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


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