking motion of the boat made the mast creak in rhythm with the tide. I visited this place so many times that I could ‘put’ myself there in a single breath if I need be. Nobody was ever the wiser that while I was picking out tomatoes, I was listening to the gentle rocking of my boat. While kids in grocery carts pester their parents endlessly for this or that, all I hear are seagulls overhead yammering for a free lunch. I learned that reality really is yours to create and for me that was an enormous coup. I could take back control in any moment and that worked wonders.

*Ironic twist: in the past couple of years I have become anxious in water. Not the bath tub water, but rivers, lakes and even swimming pools. Consequently my sailboat is not as calming as it once was. I’m in the process of finding another focal point.

It occurs to me that for everything I’ve experienced in life some lesson has been learned and tonight was no exception. When my back tightened up and the pain got the better of me, I lost my temper. I got frustrated with the dog, snapped at her and headed in the house. I immediately felt like a heel. It wasn’t that I yelled at her, it was that I treated her unfairly; it wasn’t her fault. She was sniffing out all her marks and patrolling her territory and couldn’t have known how much it was hurting me to stand there with her. As soon as I got in the house I grabbed a chair and sat with my eyes closed, wishing for the pain to subside. Sally stood patiently waiting for me to remove her gear. It took a long time before I could move again, but when I looked down she’d laid her head in my lap and was looking up at me with such love in her eyes. My heart melted and the pain stopped; unconditional love is a powerful thing.

I continue on my path to enlightenment and I hope that you experience unconditional love along yours as well.

© Kathleen Ryan-McCullough, 2012

March 27, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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